“In the Heart of the Sea” – The tragedy of the Essex is the story of men. And a Demon.

These days seeing a movie based on a book is pretty much the norm. In fact, books are being written almost solely to get a movie made about them. So it’s a little refreshing when a film comes out based on a novel written way before film was even a twinkle in Edison’s eye. “In the Heart of the Sea” isn’t exactly based on a novel, however, but rather the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick in 1850. Having just finished it I am happy to report that it was quite the tale, and more than I had expected to get.heart_of_sea_1200_1779_81_s

There are a lot of classic novels out there that every grandparent will tell their grandchildren they should read. I was given Moby Dick at a young age but never actually read it, seeing how I didn’t know what at least half of the words were. I’ve seen a few film representations of the story and they’ve definitely been entertaining, but Ron Howard really latched onto something with “In the Heart of the Sea”. Not just the story of the great white whale, but of whaling men, their camaraderie during tested times, and of the courage they had. The story is obviously similar to that of Melville’s great American novel, but it was acted and directed with precision.

Chris Hemsworth leads the cast as First Mate Owen Chase, of the Essex out of Nantucket in 1820. Rounding out the cast is also Cillian Murphy – a personal favorite of mine, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Tom Holland. Unless you’re me none of these names probably mean anything to you, but I guarantee you’ve seen these faces before. In fact, Tom Holland is the new Spiderman in the MCU, and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Many of these actors are already listed as all-around types and can give amazing performances in just about any role, but Hemsworth really pushed some boundaries here to let people see him as someone other than Thor, and he succeeded. I imagine it’s hard, at least nowadays, to get people to care about a movie taking place in the 1800’s that’s about whaling. Today’s crowd wants explosions, slow motion, fast cuts, and spin around hero shots, none of which are present in “In the Heart of the Sea”. But that’s where it’s great; this film is all story and acting.

I found it very difficult to notice any weak points but then again that’s not something Ron Howard is accustomed to. In case the name isn’t familiar he’s the director behind films such as “Apollo 13”, “Cinderella Man”, and “A Beautiful Mind”. All of that amazing filmmaking is present here as well, making us a part of this voyage and putting us to work alongside these seafarers, something very difficult to do. As the story unfolds we see the strife these characters go through and are reminded that this is the actual story of the men of the Essex, not a fabricated tale by some scribe in Hollywood. The effects bring to life the rush of hunting a whale, as well as the fear of being hunted by one. Watching the men cut, clean, and boil the whale blubber was both gruesome and intriguing to watch, especially when young Tom Holland was shoved into the head of a whale to retrieve the spermaceti oil (oil used to lubricate machinery and create candles). Even though I highly doubt a lot of the film was shot on actual open water, the scenes of them flying over the waves and hurling their harpoons at pods of whales really brings the viewer into the experience. Which makes it all the more exciting when the white monstrosity attacks.Screen-Shot-2015-02-04-at-5.34.39-PM-572x271

Terror for scale.

One last thing I’d like to add to this review is the score. Roque Baños (how cool is the name Roque?) really brought this film to life. There were definite moments that edged on tearful thanks to the score, and of course stood out to me as a big proponent of why the film worked.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Great film retelling what you know of Moby Dick in an entirely new light. Excellent acting and a heart-wrenching score make this THE film on whaling to watch. That’s also a sentence I never expected to write.

SCENE COLLECTED: [SPOILER ALERT] There’s a great yet sad moment after the survivors land upon a deserted island. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) says his goodbye’s to Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy), a childhood friend and frequent sailing companion. Joy decides to stay behind on the island while Chase leaves with the others in search of rescue. The music and the chemistry is so palpable that it creates this amazing sadness on the screen.

FLICKCHART RATING: 324/2361

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“Captains Courageous” – It seems that smart little boys from so-called wealthy well-bred parents don’t grow up very successfully by themselves.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of “classics” in my life, something my grandfather will forever chide me about, so when he called me a few weeks ago and told me that I absolutely HAD to add this to my collection, I obliged. Ranking in at a mere seven bucks on Amazon it wouldn’t hurt to sit through it, plus I would get some bonding time with gramps. Last night marked the occasion where I finally watched “Captains Courageous”, and for 1937 it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, everything you need to know about life you can get from this film.Captains Courageous

Since I’m not 100% sure what my demographic is for this blog, a lot of names may come and go without ever registering. However if there are any 50’s bred readers out there then this might finally be a post of interest for you. As my grandfather had no problem reminding me, several times at that, this film has some great names of Hollywood. Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Melvyn Douglas, and Mickey Rooney in one of his first film roles all star in this excellent adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel about learning your place. Spencer Tracy actually walked away with the Oscar for Best Actor for this film, and honestly after watching it, they just don’t make them like they used to. The story starts with this little pain in the arse kid named Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew) whose father is some sort of tycoon in the business world. Harvey brags to his friends about how his father can get him anything, and in return do anything for him if need be (like getting his friends father fired from a car dealership, truly a great guy). This of course leads to some kind of trouble for Harvey that falls back on his father, so it is decided that some deep bonding time is necessary. The cure? Why, how about a cruise? Nothing will teach your spoiled kid to behave like 24 hour margaritas and spa treatments. Luckily for us, we are spared because about 20 minutes into the journey Harvey falls overboard. Idiot.

Enter Spencer Tracy. While floundering in the water Harvey is picked up by a lone fisherman returning to his boat. His name is Manuel and with the weirdest Portuguese accent I’ve ever heard, he quickly becomes likeable and someone we get to see a lot of for the rest of the film. After being rescued, Harvey wakes up and demands to speak with the captain of the fishing vessel so that he can be taken back to New York. Of course everyone is ready to drop what they are doing, including the only way they will make their wages for the next three months, so that they can get this kid home to see dad. That would be a pretty crappy story if that’s what happened. Fortunately the captain has a head about him and decides that ain’t gonna happen, and then offers the 10 year old three dollars a month in wages to help out aboard the ship. I could keep explaining what happens but I think you get the idea as this is not the first time a story like this has been told. So what puts this apart from all of the other narratives? The dialogue and the acting are absolutely spectacular. Normally I would say “for a movie made in the 30’s” but after watching it I think I’d rather change it to “for a movie made today” when talking about any number of blockbusters that are currently in theaters. I honestly couldn’t imagine actors of our time in these roles if the film were to be made today, because they just aren’t that good (or at least not many are.)

imgresNormally I try to say something witty for these, but there is actually a quote from Manuel (above) where he says, “You touch that kid I tear you apart see!”

For starters, how many child actors today can have you hating them BASED ON THEIR PERFORMANCE (looking at you, Dakota Fanning) within the first five minutes of screen time? And remember all those times your parents would walk around saying how the old screen legends are still the best? Well I’m starting to think they are right. Granted there are some great actors out there today, and honestly some excellent filmmakers and stories too, but this one film put a lot of light onto these earlier eras of film. Ok, so I mentioned how everything you need to learn in life you can learn in this film, and I will hold true to that. We’ve all been thrown in situations we don’t want any part of and just want to fight back, but we have to learn to adapt and sooner or later we realize, it ain’t that bad. The chemistry and dialogue between Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew is some of the best I’ve ever heard, and watching it grow from beginning to end I feel that I picked up on some of these lessons. I don’t want to list them here because the reason I started writing this blog was to get people to see movies they’d never heard of, which is exactly what you should do. Whether you have Netflix, your grandparents own it, or you know me and can borrow it, watch this film and I hope you gain as much, if not more, from it than I did.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Yes. Though I’m still not a fan of boats.

FLICKCHART RATING: 579/1987

 

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.

While that tagline may be a bit misleading, Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is definitely a nice precursor to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Featuring plenty of cameos from the first go-round, an excellent score that in my opinion rivals some of the music from the trilogy, and tons of prosthetic noses, “The Hobbit” proves that it has a place among my DVD shelf (when it comes out on extended edition Blu-Ray, that is).The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A lot of people were skeptical during the pre-production of “The Hobbit”, with most of the buzz being “No! Don’t ruin the trilogy!” or “Peter Jackson is stupid. He’s going to make the longest movie out of the shortest book,” or “Bilbo sucks.” All of these, at the time, were valid arguments that I, too was nervous about. However now that I sat through all two hours and 46 minutes I can easily put those to rest. First off:

He didn’t ruin the trilogy. Nor is he going to with the rest of the installments.

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy has already gone down in history as one of the best trilogies of all time, second only to “The Mighty Ducks”. Side note, if you don’t believe me then give them a re-watch. I’ll choose Charlie Conway triple-deking and scoring the game winning goal over Frodo’s incessant whining any day. But I digress. LOTR (Lord of the Rings is getting too long to type) is very standalone. Sure, “The Hobbit” sets it up by referencing Bilbo’s adventure with the dwarves and him finding the ring, but other than that you could see it without previous knowledge of the trilogy and be perfectly content. In fact, I would almost advise the younger generation to start with “The Hobbit” first, just so you can watch the entire story grow.

“The Hobbit” is the longest movie but the shortest book.

This has always been a debate among film-lovers when it comes to book adaptations: which is better? Teachers will almost always say that the book is, and for most of the time they’re right. However it still boils down to an opinion of the viewer and in some cases it turns out to be the other way around. For instance, I have read “Jurassic Park” twice and listened to the audiobook once, yet the movie is still second to none for me. It did for toilets what “Jaws” did for the ocean in my case, something I couldn’t get out of the book. So when production started on “The Hobbit”, the only Tolkien book I have actually read, I was excited. Sure it’s not that long of a book, but that’s also because books don’t include sweeping scenes of the characters walking places, or a face-stuffing montage of dwarves singing and eating. Since so many people had mentioned to me that the movie was going to be too long, I went in expecting it to be but came out happily surprised. There are plenty of fillers that just add to the time because they are fun to watch; nothing is taking away from the story. Oh, and the studio probably asked him to do it. And finally…

“Bilbo sucks.”

Well, sure. But at least he isn’t whining the whole time. And Martin Freeman is actually English.

So those points aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. However there is something else that I believe needs to be touched on, and that’s the viewing experience. Peter Jackson went against the curve and shot a lot of this movie in 48 fps (frames per second). Movies are generally shot in 24 fps and that is what gives them the cinematic look. Anything above that and it starts to look like a Blu-Ray advertisement at Best Buy. After looking at the movie times we decided on seeing the 48 fps HD XTREME 3D RAGETACULAR edition. I had read a review going into it saying that the 48 frames isn’t for everyone, and it definitely isn’t. I’m not a fan because it makes it feel as if you’re standing next to the camera watching everything be filmed. Maybe some like the “live” feel but I don’t. Cinema is classic and I’ll always want the cinematic touch. So take that with a grain of salt but I urge you to see it in 24 fps if you have the chance. The 3D is a nice touch as he actually had some stuff fly at the screen, and I’ll admit that I may have had the tiniest dodge at one point.

08_the_hobbit_fili

Don’t miss the pivotal scene in the beginning about dishes.

Now just a quick paragraph about the movie itself. It’s great. I didn’t remember anything from the book since it’s been years since I read it, and while Jackson may have added plenty of his own touch, it is quite the spectacle. Yes, there’s a lot of CGI but the action scenes are fun and wouldn’t have been possible without it. I also mentioned the music earlier, which is much more haunting than Howard Shore’s earlier work on the trilogy. I find myself humming “The Misty Mountain” quite frequently as it becomes a base for the whole film. Honestly, the movie made me want to go on an adventure myself.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: The 3D and 48 frames is not necessary to enjoy this prequel, but hopefully you’ll be upset that it’s over by the time the credits start to roll. Even if most of the film is reminiscent of a large World of Warcraft battle.

FLICKCHART RATING: 119/1963

“Lawless” – When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes.

Three British actors, two American actors, and an Australian actress headline this film about prohibition in Virginia during the early 1930’s. Goes to show that talent spreads far and wide in the industry. It’s also about bootlegging and dealing with the blowback from the authorities, and dagnabbit I thought it was pretty darn good.Lawless

First thing that I noticed was how big Tom Hardy was in the film. Then I realized that it was due to “The Dark Knight Rises” being filmed right before “Lawless”, so he was coming down off his muscle high. His role as Forrest Bondurant of the Bondurant Brothers was outstanding in my opinion. I didn’t have any previous knowledge of their reign over the moonshine racket, and I can’t say that I’m a source of it now but I definitely got the feeling of what it was like to make the white lightning during that era. Working alongside Hardy were fellow kin Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant, and Jason Clarke as Howard Bondurant. The movie opens with Jack’s narration about how they seem to be “invincible”, walking away from deadly situations several times throughout their lives. Probably why it seemed like a good idea to make moonshine. It takes place during 1931 which is right in the heart of Prohibition, but it’s in Franklin County, Virginia and everyone, even the cops, are buying the stuff. I’d like to give a big thank you to those keeping the booze flowing when times were tough.

So once we get past the rough-and-toughness of the brothers, we’re introduced to Gary Oldman’s character, Floyd Banner. He’s a bootlegger out of Chicago who just doesn’t give a guff and will stop at nothing to keep his business afloat. Sadly his screen time is sufficiently small and his use in the trailer may be a bit…exaggerated. It’s ok, I kept watching. Shortly after Banner enters we get to meet Maggie Beauford, portrayed by Jessica Chastain. Right off the bat you can tell that she’s some sort of love interest to Forrest but also the brother’s gas station attendant (in the movie the station is mostly used as a coffee house and bar, so don’t get the wrong idea.) Finally, my favorite: Guy Pearce. The last movie I saw with him in it was “Lockout” and before that, “Prometheus”. In the former he’s a tough-as-nails ex-military type sent into space to retrieve the President’s daughter (read my review about it here), and in the latter a creepy old guy running Weyland Industries (read my review about creepy old man Pearce here). Now, take both of those and combine them, lose a little muscle mass, add some pomade and a slick Italian suit, and you’ve got Charlie Rakes, the Chicago Special Deputy brought in to take down the local bootleggers. As a reviewer of films I feel it’s fair to point out when certain ones do not get the marketing they deserve. “Lawless” is definitely one of those movies, especially with the cast it has, but also because of Guy Pearce’s performance as Rakes. If I had a “Top 100 Villains” list he would definitely be on it. He is ruthless, cunning, evil, and downright creepy. I have a lot of admiration for Pearce as this is now the third film he’s in that I’ve reviewed, and I hope that many more are to come. That being said if making illegal booze, a gruffed up Tom Hardy, and a super sexy Jessica Chastain aren’t enough to make you interested in this film, please let Guy Pearce be the reason you are.

600full-lawless-screenshotPretty sure Moses parted that thing.

As the film progresses things obviously get harder for the brothers as the law continues to crack down, and Jack (LaBeouf) being the youngest gets his head full of the local preacher’s daughter, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska)…seriously? Bertha? The film comes in at just shy of two hours but I really enjoyed every minute of it, and felt a bit of jealousy that I didn’t have my own still to hide from the police. I’ve rarely had a very “patriotic” feel about anything, but for once I felt proud to be from Virginia.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: A movie that has kind of gone unnoticed since it’s release in August but I urge you to give it a look. It may be a Hollywood-ized retelling of some of our nation’s history, but not enough to ruin the story. Plus for those of you who don’t want to watch it because of Shia’s involvement, he spends the majority of the film getting his butt kicked. So there’s that. Oh, and Jessica Chastain is smokin’.

FLICKCHART RATING: 213/1961

“Diabolique” – Don’t Reveal the Ending!

Wouldn’t it be great if all movies had this tagline? Sadly this did not hold true for me as someone accidentally revealed a key part to the end, however by the time I finally watched this film (months later) I definitely did not see the end coming the way it did. That being said, don’t go running around telling everyone that Luke’s daddy issues are going to be resolved by the end of “Empire”.Diabolique

Normally I’d say that subtitled films need a lot of draw to get me to watch them and for the most part, that’s almost always true. Even “Pan’s Labyrinth” took some urging from one of my college roommates before I decided to sit down and read the screen for two hours. You would think that after a movie as great as “Pan’s” that I maybe would’ve changed my mind, but not so much. So it wasn’t until my girlfriend Emily persuaded me to see “Diabolique” that I felt ok with watching it. Since I normally force her to watch movies I felt this was an interesting turn and that maybe she had a decent taste after all. That or I would just humor her and watch this crappy French movie from the 50’s. Having finished the movie I can gladly say that I may listen to her film recommendations more closely now, as “Diabolique” is an old thriller done right.

Movies have obviously changed since their inception a little over a century ago, though some would argue for the worse. Thrillers and horror films in particular have turned from actually scaring you and making you fear things like the ocean, or a bathtub to just throwing obscene amounts of blood and gore at you until you can’t keep down that overpriced popcorn anymore. So when we popped in the Criterion Collection edition of “Diabolique”, it was a welcome breath of (old) fresh air to the thriller genre. Set around the same time it came out (1955) it follows two women who work at a boarding school, run by none other than the tyrannical husband of one of our heroine’s. Within the first five minutes of the film we discover that the other woman is in fact the man’s mistress but this is not secret knowledge; both women are friends with each other and have a shared hatred for the man in their lives. As the backstory unfolds we learn that the wife (Christina) purchased the boarding school with the money she inherited from her family, but being 1950’s France is not allowed to run the school, only teach in it. Therefore her brutish husband Michel serves as the principle and rules with an iron fist. The two women are sick and tired of him beating them and treating them both terribly, so they decide to drive to the country and divorce him altogether. Of course once Michel catches wind of this plan he follows them to the country as well and tries to win his wife back by yelling at her and slapping her a few times. Ah, the ways to a woman’s heart. This doesn’t pan out as well as Michel had hoped, because the two ladies decide to retaliate and, you know, kill him.

Naturally.

600full-diabolique-screenshotThis is how divorce used to be handled in 1950’s France.

What follows for the next hour and a half is Christina’s nervousness as they live their lives after the deed, but questions start to arise as well as strange occurrences that point to Michel communicating from beyond the grave. Obviously this is a problem and the film plays it out very well. I was caught completely off guard by the last few minutes of the film, but couldn’t be more pleased at how it turned out. Going back to the beginning of this post, in today’s movies it’s just so hard to not guess the ending of a film by the time you’re half-way through it (“Lincoln” anyone?) whereas “Diabolique” did a wonderful job making you guess up until the reveal. It was eventually remade in 1996 or 1997 with Sharon Stone, so make sure you don’t see that one by mistake. Also if you need anymore of a reason to see it, Hitchcock vied for the rights to make this movie and lost out to Henri-Georges Clouzot by six hours, so there’s that. A great thriller and a well-placed choice for the Criterion Collection, and the lead actress looks super eerily like a French Judy Garland. Creepy.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Forget that it’s black and white and French (ew) and give it a shot. The only downfall for me was that there is no musical score, so it has a very raw feel but perhaps that plays into the suspense of the whole thing. Oh, and DON’T REVEAL THE ENDING.

FLICKCHART RATING: 499/1959

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” – President by day. Hunter by night.

I wanted this movie to be real. I wanted to pick up a history book and find a footnote that said something along the lines of, “Oh and when he wasn’t abolishing slavery, Lincoln often spent his days eliminating the scourge of vampires that once plagued this nation. He also had three children.” Timur Bekmambetov, the visionary director behind “Wanted” comes back full force with the film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s book, and though I haven’t read the actual story I feel that this representation was probably spot on.

The movie opens on young Abe watching as one of his slave friends is whipped, and through his rash actions winds up getting the family fired from the service of one Jack Barts, a slave and business owner of some sort. That night Abe witnesses the same Jack Barts come to their house and “hurt” his mother, resulting in her strange death within the next few days. Flash-forward about ten years and here’s young adult Abe sitting at a bar, gathering the courage he needs to plant a bullet right between Jack Barts’ eyes. During his drunken confrontation (in which he is losing the fight, badly) it is revealed that Jack Barts is actually a vampire. Abe is saved by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper…Iron Man’s dad in Captain America) who decides that he is going to impart his knowledge of being a vampire hunter onto Honest Abe. Through this montage of learning how to be a BAMF with an axe, we are told that apparently the United States were filled with vampires during the days leading up to the Civil War, a plague that needed to be eradicated. The lead vampire is simply known as “Adam”, which is quite fitting. I’ll point out that he’s played by Rufus Sewell, who after seeing “A Knight’s Tale” is pretty much locked as a villain for the rest of his life. This plot is discussed in more detail later on but the main reason is that many Confederate land owners were vampires and were happy with life because they could feed off the slaves they owned, while continuing to get new ones: hooray for a never-ending supply of food! Once Abe learns all of his awesome new ass-kickery skills, he is shipped off to Springfield, Illinois to kill the neck-biters in the area.

Enter Mary Todd.

One of the first rules of fight cl-er, vampire hunting is that you are not to indulge in romantic feelings with anyone else. Otherwise you’ll be creating a vulnerable spot for your enemies to target, and then nobody wins. Over time Lincoln decides to pursue Mary and his beliefs for abolishing slavery, which naturally enrages the Confederate vampires as their food supply would then run out. This leads to the Civil War as vampires are used as soldiers since they can’t really, you know, die.

Emancipate this.

But enough about the story, you’ll have to watch it to see how it all plays out and it’s well worth the watch. Normally you would think that a story like this would result in some sort of straight-to-DVD release because of how crazy it is, but Timur definitely knows how to weave a yarn together. He utilized a lot of the slow motion effects from “Wanted” into this story and it really works out. Nothing like seeing Lincoln to a backflip while decapitating vampires. The dialogue should be noted as well, as the actors really put a good effort into the South/North accents and the dialect at the time. Also, the line, “Abraham fu*kin’ Lincoln!” is spoken at one point, which I believe should have been his campaign slogan.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: This movie is awesome. There’s a reason Abe is on Mount Rushmore, and now we know why. You can cover it up all you want, government…but now we know the truth.

FLICKCHART RATING: 230/1948