Spared or Spoiled Reviews: Black Mass

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Black Mass (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Black Mass poster

Directed by Scott Cooper

Written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk  Based on Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Starring Johnny DeppJoel EdgertonBenedict CumberbatchRory CochraneKevin BaconJesse PlemonsCorey StollPeter Sarsgaard & Dakota Johnson

Black Mass is a bad movie. The acting is top-notch. The story based on the true exploits of mobster Whitey Bulger, is beyond interesting, but it is told through various interviews with his associates. This narrative is awkward and confusing. It took me out of the story. And it also served to let me know who survives, taking away most of the drama. Johnny Depp’s performance is amazing but he needed a better movie. Black Mass is disjointed and unfocused. I know we’ve had a lot of mob movies at this point in film history but there’s no need to change the format. Just tell the damn story.

Verdict: SPOILED

Johnny Depp Black Mass

SPOILER ALERT

The main selling point of the movie is Johnny Depp’s performance, and it is pretty great. He physically disappears into the role. But we don’t get much of the character’s inner life. The movie primarily focuses on his years as a FBI informant. It begins years after he has been released from Alcatraz and years after the LSD prison trials that twisted his mind. So Black Mass is less the tale of Whitey Bulger and more the story of FBI agent John Connolly who ran Bulger as an informant but was actually more Bulger’s informant in the FBI than the other way around.

Black Mass

Benedict Cumberbatch does a Southie accent and it too is disturbing, as most of his American accents are. I don’t know about hearing anything but a British accent coming from his amazing pipes. It’s just weird. Like a dog standing on its hind legs for too long. It was just weird. But there are lots of great performances in the movie, up and down the cast. And it’s a well-written story for the most part. It just doesn’t go deep into Whitey Bulger’s character or his past and is preoccupied more with acts of brutal violence than developing any of the other characters.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp Black Mass

Black Mass plays like an FBI report on the man’s exploits. Like the film-makers were more concerned with telling only the things that were provable. Or corroborated. I would have preferred the movie took some license and took a chance and fictionalized the story a bit. I wanted more than just the stuff in the reports. At the end they do that thing where they put on-screen what happened to the narrators and the movie feels that way. Just the facts.

Black Mass Depp Edgerton

The only character that is even kind of developed is the FBI agent John Connolly who approaches Whitey with the opportunity to let the FBI help him rise to power. We see him evolve a little. His wife points this out to us when it isn’t clear in one of the more awful scene. Where they tell the audience how the character has changed. “You’re dressing better and you have a gold watch and a gold ring and a hair cut and you’re walking different and…” These are things you need to show us not tell us.

Black Mass fails in so many ways and the most egregious is how it wastes a great acting display by a guy who has never been known for his acting chops. Johnny Depp deserved a better movie. Black Mass is not good.

– Mel

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Spared or Spoiled Film Reviews: The Imitation Game

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

The Imitation Game (StudioCanal [UK], The Weinstein Company [US])

The Imitation Game Poster

Directed by Morten Tyldum

Written by Graham Moore  Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Starring Benedict CumberbatchKeira KnightleyMatthew GoodeRory KinnearCharles Dance & Mark Strong

I see a lot of good movies at this time every year. It is easy to overlook the merits of a few because of the sheer number of bad-ass, fantastic works of art. The Imitation Game is one of those movies. It doesn’t even compare to most of the Oscar nominees for best picture. It’s a good enough story and Benedict Cumberbatch gives us a truly inspired performance but… The movie isn’t close to as good as Boyhood. And Benedict is good but Eddie Redmayne’s eyebrows in Theory of Everything are the sensation that wins the crown. The Imitation Game is good but not the best. But still very very good.

Verdict: SPARED

Alan Turing and Christopher

The Imitation game is about the grandfather of the modern computer Alan Turing. He was a homosexual but that was not his handicap. This movie can at times confuse his real handicap from this… his… nature. If there is one thing that truly annoyed me about The Imitation Game it is this.

Matthew Goode in The Imitation Game

In the Imitation Game, Alan Turing is a compassionate sociopath. I can relate because so am I. He has a hard time deciphering the code of human interaction. Not because he can’t. But because he doesn’t want to. Because he can’t make sense of why. And I can relate.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

In The Imitation Game, Alan Turing is a genius who recognizes that without a puzzle in front of him, life can be somewhat maddening. So he volunteers to break the German code used to send troop movements and orders during WWII. He wants to win the war. Not because it will save lives but because he’s bored and likes puzzles.

Charles Dance

In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch leads the way with a masterful portrayal of the great and clearly misunderstood Mr. Turing but there are other great performances. Charles Dance as his nemesis. Keira Knightley as his beard – fiancé – colleague, as well as the rest of a fine cast. Great performances all around.

Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch

In The Imitation Game, there are three congruent stories being told from three separate times in Alan’s life. When he was a school lad and first discovered his sexual proclivity, when he is an older man after the war and being investigated for homosexuality (a crime). And the main story-line that takes place during the war as he and his team try to crack the German Enigma code. It’s a good movie but I’ve seen a bunch of those lately. The Imitation Game wasn’t good enough to make me forget the others. I still see Birdman, Whiplash, Boyhood and The Theory of Everything when I close my eyes at night. I won’t remember The Imitation Game past this review. It’s a good film, it just came along at a time when we have some of the best examples of film-making that we’ve had in a long time in theaters right now..

The Imitation Game is a good movie in a year of great movies.

– Mel

5 Quick DVD Reviews (April 2014): Swords & Sorcery Edition

5 Quick Reviews is back with April’s new releases and nerd eating dragons.

This time out I’m calling it, the Swords and Sorcery Edition because all these films involve swords, sorcery, monsters, magic and epic battles and of course… nerds (That’s right, I use the n-word in this post. I use it a lot)

Nerd Dragon

“Nerdssssss!!!”

Hey! We can use that word. You CAN’T use that word.

April’s new releases are a mixed bag, ranging from the epic blockbuster to the ultra low-budget indie and all points in between. Also I go on a rant about people using the n-word as an insult and/or adopting nerd-culture “just for the jokes”. I’m looking at you Smaug.

Smaug

“I hate nerds …and I hate hobbits … and dwarves”

That’s more than just a little racist. But enough with the preamble.

To the reviews…

47 Ronin (Universal Pictures)

47-ronin-movie-poster

Directed by Carl Rinsch

Written by Chris MorganHossein Amini and Walter Hamada

Starring Keanu ReevesHiroyuki SanadaKou ShibasakiTadanobu AsanoRinko Kikuchi & Min Tanaka

47 Ronin is a fantasy film based on an ancient story of 47 samurai who lose their master to sorcery and betrayal. It is the story of their struggle for revenge. It is a very pretty film.

47-lang-nhan

With beautiful costumes and sets and nice effects, it paints a pretty picture. And at its core, it’s a good story. A fable with magic and demons and swordplay and Keanu Reeves.

Keanu

But what 47 Ronin doesn’t have is the best directing or the best acting. It suffers from slow pacing, even while the pace fits the subject (the patience of the samurai), and from bad performances (completely in English, everyone speaks with the thickest accents).

47 Ronin

But 47 Ronin has some cool battles and a powerful theme about honor and duty. So, I’m saying I enjoyed 47 Ronin despite it failings. But mostly because I’m an unapologetic Japanophile since High School. I love the culture, the art, the philosophies, the fighting styles and history of the island nation. Samurai, Ninja… all of it.

"What about the nerds?"

“What about the nerds?”

I am a Japanese culture nerd. 47 Ronin, while not a great film, is an entertaining and beautifully filmed one with a wonderful story about honor and service and duty.

Rent it (It has bad acting and bad directing, but a cool story with pretty pictures)

Next up… comedy acrobatics without a net.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures)

Anchorman 2

Directed by Adam McKay

Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay

Starring Will Ferrell, Steve CarellPaul RuddDavid KoechnerChristina ApplegateMeagan GoodJames Marsden & Kristen Wiig

Anchorman 2 is not very funny. I think I laughed out loud twice for the entire film. It’s a good story, about the rise of 24 hour news and the fall of journalistic integrity. It was good writing, for what they wrote but Anchorman 2 is yet another Judd Apatow improv movie.

Anchorperson 2

If you are a regular reader of my blog, there are two things about which I have complained in the past that Anchorman 2 is guilty: First. If they’re going to just point the camera at very funny people and let them riff then you really ought to be there. No really, it needs to be at a live improv show and not a movie. Second. If you’re going to replace all the spontaneous jokes for the DVD release, what does that say about the original jokes?

Meagan Good and Will Farrell

“They told me there would be comedy nerds here.”

Will Ferrell is great as Ron Burgundy and there are a number of surprise cameos all thrown into one epic battle scene. But it’s just not a very funny movie. And I’ve grown tired of the Apatow style of filmmaking. I don’t care what they came up with on-set. It is only precious to the people on-set. It’s voyeuristic. You’re not performing this for me. You’re trying to make the people on-set laugh. I want to hear words that were painfully extracted and nursed to maturity over weeks of staring at a blank page but then interpreted by the likes of Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate. Bring back the scripted comedy.

Anchorman 2 news team battle

Anchorman 2 is a series of outtakes edited together to form a story. I’d call it lazy but you can tell these people worked really hard to get what they got. It’s just not that funny as a movie. Or, as I suspect, I think you just had to be there.

Skip it (wait until they release the 500 hours of raw footage)

Next up… Part two of three of a one part saga…

The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

The Hobbit 2

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro  Based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Starring Ian McKellenMartin FreemanRichard ArmitageBenedict CumberbatchEvangeline LillyLee PaceLuke EvansKen StottJames Nesbitt & Orlando Bloom

The second Hobbit film is even better than the first. More exciting, although I’m seeing a pattern in the chase scenes turning into amusement park rides, and much more dramatic.

Dwarves in Barrels

Desolation shoehorns a budding romance into the story; A welcome addition with the lovely elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the taller dwarves.

Legolas

And Desolation introduces the dragon, Smaug. A satisfyingly evil and deliciously frightening, (in a Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong way) nerd eating dragon.

Smaug and Bilbo

“Come here, nerd boy.”

But when I heard they were extending the original two-part Hobbit movie into three parts, I knew there would be a bunch of filler. So I decided that I would shell out the money only for the first film and for the last but I would wait until I received the disk to see the second, as my own little, sort of, protest of their blatant money grab.

Orc

“I smell a Tolkien nerd fresh from complaining.”

While I don’t regret waiting for the second film, I regret not seeing it on the big screen (if that makes any sense). Especially for the dragon and the battles… and Evangeline Lilly (one of the most beautiful women/elves on the planet)

Evangeline Lilly

The movies are stretched to two and a half hours each. And though very well made, there is a heck of a lot of filler added. While the Lord of the Rings films could each be four hours long and still not seem long enough. The Hobbit films need editing. They need it badly.

Desolation

There have been two great films so far in this trilogy prequel but they’re nowhere near as good as Lord of The Rings. And not everything has to be a trilogy, guys.

Rent it (The movie is fantastic even if it is a good half an hour longer than it needs to be)

Next up… something to rant about.

Zero Charisma (Tribeca Film, Nerdist Industries)

ZCharisma

Directed by Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews

Written by Andrew Matthews

Starring Sam Eidson, Anne Gee Byrd, Brock England, Garrett Graham & Cyndi Williams

Zero Charisma is a dark and depressing drama about, what the movie would call, a nerd but what I would call a loser. A role-playing gamer, with anger issues and family troubles, who is slowly losing his mind. Wait… it’s supposed to be a comedy? Who says?

Scott Smash

The main guy, in D&D parlance, would be a character with ZERO charisma. It is actually pretty clever. No one, not even his family, likes him. In fact most people hate him. He is an awful person who has run a weekly RPG with the same five guys for four years before one of his “friends” (I use the term loosely) has to quit to repair his marriage. So “our hero” sets out to find a new player. Someone who doesn’t already know what an asshole he is.

Gaming

“Wait… We all get eaten by a nerd eating dragon? That’s not fair.”

He of course makes a mess of that… Zero Charisma is a very well-written movie for what it is. But what it is, is yet another film that equates nerd with loser. Yet another film where four out of five of the pimply faced adults who role play in their spare time are still virgins and the fifth is married to a shrew. I am so tired of this stereotype.

Grandma

“Oh boy. Here we go. Get ready for the rant.”

I would expect more from the producers, from Nerdist Industries especially, a company founded by the proclaimed king of the nerds, Chris Hardwick (@midnight, Talking Dead). But Chris does this all the time. His entire stand-up act is just him endearingly insulting his core audience. It’s okay, guys, because he’s a nerd too, guys. No really he is… 

RPG

Chris complains about people questioning his nerd cred… a lot… and there is a reason. Because instead of working to break the stereotype or even holding himself up as a nerdy success story. He derides us and makes nerd jokes. Like a Jewish comic doing jewish jokes. But then it turns out that they were only a quarter Jewish …on their father’s side. Never even been to temple. Just claiming it for the jokes.

Upper Nerd

Here we see the Nerd Lite or Upper Nerd (he has a girlfriend and social skills)

Not all gamers, nerds, geeks and role players are socially awkward virgins with Zero Charisma. And I know Chris didn’t write this movie but his name is on it and he’s an easy target. Okay, that was my rant about using nerd as an insult. Sorry Chris.

So while still being a good movie, (yes it is a good movie) Zero Charisma hammers home this image of the nerd in the most annoying way. Maybe I missed the point and this was supposed to be a comedy after all. But I thought of it as more of a drama / cautionary tale.

Scott

Or maybe we were supposed to find it flattering. Holding up a mirror to the ugliest creases of the culture so we can all yell, “I’m not that bad.” Because normally the so-called nerds are the smartest, the nicest, the sweetest, most passionate people in the room. Not this ogre. This Zero Charisma guy. I liked this movie. I really did. I just didn’t think it was funny.

Rent it (It is a good movie but it shows a bad nerd image)

Next up… yep you guessed it. more NERDS!!!

Knights of Badassdom (Entertainment One)

Knights-Of-BadassdomDirected by Joe Lynch

Written by Kevin Dreyfuss & Matt Wall

Starring Steve ZahnRyan KwantenSummer GlauMargarita LevievaJimmi Simpson & Peter Dinklage

Knights of Badassdom is another movie about role-players. But these are LARPers. These guys combine cosplay and sparring with role play and camping. I’ve always been fascinated by the culture but I would never be able to stay in character.

Larpers

Knights of Badassdom, unlike Zero Charisma, is about (the elusive) likeable nerds and it does not take itself seriously. It is actually a very silly film. But it’s a lot of fun. It uses the same old stand-by plot that I’ve seen a bunch of times before; Real magic finds its way into the role-playing world and wreaks bloody havoc on people who don’t know that it’s real until they’re dead. And yes there is a dragon that literally eats nerds.

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM

“Is that a nerd eating dragon? For real?”

This is not an amazing movie by any stretch of the imagination but I love the cast, which includes Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau as well as a bunch of other familiar faces from True Blood, Community, It’s Always Sunny… all my favorite shit.Knights_of_Badassdom

Knights of Badassdom has the absolute silliest ending I have seen in a long time and while gory, the violence is completely over the top and the effects are intentionally bad.Peter Dinklage Badassdom

I still enjoyed it as a low-budget, tongue in cheek, send up of LARPing that doesn’t insult its subject, its characters or its audience. It ain’t Shakespeare. But its cute. It’s cute as fuck.

Rent it. (A fun low-budget comedy adventure with a bunch of cool people in it)

So to recap… 

There were two films about a bunch of outcasts who take on the establishment; 47 Ronin and Anchorman 2. Neither one that good but both of them pretty to look at.

There were two films about a bunch of misfits who set out to slay a dragon; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Knights of Badassdom. Both of them a lot of fun but one of them cost more to make than the other.

Here are two good-looking and cool elves…

The Elves

And a comedy about a loser I thought worked better as a drama; Zero Charisma. Which made me rant about how nerds are portrayed by other nerds, didn’t make me laugh a bunch, but that I still thought was a good movie… as a drama.

And that’s all for April. (I tried to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but turned it off. It was so bad. Go find the one with Danny Kaye. It ranks as one of the best films of all-time)

See you on the couch,

– Mel

Top Ten TV Mega Post in Ten Parts (The Imports 2/10)

Part two of my Top Ten TV Mega Post (in ten parts) is The Imports.

Since the only shows we import in the US are either in Spanish or in English. and I don’t speak Spanish as well as I used to, these shows are from English-speaking countries. (Okay, just Canada and the UK. Sorry Australia)

There are seven from the UK and three from Canada. Four are sci-fi, two are costumed dramas, two are mystery thrillers and two are police procedurals. And only two of them are not currently available in the US. I included them anyway because I have a lot of foreign followers and there are “ways” of getting them in the states.

To the list…

Black Mirror (UK)

black-mirror-logo

Created by Charlie Brooker

Anthology.

black-mirror-2

Black Mirror is an anthology science fiction series for the Internet Age. Black Mirror can be dark at times but the writing is top-notch and always eerily prophetic.

black_mirror

With two seasons and six spectacular episodes, this is one of my favorite shows. Cautionary tales about our society and where it’s headed. I love this show.

In the states you can’t see it yet unless you search for it and break the rules.

Continuum (Canada)

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Created by Simon Barry

Starring Rachel NicholsVictor WebsterErik KnudsenStephen LoboRoger CrossLexa Doig & Tony Amendola

Continuum is a futuristic time travel paradox thriller with action, cool gadgets and fights (the fight choreography is some of the best on TV… hands down) and a well-layered story starring the lovely Rachel Nichols as a cop from the future who comes back in time to stop a gang of time travelling terrorists from destroying her (scary, corporate, fascist) timeline.

Continuum_

I absolutely love this show.

In the states you can see it on Syfy.

Doctor Who (UK)

Doctor Who

Created by Sydney NewmanC. E. Webber and Donald Wilson

Starring Peter Capaldi & Jenna Coleman

Doctor Who combines past, present and futuristic time-travel paradoxes with action, adventure, comedy and drama. I’ve watched since Tom Baker was the Doctor and Douglas Adams was in charge, but after the 2005 reboot, Doctor Who has been one of the best shows on TV. Quite possibly the best show of the last eight years.

Capaldi and Coleman

I can’t wait for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor to take the Tardis control this August.

In the states you can see it on BBC America.

Downton Abbey (UK)

Downton Abbey

Created by Julian Fellowes

Starring Hugh BonnevilleJessica Brown FindlayLaura CarmichaelJim CarterBrendan CoyleMichelle DockeryKevin DoyleSiobhan FinneranJoanne FroggattThomas HowesLily JamesRob James-CollierAllen LeechRose LesliePhyllis LoganElizabeth McGovernSophie McSheraMatt MilneLesley NicolAmy NuttallDavid Robb & Maggie Smith

Downton Abbey is a 1920’s Historical household drama within a class system, the Upstairs/Downstairs for the 21st century. It has great characters and situations and the great Maggie Smith dropping mad one-liners. This show is a lot of fun for a historical costume drama that often kills off its main characters.

downton-abbey

They kill off a bunch of characters along the way but the show doesn’t lose a step. Just try not to get too attached. No really. They’re worse than Game of Thrones.

DOWNTON_ABBEY_SERIES2_EP1_74.jpg

Downton Abbey is awesome and it goes well with tea and biscuits.

In the states you can see it on PBS (months after its BBC broadcast… so the Christmas episode is in the Summer… what’s up with that, PBS?)

Lost Girl (Canada)

Lost Girl

Created by Michelle Lovretta

Starring Anna SilkKris Holden-RiedKsenia SoloZoie PalmerRick Howland & K. C. Collins

Lost Girl is about a bisexual super hero with a sexy, deadly, powerful thirst. She’s a succubus trying to control her urges. I love this show. I love the way the writers quote cool movies in every episode. The banter is witty, the characters are loveable (and fuckable) and the music is sensational. Did I say yet how much I love this show?

Bo

In many ways it is the granddaughter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The dark and the light fey creatures fight for control of the human world but our hero, Bo (the lovely Anna Silk), refuses to choose a side thus throwing the balance of power into chaos.

Anna Silk

If I were to make a list of my favorite bisexual characters (Ooh. I need to make a list of my favorite bisexual characters) my girl, Bo would be right up there with Eric Northman from True Blood at the top of the list. And Nolan from Revenge.

Lost Girl on girl action

This is a very sexy show and I love it. Dear god, I love it so.

In the states you can see it on Syfy.

Motive (Canada)

Motive

Created by Daniel Cerone

Starring Kristin LehmanLouis FerreiraBrendan PennyLauren HollyCameron Bright & Roger Cross

Motive

Motive is my new favorite police procedural where the mystery is not the killer but the motive. I love this format. In the first 30 seconds of every episode they show you the killer and the victim and give you a mystery to solve. Why do they do it?

Motive 2

I love this show.

In the states you can see it on ABC.

Orphan Black (UK)

Orphan-Black

Created by Graeme Manson & John Fawcett

Starring Tatiana MaslanyDylan BruceJordan GavarisKevin HanchardMichael Mando & Maria Doyle Kennedy

Orphan Black is a clone mystery thriller with a great cast including the sensationally talented Tatiana Maslany. She carries the show and plays most of the parts… brilliantly I might add. Some of my favorite scenes of the show are when one of the characters that she plays pretends to be one of the other characters she plays to hilarious result. It is, in my opinion, Emmy award worthy acting. (That’s right. She was robbed)

Orphan Black ClonesOrphan Black is a developing mystery. But as the mystery unfolds, I just hope the writing holds up. These things have a tendency to get bogged down in minutiae. (#fingerscrossed)

In the states you can see it on BBC America.

Sherlock (UK)

Sherlock

Created by Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman

Sherlock is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in present day London. It stars the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The show has evolved with each season (or series, as they call it). Sherlock Holmes has traditionally been a famous detective but with each season of this fantastic BBC re-imagining, he becomes more and more famous. It has become a spectacle and I don’t know if I like it.

Sherlock and Watson

Don’t get me wrong, the show is still amazing. The cast is amazing and the mysteries are intriguing but, and this is not going to be a popular opinion, I think the American show, Elementary is a better adaptation. I just think the BBC’s Sherlock has become too much of a Sherlock for the internet age while Elementary, with the female Watson (The excruciatingly lovely Lucy Liu) and the American setting, keeps Holmes grounded.

Sherlock2

Sure, looking something up online is what passes for detective work these days but it seems to me to be beneath the great Sherlock Holmes. I love the show. I love the show. I fucking love the show. I just don’t like the direction they’re heading.

In the states you can see it on PBS.

The Musketeers (UK)

The.Musketeers

Created by Adrian Hodges

Starring Tom BurkeHoward CharlesSantiago CabreraPeter CapaldiAlexandra DowlingRyan GageTamla KariMaimie McCoyLuke Pasqualino & Hugo Speer

The Musketeers is a BBC show that features Dumas’ Four Musketeers (Athos, Aramis, Porthos & D’artagnan) in an action-packed costumed adventure each week.

the_musketeers

I talk a lot on this blog about my first books. I wasn’t given children’s books as a kid. They gave me the complete works of Shakespeare, the complete Sherlock Holmes and a collection of the works of Dumas. There were others but these were the three with which I spent the most time. I didn’t quite know how to read then so I was given a dictionary.

Actually it went like this:

“I can’t read this.”

“There are pictures.”

“Only at the start of the chapter. I don’t know this word.”

“Here’s a dictionary.” THUD

“Thank you.”the-musketeers

These were my first books, my first friends, my first heroes and my introduction to the world of fiction and the human condition. If you take Sherlock Holmes and the Musketeers then put them in a Shakespearean tragedy (or comedy… or history for that matter) with nothing but a dictionary, I would be there to greet them. Saying, “Welcome to my world.”

Four Musketeers

This is a sexy (the costumes are pretty) and fun (it does not take itself seriously) and exciting (lots of sword fights, musket battles) action adventure show with a fantastic cast and cast of characters including Peter Capaldi as the evil Cardinal Armand Richelieu.

Capaldi

I love this show so very much that the theme song makes me do a little dance.

In the states you can see it on BBC America… I think.

Utopia (UK)

Utopia

Created by Dennis Kelly

Starring Alexandra RoachNathan Stewart-JarrettPaul HigginsFiona O’ShaughnessyAdeel AkhtarSteven Robertson, Oliver Woollford, Neil MaskellPaul ReadyGeraldine JamesJames Fox & Michael Smiley

Utopia is a mystery, conspiracy, thriller with a dark undertone. The plot involves a group of hackers and wanna-be revolutionaries who uncover a vast corporate conspiracy and are hunted by professional killers as well as an organization with power and influence.

utopia2Utopia is a violent and scary but very cool show. I love this show.

In the states you can’t see it unless you search for it and break the rules.

… and that’s it.

Left off the list were Babylon from Danny Boyle (with Brit Marling) and Mr. Selfridge with Jeremy Piven. One because it won’t get going until later this year and the other because I hate Jeremy Piven (even though the show’s pretty good).

See you on the couch,

– Mel

Best Picture: 4 Quick Reviews of 4 Movies (that are NOT Gravity)

Award season is upon us… and I have a blog to maintain. Time to post about the Oscars.

The Wait

“It’s about time. We been waiting for movie reviews… …and freedom.”

Sorry Captain Phillips. Sorry Philomena, Nebraska. Sorry Dallas Buyer’s Club, but of the nine Best Picture nominees, only four movies have a punter’s chance to win and only three of those four are NOT Gravity. I know Gravity. Gravity is a friend of mine and you guys are no Gravity.

These are my quick reviews of those three very special (NOT Gravity) movies. And also my dark horse pick. My Cinderella team, so to speak.

The one I want to win. The one I do not want to win. The one I think will win. And a wild card. What I liked about them, what I didn’t like, and why they are NOT Gravity. 

To the reviews…

American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)

American HustleDirected by David O. Russell

Written by Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell

Starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Jennifer Lawrence

First of all. Amy Adams. Oh my god, Amy Adams. I was already in love with her. Now I’m just at a loss for words. The woman is amazing. Beautiful, funny, talented, amazing.

"You flatter me, sir."

“You flatter me, sir.”

Jennifer Lawrence too. I have never seen her this good. Yes, she is awesome in Silver Linings Playbook but this performance is even better than that. So good.

"Yes!"

“Yes!”

There are great performances all around in this one. The entire cast is on point, but this movie belongs wholeheartedly to the ladies. Amy & Jennifer drive American Hustle forward and keep it entertaining, sexy, funny and little bit heartbreaking. Just an amazing film.

"What do we look like... chopped liver?" "Shhhh. Let the man write."

“What do we look like… chopped liver?”
“Shhhh. Let the man write.”

American Hustle is a wonderfully directed film about a love triangle. A love triangle of emotionally manipulative con-artists. Amy, Jennifer & Christian Bale play the girlfriend, wife and husband. David O. Russell is at the top of his game. He is in a class by himself with regards to bringing great work out of great actors. An excellent actor’s director.

"I've been on Mel's blog five times. Can you say the same." "No. But I've been in Mel's dreams. Quite frankly, you scare him."

“I’ve been on Mel’s blog FIVE times. Can you say the same?”
“No. But I’ve been in Mel’s dreams. Quite frankly, you scare him.”

Even with the seventies hair, the cast is exceptionally sexy. The characters are deliciously flawed and… real. They feel as if they could step off the screen. A bunch of credit goes to the costumes which are exquisite (and I hope award-winning). This is how you make movies. Amy Adams SHOULD finally get her Oscar win (my fingers are crossed)… but alas she probably will not (Cate Blanchett has the inside track). Amy has been one of my favorite actresses for years and this is her best to date. Love her.

"Me?" "Her?"

“Me?”
“Her?”

Rent it. (American Hustle is wonderful. The performances are all award worthy. It is my personal pick for best film of 2013… that is NOT Gravity)

Next… we get loud & wrong (and so so long)…

The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures)

The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Terence Winter Based on The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler & Rob Reiner

The Scarface of Penny Stocks; The Wolf of Wall Street has no moral center. It is a very long movie that plays like a string of TV episodes. Not a movie but one great season of a TV show, a HBO or Netflix Drama, (even though it jumps the shark somewhere in the middle of the ocean heading to Switzerland). All build up, no pay off.

"I will give you this hundy if you shut the fuck up."

“I will give you this hundy if you shut the fuck up.”

The performances, however, are some of the best of the year. The best I have seen from Jonah Hill and from Leonardo DiCaprio (though Matthew McConaughey steals the movie early on) And Margot Robbie is scrumptiously good. Just like with American Hustle, the entire cast brings the meat. Martin Scorsese is still a master and like all of his films, The Wolf of Wall Street is seamless and flawlessly perfect; Visually & rhythmically.

"Just stop right there."

“Just stop right there. Don’t say one more fucking word. We’re good.”

AND YET (editorially), I wish I had never watched The Wolf of Wall Street because it angered me. Like Natural Born Killers with SEC violations. The Wolf of Wall Street is cartoonishly amoral. And because it stays true to life and rooted in the author’s own fucked up reality. Nobody learns nothing. Moreover, like Scarface and Natural Born Killers, this is a movie that inspires and will inspire psychopathic, sociopathic and narcissistic behavior.

"I swear to fucking god I will eat this goldfish if you don't stop right now."

“I swear to fucking god I will eat this goldfish if you don’t stop talking right now.”

And like the best movies about addiction or illegal drug empires, the only thing to be learned is that YOU QUIT WHEN YOU’RE ON TOP or you make sure to cushion your fall.

"It's cool Leo. I think he liked the fucking movie."

“It’s cool Leo. I think he liked the movie. Really man. Read between the fucking lines.”

Which is all well and good but in a movie that mentions Gordon Gekko as a villain and not a hero, it still portrays the financial world’s dark and disgusting core. After Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Wu Tang Clan and Reaganomics; A financial world populated by the greediest, self-centered, amoral fuck-tards that missed the entire point of Stone’s films.

"He doesn't like us. You fucking idiot. He just compared us to Wu Tang Clan."

“He doesn’t like us, you fucking idiot. He just compared us to Wu Tang Clan.”

It is for those that thought Wall Street, Scarface and Natural Born Killers were comedies or how-to manuals and the lead characters were, in fact, the heroes of the story. Greed is not just “good” in The Wolf of Wall Street. Greed is fun. It’s a whole lot of fucking fun.

"Yeah, baby."

“Yeah, baby.”

This is the world that The Wolf of Wall Street shows us and I believe it will replace those other films as the go-to cinematic sales pitch for selling your soul for a wad of cash, a pound a coke and a DTF blonde with long long lovely legs that go on forever.

Margot Robbie is Scrumptious

“He called me scrumptious. Are you going to stand for that?”

Oh yes. The Wolf of Wall Street made me weep for the world. For the world.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

Rent it or Skip it. (It’s fantastic but I wish I hadn’t watched it.  It made me feel like shit. If I had my way it would not win a thing… except for Most Upsetting Movie that’s NOT Gravity) 

Next… the Brits give us an American History Lesson…

12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

12 Years a Slave

Directed by Steve McQueen

Written by John Ridley  Based on Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt & Alfre Woodard

12 Years a Slave is the brutal true story of a free man kidnapped into slavery and, it’s difficult for me to watch movies about slavery, even though this one is less brutal than the revenge fantasy, torture porn, dreck that Americans make about slavery, I definitely shed some tears during it. There was a lot of anger. Some joy and some sadness. But mostly just anger.

"Dear Mel, Would you be so kind as to not add funny captions to the photos from this movie... out of respect. Sincerely, Solomon Northup Your Homeboy."

“Dear Mel, Would you be so kind as to not add funny captions to the photos from this movie… out of respect. Sincerely, Solomon Northup, Your Homeboy.”

Excellent film-making. Who knew a film about slavery could be so multi-dimensional. It takes a bunch of Brits to make a really good movie about the slave era in this country. Even as it feels like 12 Years a Slave is just a great adaptation of a powerful book that just happens to be about slavery or about one man’s experiences during slavery.

"Did you tell that boy not to put funny captions on the photos?" "No, sir."

“Did you tell that boy not to put funny captions on the photos?”
“No, sir.”

A powerful film with some of the most sublime and, I have to say, “Southern” pacing. Chiwetel Ejiofor is superb and subtle and, in my opinion, the weakest part of the film (sorry dude). Again, the performances in this film, as with the last two, are beyond description. This is the year of the outstanding cast. There were some truly great ensemble performances this year. Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o are sensational. As is Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch et al.

"You hear that? He says we go well together." "That's not what he meant you twisted fuck."

“You hear that? He says we go well together.”
“That’s not what he meant you twisted fuck.”

This story is screwed up and fucked up but I can’t help but tell you that I never once identified the lead character as someone who should not be a slave BECAUSE he was a free man, BECAUSE he was kidnapped into it. ALL of the slaves were kidnapped into slavery and I was rooting for ALL OF THEM TO BE FREE in the end. But the timing was just a little bit off.

"I said no funny captions." "They really aren't that funny."

“But I told him no funny captions.”
“They really aren’t that funny, dude.”

This is a movie that is ONLY about the adventures of Solomon Northup. And the other Africans, or sons, daughters, grand & great grand sons & daughters of Africans, who were born into, sold into, kidnapped into, and forced into slavery are no less deserving of liberty than our hero Solomon, a musician before his ordeal, an abolitionist after, and their struggle felt the same to me. None of us are free if only some of us are free.

"So, we're all in agreement. The captions just aren't that funny." "Yep."

“So, we’re all in agreement. The captions just aren’t that funny.”
“Yep.”

12 Years a Slave is not your run-of-the-mill American slavery tale. It is an exceptional story, well written, expertly directed and brought to life by an extremely talented cast of actors and, in my opinion, the best movie about slavery ever made.

"I saw what you did, Mel. I am no longer your homeboy."

“I saw what you did, Mel and I am no longer your homeboy.”

Rent it. (Steve McQueen has made the movie of the year with 12 Years a Slave and if it doesn’t win best picture at the Oscars something went terribly wrong… or it was penalized because it was NOT Gravity)

Next… a Cinderella story…

Her (Warner Bros. Pictures, Entertainment Film)

Her

Written & Directed by Spike Jonze

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde & Scarlett Johansson

Her (a Spike Jonze Love Story) is an interesting story and a fascinating premise. It is about a man who starts a romantic and sexual relationship with an operating system. At first I was disappointed that it would be a run-of-the-mill relationship movie with a twist. If that’s not a horrible contradiction. It is about the romance between a man and an OS; A constantly evolving Operating System that strives to become his perfect mate.

Joaquin

“I am a creepy creepy man… playing a creepy creepy man in a movie.”

Every thing about their relationship feels real. It felt just like relationships I’ve had or ones I’ve witnessed. (At times it was something I’d never had but wanted). Her is a very good relationship movie, but then it became something else. It evolves. It gets really good.

"You're dating a computer program while Amy Adams is right... you know what I'm done with you."

“You’re dating your computer while Amy Adams is… you know what I’m done with you.”
“Siri? Don’t be mad at me, Siri.”

I don’t want to give it away but it was moving and emotional and it made me think. The science fiction element that creeps into the story turned a good movie into a great movie.

"Seriously, are you blind."

“Seriously, are you blind. I’m Amy fucking Adams.”
“Huh? Do you think Siri likes me?”

I didn’t feel their relationship was unique enough at first. But it redeems itself. The movie redeems itself. I am not saying the romance wasn’t good. If it had just been that, I would have been more than happy with it. Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable at what he does. He disappears into a character. While Amy Adams and the rest of the cast are these, only slightly, futuristic versions of social vs non-social, Isolated within a sea of people people. Living their lives virtually. It is a wonderfully prophetic vision of our not-too-distant future.

"He's right you know. I'm not even real while Amy Adams is hot." "Shut up Siri."

“He’s right you know. I’m not even real while Amy Adams is hot.”
“Shut up, Siri.”

But Spike Jonze creates these beautiful science fiction question marks that left me thinking when it was done. I love movies that do that. Her is Spike Jonze’s best film. The best thing he’s done. I wasn’t the biggest fan before. I loved his quirkiness and his wit but little else. I enjoy his films but this is the first one where I wasn’t bludgeoned by his style. Her was a little more adult, more real, more grounded even while being science fiction fantasy and I’m glad he is evolving as well. I am a fan, now.

"I think Mel's a little obsessed with Amy Adams." "You noticed that too?"

“I think Mel’s a little obsessed with Amy Adams.”
“You noticed that too.”

Rent it. (This melancholic, psychotic, romantic and psuedo-solitary cyber daydream lasted for only two hours but it will stay with me forever. It’s not going anywhere)

So to recap…

The Oscar goes to… NOT Gravity!

Reactions…

12 Years a Slave: “The Academy is racist. You know we should have won.”

American Hustle: “We were robbed. This was Mel’s favorite. Don’t they read his blog?”

The Wolf of Wall Street: “Thanks Obamacare. Income inequality forever! More hookers!”

Her: “We weren’t watching. We were playing Second Life. Who won?”

We all did, Siri. With all of these great movies, we all won.

– Mel