Sunday, July 27, 2014

Boyhood review

I recently saw a little movie called Boyhood. After watching it, I continued to think about it. A lot. I thought about my own childhood and how I connected with the movie and all that good junk one would think about after seeing a movie like this. I recently tried to review this movie. I also recently failed miserably at doing so. I kept trying to write uber profound statements about life, the universe, everything, and how it connected to Richard Linklater's newest film. All of these reviews came off as pretentious and shallow. The reason for that is because I am in no way fit to review Boyhood. The fact of this matter is that in some ways I'm still going through my own boyhood. Hell, I haven't even gone to college yet. Who am I to comment on a movie like this? I haven't lived enough. I could review the film and say "what a noble cinematic project it is" or "how Linklater's direction is truly astounding" and things like that. Yes, those are all true statements, but a review like that wouldn't do the film a fraction of the justice it deserves. I'm too damn young to be putting in my two cents on Boyhood. Maybe when I'm about 80 years old (if I live that long) and sitting in some future-type rocking chair I'll be able to truly convey a solid set of emotions and opinions on the movie. I'm not entirely sure this review of Boyhood will even have that much to say about Boyhood. Honestly, I just don't think I have enough life experience to say anything about it. I feel like this is the kind of film I'll return to in a few years and get something completely new out of. For me, I really connected with certain aspects of the film's main character, Mason (Ellar Coltrane). Maybe in a few years I'll realize I resonate with a different character, or pick up different things about the movie. A few months back I reviewed Spike Jonze's Her. Her is not only the best film of 2013, but one of my favorite films ever. My original review of Her was pretty bad. I felt everything I was saying felt forced and really corny. It may be one of the worst reviews I've ever written. At the moment, I couldn't express my love for the film in words. This is how I feel about Boyhood. I don't want to write some mediocre review. To use a quote from Boyhood, "Words are stupid." When a picture as vast and wonderful as this comes along, I can't really do it justice in a simple review. I don't think I'll be able to write a truly coherent review of this film until I see it a few more times and then age a little. I have many thoughts on the film, but I just don't feel completely equipped to share them all. One thing this film has confirmed for me is that we are living in a golden age of film. Last year was an absolutely awesome year for movies. Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, Gravity, and many other terrific films graced the big screen. I thought it was just a momentary bump in the quality of movies. A fluke, or a coincidence. Surely not something that would repeat itself. After watching Under the Skin earlier this year I suspected that maybe last year wasn't a fluke, but the beginnings to a renaissance. I am now sure of this. It seems every other week some new classic is being released. Boyhood is proof that directors I finally starting to take advantage of the wealth of amazing technology we have by using it to tell amazing stories and create masterpieces. I have a feeling Boyhood will be looked at in the future the way we look at films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Sound of Music right now. As you probably know, Boyhood was filmed over the course of 12 years. I do think the film benefits from this. You get to naturally see these people grow up, it feels natural. At the end of the movie I thought about how fast it all went. Yet, the running time is about three hours. In a nutshell, Richard Linklater has created a movie that is wholly about Life. That's the craziest idea for a film that I may have ever heard. And damn, it really works. I may not be able to fully articulate my thoughts on Boyhood now, but I'm sure the time will come when I can justifiably talk about this movie. I'm going to give this film 5 out of 5 stars. Ladies and gentlemen, that is all. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blow Out review

If you turn on the History Channel on an average day, chances are you'll come across some phony conspiracy theory show detailing how JFK was killed by the mafia or how George Washington was in a secret cult or some unbelievable nonsense like that. Now imagine you knew JFK actually was killed by the mafia. And imagine you had the evidence to prove it. Imagine yourself being called a crackpot conspiracy theorist by everyone around you , even though you're right. Scary, right? These are the circumstances John Travolta's character finds himself in in Brian De Palma's excellent 1981 thriller, Blow Out. John Travolta plays a sound man for exploitation slasher flicks. One night, while out recording sound for a movie, he accidentally records a car careening into a creek. Travolta dives into the creek yet, he's only able to save the girl, the man is already dead. The man in the car was a prominent presidential candidate. One that had the potential to be the next president of the United States. Was this merely an accident, or was there a second party involved? Paranoia, fear, and conspiracy shroud the rest of the film. And it's absolutely awesome. I feel Brian De Palma doesn't get the respect he deserves. The man has made some awesome movies (Scarface and Carrie to name some), but even so he's often demoted to nothing but a Hitchcock ripoff artist or genre director. "His films are all style over substance!" is one cry I've heard surrounding the work of De Palma many times. These detractors obviously haven't seen Blow Out. Here, Mr. De Palma marries his cinematic flourishes and Hitchcockian style with a taut plot line and in depth character study. The character study would of course be worthless if not for the excellent performance by a young John Travolta. This may be one of Travolta's best performances yet. Right up there with his work in Pulp Fiction. He's cool, intense, and assured. It would be very easy for this film to devolve into a simple and dumb thriller. De Palma could have easily given into cliches and used car chases and things like that as a plot device. But he's better than that, and does no such thing. With talent all his own, Brian De Palma keep us literally at the edge of our seat. He doesn't need plot contrivances to do this. While watching this, I felt inside the film. I was so caught up in the movie, it was as if it had opened up and swallowed me whole. One major problem with mainstream action and thriller films is that they too often rely on is the nice and tidy ending. An ending where everything turns out peachy and fine. Everyone's alive, the killer has been caught, and justice is served. Now the square-jawed main character can scoop up the leading lady and ride off with her into the sunset. Blow Out falls into no such trappings. The ending (I won't spoil it for you) is dark, frightening, and purely awesome. De Palma is first and foremost a director, but this film proves he can write a film just fine. Blow Out has some of the most ingenious plotting I've seen in a movie ever. Some great films are products of their time. Blow Out is a combination of political scandals like Watergate and the JFK assassination. What makes it great is how it transcends its time period and influences. The film is wholly original. It's quite possible this could be Brian De Palma's best movie, and maybe his only perfect one. I'm wary to make such claims just yet, having only seen this once, but it may be the case. I wasn't too sure what to make of the film after I watched it. After digesting it some, I have decided it's a masterpiece. Possibly better than Scarface, but I haven't decided that yet. Blow Out seems to have been overshadowed by some of De Palma's much flashier work over the years. I suppose Blow Out is a much more subdued movie in a sense. It shouldn't be. Every frame of this film is impeccable. De Palma can frame his shots like few other directors I know. Quentin Tarantino lists this as one of his favorite films. I can certainly see why. It's a full bodied and expertly crafted picture. Blow Out is like a delicious three course meal. It's very enjoyable, but it has real solid value as well. It's possible Blow Out's bleak ending has something to do with it's lack of popularity. A real shame, for this is a cinematic gem and one of the best films of the 1980's. I beseech you to see this, surely you won't regret it. It's a masterwork of tension, acting, and plotting. This is a crime film for the ages. Happy Viewing.
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life Itself review

Often when a particularly good movie ends, I'll sit in the theater and watch the credits for a while. Not because I'm incredibly interested in the end credits or anything, but because I have just witnessed something wonderful and need some time to soak it in. I'll sit there in the movie theater thinking: Wow. Sometimes a film is so damn good I'll need a few minutes to realize that yes indeed, I did just witness that. Other times a film is so achingly beautiful I'll have to wait a while for my emotions to run their course. Sometimes a film reaches for great heights and achieves these heights that all I can do is sit and stare at the screen in awe. Steve James' newest documentary on the great movie critic Roger Ebert did all of the things I just mentioned. After the film finished, I was left looking at the screen in tears knowing full well that not only had I just watched a wonderful film, but I had watched the wonderful life of a wonderful man. Pretty much every modern film critic owes something to Roger Ebert. He was the jolly, movie loving grandfather to us all. Bestowing his film knowledge and general happiness to the world. This documentary perfectly captures that sentiment, but it does something else too. It radiates the absolute joy that was Ebert and his life, but it doesn't sugarcoat the gritty stuff either. Often a documentary on a famous person who has passed on will devolve into nothing but idolatry and hero worship. One of the worst movies of last year, Salinger, was a documentary on the life of J.D. Salinger. That awful film did nothing but bow down to the life and works of Mr. Salinger for the first half of the movie before poking at the possibilities of conspiracies in the man's life. Awful cinema. Life Itself does no such thing. It looks admirably at Roger, but it also shows that the guy could be (for lack of a better word) an asshole sometimes. It shows the sometimes comical fights he had with his friend, business associate, and rival Gene Siskel. It shows the detestable taste in women Ebert had before he met his wife Chaz. It shows the time in his life where he had a serious drinking problem. Those parts can make you cringe, but the movie wouldn't be honest if they didn't show these parts. Roger Ebert was no saint, and I'm sure he would've wanted us all to know that. In addition, director Steve James doesn't shy away from showing Roger as he was when he died: very, very sick with his entire lower jaw missing. He even goes as far as to show Ebert being fed through suction with a straw. It's sometimes grotesque and makes you want to look away, but it's brutally honest and this information needs to be in there. What really struck me about Life Itself is how heartfelt it was. So much so, that the ending drove me to tears. You'd have to be made of stone not to. I did not cry because the film was overtly sad. It is sad, but not overwhelmingly so. I cried because I was so taken by this one man's love, life, legacy, and just astounding awesomeness in general. The emotion and devotion of his wife, Chaz. The love of Roger expressed by hard faced German filmmaker Werner Herzog. The scenes with Ebert during some of his last moments. These alone are enough to bring anyone to tears. Pieced together in this wonderful film, they make for an emotional powerhouse. I have to give the director of this film, Steve James, a lot of credit. Making a documentary like this seems incredibly difficult. So much ground to cover (An entire lifetime, literally!) in about two hours. Yet, James does it with a smooth and assured hand. He makes it entertaining and funny and sad and happy and fantastic. I am gushing a bit now, but I don't care. This film is terrific. It's fitting really, that a lover of movies should go out with such a good one. Go see this film. Even if you aren't or weren't that into Ebert's work. Just as a cinemaphile one should see this. The few cameos by Martin Scorsese are reason enough. For a film focused around a dead man, Life Itself feels so incredibly alive. It's hopeful. Normally I would give a film a star rating at the end of my reviews. But it feels redundant to stick some star on a film like this. It's great, I don't need a star to convey this. Here's my consensus: Life Itself is so many different kinds of wonderful. A great tribute to Roger Ebert, and cinema in general. Happy Viewing to all. 
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Friday, July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review

A primate with a scarred face rides a horse through a city in ruins. He is firing two machine guns at once. The ape is shrouded in fire, his face is full of anger, malice, and sheer terror. This image, while it may sound absurd (and I suppose it is in a way), is one of the scariest and most real things I've seen on the movie screen this year. It is all of humanity's fears realized. It is the apocalypse personified. It is, in my opinion, possibly the most honest and realistic portrayal of what the end of the world would be like ever displayed on film. "Whit, this is a movie about talking apes who fight people. How is this honest?" Let me backtrack here. Obviously if the world did end there would not be apes on horses with guns riding through the once great ruins of human civilization. What I meant, is that in the event of the apocalypse, things would be absolutely insane. There wouldn't be time for heroes, love, and complex human interactions. Movies love all these things, as do I. Yet, in the event of the end of the world, there wouldn't be these things. In times of disaster, the only thing we have time for is war. Awful, bloody, and horrible war. There are no winners. There are no good guys! Everyone is fighting for the same thing: the right to stay alive. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the newest film in the seemingly endless slew of Apes films, understands this and uses it to its advantage. And it sure uses it well. Taken from a very detached and ignorant perspective, this picture is simply about a bunch of monkeys fighting human survivors in the future. The thing is that it's so much more than that. In this future, almost all of humanity has been wiped out by a virus of proportions similar to the disease in Stephen King's novel The Stand. A small community of survivors, led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), are struggling to hold on to past society. Their power is about to go out if they're not able to get the dam running. The problem is that the dam is placed in the same area where the hyper intelligent apes community, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have settled. The humans must learn to work with these apes to get this dam working. Except most humans are stupid, stubborn, and prone to violence. Unfortunately, most apes are the same way. That's probably what I liked most about this film. It didn't paint the apes as kindly geniuses, nor did it make humans out to be heroes or must always prevail. Both the humans and their primate cousins are warlike in nature, and still have a lot to learn. With the end of the world brings chaos, humans are far from immune to chaos. The same goes for uber smart apes. The film that came before this, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was surprisingly good. It had a touching human story and a lot to say about the testing of animals and the nature of science itself. The end battle on the Golden Gate Bridge was also quite cool. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ups the ante on the last film, and succeeds on all counts. It's grander in scale and filled with much more action, but it never loses sight of its profound messages or deep emotion. It's more exciting and thrilling in the case of its action sequences yet, it never devolves into a mindless explosions fest. The dialogue is also better than the first film. The only thing Rise did better than Dawn was have better written human characters, but I'm wary to even complain about that. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn't about the humans, nor is it about the apes. It's about the epic struggle for survival. It's about horrific chaos. Most of all, it's about how we're often not who we think we are. In the beginning of the film, the apes are shown living peacefully together. They've created a code of conduct (Ape Shall Not Kill Ape and that sort of thing). Although soon it is realized that not all apes are good. In fact, the apes are just like us humans at many times. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins. An excellent sequel that's darker and even better than it's already great predecessor. It's one of the best blockbusters I've seen in a long time and it makes me feel hope for the film industry. I do think we are in a new golden age of movies. The independent film circuit seems to be churning out classics all the time. Like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin for example. While we do have some truly awful big budget blockbuster films being released (Transformers 4, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), we seem to have predominately great and smart mainstream films being released. Like The Lego Movie, Edge of Tomorrow, and this. Cinemagoers: have hope! Anyway, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was pretty terrific and I urge you to see it. It's far from perfect, but it's still damn good. I give it 4.3 out of 5 stars. Happy Viewing! Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at!             

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Snowpiercer review

According to the movies, the future is going to be pretty damn bleak and depressing.
Totalitarian governments, nuclear fallout, global wars....Our inevitable fate comes in many forms. For certain sociological reasons, movies are much more negative nowadays. Focused on The End. So many films detailing the apocalypse are released. Whether it's The Hunger Games or World War Z, our world seems to be in constant turmoil. Another 'end of world' film has to do something drastically different. It has to be well-done, but also intriguing, smart, exciting, and new. Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer is all those things and so much more. It's an action movie for the ages. The plot of Snowpiercer is cool enough as it is. In the near-ish future of 2031, the entire world has frozen over and most of humanity is extinct. The few remaining survivors have packed onto a giant train that perpetually circles the Earth. This isn't your ordinary train. The train is divided up into classes, or castes if you will. The back of it, the tail, is where the poorest of the poor stay. It is dirty and depressing. The people are hungry and sad. And angry. A revolt is brewing in the air. Then there's the front of the train. Golden, fat, and rich. Instead of starving, these passengers feast on steak dinners and wear decadent colorful clothing. The front of the train is where all control lies. Where the seemingly evil and omnipotent ruler Wilford (Ed Harris) lies. Curtis (Captain America himself, Chris Evans) is a tense and angry man living in the back of the train. He and his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) are planning a revolt. They have almost the entirety of the back of the train in on it. They're just waiting for the right time. The film starts off with a slow burn, but once the revolt starts, things begin to go bang. Snowpiercer is ridiculously exciting. The thing is, the film only takes place on a train. A big train, sure, but it's still a train all the same. It's impressive how much director Bong Joon-Ho is able to do with the confined space. It reminds me a bit of a foreign action film that came out a few years ago called The Raid. The Raid kept excitement and tension while only taking place in a single building. That's good cinema. Snowpiercer keeps excitement and tension except it takes place on a train. Except Snowpiercer not only is cool and exciting, it has a lot to say. It's more than an action movie. That's great cinema. The film works perfectly well on just an entertainment level. It's got plenty of battles, showdowns, and ticking time bombs for the adrenaline junkie inside you. But it also has things to say about our society and a solid human story. Snowpiercer not only entertained me, it made me feel cinematically nourished. When watching the movie, it soon becomes evident that the train they're on is a microcosm for our society. Films that do things like that can often feel heavy-handed and annoying, Snowpiercer isn't that at all. I feel weird calling a movie like this an epic, but in many ways it is. It's ambitious and magisterial. Epics traditionally take place on a grand scale, like a desert or a large alien planet (think Lawrence of Arabia or Dune). Bong Joon-Ho's direction make the train feel larger than it is. He makes it feel like its own world, because it is in a way. The train is the entire world for the people on board. It's only fitting that it feels that way. The acting here is very solid. Chris Evans is great as the lead hero. He doesn't go too much out of his range, but he holds his own quite well proving he is our next great action star. Tilda Swinton gives what's probably the best performance in the film. She plays a government worker with false teeth and the accent of a English schoolteacher. She's evil, and I wanted her to die the entire time, but she's also very funny and entertaining to watch. None of the rest of the cast really stood out for me. John Hurt plays a kindly and wise old man (a character I felt he'd played before) and Ed Harris didn't do anything I hadn't seen him do. But overall, Snowpiercer is awesome. An intelligent, exciting, and hopeful sci-fi film that we really don't get enough of these days. It'll be one of the best films of the year for sure. I just can't wait to see it again. I give Snowpiercer a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Happy Viewing! Don't forget to throw me a like on Facebook at and follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Miller's Crossing review

Mobster pictures are somewhat of a staple of American pop culture and have been for a while now. Everything from the original Scarface to The Godfather to The Sopranos. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma have forged half of their careers off of gangster flicks. Something about the fast and violent lifestyle of the mafia has captured our imagination. Some of the greatest films ever made are gangster movies. And there are so many of them! You'd think after all this time one would grow tired of the genre. If you would think that, you'd be wrong. Truth be told, I really love mob films. Some of my all-time favorite movies (Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed, Casino, Scarface) are about the gang life. Done right, a mafia picture can be not only entertaining but have something profound to say about greed and morality and such. If done right, a mafia picture can look something like Miller's Crossing. Joel and Ethan Coen's 1990 film Miller's Crossing is about Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne), an adviser to an Irish crime boss (Albert Finney). Tom is whip smart and incredibly cynical, almost an embodiment of The Coen Brothers themselves. The film follows Tom as he navigates the tricky crime landscape of the Irish and Italian mafia by playing both sides against each other. The film's narrative is very plotty and under less talented hands it could turn into a convoluted mess. With The Coen Brothers, they manage to craft one of the most entertaining and gloriously well-made gangster movies I've seen in a long time. Practically everything about this film is impeccable. My only real complaint is that the second half of the film didn't resonate with me as much as the first half. It drops off a bit, but other than that it's absolute gold. Probably my favorite thing about Miller's Crossing is the dialogue. Why this film didn't get a best screenplay nomination at the Oscars I do not know. It certainly deserves one. Every line is as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. Every conversation goes at a machine gun rate. It's high quality stuff. A screenplay would be almost useless without decent actors to deliver the great lines. Gabriel Byrne is pretty solid here as the main character. He carries out his character's cynicism and wit pretty well, but I feel it could have been done a bit better. Albert Finney is superb as the head mob boss, Leo. Finney really underplays his character. It's a subtle performance, but it absolutely works in every way. The guy who really shines here is John Turturro. I've always known Turturro to be a good actor form seeing him in films like Do The Right Thing and The Big Lebowski (which is my personal favorite Coen Bros. flick). He's phenomenal here. The guy has a relatively small role, but boy does he play it well. Turturro's character is a real slick guy. He's a schemer and kind of an (if you'll excuse my language) asshole. But you can't help but like him. You want him dead yet, at the same time you kind of want to watch him a little bit more. Some actors could make the role insufferably annoying or even dull, depending. Turturro makes him funny and interesting. That takes talent. But this is The Coen's film, and they don't let you forget it. Miller's Crossing is stuffed with classic Coen trademarks. Dark humor, irony, noir lighting, femme fatale characters, swift direction. It has all the marks of a Coen Brothers movie, but it's 100% fresh and original. They don't just do what they've done before. They take an age old genre and morph it into something completely new. Something wonderful. A classic. I think it's safe to say I'm in love with Miller's Crossing. No, it's not The Coen Brothers' best film. No, it's not the best mobster film ever made. Yes, it is a really great film. I'm a pretty big fan of the Coen's, and they've yet to prove they're anything but genius. Miller's Crossing is a genius movie. Well directed, smartly written, and terrifically acted I can definitely recommend you watch it. Hell, watch it twice. I know I will. Happy Viewing folks.
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