Sunday, July 31, 2011

2 Movie Reviews: Another Earth (2011) and Captain America (2011)

Another Earth (2011)
Director - Mike Cahill
PG-13; 92 Min
Brit Marling - Rhoda
William Mapother - John

Another Earth, winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival's Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, brought more than a few looks from moviegoers who often expect that prize to go to a film that deals primarily with themes of science and the like, and though this film clearly does involve some science-fiction, it is actually a very well put together drama about two people who are connected through tragedy.  The science, though integral, takes a back seat, and it is for this reason that I hope people do not venture into this film with misconceptions of what they are about to see - there are no aliens flying in from the other earth to shoot at us - there are a lot of slow moving scenes with great build up between two regular people with regular problems who just happen to live in a time when another earth is visible in the sky.

I'm just going to come out and say that this is one of the best films I've seen this year.  I loved almost every aspect from the casting to the story to the way it was shot on a shoestring budget.  I absolutely hated one part of the story, but I;m able to overlook the total cop out for the greater good of the film and will not even raise my issues with it in this review.  I am actually reminded quite a bit of a wonderful British film from a few years ago - Fish Tank - in which the female lead (a young girl) is shot in a gritty, dark, realistic way as she walks to and from locations, almost begging us to spend time wondering what she is thinking as her life spirals out of control.

In this movie we are privy to the life of Rhoda, a promising 17 year old girl who finds herself accepted to a prestigious science program at MIT.  After a night of celebrating and heavy drinking, Rhoda finds herself driving home alone when the news on the radio changes the world at large and her personal world.  Hearing the news and looking into the sky she sees the distinct outline of what appears to be another earth in the night sky, next to the moon.  At the exact same time a promising college professor and composer, John, is at a red light with his wife and young child also listening to the news.  When Rhoda's car smashes into theirs, killing the wife and child and sending John into a coma, both of their lives are forever connected by both tragedy and earth shattering revelation.

What transpires over the course of the film is the aftermath of Rhoda's 4 years of jail time - a wonderfully written part of the story in which we don't see a single second of her life behind bars, just her getting out and starting to deal with the reality of her situation.  John has become an alcoholic and sits alone depressed.  Through a series of events these two become connected once again and that is what this story is all about.

Except for that pesky earth int he sky.  What the hell is going on there?  The discovery of a second planet just like ours and close by is a constant background theme.  It is not discussed in to much depth, but enough for intriguing theories and possibilities to be heard on the news.  Will we try to make contact? Will we try to visit? What kind of hopes and possibilities are out there?

I loved this film.  And yes, it has a creepy factor to it that you have to get over.  This is about people with problems and possibly a second chance.  It is also about another earth, and it's up there, and it's going to change everything.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Director - Joe Johnston
PG-13; 124 Min

Meh.  Just another in an endless line of comic book genre films that I simply lack the emotional depths to enjoy.  Things blow up and people shoot at things with ray gun things and shields fly around and strike things and more people get shot by ray guns and a guy's head turns all red and he is evil and the scrawny kid who can't bench 50 pounds becomes the greatest superhero in the world during the war against Nazis or something. 

I'm angry because I was told that this one had a great story line and a great director and I actually really enjoyed the first 30 minutes - a lot - and was into the story.  And then, like so many before, it becomes 60 straight minutes of cgi gun fire and a lot of running around. 

It isn't the worst and it isn't the best, but I sort of almost fell asleep at one point.

It makes no difference what I write - just see it if you like these kind of movies. Don't, if you don't.

** out of 5

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (2011)

Note: No spoilers in this review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)
Director - David Yates
130 Min; PG-13
Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter - Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley - Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger - Emma Watson
Professor Severus Snape - Alan Rickman
Lord Voldemort - Ralph Fiennes

The Harry Potter films have come to an end and, much like when the novels concluded, there will certainly be a void for many devoted fans who openly or secretly wish there would be just one more magical tale of wizardry around which they may wrap their imaginations.  Fortunately for us all we were given a decent send off with the second part of the Deathly Hallows adaptation and in the end it is all we can ask for from a decade long series of films which would always fight an uphill battle to live up to the highest of expectations from those who so dearly love the words from which the visuals took form.  The epic conclusion to the story of The Boy Who Lived remains mainly faithful to the original storytelling and audiences are treated to the proper amount of cathartic moments.  There are wonderful special effects with bright colored lightning bolts from magical wands, reappearances of characters from past movies, and finally the full back story to the most controversial figure in the Harry Potter world - Severus Snape.  Can you really ask for more?

The story of how Harry Potter came to be is actually quite amazing and I urge you to read about Rowling's efforts to conceive, write, and ultimately publish what has become and will surely stay as one of the all time greatest selling series in literature and as a movie franchise.  Here are the release dates of the novels in case you didn't know:

1.Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone released June 26th, 1997
2.Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets released July 2nd, 1998
3.Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban released July 8th, 1999
4.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire released July 8th, 2000
5.Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix released June 21st, 2003
6.Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince released July 16th, 2005
7.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows released July 21st, 2007

The films overlapped the development of the series, with release dates as follows:

Philosopher's stone: 16th November 2001
Chamber of Secrets: 15th November 2002
Prisoner of Azkaban: United Kingdom - 31st May 2004 United States - 4th June 2004
Goblet of Fire: 18th November 2005
Order of the Phoenix: United Kingdom - 12th July 2007 United States - 11th July 2007
Half-Blood Prince: 15th July 2009
Deathly Hallows: Part 1: 19th November 2010
Deathly Hallows: Part 2: 15th July 2011

In all likelihood the Harry potter series has had some effect on your life, whether you enjoyed the novels personally, read the novels with your children, or simply enjoyed the films.  If you paid no attention to the books or the movies, well, you missed out on something wonderful. 

In the final installment of the film series we follow Harry, Ron and Hermione as they work tirelessly to track down and destroy the remaining horcruxes containing pieces of Voldemort's soul.  What begins at a somewhat slow pace speeds up soon enough leading to the ultimate battle of good and evil at Hogwarts, an ongoing scene that takes up most of the film.  I was pleased with the amount of time spent focusing on Harry and Voledmort juxtaposed with the large scale battle going on around them, as well as the time taken to include many notable side characters and of course the story of Snape.  It should also be noted that, like the books, the films do not shy away from death, an important theme throughout the novels, and in this film many people do die.  Like the last film it is a darker piece that fits the situation.  Gone are the innocent days of potions blowing up in little kid faces and students discovering how to sneak out for a brew.  In the wizarding world there is a whole lot of serious business going on.

I loved all the Harry Potter novels but have not loved all the films.  I think most are decent and I will watch them again and again over time, but in the ranking of the films I would say this final installment ranks near the top.  Perhaps it has a lot to do with it all coming to a close, but I found the tone to be perfect in this film, and though the films will never live up to the great imagination of Rowling put in to words, I think they held their own in a way that allowed a generation of people young and old to allow themselves to be taken over for a decade+ of the story of the Boy Who Lived.

**** out of 5

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All kinds of recently viewed random Netflix movies

L'annulaire (2005)
aka The Ring Finger
Subtitled: French

Olga Kurylenko in one of her first performances is exquisitely erotic in a very French-esqu film that revolves around a loose plot and expects the viewer to become emotionally involved in the film through our senses, not so much our intelligence.  Finding herself in need of a job, Iris accepts a receptionist position with a strange doctor who helps people move past personal issues by bottling and preserving them in his lab.

*** out of 5

The Last Station (2009)

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren give wonderful portrayals of the end years of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy in this historical drama that centers on philosophical and political discussion relating to Tolstoy's beliefs and to his final will and testament.  Some pacing issues but overall a great watch, as are most films with Paul Giamatti taking a role.

**** out of 5

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Werner Herzog directs Christian Bale in a Vietnam-era piece about captured soldiers in Laos.  The film brings good performances and creates nice suspense, but a little too much Christian Bale if you know what I mean?  Overall a good watch.

*** and 1/2 out of 5

Team America: World Police (2004)
I know I should have seen it by now but I continually feel like I've missed a lot of good ones this decade.  You would think the fact that I've been told one of the greatest sex scenes ever filmed takes place between puppets would have been enough for me to jump on this one, but I'm glad I finally got around to it anyway.  South Park creators take puppets to a new level of American pride and bad taste that works so well I finally found a comedy to laugh out loud to for the first time in a long time.  The appearance of Kim Jong Il is one of the best things in all of film.

***** out of 5

True Romance (1993)

An outstanding cast helps make this film so much fun to watch (I hadn't seen it in many many years) and nobody can forget the awesome scene with Dennis Hopper.  On the run and being hunted down in a series of drug related incidents, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette have lightning chemistry and the all star supporting cast is a who's who: Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Rapaport, James Gandolfini and more.

***** out of 5

The Player (1992)

Again a film I hadn't seen in a long time and another with a pretty great cast.  Tim Robbins is directed by Robert Altman in this film loaded with Hollywood inside jokes but with a pretty dramatic tone.  Griffin Mill is a studio exec who is blackmailed, seemingly by a writer he rejected, and a series of events unfold.

**** out of 5

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

In a completely different type of role for Will Ferrell, he takes on the character of an IRS agent who awakens one day to find his life being narrated in his own head, but by who? and why?  Ferrell would play a similar type of character in 2011s Everything Must Go, a film I enjoyed but not as much as this one.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is good here and the offbeat nature of the film hold up well throughout.

**** out of 5

Days of Heaven (1978)

Terrence Malick directed this beautifully shot film with Richard Gere and Sam Shepard that tells the tale of a few drifters who attempt to scheme up a plot to inherit a lot of money.  Words and plot do little justice to this film as it is very much one for the senses - visually striking with few and far between lines of dialogue, it is in the change of lighting, pacing, and the viewer's internal awareness of the film that it flourishes.

***** out of 5