Movie Project #24: Mystic River [2003]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Mystic River [2003]

Mystic River [2003] 
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Brian Helgeland (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (novel)
Country: USA
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne
Running Time: 138 minutes

In Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated drama, Mystic River, the gut-wrenching feeling of guilt hangs over the head of every major character, all because of one fateful day in Boston in the summer of 1975.

Three boys, no more than ten years old each, are playing street hockey when one of them notices a fresh batch of cement on the sidewalk. Naturally, they grab a stick and take turns writing their names in it. A man driving by notices this, stops his car and scolds the three boys. He flashes a badge and demands to give one of them a ride home to tell his mother what he was doing. Unfortunately, this man is no cop, and he abducts the poor boy as his friends watch him ride away. It isn’t until days later that the boy escapes his captors, his life forever scarred.

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Movie Project #21: Boyz n the Hood [1991]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Boyz n the Hood [1991]

Boyz n the Hood [1991]
Director: John Singleton
Writer: John Singleton
Country: USA
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube
Running Time: 112 minutes

Boyz n the Hood opens with a tragic statistic:

“One out of every twenty-one Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male.”

This statement proves to be ominous in John Singleton’s 1991 Oscar-nominated film, his very first as a director.

Set in the South Central LA neighborhood of Crenshaw, the film paints a vivid and very blunt portrait of inner city life. Drug abuse and violence are rampant, father figures are nowhere to be seen, and most disputes are solved with guns, not fists. This is the kind of place where you could walk to the corner store and not make it back alive.

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Movie Project #15: Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]

Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988] 
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Gary K. Wolf (novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”), Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Animation/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy
Running Time: 104 minutes

Who Framed Roger Rabbit brought back a flood of memories for me, which is funny because I wasn’t 100% sure I had even watched the entire film growing up. Yet there I was remembering everything from the opening cartoon sequence to recognizing random moments and bits of dialogue here and there afterward.

An even better surprise was discovering just how well this 80s flick holds up today.

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Movie Project #14: A Prophet [2009]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

A Prophet [2009]

A Prophet [2007]
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Running Time: 155 minutes

In Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, prison is an intimidating and often brutal venue that is dominated by two groups: the Corsicans and the Muslims. If you aren’t affiliated with one of these groups (and thereby “protected”), you are entirely on your own, and this is not a desirable option.

The film’s main character, a 19-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent named Malik (Tahar Rahim), learns this firsthand. Sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer, Malik enters as a naive young man — a kid, really. He is quickly singled out by the Corsican mafia as someone they can take control of. Led by the old, gruff Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the Corsicans force a proposition on the new prisoner. They want him to kill a Muslim witness named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) who is passing through on his way to testify against them. If Malik doesn’t assassinate their target, he will be killed himself. If he does go through with it, he will be protected by the Corsicans through the remainder of his sentence. Truth be told, there is no decision to be made; Malik has to kill this man.

A Prophet [2009]

So it goes in A Prophet, a dog eat dog world. This is just the first test. Malik does a lot of growing in the film, eventually rising through the ranks in absolutely astonishing fashion. As the film goes on, we learn bits of his background. He dropped out of school at age 11, basically raised himself on the streets, and he never learned how to read. Knowing this background makes his ascension even more impressive. Despite his shortcomings, Malik is incredibly street smart, and he quickly adapts to the prison’s hierarchy system.

Malik’s Arab descent allows him to walk the line between both the Muslims and the Corsicans, and he takes full advantage of this. He becomes good friends with a Muslim, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him how to read and write. As Malik’s role within the Corsicans continues to grow, he also branches out into a separate business for himself with Ryad. Eventually, thanks to his good behavior he is granted occasional day leaves, allowing him to conduct business on the outside. It is clear that when/if he leaves prison, he is not going to be the same man.

A Prophet [2009]

Tahar Rahim doesn’t look the type who could succeed in prison, but his performance is entirely believable. We never really know quite what he’s thinking, and the film is stronger because of this. Even better is Niels Arestrup as Cesar, basically the epitome of a godfather-type mafioso. He often appears calm, but it’s clear from one look at him that he is not someone to mess with. The performances and setting are as authentic as it gets — Audiard even made it a point to hire former convicts as advisors and extras in the film.

A Prophet‘s tale is a complicated one, but its surprisingly non-violent payoff is immensely satisfying. The extended running time — all 2 1/2 hours of it — is certainly lengthy and even drags at times, but it’s worth it in the long haul. This is an ambitious drama that manages to combine both gangster epics and coming of age stories into one powerful and intelligent film. With its 13 Cesar nominations — and nine wins — it’s clear that many others feel the same way.

8/10

Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

Movie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Catch Me If You Can [2002]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Stan Redding (book), Frank Abagnale (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Running Time: 141 minutes

I’m always a sucker for “truth is stranger than fiction” narratives, which is why I made Catch Me If You Can one of my first selections from this year’s project. An imposter movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, a possibly rejuvenated Steven Spielberg… it has all the ingredients for a fun, memorable adventure. For the most part it works, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels it could have.

The story, set in the 1960s, is certainly interesting enough. DiCaprio plays a fresh-faced teen named Frank Abagnale, a con man who manages to pose as a pilot, doctor and lawyer all while earning himself millions of dollars by the age of 19. Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, an FBI bank fraud agent who catches onto Frank’s scheme and pursues him endlessly throughout the decade. Both are broken, lonely men who have pushed themselves beyond the point of exhaustion with their cat-and-mouse game. No matter what Hanratty does, Abagnale seems to be one step ahead of him.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

It’s doubtful that Frank envisioned life as a con man, but his first taste of success pushes him farther and farther down the rabbit hole. If he could impersonate an airline pilot, gain access to their payroll system and even get invited into the cockpit on several flights — with minimal effort, mind you — why stop there? When Hanratty gets hot on his tail, Frank just shifts gears and becomes a doctor, somehow getting himself a supervisor gig at a hospital. At one point, Frank even pulls a fast one over Hanratty, escaping arrest by claiming to be a member of the Secret Service.

Watching Abagnale finagle his way out of tricky situations is always entertaining, though there are several moments that raise questions about just how true his claims really are. In particular, there is a scene near the end of the film in which he somehow manages to escape an airplane as it is landing — it’s as dubious as it sounds. As the film is based mostly on Abagnale’s own stories, it’s reasonable to assume he took some liberties in telling them. Perhaps in the end, he is still conning all of us watching his tale unfold on film.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

And yet as wild and crazy as this story is, Spielberg never quite lets it reach the next level. The film overall feels safe and never really finds its footing. At times, it comes across as a comical, light-hearted adventure, while other times it gets bogged down by the drama surrounding the two leads. It’s still a fun watch, to be sure, but I can’t help but imagine how this would play out with an edgier filmmaker.

At the very least, the film does have a stellar cast to fall back on. DiCaprio and Hanks, though neither are at their best, are both effortlessly compelling, and they make for a memorable duo. Amy Adams, in one of her earliest roles, is a real highlight, playing the sweet and naive love interest of Abagnale. Christopher Walken is also terrific as Frank’s father who has issues of his own with the IRS.

Even with its flaws, Catch Me If You Can is a likable film that manages to make its extended running time feel shorter than it truly is. It’s not the best film from anyone involved, but it’s fine for what it is.

7/10

Movie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Catch Me If You Can [2002]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Stan Redding (book), Frank Abagnale (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Running Time: 141 minutes

I’m always a sucker for “truth is stranger than fiction” narratives, which is why I made Catch Me If You Can one of my first selections from this year’s project. An imposter movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, a possibly rejuvenated Steven Spielberg… it has all the ingredients for a fun, memorable adventure. For the most part it works, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels it could have.

The story, set in the 1960s, is certainly interesting enough. DiCaprio plays a fresh-faced teen named Frank Abagnale, a con man who manages to pose as a pilot, doctor and lawyer all while earning himself millions of dollars by the age of 19. Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, an FBI bank fraud agent who catches onto Frank’s scheme and pursues him endlessly throughout the decade. Both are broken, lonely men who have pushed themselves beyond the point of exhaustion with their cat-and-mouse game. No matter what Hanratty does, Abagnale seems to be one step ahead of him.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

It’s doubtful that Frank envisioned life as a con man, but his first taste of success pushes him farther and farther down the rabbit hole. If he could impersonate an airline pilot, gain access to their payroll system and even get invited into the cockpit on several flights — with minimal effort, mind you — why stop there? When Hanratty gets hot on his tail, Frank just shifts gears and becomes a doctor, somehow getting himself a supervisor gig at a hospital. At one point, Frank even pulls a fast one over Hanratty, escaping arrest by claiming to be a member of the Secret Service.

Watching Abagnale finagle his way out of tricky situations is always entertaining, though there are several moments that raise questions about just how true his claims really are. In particular, there is a scene near the end of the film in which he somehow manages to escape an airplane as it is landing — it’s as dubious as it sounds. As the film is based mostly on Abagnale’s own stories, it’s reasonable to assume he took some liberties in telling them. Perhaps in the end, he is still conning all of us watching his tale unfold on film.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

And yet as wild and crazy as this story is, Spielberg never quite lets it reach the next level. The film overall feels safe and never really finds its footing. At times, it comes across as a comical, light-hearted adventure, while other times it gets bogged down by the drama surrounding the two leads. It’s still a fun watch, to be sure, but I can’t help but imagine how this would play out with an edgier filmmaker.

At the very least, the film does have a stellar cast to fall back on. DiCaprio and Hanks, though neither are at their best, are both effortlessly compelling, and they make for a memorable duo. Amy Adams, in one of her earliest roles, is a real highlight, playing the sweet and naive love interest of Abagnale. Christopher Walken is also terrific as Frank’s father who has issues of his own with the IRS.

Even with its flaws, Catch Me If You Can is a likable film that manages to make its extended running time feel shorter than it truly is. It’s not the best film from anyone involved, but it’s fine for what it is.

7/10

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Genre: Biography/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Running Time: 180 minutes

The Wolf of Wall Street is exactly what I expected it to be — a wild, drugged-out ride through the career of a larger-than-life criminal. Sex, drugs and profanity profilerate the screen. It’s so over-the-top in its debauchery that it’s bound to infuriate those sensitive to such content. One of the very first scenes, in which Leonardo DiCaprio snorts cocaine off the backside of a hooker, tells you all you need to know about what the next three hours hold. If that doesn’t deter you, well, sit back and enjoy one of the craziest films you’ll see all year.

Set in the late 80s and into the 90s, the film follows the rise and fall of a cocky young stockbroker named Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). While he starts out fairly mild-mannered as a married man, he begins spiraling out of control after accepting a profitable job selling penny stocks. As his wealth begins to accumulate, so does his lavish lifestyle. He forms his own company, Stratton Oakmont, hires a handful of friends (mostly drug dealers) and then molds them into successful brokers. Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) becomes his right-hand man, and Belfort scores himself a new hot wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie).

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

Belfort’s excess and fraudulent behavior catches the eye of FBI agent Greg Coleman (Kyle Chandler). The two of them play a bit of cat-and-mouse as Belfort starts shoveling his money to a Swiss bank account. He always seems to be one step ahead of the game, yet he simply doesn’t know when or how to stop. Naturally, his habits lead to his downfall.

Does Belfort change? No, not really. The more money he makes, the more out of control he gets. He throws spectacular parties for his employees, most of which are full of cocaine, Quaaludes and orgies. He’s a pretty awful guy all around, yet DiCaprio manages to make him so damn charismatic. Leo’s performance here is both batshit crazy and also one of the best in his career. Watching him dance, scream and jumble around while strung out on ‘ludes is worth the price of admission alone.

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The supporting cast is absolutely terrific as well, with no weak links anywhere. Jonah Hill often goes into frightening territory with his character, but his drug adventures with DiCaprio make for many of the film’s best moments. (On a side note, who would have ever thought Hill would have *two* Oscar nominations? Dude deserves them though.) Matthew McConaughey has a great scene in which he acts as a bit of a mentor to Belfort, leading him in an awkward-but-amusing chest pounding chant. Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreu all have notable bit parts, but perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is Margot Robbie. This Australian actress is the perfect counterpart to DiCaprio, even managing to steal a scene or two from him. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

The Wolf of Wall Street‘s excess may be a bit too much at times, and it does bear quite a few similarities with Goodfellas, but Scorsese is still in top form here. The dark humor is so twisted and off-the-wall that I found myself laughing often, and quite frankly there is never a dull moment within the film’s three hour runtime. If you can handle the vulgarity, this one will not disappoint.

9/10

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: September 17, 2013

I have a confession to make: until Grand Theft Auto V, I had never completed a GTA game. I have played every game in the series, and had a (mostly) positive experience with each one, but I would always seem to lose interest at around the 10-15 hour mark. That is not the case with Rockstar’s latest blockbuster, the first GTA game to finally get nearly everything right.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the series has been its lack of mission checkpoints. There was rarely anything more frustrating than starting a mission, driving to point A, accomplishing set goal, getting killed on the ensuing shootout back, and then having to start it all over again from the very beginning. That is not the case in GTA V — now there are multiple checkpoints within each mission, ensuring that any tedium is kept to the bare minimum.

Another huge, huge addition to the series is a brand new quick save system. That’s right — instead of having to drive to a safe house and walk into your bedroom, you can now just open your cell phone and save at any point you wish. In essence, by fixing these two major issues alone, Rockstar has succeeded in creating what is truly the ultimate Grand Theft Auto experience.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

In another bold move, the game has three protagonists instead of just one rags-to-riches story. These characters — Michael, Franklin and Trevor — are all wildly different and can be switched between at your leisure. Michael is a rich ex-convict who is going through a mid-life crisis, and he can’t resist the urge of getting back into the tempting world of crime once again. He befriends Franklin, a repo man who is trying to get out of the hood while pursuing higher levels of crime. Later, Trevor, an old pal of Michael’s, is introduced, and he is the epitome of the stereotypical GTA gamer’s play style. Trevor is a wild, out-of-control white trash psychopath who has no problems killing and torturing others. He is completely ludicrous, but he is responsible for many of the game’s most memorable moments. All three characters have their own personal missions while also working together on the main storyline.

The absolute highlight of using these three characters together comes in the form of elaborate heist missions. These require intense planning, and the game gives you two different ways to pull off these robberies. One is usually stealth-oriented, whereas the other is guns-a-blazin’. A lot of piecework is required to be successful, including recruiting NPC helpers (the better ones require a higher cut of the score), getting proper getaway vehicles and of course, scoping out the area beforehand. There are only a handful of these heist missions, but they are easily the most fun I have had in any GTA game’s main campaign, period.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Switching between the three characters is quite easy, and it works surprisingly well. For example, during a heist you can switch from one character who is engaged in a gunfight at ground level to another character who is ready with a sniper from above. Being able to switch back and forth adds a new dimension to these missions, and and they are a blast to play.

Of course, if you really want to, you can avoid missions altogether and just go buckwild in the massive world of Los Santos. Unlike in previous games, the entire map is open to you right from the start, and boy is it massive. The city is full of life, with yuppies walking down the sidewalk with frappucino in hand, bar patrons lounging around outside, people walking their dogs in the park… it truly feels like a living, breathing world. Outside of the city, there’s an impoverished, redneck town (where Trevor’s trailer is located), as well as a large mountain that is begging to be explored.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

The game is full of bonus side quests and little Easter eggs, some of which may not be discovered for months. There are tons of random events, and each character has their own unique interactions. For example, Franklin can tow illegally parked cars to earn more money, while Trevor can work as a bounty hunter. Trevor also has the distinction of being able to kidnap random citizens and then drive them to a cult at the top of a mountain, where they will exchange money for their next human sacrifice victim. Basically, you can be as evil as you want in the game.

Other improvements in GTA V include far superior car handling (especially compared to GTA IV) and much better combat controls. The gunplay, especially, is a huge step-up, as now it is much easier to lock onto an enemy. Also, dying in the game no longer erases your weapons — you will respawn with everything in tact, which is a another nice bonus.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Now, GTA V isn’t quite perfect. For one, helicopters are incredibly awkward to control, and they are mandatory for a few missions. While I was able to handle most missions with relative ease, I found myself dying much more frequently when I had to fly. It makes sense that there are flying missions since Trevor was a former certified pilot, but I could have done without being forced to use them so often.

There are also problems with the game’s writing and use of satire. The GTA series has always been tongue-in-cheek, and this game is no exception. However, some of the satire and jokes just come across as lazy. For every genuinely amusing moment, there are plenty of groan-worthy spoofs (i.e. FBI = FIB, Facebook = Lifeinvader, etc.) or overly juvenile gags. The game’s characters are also hastily written, and their reasons for working together are vapid at best. Still, shallow writing aside, I am willing to overlook most of these flaws simply because the game does so much right.

Put simply, Grand Theft Auto V is a remarkable achievement in gaming. There is just so much to do in the island of Los Santos, and every foray into its world produces new experiences. The game looks incredible — try not to be impressed the first time you dip your toes in the ocean — and it has a killer soundtrack to boot. There’s even a brand new online mode that is essentially its own full-fledged game (which will get a separate review later). In short, this is the GTA that I have always wanted, and it is easily one of this year’s must-play games.

10/10

Movie Review: Only God Forgives [2013]

Only God Forgives [2013]

Only God Forgives [2013]
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Running Time: 90 minutes

After the critical success of 2011’s Drive, my personal movie of the year, all eyes were focused on director Nicolas Winding Refn. What would he do to follow up his breakout hit? If you had guessed he would make a violent crime drama with incredibly sparse dialogue and a nearly non-existent plot, give yourself a hand.

Ryan Gosling once again takes the lead, this time playing Julian, a mysterious drug smuggler in the seedy Bangkok underworld. After his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered for raping and killing a young prostitute, Julian does not immediately seek vengeance. In fact, he does nothing at all. This infuriates his domineering mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who flies into Thailand with the ferocity of a Griselda Blanco. She will do whatever it takes to hunt down and kill those involved with her son’s death, and Julian is her pawn in this whether he likes it or not.

Only God Forgives [2013]

This is a simple revenge story, one that takes its sweet time getting anywhere. There is a lot of staring with no words being spoken, and characters are frequently shown to be walking in slow motion. This is “artsy” to the point of exhaustion, and those with little patience will find this a chore to sit through.

Yet there is still something resembling a good film beneath this tedium. Refn’s direction is as stylish as ever, and Bangkok comes to life with an assortment of vibrant neon colors. Many scenes are awash in blue and bright red, and the film itself is quite stunning to look at.

Only God Forgives [2013]

The performances are also memorable. While Gosling does not appear to change his facial expression even once during the entire film, Kristin Scott Thomas is a tour-de-force as the mafioso-like matriarch. Even as her character spews inappropriate diatribe about the size of her son’s genitalia, she remains convincing. Vithaya Pansringam also delivers a quite enjoyable performance as Lt. Chang, the powerful police officer who had a hand in Billy’s death. He comes across as someone who should not be messed with. At all.

Only God Forgives is a divisive film through and through. While not everything works, this is still a visual spectacle that has enough eye candy to make up for some of its weaknesses. At the very least, this further proves that Refn is a filmmaker that knows how to get people talking about his work, and he doesn’t seem to give a damn about what any of us may think.

6/10