Great Scenes: “Psycho”

After stealing $40,000, Marion attempts to leave town. She imagines how the conversation between her boss and the rich businessman would play after they discover her misdeed. I love how at first she seems worried, even scared, but then a creepy smirk curves her face. It’s almost like she intentionally throws a disgusting insult her way to villainize the businessman in her mind. The smirk is very subtle, and for the briefest of moments, it feels like Marion is the antagonist.

Film Review: “Fury” ★★★ (3/5)

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David Ayer is one of those filmmakers I’ve always kept an eye on. From his disturbingly powerful directorial debut, “Harsh Times” to “Fury”, Ayer seems to be a master in telling intimate tales of people leading very dangerous jobs. His 2012 film, “End of Watch’ made it on my list of top 10 films of that year. However, his latest foray seems to lack the grittiness of his earlier films.

Maybe, it’s the big budget or the all-star cast, whatever it is, “Fury” looks and feels like a film production. When a film is great, for the briefest of moments, the viewer forgets he’s watching a movie. There are films that demand this type of realism; a WWII picture told from the perspective of a single tank definitely qualifies as such. “Fury” is the Hollywood version of Samuel Maoz’ “Lebanon”.

It is big, loud, and full of action sequences, and although, there are moments of greatness in “Fury”, at the end it is nothing but a conventional war film. There isn’t a single scene in this film that I haven’t seen before. Rather than being a film about soldiers in a tank, it chooses to be a WWII version of the “300”. That’s right, one tank against 300 (literally) soldiers. The premise might excite some filmgoers out there, and they will enjoy it. It is a good action film after all. It’s too bad I was expecting more; it is too bad I was expecting anything but a thrill ride.

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Deep down, I was hoping “Fury” would be to tank films what “Das Boot” is to submarine films. The latter nails the suffocating experience down to every bolt. It is claustrophobic, intense, boring (it should be), and mentally exhausting. Scenes in “Das Boot” seem so real; you can almost smell the stench from within the u-boat. “Fury”, on the other hand, concerns itself more with surprising the audience with unexpected bursts of violence and building a confused film towards a heroic last stand, nothing new here.

That said, the chemistry between the crew seems very natural. One can tell that a lot of scenes were probably improvised. Shia LeBeouf delivers a strong supporting performance to Pitt’s strong-silent type role of “Wardaddy”, and Lerman hold his own against both actors. However, the film feels lost and hurried despite its lengthy runtime. At times, it felt like it was going down the gritty documentary feel route that I was hoping for, but then it’s almost like Ayer had a change of heart and turned it into a coming-of-age flick at war, before turning wheels again and ending it with the oh-so-overdone outnumbered battle.

Many will enjoy “Fury”. I’ve seen way too many conventional war films to fall for one that doesn’t add anything new or different to the genre. It lacks the philosophical undertones of “The Thin Red Line”, the gritty claustrophobia of “Das Boot”, the haunting psychology behind “Apocalypse Now” and the intense realism of “Saving Private Ryan”. “Fury” is an exercise of mediocrity.

Great Scenes: “Do the Right Thing”

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Up to the film’s shocking climax, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” plays like a documentary on everyday life in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. We get to know the inhabitants through their interactions on a single hot summer day. Lee uses carefully picked out music, dialogue, and artistic scenes full of energy to connect the micro storylines of individuals within the plot. When everything finally merges leading to the controversial and explosive riot scene, the viewer finally realizes the grand message.

Lee structures the plot by demonstrating how an insignificant conflict can ascend into an all-out riot. It all starts with a customer boycotting an Italian pizzeria for not including African Americans on the restaurant’s wall of fame. When he meets up with another angry customer who walks around with a loud stereo they decide to face Sal the owner. The volume is amplified, a baseball bat is smashed against the stereo, and before you know it a fight breaks out.

When the police arrive and brutally murder a young black man, the gathered crowd fuels into a frenzy of rage. One of Sal’s employees directs the fury away from him by shattering the pizzeria window with a garbage bin. Mob mentality leads the crowd towards an Asian American trying to fend off people from his supermarket. “Do the Right Thing” is about how clashes exist where there is culture diversity. Without taking any sides, Lee objectively puts the viewer on location; in this case it’s Stuyvesant Avenue.

Great Scenes: “Dog Day Afternoon”

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Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” is based on an actual bank robbery that took place three years prior to the release of the film. Al Pacino played bank robber Sonny Wortzik who on August 22nd burst into a Brooklyn based bank for a run-of the-mill robbery only to end up surrounded by dozens of armed police officers. Hours after the failed heist, crowds gathered around the bank. Once the media joined the circus it became the hottest event on live television.

Sonny would frequently leave the shelter of the bank to negotiate and shout abuse at the gun-pointing cops. Meanwhile Salvatore Naturile (Cazale), his slow witted accomplice, would keep an eye on the held up hostages.

The most memorable stand-off in the film finds Sonny outside rejecting an offer made by Detective Moretti (Durning). Sonny then takes a rebellious step closer to the crowd and yells, “Attica! Attica!”, referring to the 1971 prison riot that took place in New York City where the police showered the inmates with bullets. The crowd then responds with a loud roar making Sonny momentarily their hero. This powerful scene is the turning point of the picture for it marks a sudden shift in power from the cops to the robbers.

“Dog Day Afternoon” is a quintessential New York film that explored the tension galore between sexuality, crime, law and the media in the 1970’s. The film was shot on location on Prospect Park West between 17th and 18th Street, south of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Film Review: “The Equalizer” ★★★★ (4.5/5)

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“The Equalizer” is a film that knows what action fans want, and Antoine Fuqua delivers those needs in spades. Here’s a film that doesn’t aim to be original or groundbreaking at what it does. Instead, “The “Equalizer” aims at perfecting a story that has been told countless times before. A cliché only became a cliché because it works. We’ve all heard this story a million times, the knight in shining armor pulls out of retirement one last time to save the helpless girl, but we’ve rarely seen it executed so well.

Ask any action fan about the genre’s golden age, and the answer you’ll probably get is the 1980’s. That decade saw the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis rise to stardom. The latter single handedly changed the genre by shifting the perception of a hero from the muscular fighter to the everyday man with what most consider the greatest action film ever made, “Die Hard”.

Today, the action genre seems to have evolved into something else. Action films nowadays have either evolved into big blockbuster superhero movies, or epic science fiction films. Gone are the days of the everyday action hero. That said, the spy sub-genre is thriving with the resurrection of Bond and three groundbreaking Bourne films. We also get the occasional martial arts flick and a good old- western, but the action films of decades ago are extremely rare. One can argue that “The Expendables” pays homage to that finer time for the genre, but in all truth, they feel more like self-parody than anything else.

With “The Equalizer”, Fuqua merges the old with the new showcasing the evolution of the genre. The result is an action film with instantly quotable 80’s catchphrases spoken by a hinted upon former secret agent who also happens to be a real world superhero with martial arts skills and the tendency to end it all in a classic Western showdown. Fuqua merges all these action sub-genres so seamlessly, crafting a film that is nothing short of exhilarating.

Denzel Washington delivers a towering performance as the mysterious man who rights wrongs. Some of the films scenes and lines are so ridiculously cool; you’re bound to hear people around you giggle out of sheer excitement. This is the kind of film that ends up being a father-son viewing tradition. It is in many ways, the quintessential action flick and like (IMO) the best of this genre, “T2: Judgment Day”, the morality tale comes with a very human message.

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At the beginning of the film, our protagonist tells a very metaphoric tale of an old angler and a fish. He ends the citing with, “Old man’s got to be the old man; fish got to be the fish. Got to be who you are in this world, right? No matter what.” But after meeting, Elena, played heartbreakingly by Chloe Moretz, everything changes. In an intimate scene he contradicting tells her, “I think you can be anything you want to be.” To which she replies, “Maybe in your world, Robert. Doesn’t really happen that way in mine.” Our protagonist then delivers the line that perfectly summarizes a recurring theme- “Change your world.”

If you’re not happy where you are, you ought to change it, and when Robert sees that the odds are against her, he helps her change her world, just like he helps change his co-worker’s world by training him to be a security guard, and just like he gives everyone that crosses his path the chance to change. You can be whoever you want to be in this world. At the beginning our hero is “lost”, as Elena describes it when she looks deep into his eyes, but by the end of the film, he knows what he was born to do in this world. “The Equalizer” knows what kind of film it is from the get-go, a badass action spectacle about choosing your place in this world.

Great Scenes: “The Godfather”

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Francis Ford Coppola reinvented the gangster genre with his 1972 masterpiece “The Godfather”, a film chronicling the syndicate of a New York mafia family headed by Vito Corleone (Brando). The story unfolds as his beloved son Michael returns from war a hero with no interest to join the family business. However, after the don declines a business proposition involving the selling of drugs, his rivals attempt a hit that triggers a war and changes the future of Michael.

This pivotal turning point unfolds as Vito strolls through Little Italy to buy oranges from a fruit stand. Coppola used oranges symbolically throughout the trilogy to foreshadow bad things to come and here is perhaps the most memorable example of such use.

After buying the fruit Don Vito moves towards Fredo (Cazale) who is waiting for him at the parked car. Suddenly, two men walk briskly towards the don. Upon seeing them he drops his paper bag and darts quickly towards the car. They catch up and shoot five bullets into his back. Fredo tries to retaliate but instead hysterically fumbles with the gun. His trembling hands cause it to fall amid the rolling fruit.
Other than the horror of witnessing our main character getting gunned down within the first half hour, the real shock is in seeing the hit take place at the don’s own territory. The scene was shot Little Italy, New York using the exteriors of an old loft building at 128 Mott Street.

Film Review: “Whiplash” ★★★★★ (5/5)

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Who would’ve thought that the most intense and suspenseful film of the year would revolve around a drummer trying to perfect his craft in a classroom? Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” is not your typical inspirational teacher-student film. In fact, if anything, it completely sidesteps every cliché of the sub-genre. The result is the most unpredictable and intense film of its kind and possibly the year.

“The movie will keep you on the edge of your seat” is a phrase critic’s often reserve for horror, action and war films, yet it never rang more true than it does for “Whiplash”. This is a tribute to Chazelle’s exceptional directing skills, for he managed to bring the high-octane tensions of other genres to a type of film that never really demands it. Come to think of it, “Whiplash” bares more resemblance to military boot camp based films such as “Full Metal Jacket” and “Men of Honor” than “classroom” films. Here the classroom is the battlefield and dropping a drumstick feels just as devastating and crucial a moment as a grenade falling between your feet.

The stressful ordeal of enrolling in a high-end music conservatory is portrayed with such realism, it’s like Chazelle used the conventions of cinema to inject the stress felt by our main character directly into the viewer’s central nervous system. How else could the shot of a left behind music folder force everyone in a packed cinema to grasp for air? It’s because Chazelle directs it in such a way, it’s like you’re the one leaving it behind. “Whiplash” is pure cinema, and Chazelle is the conductor manipulating our emotions with his remarkably cinematic directorial skills.

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The less said about the plot of this film, the better. It is best to watch the film unravel before your eyes without knowing a clue, but I will say this. Whenever the film feels like it will go one direction, it completely turns around and twists the story somewhere else. At the front center of this grand performance of everyone behind this film is the spectacular chemistry between J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Walking out of the theater, the faces of both actors were the only ones I could remember out of the entire ensemble cast. To say they overshadow everyone else is an understatement. Simmons and Teller completely own this show.

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“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” _Terence Fletcher

To Simmons’ Fletcher, there is no such thing as taking things too far. He believes it is his job to push musicians beyond their limits and not only test their capabilities, but also expand their horizons in hope of guiding them to greatness. Anything less than his unorthodox teaching methods would be depriving the world of the next great artist, the next Bird.

I was curious as to whether Teller performed his own drumming and turns out he was. I also found out that during the most intense practice scenes, Chazelle wouldn’t yell “Cut!” so that Teller would keep drumming himself to exhaustion. I don’t know why, but I found this tidbit of info as inspirational and heart-warming as anything in the film itself. Chazelle was directing Teller, the actor, with the same level of passion as Fletcher’s (Simmons) desire to pull the best out of Andrew (Teller) the fictional drummer. Here’s a filmmaker who practices what he preaches, a prime example of a director believing in his characters. Chazelle doesn’t merely talk the talk with the projection of his film; he practically walked the talk while making it. I’m delighted to say that Chazelle ultimately does reach that much sought after greatness with the release of “Whiplash”.

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