Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midnight Cowboy ★★★★

    "You know what you can do with them dishes. And if you ain't man enough to do it for yourself, I'd be happy to oblige. I really would." These are the words of Joe Buck expressed in his opening monologue of the 1969 film entitled "Midnight Cowboy." Joe is the central character of this poignant drama that is based off the novel of the same name written by James Leo Herlihy.

    The introduction to the title character in this film is one of the best I have ever seen. We first meet Joe Buck, as he prepares himself to leave a small Texas town, in route to the big city that is New York. He plans to quit his job as a local dishwasher, as his true ambition is to become a male prostitute. He dresses in "cowboy" attire and heads out the door of his motel room with nothing but a cow-skinned suitcase and a small handheld radio. After a long bus ride, filled with vivid imagery from Joe's past, he finally arrives in the Big Apple and begins his dream as a male escort. However, after being hustled by his first client, Joe finds himself alone and desperate. He meets a crippled, street savvy, and small-time hustler named Enrico Salvatore Rizzo, who is nicknamed "Ratso." Ratso also cashes in on Joe's naivety after he refers Joe to a well known "pimp" to manage his services. Ultimately, Joe is kicked out of his hotel room (due to insufficient income), and after fatefully bumping into Ratso once again, this pair of pariah are forced to become friends, and partners, in the hustling underworld.

    The performances in "Midnight Cowboy" are simply timeless. Joe Buck is played by the very talented Jon Voight, whose role in this picture kick-started his career; I truly believe that Voight was born to play this role. Voight genuinely succeeds in this portrayal of a young, brash and naive Texas boy, who dreams of wealth and women. He has utterly no idea how he is going to capture this dream and surely has not thought things through. He is charismatic, charming and knows that "lovin" is all he's ever really been good at. Although Joe Buck is the central character, this film would not have been the same without the supporting role of Dustin Hoffman as Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo. Hoffman is equally brilliant in this heartfelt role of a small-time hustler. After initially viewing Joe as a small time score, Ratso begins to develop feelings of empathy for this young man and invites him to stay at his condemned apartment shack. They become friends not because they want to, but because they have to. They never had anyone to rely on. They are brought together by the overpowering feeling of loneliness. After displaying an unforgettable role in the 1967 film "The Graduate," Hoffman shows his range as an actor with this gem of a performance. His, "I'm walking here!", monologue will always be remembered as one of the most cherished, and brilliantly improvised, lines in the history of cinema.

    I will have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Roger Ebert and his opinion of this film. Most notably, his notion that the series of flashbacks scattered throughout the movie are a weakness to the film itself. He questions the psychology behind Joe's past and the connection with his character presently in the film. Personally, I feel the flashbacks are integral to the character of Joe Buck and that the early flashbacks display a certain sense of nostalgic beauty, especially the first instance featuring "crazy" Annie and Joe. We need a reason to believe why Joe is leaving this small town behind, and they paint it almost too vividly.
    "Midnight Cowboy" is a provocative and daring film that speaks volumes through its magnificent performances and the superb direction of John Schlesinger. The 1969 Academy Award winner for Best Picture is a film that, when viewed, will linger in your soul for years to come. You have to admire a character who has the ability to drop everything they have ever known and chase their dream, as silly as it may be. Too often in life, we "settle" in a job or situation, simply because it is comforting and routine. It takes extraordinary amounts of courage to do what Joe Buck set out to accomplish. Unfortunately for Joe, I don't believe he is that courageous. He is young, and his innocence blinds him to the fact that what he is undertaking will be exceptionally difficult.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ★★1/2

Image result for catching fire hunger games

    "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is the much-anticipated sequel to the original film that debuted in 2012, and it is the second installment in a series based off the novels written by Suzanne Collins. With direction by Francis Lawrence, the events of this film take place exactly one year after the first Hunger Games, which featured our most beloved heroine, Katniss Everdeen.

    "Catching Fire" begins with a paranoid and quite shaken Katniss Everdeen, who is hunting in the nearby woods of her District 12 home. It becomes evident that she is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the events that took place in last year's Hunger Games. We then proceed to view the conditions that she has been living in as well. She lives twenty-five feet away from her male counterpart, and "lover," Peeta Mellark, albeit in separate homes. Also, she still seems to be very close with her longtime friend, Gale Hawthorne.

    Since they won the 74th Annual Hunger Games, it is tradition for the victors to go on a victory tour and become mentors to the contestants of this year's games. With this victory tour just hours away, an unexpected visit from President Coriolanus Snow startles Katniss and the plot. He reiterates how disappointed he was with the outcome of last year's games and the "hope" that she has suddenly given to the rebellion. This particular event will fuel the storyline and the outcome of the film's events.

     The acting in this film is mediocre at best. The essential actors and actresses from the first film all reprise their roles for this sequel. Josh Hutcherson continues his role as Peeta Mellark, the co-winner of the previous year's games. He is still very much in love with Katniss and still presents himself as the "All-American Boy." Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathya previous Hunger Games victor and mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Sadly, this character is completely one-dimensional. In fact, it seems as if Abernathy's only care is alcoholism, that is, of course, until the story requires him to defend his young apprentices. The only bright spots are the appearances of Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sutherland reprises his role as President Snow and is absolutely brilliant in his limited screen-time. Hoffman takes over the role of the newest "game maker" and also displays flashes of brilliance. It is truly a shame that these two actors did not receive more time on-screen.

    Last, and certainly not least, is Jennifer Lawrence, who continues her role of Katniss Everdeen. Now, there is much critical acclaim for Lawrence and her performance here; however, I will not be fooled by all of the so-called "hoopla." Lawrence's performance is entirely flat and unmotivated; she is melodramatic in most scenes, which doesn't help the story of the book translate to film smoothly. For example, in a scene where Katniss is suffering from nightmares, due to PTSD, she asks Peeta to sleep with her and to comfort her. The delivery of her lines constitute promiscuity, and it truly throws off the dynamic of her character.

    Also, there is a continuity issue with regard to her PTSD. Early on in the picture, she seems very startled and even has horrid flashbacks to a killing in the previous games, which throws off her use of the bow and arrow. However, the next day she is flinging arrows at targets as if she was miraculously cured. Perhaps she understood the seriousness of the situation and knew that she needed to take her skills to the next level. A thirty-second monologue would have sufficed in showing that.

    Diehard "Hunger Games" fans will not need this review to know that they love this picture. They will cherish it because it is the only adaptation of the novels, and I can respect that. However, as a film critic, I will not let "Catching Fire" have a free pass. I genuinely enjoyed the first film and had high expectations for the sequel. Yet, the ending to this film is nothing short of atrocious. I literally thought to myself as the film ended: Is that it? Of course, they purposely left a cliffhanger ending to assure us that there would be another film or films, but we already knew that.

    This franchise direly needs to take notes from a master at translating novels to film, and that would be Peter Jackson and the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. I understand that the book leaves the events in the same fashion; however, when it comes to the medium of film, there has to be an ending scene that is sufficient in summarizing the movie. It must provide the viewer with something to take home; maybe even a theme of some sort. Instead, I just went home disappointed and seventeen dollars lighter in the pocket.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Predator ★★★1/2

    Over the course of cinema history, few movies have successfully blended two genres together to make one film. "Predator" is a 1987 film that combines the action genre with that of science fiction in a way that makes it seem relatively easy. This is the second picture directed by John McTiernan, who receives the most recognition for his work on two of the "Die Hard" films. With a shockingly beautiful exterior environment and a terrific cast of characters, this film will leave your pulses throbbing.

    "Predator" begins with a shot from outer space in which we witness a spaceship release a pod toward Earth. This opening scene indicates that we are in for a science fiction film. The camera quickly takes us to a Central American camp where a team of special force soldiers are being flown in for a mission. The leader of this group is Major Dutch Schaefer, a ruggedly built individual who takes pride in his work and loves his men. Dutch soon finds out that an old friend, George Dillon, is the man responsible for bringing him in. The mission is to rescue a presidential cabinet minister, who has been abducted by guerrilla forces after his helicopter crashed in enemy territory. Dutch's team is then escorted by helicopter to the coordinates of the downed aircraft. We get a glimpse of the distinctive personalities of this crew who will soon find out that their mission isn't what they signed up for and that something is waiting for them. 

    In order to have a successful action film, then you must first have a group of actors that not only can play the part but look it. Arnold Schwarzenegger  excels in this department. A pro bodybuilder turned actor, Schwarzenegger provides us with his third major motion picture role. He is wonderfully believable as a commander of a special forces unit. A simpler plot and dialogue leave Schwarzenegger to do what he does best: kick tail. Carl Weathers jumps into the role of George Dillon, the old comrade of Dutch who tags along to ensure the mission is completed. Weathers, who is an ex-professional football player, also very much looks the part that he is given. (Most will recognize him from his work in the "Rocky" films.) The rest of the cast also exhibit soldier-esque physiques and mentalities, including a cameo by a former mayor of a small Minnesota town, Jesse Ventura. I have a high respect for actors and their profession. This respect grows when you realize the preparation taken for a particular role. These actors here have bodies that most men will never achieve, and they endured horrid shooting conditions to make this film. I just hope that they feel the finished product was worthy of their exasperated efforts.

    "Predator" is a movie that aims for a certain goal and executes it perfectly. The exquisitely beautiful jungle setting makes this film along with some underrated direction. I also must give recognition to Alan Silvestri, who sets the overall tone of the film with his musical scores. I must whole heartily disagree with the notion that this film has "arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie." Sure, the script and dialogue do not compare to any classic film in cinema history, and that is because it was not made to do so. This movie does exactly what it set out to do: transport the audience to a tropical setting to witness action and suspense. In film, we must learn the distinction between genres. Most, if not all, action films are not going to have a stellar script or complex story line. As a movie critic, we have to judge these genres individually. Otherwise, we will be comparing films such as "Predator" to the likes of "Casablanca."