Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Movie Review: Shame (2011)

(First a quick recap of some of the previews screened before this film started)

Carnage (2011)
Director - Roman Polanski

Not even a great looking cast can make this adult comedy appear watchable.  Juvenile jokes abound after two couples have a spat over their children. (Polanski jokes withheld)

The Grey (2012)
Director - Joe Carnahan

Liam Neeson continues his amazing range of a tough guy in a tough spot role, but I will admit this movie about  survival in a frozen wilderness with lots and lots of blood-thirty wolves looks like a winner.  Let's just see what the final product delivers.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Director - David Fincher

Like so many remakes I doubt this can live up to the original Swedish version of the first film, but the trailer looks good and Fincher is proven, so I'm hoping for the best but I'll settle for decent.

Shame (2011
Director - Steve McQueen
NC-17; 101 Min
Brandon Sullivan - Michael Fassbender
Sissy Sullivan - Carey Mulligan

I took notes during this film in anticipation of a lengthy and hopefully insightful review, but I'm going to keep it brief because I realized there is little chance of many people I know seeing this.... so.... yeah.

Michael Fassbender is an awesome actor.  He will be for a long time to come.  He's already been amazing in films like Hunger, Fish Tank, and I hear he is great in the upcoming A Dangerous Method, and in this film there is little doubt that he is here to stay.  As Brandon, a successful marketing/financial person in New York City, Fassbender takes on his character's depraved sex addictions with a zeal, revealing every bit of his body in this NC-17 film by Steve McQueen (a very anticipated follow up to his award winning Hunger), and in the process giving a terrific performance that will probably be rewarded.

Carey Mulligan plays Brandon's sister, Sissy, who is just as damaged as her brother.  We never learn details of their childhood, but it is clear that these two were subjected to the worst types of abuse.  When she arrives for an extended stay at his apartment the two of them venture down their own paths of self destruction.

There isn't much of a plot to this film, so if you're not into psychological studies with great acting this one isn't for you.  The NC-17 rating is a must for American audiences as there is extensive sexual content including the full naked figures of both lead actors - all of which completely pertains to the film.

The score is awesome and as Brandon runs around the city on some introspective runs listening to Bach Goldberg Variations you can't help but feel the agonizing beauty and torture that is this character and his insatiable need for sex without emotion to the extent that his life is in complete ruins.  I'm not sure we what the message is when we leave this film, but I'm not concerned with that, since it is the performances that are so well done which leave us with a lasting impression of two individuals and their struggles with life.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

4 Super Brief 2011 Movie Reviews: Hugo; J. Edgar; Friends With Benefits; The Devil's Double

Hugo (2011)
Director - Martin Scorsese
PG; 126 Min
Hugo Cabret - Asa Butterfield
Isabelle - Chloe Grace Moretz
Station Inspector - Sacha Baron Cohen
George Melies - Ben Kinglsey

I'll keep this extremely brief - See this film and don't hesitate.  Without a doubt one of the best of the year, Martin Scorsese delves deep into both personal love of film and the history itself, creating both a magical piece about early 20th century Paris and a children's adventure.  Shot specifically for 3D, this film is getting much praise for amazing use of the technology, but I detest 3D so I viewed it in regular 2D and loved it every step of the way.  Choose whichever way you want, you will love the entire 2 hours of this drama, comedy, fable, based-on-true people, historical and beautiful piece.

***** out of 5

J. Edgar (2011)
Director - Clint Eastwood
R; 137 Min
J. Edgar Hoover - Leonardo DiCaprio
Lots of other people

See the shitty makeup trying to create an older J. Edgar Hoover out of Leonardo DiCaprio? Well, the movie is 10x shittier.  I can't say enough about how much I disliked this movie.  I walked out with 45 minutes left.  I've only done that 3 times in my life.  I don't care if it was Leo directed by Eastwood. I was bored.  I didn't care.  It sucked.

* out of 5

Friends With Benefits (2011)
Director - Will Gluck
R; 109 Min
Mila Kunis - Jamie
Justin Timberlake - Dylan

There was a plot? Mila Kunis is so unbelievably hot I was able to block out the dialogue and enjoy the view.  And don't tell me you don't like skinny chicks like Mila.  I'll call you names that could get me kicked out of a political race.  Like No Strings Attached earlier this year with Kutcher and Portman, it is watchable on a terribly base level.

** and 1/2 out of 5

The Devil's Double (2011)
Director - Lee Tamahori
R; 109 Min
Who cares?

What a piece of shit.

* out of 5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

3 brief 2011 reviews: The Descendants; Margin Call; Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Descendants (2011)
Director - Alexander Payne
115 Min; R
Matt King - George Clooney

Director Alexander Payne is responsible for two movies I love (Election and Sideways) and George Clooney has proven to me to be good at the roles he selects, so I was pretty sure this film would be decent at least and I was not disappointed.

Shot in Hawaii, the film tells the story of Matt King, a man who has the sole responsibility of signing on the dotted line to sell off a pristine chunk of Hawaiian coast line property that has been handed down via trust through generations to he and his cousins (the property is worth millions.)  He is easy going and willing to do whatever the majority decides as far as a sale goes.  That is, until turmoil takes over his life.  Along with his comatose wife and two daughters, King must navigate a myriad of issues that takes him and everyone around him on a roller coaster ride of emotions.

It would be easy for me to nit pick or try to come up with reasons to not love it, but this is truly a great movie going experience and I am on board with saluting everyone involved with this film.

***** out of 5

Director - J.C. Chandor
107 Min; R
Sam - Kevin Spacey
Will - Paul Bettany
John - Jermey Irons
Peter - Zachary Quinto
Seth - Penn Badgley
Sarah - Demi Moore
Eric - Stanley Tucci

I'm no expert on the financial crisis of Wall Street the last few years, but for my money this is a damn good film to sit through and let it wash over you like a fog.  An all-star cast that features very strong performances by Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons power this film about a single 24 hour period as a single New York City trading company decided how to handle the news that the entire world is about to realize how fucked we all will be.  The decisions they make will have a lasting impact but nothing they do will help to curb what is coming.  I have no idea how accurately portrayed the scenarios are, but it's not a documentary, and I thought it was really well done.

**** out of 5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Director - Sean Durkin
102 Min; R
Martha - Elizabeth Olsen
Patrick - John Hawkes
Lucy - Sarah Paulson
Ted - High Dancy

Who knew the twin girls from Full House had siblings? Well they have at least one sister names Elizabeth Olsen and she does a really good job at portraying a troubled young woman with a past who has no where to go.  Interweaving story lines from 2 years ago to the present we learn that troubled young Martha left home and came to find herself in an upstate New York cult ruled by Patrick, in yet another solid performance by John Hawkes, only to realize she needed to leave.  The only person she knows is her estranged older sister Lucy who is now married to a wealthy architect, and the two take her in at their lake cottage.  What unfolds is a story about what happened to Martha, why she became Marcy May and Marlene, and ultimately where she will go from her predicament.

I have some complaints, but overall it was a good watch and I'd be happy to say you should see it.  Not perfect, not the best ending ever written, and not exactly a lot to think about after, but a psychological film with some good performances that doesn't make you sleepy - that's good enough for me.

**** out of 5

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Movie Review: Melancholia (2011)

Note: Pretty sure there are spoilers in this review

Melancholia (2011)
Director - Lars Von Trier
136 Min; R
Justine - Kirsten Dunst
Claire - Charlotte Gainsbourg
Michael - Alexander Skarsgard
John - Kiefer Sutherland

I've decided to review the new Lars Von Trier film Melancholia using mainly photographs, being that it will possibly come across just as pretentious and grandiose an idea as the entire film itself.

The movie starts with 10 minutes of slow motion scenes depicting various states of increased depression and depression-like notions.  Kirsten Dunst (no longer a child actress) struggles to free herself from metaphorical bonds.  After 1 minute we realize this is a Lars Von Trier film and we are moved by the cinematography and daring choices.  After 3 minutes we are intrigued by the slow motion and beautifully haunting music.  After 7 minutes we realize we've eaten too much of our popcorn already for a 136 minute movie.  After 10 minutes we hope the entire movie isn't in slow motion, but we start to think we may be in for a long, long, long time. We've also learned that the earth is on a collision course with another celestial body and that it gets destroyed, so yeah, no suspense in that one, we are just shown it all up front. And then we move away from slow motion and all is right in the world again (well, not on screen) and we settle in for what will surely be a masterpiece.

This is Justine looking very happy on her wedding day with husband Michael.  The pure white skin and dress just the start of a slew of symbolic alphabet stew to keep your brain in permanent meltdown mode throughout.

This is Justine a little later on, not quite as happy, sort of sad, actually.

This is Justine taking a bath in partial wedding dress during her wedding reception.  This is not normal.  Justine is not normal.  Justine is severely depressed.

This is a really sad Justine.

This is a photo from the reception (it lasts for more than the entire first hour of the film, but sadly it does not have the same effect as, say, the opening wedding scene of The Godfather) and it depicts most of the other major characters in the film, including Justine's sister Claire and her wealthy husband John.  All of these people are emotionally disturbed to say the least, but it is the strained relationship between the sisters that is the driving force behind the film, or at least what Trier wants us to focus on, apparently.

The second part of the film focuses more on Claire and her state of mind as the world nears a final cataclysmic ending.  This too is a long hour of build up to what we already know is coming.

If you've read this far perhaps you'll grant me a little latitude with my final thoughts on this film as they relate to the tone I have used to discuss it thus far.

I thought the film was beautiful.  I really mean that.  The way that the music was balanced with some wonderful set designs left haunting images in my mind of what the film was ultimately driving towards, and to me that is an acceptance of an inevitable end.  That we may know when our time will end only makes it all the more depressing and nothing we do will can change that, ever, for it is a known conclusion. 

I thought Dunst did a marvelous job of conveying the emotions of a severely depressed person and it was very nuanced and subtle in the right spots.  I was not as taken with the supporting cast of characters, some of whom (family members in particular) felt a little too caricatured for my liking.

In the end the earth is destroyed.  So what is the message of the film?  Did any of it really matter?  Was it all just one giant metaphor for the decline in human relationships?  I'm betting it was, but I'm always pretty sure I have no idea what the real intentions are from Trier, and though I often love to think deeply about films with purpose, this one almost put me to sleep.

** and 1/2 out of 5

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3 Favorite Films by Wes Anderson

I'm not trying to sell you that writer/director Wes Anderson is the greatest writer/director of our generation, I'm just saying that he wrote and directed 3 of my favorite films, not coincidentally all of which employ the deadpan comedic genius of an aging Bill Murray. You don't have to agree with me that these films are totally awesome, but just don't expect a Christmas card if don't know who the Zissou is...

Someday when I actually live somewhere for more than a week at a time I intend to host a super cool triple feature of these Anderson gems in which a requirement for attendees is to dress as their favorite character from the films, and also to bring lots and lots of booze to stock my surely empty bar, and girls to stock my empty emotional existence (hence the infatuation with these films, and the booze), but I digress.

I don't have a lot to say right now, just hoping to spark your interest if you've never seen these Anderson films, or to re-ignite your passion for them if you've sort of forgot about them.

93 Min; R
Max Fischer - Jason Schwartzman
Herman Blume - Bill Murray
Rosemary Cross - Olivia Williams

Herman Blume: What does Guggenheim say?

Max Fischer: Nothing. I felt I should go to you first.
Herman Blume: Why?
Max Fischer: Because at this moment I feel our best strategy is to keep a low profile. The more preparation I can do, the stronger our case will be when we go to the administration.
Herman Blume: How much do you want?
Max Fischer: $35.000 for the initial plans.
Herman Blume: I'll give you $2500.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
110 Min; R
Everyone under the sun

A film that doesn't make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow? Only one thing comes to mind:

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
119 Min; R
Steve Zissou - Bill Murray
Ned Plimpton - Owen Wilson
Jane - Cate Blanchett
Elanore - Anjelica Huston
Klaus - Willem Dafoe
Alistair Hennessey - Jeff Goldblum
Team of Interns - Themselves

No matter how many times I'm told I've got it wrong I'll never change my mind, this is the true gem of the three pack, the creme-de-la-creme of quirky deadpan comedy.  Widely considered to have the least impact of the three films, I find Life Aquatic to rise above all.  So there's a crazy pirate chase on an island? Brilliant! The logo and correspondence alone make this one of the greatest films I have ever seen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Movie Review: In Time (2011)

In Time (2011)
Director - Andrew Niccol
PG-13; 109 Min
Justin Timberlake - Will Salas
Amanda Seyfried - Sylvia Weis
Cillian Murphy - Raymond (Timekeeper)

For those of you who go to movies because of a hot actress, you can do a lot worse than an Amanda Seyfried movie of late.  The girl is just straight smoking hot.  Her body of work is actually quite impressive, more so her actual body, but still a few decent films along the way.

Let's take a few seconds to examine this actress:

Unfortunately for us the movie is PG-13 and it plays out exactly like a PG-13 movie in terms of wasting such young talent, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the future, with fingers crossed. She's actually not a terrible actress for the type of films she takes either...

Ok, so the movie In Time takes a look at a world where everyone is essentially given a 1 year death sentence when they turn 25 via a genetic countdown timer in their arm.  With time being so valuable it has now become the only currency, with people exchanging time for good and services and also people being robbed and murdered for their time.  As long as you are able to add time to your clock you live on, but once your time runs out, so do you.

As you can imagine, the movie is filled with cliches and ridiculous lines - "Do you come from time?" the wealthy heiress Sylvia (Seyfried) asks the new-comer Will (Timerblake) to the affluent Greenwich, a city that clearly denotes all the wealth and uppity people, whereas Will comes from a distant time zone ghetto.  It gets a little old a little quickly to hear these lines, but the concept is decent enough to get you through without walking out.  My main complaint with the world is just how easy it is to transfer time between people.  I mean, you simply lock arms and if you turn one way you gain someone's time... seems a little silly that a genetic code put into humans would be allowed to be manipulated so easily.

I don't have much more to say, or, rather, I don't want to spend much more time.  This is Justin Timberlake so, yeah, it is what it is, but the bright spot int he film is probably the Timekeeper played by Cillian Murphy who, though he himself is never given enough depth, is deeper than the rest of the cast.  It is of course a silly film with chases and unbelievable story lines involving rich people who can't die but take no risks either and poor people who do whatever they have to in order to survive... Somewhere in here there is a good story and in a sense, it was last year's film Never Let Me Go (2010) which was a pretty good film with Carrie Mulligan that explored a world in which children are raised for the sole purpose to have their organs harvested at a young age.

This wasn't a terrible time at the movies, but it is definitely a time-killer.

*** out of 5

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Movie Review: Real Steel (2011)

Real Steel (2011)
Director - Shawn Levy
PG-13; 127 Min
Charlie - Hugh Jackman
Max - Dakota Goyo
Bailey - Evangeline Lilly

So I had to kill some time while waiting for my new glasses (I wear contacts except at night watching TV, so it's been 5 years since I got new ones, and if I were to wear those while driving on some random occasion I wouldn't have been able to read a stop sign nor avoid an entire crossing of deer), so yeah, I had to kill some time and I happened to be next to a movie theater so I did something I never do and I just walked in and picked a movie that was starting.  That movie was Real Steel.

This is the exact type of movie I would never pay to go see if I had taken some time to think ahead and plan a trip to the movies, but since it was between that, 2 films I have already seen, or a few things that looked absolutely horrendous, I ponied up the $6.50 matinee price and found myself seated in a room with approximately 12 other people, 6 of which were children.  Thankfully my favorite back right corner seating area was empty so I settled in for what I assumed would be an average viewing experience, if that.

As for the movie, I'm not going to dissect it, but guess what? It wasn't terrible! I mean, it really didn't totally and completely suck! It certainly wasn't one of the worst films I've seen this year and in the end I sort of thought I liked parts of it just fine.  Of course, let's be real (is that a pun? I have no idea), the movie was pretty awful in some regards.  I mean, Jackman as a deadbeat dad who has zero acting ability sort of gives it away that this will not be another Rocky, but then we find out that this is exactly Rocky except it takes place with human controlled robots fighting each other for prize pools.  Actually, this is a cross between two great Sly Stallone films - the great boxing one and the equally great (am I serious?) arm wrestling one, Over the Top, except in this reincarnation Jackman doesn't give a damn about his kid at first whereas Sly at least had some love for his bratty rich kid in the other.

I've rambled.  Put it this way: this is actually entertaining.  It is completely dumbed down with scenes involving the father/son/girl relationship (Evangeline Lilly from Lost fame looks hot but adds little), but the scenes of robot fighting and the way it is shot actually worked well.  I have no idea who the audience is for this but I'm guessing it is really really wide, so if you're looking to see something corny and don't want to be mad when you leave, I think this one does the trick.

*** out of 5

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2 Movie Reviews: Contagion (2011) and The Ides of March (2011)

Contagion (2011)
Director - Steven Soderbergh
106 Min; PG-13
Matt Damon; Gwyneth Paltrow; Jude Law; Kate Winslet; Laurence Fishburne; John Hawkes; Marion Cotillard

Note: Spoilers in this review

When Gwyneth Paltrow travels to Hong Kong for work and seemingly does nothing but drink, gamble and, on her way back, whore it up with an old flame in Chicago, she reminds us all of the reasons we hate Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully for all of us, she is one of the first people to die from a new disease which we only pray was actually started because of her, but we also realize it was most likely given to her by someone or something (it was) and that her death would be a starting point for the movie in which we probably can guess the direction it will take but are also pleased with the execution (we do and we are.)

As with all awful people like Paltrow they hurt the ones they love. In her case, she kills her son and her lover - what an evil bitch. Ok, so she didn't know she would transfer the disease, but she exists and therefore she should have been aware that she would eventually do something horrible. But I digress.

Her husband Matt Damon is found to be immune to the deadly disease, thus proving once again that Damon made a deal with the devil as far back as School Ties (1992). Their daughter is now his to protect from the soon to be mobs of looters and those passing on the communicable nightmare. This is but one of no less than 5 sub plots involving normal people, CDC workers and their families, WHO workers and their families, scientists working on the vaccine and their families and a slightly improbably, Jude Law as a world famous blogger who garners some 12 million unique views of his video blogs calling out everyone involved for conspiracy theories to hide the truth about the disease and to withhold crucial vaccine information in order for corporations to profit. He may or may not be profiting in the same way.

All these subplots have managed to destroy other films (think the truly egregious Vantage Point (2008)) but such a strong director, script and actors help make this film a success. Never overly dramatic, though tens of millions are dying, the film is cohesive and keeps us well informed with a visual timeline throughout. At no point was I questioning what was happening or what day or month it was or who was involved in what part of the story - it all truly flowed very well (Though I will say the Cotillard storyline was a tad bit out of sync.)

There was never a doubt that this was a Soderbergh film.  Just look at the scene in a car with Matt Damon on his phone, the camera angled up from the passenger front seat to his face in the back seat - pure Soderbergh.  This has the feel of Traffic (2000) stamped all over it in just as good a way.

I'm not sure at what point I sort of lost any real care for the people involved, but I did, and in the end that leaves me with a slightly less enthusiastic feel of the film than I had at the mid point.  With that said, it is definitely one to see.

**** out of 5

The Ides of March (2011)
Director - George Clooney
101 Min; R
Cast: George Clooney; Ryan Gosling; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Paul Giamatti; Evan Rachel Wood

Clooney, Gosling, Giamatti and Hoffman in a political thriller? Yes please.  Unfortunately it becomes very predictable.  Great cast and great performances, but nothing special.  I wanted to like it more but really, other than some good acting, it never really delivers anything special.  Gosling's character deserved much more development and Hoffman really could have been explored much more. 

*** out of 5

Saturday, September 24, 2011

2 Movie Reviews: Drive (2011) and Moneyball (2011)

Drive (2011)
Director - Nicolas Refn
100 Min; R
Ryan Gosling - Driver
Carrie Mulligan - Irene
Ron Perlman - Nino
Bryan Cranston - Shannon
Albert Brooks - Bernie

I did so much reading from professional and amateur critics after seeing the movie Drive that I don't really feel up to trying to write my own thoughts about it now.  Maybe if I waited a week I could sort it all out and put something together, but for now I'm going to post this because the movie is newly out and it is getting some very interesting responses.

4 people walked out of a half-full theater and one person actually said to his significant other that "It was the worst movie I ever saw" - to which she replied "It certainly isn't what you usually like."  I love actually hearing comments like that because it simply reaffirms my belief that films are a wonderful and magic part of life, with no way to accurately predict who will appreciate what or for what reasons.  One person's love of Citizen Kane or On The Waterfront or The Godfather do not always translate to someone else's view of the exact same films, yet there they are, black and white (or color) in front of us all to see in the exact same way, yet so many differing views emerge.

This film is awesome.  I use that term because it simply was, to me, an awesome experience to watch something different for a change (albeit the material and way it was shot is anything but different - drawn on decades of similar themes and spliced together.)  I completely understand why someone wouldn't enjoy it - there is obscene violence that many aren't used to, nor did they expect at the time, and the minimalist theme of the Driver and the woman just won't sit well with some.

I think Gosling is incredible as a man with no past, a man we only get to know through mannerisms and actions, but even then, what drives him?  The film entices us early with a very well done car chase scene which introduces us to the world of the driver, but quickly moves away from a film that will be action filled to a film that will be character driven, and then again it is the supporting cast of criminals that really drive the action - the driver must react to his surroundings.

I've listed two really nice links below from Jim Emerson's blog Scanners that everyone should read after seeing the film - he doesn't write conventional reviews anymore, he simply makes observations about very specific aspects of films he sees.

Tough for me to give a rating to a film like this because, well, I don't know who in the world will and will not enjoy the experience.

5 stars out of 5? Thumbs Up? See It? Not sure what else to say, but for me, this is a clear winner for a great movie going experience.



Moneyball (2011)
Director - Bennett Miller
133 Min; PG-13
Brad Pitt - Billy Beane
Jonah Hill - Peter Brand
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Art Howe

This is going to be a lazy write up that doesn't do justice to a really good film.  Based on the true story of the Oakland A's baseball team trying to do something new in a sport that prides itself on traditions.  You can look up all the original source items such as the book or the life profiles of the characters portrayed, etc, but this movie isn't trying to be a documentary, it is trying to be a successful movie and it does a good job of succeeding.

I'm sure this film would have been decent with other actors (the script alone is damn good), but it really is the use of Pitt, Hill and Hoffman that make the engine turn over so smoothly.  I never would have thought this going in, but Brad Pitt for Best Actor Oscar? I wouldn't be surprised at all.  He portrays Billy Beane in a nuanced way that leaves us empathising, sympathizing, and at times, not liking the kind of person he is... pretty good range.  Together with Hill's character (a fabricated person who takes the place of multiple real life people who stuck to the same theories) the two of them work to use the numbers and data of Major League Baseball to predict future success in a way never done before.  These two work great together on screen and Hill turns in a nice performance of his own.  Throw in the always great Hoffman as the unhappy manager of the team and you've got great acting to watch.

I honestly don't think you have to care about baseball at all to like this movie.  The story is not about baseball, it is about a man and a mission and how he is going to get there.  Hard-nosed baseball fans and purists will surely find some fault in certain scenes and theories, but the casual movie goer is not going to care.  The directing and cinematography are awesome.  There is a major league flaw in the film, in my opinion, which keeps it from being a best of the year, and that comes near the end when the film decides to pull something like the ending to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and drag on past the correct ending for at least 20 minutes.  I honestly wanted to just stand up and leave when I thought the movie was over and was going to say 5/5 no doubt, but they really did a disservice to the actors and the film by holding the conversation at Fenway Park - not sure if everyone agrees with me, but cutting from the end of the playoffs to the final scene would have been perfect.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

Monday, September 5, 2011

Movies: Apes, Debts, Colombians and a Fat Kid

4 quick reviews of 2011 films

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Director - Rupert Wyatt
PG-13; 105 min
James Franco - Will
Andy Serkis - Caesar
John Lithgow - Charles
Tom Felton - Dodge
Freida Pinto - Caroline
David Oyelowo - Jacobs

I have a weird fascination with the original Planet of the Apes film, a sort of unhealthy and creepy love of the weirdness of it all and the manliness of Heston, you know, the standard boy-man-ape crush we all experience at one point or another, right?  In that film we all benefited from a low-tech sci-fi experience that focused energy on the plot surrounding a world run by apes - our world to be exact - OH NO! SPOILER ALERT! I messed up and gave it away!!!! If you haven't seen the original but are going to see this you deserve to be spoiled, if not shot.

In this prequel we learn the origins of just how those damn dirty apes took over the world.  We learn quite a bit, actually, about the origins of Caesar, the ape who started it all, and the humans who made it all possible. We also learn just how much movie scripts suffer at the expense of action sequences and CGI. 

Fortunately for us all, this is actually a pretty fun film and an overall positive experience, especially if you laugh out loud at all the unintentionally funny moments, because then this will be one of the best comedies of the year.  I won't give it away, but a certain circus orangutan provides the greatest sign language line of all time - right Kanye? OF ALL TIME!

Since I said the movie is fun and a good time I won't spend any more time on the positives. 

Here are the negatives: Who the hell wrote in all these cliched, stereotypical, one-dimensional, ridiculous roles for the supporting cast? The script writers for this should be ashamed for sacrificing an opportunity to make a more complex story line between ape and human and instead creating the cast in a way that forces us to sympathize with the apes simply because the humans are so terrible.

Terrible as in the Tom Felton character who, for no reason it seems, hates all the apes in his father's cages and loves to torture them, or for Jacobs, the head of the corporation who is all about the money, or the mean neighbor, or the absolutely ridiculous role given to Freida Pinto as the girlfriend who serves absolutely zero purpose in the entire film other than to look kind of pretty in a few scenes (she's like the black guy in that parody of teen films who's only job is to say things like "That is whack!")... I suppose James Franco's role is fine.

So, thus, and such, this film is passable, viewable, even enjoyable.... but seriously, the circus orangutan stuff?

*** and 1/2 out of 5

The Debt (2011)
Director - John Madden
R; 114 min
Jessica Chastain - Young Rachel
Hellen Mirren - Rachel
Sam Worthington - Young David
Ciaran Hinz - David
Marton Csokas - Young Stephan
Tom Wilkinson - Stephan
Jesper Christensen - Dieter Vogel

Here's a decent thriller in time to save you from a Summer of movie trash.  After you get by the awkwardness of trying to figure out which of the younger guys in 1966 is which of the older guys in 1997 the film falls into place (though it was a little difficult and annoying to me unless I just missed something obvious at the beginning. Hint - the guy in the wheelchair is not Sam Worthington.)  With that said, I thought this was a smart film because it didn't stress about trying to cram in too much back story, it simply presented what needed to be shown and we get to watch what unfolds.  The ending gets a little rushed and a little campy, but overall this is a well done thriller with some fine acting all around.

The film centers on 3 Mossad secret agents who, in 1966 were involved in a plot to capture and bring to trial a horrible Nazi known as the Surgeon of Birkenau - Dieter Vogel, who is now a practicing physician.  Things did not exactly go to plan.  The film is told to us through 3 younger actors portraying the 1966 group and 3 older actors portraying them in 1997.  Implications of what they went through have stayed with them their entire lives and the film takes us from their original deeds to the end to give us a powerful piece of cinema. All actors to a great job but I was particularly impressed with Jessica Chastain as the main focus of the film for her steely portrayal of Rachel Singer, the young woman who would forever carry a secret.

**** out of 5

Colombiana (2011)
Director - Olivier Megaton
PG-13; 107 Min
Zoe Saldana - Cataleya

Did you see a recent film called The Losers? This is kind of like that piece of shit but better, not much better, but better.  Probably because it has Zoe Saldana as a hit woman in tight clothes running around and slithering through a lot of air ducts and vents and other tight spots.  You don't need to know anything about the movie.  It's ok for what it is, which I think says a lot, without saying much.

** and 1/2 out of 5

Terri (2011)
Director - Azazel Jacobs
R; 105 Min
Jacob Wysocki - Terri
John C. Reilly - Mr. Fitzgerald

This is one of those films I can't really try to tell you to see and I can't possibly know if you will enjoy it or just be creeped out of just hate it.  I simply don't know what anyone else will think of it, period.  I liked it.  I like weird films about real life situations focusing on particularly damaged people.

This film focuses on one very damaged kid, Terri, who is picked on for being fat and for giving up and just wearing pajamas to school.  He isn't particularly bright but he isn't stupid.  He has no friends and he spends his nights taking care of his mentally unstable uncle.  When principal Fitzgerald takes an interest in helping Terri better himself in school and in life the two form an interesting bond.

Terri tells the story of a troubled teen who finds himself struggling to make a place for himself in the world.  It is told in an unfiltered way that can be difficult to watch at times, but taken as a whole I found it to be sort of beautiful.

**** out of 5

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Movie Review: The Guard (2011)

The Guard (2011)
Director - John Michael McDonagh
96 Min; R
Sergeant Gerry Boyle - Brendan Gleeson
FBI agent Wendell Everett - Don Cheadle
Cornell - Mark Strong

Seeing a movie with Brendan Gleeson is an awesome experience.  His presence alone makes a film better.  It doesn't necessarily make the film a good film just because he is there, but it helps.  If you like to watch the way certain actors do their job, this is one hell of a guy to watch.  You really see him manipulate his mannerisms and speech to fit the moment perfectly and that is something not many actors do nearly as well. 

In this film Gleeson (Sergeant Gerry Boyle) is a local policeman in a small, Irish town who finds himself investigating a few murders and an imminent cocaine deal worth 500 million dollars.  He doesn't care at all about the drug deal, but an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) arrives to make sure the local force cooperates with the investigation. They are looking for 3 men who are supposedly in the area and the masterminds behind the cocaine movement.

That's pretty much all of the plot I need to give you.  Watch the trailer below if you want to see a little more, plus it will help orientate you to the type of film and dialogue that is present throughout.  I'm not sure everyone can enjoy a movie with thick accents and cultural differences, but for those of you who can I think you'll love this film.

The director is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who directed one of my favorite films In Bruges, also with Brendan Gleeson.  I'm not going to try and compare the two as directors or the two movies, but this one is pretty good.  I would almost call this a comedy with noir tendencies, but it isn't quite that and shouldn't be compartmentalized. Gleeson is just awesome as a 'don't give a shit' policeman who drinks, does drugs, hires hookers, and gets the job done.  Cheadle as the FBI agent is nothing special and his role is seemingly there just so that Gleeson can make racial jokes - but some of them are really funny and the chemistry between he two is solid.

Aside from the plot and the acting, the star of the film is the cinematography.  Barren Irish sea-scapes can make for some wonderful shots and the decision to film many scenes in the evening and dead of night leads to some pretty incredible shots.  This isn't the best film of the year but it is damn good.  I laughed out loud quite a bit and also admired the film for taking a chance.  This is not formulaic at all and that is about the best compliment I can give.

**** out of 5

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

DVD pick of the week: Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish (2003)
Director - Tim Burton
125 min; PG-13

Director Tim Burton used all of his creativity to bring to life the stories of a dying man who has told them so often to everyone around him that he may actually believe they are true, fantastical or not. Ewan McGregor is pitch perfect with a wonderful supporting cast who take a lifetime of tall tales and leave us wondering just what is and is not a big fish story.

People often tell me they just want to watch a movie to be entertained and they don't want to have to think too much.  While I will never understand that point of view, I can safely say that this is a film you will enjoy for all of the visuals as well as the storylines, even if you have to (gasp!) pay a little attention.

I can't wait to watch this again and again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

6 recently viewed Netflix movies

I'm hitting home runs with Netflix lately - lots of good ones seen for the first time and some for seconds

Oldboy (2003)

You'll never forget the name Oh Dae-Su after watching him turn made and seek revenge after years of imprisonment for reasons he can't understand.  Brilliantly violent with an amazing story, make sure to ONLY see this in the original Korean language with subtitles and NOT the dubbed version - night and day difference.

***** out of 5

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Famed director Terrence Malick created one of the best movies not widely seen in the late 90s.  In just about the greatest travesty of a category, the 1998 Oscar for Best Picture went to Shakespeare in Love when it could or should have gone to any of the other contenders (The Thin Red Line; Saving Private Ryan; Elizabeth; Life is Beautiful).  I enjoy Saving Private Ryan, like many, but the Thin Red Line really is a much better film in every aspect except it doesn't have Tom Hanks and Matt Damon to draw in the crowds.  What it does have is Nick Nolte and an amazingly long cast full of credentials taking part in war where things are portrayed in a very real way.  It is long and at times can feel drawn out but does so in a way that makes the viewer feel what these soldiers feel.  Just a top film.

***** out of 5

Children of Men (2006)

In 2027 a strange thing has happened on earth - women can no longer get pregnant.  Obviously this will lead to disaster, so it is quite surprising when a small band of rebels are discovered to be transporting a pregnant girl to scientists who will hopefully be able to solve a problem that will eventually lead to the extinction of mankind.  Clive Owen is a very strong lead and the supporting cast is fine as well.  Not an outstanding movie but a very good one worth seeing.

**** out of 5

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

The leads! The leads! That's what this movie all about, sort of, and if you're a sales person you need to move this movie to the top of your to-see list.  An outstanding cast with more than one award worthy performance and several memorable and quotable lines make this a compelling drama with a lot of comedic dialogue.  Kevin Spacey as a slimy and spineless boss is juxtaposed perfectly with the brash and seasoned salesmen played by Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Al Pacino.  Of course the speech by Alec Baldwin is one of the most famous speeches ever given on film, so if nothing else, see it for that alone.

***** out of 5

Big Fish (2003)

Director Tim Burton used all of his creativity to bring to life the stories of a dying man who has told them so often to everyone around him that he may actually believe they are true, fantastical or not.  Ewan McGregor is pitch perfect with a wonderful supporting cast who take a lifetime of tall tales and  leave us wondering just what is and is not a big fish story.  I can't wait to watch this again and again.

***** out of 5

The French Connection (1971)

Before he made his masterpiece, The Exorcist, in 1973, director William Friedkin made another masterpiece that just happened to win Best Picture as well as giving Gene Hackman a statue for Best Actor with his portrayal of "Popeye" Doyle, a NY narcotics detective who, along with his partner, the great Roy Sheider, seek to bring down a drug king from a foreign land, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).  Pacing and the score are key components to this film which may feel a little outdated today if you're seeing it for the first time, but a film like this is so rare that you must give it a chance, if for nothing else because it contains what an actual master car-chase scene should look like.

***** out of 5