Thursday, 30 June 2016

June Blindspot: Raging Bull

Raging Bull, 1980
Directed by Martin Scorsese

I have a big confession to make.... I really did not enjoy Raging Bull.

I know, I know. How can I not love this movie? It's regarded as one of Scorsese's best films and is a pop culture icon. However, I just really didn't care for it. I found Jake La Motta to be someone I had absolutely no sympathy for, and nor did I find I had any sympathy for any of the other characters either. And I know that was probably the point, but films like that make it a lot harder to love.

Anyway, Raging Bull is sort of an anti-biopic about Jake La Motta, a boxer with a complicated personal life. It takes us through the years with his rise to fame and his absolute crash later in life. Jake is someone who is sexist and paranoid and domestic abuser. He's angry and flippant and completely crazy. And I know this is the story of a real person, but it's hard to get behind a movie where a man beats his wives and seems to learn pretty much nothing. After getting married a second time to the extremely young Vickie, Vickie doesn't seem to be exactly innocent either. However, she's young and wants to have a life outside of her controlling and violent husband. But anytime she goes out, Jake is paranoid she's sleeping with someone else. And then there's Jake brother, Joey, who is also crazy. While less paranoid than Jake, Joey keeps things from his brother but also often encourages him. It's a messed up family and Jake is a very messed up person.

Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why I didn't like Raging Bull. I find I hardly ever enjoy boxing movies, but I did think I would like this one. However, the performances are extraordinary here. De Niro just knocks it out of the park, winning his second Oscar for this performance. Famous for being extremely method for this role and for both packing on the muscle and then packing on all the extra pounds for the second half of the film, De Niro brings absolute rage and paranoia to this film. It was almost worth sitting through just for him. But I would also be remiss to not mention Joe Pesci. Honestly, to me, he's still the robber from Home Alone, but discovering all the work he did with Martin Scorsese has been a revelation. Pesci is also so fantastic in this role. After falling for his performance in Goodfellas, he is also so spot on here as Joey. He and De Niro have a great chemistry together, both for brotherly bonding (of which there is little) and for the absolute fights (of which there are many). He absolutely deserved his nomination.

I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't like this more. However, there just seems to be something about Scorsese movies that I never seem to enjoy. Admittedly The Departed has grown on me, but I thought Goodfellas was just alright and I really didn't care for Hugo at all. So there does seem to be a trend. It's a shame I don't care for his films more, but they just don't seem to be to my taste.


The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan, 2016
Directed by David Yates

I don't know if I mentioned last week in my review of Free State of Jones, but I got those tickets for free for an advance screening. And apparently in this new city I live in, not as many people enter contests for advance screening tickets because I also won tickets for The Legend of Tarzan this week!

So Wednesday evening my husband and I drove across the city to see a new movie for free. I honestly didn't care too much to see this movie, but was vaguely curious what David Yates has been up to since doing the last few Harry Potter films.

The Legend of Tarzan tells the story of John Clayton III, formerly known as Tarzan by the popular media. John has been living in England with his wife Jane for the past 8 years, inheriting the family title and manor. But King Leopold of Belgium, who has colonized a large part of the African Congo, invites John to visit the locals and visit schools and villages. However, what John and Jane don't know is that this was orchestrated for a different reason. King Leopold's right hand man, Leon Rom, actually wants to trade Tarzan to a deadly African tribe in exchange for extremely rare diamonds.

Firstly, I do need to commend the film, in a way, for being about a lot more than just a man who swings from vines and was raised by apes. The film does attempt to bring a more historical context and talk about timely issues. Surprisingly, the film deals a lot with the atrocity that Belgium and King Leopold wreaked in the Congo, taking thousands and thousands of the local natives as slaves. However, despite the film touching on this, it mainly just felt like a very fluffy film. There isn't really a whole lot of plot overall, it's mainly just Tarzan and George Washington Williams, an American historian who wanted proof of King Leopold enslaving the African people, attempting to save a village and Jane who were kidnapped by Leon Rom. So there was lots of action, lots of fights, lots of jumping off cliffs and swinging on vines. But not a lot in the way of actual story.

However, while it wasn't the best movie ever made, I did find it at least somewhat fun. This is a classic popcorn flick, in that it's not all that heavy to watch but it's fun and filled with action and romance. Alexander Skarsgard was decent as Tarzan, but the standouts for me were Margot Robbie as Jane and Samuel L Jackson as George Washington Williams. Margot's Jane was not someone who stood idly by and let herself be a damsel. She's strong and fierce and has a strong sense of self. Samuel L Jackson as Williams however, was definitely my favourite part of the film. His character was like a version of someone he played in a Tarantino film, but the PG-13 version. Honestly, he was the humor in the film and it was just fun.

Honestly, this movie could've been a lot better and the fact that so many people from the Harry Potter films were behind it makes me disappointed it wasn't better than it was. It was fluff and really not all that good fluff. But at least they made it somewhat fun to watch, even if David Yates is capable of much better things. He's hoping his next directorial effort, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is much better than this.


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones, 2016
Directed by Gary Ross

Free State of Jones tells the little known story about a group of runaway and slaves during the American Civil War. Led by Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who deserted, he grows this community and form an armed rebellion against the Confederates.

To be honest, Free State of Jones left me feeling not too much while walking out the theatre. I felt more appreciation for the facts it told than admiration for the story it told. What I mean is, Free State of Jones touched on a lot of interesting parts of history that I hadn't seen told on screen before, however it could've been told much more cinematically.

The first half of this film tells of Newton Knight deserting the war to deliver a young boy's body back home to his mother, the same hometown Newton is from. Already fed up with the war, he starts to empower the women who are left behind and grows frustrated that the Confederate soldiers are taking much more than the "10 percent" of homeowners food and clothing. He becomes such a nuisance in the community that he must flee and joins a small community of escaped slaves in the swamps of Mississippi. From there, the community grows into more than just escaped slaves. It becomes other men who deserted the war and others who are tired of the Confederates and want to join in a rebellion against them. Much of this is well told, and we see our characters grow and relate to one another. Newton grows close with Rachel, a woman who is a housemaid but is a large part of the resistance.

However, the second half of the film seems to try to cover too much time and doesn't concentrate enough on any point. It just sort of hop-skips to different "interesting" points without too much character develop or growth or even narrative (besides the onscreen captions telling us what happens) in between. That being said, the points they do lead to are interesting. They are parts little told about after the war and the tensions in the south after the Emancipation given by Lincoln. However, it almost seems like a montage of "important" moments that just happen to feature the same few set of characters. It's just a shame that there couldn't be a better overall narrative. While many historical films often seem to care more about their characters and their stories, this movie seems to have overcompensated. It seems to care too much about the facts and is less focused on building a good narrative or character development.

However, much good can still be said about this film. Matthew McConaughey gives a worthy performance as Newton. A sort of Robin Hood character, Newton is kind but fierce and McConaughey nails the balance. And I don't mean to undercut the character of Rachel in the above description. She is a great behind the scenes force in this rebellion. She starts by feeding the small band of escaped slaves and Newton, providing them with small knives and food. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives such emotion to Rachel. An actress who deserves much bigger roles than she's been getting is a force of gracious strength.

As well, while the narrative could've been better, the inclusiveness of everyday religious language that likely would've been commonplace back then was very well done. There was much more talk of God and Jesus, and having characters state "no one can own a Child of God" seemed much more appropriate than some other historical films are often written. As a Christian, it was encouraging to see that this film didn't shy away from that, and it felt much more authentic because of that.

Overall, like I mentioned in the beginning, I neither really liked nor really disliked Free State of Jones. I have much appreciation for the parts of history they decided to tell. The film had a lot of potential, and even reached it at points, but it's a film that would've been much better suited to be told in a TV mini-series than a two-and-a-half hour film.