December 31, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin - 2011

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, & Joe Cornish
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Based on the Belgian comic series, this film brings the classic character of Tintin (Bell), a young journalist/explorer, as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of the Unicorn, a three-masted sailing ship, along with the descendant of its captain, Archibald Haddock (Serkis).

This was a perfect movie for Spielberg to be involved with. Why? Because it's pretty much a motion capture CGI version of Indiana Jones, but with a younger journalist as opposed to the American archaeologist. I'm even willing to overlook the fact that the characters are mysteriously British when they should be Belgian, since it seems like we've finally figured out how to make humans look good in mocap. Thomson and Thompson, two Interpol agents, also have an odd, brief subplot involving a pickpocket that's a bit unrelated to the rest of the film, but I guess you have to introduce them somehow. Oh, and the 3D was utter perfection. A

War Horse - 2011

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Richard Curtis & Lee Hall
Starring: A bunch of humans who don't really matter

War Horse tells the tale of Joey, a colt-turned-plough horse that is forced into service when the British enter the Great War.

Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest living directors, with nearly forty years of one stellar film after another. Unfortunately, this one's a bit of a misstep in my book. Despite being a film version of a renowned play (in turn adapted from a book), I'm going to go out on a limb and say the true skill of the play was in the unique way that human performers portray the horses. My main issue with this film is the use of an animal as the protagonist. Sure, (mostly) children's films use animals as protagonists all the time, but there's one key difference: communication. The horse in this film, naturally, doesn't utter a single word, because this isn't that kind of movie. After getting to know the family who raises the horse in the first hour, we get treated to a revolving door of three separate sets of human characters (and not enough time to get attached to any of them). Maybe I'm alone, but I can't really get into a story when the main character can't tell me anything or show emotion. However, it's still shot beautifully, and maybe sometimes you don't need an Oscar-worthy performance to make a good film. B

December 22, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 2011

Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steve Zaillian
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard

Thanks to a combination of talents of all involved from the director to the score writers, the film may be even better than its Swedish counterpart. A+

The visual aspect is significantly better on the big screen, but it's still one of the best cover songs I've ever heard.

Beginners - 2011

Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent

Told through a series of flashbacks, Beginners is the story of Oliver (McGregor), a man in his late 30s struggling to have a fulfilling relationship with a French actress (Laurent) while coming to terms with the death of his recently out father Hal (Plummer).

If I were asked to make a movie about the entirety of human experience, it would be this. The film manages to be simultaneously beautiful and depressing throughout, and the quirky humor and unconventionality balances the low points well. Plummer gives an especially great performance, playing the false strength of a terminal cancer patient to great effect. Few films manage to be as incredible and low-key as this one, and they should be savored. A+

December 19, 2011

My Week with Marilyn - 2011

Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Adrian Hodges
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones

Saying that the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl didn't go well would be an understatement. Tempers flared and personalities clash, especially between director/male lead Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) and female lead Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). It didn't help matters when Monroe's husband Arthur Miller left town and she had a fling with third assistant director Colin Clark (Redmayne).

Confession: I had never seen an entire Marilyn Monroe film before My Week with Marilyn came out. Thus, I felt this review would be inadequate if I did not watch the "source material," as it were, afterwards. Now that we've got that out of the way...this film was absolutely incredible. Michelle Williams is just as great as she was in Blue Valentine last year, if not better. Not only does she look the part, but she also brings out the dichotomy of the dark, tortured soul versus the childlike/"innocent"-yet-sexy that Monroe did so well. She also sings Branagh is unsurprisingly perfect as Shakespearean actor/director Olivier; I think they both deserve awards purely for running around so long with that monocle. The one bad thing about this movie, sadly is...Emma Watson. Not that her performance is bad, by any means, but the role. She plays a wardrobe girl and the initial object of Colin's affection; you could cut all her scenes out and the movie would suffer nothing. Shame on Hodges for leaving her in. Oh, and it's a bit unsettling to see Howard Stark and Arnim Zola working hand in hand, but if you're not some comic book geek, that shouldn't be too off-putting. A

Young Adult - 2011

Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson

Young adult fiction writer Mavis Gary (Theron) leaves her swanky Minneapolis apartment for a brief return to the small town in which she grew up in an attempt to steal her old high school flame Buddy Slade (Wilson) from his "unhappy" life as a new father. 

Quick sidenote: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the nominating body for the Golden Globes, often comes under fire for "mis"-categorizing certain films in an attempt to recognize movies that might not get one otherwise. This is about to become very important.

Jason Reitman, son of legendary filmmaker Ivan Reitman (and brother of YouTube film critic Catherine Reitman), has made three incredible films so far, and Young Adult makes four. This should come as no surprise to anyone. However, this is his reunion with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, who (despite an Oscar win) many rail against because of her unique dialogue choices in her first two scripts. These critics have finally been silenced, as Young Adult contains none of this stylized dialogue. In addition, Theron's character seems significantly modeled after Cody herself (a small-town Minnesota girl who moved to the big city and became famous), and when the writer's soul is as apparent as it is here, it makes for a very high quality product. That said, don't let certain award nominations and marketing make you think this is a comedy. Sure, there's jokes around a few corners of the script, but it's ultimately a film about an emotionally damaged woman who values the halcyon days of yore far too much, unable to relate to others. Theron is unparalleled, however, in the emotional depth that the role requires. She's clearly come quite a long way from Children of the Corn III. Patton Oswalt (voice of Remy in Ratatouille and star of the criminally underseen Big Fan) does an even more tremendous job, portraying a high school classmate with a horrifyingly tragic past. This is one of those films we need more of, so please go see it theatrically. A

December 17, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 2011

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Kieran & Michele Mulroney
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams

December 15, 2011

The Sitter - 2011

Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Brian Gatewood & Alessandro Tanaka
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Max Records, Sam Rockwell, JB Smoove

December 3, 2011

J. Edgar - 2011

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts

The Muppets - 2011

Director: James Bobin
Writes: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, & Rashida Jones

November 28, 2011

Hugo - 2011

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law

Hugo (Butterfield) is an orphan living in a train station, continuing the Herculean task of his late father (Law): reconstructing a mysterious automaton. When he meets Isabel (Grace-Moretz), a young girl who somehow has a key to the strange device, the two discover a long-buried secret about her godfather (Kingsley).

I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider Hugo to be a brilliant piece of cinema. Virtually anything Scorsese goes to work on ends up great; while Shutter Island wasn't one of my favorites, it was still far from terrible. The cast he cobbled together is nothing short of wonderful. Between this and Kick-Ass, Grace-Moretz has proven her worth double that of some actresses twice her age. Butterfield, who had his breakout role in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, also shows he's more than your standard child star. Kingsley is tremendous as always, and Cohen is as enjoyable as he was in Sweeney Todd, another script by Logan, rather than his usually intolerable roles in his own pictures. The story is straightforward enough to be enjoyed by all ages, which aids in Scorsese's debut in the realm of non-adult fare. Unfortunately, I think that the reports of Scorsese's skill with the 3D have been greatly exaggerated, despite his great attempt to replicate the response early audiences had when first seeing Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. The third act plays out more as Scorsese's love letter to the old films moreso than one the audience at large might identify with, and film buffs may enjoy the latter half more than the average moviegoer, but Hugo is a triumph nonetheless. A

November 25, 2011

The Descendants - 2011

Director: Alexander Payne
Cowriters: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer

After his wife slips into a coma, Hawaiian native Matt King (Clooney) must become a father to his two daughters with renewed vigor. However, a wrinkle comes into play when one of King's daughters tells him about an affair his wife was having before her accident.

Payne's last film was Sideways all the way back in 2004, and I'm glad as hell to see him back. While the protagonists of the three films of his I've seen could be said to share a basic archetype, that doesn't make them any less enjoyable. This time he's working with Clooney, who's pitch perfect as the haole (white Hawaiian) struggling to keep his life together while tackling a B-plot related to the sale of some family land. It's this secondary storyline that seems a bit excessive, but otherwise it's a spectacular film. The cinematography shows off the natural beauty and Hawaii, and all of the cast is terrific, right on down to the newcomers portraying King's daughters. I hope Payne doesn't wait seven years for his next film. A

November 1, 2011

The Rum Diary - 2011

I've realized that writing about these wide-release films is an exercise in redundancy, so enjoy the videos alone from this point onward!

Martha Marcy May Marlene - 2011

Director: Sean Durkin
Writer: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

After escaping from a brutal cult in the Catskill Mountains led by the enigmatic Patrick (Hawkes), Martha (Olsen) struggles to reacclimate to society, despite the best efforts of her sister (Paulson) and brother-in-law (Dancy).

Yet another spectacular independent film, and a debut from so many involved on top of that. One caveat: this is going to be a little hard to find; I only saw it because I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, and its second weekend of release only saw it in four theaters overall. Regardless, I feel the need to spread its gospel. Hawkes, who many recognize from last year's Winter's Bone, gives another stirring performance, capturing the essence of the typical backwoods cult leader figure. Paulson and Dancy are good enough to get by, though we don't really spend enough time with those characters for anything substantial to develop. However, the true shining point of the film is the performance of the youngest Olsen. While this isn't the first time she's been in front of a camera by any means, it's not only her first lead role, but also more substantial than anything her sisters ever did (combined or separately). Her actions are never over-the-top, nor do they seem unrealistic for someone in her character's horrifying circumstances. The writer/director makes excellent use of flashbacks in conjunction with match cuts, and the story of cult experiences unfolds surprisingly naturally alongside the reassimilation. The foley mix is a bit high in certain scenes, and one forest scene isn't lit well enough to see the actors' faces when you need to, but the film suffers little for its technical errors. A-

October 7, 2011

The Ides of March - 2011

Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, & Beau Willimon
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Jeffrey Wright

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is the much-beloved junior campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). However, when the campaign manager (Giamatti) from the other Democratic candidate sends a job offer his way, his formerly unwavering loyalty is tested, especially when he discovers a bombshell that could bring down Morris's campaign completely.

Ides proves the political drama is far from dead. The source material (a play inspired by the 2004 presidential run of Howard Dean) is strong, especially in the hands of George Clooney. The casting choices are nothing short of superb, either: Ryan "2011 is my year" Gosling, Philip Seymour "I never fail you" Hoffman, Paul "bearded is beautiful" Giamatti, and so many more. It's just one great thing after another, and it all fits together like cogs in a finely-tuned machine. PSH in particular gives a tremendous monologue a little past the one hour mark. Clooney remains a triple threat with this film, which is sure to stand the test of time (despite the set design having a distinct Obama influence). A-

September 30, 2011

50/50 - 2011

Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Houston, Philip Baker Hall

"A tumor? Me? That's impossible. I don't smoke, I don' t drink...I recycle." 50/50 tells the story of 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) who's nothing short of shocked to discover he has a malignant tumor, and how the challenges of his treatment affect him and his close friends and family.

  • Denial: "They'd never make a comedy about a guy with cancer."
  • Anger: "I still can't believe James McAvoy didn't get the lead role in this!"
  • Bargaining: "I'll see What's Your Number instead. That could be funny, right?"
  • Depression: "It'll just be Brian's Song all over again. I don't want to cry this weekend."
  • Acceptance: "This actually looks pretty good."
See this movie. The cast is superb, with each member fitting into their niches perfectly. Relative newcomers like Gordon-Levitt and Kendrick compliment the seasoned veterans of Houston and Hall surprisingly well. The script is full of laughs while still being serious when it needs to be, and it runs the entire emotional gamut repeatedly. Even if you know as much going into the film as I did, you'll still walk out wholly satisfied. A

Hesher - 2011

Director: Spencer Susser
Writers: Spencer Susser & David Michod
Starring: Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman

"Life is like walking in the rain... you can hide and take cover or you can just get wet." TJ (Brochu) and his father (Wilson) are both still recovering from the recent loss of TJ's mother. After this depression reaches significant depths, the self-tattooed pyromaniacal metalhead Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) shows up and everything changes.

Certain movies, while great, couldn't be further from what Hollywood's all about; Hesher is the perfect example of this. Funnyman Rainn Wilson goes wholly serious, prettyboy Gordon-Levitt grows out his hair and forgets to shave, and the lead and writer/director are both unknowns. Hollywood doesn't know what it's missing; the film ends up remarkable. Wilson proves he can be more than Dwight from The Office, Brochu shows great promise (despite sounding uncomfortable cursing at times), and Gordon-Levitt is in the greatest role of his career to date, being nothing short of an unstoppable force of nature. Portman's role seems a little underdeveloped, but it's a small price to pay for a film this good. A

September 24, 2011

Moneyball - 2011

Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, & Philip Seymour Hoffman

"There's rich teams, then there's poor teams, then there's fifty feet of crap...and then there's us." The Oakland Atheletics aren't as financially well-endowed as general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) and the team would like. However, thanks to a statistical strategy from Peter Brand (Hill), Beane attempts to get a winning team together in spite of his monetary shortcomings.

If you'll pardon my use of an expression from a sport I don't care for, I thought Moneyball was going to hit it out of the park. I'd heard nothing but good things about the film, notably Brad Pitt's performance (which is great, don't get me wrong); a script reworking by Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin didn't hurt my expectations either. Unfortunately, it's a bit closer to a double for me. The script runs a little long (there's some bits with Beane's family that don't really tie in with the rest of the story), making this 135 minute film seem more like 180...just like a real baseball game! Hill's just a tad miscast, and some of his lines end up funnier than I think they were intended to be. Something I noticed: the MPAA let them slip by with two uses of the F-word without an R rating, so that seems to be the new standard. If you're a fan of baseball, and Oakland in particular, you'll probably like this film a lot more than I did. B

September 16, 2011

Drive - 2011

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman

"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window; anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours, no matter what. One minute in either direction, and you're on your own. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun... I drive." A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) moonlighting as a getaway driver finds himself in over his head after driving a job for the recently unincarcerated boyfriend of a new neighbor (Mulligan).

This film is what every action movie should aspire to be. It doesn't have to be all mindless action and explosions in lieu of a storyline. Refn proves after all these years that he can direct someone else's script just as well as he can his own, and what a script it is! Not only that, but the cast is dynamite, mostly the ones acting outside their normal range (Brooks playing the heavy, Gosling not being a pretty boy, etc.). About an hour into it, things abruptly get very violent, but in the end it's very much an "arthouse action" film, far from what many typical fans of the genre would expect. A+

Oh, and don't confuse this with Drive Angry. Please.

September 9, 2011

Contagion - 2011

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Demitri Martin, Bryan Cranston

"The average person touches their face three to five times every waking minute. In between, we're touching door knobs, water fountains and each other." This ensemble film depicts the all-too-quick worldwide spread of an unknown virus, and the crumbling of society as those in power desperately attempt to discover a cure.

Once again, I must take the path less traveled when compared to my distinguished competitors. I'll respect Soderbergh until the day he dies (both for his unique manipulation of the Hollywood system and the quality of his passion projects), and the cast is nothing short of remarkable (with the notable exception of Martin, who seems terribly out of place); however, the movie's downfall lies in its major script issues. The cast is rather large, and the plots don't cross over often enough to justify it all. It could have been pared down a good 25% or so and turned out significantly improved. It's also very heavy on medical jargon (WHO and CDC) and light on explanations. I wouldn't recommend anything more than matinee prices for this one. C

P.S.: A lot of this film (once the virus begins to take hold) deals with man's inhumanity to man, which was especially hard to watch for me, this weekend being what it is. The idea of people not banding together to help each other is truly disheartening to me.

September 2, 2011

Red State - 2011

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Kerry Bishé, Stephen Root, Jennifer Schwalbach, Ralph Garman

"God doesn't love you...unless you fear him." Three boys go into the woods looking for sex, but quickly find themselves the next would-be victims of an armed-to-the-teeth Westboro Baptist Church analogue.

My expectations for this film couldn't have been higher. I followed every step of production and distribution, and heard the writer/director extol the virtues of this film and its actors. When it was finally released to VOD platforms on September 1st, though, I approached it with cautious optimism. Could it really be everything it was made out to be? Fortunately, the answer's a resounding yes. The script's broken down into three distinct acts ("Sex," "Religion," and "Politics"), and is a far cry from what most probably consider standard Kevin Smith fare to be. The film also has a very polished and professional look to it, thanks in part to both the RED cameras used to shoot it and the expert cinematography of Dave Klein. What really pushes this film over the top, though, is its cast. The trio of Angarano, Gallner, and Braun, while certainly improved over past performances they've given (and more than adequate for these roles) pales in comparisoned to the acting veterans that Smith was able to wrangle. Goodman is an utter powerhouse as the head ATF agent, and Leo (fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter) was wholly unrecognizeable as the Cooper family matriarch. It's ultimately Michael Parks that runs away with this movie, however; around the 20 minute mark, he gives his first big sermon, and it sent shivers down my spine. If I hadn't been hooked by then already, I certainly wasn't going anywhere for the 65 minutes that followed. The man deserves an Oscar, plain and simple. I paid for this once already, and I have no qualms seeing it with the special Q&A come the 25th, or buying the DVD when that drops on October 18th. A+ 

September 1, 2011

The Debt - 2011

Director: John Madden
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, & Peter Straughan
Starring: Jessica Chastain/Helen Mirren, Marton Csokas/Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington/Ciaran Hinds

After spending 30 years without a second thought, three ex-Mossad agents are haunted by a specter from a past mission.

Not having seen the original Israeli film HaHov that this was based on, I can't say too much. In its most basic parts, this film has it all: six great (well-cast) performances of a strong script, with just the right balance of action and drama, and not too much subtitle-reading. Sam Worthington even manages to hold onto an appropriate accent, so he's come a long way from Clash of the Titans last year. I just might go back and hit up the original when I get a chance, in fact. A-

August 30, 2011

Jackie Brown - 1997

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda

After getting busted with cocaine while carrying money for an arms dealer (Jackson), flight attendant Jackie Brown (Grier) is forced to play ball with a couple ATF agents. However, she has plans of her own, and she'll need her bondsman's help (Forster) to make them happen.

I am an unabashed fan of the works of Quentin Tarantino (with the slight exception of Death Proof), and it's wholly inexcusable to have gone this long without seeing his only adapted screenplay to date. Fortunately, I was elated when the credits rolled. Despite the flack he's caught from certain other directors regarding word usage, Tarantino's ode to blaxploitation cinema is marvelous. The characters, while miles away from those found in his other screenplays, have one thing those others don't: realism. Jackie and Max and all the rest would be just as at home in the real world as they are up on screen. The film is full of great performances, mostly from actors who don't get much credit these days, and is integral for any Tarantino completionist. A+

The Guard - 2011

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong

An unorthodox small-town Irish policeman (Gleeson) is forced to work with a visiting FBI agent (Cheadle) to break up a cocaine-smuggling ring valued at half a billion dollars.

Just when you thought Cop Out killed off the "two cops with clashing personalities/races" genre, this movie comes along to prove it's thriving just as it ever was. The film shares a lot tonally with that of McDonagh's brother Martin's film In Bruges, as well as lead actor Gleeson. His devil-may-care attitude and foul mouth couldn't be further from his role in the Harry Potter series, but there's not a moment where he fails to entertain, especially in scenes alongside Cheadle's more traditional law enforcer. Mark Strong plays yet another stellar villain (following his performances in Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass, and Green Lantern)--the clear intellectual of the bunch, yet nowhere close to being likeable. Despite the predictable climax and open-ended denoument, John proves he can take audiences on a tour of Europe just as invigorating as his brother Martin, with nary a thought to old-timey notions like political correctness. A

August 26, 2011

Our Idiot Brother - 2011

Director: Jesse Peretz
Writers: Evgenia Peretz & David Schisgall
Starring: Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Steve Coogan, TJ Miller, Hugh Dancy

After his naivete lands him in jail for selling marijuana to a uniformed officer, Ned (Rudd) tries to get back on his feet again with the help of his three sisters (Deschanel, Banks, & Mortimer). However, his particular brand of thought-lacking honesty soon makes them think he might be more trouble to have around than he's worth.

I didn't really know what to expect going into this film, but I was pleasantly surprised. While it gets off to a pretty slow start (and gives the impression that it'll be the standard Paul Rudd comedy), that quickly changes in the second act. This shift from "let's laugh at Paul Rudd being ridiculous" to "family imploding because of the consequences" couldn't have been handled better...aside from the film's marketing, but that's another story. Jones and Deschanel have better onscreen chemistry than a lot of heterosexual couples, and the dynamic in general between the four siblings is utterly superb. Coogan kind of seems like he's plopped into the movie from real life, but he's really the only weak point castwise. In the beginning of the third act, Rudd really brings it home, and proves he can join the ranks of Carrey and Sandler as comedic actors capable of a serious turn now and again. B

August 21, 2011

Zodiac - 2007

Director: David Fincher
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, John Carroll Lynch, Brian Cox

"If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway, to a public park, you'll find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last yea. Goodbye..."A cartoonist (Gyllenhaal), a reporter (Downey) and a cop (Ruffalo) all become engaged in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in an attempt to stop a serial killer.

While slow in parts, this is one of the closest to perfect examples of a film I've ever seen. When the credits rolled, my first thought was "Why doesn't Fincher have an Oscar yet?" I challenge you to feel differently. A+

The Devil's Double - 2011

Director: Lee Tamhori
Writer: Michael Thomas
Starring: Dominic Cooper

"When you say your prayers tonight, remember this: Latif Yahia died in Iran. You are Uday Saddam Hussein." Latifa Yahia (Cooper) is approached to become the body double for Uday Hussein (Cooper), and soon learns what a mixed bag this is: while he shares in Uday's riches and privilege, he also must stand idly by, tolerating the intensely psychotic behavior from the Iraqi leader's son.

Movies like this live or die based on the performance of the lead, and I'm proud to say this one lived. Latif and Uday couldn't be further from each other, and are nearly the opposite sides of different coins, with Uday's outlandish abuses of his status mirrored by Latif's nearly-always suppressed disgust at what he now sees on a daily basis. The two even have different vocal inflections, and are unmistakable for the other by the audience. The accent as Latif's a bit weak from the outset, though, and noticeably begins to slip halfway through. In terms of story, there's a sex scene that literally comes out of nowhere, and a subsequent romantic subplot never fully reasoned that vanishes with as little substance as it first came. The film's climax and resolution obviously are severely dramatized; as interesting as the story really is, certain liberties get taken for dramatic effect. Most of all, though, the film is as gratuitous as Uday lived. Everything that can be in a film working to an R rating is here: murders, rape, language, torture...very obvious that a movie like this couldn't be made until the Husseins were toppled (however you feel about that), and while it's a story I was glad to know, certainly not one for the faint of heart. B+

Attack the Block - 2011

Director: Joe Cornish
Writer: Joe Cornish

Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whitaker, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost

"You discovered an unknown lifeform, possibly nonterrestrial in origin...and you kicked its f***in' ass!" A group of inner-city youth becomes the first line of defense when aliens invade the housing projects of south London.

It's been literally a year since I enjoyed any film as much as I enjoyed this one. Cornish has an instant classic on his hands, with each beat of the movie just as entertaining as the last. He assembled a strong cast of unknowns (Nick Frost has just a wisp of a supporting role) who end up being complex yet relatable, and run the gamut from standard cocky youths to proper scared once the "gorilla wolf motherf***ers" start wreaking havoc. In addition, unlike most sci-fi films these days, the creatures in Attack are all done on-camera, rather than CGI, and they look spectacularly intimidating. The fact that this is Cornish's feature debut as a writer/director, as well as the debut of most (if not all) of the young cast, makes it that more impressive. The only problem I had with this movie is its lack of wide release. As of this weekend, it's playing in eleven cities nationwide (NYC, LA, Chicago, Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Orlando, Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington DC). While part of me wants to just sum up my ability to see the movie like this, I have never had a more worthwhile trip to Orlando since I seriously got into film two years ago. Do whatever it takes to see this one; you won't be disappointed. It's wicked like bare bangers--believe, bruv. A+

August 19, 2011

Fright Night - 2011

Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Marti Noxon
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Sandra Vergara

"He's not brooding, or lovesick, or noble; he's the f***ing shark from Jaws...and I'm insulted that you think I read Twilight." Thanks to his former best friend (Mintz-Plasse), Charlie Brewster (Yelchin) realizes that his new neighbor (Farrell) is a vampire, and when his own mother (Collette) and girlfriend (Poots) are threatened, he must join forces with a British stage magician (Tennant) to defeat this new evil.

In case I was lacking for topics, I watched the original 1985 version of Fright Night before tackling the remake. It was your standard cheesy/campy 80s horror movie, and I'm happy to say the new one is better in nearly every facet. The film is one of the best examples of what a remake could be: updated for the modern age, plotholes and logic reworked, characters more identifiable and developed, plot changed enough to not bore (yet not too much to anger) fans of the original...the list goes on and on. Two performances make this film shine: Farrell and Tennant. As the vampire Jerry, Farrell makes effortless transitions between suave and debonair and literally bloodthirsty, and all while maintaining a spot-on American accent. Tennant, in the role of Peter Vincent, manages to steal every scene he's in (aside from having a far better backstory than his 80s counterpart), and not to worry, Dr. Who fans---he spends the vast majority of his screentime looking quite Doctory, despite what the advertising would have you believe. Definitely worth checking out, both for fans of the original and others...but don't waste your money on 3D. Movies that take place between dusk and dawn need not be any darker visually. B+

August 13, 2011

30 Minutes or Less - 2011

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Michael Diliberti
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña

During a standard pizza delivery gone horribly wrong, Nick (Eisenberg) finds himself enlisting the aid of his friend Dwayne (Ansari) after a couple of goons (McBride & Swardson) strap a bomb to him and force him to rob a bank for them.

The RottenTomatoes rating for this film does it no justice. While the moneymaking aspect of the script seems a bit contrived at times, and Ansari doesn't cease to annoy me, the rest of the cast is pretty much spot-on. Eisenberg's great, even though he couldn't be further away from last year's turn as Zuckerberg. In addition, McBride and Swardson look like exactly the sort of guys who would come up with a harebrained get-rich-quick scheme. The jokes mostly land well, and the climax of the film (despite a significant plothole) rivals that of Blues Brothers, albeit relying on a bit too much CGI. Not up to par with the first Fleischer/Eisenberg collaboration, but still an entertaining hour an a half. B+

The Help - 2011

Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney

After graduating from college, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Stone) comes to a realization about the dichotomy between the intrinsic value of "the help" to society in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and the way that these women are treated, and sets out to tell their story, public acceptance be damned.

The Help thrives on being a film populated by stellar actresses, each giving just as great a performance as the last, despite the occasional slight lapse in their Southern accents. Above all others, though, Viola Davis really knocks it out of the park. Unfortunately, Octavia Spencer's character exists almost wholly as a foil to Davis's, and ends up being little more than a stereotypical "sassy black woman," leaving Davis to carry the weight. In addition, the film has the issue of trying to shift protagonists between Stone and Davis's characters, and it interrupts the flow of the film a bit. While it does get into the dangerous territory of "white person helping poor unfortunate miniorities to better themselves" that films like Blind Side soak in, it's still a heartwarming, impassioned tale of toil against overwhelming odds. A-

August 7, 2011

Movie Review Vlogs

If you managed to miss me mentioning it on all my forms of social media, I'm now doing weekly review vlogs over at HOWEVER, if you care about the written word, fret not! I'm doing ONE video per week, and always about a wide release film. If I see a second film, or go to Orlando for a limited release, I won't be vlogging about it. I'll also do a written entry that will likely be near-identical to the vlog subject. With that said, enjoy!

August 5, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - 2011

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, Brian Cox

An alternate origin story for the formerly Charlton Heston-led franchise, Rise details the story of scientist Will Rodman (Franco) as he tries to develop a cure for Alzheimer's, partially to save the mind of his father (Lithgow). He tests it to great success on a chimp, and later finds out that the chimp's offspring (Serkis) has been affected in a more fantastical way that he could ever have imagined.

I was a little worried about this one. So many reboots/remakes/belated sequels fall quite a bit short of the original, but Rise ended up thoroughly enjoyable. Not only does it have about five blatant callbacks to the original (which most of the midnight audience seemed to not pick up on, judging by what they reacted to) for the older crowd, it was able to be strong in its own right, and very possibly the beginning of another franchise. The thing that I think separates this from the 1968 original, however, is that it's more the apes' story (especially Caesar, the main chimpanzee) than man's. The screenplay makes you really feel for the apes, most of all Caesar, which would fall short itself were it not for the spectacular performance of Andy Serkis (Gollum, King Kong) and the photorealistic motion-captured apes courtesy of WETA Digital. Unfortunately, I thought Franco was a bit miscast; he's turned into a bit of a parody of himself lately, and I'd like to see him take a break for a while and come back with another 127 Hours-type role. There's also a moment involving Felton's character (who makes as great an American bully as he does a British one) that makes you think "what the hell was this guy thinking?" but it's a lone moment in the film. Not one of my top 5 of the year, I don't think, but still a very strong, solid summber blockbuster. A-

Submarine - 2011

Director: Richard Ayoade
Writer: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine

Oliver Tate (Roberts) has a twofold task before him: to embark on a relationship with fellow outcast Jordana (Page) and restore the spark to the marriage of his parents (Hawkins & Considine).

If you're a fan of Wes Anderson's work (especially Rushmore), see this movie. If you're a fan of The IT Crowd and wondered about Moss's directorial ability, see this movie. If you want a bunch of talented unknown young actors talking in rapid Welsh-accented English, see this movie. If you don't care about all this fancy film mumbo jumbo and just want a funny movie, see this. It's a New Wave-inspired take on the tradition teen romcom, and ends up a great deal better than about 95% of the ones made these days. A

July 31, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens - 2011

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, & Hawk Ostby
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano

A man (Craig) wakes up in the wilderness, stricken with amnesia and a mysterious manacle on his left wrist. Several men come across him and, assuming a bounty, attempt to take him in. In a matter of moments, he incapacitates them all and rides into town on one of their horses, wearing their clothes, and brandishing one of their guns. He soon learns that he's a wanted man by the name of Jake Lonergan, though not before interfering with the lives of local tyrant Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), his good-for-nothing son Percy (Dano), and the local saloonkeeper Doc (Rockwell). However, all are forced to band together when the night sky is suddenly filled with strange lights, and alien spaceships begin snatching people at random.

Favreau did a great job with the casting of Craig in the lead role; the man's able to hold his American accent, and he's proven his action chops in the Bond films, as well as other roles like Defiance. Sam Rockwell also has another strong (albeit slightly comedic) supporting role that he's prefected by this point in his career. Unfortunately, that's the ending of positive things I really have to say about the movie. Ford is woefully miscast; seeing him play a crotchety old man, and a semi-antagonist at that, just doesn't work out for him. Dano also turns the levels of hamminess up to 11 in this one, and quickly goes from merely obnoxious to whipping boy in the few scenes he's offered. Wilde's character is so flat to the point of near uselessness, and is as far from Atwell's character in Captain America as is possible, short of being Bella Swan. In addition, if the source material had stuck to being "Jason Bourne in the Old West," it probably would have turned out fairly well, as the Western aesthetic and tone is nailed to a T. Unfortunately, the sci fi elements never truly mesh with the rest of the film, making things seem as ridiculous as the title would have you believe. On top of that, about 45 minutes from the end of the film, the plot got so unbearably outlandish for me that I walked out of the theater. Never expected to do that, especially for something from the director of Iron Man and Elf (one of the few traditionally comedic Will Ferrell performances I find bearable), but now he's got both the departure of the Iron Man franchise and this as marks against him in my book. D-

July 22, 2011

Captain America: the First Avenger - 2011

Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci

"I don't want to kill anybody. I just don't like bullies." Steve Rogers (Evans), a 4F 90-pound weakling from Brooklyn, is transformed via the Super-Soldier Serum into Captain America in an effort to combat the war machine led by the Red Skull (Weaving), the head of HYDRA, the deep science division of the Nazi party.

Full disclosure: when Marvel announced the casting for this film last year, I was filled to the brim with fanboy rage. The former Human Torch playing Captain America? OUTRAGE, I cried! Not only that, but the roles Evans was primarily known for playing before now weren't exactly the most kind or considerate characters, in opposition to the Boy Scout nature of the Star-Spangled Man. I will glady say that I was 100% incorrect in my fears, however, as Evans turned out to be a stellar version of Rogers, both as skinny Steve and the more intensely-constructed shield-chucker we all know and love. There's not a weak soul in the supporting cast, either, from Atwell's precursor-to-SHIELD-agent/love interest Peggy Carter to Tucci's all-too-few moments onscreen as Abraham Erskine, the German scientist responsible for the Serum. Two in their number steal the show, however: Weaving as the Red Skull (having honed his villain skills by playing Agent Smith in the Matrix franchise and watching a bunch of Warner Herzog movies) and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips, the military man who repeatedly butts heads with Rogers. The script is dead-on in almost every way, and highly reminiscent tonally of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Johnston has taken his experience on The Rocketeer and combined it with the big budget afforded to him by Marvel Studios, and the result is the most entertaining and all-out enjoyable film of the summer. It's unfortunate they couldn't release this on Independence Day weekend, but of course the film itself doesn't suffer qualitywise because of Marvel's fear of Michael Bay. Remember: buy war bonds, and stay after the credits for a wonderful glimpse at the master plan. A+

July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - 2011

Director: David Yates
Writer; Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman

"Harry Potter, the boy who lived... come to die." In the final chapter of the decade-long Harry Potter saga, the trio continues fighting to destroy the Horcruxes, even as Voldemort and the Death Eaters have overtaken Hogwarts, the one place held safe among all others.

I can't review this movie like I do others. Yeah, there were cuts and changes made, as well as the addition of the occasional scene here and there. At the end of the day, though, it didn't matter to me. Harry Potter has been too important to me and too present in my life for too long for this to be treated like just another movie to me. Besides, at this point, either you've followed the series and have to see how it ends, or you never cared in the first place. I could go on about how great Fiennes and Rickman are especially, or how much the trio has matured since the first film, or even its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. If I'm forced to say one thing, though, I'll mention how I fought back tears twice at moments that I couldn't stand when I read them in the book four years ago. Yates has brought the greates cultural phenomenon of our generation to the ideal end.

Mischief managed.

July 8, 2011

Zelig - 1983

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow

"The Ku Klux Klan, who saw Zelig as a Jew, that could turn himself into a Negro and an Indian, saw him as a triple threat." A documentary on the life of Leonard Zelig (Allen). a man afflicted with a condition forcing him to take on the mentality and physical appearance of those around him.

In 1994, Robert Zemeckis amazed the world with his ability to insert a Southern-accented Tom Hanks into historical footage. Eleven years earlier, Woody Allen did the same with himself, and to equal or greater effect. It's a shame Zelig has not become as much of a classic as Forrest Gump. It's full of Allen's usual charm, cleverness, and humor. Any fan of Allen, multiple personalities, or alternate history should make this a must-see film.  A

Horrible Bosses - 2011

Director: Seth Gordon
Writers: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx

"You've got to admit that our lives would be better if our bosses weren't alive." After getting fed up with the over-the-top inappropriate treatment from their respective bosses, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) conspire to get them out of the picture.

If I'm going to be totally honest, I wasn't sure about seeing this movie at first glance. It seemed a little formulaic, and perhaps too raunchy for my tastes. And while the movie firmly establishing itself as taking place now via Lehman Brothers and Angry Birds references, it's still a stellar comedy. Is the idea of people purposefully not tying themselves to murders they want committed in this manner original? No, but it's a strong idea from none other than Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train). The three co-leads have all proved themselves (Arrested Development, Saturday Night Live, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and they continue to entertain as well as ever, although there are still touches of Michael Bluth and Charlie Kelly (slightly smarter and cleaner in the case of the latter). It's the bosses that make the film work, though. While not a psychopath in the same manner as Se7en or Superman Returns, Spacey's a villain here on par with those other performances, in his own way. Farrell, sporting a hideous combover and cocaine addiction, is an amoral nepotism hire who couldn't care less about the company's well-being versus his own wallet. Finally, in what might be the zenith of her film roles so far, Aniston's dentist swears enough to keep up with the most low-down sailor or mercenary alive, and couldn't be further from her Rachel Green-types she's so fond of if she tried. On top of this six great comedic performances, the script takes the unexpected turn or two here and there, and you've got a short blooper reel prefacing the credits, which is always nice. A

June 27, 2011

The Muppet Movie - 1979

Director: James Frawley
Writers: Jack Burns & Jerry Juhl
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, David Goelz

"I didn't promise anybody anything. What do I know about Hollywood, anyway? Just a dream I got from sitting through too many double features." Kermit (Henson) and the gang first meet during Kermit's voyage to Hollywood to become an entertainer.

I hope the Muppets are around forever. This movie works both in terms of script and technically just as well as it did over thirty years ago.  I just wish I had gotten around to it sooner. Still need to see Caper and Manhattan, but I'm looking forward to what Segel's done with it even more now. A+

June 24, 2011

American Splendor - 2003

Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Writers: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak

"Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff." Curmudgeonly file clerk Harvey Pekar (Giamatti) rises to fame by publication of a series of comics entitled American Splendor, marries one of his fans (Davis) after a week of knowing her, and battles cancer. The real Pekar narrates the film, as well as appearing alongside other real-life versions of the folks portrayed onscreen.

It's a biopic, a comic book movie, and a documentary...and somehow manages to do all three superbly. I don't think I've ever seen a movie better cast; the performers are nearly undistinguishable when put next to their real-life counterparts. While it obviously doesn't have the scale of your traditional comic book movie, the story carries it through nevertheless. Think Ghost World, but minus the two girls, and Steve Buscemi is a comic writer. I had wanted to watch this for years, and it completely exceeded my expectations.

Welcome to Collinwood - 2002

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo
Writers: Anthony & Joe Russo
Starring: Luis Guzman, Patricia Clarkson, Michael Jeter, Andy Davoli, William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Sam Rockwell, George Clooney

"This Bellini is starting to look like a real Kapuchnik." While in jail for attempted grand theft auto, Cossimo (Guzman) hears about the heist of a lifetime: an empty apartment separated from a jewelry store by an all-too-thin wall. When his lady on the outside (Clarkson) searches for a patsy to take the fall for his GTA charge, she ends up involving a ragtag band of crooks including a boxer (Rockwell), a virtually-single father with a newborn (Macy), and a wheelchair-bound safecracker (Clooney). Naturally, all does not go as planned.

I never would have heard of this film if it weren't for a brief mention in a film book I read, and I imagine many others haven't either. It played in less than 50 theaters in its widest release, and had the misfortune of being an ensemble heist film the year following Ocean's Eleven. However, the movie is the brainchild of the Russo brothers, later a partial creative force behind Arrested Development and Community, and while it's a humbler version of OE, sans frills, it's still an entertaining watch if you have a couple hours to kill. B

June 18, 2011

Cedar Rapids - 2011

Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Phil Johnston
Starring: Ed Helms, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root

"There's palm trees, the whole place smells like's like I'm in Barbados or somewhere." Small-town idealist Tim Lippe (Helms) is sent to the big insurance convention after the usual participant dies in an autoerotic asphyxiation accident. He gets his first taste of big city life, and all the glory and debauchery that comes along with it.

It was really strange watching this film during summer blockbuster season, as it's entirely lacking the sheer scope that your typical summer films have. However, that's ultimately what makes the movie work.  This is, at the end of the day, watching Ed Helms be a country bumpkin and having to cope with the situation he's been thrown into. It's a bit darker than trailers would lead you to believe, but there's humor, a bit of drama, and most of all, heart. Maybe if word gets out, people can look to this for Ed Helms's talent (as well as that of the supporting cast) instead of something disappointingly mainstream like The Hangover.

Tree of Life - 2011

Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace."

I'm not going to lie to you: I don't get this movie, in any form whatsoever. The structure's nonlinear, characters from different points in the timeline coexist at a certain point, there's a kid walking around with a partially shaved head for reasons that are never explained...oh, yeah, and after a brief opening bit depicting Pitt as the (eventually semi-abusive) patriarch of a family in the 1950s, as well as Penn playing an adult version of one of his sons modern-day, we're treated to a montage of the Bing Bang, early evolution, and some dinosaurs. We could have had a nice little film exploring the dynamic of the '50s family, maybe told through flashback of Penn's character, but instead, we have...whatever this is. The cast gives some great performances, even the kids (superlative to that of Super 8 at times), and the cinematography is gorgeous, but the script just isn't the sort I enjoy. Fincher and Nolan did, though, so maybe you might. C

June 17, 2011

Green Lantern - 2011

Director: Martin Campbell
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Michael Clarke Duncan, Geoffrey Rush

"In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let all who worship evil's might beware my power, Green Lantern's light!" Cocky jet fighter pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) has his fearlessness truly tested when recruited by the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force, to help combat the Corp's greatest enemy, a being of fear known as Parallax.

Once again, it's time for me to break ranks with the critical consensus. Green Lantern currently has a 22% on RottenTomatoes, but I have no idea what movie that 78% of the reviewers saw, because this was far from bad. Campbell cast the film superbly (Sarsgaard has traces of Malkovich, and Duncan is spot-on), the script is well-paced, and the much-maligned-in-production special effects never cease to amaze. I've even heard that the 3D (only used when off-Earth) is pretty good. Also, keep an eye out for a Marvel-inspired construct in Hal's training scene. However, the film's not without its issues. A couple big changes to the source material really bothered me, but I tried to overlook those and view this just as a movie on its own merit. The villain's appearance got laughs  a couple times when he came onscreen; if the audience won't fear a villain, how can they expect the hero to fear him? In addition, a few scenes involving large crowds and mayhem have the crowds not freaking out as soon as I'd imagine they would have.  As soon as something bad starts happening, that's when you run like hell. All issues aside, it looks great on the big screen, and it'd be a crime to not continue the series's rich mythology. Speaking of which....stay through the first section of credits. A-

June 13, 2011

Midnight in Paris - 2011

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni

Gil (Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter struggling with his first novel, travels to Paris with his fiancee (McAdams). He quickly falls in love with the city, only to find that after the clock strikes midnight, it becomes quite a different city, and he begins an experience he desires to be a part of even more.

How many filmmakers have put out a film virtually every single year for their entire careers? Next to none. How many have done this for four decades, with an above average level of success? One, and this is definitely one of his great ones. Owen Wilson gives a great performance as the Allen surrogate, talking about Paris the way that Allen talked about New York City back in the day. Familiar like "pseudo-intellectual" and "crypto-fascist" make an appearance to the chagrin of die-hards, and fans of Purple Rose of Cairo specifically will likely enjoy what is on the surface an inversion of that film's plot, as it surprisingly never feels stale. I'm trying to keep a bit of mystery around this one, so you all might actually go out and support the hardest working man in the business, so I won't say much more (the trailer tells you next to nothing about how incredible the film gets), but there's a much larger cast than I've mentioned, and each performance is more enjoyable than the last. This film has all the heart, charm, and laughs of any of his classics, and I can't wait to see what he does with Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page in Rome next year. A

June 10, 2011

My Left Foot - 1989

Director: Jim Sheridan
Writers: Jim Sheridan & Shane Connaughton
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally

The true story of Christy Brown (Day-Lewis), a man born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, who overcomes his debilitating condition to become a renowned Irish poet, artist, and author.

The film's the most heartwarming true story I've ever seen on celluloid, and it firmly cements DDL as the best actor of all time in my mind. Saying anything more would be entirely superfluous. A+

Super 8 - 2011

Director: JJ Abrams
Writer: JJ Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

"In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local deputy tries to uncover the truth - something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined." [Plot summary taken from IMDB]

If you're familiar with the media juggernaut that is JJ Abrams, you're no stranger to his latest project. As with others, he enacted a viral marketing campaign with quite a bit of buzz in proportion to information that was actually revealed. With Super 8, Abrams set out to honor the early work of Steven Spielberg, and not only succeeded in that regard, but made what I'm comfortable calling the perfect summer movie. The characters aren't flat (and the child actors come through in spades, especially Fanning), the plot is gripping and unpredictable, set design's spot on for the era...all in all, it's near-perfect. Abrams is having trouble shaking off his attachment to lens flare that was brought to our attention in his Star Trek reboot, and when you finally get a clear glimpse of what the military's been hiding, it looks rather similar to a certain other something that Abrams has ties to, but it's a small price to pay for a film that's as overwhelmingly entertaining as Super 8. A

June 7, 2011

Revenge of the Nerds - 1984

Director: Jeff Kanew
Writers: Jeff Buhai, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Steve Zacharias
Starring: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Curtis Armstrong, Timothy Busfield

"I just wanted to say that I'm a nerd, and I'm here tonight to stand up for the rights of other nerds. I mean uh, all our lives we've been laughed at and made to feel inferior. And tonight, those bastards, they trashed our house. Why? Cause we're smart? Cause we look different? Well, we're not. I'm a nerd, and uh, I'm pretty proud of it." Upon having their residence burned down by the Alpha Betas, the head fraternity on campus, Lewis (Carradine) and Gilbert (Edwards) lead a ragtag band of misfits in an attempt to gain mass social acceptance.

This is one of those classics I've just now gotten around to seeing, so there's only so much I can say that hasn't been said in the past quarter century. I first heard about this movie via I Love the 80s, so naturally I knew a lot plotwise going into it...and it didn't matter one iota. The performances are great, and while the script had promise, a lot of the best lines were apparently ad-libbed. Aside from the leads, you've got a nice supporting role from John Goodman, and even a brief appearance from a younger James Cromwell. The only bad parts of this movie in my opinion would be the raging stereotypes of the Asian and homosexual characters; it dates the film and seems outright offensive through modern eyes. Then again, I'm sure it's preferable on the whole to the remake that thankfully got scrapped recently. A