Monthly Archives: November 2012

Recent Movie Round-Up 11/29/2012

In today’s rendition of Recent Movie Round-Up, we have mini-reviews for a Leo Tolstoy adaptation, a bipolar romantic comedy, a character study about a recovering drug addict, and Michael Caine shooting people. Because that’s automatically awesome by default.

Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)
A lavish period romance that manages to bring style and substance into a unifying whole. Unfortunately, it’s so stylized and so in love with its own boldly original imagery that it ends up being emotionally hollow. I’m mostly a fan of Wright’s work. I was bored when I first saw Pride and Prejudice, but that was mostly because I saw it when I wasn’t even in high school yet. Meanwhile, I loved both Atonement and Hanna, each were two favorites in their respective years of release. I even enjoyed most of The Soloist, his most critically divisive film.

Wright returns to period romance with Keira Knightley for the third time in his career as a filmmaker. This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel nails the subtext perfectly using a wildly clever conceit for its visual aesthetic. Almost everything is filmed almost as if it was on a stage in an opera house, and I really mean just about everything. With the exception of some real outdoors shots, most of the scenes in this film look purposefully fake and stagey to accent both the inherent melodrama of the story and its take on class and reputation. The two most perfect examples of this visual dynamic-ness involve transitions. In one shot, Anna Karenina will be walking from one room to another. But instead of showing her go down a series of hallways to reach it, the walls are taken apart around her and stagehands bring in new walls and props for the next room. Another brilliant touch is when another character decides to exit a fancy party and take a stroll down the poor district, but instead of actually leaving the building (Which, in itself, already looks like an opera house stage), he climbs the stairs and reaches an area resembling the rafters of a theater stage, with ropes, rickety wooden walkways, and everything. But instead of stagehands, there’s just poor people wandering about in its backstage “alleyways”.

Aside from the incredibly original, gorgeous style of the film, we also have some terrific performances from Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and other supporting cast members. Aaron Johnson is pretty good in it too, but I simply can not take him seriously as an actor for some weird reason, most likely due to his most major role so far being Kick-Ass.

But despite the strong direction, visuals, performances, and musical score, it just didn’t connect on the emotional level that it should have. Instead of feeling the gravity of Karenina’s intense love affair, because the framing device both makes the world feel smaller than it actually is and distracts from the central story, I never had an emotional attachment to the events that transpired.

But still, I enjoyed it. For a period romance, it’s surprisingly energetic and entertaining, due to its visual splendor and great performances. It gets the job done, but doesn’t quite soar to the realms of greatness the same way the original novel, or even Wright’s other films Atonement and Hanna achieved.

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russel, 2012)
Oh boy, this is a tough one. On a surface level, Silver Linings Playbook is pretty damn enjoyable. It doesn’t bring much to the table for the romantic comedy genre, even when it’s also trying to be a dignified portrait of individuals with serious mental illness and other psychological problems. And when it is focusing on the relationship between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters, the movie shines thanks in part to their dynamic chemistry. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t infuse that great chemistry with a worthwhile story, which devolves into two of the most major Hollywood formula cliches humanly possible: “The Big Game” and a dance competition that essentially replaces any real character catharsis that the movie has going for it.

Thankfully, I still enjoyed myself for the majority of the runtime thanks to the aforementioned chemistry. But it’s also worth noting that Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are excellent as well. In fact, between this and the flawed but interesting Red Lights, this has been a good year for De Niro, who reminds us why he’s one of the most legendary actors. Of course, he’s not Taxi Driver good again, but it’s certainly much better than, say, New Year’s Eve.

Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)
Character studies don’t get more nuanced, sympathetic, observant, and elegant than Oslo, August 31st. This is a gripping portrait of a recovering drug addict who goes through an emotional odyssey within the span of a 24 hour period. The film is quiet and observational, never deliberately manipulating us down one emotional path, but leaving it open towards many. We can pity and despair for Anders, or we can even be outright contemptful of his actions and watch in abject horror as he spirals downward.

Thankfully, this nuanced approach works even further thanks to a terrific, three-dimensional performance from Anders Danielsen Lie, who brings the on-screen Anders to life and gives him a variety of layers. He accents his patheticness while still allowing us to understand that he’s really going through emotional turmoil. Without him at the center, the film would probably fail. With him, it’s a gorgeously heart-breaking experience with a killer, bleak ending. And at 90 minutes, it’s perfectly paced.

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
Your typical, generic vigilante thriller elevated by the mere presence of Michael Caine. Also contains good performances from Emily Mortimer and that guy who played Filch in the Harry Potter movies whose name escapes me (Sorry, Filch). Situations feel somewhat contrived, but at least the dialogue is, for the most part, pretty well done, and Daniel Barber gives the characters enough time to breathe. Plus, the main “action sequences” are held and drawn out much longer, allowing for some tension instead of slam-bang action we’ve seen a million times in thrillers of this ilk. Did I mention Michael Caine? That guy’s awesome, y’know…

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Holy Motors Movie Review

[Holy Motors
Written and Directed by Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, and Kyle Minogue
MPAA: Unrated – Contains some Violent Images, Graphic Sexuality/Nudity, and Brief Language]

Earlier this year, film pundits Andrew O’Heir and David Denby wrote some articles bringing up “The Death of Cinema”, stating that the majority of today’s movies are horrendous and that the “culture of film” itself was dying. There are plenty of articles I’ve read that perfectly articulated why these two opinions were mostly, to put it bluntly, wrong in every aspect, but perhaps the biggest case for cinema being alive now more than ever, a film I sincerely wish O’Heir and Denby had seen before writing their indulgent, solipsistic articles, is Holy Motors: A film that proves them wrong in just about every way imaginable.

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is the single best movie of 2012. I’m not even gonna work my way around it with a typical introduction like I usually do in these reviews. It just simply is the best movie I’ve seen this entire year and one of the very best of this whole decade. It’s a fleeting odyssey into the world of cinema that’s fun, surreal, disturbing, and ultimately, powerful, moving, audacious, gorgeous, breathtaking, and unlike anything else ever made. It’s this year’s The Tree of Life. It’s a spellbinding film that can only be described as “transcendent”. The kind of audacity that the movies were made for.

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Recent Movie Round-Up 11/24/2012

Here’s some more mini-reviews. On the dot for this installment of Recent Movie Round-Up: Cronenberg, haunted houses, and Lannisters!

Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
David Cronenberg is a master filmmaker. That much is certain. But he’s also had one of the most interesting career transitions I’ve ever seen of an auteur who had such a distinct sensibility to his films. Cronenberg was a master of body-horror, surreal narratives, racy subject matter, and an overarching connective theme of the connections between the mind and the body. After that, however, came Spider and, more notably, A History of Violence, both of which were radical departures from his usual style. While these films also dealt with his signature theme and had some of his usual style, they were more realistic and somber, and less trashy and gory as well.

Yet you can sort of see hints from some of his earlier films that this was the path he would take. For example, 1988’s Dead Ringers. Like his earlier work, it featured racy subject matter and a surreal narrative involving twins (each one played by Jeremy Irons) who switch constantly at various moments without anyone knowing, including sharing women. At the same time, it was light on the gore (Really, only one scene had any on-screen violence), and approached in a very clinical, objective style that more or less resembles his later work.

Either way, this is a terrific film with an even more terrific performance at its center. Jeremy Irons’s work here is genius, allowing us to always tell apart which twin we’re watching with very subtle and nuanced differences. It never at all feels like we’re watching the same actor, and the way he interacts with himself is natural and brilliant. It’s the best “twin” performance from a single actor I’ve ever seen alongside Nicolas Cage’s turn in Adaptation.

But the plot is equally intriguing, with plenty of ambiguity involving whether or not these twins really do share a piece of the other through some divine way, and how the way they share appearances ends up taking a toll on their psyches. The climax and ending are a little confusing in their need to be enigmatic, but it didn’t detract from the experience because Irons’s dramatic work allows us to connect with what’s going on even if you don’t fully understand what really is going on. In conclusion, this may be one of my top 5 Cronenberg films.

The American Scream (Michael Stephenson, 2012)
A documentary about three families who partake in the annual ritual of Halloween in the form of turning their own homes into interactive Haunted Houses. One of the families, and the main focus of the film, is run by an obsessive, perfectionist patriarch named Victor Bariteau who seems to spend every waking moment of his life preparing for the big day, sometimes at the behest of his own family. At the other end of the spectrum is another family who likes to collect various objects just lying around for use in their haunted house, and a father-son duo who isn’t quite as ambitious or skilled as the other families, but participates to please the children.

The result is a surprisingly touching little doc about our creative impulses and the lengths one would go to do the things they love. Each of the subjects are incredibly fascinating (My favorite was the father-son duo who constantly argued with each other and worked part-time as clowns) and have their own unique quirks. The film is at its best when it focuses on two things: 1.) The toll that this obsession takes on the families who sacrifice some of their lives to help with their husband’s/father’s dreams; 2.) When it’s acting as a love-letter to the communal spirit of Halloween, especially in its climax.

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Now this is how you do a chase thriller. Headhunters is a slickly made, tightly constructed, diabolically plotted thriller with a dash of subtext about class and reputation and with enough strong characterizations to lend the experience a sense of humanity. Also it stars Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the villain, and believe it or not, he’s just as evil in this movie as he was in Game of Thrones. Take that for what you will.

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Life of Pi Movie Review

[Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, and Rafe Spall
MPAA: PG – For Emotional Thematic Content Throughout and some Scary Action Sequences and Peril]

Life of Pi left me awed. It’s a beautiful, exhilarating, deeply human odyssey that strongly affected me on a dozen emotional levels. And yet, I find myself at a crossroads. For as incredible as most of this film is, there are major flaws that keep it from true greatness. Part of me wants to forgive the movie of those flaws thanks in part to how this movie welled up numerous emotions within me, but upon further retrospection, they become larger and impossible to really ignore, let alone forgive. So regardless of how many flaws I list, let it be said that this is still a must-see film with just a few glaring caveats.

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Recent Movie Round-Up 11/19/2012

No full reviews for Lincoln or any of the myriad films I saw this weekend because of college and whatnot. So here’s some mini-reviews to tide you all over…

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)
It’s Steven Spielberg. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s Abraham Lincoln. With a combined pedigree such as that, you’re bound to get accusations of being stifled by your own pompousness, but that’s furthest from the case from Spielberg’s humanistic portrait of the iconic president. Spielberg deftly mixes in elements of both myth and realism to his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, creating a figure that manages to be a “stoic everyman”; someone who knew the game of politics and could inspire followers of all kinds, but was just as ordinary as you or I.Plus, it helps that he’s being portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, who just completely disappears into the role of Lincoln from not just his physical appearance, but his voice and mannerisms as well, fully immersing himself into the historical figure in a dignified manner.

But what truly makes this work is that this isn’t just a biopic or even a character study. It’s an ensemble piece that has more to do with the passing of the 13th Amendment than anything else, with Lincoln just one of the primary figures. The ensembles features a slew of great actors in many roles ranging from small to large. Tommy Lee Jones kills it in his best performance since No Country For Old Men, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, and James Spader steal each scene together as a group of some of Lincoln’s advisers, Sally Field is superb as Mary Todd Lincoln, and various other actors get many good scenes, including Jackie Earle Haley, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Adam Driver, Hal Holbrook, Lee Pace, that guy who played Gale Boeticcher in Breaking Bad, and more. And not only that, but the movie is very clinical and matter-of-fact in its portrayal of the politics of the 1800s. This movie just goes down to the brass-tax of it all, with very little of Spielberg’s signature schmaltz getting in the way (And this is coming from a fan of War Horse).

All in all, this is definitely worth seeing, especially since it’s guaranteed a buttload of Oscar nominations this year. You didn’t need me to tell you that.

The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)
A rare film that treats sexuality not as something taboo or as something that should inspire provocation, but as an important part of human contact that eventually everyone goes through, all while still treating it seriously. At the center of it all is the fascinating real-life character of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a poet who contracted polio as a young boy and must live the rest of his life on beds, gurneys, and iron lungs. He decides to lose his virginity at the age of 39 for an article about sex surrogates, hiring one (Helen Hunt) to teach him how to perform intercourse. The result is a light yet affecting character study of a man who doesn’t let his shortcomings stop him from expressing his love for others. John Hawkes is Oscar-worthy as Mark O’Brien, using only his face and his voice to magnificent effect, and Helent Hunt is a warm, genial presence. Alongside of that is some thoughtful examination on how love and sex affect religion, gender politics, our own biologies, disabilities, etc.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)
Crap! I saw a bunch of good movies last weekend! And surprisingly enough, this one may actually be my favorite out of all of them. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is perhaps the best teen movie I’ve seen in a long time. Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the book that this film was based on, did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: Wrote and directed his own film adaptation. I haven’t read the book, but I saw it with my sister who had read and had a strong connection to it and its characters. Apparently, there’s changes (Of course), but it still gets the spirit of the book just right, which is what counts the most.

But as someone who never read the book, I never had a problem with the way the story played out. There were a few moments that I can tell were more detailed on the page rather than on-screen, but overall, everything worked as well as it could in the medium it was in. Mainly because this is one of the few films to really capture the awkwardness, anxiety, and euphoria of high-school freshman relationships. In its attention to all the details and nuances of high school life, it transcends its own genre and the cliches that come with it. As a result, we get a nuanced portrait of a somewhat mentally unstable teenager who learns to connect with the help of some seniors. The characters are all exceptionally well-drawn, and played by a fantastic, generally flawless teen cast. Logan Lerman especially surprised me considering his weaknesses in other films and how he revealed unseen depths as a dramatic actor in this one. Oh, and Emma Watson is insanely gorgeous, but you didn’t need me to remind you of that.

Also, can Ezra Miller be in everything now, please?

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 Movie Review

[The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Directed by Bill Condon
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
MPAA: PG-13 – For Sequences of Violence Including Disturbing Images, Some Sensuality and Partial Nudity]

I’ve pretty much disliked every single Twilight movie up to this point. The first movie was bad, but at least kinda knew that and attempted to be somewhat enjoyable. Both New Moon and Eclipse, on the other hand, took themselves so seriously that it was almost vomit-inducing. The fourth movie, and the first part of the divided Breaking Dawn finale, brought back some of the ridiculousness, but there still wasn’t enough to truly get me to enjoy myself.

Well, the final installment is now out and I sit here a changed man. Breaking Dawn Part 2 is still as blisteringly awful as the previous films, but this time, director Bill Condon has fully embraced how completely batshit the source material is and made one of the most insane, ridiculous films of the year. In short: This movie is so satisfying for all the wrong reasons. A turgid, moronic, yet absolutely glorious disasterpiece that brings this saga to a maniacal close.

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Recent Movie Round-Up 11/16/12

Hey! Sorry for not posting for a couple weeks. Caught up with college work and whatnot. To make up for that, here’s something that I used to do in one of my tumblrs that I’m re-using so that there’s a steady stream of content even when it isn’t an “official” review. This way, I can talk about literally every movie I watch on this blog. And I mean everything. Have fun with this.

Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012)
A surprisingly strong character study. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in sheer sympathy and nuance in detail. Denzel Washington gives his best performance in years, as does Zemeckis in terms of direction. The plane-crash sequence is one of the most intense, nerve-wracking, and all-around memorable scenes I’ve seen in any movie released this year. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Great as an action movie, with a finale that’s so satisfying on equal parts emotional, thematic, and action-heavy levels. The plot isn’t really strong, which isn’t too big a problem since the main focus is theme instead of narrative, but it makes a few sequences sort of boring. Javier Bardem walks away with every scene he’s in, creating one of the most memorable villains of the year, and Sam Mendes directs the hell out of the action, with special thanks in part to Roger Deakins’s incredible cinematography.

The Exterminating Angel (Luis Bunuel, 1962)
50 years old and this movie still has a grand power. Takes a while for it to get going, but once it starts firing on all cylinders, it never stops. A gorgeously bizarre, enigmatic, blackly comedic satire.

Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
I saw this for the third time a couple nights ago and each time I revisit it, it gets closer and closer to becoming one of my favorite movies ever. Everything about it is just so gripping and uncompromising, and the final act still reels the brain to this day. The final sequence itself (involving giggling old people) is still one of the most terrifying things ever put in a film, while also being incredibly emotional in its own bizarre way. I personally think it makes almost total sense, but that’s my interpretation….get your own…

Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1997)
To prepare for Lincoln (Which I’ll most likely be reviewing soon, don’t worry you guys), I decided to see Spielberg’s dramatic magnum opus for the first time in about 4-5 years. Part of me regretted doing it, because this is such a harrowing (and extremely long) film, but it’s always comforting to be reminded of this film’s staggering power. Liam Neeson has never been this good since (To be fair, this performance is incredibly hard to top), and it can reduce you to a mess of tears with just the simple image of a red coat. In some ways, Lincoln (Though I haven’t seen it yet) could be seen as a spiritual successor to this film. It’s a portrait of an extraordinary historical figure that extensively recreates the feel of the events of the time period, features a no-holds-barred performance from its lead actor, and educates as much as it entertains (Or deeply disturbs, in the case of Schindler). So yeah, this movie’s still a masterpiece. You didn’t need me to remind you, but still…

Stay tuned for reviews of Lincoln and possibly Breaking Dawn Part 2 soon…

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