Tagged Edward Norton

American History X and the Consequences of White Hot Hatred

American History X. 1998. Directed by Tony Kaye. Screenplay by David McKenna.
Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Stacy Keach, William Russ, Guy Torry, Joe Cortese, Jason Bose Smith, Antonio David Lyons, & Alex Sol. New Line Cinema/Savoy Pictures/The Turman-Morrissey Company.
Rated 18A. 119 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER The idea of racism is something that interests me to no end. Because I’ll never understand it. I can’t wrap my head around being a racist. I can understand people fed up with racism saying “Fuck white people” because after so long all you can do is hate the people that are perpetuating racist nonsense. Either way, the neo-Nazi subculture and the concept of white supremacy interests me. In the sense it baffles me. Being about 13 when American History X hit theatre, I remember seeing it shortly after on VHS. Tony Kaye’s stylised directing wasn’t immediately what hit me; that I came to appreciate later. Initially, the story and its plots concerning the heart of hate and the disease of racism, specifically white nationalist ideology, grabbed me at an early stage of my teenage years. Being from a small island off the far East Coast of Canada – Newfoundland – and from a semi-small town, I didn’t know many people of other races. However, that never made me feel separated. When I moved to Ontario to pursue film school for a couple years I met people from all walks of life, all religions, cultures, races. Two of the few best friends I made during my time there were of completely different upbringing: one was a black, London-born Canadian, the other a Canadian Sikh. So coming from a place where I’d known nobody, aside from a doctor I had, from a different race or culture, it amazes me that others somehow from the same type of place as myself managed to become racist. I’ve seen more “tired and hungry and poor” white people that Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) speaks about mooching off the system than any immigrant I know of. So many of the people who come to Newfoundland particularly are hard workers, nice people, genuine and often interesting. Whereas I know an awful amount of white Newfoundlanders who only work 5 months out of the year then take the rest off on unemployment, working seasonally so they can spend their winters riding snowmobiles and going to the cabin. Take from that what you will.
American History X is a unique film about white supremacy. One which takes aim at the irresponsible and unavoidable consequences of racial hatred through the lens of Derek. Using a nonlinear narrative, Kaye tells a fascinating tale with the script from David McKenna, and tries to look at Derek in a neutral light while he transitions out of his hideous racist past. Again, the style is what you’ll find draws you in, but the ultimate journey on which Derek finds himself, the way McKenna’s screenplay reveals his past and how time in prison culminated in his realisation of a different way of life, these are the elements that are most interesting. This isn’t a plea to give white supremacists a chance. This is a plea to give those willing to change a chance. At the very same time, the film’s ending leaves us at a point where we must consider there’s a possibility Derek could, after all that’s happened, revert back to that old life. Regardless, Kaye and McKenna’s collaboration makes for a work of art, topped by a powerhouse performance out of Norton, giving it all he’s got in a role that could be monumentally difficult for a lesser actor.
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The use of black-and-white v. colour in particular segments is more than a stylistic device. It is thematic in nature. All flashbacks to Derek’s time before being released, the past, his racist past specifically, are shot in black-and-white. Later, after his release from prison the story becomes colour, vibrant and vivid. This is because the colour change represents the very struggle through which Derek goes while in prison. He used to see the world only in black v. white. Now, once through the prison gates and back into the real world, Derek sees everything in reality, the way it is, as a colourful palette, one that’s incomplete without all shades of the spectrum.
That infamous curb stomp scene is one that’s etched in the minds of moviegoers around the world. Permanently. It isn’t simply the visual and the intense way Kaye sets up the scene, nor is it that fiery, Satan-like look that Norton gives while holding his hands up for the police. The sound design gets me, every time. The way that guy puts his teeth to the curb and they scrape lightly, an almost metal-like sound against the cement… yuck. Just rattles down my spine.
Something that makes the entire film more heavy, aside from Kaye’s directorial choices and the cinematography alone (also by Kaye), is the score. Anne Dudley (Say Anything…The Crying GameThe Full Monty) gives the atmosphere a much more intense feeling with her various pieces. The classical sound of the orchestral work helps give the movie something extra rather than going with a traditional soundtrack, something you might expect from most movies about neo-Nazis; you can almost see another film in a similar vein using rock n’roll versus hip hop, making things tacky. Dudley does a lot of amazing stuff here that does wonders for the overall atmosphere. The suspense and tension is pumped up. In that curb stomp scene there is a beautiful, simultaneously ominous bit of choir along with orchestra that makes you feel as if you’re sitting in on a sermon at church. The way it plays underneath the action of the scene, the way Kaye slows things down and lets you see, feel everything, is impressively potent.
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Hate is baggage. Lifes too short to be pissed off all the time. Its just not worth it.”

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The character of Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) is highly interesting. Due to the fact these types of “chicken hawk” neo-Nazi, white nationalist phonies are all too real. They’re the types out there conning young men into the lifestyle, feeding them lies and filling their heads/hearts with the fertiliser of hate and racism. Keach plays him well: a weasel of a man, one that pumps himself up with the accomplishments of others and partly with embellished stories of his own past, a guy that uses a bunch of young people to do the dirty work he can’t manage himself, a lost and pathetic man that grasps onto whatever control he’s able to, wherever it comes. He’s a great parallel to Derek, as the latter has done actual real time in prison, whereas Cam only did a small bid before ratting on two younger guys and letting them take the big fall. This opens up the comparison, which is what much of Derek’s time after prison concerns primarily.
Derek knows the hardships of real time in the big house. Moreover, he’s seen his own white supposed brethren turn on him; not only did they hurt him, they straight up raped him. So there’s also the added fact Derek saw more than rough time in prison. He witnessed the hypocrisy of those beliefs while inside the walls of the penitentiary. Meanwhile, this eventually leads to his understanding the hypocrisy of white supremacy and the neo-Nazi ideology in general. Stemming from his experience in jail, especially his time working alongside Lamont (Guy Torry), Derek comes to see that he knows no black people, he doesn’t know their personal experience though he judges them and considers them all leeches on society, et cetera – just as many on the outside won’t understand his personal journey as an inmate, they’ll merely chalk him up as one of many. So through his terrifying, disturbing prison time Derek is able to get out of that racist mindset and discover another side to life. Norton plays the character incredibly well and he makes an ugly character into a human being, coming out on the opposite side of racism with a view that not enough in the real world will find on their own. His portrayal of Derek is one of the greatest from the 1990s. Better than that it’s the single best portrait of a white supremacist I’ve personally ever seen.
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American History X weaves the tale of generational racism through the story of Derek Vinyard’s character, his personal experiences with neo-Nazi ideology and the consequences of going through the prison system holding onto his own system of belief while having it challenged at every corner. The epitome of this vein comes through Derek’s father, which is why his most important, major scene comes later at a critical moment in the finale of the film; almost at the very moment young Danny (Edward Furlong) pinpoints where their lives changed, when the racist seed found itself planted firmly in their hearts. A powerful moment, punctuated by nice directing.
All sorts of these moments happen. The movie is filled with them. We’re never asked to identify with hatred. We’re merely asked to look it in the eye, as the characters do. Derek looks hate right in the eye and his own mistakes in the scene where he looks in the mirror, seeing that symbol of hate right on his chest; he covers it up with his hand to try and imagine himself without it. This is a story of redemption, just as much as it’s also a story about the consequences of hatred. It’s ultimately a cycle that keeps on perpetuating itself, over and over until the end of time. Almost as if there’ll never be an end. The fire started a long time ago. At this point, it rages too hot and bright to ever fully be extinguished. We can only try as best we can to keep on keeping on in the face of its heat.

Red Dragon Tells Harris with Little Flavour

Red Dragon. 2002. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay by Ted Tally; based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Heald, Ken Leung, Frankie Faison, and Tyler Patrick Jones.
Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 124 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★1/2
0d6a134caa608fef2f1b56c4cebfa44e I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris and his Hannibal Lecter-centric novels. Everything about them appeals to me, though, I’m not particularly fond of Hannibal Rising. My favourite, an unpopular view, is actually Hannibal – I think it’s an intensely savage, relentless piece of work with a wild twist at the end. But close by equally are Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. The Jonathan Demme version of the former is one of the best movies ever made.
In opposition, I’ve got to say that I prefer Michael Mann’s Manhunter over this version. Regardless of how well this sticks to the story in comparison, I still love the way Mann treated that adaptation; incredibly different and cool.
Part of why I’m not huge on Red Dragon, even though it’s a good movie, is because I don’t really find Brett Ratner all that interesting as a director. I can honestly say this is the only movie he’s directed I genuinely enjoy. Everything else he’s done is so ridiculously generic. There’s nothing I find appealing about his work. I think the only reason he succeeded in making me enjoy his work here is because Thomas Harris provided the backdrop. Plus, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Kietel, Emily Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a returning Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison – could it really have gone terribly wrong?
While I do like this movie, I don’t think there’s anything overtly incredible other than the performances. Ratner is a mediocre director at best, in my mind; plenty of people love him, I have no doubt. He is a successful man. Just not my cup of tea. Overall, the lack of a really palpable style is the only thing I find truly lacking about Red Dragon. The reason I loved Manhunter so much was because, aside from the excellent William Petersen and Tom Noonan performances, Mann injected the story with so much of his style that it came off so interesting and beautiful to watch. With this version, Ratner merely shows it to us. It looks good enough, but I don’t feel as much of the story as I do while reading Harris, or when I watch other incarnations of Hannibal Lecter on television and film.
35a1b1092ef44b60aa2d748f56f6fccbI’ve always thought the opening scene to Red Dragon showing Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) watching the orchestra was an impressive way to show why he kills. Part of him hates rudeness, another part of him also love the finer things of life – anyone who gets in the way of that is subject to being on his plate, as well as the plates of his dinner guests. With this sequence, we’re introduced to a piece of Lecter then also Will Graham (Edward Norton) shows up.
So it works in two ways, by both introducing Hannibal – though we’ve already seen him plenty on film – and simultaneously introducing his relationship with Graham. It’s an effective opener which draws us in immediately. Even more than that, the script starting from the beginning sets itself apart from Michael Mann’s Manhunter; I don’t know if you’d call this a remake, or more so simply another adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. It’s an exciting, intense, and very wide opening in scope.

Being a fan of Edward Norton, he’s honestly one of the weakest links in this film. I think he has the potential to be a great actor, but some times he just looks to be phoning things in. There are moments in Red Dragon when he does excellent stuff. Other times he might as well be toeing a hole in the sand with his shoe. The character of Will Graham is complex. I think William Petersen brought something to the role in his own way, certainly Hugh Dancy has done a fantastic job with the 39 episodes of the NBC series, but Norton sort of feels generic here in the role. He’s not bad, I don’t mean to say that. There’s definitely a likability about Norton’s Graham, what I feel like I’m missing is the tortured side, the apprehensive man who doesn’t want to have to go back into what Jack Crawford (here played by Harvey Keitel) is asking him to do; something which nearly killed him before with Lecter. In Norton’s performance there doesn’t seem to be as much of that wary Graham, the one whose mental capacities allow him to feel and understand things no one ought to ever feel or comprehend.
35zXKpI do always enjoy Sir Anthony Hopkins, particularly as Hannibal the Cannibal. He has a highly quirky charm and chill at once. Some say it’s overacting, I say it’s an excellent fictional serial killer who has an odd affectation. It’s silly to me people will accept Hannibal and all his cannibalism, all the wild stuff he’s gotten up to over the course of his character-lifetime, yet then they’ve got a problem with how Hopkins is a bit hammy at times. Really? You’re going for that?
The only thing bad about Hopkins here is the fact I don’t really think he and Norton have much chemistry together onscreen. Their scenes are decent enough because Lecter is always creepy, but the back and forth between Hannibal and Will here is nowhere near as good as it was between Hannibal and Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, and certainly doesn’t come close to touching the Hugh Dancy-Mads Mikkelsen energy in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series. It just doesn’t work as well as any of that, so it comes nowhere near some of what Harris did either. I think, again, this mostly has to do with Norton. He’s a fine actor, just not in this movie. There’s nothing impressive to me about his performance here, as say opposed to American History X or his debut performance opposite Richard Gere in Primal Fear.
reddragon3Ralph Fiennes is the actor who shines most of all in this good yet slightly dull version of Red Dragon. Francis Dolarhyde has always been a morbidly fascinating character, to me and to many out there. Even if Red Dragon is not my top favourite of Harris’ novels – though still amazing – there’s something about Dolarhyde in particular, even above Buffalo Bill, which terrifies me. Fiennes is one talented man beyond a shadow of a doubt. Here he brings a ferocious intensity to the role.
While it’s easy nowadays to forget this great performance due to Richard Armitage’s fabulously involving turn as Francis Dolarhyde on NBC’s Hannibal, Fiennes still knocks this role out of the park and into the lot. There’s a difference between Fiennes and the other incarnations, just as they’re unique in their own ways. What I like about Fiennes is that I find him highly unpredictable. He’s the type of actor who doesn’t telegraph his emotionality, he sort of springs into action so suddenly, which really comes through here. Truly, every single frame of the film in which you find Ralph Fiennes he is incredible. There’s a physical aspect to the character on several levels – he’s physically fit and actually a handsome guy, but inside he feels hideous, deformed, and like a monster. So what I enjoy is the fact that Fiennes is an attractive man, however, the makeup work for Dolarhyde’s hairlip gives him an unsettling feeling – not because of the scar, merely because of how Fiennes portrays Dolarhyde and the way he feels about his outer appearance. He’s at times equally sad and sympathetic, and also frighteningly savage.
Still, my favourite moment with Dolarhyde has to be his official introduction, a little over 40 minutes into the film. It’s such an unsettling view into his world, where we see him lifting weights and yelling at his dead grandmother whose voice scolds him – as a child and still as a grown man. Even creepier is the way he opens his big scrapbook, full of articles about Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham – it’s when he sort of strokes Lecter’s picture, specifically his smiling mouth, that you get this awful feeling in your gut. What an effective first look at Francis Dolarhyde here. Impressive sequence from Ratner, I must say.
reddragon4While I don’t find the movie to be poorly written, by any standards, for some reason I do not get the same feeling about Ted Tally’s script here as I did with his work on The Silence of the Lambs. Not sure exactly what it is about this screenplay, there’s not the same impact as his previous adaptation of Harris’ work. I do like plenty of scenes, but there’s less tension and suspense than in the Jonathan Demme directed film. Now, I’ve never actually read the script itself, so maybe there’s bits and pieces of Tally and his writing which didn’t make it through to what Ratner did onscreen. I’ll not know until I read the screenplay someday. But still, there’s an overall lack of the tensely cultivated atmosphere from Demme’s 1991 Harris adaptation, and I think there must be part of the problem there lying in the screenwriting. Then again, I’m not particularly big on Tally overall, as nothing else he’s done particularly impresses me other than The Silence of the Lambs.
2 vlcsnap-2010-09-04-08h34m49s254In the end, I can only give Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon 3.5 out of 5 stars. I know some will surely call me crazy. It’s not as simple for me to say this is an amazing movie. It’s just… not. Better than average? Sure. There are great performances, from Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson both of whom I forgot to mention – she does a fantastic job playing the role of Reba McClane, the blind woman who falls in love with Dolarhyde. Even further, the story itself is good enough to carry this even if the actors weren’t so great.
But the lack of style, a few little mistakes here and there, as well as a bit of a yawning performance from Edward Norton, all makes it hard for me to even feign agreement when people say this is SO AMAZING. I remember seeing this in theatre – I was so pumped, beyond excitement. It didn’t live up to the hype then, it still doesn’t now. I do own this on DVD, because I’m a completist; even own Hannibal Rising which isn’t the greatest either. I just really can’t get onboard with people saying this is incredible or that it’s better than Manhunter. Nah, not for me.
Still a decent adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel, Red Dragon is a good movie. Don’t think it’s better than it is, there are plenty of flaws and not enough style to Ratner’s direction to forgive them. See it and be your own judge, but do not get sucked into the hype. There are better visions of Will Graham, Hannibal Lecter, Jack Crawford, and Francis Dolarhyde elsewhere.

The Deconstructed Life of BIRDMAN

Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★

2562232_bigBirdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?

Birdman1I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite BatmanNight ShiftBeetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
BirdmanThe other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.

Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
Birdman_teaserI am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.

All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-2014-large-pictureThis is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!