January 29, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty - 2010

Director: Don Hahn
Writer: Patrick Pacheco

A chronicle of the shakeups of Disney's animation department from production of The Fox and the Hound to The Lion King.

Since it's in less than a month, I'm going to call the Academy out on this one. WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY GOT ROBBED. It's a riveting tale of a sector of the film industry that often goes unappreciated, and as a whole surpasses at least one of  the "important subject" docs (two environmental and two political this year). While not a close second to Exit Through the Gift Shop, it's definitely a film I recommend, especially to fans of Disney animation. A

January 18, 2011

Casino Jack and the United States of Money - 2010

Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Adam Kidan

A documentary chronicling both the rise and fall of former "superlobbyist" Jack Abramoff.

I wasn't a big fan of this. Yeah, it's a lot of the material to cover, but it's a very slow two hours, and the most interesting bits are covered in Casino Jack, which sticks closer to the truth than I thought, so I say take a pass on this unless you're a HUGE Abramoff fan (and who is?) and go for the Kevin Spacey version. D

January 17, 2011

Casino Jack - 2010

Director: George Hickenlooper
Writer: Norman Snider
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene, Spencer Garrett, Kelly Preston

A dramatized account of the fall from grace of former "superlobbyist" Jack Abramoff (Spacey) after his involvement with nautical casinos and the defrauding of Native American tribes.

Spacey gives yet another remarkable performance as we've come to expect, a sort of complement to his character from American Beauty: instead of a man who has stopped caring about his role in life, his Abramoff is one who not only believes he can literally do anything, but also that he is (and other lobbyists are) a vital cog in the system, despite every shady deal made, most of which end up passing through his own pockets somehow. Lovitz also comes through as another sleazy type, and the audience is left feeling bad for both of them in spite of their less-than-admirable actions. Unfortunately, the film as a whole is the smallest bit lackluster, and takes some interesting liberties with the facts. Interestingly, a documentary about Abramoff was also released this year, with the mouthful of a title Casino Jack and the United States of Money, for anyone interested in a comparison. A-

The Green Hornet - 2011

Director: Michel Gondry
Writers: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson

"We've been completely wasting our potential. This city needs our help. We could be heroes! We will pose as villains to get close to the bad guys. That way, no one will suspect we're really the good guys." Heir to a newspaper mogul, Britt Reid (Rogen) is inspired by the death of his father to rid the city of nefarious forces, including crime boss Chudnofsky (Waltz), with the help of his executive associate Kato (Chou).

Unlike most comic adaptations (yes, I know it started out as a radio serial), I have virtually no ties with the character, and was expecting quite a different film. This is action- and comedy-heavy, nearly to the point of camp, so if that's you're thing, then by all means, go see it. However, I don't think that the Rogen/Goldberg duo has matured as screenwriters to the level where something like this is necessarily considered good cinema. The villain's words are written virtually the same as those of the (should-be) very different protagonist. There are huge jumps in logic near the film's end, as well as a maltreatment of one of the film's few redeeming qualities: the scenes that actually look like Gondry had something to do with them. On top of all this, the (postconversion) 3D is, as always, utterly pointless. See it in 2D if you can, if what I've described is your kind of thing. C

January 11, 2011

Enter the Void - 2010

Director: Gaspar Noe
Writer: Gaspar Noe
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta

"Do you remember that pact we made? We said we'd always be together." Oscar (Brown), a frequent user of psychotropic drugs, gets high and is shot by police after walking into a sting operation when he attempts to meet up with his dealer again. The two hours that follow depict the spirit/soul of Oscar running through the events of his life, then flying around Tokyo and observing how his death has affected those around him, before eventually being reincarnated a la the Tibetan Book of the Dead, introduced to Oscar by a friend prior to the start of the film.

A French production of an English film shooting in Tokyo is bound to have some problems. So is one with only a 100 page script that's supposed to be over 150 minutes long. Again: it's rough shooting an entire movie with POV shots. And finally, inducing seizures in your audience is NEVER a good idea, nor is having a credit sequence zoom by too fast to be read. Don't see this movie, please. It's two and a half hours I really want back. F

January 10, 2011

Catfish - 2010

"The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn't exist." - Charles Baudelaire

This is how I feel about the movie Catfish.

January 9, 2011

Four Lions - 2010

Director: Chris Morris
Writers: Chris Morris, Sam Bain, & Jesse Armstrong
Starring: Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsey, Riz Ahmed, Adeel Akhtar

"Barry, shut up, mate! 'Cause I tell ya, your little brain cell might go off now and again, but if you hands even go to move, if you try to set up the Islamic State of Tinsley again, going to university lectures, opening your big mouth, buying some more silver nitrate from Amazon... I'm gonna rip your plugs out!" Four bumbling jihadists attempt to martyr themselves in the London Marathon.

This movie isn't for everyone. It deals with the very sensitive topic of terrorism. However, it's gotten a lot of good press, and I was very interested to see how another country who had recently been affected would handle this, since any attempts by US filmmakers to comedically portray terrorists come off horribly offensive and/or unfunny. That said, I love this movie. It's honestly one of best comedies of the year, and the cinematography really puts the audience into the film as a direct observer of the events, but stopping short of being Cloverfield-esque. A must-see if there ever was one. A+

Flipped - 2010

Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Rob Reiner & Andrew Scheinman
Starring: Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, John Mahoney

"All I ever wanted was for Juli Baker to leave me alone." When Bryce (McCauliffe) and his family move into a new neighborhood, he meets Juli (Carroll), who is instantly smitten with him. However, she spends several years (unbeknownst to her) as a thorn in his side, while he reconciles the source of his feelings toward her.

HOLY HELL ROB REINER WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN HIDING? Before this came out, I honestly thought he hung up his hat after 1992's A Few Good Men, but apparently he's made a movie 17 out of the last 26 years. Nothing's really hit it big since then, but this one really deserves to. It's a great little tale of adolescent love in the late 50s/early 60s with beautiful cinematography, a solid script, and above average performances from the up-and-coming leads. A+

I Love You Philip Morris - 2010

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Writers: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann

"Love sure is a funny thing. Makes you happy, makes you sad...makes you do a lot of things you never thought you'd do." After embracing his homosexuality following a serious car accident, Stephen Russel (Carrey) moves to Florida and becomes a pathological con man to live the materialism-driven life with his partner. Eventually, he gets caught and sent to jail, where he meets Philip Morris (McGregor), who he immediately falls for. Upon his release, Russell begins doing everything he can to free Morris so they can start a life together, and ends up posing as his lawyer. Russell continues life as a con man, unknown to Morris, to again keep the two of them high on the hog.

I'm not a Jim Carrey fan normally. His comedies, on the whole, I don't care for. However, these two writers (the folks who brought us Bad Santa, the Bad News Bears remake, and the Angry Beavers TV series) have written a character that plays to both his dramatic and, shockingly, comedic strengths. Flashes of Carrey's typical roles are here and there, and they do rely a little heavily on gay stereotypes, but on the whole, it's a very entertaining picture. Honestly, my only real problem was the accent. Russell is a Virginian, and Morris is from Texas, so both actors need accents. McGregor honed his Southern accent before shooting Big Fish a decade ago, but Carrey's is about 85% of the way there, kind of like Bullock in Blind Side last year, and it sounds even worse next to McGregor. Overall, it's a fascinating story that needed to be told, especially if you love perpetual con men. A

January 5, 2011

Despicable Me - 2010

Directors: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Writers: Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul
Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russel Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Julie Andrews

"Are these beds made from bombs?" "Yes, but they are old and unlikely to explode...but don't toss and turn." After the theft of one of the Great Pyramids by his newfound nemesis Vector (Segel), supervillain Gru (Carell) sets out to steal the moon in a quest for one-upsmanship. However, his adoption of three young girls, originally as a means to an end, causes more trouble than expected.

More Dreamworks than Pixar in its tone and sensibilities, Despicable Me is thoroughly above average as far as animated features go. Definitely not a Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon, but mostly enjoyable nevertheless. The high point for me was a sight gag for the Bank of Evil ("formerly Lehman Brothers")...and the low point was yet another wholly unnecessary song-and-dance number at the end. There's an incredibly heartwarming resolution which, despite being seen from a mile away, is still very natural; why not just roll credits there? B+

The King's Speech - 2010

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall

"If I am King, where is my power? Can I declare war? Form a government? Levy a tax? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can't speak, because I have no voice." At the eve of World War II, King George V (Gambon) passes on and Edward VIII (Pearce) abdicates to be with an American divorcee, leaving Edward's brother Albert (Firth) to become King George VI. However, dear Bertie's got a stutter, and in the new era of radio, that just won't do. To overcome this, he starts seeing Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), and the two form a great bond over the course of their training.

Want to see a movie that proves England is a country overflowing with great performers? This is it. Want to see an incredible period piece about pre-WWII England? Still this one. Want to watch a stellar performance based entirely around an imperfection? Again, this is the one to see. Firth is (in my opinion) the worthiest of all possible Best Actor nominees I've seen so far, and he and Rush have a great onscreen chemistry, even better than he and Bonham Carter do. Playing a flawed character in this style is very difficult to pull off properly, but by all accounts, Firth succeeds in spades. Pearce is also great as the overly emotional Edward, and the choice of Gambon as George V made me overjoyed (as I always am) for the impossible prospect that at any moment, he and the other Potter alumni would whip out wands and send spells flying every which way. In all seriousness, it's a great event from history I knew nothing about, and this was an incredibly entertaining way to learn.

As an aside: despite their many faults (which are outlined in the great documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated), I often agree with MPAA decisions. However, this is one R-rated movie that teens of all ages should be seeing. They use the f-word some 17 or so times, but as a method to help with the stutter (anger tricks the brain into not holding itself up; who knew?), as well as a few other words, but nothing a teenager hasn't already heard.

Mary & Max - 2009

Director: Adam Elliot
Writer: Adam Elliot
Starring: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana

"Dr. Bernard Hazelhof said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company - just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don't get to choose our warts. They are part of us and we have to live with them. We can, however, choose our friends, and I am glad I have chosen you." In the late 1970s, upon being neglected continuously by her parents, the Australian eight-year-old Mary (Collette) picks a name out of a New York City phone book and finds a pen pal in Max (Hoffman), a 44-year-old Jewish man suffering from Asperger's Syndrome.

The problem with most animated films? They get written for a child audience. There's no reason why you can't write a plot about sophisticated topics that appeals to adults, and this is exactly that. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's the best animated film I've ever seen. "But Carter," you say, "if that's the case, it should have gotten an Academy Award nomination, at least!" I could go on and on about the films that get snubbed by the Academy, but it's much simpler in this case: this film NEVER got released in the US, hence it was ineligible. Thank goodness for Netflix. See it ASAP and get ready to love it. A+

January 2, 2011

1776 - 1972

Director: Peter H. Hunt
Writer: Peter Stone
Starring: William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard

"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?" John Adams (Daniels), Benjamin Franklin (Da Silva), and Thomas Jefferson (Howard) struggle with their fellow delegates of the Second Continental Congress to bring the colonies into full-out rebellion against the British king for his wrongdoings. Also, singing.

The film is a musical that clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes minimum, depending on what version you watch. Still with me? It's a must-see for any history buff, despite the occasional factual error, and entertaining to boot. The songs are well-written (despite being placed in odd increments), and the script as a whole really gets across the actual vim and vigor behind the founders, not just stories of cherry trees and electrified kites, in addition to the heat and flies that ran rampant during those hot summer days in Philadelphia. In regards to the runtime, the movie really moves, so it doesn't seem like an almost three hour jaunt to the colonial era. I watched an Australian film that clocked in at 100 minutes last night, and that seemed twice as long to me as this 165-minute flick. What got me to watch the movie originally? John Adams is Mr. Feeney. If you're not sold yet, there's no hope for you. My only question when it was all over--why not wait four more years to release it? A