BBB Best of 2016

Finally, we’ve made it! Ricardo Medina, special guest Michael Richards (C.E.O. of Phastraq VFX) and yours truly count down our lists of Best Hip Hop Instrumental Albums, Hip Hop EPs, Hip Hop Albums, Live-Action Movies (VFX), Animated Movies, and the Best and Worst Movies of 2016!

PART 1:

 

PART 2 –

 

PART 3 –

 

– Matthew

BBB TITANFALL 2, V FOR VENDETTA, SWISS ARMY MAN, DOCTOR STRANGE, ATLANTA (Season 1)

On November 5th 2016, through the mystic powers of Skype, Ricardo Medina and I reviewed the first-person shooter “Titanfall 2”, the dystopian political thriller “V for Vendetta”, the absurdist comedy-drama “Swiss Army Man”, the fantasy-based Marvel Studios film “Doctor Strange” and the critically-acclaimed comedy-drama TV series “Atlanta”.

This is what happened.

–  Matthew

BBB HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

In this special Halloween episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, Matthew Bailey and Ricardo Medina talk about the third seasons of “Black Mirror” and “Halt and Catch Fire”, the documentary “HyperNormalisation” and our individual Top 5 favourite unconventional horror movies.

SPECIAL SPECIAL THANKS to José Sinetto for providing this episode’s opening and closing tracks: “Symphony of the Night” and “Windows Shut (Trip-hop instrumental version)”

 

–  Matthew

BBB – LEGALLY BLACK BLOG 5th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

In this special episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we celebrate the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of A Legally Black Blog by discussing “Bazodee” (starring Trinidad & Tobago’s own soca ambassador Machel Montano), along with a retrospect review of my favourite movie of all time – Stanley Kubrick’s dystopic masterpiece “A Clockwork Orange” and one of Ricardo’s all-time favourite movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mind-bending fantasy “The Holy Mountain”.

 

–  Matthew

BBB E3 ’16, OJ Made In America, Reasonable Doubt, All Eyez On Me, The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory

In today’s episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we talk about the best of E3 2016, as well as review the epic documentary “O.J.: Made in America”, Jay-Z’s 20-year old debut album “Reasonable Doubt”, the first teaser trailer for the long-awaited 2Pac biopic “All Eyez On Me”, the horror sequel “The Conjuring 2” and the animated sequel “Finding Dory”.

–  Matthew

BBB – Some BS Movies, The Angry Birds Movie, TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Warcraft REVIEWS

Along with a few crappy comedies, “The Angry Birds Movie”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and “Warcraft” managed to pique our interest. We share our thoughts on these movies in this episode of Beers, Beats and Bailey.

 

– Matthew

 

See this movie before you die – “Harakiri” (1962)

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“This thing we call samurai honour is ultimately nothing but a facade”. So says Hanshiro Tsugumo in the mansion of the Iyi Clan one afternoon in the year 1630. And it’s this facade that forms the groundwork of Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri” (1962), based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi.

Similar to “Rashomon” (1950) and “Seven Samurai” (1954), two of iconic director Akira Kurosawa’s most acclaimed works (If you haven’t seen these movies, do yourself a favour and designate about six hours of your life to watching them. Hey, if you can binge-watch a full 10-episode season of “Game of Thrones”, then you can survive watching both movies back-to-back), “Harakiri” uses the historical past of the jidai-kegi, or period film, to address social and political themes that affected post-WWII Japan. Masaki Kobayashi, like other Japanese directors in the 1950s and 1960s, used film to express their dissidence with the state of postwar Japan, as well as challenge institutions that held on to archaic beliefs of the feudal past. A lifelong pacifist, Kobayashi spent the majority of his film career defying tradition and authority with the postwar drama “The Thick-Walled Room” (1956), the three-part, NINE-HOUR (for those keeping score, that’s roughly one hour short of that “Game of Thrones” binge session that I just mentioned) anti-war epic “The Human Condition” (1959 – 1961), the visually striking ghost story anthology film “Kwaidan” (1964), and the jidai-kegi drama “Samurai Rebellion” (1967), which starred the legendary actor Toshiro Mifune of “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai” fame.

The story: One afternoon, a shabby, starved ronin (or unemployed samurai) by the name of Hanshiro Tsugumo arrives at the mansion of Lord Iyi in Edo (Tokyo). A former retainer of the Fukushima Clan, Hanshiro (like many other former samurai who, according to the code of Bushido, dedicated their hearts, souls and swords to serving their masters) was cast aside and forced to seek employment elsewhere. With no purpose in a time of peace, and little to no reason to live, he requests permission from Lord Iyi’s senior counselor, Saito Kayegu (Rentaro Mikuni), to perform harakiri in the forecourt of the mansion. Harakiri, or seppuku (the film’s Japanese title), is a ritualistic act of suicide which begins with self-disembowelment with a short blade – either a knife (tanto) or short sword (wakizashi) – and concludes with the decapitation of the samurai in one stroke (kaishaku) by a swordsman (kaishakunin) selected by the samurai himself.

Though it was common at that time for ronin to request permission to commit harakiri in the courtyards of Clan residences, Saito is somewhat suspicious of Hanshiro’s request. There have been recent cases where ronin used their harakiri requests to swindle the Clan leaders into giving them money. In an attempt to test Hanshiro’s resolve, Saito tells him a story of a young ronin named Chijiwa Motome (Akira Ishihama), another former Fukushima Clan retainer who came to the Iyi mansion a few months earlier with the same request. Already aware of the “harakiri scam”, Saito grants Chijiwa his request, provided that he performs harakiri immediately. Problem was, Motome had recently pawned the blades of his swords and had them replaced with bamboo. The Iyi Clan is angered that a samurai would do this, since a sword is considered to be a “samurai’s soul”. With no chance of escape, and no choice but to uphold his honour as a samurai, Motome slowly and PAINFULLY disembowels himself with his bamboo blade before having his head lopped off by the kaishakunin.

After completing his story, Saito sternly questions Hanshiro’s sincerity. Hanshiro assures him that he is indeed sincere in performing harakiri. But before doing so, he requests an audience with Saito and the Iyi retainers to tell a story of his own: a story that will challenge the belief system of the entire Iyi Clan and the fatalistic code of Bushido that they continue to adhere to.

In a video interview recorded for the Criterion Collection DVD of “Harakiri”, film critic Donald Richie called the film an ‘anti-samurai movie’. Unlike other jidai-kegi films, “Harakiri” is set in the early years of the Edo / Tokugawa era, specifically between the years 1619 and 1630. There are samurai in the movie, but they are not the gallant, horse-riding, armor-wearing, enemy-slashing, war cry-yelling badasses that you’d expect to find in a chambara, or samurai action movie. Instead, they are presented as complex individuals who wrestle between willingly adapting to the changing times or refusing to let go of traditional ideologies. Additionally, – and this may disappoint the action junkie or gore hound reading this – there aren’t that many fight sequences or scenes with blood that occur in this movie. Yes, there is blood (more focused on the gut-wrenching – and I mean that in EVERY sense of the term – disembowelment scene with Motome) and there is combat, but “Harakiri” is more concerned about the emotional, psychological and political aspects of its story than the visceral, action-packed elements one expects in a samurai flick.

Unlike the film’s 2011 3D remake (Yes, ladies and gents….3-D….REMAKE!!) “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” directed by Takashi Miike (who made the incredibly AWESOME chambara “13 Assassins” one year prior), “Harakiri” maintains a dark, haunting and bitter tone. The first few opening shots set this tone brilliantly. An empty suit of armour is shot from different angles inside a room enveloped in darkness and mist. Even when the back wall of the room is illuminated slightly by a back light, the armour still appears dark. This suit is the symbol of the Iyi Clan and represents their martial valour, and yet in these opening shots (and sporadically throughout the film) it’s presented as hollow, ghost-like and lifeless, a remnant of olden, obsolete rules and traditions.

This brief opening sequence is further enhanced by the hypnotic black-and-white cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima (who collaborated with Kobayashi on “The Human Condition”), and the evocative, minimalist musical score by Toru Takemitsu (who provided the music for “Kwaidan”). Miyajima’s cinematography is atmospheric and expressive in its parallels with light and dark, old and new, life and death. The courtyard, for example, where both Motome and Hanshiro sit in front of the Iyi retainers, is brightly lit, while the buildings and the interiors where the retainers sit and observe the proceedings (and hold the fate of both Motome and Hanshiro in their hands) are shrouded in shadow. Takemitsu’s score also parallels old and new, as well as slow and fast tempo, with its use of traditional Japanese musical instruments (like the biwa – played in an intense, erratic rhythm in the opening credit sequence) and orchestral violin music (played to a crescendo-building and SPINE-CHILLING degree in some of the film’s bleaker moments).

The story by Yasuhiko Takiguchi and Shinobu Hashimoto is well-constructed and exceptionally written. First-time viewers may be turned off by the slow pace (visualized by the static shots and slow, smooth camera movements utilized throughout most of the film), but believe me, the tension (and believe me, there’s LOTS of it) that slowly builds throughout “Harakiri” will keep you engaged throughout its runtime. It has a similar approach to “Rashomon”, where one story is told from different points of view, and the viewer is left to figure out which one is correct. One can argue that the courtroom-like setting of the film is similar to one memorable scene in “Rashomon” where a medium channels the spirit of a murdered samurai to tell the Court the story of how that samurai was killed. But what makes “Harakiri” so immensely powerful is the fact that you understand both the points of view of Saito and Hanshiro (even if Saito’s POV is conceited), which makes it really difficult to say that one’s point of view is more wrong than the other. Saito comes from a group that believes in the traditions of Japan’s old era and respects those who still hold on to them (i.e. the request to commit harakiri). Hanshiro wanted nothing more but to live and have a great life in this new era, even with its hardships and difficulties. The story that he tells Saito and the others – which I won’t reveal any details on – is so achingly heartbreaking that you can’t help but sympathize with the poor guy. But Saito’s rebuttal, which led to the aforementioned statement that I used to start this review, is understandable (even though you shouldn’t agree with it) when placed in the context of the reputation, pride and honour that the Iyi Clan has fought, bled and died over for generations.

And what’s a review about “Harakiri” without mentioning Tatsuya Nakadai? I haven’t the foggiest idea, since every review you’ll read about this movie will make mention of its lead actor. Nakadai, who also appeared in “The Human Condition”, “Kwaidan” and “Samurai Rebellion”, brings a MAGNIFICENT, extraordinary performance as Hanshiro Tsugumo. As one of Japan’s greatest actors, Nakadai brings a heightened sense of emotional volatility to his character. Sure, the supporting cast deliver great performances as well (especially Rentaro Mikuni as Saito), but it’s the range of emotions that Nakadai brings to the table – from fiercely intense to immensely sorrowful –  that truly makes his character stand out in every scene he’s in. And he has a great singing voice. Seriously, he does. Check out the film and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, Masaki Kobayashi used this film to make a bold statement (one that’s still relevant to this day) about the backwardness, irrelevance and hypocrisy of the Samurai code in modern times, and how a corrupt system can use that code to keep themselves in power, whilst bringing misery and death to the powerless. While it is grim and uncompromising at times, “Harakiri” is a powerful, gripping and unforgettable masterpiece of Japanese filmmaking. Regardless of whether you like samurai films or not, if you like foreign language films or not, if you like black-and-white films or not, if you’re a cinephile or not, if you know what the word “cinephile” means or not, or if you like “Game of Thrones” (which is completely unrelated to this movie. I know!) or not, this is a DEFINITE must-see! It’s one of the best samurai movies ever made, it’s one of the best Japanese movies ever made – and yes, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. But y’all knew that, ’cause why else would I say in the title to this write-up that you should “see this movie before you die”? Because you really should, that’s why!

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew

 

The Matrix (March 31, 1999)

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Continuing my 2014 “anniversary” write-ups (which, in case you’re still unaware, I started on February with my Pulitzer Prize-winning “College Dropout” album review) is a review of a film (Yaaaaay! A film review! No more rap music! Woo-hoo! For NOW that is…..tee hee hee hee!) that…let’s face it…..EVERYBODY must have seen or heard about. The only logical way for anyone to be unaware of this movie is if they were literally living under a big-ass ROCK for the past 15 years (no disrespect to my peoples currently living under big-ass rocks. I hope y’all get out soon though! That’s my word! Flintstones shit! Yabba-dabba-doo, mang! All day, every day!).  Of course, I’m talking about the 1999 sci-fi action flick “THE MATRIX”. And so, I’ve decided to dedicate my 100TH POST (That’s right. My ONE HUNDREDTH POST – according to WordPress) to this seminal masterpiece! And why shouldn’t I anyway?

 

Seeing “The Matrix” 15 years later, (Ahh, funny how time flies), it looks more daring, bold and ambitious than it did in 1999. Written and directed by Lana Wachowski (then Larry Wachowski) and younger brother Andy, “The Matrix” combined their interests for Japanese animation, Hong Kong action cinema, comic books, video games, cyberpunk sci-fi stories, mythology, philosophy and religion. It came out at a time when I was heavily invested in video games (preferably fighting games), comic books, Hong Kong martial arts films and Japanese animation (which was a MAJOR sensation in Trinidad & Tobago during the late 1990s). When the first TV spots for “The Matrix” were screened, I had no idea what the movie was about. It reminded me a lot of “Dark City”  (1998) (which you should DEFINITELY check out, by the way), with its dark, eerie tone, stylish visuals and ominous dialogue (Laurence Fishburne’s “Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself” line DID sound pretty fucking ominous at the time!).

 

Intrigued as hell, I stopped by the nearest movie theater to check it out for myself. My first viewing experience of “The Matrix” was a matinee double bill, with the first film being the the WORST movie of 1999 (even worse than “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” which is saying something): Will Smith’s cinematic belly flop “Wild Wild West” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!!). SIDE NOTE: R&B singer Sisqo’s chorus on the theme song for the movie – rapped by Will himself…..STILL gives me nightmares. Long story short, after I watched “The Matrix” in that darkened theater, I walked out into the bright, sunny world as a changed man….or teen or whatever I was back then. I felt as if the proverbial “wool” was lifted off my eyes, and I saw the world in a different light. Yes, I knew it was a fiction film, and the world outside the theater was real. But I was so mentally spellbound by what I saw, I began to question the reality of everything around me. Even the taxi that drove me home (rimshot). I mean, we, as human beings, may be physically free, but are we really mentally enslaved? Are we really aware of this enslavement – and do we want to be? And if we do become aware, should we stay inside that mental prison where we may feel safe and secure, or fight our way out of it? These were topics that I never thought about before, presented in a cinematic format I would’ve never imagined (Existentialism in an ACTION FILM?! Ninja please!), in a film unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

 

From its trademark opening shot of green-coloured symbols of computer code sliding down a black background like rain on a window, to its extraordinary opening sequence, “The Matrix” sets up its own distinct personality, among the many sci-fi and action films of the past, from the get-go. This sequence, which pits Carrie-Anne Moss (who plays the mysterious Trinity) against several armed policemen and dark-suited Agents (more on them later), sets up the reality-twisting, mind-bending and gravity-defying world of “The Matrix”. Trinity runs up walls, across ceilings, leaps from rooftop to rooftop and, in one iconic shot (which was later parodied in a TON of other cartoons, TV commercials and movies – “Scary Movie”, anyone?), is shown suspended in mid-air as the camera spins around the room, before delivering a fatal kick to one of the policemen. Her character, like others in the movie, are searching for a man named “Neo”, who’s believed to be a computer programmer-by-day/hacker-by-night by the name of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves).

 

Neo is established in the film as a lonely individual, reliant on technology and barely awake (in one scene, the camera spins 180 degrees to show the clutter of technology – hardware, CDs, stereo etc. – surrounding his desktop table as he sleeps in front of his computer). He too is searching for someone: in this case, a figure named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). When Trinity finally meets Neo at a club, the question “What is the Matrix?” is asked. This question has plagued Neo all his life, though he’s not sure why, and he believes that Morpheus holds the answer. After a terrifying encounter with three Agents, one of whom labels himself as Agent Smith (played excellently by Hugo Weaving), Neo confronts Morpheus and learns the truth. The world of the late 20th century that he lives in is nothing more than a simulation created by intelligent machines created by humans in the 21st century. This simulation, called “The Matrix”, serves to keep humanity in check, as they are artificially created and used as a source of bio-electric energy. Morpheus and Trinity are part of a human resistance who’ve declared war on the machines, freeing or “unplug” humans from the simulated reality of the “Matrix” during their journey to victory. But the machines have defenders in both the “Matrix” and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the “real world”: tentacled flying machines called Sentinels in the “real world”, and human-like ‘programs’ called Agents in the Matrix.  Humanity’s only hope is the one person capable of bending the rules of the system of the Matrix in ways no one else have ever done. One person with the speed, strength and power to defeat the machines, and bring an end to the war. This person is Neo…..a.k.a. THE ONE (not to be confused with that Jet Li movie back in 2001. Man, that movie fucking SUCKED!)

 

Unbeknownst to viewers at the time of the film’s release, the story of “The Matrix” was written by the Wachowskis as a trilogy of movies. Of course, the film’s financial success and critical acclaim helped green-light the sequels “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”, both released in 2003, six months apart from each other. In “The Matrix”, there are subtle hints at both the promise of a trilogy and the “outcome” of the final film. The hotel room in which Trinity fights the policemen has the number 303 on its door, and Neo’s apartment door has the number 101. In the film’s climatic chase sequence, Neo finds himself in the very same room Trinity was introduced in the aforementioned opening action sequence. His ‘fate’ at the hands of Agent Smith in that room is a premonition of the outcome of the battle between Neo and Agent Smith in the underwhelming finale “Matrix Revolutions”. It’s funny that the room number 303 hints at the third and final chapter of the Matrix story. However, Neo is triumphantly “resurrected” in the climax of “The Matrix” – reborn, if you will, with a greater awareness of the Matrix world. Does this suggest that Neo’s “death” in “Matrix Revolutions” hint at a later resurrection? And if so, why wasn’t this point established, at least to make a more satisfying conclusion of the Matrix trilogy? Ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

 

But this is one of the things that  I truly appreciate about “The Matrix”.  There are so much visual, thematic and narrative cues taking place in the movie that become more apparent with subsequent viewings. I didn’t even notice the number usage, for example, until a few hours ago when I watched the film again before doing this review. But as a viewer, you find yourself so immersed in this story, in this world, that you forget that these cues are staring at you in the face. Like the Matrix itself. It’s there, but you don’t realize it. Consider the visuals of the film. The world of the Matrix is enveloped in a green tint, while the “real world” uses a cold colour palette of greys and blues. Even in the martial arts training simulation sequence involving Neo and Morpheus, there’s a slight, almost unnoticeable, tinge of grey present in the brown and white colour palette used in the dojo. This suggests that what you’re seeing is still a simulation, even though – visually – we’re not inside the Matrix.

 

On the subject of this sequence, “The Matrix” boasts some of the BEST martial-arts sequences ever filmed. And as a fan of martial-arts films, I can attest to that claim! Orchestrated by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (whose work on the Jet Li film “Fist of Legend” inspired the fight scenes in “The Matrix”), these sequences are brilliantly shot and expertly executed, each with its own narrative structure (note of the three-act structure of both the fight scene with Morpheus and Neo in the dojo, and the one with Neo and Agent Smith in the subway). Another scene which pays tribute to Hong Kong action cinema is the lobby shootout scene of the third act, where Neo and Trinity shoot their way through a squad of armed guards to rescue Morpheus. With its bullets, flying shrapnel and stylish slow-motion movement by Keanu and Carrie-Anne in this scene, this is still an INCREDIBLY BAD-ASS action sequence that still holds up to this day.

 

But the one scene that figuratively and literally BLEW the fucking minds and dropped the fucking jaws of everyone who saw “The Matrix” for the first time is the REVOLUTIONARY “bullet-time” scene following the lobby shootout. Simulating slow motion, the camera does a complete 360 degree movement from behind, around and under Keanu Reeves as he dodges the bullets of an enemy Agent on a rooftop. The FLAWLESS execution of that scene alone elevated the film to a higher echelon, a level that not even the brawl between Neo and a horde of cloned Agent Smiths in “The Matrix Reloaded” or the earth-shattering, “Dragonball Z”-inspired climatic fight scene between Neo and Agent Smith in “The Matrix Revolutions” could match.

 

But I’ve only described action. What about the story? The script by the Wachowskis is surprisingly and superbly well-written, with careful attention to the sometimes philosophical, sometimes profound dialogue. The performances are great, especially from Laurence Fishburne (who OWNS his fucking role) as the fatherly, intelligent Morpheus, the late Gloria Foster who plays the elderly prophet “The Oracle”, and Hugo Weaving as the menacing Agent Smith.  The cinematography by Bill Pope is fantastic, the editing, sound design, sound mixing and visual effects (all of which earned the film Academy Awards) are fucking SOLID, and the musical score by Don Davis is nothing short of unforgettable.

 

As you have gathered, there is so much to talk about and appreciate in “The Matrix”. As a science-fiction movie, it delivers an insightful look at virtual reality and the perception of “real” versus “fake”, as well as man’s eventual downfall at the hands of its own creation: machines. As an action movie, it gives us an unlikely hero in the form of Keanu Reeves, who elevated himself from surfing with the late Patrick Swayze in “Point Break” to assisting a scared-as-shit Sandra Bullock in driving a bomb-strapped bus in “Speed” to action hero IMMORTALITY as the gun-toting, ass-kicking, slo-mo bullet-ducking Neo! Anyone can relate to this film, in some shape or form, regardless of age (unless you’re under 8 years old or something), sex, religious or political belief, social status or educational background. Its universal themes of freedom, truth-seeking, courage and the will to believe in oneself and/or in something greater, still resonate to this day. One of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, one of the best movies of the 1990s, and one of my all-time favourite movies, “The Matrix” is an absolute must-see. Now get out of that big-ass rock of yours and free your mind already. And remember. Neo’s watching you!

 

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars: “See this movie before you die”

 

– Matthew

See this movie before you die – “The Godfather” (1972)

For the two of you keeping score, I haven’t written a 5-star review on my blog since my EPIC (at least to me) Dark Knight Trilogy post last year. And I haven’t written about a film from the 1970s since my 2011 review of the original (and far superior than its forgettable-ass remake) “Straw Dogs”, and to a certain extent, last year’s “Movies that go BUMP in the night” post as well. With this post however, I plan to metaphorically kill two endangered birds with one shotgun. In keeping with the theme of the Oscars, I’ll be reviewing a Best Picture Academy Award winner that’s actually the first in a film trilogy widely considered to be one of film history’s most influential and iconic: the Godfather Trilogy.

 

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the 1969 crime novel “The Godfather” written by Italian-American author Mario Puzo (who assisted Francis in the screenplay for each film), the Godfather Trilogy (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974) and The Godfather, Part III (1990)) begins with the transition of power within a New York crime family from father to son in the mid-40s, continues with the transformation of the son into a ruthless Mafia boss in the late-50s, and ends with him tragically facing the consequences of his past transgressions in the late-70s. Starring the late, great Marlon Brando as the patriarch Vito Corleone and Al Pacino (a.k.a. everyone’s favourite coke-snorting, cock-a-roach burying, don’t give a fuck – ing, Cuban immigrant turned drug kingpin “Scarface”) as his son Michael Corleone and the main protagonist of the entire trilogy.

 

Both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II won Academy Awards for Best Picture (obviously), Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Godfather, Part II also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which was given to no other but Robert DeNiro (nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Silver Linings Playbook”), who played a young Vito Corleone. However, The Godfather, Part III, which was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, Original Song and Art Direction, didn’t win SHIT at the 1991 Academy Awards! The Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars were snatched by a little film directed by and starring Kevin Costner called “Dances with Wolves”. And in retrospect, it was a really good movie, but it’s nowhere close to the sheer awesomeness that is….. (drumroll please)

 

“Goodfellas”, Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, the one that re-defined the Mafia movie after Francis Coppola created the blueprint with the first two Godfather films, and in case you were wondering, one of my all-time favourite movies. But let’s get back to the subject at hand. The first two Godfather films are praised by film lovers the world over, and hailed as two of the greatest films ever made. The third, and admittedly weakest, film in the trilogy, has gained a bad reputation for being one of the worst “threequels” (not a real word, people) ever made (like “X-Men: The Last Stand”, “The Matrix Revolutions” and “Spider-Man 3” to name a few). How a revered film franchise like The Godfather Trilogy was able to rise to the top and fall so far from grace (just like Michael Corleone – ironically) will be debated for years to come.  But for the purpose of this write-up, this review is all about the one that started it all – the grandpappy, or should I say godpappy, of gangster films…..(drumroll again please. I said drumroll, motherfucker!)

 

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“THE GODFATHER” –  Part Uno of the trilogy begins during a lavish wedding reception for Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) only daughter Connie (Talia Shire, or as Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” anthology calls her: “ADRIAAAAAAAN!!”). As Vito is the Godfather, he spends his time in his office, hearing requests from various individuals. Outside, his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a Marine and WWII hero, introduces his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to his family, and gives her a glimpse into the inner workings of his father’s crime family. “That’s my family. Not me” says Michael as a response to Kay’s stunned expression. Apart from Vito, Michael, Connie and Kay, some of the film’s major characters are introduced in the wedding reception: Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Vito’s adopted son and official consigliere or adviser; Sonny (James Caan), Vito’s eldest son; Fredo (John Cazale), Vito’s second oldest son; Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), Vito’s enforcer; Salvatore Tessio (Abe Vigoda) and Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), two of Vito’s old partners-in-crime and official “capos” or “made men” in the Corleone crime family.

 

Anyhoo, drug kingpin Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), backed by the Tattaglias (rivals of the Corleones), asks Vito for financial support and political protection for his business. Vito doesn’t want anything to do with drugs or the drug trade (imagine the day a fucking gangster becomes a spokesperson for an anti-drug campaign, folks. Hmmmm) and refuses Virgil’s request. Luca, sent to spy on Virgil and the Tattaglias, ends up “sleeping with the fishes” LITERALLY (Google search this term and you’re bound to see his name pop up. That’s how synonymous Luca Brasi’s name has become with fish, sleep and Ambien, apparently). But everything changes when the Tattaglias attempt to assassinate Vito, and Michael decides to take revenge. What follows is a moral journey where family ties are tested, traitors are revealed and retaliation becomes bloody. And in the end, Michael, who initially refused to get himself involved in the family business, becomes the new Godfather and Don of the Corleone crime family.

 

“The Godfather” is about many things. It could be viewed as a look into the dark side of the ‘American Dream’ and the pursuit of it by violent means. Also, in a sense, it shows the destructive nature of retaliation, which has been, and still remains, the basis of modern warfare. But the film’s true theme is family. Now don’t get me wrong: the film is called “The Godfather”. It’s not like “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos” (a TV show that owes its successful-as-fuck six-season run to the foundation created by the Godfather Trilogy in terms of the Mafia film sub-genre) where there’s more than one person in the title. The Godfather himself is the centerpiece of the entire film. But as I mentioned earlier, the power of the Corleone crime family is passed on from Vito to Michael. And as such, both Vito and Michael assume the role of the film’s protagonist. Through a superbly written script by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, two stories are actually being told within the same time frame: the fall of Vito and the rise of Michael. But the events of the film, and the way in which each is set up and executed, are constructed so well that it’s easy to get swept away with the overall story of the film and forget that it’s really about two men.

 

Getting the obvious out of the way, the acting in this film is fucking PHENOMENAL! Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is iconic in every sense of the word. The subtle mannerisms that Brando exudes out of his character (consider the close-up of his face in a heartbreaking scene in the film, where he looks at the dead body of one of his sons (I won’t say who. You probably know who it is anyway) and utters “Look how they massacred my boy”) embody the technique of method acting that made him a legend. His raspy voice, puffy cheeks and famous lines that he delivers (his most memorable one being, of course, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”) have been imitated for decades since the film’s release. But also to his character, Brando brings a sense of deep-rooted wisdom that comes with age. He regularly gives advice to his sons and associates and, with a gangsta-like sixth sense (Instead of “I see dead people”, he should be saying “I see people I want DEAD!”), is capable of spotting betrayal from a mile away. Al Pacino is excellent as Michael Corleone, and his character transition from that of an unconcerned man to the tyrannical ruler of his father’s criminal empire gives the story an almost Shakespearean feel. The supporting cast is great as well. James Caan’s Sonny Corleone is a hothead, and dare I say, a BADASS! As the most impulsive of the Corleone sons, he gets pissed off rather easily. There’s a famous scene where Sonny beats the SHIT out of his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) on the street, in broad daylight, for abusing Connie. Old-school ass whoopin’ never looked better than in that scene! Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen is the opposite. He’s calm, resourceful and acts like a silent observer over the family’s decision-making. Diane Keaton plays Kay Adams with enough sympathy that you can’t help but feel sorry for her when Michael, the love of her life, slowly slips away from her fingertips.  But despite the imperfections of the Corleone family (and boy, is there a fucking lot), they are generally sympathetic characters. They’re not presented as evil people, but as a family born out of a cycle of violence that originated from their ancestral home in Corleone, Sicily, where young Vito was born and where he adopted his surname (in case you were wondering). It’s both understandable and ironic that after Michael commits his first major crime during one of the film’s major turning points, he would choose that place for his self-exile.

 

The cinematography by Gordon Willis is impressive by today’s standards. The shadowy interiors and vivid, brightly-lit exteriors help create a visual contrast between the closeted world of the Mafia and a developing America of the 1950s. Also, the buildings, industries and hustle-and-bustle of New York City are contrasted with the beautiful, quiet, community-based town of Corleone  The direction by Francis Ford Coppola and the editing by Peter Zinner and William H. Reynolds are near-flawless. The film’s memorable climax for example, in which scenes of Connie’s son being christened (and where Michael stands as Godfather) are inter-cut with the bloody murders of all Vito’s enemies, is a classic example of direction and editing working perfectly in sync. And what’s a review about “The Godfather” without the music? Nino Rota’s score for the film is TIMELESS! The music matches perfectly with the emotions present in each scene it’s used in, from joy and love to tension and sadness.  Even if you haven’t seen the film, you probably must have heard the famous “Godfather Waltz” main theme song on some other movie, or TV show, or cartoon, or local news report, or porno flick (if you’re into that XXX parody shit). But when you do, and you can mark my words, it’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of your life! When you die, the last song on your head may very well be the “Love Theme for the Godfather”. Or Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”….but that’s if you die outside a nightclub – God forbid.

 

Now before I give my verdict on “The Godfather”, I must inform you (or remind you) that the film is exactly 175 minutes long. And I know what you’re thinking. Matter of fact, I can write out what you’re thinking:

 

“175 MINUTES?! REALLY?! OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, SOOOOOO LONG! I CAN’T SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE? ARE YOU CRAZY?! HOW COULD ANYBODY SIT THROUGH THAT? I COULD NEVER SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE LIKE…..Wait, what did you just say? They’re showing “Titanic” on TV? OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, MY FAVOURITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME! I CAN DEFINITELY SIT THROUGH THAT MOVIE! LEO DiCAPRIO! WHOOOOOO!!!” (NOTE: You can replace “Titanic” and Leo’s name with any one of the Lord of the Rings films and any actor/actress from the franchise if you’d like. I’m just sayin’).

 

And the point of that paragraph is:-

Unless you genuinely hate epic dramas or gangster films, have a low tolerance level for films that go beyond the two-hour mark, or suffer from A.D.D., “The Godfather” is undoubtedly a must-see movie. It’s like….the law! You just HAVE to see this movie! If you truly call yourself a movie lover, you MUST see this film. It has a great story, great acting, great music, memorable scenes, quotable dialogue and of course, glorious scenes of R-rated violence that one expects from a crime movie from the 70s. It’s been hailed as one of the greatest films in world cinema. It’s ranked as the second greatest American film ever made. It absolutely refuses to leave the No. 2 spot at the IMDB Top 250 list. And it stands as one of my all-time favourite films. What more should I say except:

 

MY RATING:

“THE GODFATHER” – 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew

“Expendable” Movies – “First Blood” (1982) / “Die Hard” (1988) / “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

 

Having recently accomplished my first four-part series of posts dedicated to a particular theme (the live-action Batman movies), I’ve decided to challenge myself with another four-parter. In this case, I’ll be reviewing the best movies (for better or worse) of each of the major stars of the action flick “The Expendables 2”, excluding Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Liam Hemsworth. Even though they’re part of the new Expendables line-up, they haven’t yet achieved the title of action hero,  as compared to their co-stars. But don’t you fret, you fans of UFC, “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Hunger Games”. Their performances will be mentioned in the upcoming reviews of both “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2”.

 

Due for release on August 17th of this year (mark your calendars), “The Expendables 2” is the long-awaited (mostly by guys) sequel to the 2010 ensemble action film “The Expendables”. The original film, directed by Sylvester Stallone (the one actor who knows a shit-ton about directing action movies than most of his peers), took a boyish fantasy of seeing one’s favourite action heroes together on the big screen and made it into a grown-ass, testosterone-fueled, bullet-riddled reality. But what really made the film special was its line-up of stars. Action heroes of the 80s and 90s like Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Dolph Lundgren were teamed up with those of the last decade like Jet Li, Jason Statham and, to a certain degree, Steve Austin. Randy Couture and Terry Crews, two guys who appeared in a few action movies before “The Expendables”, were also included in the film.

 

Lionsgate, the company behind “The Expendables”, promised to show the world “the greatest action heroes together for the first and only time”, as the voice-over guy in the trailer stated so dramatically. As fucking ridiculous as this promise is in retrospect (i.e. a movie with the greatest action heroes together for the FIRST AND ONLY TIME – followed by a SEQUEL WITH THE SAME ACTORS), it was a rather smart marketing ploy to reel in audiences, and the film became a commercial success. However, it received mixed reviews for its thin plot, two-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue and mindless action. Fortunately at that time, action movie lovers (myself included) didn’t give a fuck about the critics. We knew what the film offered, and that was exactly what we received. We lapped up the bloody shootouts, brutal fistfights and ginormous explosions like thirsty dogs. The mindless action (which was done so well, I must say) somehow managed to overshadow the other aspects of the film that pissed off critics.  While I did enjoy “The Expendables”, the possibility of a sequel was far from my mind.

 

By late 2011, a teaser for “The Expendables 2” came out, and jaws hit the floor (mine included) when the line-up was shown: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris! JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME?! CHUCK NORRIS?!! Together for the “FIRST AND ONLY TIME”?!!! I was definitely sold! Ever since the release of the trailer, I was eagerly anticipating the film’s official release. It was announced at the beginning of 2012 that directing duties were appointed to Simon West, the guy behind “Con Air”, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (remember that shit?!) and “The Mechanic” (which starred Jason Statham). Rumours were spread that “The Expendables 2” would be rated PG-13 instead of the original film’s much-deserved R-rating, apparently due to Chuck Norris’ demands that the swearing present in the script be toned down. Fortunately, it achieved its R-rating just in time for its upcoming release. Time will soon tell if Schwarzenegger will say his line from “The Terminator” (“Fuck you, asshole!”) for the second time in his movie career or not. More importantly, the world will soon know whether “The Expendables 2” was actually a superior sequel or a retread of the original.

 

This post is dedicated to the best films of the three most popular stars of “The Expendables 2” – Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whether you care about the Expendables films or not, there’s no denying that the following films are timeless classics in the action movie genre. Not only did they define what an action movie can be and should be, but they’ve re-defined the term “action hero”. Besides, if it weren’t for these three films, “The Expendables” would remain nothing more than a boyish fantasy. Capiche? Then, let’s get started.

 

“FIRST BLOOD” (1982)

 

Now I know “Rocky” (1976) was the film that placed Sylvester Stallone in the Hollywood spotlight. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay (believe it or not, Ripley – he wrote the screenplay) at the Oscars, and the film itself managed to nab the Best Picture Academy Award. But it was his performance in “First Blood” that truly made him an action superstar. Here, he plays John Rambo, former member of an elite U.S. Army Special Forces unit that served in the Vietnam War. When he sets foot into the town of Hope, Washington, to look for one of his friends from his unit, the sheriff of the town, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), gives him a hard time. Rambo is warned by Teasle (who doesn’t want “drifters” in his town) to leave, but he refuses. He’s arrested, hauled off to the police station, and violently harassed by officers. Unbeknownst to the officers, our hero was a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War and suffered cruel treatment from his captors. Plagued by memories of that time, Rambo’s mind finally snaps and he proceeds to KICK ASS! The officers are beaten up and Rambo escapes. He even pulls a guy off a motorbike and rides off with it (GTA, motherfucker!!).  What follows is a manhunt within the nearby forest of Hope, where Rambo uses hunting and survival tactics to evade – and kill – the men hunting him down. Even though the plot of “First Blood” is rather straight-forward, it’s the underlying theme of the psychological effects of the Vietnam War that gives the film a surprisingly emotional depth. Stallone delivers an amazing performance as John Rambo. His character wavers between hero and anti-hero.  You root for him when he escapes his predators, but you also cringe when you see the ways in which he traps and kills them. And in his climatic meltdown, you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy. Richard Crenna, who plays Colonel Sam Troutman (the man who trained Rambo), also delivers an amazing performance in the film. Serving as advisor to the police, Crenna’s character warns the police about Rambo’s primal mindset. In one memorable scene, he scares the sheriff shitless with quotable lines like “You send that many (men), you don’t forget one thing – a good supply of body bags”.  The story is fast-paced, the action is raw and the tone is dark and sombre. The result is an action film that’s engaging, powerful and unforgettable. As a rugged action flick, a social commentary of a post-Vietnam War America, and the establishment of Sylvester Stallone as an action movie icon, “First Blood” excels on all levels.

 

 

“DIE HARD” (1988)

 

“Die Hard”, the film that propelled Bruce Willis into the A-list of Hollywood superstars. Set during Christmas Eve – the wonderful time of the year dedicated to last-minute shopping, this film tells the heartwarming story of  New York cop John McClane, and his quest to save the occupants of a company building (including his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia)) from a group of East European criminals.  The leader of this group of grinches is Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman, well-known for his role as Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series). Assisting John is Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson a.k.a. Carl Winslow from “Family Matters”) who maintains contact with him from the outside, while the police and the FBI try desperately to get inside the building. Directed by John McTiernan, “Die Hard” is a textbook example of an action film done right. The story is well-written, the dialogue is sharp and witty (the most  iconic line in the film is still Bruce Willis’ “Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker”), the performances are top-notch (especially from Willis and Rickman) and the action scenes, while bloody at times, are exciting and stimulating. This film was both a critical and commercial success, and spawned three decent (though not as near-perfect as the original) sequels. A number of subsequent films copied “Die Hard’s” then-original formula of one-man-saving-hostages-from-bad-guys such as Wesley Snipes’ “Passenger 57” (remember that shit?!), Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege” (his most popular movie), Keanu Reeves’ “Speed” (another great action film) and the little-known (most likely ’cause it’s bullshit) 2002 TV movie “Christmas Rush” which starred Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”). You don’t need to know how I remembered that film. Just know that I never watched it. Anyhoo, “Die Hard” is action-packed escapism at its finest, and a classic Christmas movie as well. Ironically enough, it’s actually better than most of the action films of recent years. As a matter of fact, Entertainment Weekly recently voted it the best action film of all time. While I won’t even bother debating their pick for the top spot, I still think that the following film rightfully deserves that position.

 

 

“TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” (1991)

 

The “Citizen Kane” of action movies….or should I say “Vertigo”  since the kind folks at Sight and Sound recently replaced Orson Welles’ masterpiece with the most colourful of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in their “Top 50 Greatest Film of All Time” list. Before Arnold Schwarzengger cheated on his wife with his then-50-year-old housekeeper (eeeeeww), and way before his career was nearly terminated with 1997’s “Batman & Robin” (*pukes*), he was a well-established action superstar with films like “Conan the Barbarian” (one of my all-time faves), “The Terminator” (another all-time fave of mine) and “Predator” (or as I call it, “First Blood” with a Rastafarian alien) under his belt. But it was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” that turned Arnold into a cinematic legend.  Here, he plays….well, the Terminator – a cyborg who, in the first film, was sent from a post-apocalyptic future to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the leader of the Human Resistance, John Connor. Now, he’s been sent again from the future, but this time, to protect Sarah and her 10-year old son John (Edward Furlong) from the vicious, and more advanced, T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Directed by James Cameron of “Titanic” fame and acclaim, “T2: Judgment Day”  takes all the elements thatmade the first film great and multiplies them by FIVE! It boasts a massive budget, strong performances (with stand-out performances by both Schwarzengger and Hamilton – who’s a fucking bad-ass in this film), phenomenal action sequences and revolutionary visual effects. But it’s the story that makes this film shine the brightest among its competitors. It is so superbly written that no scene feels out of place. And the characters are so well-developed (even the Terminator, a machine, has character depth) that you can’t help but connect with them on an emotional level as they seek to avoid Judgment Day (i.e. the death of three billion humans and the rise of the machines) from occurring. I’ve seen this film many times over the years, and surprisingly, it still holds up to this day. It’s everything that a sequel should be (bigger and better than the original), everything a sci-fi movie should be (intelligent, well-written and visually spectacular) and everything an action movie should be (fast-paced and highly entertaining with characters that you care about).  Long story short, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is, in my honest opinion, the greatest action film ever made. If you’ve seen “T2” before, don’t hesitate to see it again. If you haven’t, check it out as soon as possible – before the machines start taking over. Seriously.

 

“FIRST BLOOD” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“DIE HARD” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

“TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” – 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew