Afterschool: Never Forget

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In all of our lives, we must constantly deal with the omnipresent question of what is real and what is fake. Never has this clash of realities been more relevant than with the dawning of the internet. It’s a tool that presents us with unlimited power and knowledge, but also in that comes the herculean task of deciphering it all. In the hands of a young person, this can be both crushing and mind altering at times.

Antonio Campos in his 2008 film, Afterschool, presents us with this struggle in the form of his protagonist Robert, a young boy sent off by his family to a wealthy New England boarding school. During his time there he preoccupies himself with what he calls “little clips of things that seem real”. In his mundane life, he sees these videos of violence and sex as a portal through which he can glimpse something authentic. In many ways, they alter his young mind’s understanding of what is real in the first place.

While filming some stock footage in one of his school’s hallways for his video class he discovers something far realer than he could have ever expected when he discovers the two most popular girls in school as they suffer a horrible reaction to rat poison laced cocaine and die right in front of his eyes, one bleeding out in his very arms.

This tragedy obviously causes quite a few ripples throughout the school. As much as everyone is torn up about their deaths, what truly seems to bother everyone is how lost they are in actually understanding and dealing with these girl’s untimely demise. Most of all the reaction of the school and, in particular, its principle, Mr. Burke, deftly played by Michael Stuhlbarg, seems most perplexing and cold.

Mr. Burke recognizing Robert’s position in the school’s video class gives him the responsibility of making the memorial video for the girls, in the hopes that it would help him deal with their graphic deaths. Along with this the school pushes everyone to go see the school counselor and talk about how they feel, then in most cases get handed a prescription for whatever pill will handle the symptoms of their internal traumas without actually addressing it. Robert as the one to first find the girls is sent to speak to Mr. Virgil. He is obviously quite out of sorts with the whole ordeal. He talks about the videos and the violent porn he watches and how he finds a reality in them that’s fascinating. An authenticity that’s missing from his own life where, as Mr. Virgil tells him, the school had been told about the dead girl’s drug problem and did nothing to help them, in the interest of keeping their rich parent’s money and support going.

Once Robert finished putting the video together for the memorial, he shows it to Mr. Burke who asks, “Was that serious Robert? That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen”. The video wasn’t quite what the school had hoped for. With no music, shaky camera work, and the raw sense of reality that Robert has been searching for through countless Youtube searches. It didn’t try to provide the false sugar coated narrative the school hoped everyone would guzzle down. Instead of idolizing these girls with cheap condolences and ignoring the elephant in the room that they are responsible for allowing things to escalate so far into tragedy, Robert’s video portrayed the reality of that elephant and all its unsightly blemishes. The school and those around him wouldn’t stand for this, though. They aren’t interested in the truth they’re just interested in the most convenient reality where they print “Never Forget” all over the memorial stage and paint it as just another forgettable tragedy. Nothing to learn here, just move on, take another pill. Robert does and so does everyone else, just like Mr. Burke and Virgil reminds Robert, “It’s everyone’s fault” “It’s no one’s fault”, forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Lone Ranger: Rampant Cinemania

 

This Week: Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley, Albert Cantu, and Andrew King

Show Notes:

Bad Santa: 0:26 – 2:20

Doubt: 2:20 – 3:55

Man on the Moon: 4:00 – 5:11

Despicable Me: 2 5:14 – 8:45

The Departed: 9:29 – 11:22

Regarding Last Week’s Absence/ The Heat: 11:23 – 15:57

The Lone Ranger Review: 15:57 – 41:09

The Trend of Clapping in Movies: 41:09 – 45:12

Pacific Rim/Closing Thoughts: 45:12 – 46:46

Competing Reviews: The Great Gatsby

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The Good: By Joe Holley

There’s a reason Gatsby has become arguably the most iconic American tale of the last hundred years, and Baz Luhrmann has shown just how remarkably well the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most acclaimed novel still resonate in modern times. Luhrmann’s adaptation captures what is the story’s most essential element: the riotous, hysterical extravagance of an era. An especially strong turn from Leonardo DiCaprio as the idealistic Jay Gatsby underpins a refreshing take on a timeless classic.

Luhrmann’s directing was by no means perfect, but he takes some ambitious risks that added a fresh flavor to what might have otherwise been a stuffy meat-and-potatoes adaptation. I’ll admit to mixed feelings on some of the CGI included in the film (there’s no real reason to put text from the book on the screen as it’s being read), but visually Luhrmann highlighted the fast paced lifestyle of West Egg. Although many critics thought Luhrmann was “too present” in the movie, I found the new style refreshing and poignant. The soundtrack, which included original music by Jay-Z, brought a new edge to what some might consider a rather tired tale.

Performances overall were top notch. DiCaprio’s Gatsby managed to create the mixed sense of empathy and disconnection that makes his character so unique. Though it probably won’t win him the Oscar he so craves, DiCaprio is to be commended for his work here. Toby Maguire also played one of the best performances of his career, as narrator Nick Carraway. Maguire’s Carraway is just the right amount of whiny and idealistic to make him mesh with Gatsby, though at times his narration leaves something to be desired. Carey Mulligan plays a delightfully foolish Daisy, and Joel Edgerton’s turn as Tom Buchanan was spot on. Casting for Gatsby can’t be faulted.

The film stays remarkably true to the novel, including all the major symbols and even using much of the novel’s exact wording. Doing so demonstrates Luhrmann’s respect for the novel, and Fitzgerald’s classic story. The unique visual style, coupled with some very strong performances, make Gatsby a must-watch for this year.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

The Bad….

Eh, let’s just skip right to the Ugly, because there isn’t much else here: By Gabriel Vogel

To put it simply, I detest this movie. While I can agree with you that The Great Gatsby is a remarkable and essentially american tale, there is simply no world in which I can agree that Baz Luhrmann’s direction does anything but obstruct that greatness. I guess I can agree that he marks the film his own particular sense of “style”, but I have trouble calling that “style” anything but a blight on an otherwise compelling work. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that everything in the film that Luhrmann adds greatly reduces it’s effectiveness. Luhrmann tries to establish a sense of absurd excess in the film by giving us sweeping CGI shots of everything and playing Kanye West, but instead his attempt comes off as fake and obnoxious. He throws his patently annoying style in our faces every other minute and ends up just obstructing everything that made the original novel great. In fact, the only bearable moments of the film were when Luhrmann just let the actors deliver the story unperturbed.

Now some of the problems here are less Luhrmann’s fault and more just problems that come with adapting something like Gatsby. For example, his handling of Nick Carraway. the Nick Carraway of the novel is a simple character just content to watch for the most part, but as we go through the book we gain a sort of connection to him and begin to see him as a real character through his constant narration. He’s the singular lens through which we see the content of the novel. We hear what he sees and what he thinks and therefore we see who he is. Luhrmann attempts to capture this characterization by giving Nick’s narration throughout the film, but this only serves as a pale imitation of what we receive throughout the novel. Film is just not the kind of medium were we can effectively build a character through techniques like that. Unfortunately, he never realized that and tried to emulating Nick instead of adapting Nick, and in turn we ended up with a piece of cardboard instead of a character.

While Luhrmann certainly botches his adaptation quite thoroughly, even he’s unable to completely destroy every compelling aspect of this great American novel. Blessedly, every now and then the source material shines through the muck of shit that some people call style and we’re able to see a glimpse of something interesting, but it simply isn’t enough to make this film worth even a second of your time. Please, if you feel like revisiting the story or visiting it for the first time just read the book. It’s fantastic, and if you’re really jonesing for a film adaptation than just watch this trailer instead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2N1f0z5zwA&feature=youtu.be). You’re welcome.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #9: Y Tu Mamá También


 
This week’s Netflix Movie of the Week is Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También, A film which a few of us here at Simply Film consider to be one of our favorite movies.  Most famous for directing the third installment to the Harry Potter franchise, as well as his American film Children of Men, Cuaron started out making Mexican movies which he co-wrote with his brother, including Y Tu Mamá También.  While the film is highly sexual, and borderline crass at times, it’s a truly incredible film as it ties in themes of social commentary, friendship, morality and consequence, as well as one of the most interesting and well executed on screen love triangles I have ever seen.

After their girlfriends leave for the summer, a pair of rich teenagers, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), are enjoying a summer full of drugs, drinking, and debauchery when they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu).  Luisa is a beautiful woman in her late twenties, and the wife of Tenoch’s cousin.  After her marriage falls into turmoil, she takes the boys up on their offer to escort her to Heaven’s Mouth, a beautiful beach that the pair has fabricated in order to get Luisa to come with them on a road trip.

While it is very hard to explain the appeal of this movie, for one reason or another it is absolutely brilliant.  It works as many different films at the same time, be it a deconstruction of the obnoxious rich kid comedy or a pseudo-coming of age story all the while weaving in elements of socio-political criticism of Latin American.  Though at time the film does seem to hide behind a veneer of sex appeal, and even vulgarity, there is a lot of to get out of this movie.  I have seen the film a few times at this point, and I am impressed with it more and more on each viewing, if it doesn’t seem like the kind of film that would offend your sensibilities, it is absolutely worth checking out. This movie absolutely floored me. It’s a far more interesting film than I expected it to be with this premise, and is something I would highly recommend to all those interested.

Rating: 5 out of 5

As of Yet Unnamed Simply Film Podcast: Evil Dead

 
Hello once again, people of the Internet. Today we at Simply Film would like to share with you our recent explorations into the always great medium of podcasting, and to begin our epic journey into the annals of podcasting history we start with our review of Evil Dead, not THE Evil Dead like the original, just Evil Dead, because I guess we’re too cool for articles now. Anyway, we’re still just getting the hang of this thing, so please forgive any amateurishness on our part. I hope you enjoy it.

This Week: Gabriel Vogel & Andrew King

Show Notes:

What We’ve Been Watching: 0:00 – 13:59

Roger Ebert: 14:00 – 18:29

Evil Dead Review: 18:30 – 38:22

PS: We don’t really have a name yet, and if you have any suggestions we’d love to hear them. I’m particularly partial towards Rampant Cinephilia, but the powers that be don’t really seem to appreciate it much.

Olympus Has Fallen Review

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After the estrogen fueled extravaganza that was Spring Breakers, I needed something to balance out the old hormones; something with lots of bullets and explosions and blood! Enter Olympus Has Fallen— a decidedly masculine affair. 2013 is going to be a big year for action movies, so the question arises: will Olympus be able to bring something new to this charred and bullet-riddled table, or will it soon be forgotten amid the cavalcade of mediocrity? Let’s find out!

Directed by genre veteran Antonie Fuqua, the man behind Training Day and Shooter, Olympus tells the story of a North Korean assault on the White House wherein the President is captured and forced to divulge certain classified information concerning the US nuclear stockpile. Mayhem ensues, and disgraced ex-secret service agent Mike Banner is the only one who can save the day. Direction is generally functional and Fuqua proves that he still has the knack for action with tight, fun to watch firefights and engaging visuals.

Olympus stars the world’s sweatiest man, Gerrard Butler, as the aforementioned Mike Banner who is charged to protect the President, played by Harvey Dent, fresh from his stint as Gotham City DA. Morgan Freeman also lends his talents and vocal chords to the production as Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull. The film is generally well acted and I’m convinced that Butler is incapable of appearing as anything other than sincere on-screen. Oddly though, Freeman of all people seems strangely detached from the proceedings. I get that he’s supposedly trying to keep a level head amidst the greatest crisis in US history, but I can’t help but feel that he comes across as unconcerned and really seems to be phoning this one in.

The thing that I find weirdly inconsistent about the whole affair is that while the action and acting are both done earnestly and, barring some of the more incredible fight scenes, relatively realistically, the plot line is just ludicrous. North Korea, after all, is a country that literally cannot feed its population, simultaneously financing a sleeper cell operation that would have no doubt cost obscene sums of money, required decades to plan and successfully execute, and warranted a technical know-how beyond the skill of even the most ambitious CIA operative. It just doesn’t make any sense. If, however, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief enough to pretend that maybe SPECTRE is behind the whole thing, then perhaps an immersive experience isn’t wholly out of the question.

Another point that the movie has in it’s favor is the absolutely brutal depiction of violence. Gunfights didn’t come off as heroic or exciting, but actually terrifying, thereby adding a welcome sense of weight to the fate of the characters. North Korean commandos execute wounded Americans with the camera in the prime angle to capture the brains splattering across a nearby wall. Civilians aren’t spared either as a gunship opens fire on the unsuspecting crowds below, and as they are mowed down bullets seems to have a tendency to send up geysers of flesh and blood. On the other hand, however, blood geysers only continue to register on an emotional level so long as they are used in moderation and aren’t being shoved in our face literally every five seconds. Overuse kills impact, as it does in every other medium.

For all of its positive aspects, the film really doesn’t have any memorable unique selling points. Franky, I found the whole experience kind of bland and unsatisfying, like being served a single piece of dry toast when you paid for a three course meal. I found myself trying to anticipate a plot twist that never actually came, like Morgan Freeman secretly being evil or the North Koreans breaking into the White House to wish the President a happy birthday. Predictability plagues the plot, and none of the characters are interesting or dynamic enough to warrant anything more than a superficial engagement in the pretty lights and explosions flashing on the wall.

Ultimately, Olympus falls victim to the sizzling brand of mediocrity. It’s a competent but wholly unremarkable little action flick that in all likelihood will, or at least should, be looked over in favor of the much better Spring Breakers or Stoker. My guess is that it will very quickly be forgotten in the white noise of machine gun fire emanating from many other interchangeable action movies coming out this year.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Warm Bodies Review

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I’m quite sure that I’m going soft in my old age, as I’ve noticed myself liking a lot more movies recently. Perhaps “liking” isn’t quite the right word; “tolerating” is probably more accurate. Case in point: Warm Bodies. I walked into the theater the other day practically staggering in under the weight of my own preconceived notions, expecting Warm Bodies to be nothing more than a mildly amusing two hour time sink. The actual affair, however, was more than surprising.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies is a book-to-film adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. Not having read the book and thus being unable to comment of the faithfulness of the adaptation, the film, in the end, is an adaptation of an adaptation of a masterpiece. I’ll explain shortly.

Staring Teresa Palmer and X-Men: First Class mutant Nicholas Hoult, performances seem to be less than grounded and slightly over the top, which is understandable and even welcome considering the ludicrous subject. Many of the gags rely upon the fact that reluctant zombie ‘R’ (Hoult) is unable to speak for most of the film. John Malcovich of all people makes an appearance as well as the hardened pseudo-military leader of the human resistance and does an admirable and convincing job of reminding me way too much of my father. Like I mentioned earlier, many aspects of this film were tolerable, and by no means bad, though it was all just kind of there, with no special effort made to venture beyond the superficial and shallow.

The major focus in this ‘paranormal romantic zombie comedy’ is the relationship between human survivor Julia (Palmer) and ‘R’ after an unexpected romantic attraction shocks R’s heart into motion again, slowly starting his transformation back into a functioning human. Unlike Vampire Hunter (which I am still determined to make an example of) Warm Bodies is so self aware of its own tropes and cliches and appreciates the absurdity of the situation that it endeavors to establish a fun, cartoonish tone and just run with it. What’s more surprising, the ploy generally succeeds both in both its comedic and romantic pursuits.

I had the added benefit of seeing the film with a large group of theater kids. Disregarding the fact that I was intermittently talked at throughout the entire damn production, I was also enlightened in regard to the subtleties of the plot. After the movie,  they told me that Warm Bodies is essentially Romeo and Juliet with zombies. Now, being only vaguely familiar with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, they assured me that it indeed was so. Two warring families: Check. Two lovers named R and Julia: Check. Perry instead of Paris, Marcus instead of Mercutio; yeah, you’re getting it. The film went so far as to playfully recreate he famed balcony scene from the stage production, but it was only later that I understood the more marked similarities.

If nothing else, Warm Bodies certainly earns favor for bringing such an original and fresh spin to a story that we’ve all heard one million times over. In addition, the last film I was that was so playfully aware of its own flaws was Dead Snow (2009) and in both instances, the self parody was a successful comedic device. Warm Bodies will not shock you, nor will you probably remember it next year, but it is an amusing, cute take on an age old classic. For all it’s flaws, it’s something new, and for that, I commend it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5