August 11, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild - 2012

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

I wish I could have a plot description here; I really do. Unfortunately, this might be the first film I understand less about after watching it than I did before. 

Wallis and Henry both give spectacular performances; it's no wonder that British director Steve McQueen has already snapped them up for his next feature. The film's also shot beautifully, evoking a strong sense of the less fortunate side of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, the script had more problems than I can shake a stick at (or discuss without venturing too far into spoiler territory). I'm amazed this won the Camera D'Or (best first feature) at the Cannes Film Festival with all its faults. Once you've watched the trailer, you've seen enough of it.

Rating: C-

Hope Springs - 2012

Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell

Rating: D+

Total Recall - 2012

Director: Len Wiseman
Writers: Kurt Wimmer & Mark Bomback
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, & Jessica Biel

Rating: D

The Watch - 2012

Director: Akiva Shaffer
Writers: Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, & Evan Goldberg
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, & Richard Ayoade

Rating: D

July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - 2012

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Goron-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard

Rating: A

July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - 2012

Director: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbit, Alvin Sargent, & Steve Kloves
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary

Rating: C-

June 26, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - 2012

Writer/Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton

Two 12-year-olds (Gilman & Hayward) decide they're madly in love after briefly meeting, so they run off from their respective scout troop and family in an attempt to get married and fulfill all the dreams a 12-year-old could fathom. The stakes rise when a storm of legendary magnitude threatens their small New England town.

If you know me, you know how much I love Wes Anderson. He's my second favorite director after Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and the upcoming Looper), and I identify far more with Rushmore's Max Fischer than I care to admit. Maybe that means the following needs to be taken with a grain of salt, maybe not: Moonrise proves that Anderson's first foray into a period piece is right up there with any of his other works. He's got a wonderful script (perhaps a second Oscar nomination is in store?) and works with a mostly fresh cast (all of who deliver in spades, even the young leads) this time around. There's an effect in the climax that could have been more polished, as well as an element to the young relationship that seems completely inappropriate, but once that squicky scene passes, the audience is back to being immersed in a remarkable cinematic experience. A

Brave - 2012

Directors: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell
Writers: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, & Irene Mecchi
Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, & Julie Walters

A soon-to-be betrothed princess (MacDonald) sets out to change her fate, rather than follow the path her parents have chosen for her.

This is a spectacular film in every facet, and I'm stunned that it doesn't have a stronger critical approval. First of all, major recognition to the folks responsible for the ad campaign, the vast majority of which is pulled from the first 30 minutes of the film; I don't think I've ever been less spoiled in my entire filmgoing career. It was quite a relief to hear a bunch of authentic Scottish (or at least British) voices in a movie about Scottish characters, and the plot is very solid, save for a minute detail of the climax. I'll support any film with a strong female protagonist like Merida, especially when the idea is wholly original, and the native 3D works really well. Cars 2 really worried me, but Brave proves that Pixar still has terrific potential (and they can somehow sneak male rear nudity into a PG-rated film). A

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - 2012

Writer/Director: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell & Keira Knightley

Rating: B-

June 16, 2012

Rock of Ages - 2012

Director: Adam Shankman

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Malin Ackerman, Mary J. Blige

Rating: C-

Prometheus - 2012

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green
Rating: B

Snow White and the Huntsman - 2012

Director: Rupert Sanders

Starring: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth
Cast: Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones

Rating: C-

May 26, 2012

Men in Black 3 - 2012

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writer: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg

Rating: C

May 19, 2012

The Dictator - 2012

Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, et. al.
Starring; Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas

Rating: F-

Dark Shadows - 2012

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Seth Graheme-Smith
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfieffer

Rating: D+

May 4, 2012

The Avengers - 2012

Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders

Rating: A+

April 17, 2012

God Bless America - 2012

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Frank (Murray) goes on a raging rampage of revenge against the subtle evils of modern culture with his young sidekick Roxy (Barr).

Aside from his minor role in the 1997's animated Hercules, I was relatively unaware of Bobcat Goldthwait's existence. That all changed last year when I came across the incredible gem of World's Greatest Dad. Apparently, he's been writing/directing a very unique brand of dark comedy since 1991. While his latest venture doesn't quite match up to the 2009 entry, it's still quite a good film. Murray (one of three brothers of Bill), who had a notable role as Fred Rumsen on Mad Men recently, is the perfect schlub. It's hard to imagine a more societally attractive person in the role, and Murray's got the acting chops and then some to back it up. Barr, while a newcomer, gives a terrific performance as the wild-minded teenage girl that has cropped up in a surprising amount of movies lately (at least, ones I've seen). She's very convincing, especially in the scenes where Murray has to talk her down from taking things too far. I didn't understand why the very last scene played out in the manner that it did, but it's a small price to play for a great Falling Down/Bonnie and Clyde mashup for the modern day. B+

April 16, 2012

The Raid: Redemption - 2012

Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans

In Jakarta, a SWAT team busts up a slum apartment building in an attempt to take out a local crime lord.

RottenTomatoes calls this movie "all thrills and no frills," and I just can't top that. The plot's just enought to be convincing and believable, but the action sequences are literally the best I've ever seen, and where this movie truly shines. Gunplay, swordfighting with machetes, as well as classic hand-to-hand combat by way of martial arts (all with remarkable, steady cinematography) makes this Indonesian-language film worth every penny and then some. It sets the bar tremendously high for the announced sequel (possibly a trilogy at the end of the day), as well as the impending English-language remake, but worst-case scenario, we can pretend nothing exists but the first incarnation. A

April 14, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods - 2012

Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz
Rating: A-

April 7, 2012

Primal Fear - 1996

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writers: Steve Shagan & Anne Biderman
Starring: Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney, John Mahoney

After running from the cops in bloodsoaked clothing, altar boy Aaron Stampler (Norton) is arrested for the murder of a local bishop, and almost immediately branded "Butcher Boy" by the media. Defense attorney Martin Vail (Gere) sees an opportunity that no one else would dare go near, and agrees to defend Stampler pro bono. However, this case soon becomes far more heinous than either defense or prosecution could ever imagine.

Netflix recommended I watch this movie almost as soon as I signed up, but it sat in my Instant Queue for an eternity. I finally got around to watching it, and all I can say is WOW. This film blew my mind twice over, going places I never expected. Norton won an Oscar for his role as Stampler, which happened to be his first film appearance ever. Do I really need to say anything else? A

April 6, 2012

Mirror Mirror - 2012

Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Writers: Jason Keller & Melisa Wallack
Starring: Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane

Rating: B

The Hunger Games - 2012

Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Billy Ray, & Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth

Rating: D+

Jeff, Who Lives at Home - 2012

Directors: Jay & Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay and Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer

Jeff (Segel), a 30-year-old man living in his mother's basement, believes that everything happens for a reason, and that signs are everywhere if you know how to look. After receiving a mysteriously angry call meant for "Kevin," he embarks on a quest trying to find the intended recipient, and crosses paths with his brother Pat (Helms) and mother (Sarandon) along the way, each of whom are battling their own issues.

First of all, big thanks to my local theater for getting this indie gem; it's quite the rare occurrence that I don't have to drive to Orlando for this sort of thing. I loved Cyrus, the last film from the Duplass brothers, and I loved Jeff as well. The partially-improvised mumblecore writing style works very well with these actors, and the three intermingling storylines are all properly fleshed out. I also really like seeing Judy Greer get the amount of work that her talent deserves. And while this might not mean much in the grand scheme of life, I always get a big kick out of seeing family photos throughout the years in films, so mad props to the art department for their hard work. Jeff is an utterly heartwarming indie drama that deserves your money far more than American Reunion or that post-converted 3D film that shall not be named. A-

March 27, 2012

Friends with Kids - 2012

Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns

After observing the rest of their social circle pair settle down, Jason (Scott) and Jewel (Westfeldt) decide to have a child together sans the mistake (in their eyes) of the usual associated romantic entanglement. However, things don't go as expected when the two engage in their respective first post-child relationships.

I'm not going to say anything about the plot of this film, aside from the fact that the ending is predictable; then again, you all knew Bridesmaids was going to end with Rudolph's character getting married, but I digress. Friends with Kids is a great lesson in the horrors of miscasting. That's not to say these are bad actors, mind you (although Megan Fox has no place being here, as she's far too young for Adam Scott), just that for this movie, the choices could have been more appropriate. The fault lies due to the fact that this is not the romcom that trailers would lead you to believe, but one of those "dramas with jokes" that are so popular nowadays. Aside from Hamm and Westfeldt, this is a cast of actors known for their comedic work. As a result of this, they all suffer from "Jonah Hill disease" to varying degrees. Remember what I said in my Moneyball review about Hill getting laughs at lines that weren't meant to be funny, because of his background here? This happens a lot in Friends with Kids, especially to Wiig. Actors like these need to do some straight drama so they can be taken seriously before attempting a film like this again. B

March 21, 2012

Falling Down - 1993

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ebbe Roe Smith

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey

William Foster (Douglas) is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore! All of life's little problems, coupled with a violent nature, cause a mental breakdown, and the city of Los Angeles becomes the victim of the ensuing rage.

Just to get this out of the way, Duvall plays a cop on his last day before retirement who insists on leaving desk duty when he hears repeated reports of a white guy in a white shirt and tie committing random acts of violence. Yes, we've seen this trope before, and yes, this was directed by the same guy responsible for both this and this, but somehow it turned out incredible. I'm going to have to put this squarely on the shoulders of Douglas and Duvall, with credit to the film's supporting cast as well (notably one self-loathing homophobic neo-Nazi). Falling Down is a great time capsule of immediate post-Communism America, and certainly resonates with anyone who's had a day where nothing goes right for them. A

March 20, 2012

Midnight Cowboy - 1969

Director: John Schlesinger
Writer: Waldo Salt
Starring: Jon Voight & Dustin Hoffman

Joe Buck (Voight), a dishwasher-turned-wannabe-cowboy, leaves his native Texas to make it big as a hustler (read: gigolo) in New York City. Unfortunately, Buck is almost immediately taken advantage of by a real hustler, Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman). After the initial conflict passes, Buck and Rizzo form an unlikely bond (mostly due to Buck's naivete) and the two struggle together against the city's seedy underbelly.

Despite starting off a bit slow, the film quickly becomes spectacular across the board. Look at the well-deserved Academy recognition it got that year:
  • three wins (Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay)
  • four nominations (two Actor, Supporting Actress, and Editing)
Keep in mind the supporting actress's performance clock in at less than four minutes of screentime. Schlesinger found a great script to attach himself to, and proceeded to make all the right decisions. This is truly a masterpiece, a masterful film beginning to end that everyone needs to see. A+.

21 Jump Street - 2012

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Ice Cube

Rating: D

March 12, 2012

Silent House - 2012

Directors: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
Writer: Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen

Rating: C+

Game Change - 2012

Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Danny Strong
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris

Based on true events, Game Change follows the selection of Sarah Palin (Moore) by Republican strategists in an attempt to garner John McCain (Harris) the US presidency, as well as Palin's personal strategy and less-than-stellar interaction with campaign workers.

I'll be the first to admit this is a change for me, in the sense that I'm reviewing a made-for-television film. However, this is one of those HBO films, which in my experience, always turn out stellar. Specifically, Roach brought us the HBO film a few years back that covered the 2000 Florida recount debacle (a guy I know got to be an extra, since they shot in Tallahassee), so I had high hopes for his handling of political drama, albeit this time dealing with well-known figures. Oh, what a film it was! Moore's portrayal of Palin is dead-on, and it reads like Fey's without the jokes. But do you really need jokes when it comes to someone like Sarah Palin? In all seriousness, though, this isn't the "liberal lambasting" of the former vice presidential candidate one might expect; although she's by no means depicted as a flawless character, Moore's portrayal comes of as incredibly humanizing at certain points, notably the moment when she's on the campaign plane and her entire entourage is watching one of Fey's SNL sketches in total silence. Harrelson does a great job as well in his role of somewhat unwilling campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, an emotionally-beleaguered man who realizes the consequences of his decisions far too late. The only negative I found in this movie is Ed Harris. The reason people put so much weight in McCain's choice of Palin is that she had a very real chance of ending up as president by virtue of the 25th Amendment. Harris's version of McCain shows none of the weakness of his real-life counterpart, so the high stakes of President Palin never truly come to fruition onscreen. A

March 10, 2012

A Separation - 2011

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini

Simin (Hatami) wants to take her daughter Termeh (Farhadi) and leave her husband Nader (Moadi) to go to the United States, but he refuses to grant her a divorce to do so on the grounds that his Alzheimer's-stricken father needs someone to care for him. Nader finds himself dealing with the law again, however, after allegedly causing the miscarriage of the woman whom he hires to look after his father.

Don't have too much to say about this one. It's a terrific drama (aside from a bit of a unsatisfying ending)  that's beautifully shot, and filled with naturalistic performances. A Separation is truly deserving of its Oscar win as last year's Best Foreign Film. A

The Secret World of Arrietty - 2012

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, David Hendrie

Shawn (Hendrie), a boy with heart problems, is sent to his aunt's house in the country for the sake of rest and relaxation. Little does he know, the Pod family, members of a race of tiny people known as Borrowers, lives in the walls.

Many of you will probably remember the first time that Mary Norton's novel was adapted for American audiences; it introduced us to several actors who would later hit their strides in the Harry Potter franchise (including a young Tom Felton). This is almost entirely unlike that. The little people are in a house in the woods outside Tokyo now, Arrietty has no little brother, the aforementioned heart condition in Shawn (not Pete)...I could go on and on. It's not nearly as thoroughly unwatchable as most children's fare, and Studio Ghibli's animation comes through in spades as always, but the film's rife with issues. Shawn knows precisely where under the house the Homily family lives without being told, Pod completely disappears for a good portion of the second act, Will Arnett's lines (meant to sound old and haggard) instead come across as wholly emotionless, Shawn gives a speech that is wholly contrary to the rest of the film tonally, and Spiller...well, I'll show you.
Spiller's become a monosyllabic tribesman. If that's not the height of racial sensitivity, I don't know what is. Wait for the DVD on this one; you're not missing much. C+

February 26, 2012

Shame - 2011

Director: Steve McQueen
Writer: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan


Brandon (Fassbender), a sex-addicted New Yorker with a successful technological job, has the darkness of his childhood revisit him when his sister (Mulligan) shows up for a few days.

Let me preface my remarks on this film by stating that in March 2010, Fassbender had domestic abuse charges brought against him by his girlfriend at the time for allegedly throwing her "in a drunken fury" in July of 2009 and the following November "dragged her alongside their car, hurting her ankle and bursting an ovarian cyst.” These charges were withdrawn the following month, but people need to be as aware of this as they are of Chris Brown's incident.

That said, Shame is a work of art. McQueen (despite refusing to change his name for the sake of the other guy) is a true talent whose work I'll be indulging in any chance I get. He shows a tremendous understanding of the locale for a foreign director, in addition to getting stellar performances from both leads. Fassbender has an incredibly complicated role that runs the emotional gamut, and he succeeds in spades. Mulligan is stellar as well, in a role that really allows her to let her hair down compared to what I've seen her in so far. Her rendition of "New York, New York" is breathtaking, and excels cinematically by only cutting away once. As far as I'm concerned, the NC-17 rating (albeit wholly deserved) prevented two remarkable actors from being recognized as they deserve to be. My problems with this film are minimal: there's no scene where Brandon gets help for his problem (which may be a result of the lack of DSM recognition for sex addiction) and the film has multiple ending scenes, any one of which would suffice. If you couldn't catch this theatrically, make sure you watch the full, uncut version on DVD. A

February 14, 2012

Like Crazy - 2011

Director: Drake Doremus
Writers: Drake Doremus & Ben York Jones
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence

Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) fall in love during college, which would be fine if the latter weren't a British exchange student in the US on a visa. Because their young love knows no bounds, Anna makes the fateful decision to spend the summer with Jacob, past her visa's expiration date. When she tries to see him next, this poor choice results in her being sent on the first plane back to England, and the two struggle to keep their respective fires burning while over 5,000 miles apart.

Admittedly, I turned up the cheesiness factor a little while writing that plot synopsis. My apologies, but I didn't know how to write it properly in keeping with the quality of the film in question. This is far from your typical romance in both tonal and technical aspects. Like Crazy ends up being a lot closer to Blue Valentine than the average, but I can promise you'll cry a bit less. The crowning achievement in the film is its realism. It's shot in an almost documentary style at times, as though someone's observing events between the two play out. This naturalistic aura is aided through the skill of the young actors, and their respective delivery of the film's improvised dialogue. I couldn't tell you how many times I recognized a moment as something I had both experienced personally and never seen depicted onscreen. Like Crazy is a great alternative to the usual Valentine's Day cinematic drivel, even if our leading lady has an unusual (and unexplained) fondness for chairs. A

February 13, 2012

Take Shelter - 2011

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Tormented by apocalyptic visions,  husband and father Curtis (Shannon) begins expanding the tornado shelter in his backyard to keep his family safe from the possibly impending storm.

This is the film that the awards season forgot. Screenplay, directing, acting...there's no fault I can find with it. Despite the grand scale the plot would imply, much of the film works because of the incredible subtlety put into the work by Nichols. Shannon always has tremendous intensity (he's the one part of the new Superman film I'm looking forward to), making him a perfect choice to play this character, and Chastain is  once again remarkable as his wife, often afraid of what's may or may not be going on in her husband's mind. While I won't say anything specific about this film's ending (the second-most discussed topic of 2011's indie film circuit after Shame), when I realized what was going on, it sent a chill down my spine. Few films are truly worth "all the awards," but this certainly belongs on that short list. A+

Safe House - 2012

Director: David Espinosa
Writer: Daniel Guggenheim
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendon Gleeson

Rating: C

February 9, 2012

Chronicle - 2012

Director: Joshua Trank
Writer: Max Landis
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan

Three teenage boys discover a mysterious flowing object that imbues them with telekinetic powers. They immediately break the number one rule of such an occurrence: using said powers solely for personal gain. Things take a dark turn when one of them takes things too far.

Just when you think the "found footage" genre is beating a dead horse, Chronicle premieres as the #1 movie domestically and worldwide, and deservedly so. This is the one story yet to be told: what happens when you have no desire to do either great good or evil for the world, but just to make life more convenient? Debut director Trank has assembled a stellar cast of unknowns, and you never question the validity of the source of the camera (hence the film's title). It's clear that the young Landis has much of his father's talent, and I hope the rest of his screenplays in production turn out as well as this had. A+

February 5, 2012

The Grey - 2012

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan & Ian MacKenzie Jeffers
Starring: Liam Neeson, Joe Anderson, Dermot Mulroney

A man paid to keep wolves away from an oil drilling facility (Neeson) leads a group of survivors against unnaturally violent and intelligent wolves following a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness.

This film is the first big movie of the year to be truly undeserving of its RottenTomatoes rating. It's excessively violent and vulgar (could easily have been made PG-13, which probably would have helped it beat Chronicle at the box office), on top of not being the film advertised. Everyone went into that theater wanting to see Liam Neeson beat up some wolves, and instead you get to watch Liam Neeson: a Tortured Soul who Fails to Save Anyone from Wolves. Also, picking a recognizable face to lead a film of relative nobodies? BIG mistake there. I only saw this because I got sick of the rude people on either side of me in Chronicle, but this movie and Woman in Black aren't a tenth as good combined as the first half of Chronicle was. D-

January 29, 2012

2012 Academy Award Nomination Reactions

A Dangerous Method - 2011

Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel

Rating: B-

January 27, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - 2011

Director: Stephen Daldry
Writer: Eric Roth
Starring: Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks

After discovering a mysterious key in a nigh-unmarked envelope in a vase in the closet of his late father (Hanks), a young boy (Horn) sets out on a journey across the five boroughs of New York City to discover the complementary lock, as well as the secrets of the mute man (von Sydow) to whom his grandmother rents a room.

Initially, I dismissed this film as cheesy and trite, and between its rating on RottenTomatoes and casting a non-child actor from children's Jeopardy, it wasn't on my radar at all...and then the Academy announced their nominations, so naturally, I went to go see it. And while there's still an intangible quality that makes me think Dujardin deserves his nomination for a silent perfomance but von Sydow doesn't, and this isn't what I consider Best the end of the day, though, film is about being moved on a deep, emotional level, and that happened to me three separate times in the theater, by which I mean wept openly. Good for you, everyone involved with this. Almost makes me not care about the third act reveal that I saw coming from moment one, or a very unsatisfying feeling I got near the very end for reasons I can't disclose. B+

January 26, 2012

Chico & Rita - 2011

Directors: Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal
Writers: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón & Fernando Trueba
Starring: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, and Mario Guerra

This film follows the story of two star-crossed lovers, a singer and piano player in Havana in the late 1940s.

If you're fluent in Spanish and a big fan of jazz (and can close your eyes for 90 minutes without taking a nap), that's the only reason I'd recommend this film. It's shoddily animated and the plot is predictable. Oh, and this isn't a film for the young ones, either. It's a shame motion capture doesn't meet the Academy standards for animation, otherwise Rango might have had some legitimate competition from Tintin for the Oscar. C-

January 16, 2012

2012 Golden Globes thoughts

  • Elton John was the first to be bleeped of the night. I knew it would come back to haunt him.
  • Ricky Gervais got off to a great start, but there was far too little of him in the show as a whole.
  • While I think no one can top Albert Brooks in Drive, no one can say that Chris Plummer doesn’t deserve his awards.
  • Tina Fey photobombing was the first great moment of the night.
  • Paul Giamatti looks like a hobo in a tux.
  • Kate Winslet gets to be the first played off winner of the night.
  • Kelsey Grammer beats out Buscemi and Cranstons? That Boss must be some kind of show.
  • The Artist takes home the score award. No surprise there.
  • Yes, Michelle as Marilyn is award-worthy (I was hooked from the first line of “Heat Wave”), but My Week is not a damn comedy. Get your act together, HFPA.
  • Peter Dinklage for all the awards.
  • Adventures of Tintin is so beloved worldwide, it makes sense that it’d beat Rango in this case.
  • Come on, Woody: take a week off from shooting in Rome when you’re nominated for awards. It’s not going to kill anyone.
  • I hope the person running across the stage behind Madonna was punished. Severely.
  • Why are we “introducing” Katharine McPhee? I don’t even watch American Idol and I know that’s where she’s from!
  • There’s no way Matt LeBlanc beats out Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock performance.
  • I don’t think Octavia Spencer should have won. Viola Davis was the sole great performance in The Help.
  • I feel bad for Helen Mirren, having to tell those awful jokes about Morgan Freeman.
  • Watch Street Smarts. EVERYONE.
  • In my house, [the Cecil B. deMille award] would also be known as the Sidney Poitier award.” I think I rolled a tear.
  • Is that Mrs. Hazanavicius with her camera phone out all the time? Classy.
  • With all due respect, Marty’s the last guy I expected to win for best director. It must have involved some back-alley film restoration.
  • THAT’S RIGHT MODERN FAMILY IS GREAT AND NEW GIRL SUCKS. Props to Ty Burrell for rocking a white tux.
  • I have an unashamed man-crush on JGL. However, I’m okay with Jean Dujardin winning instead because of the unique challenges that come with starring in a modern silent film.
  • High moment of the night: Meryl Streep forgets her glasses, yet gives a stellar speech highlighting all the great female performances of the year…while George Clooney and David Fincher attempt to get her glasses up to the stage. Also, mad props for fighting the “wrap it up” music.
  • Even though I think the funniest film should win the award for best comedy/musical, I can live with The Artist taking this one too, especially since they brought the dog.
  • George Clooney thinks that Michael Fassbender can play golf with both hands tied behind his back. Okay then.
  • The Descendants takes best actor in a drama and best drama? I think I watched a different movie.
Six weeks until the Oscars!

January 15, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 2011

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay & Rory Stewart Kinnear
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, & John C. Reilly

Eva Katchadourian (Swinton) deals with the various trials and tribulations of raising her very disturbed son Kevin (Miller), including the aftermath of a high school massacre he perpetrates.

Kevin is one of a multitude of films where the performances surpass the work as a whole. Miller (as well as the child actor playing a younger version of his character) spends most of his screentime being absolutely terrifying, and Swinton is incredible as the woman living in fear of her uncontrollable, violent offspring. In her scenes following the incident, she has an intense hollowness about her that is unattainable by most great actors. Unfortunately, I had a major problem with the structure of the film. It's massively non-linear, told through not-quite-chronological flashbacks. It even starts out with an entirely pointless scene in the Tomatina, in which Eva is barely recognizable. However, things start being clear about 45 minutes in, and the stellar performances begin to take hold. B

January 14, 2012

The Iron Lady - 2011

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep & Jim Broadbent

Rating: B-

Carnage - 2011

Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Yasmina Reza & Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, & Christoph Waltz

After a physical altercation between their two sons, two couples meet in an attempt to instigate the reconciliation. However, this attempt to bring peace soon takes a very sour turn.

Before going into this film, you need to know it's based on a play. Many films that started on a stage keep to the restrictions that that imposes, and this is no exception. Aside from a brief, wordless scene that shows the fight between the boys and another similar scene in the end, the vast majority of the 80 minutes is confined to the apartment of the couple portrayed by Foster and Reilly; we see their living room and the hallway outside, as well as a brief jaunt into their kitchen and bathroom. Fortunately, Polanski has quite possibly the best cast to overcome the technical limitations as much as humanly possible. A cold lawyer that can't separate himself from his phone, an arrogant broker who denies her son's aggressive nature, a high-strung worldly liberal, and a blue-collar salesman...throw in projectile vomiting and 18-year-old scotch and nothing but carnage could possibly ensue. A-

January 12, 2012

Cars 2 - 2011

Director: John Lasseter
Writer: Ben Queen
Starring: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer

A billionaire alternative fuel enthusiast establishes an international racing competition to prove the worth of his fuel, and naturally, Lightning McQueen (Wilson) can't help but enter. However, while abroad, Mater (Larry) gets entangled in his own troubles--espionage.

It might be a good idea to can sequels for all CGI film companies, considering the state of them lately. Aside from Toy Story, every CGI franchise worsens with age, and Cars is no exception. While Pixar has once again made a richly detailed alternaverse for these characters, that's the sole positive thing about this film. Cars was no one's favorite Pixar film, and they made it worse by increasing its worst aspect: Larry the Cable Guy's screentime. The story is shoddy, despite Lasseter's involvement and best intentions; either give us all-new characters and tell the spy story you obviously wanted to, or tell us a story about an international racing competition with the characters we're already familiar with. Just leave Larry out of it next time. F+

Puss in Boots - 2011

Director: Chris Miller
Writers: Tom Wheeler, David H. Steinberg, & Chris Lynch
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, & Zack Galifianakis

The beloved feline swordsman (Banderas) from the Shrek franchise gets his own tale, complete with magic beans, a femme fatale (Hayek), and Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis).

This is a franchise that Dreamworks should have put down years ago. The first two are really good, the third is okay, and the fourth was a blatant ripoff of It's a Wonderful Life. Now that the writing staff's resorting to incest, prison rape, and marijuna references (all quite a bit more adult than the series has gone before), I think it's safe to say this well's gone dry. If only they'd stop making so much money... F

Warrior - 2011

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Writers: Gavin O'Connor, Cliff Dorfman, & Anthony Tambakis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, & Nick Nolte

Ex-Marine Tommy (Hardy) returns home to Pittsburgh in order to seek the training of his father (Nolte) for a shot at the $5 million top prize in a mixed martial arts tournament. However, with his high school teacher's salary unable to prevent the bank from foreclosing on his house, Tommy's estranged older brother Brendan (Edgerton) also sets out to enter the tournament.

I saw Contagion the weekend that Warrior hit theaters, and I can say with total certainty that I made a huge mistake. This film was absolutely incredible, and that's coming from a guy who doesn't often gravitate to sports films. Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte are an immense triple threat of acting, which means a lot for two rising stars and a man who most would write off as having his best days behind him (considering his performance in Ang Lee's abysmal Hulk). The script works really well, getting just the right amount of each man's story to where it's nigh impossible to root for one over the other in the final bout; the main story goes over so well that you can overlook two supporting characters go from being 100% against Brendan fighting to completely in his corner for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Perhaps the box office would have worked out more in the film's favor had this not been made following so closely to The Fighter. At least we can hope that the sanctity of this film won't be ruined by franchisement like the earlier project. A-

January 8, 2012

The Artist - 2011

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell

Silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) fights against the inevitable rise of sound pictures, while also entering an uneasy relationship with newcomer Peppy Miller (Bejo).

Rating: A

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - 2011

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan
Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds

High-ranking British intelligence official George Smiley (Oldman) must find a Soviet mole within his ranks.

Rating: C-

January 1, 2012

2011 Roundup

Here's my ten favorites (as opposed to the best, necessarily) and five least favorites for the films of 2011. Keep in mind, there's plenty I haven't seen yet. Just throwing up the list for now; I'll come back with reasons later when it's not New Year's anymore.

10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
9. The Muppets
8. Young Adult
7. Rango
6. Drive
5. 50/50
4. Bridesmaids
3. Beginners
2. Attack the Block
1. Red State

And now, my five least favorite.

5. The Green Hornet
4. A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D
3. The Tree of Life
2. Cowboys & Aliens
1. Meek's Cutoff