All posts by John Hodge

The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys (2016)With The Nice Guys, Shane Black returns to what he knows best: two dudes (Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe), a babe (Margaret Qualley), and some henchmen all tossed into a cauldron of bubbling absurdity.

Fortunately, my theater was fairly empty, because I laughed obnoxiously more or less throughout the entire runtime of this film. The humor is incredibly clever at times (Gosling takes cover behind a oscillating vehicle on display only to jump up and lay down a round of cover fire in the completely wrong direction after having been turned around) and at other times,  hilariously moronic (continuous series of Gosling falling down/high-pitched screaming).  Gosling performed at the top of his game, flaunting his remarkable comedic chops throughout, perhaps outshining the great Mr. Crowe.  As described, he hits every mark and even adds his own flair to the script (classically referring the male reproductive organ as a “schphitz” or a “schphonz”).

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The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Spending my junior year of college abroad in Ireland has given me the incredible opportunity to travel across Europe fairly cheaply. I recently visited Paris for 67 euro. While I was there, of course, I visited the Louvre, the most famous art museum in the world, home to some of history’s greatest masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This surreal experience inspired me to read Dan Brown’s own masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code, knowing that nearly the entire first act of the novel takes place in the Louvre and employs a massive conspiracy theory involving Da Vinci’s work as a vehicle to drive the narrative. Having been abandoned by my friends — who had early flights the morning of our last day in Paris — and approximately 14 hours of alone time before my own flight, I sat down in a Parisian café and read the first 400-odd pages.

As far as Ron Howard’s film is concerned, I would like to dedicate this review to explaining how it so stupidly and unnecessarily diverges from the novel that it actually pisses me off.  To better capture the tone of my rage, I will examine each moronic decision to veer away from the book as it pops into my mind, rather than going in chronological order according to the film.

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Warrior (2011)

Fun fact: Nick Nolte, of all people, was nominated for an Academy Award for this film.

Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, starring Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton, is an emotional tale detailing the effects of an alcoholic father on a pair of brothers and how they ultimately overcome the damage done. One aspect of the film I particularly enjoy is the use of mixed martial arts simply as a frame for the telling of the story, rather than as the true focus of the film. Warrior is about family and pain and forgiveness and regret and utilizes the intensity of physical battle to make these themes come across all the more powerfully.  How could one feel Tommy’s (Hardy) mix of confusion and fear more effectively than by watching him punch another man in the face?

Tommy is the most interesting character in Warrior because he, quite clearly, is the most emotionally sensitive; his resentment of his father is immense, the pain he has felt at the death of his mother and his brother-in-arms is excruciating, his confusion about what he should do and where he should go, and the fear caused by this confusion all translate into his ferociousness in the cage. O’Connor’s decision, as screenwrter, to turn in a quiet character in Tommy is brilliant — Tommy desperately wants to be the “tough guy,” despite being deeply affected by the events of his life. He holds his emotions inside, they bubble, and are frighteningly released in the ring. Had Hardy spent the film blabbering, that interesting character would have collapsed completely. Tommy really would be perceived as the “tough guy,” had he not been so introspective and obviously distressed.

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The Martian (2015)

Hands down, the best movie theater experience I’ve ever had.

Sci-fi royalty Ridley Scott’s’ latest space voyage did not disappoint.  The Martian — starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover (holy shit) — epitomizes the term “modern classic.”  It gets its two major themes of unrelenting determination and human bravery across gracefully and without any integrity-damaging clichés, an accomplishment that continuously eludes many filmmakers who embark upon such a journey. That’s the difference between this film and Independence Day, for me (that’s not to say that the latter doesn’t hold a special place in my heart).

I left the theater with the stupidest grin on my face. The film’s humor was the beautiful element that made it exceptional, not only in the simple sense of making the film more enjoyable, but also in the sense that it unquestionably aided Damon’s performance — otherwise, I doubt his sheer optimism would have been nearly as believable.  The humor lightened the mood for us and kept us believing that Mark Watney was going to do the impossible.  Far from falling into the category of comedic-relief-humor, The Martian might actually get nominated for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes next year.  When Watney practically blows himself up and goes I flying across the hab, I cried with laughter.  When Watney intentionally goes to town with expletives in an inter-planet online chat that is being streamed worldwide, I cried with laughter.

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Calvary (2014)

Seeing as I am spending this academic year studying abroad in Ireland, I suppose it would be appropriate to review some good Irish cinema. In the starring role of Father James, the brilliant and wildly underestimated Brendan Gleeson turns in one of his most impressive acting efforts in Calvary, channeling the frustration of a man who’s spent a lifetime actually giving a shit. Sporting a thick reddish-brown mane and sounding his still-thicker brogue, Gleeson covers a great range of emotions, as convincing in his attempts to mold the children of Sligo into proper men and women as he is in sardonically issuing back-handed compliments and even some more blatant insults.

Calvary’s dialogue is probably its strongest suit.  While the film is a clever black comedy with a plethora of lines that are as obscene as they are hilarious, there is also a cloud of seriousness and deep-meaning that hangs over the few players in this small-budgeted indie flick. Every jest is followed closely with an exasperated sigh, telling of the emotionally crippling environment in which these people live.  Where questionable jokes about child molestation are made frequently, there is a great deal of it happening. Where people often contemplate taking their own lives, jokes about such things are tossed around haplessly. So, while the film’s overtones are rather comedic, its undertones are actually quite upsetting. I suppose this is fairly insightful, as people do seem to make light of the real problems they face in order to cope.

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Shame (2011)

It’s just a shame that this film wasn’t a bit better.  I’m not saying I hated or even disliked Shame, but it had the potential to be a great film that handles an issue that is rarely discussed and is entirely taboo.  One thing, for sure, that impressed me about Shame was the way that it made me actually feel the shame and remorse and immense self-loathing that Brandon experienced on an hourly basis.  That was powerful, and I mainly attribute that to the sheer talent of one of my favorite actors, Michael Fassbender.  In his second collaboration with the talented Steve McQueen, Fassbender is almost frightening.  When he attacks his visiting sister in nothing but a bath towel (one that is starting to fall down, at that) and begins screaming in her face, I genuinely felt like he might have lost his mind.  His rage, which clearly stems from his own unimaginably great disappointment in and repulsion of himself, is fairly constant and, while far less intense than that of his later performance as a plantation owner in McQueen’s follow-up film 12 Years A Slave, is shocking.

At the same time, Fassbender is also wise to portray Brandon thoroughly enjoying the acts that ultimately lead to his frustration.  This is vital to his performance because it is clear that the film is attempting to show that sex addiction is, in fact, an addiction.  It is an affliction, much like alcoholism or drug addiction.  Brandon is not a freak, he’s not a pervert…he is suffering.  But, as all addicts do, Brandon enjoys doing these acts while he is doing them.  Just because a cocaine addict might desperately want to stop using the drug, this doesn’t mean that he will suddenly no longer enjoy cocaine when he does use it.  In order to achieve the goal that this film is trying to accomplish, Fassbender needs to be as dead-on as possible.  He nails it.

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Straight Outta Compton (2015)

I think it is fair to assume almost every college student under the age of 21 has belted (or at least disgruntledly murmured) the words “Fuck Tha Police.” Straight Outta Compton puts the phrase in a more important context, believe it or not (what’s more important that one’s passionate lust for underage drinking, right?). Starring O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube-incarnate) and a band of eerily-similar-looking-to-the-real-life-people-they-portray and actually quite gifted actors, Straight Outta Compton tells the story of the famously infamous revolutionary rap group N.W.A.

The first hour/hour-thirty of the film immerses the audience in the world of late ’80s Compton, California. It’s a rough world, of course, filled with drugs and violence, but it is not necessarily filled with bad people. This is an unfair world, where the people put in charge of protecting those who live in it, are, in fact, a significant source of pain and distress. The misguided thoughts and actions of many members of the Los Angeles Police Department led directly to a sense of great tension and justified rebellion.

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Adventureland (2009)

Adventureland represents everything I pray my first months as a college graduate do not include, although worse things than bro-ing out with Ryan Reynolds and having Kristen Stewart fall madly in love me could go down.

Jesse Eisenberg, the unexpected hero of Adventureland (expected hero, really) portrays a less asshole-ish version of his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, pulling out all the nerdy stops, including but not limited to: an immensely awkward and unfailing stammer when speaking to any remotely attractive woman, a less-than-flattering Jew-fro, and a borderline translucent complexion (admittedly much like my own).  Kristen Stewart is…well, Kristen Stewart, bringing the exact same mannerisms and monotone speech that she brings to every other film she’s been in. Last but not least, Ryan Reynolds plays the classic douche.  Did I mention that Adventureland takes place in the ’80s?

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Beginners (2010)

Is Ewan McGregor just awesome, or what?  He truly brings his A-game to every role, and he refuses to shy away from anything, whether it seems too “out-there” or taboo or even if it seems like a risky film that could damage his career if it fails.  I love this about him; I respect this about him.  In a recent interview promoting the recent latest blockbuster Focus, Will Smith spoke about his career and said that in previous years, he had been overly concerned with making sure that his movies were hugely popular and that they made a lot of money.  If they weren’t, he felt like he had failed.  Now, he has let go of this obsessive, limiting mindset and has decided that he is more interested in creating.  The beauty of the art of acting, of exploring the human mind by diving into and becoming someone other than yourself is his newfound passion.  I think it is evident that Ewan McGregor shares this passion.  Examining the list of characters he has played, I believe it must be that he delves into the bodies and minds of these vastly different people because he is unsure who he is himself.  I tend to really enjoy watching films with actors who I see this in; Beginners is one of them.

Beginners is really a simple film. The film takes place over three distinct time periods and flips back and forth between them, but this is not confusing, nor meant to be, and there are no grand action sequences or diabolical twists.  This film is simple, it’s about people, it’s about life and everything, every emotion rather, that comes with it.  We see sadness and happiness, of course.  We see sympathy and confusion, we see love.  We see it all.  Yet, this is still a simple film.  There are a hand-full of characters, mostly quite likable, and we get to watch their lives as they are for about a month. Oliver (McGregor) has been through a bit of a rough patch: he lost his mother to cancer; immediately after, his father tells him he is gay; he watches him fall in love with a younger man; and then he watches his father, too, die of cancer.  Oliver does not struggle with coming to terms with the fact that his dad is gay, but with the idea that his childhood was a ruse, a lie, it occurred under false pretenses.  Oliver struggles not with the fact that his dad loves a man, but that his dad loves any person other than his mom.  To make matter worse, he is hurt by seeing his father loving a man his own age and feeling as though his father loves this man more than he loves him.

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Blue Ruin (2013)

First of all, I would like to note that I constantly find myself referring to this movie as “Blue Ribbon.” Thanks, college.

Blue Ruin…HOLY F@#K!! I had heard about this movie maybe a year or so ago, and seeing that it garnered an impressive 96 percent Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I quickly hopped over to my IMDb app to put it on my Watchlist.  I must regrettably say that I wasted that year or so of my life not watching this movie.

I thought: Ok, so this is a smaller, independent film, I don’t see any actors I really know on the cast list, nor am I familiar with the director, Jeremy Saulnier (who to this day has only helmed three features); it has to be at least decent given the reviews, and the plot looks kinda cool.  I was expecting a slower movie, that built and built to an awesome, explosive climatic conclusion. That seems to be the way most well-received indie action flicks go, right?  Well, maybe. But not Blue Ruin. Not in the slightest.

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