November 30, 2010

The Virgin Suicides - 1999

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods, Kathleen Turner

"We would never be sure of the sequence of events. We argue about it still." The film tells the tale of the events leading up to the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, told from the perspective of one of the neighborhood boys.

I think Sofia Coppola's one of those filmmakers that I'll never understand. I've seen both this and Lost in Translation (and am familiar enough with her take on Marie Antoinette) and I've yet to really enjoy any of them, but I feel like I should. Woods plays this great eccentric father type, and Turner's pretty good as the overprotective mother. All the girls are good too, I suppose, although some don't come off as young as they're meant to. My biggest issue was that this whole movie, I got a feeling of watching it through a veil or smokescreen. I know this is a fault of the novel this was adapted from (and I've been told aside from a scene dear Miss Coppola tacked on at the end featuring a debutante ball, it's pretty faithful), but telling a story from the perspective of someone besides the girls themselves, the viewer's left just as much out of the loop regarding the motivation behind the titular event, i.e. the most important thing in the whole movie. I'll give it a C, but I'm bumping it up a letter grade only because I know she's gotten so much praise over the years.

Babies - 2010

"Director": Thomas Balmes
"Starring": Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, Hattie

The movie compares and contrasts the first year in the lives of four babies: Ponijao (Namibia), Bayar (Mongolia), Mari (Japan), and Hattie (USA).

This film does not exist for people like me. It was made because people will apparently pay money to ooh and aww over 80 minutes worth of what amounts essentially to babysitting footage (or perhaps end up discussing the deplorable conditions of child-rearing in Namibia). I had my fill of cute baby moments fifteen minutes into it; the remaining 65 were wholly pointless. There's no narration or non-chronological order to give any sense of cohesion or direction to it. Shame on you, Balmes, and shame on the parents of these babies, especially the American ones who fed their child with a piece of bark because they forgot to bring a spoon. F

November 28, 2010

Marmaduke - 2010

Director: Tom Dey
Writer: Jon Vitti
Starring: Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H. Macy, Owen Wilson, George Lopez, Emma Stone, Kiefer Sutherland

Marmaduke (Wilson) is a Great Dane, and thus often comically oversized. Wrap a contrived plot around that premise and add in actors who deserve better, and you have this film...based on a single-panel comic strip which was never that funny to begin with.

There's a scene midway through where Marmaduke surfs. The film ends with a bunch of horribly CGI'd dogs synchronized dancing to "What I Like About You." Do you need any more reason not to watch it? The writer even admits in the film's first fifteen minutes: "It's juvenile, but it's all I've got." F-

November 27, 2010

Vampires Suck - 2010

Directors: Jason Freidberg & Aaron Seltzer
Writers: Jason Freidberg & Aaron Seltzer
Starring: Jenn Proske, Matt Lanter, Christopher N. Riggi

It's a parody of the first two Twilight films condensed into 80 minutes.

This film was worse than Last Airbender, which is saying something. It also manages to be pitch-perfect imitation of the original series without having a single genuinely funny joke, which is a triumph in bad filmmaking. Let me turn you over to some other criticism:

"Writer/directors Friedberg and Seltzer are a scourge. They’re a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team, a Hollywood monster wreaking havoc on the minds of America’s youth and setting civilization back thousands of years."

"Friedberg and Seltzer do not practice the same craft as P.T. Anderson, David Cronenberg, Michael Bay, Kevin Costner, the Zucker Brothers, the Wayans Brothers, Uwe Boll, any dad who takes shaky home movies on a camping trip, or a bear who turns on a video camera by accident while trying to eat it. They are not filmmakers. They are evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization's decline..."


November 26, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief - 2010

Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Craig Titley & Joe Stillman
Starring: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener

"I just like being in water. It's the one place I can think." After being attacked on a school trip by his substitute teacher (really a fury in disguise), Percy (Lerman) is told that he is the demigod son of Poseidon. Along with the demigoddess daughter (Daddario) and a satyr (Jackson), he embarks on a journey to find the stolen master lightning bolt of Zeus to prevent an impending war amongst the gods.

THIS FILM IS BETTER THAN CLASH OF THE TITANS. I said it, and I meant it. While it's obviously a case of Columbus trying to repeat his success with the first two Harry Potter films (and failing at it), this is the first of the "bad" movies I haven't entirely regretting watching. The casting isn't as high-caliber as Clash, but the premise is more interesting and solidly executed. Since the film wasn't about the mythology directly, they could get away with stretching things a bit more, and while giving the traditionally virginal Athena a half-mortal daughter was a mistake in my eyes, the idea of magical beings hiding in plain sight was appealing enough to get me through. If Lerman plays his cards right (he could have been the new Spider-man!), he could have quite the career ahead of him. C-

The Last Airbender - 2010

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nikola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Aasif Mandvi, Shaun Toub

"He will need you... and we all need him." When those who can manipulate fire declare war on fire, earth, and air benders, Sokka (Rathbone) and Katara (Peltz) stumble across Aang (Ringer), a young man who is not only the sole remaining airbender, but possibly the key to salvation as the sole bender of all four elements.

I don't have the words to properly say how terrible this was. The writing is bad and the performances are worse. Most of the actors are horribly miscast, racially and otherwise. On top of all that, the bending scenes are completely underutilized, with elemental attacks being slow and not used to the fullest extent possible. Shyamalan couldn't even keep the pronunciations from the series he and his kids allegedly love in check; not only are most of the names altered, but the characters in the film can't agree how to say "avatar." Oh, and this movie was intended to be part of a trilogy, so it only tells 1/3 of a story, and unlike Deathly Hallows, that completely throws off the balance of the plot. Don't ever see this movie for any reason whatsoever. F-

November 24, 2010

Grown-Ups - 2010

Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade

A bunch of childhood friends reunite after 30 years for a combination funeral for their former basketball coach and Independence Day party.

Parts of this movie try very hard to be touching and heartwarming, and every so often, it almost succeeds. Unfortunately, the slapstick/gross-out "comedy" bits completely ruin any chance this film had for being halfway decent. There's a reason Salma Hayek took her name off the poster, after all. Oh, and Steve Buscemi must be hurting for money, because he's in about 10 minutes of this; he spends it mostly in a full-body cast. He's the most talented person in this movie, but you'd never know it from the material he's made to perform. F

Clash of the Titans - 2010

Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, & Matt Manfredi
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

"You may not want to be a god, Perseus, but after feats like yours, men will worship you." If you're familiar with Greek mythology or the 1981 classic, you know the story. The Olympian gods have grown sick of humanity's insolence, and threaten to unleash the kraken upon the town of Argos. Perseus (Worthington) leads a group of warriors on a quest to find the sole weapon that can defeat the great sea monster.

Sam Worthington can't keep his accent in check. Ralph Fiennes plays Hades as a bearded, nosed Voldemort. Perseus is wearing a T-shirt and Nikes (painted to look like sandals), and has a buzz cut. There's a Norse sea monster and an Arabic djinn. Motivations for why Perseus hates being half-god and why the people resent the gods at all are nonexistent. I want my 90 minutes back. How is this deserving of a sequel? Damn box office. F

Chicago - 2002

Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Bill Condon
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs

"My audience loves me. And I love them. And they love me for lovin' them and I love them for lovin' me. And we love each other. And that's cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods. And that's showbiz, kid." Roxie Hart (Zellweger) commits murder, and uses the publicity surrounding her trial to gain fame and launch her career.

This is the single greatest movie adaptation of a musical I've ever seen. Marshall knows exactly how to use his medium to enhance an already well-written musical, so as long as you're not thrown off by the sudden departure from the jail or club or courtroom into some fantastical other place, you'll love it. See this movie, but make sure you don't get on the wrong side of the Merry Murderesses. A

November 23, 2010

Mister Lonely - 2007

Director: Harmony Korine
Writers: Harmony & Avi Korine
Starring: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant

"I don't know if you know what it is like to want to be someone else, to not want to look like you look, to hate your own face and to go completely unnoticed. I have always wanted to be someone else. I have never felt comfortable the way I am. All I want is to be better than myself, to become less ordinary and to find some purpose in this world. It is easier to see things in others, to see things you admire and then try and become that." A Michael Jackson impersonator (Luna) living in Paris meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Morton) who asks him to join her and her husband on a commune of like-minded individuals.

In all, the film features:

  • Michael Jackson
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Shirley Temple
  • Pope
  • Queen of England
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Sammy Davis Jr.
  • James Dean
  • Madonna
  • Buckwheat (from the Little Rascals)
  • Three Stooges
If this appeals to you, and you can stomach an odd subplot involving nuns that survive chuteless skydiving led by priests played by Werner Herzog and David Blaine (yes, THAT David Blaine), as well as the writer/director's wife being shoehorned into the film as Red Riding Hood (she has a whopping two lines), watch it. It's about as anti-Hollywood as a film can be and still be coherent. B

November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 - 2010

Director: David Yates
Writer: Steven Kloves
Starring: Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans

Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint), and Hermione (Watson) eschew their seventh year at Hogwarts to embark on their task to destroy the remainder of the objects that Voldemort (Fiennes) stored bits of his soul in, all the while being pursed by Death Eaters. Along the way, they learn of the titular Hallows, three objects that make the owner nigh invincible.

Cinematically, the film's problems are minimal. The middle portion where the trio is camping has a bit of a pacing problem, there's a chase scene with almost unwatchable cinematography, and a few concepts are thrown out that should have been explained in a past movie (but weren't). [An aside to Ebert, who called the film "completely unintelligible for anyone coming to the series for the first time": NO ONE jumps into a series 7/8 of the way through.] There's quite a few issues as an adaptation (things cut out, other things added, recasting of minor characters who appeared previously), but all that goes out the window when you realize that this is half the final story, and trying to compress twice the material in the same timeframe would have been atrocious. A-

November 15, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop - 2010

Director: Banksy
Starring: Rhys Ifans (narrator), Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey

"I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore." Enter on Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in California with a compulsive need to videotape his entire life. His cousin is sometimes known as Space Invader, at least to his cohorts in the street art community. Exit follows Guetta's journey into this illegal subculture, from following around his cousin to working with the now-famous Shepard Fairey, and finally meeting street art's leading contender, the mysterious Banksy, and suggesting that he compile his footage into the first street art documentary.

I literally don't know what to say about this movie. It's not like any other documentary I've seen, and I mean that in the best way possible. I don't know what it's going up against for best documentary (Waiting for Superman, maybe Catfish), but I hope it wins. A+

November 9, 2010

Harry Brown - 2010

Director: Daniel Barber
Writer: Gary Young
Starring: Michael Caine, David Bradley, Emily Mortimer

"The Marines were a lifetime ago. I was a different man then." Harry Brown (Caine), an ex-Marine widower, is pushed to the breaking point when escalating gang violence in his area of south London results in the death of his friend Leonard Atwell (Bradley). Brown decides the only thing he can do is start fighting back, but the police give him a spot of trouble along the way.

There are certain actors in the business that will achieve nearly universal appeal, but still have a few moviegoers crying foul. Michael Caine is not one of them, and if his Oscar nominations every decade from the 1960s through 2000s isn't evidence enough of that, this film should be. An incredible feature debut for director Daniel Barber, Harry Brown, while a bit graphic at times, never disappoints, and Caine's performance is squarely the source. No other character really has a significant or developed role, but the script works well all the same. And while the action isn't over-the-top a la RED, for example, it's entertaining nevertheless, probably for the same reason. The police in the film doubt an emphysema-ridden pensioner would commit such acts of vigilanteism, but the audience accepts it perfectly. A-

November 6, 2010

Greenberg - 2010

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach & Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans

"The thing about you kids is that you're all kind of insensitive. I'm glad I grew up when I did cos your parents were too perfect at parenting- all that baby Mozart and Dan Zanes songs; you're just so sincere and interested in things! There's a confidence in you guys that's horrifying. You're all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn't know agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean. You say things to someone like me who's older and smarter with this light air... I'm freaked out by you kids. I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview." Roger (Stiller), after suffering a nervous breakdown in New York City, is flown to Los Angeles to housesit for his brother and attempt to "do nothing." Here he meets Florence (Gerwig), his brother's assistant, and the two begin an awkward romance.

I absolutely hated Baumbach's last film Margot at the Wedding. Haven't seen Squid and the Whale, but it gave us Jesse Eisenberg, so it can't be too bad. Greenberg, in and of itself, is a pretty good film. There's a strong sense of realism in the character interaction. Where this film excels is its balance between the comic and tragic, especially at the same time. It's nothing like what Hollywood makes these days, so naturally I call it a must-see. A-

November 5, 2010

Never Let Me Go - 2010

Director: Mark Romanek
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield), and Ruth (Knightley) are students at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic British boarding school in the 1960s. They have virtually no interaction with the outside world, not even a connection with their own families. There couldn't be any ulterior motive for their existence, could there?

I went into this movie knowing (what apparently is supposed to be) a major spoiler, so maybe that's why I didn't care for this movie. I nearly fell asleep three times in the theater. THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME. Don't get me wrong, the performances are solid, but when the story's as weak as this one, it just isn't enough. Maybe the book went into more detail, but half the questions raised by the film (most in the characters' dialogue, even) is barely addressed, much less answered. The cinematography's nice too, but I was ready to let this go before the credits rolled.

Leaves of Grass - 2010

Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Writer: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon

"If everyone goes around making up their own rules, how can you find any truth?" English professor Bill Kincaid (Norton) is lured back to his Oklahoma roots with a false report of his twin brother Brady's (Norton) death by crossbow. Soon after his arrival, Bill realizes that he's there solely to provide an alibi for Brady, in case Brady's scheme against local drug lord Pug Rothbaum (Dreyfuss) goes wrong.

The best kind of film, to me, is one in which everyone involved is on the same page from day one, and this is one of them. Without Norton's involvement, there would have been no film. He was so integral that he took a 50% pay cut to play 100% more characters than usual, and it was well worth it. He excels in the dual role of professor and pot dealer (two brothers who have more in common than you might think). Dreyfuss's angry energy makes you yearn to see him on-screen more, but the romantic subplot with Russell's character seems as though it was added in last-minute, and the boys' relationship with their mother is also not addressed to the extent I thought it needed to be. There's also a sudden turn toward the violent at the hour mark, and the film ends up far from the madcap antics of identical twins that trailers made it out to be. However, it's far from the worst film out this year, so check it out if you run across it. B