There’s a Rom Com for Everyone: An Exploration of Hugh Grant Films

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This past week I unexpectedly entered into a wormhole of Hugh Grant films that gave me some insight on my feelings towards romantic comedies. Next to horror, I consider this to be my favorite genre because I enjoy the escapism of falling in love. I accept that I will never get to experience what happens in these kind of movies such as “winning the girl” in say my favorite movie Take Me Home Tonight but I can at least live vicariously through these characters for 90 minutes. What fascinates me about rom coms is they all land somewhere on the spectrum fantasy, some are more believable than others. You have rom coms that are specifically grounded in a realistic scenario like Two Weeks Notice which deals with an unexpected office romance or you can go as far as Notting Hill where an ordinary Brit has a whirlwind romance with a major movie star. Then movies like Bridget Jones’s Diary find a spot in the middle with grounded characters balanced with heightened circumstances. I’m a big proponent of the grand imagination the genre allows but over the course of this film exploration I realized my desire for escapism is rooted in my need for practicality.

I began with Notting Hill which is the epitome of fantasy romance and I’ll go so far as calling it Julia Roberts fan fiction. The movie plays out like a dream as Will Thatcher (Hugh Grant) meets movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) at his quaint book shop off Portobello Road and after a mishap of spilling orange juice on her shirt they end up at his place and she kisses him. The movie feels like something a twelve year old would write, imagining how amazing it would be to date one of their favorite actresses. As much as I did spend my youth envisioning similar scenarios, I can’t get into this movie because the character of Anna is so uninteresting. Besides the movie wanting you to accept the motivation of Anna spontaneously choosing this rando as a potential mate, it also wants you to sympathize for an overpaid celebrity who lies about having a boyfriend and insights the cliche breakup fight that has as little justification as the first kiss. My middle school daydreams of Ryan Reynolds were more rationalized than this. It is “surreal but nice” as Will puts it but never gives me enough character development beyond “this is Julia Roberts” to become invested. 

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Bridget Jones is slightly more grounded in its London atmosphere and is hyper aware of the big choices it’s making. It embraces its tropes but wants to push the limits of believability with scenes like the fight between Darcy (Colin Firth) and Daniel (Hugh Grant) where both characters throw each other through a glass window and get up seemingly unharmed. The film is having fun with the outrageousness the genre allows with its biggest grounding element being Bridget Jones herself. She is meant to represent the every girl, the single thirtysomething who loves watching rom coms and eating ice cream. She is relatable because of her countless imperfections like the inability to be smooth with men shown in her opening encounter with Darcy where she talks unflatteringly about being hungover. Oddly at the same time as she is made to be someone I can see myself as, the movie seems to be talking down to me. The film makes a big deal that she weighs 136lbs (same a me) and how she really needs to get her life together, her weight being a part of that. But the way it plays up her getting to sleep with the hot asshole boss Daniel and also have  Darcy tell her “he likes her just the way she is” feels condescending like great things can come your way even if you’re “fat”.  As much as I appreciate the movie’s initiative to have a main character appear more average and not just a glamorous movie star they throw a pair of glasses on to make homely, I still know that’s Renee Zellweger and she gained this weight to make me feel better and will go back to being beautiful in the end. I don’t need this movie to throw me a bone, I prefer to have an actress look like herself and I’ll project my own image on her. I don’t need her to tailor herself to what she thinks a regular girl looks like.  

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I wrapped up with Two Weeks Notice, a film I really did enjoy when it was released back in 2002 and is indeed the most realistic of them all. If it wasn’t for the cheesy poster or the fact that it stars the titans of romantic comedy, Grant and Bullock, it could be assumed as more of a workplace comedy about the relationship between co-workers who are extreme opposites yet become codependent over time. In the movie George Wade (Hugh Grant) is a rich, privileged boss who can’t take care of himself because he’s been babied all his life and is too charming to be told no and after hiring the socially aware, headstrong Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) he grows a conscious and she learns to open up to love. The realism of their relationship for me comes from them being fully formed characters both with agency and emotional arcs. Even the grand romantic gesture trope which here is a speech George give Lucy after she quits may have the subtext of saying “I’m just a boy standing in front of a girl asking her to love him” but manifests in his change of heart in saving the community center she cares so deeply about. He’s showing his love by making a morally important choice that has no contingency that she should be with him. The film’s only real heightening is through Lucy’s more quirky character traits that Bullock is known for (she runs into a ficus for roughly two minutes) or the sitcom-esque situations (George having to carry Lucy on a backed up freeway so she can use the toilet on an RV). It’s very much a boy meets girl scenario that I could see played out in real life.

I like that this genre can be so expansive and encapsulate the range of imagination. This past week when I ranted about Notting Hill so many people told me how sweet and charming they found it and disagreed with my lack luster opinion. I’m glad that much like we’re all attracted to different people, we’re also attracted to the different categories of rom coms. Overall, none of these films would really be my type. As I stated earlier, car stealing, cocaine driven, sex on trampoline movies like Take Me Home Tonight are more my jam but I’m glad there’s so many choices to watch when I want to pretend to experience love. Hopefully there’s a perfect fit for everyone, whether if it’s with Hugh Grant or not. 

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

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I don’t like super hero movies and this movie seems to hate super heroes. In the recent Captain America: Civil War trailer, William Hurt’s character remarks on how their public image is waining because people see them as vigilantes and not protectors. Batman V Superman is a very literal translation of that statement because you indeed do not like these costumed men of destruction. The film is cavalier with the demolition of Metropolis and the countless civilian lives lost. The film seems to be agreeing that these are villains.

I should mention I didn’t see Man of Steel which may lead to why I found the first 30 minutes of this movie slightly confusing. I had to except moments I didn’t understand were due to my ignorance of the first film but also screw Snyder for spending so much time on the death of the Waynes. I’d be happy to go the rest of my life without every having to see Batman’s parents gunned down in front of him. It no longer carries any emotional weight. That being said this movie is so hard to follow as so many scenes are disjointed. There’s an outrageous amount of fade to blacks where scenes abruptly end and we’ll pick up somewhere else. It hinders it from having any kind of fluidity and can’t decide when to wrap it up. Plus this movie falls into this trap of trying to cram too much exposition and world building into one film. We get introduced to all this information that’s not going to be relevant till Justice League.

The closest to a saving grace for this movie is the cinematography by Larry Fong and score by Mad Max’s Junkie XL (paired with Howard Shore) bringing to life the dark and moody atmosphere villains would inhabit. Scenes look gorgeous even if they’re as laughable as Batman’s (Ben Affleck) brooding workout regimen. XL has the achievement of being able to make the entrance of Wonder Women (played by the continuously bland Gal Gadot) exciting. The only response my theater made to prove the audience was still awake was the cheering her appearance in the finale roused out of them. I can’t blame them, those tribal drums can make anything sound awesome. Otherwise, the most interesting person on screen is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther. I would perk up every time his weird hair cut peered into frame. I’m pleased he’s playing the role so big in contrast to the overly self serious personas of all the other characters.

This film resonates closer with the despair and jaded world of Watchmen and similarly is visually spectacular but isn’t the greatest adaptation of the source material. It doesn’t seem to know what the rules of this world are (Superman (Henry Cavill) can sense the second Louis (Amy Adams) is in danger but is oblivious to the kidnap/torture of his mother) and has pointless dream sequences just for something will happen. No reason for a 2 1/2 hour film to have such padding. It’s not the worst film ever, I laughed a lot because moments become inherently silly when they’re supposed to be “important” and “intense” like Batman not killing Superman because their mom’s are both named Martha. It’s a good laugh but maybe not worth it for that run time. Wait till they have to edit that down for TV.

The Vintage Revisits: Extract

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What made Office Space resonate so well with audiences was its ability to recreate a specific working class environment that many could relate to. My mother who dislikes most comedies, loves Office Space despite its crass humor and harsh language. Aspects she would usually despises were over looked because of the familiar world Mike Judge recreated focused on the minutiae of a cubical job. Extract attempts to do the same in a blue collar factory setting. This film excels when you’re on the factory floor of this extract plant with its colorful employees like the judgmental assembly liner Mary (Beth Grant) or oblivious metalhead Rory (TJ Miller). This atmosphere is realistic and entertaining but where it falters compared to Office Space it lacks a strong A-story line in that I can’t really even explain to you what that is or what this movie is saying.

The overall idea seems to be appreciate what you have. When Joel (Jason Bateman) the owner of this factory tries to extend his reach like selling the company or have an affair, things blow up in his face. It’s not as relatable to its blue collar audience as the perspective is coming from higher up management, a guy who lives in a nice house and can leave work whenever he wants. In Office Space’s Peter (Ron Livingston) is lowest on the totem pole and is constantly being pulled into working on a Saturday. What really throws this movie for a loop is Mila Kunis’ con artist hottie, Cindy. The film opens with a funny scene of her stealing a guitar from gawking music store employees played by Nick Thune and Hal Sparks. It seems like she is going to be our main character until we meet Joel and realize her perspective is not important and in general, she’s not around much. Cindy is more of a plot device pushing action forward like tempting men such as Joel to consider an affair or the recently injured in the work place simpleton Step (Clifton Collin Jr) than an actual person. She leaves the film quite abruptly, in the most unsatisfying and problematic way. I think Judge may to blame as the female characters in this film are not well written. Joel’s wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) is a mostly nonentity which I was first fine with because the movie is Joel’s POV and because he’s sexually frustrated with his wife and spending his nights at a sports bar rather than with her it makes sense that she’d feel like an after thought. Then over halfway through the film when she has an affair of her own (somewhat orchestrated by Joel) she suddenly has agency and we have scenes just with her. The women only have importance when it comes to their sexuality and without it are quite useless or plain nagging if you’re an employee like Mary.

I didn’t want to think so critically about the film’s gender politics because it is a movie you can lean back and mindlessly enjoy. You get Ben Affleck as bar tender/drug dealer Dean or Dave Koechner’s nosey neighbor Nathan to have fun with. I wish the film just had clearer story lines. For a film where a major plot point is that Suzie sleeps with the gigolo (Dustin Milligan) for most of it, you aren’t really convinced she did. The way Judge shoots it, never seeing them together makes you assume it’s that movie trope where it’s all a mix up and the dumb gigolo slept with a different woman but when it is confirmed by us seeing Suzie break it off, it gives the film all new context. The film introduces too many characters and story lines to keep up with (I haven’t even mentioned Gene Simmons) and then ties it all up to neatly at the end. It doesn’t come close to the simplistic brilliance of Office Space but not much can. If you wanna kill some time watching Bateman and Affleck, there’s worse things you could do.

Cloverfield vs.10 Cloverfield Lane: The Battle of the “Oh Shit” Moments

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Anthology is all the rage these days whether you’re a TV show on FX or a tape based horror series. In an age where every blockbuster is expected to be a part of a “cinematic universe”, you’re likely to have push back and the antithesis of world building is having films and TV series be connected by a name alone. This is hard to achieve in films that are not vignette style like V/H/S because there are certain expectation people have when they see a familiar title. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is a great example. That movie isn’t bad, but audiences were infuriated that Michael Myers was nowhere to be found (aside from the meta instance of a character watching the original Halloween on television). While there are still fond memories of 2008’s January smash Cloverfield, the film’s monster never became an icon of cinema no matter how hard I wished. Now seven years later JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot repurposed John Campbell and Matthew Stuecken’s script “The Cellar” to become part of the Cloverfield family. The real question becomes what does it mean to be a “Cloverfield” movie. Some could argue tone, atmosphere, inclusion of something not of this world or just argue they don’t have anything in common at all, only a recognizable name to sell tickets. Because I’m an optimist and hope not everything is done in the name of commerce, for me what makes a Cloverfield movie is it’s “oh shit” moments. Those jarring moments in a film that catch you off guard, that make you gasp and tense up in your seat. They’re more meaningful than a jump scare and further the plot in some way. Both Reeves and Trachtenberg’s films grab you with those moments pulling you deeper into the experience that is Clovefield.

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When I saw Cloverfield opening weekend in 2008, I was brewing with excitement. The promise of a large reptilian beast is like Christmas Day for me. What this movie creates so brilliantly is putting you in the first person perspective of a monster attack. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to have to escape Godzilla plowing through New York City, here you get the literal POV of a running civilian. Whether you approve of the hand held style or not (when I saw it in theaters it didn’t bother me but upon rewatch it made me a little dizzy) it makes for an immersive experience, elevating an otherwise tired genre. Reeves has such a handle on when to dole out those accelerated glimpses of the creature. That first big moment when our hero Rob (Michael Stall-David) raids an electronics store in search of a phone charger and videographer Hud (TJ Miller) stares at the breaking news coverage and we get our first full view of the monster, my jaw dropped. After all the secretive marketing, it was finally there and it was glorious. Throughout the film you just get these amazing thirty second instances where Clovie smashes through a building or destroys a bridge and it’s exhilarating. The deaths are unexpected and unpredictable from Rob’s brother (Mike Vogel) collapsing with the Brooklyn Bridge to Marlena’s (Lizzy Caplan) abruptly exploding. You realize everyone is fair game. You want the characters to survive as you feel like you’re one of them with the POV but you also want to see what ways this monster could tear them apart.

This year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane aimed at recapturing the dread and surprise we got in 2008 and fruitfully produces more than one could imagine. Trapped in a bunker amidst an unexplained apocalypse, kidnapped Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) adapts to her surroundings and plans for escape when living with Doomsday Prepper Howard (John Goodman) and the friendly yet naive Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Lane hits the ground running with its “oh shits” when we get credits smash cut with a brutal car accident. The sound design is so sharp as each title card is silent contrasted with the loud pierce of screeching metal. The film paces its big moments well. Much like never seeing too much of the monster at once, the major plot twists that startle you are spaced out until the end where it goes full Cloverfield in revealing the true nature of the beast that’s outside. The sci-fi elements with the of a gigantic alien and its minion become even more shocking since you’ve been spending most of the film worried about what’s inside the bunker rather than out.

The ultimate question is which one is better? I’ve found that hard to answer mostly because of my own biased. Objectively 10 Cloverfield Lane is better written and at its core is a performance piece thriller, and subjectively I agree. Just to jog everyone’s memory it takes 18 minutes (I checked the time code) before anything interesting happens in 2008’s Cloverfield. Reeves’ film takes a lot of time to set up characters and their relationship yet doesn’t do a great job because they all stay pretty bland (perfect for monster food). The film opens with Rob having a playful morning after with Beth (Odette Yustman) who you think is his girlfriend because they seem very much involved and it’s not till halfway through his going away party that you find out that was the only time they slept together then he never called her back. The film starts off portraying how normal this group of friends is but once shit hits the fan, they never get a chance to become more engaging. They’re a pretty vanilla bunch. Cloverfield Lane, with its three person cast, creates complex, compelling characters to match its unusual circumstances. The band of friends in Cloverfield lack personality and are either crying or screaming for a majority of the run time. Michelle and Howard deal with their predicament more level headily. Each are smart and resourceful in ways none of the 2008 friends are. I’d nominate Michelle as one of the great horror movie heroines like Clarice Starling or Nancy Thompson. She’s strategic, always planning her next move even if it’s the wrong one. Hud’s most helpful idea he comes up with on accident. The Cloverfield gang all act on emotion while Michelle and Howard think on a more calculated plane.

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But here’s the deal, I fucking love monsters. Lane serves up a brilliant psychological horror with an alien twist but that can’t compete with the majesty that is a Kaiju demolishing New York City. Every time it’s worth sitting through the bullshit love story to see the beast roaring in the distance as Hud zooms the lens in closer. It’s undeniable that I have strong reactions to both movies but I keep going back to Cloverfield as a pinnacle film in creating a genre (it kicked off the hand held camera boom along with 2009’s Paranormal Activity) and revamping a genre (Pacific Rim and the Godzilla remake were yet on the horizon). Lane has some unique alien design but the real terror is in the bunker. The fear of Howard outweighs the human eating spaceship but creepy John Goodman has nothing on a 25 foot tall, 6 legged creature from the deep. Despite this bickering, I approve of this anthology route. If Bad Robot wants to produce well written thrillers, adding their own chilling sci-fi elements, I’m on board. I’d like for the word “Cloverfield” to become synonymous with high quality horror.

The Vintage Revisits: What’s Your Number?

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Full disclosure for a movie no one cares about: I saw the extended version which means there’s 20 minutes(?!) of extra scenes but I have no idea which. The fact that I can’t predict which were cut fuels my theory that this movie made even less sense upon initial release.

 

Most people have pretty set expectations for romantic comedies. Everyone has their favorites but overall, it’s a genre expected to be mediocre. I get it, how many ways can you tell the boy meets girl story? There’s pressure for studios to come up with a gimmick or something to make a new rom com stand out. Sometimes this leads to filmmakers coming up with outrageous scenarios and contrived concepts just to make a movie a little bit different from the hundreds before it. This all leads to the stupidity of What’s Your Number?. Now let me take you on a journey on why this movie both infuriates and baffles me.

First, the premise. After getting fired from her marketing job, Ally (Anna Faris) reads an article that says if you sleep with over twenty partners, you’re less likely to get married. Because she has just reached said number, her solution is, with the help of constantly unclothed neighbor Colin (Chris Evans), she will track down all her ex lovers to see if she has already missed out on “the one”. That is a crazy person idea which no one really calls her out for. Anna Faris isn’t even playing the dumb ditzy type which has become her signature. Ally seems like a competent human being until the search of a husband becomes more important than finding a new job. Her sister Daisy (Ari Graynor) brings up the fair point that there’s a reason you didn’t end up with any of these guys but that is quickly glossed over. This movie has no time for logic.

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Second, a rom com trope often is the two characters that are destined to be together will have something they have in common to signify their true love. Maybe it’s a song or a moment they shared. For Colin and Ally it’s eating, the thing literally everyone does. The film is in no way clear that this is supposed to be a romantic link, instead, I kept commenting on how much food these actors had to eat in each scene. It’s not till towards the end, after Ally and Colin have a cliche fight about nothing and she’s now dating an old ex, while attending a gala she eats an hors d’ourves then offers her date some who turns it down. This devastates her conveying that with Colin she can “be herself” (more cliche) and that means eating food. But what if that guy just wasn’t hungry? Maybe he had a big lunch or an upset stomach. None of this is taken into account!

Lastly, what year was this movie made? For a film set in 2011, it reeks of mid to late 2000’s when social media is still a hot new trend. Ally doesn’t have a facebook account which mainly sets in motion why she would need Colin’s help because you can look any guy you’ve ever met on that site. Also Ally’s father (played by Ed Begley Jr) can’t stop talking about Twitter. He just loves it! Probably because in 2008 it was pretty new, not by 2011. Then you’ve got the sexual mores this movie is adhering to. Is it crazy that a woman has slept with 20 guys? Are we appalled by that? We all watched Sex and the City in the 90’s and those gals slept with a guy a week. I don’t buy that when Ally and her friends are discussing their “number” that they would be so shocked if you slept with over ten people. This isn’t the 1950’s, the sexual revolution has happened. If the movie wasn’t written by two women, I would think it was slut shaming.

With all these complaints I understand its core intention. It was an excuse to have a rotating cast of comedic actors like Chris Pratt, Martin Freeman and Andy Samberg show up for one or two sketch like scenes, do there thing then leave. It’s also a great showcase for Faris to be goofy and Evans to be hot (please take the time to read all the Amazon reviews where women can’t stop raving about his “body/face combo”). It’s trying to make itself stand out amongst the sea of bland rom coms but in taking that chance, it makes a lot of dumb decisions. All I got out of this was afterwards having to figure out my own number and guys, I’m doomed.

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Eat, Pray, Privilege: Why I’m Over With White Women Learning Lessons Abroad

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Now more than ever has there been an outcry for Hollywood to tell more diverse stories than the constant white perspective we’ve had since the beginning of cinema. It is sadly a slow process and diversity on screen is minimal. In this racial and ethnically aware climate it’s odd to see movies like David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis and the Tina Fey vehicle Whiskey Tango Foxtrot which are about white women being dropped into a war torn or politically unstable countries yet somehow end up dealing with their own issues. I don’t want to discount their importance as both films are inspired by true events, the latter of real journalist Kim Barker living and reporting in Afghanistan in the mid 2000 and the former drawing from of an American strategy team running a campaign for a Bolivian politician. These Western perspectives of foreign countries seem miscalculated when we as viewers are hungry to have the point of view of someone who is actually from these countries. Instead we have these films with a white female leads, interacting primarily with other white people except for some token English speaking natives. Both films have different agendas intended to reach an American audience but proof of reception and box office returns, maybe this isn’t what people want to hear anymore.

 

What most sets these films apart is their objective. Our Brand Is Crisis is a cat and mouse game where two rival American political strategists, Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) and Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), go head to head in a South American election but what Jane learns is that there is more at stake than her pride and a country’s stability hangs in the balance. She entered into the campaign seeking that thrill of a win but over the course of the election, she meets with the average Bolivians and realizes the destruction she is causing by getting her candidate in office. It’s a very soft message of neocolonialism and how Western powers negatively affect a developing country under the guise of democracy. Whiskey Tango shies away from getting too political which is surprising for a film set amidst the war in Afghanistan. Aside from making the broad statements of “the Taliban is bad” and “maybe we shouldn’t have invaded” the movie decides to delve into the gender politics in the Middle East contrasted with American ideals. While reporting in Kabul, Kim (Tina Fey) has to hold her own working in an area where, as the film portrays, women have little voice and are oppressed while adversely she’s living in essentially a frat house for reporters where everyone is having sex and her attractiveness is a commodity. A great tag line could be “that sucks for women” which was the most marketed joke of the film because overall that’s what it’s somewhat positing; it sucks being a woman but at least in America you can take charge of your own life and not have to be complacent even if that means leaving Martin Freeman.

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For films set abroad, they have few major characters of color. Each film follows the same blueprint. First a rich politician, Crisis has presidential candidate Castillo (Joaquin de Almeida) that has little agency because he is a pawn being played by Jane’s team and Whiskey has high ranking official, Ali Massed Sadiq (Alfred Molina, a non-Middle Eastern actor) who tries to seduce Kim. Second is the homegrown guide who shows our white protagonist what life in their country is really like. Eduardo (Reynaldo Pacheco) who Jane will quickly Americanize to “Eddie” is an optimistic volunteer that opens Jane’s eyes to the lower class of Bolivia. His Afghan counterpart is Fahim (Christopher Abbott, straight up white dude) assigned as Kim’s “fixer” to help translate and navigate the treacherous terrain. More often than not Kim pulls Fahim into more danger than he bargained for when she disregards local customs in hopes of getting a good story. Little is made of this as it’s addressed as a “Kim” problem rather than a white privilege problem. The films allows only a narrow view into a person of color’s perspective, either a wealthy man who is more Westernized than he can admit to the public or a young man working for the white protagonist there only to tell them they’re wrong once it’s gone too far.

 

If you couldn’t tell from my colorful descriptions, Whiskey is slightly out of touch when it comes to racial representation considering its casting and lack of including many Afghans for a movie in Afghanistan. As I said the film has more of a feminist agenda but even that feels troublesome. Kim and the military convoy she’s been shadowing keep returning to a remote village where a well is being bombed. On repeat visit, Kim is inconspicuously motioned away by a woman in burqa. Once secluded in a room with other veiled women, they all reveal themselves and we find out later that they wanted Kim to relay the message that they were the ones destroying the well so they could get away from the men when fetching water. The movie seems to think this is an achievement that in this repressive society, the women at least have a strong bond with each other that can also reach across cultures but considering this scene is shot with the women’s backs to us and we only see Kim’s reaction, is that these women are not only voiceless but faceless to us as viewers and need a white surrogate to solve their problem. The film is filled with broad strokes of Afghan culture and even though Kim remains there for many years, she picks up the language but never gets more comfortable than her compound’s safety. Crisis at least has the good intentions of connecting with the local population and understanding the concerns they have for the future of their country. Jane follows Eduardo home one day after work and meets with his brothers who after she takes out for a wild night of heated political discussion and shots. While not main characters, Crisis dedicates scenes to at least interact with the common man whether it’s for parties or protests.

 

There are ways to broaden these films and make them less focused on white protagonists that are overlooked. Besides casting actual Afghan actors, you could expand on the “special friend” relationship between Kim and Sadiq which never is fully fleshed out. You could better incorporate one of the other fixers, Jaweed (Fahim Anwar), who gets killed and no one seems to care about because his only character trait was liking donkey porn. For Crisis, the film would be exponentially more original if it was from Eduardo’s perspective. He’s the more engaging character with a believable arc. At the beginning of the campaign he worships Castillo as his now deceased father had been a loyal supporter. As Castillo moves into that father figure/mentor role, after the election all the campaign promises of keeping away from foreign influence like the IMF prove to be false. Eduardo is heartbroken and decides to follow his fellow countrymen in a call for revolution. It’s a far more important change than Jane realizing her campaigns are hurting people even though that’s something she seems to have known all along.

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Both of these films didn’t perform well financially even though they were heavily marketed and contained stars with great track records. You can blame that maybe in general these aren’t the strongest films in terms of story or even locking down a genre, but the fact that these films tempt us with the opportunity of diversity but then immediately dash those dreams by delegating minorities to plot point bystanders only there to serve a white person. I’d like for the next film about a political election in a foreign country be told by someone who actually lives there or a war film about the people directly effected by said conflict. If I need another story of a white lady, I’ll go and live it myself.

The Vintage Revisits: Miller’s Crossing

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Nothing makes you feel more like an asshole than not liking a Coen Brothers film. When this was originally shown to me at age 18, I found it a bore and as I began this rewatch, I understood why. The film appears to have a slow start. It could be retitled to “Names” as the first twenty minutes is someone talking about characters we haven’t met and things we haven’t seen. It’s overwhelming and with the speed at which the film moves, it can be hard to follow. Now as an older, slightly more well rounded viewer, I appreciate the opening and the thematic foundation it lays as Caspar (Jon Polito) pontificates on the importance of ethics, a trait that is questionable about everyone invMiller’s Crossing.

It’s remarkable that this film came out the same year as Goodfellas, a cocaine driven, out of control gangster film that laid the blue print for countless replicas to come. Crossing is such a contrast, it’s a somber, methodic story of one man caught between warring mobs. It deals with themes of loyalty, ethnicity and one’s moral compass. Goodfellas is your classic rise and fall of a guy who gets too cocky with power but we remember Scorsese’s picture because it’s so grand, exciting and easier to digest. Joel Coen may not be as flashy but there is so much intention and importance with each shot he does. The quiet tone throughout makes the action sequences hit harder. I wish Leo’s (Albert Finney) shootout had become just as iconic as the dead body montage.

As Bernie (John Turtturo) is being taken to the woods to be wacked he pleads to Tom (Gabriel Bryne) saying “you’re not like those animals back there” and that’s what this film posits. In the world of gangsters, crooked politicians and grifters, everyone thinks they are morally superior and the world around them is full of disreputable scum. Tom is struggling to find a middle ground where he can keep himself alive without having to do the heinous acts his line of work calls for. The Coens craft rich characters in there wickedness from Bernie who will say anything to stay alive to the brainless mayor who will bend for whoever has the upper hand. It’s a subtle and slow build where the Coens recreate a forgotten time of Prohibition and those who got caught up in it. A strong edition to the duos more serious films repertoire but still has that touch of comedy with wild characters like Mink (Steve Buscemi) to the Keystone Kops type raids. Painting a dismal picture of the criminal underground of the 1920’s, much like Once Upon A Time In America before it this is a grossly underrated classic.