Film Review: Boiler Room (2000)

Release Date: January 30th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Younger
Written by: Ben Younger
Music by: The Angel
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ben Affleck, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Sage, Tom Everett Scott, Anson Mount, Kirk Acevado, Desmond Harrington (uncredited)

Team Todd, New Line Cinema, 120 Minutes

Review:

“[to the new recruits] And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.” – Jim Young

For years, until there was actually a second Wall Street movie, I saw this as that film’s spiritual successor. Which is also sort of fitting as the characters in this movie worship the Gordon Gekko character from Wall Street.

I actually still view this as a spiritual sequel, however, as it’s very apparent that it was strongly influenced by Wall Street and also because it is a motion picture of quality. While it might not live up to Wall Street or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, it’s still damn good and at least in the same orbit as those movies.

The plot of the film is intriguing and it sucks you in from the get go. It’s about a smart, savvy college dropout who goes from running an illegal casino in his house to being one of the top brokers at a really young, lucrative and questionable brokerage firm.

Over the course of the movie, we see Giovanni Ribisi’s Seth Davis go from being a slightly timid rookie to a confident and smart salesman to being swarmed with immense guilt when he realizes that he has completely fucking people out of their life savings to reluctant antihero that tried to fix some of the damage he caused while taking the firm down.

I can’t quite call Seth Davis a hero, as it took his father disowning him and the FBI pinching him to get him to actually change his tune. It’s hard to tell if he would’ve arrived to a better place on his own but, at least he tried to undo some of his wreckage.

Beyond Ribisi, this is a film that is loaded with a lot of the up and coming male talent of the day. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt really stick out and Ben Affleck’s performance is great, even if his scenes are few and his role feels more like a beefed up cameo.

I really loved the music in this film, as it’s full of east coast hip-hop of the early to mid-’90s, which has always been my favorite kind of hip-hop. It may be slightly dated for this 2000 film but it worked for me, as I started to ignore more mainstream rap music around 1998.

Anyway, this is a superb finance thriller. It has stood up to the test of time in the same way that Wall Street has. If you like these sort of movies but have slept on Boiler Room the last two decades, you should check it out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Wall Street, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Big Short, Rogue Trader, etc.

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Also known as: Arkham, Gotham, Batman 3 (working titles), Magnus Rex (fake working title), TDKR (informal short title)
Release Date: July 16th, 2012 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Juno Temple, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Nestor Carbonell, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Lennon, William Devane

DC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 164 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” – Selina Kyle

Where I’ve seen the first two films in this trilogy at least a dozen times each, I’ve only seen this one once: in the theater. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have much urge to see it again after my initial experience. But I’ll explain why as I roll on and review it.

I was pretty excited for this film but I also knew that it would be damn hard to top The Dark Knight or to try and replicate its greatness. Well, I wasn’t wrong. And while this isn’t a bad movie, it’s certainly the weakest of the trilogy and just falls flat when compared to the other two pictures.

To start, I was a bit perplexed when I first heard that Bane was going to be the big bad of the movie. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Bane but after following The Joker and Two-Face, I felt like the third film should’ve featured more of the old school villains, as opposed to bringing in a more modern one that is kind of boring by comparison. I mean, a Christopher Nolan movie featuring The Riddler, The Penguin or hell, even The Mad Hatter, could’ve been really intriguing.

What we got instead was pretty much a rehash of the threat and the plot of the first movie: Batman Begins. In fact, in this film, Bane is even tied to the same villainous organization of that film. We also get a curveball where we find out he really isn’t the big bad but that just kind of makes the overall story even more redundant.

I guess I understand why Nolan chose Bane, as he wanted to try and keep his Batman films grounded in reality as much as one can with a comic book property but seeing a secret Illuminati-type group descend upon Gotham City with the hopes of using a superweapon to destroy it is derivative of the director’s own work.

Now we do get Catwoman in the film but she is written to be the most sterile and boring version of the character I’ve ever seen. Sure, Anne Hathaway is stunning but for whatever reason, Catwoman just doesn’t feel sexy or believable as someone that can ensnare Bruce Wayne/Batman. She just isn’t interesting and it’s hard to imagine her as someone that could pull Bruce’s heart out of the pain it still feels, eight years after the death of Rachel.

Hell, Bruce’s little romantic moments with Miranda/Talia seem more genuine and their relationship isn’t supposed to be the one the audience is pulling for even before the big plot twist reveals itself.

The film’s overall story is trying to be as good of a thriller as the previous two. It just isn’t and that’s the real issue with it. While I do want to see the heroes beat the baddies and win out in the end, the film just comes off as repetitive and dull. It feels like a weak copy of the first two pictures with a much slower pace and a broken back side quest that slows the movie to a halt. I just can’t get as into it as I did the other movies.

Now I get that “breaking the Bat” and dropping him into a hole was about building him back up to make him stronger and that we needed to get him out of Gotham so that Bane could grow his power but it’s a half-assed recreation of the Knightfall plot. This story also only seems to borrow from it because it was Bane’s most iconic moment and biggest temporary victory in the comics. And with Batman overcoming his incredible injury and then climbing out of a hole deemed “impossible” to escape, it all kind of wrecks Nolan’s strive for realism. You can’t simply punch a popped disc back into someone’s spine.

I also hated the film’s ending but I think I’m done harping on the negatives, as I probably sound like I dislike this quite a bit, when I actually don’t.

The film is well-acted and that’s what really makes this work where it does.

I really dug Tom Hardy as Bane, even if his voice has become a social meme. I also just loved seeing the regular cast get back together for one more adventure. Bale, Caine, Freeman and Oldman are all so great in these roles and I loved the final act of the film where we get to see Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon get very involved. My only complaint about Caine’s Alfred is I didn’t like how Bruce pushed him away and left him without much to do in the second half of the film.

Additionally, I really enjoyed Marion Cotillard as the character who would reveal herself as Talia al Ghul. I only wish that we would have gotten to see her be more of a badass but her big reveal comes at the end of the movie and she’s not around much longer after that. Not having a Talia versus Selina fight was a missed opportunity.

The film also boasts great cinematography but why would anyone expect any less from Nolan at this point? I liked the brighter look of the town, especially in the third act, and how a lot of the film happens in daylight.

The final act, which sees Batman and the GCPD bring the fight to the League of Shadows in the streets was superb and chilling. Watching Batman and the cops take it to the villainous terrorists head-on was incredible and the best moment in the film. Watching Batman and Bane fight in a sea of people was also damn spectacular.

All in all, this is still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It just happens to be the worst of its trilogy and if I’m being honest, it felt like Christopher Nolan and the writers were just tired and wanted to move on to the next phase of their lives.

However, even if someone else would have to step in and do it, I’d rather see this film series continue, as opposed to seeing Warner Bros. keep trying to reboot Batman. Just let Nolan produce and pick the best creative team to help build off of his vision. I mean, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt Nightwing movie in this cinematic universe would certainly get my money.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: The Neon Demon (2016)

Release Date: May 20th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker

Gaumont Film Company, Wild Bunch, Space Rocket Nation, Vendian Entertainment, Bold Films, Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment, The Jokers, 117 Minutes

the_neon_demonReview:

The Neon Demon is one of those films where I didn’t know what to think when I got to the end of it. I had to sit back and really process a lot of it.

Initially, I was impressed by it from a visual and technical standpoint but from the narrative side of things, it was hard to emotionally connect with anything in the picture.

I love watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s work because at its very least a Refn film will be a visual masterpiece. He has an eye for creating stunning visuals that stimulate an emotional drive that connects his surreal works with his characters and the audience. But while his surreal visuals get more impressive from film to film, his stories are also becoming surreal to the point that they feel like a dream sequence, as opposed to an actual cohesive story.

The Neon Demon doesn’t go as far off of the rails as his previous movie Only God Forgives. However, I do like the previous film better, overall. Maybe because Only God Forgives was a testosterone festival where The Neon Demon is the flip side of that, a film full of catty women obsessed with physical beauty to the point of committing atrocities.

The subject matter isn’t something that I care that much about. We’ve also seen variations of this story since the beginning of time. Refn still does enough to make this tale original and it crosses over certain lines that I haven’t seen yet but the impact of the actual horror was minimal, as not a single character in this film, except for Karl Glusman’s Dean, is even remotely likable. Then again, he’s an adult trying to hook up with a sixteen year-old.

Elle Fanning’s Jesse is a natural beauty and is initially innocent. However, she quickly becomes a monster, just like the other girls in the film. I can’t feel bad when she faces the wrath of the other women.

Everyone in this picture, except for one person, is so superficial and plastic that it’s like watching a violent and colorful play of animatronic Barbie dolls pretending to be psychotic vampires. And while Jesse is all-natural and the film puts a heavy emphasis on other girls filling themselves with plastic and having surgeries just to compete with her natural beauty, Jesse is probably the most plastic underneath her skin, after her transformation.

Also, I can’t take Elle Fanning seriously as a girl who is supposed to be so beautiful that she is just steamrolling over other top supermodels. Sure, she’s cute and I would say she’s a bridge between the girl next door and a model. I certainly wouldn’t put her anywhere near Abbey Lee or Bella Heathcote’s level of beauty. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

The acting is pretty solid and despite not buying into the Jesse character, Elle Fanning still did a great job in this picture. Everyone else put in a good performance but Jena Malone, Karl Glusman and Keanu Reeves really shine.

The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is fantastic but he has never disappointed. Having worked with Refn on several films now, his musical style is able to perfectly meld with Refn’s colorful visual surrealism. For those who may only know of Refn’s Drive, you should be well aware of how greatly the music drove the film alongside the cinematography.

The Neon Demon provides some of the most magnificent eye candy to be filmed since the last Refn picture. And while the film is certainly a memorable experience, it just doesn’t resonate like Refn’s DriveBronson or Pusher. The story is more fluid and less confusing than Only God Forgives but at least that film had characters one could relate to on some level.

I do like The Neon Demon but I don’t know if I would have the urge to see it again, other than to bask in its remarkable cinematography.

Rating: 6/10