Tag: drama (page 2 of 5)

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Law Abiding Citizen

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/law_abiding_citizen.mp3]

As a generally enlightened culture, we are fascinated by the concepts and procedures of justice. We debate what is in society’s best interest, study those who act against that interest and determine ways in which those parties can be dealt with. It’s the reason Law & Order is one of the longest-running shows on television. However, the lament of many an individual with a mind geared towards justice and perhaps even honor is that the system established by our culture is fraught with loopholes, caveats and legal prestedigitation that allows criminals to escape what might be considered their just rewards. Enter righteously motivated and occasionally unhinged vigilantes, from Batman to the Punisher, from Paul Benjamin to the Boondock Saints. While most of these heroes operate outside of the system, Law Abiding Citizen goes a step further by taking on the system itself.

Courtesy Overture Entertainment & Doctor Popcorn

Clyde Shelton is a tinkerer. He’s making a quiet living with a few inventions with his wife and daughter when his home is invaded. Stabbed and forced to watch his family murdered, Clyde then sees months of time and millions of dollars trickle away as his lawyer, hotshot Nick Rice, brokers a deal with more vicious of the two attackers, Doyle, that sends the partner to Death Row while Doyle himself gets a slap on the wrist. Clyde is a little upset about this turn of events. Ten years later, a series of gruesome but highly coordinated events begin to take place, and it soon becomes clear that Clyde has a bone to pick with not just his attackers, but the system that let one of them walk away. It slowly becomes apparent just how dangerous Clyde really is, and Nick is the only person capable of figuring out Clyde’s next move, provided Clyde isn’t actually three moves ahead.

From the standpoint of composition and flow of story, there’s really nothing objectionable about Law Abiding Citizen with one noteable exception. Kurt Wimmer, creator of the exceptional Equilibrium, is good at this sort of intelligent, vengeance-minded scripting. F Gary Gray’s got good directing chops that give us clean scenes and realistic framing. None of the actors seemed to be phoning it in or gnawing overmuch on the scenery. There’s nothing earth-shattering in any of these elements, but neither are any of them bad enough to warrant a mention. It’s a character-driven movie, rather than being fueled by explosions and cleavage, so it was already winning points on that basis alone as it ran.

Courtesy Overture Entertainment & Poptower
A little something for the ladies.

One thing of note, and a big part of the appeal of the story, is just how insanely prepared Clyde seems to be for most of the movie. Take this as your obligatory spoiler warning before I actually get to discussing the end, but from the start of the film up until about the 90th minute, Clyde comes off as a diabolical mix of Hannibal Lecter and Hannibal Smith. He’s intelligent, well-spoken, resourceful and very angry, yet he’s polite when he needs to be and is careful to never tip his hand. It’s like in handing the unrepentant Doyle a plea bargain, Nick Rice accidentally created a supervillain that Lex Luthor would love to have on his payroll if he wasn’t worried about Clyde taking over the business. The extent and execution of his actions reaches that level of impressive deviousness.

The other thing that stood out from the very beginning is this movie’s setting. Call me sentimental but I’m kind of in love with Philadelphia. Considering most of the tension comes from in and around City Hall, which is an exquisite stone building in the heart of a bustling modern metropolis, it was all sorts of eye candy for me. In addition, the prison scenes were shot in the old Eastern State Penitentary, commonly noted as a haunted attraction in these parts. Though I have to wonder what William Penn, the Quaker atop City Hall’s clock tower looking down at most of the city’s buildings, would make of all the explosions in his town.

Courtesy 49th Parallel
“Damn kids these days…”

Okay, last call for those wishing a spoiler-free experience to get out. I’m going to talk about the ending, now, and in retrospect it’s kind of pissing me off. So for most of the movie, Clyde is the sort frighteningly prepared and thorough villain that you can’t help but admire because the guy’s thought of everything. Then he seems to forget things. Like for example, when he sets the bomb for the mayor and Philly’s other top brass, why did he not include a motion sensor at the bottom of the case, activated after he leaves, so that it’d go off if it was moved? And why was his lair unprotected? When Nick and Chief O’Brien (yes, he had another name, and no, I don’t feel like looking it up) break into the place, they flick switches, pull covers off of equipment, so on and so forth. There isn’t one mine, no traps, not a single remote security measure, not even a tripwire! I was throwing up my hands in disgust! I mean, it’s one thing for the villain protagonist to be so smug he gets hoisted by his own pitard, but this was just downright stupid!

In the end, Law Abiding Citizen kind of let me down. I was along for the ride and enjoying it, wondering who was going to die next and how. The realism of its setting and execution pulled me in, but when the ending took a turn for the idiotic it hurled me back out again. What started out as an interesting and entertaining introduction to the origins of a truly menacing and intelligent character became a major disappointment. I’m inclined to say queue it up but shut it off after the first hour and a half. You may be saying, “But I won’t know how it ends!” My response is: Badly. Very, very, very badly. I don’t mean in terms of what happens to the characters, I mean in terms of the last dozen pages of the script getting fed to an angry badger before the scenes get shot. It’s mangled, abused, completely out of sync with the rest of the movie, kind of damp from drool and boy does it smell funny.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Movie Review: True Grit

I grew up with Westerns. The big music and booming voice of John Wayne is something I’m quite familiar with. Unfortunately some of my childhood memories are a bit spotty, and the only thing I really remember from the 1968 version of True Grit is the famous scene of The Duke riding towards four men with the reigns in his mouth, a rifle in one hand and a six-shooter in the other. So I walked into the 2010 version of the film with an open mind as a fan of both the frontier genre and one Jeff Bridges. I knew it was a story of a headstrong teenage girl, Mattie Ross, hunting down the man who killed her father with the enlistment of the aging, overweight, one-eyed drunkard Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Other than that basic premise and the knowledge that this is a straight adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel rather than a remake of Wayne’s Oscar-winner, when the lights went out I went into this one cold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

The Coen Brothers, filmmakers known for quirkiness and scenery, seem to have taken all of their quirks out of the equation and focused on the authenticness of this Western experience. In addition to capturing the breathtaking landscapes that made up the untamed territory into which the protagonists ride, they also encapsulate some of the finer details of that period of American history. Houses, courtrooms and shops look lived in, hand-built, rough and tumble like the people within them. Guns sound off and kick realistically. Nobody uses contractions. It sucks you in very quickly and you can almost feel and taste the dust of the road.

Every bit as authentic are the performances. In general, nobody here can be accused of phoning in a performance, or telegraphing if you will. What shows this off are some of the briefest performances managing to stick out. Barry Pepper and especially Josh Brolin are very effective frontier villains for the short time they’re on screen, and Dakin Matthews as the blustering shopkeeper with whom Mattie must haggle in the film’s opening cement the tone and timbre of the piece. Most of our time, however, is spent with three disparate yet inextricably bound individuals, and every performance here is solid gold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Don’t let the pigtails fool you. She’s not to be trifled with.

Hailee Steinfeld is in the mix with some heavy Hollywood hitters and yet comes out as just about the best performer in the movie. Her portrayal of a fourteen-year-old girl doggedly pursuing frontier justice breaks down all kinds of barriers that some would find insurmountable. She’s brave without being fearless and it’s clear that she’s grown up fast and hard in a world that would have her staying at home, crochetting and waiting to get married off to some landowner. Intelligent, well-spoken and tenacious above all, Mattie’s an immediately memorable character. Hailee’s work is Oscar-caliber, and while I haven’t seen The Fighter yet and can’t say for certain she got snubbed, it’s difficult for me to reserve judgement.

For all the fun that gets poked at him, Matt Damon really earns his spurs as Texas Ranger LaBeouf (boy, am I straining the Western puns or what?) who’s looking for the same man as Mattie for different reasons. He comes off as an arrogant, city-clicker dandy, but that might be a smokescreen to obfuscate just how dangerous he really is. Faced with the inplacable Mattie and the slovenly Cogburn, LeBeouf has to demonstrate patience was well as tenacity in the pursuit of his own goals. Damon does a great job with this, elevating a character that could have ended up as Cogburn’s sidekick as someone that stands entirely on his own.

As for Jeff Bridges… what can I say, that man can act. As if playing both ‘the Dude’ and Obediah Stane hadn’t demonstrated his range in recent years, his inhabiting of Rooster Cogburn once again shows just the kind of performance he can bring to the table. When you look at Rooster in this film, you’re not seeing Bridges in any of his other roles, you’re seeing a one-eyed lawman who isn’t afraid to bust a few rules to do his job, loves his liquor almost as much as running down the bad guys and demonstrates a hilarious tendency for understatement. As far as I can tell, John Wayne was playing the role as Rooster, while Bridges is Rooster, at least for this film’s run-time.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Just about every time he opened his mouth, I was grinning.

If I have any complaints about True Grit, it’d be linearity. There aren’t many diversions in the story and no major twists to speak of. As much as a straightforward storytelling exercise is not necessarily a bad thing, there are those who have come to expect a level of complexity in the narrative that this movie lacks. However, the characters have more than enough depth and nuance to make up for this, and the acting and scenery are so captivating that you’ll want the film to continue, not because there’s more story to tell but because these characters are such a delight to watch.

Stuff I Liked: Realism and authenticness in this Western go a long way. No actor turns in a bad or lackluster performance.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little more development of Ned Pepper and his gang would have been cool, but really wasn’t necessary for the story so I understand why we didn’t have it.
Stuff I Loved: The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, the three principles are quite stellar and the movie as a whole stands on its own as everything a good Western yarn should be.

Bottom line: FILL YOUR SEAT YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH!

Free Fiction: Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

Okay, I’m going to be honest. This isn’t likely to be my best story ever.

I haven’t been editing as thoroughly as I could have over the weekend, which makes this essentially a first draft. And as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” So it’ll probably be better when it gets bundled with my other retold myths. Anyway, appropriate for Valentine’s Day and based on the Chinese folk tale “The Princess and the Cowherd” (a.k.a. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl), I give you “Miss Weaver’s Lo Mein.”

Spoiler

To say that Caroline Weaver didn’t get out much would be an understatement.

In terms of creature comforts, she wanted for nothing. She had a spacious apartment within walking distance of her father’s office. Weaver & Weaver had been in the commodites business practically since there *was* a commodities business, and it was a long-standing, solid and above-board company handed down from eldest son to eldest son. When Joe’s sons and wife were killed in a car accident, he turned to Caroline and immediately began grooming her to take his place when he was gone.

The loss of her brothers and mother left Caroline numb, dedicated solely to her work. She knew how important it was. Her dad was counting on her. If someone who wasn’t Weaver took over the company when Joe passed on, it wouldn’t be Weaver & Weaver anymore, would it? It was something that consumed her. She ate organic food, slept near a laptop, never took vacations and no relationship she tried lasted longer than a couple months. Some of her co-workers joked the only guy she could stand on a regular basis outside of her father was “the lo mein guy.”

His cart was always parked across Broadway from the office building. FRESH CHINESE was the declaration on the placards bolted to the hammered metal sides. Paper lanters hung from the opened side doors, a little MP3 player hooked up to speakers piped quiet Chinese toons, and the smell coming from the cart was always something divine to Caroline, never greasy or fatty. It was the man behind the cart, however, that really kept her coming back.

“Morning, Miss Weaver! The usual lo mein?”

He was her age. He kept his dark hair short, and his eyes always had a glint of mischief in them, a laugh just waiting to explode from his mouth. More than once, Caroline reflected that there was a significant lack of laughter in her life.

“Yes, please. How’s the beef?”

“Absolutely delicious.” He grinned as he spooned noodles into her take-away container. “But you know that! You never get chicken or shrimp.”

“It’s just that the beef is so good,” she admitted. “Is it local?”

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“Why is that unfortunate?” Caroline was speaking before thinking. That never happened. She’d been visiting this cart for months, why was she suddenly so talkative? She watched him, carefully sprinkling spices on top of the pile of beef and noodles in the paper box. Why couldn’t she look away from his eyes today?

“It’s not as good as the beef back home. My father’s a cowherd, like his father and so on and so forth.”

She blinked. “‘Back home’? You’re a Chinese native?”

“Why is that a surprise?” He let out a short, barking laugh. “Is it because I speak English so well?”

“Well…” She shuffled her feet. The last thing she wanted to do was offend him. If nothing else, she didn’t want her food spiced with spit.

“I get it all the time.” He was still smiling, handing her the lunch. “I was educated at a school upstate. My father was here for years trying to secure an export contract for his beef. It never happened. He couldn’t afford to move us all back home, so I stayed to make enough money on my own to do it.”

She handed him a few bills from her purse. “Here, and keep the change. I hope you make it home someday soon.”

“Me too. Thank you, Miss Weaver.”

His smile was infectious. She turned, face to face with a construction worker who wasn’t as happy with their banter as she was. Blushing, she hurredly crossed the street. She didn’t stop blushing until well after she returned to her desk. She still wasn’t sure what’d possessed her to talk to him like that. She tried not to think about it as she got her chopsticks out and ate her lunch. Hours later as she was plowing through a pile of work it occured to her she’d never asked his name.

That’s exactly what she did the next day.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I didn’t think to ask your name yesterday.” She paused. “I’ve been coming her for months and never once have I asked your name. Wait… how do you know mine?”

“You answered your cell phone once while I was making your lunch. That’s rude, you know.”

His deadly serious face made her crestfallen. “Oh…”

His eyes glimmered and he grinned. “I’m just playing. I didn’t mind. Folks behind you might’ve, but I can’t tell them how to think.”

She returned his smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been working a lot lately.”

“Aren’t we all.” He handed her the beef lo mein. “I’m Yuan. Sorry if I didn’t say so before.”

“No, really, it’s my fault for not asking.”

He handed her the lunch he’d made her. “Think nothing of it, Miss Weaver.”

She paid him, along with the tip she usually added. “It’s Caroline.”

His smile lit up his entire face, and the rest of that afternoon flew by for her.

Over the next few months, Caroline and Yuan began to learn more and more about each other. She didn’t know much about baseball, but he hated the Yankees. He hadn’t gotten to do much reading since establishing his business, and she was a huge Harry Potter fan. They shared a taste for older rock’n’roll, with Caroline marking the death of Jimi Hendrix every year and Yuan considering himself a Beatlemaniac. Caroline didn’t go to the movies much, and Yuan promised if they ever did, it wouldn’t be to see a romantic comedy.

“I don’t know if I’d have the time to go see a movie.” The skies above were threatening rain that day. Yuan smiled as he stirred a fresh batch of lo mein noodles, intent on giving her the first portion of it.

“But you’d be open to the idea?”

She smiled. “What makes you think I wouldn’t be?”

“Don’t people in your line of work usually associate with others in the same industry or social circle?”

“I guess, but most of them are entitled self-important arrogant douchebags.”

Yuan snorted in laughter. “Well, I can’t say I’m any different. I mean, these are the best noodles in the city.”

“But I can attest to that. I’ve tasted your noodles. I only have vapid claims to go on from those clowns. I have no interest in seeing their golf swings or art collections, and they think I’ll be eager to find out how good they are in bed when their cologne could knock out a herd of angry rhinos? No, forget it.”

Yuan shook his head, grinning. “I think this is the happiest I’ve heard you. You really enjoy trashing your peers this much?”

“No. I enjoy talking to you this much.”

He looked up at her smile, and for a moment, he was at a loss for words. He handed her the lunch box. She took it, touching his fingers for a moment before handing him the cash.

“Thursday night, the cinema over on 55th. Seven o’clock?”

He nodded. “I’ll be there.”

The movie showing on Thursday night was a little independent production, and it was neither romantic nor a comedy. Still, at times the movie seemed absolutely superfluous, as Caroline was in the company of someone who made no demands of her and had no expectations. It wasn’t an industry event where she was supposed to hobnob with this client or that CEO, it was simple, straightforward, uncomplicated.

She didn’t want it to end.

He walked her to her door afterwards, kissed her good night and took the train back to his self-described “rathole”. She was still walking six feet off the ground when she came into work on Friday.

“You seem to be in excellent spirits.”

She came out of the pleasant memories to look at the man standing at the door of her office. Her father. Tall and thin, with a bald head and bright blond sideburns flowing into his distinctive mustache, he entered the office and closed the door behind him.

“Yeah. I… I was on a date last night.”

“A date? With whom? That nice boy Howards from the exchange?”

“No.” She hesitated. How much did she want to tell him? How much could she? “You wouldn’t know him.”

The lift he’d had in his mustache disappeared. It was the most she’d seen him smile in a while, and now it was gone. “Well, maybe I’d like to. Give it some thought.” He left her to her work, and the morning dragged by for her until she headed downstairs for lunch.

“You look awful,” Yuan commented as he stirred the noodles at his cart. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s my father. I told him about our date, and…”

“…he’d be less than impressed with me.” He nodded slowly. “He’s a high-powered executive. I understand.”

“Yuan, he’s not a bad man, but the company is all he has. I’m important to him because of the part I play in it.”

“Can’t you be important to him because you’re his daughter?”

“I was, once. Now he’s pinned all his hopes and future on me.”

He touched her hand, gently. “That’s a lot to ask of someone.”

She looked in his eyes. “Yuan, I’m sorry. I don’t want to stop seeing you. I… you make me so happy sometimes I can barely contain it.”

He smiled, and gently handed her her lunch. “I’m glad we agree on that. Look, you’ll see me here every day. When you’re ready, we’ll talk about how to handle this ‘dad’ situation of yours. It’ll be fine. I promise.”

Nodding, she gave her usual generous tip, taking a moment to kiss the bills before putting them in his jar. The grin splitting his face was priceless. She returned to work in better spirits and made it through the rest of the day.

The next day, however, it was Yuan’s turn to be followed by a dark cloud. He showed Caroline a form that’d been delivered to him in person.

“It’s a deportation notice,” he told her. “My visa’s been revoked.”

“How is that possible?” She studied the form. It made no sense.

“After my student visa expired, I applied for residence. Despite the fact my work permit from my previous visa hadn’t expired, they’re saying this-” He gestured a his cart and its delicious-smelling food. “- is illegal, and they’re deporting me for it.”

“That is bullshit!” She slammed the form back onto the cart. “What was this officer’s name? I’ll find him and sort it out.”

He shook his head. “I’ve already found a buyer for the cart. I’m going to go home, help dad with the farm. The money I’ve made here isn’t much, but…”

She took his hand, ignoring the people behind her. “Yuan, they don’t have to run you out like this. It isn’t right. We should fight this, together.”

“Even if we do, I’ll either be doing it from China or from jail. I’d like to hold on to my freedom, even if it means leaving a country supposedly founded on it, and you.”

Caroline felt tears coming to her eyes and tried to blink them away. He touched her face and smiled faintly.

“It’s a smaller world than you might think. I don’t think it can keep us apart for too long.”

She leaned into his touch, kissed his hand. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Miss Weaver. Here’s your lo mein.”

She didn’t remember the trip back upstairs, nor leaving her lunch on her desk. The next thing she knew she was in her father’s office.

“This was your doing.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” He didn’t look at her. Six financial reports were on his wall of televisions at once. He said it kept his mind sharp.

“Yuan’s deportation. You had something to do with it.”

“People shouldn’t be here on expired permits and visas. If they can’t be bothered to renew their paperwork properly, they’ve got no place here.”

“His work permit’s fine, you just don’t like the fact that I’m interested in someone in a lower tax bracket from you!”

“I don’t like your tone, Caroline.”

“And I don’t like the way you try to control my life like it’s a game of chess or something! I’m your daughter, not a slave or a pawn!”

“You’re also the best employee I’ve got, and this is our busiest time of year. I need you completely on your game with no distractions. You can have all the girlish flings you want third quarter, just as long as I don’t have to see it by looking out my window.”

Caroline felt her hands curling into fists. She stared at her father as her nails bit into her palms. Finally, when she couldn’t think of anything constructive to say, she turned and walked out, returning to her office. She managed to make it through the rest of the work day and get herself home before she broke down into tears.

It was a dismal month that followed. The corner across the street from the office was soon occupied by a hot dog vendor, a large gentleman with hairy shoulders who tended to undercook the dogs. She tried to focus on her work, and as her productivity didn’t dip too far, her father either didn’t notice the way she dragged herself through her days, or simply didn’t care. Caroline suspected the latter.

Finally, after returning home from work, she found an envelope with internation postage on it waiting for her. She got into her apartment, tore off her coat, sat at her tiny kitchen table and clawed the envelope open.

Dear Caroline,

I’ve never been all that good at writing things out. I try to deal with what’s in front of me and not live inside my head, in words and pictures. I’m sorry if that meant I came across as cold the last time I saw you. Leaving you tore me apart. I loved that little cart and I miss it, almost as much as I miss you.

We don’t have the Internet out here on the farm, as my father thinks it’s a superfluous expense. So I’ve taken to riding the train to the nearest library. Still, I have the credit card I got while I was in the States, and I used it to buy you a copy of this software that teaches you Chinese. The code for downloading it’s enclosed with this letter. I’ve also sent you a voucher for an airline ticket, which should bring you out here around our New Year’s celebration.

You’ve got six months to learn enough Chinese to not piss off my dad.

No pressure.

I’m kidding. I’m sure you’ll get along fine. Still, a few key Mandarin phrases won’t hurt. I’m sure your dad won’t be too happy with you skipping town on him, and I know your work is important to you. I’m not going to ask you to run away or anything like that. Just come see me, or at least write back.

I miss you more than words can say.

Love,
Yuan

Sure enough, the envelope had a print-out with a download code and another with information on a cross-Pacific flight. She read and re-read the letter several times, and a plan began to take shape.

The exchange of letters between her and Yuan quickly became preoccupied with the particulars, as she practiced her writing of Chinese characters and he gently corrected her sentence structure. She saved all of her excitement and anticipation for after hours, ensuring her productivity remained at its usual high level. With her father pleased, he left her relatively alone. She worked her vacation request through the HR department like any other employee, knowing that her father tended to ignore the scheduling calendars of other people in his company as long as nothing they did interfered with his meetings. The Friday before she left, however, he knocked on her office door.

“A two-week vacation, and I’m only just now hearing about it?”

She didn’t look up from her paperwork. “I’m the top earner in the company three months running. I’ve earned some time off.”

“The HR calendar doesn’t say where you’re going.”

“I didn’t see how it was anybody’s business.”

“What if you’re going someplace dangerous?”

“You mean like five blocks from here? I’m not going to stay shut up in this office or my apartment because of a minority of ultra-violent whackjobs.”

“I see your point.” He lingered at the door, watching her work, before he disappeared. When he came back, he closed the door behind him and placed an envelope in front of her.

“What’s this?”

“I moved you up to first class.” He stood before her desk, his face inscrutable. “I won’t have you on a cross-ocean flight for hours on end cramped in a coach seat. My daughter deserves better.”

She looked at the envelope, then up at her father. “You know where I’m going, then?”

“Yes. And I know why.” He paused. “You’re right. You deserve your vacation, and the reason you’re taking it there is my fault. I was… I was scared.”

She blinked, breath caught in her throat. He tapped the envelope, not looking her in the eye.

“I know this won’t make up for what I did. But I had no right to take away something that made you happy just because I feared it getting in the way of business. I’m your boss, but I’m also your father. I can’t let one overwhelm the other.” The muscles in his jaw danced. “I know people say this company’s all I’ve got. But, really, Caroline… it’s you. You’re all I’ve got. And I’m scared of losing you.”

She took his hand. “You’ll never lose me, Dad. Not really. But I can’t always be here. Not when my heart is somewhere far away. I miss that little Chinese cart and the sweet guy behind it more than anything, and I’m sorry it took you this long to understand that.” She smiled at him. “Don’t be scared. I’m going to come back. But I need to see him. You understand that, don’t you?”

He nodded. “Take the time you need, be safe and come home. We’ll be waiting for you.”

She got up from her desk and hugged him. It was the first time they’d hugged in years. Phones rang elsewhere in the building. Emails poured into inboxes. The Weavers ignored them. For that moment, they weren’t co-workers anymore. They weren’t commodities traders. They were a family.

Two weeks later she was in China. Fireworks exploded in the streets. Paper dragons chased parades and lanters swung as people went hither and yon during the festivities. Yuan and Caroline walked hand in hand.

“I’m sorry my dad’s not in better health.” Yuan smiled a bit in spite of his mood. “It turns out I came home at just the right time. Getting into the groove of running the farm took longer than I thought it would, but we’re seeing better business than ever.”

“I’m glad something good came out of that. I was worried for you.”

“I know.” He squeezed her hand. “And your Mandarin sounds good. I know you’ll keep practicing when you go home.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Let’s not talk about that yet. I know I have to, that it’ll be a long time before we make this work. If we ever do. For now… for now, I just want this.”

He nodded, and smiled. “Let me take you home, then, and make you some lo mein.”

Firecrackers popped nearby. Miss Weaver smiled at her cowherd. “I can’t wait.”

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Casino

This week’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! brought to you by a generous donation by Mike Jarossy. Thank you for your support!

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/casino.mp3]

Good filmmaking is rightly lauded in modern cinema. Consistently good filmmaking is damn close to a miracle. Take a look at the films of Martin Scorsese, and it’s very possible that this little guy with bushy eyebrows is the closest thing filmmaking has to a god amongst men. Casino is no exception.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Told mostly as a narrated flashback, Casino introduces us to life-long friends Ace & Nicky, who come to Las Vegas in the service of their old-school Italian mob leaders. The old men saw Vegas as virgin territory for profit and their agents go to ensure the cash flow. Ace, a natural born gambler, quickly becomes involved with a casino, the Tangiers, helping the already-assumed house wins to grow to giant proportions while Nicky begins carving out a little criminal empire of his own, free from interference or even much oversight from back home. A grifting hooker, corrupt politicans and the hubris of these friends are the aggravating factors that cause their endeavors to start coming undone, and in the process it’s likely Ace and Nicky will come undone as well.

There was a time when a film like this would have Ace and Nicky be a close-knit wise-cracking criminal duo. Ace would be the smiling, charming face of the operation, while Nicky works behind the scenes with brass knuckles, a baseball bat and a silenced .22 to get the real business done. In other words, they’d be the villains in the story. Casino instead focuses on Ace and Nicky as protagonists. We don’t see them as victims or even great guys, but they’re still human beings with dreams and ambitions just like any other. Putting a face on ‘the bad guys’ is something Scorsese is legendary for doing, and Casino is a shining example of this work.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
“I am, in fact, talkin’ t’ you, Ace.”
“Yeah, well, you amuse me, Nicky.”

Scorsese is also known for having an eye for talent. Casino was the 8th film he made with Robert DeNiro. Playing Ace, DeNiro’s intensity is focused entirely on how his character is trying to keep things together. Here’s a man who knows a sure bet when he sees it, bets with confidence and never loses. The very prospect of losing doesn’t even occur to Ace; left to his own devices, he’d achieve just about anything he went after. When Nicky and Ginger get involved, though, you can feel Ace’s frustration, the sort of anger a stereotypical villain might rant abouot at the drop of a hat only to put some outrageous scheme of revenge into motion. Ace is too smart for that, though. He plays his hand close to his chest.

Nicky, on the other hand, may not be playing with the entire deck. As much as it seems sometimes that Joe Pesci only has one role, he plays things so well here it’s hard to hold some repetition of roles against him. Nicky is as ambitious as he is uncompromising. Where Ace does business with a handshake, Nicky does it with a bat. Where Ace tries to keep the peace, Nicky itches for action. Yet these two are friends, and very close ones. They really are flip sides of the same coin, a bright and lucrative coin that spins through the air and catches the lights of the Vegas strip. As the film goes on, it’s hard to say which side of the coin is going to land right-side up.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Yeah. She’s pretty distracting.

Further complicating matters is Sharon Stone as Ginger. At first appearing as the sort of arm candy that shows up with high rollers to skim a bit for herself, Ginger becomes the one unpredictable variable in Ace’s life that starts to unravel the disparate threads he’s woven together. While none of the main characters are unaffected by Las Vegas, and indeed all of them succumb to varying degrees of decadence and depravity, Ginger is the one most dragged under by the the booze, drugs and lifestyle that was Sin City in the 70s and 80s. We watch her fall apart practically before our eyes, from her inability to seperate herself from her manipulative boyfriend and pimp to the lengths she’ll go to further her own ends, especially when it comes to the daughter she has with Ace. Everything goes to hell in a gradual fashion, a painful and inevitable backslide that unfolds as the movie rolls on.

While the movie is not painful in a bad or sickening way, it’s quite an ordeal to sit through. It’s nearly three hours long, and much of that is featuring fights, arguments, breakdowns and discomfort on a public or private level. There’s moments of levity and vindication, to be sure; the acting, writing and direction are all fantastic; the soundtrack is top-notch and walks us through the changing times as much as the cinematography does – but the overall length of the narrative begins to wear on the viewer. And it’s only at the very end that Scorsese delivers the ultimate point of his story.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
“You sure I should be wearin’ this color, Marty?”
“Bobby, I ain’t let ya down yet, I ain’t startin’ now.”

This movie is a eulogy for Vegas of old. It’s the sort of movie that longs for old-fashioned machismo, the slight haze of cigarette smoke in back rooms while the glitz and glamour flash in the eyes of suckers betting against the house run by the Mob. Nowadays, suckers bet against the house run by corporations. Ace lays it out for us: “In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s like chekin’ into an airport. And if you order room service, you’re lucky to get it by Thursday.” His arc follows that of Vegas itself. He rises out of nowhere into the Nevada desert, fastitious and self-assured. His life begins to spiral out of control, from his ne’er-do-well wife to his taste in clothes. And when all is said and done, he’s still the same guy – but hollowed out, older, a shadow of his former self.

That’s what makes Casino such an effective tragedy. That’s what makes it worth the long running time and Sharon Stone’s chewing of scenery. That’s why it’s one of Scorsese’s many great pictures, and why it should be on your Netflix queue. It is, like many memorable and timeless stories, a cautionary tale: Excess and success are not the same thing. If you’re unable to moderate your excesses when you’re successful, life’s circumstances are likely to take it all away from you. All you can count on, in the end result, is being who you are, and if you aren’t careful, they can take that away from you, too. Just a little bit of wisdom, and a touch of keeping your goals in sight, goes a long, long way.

Sorry, this is getting preachy. Watch Casino to see DeNiro in a salmon-colored suit. He looks fabulous.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Black Book

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/blackbook.mp3]

This review marks the one year anniversary of ICFN’s podcast component, and to celebrate this, uh, monumental occasion, this review is being written and voiced by me, Danielle, aka that wife Josh always talks about. You’ll probably notice some stylistic differences between the two of us, too, so try not to get your panties in a twist when I’m not as polite as he is. Fair warning.

Anyway, I had originally wanted to do something old and loved that I haven’t seen before, so I could shit all over everyone’s nostalgia because, let’s face it, most cult classics are pretty terrible. However, we’d already watched Black Book before Josh thought to tell me this was the one year episode so here I am, reviewing yet another fucking World War II movie. Yay.

Courtesy Fu Works

Now, I love World War II. I own a collection of books on the subject. Schindler’s List is the best movie that ever has been — and probably ever will be — made. Reich 5 is one of my favourite of the Infinite Worlds. So when even I am so fucking sick of this shit that we put off watching this movie for like a month and a half, you know it’s bad. Josh only picked this one up because MovieBob recommended it in some review or other, which made me even more skeptical, as he and I seem to either really agree or really disagree on most movies. But we’d put it off long enough and we needed to watch it for Netflix to send us anything else, so we finally bit the bullet and now, here we are.

The movie opens in ’50s Israel, where we meet two women – Ronnie Nolastnamegiven, a tourist, and Rachel Stein, a schoolteacher. They happened to be friends from Holland who haven’t seen each other since the war. After doing some catching up, Rachel, played by the very lovely Carice van Houten, goes off to contemplate how they met and how she ended up in Israel, and the movie starts for real this time. It’s nearly the end of the war, but that hardly makes things better for Rachel, who’s hiding place was just blown up and is now trying to flee the country. Needless to say, shit goes pear-shaped and after everyone she ever knew or loved is murdered by Nazis she joins the Resistance. If you’re starting to think she’d make a good JRPG protagonist, you’re not alone.

Courtesy Fu Works

From there on out, it’s pretty much your standard World War II spy movie. Stein is a woman, so obviously she can’t fight, and instead seduces a Nazi officer, but of course she falls in love with him, and someone is selling their group out but they don’t know who, blah blah blah… There are more twists than you can count on one hand and only one is at all surprising, but even that takes forever to get to and forever to resolve. Having the movie go on for so long after the war ended was a mistake. At one point of hilarious self-awareness, van Houten sobs “Will it never stop?!” I was wondering that myself.

Given the pretty unoriginal premise, the film relies almost completely on the actors’ performances, which are admittedly great pretty much across the board. One scene with Theo, played by Johnny de Mol, was absolutely ridiculous and just made me laugh, but I don’t know if that was the actor or the retarded dialogue he was being made to spew forth. All of the characters except Stein, Müntze and Akkermans are pretty much impossible to feel any sort of empathy for because they’re vehicles for World War II drama archetypes, not actual people, and even those main three aren’t too interesting.

Courtesy Fu Works

So, should you put Black Book on your Netflix queue? If you’re looking for a solid period drama, Schindler’s List is better. If you just want to see Nazis getting killed, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and should just queue up Inglorious Basterds and its loose interpretation of historical accuracy. If you want to see Carice van Houten whip her tits out with alarming frequency, you could do a lot worse than Black Book. But really, just do a Google search for screenshots. There are plenty, trust me. … Ahem.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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