Archive for ‘Movie Reviews’

May 27, 2011

Battle LA: “Maybe I can help. I’m a Veterinarian.”

“Battle: Los Angeles” 7/10

In a movie that was billed as the Black Hawk Down of alien movies, I guess great dialogue isn’t one of the things advertised. Nor is sense and logic. But intense fun is! And I’m sorry but if you were looking for a social commentary on military standards in Somalia Los Angeles then maybe you brought the wrong DVD home from the Red Box. This is Battle: LA. All I want are aliens getting blown up, Michelle Rodriguez to have one liners, and one inspiring speech about humanity and perseverance. Check, check, and check.

The plot is mostly non-existant, although it tries really hard to get you to care about these characters. Aaron Eckhart, character name not important, because of his mysterious past is somehow ranked below the new guy, all on his last week before retirement. Ne-Yo is getting married the next week. Someone else is from Africa. They all are surprised dispatched when those surprise meteors falling from the sky are actually alien spacecraft. Flying in the face of M. Night Shyamalan’s mentally handicapped aliens, these baddies actually need our water to survive. 

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May 24, 2011

“Chasing Amy” – So why is her name Alyssa?

"It's not about who you love, but how"? Really? I think male or female might matter to some people. Just saying.

“Chasing Amy” 8/10

My Kevin Smith glacial marathon continues with the sexually charged “Chasing Amy” and I actually really liked it. Here Smith finally learns how to mix direction and a budget with his pop referential, super smart writing. It’s what I’ve been waiting for him to do and he figures it out movie #3. Not too shabby.

If you didn’t know, his hipster named Holden and Banky are two comic book writers or inkers or whatever. A bearded Ben Affleck is Holden, the relatable one, and Jason Lee plays Banky the Kevin Smith stand in of the movie (i.e. the bag of dick). Holden falls in love with local lesbian Alyssa, played by the girl with the most annoying voice ever, Joey Lauren Adams. Things actually turn into a bit of a sex comedy while having a great running commentary on sexuality and what sex means to different people without being preachy and awful. Alyssa is one of the least hate-able lesbian feminists out there for which there should be actual awards given out.

Holden and Alyssa ride a series of emotional ups and downs, as happens in any rom-com. It’s Banky that saves this from your generic “lesbian dates a straight guy” (whaaaaat?) movie. In the best friend role, he gets some serious comic mileage. There’s also a gay black guy who moonlights as a black power comic book writer played expertly by the clearly forgotten Dwight Ewell. It’s this colorful cast of characters, and the omni-present Jay and Silent Bob, that remind you you’re watching a Kevin Smith movie. That and the incredible dialogue. It’s like if Aaron Sorkin smoked a lot of weed and bought a heart at Target for a buck 95. Things get emotional, but not too bad.

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May 13, 2011

I Cannes’t be more “Restless”

Restless

Let’s get the ridiculous plot right out of the way. Enoch, played by Henry Hopper, a newcomer who happens to be Dennis Hopper’s son, has recently lost his parents, has dropped out of school, finds an obsession with death and hangs out at funerals for strangers, and now has an invisible friend named Hiroshi who is the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot from World War II. He is the very definition of indie movie quirk. At one of these funerals, he meets the terminally ill Annabel, played by Mia Wasikowska, better known as Alice in last year’s Alice in Wonderland.

If you haven’t heard the term before, Annabel is Enoch’s manic-pixie-dream girl – the girl who has her own set of undeniable quirks all under an unfailing positive attitude, falls in love with the troubled male lead, and through the powers of love cures his depression. The movie never takes any dramatic or unexpected turns, it ends just how it has to end, and you are left wondering most of the time why the ghost is a Japanese fighter pilot so consider the plot spoiled.

Fortunately, the movie is saved in the style category. It’s a pretty movie made by pretty people. Everyone’s clothing looks like it comes right out of a Calvin Kline ad as they run through the forest and discover run down but vintage houses. The two leads are breathtakingly attractive even though she is sporting a masculine haircut. The music is probably the most distinct aspect as its indie guitar melodies carry the whole film in this twee dream like space where their relationship seems destined to work.

The majority of the movie, however, is simply pretty people doing nothing. They play games with each other and with dead people, they trace their outlines in chalk as if they have died and the parallels between her dying and his dying inside are made all too obvious. Van Sant’s film hovers far too much on the clean and polished surface to incite any real emotions at all. And then of course there’s the kamikaze pilot. What is he doing there?

The promise of this movie is that Mia Wasikowska elevates her material into something almost real. She gives a finely nuanced performance and makes her screen partner a thousand times better, which still isn’t saying much for Henry Hopper. Sadly, one good performance cannot bring this movie out of the vintage-painted emptiness throughout.

It was bad but Cannes pun count: 3

May 13, 2011

“We Need to Talk About Kevin”

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Look! Red! Tilda! This is the whole movie in one frame with CANNES of soup.

Fans of the Lionel Shriver novel from which it’s based are the lucky ones. It’s supposed to be great, but if you haven’t yet read the book, you might be left a little bit in the dark. One of the four female directors here at the festival, Lynne Ramsay creates a highly stylized universe for the horrific events that distances the viewer while allowing the true emotional psychosis of her protagonist to fill the screen.

“Kevin” follows Eva (the always phenomenal Tilda Swinton) in the events leading up to and right after her son Kevin (Miller) commits a Columbine style high school mass murder. If you know this chilling outcome, pieces are laid through out the movie that as you pick them up you see exactly how he’s going to do it, completely unbeknownst to the other characters. The movie weaves the past and present together in a quite unsettling way so you feel every rise and fall of Eva’s emotions. 

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April 21, 2011

“Antichrist” – You can’t prepare yourself.

I’m not sure if I’m upset or relieved that I knew a few things about this movie going into it. I feel I was robbed a bit of the element of surprise. However, this lack of surprise is probably the only way I actually made it through. It is a fucked up movie, but I’ll say it – in all the best ways possible.

This movie has a lot of people drinking the hater-ade. It’s an easy movie to hate. In something that I would not consider a spoiler, there is a chapter to the movie titled “Gynocide”. The film maker is also a fairly detestable human being. He is the self proclaimed “best film maker to have ever lived”. That might not be true, but his lack of humility is not keeping me from enjoying a movie. Should that be a conversation people have? That’s another question for another time.

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April 19, 2011

13 Assassins hunts for an audience

It says "13 Assassins". Trust Me.

“13 Assassins” – 53742

This is supposedly director Takashi Miike’s most accessible and light-hearted film, but as I have yet to watch Audition, I would venture to say that 13 Assassins still is not for the faint of heart.

To the best approximation of the relatively simple plot I can give, Naritsugu is the evil shogun in control. He exemplifies his unbridled cruelty early on in the film. After his sadistic mind and master mindset has been displayed to the audience, an other samurai decides now is the time to form a rebellion.

Shinzaemon, the rebel leader, gathers a troop of the 11 most skilled samurai he can find. They soon create a plan to ambush Naritsugu while he is travelling. The 12 samurai pick up a straggler along the way, the peasant named Koyata who’s a wise cracking, unorthodox, non-samurai, but knows the lay of the land. That makes 13.

That is all of the plot that makes the first half of the movie. The second half?

1 Battle scene.

The 13 assassins turn a small farming town into a death trap with lots of booby traps and dead ends to corner Naritsugu and his men. This scene is impressive in the creativity of the 13 assassins (and probably therefore Miike) and also in its immense length. It is one of the stand out features of the movie… if you’re into nonstop bloodbaths… which I am! It’s especially effective because you can actually follow what’s going on. Miike directs it so well that there is never any confusion. Or at least no more confusion than my racist self has distinguishing the different Japanese samurai.

The film on the whole is well-shot, if not always visually interesting. There is clearly an eastern sensibility that I can not access, since this feels similar to other Japanese samurai movies that I also feel to be less than 100% effective. They always get tangled in a politic that I brazenly choose not to follow – probably based on ignorance. Oh well.

The best character by a long shot in the movie though is indeed the nefarious Naritsugu, by the surprisingly good Gorô Inagaki. He has been coddled on the life of the rich and is always seeking the next thrill. To him, it involves torturing and raping his servants – and everyone his a servant. However, he has clearly spent time thinking and trying to understand what life is. I would actually venture to say that by a classical definition – he is the protagonist of the film as he undergoes the largest change. He learns and adapts his ideas to his experiences, all the while maintaining a harsh malice. He is one of my favorite villains I’ve seen in a while.

There were many things I liked about this film, but ultimately it felt about 30 minutes too long.

Closest Actual Zip Code: Madison, WI. This city actually looks down right charming. This movie might be a little too intense for them. Fun fact: Glenn Beck apparently calls Madison "The Newman of America" in a reference to Seinfeld.

Expectations: 5

Recommendable: 3

Hipster-ness: 7

Tearjerker Quotient: 4

Outstanding Fields of Cinema: 2

April 18, 2011

“The Arrangement” – The overdirection of Elia Kazan

I hate the tag line here. Yes the beginning of the movie is really great, but the first five minutes are no reason to see a film. Unless it's Scream.

“The Arrangement” (1969) – 31621

I really just stumbled upon this movie. All I knew about it before I went in was that it was directed by the great Elia Kazan. Worth a look? Sure.

Never before would I have been able to point out the flaws of  over directing. This film taught me it was possible. Every moment is carefully planned. Characters face certain directions, if only for an interesting camera angle. Quiet melodrama fills the scenes. Sometimes Faye Dunaway’s character is a ghost. Other times she is juxtaposed nearly frame by frame with Deborah Kerr. Out of nowhere, a graphic-novel-esque POW! pops up on screen. Back to quiet melodrama.

In the movie, Kirk Douglas’ character Eddie is unhappy with his living situation – he is in a sexless marriage and has been cheating on his wife Florence (Kerr) with the office slut bag Gwen (Dunaway). Almost inexplicably, Florence encourages the affair. Literally. That is the eponymous “arrangement”. Her motives are that her husband deserves to be satisfied in ways she obviously can’t provide him. His solution is to kill himself, but he fails because he’s a pussy. Eddie is then confronted with a difficult balance as both Florence and Gwen start to think they deserve more – empowerment now!

Lots of pointless and boring subplots involving abusive fathers and illegitimate children crowd the space. The only interesting dynamic is that Gwen too has a plutonic lover, her love triangle mirroring Eddie’s but to different emotional success.

The acting is actually quite good. I was a huge fan of Deborah Kerr in this, but when isn’t she wonderful. Her character always plays her cards just a little too far away from her chest to wild results. Kirk Douglas, looking like a young Michael Douglas (that’s right. backwards) is excellent at being tortured. And the oft maligned Dunaway needs to do only two things to pull this role off: be sexy and go into histrionics. She excels at both making the three actors one of the best parts of this melodrama.

I don’t want to spoil this out there for the Kazan completists, but it should be far down on that list. There is lots of really fun film and sound editing. Unknown editor Stefan Arnsten some really exciting and interesting rhythms that directly mirror and contrast the sonic design, sometimes threatening to build the tension so great on its own, that the tension will never reach the pay off. Unfortunately, this threat comes too true and some wonderful moments are ruined by the lack of direction in this auteur film.

April 18, 2011

Rango – Is it just me?

I think I am the only person on the planet who didn’t like Rango.

It started out promisingly enough… it was actually delightful. In a bit of existential absurdism, Rango (as voiced by Johnny Depp – although you would have had to have horse blinders to miss it in the advertising) acts out the adventure of his rather dull interesting life to wild extremes. If it felt familiar, it’s probably because it’s very similar in tone to the beginning of Toy Story movies, but we’ll call that coincidence.

As Rango ends up in the town of Dirt, he meets a sad sack cast of characters that all seem to was together. Sure there was Beans the girl lizard who there’s never any real great romantic tension with. She is indistinguishably voiced by Isla Fisher. I can’t tell if I think it’s really good voice acting or really bad voice acting if I can’t pinpoint who the voice actor is. In her case… ? The other characters include a bunch of other turtles and reptiles that have various Western-y name with a lot of quasi famous voice actors who all use the same gruff ness.

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April 15, 2011

Movie Review: “Le Concert”

“Le Concert” (***)

In a love letter to Tchaikovsky, director Radu Mihaileanu creates an effective comedy that uses simplicity as its strongest asset. Andrey Filipov (Aleksey Guskov), a former orchestra conductor with a horrible end to his career, decides to get back into the conducting business through less than conventional manners. He steals a n invitation fax from the Bolshoi orchestra company and decides to form his own orchestra to play in Paris. While assembling a ragtag team of local musicians he once knew, he also tries to commit legendary violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent) as the violin soloist. She agrees only knowing of his previous fame and his attachment to the jewish heritage.

Here’s where things start to lose me. There are two currents running through the story of Filipov’s past: an emotional one and a political one. The emotional strain is easy and extremely rewarding. The political? There’s a lot of jokes about Russians and communists and Jews. I think Filipov stood up for Jewish rights but is everyone Jewish? Unclear. Fortunately, it’s not really important.

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April 15, 2011

Movie Review: “Drugstore Cowboy”

“Drugstore Cowboy” (**)

In another drug-fueled swing back to the ’70s, Gus Van Sant tries to make his version of a western road movie. There’s your wild protagonist cowboy, Bob (Matt Dillon), who robs and steals with his gang of bandits. He’s got a dashing beauty wife, a hapless sidekick with his ingenue girlfriend, and then he’s got the man of the law perpetually chasing them. They travel across the West, continuing to commit their crimes when he gets jinxed and wants out of the game and finds it more difficult than he expects.

That could be a really fun shoot ’em up Western, but this is no classic Western. In fact, they creatively rob pharmacies, are being chased by a narc, and the jinx is mostly likely aroused by a drug-induced superstition. The redemptive qualities to this story would stand out either way, but Bob’s struggle with his addiction is fun to watch. But not as much fun as the robberies. The best scene is in the beginning when we see them perfecting their craft on a run-of-the-mill heist. Their plan runs like clockwork – for the moment. After a close call, they decide to travel and constantly avoid the law. 

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