May 30, 2011

Wristcutters - 2006

Director: Goran Dukic
Writer: Goran Dukic
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, Shannyn Sossamon, Tom Waits, John Hawkes, Will Arnett

A warning before I continue: this movie is about exactly what the title says, and while there's only one semi-graphic scene in the film (most are implied or suggested), it talks heavily about the idea of suicide, and I feel as though it could not properly be reviewed without further discussion of the same.

"Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can't even smile? It's hot as balls, everybody's an asshole. I just wanna go home." After committing suicide, Zia (Fugit) and his new friend Eugene (Whigham) set out on a voyage through the afterlife to find Zia's ex-girlfriend Desiree, who has also recently killed herself. Along the way, they run into Mikal (Sossamon), a girl on a quest of her own--one to find the people in charge, so she can be sent back to life, as she was sent wherever it is they are by mistake.

This has been an unbelievable week for me, filmwise; I saw a drama about a man communicating through a beaver puppet, and then this charming film about suicide, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was Dukic's feature debut at both writing and directing. Shot for a mere $1,000,000, the film is simultaneously wholly and not at all impressive. The desaturation of the world is exactly what you'd expect in the purgatory-esque existence suggested by a world where, while there's not constant torture, no one smiles and the weather's uncomfortably hot. The soundtrack fits the tone well also, filled with either artists who committed suicide themselves or the work of Gogol Bordello, whose frontman was the inspiration for the character of Eugene. Fugit, who many would remember as the lead from Almost Famous, has matured emotionally as much as he has physically between the two films, and is a great fit for the lead. Whigham and Sossamon do a great job cutting their teeth on this film, and have a very believable love-hate dynamic. Hawkes and Waites also come through well, in parts that could be hammy in the hands of others; the two are wonderfully understated, fortunately. As much as I hate to say one problem was Will Arnett, or rather, his casting. His character (named Messiah King because of his leadership of a cult) is very much Gob from Arrested Development, which I might not have noticed if he didn't have Gob's face. Not that I'm not a fan of Gob, but he just doesn't belong in the movie. While it might contain themes or images that some are unable to handle, I highly recommend this to anyone with a remote desire to see it, in the hopes it'll impress you as much as it did me. A

May 27, 2011

Rio - 2011

Director: Chris Saldanha
Writers: Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia, & Sam Harper
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, George Lopez,, Jamie Foxx

"Flying is... err... freedom, and, and not having to rely on anyone. Don't you want that?" After being captured, trafficked to Minnesota, and brought back to Brazil to ensure the survival of his species, the creatively-named Blu (Eisenberg) is again captured, along with his begrudging companion Jewel (Hathaway). He must overcome his inability to fly, evade former film star cockatoo Nigel (Clement), and woo Jewel in his own particular idiom before returning to the familiarity of his home again.

This film, while not without its merits, made several missteps. To start off, I need to address the elephant in the room: casting. The film takes place in Brazil, and some of the Brazilian characters are voiced by Hathaway, Clement,, get the idea. Severely underrepresented when it comes to actual Hispanic actors, and the ones actually cast make no effort to affect an accent. Not only do many characters not sound right, but the humans don't look right in cases either. Blu's owner might as well be the adult version of Darla from Finding Nemo (except she cares for her pets now), and two male characters (one of the smuggler's henchmen and a security guard at the bird sanctuary) are identical. Hey, Blue Sky? Maybe there's a reason you haven't worked with humans on the screen since the first Ice Age film. THAT'S ANOTHER THING: there was, for whatever reason, a short film starring everyone's favorite ancillary character from the Ice Age franchise that played before Rio, and it spat in the face of every principle of geology imaginable, from the heat of the Earth's core to plate tectonics. And we wonder why people grow up without knowing basic facts... A final note: there's a difference between a movie that appeals to audiences of all ages and a children's film with mature content to entertain the adults forced to take their kids to it. Rio is clearly the latter. C+

May 26, 2011

The Beaver - 2011

Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: Kyle Killen
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

"I'm the beaver, and I'm here to save your goddamn life." After a suicide attempt, toy company CEO Walter Black (Gibson) adopts a beaver puppet as a coping mechanism and medium of communication with his wife (Foster), sons (Yelchin & Riley Thomas Stewart), and employees.

Some caveats, before I start the review proper:

  • I went to Orlando intending to see Attack the Block instead, but was six people away from getting into the theater. This was a consolation prize of sorts, as it happened to be playing at the same time.
  • Mel Gibson has had a very rough few years, due solely to his own actions.
  • This film is a drama.

I first heard about The Beaver two years ago, when it ended up on the 2008 Black List, Hollywood's annual survey of the best-liked unproduced screenplays. However, “A depressed man finds hope in a beaver puppet that he wears on his hand" left me a bit skeptical. However, Foster's interpretation impressed me. If you had told me two years ago that this wasn't a high-concept comedy, I wouldn't have believed you. And maybe, if the casting had gone with Steve Carell or Jim Carrey as originally desired, that's the directed it might have gone. Thankfully, Gibson was brought on, and along with him were hims flair for the dramatic. Not sure if the Michael Caine-esque voice for the beaver is his or Killen's, but it works well. He and Foster share the proper chemistry for a couple on the rocks, Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett, Star Trek) has yet to disappoint me, and it's good to see Lawrence plays a brainy cheerleader (more realistic that you'd think) just as well as she does an Ozark dweller. If you get a chance to see it, just keep in mine that, at most, you're getting a dark comedy. A-

May 21, 2011

Defiance - 2008

Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Clayton Frohman & Edward Zwick
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell

"Merciful God, we commit our friends to You. We have no more prayers, no more tears; we have run out of blood. Choose another people. We have paid for each of Your commandments; we have covered every stone and field with ashes. Sanctify another land. Choose another people. Teach them the deeds and the prophesies. Grant us but one more blessing: take back the gift of our holiness. Amen." The true story of Tuvia (Craig) and Zus Bielski (Schrieber), two brothers who lead a Jewish resistance group against the Nazis while hiding in the woods of eastern Europe.

Oh, Ed Zwick. You just had to go and make Love and Other Drugs last year, didn't you? You used to BE somebody. You were know for your "sprawling war epics" like Glory and The Last Samurai...was Defiance your swansong? I can't deny that it was a great film. Your two leads did a great job, from the accents to the action and everything in between. A great chemistry between all the brothers, in general. Got a little confused at times about who was and wasn't dead, since you didn't really linger on it, and living characters would sometimes be absent for a few scenes after some big moment, and then pop back up unharmed. Also, I never would have made your stylistic choices for the medicine/communication raid scene, and I don't know how far away Zus and his crew could be from the wedding so that the party couldn't hear the gunshots. You also threw in subtitled foreign dialogue just enough to be annoying to me, instead of either being all subtitled or all accented English. All in all, though, it's a Holocaust movie that's more hopeful than depressing, which is a feat in and of itself, and you touched on something that's always been on my mind about the Holocaust: how a group of people could hold onto their faith through a horrible event like that. And maybe, come back to your roots? The soldiers miss you, Ed. A-

May 15, 2011

Bridesmaids - 2011

Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm

Despite struggling with nearly every aspect of her own life, Annie (Wiig) puts 110% of her effort to help her lifelong friend Lillian (Rudolph) plan her wedding when Lillian asks Annie to be her maid of honor.

WOW.  I don't even know where to begin on this. In short, this was probably the single funniest movie I've seen in years. Not only that, but Wiig and her writing partner Mumolo (who has a brief cameo in the film as a nervous flier seated by Wiig on the plane) have written a film with a few dramatic beats as well, none of which feel shoehorned into it, as is often the case with comedies with dramatic elements, or vice versa. Feig's assembled an impressive cast, led astoundingly by Wiig; I wish that all female-driven films could be as strong as this one, and that any sort of marketing could be done to get more guys to see this movie. I personally had to justify why I was seeing this to a friend of a friend I ran into, and there's no reason that should ever have to happen. There's one scene I could have done without (you'll know it when you see it) that doesn't fit in tonally with the humor in the rest of the film. Apatow, in his producer status, threw it into the film apparently because he thought it would increase the male appeal, and it was the only thing in the movie I didn't care for. McCarthy also ends up as one of those obvious one-joke sort of characters, which I was really surprised to see in a film co-written by two women. Ultimately, though, it's a very strong script carried by some wonderful ladies, and Wiig proves that her work on Saturday Night Live is just the beginning of a spectacular career. A

May 6, 2011

Thor - 2011

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston

"Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they're one and the same." After a misguided attempt to destroy the home of the Frost Giants, Thor (Hemsworth) is banished from Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins). Upon arriving on Earth, he encounters astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman), who initially dismisses him as a lunatic. Meanwhile, Thor's brother Loki (Hiddleston) has nefarious plans of his own, which can only succeed so long as Thor is banished from Asgard.

The production of Thor was fraught with peril--will audiences take to the Elizabethan English spoken by Asgardians in the comics? Will there be too much/not enough of Asgard/Earth? Will people understand the complex details of Norse mythology? What's Idris Elba doing in a movie about Norse gods, anyway? After seeing the film, I'm happy to say all the worries I had going into it were assuaged early on. The trio of scriptwriters almost entirely threw out the archaic speech patterns, yet still made the dialogue sound regal and elegant. The balance between the two realms is spot-on, and there's just enough Hopkins-narrated prologue to explain the bits of mythos necessary to understand the film. While I loved every member of the cast (and admit his role was rather limited to begin with), I found myself wishing for more of Elba's Heimdall by the film's end; he brought a great intensity to the character when not required to be solemn. The set design of Asgard was nothing short of awe-inspiring; however, one of my few problems with this film was the costumes and props sometimes look plasticky rather than metallic. Upon our introduction to Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, it's seen in close-up, and looked to me like something I could pick up at my local comic shop for a reasonable fee. Also, there is NO reason to see this film in 3D. The action scenes that take place in the Frost Giants' realm are already shot in nigh-darkness, making it difficult to tell at times what's going on, and the 3D post-conversion process would only make that worse. Overall, though, it's a great film both in its own regard and as an Avengers tie-in (there are references to Iron Man and Incredible Hulk, and we get a glimpse of a certain amethyst archer we'll be seeing more of next summer). A-