Short Takes: Out of the Furnace, Kill Your Darlings and Drug War

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Out of the Furnace- This unremittingly bleak drama centers on deeply flawed brothers in Pittsburgh.  Russell (Christian Bale) is a heavy drinker who kills a woman and her kid drunk driving and lands in jail while his brother (Casey Affleck) serves several tours in Iraq.  Once he is out of jail, his brother goes missing after a series of increasingly brutal organized fistfights to pay off debt.

Director Scott Cooper makes no effort to give the audience a payoff.  The (plentiful) violence is treated as deeply troubling and is never without consequences.  Although a lot of the story is absurd and simplistic, there is an honest humanity that makes it surprisingly effective. Grade: C

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Kill Your Darlings- An uneven but thrilling attempt to capture Beat writers in the act of inventing themselves.  The story centers on Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) leaving a turbulent home life for an even more turbulent time at Columbia.  He is drawn to Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and the two form the chaotic, and ultimately tragic, core of the movie.  Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) also show up in drug-fueled flashes.

Kill Your Darlings treats the period with much affection, but director John Krokidas also injects crucial visual flare as well as modern music.  There is too much repetitive literary quoting underlining the theme over and over, but Krokidas brings an exhilaratingly reckless, chaotic vision to material that would otherwise seem stuffy and pretentious.  Grade: C+

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Drug War- One of the most intense and entertaining movies of the year.  Drug War is an action movie examination of China’s obscene drug policy.  Rather than overcrowd their prisons with drug offenders (like in America), people who possess more than a certain amount are just executed.

Johnnie To’s movie is about a meth dealer caught in between the police and those higher-up in the trade than him.  He offers to help the cops take down the others in exchange for prison time instead of a death sentence.  To creates organic, often breathtaking action sequences throughout, shaming most Hollywood releases on a fraction of the budget.  Grade: B+

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10 Movies I Changed My Mind About

I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it.  The first Tarantino movie I’d ever seen was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which is a decidedly gorier and altogether more accessible movie for an eighth grader (technically I wasn’t legally “mature enough” for either by the MPAA’s standards), although I was the only one in my grade who seemed to enjoy it.  When I watched Pulp Fiction for a second (and a third and a fourth ad infinitum) viewing, it gripped me like few other movies had before or since.  To this day it is still one of my all-time favorites.

Movies, especially great ones, often change from viewing to viewing, not because they are different but because we are.  Though we now live in an age of Rotten Tomato blurbs and aggregated consensus, a critic’s most valued possession is still their written voice.  With every review now posted quickly and then archived online, conversation on most movies usually peaks quickly when they are first released, and then dissipates just as fast.  The only time afforded to looking back is the annual “Best of the Year” cluster fuck.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Ralph Fiennes

The cheers and tears of millions of fans around the world will signify the end of the era of Potter.  Though the books ended in 2007 (when the fifth film came out), this eighth film installment truly marks the end of J.K. Rowling’s wizard phenomenon.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 abandons much of the atmospheric dread of the past two films in favor of full-on confrontation.  The initial scenes carry that “Calm before the storm” not only narratively but aesthetically as well.  We watch as Snape (Alan Rickman) precedes over fascistic-looking marches at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with a troubled calm settling on his face.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Ralph Fiennes

And so it begins to end.  Almost ten years after Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and his journey began lighting up the silver screen with J.K. Rowling’s magical prose, billions have been made, and countless fans have been enraptured.  The Potter franchise will always be known first as a literary milestone, as it well should be.  To their credit though, these movies aren’t half-bloody bad.

Guiding this now well-known journey to the finish line is the steady artistic hand of director David Yates, who has been with the series since the fifth film.  Giving Hogwarts the dark tonal shift necessary to keep up with the ever-darkening plot was a task he more than lived up to.  In the fifth and sixth films, the setting is another character in the movie.

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Ten to finish out ’10

With The Social Network and Let Me In giving movie-goers some anti-summer entertainment to look forward to this weekend, we thought it’d be a good idea to map out what the rest of 2010 will look like at the movies.  Here is our list of the 10 movies we think will matter the rest of the year.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)– Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another behind the scenes plunge into the dark depths of competitive sports.  This time it’s Natalie Portman in the lead, playing a ballerina in a a gruelingly competitive production of Swan Lake. When Mila Kunis comes in as a the new kid on the block, the game is on.  That makes it sound like Step Up, but from trailer, which shows Portman sprouting feathers and red eyes, it will be decidedly weirder.  Aronofsky knows his way around pitch black, and has a knack for turning misery into beauty.  Expect nothing less here.

True Grit (Dec. 25)– What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a Coen Brothers movie?  They team up with Jeff Bridges again, this time to remake the western that won John Wayne his Oscar.  However, the brothers list the novel as their main source of inspiration because of its quick dialogue as well as the premise.  A daughter (newcomer Hailee Steinfield) sets out to apprehend her father’s killer with the help of a stubborn marshal (Bridges.)  The movie also features Matt Damon as a ranger accompanying the two and Josh Brolin as the killer.  With a remarkable cast like this, and the success they had adapting No Country for Old Men, it’s hard not to be excited about this one.

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