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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blue Ruin: 2014

   I had only heard one thing about Blue Ruin before watching it. That it would only appeal to independent film junkies. Hearing that news sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, Blue Ruin is an independent film, but I can't stand this whole idea of filing everything that isn't a Hollywood blockbuster into the "artsy, film festival, misunderstood bin of one-hit-wonders". "Ohh, It's an independent film, so it's privileged." Like, that name is some kind of handicap that can excuse it from being compared to other films. I mean, I get that a movie from Christopher Nolan shouldn't be compared to a movie like Be Kind, Rewind, but that isn't the point that I'm trying to make. It shouldn't matter about whether or not it's an independent film. As long as you have a camera, you are at equal playing fields when trying to convey an emotion, or prove a point, or tell a story. Oh yeah, and I'm reviewing Jeremy Saulnier's  Blue Ruin. It caught audiences by surprise by attempting to deliver a ultra realistic thriller blah blah blah let's do this.

   I think that I should address before I begin that I did some research on Jeremy Saulnier and found that he hasn't necessarily made quite a big footprint in the film industry. His last and only other film dating back to 2007 entitled Murder Party was, surprisingly, not very popular among audiences. His new film that I will talk about today will try to tell a revenge story, and hopefully succeed in the process.

   Blue Ruin is about Dwight, a homeless man who returns to his family to settle an old score with the Cleland family, their long time adversary. Throughout the film it doesn't become incredibly clear as to why the two families are at war with each other. Very little is explained, and whether or not what is said is even the truth stays vague, even during the climax.  And in my opinion that takes a toll on the overall film. There aren't a lot of opportunities for character development, and Dwight hardly has any lines at all. However, I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing because on one hand less lines means less exposition, and on the other hand there's an added sense of intrigue and mystery to the origin of our characters. 

   I don't know which one I prefer, and I've found myself thinking about the similarly about films like Drive and Only God Forgives, where not much attention is put onto the main characters. But it's very frustrating in Blue Ruin specifically because the film isn't really stylized around the visuals (unlike in said films where visuals are much more important). It more has to do with the obsticals that add new story, and challenge to the film. But I think that the way Dwight deals with the problems he is faced with gives an interesting alternative to developing a character. This is a great strength that the film holds, and it's very refreshing to watch a film that is so pro "show, don't tell". A lot of the quite moments in Blue Ruin end up forming a very realistic atmosphere. 

   Blue Ruin is incredibly realistic. It conveys the idea of "real life danger"  really well. When I say "real life danger" (for lack of a better phrase) I'm talking about the difference between Die Hard and Die Hard 4. Blue Ruin stays grounded to reality, and the best parts are during the thinking and executions of how the main character is going to overcome a certain obstacle. A certain, realistic obstacle. The plot represents a sort of domino affect that puts each consecutive event into motion. The fun of the film is watching how Dwight will get out of the next issue! And, thankfully, every action scene falls within the boundaries of realism, preventing the film from making Dwight invisible. The realism in the film keeps the tension high and makes up for a lack of character development or any substantial exposition. Even though I don't know all too much about Dwight's predicament or past life, the violence is shot in such a way that I ended up caring about him regardless. 

   I have to admit that after viewing Blue Ruin, I decided that I didn't like it very much. And I'm going to sound like such a snooty, pretentious critic, but I felt like I was on the outside looking in on the film, as opposed to there, in the moment, and invested. This really only had to do with the characters, and the plot. A lot was shrouded in mystery, and I felt like being at school, and coming into a conversation too late, not knowing what anyone is talking about. The film lets you in on a few things, but the rest is unseen and unheard. It was kind of frustrating, because at a certain point I became interested in the story, but due to the way exposition was handled, I never became fully interested. The violence was very unforgiving, but sparing and realistic. Blue Ruin fell a little short, but at least it fared better than Murder Party. At the end of the day, at least I can say that. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Godzilla: 2014

   When I say monster, what sort of thing comes to mind?  Maybe you think of the Universal monsters like The Wolf Man, or The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Or maybe you think of the creations of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. But if you're like me, then the first thing you think of when you hear "monster" is Godzilla. A name that implies ultimate power and destruction...and dinosaurs. Godzilla began his reign of destruction in 1954 with the release of his first feature film entitled, "Gojira". The monster was supposed to symbolize the power of nuclear weapons, and the destruction the monster caused mirrored (more or less) the devastation of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is  who Godzilla originally was, but as he began to appear in more films the giant thunder lizard would become both friend and foe to the human race through one way or another.  And once again an American director has decided to wipe the slate clean and retell the first appearance of a scary, green, scaly, atomic breathing, giant monster. Let's take a look at Gareth Edwards' Godzilla!

   Now before I begin I would like to clarify something. I am a huge Godzilla fan. I love the monsters and robots that he fights. I love Monster Island. I love everything from Mecha-Godzilla to Jet Jaguar and I was really excited when I heard tell of a new Godzilla movie! Like, oh my god. For once in my adult life I would have a modern release to call my own! I was hyped, and I hoped that this revamp of a franchise would succeed in reminding audiences who the king of monsters was. However, I understand that writing a review of a film with this big a fan base is a heavy burden to carry, and in doing so I need to remind those who have an opinion to also respect mine for what it is. To you I might be wrong. To you I might not have fully understood the kind of Godzilla movie that was meant to be made. Maybe, to you, Gareth Edwards exceeded your vision of Godzilla to the nth degree. I'm trying to break to you that I didn't like this movie. Let me tell you why. Who knows, you might be really disappointed. 

   The plot follows Joe Brody (Cranston), his son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) and their efforts to uncover a conspiracy hidden by the government. As you may have guessed that conspiracy is Godzilla, and it later escalates as more monsters reach more populated areas. And the first thing that I want to talk about is Godzilla which was, after all, the main selling point for the film. There is a ton to consider when you take the helm for a job like this, and I think that Edwards did the most that he could do. And it looks beautiful. The pacing, every movement, his face, the moves! It's all there! And it looks so cool!!!!! As far as I'm concerned Godzilla looks perfectly fine. I heard that some people thought that Godzilla's legs and feet looked fat, and I can see where they're coming from, but it never really bothered me because he's a giant monster and I was prepared for him to be lumbering around a metropolitan area. In other words, his size matched his speed. 
For a movie called, "Godzilla" there really isn't all that much Godzilla in the film. The full screen time that Godzilla has might clock out to a half an hour at the most, and only half the time he's fighting other monsters. When I watch a Godzilla movie I expect it to revolve around him for the most part, but instead Edwards decided it would be better to star two actors to carry our story from beginning to end.

   I want to explain why a main character is important in a story for a frame of reference to this movie. The main character is who the audience vicariously lives through. It is important to have a character in a story that doesn't understand the driving action at hand so that when he is learning about the situation, so are we as an audience. The way that Jo works with Ford is similar to a movie like Back to The Future however only in the sense that there is an experienced man trying to explain a discovery to an inexperienced apprentice. But in a movie like Back to the Future we care a lot more about Marty than Doc Brown because we like his character, we want to see him overcome obsticals, and we know he's not perfect (when he loses his temper after being called "chicken"). Marty McFly is a well rounded character. Ford is not. I have no disrespect towards Aron Taylor Jonson's performance, but his character has nothing interesting set up during the entirety of his screen time. I don't care about him as a character at all. I don't care about his wife, or his job, or his well furnished house. The only reason I think he needed to be in the movie was to give us perspective of a human in comparison to Godzilla...which was incredible. 

   Bryan Cranston's performance was incredible as well and while I don't believe that he was picked simply to grab more of an audience, I don't think it hurt the film during box office weekend. His performance was so good, I can honestly say that I cared infinitely more about Jo and his wife with the ten minuets they were interacting together, than the entire rest of the film that had Ford and his wife interacting together. The very moment that Bryan Cranston died I had no one to follow in the movie that I remotely cared about. It relieved all the tension because I didn't care about Ford or his wife. He was the only interesting character and when he left I had nothing to invest in for the rest of the film. 

   Many people had gone into this movie with different expectations because while there is generally a formula to a Godzilla movie, there are also different aspects of the franchise that fans like to focus on. My ideal Godzilla movie would be a bunch of never-before seen actors playing scientists with no names that try to kill Godzilla with a science thing...but that will never happen. I didn't expect it to happen, but I hoped it would. This is not that movie.

   There were a few minor problems I had with Godzilla, like how everything seemed a little too convenient for our main characters when they were everywhere Godzilla was, and when Ford makes it his mission to save one child out of the fifty people that are on a train literally speeding towards one of the monsters. But I can look past those flaws. All in all Godzilla takes itself a little too seriously for me. There are several dry spells in the film where nothing happens, the actual story that doesn't involve Bryan Cranston is terrible, and I didn't care about the main character. But if you're willing to put up with that to get to the best ten minuet monster fight you've ever seen, I recommend it.