Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Beautiful Boy (2010)

Directed by: Shawn Ku
Starring: Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Kyle Gallner

Imagine your worst nightmare. Now, Imagine your worst nightmare come true, and then imagine that that the reality of your worst nightmare is worse than you could ever possibly imagine. Independent film maker Shawn Ku examines those very feelings in Beautiful Boy. The film is about a college student named Sammy (Gallner) who goes on a shooting rampage at his school, killing seventeen people before committing suicide. To the viewer, it becomes pretty apparent that things were not right to begin with in this family. Sammy's parents, Bill and Kate (Bello and Sheen) are emotionally distant from each other, appearing to be on the brink of divorce even before the tragedy. Warning signs from Sammy are pretty obvious with his odd behavior from the get-go. The violent act happens at the very beginning of the film, then shifts the narrative to how Bill and Kate cope with the aftermath of not only losing their child, but also having to deal with the fact that he was the culprit in a epically tragic event.

Most of us can remember the events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20th, 1999.  In the aftermath of that horrible event, we learned about the disturbed mind-set of the two killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. We learned about how the massacre affected the victims, their victim's survivors, and  the community.  In Beautiful Boy, we learn how a massacre similar to the one at Columbine affects the survivors of the one who did the actual killing. Think about it; how do you think the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris felt knowing that their son(s) were responsible for taking human lives, and reigning terror upon their community? Think about how the parents of Seung-Hui Cho felt after he killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007.  

How this film ever slipped through the cracks is beyond me. This beautifully acted film is filled with raw, and real emotions.  The actual event of the killings is a very small part of the film. The main focus of the plot is how Bill and Kate grapple with feeling that they created a monster, which only further drives the couple apart. Finger-pointing, guilt, shame, and anger are just a few ways to describe the actions, and what the two protagonists are feeling while coping with the tragedy. The question is: will the tragedy tear them further apart, or bring them back together?

While the main theme of the plot of this film is grief, it's actually a story of hope. Taking a look into how an tragic event like a mass murder/suicide affects the survivors of the assailant makes us understand that people like Bill and Kate are real; they are normal people who have found themselves torn between anger for what their loved one (in this case, their son) has done, and grief for their loss.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011)

Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist

The latest installment of the M:I series find Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his band of IMF agents trying to stop a nuclear war between Russia and The United States. After the IMF breaks agent Hunt out of a Russian prison, they accept a mission of breaking into The Kremlin to find secret documents. The team is then falsely implicated for bombing The Kremlin. The IMF initiates "Ghost Protocol", disbanding the organization.  Hunt, et al. "go rogue" to clear their names, and to stop a madman, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from getting the nuclear weapon launch codes.

The narrative of this film is all over the place, and the film has enough continuity issues to choke a horse; but, the action is out of this world! This is one of those movies where you don't really care about how realistic the plot may or may not be. The action sequences, however far-fetched they might be (in real life) are entertaining, to say the least.  The suspense of this film will keep you on the edge of your seat till the very end.

Of course, the ending of the movie leaves the viewer with a few clues about what's to come for Agent Hunt and his team. I would no doubt look for M:I 5 to be coming to a theater near you in the future.

The Broken Tower (2011)

Written and Directed by: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Michael Shannon

The Broken Tower is a black and white biopic about early 20th Century American Poet, Hart Crane (1899-1932.) Written and directed by James Franco, (who plays Crane) this film takes a look at a self-destructive, but brilliantly talented man who committed suicide at the age of 32 by jumping off a boat into the Gulf of Mexico. The narrative of the story follows the life and travels of Crane from age 17, when he changed his name from Harold to "Hart" and moved from Cleveland to New York, Paris, Cuba and back to New York. The story details how Crane struggled to make a living through temporary jobs, even moving back to Cleveland at one point to work for his father, who happened to be a successful candy manufacturer (a side note: Crane's father, Clarence invented the candy "Life Savers", but sold the patent before it became popular.)  Throughout the 1920's, the openly-gay Crane had some of his poems such as "White Buildings", "Voyages", and "The Bridge" published by well respected literary magazines. We learn through the film that Crane's poems were (and still are) difficult to understand, but at the same time, he was way ahead of his time and people in the literary world took notice of his work.   One of Crane's last published poems "The Broken Tower" emerged in 1931 after his only known hetero-sexual affair with a woman named Peggy Cowley.  Hart Crane is now viewed as a literary genius some forty years after his death.

I have to say that no other actor has the courage or the talent to play the character of an openly gay poet like James Franco. Just like he did with the character of Alan Ginsberg in Howl (2010), Franco opens the door to the world of an eccentric and gifted, yet incredibly self destructive person.  James' younger brother, Dave Franco, who plays the teen-aged "Harold" has proven that he is just as eccentric and talented as his older brother.  Michael Shanon, who plays the part of Hart's lover, Emile is well cast, and a natural fit for his role. The sex scenes in the movie are in fact explicit; however, the passion that is shown is felt by the viewer, making them non-offensive.  The black-and-white cinematography of the film really captures the time period for which the film takes place. It is pretty well known that Franco is a hard-working actor who is willing to take risks.  Just like the characters which he likes to portray, it's no mystery that that Franco is an eccentric person himself; but, that is what makes him stand out from the rest of the Hollywood crowd.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Directed by:  Marc Forster
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon

Machine Gun Preacher is a biopic about a man named Sam Childers (Gerard Butler.)  Once a drug-dealing outlaw biker who spent years in prison, Sam finds God and turns his life around. Actually, saying that he turned his life around would be an understatement. Using his carpentry skills, Sam forms a construction company. He uses his construction company to build a church in his community for people like him who want to better their lives; Sam unintentionally becomes the Pastor of the church.  On a church mission to Africa, Sam learns of the horrors brought on the people of Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA.) Vowing to make a difference, Sam uses his construction resources and his own money to finance and build an orphanage in a remote area of Southern Sudan. The moniker of "Machine Gun Preacher" is given to Sam as he also grabs an AK-47 and joins the Sudanese People's Liberation Army to fight the enemy and help free child slaves from the grips of Joseph Kony.

Director Mark Forster, known for powerful films like Monster's Ball (2001) and The Kite Runner (2007), tells a compelling story about one man's impact on a nation. The narrative of the film does not over indulge in the (real-life) violence of the matter, but keeps the viewer interested in the plot by revealing a real-life issue that is drastically affecting the world we live in. Instead of over-emphasizing on the "preaching" of Sam's religious sermons, Gerard Butler instead focuses his character on a man who wants to make the world he lives in a better place because he believes it is his purpose in life and God's will.

With the exception of a few character's such as Sam's mother, Daisy (Kathy Baker), his wife, Lynn (stoically played by Michelle Monaghan), and his drugged-out best friend, Donnie (Michael Shannon), this film features a relatively unknown cast; however, the acting of all parties involved is spectacular.  After starring in romantic-comedy flops like The Ugly Truth (2009) and The Bounty Hunter (2010), Gerard Butler has redeemed himself as the rough-and-tumble action star that he was born to play.