Tag Archives: Review

The Lost Ones

29 Oct

Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Director: Terry Gilliam

Year Released: 1998

Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Tobey Maguire

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.1/10

Dr. Gonzo: Let’s give that boy a lift…

Raoul Duke: What? No! We can’t stop here. This is bat country!

Yes indeed, it seems the drugs have started to take hold. On many more than one occasion, Raoul Duke, portrayed by Johnny Depp, spits out some outlandish, absurd and frenzied comment on the current state of affairs, like the one quoted above. In effect, this film does not have a conventional beginning, middle and end; instead relying on highlighting the “now” and what state of mind the characters find themselves in at each moment. There is no real plan for these two. Therefore, its unconventional nature makes it somewhat difficult to review. Difficult but not impossible. The film essentially tells the story of two men searching for the American Dream, as they head to Las Vegas to cover a story and get lost in their insane world of psychedelic drugs.

A man too rare to die. The man Raoul Duke.

Starting off with our two “heroes” is probably the best starting point. Johnny Depp plays the particular oddity known as Raoul Duke, a Doctor of Journalism, whose eccentric behavior is nicely complemented by the terrifying fierceness and smothering attitude of Benicio Del Toro’s character, Dr. Gonzo, Duke’s attorney and drug buddy. These two characters represent the entire soul of the film. They make it what it is by infusing such overwhelming greed, gluttony and excess into each and every moment of the film. The first instinctual reaction is to be disgusted. However, take a closer look and one can see how Gilliam uses his characters to lampoon the American mindset and lifestyle. They are creatures of desire and not necessity. Their drug-filled adventures escalate further and further to multiple breaking points where one would imagine everything would collapse, and reason would win over the duo. Not the case for these two. In America, if things don’t turn out right doing it one way, we don’t change what we’re doing; we just keep doing what we’re doing until it becomes right.

Such is the essence of this film. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of the numerous drugs, visuals and references that the film contains. At first glance, it may seem like nothing more than a pointless meandering on the lives of two drug-crazed individuals reaching the apex of depravity. However, at each turn, the film relays hidden messages. The endless possibilities in this country, personal freedom (and the loss thereof), rejection of conventional responsibilities as well as the meaning of the American Dream, in relation to the generation born out of the 60’s and 70’s, are all subtly explored by Thompson and placed on screen by Gilliam.

Raoul Duke narrates much of the film, ruminating on this experience with his attorney. His insights are mad, thoughtful, nonsensical and damn chock full of wit. His extremely deep reflection on the drug culture of the 60’s (particularly San Francisco) evokes such a nostalgic and regretful quality. The end monologue by Duke truly brings the entire theme and significance of the film together. The viewer realizes exactly who these two characters are and the context behind all the action in the film. It’s quite incredible.

You don't look so good Mr. Duke

Terry Gilliam has always had an extremely unique visual style and vision. It is no different here. Fear and Loathing constantly makes you feel like you are tripping right alongside Duke and Gonzo. The subtle change of colors, the onscreen shifting of objects, and the frequent off-center “canted” shots give an off-balance and unhinged characteristic to the film. The viewer can feel the inner tension of Duke and Gonzo, their anxiety, their zany view and perception of the world around them.

In addition, the music adds an additional layer to this visceral experience. It offers the sort of old-time tunes you would expect from 70’s Vegas but it still manages to retain this sense of frenzy and panic. For example, in the beginning where Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line plays is just fantastic and truly builds the atmosphere and mystique of the two characters. White Rabbit has a tremendous significance in the film and that song is just awesome. Like I stated in the film intro post, the soundtrack is quite eclectic and despite what you may think of the film, it is hard to say that the soundtrack is not amazing. The drug score is just an incredible recurring track that gives those scenes a very out of world feeling. Simply put, this soundtrack captures the vibe and essence of old time Vegas beautifully.

People see this film for what it shows but rarely can they see it for what it signifies: the lost search for the American Dream, a lost generation, a lost sense of purpose. The journey of these two men dives straight to the center of those notions. They themselves are lost and are searching. It takes a little searching yourself to see it. If you come in with an open mind, you will most likely find yourself in love with the characters that move this story forward. They are despicable yet they are amusing. They are clueless yet indeterminably clever. All these contradictions establish a hysteria of interwoven, conflicting emotions and sentiments that come with doing multiple drugs at once. Regardless, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo remain two of the most memorable onscreen characters of all time, and their antics reflect their completely uncertain future, leaving Las Vegas on a straight road, yet lost and astray.  Next stop: The American Dream.

"Well... I guess you're about ready, then, aren't you?"

Rating: 9.1/10


Now some of the great music from the movie:

A lot of the songs contain lines from the movie on the soundtrack. Also some have footage from the movie as well.

The whole soundtrack is really amazing! Give it a watch and listen!



A Tale of Two Tales

24 Aug

Film: The Fall

Director: Tarsem Singh

Year Released: 2008

Cast: Lee Pace, Justine Waddell, Catinca Untaru

Available on Netflix Streaming: No

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.1/10

Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Okay so that line is not spoken in The Fall; in fact, that dialogue is from the very popular Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan and received by Bruce Wayne as fundamental advice from both his father as well as his caretaker and butler, Alfred. Yes, that line captures a very significant thematic element of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, its extremely visual, inspirational message coming through the use of breathtaking images, scenery and wonderfully delightful characters. Tarsem contrasts his real-world characters with their fascinating counterparts in the fantasy world weaved by main character Roy, played by Lee Pace, given to the young Alexandria, played by the incredible child actress Catinca Untaru. In the real world, individuals feel constrained by their circumstances and refuse to the face the reality of their situation while the fantasy characters surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to fulfill their quest for revenge.

Our five heroes in the fantasy world. Each is vastly unique.

Alright so let’s take a few steps back because I absolutely love the plot of this film. It tells two stories in essence: when a young stuntman finds himself in a hospital after a terrible fall on a stunt gone wrong, he befriends a young girl named Alexandria. Over the course of the next few days, Roy begins to tell Alexandria an epic tale of five men seeking revenge against a man, named Governor Odious, for the terrible wrongs they feel he has committed against them. When the story cuts to these incredible sequences of the epic fantasy, the film almost transforms into something else altogether; a showcase of beautiful imagery woven together by amazing characters who all have different motivations for their revenge. I will not say anything else more than that but trust me, you have never seen anything quite like the shots that Tarsem captures in The Fall.

Amazingly, Tarsem did not use any CG special effects to deliver any of the setting or scenery in the film. The sequences on film…these are all natural as some girls would like to say. It serves as an homage to classic film-making where directors did not have the tools or resources to include computer generated graphics and imagery. And I must say, it elevates the quality of the film all that much more, in my mind. In fact, the entire film feels very retro from the setting in 1940’s Los Angeles (Tarsem says Once Upon a Time in the film) to the very formal dialogue and vocabulary used in the film. It creates an out of world effect like we, the viewer, are being transported to another time and another realm, in the case of the epic fantasy segments.

One of the incredible locales in the film.

I really cannot say enough about the visuals in this film. I know that this is a blog about the effect of music on films and their significant relationship but Tarsem conveys some absolutely stunning images to the viewer, to the point where we honestly doubt whether all these places where he shot the film could truly be real. Rest assured, every single locale where the film was shot(over 20 countries) most certainly exists. Lakes, deserts, mountains, ocean reefs, palaces are all included in this film. How this film did not win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography is beyond me!

Moreover, the actors in the film are relatively unknown save for Lee Pace but a regular moviegoer probably will not recognize the name; nevertheless, they all give fantastic performances especially the actors who play characters in the fantasy tale portions. They breathe such specific qualities and characteristics into each of their personalities that the viewer forms a very deep connection with these completely fictional characters made up by Roy. Speaking of Roy, the interactions between Catinca Untaru and Lee Pace are very fun to watch. They have a fantastic rapport with one another and Tarsem often did not tell the young actress that he was filming in order to gain more spontaneous reactions and lines from her.

As the story unfolds deeper and the nature of the relationship between Roy and Alexandria becomes more clear, the themes of the film similarly become more apparent to the viewer. Alexandria is the stark opposite of Roy. I will not say how exactly in this review but it is only through the joy and inspiration of Alexandria that Roy finds the courage and power to move forward out of his desperation. I really cannot speak too much more about this major, central theme without spoiling the entire plot but Pace and Untaru both do a phenomenal job towards the end of the film. The ending sequence of the film played alongside Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony Movement 2 brings the entire film full circle very nicely and truly makes a great statement about the two main characters.

Speaking of Beethoven, his Seventh Symphony Movement 2 serves as a recurring motif through the film. Like the setting and the dialogue, it gives the film a very classic and vintage essence while maintaining the epic quality of the film as well. Unfortunately, since the film was solely financed by Tarsem himself, no production crew ever became responsible for releasing a soundtrack or even an official score. However, the music in this film is so indescribably eclectic and unique, it manages to strengthen the grand nature of the story and the viewer feels further drawn into the fantasy world. Simply put, it is a monumental shame that there is no soundtrack for this film because I guarantee that I would listen to every track repeatedly. It is quite honestly just that good.

And our other two heroes in their fantasy counterpart bandit costumes!

And this film is quite honestly just that good. While it did not gain much recognition from viewers or award associations, some critics did appreciate the amazing effort that went into this terrific endeavor. Tarsem actually has his Immortals coming out this fall (haha sort of a pun) and I think more regular moviegoers will see that and finally get the chance to see the incredible vision of Tarsem. Check this film out! It recounts two touching stories and has a very inspirational message that connects the two stories!

Rating: 9.1/10



Everything is Alright

16 Aug

Film: Little Miss Sunshine

Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton

Year Released: 2006

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin

Available on Netflix Streaming: No

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.3/10

She’s Kickin’ Ass!

Say Hello to the Hoovers! They are unhappy.

That line remains the culmination of emotion, frustration, elation and eventually acceptance in the film, Little Miss Sunshine. It does not seem like a particularly important line; in fact, at first appearance, it merely serves as comic relief from character Richard Hoover, played by Greg Kinnear. However, taken in relation and context with respect to the entire film, one can truly begin to appreciate the magnitude of this simple statement. Quite appropriately the entire beauty pageant at the end of the film serves as a sort of mechanism  to take all the problems of each character and place them in context with respect to the entire film.

Husband and wife director duo Valerie Faris and Johnathan Dayton bring to life Micheal Arndt’s cleverly written screenplay, for which he won an Academy Award. Arndt has woven such familial intricacy into the script, which ranges from the good moments to the equally occurring painful and devastating moments, that we feel a deep connection with the characters. The film begins with a wonderfully made opening sequence, which introduces us to the family members and all their respective characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Already at the beginning of the film, it is easy to tell that not all is well with this family.

Little Miss Sunshine recounts the journey of a dysfunctional family as they attempt to get their young, innocent daughter, Olive, to a children’s beauty pageant in California. Throughout this journey, all the characters face obstacles and personal dilemmas that threaten to disintegrate the family even further. It is only through time spent together that the family begins to realize that they can only stay connected as a family if they learn to accept each other for who they are and not who they want each other to be. This is especially the case for Greg Kinnear’s character, Richard Hoover.

Throughout all the mayhem, it is clear that Arndt has painted an accurate picture of modern America and the contemporary issues that people contend with on a daily basis. Notions of obesity, suicide, the definition of success, drugs and of course dysfunction pop up in various scenes and though these motifs never take the center stage, they create an astonishingly desperate background in which all these characters operate. Moreover, all these motifs connect to the central theme of the film of learning to realize that despite all the hardships and the struggles and the judgments, everything will be alright.

In order to convey this message, Arndt relied upon dark and witty serio-humor while directors duo Faris and Dayton contrasted the dark problems of the family with the bright, yellow van they drive as well as the bright, visual motifs of the film. Sunshine is beaming in nearly every shot. Even when the family faces drawbacks, they maintain their resolve to get Olive to this beauty pageant. Why is there such an effort by all characters to make this happen? Perhaps because they feel that this pageant, this one last chance for something good, is the only thing that can bring their family back together. In any case, the realism portrayed by each character bolsters the theme exceptionally.

Life is referred to as one, big beauty pageant by one of the characters and this seems central to the theme as well. The disparity between Olive’s physique and the attitudes of the far more serious and disturbingly sexed-up little girl contestants mirrors this concept. People will tell us who to be, people will tell us how to act and people will judge us if we do not conform to these standards; they will call us losers. But this film teaches us to acknowledge that there is no silly pair-wise classification of winners and losers. We are who we are (yeah Ke$ha) and we should fully embrace that image in order to truly be happy.

The doll-like appearance of the contestants is quite scary.

Like I stated in the film intro post, the score was produced by Mychael Danna and Devotchka. It contains some very touching music in addition to some very inspirational tracks. The opening sequence that I referenced earlier would not have made such an impression without the The Winner Is playing in the background. Again, the power of music in film is unmistakable. The soundtrack does comprise many tracks that do sound like reworkings of their famous song How it Ends but the different instrumental work in each piece defines a different dimension of the plot. And it creates a wonderful gamut of sounds and emotions in the soundtrack.

In addition, the soundtrack features Sufjan Stevens and the wonderful Rick James and his incredible classic Superfreak. All I can say is that this film utilizes the song superbly and if you do not crack even a smile during that scene, well you must not have a heart I’d say. As one of the purer moments of comedy and the film’s climax, this scene brings the film back to its narrative core. A story about family.

Indeed, Little Miss Sunshine demonstrates that life is rarely ever easy and that overcoming life’s hurdles is not any easier. But how could we ever truly enjoy the good without knowing the bad? As long as you stay true to yourself and you have people who love you for who you are, you can tell yourself that everything is alright.

Rating: 9.3/10


Some of the great music from the movie:

I love how they use this track. It’s perfectly done.

and of course:



The Tough Choices

1 Aug

Film: Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle

Year Released: 1996

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Kelly MacDonald

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.7/10

Renton and Spud fly down a busy Edinburgh streeet as police follow

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

Consider these wise words from main character Mark “Rent-boy” Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, the next time you go to class, have dinner with your family, go to work, or purchase your newest technical gizmo to add to your coveted collection. In a short soliloquy, played along Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and over images of Renton sprinting from the police, director Danny Boyle manages to summarize the entire meaning and significance of our lives. And what a life that is. Then again, Renton’s alternative lifestyle does not seem to provide a better solution, as Boyle demonstrates throughout the film. So what life is Boyle trying to tell us to live? Well it seems almost obvious: everything is a choice! You choose what to make of your life.

Boyle’s masterful film tells the tale of a group of friends, afflicted with heroin addiction, residing in Edinburgh Scotland, as they attempt to kick the habit and live a “better” life. Filled with humor, drama, intensity and moral depravity, Trainspotting succeeds on every level. We are introduced to perhaps the most deplorable yet sympathetic characters, and the story takes us through several turns in their lives. Perhaps the best moments in this masterpiece remain the scenes depicting withdrawal of main character, Renton, as he struggles to resist temptation and his several issues become apparent to the viewer. As much as people like to say that this is a movie about drugs, it is not. Sure, heroin is by and large the narrative paddle of the film. It does give the plot a base and allows the story to progress; however, this film is truly a documentation of the 90’s British culture and allows us to see five characters, honest and pure, making it through life in Scotland. For Boyle, there are no filters or ideas of painting a prettier picture. Never does he point or wave fingers at the actions of his characters. They are who they are and their choices influence their future. This is truly a film about finding yourself. And the terrific music in the film enhances this central motif.

Throughout the film, upbeat tempos contrast with subtle, moody tones (sometimes overlapped), which create a wide range of sounds and subsequently a quite eclectic soundtrack that is simply put, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. Rarely does music complement the tone of films, much less add an extra layer of depth to a film’s core meaning and principle; however, Trainspotting’s soundtrack enriches the plot, the setting and the characters to the point where certain scenes of the film gain a musical identity.

Meet Spud: Hard to understand what he's saying sometimes

The Scottish setting of the film creates an extra dimension of sound: the language. Indeed, Scots can sound like they speak a different language at times, and Trainspotting illustrates their foreign, filthy mouths beautifully. Each character has a different cadence to their voice; the character Begbie for instance speaks with curtness and bluntness that induces a cacophony similar to what blunt force trauma must feel like. The exact correlation of character and their respective sounding voice by Boyle, establishes an authentic sub-culture that we are immediately drawn into.

The influences of Brit pop in this film cannot be ignored either. Damon Albarn (who went on to form the Gorillaz band) has his Closet Romantic playing over the end credits while one of my favorite songs of his former band, Blur, plays during an exceptional scene midway through the film. The Brit pop revolution had hit its apex during the release of Trainspotting in 96 and the associated mindset, culture and lifestyle had permeated much of Britain’s youth at the time. Simply put, Boyle’s story spoke to much of Britain’s youth at the time by portraying identifiable characters and a story that detailed the lost and existential sentiments of the youth. These individuals had chosen not to choose life but rather to ignore the everyday responsibilities that beckoned them towards their adulthood.

On an interesting side note, the film contains no music from Oasis, whom critics popularly coined the kings of the Brit pop revolution. On the other hand, soloist Iggy Pop’s significance on the film is very apparent, as the characters often mention his music and their taste for it. At one point, one of the character’s girlfriends tells him, it’s either me or Iggy Pop. Therein lies one of the fundamental themes of Trainspotting: what do we choose?

Former frontman for Blur, Damon Albarn

Well by the end, you gain a very substantial explanation from Renton while Underworld’s Born Slippy (great song) hammers the point home. I do not want to describe the end scene any further but for me, it remains one of the more magical and impressive combinations of imagery, dialogue and music in film history. This is a story about finding our niche in life and Trainspotting utilizes music in every way to bolster the story on every level. So much so that the music spanned not one, but two soundtracks.

So while the choices that Boyle presents in this film are the tough ones, the choice of whether to watch this film or not is an extremely easy one; in fact, it’s not much of a choice at all. Go watch Trainspotting!


Rating: 9.7/10

Here’s some of my favorite music from the film:

Sing by Blur

Atomic by Sleeper

Carmen Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet

A full link to the track listing of the soundtrack(s): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trainspotting_%28soundtrack%29