A Thrame of Groans?

4 10 2011

For the following several lines, I will excerpt (VERBATIM) actual sentences from the book A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Not that I have any right to make fun of a book I haven’t read. That would be judging a book by it’s cover, so to speak. But I’m really trying to like the book, and… well, just read on. This way I’m not going to say anything sassy about Mr. G. R.R. Martin (who has such similar initials to J.R.R. Tolkien? coincidence?) Instead, I’m just going to list some quotes and let the jokes write themselves.

So.

Ahem:

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.

“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Weymar Royce asked with just a hint of a smile.

(The above are the actual first words of the book)

Flipping through the rest of the book at random I found the following gems:

– “Fear filled his gut like a meal he could not digest.”

– “No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade.”  

– “‘A gift from the Magister Illyrio,’ Viserys said, smiling. Her brother was in a high mood tonight.”

– “‘Too hot, too noisy, and I’d drunk too much wine,’ the dwarf told him. ‘I learned long ago that it is considered rude to vomit on your brother. Might I have a closer look at your wolf?’”

– “Bran looked at the crow on his shoulder, and the crow looked back. It had three eyes, and the third eye was full of a terrible knowledge. Bran looked down. There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death.”

– “Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him upward.”

– “The clang of steel echoed through the yard as the others joined battle around him.”

– “‘Yes, of course,’ he agreed. ‘I shall tell Maester Luwin to send his swiftest bird.’”

– “Joffrey was the soul of courtesy. He talked to Sansa all night, showering her with compliments, making her laugh, sharing little bits of court gossip, explaining Moon Boy’s japes. Sansa was so captivated that she quite forgot all her courtesies and ignored Septa Mordane, seated to her left.”

– “That would come to light soon, as sure as sunrise.”

– “Lord Petyr sauntered into the solar as if nothing had gone amiss that morning.”

– “Ser Raymun Darry took up the tale. ‘At Wendish Town, people sought shelter in their holdfast… but the walls were timbered.’”

– “‘Hodor,’ Hodor agreed. He was dripping wet from the neck down, steaming in the chill air. His body was covered with brown hair, thick as a pelt. Between his legs, his manhood swung long and heavy.’

– “‘The Lamb Woman knows the secrets of the birthing bed,’ Irri said.

– “A passing septon was looking at her askance. ‘Here’s the best place to find pigeon,’ Arya told him as she brushed herself off and picked up her fallen stick sword.”





Why Avatar Doesn’t Suck

29 04 2011

I love the movie “Avatar”. So naturally I’ve noticed that Avatar-bashing has become sort of a fad in the past year, and it drives me crazy that people pick a side just for fun instead of actually formulating their own opinions. For a while I’ve thought about writing some sort of review/defense of the film, and I finally decided what I’m going to do: I’m going to go systematically through all the complaints and address them, just to prove that there actually are reasons for which “Avatar” was a good movie. If you honestly just didn’t like it, I get that I’m not going to change your opinion. I’ll warn you – this is a rant. But have a look below anyway.

1. “The plot sucks.”

Before I even start, let me just express my frustration that so many people use a vague, meaningless, judgmental statement like “the plot sucks” as the main point of their argument and think they’ve automatically won. I mean, it’s okay if you think the plot sucks, but why? Like, what am I supposed to say to that besides “the plot doesn’t suck”? I could go into a lot of detail about why the plot doesn’t suck, but without a starting point I just sort of have to fight stupidity with stupidity here.

Bitterness aside, here is why I think the plot doesn’t suck. It’s based on the classic hero’s journey. It’s a smooth rising action of two parallel conflicts, man v. man (humans/Nav’i) and man v. himself (Jake’s loyalty to the military/his love for Neytiri), which converge at the same moment right before the climax. It’s based on a classic three-act structure. It makes use of twists and turns, red herrings, and slow reveals. It sows suspense by turning the tables here and hin; dangling characters over the brink of death and then bringing them back again. That’s great action storytelling. These are all elements of a plot that doesn’t suck.

Before I get into the meat of the former tirade (because these details are hard to recall in the middle of an argument), the other person usually regains their wits and elaborates on why the plot sucks by dredging up this old classic:

2. “It’s Pocahontas with blue people.” and sometimes, “Disney did it first.”

Let’s address the second one first, just because it’s a little more fun to hammer into the ground. If you think that Disney invented any of their plots, you need a serious reality check. All that Disney’s “Pocahontas” did was choose a quasi-historical legend as the next material to squeeze into their corporate machine and turn into fodder for their Princess Collection. Disney did not “do it first”, history did it first. And while we’re on that subject, we could go so far as saying that Disney took a historical event and made it into a blatantly incorrect retelling, while Avatar took the same event and made it into an allegory.

But let’s assume you don’t need to be told any of that (and if so, I’m sorry for the sass). I would still maintain that there are no original plots; every story is a variant of another, and all of it can be traced back to Greek mythology. Anything, even stories that seem incredibly original, can be broken down into just another tired old plot with new clothes – if you’re cynical enough to look with X-ray glasses. That doesn’t mean a movie is bad, just because it applies to every movie. Check it out:

  • “Fight Club”, “Little Shop of Horrors” : alluring mentor calls protagonist to be more daring than he is, then ironically must be defeated using this newfound courage.
  • “Harry Potter”, “Mathilda”, “A Wrinkle In Time” : gifted and deserving child/children living in awful circumstances is/are called into a magical world in which their gifts are recognized and must be used.
  • “The Matrix”, “1984”, “Fahrenheit 451” : status-quo-accepting Everyman in oppressive dystopian society is awakened to the injustice around him and attempts to break free

You get the idea. So you can make Mad Libs (like this one) about how similar “Avatar” and “Pocahontas” are, sure. The point is, you could make a Mad Lib joke linking any famous movie to another if you really wanted to.

Even within a context where we admit how similar the two movies are (and of course, on a surface level, they are), “Avatar” and “Pocahontas” handle the basic plot totally differently. One is told from the native perspective and the other from that of the settlers; one is told from the female perspective as a romance, the other is told from the male perspective as a hero’s journey. You may as well say that “Wicked” is pointless because “The Wizard of Oz” did it first.

“Avatar” brings so much to the table of this basic, quintessential story. There’s the use of dreams as a motif for perspective, and how hard it is to change yours when you already have accepted ideas of reality. There’s the tension of Jake’s betrayal as a double agent and his internal struggle as he slowly switches sides (in contrast to John Smith’s generic Disney-prince righteousness). There’s the moral of how expectations can doom or save you – if you believe that you will encounter Hell in the jungle, then you turn the jungle into a hell of your own creation.

Enough blabbering. The Pocahontas thing does feed understandably into another complaint, which is this:

3. “It’s predictable.”

Yeah, it sort of is. But only in the sense that a lot of big-budget pop movies are, meaning: you know how you want it to end, and you definitely expect a blockbuster movie like Avatar to give you what you want. In my opinion, that doesn’t make it less satisfying. When the prince leans over Sleeping Beauty to kiss her, do you really need to be wondering whether or not she’s going to wake up? Besides, the movie takes plenty of detours on the way. Even if you know how the whole thing is going to end, there are still moments that make you stop for a second and think “…how are they going to get out of this one?” And yeah, sure, you saw Jake’s taming of the wingèd dragon creature coming, but I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. It’s like the noir movie where where they guy passes by the garbage chompers and says, “You fall into those things, you’ll be ripped to pieces in a second.” Hmm, how do you think the villain is going to die at the end? It’s camp, people. Calm your tits, they did it on purpose.

4. “The only reason it was good was the 3D.”

Yes, the 3D was incredible, and the movie is weaker without it. All I would say is that it’s well-used 3D in that it’s not pretty for no reason. The plot of this movie depends on the viewer’s investment in the safety of the Pandoran jungle, and after racing through the treetops and experiencing Pandora’s beauty, I really did care about conserving it. This movie is pure escapism, and it’s good at it. But the escapism is part of the whole package. Seeing is believing, and the beautiful effects in “Avatar” serve to sell the story to you.

In the end, what really makes this movie for me – and what makes me so passionate about defending it – is the level of attachment it fosters for the characters and the spectacular virgin world of Pandora. I cared desperately about their fate when I was watching the movie, and I guess I secretly think that anyone who didn’t is a horrible person. But I know that’s not the case. I just wrote this to put some weight in the pro-Avatar camp, and to make people think twice about hating on the movie. Opinions are funny things. Shitting all over someone else’s opinion with blatant disrespect is usually frowned upon, until for some reason society agrees on a whipping-boy, and then suddenly it’s not. I guess I’m just trying to nudge people toward noticing how unfair that is.

Four bullet points isn’t as extravagant or comprehensive as I imagined when I started writing this argument, but I think I’ve said enough. Whether I change anyone’s mind or not is icing on the cake to me. I love “Avatar”, and I’m not sorry. And the great thing about stories is that you can discuss them for hours, and never reach an agreement. But when it comes to the end of the day and it’s just you and your imagination, alone with the story – nothing and nobody can ever mess that up.





The Search for the Perfect Burritoria

9 03 2010

Originally published in The Epitaph of Homestead High School

Chipotle is the hottest spot around to grab a burrito, but with California’s historical connection to Mexico and large Latino population, hundreds of better alternatives lurk around ever corner. In fact, we live in the burrito epicenter of the planet: yes, the tortilla-wrapped treat is Aztec in origin, but the first ever burritoria was opened in San Diego in 1923. Ever since then, Californians have been the best at making the burrito in its modern incarnation. With this considered, our Chipotle obsession is flat-out embarrassing. It’s as if Round Table Pizza became a sensation in Italy. Chipotle may be tasty, but those who are willing to dig just a little deeper into our region’s spicy culture will find out that in California, dirt-cheap burritos can be more than just a tasty lunch – they can be a culinary revelation. Here is the Epitaph’s guide to the best authentic burritorias around. ¡Vamos a buscar!

La Costeña

[2078 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View]

La Costeña is not just a place to grab a burrito – it’s a way of life. This tiny burritoria, located in the back of a Latin market stocked with exotic foodstuffs, has been voted “Best Burrito in Mountain View” eight times in a row and has even been mentioned in the New York Times food section. The forte here is the size of the burritos (if you want a Super, you really want a regular) and the fast service. The staff makes the burrito in front of you, allowing you to choose your own ingredients, just like at Chipotle. This deli style of service is what makes or breaks La Costeña, depending on your opinion. It’s fun, fast and interactive, and the ingredients are fresh; on the other hand, the warm meat can contrast unpleasantly with the cold ingredients when you take a bite. There are some downsides: La Costeña is far (although the distance isn’t too bad if you take 85 to 101), and it can get a bit pricey. I’m not a fan of deli-style burritorias, so I personally think the place is a bit overrated. But La Costeña is an institution that you just have to experience for yourself.

Chico burrito: $3.99 plus buffet add-ons

Super burrito: $4.99 plus buffet add-ons


Super Burrito

[1671 Hollenbeck Ave, in Loehmann’s Plaza]

Super Burrito (formerly Burrito Factory) is the closest burritoria to campus. The delicious burritos are a respectable size and have a very well-balanced mix of ingredients, but what seals the deal here is the location and the price. A highlight is also the three types of home-made salsa, which come free with any order (there’s a serve-yourself counter) and are all delicious. To be honest, the burrito here is not a knockout, and it may not be able to convert some fanatic Chipotle devotees. But for a cheaper Chipotle alternative right on our doorstep, Super Burrito is definitely worth trying for those who haven’t yet done so in their Homestead career.

Regular burrito: $4.75

Super burrito: $5.75


Taqueria Los Charros

[845 W. Dana Street, Mountain View]

Los Charros may well be the home of the best burrito around. The tiny place is located right in downtown Mountain View, less than a block from the main street. It’s all a matter of taste, but for me, this is the perfect burrito. A truly good burrito relies on the juxtaposition of the meaty elements with the saucy elements, and as well as offering fantastic meat, Los Charros has this balance nailed. The mix of beans and cheese in the middle is warm and melty, providing a perfect foil to the abundant meat. The taste is finished off with a perfect distribution of cold sauces, each of them plentiful enough to be tasted but never so plentiful as to eclipse the warm ingredients. The location is a double-edged sword: Mountain View is a bit far for many Homestead students, but the restaurant’s proximity to the fun of downtown Mountain View makes it inviting to take a post-burrito walk and digest. The distance and price may turn some people off, but Los Charros still merits mention as the home of burrito nirvana.

Regular burrito: $6.95

Super burrito: $7.25


Tacos de Oro

[On El Camino Real, next to Babies-‘R’-Us]

Tacos de Oro takes the form of a small taco truck parked on El Camino Real just south of the intersection of Saratoga-Sunnyvale. The overstuffed burritos are definitely Chipotle-sized, and the highlight is the fantastic meat. I had the shredded carnitas (pork), which were cooked to a perfect blend of crispy as well as tender bits. The meat has a rich, fantastic seasoning. The salsa may be spicy for some, and in my case it wasn’t spread too evenly throughout the burrito. However, for the most part there’s a good balance of all the ingredients. This is a relatively dry burrito, so don’t come here if you like a saucy mess of beans and cheese; it’s definitely more for the carnivores of the burrito-sphere. A fun addition is a lime slice that you can squeeze on top. Be forewarned that this place is a bit far, and only works for a lunch expedition if you can eat in your 5th- or 6th-period class.

Regular burrito: $5

Super Burrito: $6.50





Movie review: “The Lightning Thief”

17 02 2010

First things first: the book was called The Lightning Thief. The movie is called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” Needless to say, I will not adhere to this madness. A three word-title, that’s good enough for me. Whoever decided to squeeze that monster of verbage into the movie title was clearly on crack.

People being on crack seems to be a theme in the production of this movie. All in all it was pretty awful, but most of the awful parts were laughable and the movie as a whole utterly forgettable, meaning that it wasn’t too painful for a fan of the books (like myself) to watch.

It seems like every YA fantasy novel nowadays is compared to Harry Potter, but The Lightning Thief actually does bear the comparison. The books are fast-paced, witty, fun and above all very cinematic, which is why I’m not willing to forgive some of the plot changes they made. In some adaptations (i.e. “The Lord of the Rings”) it’s necessary, but in a book where the dialogue clips along like a screenplay… why?

If you see this movie, I need to stress to you that the books really aren’t that bad, because it may be hard to believe. In the book, the ridiculous premise of half-mortal, half-god children (who have dyslexia because they can instinctively read Greek) being sent to the mythical summer camp, Camp Half-Blood, and playing swashbuckling capture-the-flag all because they need to train for battle and monsters can smell them, actually makes sense. Did I mention that the gods live on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building? Again, in the book it makes sense.

It’s obvious that everyone involved in making this movie just didn’t understand what makes the book fun. What made the premise work was the satirical element of Greek mythology: Don’t the gods seem to have sex with people an awful lot? What happens to their kids? Wouldn’t Olympus really be like a big, ridiculously dysfunctional supernatural family? The movie doesn’t capitalize on this central conceit of the books. Instead, magic, monsters and ominous voice-overs pop into the life of a seemingly normal teenager just like they do in every other fantasy movie ever made.

Another part of the book that gets squashed is the core of the plot: that the three main characters have to take a giant trans-America road trip to get to the Underworld (which is located in Hollywood) and find Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. It’s all so delightfully irreverent, isn’t it? But what should have been a road movie at heart is as episodic as a video game. The book’s mix of comical mishaps, tense encounters and narrow escapes is turned into a parade of predictable battles.

Completing this trifecta of failure – satire, road-trip spirit and characterization – is the three main characters. The wonderful chemistry between the main trio was central to the fun of the book, and it’s just not there. Logan Lerman is perfect as Percy. He’s probably the only good thing in the movie. Annabeth, however, has been turned into a bitchy Amazon warrior princess. Alexandra Daddario, who plays the part, isn’t necessarily bad, but she’s certainly not good enough to save awful lines like “The gods are angry”. She and Percy never get even a few lines of witty banter, when it could have been so easily lifted straight off the page. Her relationship with Percy has none of the adorable sexual tension from the books. This might be because the characters’ ages have been changed from 13 to 16. Oh, and while we’re on that note: the characters’ change in age causes a lot of dialogue to fall flat. When you’re 13 “What is that thing?!?” is a perfectly acceptable reaction to a minotaur, but at 17, nothing has the realistic bite of “Holy sh*t! That’s a f**king minotaur!!!!” The film’s awkward attempt at teenage slang doesn’t help the whole debacle.

What else is wrong with the movie? Chris Columbus’ direction is uninspired and lacks personality, and the cinematography is noticeably ugly. But a few things can be salvaged from the train wreck. Brendan T. Jackson as Grover is pretty funny; he milks the Eddie Murphy-esque black comedy without being obnoxious. From an adaptation standpoint I have no idea why they made Grover black, but it could have been so, so much worse. A few scenes are saved by a fantastic supporting cast, such as Uma Thurman as Medusa and Rosario Dawson as Persephone. The Medusa action scene really gels, which only makes you feel a dull ache as you get glimpses of what this movie could have been. The scene in the Lotus Hotel also works pretty well, to a point.

So, all in all, this movie sort of has a reason for existing. But I hope and pray that someday someone will see the true potential of the books and make another movie. If you’re sensitive to seeing your favorite books be slaughtered by Hollywood, do not see this movie. If you haven’t read the book, oh please dear God do not see this movie. But if you’re a casual moviegoer and you want a good laugh and a snack of eye candy, it might be worth it. After all, the book still exists. I, for one, am promptly going to reread it.





Movie review: “Sherlock Holmes”

26 12 2009

Remind me never to become a movie critic.

Seriously. “Sherlock Holmes”, which opened on Christmas, got nothing but lip and snark in every movie review I read, with the Hollywood Reporter going so far as to say that it “goes wrong in many ways except for one — at the box office.” Really, Kirk Honeycutt? Really? Well, far be it from me to critique this movie on such a grandiose scale as the Hollywood Reporter, but maybe the masses of the box office should have the final say. I can only feel sorry for any critics who are too jaded to enjoy the flash and fun of a good action comedy like this one. So here it is, the incorrect perspective of a mindless, brainwashed Hollywood moviegoer: “Sherlock Holmes” is fantastic.

But first, let’s get one thing straight: Is this really Sherlock Holmes? No. Anyone who respects the canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eternally unruffled detective will be leery of this new imagining – as they should be. This Holmes is not a proper English gentleman who solves mysteries with civilized logic, armed with a pipe and a deerskin hat. He’s a quirky, immature genius who wallows in a messy bachelor pad binge-drinking in between cases and goes out boxing to blow off steam. (A boxing scene where Robert Downey Jr. shows off his fighting skills is admittedly very cool, but it’s the farthest from classic Holmes that this film strays.)

The good thing about this film, though, is that it wins you over. Unlike a lot of fun but cheesy action flicks, there’s no verisimilitude required. I watched the first fifteen minutes with squeamish uncertainty, mentally checking off the breaches of Holmes canon, waiting for a reason to hate this movie. But the witty dialogue, engaging action scenes and gorgeous production design drew me into this vision of Victorian London until I couldn’t say no. It may not be Holmes, but goddamn, it’s good.

Downey Jr. is Holmes and Jude Law is Watson. I could complain about how their dynamic together is absolutely nothing like Holmes and Watson are supposed to be, but I’ve already emptied that can of worms, so I’ll move on. As a pair of crime-solving buddies, Downey Jr. and Law are hilarious. They definitely have an Ozzy & Harriet roommate thing going on; another thing that a lot of reviewers seemed to pick up on is the homoerotic subtext. Yes, it’s there, but not so much in the “Brokeback Mountain”-style of legitimate tension; instead it’s just another underlying nuance which gives spark to their Odd Couple schtick.

The verbal sparring in this movie is mostly about Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), Watson’s betrothed, for whom he is about to move out of the bachelor pad at 221b Baker Street. Although the gay subtext does add a funny, awkward edge to the whole thing, at the end of the day Holmes’ chagrin has less of a jealous-lover flavor than a you-let-girls-into-the-clubhouse flavor, which is as it should be.

Holmes also has a love interest, who comes in the form of the beautiful, seductive thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). McAdams is absolutely fantastic. She’s the best femme fatale I’ve seen onscreen in recent years, if not ever. She’s beautiful without being slutty, dirty when she needs to be (no suspiciously unmussed Heroine Hair), and her constant game of wits with Holmes is a joy to watch. I had always seen her as the awkwardly anorexic blonde chick in “Mean Girls”, but here she proves that she can really be a bombshell. Speaking of sex appeal, McAdams may own the screen, but there’s not a complete lack of eye candy for the ladies. Jude Law actually looks sexier than ever with a scruffy beard which strips him of his effeminate, prettyboy Jude Law-ness. As for Downey Jr., he’s sort of handsome in an aging, debonair kind of way. But this is a guy’s movie, and the prevalence of beautiful women and frumpy men is just another quirk of the film’s grimy penny-dreadful universe.

The plot involves the occult and the mysterious and is wonderfully engaging. There are plenty of brilliant deductions that you never would have picked up on by yourself, as befit any good mystery. And the action scenes keep you on the edge of your seat. The movie’s stunning climax atop the scaffolding of an unfinished Tower Bridge really made me go “wow”.

In the end, the movie leaves room for a sequel – which, in the reviews I read, was painted as a greedy, commercial move by the filmmakers (I’m looking right at you, A.O. Scott). On the contrary, leaving room for a sequel is the opposite of a greedy move. It’s a quality control for the story, ensuring that when the greedy bigwigs of Hollywood come calling for a sequel it won’t have to be welded on to a movie where all the loose ends were already tied up. This way, the sequel has a fighting chance of being as good as the first. And the bottom line is, this movie was good enough that I want a sequel. So go ahead. Side with the uneducated mob and relish this movie. Corporate America may be ruthlessly stealing your $10.75, but if they use it to make movies like this, they’re not wasting it.





Movie review: “Fight Club”

1 11 2009

fc2This movie was everything I was expecting it to be and more.

It’s not just a hack-’em-up action flick, although there’s plenty of action and gore to complete the picture. It’s a brilliant satirical thriller, engaging and quirky, a delight from every angle. The basic plot centers around a nameless everyman (Edward Norton, his nerd factor turned on full throttle) whose hopelessly boring life changes when he meets a magnetic soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, in a role that made me realize why he used to be a heartthrob). Pitt is perfect for the role: he’s virile, muscular, slick and charismatic. The two men strike up a friendship and decide to start an underground fight club for bored white-collar workers to let out aggression and live it up a little.

The movie is a brilliant commentary on today’s world of bored people looking for a thrill. I wouldn’t say it offers a moral, but it gives us a fantasy that plays out realistically to its nasty end, and ultimately seems to suggest that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Any bored man would wish to meet Tyler Durden and get his life shaken up, like Norton does. At first Durden seems like an awesome guy and their life together looks like a blast – riding bikes around the house, getting drunk and hitting golf balls at parked cars. But as the movie goes on Durden turns from an edgy mentor into a cocky, patronizing God figure. It’s a brilliant mind game to make our opinion of him slowly proceed from worshiping him to realizing he’s an asshole. As the games get more and more dangerous, Norton has to step out from under Durden’s shadow and fight for himself.

That may sound like a pretty comprehensive summary of the plot, but believe me when I say that I’ve barely given away anything. There’s also Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla Singer, the third part of a picture-perfect love triangle. This is a testosterone-pumped movie, but it’s also a very smart movie, and it both comments on and satires the nature of bloody action flicks. The real fun lies in imagining yourself as part of a Fight Club. Near the beginning, Edward Norton’s character says, “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” That’s the dream upon which this movie is based, a dream which comes crashing down in the explosive third act. Still, “Fight Club” doesn’t guilt us for fantasizing about fighting. Instead, it fulfills those gory masculine fantasies in a setting that’s not morally bankrupt. It makes you think: about the values of fighting, and about the values of not fighting. But let another movie make a choice between them. This one is too busy having fun.





Movie review: “Public Enemies”

10 10 2009

It’s dark and tragic but still undeniably cool. The whole thing has a realistic bent, especially with the shaky, Blair Witch Project-esque cinematography. The story is slow (even, dare I say, boring), but the movie only drags a bit near the middle. The rest of the time, it’s buoyed up by stellar performances by its leading actors. Johnny Depp has fantastic chemistry with both his archnemesis, Inspector Purviss (Christian Bale) and the girl of his dreams, Billie (a radiant Marion Cotillard). The scene where Purviss and Dillinger finally meet face-to-face is electric. They only exchange a handful of disses, but there’s a sizzling tension between them. The realism is also clever in that they make John Dillinger seem like the good guy without sainting him or cleaning up his act. He showers bullets on police officers and beats up random guys, but he has his honor, and he somehow comes off as way less of a dick than Purviss. Maybe that’s in part because of the love story between him and Billie, which has a lot of emotional resonance. You really, really want Dillinger and Billie to run away together and live happily ever after, even if you know how the story ends. I won’t tell you the ending, but this is a biography, so let the viewer beware for the safety of the characters.