Ikiru (1952)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(in Japanese with English subtitles)

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Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni

Starring: Takashi Shimura and Miki Odagiri

Throughout the next few months, I will be reviewing various films from the filmography of the great, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa is widely known for his samurai action films, most notably Seven Samurai (which is next on my list to review); but, with Ikiru, which means “To Live”, Kurosawa takes a much more sympathetic route. The result produces some of the most heartbreaking sequences and some unique storytelling that is a hit or miss depending on your tastes. One thing is for certain though, the first half of this film is impossible not to love and is easily one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had with a film.

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A man named Kanji Watanabe, a section chief for his community’s City Hall, finds out he has stomach cancer and only has six months (at most) to live. Being an elderly man, this fact wouldn’t bother him so much, until he realizes he has spent his whole life not truly living. Kanji takes sick leave at City Hall and goes on a journey to find meaning in his life.  He spends endless nights with a bartender and a young love interest, who has no real interest in being around this poor, old man, going to strip joints and getting black out drunk. Giving anymore information about this film would spoil the final triumphs of a man truly at the end of his rope.

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The main reason to watch this film is for the brilliant writing and spot-on performances. Takashi Shimura knocks it out of the park with his honest and direct acting. The one problem I had with his acting was his constant need to stare at the ground when he gets sad; which, is made up for through the young Odagari’s mocking insults at it. Kurosawa wouldn’t have let this film be released without it’s amazing cinematography. There is specifically a scene in this film that takes place in a club, where Kanji sings “Life is Brief”, that uses some angles that I found very impressive, even seeing the film over 50 years later.

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There is one major decision that this film made that didn’t blend right for me at first. Ikiru feels like two separate films pushed into one. The first half is without a doubt the best part; but, then the film comes to a dead halt and takes a completely different approach. For me, it felt like I was watching a totally different film other than the flashbacks. It was definitely a unique approach, but being unique doesn’t always work. Kurosawa deserves respect for taking a huge risk that had never been done, but it took time for me to accept the film as it was.

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Ikiru is a film that can only be described as way ahead of it’s time. This ultimately feels like a modern film with modern ideas. Even with the odd storytelling decision, this film still deserves all the praise that it has received. Kurosawa is a director that, though being a Japanese director, creates very Americanized films. If any of his later work is as good as his early projects, I am definitely looking forward to the upcoming films I will indulge myself in. Ikiru is a must watch for any lover of foreign and art films.

Grade: A-

Braveheart (1995)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 3 hours 2 minutes

 MPAA Rating: R for brutal medieval warfare

Braveheart (1995)

Directed by: Mel Gibson

Written by: Randall Wallace

Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, and Catherine McCormack

Mel Gibson’s greatest effort is undoubtedly his direction and performance in his historical action/adventure, Braveheart. Although, his highly inflated ego seems to get in the way of the pre-Lord of the Rings masterfully crafted cinematic battles at times. This film still seems to beat down all flaws in the end and creates a highly enjoyable experience; as well as a very emotional one. Being a descendant of Scottish ancestors, I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t multiple times where I had to hold myself back from standing up in the theater and belting out a battle cry.

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1280 AD, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is a Scottish man who only wants to live in peace at his father’s cottage, where he was raised. Under the tyrannical rule of King Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), he tries to mind his own business until his wife (Catherine McCormack) is brutally murdered for resisting rape from one of the King’s nobles. After losing the one thing he cares for, he ignites a fire of courage and rage in his fellow citizens as he leads them into battle for the freedom of their country.

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The general message behind Braveheart is probably the greatest aspect of the film other than it’s perfectly placed score and it’s beautiful production design; that together sent chills through my body multiple times throughout. I have seen this film twice before, but never had it hit me as hard as it did this viewing. The characters are all so well developed and even after three hours worth of battles, shenanigans, and politics, you still are wishing that there was more to it. The villain, Longshanks, is such a cunning dirty bastard that you writhe in his failures. He’s one of those characters that make you lightly punch your TV screen when they show up. Does anybody else do that? No, just me? Alright.

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The biggest aspect of this film that I just couldn’t enjoy is how perfect Mel Gibson makes the character of William Wallace out to be. I mean, he’s like the James Bond of the 13th century with much less charm. He’s constantly spitting words of wisdom left and right, which most of the time hits the mark; but, the times that don’t work and feel forced slightly ruins the character of William Wallace for me. He even has two sex scenes in the film that I felt were mostly unnecessary. The character I found to be the most relatable was Robert the Bruce, the soon to be King of Scotland, who gives a wonderful performance as someone conflicted between two nations. The most powerful scenes (other than the climax) in the film include Robert the Bruce. He is so realistic in the fact that he wants to do what’s right and even after failing, he comes to terms with himself and does the right thing. The relationship between Robert the Bruce and his father made for some very emotional and intense scenes.

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Another great character is the Irishman, Stephen, who makes for some much great comedic relief; which are some of the most memorable moments in the film. I felt that the moments of William’s childhood were generally unneeded and the later sequences describing his childhood experiences would have been much more powerful. After watching around 10 hours of the extended Lord of the Rings, I feel that the battle sequences in Braveheart are among the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. The overall climax of the film has always been, at least for me, one of the strongest climax’s ever made.

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Braveheart is a marvelous adventure film that I recommend to any fan of film epics. Although containing a few flaws, it surpasses them by conveying a well written story with amazingly crafted costumes and settings. This film contains some of the most enjoyable characters, each putting forth a great performance. As a non-Mel Gibson fan, I highly enjoy Braveheart and can easily say that it is some of his best work.

Grade: A-

Rocky (1976)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for boxing violence and some language

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Directed by: John G. Avildsen

Written by: Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Burgess Meredith

Sylvester Stallone’s break out film is one of the greatest character studies of all time. I know, if you haven’t seen this film you’re probably skipping over this like “Wow, another sports movie.” But, trust me, that’s not this film; this is not a film that’s surrounded by sports. This is actually just about a guy who just so happens to box for a living. Stallone distinguishes himself from other action stars by containing pure sentimental background; as well as giving you some of the most lovable characters to ever grace the screen. Rocky is triumphant yet honest as it shows the differences in social status and personality.

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Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a poor, uneducated boxer who collects money for a loan shark on the side. The owner of the local boxing gym, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), wants nothing to do with him and reprimands him for his living outside the ring. Rocky lives his life mostly roaming the streets of Pennsylvania, going and visiting his shy crush, Adrian (Talia Shire), at the pet shop she works at; as well as her loud mouth brother, Paulie (Burt Young) at the local bar. When his life seems to be at an all time low, he is offered an opportunity to fight for the world heavyweight championship against the egotistical, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

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The chemistry between Adrian and Rocky makes the love story aspect of the film work perfectly. The idea of their relationship (Rocky is the brawn, Adrian is the brain) and how they both work together to make a whole person makes their moments completely memorable. As a couple, their personal growth is obvious in the fact that they both make each other a new person. Adrian’s presence makes Rocky turn into putty as he occasionally opens up his heart, showing that he’s not just a tough meathead and he really wants to be seen as somebody.

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“If that bell rings and I’m still standing, then I’ll know for the first time in my life that I wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” I could make a whole review out of quotes just like this one. 90% of this film is filler and conversations, but is surprisingly entertaining. The writing had to be extremely intelligent to make a two hour film that is made up mostly of dialogue a thoroughly enveloping experience. Rocky is not a great film because of the training montage or final boxing match. It is rather a great film due to the connections between the characters and simple moments such as when he takes Adrian out on their first date or he walks a twelve year old troubled girl home. What sets this film apart from the other films is the emotional weight that builds behind all these wonderfully developed characters.

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One scene that stuck with me after watching the film was actually the scene directly before the final scene. Rocky is standing inside the ring alone in the middle of the night, and the way he walks and his strong gaze put deep feelings inside of me. It reminds me of the nights before you know something big is going to happen but have to just sit and wait in anxious anticipation. Also, the transition in Rocky from being a nobody who has nothing to somebody who gets a shot at the biggest title he could imagine is displayed extraordinarily. His apartment is disgusting and nothing is intact, even his clothes are old and torn. Then he goes on to be on television and be seen as one of the biggest people in Philadelphia. There’s also a few amazing shots in this film of Rocky reflecting on himself, once at a picture of himself as a kid and another of him reflecting on a huge banner with him printed on it that I wanted to mention.

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The theater experience was generally fantastic, I noticed so much more and realized how comedic much of this film is. But, there was also a time in the theater where people were laughing at a part that I was genuinely moved by. Rocky was yelling at Mickey and he is just so poorly educated that he couldn’t create a very bright response. It makes the scene very realistic and saddening. But, overall the experience in the theater made me enjoy Rocky more than ever.

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[WARNING: THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS :WARNING]

My opinion on the ending of Rocky has slowly changed over the years. If you did not know, Rocky loses in a split decision that ultimately chooses Apollo Creed. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why this movie was great for the sole fact that Rocky doesn’t win. It builds you up all the way to the ending just for Rocky to lose and I hated it. But, as I age, I’ve come to realize that if Rocky were to win at the end, the film would ultimately lose it’s uniqueness and ruin the fact that all Rocky truly wanted to do in the beginning was to go the distance and that was what he accomplished. Then the great, final Adrian scream leads into one of my favorite final shots of all time.

[WARNING: THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS :WARNING]

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The most popular boxing film of all time is truly more than meets the eye. If you’re biased about sports films and aren’t interested in this in the slightest, all I can say is give it a watch; and if you don’t like it, then give it another watch. If you still don’t like it, I don’t like you (mostly kidding). But, in all seriousness, this is one of my favorite films and I am completely incapable of hating anything to do with this. The more I try to find something I don’t like, I find ten more things I’ve never noticed that makes me love it even more.

Grade: A+

 

Seven (1995)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for grisly views of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language.

SEVEN

Directed by: David Fincher

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, and R. Lee Ermey

David Fincher’s first successful film, after endless amounts of music videos and the depressingly awful Alien 3 (or Alien cubed?), is an immensely disturbing look at the realities of modern society. Seven showed that Fincher was a force to be reckoned with. Mixing together many different classic styles, Fincher crafted a classic on his own that deserves to be studied for hundreds of years to come. Before researching this film, I believed this was much further into his career than it is; because the film is so expertly directed that it seems impossible to be an early effort.

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Seven follows two detectives, one is rather old and preparing to retire (Morgan Freeman) and the other is young and just breaking onto the scene (Brad Pitt). After a series of deaths that seem to follow a pattern, they both work together to solve a mystery that they’ll never forget. At every murder scene they find words scratched in odd places, and notes referencing historical, dark literature related to the seven deadly sins. As they piece the puzzle together, they find that the man they’re looking for may not just be another madman with the lust for blood.

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The cinematography in this film resembles that of an Italian giallo mixed with classic film noir. You can really tell this film was made by somebody who truly understands and loves film. The acting in this film is outstanding, the most memorable performances are from Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey, who both seem to feed off of each other’s energy. The score, created by Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), is also very haunting and adds to the dark, nightmarish tone. After taking a class over forensic sciences, many of the crime scenes and the amount of time it shows them waiting for results is very realistic. From the decomposition of the bodies to the long process of determining a fingerprint, everything feels completely based in reality.

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I watched this film for the third time in a local movie theater’s classic series, and the experience was mostly very enjoyable. There was a scene that took place in a strip club and the rumble of music as they walked through the backroom hallways made it feel like you are in the film with them. There were a few malfunctions in the film projector and there was nothing to watch before the film started. Also, for the first 5 minutes there was a green line going down through one side of the screen and a pop up box showed up in the corner of the screen with the audio/video specifications. Other than these few things, the audience was great and there wasn’t very many distractions.

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The ending to this film is one of the most intensely disturbing in cinema history. Those who have seen this know exactly what I’m talking about, and are just as scarred as I am. There really isn’t anything about this film that I didn’t enjoy; and nitpicking this film would really take me more than one viewing to really be able to find something to complain about. But, it wouldn’t be worth it either way because this film is near perfection and deserves to be seen as a modern classic. Each line is so intelligent and has me pondering over them even days later.

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Next to The Silence of the Lambs, Seven is the greatest thriller/suspense film of the 1990’s due to it’s intelligently written script, brilliantly shot sequences, and the deeply emotional portrayals. I know there’s a good amount of people who consider newer directors similar to David Fincher overrated and pretentious. But, nobody can deny the cultural impact his films has had on American society, especially Seven and Fight Club. I HIGHLY recommend this film to anybody who has yet to see Seven (I couldn’t imagine why).

Grade: A+

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Review by Daniel Weber

Running Time: 2 hours 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo

 

Written by: Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely

 

(Based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

 

Starring: Robert Downy Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Guirra, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pratt, William Hurt, Leitia Wright, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Carrie Coon, Michael James Shaw, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba

So… how was the last decade or so for you? What did you do? Do you even remember? I sure don’t. Ten years ago I was in my bar hopping heyday. I was going out to karaoke five nights a week, shaking off hangovers every morning, and making all sorts of bad decisions. But outside of a broad view of things and a couple of specifically traumatizing incidents, I don’t remember what I did last week let alone ten years ago. I do remember seeing Iron Man in the theater though, getting stoked at seeing the beginning of what would come to be called The Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Flash forward and here I am, reviewing the first half of a culmination of what amounts to almost a third of my entire life. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that up till this point Kevin Feige and the rest of the brass running the MCU have done a wonderful job. Billions of dollars, 13 released films, numerous television spin-offs, and dozens of stars later and Feige and friends have brought us the first half of the (first) endgame – and like almost all previous MCU efforts – and unlike many attempts at superhero movies that cram as many characters as they can in a sequel – they’ve pretty much succeeded with flying colors.

The biggest worry about Avengers: Infinity War is the same worry we all had about the previous two Avengers movies and Captain America: Civil War, which was basically Avengers: Two Point Five. Will the film hold up with all of those characters?

A photo I was able to snag of the end credits on my phone.

I mean really, my fingers were cramping after typing the “Starring” part of this review. Look at that list, it’s insane. However while other comic book movies have proven to be too bloated when it comes to their sequels and packing as many characters as they can, some how all the MCU films have been immune to all those traps and pitfalls. It’s clear it’s been a mix of the creative talent behind each film, and the guiding hand of Kevin Feige, who developed a long term plan to get us to the clash between The Avengers and Thanos.

Avengers: Infinity War is a much larger undertaking than any previous Avengers movie however, and while the film does all it can to make it work, and ends up delivering in the end, with so much going on and this many main characters it was literally impossible to not come away from the film with a few criticisms. Though Marvel did all it could to mitigate these problems, it was just impossible to keep this a completely smooth ride. But hey – since when are the smoothest rides the most fun?

The film begins a few minutes after where Thor: Ragnarok ends, and we can deduce later in the film that despite being released after Thor: Ragnarok, the events in The Black Panther had to have happened somewhat before the events in the last Thor film. As soon as it starts, Avengers: Infinity War never lets up. There are no lulls in the film, it’s almost all-forward all the time, except for very brief moments of calmer exposition or humor, which are much needed to catch your breath.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen a film packed with so many big sequences. The film treats its audience with respect in this way, not assuming it has to backtrack and explain everything that’s going on. It rightfully assumes if you’re watching this film then you have followed, at least loosely, what’s happened up to this point in the MCU, and it’s refreshing to be treated like an adult in that way when it comes to superhero movies. This combination of leaving out almost any exposition about the previous films, as well as the tightly packed, never-let-up action sequences ends up producing what may be the closest to the feeling of reading a comic book that a film has ever accomplished. And I mean so close that it’s almost a wholly unique movie experience because of it.

Infinity War tries to get around the issue of such a large cast by cleverly dividing the characters up into groups and sending them on different arcs in the plot. While those arcs all wind up working out really well in the end, getting to the end just can’t help but feel a bit disjointed. I didn’t feel it was because it wasn’t executed well, it was just a consequence of the scale of the entire project. You can’t refuse to take into account Infinity War is the climax of 10 years of films, all pointing toward this one film. Or one half of two films? Or whatever, you know what I mean. And that makes Infinity War like no film to have come before it. So it’s unfair to not cut it some slack in that regard, especially when the final product as a whole ends up being so good despite it not being completely flawless the entire way through.

Outside of that Avengers: Infinity War does so many things well. All the hallmarks of a Marvel/Avengers film are here and then some. Amazing action sequences, characters you believe and care about, humor, inner-conflict, suspense. Along with the break-neck pace of the film, where action is either on the screen or about to be, Infinity War also has this amazing sense of give and take. The loop of “Suspense – Elation – Devastation” is constant and masterful.

Infinity War also gives us what I believe is by far the best villain in the Marvel films, and actually may be close to rivaling the two great villains from the Netflix shows, Killgrave and Kingpin. Thanos (Josh Brolin) ends up becoming a flawed and sympathetic antagonist by the middle of the film. You don’t agree with him, but you understand him, at least a little. This more nuanced villain is what most of the Marvel films are missing, so it’s really nice to see a more complex rival in Thanos.

Being a single father sucks, let alone when you have to give your little girl “The Talk”

I obviously have tried to avoid spoilers in this review, as just like the film itself, if you’re reading this you probably have a sense of who plays Captain America (Chris Evans) or what an Asgardian is. I could get into more specific details about what worked, like how Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) ends up squabbling with both Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star Lord (Chris Pratt) as the film moves along, and how awesome yet different and nuanced both conflicts are. I’d rather you get the experience yourself, and I just give you broad strokes like “inner conflict was great!” That still leaves the elephant in the room though…

*Joke Redacted*

Who dies? Everyone knew people were going to die. Would it be just one person? Two? Lots of secondary characters? A full-on George R.R. Martin death-fest? Maybe one of those is right. Maybe none of them are. But I don’t think me saying that this was clearly the Empire Strikes Back of the series in regards to how it ends is a surprise or spoiler to anyone. Nor would me saying that they set the second half up perfectly and I’m even more excited to see the next film.

In the end, Infinity War may not have been perfect but it was an insanely fun ride, and as close to a comic book experience as I’ve ever seen accomplished on the big screen. Feige has done a literally unbelievable job to get the MCU to this point, and I have a hard time thinking it’ll stop with the next Avengers film. It will most certainly be different after the conclusion of the Infinity Stone saga, but I doubt it’ll be less entertaining, or profitable. Avengers: Infinity War was only made because of the hard and amazing work of all the producers, directors, writers, and actors that brought a comic book universe to life in a way no one before them has been able to, and Infinity War itself is by far no exception.

Grade: A-

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