The Incredibles (2004)

   Director: Brad Bird With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell. Release: November 5, 2004 PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee
Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell.
Release: November 5, 2004
PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

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Pixar is a studio that always seems to do no wrong, and they always seem to remain ahead of the curve. Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” is a prime example of that, a film that exemplifies a level of maturity and sincerity while exhuming the entertainment and sheer fun that a family of superheroes inherently possesses. So the film does no wrong, but it also showcases Pixar’s ability to stays ahead of the curve in that many think the sequel that will hit theaters in a matter of days is a movie that feeds of the recent sweeping movements of female prosperity in both film and society. 

That is not the case, Brad Bird’s screenplay is one that follows superheroes in the traditional 1950’s mold that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made famous during the golden age of comics. These are heroes seemingly existing in the same time frame as the civil rights movements, and a time period that presets the women and peace movements of the 1970’s. It’s a film that parodies the age of heroism and patriotism coexisting with one another while supporting that notion in the most progressive of mannerisms. 

It focuses on one man, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). He’s the prime example of that kind of superhero; he’s brave, super strong, and dashingly handsome. The film opens with him, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) being interviewed on what it's like to be a superhero, being asked questions like: "do you reveal your secret identity to other heroes, or do you keep it secret?"  That kind of questioning that is meant to be more fun than anything else, as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) delivers the most charismatic interview of the rest, because he’s that guy, until one day he’s not. 

After he rescues a man attempting to commit suicide by catching him mid-air and spearing him through a building window, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself on the end of a hefty lawsuit. One that blames him for saving someone that didn’t want to be saved, whose rescuing attempt led to this man being broken physically. This act inspired many others to go after superheroes, blaming them for unlawful rescuing and inadvertent damages, costing the government millions, and sending every hero into the superhero relocation program. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), now going around as Bob, finds himself living in the suburbs, working at an insurance agency. He married fellow superhero Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) and had two superpowered children and a newborn: Dashiell (Spencer Fox) who can run fast, and Violet (Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and manifest force fields, and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) whose superpowers haven't revealed themselves just yet. They attempt to blend in with everyday citizens by going to school, showing up to work every day, and continually keeping their powers hidden away from the public.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is someone who feels the weight of that burden, emotionally. He’s a metaphorical representation of the dad who’s lost himself to boredom and unfulfillment; he misses the glory days of heroism. He does what he can here and there, teaching his clients the in’s and outs of insurance policies, providing them with every loophole possible. 

That’s not enough though, he and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) go out on Wednesday nights and listen to the police scanner to find somewhere to intervene, to relive the glory days and do some low-profile superhero work. Placing a lot of hardships on his wife, who stays at home and takes care of the kids. She’s continuously burdened with the responsibility of cleaning, cooking, and parenting more often than her husband. Everything seems to be a struggle to fit in until Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is brought back into the life by a woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), who gives him a mission to stop a massive, self-thinking, and an impenetrable robot named Omnidroid 7. 

After this successful venture, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself with a gig that pays lots of money, forces him back into shape, and towards the life he once knew. All of this is unbeknownst to his wife though; she’s kept in the dark, fearing that her husband is having an affair. Bird’s screenplay sets up that family dynamic brilliantly, in which Violet (Sarah Vowell) is a girl struggling to be a superhero going through puberty. She wants to be normal, but how can you be ordinary when you can make your head disappear? Dash (Spencer Fox) wants to play sports but knows he could beat everyone without even trying, but he doesn’t care, he just wants to be apart of something.  

Which seems to be the core theme of these children’s admirations, they want to be apart of something. Someone who wanted that same thing as a kid was Syndrome (Jason Lee) who, as a boy, would follow around Mr.Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) attempting to become his sidekick, dubbing himself with the name “Incrediboy.” He just wanted to be apart of the club of heroes, but he wasn’t gifted with superpowers, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) wanted nothing to do with him because he works alone. All of this comes to ahead when Helen (Holly Hunter) learns everything that has taken place, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself tricked by this child turned supervillain. 

His past is no longer something he looks on with benevolence, but now with great regret, because he inadvertently fabricated a villain who has spent his life creating weapons and killing off every superhero. His plan? To bring superheroes back to their glory by fooling everyone into thinking he is one of them. He plans on accomplishing this by fighting off a robot that he constructed himself, and with no superheroes left to stop him, he’ll teach everyone that you don’t have to be super to be a hero. Everyone can be a superhero after that, making superheroes unnecessary. It’s a plan that you understand and get behind, and one that argues the core message of Bird’s screenplay. 

Exteriorly, “The Incredibles” is a satire of superhero comics. Underneath that, Bird is critiquing the reality of American uniformity, which back in 2004, was as prevalent as ever. He’s arguing against that notion that we’re all equally special, which as Dash says at one point “that just another way of saying no one is.” It’s arguing against a society that “celebrates mediocrity” as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) states. It’s not that no one’s unique, but some of us are more special than others, which shouldn’t spark a negative feeling, it should inspire us to try harder. 

Visually, he borrows much more from the Bond films of the sixties and the comic book panels of the fifties. There are secret entrances, giant robots, and flying jets that look like something out of a detective comics book panel. Everything has that touch of a time we’ve all seen before, and one that echoes with the vibrancy and energy of that time, a time where life was always on the brink of change it seems. The red matching suits are also something fun to watch as well and look a little tight to fit in to.  

They seem to be latex fabricated tights, created by their very own fashion designer, Edna Mode who’s voiced by Brad Bird himself. She lectures Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on why capes lead to accidents far more often than acts of heroism, and she hilariously inspires Helen (Holly Hunter) to find her husband later on in the movie. 

She’s that one essential character to make a Pixar movie feel right, like a Marvel movie with its levity. Alongside the talented ensemble, Bird brings these animated figures to life, whose animated texture has not aged near as badly as I would’ve thought. 

In the end, Helen (Holly Hunter) has to come to save her husband, even doing the whole hero thing better than he did, which wasn’t something done on accident I think. 

She was purposefully designed to say that women can do whatever the man can do, even saying at the beginning of the film when she’s asked if she’d ever considered settling down she responds: “Settle down, are you kidding? I'm at the top of my game! I'm right up there with the big dogs! Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don't think so.” So, her saving the world alone, while the super strong man stays at home should be nothing surprising. She’s been wearing the pants in this family since the beginning. 

It shouldn’t be surprising to see a Pixar movie that does that, with films like “COCO,” “Inside Out,” and “Up” residing on their resume, it should come to no surprise that Pixar created a film that underlies societal relevance and forward thinking with the entertaining spectacle of superheroes, which was kind of ahead of the curve as well. It begs the question, did Pixar foresee the superhero golden age that we reside in today? If so, what will Pixar do next? How do they stay so far ahead of everyone else?
 

Cloverfield (2008)

   Director: Matt Reeves With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman.  Release: January 18, 2008. PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

Director: Matt Reeves
With: Marlena Diamond, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, & Odette Yustman. 
Release: January 18, 2008.
PG-13. 1 hr. 25 min. 

 

J.J Abrams has become a king of marketing. Exploiting the use of surprises, mystery, and trailers in a far superior format than almost anyone else. One of his most significant feats of marketing was Matt Reeves 2008 film, “Cloverfield.” The “Godzilla” and “Blair Witch” crossover that took the film community by storm in its inaugural trailer drop that occurred during the opening night pre-show for Michael Bay’s “Transformers.” The trailer was mysterious and sent all of us film fans into a frenzy of research and obsession on the IMDB pages of the internet, but we would soon be even more surprised that the found-footage subgenre of Hollywood had manifested a surprisingly frightening thriller that answers the question: What would it be like to witness a monster attacking your city? 

Providing a lensed perspective for our journey, literally, Director Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” & “War for the Planet of the Apes”) joins Screenwriter Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods” & “The Martian”) as they team with J.J Abrams’ Bad Robot Studios to provide an answer to that question. 

The film opens with a seemingly normal state of living as we are introduced to our first camera operator, Rob (Michael Stahl-David). He’s just awoken from a beautiful night out with the girl he loves, Beth (Odette Annable). She is his college crush and one that he finally got to spend a night with, and it leads to a setting that the camera continuously flashes back to when it becomes faulty, as if to say to the audience and whoever is watching this footage: “Remember when things were normal?” The footage fast-forwards by a month as we meet Lily (Jessica Lucas) and Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) brother Jason (Mike Vogel) as they are shopping for supplies for Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, as he’s been awarded a vice-president position at a company in Japan. While this party is being put together, Jason (Mike Vogel) hands off the camera to our chief camera operator, Hudson (T.J. Miller). 

He’s the best friend of the party’s star, but he’s that guy whose best friend with the most important guy, not necessarily friends with everyone else. He’s awkward, and constantly interrupting private conversations with the excuse that he’s “documenting.” Luckily, he continues documenting when the city comes under attack from something, as in the midst of some party drama, Manhattan shakes and quivers. As off the shores of the New York Harbor, an Oil Rig was surprised to unlock a crevasse that unleashed an organism of some sorts that is believed to have suffered from the scientific theory of deep-sea gigantism. Unlike a giant squid though, that may grow to be as big 13m in length, this monster is the size of buildings. It's lurking, carries multiple appendages, and has small arachnid/arthropod-like creatures descending from its outer shell. It's a reptilian-like arthropod creature that seems to be incredibly hard to kill. 

With missiles, machine gun fire, and massive caliber weaponry from tanks and fighter jets being unable to put a dent in its rampage. Our camera holder catches its fearsome arrival, but it's rarely shown in full view. No wide shots or steady frames are to be found, which can be quite frustrating as a filmgoer, but in that same frame of mind, it's the logicality behind the filming that bothers me. 

I can get past the shaky camera movements because this inexperienced photographer isn’t going to set-up a tripod to film, he going to carry it and point it to see what’s happening, he's not going to give the viewer a visual language to follow. But the idea of the camera surviving nuclear fallout, multiple drops to the concrete floor, or that its battery lasts this long is something hard to believe. This is a cheap 2008 camera being used in the midst of firefights; I doubt it would make it as far as it does. 

Nonetheless, the film does maintain a sense of realism that overcomes that one aspect of implausibility. Its perspective lensing provides for some incredible sequences that would never be shot by some random dude, but a talented cinematographer like Michael Bonvillain (“Zombieland” & “American Ultra”) could definitely fabricate them. His mastermind direction from Matt Reeves leads to a multitude of scenes that are exceptionally thrilling, one that continues to send shivers down my spine takes place in the subways tracks of New York City. 

Our group of everyday joes head back into the city, after losing a few friends, to help Rob (Michael Stahl-David) save the girl that he loves. On their way back into midtown, they are bombarded by a fleet of U.S soldiers launching another attack on the gargantuan beast, the sounds of war drown out our characters' dialogue, a realistic use of the sound design that warrants some applause. Stuck down in the subways, they wait for the war zone to move on, but after a few hours pass they attempt to take the trails of the subway to her apartment. While in the midst of awkward conversation made by our doofus camera operator, rats begin to flee between their feet. 

Lily (Jessica Lucas) states “They’re all running in the same direction,” Rob (Michael Stahl-David) calmly suggests “Yeah, like they’re running away from something.” Moments later an eerie growl echoes through the tunnels, as Rob (Michael Stahl-David) shows Hudson (T.J. Miller) how to use the night vision. Once it comes on, we see those same small creatures walking on the ceiling, staring into the lens of the camera. Their growls and rumbles begin to overwhelm the audio as they attack our group, even biting one of them as she risked herself by saving our camera holder. 

It all feels too cinematic to be believable as someone’s lost footage from the event known as “Cloverfield,” but it lends to some frightening sequences nonetheless because it's doesn’t carry too much of Hollywood’s fingerprints to seem implausible. It sucks you into the story as if your there alongside them, watching all of this as it occurs. The use of shielding the identity of the monster, the performances from relatively unknown actors, and the constant barrage of shaky cam assist in the film feeling naturalistic or like the legitimate dose of realism that found-footage is designed to be. “Cloverfield” is one of those films that alongside its brilliant marketing, uses it's filmmaking techniques to assist it's storytelling past the hurdles that if filmed otherwise, would be seen as mundane. 

The camera operator, Hudson, depicted by T.J. Miller in his first acting gig, is someone that assists in that believability. Many see him as kind of douche who is continually sticking the camera in his friends face instead of consoling them or making conversation about flaming homeless men in the midst of an already stressful situation. If a monster attacked your city though, wouldn’t you find some way for your brain to comprehend everything? What if talking out of your ass was your defensive mechanism? Things become weird when were placed in those sort of life or death situations, it just so happens that this is how Hud (T.J. Miller) dealt with it all. I can’t blame him for that, which is just the icing on the cake for a film that uses all the tools available to become something far more legitimate than you’d expect. 
 

No Country for Old Men (2007)

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is a bad film, but most bad movies are born out of a lack of commitment to a project, a lack of cooperation from a studio, or just a lack of effort placed into the filmmaking. I’m not saying all three of those scenarios didn’t take place, but I think there was something far worse taking place behind the camera than just those tools of cinematic injustice. 

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Drive (2011)

   Director: Nicolas Winding Refn With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Ron Pearlman, & Kaden Leos. Release: Sep 16, 2011 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Ron Pearlman, & Kaden Leos.
Release: Sep 16, 2011
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

 

"Is he a bad guy?" "Yeah." "How can you tell?" "Because he's a shark." "There's no good sharks?" It’s this bit of dialogue that our Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene’s (Carey Mulligan) son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), share that gets to the heart of what Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is at its core. It’s a story that is all about one man’s attempt at repentance; it's a dramatic and artistically manifested character study that resides in the skin of an action, car-centric, thriller. Refn fabricates a film that has so much visual storytelling that it's hard to believe the movie was only released five years ago because it maintains an old-fashioned feel in how Refn produces a silent film in hiding. 

“Drive” uses it dialogue in that way, if it ever does say anything at all, it's for a designated purpose. It’s a story that would usually be given a hefty dose of dialogue with cheesy lines that are meant to evoke an enthusiastic response from the audience; it's traditionally expected to focus far more on the action and the car chases than the man behind the wheel. 

“Drive” does the complete opposite, telling a story about a man whose name remains a mystery to us, even after the credits roll, we only know him as the Driver (Ryan Gosling). His backstory, his upbringing, and most of the details we would usually get are all thrown to the wayside and forgotten. Instead, we are given moments that are meant to be open for interpretation. An interpretation that evokes a feeling of heartache for myself, because, despite our lack of knowledge for this man’s past and his identity, we learn about the man he is. He’s someone seeking that righteousness for his committed sins; we know that his history is far darker than he lets on. We see that when he meets the family next door consisting of a single mother, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). 

He regularly has a grin on his face, as if he's finally found his place to rest, but we learn that her husband was in prison all this time. Finally released to a family welcoming home, a man (Oscar Isaac) whose past sins force him back into life. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) wants to be a real hero, a real human being as one of the film’s essential songs suggests, he throws his hat in the ring to save this man from his debt. When the job goes awry, we’re left with a man who has to overcome his vengeful anger, left with few choices to make to get back to that feeling of serenity. 

Until that point, his self-inflicted guilt feels unwarranted as the film opens with him committing a crime, one that seems to be relatively free of the sin that we see him carry, at least at the weight he carrying it. We see him express his rules to the men he’s assisting in the robbery, he’s the getaway driver, but he’s one that doesn’t come cheap. He’s there for the job, he doesn’t carry a gun, he owes them nothing when the job is done, and he’s damn good at his job. 

We watch him speed through the streets of Los Angeles in a way that isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before. There are no wide shots of him driving away with an army of police cars following him. Instead, he's a tactician, and he's strategic with his vehicular maneuverability. He stops and hides in plain sight, he chooses a car that blends in, and he moves through the chase with a sense of artistry that leaves his associates with a stunned looked on their face, as if they find his strategy a bit unfamiliar, but they know that he knows exactly what he’s doing. 

The way he gets out of this chase is sly as well, but the entire scene is treated with a heft of focus by Refn and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel. They shoot the whole chase from inside the vehicle, providing that perspective filled the feeling of being apart of the pursuit. You hear the engine rev, and it feels as if your sitting next to the driver, experiencing the revs of the engine and the adrenaline of a car chase. Refn delivers that type of neorealism/noirish style to the film, always maintaining the sheer sense of realism while providing a noir style. 

The soundtrack echoes that, with strange, rhythmic, and magnetic, electronic music that echoes how Refn is clouding his story’s emotions with style. Though his style is resonating and beautiful to watch, the emotions become hidden behind that style. It’s the one lagging flaw to be found in this story because it's an elegant exercise in the form a filmmaker uses is what makes “Drive” special. 

He extends it further and farther than it deserves to be, allowing that noirish essence to lend to the realism of the film while maintaining a level of emotion due to the sheer brilliance of the writing behind our hero. Written by Hossein Amini ("Snow White and the Huntsman" & "47 Ronin") and based off the novel by James Sallis, “Drive” has a sense of normality to its screenplay, almost as if it's purposefully turned down. 

The action, the blockbuster potential, and the sheer excitement of it all feel turned down, but the humanity is turned all the way up. Not only in how our hero is handled, but in how the world is rendered. The tagline of the poster says “there are no clean getaways” which feels eloquently precise for what this film’s story is attempting to become, but in all fairness, that story hinges on our main character. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man who carries a sense of guilt as I said, but it takes a while before we figure out why. 

Before we see that darker side of himself, that he finds himself fighting off more often than not, he wants to rest and feel the warmth of life once again, but he’s lost to the life he’s become apart of, being forced to become the coiled scorpion that resides on his jacket. Injecting venom into those who dare to tempt him, that same violent venom that seems to poison his life more than others, and Ryan Gosling exhumes that character arc better than anyone possibly could. He’s like Steve McQueen in that way; he’s charismatic but subtle. He embodies presence and sincerity. 

He’s an actor that continually challenges himself with characters needing a sense of powerhouse performance, even manifesting a character whose love for a doll becomes as poignant as anything we’ve seen before in “Lars and The Real Girl.” Audiences felt they were sold a bill of goods after seeing this impeccable actor in “Drive” though, they expected this to be his turn towards action and spectacle, but Ryan continues to remain in favor of quality over quantity. He shows up on the silver screen one to two times a year, and each time it's special. 

Much like “Drive,” a film that sold itself as something that audiences love, but one that merely inhabits the exterior of that genre and is made up of something far more poignantly with that of its internal aspects. The audience wasn't lied too; they just weren’t told the whole truth. 

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Oct 23, 2016 to moviequotes&more.com and has been re-written for qualitative purposes.