Sunday, June 3, 2012


After Steve McQueen's debut film Hunger, which also starred Michael Fassbender, I would have seen his next film if the subject was paint drying. Instead he basically made Requiem for a Dream for sex addicts. Fassbender's performance is as good as he's ever been. The guy is so consistently good, it's hard not to take him for granted. The film is beautifully shot. McQueen's camera is unflinching, and his long takes mesmerizing. I only wish the story offered more insight into the Fassbender's psyche, but over all Shame is a powerful film.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Select Films from Early 2011

I started writing about all of the films I had seen in the first half of 2011, but never finished.  For some reason, I started with the worst films and almost made it to some good ones.  All of these are currently available to rent/buy, so I figured these little snippet reviews could still be of some use. 

Sucker Punch
Wow. This is probably the most disappointed I've been at the movies in a while. Zach Snyder has made good (300), even great (Watchmen) films, each with an incredible visual style that enhances the story and overall film watching experience. Sucker Punch, however, is akin to watching someone play a repetitive video game or a series of overlong music videos while repeatedly getting hit in the head with a hammer. Maybe that last part was from seeing it in IMAX, but either way, somehow amid its beautiful, if not redundant, CGI presentation they forgot to put a coherent story. The main problem is obviously the script, which was written by Zach Snyder. Stick to directing, buddy. Hopefully they won't let him anywhere near the Superman script. That said, the only reason to maybe see this is to hear the voice-over at the end of the film. It so far surpasses other instances of pretentiousness and absurdity in film, it even makes Werner Herzog's ridiculous documentary voice-overs sound succinct.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
This latest documentary from German auteur Werner Herzog was shot in 3D, however, when I saw it at the United Artists Tara Cinema in Atlanta it was projected in 2D. This is one film in which I think 3D would have made an improvement, considering the incredible lengths of time we spend looking at the same cave paintings over and over and over again. The film focuses primarily on a cave in France that was only recently opened to anyone outside of a small team of scientists, and has since been closed, or sealed rather, to protest the integrity of the paintings and fossils. I was relatively intrigued for the first 20 - 30 minutes, but before long I was fighting to keep my eyes open. If I'm going to be truly honest about my personal enjoyment of a film (as I try my best to do), this is one of the worst films I've seen this year, as evident by its placement on this list.

Mars Needs Moms
I took my son to see this is IMAX 3D. The motion capture isn't bad, but overall its not a very good children's movie. The overarching message of "be grateful for your mom" was thoroughly hammered home and seemed too clumsy and obvious even for very young viewers. The best part of the movie was the closing credits. Not just because it was over, but they showed footage of the actors shooting with all the mo-cap 3D gear on. That was sort of interesting.

The Beaver
The Beaver is a film starring Mel Gibson as a toy company executive struggling with depression who eventually goes completely nuts. The entire premise is based on Mel's character finding a beaver puppet in a dumpster, and start using that puppet to communicate with everyone through a weird Cockney accent. Yes, it is a ludicrous as it sounds. I think most of the critical praise is due to those critics reading into this too much, comparing the real life struggles and mistakes of Mel Gibson to that of his character, and for them, this comparison adds some level of transcendence to his performance and to the film. Screw that. This movie is incredibly self serious even in the midst of its absurdity, which resulted in laughter from my friend and I throughout the film, often at the most serious times. The script is a joke, and the entire side plot involving the eldest son and his crush on the artistic cheerleader are also laughably cliché and trite. All of that said, its almost worth seeing just to witness the amount of absurdity on display.

The Mechanic
Jason Statham's latest beat-em-up is about what you'd expect from a hit-man film starring Jason Statham. I can't comment of how it compares to the original, because like most of the people who saw this movie, I had never even hear of it until this thing came out. Statham is always entertaining as one of the best action stars working today, but the material here is too self-serious, even maudlin, while simultaneously being utterly ridiculous. I won't elaborate on the plot, but Stathum's character is essentially training Ben Foster's character for a while, and the best scenes are the excessively violent, messy sequences of Ben making his first few kills. Some might find this morally reprehensible, others good clean cinematic fun. I found it sometimes entertaining, but nothing I can recommend.

The Adjustment Bureau
This latest movie based on a Phillip K. Dick story stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in what appeared from the trailer to be a Matrix-esque sci-fi action romp. What it turned out to be was an angst ridden love story that wrestles with the idea of human free will. If I accidentally made that sound interesting, just take my word that it's really not. There is essentially nothing of value discovered by these characters and the "love conquers all" theme is delivered with all the subtlety of kick to the face. If you skipped it in theaters, but were contemplating a rental, you'd probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Oh, how the might have fallen. That could be used to describe the title character after his dad, Anthony Hopkins' Oden, kicked him out of Asgard, or Natalie Portman who just won an Oscar for Black Swan and is now slumming it to pay for her unborn child's future Harvard education. While Natalie is completely wasted in this movie, there is a charm and charisma to Chris Hemsworth that makes you want to watch him on screen despite the lackluster script and slightly uninteresting story. He's also got ridiculous pecs. This is admittedly not my cup of tea, but I do want to see all the Marvel films leading up to The Avengers next year, so I can at least appreciate it as much as the next non-comic book reading film lover. If you are 12 years old, this movie will probably rock your world.

Meek's Cutoff
This is the latest from neo-neo realism auteur Kelly Riegnhert, whose previous films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy were critical successes, and severely overrated in my opinion. This film is beautifully shot and well acted, but it is so excruciatingly slow paced that I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I think Kelly's main problem is that she edits her own films and refuses to make a cut. The film does do a good job of making you feel the hopelessness and isolation of the characters as they search for water, but I started to wish for the end of the film more than the well being of the characters. I was really hoping to like this more than her previous films, but I guess I'm just not a fan of this style of filmmaking, and probably won't waste my time with her films in the future.

X-Men: First Class
I was expecting great things from this X-Men prequel. Not only does it have a 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it was directed by Matthew Vaughn, whose other three films (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass) I thoroughly and increasingly enjoyed. Unfortunately, this was a huge step backwards for Mr. Vaughn. Although there are moments of delight (every time Michael Fassbender is on screen), for the most part I never felt any real suspense, because there were no stakes. Thus is the problem with any prequel, but a huge contributor was the ridiculous amount of CGI employed, as is inevitable with this type of movie. Although not as copious as Thor, it still was enough, particularly in the final battle scenes, to completely remove me from the movie. Although I rarely seem to agree with Roger Ebert any more, I think he was right when pointing out how funny it was seeing those missiles change direction 5 or 6 times while they fought on the beach. If you normally like these types of movies, I'm sure this will sufficiently satisfy you, but if your tastes are more in line my mine, don't let the vast amount critical praise fool you like it did me.

This is a little Norwegian found footage monster movie with a style, budget and pace that falls somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. We follow a small college news crew as they try to get the story of a mysterious man who is passing through their small town. The adventures that follow are exciting, suspenseful, and often hilarious. Even though there is a thick layer of B-movie camp on top, Trollhunter does a good job of avoiding pure silliness. That said, this is certainly one that would be best consumed in the company of friends.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable viewing experience from the short film featuring the rodent from Ice Age to the end credits. Part of that could have been lowered expectations or that I was in a great mood since I was seeing it with my wife and son. The main reason I enjoyed it more than a lot of critics is almost certainly that I saw it in 2D, which is almost always better than its 3D counterpart. As for the actual film, Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg were great as the voices of the main two birds, and Jamie Foxx and Will i Am are both hilarious as the "Greek chorus" musical duo. Simply put, this is a very nice option if you are looking for a film to take your kids to.

Hobo with a Shotgun
The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about this low budget exploitation film. It came into existence due to its director winning Robert Rodriguez's SXSW grindhouse trailer competition. The kills are shocking and brutal, and the dialog is sufficiently cheesy. My favorite part of the film was the synthesizer heavy score that sounded straight from the 1980's, as well as the performance of Rutger Hauer as the hobo with said shotgun. He never waivers in his righteous indignation, and most importantly plays it completely straight throughout. I can't recommend this film to most people, but if you enjoyed Grindhouse and generally enjoy cheesy ultra-violent movies, this is probably worth a watch. I liked the fact that I got to see it before its limited theatrical release through Amazon Instant Video on my Roku.

Everything Must Go
This is one of those typical "funny guy does an indie drama" movies, but it's pretty good. Will Ferrell plays a guy who loses his job on the same day his wife kicks him out of the house. Both of these plot points are crucial to the movie's primes, as he spends the entire film living on his front law with all of his personal possessions. As things continue to just get worse and worse for him, his character starts to do some real soul searching. What we end up with is a quaint, but enjoyable slice of melancholy indie film making, made even more worthwhile by Will Farrell's performance. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Company Men
The Company Men centers around three men who work for the same large manufacturing corporation until the economy forces executives to layoff thousands of people in an effort to meet shareholder expectations. Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones star, while Chris Cooper also plays a pivotal role. While Affleck's career as a director is really taking off (that said, please don't direct the re-make of Tell No One), I've never been too fond of his acting. However, Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic as always, as is Chris Cooper. While it deals primarily with men who make way more than the average American, the film begged me to question, "if I found myself in their position, how I would react?" It's a good question, and the film does a pretty good job of showing the stakes without too much melodrama. If you appreciate stories of real(ish) characters dealing with real life obstacles, you should give this one a watch.

Source Code
I was very much anticipating this second feature from Duncan Jones, the director of 2009's fantastic low budget one-man-show, Moon. Source Code's similarities with Moon are its contemplative sci-fi roots, as well as its themes of identity and need for human connection. If differs greatly in execution, as Moon's success has afforded Jones with a much larger budget to use on name actors and CGI special effects. The result is a terrific sci-fi thriller with an outright Hitchcockian feel. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a disoriented soldier that finds himself being used in a government program that is recreating the last eight minutes of a terrorist bomb victim's memory in order to find out who the terrorist is, and stop further attacks. The Groundhog Day-like elements of repeating the same period of time over and over again are used well to comedic effect. I won't spoil any plot twists, but let's just say the focus of the film shifts gradually from the basic plot of finding the terrorist to Gyllenhaal's character himself. We end up with a terrificly satisfying ending of the film that made my heart swell similarly to the end of 127 Hours. Only the film didn't want to stop there, instead deciding to add a coda that completely undermines the goodwill created by what should have been the ending. Obviously this is hard to talk about without spoiling it, but Source Code would have been much higher on my list had Duncan Jones not insisted on adding the stupid coda, and that's a shame.

Monsieur Lazhar

This little French Canadian film, while I had never heard of it before my closest art-house theater picked it up, is probably the best movie I've seen this year. While there are some typical elements of films that center around a teacher and his class, there is a lot more going on here. Centered around multiple tragedies, the film does not wallow in misery, but rather focuses on the healing process, with hope and dignity, all while also commentating on the state of the modern education system and the stifling limitations placed on teachers. I won't spoil anything, as I'm sure most people haven't seen or even heard of this little gem, but I highly recommend seeking this out.

Take This Waltz

Possible Spoilers

Sarah Polley's second directorial effort is an exploration of the inherently human lack of contentment and commitment in one's circumstances, the insatiable desire for something better with no hope of happiness, and pure unbridled selfishness. Michelle Wiliams' character, Margo, is about 28 years old, but acts like a child the entire movie. Whether its her infantile sweet talk with her husband (played truthfully by Seth Rogan), or the utterly reckless lack of responsibility she displays by teasing herself and the guy who lives across the street by constantly putting herself in compromising situations. I appreciate the performances and the general artistry of the camera. I did not, however, appreciate the general hopelessness of the story and where it led. I suppose I could glean from the ending that Margo learned her lesson: that indeed, new exciting things too grow old and lose their luster. But the last frame only shows her wistfully twirling on the carnival ride, alone; content to wallowing in her self-inflicted misery and melancholy. Even though Polley's first film, Away from Her, was a tragic story about Alzheimer's, and how a husband copes with losing his wife, I think Take This Waltz was just as depressing.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Possible Spoilers
This movie features a good performance from Tilda Swinton, as well as John C. Reilly; however, the film itself is all style and no substance. It does nothing to delve into the mother/son relationship that is at the its core, instead choosing to wallow in misery for misery's sake. The movie never presented any real reasons for the boy to turn out the way he did, instead it presented him as pure evil from the start. The actions of the boy and his parents just didn't jive with reality. This type of story belongs in campy horror flicks, not (what seamed to be an attempt at) a realistic look at the devastation suffered by the mother of the perpetrator of a high school massacre. In no way was this film entertaining (unless you appreciate the feeling of dread), nor was any aspect of it redeeming or meaningful upon reflection.