Tag Archives: 10 potatoes

A History of Violence (2005)


Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
Director : David Cronenberg
Screenplay : John Olson
Rating : R for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use.

David Cronenberg is a true artist. His films are the kind that you either instantly hate or instantly love. His vision is always uncompromising and almost always bleak and depressing. He focuses on the dark core of humanity, questioning the reality his characters inhabit, whether it is the life they live or the world they live it in. Brutal, dark, original and thought-provoking, Cronenberg’s vision is just as vivid in one of his most recent succeses “A History of Violence”.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a model citizen. He lives in a small town, he’s married, has two kids, a cozy household, and owns a modestly succesfull diner. The peaceful life he so much enjoys is torn apart when two psychopatic killers attempt to rob his diner. He guns both of them down with extreme prejudice, turning him into a local hero. His celebrity unfortunately extends beyond the borders of the small town, attracting unwanted attention from Philadelphia mobster Richie Cusack (William Hurt) who sends Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and a couple of henchmen to bring back Tom who they believe is Richies’s brother, a former assassin for the mob who dissapeared a long time ago. Fogarty and his crew shake things up in the small peaceful rural living while Tom himself must bring back some of his past bad habits in order to save his new life, and the life of his family.

While more accesible than his past films, this is still Cronenberg at his best. A psychologicaly tormented lead male character, borderlining split personality, who denies his life as hellraiser Joey Cusack, clearly a psychopatic killer back in the day, while maintaining his current identity as family man Tom Stall, under the pressure of his violent past coming back to haunt him. Definetly right up Cronenberg’s alley. What’s also interesting is how Joey/Tom’s history of violence is reflected on his family in the way their psychology bends almost as if organically reacting to the new identity of the family head. Tom’s deceit and the thought of his criminal past has devastating effects on the family psyche, provoking unusual behaviour. Their adolescent son explodes with violent rage against the local bully in an act of rebellion motivated by his loss of the male role model he identified with, Tom and his wife engage in very rough sex on the staircase (borderline S&M), venting their frustrations, a mix of love and hate, right after she just lied to the local sheriff about Tom’s true identity, herself deeply conflicted about accepting this new man in her life. All of it underlines deep changes in their lives, with the new Tom being the root of all evils, unleashed on their unsuspecting innocence. He’s both the problem and the key to solving their dilemma. The question is : will they now accept him for who he really is, which will probably mean a new beginning ? Standard issue with stories like this, but Cronenberg doesn’t go for the cliches even if the solution to Tom’s problems is easy to forsee. In the end, the only way to ensure his quiet life is to violently kill his past. Now, usually this is a paradox very familiar to action films, but Cronenberg doesn’t do Arnold Schwarzenegger films, so the big climax is a dialogue between Tom and Richie (fantastic line delivery by William Hurt, nominated for an Oscar), which of course ends in violence, but is basically built on tension and character motivations rather than nonsensical shoot’em up.

Since violence is the foundation of this film, it certainly won’t dissapoint gore hounds. Cronenber himself is a crafty director when it comes to blood and guts. “A History of Violence” depicts hardcore violence intentionally framed in gross close-ups and carefully choreographed. He does not glorify it, but instead throws it in our faces in all its horrifying details. This enhances the effect of the story in a way, since it’s all about the violence in these character’s life, how it grows within our society, and acts as a catalyst for our inner demons.

So what is essentially a thriller, pushes the lines of conventional cinema with style and subliminal usage of violence, allowing the viewer to form their own conclusions while being entertained by the perfect acting and tense atmosphere. A must-see.

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Born on the Fourth of July (1989)


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ten

Starring : Tom Cruise, Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Frank Whaley
Director : Oliver Stone
Screenplay : Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic based on a book by Ron Kovic
Rating : R

Based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran paralyzed in the Vietnam war who later became an anti-war activist, “Born on the Fourth of July” is one of the crowning achievements of Oliver Stone, part of his Vietnam trilogy alongside “Platoon” and “Heaven & Earth”. In 1990, it earned him his second Oscar Award as a director and it catapulted Tom Cruise’s career to new heights. Today, this film is regarded as one of the best ever made, though still somewhat politically controversial in America.

The film covers Ron’s life (played by Tom Cruise), from his childhood and teenage years in Massapequa, Long Island, to his tour in Vietnam and his critical injury, and the struggle back home, to cope with both his physical and spiritual suffering. His story starts as that of a young man full of ambition, yet misguided by his own family’s conservative values. Life in the small town is quiet and has little to offer to his dreams of glory. His decision to become involved in the Vietnam war comes from his desire to impress and succeed, but soon he will see that war is no place for heroes and it doesn’t spare innocence. During one of the missions in Vietnam he accidentaly shoots and kills a fellow soldier, a mistake which will haunt him forever, while he himself is critically wounded a couple of months later, and remains paralyzed from the mid-chest down, for the rest of his life. After spending several grueling months in a horrid veteran’s hospital in the Bronx, he returns home in a wheelchair, only a fragment of the man he used to be, or thought he would become. He embarks on a journey of self-discovery in which he ends up alienating his friends and family as he becomes disillusioned by the idea of war and that his sacrifice might have been in vain. He tries to understand the anti-war protesters, while struggling with his pride as a US Marine. He is asked to take part in a 4th of July parade, but instead of strengthening his ideals, it only reminds him more of the unthinkable horrors and mistakes he faced during the war. He tries to understand the “other side” by participating with a childhood friend (Kyra Sedgwick) in a student rally against the Vietnam war, and seeing the police brutality against the protesters makes him question his beliefs even more. He travels to Mexico, living alongside other paralyzed war veterans in a drug, booze and whore-filled attempt to forget, sinking only deeper in madness and despair. He even tries visiting the family of the young soldier he accidentally killed seeking forgiveness.

In the end, we know he becomes an important anti-war activist with a bestselling autobiography, but the evolution to that point in his life is truly dramatic, and Stone pulls all the right strings to give us this remarkable man’s story, without trying to soften the punch or ultra-glorifying him. He shows off his slick cinematic craft in using any and all tactics to create an involving narration. The excellent cinematography, lush orchestral score and authentic art direction smoothly support the narrative, an epic combination that Stone always provides for his movies. But it’s really Tom Cruise’s emotional powerhouse performance, embodying both the youthfull exhuberance of the young Kovic and the despair of the bitter veteran that is definetly the gravity center of the film. It is his best film to date, earning him a well deserved Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. It’s probably because of his more popular acting choices like “Cocktail, “Days of Thunder” , “War of the Worlds” and the “Mission Impossible” trilogy, that the world regards him as a poster boy for commercial success, but it is unfair to dismiss the fact that he can indeed act and to anyone who ever doubted it, this is the film they should watch. Some of the most powerfull scenes are lifted above cheap melodrama by his disarmingly sincere and emotional performance. Of course this is not to say that he is alone. A powerfull supporting cast acts alongside him with honors, some even appearing for a few seconds. A lot of cameos, including the Baldwin brothers (except Alec), Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, John C. McGinley, Holly Marie Combs, Wayne Knight, even the real Ron Kovic. Blink and you might miss them. Also, worth mentioning are Tom Berenger and Willem DaFoe who appear here after playing opposite each other in Stone’s “Platoon”.

Oliver Stone’s films are almost always politically charged, and this one is no different. If you’ve found along the way that your views on the Vietnam war differ from those of Stone’s, then by all means, avoid “Born on the Fourth of July. But do take in consideration that this is also a powerfull statement of human strength, of a man, lost and confused, mutilated body and soul, who found the strength to overcome his demons and come to terms with his afflictions. Tom Cruise’s excellent performance and Oliver Stone’s steady-hand direction, come together beautifully in a truly perfect film.

Volver (2006)


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ten

Starring: Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Chus Lampreave, Cobo Yohana, Antonio de la torre, Carlos Blanco, Maria Isabel Diaz, Neus Sanz
Director: Pedro Almodovar

Almoldovar’s “Volver” is one of my favorite movies of all times. I will try to explain why, but I am not sure that the feeling that I get every time I think about Penelope Cruz singing while her mother listens and cries could be explained or demonstrated, it is either there or it is not. To a movie expert such as Skellington (who you will be acquainted to on Thursday) “Volver” is a technically imperfect film, with flaws and the stigma of not having met the expectations of the critics accustomed with “Talk to Her” or “Bad Education”, which compared to this one seem more meticulous and better directed, better thought. But here, the heart is stronger than the mind. And the flaws make it perfect, especially for someone who, until this movie, did not know anything about its creator.

“Volver” is the story of strong women, three generations of a family torn by secrets and abuse. The main character is Raymunda, played beautifully by Penelope Cruz, who proved with this role that she is a force in the drama department as well as in the looks department. She has a teenage daughter, Paula, and a lazy good-for-nothing husband who feels that Paula has to be taught a thing or two about pleasing a man, being 13 and all. Her mother, Irene, is presumed dead in an accidental fire that also killed her father. Her sister Soledad is a divorced hairdresser that seems a bit too eager to believe complicated supernatural theories over simple life facts. They are a family composed of horrible human beings posing as men and a long string of iron women who took too little and gave back too much, and who, at some point, broke. Irene broke when she set the house where her husband and his mistress were sleeping, her house, with them embraced in her bed, on fire. She took the abuse of her daughter and her own abuse, and the constant cheating until one point, after which lived as a ghost, with the company of only her senile old sister. Raymunda broke when she married Paco to escape the hell of her home, and then, just like her mother, took the next 13 years of supporting and tolerating an awful man as what she considered to be well deserved punishment. Paula broke when she rejected sleazy incestuous advances with the help of a knife, killing the man she thought was her father. This is where the chain breaks, because Raymunda took it upon herself to dispose of the body, as penitence for not having the strength to cut the marriage while her daughter’s innocence was still intact. Irene helps because she was unable to help her own daughter, thus almost losing her. They are sinners, but their sin is not murder, but lack of reaction at the necesarry moment, and their redemption is creating a clean slate for Paula. They all are strangely unaffected by murder because they did everything right until that breaking point. They feel they did everything to avoid it, but they learn that all they did was to postpone the inevitable. And we are unaffected by murder because we see the victims as less than worms. I know I did.

This is a comedy, by the way, in case you did not see that coming. It is set in Madrid, and the European vibe alone makes this movie unforgettable and unique. The streets, the people, the non English language, the lack of clichés, the vacuum where the saving male figures should be, the lack of any redeemable XY human whatsoever, the genuine love and care between the related females and the twisted manifestations of it, the repressed sadness that is only allowed to surface in one song and the survivor gene that is passed on from mother to daughter shows us that, no matter how insignificant your little corner of existence may seem, you will do just about anything to preserve it intact, and no one who loves you could ever blame you the way that an objective person would, the way you deserve to be judged.

I do not know whether “Volver” deserves the ten potatoes I will grade it. I also don’t care. Because I will take real emotion over perfectly fabricated standards any day. And I hope you all have a movie as close to your hearts as this one is to mine.