Luke Cage

Luke Cage is the latest output from Marvel. I just started watching the early epsiodes on Netflix. The show has it all: a tough, relatable hero, villains, a few attractive love interests, and a superpower that will be hard to beat throughout the show. It may be considered different in that Cage is black but I find the immersion in his small Harlem community entertaining and enlightening. How many seasons will it power out? Time will tell.

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Cage is a hangdog dishwasher trying to make ends meet with two jobs. He lives alone in a small apartment and gets chased down by the little old landlady. I think they are trying to show us a good-hearted guy, humble, and trying not to use his superpowers. He hangs out at a barbershop and gets to know “Pops,” the owner quite well. In fact, he is like a father figure to Cage. There is another surrogate son in the picture, he’s the mafia leader running an organized crime ring in the city. I have a feeling there will be a lot of friction between these two. It could perhaps resemble a Lex Luthor/Clark Kent rivalry.

Cage’s superpower appears to simply be indestructibility. He gets stabbed and knives break, shot and bullets fly off. It doesn’t appear he has a weakness yet, I am only on e3. I find it a highly entertaining show. I recommend it for anyone who likes Marvel superheroes or thriller tv.

Apocalypse Now

War movies don’t always leave a good impression with me. In fact, I rarely go to see them. When I saw Apocalypse Now, it was years after its release on DVD and I wasn’t that excited going in. Luckily, I was hugely pleased with the result. This film made it into Riley’s Great 100.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)
Cast

Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Directed by

Francis Ford Coppola

Written by

John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola

Other Info

Drama, War
Rated R
2h 33min

When I saw it the first time, I was in an American Literature course at Cal State Fullerton. I had a prof named “Dr. Friend.” Some people didn’t see him as a friend but I did, considering the amazing books and movies he turned me on to. This film is one of those.

One of the assigned novels in the course was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” This is a gut-wrenching novel about killing for profit. The first chapter of the book is full of blood soaked descriptions. It describes a place where human life no longer has value in the wake of the mighty dollar. Conrad was getting at real “truth” and many a college student since has studied his words looking for that elusive word. What is at the heart of darkness? That’s what Conrad is luring us toward.

Apocalypse-Now3Apocalypse Now is based on “Heart of Darkness.” It takes place on a boat in Vietnam. The soldiers are lost in a lost cause war but they stumble on something far more sinister and evil. A living being created by the American war machine. There are parallels to Conrad’s book but both pieces stand alone as incredible vignettes of evil and the dark propensity of the human soul if left unchecked.
IMDB gives a short synopsis as such:

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

Robert Duvall stars in this film along with Harrison Ford a cast of other now-legendary actors. The two that usually get the most press are Martin Sheen as Captain Willard and Marlon Brando as Kurtz. Apocalypse Now KurtzBrando is hypnotic to watch and listen to. What can you do when you have sympathy for the devil? The interplay of what we see as “moral” vs. “animal” makes this movie a trip. Should we assign guilt to those who are survivalists at all costs? If not, why do we murder them in war? These are questions that came up for me. I saw this as less a war movie and more or a moral drama. I really enjoyed it on that level.

david_halberstam_on_apocalypse_nowThe war images are still prevalent here. Almost every scene has an orange sky, alluding to the use of crop dust laced with Agent Orange to commit mass unbridled homicide against the Viet Cong. All is fair in love and war? You see the men uttering phrases like: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” upon waking. There is even a stud from San Diego with a surfboard who catches waves in between mass carnage. This black humor lays the foundation to look at what we do in the military on both sides and the dark hearts we must have to do it. The director, Francis Ford Coppola gave so much of his heart and soul to make this movie. francis-ford-coppola-on-the-set-of-apocalypse-now-1050x715A documentary called Hearts of Darkness shows some of the ghastly things the cast and director had to go through to get this filmed. It’s an amazing doc, I highly recommend it. Martin Sheen was so stressed filming he had a heart attack during filming. Fortunately he was able to get proper medical care and rest and he finished the film. If you are like me and don’t like war films but the idea of this “heart of darkness” being portrayed is interesting to you, I recommend seeing it anyway. The war images soon fade in the presence of a profound cinematic look at the human heart. What you make of that experience is up to you and your conscience. Are you more or Kurtz or Willard? For me it was tough to choose one over the other as good. In the end though, I made my choice. I recommend this film highly, a LOT of other movie critics do as well. This is of course, a classic of all time.

The Survivalist

A well-acted thriller set in post-apocalyptic foliage.

Most post-apocalyptic films focus on the water shortage (“Tank Girl”) or even gasoline (“The Road Warrior”. This film has famine as its hazard. It starts in a survivalist’s cabin that has food among starving people who don’t. As a result, conflict happens.

The Survivalist (2015)
Cast
Mia Goth

as Milja

Martin McCann

as Survivalist

Barry Ward

as Forager

Directed by
Stephen Fingleton
Written by
Stephen Fingleton
Other Info

Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 44min

An excellent film that captures attention with no emotion. The people we see here are shells of their former selves. Like “Mad Max” the world as we know it has been destroyed. People are scavengers making their way to survival. The “Survivalist” played by Martin McCann has fond a way to farm his own food. When I say food, I’m talking about things like leeks and radishes. It’s humble to be sure. Still, in a world that is starving, he is like a king. Furthermore, thieves would love to have their way with his produce and they are constantly trying to do so.

While the film starts out showing us nifty survival stuff, that passes. After that it is a subdued dialog between few drifters and most notably, an old woman and her daughter played by Mia Goth. Incidentally, in real life she is the fiance of Shia Lebouef. Once the girl shows up we see a lot of attempts at communication, mostly by the old woman, but we find that sex barter is the only thing that really allows them close to him.

I kept thinking about how it could get to this after an apocalypse. I mean, if we know no one can really do anything for us, do we continue being charitable? Is the Survivalist charitable? He comes close but I can’t say he ever is truly. Is this what we must become in order to survive? Is survival worth losing trust for anyone? These are the sorts of questions that came up for me.

The film has an eerie feeling to it and a surprising twist at the end. The events that precede that twist are important to recall. I’m not si sure U know what the twist really means. I have a hunch it’s more than I am relaying to you now. I will most definitely see it a second time but if you have any ideas, do tell! This kept my wife and I’s attention the whole time and for that reason I recommend it. Because it had no emotion, I felt it was somewhat lacking. Furthermore, there could have been more foreshadowing about the twist at the end. That’s why I took a star from the score.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

By using an unreal hero in much the same way Forrest Gump did The Odd Life of Timothy Green manages to show us the best parts of our humanity as well as those same things in others.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a film directed by Peter Hedges, known for directing Dan in Real Life and About a Boy. It stars many new and established actors such as Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Odeya Rush, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and others. It’s a Disney film so the casting directors clearly spared no expense finding talent to cast this story. This family film, while not necessarily for kids it does have a PG rating, is a refreshing detour from recent bombastic releases of the same year like Batman and Battleship. By using an unreal hero in much the same way Forrest Gump did, The Odd Life of Timothy Green manages to show us the best parts of our humanity as well as those in others.

Mrs. Green, played by Jennifer Garner, and Mr. Green, played by Joel Edgerton, really want to have a child but alas, it isn’t possible. The beginning of the film shows the futility of their desperate quest to have a child. They start out in the film being interviewed for something, we don’t quite know what right away. It turns out they are interviewing to adopt a child but their story reveals they have already had a child. Timothy Green, played by CJ Adams, portrays their child with a mysterious origin. It appears he was in their lives only for a short time to teach them that “they [are] enough” as parents. His character is a wonderful combination of fantasy and realism.

The Greens tell the story of how Timothy came to be, which is not in the usual way, and what they learned from him while he was there. Finally, there is a tear-jerker conclusion that brings their story to a climax and leaves us back in the beginning interview. The ending is spectacular. There is nothing hard-to-get with this movie. You know early on what is happening yet you enjoy watching it play out. There were a few twists here and there I didn’t see coming but I guessed about 97% of the movie. Normally that would mean it was boring, it was far from that. My interest was piqued throughout and this movie bears testimony that Disney can still tell a story better than anyone.

In conclusion, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a sweet story set in an American background that tells us about our own humanity. For me, it fulfilled the definition of a great movie. Much like the Greens, we all want something for ourselves that we can love, like a child. The Greens learn that the good in them can and should be shared with or without a child. They learn that they matter in their circle of friends and family. When Timothy arrives, everyone takes notice and when he must bid farewell, everyone is sad but not destitute. Like the Greens we the audience are left better for having known him.

Infinitely Polar Bear

“Infinitely Polar Bear” is movie from the perspective of a daughter growing up with a bipolar dad who we are expected to see as responsible. I disagree with what the poster and the marketing infer. He only perpetuates the stigma of bipolars being irresponsible, loud, and dangerous. Maya Forbes both directed it and wrote the screenplay. She is best known for being on the writing team on the animated feature “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.” This is her directorial debut.

When you aim to portray a disorder in media, I think it’s a heavy burden to portray it accurately. If you don’t feel the burden, you shouldn’t make the movie.

I can’t help but wonder if her lack of experience with drama made the screenplay suffer. Despite the amazing casting and acting, it seems the characters never really grow into their skin and that’s unfortunate. Bipolar is a mood disorder that that affects roughly 4% of the population and is still largely misunderstood. When you aim to portray a disorder in media, I think it’s a heavy burden to portray it accurately. If you don’t feel the burden, you shouldn’t make the movie.

This movie about a family is unique in the way it focuses sharply on the dad, Cam Stuart played by Mark Ruffalo, and his two daughters in a microcosm. The wife, Maggie Stuart played by Zoe Saldana, weaves in and out but her role is secondary to the plot about a bipolar dad trying to prove his ability to take care of his daughters. This is hard enough for a bipolar off his meds and the girls don’t make it any easier.

I felt the screenplay failed to portray the medical and therapeutic necessities for a bipolar. I think it would have been a lot stronger if Cam and his family went to therapy and learned more about the disorder that is well known to cause erratic behavior, depression, suicide, and an inability to work. In turn, this would educate the largely ignorant audience. There are many functional professionals and famous people with bipolar taking their lithium, getting therapy, doing “the work,” and making amazing contributions despite the moods. Cam is recklessly irresponsible about his disorder. If you want to see a dysfunctional example of bipolar, you’ll get what you’re looking for.

The idea that he can control it without lithium is just selfish. Bipolar has been described as a broken mood thermostat, even at 115 degrees fahrenheit, your brain can’t cool down. The same is true for the depressive or “cold” phase when your mood plummets. He puts his daughters in grave danger several times in the movie. In real life, they would be taken by social services. I did like the acting and if you’re a Mark Ruffalo fan, you’ll enjoy seeing him in a very obnoxious, tortured role. He usually doesn’t play roles like that this well. Too bad he didn’t have a better script. For irresponsibly furthering a negative stereotype of a psychiatric disorder through a negligent script, it lost two points with me. As cute as the title is, I’ll have to keep waiting for the movie that shows a functional bipolar. Maybe I’ll have to write it.

Winter’s Bone

I know people living in poverty. Their income status never prevents them from doing things like picking up a banjo or making sweet tea with family. Human charms like these transcend socio-economic levels as the independent film “Winter’s Bone” reminds us. It also reminds us that rural poverty is such a sad sad thing. “Winter’s Bone” is set in the backlands of the Ozarks. It centers around 17-year-old Ree Dolly, played by then newcomer Jennifer Lawrence. She is a pretty, determined girl whose journey threatens thorny characters driven only by self-preservation. As is true of most independent films, most the actors are no-namers (though Lawrence has of course become famous in her own right since this movie). “Winter’s Bone” was directed by Debra Granik.

Ree’s mother is mentally challenged and incapacitated. This was likely brought on by a lifestyle of methamphetamine abuse. In other words, it is important to the story that we see Ree has not raised herself alone. There were at one point “greener pastures.” At one point, one of the most powerful scenes in the movies, Ree begs her mother in tears to “just this once” tell her what to do. Sadly, mother can not.

Ree has to take care of her mother along with her two siblings who seem to live in ignorance of their blight. They play and smile and jump on their trampoline with the images of abject poverty all around. Their house is a shack, but a profanely beautiful one. In the early scenes, Ree has to make do just to feed the dog with rotten leftovers in Tupperware containers. At one point, they shoot and skin squirrel. The children are priceless characters and they give the impending dark plot a sense of light relief throughout. The scenes where they play and talk with Ree are heartwarming and remind us of our humanity. Whenever Ree has to leave them, you feel tension.

Ree’s father has jumped bail. He had a long history of “cooking” meth and after a somewhat fuzzy telling of his involvement in a larger ring, we find out he is sought by the bondsman. Ree is told by him she’ll lose the house unless she produces her father, dead or alive. “I’ll find him,” is Ree’s resolute response which sets her on a mythic journey through the Ozark backlands and through her shady and fascinating relatives. She’s seeking her father to save their house.

“Winter’s Bone” is a wonderful piece of “film as literature.” It uses clever camera angles and cinematography akin to Thomas Kinkade paintings or Ansel Adams photos. It makes you feel like you are part of a family reunion and that makes you feel warm inside. Of course, at family reunions, you sometimes get an earful of shady stuff you’d rather not know. You get some of that in “Winter’s Bone”. I took it all in, the beauty along with the profane scenes.

For an excellent script, convincing characters that move you, and cinematography that will take your breath away, I recommend this movie. In fact, I agree with Roger Ebert that this is one of the best movies of 2010.

Win Win

Win Win is about a man who learns that using people to get money is a lose lose.

“Win Win” was released in 2012. The film was directed by Thomas McCarthy (known for: 2012 and Meet the Parents). It is about a man who learns that using people to get money is a lose-lose. The acting is excellent and the script first rate. It’s about the choices we make regarding the people we let into our lives.

The story begins as a struggling lawyer, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), takes over guardianship of his client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young). At first it seems to make sense to make money off Leo. After all, Mike is almost broke and has a family to feed. It appears to be a “win” for Mike for a little while. Unfortunately though, the situation soon goes bad. Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), shows up one day looking for his grandpa. Kyle has run away from his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) who is a drug addict and Kyle needs refuge from her.

Mike takes him into his own home and finds out that Kyle is a star wrestler. He has a chance to be a real champion, which Mike uses again for personal gain. Things go along pretty smoothly for a while until Kyle’s mother shows up with an attorney, Mike sternly realizes he will gain nothing through taking care of Leo and Kyle. He has to make a moral decision at that point which makes the title Win Win indeed an ironic one.

This is a heart warming story. The characters are real, like the ones on an ordinary suburban street. Are people more important than profits? That’s the basic question Win Win raises. There are slow moments but it’s an entertaining vignette of Mike and the choices he makes.

Spotlight

spotlight

“Spotlight” is

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

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Spotlight is incredibly entertaining and extremely well made.

Check out some of the cast! This powerful ensemble is one reason why it’s so amazing:

Mark Ruffalo
Michael Keaton
Rachel McAdams
Liev Schreiber
Stanley Tucci
Billy Crudup
-Many more

There are many more A-listers in this film. One can’t help but wonder if they wanted to lend their names to decry something this big and this powerful about the church.

My conclusion:

We have a system of law that is faulty. We also have a system of the free press which is flawed. Put them together and you have a flawed but highly capable system, more so than any other I know of in the world.

This movie is about the free speech/reporting side. We see reporters acting as humanitarian heroes. For so long, no one said anything about this perversion of the church. These reporters get more and more to the core of reporting it, they just can’t stop. It is exciting to watch and feel a part of in real time. Another film that could easily be the film of the year. If you’re a human who feels things, go see it!

Bridge of Spies

“Bridge of Spies” is a true story well worth telling by one of the greatest directors on the planet, Steven Spielberg.

“Bridge of Spies” is a film directed by Steven Spielberg. For some these days, that may not be persuasive enough to buy a ticket so let me say it is crafted to make a historical event come alive on screen. It stars Tom Hanks but doesn’t rely on his huge appeal. Hanks lets the story play out on its own without grandstanding with his character. There’s an excellent cast with him and they all work together to make this film amazing.

There is so much to enjoy here. It’s first of all interesting because it is a true story. Second, it heralds the accused’s right to a solid defense. There is much here about negotiations in and out of country. It’s also a period piece replete with authentic props and there is a remarkable conclusion one may or may not expect.

“Bridge of Spies” is top notch storytelling about an event that should be remembered from the cold war. A couple questions are addressed:

How can people thought of as evil make grand gestures of humanity? Why should we put effort into defending the rights of those such as a foreign spy?

There are parts of those questions that require a long telling so the length of the movie may put off some. I was bored at times but I kept regaining interest. If one can keep ones attention span alive between the slower scenes, “Bridge of Spies” has many engaging moments and a most intriguing payoff. This is yet another in the sequence of movies I’ve been reviewing lately that definitely could win movie of the year. It is a story told by Spielberg worth watching.

Room

“Room” is one of those movies that only comes out once in a while and sparks conversation more than usual.

“Room” illustrates a successful movie because it starts and completes a story that leaves you thinking. I thought about deep subjects like what confinement and freedom do to a human mind.

Some plot spoilers follow.

It’s a story about a mother and her 5 year old son who have been abducted my a man who keeps them alive in his shed. They have running water, a bathtub, steady supply of food,  and basic sundries. Except for not ever leaving the room, they are just like a normal mother and son.

Since the boy was born in the room, he is used to it. In fact he refers to it as a living thing by dropping the article and calling it “room.” Room is the only world he has ever known.  There are many psychological issues here that are fascinating to think about.

For a movie to tell such a complicated event as this in such a successful and entertaining way is remarkable. Room made me think about some profound things and that’s why I pick it for best movie of 2015.