Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Quintessential Los Angeles Movies

Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world, but its true nature and the glamorous version often thought of by those who don’t live here are often wildly different. As a lifelong Angelino, I’ve seen all sides of the city and Southern California. It’s a beautiful, strange, shallow, violent, vibrant, surprising, diverse, and meaningful city that shifts from block to block and moment to moment. While no single film can encapsulate every part of L.A., movies can reveal new pieces of the city and capture its essence in ways that are impossible in reality.

While New York is most likely the most featured city on film, Los Angeles has provided a stellar background for classic film across the decades. Not only that, but the world of L.A. provides a vibrant backdrop to romance, crime, comedy, drama, and every other genre. Best of all, the many different styles and the countless approaches from writers and directors each reveal something different about Los Angeles and its residents.

The following 10 films are excellent and unique movies that not only show many different sides of The City of Angels, but feature the city in a crucial role. Best of all, the eschew the shallow and so-called glamorous side of the city for something far more real and meaningful.

Heat

Lonely lives collide in both crime and love on the streets of Los Angeles. Heat follows bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) and Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who is hot on his heels. With high stakes bank heists and intense shootouts, writer and director Michael Mann’s Heat has action to spare, but it’s the human elements and wonderful dialogue that really elevate this film to the level of classic. This is a through and through L.A. movie as its characters navigate its streets in both night and day in search of meaning. Really, Heat is just as much about the loneliness of its central characters and how the two men who find themselves as enemies are truly kindred spirits. Mann’s direction makes L.A. look beautiful and cold at the same time, much like the real life city.

Quintessential L.A. Moment: McCauley takes Eady (Amy Brenneman), the woman he’s falling for, into the hills for a look at the L.A. lights at night. It’s a bit of romance and peace within a lonely and desperate city as these two lonely individuals find warmth between them.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Character Longevity & the Necessity of Reinvention

Remakes, reboots, and reinterpretations are more popular in modern entertainment than ever before. Calling upon familiar characters and well-loved storylines is the easiest way to hook potential audiences and hopefully guarantee a return on investment.

But while this method may often be the result of a cash grab, the reinvention of characters and their legends has existed for centuries before the invention of film.

The retelling and reinvigoration of characters is a natural part of storytelling dating back to the oral history of ancient Greek stories like The Iliad. Ancient mythical heroes like Hercules, Robin Hood, and Thor owe their centuries-long longevity to consistent reinvention. While their ancient tales may have been set in stone for some time now, these now-untouchable tales were tweaked and expanded across the span of hundreds of years. Today, these original stories are used as springboards for new interpretations in various forms of media while still preserving the long-loved originals. While not all of these new versions may pay proper due to the classic tales, consistent reimaginings are what add new blood and keep these characters alive.

However, reinterpretations are some of the most controversial stories around. Characters that are subject to reboots and their ilk are candidates for a reason – they are well loved by countless fans and have been for a very long time. Changes to personality, appearance, and their stories are sure to be met with outcries, both legitimate and unwarranted. But where is the line drawn between reinventions that keep characters relevant for new generations and those that tarnish the legacies of a perfectly fine creation?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is an Insane Action Masterpiece

It’s been 30 years since the last entry into the “Mad Max” franchise and the development of Mad Max: Fury Road was long, grueling, and filled with setbacks. But creator, director, and writer George Miller’s latest opus is not only a worthy reinvigoration of the apocalyptic franchise, but one of the greatest action films in recent years. This is thunderous, vibrant movie making that grabs you from the very beginning and drags you into an insane and beautiful world.
If you’re not familiar with the “Mad Max” franchise, the setup is fairly simple. Max Rockatansky (played by Mel Gibson in the original films, now being played by Tom Hardy) is a former police officer who wanders a post-apocalyptic world trying to survive and occasionally being pulled into fights between the forces of good and evil. In Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is thrown into a gigantic chase as Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is on the run from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a despotic madman who rules countless people by controlling the water supply. With legions of Joe’s War Boys on her tail trying to get back the precious cargo she stole, the chase sucks in all manner of lunatics and leads to humongous carnage on the road as both Max and Furiosa try to find purpose in a world gone insane.

Fury Road makes no pretenses about being anything more than an action film, but every single piece of the film has been executed with passion and singular vision. Miller has crafted the film to be one enormous chase, with the movie literally revving up during the opening credits and then speeding off after a brief setup of the apocalyptic world. This is a lean and pounding narrative that manages to show off an enormous and colorful domain with a fascinating history. The many characters and their worlds are doused with small details and flourishes that hint at a larger world and years of backstory without being given clunky exposition. While some may dislike the lack of explanation, the rich details are all that are needed, each of which are clearly the result of lengthy world building and creativity.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a Messy, Dizzying, and Incredibly Fun Thrillride

The Marvel Cinematic Universe hits its biggest installment yet with Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the continued expansion of a shared universe may be showing signs of buckling under its own weight.

As the culmination of Phase 2 of The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron sees Earth's Mightiest Heroes teaming up to save the world once again. While The Avengers have been clearly on the job for awhile, here they are faced with the threat of Ultron - a rogue artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) hellbent on destroying humanity. Meanwhile, they face the continued threat of Hydra, division within the team, and the looming problem of The Infinity Stones.

It's not just the plot points that have to be juggled in the film, it's the many characters, each of whom have their own mini arcs and interactions with one another. AOU features the six returning members of The Avengers, the newcomer twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), The Vision (Paul Bettany), and multiple side characters. By just listing them all out, it's clear that not everyone will get their due within the span of the film.

Thanks to their previous films, each character comes with a complete and robust personality for those who have kept up with the Cinematic Universe. However, there really is not much development for most of the characters. While a few people end in different places from where they started, most have not changed much. Most notably, Tony Stark, who is responsible for creating the AI who may destroy the world and does kill hundreds if not thousands of people, has no real character development beyond being less likable than before.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Crisis on Infinite Thoughts Will Return ...

I'm off on vacation and during that time, posts are going on hiatus. In the meantime, feel free to explore past articles, reviews, countdowns, and more! If you haven't read them before (or just want to take another look) feel free to browse through some of my favorite articles.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Retro Review: Predator

Decades of experimental and often misguided movies have shown that the blending of multiple film genres can often lead to a mess of a movie. The simple truth is that it is downright tough to appeal to fans of more than one genre within a single film. Released in 1987 and spawning multiple inferior sequels in the decades since, Predator is a film that many enjoy but often overlook in the larger scope of movies.

But what many don’t understand is that Predator strikes an incredible balance between action, twists, and star performances. Best of all, Predator pulls a mid-film twist that shows real intelligence on the part of director John McTiernan and writers Jim and John Thomas. Predator is half action movie, half science fiction, and all Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Movies don’t get much more fun than this.

The setup, and really the entire plot in general, are incredibly simple. Delta Force Major Dutch Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos are called in to rescue a group of officials held hostage by rebels in the fictional country of Val Verde. While these men are the best of the best, what they do not realize is that they and the local woman they have taken with them for information are being hunted in the jungle by something far deadlier than them. What starts out as a testosterone-fueled shoot ‘em up like Schwarzenneger’s Commando or one of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo sequels gets the rug pulled out from under it when the deadly alien only referred to as The Predator begins taking out these soldiers one by one.

Is there much more to Predator than that? Not really. Does it need to be more than this when everything in this film is so much fun? Absolutely not. This film has no pretense of being more than a really well-executed thrill ride, so those looking for deeper meaning may not find Predator to their liking. But what this film does well, it does with the best of them.