The Place Beyond the Pines: On Second Thought Thursday

There’s a reason why Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines don’t have Gosling talk all that much. He’s got a funny yell.

AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE:

CINEMA!!!!!! I loved The Place Beyond the Pines on my first viewing and I thought Ryan Gosling’s performance as Luke Glanton was dynamite. He’s good at a lot of things, but he’s especially good at playing cool. Glanton’s silent demeanor matched with his precarious lifestyle made him the coolest character in the entire film and it’s obvious where director Derek Cianfrance’s interests lay. The first portion of Pines was definitely the best part of the film because it had the motorcycles, it had the tension, but most importantly, it had a morally questionable protagonist who you ultimately sympathized with. Even with such a powerful first act, I thought the following two acts were pretty neat too.

Acts II and III might not have the same energy as the first act, but they do sport some excellent performances and the third act is an emotionally resonant payoff to everything set up prior. The first act is Gosling’s movie, the second act is Cooper’s, and the third act is Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen’s story as the sons of Gosling and Cooper respectively. Of the two, Dehaan’s performance was the standout for me because he has that same quiet personality as his father, but there’s a bit of violence brewing underneath the surface. Cohen is good too, but I didn’t see the relation between him and Cooper. The big theme of Pines is if the sons are doomed to follow the same cycle as their fathers and the third act gave an impactful answer to that question.

BUT NOW, I’M LIKE:

My fellow readers, it wasn’t by chance that I chose to review The Place Beyond the Pines. From the farthest corners of online film discourse, I’ve seen and read many reviews criticizing Pines as a frustrating movie with a strong opening but a lackluster middle and ending. I came into this rewatch with those criticisms in mind and after years of putting off this rewatch, I acknowledge those criticisms, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say I still enjoyed this movie. The first act is still the most enjoyable, but on this rewatch, I found myself enjoying Cooper’s performance as Avery Cross a lot more than I had previously. The character isn’t nearly as cool as Gosling’s Luke Glanton, but it was never supposed to be. Avery and Luke are two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, they’re both fathers trying to do right by their families, one just happens to be a criminal while the other pursued being a cop.

The first act perfectly sets up who Luke Glanton is and what he wants, and even though his means of achieving his goals are morally unsound, you at least understand where the character’s coming from. You can’t really say the same for Avery Cross because his introduction starts during Act II and once he shows up, Pines goes through a “narrative whiplash” by unceremoniously dispatching Luke Glanton in order to make way for our new protagonist. It’s already a large demand to have the audience suddenly follow an entirely new character when they’ve spent a good portion following a different character’s story, but to also have to juggle an extra storyline that feels superfluous to the main themes of the film? Good luck with having anyone get onboard. On top of having Avery dealing with the relationship between his wife and son, Act II also has to deal with the fallout of Luke’s death as well as a random subplot involving police corruption. Adding all these extra plot points ultimately make the film feel narratively uneven and thematically muddled.

IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE:

It’s an ambitious project, but Derek Cianfrance asks for too much from his audience without putting in the work to get them to that point. With a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Pines uses none of that time to properly set up its characters and their relationships to each other; things just happen because the plot needs it to happen. The cinematography has quite a few great moments, particularly a tracking shot of Glanton walking through the carnival at the film’s opening. There are also two separate shots of Luke and Jason riding down the road in a gorgeous overhead shot which further drives home the themes of legacy and fatherhood. It stumbles along the way, but it eventually reaches the finish line with a satisfying conclusion.

The Princess Bride

This feels like an early blueprint for Pirates of the Caribbean.

REPPED:

Fantasy is such a great genre to play around with because you’re able to run wild with setting and character and The Princess Bride is filled to the brim with colorful characters. The biggest standouts were Andre the Giant and Mandy Petinkin who play Fezzik and Inigo Montoya respectively. At the start of the film, they’re working for Vizzini, played by Wallace Shawn, who kidnaps Robin Wright’s Princess Buttercup in order to start a war. The impression here is that they’re the villains, but as the film goes on, they’re just work-for-hire henchmen with their own motivations, particularly Montoya who’s on a quest for revenge against the six-fingered man who killed his father. “I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,’ ” says Montoya before he engages with Cary Elwes’ “Man in Black” in a fencing match that’s easily the best set piece in the movie.

The duel doesn’t officially start until five minutes in, which is the amount of time that’s used to establish Montoya’s backstory, but once it gets going, not even a dime squatting 225 pounds could get you to turn away from the screen. As a fan of swordfights, this is equally as exciting as the sequence between Jack Sparrow and Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The choreography is in top form and the camera shoots it in wide shots that fully showcases the athleticism of both combatants. Montoya and the Man in Black are equally skilled swordsman and both characters are having fun testing each other’s skill. They’re less interested in killing each other as opposed to engaging in a friendly competition and that’s where the real joy of this sequence comes from. The stakes to save the princess are there, but they’re at least having fun while doing it.

NEGGED:

Robin Wright and Cary Elwes are charming as all hell, but in keeping with my Pirates of the Caribbean reference, they’re about as interesting as Will and Elizabeth were in the original trilogy. The plot of The Princess Bride is about Cary Elwes’ Westley setting out to rescue the Robin Wright’s Princess Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdinck, played by Chris Sarandon. It’s your typical damsel-in-distress situation but it works because of the chemistry and charisma between Wright and Elwes. It’s rather surprising how quickly The Princess Bride establishes their relationship, but it’s functional enough to where you buy what they’re selling because if it were under the hands of lesser actors, this movie would fall apart. For a film titled The Princess Bride, Robin Wright doesn’t do that much here.

Her role is to be the damsel-in-distress, but her character’s the least cool character out of the whole ensemble. Other than agreeing to marry Humperdinck in exchange for Westley’s freedom, Buttercup is rather inconsequential to the story; she’s more of a prop than an actual character. Besides her beauty, what about her made Humperdinck want to marry her? There’s not much character there to make you understand or believe why he’d choose her. My love for blondes knows no bounds, but there’s not much to draw out of this performance other than that true love exists.

FINAL VERDICT:

The Princess Bride is one of the most wholesome and feelgood movies ever made. It’s packed with a strong ensemble of actors playing a variety of memorable characters who are instantly quotable. The main story is about Buttercup and Westley’s love for each other, but it’s Montoya’s story that makes the biggest impact. He’s charming, honorable, and he has all the best quotes which in turn makes him the true MVP of The Princess Bride. Rob Reiner manages to capture the spirit and essence of a fairytale that pays homage to the genre while also being able to poke fun at it. The set design, characters, and story are all spot on, but The Princess Bride manages to shine because of the sincerity and joy that’s showcased in every facet of its being. In an age of cynicism, The Princess Bride still shows evidence that there is still honor amongst men and that true love still exists.

Interstellar: An Odyssey Through Space and Time

Haven’t felt this close to a Nolan film in quite some time.

REPPED:

The cinematography takes Nolan in an entirely new direction! Nolan and Pfister may have broken up, but that’s ok because Interstellar is the beginning of a new relationship between Christopher Nolan and Hoyte van Hoytema. It still looks like a Nolan film, but Hoytema injects something fresh while also being able to match with Nolan’s sensibilities. It’s big, it’s epic, and it’s made for the theater experience, but Hoytema’s cinematography is impressive because of how intimately it captures its characters.

At the start of Interstellar, earth is a dying planet living on borrowed time. Humanity has no desire for exploration and progress but has instead chosen to accept their fate living their final days in the dirt. Before we even set off into space, the first act focuses solely on Cooper and his kids on earth. There’s personal drama taking place between these characters and it’s what helps to make the rest of the film so effective. Hoytema impeccably blends the grounded reality of earth with the unknown beauty of outer space.

NEGGED:

There’s some clunky exposition going on especially during the first act. When we first meet Cooper, he’s a former NASA pilot who’s become a farmer. In the chunkiest bit of exposition, Cooper states all of this during a PTA meeting for his daughter Murph. Nolan’s biggest issue during this phase in his career is the constant exposition and handholding to get his point across to the audience. A little exposition never hurt anybody, but when it’s the only way to get these characters to interact with each other, that’s when the film starts to feel less personal and more mechanical.

Interstellar travel is not an easy subject to discuss, especially for a meathead such as myself, but Interstellar does too much in explaining every detail that it starts to lose you after awhile. The best moments aren’t when the dialogue deals with the science mumbo jumbo but when it’s used to develop the characters and their dynamics. The less explaining, the better because, quite frankly, the more they try to explain Interstellar travel, the more confusing it gets when you try to make sense of it all.

FINAL VERDICT:

I honestly forgot how intimate Interstellar was and during my rewatch, I was brought back to my first time watching it in the theater. It’s an epic space adventure filled with gorgeous visuals and exciting sequences, but the best moments are between Coop and Murphy and their relationship that transcends all of space and time. Interstellar is a celebration of man’s ambition, but it’s also a calling card for all of us to reach for the stars.

Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown

Yes, Never Back Down got a sequel but does it deserve a sequel? Is it better than the original? Let’s examine the pieces!

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

The Beatdown is one ugly-looking movie. It’s so dull and lifeless that it actually looks like it was made for tv rather than for film. Despite how ugly it looks, the cinematography manages to showcase the action quite well. The first Never Back Down was doing too much with the cuts and edits that it was starting to get annoying. At least, with the sequel, there was some thought in how to capture the action and that’s due to the skills of the director. There are two things to know about The Beatdown: 1) it’s directed by Michael Jai White and 2) this is his directorial debut. Given how bad the acting and story are, it’s no surprise that this comes from an inexperienced director but it’s also obvious that White’s martial arts background gives him a good eye for shooting action set pieces.

The cinematography is at its best when there’s action going on. If you’re looking for cinematography that gives provides insight into the character’s thoughts and feelings, you won’t find it here, but if you want to see Michael Jai White kicking ass in some sweet wide shots, then The Beatdown is the film for you. The four leads are fine, but it’s obvious that they can’t meet White on his level so the camera plays around with various angles to hide the stunt doubles. The Beatdown is purely a showcase for White to show off his mad skills and even though he’s a supporting character, he steals this whole movie from everyone else.

PERFORMANCES:

Most of the performances are so bad that it makes Sean Faris’ performance in the first film look like a tour de force. The Beatdown starts by introducing us to our four leads and their backstories: Mike Stokes, Zack Gomes, Tim Newhouse, and Justin Epstein. Mike’s ashamed that his father left his mom for another man, Zack’s retina is partially detached from a previous boxing match, Tim and his stripper mother are in debt, and Justin is a social outcast who’s constantly bullied. Half of these backstories are completely bonkers, but then there’s the other half that would make for good narrative drama, but they never follow through with any of their arcs in a satisfying way. Justin’s arc had the most potential considering the fact that he’s the underdog and while the film takes the character in an unexpected direction, it’s executed so poorly that there’s no emotional resonance. Michael Jai White knows these characters suck, so he graces us with his presence as their badass sensei Case Walker.

The first time Case Walker shows up onscreen, you sit up straighter because he’s the energy this movie desperately needed. The four characters come to Walker looking for a mentor and instead of taking them in as his pupils, he insults them and tells them to leave. Of course, they eventually convince him to train them but it’s obvious he’s not going to be the mentor you expect him to be. Walker kind of just wants to be left alone and while he agrees to train these guys, he has no intention of being in the spotlight. It’s obvious that The Beatdown is more interested in Michael Jai White and if it weren’t for these four meddling kids that we have to follow around, the movie would have been all the better had it focused on Case Walker.

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the action! The Beatdown has no false pretenses of what it wants to be; it wants to show off some cool action and it manages to do that even if it’s at the expense of good characters. A bulk of the actual MMA fights happen during the third act, but there are a few neat little gems sprinkled throughout. There are plenty of training montages if you’re into that sort of thing and even if the music feels like the early 2000’s, the actual montages themselves are a great display of athleticism and martial arts technique. Michael Jai White doesn’t get to do all the action but he does give himself one awesome sequence involving a couple of crooked cops.

As the film progresses, we see Case Walker getting harassed group of rowdy cops just looking to give him a hard time. The first encounter ends with the cops forcing Walker to vacate his current residency due to his probation. During the second encounter, Walker has now been framed by one of his students and as the cops are cuffing him, Walker finally lets loose in an action sequence that’s exciting and rewarding! Michael Jai White was waiting for this moment to show off his moves and it’s the best sequence in the entire movie. The film has little moments of Walker performing martial arts, but the police sequence is the payoff that everyone had been waiting for.

AlexMovieClips. (2020, Oct 23). The cops are trying to frame Walker. A fight with the police. Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown https://youtu.be/c5MKuWSD38I

Kick-Ass or Ass-Kicked?

The positives are far too few to outweigh the negatives so this movie is an “Ass-Kicked” movie. Michael Jai White needed to be the lead for this to even be mildly entertaining but instead, the movie focuses on four characters who are as bland as a plate of chicken, broccoli, and rice. Get rid of the teenagers, keep the Case Walker character, and show off more action and this would have been the holy trinity to making this an above average action flick. For a sequel to Never Back Down, there only a few callbacks to the first film.

There’s obviously the mention of “The Beatdown,” but the sequel also brings back Evan Peters who was probably the best part of the first one! Peters is equally as good in The Beatdown as he was in Never Back Down, but he brings some extra ham to a series that’s already hammy enough. Maybe they should have Evan Peters as the Nick Fury for this franchise so they can turn this franchise into a mix of The Avengers and Mortal Kombat. If you’re willing to brave through cheap acting from cheap actors to get to the action, you’ll find some reward, but ultimately, stay away and watch the clips on YouTube.

Never Back Down: On Second Thought Thursday

Never Back Down is Warrior’s coked out brother who’s addicted to Monster Energy and Tapout shirts.

AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE:

I remember watching this during the summer before my freshman year of high school and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The music slapped, the characters were cool, and the action was tough! I had no interest in sports, but any film that dealt with boxing or martial arts always caught my attention and Never Back Down was no exception. It was also my introduction to Amber Heard who was an absolute babe in this movie; I’d always had a thing for blondes so of course she’d be what stood out to me. Say what you will about Sean Faris’ performance as Jake Tyler, but the supporting cast are actually compelling in a way that Faris isn’t.

Never Back Down is a movie made for impressionable teenage boys. The editing is hyperactive, the characters save for Jake Tyler are boisterous, and the soundtrack is so in your face that it could only ever appeal to rowdy kids who love X-Box and energy drinks. I caught this on cable with a friend of mine when I first saw it which probably contributed to the experience. Watching this on cable meant you could leave it on in the background while doing other things. It was the most romanticized look into high school where everyone was hot and you could resolve your issues with a good ol’ bout of fisticuffs. Over the years, I’d always come back to this movie for mindless entertainment, but for this recent rewatch, I wanted to really see if this was actually entertaining or if I just had bad taste.

BUT NOW, I’M LIKE:

This is bad, really bad! Every character in this movie is an asshole to varying degrees with Cam Gigandet’s Ryan being the biggest one. The second asshole in the “Asshole Ranking” is Sean Faris’ Jake Tyler who’s angry all the time and never goes through a believable transformation. There’s a way to make a character like this work, but it has to start with giving him some sort of personality and likability, but there’s no work done to fully flesh him out as a character. Once we get to the final beatdown, there’s no tension because everything prior lacked any sort of emotional resonance. It also doesn’t help that the action looks really ugly with constant cuts that never allow us to see the stunts being performed. All that being said, I have no guilt in saying I still enjoy this movie!

I’ve mentioned Cam Gigandet being an asshole in the previous paragraph, but I think that’s one of the film’s best aspects. Gigandet relishes in this role and he makes for a believable bad guy; he’s more charismatic than the lead, that’s for sure. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Gigandet gives me Brad Pitt vibes and he’s essentially playing Tyler Durden if Tyler Durden were the rich kid in high school who wanted everyone to know he was in Fight Club. Cam Gigandet isn’t the only good performance here, but we’ve also got Evan Peters before he broke out with American Horror Story and X-Men! Evan Peters plays Max Cooperman who seems to be the only one who knows how stupid this movie is. He’s the one with the most charisma and anytime he’s not onscreen, you really wish he were. Even with material as subpar as this, Peters makes the most of it and it’s obvious why he became such a major star.

IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE:

Never Back Down is most certainly not for everyone and it is objectively a bad movie, but I just can’t keep myself from outright hating it. The fights are terribly shot, most performances are subpar, and every character is in some form or another an asshole, but there’s nothing quite like films from the early aughts where every film had an orange tint and the soundtracks were full of nu metal. The summer of 2009 was the year that made the biggest impression on me as far as action movies go. I saw Commando, I saw The Predator, and I saw Never Back Down and while I’ve seen better, my love for action films wouldn’t be where it is today without Never Back Down to show me the path.

Yes Man: Wild Premise, Tame Execution

God, I miss Blockbuster.

REPPED:

Not the best Jim Carrey, but it’s serviceable. He’s always been great at playing down on his luck characters so this is a nice fit for him. The premise itself never goes too wild, but most of the scenarios presented allow Jim Carrey to ham it up for the audience’s amusement. Carrey’s always been a great physical performer and it’s fun to watch him contort his face and body to deliver some excellent slapstick. It was a pleasant surprise to see Bradley Cooper and Danny Masterson in this movie and while all three play off each other very well, it’s ultimately Carrey’s relationship with Zooey Deschanel that’s the most enjoyable.

It takes a few minutes to settle in to their relationship given the age gap, but it manages to work because of the chemistry between Carrey and Deschanel. There’s a cute contrast between both characters where Carrey starts the film as unadventurous and Deschanel is a thrill seeker; she’s just as much a catalyst to Carrey’s arc as the “Yes!” seminar he attends at the start of the film. The sequences between both characters play off like every other romcom, but it doesn’t matter how generic something is if the execution is at least serviceable and all of their moments together are sweet and quirky.

NEGGED:

Even with a unique premise, Yes Man is essentially just another paint by numbers romcom. This is not to say that the film is bad, because it most certainly isn’t, but you can see everything that’s going to happen from a mile away. As soon as the quirky girl shows up, you can tell they’re going to fall in love, break up, and then get back together by the end of the movie. There’s so much you can do with the material but Yes Man is rather tame and has no real consequences to Jim Carrey’s choices until it directly affects his relationship with Zooey Deschanel. On top of that, it seems like a waste to have Terrence Stamp show up for two sequences.

Terrence Stamp is the guru of the “Yes!” seminar and he’s the one who forces Jim Carrey to say “yes” to every situation that presents itself. Carrey accepts this covenant under the assumption that he’ll have bad luck if he ever says “no” to a situation but by the end, it turns out that everything Terrence Stamp said was essentially a scam. It would have been interesting if Yes Man touched on themes of cult followings and why people follow them, but it’s more interested in playing it safe as opposed to even slightly challenging the audience.

FINAL VERDICT:

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and it’s not Jim Carrey’s best performance, but it’s mindless entertainment that makes great use of Jim Carrey’s zany personality. Bradley Cooper isn’t featured much in the film, but he’s great as the best friend who gives Carrey the tough love he needs. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it’ll also make you feel good by the end. As someone who likes watching movies on the weekends, Yes Man inspired me to say “yes” to life and to experience it as it comes at you.

The Dark Knight Rises: Nolan’s Laziest Movie

The true sequel to Batman Begins.

REPPED:

It was always going to be an uphill battle to deliver a performance that was on par with Ledger’s Joker, but Hardy manages to do quite well for himself. I first took notice of Hardy during Inception and even though he was a supporting member, there was something about him that leaped off the screen. Hardy has an “Old Hollywood” look that’s feels both classy and edgy and he manages to bring those sensibilities to his performance as Bane who’s equally classy as he is ferocious. Hardy’s abilities as a physical actor are fully utilized in The Dark Knight Rises as he’s forced to use everything but his face to convey emotion. Even with most of his face covered, Hardy’s able to show so much through a simple look in his eyes as well as his posture. What makes Bane such a compelling villain isn’t just his musclebound figure; he’s intelligent, calculated, and charismatic, which makes him a great foil for Batman.

The sewer set piece between Batman and Bane is effective because of how well it establishes Bane’s menace and strength over Batman. After eight years away from the cape and cowl, Batman is in no shape to be squaring off against Bane. While Batman is physically deteriorating, Bane seems to be impervious to pain or weakness thus giving him an advantage over Batman. Every resource that Batman uses against Bane is ineffective against the towering behemoth who anticipates Batman’s every move and finds a way to counteract them. The lack of score was also a nice touch as it adds a bit of intimacy and dread to an already hopeless situation. The hand-to-hand combat in The Dark Knight Trilogy might be Nolan’s weak point , but the sewer set piece manages to be one of the most primal Batman fight sequences ever put onscreen.

NEGGED:

Plot, plot, plot! Plot holes don’t bother me all that much, but if a film favors plot over mood or character, then the script better be tighter than a spandex suit in the middle of summer. What was the point of the fusion reactor other than to serve as a MacGuffin for the third act? Since there was never any mention of it during the prior films, Rises has to dedicate so much screen time to the fusion reactor that it takes time away from the themes and characters. Rises isn’t interested in character so much as it is in wrapping everything up and it’s evident when you consider the fact that most of the major characters are out of commission for most of the film.

John Blake and Selina Kyle fit quite nicely in Nolan’s Batverse and manage to hold the fort down, but major players like Jim Gordon and to an extent, Batman himself, are pushed to the sidelines for a good chunk of the film. Gordon and Batman spend a good portion of the film lying in bed unable to do much of anything that they’re inconsequential to the the film’s plot until the third act. If Rises was meant to be a conclusion for these characters, why are they pushed to the sidelines. There’s too much going on here and it all comes in precedence over our main heroes. Even with bigger set pieces, a longer runtime, and a massive ensemble, everything still feels clunky.

FINAL VERDICT:

The Dark Knight Rises is half ambitious and half lazy, but both halves somehow manage to work together to deliver an ending that’s both gratifying and triumphant. Rises was never going to live up to The Dark Knight, but there is no reason for a film like this to feel so lazy especially when it’s being directed by Nolan. Rises was given a longer runtime, bigger ensemble, but surface level thrills mean nothing without compelling characters and a central theme to hold it together. Despite how clumsily it gets to the finish line, Rises does manage to effectively conclude the story of Bruce Wayne.

This is the first Batman film that focuses on Bruce Wayne as opposed to his alter ego. In Batman Begins, Bruce creates the Batman as a symbol to unite the people of Gotham to take back their city; Batman was never about enacting a never-ending vendetta against crime so much as it was to inspire Gotham to take action. However, somewhere along the way, Bruce lost that idea and instead of moving on, he lay in wait for Gotham’s cries for a savior. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t about the rise of Batman, but the rise and return of Bruce Wayne from the pit of fear and pain that he’d been living in since Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne’s rise allows him to finally leave behind Batman and Gotham with the knowledge that even if the city no longer needs a hero, there will always be a Batman there to start the fire should they ever need it.

Deadpool: On Second Thought Thursday

In a screwed up way, Deadpool’s kind of a cute movie.

What was the hype all about? I kid you not, the first time I saw it, I shrugged it off. I’d seen and read so many reviews praising Deadpool as the next Iron Man and when I finally saw it, I couldn’t understand where that praise was coming from. Deadpool’s humor is very childish and meta and while it works for some scenes, there are many other moments where the humor comes off as annoying. Thankfully, we have Ryan Reynolds to make it tolerable.

For all its faults, Ryan Reynolds was not an issue; in fact, he holds this all together like Gorilla Glue. Every once in a blue moon, you get that match made in heaven like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and Heath Ledger as the Joker. Deadpool is the role that Ryan Reynolds was born to play. Ryan Reynolds seems to be best utilized when he’s allowed to be a little obnoxious rather than a straight-faced action star which is why Deadpool was such a logical fit for him. Reynolds still gets to play the superhero, but Deadpool is much more sinister than the traditional clean-cut protagonist and it works seeing a conventionally handsome actor like Ryan Reynolds embracing his edgier side even if it’s edgy in a juvenile way.

Even so, no matter how hard Reynolds tries to sell the humor, I never burst at the seams laughing. It’s a unique take on the genre, but there’s only so much meta you can dish out before it starts to get annoying. Calling out a villain for a “superhero landing” doesn’t mean much if you still end up doing the superhero landing anyway and Deadpool is full of tropes that it openly mocks. There’s a lot of shiny exterior to conceal an interior that doesn’t always work well.

Once I got over the dated jokes made for eighth graders, I thought it was pretty fun! Deadpool is a live-action Looney Tunes character written for adults and once I understood that, everything fell into place. The humor still isn’t as funny as it thinks it is, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I got a few chuckles here and there. Ryan Reynolds is still a joy to watch onscreen and I don’t know if he performed any of the stunts, but the action is pretty tight.

That opening sequence on the highway is bonkers and even though it looks artificial, the energy I felt was anything but! It’s a funny sequence that effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film and it’s easily the best moment in the whole movie. The violence lives up to its R-rating and every punch and kick landed had me wincing. While the meta humor didn’t work for me, the slapstick humor did. Everytime Deadpool loses a limb or breaks a bone, I laughed and groaned from how funny it was to see our antihero being put through so much punishment. It’s nice seeing how far they could push the envelope with the violence and gore. Amidst all the blood and gore, it also somehow manages to be kinda sweet.

Deadpool and Vanessa’s relationship is so cute despite how fast those two seem to move. A one-night stand suddenly becomes true love and if it weren’t for Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin’s chemistry, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Of course, the third act turns Vanessa into the damsel in distress but the first act injects her with enough personality to make her memorable. There’s also some great chemistry with Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead and they play off great with Deadpool’s obnoxious sensibilities. Gotta give a shout-out to Dopinder whose few minutes of screen time are memorable and actually aids in the theme of the film, which leads us to…

Deadpool’s a superhero film about how good looks aren’t everything; all you need is love and it’ll triumph over everything else. When Deadpool’s hanging in The cab with Dopinder, Deadpool explains that his motivation is to get his good looks back to win back Vanessa’s heart. Dopinder’s also fighting for the affections of a woman but his competition is his much more attractive cousin. As these two converse, both come to an understanding that looks don’t matter. Well, at least Deadpool gets it. It’s such a simple message but in a genre that’s always casting supermodels as superheroes, it’s a welcome shock to the system.

Deadpool’s humor hasn’t aged well and it goes for the cheap gag when it could go for the intimate character moments, but it still manages to deliver a crowd pleasing superhero movie that does have some unique qualities.

INCEPTION: DREAM HEIST

A.D.I.D.A.S.: All Day I Dream About Saito

REPPED:

Another memorable Pfister/Nolan collab! The cinematography in Inception has Nolan going fully unhinged and the things he manages to capture onscreen are absolutely mental. Compared to most modern blockbusters, there hasn’t been anything quite like Inception in terms of visual style. It’s a terrific display of grandiose spectacle without being overbearing on the senses. With all the insanity going on in Inception, it doesn’t throw us right into the action; instead, the first act takes its time to show us how the dream world works.

One of the best sequences is when Cobb is demonstrating the world of Inception to Ariadne in a sequence that feels very similar to the Matrix when Morpheus explains the world of the Matrix to Neo. While there’s a lot of information being given to the audience, the exposition is never boring and that’s because as Ariadne is navigating through the dreamworld, we’re discovering it with her. Who’s ever going to forget the buildings folding on top of each other because I most certainly won’t! It’s a fun sequence that captures the imagination of Ariadne and the viewer’s.

Nolan’s always been able to capture scale in his action sequences, but when it comes to close quarters combat, he’s been slacking. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I say, “no more” because the hallway fight sequence has got to be one of the most original and exciting set pieces that Nolan’s shot at this point in his career. It wasn’t enough to shoot this sequence in wide camera angles with very few cuts or edits, so Nolan decides to have that sequence set in a rotating hallway! I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt needs to be in more action movies because he’s really good at handling the stunts. The camera captures space and geography so effectively that you never feel lost even when the hallway is always moving. Nolan went the extra mile here and I’m stoked to see his action improve in future films.

NEGGED:

To quote a favorite pirate of mine: “I feel…cold.” The criticisms directed at Nolan’s emotionally distant characters have been a complaint for years now and it was never a problem for me until now. I don’t know what was up with me on this rewatch but it was pretty hard for me to get fully invested in what was going on. This isn’t to say that any of the performances are bad because every actor does their part well, but there’s not much to latch onto with these characters. Inception seems to be the start of a new phase in Nolan’s career where the concept takes precedence over story and character.

The one character who actually has any arc is DiCaprio’s Cobb but he’s probably the wrong person to lead this movie. This is probably blasphemous but it needs to be said: Ariadne should have been the main character. As an audience surrogate, it makes more sense to focus on Ariadne and how she navigates through the dreamworld. It’s more exciting to follow a newbie as opposed to following a professional like Cobb who’s had years of offscreen experience to understand this world. Would this have fixed the character issue? Who’s to say, but it feels like a more organic way of introducing the audience to the world of Inception as well as a nice change of pace from Nolan’s usual dead wife story arc.

FINAL VERDICT:

If The Dark Knight was Nolan’s breakout hit, then Inception officially solidifies Nolan’s status as a mainstream filmmaker. Inception came at the right time just as superhero movies were beginning to make their stamp in pop culture and while original IP is hard to come across these days, Inception managed to go beyond the boundaries of what audiences were expecting with their blockbusters. It’s bold, it’s challenging, and it’s downright confusing at times but to have Inception become so successful speaks to Nolan’s skills as a director and his ability to draw an audience to his films.

Inception takes everything from past Nolan films and refines it into his magnum opus. You have the guilty man trying to reconcile with his past sins, you have suited professionals, and you have the theme of time. With Inception, Nolan says everything he’s been wanting to say and delivers it with a heartfelt conclusion that feels cathartic for himself as well as for Cobb. It may not deliver in terms of character and emotion but in terms of pure visual spectacle, there’s so much energy and innovation in every set piece that you’ll never stop thinking about it even once the credits roll.

Point Break: An Action Masterpiece

Nothing says summer quite like surfing waves and robbing banks with the boys!

Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break is about a quarterback punk called Johnny Utah. He goes undercover as a surf bro under the suspicion that a gang of surfers are responsible for a string of bank heists across Southern Cali.

Point Break is one of my all-time favorite action films. I watch it at the start of every summer to welcome the warm weather, the good vibes, and the senoritas and margaritas. I know, I know, some of you might think it’s far fetched to label Point Break as an all-time favorite. The plot is ridiculous, there’s too much cheese on the pizza, and watching Keanu Reeves act is about as exciting as walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes. These are all valid criticisms, but there has to be something more to this cult classic than simply being a “cheesy fun” action flick. So sit back, grab a meatball sub and make it two because we’re about to tear into the wave that is Point Break!

CINEMATOGRAPHY/EDITING:

janingar. (2008, Jun 12). Steadicam shot Point Break https://youtu.be/zrl-q2DjqJQ

The cinematography is good. Really good! Just like that ugly girl who you didn’t realize was hot until after high school, Point Break’s cinematography had me giving it a double take. I’d never heard of Donald Peterman but apparently he was the cinematographer for classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas so I gotta give him a fist bump for that one. Point Break’s cinematography is never showy but if you look hard enough, you’re guaranteed to find more than a few inspired moments. For anyone who’s due for a rewatch of Point Break, definitely take a closer look at the cinematography because there are quite a few tricks sprinkled throughout and one of those tricks happens to be a long-take tracking shot.

Before you had Birdman or True Detective playing around with long-take tracking shots, Point Break was that hipster kid who was doing before it was cool. It doesn’t happen during any action sequence, but instead, it happens right at the start of the film when Utah’s getting a tour of the FBI precinct. On Utah’s first day on the job, he’s getting a tour by his commanding officer, Agent Harp and as the camera’s following them around, it’s also capturing the energy, geography, and the overall atmosphere of the precinct. It’s just a typical day at the office for most of these nameless characters but because we’re following Johnny Boy’s first day on the job, it feels like a fish out of water scenario where everything feels claustrophobic and overwhelming. It might seem superfluous to have a long-take during a sequence like this with no action in it, but it’s effective in addressing where Utah is at the start of the film and it informs us that just like the audience, Utah is in a whole new world.

The cinematography is only as good as its editing and the sequences in Point Break flow so well because of how strong its editing is. One of my favorite moments is the sequence between Johnny and Tyler at the shrimp and fries restaurant. At the start of the film, Johnny don’t surf! If he’s going undercover as a surfer, the least he could do is look believable on a surfboard and this is when he sets his sights on Tyler, a native of the California area. Thinking that he’s nothing more than a yuppie poser, Tyler initially refuses. At the start of the sequence, the camera’s constantly cutting back and forth between Johnny and Tyler which indicates that these characters aren’t meeting each other on equal terms.

However, once Johnny starts giving his monologue about his parents, the camera adjusts a little bit as Johnny leans over the register counter to meet Tyler at eye level. At this point, the camera lingers on Johnny long enough before it cuts back to Tyler. The cuts aren’t as constant as they were at the start of the sequence which now indicates that Johnny’s slowly winning Tyler over. Each time the camera cuts back to Tyler’s gorgeous green eyes it further lowers her guard until she finally agrees to being his surfing teacher. These two sequences work not only because of the cinematography and editing but also because of the performances and that takes us to our next point.

PERFORMANCES:

Keanu Reeves made a name for himself throughout the 90’s as an action hero. On the surface, he fits the bill: he’s tall, he’s handsome, and he oozes cool. Reeves was unlike any other action star in the past decade because while he wasn’t built like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Reeves had a vulnerability that drew you in. That being said, he’s pretty bland in Point Break, but that’s alright, because the cast surrounding him do a great job in complementing his performance. Let’s talk about the three major characters and what they represent to both Johnny and the overall themes of Point Break.

First to bat is Johnny’s partner Agent Pappas played by Gary Busey. No one but Gary Busey could make such a bizarre character like Pappas so likable. Despite being the laughing stock of the FBI and constantly belittled by his superiors, Pappas is the one who ends up being correct about the Ex-Presidents being surfers. He’s also the one who delivers some of the best quotes in the entire movie. Find a more quotable line than, “UTAH, get me two!” As a buddy duo, Pappas and Utah are great together, but Pappas also represents what Johnny could end up becoming further down the line. Utah starts the film as the fresh-faced hotshot while Pappas is the has-been who’s been chewed up and spit out by the system he works for. Pappas is old enough to see the reward for all his years of service at the FBI but Utah thinks being an agent is the thrill of a lifetime. That is, until he meets Bodhi.

Next up, we have big daddy Bodhi, the real star of Point Break! Our introduction to Bodhi is through Johnny’s eyes and it’s love at first sight. It’s a cool slow-motion shot that would make Zack Snyder cream his pants and it’s also an effective way to establish the mythos that is Bodhisattva. Bodhi is everything that Johnny wants to be: he’s a leader, he’s charismatic, and he’s free from the confines of society. Essentially, Bodhi’s got a case of “stick-it-to-da-man-niosis.” Compare that to Johnny who’s stoic, works for The Man, and is constantly berated and belittled by the very system he works for. Johnny’s interest in Bodhi stems from the fact that he knows he could end up like Pappas unless he breaks free and Bodhi is the guy who shows Johnny what really freedom can be like. On first viewing, Bodhi’s lifestyle is exciting and liberating, but in the end, it’s his recklessness that leads to his undoing as well as the undoing of his crew. Bodhi might not be a slave to society, but he’s a slave to the adrenaline rush and it’s obvious that Kathryn Bigelow isn’t interested in endorsing it, but in deconstructing it. Case in point: Tyler.

I initially thought this was a thankless role, but thematically speaking, Lori Petty’s Tyler is the one who holds this whole film together. She’s the only character who sees past Bodhi’s monologues of enlightenment as merely the ravings of an extremist and she openly calls him out on it. For a majority of the film, Johnny’s too dumb to see how insane Bodhi actually is but Tyler warns him that Bodhi will take Johnny to the edge and she ends up being right the whole time. Kathryn Bigelow uses Tyler as a surrogate to critique the male ego and its desire for danger to prove how masculine it is. In the end, it’s ultimately Tyler who shows Johnny the illusion of Bodhi’s life and the danger it brings.

ACTION/CHOREOGRAPHY:

JackBauer137. (2014, Feb 16). Point Break – Chase Scene (1080p) https://youtu.be/kmvXdUaUqgA

No action film is complete without, you know, good action and Point Break has a lot of sweet action. We’ve got not one, but TWO skydiving sequences, we’ve got surfing, and we’ve got bank robberies. The scale of the action is breathtaking and the range of the action is vast, but the reason it’s so effective is because it involves characters you actually like. Too many modern action films seem to place scale first and character second, but all the reps for Kathryn Bigelow who gives us the foreplay before thrusting us into the action. There are so many moments in Point Break that are just characters hanging out and vibing with each other and then once the action kicks in, you’re hooked because the character dynamics have already been set up.

One of the most iconic moments in the whole movie is the foot chase between Johnny and Bodhi. It’s iconic for a lot of reasons: it’s well-paced, it’s involved, and the resolution is effective even if it’s a bit silly. The camera does a great job of following both characters as they try to outpace the other and as the camera’s trying to keep up with both characters, there’s a tangible adrenaline rush that leaps off the screen. The chase is effective not only as an action set piece but also in furthering the plot. Since the start of the film, we see how diligent Johnny is to catching the bad guy, but now that it comes down to it, is he really willing to follow through with it? Up until this point, Johnny and Bodhi have been developing a bit of a bromance and now that Johnny has Bodhi at gunpoint, he must ultimately decide between his new friendship or his obligations as an FBI agent. For an action film that people enjoy to mock, there’s quite a bit of layers here.

Speaking of adrenaline rushes, the mounting tension during the house raid sequence is an underrated banger! Confident that they’ve found their suspects, Utah and Pappas organize a raid on the Red Hot Chili Peppers residence. In total, it’s a ten minute sequence, but half of that time is used to set up locations, key players, and Mcguffins. No one but Utah sees that the suspects are armed but before he can convey that information on the walkie talkie, a lawnmower drowns out the message which leaves Pappas in danger. Those first five minutes tell us that we’re in for some trouble and once it starts, it doesn’t let up! It’s a well done action sequence that leads to the ultimate punchline: the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the wrong guys. These are two action set pieces differ wildly from each other but they all deliver the same amount of thrills and dramatic tension.

RECAP/FINAL VERDICT:

Point Break is a masterclass in action filmmaking and is a wonderful time capsule for a decade of action films that seem to be all but extinct. The characters are defined, the cinematography has purpose, and the action moves the story forward while always managing to stay exciting and unique. Under lesser hands, this could have been an action film too silly to be taken seriously, but the amount of craft and talent that was put into this film deserves to be rewarded. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s easy to look past them when every other aspect of the film falls into place. Point Break makes its moves in silence and despite never drawing attention to itself, it leaves just enough there for those who truly look for its greatness.