Archive for 1999

Fight Club

Posted in Drama with tags on September 25, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Fight Club photo starrating-4stars.jpgAn everyman, let’s call him “Jack“, is discontent with his life and pretty much with life in general. Jack begins attending support groups for problems from which he doesn’t suffer, in an effort to make his personal existence seem better by comparison. At first it works until the presence of another fraud, Marla Singer, disrupts his healing process. Then he meets Tyler Durden, a soap salesman with a mutual distaste for consumerist culture. The two embark on a journey of doctrine to mutually improve their lives.

At heart Fight Club rests on the relationship between its central trio. Edward Norton capably embodies the loser emboldened by fighting. He is at once pathetic, but mesmerizing. His all consuming quest to lift himself out of the mire of his life, is captivating. As the film progresses, he becomes more and more debilitating in outward appearance, while manifesting a more confident attitude. Brad Pitt is the guy through which Jack finds strength, His worldview is nihilistic, rejecting everything of value. Yet, Tyler’s ability to inspire his mental turnaround through fist fights is completely believable. Helena Bonham Carter is Marla the girlfriend that comes between them. Marla is a rather unpleasant woman whose personal style can best be described as heroin chic. After starring in the stately costume drama, The Wings of the Dove, just 2 years prior, the casting choice was surprising at the time. She is memorable, although I can’t say I was particularly taken with her character. She is nevertheless an important construct which heavily influences Jack’s behavior.

Jack’s friendship with Tyler is predicated on the desire to eliminate an emasculation he feels in his own life. The opportunity to engage in fisticuffs with willing strangers as a means to feel powerful is the origin of the fight club. As their social organization takes off, there is a giddy wallowing in nihilism that could easily be taken as the glorification of violence. But look closer. Things do not improve for dear Jack. He moves in with Tyler Durden who lives in an absolute hovel of a building that seemingly grows more filthy. Similarly his physical well being actually deteriorates over time.

Highly controversial upon its release, Fight Club is sort of a spiritual cousin to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Like that picture, Fight Club is based in a novel. When the movie was originally released in the Fall of 1999 it sparked a debate amongst critics who gave positive and negative reviews in equal measure. Audiences weren’t really sure what to make of it either. A financial disappointment, only grossing $37 million against a cost of $63 million. Indeed it remains director David Fincher’s least attended production after Zodiac. However time has softened the story’s dark subtext. Critical and popular opinion has grown decidedly positive during the last decade.

Fight Club is one of those in-your-face, take-no-prisoners manifestos that has something say and does it with style and panache. The cinematography is visually arresting. His initial dehumanization at the start of the drama is borne out of the melancholy that happiness has not followed from material possessions. The script has a point of view and doesn’t kowtow to delicate sensibilities. It’s easy to take the idea of hand to hand combat as an endorsement to violence. I won’t spoil specific plot developments, but the success of their fight club cannot be viewed as a mandate to brawl. Despite being the protagonist, Jack is not someone to be admired. Yes, his anguish is abated at first but it leads to anarchy. The fight club becomes more successful and increasingly violent. I’ll admit the milieu is depressing. All the muck and brutality can get a bit oppressive. While the script never really presents a viable solution to Jack‘s dissatisfaction with life, it presents an interesting concept that gives the viewer something to think about. You are not the contents of your wallet.

The Matrix

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on May 21, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Recently, Warner Bros. Entertainment invited me to take part in an online community of movie lovers called Blu-ray Elite. They’ve offered to send me a collection of new release and classic Blu-ray movie titles to keep. That’s right, as in FREE! In return, I’ll be writing about my thoughts about the Blu-ray movies they send. Pretty much what I do anyway. Here is the 1st in a series of titles to come.

Thomas Anderson is a computer programmer, who moonlights as a hacker named Neo. One day he’s visited by a mysterious woman who introduces herself as Trinity. She reveals to Neo that a man called Morpheus would like to enlist his services in his “fight against the machines.” What that entails is something best left to be discovered, but rest assured, all will be explained in detail. Neo’s journey of self discovery is a visually astonishing takeoff of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The literary reference is actually uttered by Morpheus himself while developing his new pupil, who must swallow a red pill before proceeding. The first half of this influential science fiction is heavy with dialogue of a didactic nature. Indeed The Matrix has enough philosophical thought and religious implications for 10 pictures. Much of this is espoused in the teaching segments as Morpheus explains to Neo what the Matrix is all about. It is during these scenes we learn just what is at stake. This training process wisely builds anticipation for what is to come and sets the stage for the ultimate showdown in the second portion.

The script appropriates a dizzying array of influences from various sources to assemble a wholly frightening view of the future. There’s an incredible amount of special effects in this film. Honestly, on occasion, the narrative can feel a bit cluttered. “Now take a look at THIS expensive spectacle!” the Wachowski brothers seem to be saying at times. Yet it cannot be overstated that The Matrix is one of the most stylish science fiction movies ever created. The iconic approximation of cameras orbited around bullets being fired in slow-motion is now legendary among combat displays. Even the costume design is a memorable portrayal of cyberpunk fashion. Sunglasses and shiny black leather merge with the soundtrack’s frequent use of techno to form a singular apocalyptic spectacle.

The Matrix didn’t invent a new vocabulary. Hong Kong action cinema is clearly the inspiration for the martial arts fighting for example. There’s allusions to comic books and Japanese animation as well. That’s not its legacy. The point is that The Matrix so perfectly adapted many divergent notions into an exhilarating unified science fiction and then brought these ideas to the masses. By and large, this is a dazzling work. Now and then the human destiny presented here can be pretty icky. There are visions of human life in which biology and technology intermingle in a way so unsettling it would give David Cronenberg pause. And Keanu Reeves surfer dude accent can be unintentionally funny. But I suppose that’s part of the film’s charm. One thrilling set piece after another impresses with such artistic zeal and excitement, it more than makes up for the narrative’s occasional lapses in clarity. The Matrix is the inspiring realization of the Wachowski brothers’ imagination made real – their self acknowledged understanding of a live action anime fulfilled.

10 Things I Hate About You

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on October 2, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Father forbids younger Bianca to go out with boys until unpopular, rebellious older sister Kat begins dating first. Light, breezy update of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is a first-rate teen romantic comedy. Entertaining material works because of the clever screenplay. It’s witty and zings with plenty of catty banter to engage the viewer.  Additional credit also goes to the spirited cast with talent to spare. Julia Stiles is nasty with just enough sweetness to be likable and Heath Ledger is pleasing as the boy who charms her. He even sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in this early role. A refreshing addition to films about high school life.

Eyes Wide Shut

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 11, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketSeverely misunderstood psychological drama about an affluent married couple whose marriage begins to crumble after the wife reveals a potent sexual fantasy she’s been having. Lust, jealousy and sex are the subject here. Soft, luminescent cinematography highlight the opulent production design and the lifestyle of the wealthy elite in Manhattan. Stanley Kubrick’s last film used closed sets in London to stand in in for New York City and the artificial feel actually benefits the dreamlike mood of the movie. György Ligeti’s unsettling piano cycle “Musica Ricercata II” significantly adds to the tension.