All Good Things…..

I started this blog over two years ago, and i’ve had a blast working on it. However, it’s now time for me to move on. I’ve now got a PS4 and am going to start trying to do more reviews for games that are more current, and thus I can no longer take on the moniker of “poor mans geek”. By the time you read this i’ll have started my new pages, “Ludophile Lab” and “What William’s Watching”. I’ll still be doing reviews, trailer impressions and editorials, but i’ll no longer be doing them on this site.

If I’m following you, then I enjoy your content and for the first few hours, days or however long it takes, i’ll go about re-following everyone I follow now so that I may keep up with your content, and I hope that, if you follow me now, you’ll follow me on my new pages as well.


Justice League vs Teen Titans Review

By William Shelton

Director: Sam Liu

Screenplay By: Bryan Q. Miller, Alan Burnett

Release Date: March 29, 2016 (digitally)

Run Time: 79 minuets

Rating: PG-13

Score: 3.5/5

The first review I ever did on this blog was the DC Animated film “Justice League: War”, an animated retelling of the New 52 origin story for DC’s flagship title. I didn’t care for it. So much so that I haven’t watched any other DC animated films after that. However, with this coming out at almost the exact time I’m planing on starting a new blog and wanting my last review here to be a special one some how, I thought I’d return to where this all started and take a look at the new DC Animated film: Justice League vs Teen Titans.

The film opens with the Justice League engaged in a fight with a few supervillains. Everyone goes down rather easily but one villain, Weather Wizard, tried to run for it. While running he steps in what looks to be a shadow that ends up possessing him. When the Flash catches him, the now possessed Wizard announces “Azarath calls, the child must answer”. Superman goes to attack, but even he is no match for the demon. The Justice League figure they are going to have a much harder fight on their hands than the one they Just got done with, so Batman calls Robin (this being his son, Damian) and tells him to keep the civilians safe.

This doesn’t go over well with Damian, who’s trained all his life to be an assassin and now feels he’s being forced to the side lines. So instead of doing what he was told, Damian hijacks the…batplane…batjet….not sure what that should be called…..and fly’s it directly into Wizards chest, forcing the demon out of him. This has the side effect of forcing the last of Batman’s patience out of him. Batman sends Damian over to the Teen Titans to learn how to be a better team member. And as always, this doesn’t please Damian.

The young Robin is instantly stand-offish towards his fellow titans Beast Boy, Raven and Blue Beetle. This climaxes in a fight between Robin and Blue Beetle, where Beetle loses control of the alien tech connected to him and he nearly kills Damian. Raven uses her magic to heal him, but in doing so the two of them get a look into each others minds. Raven is terrorized of Damian and asks for him to leave her alone while Damian finds himself more intrigued than scared.

Starfire, now the groups leader and mentor rather than an acting member, takes the group to the fair hoping that some some, non-training related activities would help the group bond a little, and as it turns out she was right. Everyone has a great time…until a group of demos come for Raven, saying that her father, Azarath is coming for her. The team fight off the demons and return to the tower to come up with their next move, but when they get there they learn that the Justice League has also learned that Raven is who Azarath is looking for and try to take her. The titans resist, saying that this is their team mate thus their problem to deal with. But as the two groups are arguing Azarath possesses the Justice League and use their powers to take down the teen age super heroes. In order to save her friends Raven agrees to go to her father. Now it’s up to a weakened group of teens to save their friend, the Justice League and the world.

One of the complaints i’ve heard about the movie was that Damian came off as “whiny”. I understand this complaint, but I don’t agree with it. I personal see Damian as being incredibly depressed and just not knowing how to deal with it. He was raised as an assassin and is very good at killing, but upon becoming Robin feels he’s constantly being held back by Batman’s rules and ideals. I saw a lot of my younger self in Damian, so seeing that character learn to get over these same kind of feels I had at his age endeared me to the character more than it might have otherwise. But also like me at that age, Damian was a little prick and I totally understand why some would be put off by him.

My main issue with the film is that it felt rushed. At under 80 minuets it would have been hard not to have been, but I feel like a lot of the scenes could have used some expanding, rather than constantly moving from one plot point to the next. The creative team did pretty well with what they had, but if a 90 minuet “directors cut” ever came out I think it would help the over all film immensely. I would have liked to see more bonding and more fighting as a team rather than separately. Another thing I didn’t like: the stupid T tower. Yeah, I remember this from what little of the show I watched, and I didn’t like it then either. Sorry, it just looks dumb. But that’s nit picky.

However, in a year when we’re getting two big budget movies from both the major comic book companies where their hero’s are fighting each other, I’m kind of surprised how well this handled that same topic. I went into this thinking it would be another edgelord made grimdark film about hero’s fighting, but what I got was actually a pretty sweet film about a group of teens learning to get along andd trying to help their friends. Even when the team has to take on Superman it’s never even considered to try and hurt him too much, just do whats needed to push the demon out of him. There is once scene where superman hurts someone a little more than necessary to force out the demon in them, but it’s a minor slip up in my opinion.

And unlike in “Justice League: War”, I didn’t end up hating the characters this time. I’ve never been a fan of the Superman/Wonder Woman paring, and I still wasn’t here, but the relation ship felt real, like two people who actually care about each other. And the characterizations in War that I hated so much are no where to be seen. Wonder Woman isn’t a war hungery idiot; she even gives a feminist critique of a film she a Clark watch together, which is just so much more fitting for her character than “i’m bored waiting to meet with a world leader, lets go kill some stuff”. And Superman isn’t this snobbish ass whole who knows he can win any fight and desperate to prove that fact. While the Justice League weren’t the main focus of the film, it was nice to see the characters behaving like themselves instead of the abominations they were turned into. And as for the Teen Titans themselves go, they were all portrayed rather well. While most of the screen time was reserved for Robin and Raven, the other Titans all had their moments and came off as a likable group of teenage hero’s. They got on each others nerves, they weren’t always sure hat too do, they were quike to lose their temper and act rashly: they were kids with powers they weren’t quite ready for and the film sold me on that idea.

I’d be willing to watch more Teen Titans movies from these creators and am really considering tracking down the old cartoon. This was so much better that I thought it would be, and I am so happy to be able to say that. I’m glad that I can actually say I liked a DC project again, because it’s been a lot time since I’ve been able too.

Deadpool Review

By William Shelton

Director: Tim Miller
Screenplay By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Release Date: February 12, 2016
Run Time: 108 minuets
Rating: R
Score: 3.5/5

There is a lot to like about Deadpool: it’s funny, action packed and a rather nice change of pace from the more family oriented superhero films we’ve been getting the last few years. The biggest issue is that most of what there is too like has been in the trailers. Most of the best jokes and action stunts were featured in at lest one of the trailers, which made watching the actual film not as entertaining as it could have or should have been. It also doesn’t help that the movie just isn’t as funny as I was expecting. Yeah, I said it.
There were chuckles throughout the film, don’t get me wrong, but the films best joke comes right at the beginning with the opening title crawl, and nothing afterwards hits that same high mark. This could be due to overexposure from watching the trailers as much as I did, but even then it’s hard to excuse the movie as the film makers should have known better. Even Deadpool’s trade mark 4th-wall breaking was done in such a traditional manner that I have to ask how uninspired the creative team had to have been to not do more with it. Sure, lines about Fox’s X-men time line being a mess and a jab about the low budget of the film were funny enough, but more could have been done. A lot more.
At it’s core Deadpool is really only two extended action scenes with bits of back story to break up the action and to make sure Deadpool’s comedy shtick doesn’t begin to grate, and I found this format to be rather effective. At the heart of the whole thing is a rather touching love story. While the film tries to toe the “Guardians of the Galaxy” line where they undermine any scene that comes close to “sweet” or “sentimental”, I found the chemistry between Reynolds and Baccarin’s to be so good that this sincerity undermined the films attempt at undermining itself. It’s even pretty progressive in the area as (mild spoiler warning) Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa enters the film as a sex worker. It could have been easy for the film to make jokes about the relationship between her and Wade (the tired kind that assumes that strippers and prostitutes don’t feel any kind of real emotions ever), the film never goes there. It does make 3 or 4 rape jokes that I could have done without tho.
While the central romance is all well and good, it’s the action that keeps this movie firmly in the realm of entertaining to me. Again most of the big stunts were shown in the trailers but unlike with the jokes, what wasn’t already shown was just as good. Even just a few little things that got cut from scenes in the trailer made those bits better than I was expecting.
Everyone in the cast does a great job with Reynolds obviously being the best thing in the movie. As far as I’m concerned this more that makes up for “X-Men Origins” and “Green Lantern” (both of which the film lampoons). However, special mention must be given too Brianna Hildebrand as “Negasonic Teenage Warhead”. Not only does she do a phenomenal job in the role, but having the character there in the first place was a pretty bold move. Her entire presents is just about having a teen age character (what I’m sure will end up being the core audiences of the film) who “gets” Deadpool and just does not give a shit about him. Her entire job is to lampoon the film itself when it starts getting too pleased with itself. My favorite example of this is when Deadpool refers to her as “Ripley from Aliens 3” and her respond is simply “f**k you’re old”. Her presence forces Deadpool, both as a character and as a movie, to up his game and not rely on overly worn call-backs and pop-culture references. While I still stand by what I said about the movie just not being as funny as I wanted it to be, I can only imagine how much worse it would have been had the creative team not thought in advance to have this character.
I can’t lie, I wanted more out of Deadpool than what I got, but I still enjoyed myself. I don’t think anyone other than the underage kids sneaking into the theater will think of this as a classic superhero movie in time, but it’s well worth seeing. It’s an enjoyable film, just not a great one. And for a movie coming out in February, i’ll take “just enjoyable” over what we normally get this time of year.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay By: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Release Date: December 18, 2015
Run Time: 135 Minuets
Rating: PG-13
Score: 4/5

I’m not going to lie, I went into The Force Awakens with lower than average expectations. I was sure the film would be…okay……tolerable……competent…..but nothing more. Most of this came down to one major issue: J.J. Abrams. Abrams is, by far, the most uniquely bland director I’ve ever known. He may be a better director than some one like Michael Bay, but from watching his films alone I can tell you more about Michael Bay than I can Abrams (like, for example: Bay as a clear hard on for Americana and the US Military especially). This is most clearly seen when focus is placed on Abrams one true strength as a film maker: mimicry. Abrams is always at his best when he’s trying to be another director, but once he tries to put his own spin on things, that’s when everything falls flat. The best example of this was, in my opinion, “Super 8”. When Super 8 was trying to be a Spielberg film, it was really enjoyable. Once Abrams had to rely on his own creativity, the entire film fell apart. This was a long form way of saying that I was expecting this to be the best Star War movie George Lucas made scene “The Empire Strikes Back” until it becomes yet another uninteresting, underwhelming Abrams film.
And I was totally wrong. While I still feel Abrams
shouldn’t have to lean so much on ’70s era Lucas to make a good film, I think this is the best film he’s made thus far in his career. So, with all that out of the way: lets talk about the movie.
We open, as Star Wars films always do, with a text crawl setting the scene. After “Return of the Jedi” and the fall of the Empire, and new foe called The First Order has surfaced to bring down the newly founded Republic and trying to reinstate the empire as it once was. We also learn that Luke Skywalker has gone missing. The film proper opens with a rebel pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac) being given a map that leads to Luke’s position, but the First Order has found him before he could get the information to General Leia (note the “General” there. Leia has always been a badass, people seem to forget) so he gives it to his droid, the incredibly adorable BB-8, and sends it off so the information doesn’t fall into enemy hands.
As the enemy lands and attack the village Poe was in, we see a lone Stormtrooper cower from battle and unwilling to fire at the unarmed civilians. We learn that this is his first battle, and it’s clear a life of war isn’t something he is cut out for. So when the New masked Villain, Kylo Ren, abducts Poe to learn the whereabouts of the map, our Stormtrooper, Fin (John Boyega) decides to break him out. The two men manage to escape and even start becoming friends, but are shot down and land on the same planet they had just left.
As this is going on BB-8 runs into Ray, played by Daisy Ridley, and the two decide to team up and look for Poe in a near by town. It’s hear that Ray and Fin meet up and decide to escape together as the First Order soon attacks the town knowing it’s about where Poe and Fin’s downed ship would have landed.
Once the two are free they come across some old friends, Han and Chewy, who decide to help the two of them get BB-8 to someone who can take the droid to the rebel HQ. Unfortunately, once they get there they are spotted by both First Order and rebel spies and a full on battle breaks out. Ray is kidnapped and taken to the First Order base. Fin, Han and General Leia go back to theirs, using Fins first hand knowledge of the enemy base to get in, rescue Ray and destroy the enemy HQ once and for all.
Now, you may have noticed something in this description of the films story. Barring a few details, this sounds an awful lot like the plot of the first Star Wars (i’ll rot in hell before calling it “A New Hope”), and you’d be right. However, this didn’t really bother me much as it truly felt more like an homage rather than rip-off. The new beats keep things feeling new and unless you’re really looking for the similarities between the films they’re not all that noticeable.
However, there were two major issues (and a few minor ones as well).
The first is how much of the film relies on coincidences. Poe just happened to be on the same planet as Ray, Ray and Fin just happen to meet up, they just happen to run into Han and Chewy and so on. While i’ve heard some say that this is “the force” leading these people on their path, but I don’t really by that. Nothing about how the force has been depicted, even in the prequels, makes it seem like the force is some kind of conscious being.
The second thing, unfortunately, deals with this films relation too the prequels. As much as I hate the prequels, I will defend them as cannon. So, with that in mind, how does no one seem to remember the fact that the Jedi were real? How has Luke and his journey become the stuff of legend when it would have happened within most of their lifetimes or just before it? I’m sorry but if the Jedi were aiding the republic only about 100 years ago, especially in such a technologically advanced society, there should be some evidence for it, right?
Those were the two things that bothered me to the point were I had to doc the movie. But then there was Captain Phasma, who only shows up three god damn times and doesn’t do shit in the film. Sure, that didn’t make the film any worse, but so much could have been done with her. (if she doesn’t show back up in 8 or 9, I’m going to be pissed).
Pretty much everything else is top notch. While the film may not be as jaw droppingly beautiful as this years Crimson Peak, there are still a ton of amazing shots throughout, like one early scene where a laser blast is being force held in place. Fin and Ray are two of my favorite leads in a long, long time and Ray is probably the best female lead in a genre film scene Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” (sorry “Mad Max: Furry Road” Fans, I like Ray a bit more)
And going back to Abrams: one of the reasons his work fails is his “misery box” crap which never pays off well enough for it to be the big selling point for his films. However, there is a twist in the film that I honestly never saw coming. It’s not a story twist, but when it comes, you’ll know and it is beautifully well done.
In the end I’d say this is my second or third favorite film in the franchise. It’s not better than “The Empire Strikes Back” but I may have enjoyed this more than either the original or “Return of the Jedi”. I am absolutely looking forward to seeing where this new trilogy goes from here (although this “one new movie a year with a main installment every two years” thing kind of bothers me). If you haven’t seen this yet, just go do it. But don’t bother seeing it in 3D as it just does not add anything to the over all film.

Scorsese Month Review: Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Laeta Kalogridis
Release Date: February 19, 2010
Run Time: 138 Minuets
Rating: R
Score: 3.5/5

First off, lets deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of people cannot stand the “asylum horror” genre of movies as they feel the films help in demonizing and stigmatizing the mentally ill. If you are one of those people, this is not going to be the film that changes your mind.
The film is about two U.S. Marshals, Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the disappearance of a prisoner/inmate of Shutter Island, a metal hospital for the criminally insane. As the two begin to explore it becomes clear to Edward that not everything is what it seems, and that the Island might have more in comment with a Nazi Death Camp than a metal hospital. Soon the simple task of finding the missing person is forgotten as Edward tries to unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.
And unless you’ve never seen a movie ever you will know exactly what’s going on. If you can’t figure it out, go watch the movie before reading on. So yeah, turns out Edward isn’t really a US Marshal. He was, but after killing his wife and going crazy due to the loss of his kids, he’s an inmate of Shutter Island himself, and this was all one big, elaborate game set up to break him out of his ruse. Shocker, I know. If you chose to ignore my warning kept reading before watching the movie, just know that this isn’t much of a twist. It’s meant to be, sure, but almost every movie, book or game set in an Asylum has the same basic twist. If the setting is an Asylum, there is almost always going to be a main character who has a secret history there.
Let’s go back to that elephant in the room. The reason most people don’t like this genre is because most of the scares are based on the idea that the mentally ill are inherently frightening, and this movie does fall into that trap. I’ve heard a few psychiatric justifications on the subject and i’m not going to debate the merits of arguments made by people way smarter that I am, but in the end, if you go up to someone and pretty much say “you’re frightening due to something you have no control over” it’s naturally going to anger or offend that person. What makes this movie both interesting and some what hard for me to judge is how it deals with that. Like I said, everything that happens in the film was a game, a role play set up by the head of the hospital to help break Edward out of his ruse. Once you learn this a lot of the “scary crazy people” loss a lot of what made them scary. They were playing a role, or actually giving good advise. But, you only learn this after the fact, meaning that in the moment, the scare is still based on “this person is crazy, be afraid”. While I am personally okay with this twist and how it handles the subject, I can’t say you will be or even that you should be.
The only thing that really holds the movie down is that I feel it runs a bit too long and there are a few odd scenes. For example, Edward was in World War 2, and thus doesn’t like Germans. One of the doctors is German, and Edward calls the guy out for trying to hard to hide his accent (going so far as to say the doctor was doing a good job, but he was hitting the consonants too hard) but…he wasn’t hiding an all. It was there for every one to see…well, hear. There were only one or two scenes like that, were it felt like one more rewrite would have been appropriate, but nothing that ruins the movie.
As always, I end by asking, how does this stack up for Scorsese? It’s not his best film (that’s is still “The Departed”) and it’s not my favorite film of his (that’s still either “Goodfellas” or “Wolf of Wall Street”), but I do think it’s the best summery of what Scorsese does as a film maker. See, Scorsese and the rest of the “Movie Brats” were the first generation of film makers who grew up with both movies and television being a huge part of their childhoods. Because of this, their field of reference wasn’t just limited too by what they were shown in film school, but also the low budge stuff they loved as kids. Because of this, Most of the best work from Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and their elk was at its best by giving a new coat of paint to the movies they loved as kids and treating these “low brow” films with the same respect film makers gave “high brow” films.
So, what does this have to do with this movie? Well, that’s exactly what Scorsese did with this movie; he ave a new coat of paint to a ‘low brow” genre. But instead of just making a good movie out of it, he took a genre of film that can, and too often is, dehumanizing and allowed to get away with it, and made a great film. Sure, the twist is nothing special, and the main draw of the film is still to see a master film maker doing what he does best, but in the hands of anyone else this could have been just a bad as other films in the genre with out even the benefit of being well made either. You may dislike the movie, and maybe rightfully so, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I’ll See you next November for Scorsese Month 2016!

Scorsese Month Review: The Departed

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: William Monahan
Release Date: October 6, 2006
Run Time: 151 Minuets
Rating: R
Score: 4.5/5

While I can’t call this my favorite Scorsese movie I can say I think it’s his best (at lest from the ones i’ve seen). It’s as well acted, well directed and well scored as we’ve all come to expect from Scorsese, but what pushes this over the edge into “best of” territory is the script. “The Departed” is nothing less that a master class in dramatic irony. For those who skipped English class, dramatic irony is when we, the audience, are privy to knowledge that most of if not all the cast isn’t aware of. For example: in “Romeo and Juliet”, Romeo awakes near the end of the play to find Juliet dead, but we know that she is only sleeping. And no, I’m not adding a spoiler warning to a 400+ year old play you all should have read by now.
Getting back on topic, “The Departed” is about a group of Massachusetts police trying to take down the Costello crime family. Unbeknownst to the police, Costello has a man on the inside, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who’s not just on the inside but a high ranking official. But that’s not all: what Costello doesn’t know is that the police have their own mole, Billy Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio). Both groups end up finding out they’ve been infiltrated, and the moles are then tasked with finding each other. .
What makes this so good is, again, the dramatic irony. Dicaprio’s Costigan is constantly getting the crap beat out of him, while not much goes wrong in the life of Sullivan. Maybe I have a dark sense of humor, or maybe i’m just a bad person, but I constantly found this set up to rather funny. There’s a part where Dicaprio’s character has a broken arm, only to have it constantly smashed on a pool-table in order to break of the cast that I couldn’t stop laughing at. Is the scene meant to be funny? Probably not, but that doesn’t change the fact. It’s not all laughs though. There are a few scenes that are genuinely puls pounding, like when both moles are either close to each other or on different sides of an operation, each trying to inform their real owners on what’s going on. I can’t really say a whole lot more with out spoiling the movie, and in the case it really is better to go in as cold as possible.
What I can talk about is just how good the cast was. Damon and Dicaprio both did great, but you already knew that (or you should if you’ve ever watched a movie with either of them), but there wasn’t a single bad performance here. Hell, I even like Mark Wahlberg in this, and I normally don’t like him as an actor (granted, this isn’t as impressive as David Fincher making me like Tyler Perry in “Gone Girl”, but it’s impressive none the less). And then there’s Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello. Again, if you’ve ever seen a movie with Jack Nicholson then you already knew going into this that he was going to be good, he may be one of the best things in the movie. While he makes Costello intimidating, he also makes the character a lot of fun. There’s a scene with him and Damon in a theater that just cracked me up when I saw it. Out of ever Nicholson film i’ve seen, this has got to be one of the best from him. And when you take in to consideration that he’s been in both “Chinatown” and “the Shining” that says a lot.
Going back to Scorsese for a minuet, I said at the end of last weeks review that this was the film that landed him his first Oscar, for both best director and best picture. The question is: should it have won, and was does it should the academy have give him an award before hand. Personally, I think this was a group trying to make up for a looot of mistakes by not giving him an Oscar be for then. And yes, I think he should have won. I just wish he won in a better yeah. The 2007 nominees for best picture were lacking in my opinion. Sure, I liked “Bable” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, but winning over them and the other nominees is kind of like a sports star winning over a middle school team, and it’s this kind of thing that makes me not trust the oscars all that much (well, that and the fact that both “The English Patient” and “The Artist” also both won best picture). I mean, was “Dancing with Wolves” really better than “Goodfellas”? Was “Rocky” really better than “Taxi Driver”? In the end, while I think the award is pretty pointless, it was about time for Scorsese’s talent to be recognized, and they couldn’t have found a better movie to do it with. In the end, that’s really all there is to say. In the end that’s all that needs to be said. This is a fantastic movie and if you haven’t seen it you should go do that. Now. Like, right now. Stop reading and go. Why are you still here, get going.

Scorsese Month 2015 Review: Casino

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi
Release Date: November 22, 1995
Run Time: 178 Minutes
Rating: R
Score: 2.75/5

While “Casino” is by no means a bad movie, this is by far the lest good movie i’ve seen from Scorsese up till this point. Again, it’s not bad, but the ease in witch i can put this one the bottom of the “best Scorses movies i’ve seen” list is kind of staggering. I think a larg part of that is the sorce material. Bassed off of a book writen by co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, i think a lot of my issues stim from this story simply not being as interesting from the get-go as “Goodfellas” or “Wolf oof Wall Street” was. I mean, the movie is about a guy helping the mob skim movie from Casino’s, there’s not a lot you can really do with that. Thius is a fact everyone seemed to be awear of as a lot of the film focusis on Robert De Niro’s “Sam Rothstein” and Sharon Stone’s “Ginger McKenna” detiriorating marriage. While that’s not all that happenes the fact is, nearly the entire second act of this movie feels like it forgot that it was a mob movie.
So what’s the film about? Well, in the 1970’s the Itallan mob had a pretty strong hold on Las Vagas Casino’s. In order to make sure everything is running smothly one family sends De Niro’s “Sam Rothstein” to run one of thier Casino’s, and Joe Pesci’s “Nicholas Santoro” to make sure nothing went wrong with the skim (where they mob bosses would take money off the top of the casino’s profit). The only problem? Well, Nicholas can’t quite control himself, and he soon finds the eyes of the law on him. While Sam tries to distance himself, Nicholas really doesn’t seem to care about the fact that the fed’s have their eyes on him and he continually made more trouble. As the two men become more and more enraged at each other (Sam angry over the unwanted attention and Nicholas mad over a seeming lack of disrespect) focus s taken off the Las Vegas operation until it all crumbles.
In the end, that’s really all there is too say about “Casino”. This is the story of two men who let ego and outside circumstances get in the way of what was a very lucrative operation. And if this was a 90 minuet movie, that probably wouldn’t have been too bad. Unfortunately the film is nearly 3 hours long, and thus there is a lot that feels like padding. For example, Sam gets married to a woman who says out right “i don’t love you”, so you know it’s not going to work out for the two of them, but there is so much time devoted to watching their marriage fall apart that you have to wonder why no one just did a voice over saying “things feel apart, and she died from an OD a few months after we got divorced”. Sure, there are scene that it makes since to have in the film, Like how McKenna left their child tide up and locked in her room alone one night so she could go out drinking, or how she ripped off Sam near the end, but almost everything else is superfluous and could have been handled in a way that didn’t make the movie drag on.
Then there is also a really annoying feature where both De Niro and Joe Pesci are giving movie-overs throughout the film. While I never confused one for the other or anything like that I found it to be an odd decision that didn’t sit well with me. This may just be a personal gripe, but it’s something that did make the film lesser in my eyes. To me it made the film seem like it was losing focus, and it would have been better to just make this De Niro’s story about having to deal with a man like Pesci’s “Nicholas”.
However, I did say the movie wasn’t bad, didn’t I? And to the films credit, the acting saves this film. While you wont think of “Sam Rothstein” when someone asks to name you’re favorite De Niro performance, he does great work here, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. Everyone took their roles seriously and the film is compulsively watchable because of it. Sure you may check you’re watch throughout the movie and even ask “was this scene really necessary” you will at lest be thankful you’re watching an overlong good movie instead of a 3 hour mess where either none of the cast can act or they choose not too (looking at you transformers).
So how does this stack up? Again, I can easily say this is the lest good Scorsese i’ve seen. While i don’t hate it, there really just isn’t a debate about that fact for me. But every director has thier “bad” movies right? Spielberg has “Kingdom of the Cristal Skull”, George Lucas has the “Star Wars” prequels and David Fincher has “Alien 3”, so it’s not uncommon for creative people to strike out every once in a while. And to be fair, “Casino” is a better movie than any of those, so even if this is the worst Scorsese has to offer, he’s still better than most. See you next time as i take a look at “The Departed”, the film that won Scorsese his first Oscare.

Intro to Film: Pulp Fiction Review

Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction is, quite frankly, a master piece of American Cinema. While the writer/director has been putting out consistent quality work since his 1992 debut “Reservoir Dogs”, there is a reason why Pulp Fiction is widely considered to be his best film. With it’s great characters and writing, subversive take on violence and deconstruction of the traditionally “macho” image of most mafia films, this more than earns it’s place in the American film institutes top 100 films of all time.
The film tells three separate but intertwined stories: The first deals with two Mafia hitmen, Jules and Vincent how were sent to collect an item from some low level goons who tried double crossing their boss, Marsellus Wallace. While the two are running this earn for their boss they are shot at from near-point blank range, yet neither one is harmed. This leads Jules to have an existential crisis, questioning both his faith and his choice of profession. The films second story is about Vincent taking his bosses wife, Mia Wallace, out for a night while Marsellus is away on business. While the night starts well it ends in chaos as Mia overdoses. Vincent is forced to find Mia help, going to his drug dealer who begrudgingly assists. The last of the films stories revolves around an aging boxer named Butch who was paid to throw a match by none other than the films favorite crime lord, Marsellus Wallace. However, one the night of the fight Butch ends up killing his opponent. Naturally this causes some conflict between Butch and Marsellus, but when the two men finally come to blows it’s hard to say either of them are truly “victorious”.
While each of the films three stories have their own main characters, Jacksons “Jules” I both the most interesting and the most clearly representative of the films major themes. As the film starts Jules and Vincent are on their way to collect an item from one of Marsellus’ cronies not knowing exactly how many people are in the apartment they’re headed into nor how well armed they are. Both men even state that they “should have shotguns” for the job. However, while the two men talk about being undermanned and possibly outgunned, the films tone is relaxed. The viewer watches as the two engage in work place gossip and light prodding at each other. Even once bullets start flying, the film treats the violence humorously, more akin to Saturday morning cartoons rather than a typical Mob movie. But when the movie ends Jules, believing he just lived through a miracle tries not to kill a man robbing the diner he and Vincent just so happen to be visiting. This scene is one of the most tense of the film. Two people have their guns aimed at Jules, and though he always has the upper hand, the viewer know that at any moment some one could snap and end the film in a blood bath. The viewer also knows Jules could kill both robbers with out a second thought or breaking a sweat. Yet the tension comes from Jules’ decision not too kill and the viewers wish to see him fallow through on it.
This is part of what makes the film so great. While the violence is always entertaining it’s rarely if ever suspenseful. The real suspense comes from an added grandiosity towards the mundane. For example, when Mia overdoes and Vincent takes her to his drug dealer for help, the viewer spends little time with Mia, but instead watch as the dealer and his wife argue. The stress of the scene and the viewers concerns are not with the woman slowly dying in the living room, but the couple quarreling. For another example, look to when Vincent shoots Marvin in the face. The cavalier attitude take towards the meaningless death on another person makes the scene funny and not something the view is not meant to give much thought too. However, when Vincent makes an off hand remark to Mr. Wolf, the man sent in to help clean up the mess, that’s when the scene becomes tense. That’s when the viewer is meant to start asking “what’s going to happen next”. This could be, in part, why the film is so highly acclaimed.
But an interesting theme and lampooning on the necessity of violence to sell movies wouldn’t mean much if the film making behind it wasn’t strong enough to back it yup. And here again, Tarantino shines. His script can be funny to the point of causing the viewer pain from laughing too much, but he also knew when to tone it back and allow from the darker moments to really shine. And while his use of racial epithets can seem like childish shock fodder, it’s arguable that these had a very specific purpose. Too many people confuse movies about awful people are being endorsements of their vileness. Look at Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Walstreet”, a movie showing that the American system is so broken that a man like Jordan Belfort could be as evil as he was and still not be penalized for it like he should have, and then look at the controversy surrounding the film where people complained that Belfort was portrayed too positively for an example of this. With Tarantino’s use of racist slurs it’s arguable that this is a constant reminder to the audience “please, laugh at the jokes I wrote, but remember that these are not good people”.
Aiding in the films production is that Tarantino plays both screenwriter and director, allowing him total control over the films content. It’s well know by now that part of Tarantino’s identity as a film maker is referencing pop culture, film in particular, and being able to dictate how each scene is shot offers him more room to move in this regard. Had he been limited to writing the scrip, the film could have been little more than an “R” rated “Shrek”, drowning each line in pop culture lingo as a wink to the audience. But as he was also the director, he was able to visually reference the films he loved and the film making style he is paying homage too as well. And as film is inherently visual, this adds more to the experience that simply repeating a line or referencing a well known peace of American culture.
And that is what makes Tarantino stand out as a film maker. His obsession with exploration era film and pop music is something an audience can only get from him. While Tim Burton’s obsession with German expressionism is similar, the differences in the era’s are reflected in what kinds of films these two men make. In the end, the best thing a film maker can do is give an audience a reason why they need to focus on their work. And Tarantino does this with ease.

Score: 5/5

My Grade: 10/10

Scorsese Month 2015 Review: Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Sccorsese
Screenplay By: Paul Schrader
Release Date: February 8, 1976
Run Time: 114 minuets
Rating: R
Score: 4/5

For all the praise Martin Sccorsese gets as a film maker, and for all the great things i’ve heard about “Taxi Driver” before watching it, it is almost funny how little I knew about the film before setting down to watch it. Sure, I had heard Robert De Niro’s “You Talking to Me?” monologue before, and I knew he got a kick ass Mohawk at some point in the film, but that was it. The story, the plot, the themes, none of them were known to me when I sat down and watched the film. Because of this I wasn’t expecting to be as relevant as it was. And make no mistake, this has as much to say about today society as “Wolf of Wall Street” did, regardless of the fact that it was released and set in the 1970’s.

“Taxi Driver” is about a man named Travis (played by Robert De Niro), a Viet Nam vet who has returned to New York with some real issues and a hatred of the city. Due to his inability to sleep at night he gets a job as a Taxi Driver to give him something to do. Travis keeps a diary that functions as a narrator throughout the film, and in the beginning he only really talks about how he feels lonely an how he hates the scum of New York (the pimps and drug-dealers) and how he wishes for a Noah-esk rain to wash them all away. This changes a bit when he meats a woman named Betsy. Maybe “meets” is the wrong word. He sees her at one point and thinks that she is pure, unlike the rest of the city, and vows that “they will not touch her”. Travis then stalks her at her job until finally convincing her to go on a date with him…to a porno theater. This upsets Betsy (as i’m sure you could have guessed) and she no longer wants anything to do with him. Travis writes in his diary that he was wrong about her and that it’s now time for some one to do something about the city, so he goes and he buys a few guns and prepares himself to become something of a vigilante.
While this is only the first half of the movie, there is a lot going on that help explain why I think this movie is still relevant. The first thing I noticed is how much Travis sounds like Rorschach from “Watchmen”. Now for those of you how don’t know much about “Watchmen”, Rorschach was writer Alan Moore’s take on comic-book characters like “Batman” and “The Punisher”, normal people inspired by tragedy to take on the criminal underworld. However, Rorschach isn’t the kind of character you are meant too look up to. He was a violent psychopath with no regard for human life. Rorschach was very much a critic and condemnation of that kind of character. Travis function very much the same way, but what is frightening is the response to him that i’ve seen form many people. More on this after point number 2.

The second point about Travis that hits a little to close to home is how he only chooses to become violent after Betsy rejects him. That was the straw that broke the camels back. Not the violence of the city, not the dope men selling to kids: a woman. Travis is the original “Nice Guy”. He is the kind of guy who hides behind manors to mask his sexism, and the kind of guy who hates “scum” to hid his own racism (more on this latter). An what makes this so frightening is that while most people know you shouldn’t want to be Rorschach, the response i’ve most commonly seen when it came to Travis is “he was a good man with a good heart an the will to act on his morals”. When you look at all the police shootings lately, and how many people are sporting the cops instead of the (mostly unarmed) victims, can you really say you are surprise when there is such a powerfully strong and positive reaction to a negative representation of self-righteous bigotry?
For real though, if you show this film to someone and they like or defend Travis, run. Run for your life.
So that was a little heavy, lets get back to something a little lighter. Like Child Prostitution and Cold Blooded Murder. Wait…
One night a young girl jumps into the back of Travis’ cab asking him to “just go”. Before he does however, a man pulls the girl out of the cab, gives Travis a $20 bill and tells him to forget about what happened. Travis doesn’t, and over the next few days the girl becomes his fixation. He soon finds her and talks to her, learning that she is only 12.5 years old and a prostitute working for a man named “Sport”. Travis vows to help get her out, and does so at the end of the movie by killing her pimp and the other men keeping her.
However, that’s not really the end. The movie really ends with a shot of his wall, of people thanking him for what he did, including the girls parents. He then takes on a fair, only to find that it’s Betsy, who his forgiven him and is ready to retry things with him again.
Aw, this would be such a sweet ending if it wasn’t contributing directly yo the movies main themes about the glorification of violence, especially racial based violence in American society. See, throughout the movie Travis talks about the violence of the city and how disgusting it is, a claim that is validated by the city’s response to his own violence. While the pimps were not good people, none of them wronged Travis in any way, and his soul reason for killing them was “you are not acting in a way I agree with”. And the fact that he is allowed to not only walk free but also be made into a hero is the city saying one thing load and clear: so long as I agree with the killers reasons, he is not a criminal.

The racial stuff is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and in fact, Scorsese even changed part of the film in fear that controversy would break out by those who only look at the service level of a movie. However, both the screen write and Sccorsese (I believe) have said that Travis was a racist. The main way the movie tries to tell us this is by the way he acts around people of color (almost always black) and his response to those who quite clearly are racist. However, it’s most clear in one shot when a group of black men pass him by; we go into slow motion as Travis simply watches, as if he’s waiting for them to become violent.
Another part that was meant to show this was that the part of the pimp was meant to be played by a black actor, but this was changed as I said before. And I think that is the one big flaw in the film. While this depiction of extreme racial violence would have turned some views off, it would have made the underlining theme more clear. And the fact is, there will always be those who confuse depictions of racism with endorsements of racism (for an example of this, look at “Django Unchained”, “Far Cry 4”, “Bioshock Infinite” and so on), so choosing to try an under play this aspect doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it didn’t even help the movie, as at the time of release several critics still mistook the film as being racist.
So now we look at how this compares to the other Sccorsese movies i’ve reviewed so far. Personally i’d say this is my second favorite film from him (Goodfellas still takes top honers), but it is one of the more thematically intense films i’ve seen from him. While “Wolf of Wall Street” had plenty to say about the exploitative nature of capitalism and the like, it was still pretty easy to watch it just as a black comedy. Here the themes are hard to ignore, and there is little that isn’t directly in services to it.
All in all, if it wasn’t for that creative misstep in the casting this would have been a perfect film. As it is, Taxi Driver is still a great film and very much deserving of all the praise it gets. I loved the hell out of it and I think you will too, so go see it if you haven’t already.

Intro to Film: Pieces of April Review

Pieces of April is about a young woman named April who tries to reconcile with her family before her mother dies from breast cancer. While her family does agree to meet with her on thanksgiving, it’s made clear that both Aprils mother and siblings are fine with the excommunication between them and thus complain and delay their trip in as many ways possible. The film ends with Aprils mother coming to the understanding that she has been far too cruel towards her daughter and does end up going to face April alone before the rest of the family arrives. It’s a sweet ending if the viewer can look past what a competent mess the rest of the film is.
In order for this film to work the view needs to understand Joy, April’s mother. The film makers need to get the audience to understand both why Joy was so angry towards her daughter and why she comes around in the end and they fail here in spectacular fashion. While there is a scene explaining that Joy had no happy memories with her daughter and some minor lip service is paid to April making a series of bad life choices, none of it puts the viewer in a head space where they can understand or sympathize with how cartoonishly evil Joy is throughout the film. Early in the film Joy has the family stop at a doughnut shop and, when reminded that her daughter is cooking them dinner, orders another dozen in spite. Latter, she literally has the car stopped in the guise of having a serious talk with her family about what they should due upon her death, only to make jokes about how they will discard the food April makes without her noticing. It’s understandable that a parent might be angry with their child for making the kinds of mistakes the viewer is told April has made, but Joy doesn’t seem angry; she revels in how horrible she is. Time and time again Joy is portrayed as being either disinterested in making up with her daughter or actively trying to keep the grudge going. When she sees another mother treating a young girl the same way it can be expected she herself has treated April, it’s hard to believe that she take this as a sigh that she was in the wrong. While Joy’s character is where a bulk of the films problems lie, it’s not even close to all of them.
There is a scene near the middle of the film where April tries to explain Thanksgiving to a non-English speaking Chinese family, but continuously botching it as if she understands the point but not the importance. This is a pretty accurate depiction of the films other big thematic point: race issue. While the film doesn’t feel “racist”, it’s hard to ignore the “not all white people….” message beneath the surface. In order to really explain this, look at one of the time the film gets this right, April’s boyfriend Bobby. Bobby is African American, and near the beginning of the film he goes off to “take care of something” and the viewer fallows parts of her journey. He soon makes a stop at a payphone and the scene is step up as to imply he’s making a drug deal. However, it turns out that he is looking to buy a suit in order to impress April’s parents. This is honestly a great subversion of racist tropes that is meant to chastise the viewer for making these kind of assumptions based on outdated stereotypes. Even as the film ends the viewer sees a multi-cultural Thanksgiving dinner as a beautiful thing with good people of all races. To bad the film makers doesn’t seem to really understand what the “issues” with racism really are. At one point in the film April is looking for help cooking her turkey, telling a African American neighbor that she has some problems, when she is cut off as the neighbor laughs at the “privileged white girls problems”. The film then cuts to April having explained her situation to her neighbor who is so shook up by April’s sob story that she immediately chooses to help April. This implies that having a sob story too tell counter’s privilege in a society filled with systematic racism, and that’s just not true. When people of color talk about “white privilege” they aren’t saying white people don’t have issues, they are saying that those issues aren’t associated with race. This scene just makes it seem that the film makers are more interested in saying “not all white people are bad” to the point where it undermines the more positive and progressive scenes throughout.
Pieces of April attempts to be an examination of a dysfunctional family and American race relations, but due to a hilariously bad misunderstanding of racial issues and a cartoonishly antagonistic family the film fails on nearly every level.
The fifth episode of the first season of Bojack Horseman also deals with the topic of dysfunctional families and it does so in a more honest, funny and poignant manner. Because of this, it’s hard to find a reason anyone would need to sit through this slog of a film. Pieces of April fails on nearly every level, with only one or two scenes pushing slightly above “unredeemable” territory.

Score: 1.5/5

My Grade: 19/20