Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Power of Art

I’m graduating college in a week, which means more blogging and more features. The hope is I churn a feature out each week. This should be one of many over the ensuing weeks.

Since fourth grade, I’ve played the euphonium. Participating in band was a way to connect with people, I was told. My father played trombone. It was a way for us to connect.

By junior high, I was committed and for a bit, considered if music was a profession worth pursuing for myself. I earned a seat in numerous honor bands, participated in one of the finest music programs in the state at North Hills and furthered my love and knowledge of music. During my senior high years, we put together some stunning performances. We were an ensemble of young teens who all had a committed vision of excellence and perseverance. We channeled our passions through it, our hope through it, our dreams through it. We were pressured day after day to do better and despite my doubts, we reached another echelon each and every time.

But despite all this, I was ready to move on after high school. By senior year, I had stopped practicing entirely, my attention and dedication pulled to other areas of my life. I thought it was time to let it go. Had it not been for a scholarship my school had offered for my musical talent, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. Looking back, that was a foolish thing to think.

Now a senior in college, I’ve played for 13 years and I may have played my last concert two Saturday’s ago.

I put my horn back in its case and gazed at it a little longer than I usually do because I know I may not see it again for months if not years. As a journalism professional with a gradually expanding social circle and vastly expanding list of responsibilities, some of my hobbies have started falling to the wayside. Sadly, the euphonium has become one of them.

I do not say music because it hasn’t and never shall.

Since I’m a movie critic, you should expect a reference to a movie. Well, here it is. The Hope Is a Dangerous Thing scene from The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorite excerpts. Here, I could go on a ten-minute tangent discussing how criminal it is that The Shawshank Redemption didn’t win an Academy Award but that’s for another time. Instead, I’m going to talk about these snippets of dialogue:

“That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you.”

“You need it so you don’t forget, forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch. It’s yours.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hope.”

At our most weathered and most tortured, at our most basic form, the arts still remain. A deaf man can still hear the music. A blind man can still see the art. A paralyzed man can still feel the dance. The arts inspire as much as they transform, as much as they remind us of what we once were and what we still can be. They are a universal language, a doorway to the soul.

They make you believe.

They make you feel.

They make you hope.

Sports has become a universal language. The arts, as well as sports, transcend linguistic barriers. Sports, as I explained in my We All feature, have the ability to overcome racial, social, economical, political and religious divides, unifying a diverse group to one aim. When Landon Donovan scored in the 2010 World Cup, the United States erupted. There were no detractors. There was no debating. There was a roar, a roar bellowing in the soul. It was a roar that roared, “Yes” and so much more than that. This raucous sound wasn’t a brick of sound. It was a tidal wave so large it’s immeasurable.

The same could be said when Manchester City scored two goals in four minutes to capture its first English Premier League title since 1968.

Sports, as well as the arts, convey the things that words sometimes can’t. In select moments, you will feel a chill on your back, an epiphany full of an aura that can only be described one way: heavenly. It is the most joyous of feelings, a feeling that will last only seconds but carries with it a mass of emotion. It reverberates inside of us. It is a feeling that replicates the vivacity of a child, unbound and free. It is a chant of ecstasy, a concussion of jubilation, a pulse-pounding ricochet contained in our hearts. It is the commanding presence of the brass, the force of the winds and strings and the crash of the percussion. It is genuine beauty, untouched and unsoiled, in its purest form. It is euphoric.

Most of all, it is an affirmation as much as a confirmation of what we already know, that we’re capable of anything and that no matter how many times we’re torn apart, you can’t separate the arts, the eternal flame, from the man.

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Movie Review: Hardcore Henry

Hardcore Henry‘s action premise is, at the very least, original. Shot almost entirely on a Go-Pro, Hardcore Henry hopes to make a footprint on the film industry. If it doesn’t make big bucks, it should be able to gauge the interest of audiences and filmmakers for its originality alone.

While some critics have said the first-person action gets old real quick, I was hooked from the beginning. A movie shot like this, especially an action film, is going to have its detractors. If you don’t have a quick eye, chances are your head will start to hurt after a bit as you struggle to keep up. The adrenaline rush is empowering, breathing new life into what at times has become a dormant action genre. The choreography of stunts is an evolving enterprise and the invention and further application of special effects has made the attempts of practical stuntwork all the more difficult for its practitioners. Despite Mad Max: Fury Road‘s pathetic attempt to call itself a story, it showcased some of the best practical stuntwork in the history of film and was properly rewarded with six Oscars. George Miller’s film serves as a visionary for the action dreamers and one can only hope that films will start to model their work after extraordinary efforts like the ones we saw in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

Hardcore Henry platforms a similar intensity to its product with a film technique that is the first of its kind and it’s also dynamic enough to keep a true action aficionado engaged and begging for more. Putting you in the shoes of the protagonist-in this case, literally-leaves the film with a look of a first-person shooter. Our generation loves to be dazzled. Call us entitled if you want; we don’t care. In terms of explosive content, Hardcore Henry is the best of 2016 thus far and when you consider it’s nearly four full months into the year, that’s impressive, especially for an independent film.

That’s right. This beauty is an independent film, removed from any major production studio. There is a stigma among the film industry that independents don’t succeed, the same way that artists without a label must not be relevant. This stigma isn’t without backing. I’ve watched a fair share of independent films and while they often present unique ideas, they falter at the fundamentals of movie-making. It’s also hard to thrill when you’re constricted by a budget.

Despite all the obstacle courses independent films have to jump, crawl, bend, and hurdle through, the independent corridor has its gems. It’s my belief that Hardcore Henry is one of those gems.

While its story is rudimentary, its simplicity allows audiences to focus on the action output of the film. That’s not an excuse, only a comment. Its story leaves much to be desired if the glamour of hand-to-hand combat, shootouts and chase scenes don’t catch your fancy. Director Ilya Naishuller relies on his action and almost avoids writing a story. Through a plot point, our main character, who we can’t see, is left mute. He doesn’t say a word the entire film, which isn’t to say he doesn’t have personality but his range is handicapped. If he was an established character, such as a video game character like Master Chief or Lara Croft, it’s not as much of a problem. We already have a pretty good idea of who’s at the head of our rendezvous. Henry is an unknown and remains that way at the story’s end. He’s a pair of eyeballs for us, an avatar in a sci-fi tale. He is a person though, not a machine and one feels slighted when the film spends so little time with him. Our villain is a pompous drama king who overexaggerates everything with no character parameters. Sharlto Copley’s character is engaging and serves as a talking tutorial for those who choose to watch this, but also feels like a charade by film’s end.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (DeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellar)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (10 Cloverfield LaneCreedScouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseCrimson PeakThe Martian)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticePride and Prejudice and ZombiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2Beasts of No NationTerminator: Genisys)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (ConstantineRaceEverestHerculesThe Sentinel)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (War, The Ridiculous 6The Lost BoysZombeaversCrank)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (CatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next Door)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Hardcore Henry: 64.

At film’s end, you want to rally for Hardcore Henry and applaud the action standard it regularly sets and meets for itself as well as the repertoire of emotions it manages in its set pieces, but I can’t deny another part of me is a bit peeved at the story’s mediocre success.

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Movie Review: Constantine

I’m not gonna lie. I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from Batman v Superman. I had high hopes for Zach Snyder. Man of Steel worked. Surely he could breathe some life into DC Comics.

With the hope of sweet honey comes the crashing hammer of bitterness and disappointment, as Batman v Superman did for me and critics three weeks ago and now we’re supposed to move on, look forward to better products and leave it to fend for itself as the few of us that insist on beating it to death with a baseball bat continue to swing away.

I know I can come across as overly critical in my reviews, but I don’t enjoy beating a film up. Okay, that’s a lie, I savor it, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy disappointment. If I watch a film and I can tell from the get-go it’s gonna be bad, at least I can attempt to have fun with it. With a film like Batman v Superman, you go in with hope, even if your mind tells you not to because you know it’s gonna fall and crumble like when a child realizes his role model is a mirage, a fantasy that you hung on a person and convinced yourself was a reality. Batman v Superman is a bottomless well of ambivalence, a film encumbered by its inability to make decisions.

Alas, it is time to move on and look at some more films and coming off of yet another Warner Bros. misstep, I figured one more misfire couldn’t hurt. 2005’s Constantine it is.

Keanu Reeves stars as a supernatural detective, performing exorcisms and general fantasy hocus-pocus, mumbo jumbo nonsense. It’s okay to call it this because none of it is going to be explained down the road. Constantine‘s story feels out of place from the outset because of its inability to create the fictional world we’re dealing with here. Its execution is suspect at best, negligent at worst and doesn’t seem all that concerned with creating anything. Constantine is based off a comic, but just as a comic seeks to illustrate a character and world through its panels, a film should seek to do something similar with its scenes. A movie centered on realism does not have this extra hurdle to jump through. It can make like Dorothy and be on her merry way. An adaptation of fiction does not have such luxury. Only the very best storytellers can drop the details of the scenery in the narrative and I would advise filmmakers to avoid leaning on them because sorry (think Canadian accent), there just don’t seem to be many who can successfully do that. There aren’t a lot of George Lucas’s or Ridley Scott’s walking around. That’s why everyone knows who they are.

The struggle of film writers is the battle of conciseness vs. clarity. By definition, conciseness requires efficiency, material that is short and crisp. In contrast, in order to be clear, one has to explain a topic as thoroughly as possible, removed from any length or time obstructions. The battle of scriptwriters is making these two elements sit together and have a cordial discussion. There’s been far more than one occasion where a film has suffered due to its inability to make these two qualities play nice. In my experience, conciseness is usually the one that throws the first punch. People are obsessed with speed and patience is becoming a dying commodity. I can only imagine how few people of this new generation will be able to look at slow dramas like The Green Mile and manage to hold steady as the film slowly reaches its extraordinary third act. Something tells me at least a third of today’s audiences would walk out of the theater long before it got that far.

Constantine‘s battle here is with clarity, not conciseness. First-time director Francis Lawrence, who is now known for his work with the Hunger Games franchise, has no qualms about the clock, throwing his work down the conveyor belt. The hope is that star Keanu Reeves’ John Constantine can prove compelling enough for us to overlook the sped up story process, as if holding a lollipop above a group of small children would cause them to overlook the gross rat infestation covering the floor. It’s childish, but that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is how blatantly complacent this film is with the quality it produces. There are some specific scenes that feel forced, roles that are there because the comic book people said they had to be, not because they truly needed to be and some more than questionable plot conveniences that just manage to make the pipeline to the sewage drain that much longer.

As hard as it is to say, poor Keanu is one of Constantine‘s best products. His emotionless couples well with a character that I think is supposed to be a guy who acts like a jackwagon. On the inside, he knows he’s doomed to hell anyway and doesn’t see the point of living anymore but still fears the end regardless. I say I think because through this film, this character is pulled in so many ways that it feels like Constantine is being drawn and quartered. After watching, I’m still not sure who Constantine is and that, paired with an unstable environment, leaves much to be desired here. The visuals from time to time are a causation for some fun, but the acting’s lethargic and the writing is incoherent at best.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (DeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellar)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (10 Cloverfield LaneCreedScouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseCrimson PeakThe Martian)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticePride and Prejudice and ZombiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2Beasts of No NationTerminator: Genisys)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (RaceEverestHerculesThe SentinelMad Max: Fury Road)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (War, The Ridiculous 6The Lost BoysZombeaversCrank)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (CatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next Door)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Constantine: 57.

Constantine has some promise but the project doesn’t have the foresight to push forward and commit on that promise. Rachel Weisz is a moving and talking plot point, not a character, Shia LaBeouf is here because reasons and Lawrence can’t form the cement needed for the foundation of this film with the lukewarm material he’s gifted with here. As a comic, I can see how this character and fantasy realm might have an audience, but as a movie, Constantine doesn’t work.

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