The Drop

The Drop
Posted by on Sep 25, 2014

The Drop tells the story of “retired” mobster Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who know runs a money drop through his bar for the new mob boss.  His partner in crime Bob (Tom Hardy) who is a little slow and slightly socially inept helps him to run the bar keeps things going smoothly.  This all changes when two thieves rob the bar putting Marv and Bob on thin ice with their mob “partners”.

The Drop, Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini Bar

The Drop is sadly the last film of the late great James Gandolfini.  He certainly leaves us with an incredible film from start to finish.  His performance is nothing short of superb.  Capturing the characters essence of a mobster trying to grasp at his once tremendous presence.  The subtlety at which he presents the struggle of the characters shines through in the patterns of his speech and his overall presentation.  At times seeming to ramble while remaining on subject provides layers of simultaneous confidence and anxiety.  Gandolfini’s performance is matched and supported by Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy portrays a character that seems at first, out of place with rest of these criminals and thugs.  This is highlighted by his floundering interactions with his female co-star Noomi Rapace.  His performance is truly telling of his potential with his ability to display the same mannerisms and characteristics of a character while providing completely different implications regarding intent.  I wish I could tell you more but I fear I am treading on the thin ice of spoilers.  Not to be overshadowed by her male counter-parts, Noomi Rapace excellently portrays a character trapped and pulled in two different directions.  She is forced to decide between two interpretations of wickedness.

Noomi Rapace, Tom Hardy

What I liked most about this film is how they misdirected the audience.  They lead the audience into making judgement’s about the characters which they flip later on in the film.  It is masterly crafted to lead the audience on.  The directing style is really slick, very simple and straightforward.  Camera shots are very steady and tracking shots are kept to a minimum.  The depth and complexity of the film is purely in the character portrayals and the choices they make.

Surprisingly, the subplot actually tied a lot of the film together.  This is where Noomi Rapace comes in.  Hardy first meets her when he walks by her house and notices that somebody place a puppy in her trash can.  Hardy ends up taking the puppy and starting to care for it.  Quickly realizing that he has never taken of anything else before, asks Rapace to help him with the basics.  She reluctantly accepts and a romance begins to bud.

What was also done very well is the balance between the plot and subplot.  Often times a subplot, especially that of the romantic variety, are thrown in without any relevance to the main plot.  You end up getting a subplot that adds nothing to the characters development, which is what a well executed subplot should do.  With The Drop, you get a romantic subplot that gives you insight into the minds and behaviors of the characters.  At first it seems fairly unrelated, just a random occurrence that allows the main narrative to divert to every once in awhile.  However, the subplot quickly interacts with the main plot and by the end the behaviors of the characters within, especially Tom Hardys, become clear.  I wish I could say more but I fear I’m starting to get into spoiler territory.

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All in all a great film and wonderful sendoff the late great James Gandolfini

My Rating: 8.5/10

How Marvel Changed Hollywood

How Marvel Changed Hollywood
Posted by on Sep 18, 2014

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If you haven’t noticed, Marvel Studios has been taking the world by storm.  Every one of their films has been a financial success and for the most part a critical success as well.  Before this new age of superhero movies, these films were seen as fairly low-brow entertainment.  Simply actions movies whose stars had a few fantastic powers.  That is until Marvel Studios burst onto the screen with Iron Man, a superhero film done well which was also the movie that launched an entire universe.

RDJ Iron Man

What Marvel has done in the most simplest of terms is bring the comic format to the world of cinema.  They created a shared universe where their multiple franchise heroes reside and even interact on occasion.  This has huge ramifications, which I will get after we dive into the comic format in a cinematic world.

The comic book format of delivery that I refer to is the idea of having heroes with their own series which then crossover during big events or in team based series.  Using the Marvel films, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Guardians of the Galaxy, are all those singular series.  While they all still exist in the same universe, the film themselves focus on the individual heroes.  The Avengers is the big crossover event, where all these heroes meet on the screen and it focuses on their interactions as a team against a bigger threat.

The Avengers poster

By bringing this format to Hollywood, it allows for these films to tell more complete stories.  If this had been done like a more regular franchise, we would probably only have The Avengers and direct Avengers sequels.  By giving each hero their own franchise you are able to expand and grow the characters outside of the team while focusing on the characters growth as a team during the crossover films.  This creates a much bigger pay off as we saw in The Avengers.  In fact, the majority of complaints about The Avengers centered around the fact these heroes never had a struggle.  It didn’t seem at any point you thought they were going to lose.  How one of my friends liked to put it, it was all win and not enough struggle.

What this critique or point of view isn’t taking into account is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) needs to be taken as one film rather than in pieces.  Especially when you take into account the actual timeline of the films, you find that they often happen at the same time.  You can see below an example of this timeline and you can click here for a larger version.

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What this means is that The Avengers is not simply a 2.5 hour film about the band getting together, it is a 2.5 hour climax of a series of events leading up to the big final conflict.  This ultimately is what sets the MCU apart from the rest of Hollywood.  Marvel plays the long game and while individual films may suffer from the need to establish other aspects of the MCU, such as Iron Man 2, ultimately they are minor setbacks when compared to the big picture.

We as an audience see each character with a completed arc, instead of seeing all the other bits that happen elsewhere in the world during Iron Man we instead see that entire story.  Honestly, in my opinion this entire film franchise should be seen and presented as a mini series instead of a film franchise.  That way they would have more freedom to blend the characters and plots together instead of what we have now.  Hopefully this what Marvel’s Netflix shows will look like with a focus of individual characters while still having others in the background.

So, how has this changed Hollywood?  It shows how you can get a better payout for your films while still telling great stories filled with compelling characters.  Disney is following suit with Star Wars VII by launching their own shared universe.  Even Universal is launching a cinematic universe based on classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Werewolf, The Mummy, and any classic black and white monster you can think of.

This idea of a shared universe I believe is the new face of franchises and good provide much better film experiences all around.  Ultimately, what I hope is to see a blend between the format of a film franchise and the format of a mini-series.  Having the big budget muscle of Hollywood applied to a format that historically has told more complete and fulfilling stories than normal television series does.  All we can do is wait and see.

Marvel Crossover image

Love and Time Travel

Love and Time Travel
Posted by on Sep 4, 2014

There is a recent trend that I have noticed in romantic comedies and drama.  That is the inclusion of  a time travel element for whatever reason.  Whether this element is in the form of exchanging letters at a magical lake house or by going into a dark room closing your eyes and clenching your fists to find yourself somewhere else.

I’ve noticed this idea before but it came back into my view when I started watching Outlander when it premiered this summer.  Outlander is about a young nurse who after WWII is mysteriously transported to 1743 Scotland while on a second honeymoon with her husband.  This obviously throws her for a loop and creates some romantic tension when she begins to fall for a handsome Scotsman in her search for finding a way back.

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Instead of creating romantic tension through a simple introduction of a different man that our heroine becomes drawn to.  This man from another time adds a layer of complication to an otherwise mundane or even overused plot.  It forces the heroine to make a decision between past and present.

In a genre that has been bogged down with tropes and stereotypes, it can find fresh elements with this simple addition of sci-fi.  Take About Time for instance.  In this film from the creator of Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, which surprisingly doesn’t have an appearance from Hugh Grant.  Anyways, here you have a family where the men have the ability to travel through their own lives by simply finding a small dark room, clenching their fists and picturing themselves in a different moment in life to find themselves there.

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They can only travel within their own lives and if they aren’t careful they can drastically alter their present day life.  Once again, by bringing in this new element, a new layer of complexity is added.  At one point, after our protagonist has a family he tries to go back in time to help his sister who has been trapped in a self-destructive relationship.  By making a simple change, he erases his daughter from his present and alters his married life.  This way he is forced to decide between keeping his present and enjoying life as it comes or by trying to make it better.

The last one I would like to mention is Safety Not Guaranteed a lesser known indie film that stars Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Jake Johnson (New Girl) plus a few other notable faces in smaller roles.  In this film, time travel is used as the inciting incident that eventually brings our two lovers together.  To clarify, Jake and Aubrey are not the two lovers.  They are two journalists investigating an ad from a local newspaper that is looking for a time traveling companion.  Aubrey answers the ad as an interested party and well, you can imagine how the rest of it goes.

Safety-Not-GuaranteedIn this case, the time travel element is used as a metaphor for the blossoming love between the two lovers.  This reliability of this time travel seems to fluctuate with Aubrey’s relationship as well as be the source of conflict within the relationship.  Now, the idea of time travel could easily be replaced in this film with some other theme.  After all, when boiled down the main conflict comes down to trust which is important in any relationship.  Regardless, since time travel was chosen, it puts right in the middle of this trend.

So, what does all of this mean?  Who knows.  I like to think it is film makers trying to incorporate newer ideas into a pretty flat and unoriginal genre that mainly play’s to the heart strings.  It’s a way that can add a level of depth that otherwise isn’t there to the characters dilemmas.  Plus, it intrigues the audience to think what they would do if they had these powers.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the power to go back and try an fix their past mistakes in a relationship?