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