The Machinist (2004)

Insomnia is a devious little parasite. It can be caused by any number of things, such as an emotional trauma, withdrawal from drugs, or even just jet lag. Serious sufferers can go weeks without sleep, causing major damage to the person's ability to function. The accepted cure for insomnia is not any type of medicine, but rather a type of therapy. First you must pinpoint what exactly is causing someones insomnia, and then work to relieve that issue. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is having some problems with insomnia. He has gone over a year without sleep and there does not seem to be a reason why. His lack of rest has left him an emaciated shell of a man who's more bones than body. Reznik spends his sleepless nights either with his call girl girlfriend Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) or at an airport diner talking with waitress Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). During the day he works at a factory operating heavy machinery, an activity dangerous in itself, made even more so by his drowsy state. When new worker Ivan (John Sharian) distracts Reznik while he is helping a friend, a terrible accident occurs that Trevor feels he is being blamed for. His paranoia continues to feed on the accusations from his co-workers that Ivan does not exist. As Reznik's self destructive search for the truth encompasses his life, he starts to learn more than he bargained for. Although not particularly original, The Machinist is a unique thriller deserving multiple viewings.

Christian Bale is without a doubt one of the best actors of his generation. He has consistently taken on various challenging roles and more often than not he is successful. In movies like American Psycho, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 To Yuma, and this summer's Oscar snub The Dark Knight, Bale time and again takes his roles to the next level and beyond creating unforgettable performances. But what strikes me the most about him is his absolute dedication to his roles. In American Psycho, Bale was in peak physical condition, so much so that when he had to film a shower scene, every woman working on the movie dropped by to watch him. For his role in The Machinist, Bale dropped to a sickly 120 pounds, grossly underweight for his 6 foot frame. That wasn't enough for Bale, who claims to have wanted to drop to 100 pounds, but the filmmakers wouldn't allow him to for health reasons. It got to the point where filming running scenes was painful for him, because he had no leg muscles left. Just one year after The Machinist, Bale starred in Batman Begins, a role that required him to be, once again, in top physical form. Bale put back all his muscle and then some, causing the filmmakers to force him to lose some weight again because he was getting too big. But along with his dedication, Bale's acting ability in The Machinist is impressive. As his character turns from paranoia to hysteria, Bale gives a pitch perfect performance that will ensnare you in his world.

It is very easy to become involved in The Machinist. Director Brad Anderson does a masterful job of giving this film not only just a distinct look, but a feel. The primarily grey and dull atmosphere hypnotizes the audience, drawing them in to the unusual world. It is as though we are looking through the eyes of this poor sleep depraved man and directly at the crumbling world around him. Anderson's expert handle on the pace of the film allowed no room for low points, and only a continuous increase in suspense as every scene passed. The combination of Anderson and Bale brings The Machinist to a status above ordinary, which helps the fact that the script was not exactly fresh. Although not a direct rip-off of any particular film, The Machinist shares numerous elements with numerous films. The twist ending is especially affected by the stale writing because it has been seen countless times. Screenwriter Scott Kosar had only written one film before, and it was the god awful remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After The Machinist, Kosar penned another remake of The Amityville Horror. When one spends much of his efforts copying and pasting the work of others, it obviously seems to get in the way of their original writings. The story is not totally killed by these cliches, but it is definitely damaged.

The Machinist is an above average thrill ride that is guaranteed to entertain. There is no chance to get bored thanks to the stunning direction and solid performances from the entire cast. It's only downfall being it's predictable ending and altogether average screenplay, The Machinist is not an achievement to be missed. My rating (7.5/10)

Below are pictures that show Christian Bale's ridiculous weight transformations for his roles.

Left: The Machinist

Right: American Psycho

Be Kind Rewind: What the Hell Was I Thinking?

Back in July of 2008, I wrote a review of the Michel Gondry film Be Kind Rewind. In it, I had written about how it was a predominantly nice film that wasn't so much funny as it was sweet and fun. It reminded me of how my friends and I made our own movies and I liked that I could relate to it. I only gave it a 5.5 out of 10, but that is still a mild recommendation. Recently on a free preview of Cinemax, I got the chance to watch Be Kind Rewind again. I recalled all the nice things I had written about it and thought I'd give it a second watch. After an hour, I had to shut off the television because I couldn't take it anymore. I had made a mistake.

I never said Be Kind Rewind was a very good film. Whenever somebody asked me "Hey, what did you think of this movie?" I never said it was a good movie. My answer was always the same: "It was nice. Very pleasant." I am deeply sorry for misleading you. There is nothing nice or pleasant about this movie. In my first review I made a point of saying how the script was awful, the direction was trite, and the acting was subpar. Those statements stand where they are. But I did say that I enjoyed Jack Black's performance as the eccentric conspiracy theorist Jerry. Holy hell I must have been slipped acid before watching this movie the first time. The second time around, it was Black who I hated THE MOST. He was nothing more than an annoying pestilence. Also at second viewing, the lazy direction and camerawork proved to be not just trite but unyieldingly soporific. It was seriously as though my friends and I through this movie together in a week. And do you know how I said I liked this movie because it reminded me of my friends and the fun we had making our own movies? Well I'm over it.

Sure I didn't watch Be Kind Rewind all the way through the second time, but I wasn't going to subject myself to the rest of it again. After shutting it off, I just thought back to what the ending was, and realized how unfulfilling and inconclusive it was. Forget all the stuff I said before, because I retract it all. My new rating (1/10)

Gran Torino (2008)

I am not a racist. I believe that every race has their benefits and shortcomings, including my own. But who among us can say we haven't laughed at some racial humor in our lives? I like to think that it's healthy to poke fun at everybody once in a while, just as long as it is in good fun and not meant to be offensive. Comedians everywhere do impersonations of different races that we are not ashamed to laugh at. Racism in movies and television can be somewhat different depending on how it is used. American History X was a fantastic film that focused on how racism can destroy lives, and it was absolutely nothing to laugh about. However, racism in a movie like Borat is meant to inspire laughter and not to be taken seriously in any sense of the word (although I guess you could say Borat was more anti-Semitic than racist. Same point though). But with all the professional comics out their, who would have thought that the best racial and insult comedian to ever live was Clint Eastwood?

The content of Gran Torino is in no way a comedy. It is the story of bitter Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), who after losing his wife now lives alone with his dog Daisy. Walt spends his time fixing things around the house, drinking beer, and caring for his beloved 1972 Gran Torino. At the wishes of his late wife, local priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) checks up on him every now and then, but Walt, who has trouble connecting with own children, wants nothing to do with him. But if you asked Walt what annoyed him the most about his life, it would be his neighbors. We've all had neighbors we didn't care for. Maybe they didn't clean up after their dog in front of your house. Maybe they borrowed your lawn shears and never returned them. Walt's reason? They are Asian. An entire neighborhood of Hmong people surround Walt, and he is not happy about it. When his next door neighbor's teenage son Tao (Bee Vang) tries to steal his Gran Torino as a sort of gang initiation, the family forces their son to work for Walt as penance. As Walt gets to know Tao and his family, his old ideals begin to fade, and he even takes Tao under his wing, teaching him life lessons and protecting him from the gang that is after him. Gran Torino is a film that defines character growth and is richly entertaining, albeit not always for the right reasons.

The single driving force behind Gran Torino is its director and star Clint Eastwood. Without his presence, this film would have suffered vastly. Although Eastwood's age prevents him from bringing physical charisma to the screen, his verbal deliverance of insults and lessons make his performance unique and interesting. The septuagenarian actor claims Gran Torino will be his final film in front of the camera so he can stay behind the camera, and I feel this performance is one Eastwood can go out on happily. Whether he wanted to or not, he brought forth a deadpan comedy that would make Vince Vaughn proud. A single scene where he would walk through the house of a Hmong family and throw around racial slurs as though nobody was there provided for more laughs than all of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's movies put together. (Although it can't be hard to top two laughs). Eastwood's performance was thoroughly entertaining, but because it was for the wrong reason, I can't really say it was great. When Eastwood wasn't rolling me in the aisles, he spent his time growling at people and just looking genuinely angry at everything. Even when his character shows kindness he still ends up looking like he wants to hurt me. The accomplishment in Eastwood's performance lies solely in how he convincingly made his character turn from a miserable grouch to a kind-hearted hero. He also taught me about four new insults I plan on dispensing to my friends.

Without the professionalism of Eastwood, Gran Torino falls short on every mark. The entire Hmong supporting cast was comprised of rookie actors who have never been in a movie before, with the exception of Doua Moua, who played the gang leader. Perhaps by surrounding himself with the talentless hoi polloi, Eastwood thought his guttural mumblings would make him seem like the mumblings of a Best Actor candidate. Nice try, Mr. Eastwood. Gran Torino also becomes unsure of itself as it plays on. At first you feel the movie will primarily be about Walt protecting Tao from the gang, while at the same time learning the lesson of tolerance. But the film ends up abandoning the gang aspect and just focuses on Walt and Tao's relationship for most of the movie. Then at the end, the gang, after lying dormant for about 45 minutes, re-enters and steals the ending of the movie. I acknowledge that this could be argued as making the movie "dynamic", but I choose to think it makes writer Nick Schenk indecisive. However, Schenk's screenplay is not at all bad. There were several scenes that were written very well and kept the movie entertaining. Specifically, keep an eye out for the scene when Walt teaches Tao to interact "like a man" with his barber Martin (John Carroll Lynch).

Gran Torino is a tolerable 116 minutes that is mostly held up by star Eastwood. I have to reiterate that although I am recommending this movie, it is not because it was the deep, searing drama it looks like. I actually suggest cutting off the final 20 minutes and changing the title to Clint Eastwood Insults People. If they did that, they could've won the Golden Globe for Best Picture Comedy or Musical. Actually, if they made it a musical, this could go down in history as the greatest movie ever made. But it isn't. The only dramatic aspect where Gran Torino succeeds is in spectacular character development. Everything else is overshadowed by comedy. My rating (7/10), for all the wrong reasons.
NOTE: I'm aware of the fact that this movie is not really a comedy. I just found the content of this movie to be extremely comical when it was supposed to be very serious. That was my point. So if you noticed that I tagged it as a comedy, please don't think I'm an idiot.

The Wrestler (2008)

I stopped watching wrestling when I was about 12 years old. My excuse was that I had grown out of believing that what I was watching was real and not completely staged. Watching grown men in their underpants pulling punches at each other didn't provide me with any entertainment anymore. Until recently I didn't understand how physically grueling it is for wrestlers, and how much of an emotional impact it can have on their lives. I never took the time to think of what their lives would be like in 2o years, when they are forced to give up the spandex and take normal jobs. The Wrestler is an answer to that very question. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who in his hay day was one of the greatest wrestlers of a generation. But 20 years later, Randy finds himself living in a trailer park alone and working at a convenience store part time. Still, he wrestles as much as he can despite his increased age. But after a particularly bloody battle, Randy suffers a heart attack, leaving him incapable of handling any more matches. Having to give up the one thing in life that he loves, and also loves him back, Randy falls into a depression. He looks to his only friend, a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), for some guidance. But he knows, the only way he could ever be happy is if he can continue wrestling. The Wrestler is a deep and emotional accomplishment that several times brought tears to my eyes.

If you are a fan of the WWE and want to see this film because you expect a documentary on wrestling, you should go ahead and check yourself at the door. Much like the fighting took a back seat to anarchy in Fight Club, wrestling is a distant second to the true core of this film: a man searching for someone to want him. I could think of no actor better suited to this role than the unconventional Mickey Rourke. Early in Rourke's acting career, he did manage to garner attention from critics for his roles in The Pope of Greenwich Village and Barfly. But Rourke was a volatile man and was said to be out of control on set. He was also probably very confused because in his career he has turned down lead roles in Pulp Fiction, The Silence of the Lambs, Rain Man, and The Untouchables. In 1991, Rourke left acting to pursue a career in professional boxing. Over a four year span Rourke was never defeated and had only one draw. Upon his retirement in 1995, Rourke never really made big impact in his transition back to acting. But now in 2008 his luck seems to have finally arrived, and he gives the performance of his career in The Wrestler. Nicolas Cage was originally cast to play Randy, and thinking about that makes me laugh. Cage is a cool guy, but he would have destroyed this movie. Rourke was able to bring so much heart to this role, possibly because him and Randy are practically the same person. But Rourke proves he is no wash up, as he made my eyes well with tears numerous times. One particular scene I should highlight is when Randy reunites with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Randy pours his heart out to his daughter, and the result is a powerful scene that would make a rock's heart skip a beat. Rourke won a Golden Globe for his performance and has now been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. I would not be surprised if he won.

One of the many things that makes The Wrestler work is the stellar direction of Darren Aronofsky. There are so many scenes that I can remember that really struck me beautifully. My favorite was one continuous shot that followed Randy from his bosses office to the meat cutting station in the back of the convenience store where he works. As he walked, the camera slightly bounced up and down as if their was just a man with a handicam following him. During this long walk, a crowd is heard cheering, perhaps waiting for the arrival of Randy. He finally gets to the doorway of the station and stops, and the cheers grow louder. But as he steps through into the room, the crowd noise disappears, and he proceeds to perform his menial job. This exemplifies how overtaken Randy's life has become by his wrestling. The stark contrast between walking through a crowd of people who are screaming your name and then putting on latex gloves and a hairnet really drives the idea of the movie home.

The people in Randy's life, or the lackthereof, provide an extra dose of sentimentality without becoming too maudlin. In keeping with the theme of being washed up, Marisa Tomei plays a stripper passed her prime that doesn't get much business outside of Randy. I find this to be the only unbelievable part of the movie, because even though Tomei is 44, she is not even close to being passed her prime. She proves it in every single scene she is in. But Tomei is so much more than just the nude sidekick in this film. As Randy's only companion, she brings the only sympathy for him to the movie and does a great job doing so. Recently she grabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role, an honor which I'm not so sure was deserved. She gave a great performance, but I didn't see anything award worthy from her. However, I do credit her character with creating some of the most memorable moments in the film. It is her idea that Randy try and contact his daughter Stephanie after his heart attack. In taking her advice, some truly fantastic scenes followed. One scene involves Cassidy helping Randy buy Stephanie a gift at a vintage clothing store. It is here that Randy first interacts with Cassidy outside of the strip club and the two get to know each other as people rather than her being a stripper and him being a customer. Evan Rachel Wood gives a strong turn as Stephanie, who was abandoned by her father and is now aggrevated with his return to her life. Wood is at her finest when she is telling off her dead beat father for the last time, and sends a pang of heartache to the viewer. Her attitude only makes you feel worse for poor Randy, who is genuinely trying to reform.

I didn't know what to expect from The Wrestler. My friend who is a big Mickey Rourke fan built the movie up so high when he told me about it that I was afraid it wouldn't be as effective when i finally watched it. Luckily it was, and I am so grateful I gave it a chance. Whether you are a fan of wrestling or not, it does not matter. The journey you go on to follow this man through his many trials will break your heart and make you appreciate all the things you have in life. My rating (9/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange