Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Also known as: Dust to Dust, The Low Dweller (both working titles)
Release Date: December 6th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Music by: Dickon Hinchliffe
Cast: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoë Saldana, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower

Appian Way Productions, Scott Free Productions, Red Granite Pictures, Relativity Media, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me? Huh? What’s it done for me?” – Rodney Baze Jr.

*written in 2014.

Out of the Furnace is produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio. It also stars Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower and Zoe Saldana. With all those names, one would expect a pretty compelling film. What I saw was actually a disappointment.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper, who did the highly acclaimed Crazy Heart, this film falls sort of flat.

In a nutshell, the film was a bit slow and it felt mostly uneventful and very predictable. Where there were good spots to build some serious tension, the ball was dropped. In fact, tension was nearly nonexistent except in quick instant doses where it appeared and ended within a short single scene. There was no build up, no real emotional investment to be made in the characters and it was a string of missed opportunities for a better story or at least a more layered story.

Part of the problem with the film, is that it is a revenge story where the victim being avenged was an unlikable prick and an idiot. I was more invested in seeing the evil asshole in the film get taken out over how he treated his date in the opening scene than what he did to the idiot prick.

The film’s climax, the big payoff for the revenge we’re supposed to be wanting, is pretty straightforward, there are no surprises and it plays out as expected and I felt no emotional pull in the end.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad film, it is just that I was expecting something of much better quality with all these people involved. It is slow, seemingly pointless and a forgettable film. Nothing sets it apart, nothing makes it special or memorable. It just simply exists, as a story of mostly unlikeable characters that no one will want to relate to.

Documentary Review: Particle Fever (2013)

Release Date: June 14th, 2013 (Sheffield Doc/Fest – UK)
Directed by: Mark Levinson
Music by: Robert Miller

Anthos Media, Abramorama, BOND360, 99 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Particle Fever is kind of a necessary documentary. Not that it will be watched for its necessity, as those who should learn about this subject, would prefer to remain ignorant and be fearful of the misleading and scary headlines regarding the LHC (Large Hadron Collider – the big particle accelerator in Switzerland). They would also probably prefer to stay offended over something called the “God particle”.

Anyway, it is still an entertaining and engaging documentary nonetheless, as it follows the story of the LHC and the stories of the people who work on it.

The documentary is well-edited, well-organized and made pretty simple to understand – even when it covers the more complex stuff about particles and the whole point of this giant machine’s existence.

If this film does anything, it goes to show the importance of this kind of research and really, the importance of science in general. Our world is becoming more and more ignorant to these things and this has lead to politicians and others standing in the way of scientific progress.

If you don’t walk away from this film somewhat excited about science and the work that these people are doing, you probably just need to fire up your DVR and catch up on Dr. Oz.

Documentary Review: Blackfish (2013)

Release Date: January 19th, 2013 (Sundance)
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Music by: Jeff Beal

CNN Films, Manny O. Productions, Magnolia Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

I finally got around to watching the film Blackfish. It isn’t that I was in denial or something about SeaWorld and other oceanic theme parks questionable treatment of animals, as I have been aware of this stuff for quite some time. I simply put it off because I knew what I was going to get before I got it.

The film was well done and well presented. The interviews with ex-trainers who worked for Sea World added credence to this documentary’s claims and message. Sure, every documentary ever made has its own agenda but regardless of how you feel about either side of the coin in regards to the treatment of performance animals, in this case – killer whales, you can’t deny the fact that they don’t have much free will and that living an unnatural life is probably going to create some stress for the animals.

Now Sea World didn’t participate in the documentary, as they knew what the agenda was here. They have however rebutted with a website of their own that gives their position on things spoken about within the film, as well as examples within the film that they find untrue or misleading. That website is here and if you have a strong opinion about Sea World but haven’t read their side, you should.

Point being, it is very easy to get emotionally invested in this film – I was. However, you have to know that it is creating a narrative and has a specific purpose for existing. Most documentaries are propaganda of some form. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t just attach yourself wholeheartedly to one side of the argument, without listening to the other side. Critical thinking, y’all.

Now I am not taking Sea World’s side, as I think forcing animals to perform for people in this sort of capacity is something that we as a soceity need to evolve beyond. I have no problem however with Sea World helping animals in need and for all the contributions they give to these causes. However, I am aware that in this day and age, the way for Sea World to make money in the first place, is by putting these animals on display. So what’s the right answer?

But this is a film review, not a political discussion.

In the end, Blackfish told its argument well and I can see where this will be damaging to Sea World. Does it mean that what they said or in most cases implied was factual? Not necessarily. Regardless, the point got across and this documentary achieved what it was trying to achieve.

Documentary Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Release Date: May 18th, 2013 (Cannes)
Directed by: Frank Pavich
Music by: Kurt Stenzel

City Film, Snowfort Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, 90 Minutes

Review:

While this movie does shit all over the David Lynch adaptation, I won’t let me personal feelings on the matter get in the way of enjoying this documentary and experiencing the vision that Alejandro Jodorowsky had for Frank Herbert’s Dune.

The guy certainly has a gift for creativity and an interesting vision and his Dune certainly would have been an incredibly unique experience that could have beat Star Wars to the cultural phenomenon punch and actually have been the trendsetter for big blockbusters to come.

However, this is one of those things that probably looks a lot cooler on paper and I can’t blame Hollywood for not making it. It’s bizarre and I just don’t see how it would have connected with the general public. Sure, art house film lovers would have probably ate it up but there’s no way that this bizarre movie would have captured audiences’ attention like Star Wars did.

The problem I have with it, is what Jodorowsky loves about it. It is his vision and really, a bastardization of Frank Herbert’s iconic science fiction novel, which is considered by many to be a sci-fi bible.

Jodorowsky could make his own sci-fi epic with as different as this film would have been from its source material. While the Lynch adaptation was ruined by producers, at least it had the story mostly right and his visual work is still what I see in my head when I read any Dune book. And Lynch’s creation certainly fits the tone much better.

Jodorowsky is in love with himself and his ideas. The guy is a bit off of his rocker and incredibly self-absorbed. He even compared what he was doing to Herbert’s work to raping your wife on your wedding night… but raping her with love. I’m serious, that’s how he saw this project.

Frankly, Lynch’s film was far from perfect but I’m glad that we got that version instead. Even if Lynch has disowned it since it came out.

As a documentary, this was really interesting, especially for fans of Dune and the fact that this was almost made in the early ’70s. If anything, it is cool hearing the tale of how this insane picture almost happened and how all the key players came together, one of which was Salvador Dali.

TV Review: Attack On Titan (2013- )

Original Run: April 7th, 2013 – current
Created by: Hajime Isayama
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Attack On Titan manga by Hajime Isayama
Music by: Hiroyuki Sawano

Wit Studio, Production I.G., Dentsu, 37 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

I’m not what you would call a big anime fan. Well, at least not since I was a kid and a teenager in what I now consider to be the golden age of anime, which was the mid 80s through the 90s. As a kid I was captivated by Robotech and Akira. As a teenager, it was Ninja Scroll and Ghost In The Shell and really just about anything I could get my hands on before anime went really mainstream in the United States.

Once it became a big thing, I sort of checked out. At that point, the quality of what was successful paled in comparison to the earlier stuff that I loved. The fanboys who raved about how good everything was, even the shit, just irritated me and I had the attitude of, “Fuck you, I was here when all you knew was Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles.”

Anyway, Attack On Titan is the first anime series that I have seen in years that not only kept my interest but also had me applauding its writing, its characters, its philosophy and its artistic execution. Other than Hellsing, I cannot think of another anime series in the last decade that had me so engaged from beginning to end. In fact, I am assuming that it is resonating with many others and sort of anticipate some English-speaking live-action crappy remake in the next few years – hopefully not starring Sam Worthington.

The premise of this tale is pretty compelling and is what initially hooked me. Essentially, it has been a hundred years since humanity has been decimated by a race of giants called “Titans”. In that time, they have built a wall around themselves in an effort to keep the Titans out. As the story starts, the Titans bring down the wall and our main hero sees his mother eaten by one of them – spurring his rage and his quest for vengeance.

What follows, one would assume would be pretty predictable: kid wants revenge for dead mother, kid becomes badass, kid kills evil, revenge accomplished. What you get however, is a story that is anything but predictable and in fact, takes several crazy turns throughout the series, always giving you something fresh and new. Roadblocks seemingly come from everywhere and no one ever feels like they’re safe.

Yes, it is a dark and intense show. While that seems to be a trend in entertainment lately, Attack On Titan doesn’t just use it in a generic typical way, they use it to motivate the characters and the plot in a pretty dynamic way. The characters constantly find themselves at odds with the awful cruel world that they live in and even though they must fight to survive in it, at the core, they strive for something better and refuse to accept their doomed apocalypse of a life.

The show presents a lot of questions and by the time you get to the end, many of those questions are left unanswered. This leaves me thinking that there is more to come. The show is over, at least this initial series but there are companion films being released and I anticipate a proper conclusion to the main protagonists story at some point.

Again, this is an amazing series and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting something different and refreshing to watch. I binged watched it in two sessions of about five-to-six hours each, so you can get through it fairly quickly. Check it out on Netflix. Also, it is not dubbed, it is subtitled. I really enjoyed being able to hear the traditional Japanese dialogue.

TV Review: Mob City (2013)

Original Run: December 4th, 2013 – December 18th, 2013
Created by: Frank Darabont
Directed by: Frank Darabont, Guy Ferland
Written by: Frank Darabont, Michael Sloane, David J. Schow, David Leslie Johnson
Based on: L.A. Noir by John Buntin
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough, Alexa Davalos, Jeffrey DeMunn, Robert Knepper, Jeremy Luke, Gregory Itzin, Edward Burns, Dana Gould, Simon Pegg, Ernie Hudson, Patrick Fischler

Darkwoods Productions, Swiftly Productions, Michael DeLuca Productions, TNT, 6 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Frank Darabont was the man that brought The Walking Dead to the small screen back in 2010. Unfortunately, he was the showrunner for only a short time. AMC fired him after two seasons and it actually angered some of the cast members who were close to Darabont. He took two of those actors with him to this show, which became his big project after being let go by AMC.

Darabont went to TNT with the idea of adapting the book L.A. Noir for television. He cast Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead‘s Shane) as the lead and also got Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale from The Walking Dead) to play a pivotal role. Sadly, this would not become the runaway success that TNT had hoped for after Darabont smashed cable records with The Walking Dead.

Mob City is much better than decent but it also didn’t exist long enough to truly find its footing. The way in which it was released also probably hurt it. It came out in the middle of the Christmas holiday television season with episodes played back-to-back like two hour movies over the course of three weeks. It was treated more like a miniseries than a show and this may have confused people and just got lost in the holiday shuffle.

The real problem with Mob City, however, is that six episodes just aren’t enough to really get invested in it. I didn’t feel invested in The Walking Dead after its very short first season, either. Imagine if all you ever knew was season one of The Walking Dead. It has evolved into a much different show over time. Even though a small sample size created a long lasting legacy for AMC, a small sample size is just a small sample size and it didn’t work the same way for TNT’s Mob City.

Mob City told a quick story over its six episodes but it was just enough to get you interested on what this show could be over the long haul. It even ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as you know that there is a bigger story just on the horizon. Unfortunately, we’ll never get that.

It is hard to give a show a fair look with only six episodes. Mob City was intriguing and offered up some really cool bits in its short run. The shootout on the carousel in episode three was magnificent. The end of the season was also great. But ultimately, there just wasn’t enough time to really get to know these characters or to be able to sink your teeth into a show that felt like it had riches to bestow on its audience. But kudos to the writers, because these characters left you wanting to get to know them much more intimately.

TV Review: Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)

Original Run: April 19th, 2013 – October 23rd, 2015
Created by: Brian McGreevy
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Dougray Scott, Tiio Horn, Joel de la Fuente, Madeleine Martin, Camille De Pazzis, Lili Taylor, Madeline Brewer

Gaumont International Television, ShineBox SMC, United Bongo Drum, Inc., Netflix, 33 Episodes, 45-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix Original Series. I’m watching through all of their shows in an effort to do a list ranking them in the near future.

This was a much better show than I thought it would be. I was wondering if it would be more like True Blood or more like that atrocious piece of shit Twilight. It was definitely more or less its own thing but aligned on the True Blood side of the equation, in that it was very adult, didn’t deal so much with teenage love, had no sparkly bitch vampires and served up a decent amount of gore.

The early episodes aren’t well acted in some spots but it does improve. The style of the show is also unique in that it goes into the werewolf and vampire, or in this case “upir”, mythos but there is a lot more to the supernatural and bizarre here. It also brings in a heavy science element that makes this show not seem like a redundant recycle of all the other popular supernatural shows that are out right now.

It’s not a great show by any stretch but it is good, at least the first season. The plot thread of the second season wasn’t on the same level as the first, in my opinion, but it still provided enough to keep me interested and looking forward to season 3, when and if it ever drops. So far, season 3 has not been announced.

The first season worked really well on its own and if it had been a one off, it would probably be well-regarded and have created a cult following. The second season takes away some of the magic of the first but it is really a trade off for going deeper into the secrets of the show. I’m fine with that though.

Update:

The show went out with a serious whimper. More like a big bowl of WTF in the worst way possible.