Tag Archives: movie review

‘Red Tails’ Comes Up Short

By Joe Suszczynski

The Tuskegee Airmen are probably the most famous group of people that overcame racism and prejudice in the Second World War. Being black prohibited them to fight for their country in a big way. They were forced into menial tasks while the white pilots were given the big missions. However, through persistence they were eventually given the opportunity to fight. They were given new planes, to which the tails were painted red. They were known as the “Red Tails.”

In 1995 an HBO movie, The Tuskegee Airmen, was made in honor of these brave men. It was met with positive reviews. About 16 years later, another movie was made called Red Tails. This movie, though inspiring, feels mediocre, leaving the feeling that it could have been much more.

The plot is a simple one: Tuskegee pilots are being discriminated against, so their commanding officer tries to make things right. He gets his wish; the airmen prove their worth and they are regarded as heroes. The problem is that they add two sub-plots, one being completely unnecessary and the other being under-developed.

The first sub-plot involved a romance between David Oyelowo’s character and a local Italian woman played by Daniela Ruah. I have nothing against romance plots, but this was an unnecessary addition. This added nothing to the struggles of the airmen.

The movie was about men overcoming adversity in the military, not mixing it up with the locals. If anything, the relationship between Oyelowo’s and Nate Parker’s character should have been explored more considering they were at odds with each other at times.

The other sub-plot involved Tristan Wilds’ character being shot down and captured by Germans. He was sent to a POW camp where he became part of an escape plan lead by some soldiers looking to escape the camp. There were only two scenes in this movie that depicted this and personally I felt it should have been explored more.

I liked the action scenes. They were rather well done. You get the feeling of being up in the midst of the fighting with the pilots themselves. Given it was produced by George Lucas, the dogfights portrayed have a Star Wars quality to them. The movie thrilled at the right moments and the visuals were well done and environments portrayed beautifully.

The acting did not impress. They played their parts competently enough to where they’re believable, but in the case of character development it was lacking.

Only three actors’ characters, Parker, Oyelowo  and Wilds, were examined deeper than at face value in the movie and ironically the two main actors, Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., were not given any real development. Howard’s character focused mainly on getting equal representation and Gooding just made some hollow impassioned speeches and went over briefings.

The dialogue borders on plain. Grante,d during a dogfight it’s supposed to be short and sweet, that’s understandable. However, outside the dogfight scenario it’s pretty weak and at times cliché.

Red Tails attempted at inspiring the masses, but fell flat doing it. The action sequences and barely competent acting do not make up for the other flaws: the scarce character development, and unnecessary and underdeveloped sub-plots.

‘Hugo’ Is An Award-Season Contender

Source: Paramount Pictures

By Ashley E. Lang

Filmmaker Georges Méliès revolutionized cinema in the late 1800s using a variety of special effects to illuminate the screen. His illusions mesmerized audiences across Europe and now with the release of Hugo, Méliès is not soon to be forgotten.

Academy Award winning director Martin Scorsese truly outdoes himself with Hugo. Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo tells the story of an orphaned boy, Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield, who lives in the walls of a train station tending to the towering clocks. His father, played by Jude Law, dies tragically and Hugo’s drunken Uncle Claude, played by Ray Winstone, takes him in as an apprentice before disappearing. Left to fend for himself, Hugo steals just enough to get him by. That is, until he steals one too many times from a local vender.

Georges Méliès, played by Ben Kingsley, spends his days tinkering with toys at a little shop inside the train station. After noticing his toys go missing, he cunningly sets up Hugo, who falls straight into his trap. However, Méliès and Hugo share much more than a few stolen nuts and bolts. What develops in an unlikely friendship, one fused together with the addition of Méliès’s goddaughter Isabelle, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

Isabelle quickly befriends Hugo and the two set off on an adventure to solve a mystery that has been plaguing him since before the death of his father. Hugo’s dad discovered an automaton, a self-operating machine, stored away inside the museum he worked for. Broken and hidden, Hugo’s father takes the automaton home and with Hugo’s help begins to restore the antique. When his father passes away, Hugo begins where his father left off. But the closer he gets to fixing the broken machine, the more questions and mysteries that surface. Why does Isabelle’s necklace hold the key to the machine’s revival and what connection does the automaton have to Méliès?

Hugo is a beautifully written story of an orphaned boy who sets out to find his place in the world, only to help those around him find theirs. What unravels is a masterful and intelligent plot that will captivate audiences both young and old.

Butterfield captures Hugo Cabret with precision. He will melt your heart from the first tear to the final smile. Butterfield brings Hugo to life with his sense of adventure and determination and his character is downright captivating. Kingsley’s superb portrayal of cold hearted and seemingly broken Méliès and Moretz’s inquisitive nature transverse Hugo to a whole new plateau and all three breathe life into Scorsese’s vision.

With the addition of Sasha Baron Cohen as the station inspector whose own loneliness masquerades as ruthlessness, in an intense role for the first time since the funny man catapulted himself into the industry as Borat, make Hugo a must see this holiday season.

Scorsese’s latest film shines beyond measure. An inspirational journey of discovery, Hugo will entrance you as you watch the plot unfold. Scorsese has done it again. Do I foresee another Academy Award? I sure hope so, because he certainly deserves it.

‘The Rum Diary’ Teases Audience With Potential

By Nicholas Proch

Our love affair with Johnny Depp continues. Whether you’ve read Hunter S. Thompson’s book The Rum Diary or not, Depp shows he’s mastered the role of playing the late author’s characters and subsequently Thompson himself. This time he gets a crack at playing Paul Kemp.

It’s 1960 and the problems that journalists are facing today aren’t much different than the ones they faced over a half a century ago. Set in Puerto Rico, and filmed there to give the piece its real feel, Paul Kemp, who is the unmatched star of the film, works for the San Juan Star. It’s a dying publication.

Depp is surrounded by fellow journalists, crooks, a feminine interest and a military men. They all share a common bond. They suck at the nipple of the Puerto Rican economy and geography. Abusing their relationships until they are run dry, Kemp seems to be the only one who is actually looking for himself, and not to live off something or someone else.

In Depp’s previous effort as a Thompson character, in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, he focuses on the crazed and supernatural power of the substances that “Raoul Duke” puts in his body. His actions and visions are drawn out and seen on screen. There is only one homage to that character in a scene where Kemp loses his mind on a drug that is administered like an eye-drop.

This character is based on the early days of Thompson. It’s before the suitcases full of drugs. Before he got lost in “bat country”. Before Gonzo. It’s pure Thompson.

Depp’s surrounding cast members sport big names, but some of them come up rather short. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking) plays Sanderson, who is a combination of two characters from the book. Somewhere along the line of transforming this story for the big screen, it was decided that the character of Yeamon, amongst others, would be removed entirely from the script.

The tactic here was to make a combination of characters fit one of the major story lines from the novel and hope it stuck. If you’re sitting in the theater with a group of friends and you’re the only one who has read the text, you can’t help but think, ‘they have no idea what is going on right now!’

It’s not until the second half of the film that the audience is given information that is in the first two paragraphs of the book. It feels as if Bruce Robinson, who wrote and directed the film, took a shotgun to the carefully written story path that Thompson laid out and didn’t fill the holes it left.

The best attempt that the producers and casting could do to fill those voids was cast Amber Heard (Drive Angry, Pineapple Express) to play Chenault. She provides enough eye candy in several scenes that you almost seem to forget about her lack of acting skills.

The lone stand-out, besides Depp, is Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Gone In Sixty Seconds(2000)). Moburg is everything that, and more than, the viewer could expect if they are familiar with the character from the book. Ribisi shows his commitment to character and is only over-shadowed by Depp.

The film touches on common societal and psychological truths. It’s not easy to find yourself, and even when you think you do, you can still find a way to lose it. If the themes and direction were stronger this would be a contender in the spring, but alas, it’s not.

While there are holes in the story and poor acting performances, this film, for some of us, is still worth seeing. See it if you’re interested in seeing a collision of free media and politics. See it if you’d like to see Johnny Depp tackle another role in a new way. Most importantly, spend the money and go to the theater if you’re a fan of Hunter S. Thompson. This could be the last tribute to his work, and that should not be taken lightly by any of his followers.

Three Times The ‘Activity’

By Nick Rosa

Paranormal Activity 3 is the prequel to the other blockbuster horror films that put fear into anyone that watched them. Even if you say they weren’t scary, you definitely left thinking about what you just saw.

This film is the most terrifying one yet and most will leave the theater sweating bullets. The activity in this film is by far the most evil and its presence is known from the get go.  You will leave the theater remembering the name Toby. The formula of this film with its characters, simple but horrifying dialogue and long scenes of waiting for something to spook you really drives you to the point where you’re forced to be scared, even though you try your hardest not to be.

The third Activity has the most ‘Gotcha!’ moments in a horror film that we’ve seen in a long while. During every camera scene, when someone walks down a dark hallway or goes into a closet, you better be ready, because if you’re not, you will jump into the next seat.

The film takes place in 1988 when the characters from the previous two, Katie and Kristi Ray, share a home with their mother Julie and new boyfriend Dennis. The young girls know of a presence in the house, while just like in the others, everyone is doubtful of the girls and say that their ‘imagination’ gets the best of them. Just like the others, the man of the house decides to put cameras all over the house, in the girl’s room, in his room and a make shift ‘tri-pod’ that swivels back and forth on fan base, showing the living room and kitchen. As the nights go on, more and more things begin to happen and go left unsaid. Like in the other films, it becomes too late; the evil force is in charge of the house now.

The one camera that swivels back and forth is one of the best aspects of the film. The long scenes show the areas in a quiet peaceful room, and then swivels back the other way to see some activity, and then back to a peaceful room, then back again to see more activity going on.  This camera angle gives the best scene in the film and one of the scariest. As the camera pans back and forth after something knocks on the door, Julie goes to investigate to see no one was there. The camera then swivels back to the kitchen where everything in the kitchen has disappeared and we can guess where it all went.

The slow moving camera and long waits during the scenes prolong the horror and build suspense. You usually could feel when the scary scene will jump out at you, but in this third Paranormal; you are defenseless and have to wait those extra seconds in fear of not knowing what’s coming or when. It does this throughout and will have your heart pounding and blood pressure rising from the first scene.

It’s similar and doesn’t stray far from the original, but it sticks close to the plot from the other two films. Horror films that will make you think and keep you guessing what will come next, will be a success. Paranormal 3 delivers this to the audience and more. When a sold out theater is completely terrified and all are screaming and going into the fetal position in their little chair, the directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulmani, got exactly what they wanted.

There is obviously going to be a fourth film in the franchise that will take place after the ending of the second movie next October and all will be anxious to see how much that one will make the audience jump. Paranormal Activity 3 will gross millions this week at the box office and for all the right reasons. Anyone who goes to watch it is actually getting every penny for their tickets. You’re going to see it to get scared and you will be. This movie will have you eating your popcorn faster than any Paranormal yet.

Jackman Shows He’s The Real Deal

By Nicholas Proch

Transformers meets Ali meets Toy Story. Robots, boxing and a tribute to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. That’s what Real Steel could have been, but it was not. For that reason alone, this may be worth the price of admission.

Any time that a director can take such a ridiculous idea, such as fighting robots in the year 2020, and make it believable, it’s worth seeing. It’s a testament to both the directing and acting that this film wasn’t completely cheesy.

At times it may have been, but only in a good way. For the most part, it was believable. Set in a time where human boxing has been thrown to the wayside in lieu of robot boxing, where they can rip each other into pieces, it feels real.

This may be because Dreamworks took the time to hire the right cast. It may be because the idea was so original that it couldn’t be corny. Or it may be because of the fact that there was an overwhelming amount of money poured into this film that we’re all distracted by the seamless integration of real action and CGI. It may have been all of those things.

Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, X-Men) and Dakota Goyo (Thor) have the audience in their grasp for the majority of the 127 minutes that you are parked in your seat watching them. It’s not common for a 12-year old to have acting skills like this. At times he dominates Jackman, but only when he really needs to. The rest of the time Jackman is experimenting with his newly found heart that he hasn’t shown in many of his previous attempts.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Night At The Museum, Date Night), he’s starting to flex his box office muscles, and this should be no different. Levy shows that he can portray what his characters are thinking better than most. He hangs on facial expressions and slows dialogue in an uncommon way. This enhances the viewing experience.

There are some drawbacks to having great performances by your leads. The supporting cast doesn’t quite live up to what Jackman and Goyo are doing on screen. They seem fake and unimportant, which is the opposite of the co-stars.

Jackman plays Charlie Kenton. He’s a former professional boxer who has fallen on hard times and can only make a living by fighting his robots underground against other machines. You can picture this as an underground cock-fighting ring, but take away the roosters and drug use and add one-ton robots and whatever it is they take in 2020.

Dakota plays Kenton’s son, who he left at birth. Through a series of circumstances, which become a source of conflict and tension throughout the film, they are stuck together for a summer. During this time you can see their relationship grow and build. It’s more than just a boxing movie, but a reflection of tough times and fatherhood.

If you don’t go into this film with high expectations, you won’t be disappointed. As soon as you start to criticize every action that is done on the screen you will lose interest. If you can take this film for what it is worth and respect the fact that this team of producers has made something unique, you will walk away satisfied.

Rogen’s Redemption Is Funny And Sweet

By Matthew Clyburn

Strangely enough, 50/50 is not Seth Rogen’s first cancer-centric comedy. However this is the first one that he was directly involved in off-screen.

If you go back through Rogen’s career just two years on IMDb, you’ll see that he was a supporting player in Adam Sandler’s Funny People in 2009. Funny People was an idea with lots of potential, but ultimately poor delivery. As with most Sandler movies, the first half hour was funny and the concluding ninety minutes was filled with contrived sadness and awkward plot points.

This new entry into the cancer comedy genre is everything that Funny People couldn’t be: smart, well-paced and well-blended. In other words, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer, Inception) in a starring role and Jonathan Levine at the helm, 50/50 is a phenomenal film and nothing short of atonement for Rogen.

50/50 is not what the studio says it is. It’s not about two friends making light of a dark situation, it’s much more than that. This film tells the story of a relatable character living with a disease rather than dying from it.

This movie is based on a true story; Will Reiser, author of the screenplay, tells the story of his own experience with a life-threatening bout of cancer. Rogen plays himself as the friend of a mild-mannered twentysomething facing a rather grim prognosis. Gordon-Levitt carries the author’s narrative with the force and grace of a veteran actor. Rogen and Reiser are actually long-time friends and this film is based on some of their experiences together while Reiser dealt with his illness.

The astonishingly believable performances don’t stop there. Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village, Lady in the Water) plays Gordon-Levitt’s girlfriend with struggles of her own, among them fidelity and honesty. Howard, having moved out from under her father’s (Ron Howard) shadow and the grasp of M. Night Shymalan, has been consistent in several recent films. My favorite of her recent work is Hereafter, a Matt Damon flick worth catching up on if you missed it in theaters. In 50/50 Howard plays with ease a woman that is loved, hated, and forgiven by our main character and the audience.

Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air) takes on a new type of character as the 24-year-old therapist that Gordon-Levitt’s character sees during his struggle. A blossoming romantic tension and chemistry between the two hangs just below the surface throughout the movie, unleashing a brand of subtlety and care that few directors display nowadays. Levine truly saves the best for last by creating a foundation upon which to build our desires for these two complex characters.

Kendrick is definitely one to watch in the future. Her performance in Up In The Air was excellent, and this shows us a different side to her abilities that I can’t wait to see unfold in many films to come. She is everything we want and nothing we don’t; in a word, perfect.

While Gordon-Levitt’s character spends several hours in the hospital awaiting chemotherapy, he befriends two older gentlemen undergoing treatments as well. Played by Matt Frewer (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dawn of the Dead) and Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley), the trio engages in a bit of pot smoking and a lot of sharing. The relationship built here extends beyond the hospital waiting room and one tragic turn in the friendship sets a foundation for the anxiety leading up to the film’s climax.

With all of these fantastic performances, it would be unfair to take any credit away from Gordon-Levitt’s approach to this role (perhaps his best to date). If you get a chance to watch the man in a non-character interview, you will see that he truly transformed himself for this role. We can each see a little bit of ourselves in him, and we should. This goes for everything the main character experiences: from laughs to awkwardness and from silence to a painful scream that serves as a vehicle for raw human emotion.

The laughs are interwoven respectfully and artfully as we digest this difficult topic; they are all in the traditional Rogen style, but with less edge. The directing and writing are top notch. As we roll into a time of year when many Oscar contenders begin to debut in theaters, I recommend you see 50/50. This understated comedy might surprise you with its disarming charm, and will likely turn a few heads during award season.

Paul Rudd Shows He Can Play the ‘Idiot’

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company

By Matthew Clyburn

Within just a few minutes of the start of Our Idiot Brother, it was hard to ignore the similarity in tone to 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. In Sunshine, funnyman Steve Carrell is walking away from a botched suicide attempt; in Idiot Brother, funnyman Paul Rudd is walking away from prison after selling drugs to a uniformed police officer.

Both films begin with an embarrassing and darkly funny low point in the leads’ lives, but become a larger portrait of dysfunctional family living in modern society.

Rudd plays Ned, a “biodynamic” farmer whose recent release from prison leads to perpetual homelessness after his girlfriend-turned-landlord has decidedly moved on to another bearded pothead.  Bouncing around from mom’s house on Long Island to the homes of his three sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer), Ned bemoans the loss of his dog, Willie Nelson, to his stubborn ex-girlfriend and tries to regain footing in today’s cruel world.

Ned’s approach to this cruel world is perhaps the most interesting thing about the film. Rudd’s character is a simple, kind-hearted, gentle person with a true heart of gold. His inability to grasp the complexity of everyone else’s lying and scheming becomes his tragic downfall, while a well-intentioned losing of his temper becomes the unlikely climax of our story.

When all was said and done, I wondered to myself how this film came to be widely released. It felt like a festival film, rather than a traditional stoner comedy. The acting was all-around superb and helped to convey the struggling family in great depth. But for all the star power (and Rudd’s reputation), the film was only rarely punctuated with laugh-out-loud moments. How could this be?
Well it turns out Our Idiot Brother actually is a festival film; it garnered much attention at Sundance and only came into wide release following the good showing there. That’s not to say that the film is not funny at all, quite the contrary in fact. I found myself laughing quite a bit, but not in a Hangover sort of way. In other words, if you don’t appreciate smart, dark comedy, then you will not enjoy this film.

The pacing was a little slow at times and painfully fast at others. It took a great while to arrive at some of the action, and the resolution at the end was rushed beyond comprehension. Conflict and drama that took nearly 90 minutes to unfold was resolved in less than four minutes. This really undermined the legitimacy of the complex world that was built up around Ned, by assuming such complexity could be disassembled so quickly.

Rudd gives an understated performance that is, in a way, irresistible. Banks, Deschanel, and Mortimer were forced out of their comfort zones a bit and succeeded quite nicely. I’m especially becoming a fan of Deschanel and look forward to her future endeavors as she expands the characters she is able to play convincingly. Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation, The Social Network) plays Deschanel’s quiet lesbian lover, and hits the nail on the head.

All in all, Our Idiot Brother is a worthwhile viewing for people that enjoy dark comedies in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine. The average college student would do well to avoid the film if they prefer Rudd’s raunchier comedies; pick up I Love You, Man instead and wait for This Is Forty (Knocked Up spin-off) to hit theaters next year.

Eastwood Not Up to Par With New Film ‘Hereafter’

By Nick Rosa

After my viewing of Hereafter, the first thing that popped into my mind was that this is not the best work of what acclaimed actor/director Clint Eastwood has to offer. Even with the comments from other viewers coming out of the movie theater, even the biggest of Eastwood fans were disappointed.

The film starts off with an amazing visual scene of destruction with a tsunami sweeping across the resort leaving behind massive amounts of mayhem, destruction, and death. However, for as beautifully the scene was staged, Eastwood’s interpretation of what the afterlife would look like is a little unsatisfying and a little original. As the scene moves on to what Eastwood’s vision of the hereafter is with ghostly images of the dead and a pouring element of white light, it all seems too familiar to films that have that same belief. You would expect something unique coming from Eastwood. But with the amazing visuals and water effects that matched in with what the hereafter was portraying it all blended well with the scene.

Now, just barely into the film, what Eastwood delivers is a lackluster portrayal of what the afterlife is through the eyes of the three central characters.

Cecile de France plays Marie Lelay, a French TV reporter. On a beach resort in Southeast Asia, she steps out of her hotel room leaving behind her boyfriend who is also the producer to her TV news show, and is swept away by the tsunami. She is swept away and is pulled from the water by two people who try to revive her but fail. As being shown through her eyes of going to the “hereafter,” she is greeted to death by fuzzy images of those who have recently passed away. However, she is not dead and believes she’s had a near death experience and has seen the other side. After her ordeal she returns to France to continue her work but isn’t able to concentrate on anything else but her near death experience and is basically forced out of work as a reporter and focuses all of her energy on researching and working on her own book about the afterlife.

George, played by Matt Damon, is from San Francisco and has an ability to reach out to the dead. He no longer wants to use these powers that he calls a curse anymore, and live a normal life and to be able to have a romantic relationship. He put that part of his life behind him and his brother thinks he has made the wrong decision. His brother who knows people would pay big money to communicate with the deceased wants his brother George to continue to use his powers. George does find interest from a woman in his Italian cooking class but she runs away after she discovers his ability, after she had forced him to reach out to some dead relatives, and is disturbed on what they had to say from beyond the grave.

The third set of characters are two twins from England, Jason and Marcus. Jason dies and Marcus searches for answers on what happens when we die and wants to communicate with his brother who he misses dearly. Marcus goes to many psychics where he quickly discovers how fake they are.

I won’t ruin the main points of the movie but from the beginning you know the three characters, while searching for answers, will all converge together at the climax of the film.

The acting overall was quite good with Matt Damon always committing 100 percent to every roll he’s been in, he really captures the emotion of his character. Even though the role he played wasn’t that demanding of him, he was able to pull it off just like he has done in every other film he has been in.

Cecile de France played a good role but seemed like she lacked the emotion needed for her to really portray the character.

The twins in fact had the most moving roles in the film. With their commitment to each other as brothers, and with their obsession in finding out what happens in the afterlife, it makes their story that much more compelling.

The tone and pace of the film is kind of slow and gets dragged out for being 129 minutes. I can’t complain about the acting or the visual effects in the film because they were all well done. It was just disappointing to see an Eastwood film not be great.

Overall the film was enjoyable and something that viewers would like but for those Clint Eastwood fans that expect nothing but the best from him, you will be sadly disappointed.

‘Jackass’ Gang Ups the Mayhem in New 3-D Format

By Nicholas Proch

Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the gang have taken their talents, or their incredible ability to withstand pain and personal punishment, to the big screen yet again in Jackass 3D. The first thing you will notice, beyond the three-dimensional presence that this film has, is the much higher production value.  Produced by Paramount Studios, it’s clear that they sank a lot into this film.

For those who have seen any productions by the Jackass franchise, this is exactly what you would expect to see.  If you haven’t seen either of the first two movies or their show, you’re in for a shock.  The basic format of this film is familiar to those who have seen these guys before.  There are dozens and dozens of skits which run one after another to keep you laughing, covering your eyes, and squirming around your seat.

The three-dimension aspect of this film really isn’t a huge gain.  3D tends to be a gimmick in most movies and this is no different.  There isn’t a single moment where you feel that what you are seeing wouldn’t be as cool if it were only two-dimensional.

Written almost entirely by Preston Lacey, the pranks and situations that these actors are shown in are much more creative than past releases.  When you’re watching you can’t help but wonder how they got so inventive with their ideas.  From little people fights in public places to letting professional football player Jared Allen hit you at full speed, there is both an element of old and a new feel that they want to be known as a more intelligent group.  It might be a stretch to call anyone smart who is willing to put them self in these predicaments, but they are certainly taking a step in the right direction.

There are a few moments during this film where you ask yourself if you’ve seen this same prank before.  It wouldn’t be a Jackass film if you didn’t see Johnny Knoxville get run over by a bull or Bam Margera take cheap shots at someone followed by him screaming for his life at the hand of a gardener snake.

This film isn’t for everyone, and those on screen wouldn’t have it any other way.  Their tactic is to shock and they do it well.  Fortunately, they have such a reputation that they can push the limits knowing who their audience will be.  This is their best release to date and leaves you wanting to see more.  If you’ve enjoyed the first two big-screen releases from the Jackass crew, then you’ll be in for a treat next time you go to the theater.

He Got the Beat: James Franco Shines in ‘Howl’

By Max Kyburz

Searching “Allen Ginsberg” on Google Images, few images that pop up bear any similarity to James Franco in Howl. The Ginsberg we see the most is a Maharishi-type, a man we would expect to find making mad prophecy. His appearance mirrors his apparent eccentricity. This version already has been portrayed by David Cross in I’m Not There, and so it only makes sense that the younger, innocent Ginsberg is presented as a reminder of the man as something more than a caricature. Thankfully, the wily zaniness is still intact, and the result is delightful.

If you’ve taken a course on American literature, you’ve likely read “Howl” along with maybe an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (if you haven’t, hop to it). Dedicated to friend Carl Solomon, the poem is a disjointed odyssey through young angst, the aggression that comes from observations of politics, mental patients, family disintegration, and frustrated homosexuals. The poem fluttered with references to “angelheaded hipsters” and “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows.” You were very likely fascinated or infuriated by it, and maybe a combination of both. I had no idea what to think of it at first; at the time, I was looking for narrative and found nothing, and so it baffled me. But the language of it – there’s absolutely nothing like it. That stuck with me the most, and so when I read it again, I read it for the words and the words alone. I became enraptured by it, and to see this film just made me love the poem even more.

Howl, an essay film surrounding the power of Ginsberg’s famous poem, comes from documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. This is the pair’s first scripted film, but it is not a typical biopic; Howl is basically an exploration of the mind and myth of Ginsberg’s life during the time which he wrote the poem, recreating old footage and photos through black and white dramatization. James Franco, Hollywood’s premier smartypants and now fledgling writer, portrays Ginsberg, and does so charismatic vigor. Reciting Ginsberg’s howls of pain, lust, and longing to the nodding Beats in the smoky, squeaky Six Gallery, Franco will hypnotize you. There’s nothing like word read on a page, but they do not fully breathe until they are read out loud with uninhibited passion.

Interspliced between these scenes are various documentary clips, as well as recreated interviews and bits from the 1957 obscenity trial, featuring an all-star cast of John Hamm (Mad Men), David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum), and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber). These scenes are the hokiest the film offers, yet as an essay film (one more dependent on reach a valid thesis than a plot), Howl needs these scenes to encapsulate the yay and nay attitudes of the period. The lawyers, judges, and witnesses go for broke with their presentations of what defines literature, causing me to cheer internally.

The centerpiece of it all is the animated interpretation of the poem itself. Whenever I read “Howl” I always approach it the same way I would the Book of Revelation in the Bible, itself an expressive, hallucinatory vision of the times. The animation itself is not Pixar-worthy, but fascinating nevertheless. What matters is how the creators envision the poem, making it as accurate to their own ref’slection as they possibly can. The sequences vibrantly explode and bring the poem to life. If a professor were teaching this poem, the entirety of Howl would greatly serve its purpose both as a portrait of an artist as a young man, as well as an aid for discouraged and vivified students alike.

As a budding writer, I was inspired by Howl’s lessons for finding a unique voice that is fully personal. With all the influences we surround ourselves with, it can be hard to not be swayed by another’s style, but if one wants to be original, they must find a way to use their own personal language. Allen Ginsberg was a soldier for the English vernacular, one who dared to express himself, and as a result found his work under fire. Standards have changed since then, and people have used explicit words and images to truly obscene ends, but “Howl” is a groan, a sigh, not a regurgitation. Howl is a great reminder of how inspirational the Beat Generation continues to be, years after their hay day, and an inspirational portrait of a true American hero.