Film Review: Contact (1997)

Release Date: July 11th, 1997
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: James V. Hart, Michael Golden
Based on: Contact by Carl Sagan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, David Morse, Jena Malone, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Rob Lowe, Geoffrey Blake, Max Martini, Steven Ford, Tucker Smallwood

South Side Amusement Company, Warner Bros., 150 Minutes

Review:

“I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.” – David Drumlin, “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.” – Ellie Arroway

Man, since the first time that I saw this movie, I just loved the hell out of it. I really should’ve seen it in the theater but it came out just after I graduated high school and that summer was insane, as I was in an alcohol, weed and/or opium induced state for months while also trying to conquer Final Fantasy VII between parties and festivals.

Throughout high school, I was a big fan Carl Sagan’s work. As a kid, I had seen his original version of the Cosmos television series but it wasn’t until high school when a good science teacher handed me the Cosmos book that my mind delved deep into the man’s written work. I’ve since gone back and read most of his books multiple times.

The story of Contact‘s genesis is an interesting one, as Carl Sagan and his future wife, Ann Druyan, wrote an outline for the film’s story way back in 1979. There were issues trying to get the picture off of the ground, so Sagan instead reworked it into a novel that was published in 1985. After that, buzz picked up around the idea of making it into a film, once again. However, after a few directors came and went, it didn’t get rolling until Robert Zemeckis took the helm in 1996.

The movie, on its surface, had everything going for it. It had Zemeckis as its director, Jodie Foster in the lead role, as well as James Woods, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Angela Bassett and David Morse. It also had Matthew McConaughey and William Fichtner in prominent roles, as both men were just really starting to carve out their long, great careers. In fact, I’d say that it was this movie and A Time to Kill, which came out just before it, that brought McConaughey into the mainstream and really launched him to new heights.

The story is also wonderful and it makes me wish that there were still movies like this that pushed wonder and the pursuit of real truth. It’s films like this that inspire and create the next generation of dreamers but I feel like that is something that’s been lost and I honestly can’t think of a movie since this one that had that sort of aura about it. But this was written by Carl Sagan and that man knew how to inspire and how to create genuine wonder in the hearts and minds of those he spoke to.

I love this story, I love these characters and I love the journey Jodie Foster’s Ellie goes on throughout the entire picture, from childhood-to-adulthood and then into uncharted territory through the cosmos itself.

The film is also just beautiful to look at and it came out in a time when digital effects were really starting to come together. Seeing this now, the special effects have aged well and this is still a great looking picture.

What’s most interesting about the digital effects is that they were created in a collaborative effort between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks, Peter Jackson’s Weta, George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, Effects Associates and Pixar. That being said, this combined effort came together beautifully.

Now I know that this film gets criticized for its ending and it’s considered a disappointment and anticlimactic by some but I think the film’s ending is absolute perfection. It’s beautiful, meaningful and true to the spirit of Carl Sagan’s message.

Contact is truly an experience, a very human one. It connects to its audience in a way that’s becoming much rarer in today’s Hollywood output. I want motion pictures to make me feel like this again. But I guess I can still revisit films like Contact whenever I want. It’s just sad that this is nearly a quarter of a century old and it’s one of the last films to really capture my imagination in such a deep, heartfelt and sincere way.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: Treme (2010-2013)

Original Run: April 11th, 2010 – December 29th, 2013
Created by: David Simon, Eric Overmyer
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various, theme by John Boutté
Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Chris Coy, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, David Morse, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Jon Seda, Steve Zahn, Kermit Ruffins

Blown Deadline Productions, Warner Bros., HBO, 36 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

For my 100th TV review on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria), I wanted to dip into the well and pull out an old review for one of my favortie shows of all-time. Something that I felt was completely underappreciated and overlooked by most.

*Written in 2015.

I may need to re-order my countdown of HBO shows (from an older blog), as after re-watching Treme and in its entirety for the first time, I would rank it among the top five HBO shows of all-time.

Created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, the great minds behind HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, this show takes us to New Orleans months after Hurricane Katrina and shows us in intimate detail how the people of that ravaged city rebuilt their town, their homes, their businesses and their lives.

Starting out in a place of despair in a city full of corruption and ignored by the world outside, Treme triumphs in that it displays an unrelenting human spirit, focusing on the underlying morality of many of the characters and teaching the important lessons of appreciating what you have, holding on to what’s dear to you and to always strive for the right things in life. The characters in this show hit the hardest times of their lives but find ways to persevere and triumph. Treme in it’s three and a half seasons has more heart, soul and more morality than shows that have been on for years longer. It is a bright positive light in a medium overrun with negativity and darkness.

The ensemble cast is perfect. From Steve Zahn to Khandi Alexander to Kim Dickens to Wendell Pierce to John Goodman to Rob Brown to Melissa Leo to David Morse to Lucia Micarelli to the amazing Clarke Peters and multiple fantastic cameos by New Orleans jazz legend Kermit Ruffins, there isn’t a character that you don’t fall in love with. I know that I am missing some people but each character has such a dynamic story that truly evolves over the course of the three and a half seasons this show was on. Not a single character is boring or useless. None of them get lost in the shuffle. It is a well-balanced television series that maintained its focus and quality – doing every character and every plot thread justice.

The element that brings everything together so well is the emphasis on representing New Orleans culture in its full glory. The music, the art, the food, the language and the parties are all there. The sense of community and love for they neighbor is there. Everything that truly is New Orleans is embraced on this show and it is the most accurate portrayal I have ever seen of the city and its people, who are usually portrayed as backdrops to action flicks or voodoo horror movies.

Treme is one of those shows, now having seen it in its complete form, that I will probably re-watch almost annually. There aren’t a lot of episodes and it can be binge watched in a week or two. And if you love New Orleans, this show will always deliver that feeling you get when wandering Frenchman Street at night looking for amazing music, amazing food and a great experience.

Also, it is streaming on Amazon Prime. So if you have a Prime account, you can watch this show in its entirety.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The Wire and the Spike Lee HBO documentaries about New Orleans: When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts and If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.

Film Review: The Green Mile (1999)

Release Date: December 10th, 1999
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: The Green Mile by Stephen King
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Sadler, Gary Sinise, Dabbs Greer, Jon Polito, Bill McKinney

Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Bros., 189 Minutes

Review:

“On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?” – Paul Edgecomb

After Frank Darabont made one of the greatest films of all-time when he adapted Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, he couldn’t have found a more natural followup project than King’s The Green Mile. Both are prison stories and have some similar themes, although The Green Mile is closer to what people are used to from King, as it has a supernatural and magical element to it.

The story follows a prison guard named Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks with the elderly version played by Dabbs Greer. The story is told as a flashback to 1935 when Edgecomb was running a prison block called the Green Mile. While there, he met John Coffey, a man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit but who also has special powers. Coffey is a giant black man, accused of raping and murdering two young white girls, as he was found clutching onto their bodies while covered in their blood and crying. As the story progresses, we see an intimate look into life in Edgecomb’s cell block and we also come to discover that Coffey is a gentle giant with the ability to heal the sick and to feel a sort of psychic empathy when others are in pain.

The look of the film is pristine. It has a majestic and magical quality to it while still being grounded in a sort of gritty realism. The cinematography was handled by David Tattersall, who worked on the Star Wars prequel films, as well as The MajesticSpeed RacerCon Air and several other notable films since the early ’90s. He also handled the bulk of cinematography for the entire run of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which was one of the most impressive things to ever hit television screens in the ’90s.

Populating the visually stunning world was a myriad of talented actors. In fact, there are so many great people in front of the camera it is hard to believe that they all worked on this film. Some of them aren’t massive stars like Tom Hanks but they are some of the best people who have worked in Hollywood over the last few decades. The acting is so superb in this that you get pulled in the same way that you do with The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe it’s a testament to how good Darabont is at directing, as he got incredible performances out of every member of this film’s large ensemble. And while I love Michael Clarke Duncan, the man has never been better than he is here.

The Green Mile isn’t a pillar of perfection like The Shawshank Redemption but it is a near flawless companion piece to it.

This film is absolutely stellar in the highest regard. Maybe the running time is a bit long but there isn’t a dull moment within the film. It feels more like a miniseries than a singular motion picture but everything that happens is meticulously crafted and executed and their isn’t an unimportant moment within the film.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: World War Z (2013)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2013 (Empire Cinema premiere)
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: Matt Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski
Based on: World War Z by Max Brooks
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, Peter Capaldi, David Morse, Ruth Negga

Skydance Productions, Hemisphere Media Capital, GK Films, Plan B Entertainment, 2DUX², Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s not stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature.” – Jurgen Warmbrunn

I didn’t have much urge to see World War Z when it came out. The zombie craze has been out of control and nothing about it seemed too terribly interesting. Granted, the zombies ran with lightning speed, had the behavior of ants trying to reach food and would destroy themselves in the process of hunting humans. Still, we had fast suicidal zombies with Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake over a decade ago.

While there wasn’t seemingly anything new here, I did enjoy the film. Brad Pitt knocked it out of the park and the appearance of Peter Capaldi (the next Doctor on Doctor Who) added an extra level of awesomeness.

The plot was okay enough, as Brad Pitt had to travel the zombie infested world, figuring out what the cause of the outbreak was and how to stop it. The conclusion doesn’t quite answer the question but it is still as happy as a happy ending can get in a film where practically everyone is eaten.

The film is intense, which kept me engaged and the added mix of different geographical locals brought some contrast to each sequence throughout the film. The zombie outbreak on the airplane though, that’s probably the high point.

This isn’t what I would call a great movie by any means. It wasn’t very inventive and didn’t bring much of anything new to the zombie genre other than world travel. I still enjoyed it though.

Rating: 6/10