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