[Happy 15th Birthday!] Requiem for a Dream (2000)

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald

Screenplay: Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky

102 mins. Rated R for intense depictions of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ellen Burstyn)

iMDB Top 250: #90 (as of 1/24/2016)

Damn, this is a tough movie to watch. Warning: This isn’t a movie that will make you happy.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn, Interstellar, Draft Day) just found out that she is going to be on television. Her son, Harry (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. Nobody), an addict, is about to make some primo money selling drugs. His friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, White Chicks, A Haunted House 2) just wants to be a good kid. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind, Winter’s Tale), wants to design clothing. Each has dreams of becoming better than they are, but unfortunately for them, they are all addicts slowly falling deeper and deeper into their delusions of happiness in this film from director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Noah).

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Damn, I’ve seen Requiem for a Dream a couple times now, and it doesn’t get any easier, but this is a work of pure art that almost requires itself to be seen. It isn’t an easy film, and no one is walking out happy, but if you want a truer depiction of addiction, you will not find it anywhere else.

Ellen Burstyn is pure magic as Sara, the matriarch who needs to cut her addiction to fatty foods and in the process finds a new vice. Jared Leto is a kid with one foot in the grave who keeps slipping deeper and deeper into it. Jennifer Connelly’s Marion has so much drive but can’t seem to break out of her chains.

Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore, About Last Night) was perfect casting as Tappy Tibbons, a TV personality trying to sell his new books to the masses. He is unnerving and terrifying and everything he needs to be to those who need him.

Aronofsky’s film is jarring and painful to watch, mostly because it is a visual drug trip happening in real time. When the characters shoot up, you shoot up. When the characters make love, you make love. When the characters lose all self-respect, guess what. So do you. It isn’t easy, but it is real.

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The dreamlike qualities combined with the realism about vices and the drugs that surround us all make Requiem for a Dream one of the most painful experiences in film history. That’s about as complimentary I make it sound. It is stunning and gruesome and works perfectly at everything it tries to be. If you can, see this film.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, click here.

[Short Film Sunday] Los Bandoleros (2009)

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Director: Vin Diesel

Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Mirtha Michelle

Screenplay: Vin Diesel, T.J. Mancini

20 mins. Not Rated.

In Los Bandoleros, we see where Dominic Toretto’s life after he escapes police hands. As he ends up in the Dominican Republic, he takes a break from his life of crime to share time with some old friends as well as his love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills) before embarking on a new job: hijacking a gas tanker in the short film leading up to the events of Fast & Furious and directed by star Vin Diesel (Strays).

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I wanted to like this short a lot more than I did. I still enjoyed it more than the Turbo Charged Prelude. I think that Diesel really cares about this character and this material, so I respect that he wants to stop the action and just take a character beat to learn more about his character’s sensibilities and personality before jumping headlong into Fast & Furious. The short just didn’t do it for me. It felt a bit too much like the opposite of the preceding short film, but rather than giving too much info, it gives too little. It’s an exercise in what is needed in a franchise.

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I would have enjoyed a much-shortened version of this slice of life in the actual film as opposed to this short. Diesel has the capabilities to do something as a director, but it isn’t here.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

Nick Offerman: American Ham (2014)

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Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast: Nick Offerman

Screenplay: Nick Offerman

78 mins. Not Rated.

 

Last year, comedian/actor Nick Offerman (TV’s Parks & Recreation, Danny Collins) released his newest special American Ham. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) helped craft the special and elevated it to a higher level.

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In Nick Offerman: American Ham, the performer gets his chance to give his tips and advice to the audience on how to be a glorious human being. Essentially, it boils down to being an adaptation of his novel Paddle Your Own Canoe, and it works in that way. There is something soothing and interesting to Offerman’s stylistic storytelling that works really well here.

Director Vogt-Roberts, who will next be taking a trip to Kong: Skull Island, filmed visual cues to Offerman’s different points, and they are gorgeously shot, adding a touch of film-like flair to the stand-up special featuring wife Megan Mullally.

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Nick Offerman is a unique soul in the body of a distinguished celebrity. It was a thrill to watch him muse on life and give thanks to “the gorgeous stack of curves that is Nick’s legal property: Megan Mullally” while throwing in a song or two (the songs mostly don’t work in contrast to the rest of the material). All in all, American Ham is a worthwhile 78 minute excursion and celebration of life and I can’t wait for the next.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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Director: John Singleton

Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser

Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for street racing, violence, language and some sensuality.

After Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) walked away from his role as a cop, he was forced to betray everything he knew. Now, in Miami, he’s been caught by the feds and charged with catching the villainous Carter Verone (Cole Hauser, Good Will Hunting, Jarhead 2: Field of Fire) in return for his freedom. Brian recruits former friend and law-breaker Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers, Black Nativity) to assist him in his quest.

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Paul Walker is very similar to Hugh Jackman in that he gets slightly better as the series progresses. His acting here isn’t what it will be and not as good as he could be, but still much better than anyone else here. Gibson and Hauser come off as spooflike in their cheese factor, as does Eva Mendes (Hitch, Lost River).

2 Fast 2 Furious comes off as the bastard son of the original film. There is just so much that goes wrong here. First off, the exclusion of Vin Diesel. If nothing else, it proves that Vin Diesel understands how to make a sequel because he gets the factors that work and the factors that don’t. The editing comes off as real choppy. There are freeze frames, dissolves, and all manner of dull piecework. Director John Singleton (Four Brothers, Abduction) can’t control his races. These are bland race sequences, providing nothing cool to the aesthetic of the series. In fact, did I see a green screen 15 minutes in? Seriously? In fact, Singleton doesn’t get much right here at all. He encouraged improv from a bunch of non-improv actors. Seriously.

There are some things that work here. Roman Pearce as a character has potential (though it wouldn’t be fully realized for some time). Tej, played by Chris “Lucacris” Bridges, is another character that works much better than it would have been had not been rewritten for him. It was originally written for Ja Rule to return, but he was “too big” for the role. Seeing as how the character evolved with Bridges, the audience won here and Ja Rule lost, and the music is better with Bridges. Luda!

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2 Fast 2 Furious wasn’t enough to kill this franchise, but it didn’t do much to keep it alive either. There are a plethora of problems with the action racing sequel, but it did some right. Not much, though. Not much at all.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s Shaft, click here.

[Star Wars Day] Revenge of the Sixth…Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: George Lucas

121 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Special Achievement Academy Award: Ben Burtt [For sound effects (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices)]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Alec Guinness]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

iMDB Top 250: #20 (as of 1/18/2016)

As we close Star Wars Days 2015, we end on the original film in the Saga, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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In A New Hope, it has been 19 years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Scooby-Doo!: Moon Monster Madness) was dropped off with his uncle and aunt on Tattooine. When the two droids C-3PO and R2-D2 come into his family’s possession, Luke gets swept up in R2’s mission to deliver a message from the captive Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…, Maps to the Stars) to the crazy hermit Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). When Luke discovers that his father knew Kenobi long ago and is gifted his father’s lightsaber, he is set on a quest to save the princess and defeat the Empire.

The original film is still a perfect fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece with great performances, terrific direction, and a nice smooth flow. The special effects still look great (I’m referring to the original special effects, not the Special Edition effects).

Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) absolutely steals the show as Han Solo, who, alongside his trusty co-captain Wookiee Chewbacca, are hired to assist Luke and Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They are aided by a believable group of performances from a talented cast of newcomers like Hamill and Fisher as well as veterans Guinness and Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

This is the pinnacle of Lucas’ abilities as a filmmaker. His terrific screenplay and his inability to give up when faced with countless problems directing the picture proved him to be a truly captivating artist with a unique vision.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope remains a perfect film, one of the best ever put to the screen. It has become a pop cultural rock, unable to be moved from the public eye in the 38 years since its release, and I doubt it will ever truly disappear. Perfection.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[Short Film Sunday] Turbo Charged Prelude (2003)

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Director: Philip G. Atwell

Cast: Paul Walker

Screenplay: Keith Dinielli

6 mins. Not Rated.

Hey everyone, and welcome to a brand-new column I’m doing called Short Film Sunday. Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest in many cultures, and what better way to do so than to review some short films. These are meant to be quick analysis on short films, which ones are worth it and which ones are not. We start today with a short created by Universal Pictures to bridge the gap between The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious. It doesn’t really have a title, so we will go with the Turbo Charged Prelude.

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Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) is on the run from the cops. He broke a hell of a lot of laws by letting Dominic Toretto escape his grasp, and now he has nothing. He begins street racing for cash to keep himself out of the public eye while using the very thugs he was infiltrating to keep him out of trouble. His journey takes him to the streets of Miami where it leads right up to the beginning of 2 Fast 2 Furious.

This short is quite worthless to me. We see no character development for Brian which is bad since his character at the beginning of 2 Fast 2 Furious is quite different from the one we met at the end of The Fast and the Furious, but he seems to enjoy the fact that he has left his entire life behind him and essentially failed in every way in his previous mission. There is no internal conflict, though that can be blamed on the poor script utilizing no dialogue and quick images of events that don’t appeal whatsoever. Shame.

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The Turbo Charged Prelude is meant to bridge the films, but it does nothing that the opening on 2 Fast 2 Furious didn’t do by itself in less time. It feels like filler meant to sell DVDs, because it is. Not worth your time.

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

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