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