Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Get the Gringo"

After stealing a sizeable amount of money from Frank (Peter Stromare), a notorious gangster, Driver (Mel Gibson) and his soon-to-be-deceased partner make a mad dash for the Mexican border, only to be apprehended by the Federales. The crooked cops take the money and ship Driver off to a prison unlike anything he’s ever encountered in the States. Instead of cells and guards, the prison, known as El Pueblito, is essentially a third world bazar run by the inmates, a place where a man can buy anything he wants except freedom. While attempting to gain his bearings and keep himself alive, Driver becomes fast friends with Kid (Kevin Hernandez), a child with an odd connection to El Pueblito’s unofficial leader Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). With tension running high and members of both Frank’s crew and the prison’s gang closing in on him, Driver makes a play to save not only his own life but also the life of Kid.

Produced on a decent sized budget ($20 million), Get the Gringo wound up being passed over almost entirely by most theater chains after Gibson’s most recent meltdown cut its legs out from under  it. That’s somewhat of a shame because in all honesty, this film is pretty stinking good and much better than I expected. It’s a blend of hard, stylized action and violence highlighted by an air of dark comedy that suits the storyline. First time director Adrian Grunberg sets the stage like a seasoned professional and manages to take a set of very serious subjects and infuse them with a genuine sense of fun that caught me off guard. He keeps everything simple and contained, a strong choice given that this film could have spun out of control into the realm of utter absurdity if not watched closely. Tone wise, Gringo resembled 2001’s The Mexican a bit but whereas that film floundered, the atmosphere works well here. The script (written by Grunberg and Gibson) plays to the strength of the setting which is pretty interesting in and of itself (even if it does resemble the foreign jail in Prison Break). Moreover, Driver is written in such a way as to seem like a real guy. Of course he gets away with some outrageous things that could only happen in a movie but rather than endowing him with Jack Bauer-like abilities, Driver is set up to be a normal-ish guy, a grizzled, veteran criminal who thinks on his feet out of necessity. I thought that difference was important as it puts Gibson in his element and allows him a level of comfort that I don’t think he’s had on the big screen in many, many years.

I feel like every review I’ll ever write about a Mel Gibson film will feature a sentence similar to the one I’m about to type but here goes. Say what you will about Mel Gibson’s personal life, the man knows how to act. His previous two films, Edge of Darkness and The Beaver, were both mediocre (at best) but both put Gibson on display as a reminder of what a force he truly can be. In each of those films, however, I got the impression that Gibson was trying too hard; trying to make the world forget his drunken rants, trying to reestablish his career, and trying to prove to himself that he still had something to give. Gringo, on the other hand, works because Gibson seems to be completely comfortable in his role. Driver is smart mouthed, quick thinking, and even keel, a mix that has worked wonderfully for Gibson in the past and one that he settles into again from the outset. There’s an edge of cool to Driver that makes him a charismatic personality despite his numerous flaws and keeps the viewer locked in. It isn’t so much that you root for Driver; it’s that he’s so interesting and unpredictable that you just want to see what will happen next. I can’t remember the last time Gibson was this good and this focused but I think it’s safe to say that Driver holds up well against most of his best performances. Gringo isn’t perfect but Gibson gives it life when it begins to drag and his presence alone makes this a solid, enjoyable experience.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 7/31

It doesn't seem like we've had just a whole lot of news worth reporting as of late. Even Comic Con was decidedly low on exciting news blurbs this year. This week, though, was jam packed with goodness so I'm sure I'm missing a few things. Just FYI: check the Twitter feed on the right side of the page for instant news blurbs throughout the week. I'm pretty good about linking to the big stories as soon as they come across my Twitter feed.

Check out the newest poster from Mondo, this one for the cult classic The Goonies. I want to go to there. 

There were, of course, TONS of entries around the web regarding The Dark Knight Rises. /Film published a piece titled 15 Things That Bothered Us About The Dark Knight Rises, which I found to be excessively nitpicky while Indiewire nitpicked the nitpickers. Hitfix delivered the Top 10 Things Christopher Nolan Got Right. And Nolan himself issued a eloquent, heartfelt goodbye to the Dark Knight. I truly cannot wait to see what he does next.

Much more importantly, Christian Bale visited the victims of the Aurora theater shooting and spent over two hours with those touched by the appalling tragedy. Very, very classy action from Bale and I loved the way in which he went about it: no media, no cameras, just a genuine show of humanity. Well done, Mr. Bane. 

In the wake of the shooting, Warner Brothers has moved Gangster Squad, which includes a pivotal scene involving a shoot out in a theater, from its slated fall release to January 11th next year. I'm usually not in favor of this sort of reactive decision making but in this case, it makes sense. 

It has been reported by numerous outlets that Peter Jackson and Warner Brothers are in "deep" discussions to turn The Hobbit into a trilogy. It shocks me how many fanboys have lashed out about this. In my book, there's no such thing as too much of The Hobbit. Bring it on, Peter.

And in, "Weirdest News of the Week" news, apparently seeing Hugo in 3D can cure a form of blindness. Seriously, check this story out, it's amazing. The unfortunate side effect, however, is that now we have a legitimate reason to embrace 3D. Dangit. 

Weekend Box Office Results
Yeesh. Not exactly the sort of returns the studio behind The Watch had in mind. Having already undergone a title change after the death of Trayvon Martin, The Watch failed to hit the mark with audiences and was DESTROYED by critics. I would have never guessed that this film would fare worse on Rotten Tomatoes than Step Up Revolution. Critics and analysts throw the term “box office bust” around quite a bit; John Carter and Battleship come to mind as recent “busts”, even though both reached high levels of profitability overseas. Here, though, we’ve got a REAL bust on our hands, considering the $68 million spent on The Watch and the fact that it won’t make much money overseas. Tough day for Ben Stiller and his pals.

Meanwhile, The Dark Knight Rises continues its outstanding run, despite not quite reaching the standard set by The Avengers. Since we didn’t run a Week That Was and Will Be last week, let me take a moment to praise Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers for choosing integrity over money. Nolan has always stated a dislike towards 3D and while a 3D release might have pushed TDKR into the same atmosphere as The Avengers, he and the studio stuck to their guns. Bravo. Also, as I stated in my review, I truly believe this is a film that will get better with multiple viewings and that seems to hold up considering many critics and bloggers have enjoyed their second TDKR experience more than the first go round. So check it out again if you weren’t a big fan originally.

1. The Dark Knight Rises - $64.07M ($289.08M)
2. Ice Age: Continental Drift - $13.3M ($114.84M)
3. The Watch - $13M
4. Step Up Revolution - $11.8M
5. Ted - $7.35M ($193.61M)
6. The Amazing Spider-Man - $6.8M ($242.05M)
7. Brave - $4.23M ($217.26M)
8. Magic Mike - $2.58M ($107.58M)
9. Savages - $1.75M ($43.89M)
10. Moonrise Kingdom - $1.38M ($38.39M)

What I’ll Be Renting This Week
Hatfields and McCoys – Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Tom Berenger
I’m more than a little frustrated with myself over not having watched Hatfields and McCoys to this point. I used to be fascinated with this story and then the trailer for this film blew me away. Unfortunately my DVR didn’t agree with my excitement as it decided to screw up the first episode of the miniseries, rending the subsequent entries useless. I’ve heard so many good things about this that I might just go ahead and buy the thing sight unseen, something I never do. Also, let it be known that I’ve never gotten off the Kevin Costner bandwagon.

Also New
LOL – Miley Cyrus, Ashley Greene, Thomas Jane
ATM – Alice Eve, Josh Peck

New to Blu
Total Recall: Mind-Bending Edition (1990) – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside
A whole lot of Marilyn Monroe movies

Coming to a Theater Near You
Since I wasn’t able to write this column last week, I didn’t get a chance to make Rotten Tomatoes predictions. This is a relief since I would have missed badly on The Watch, which received a dreadful 15% score and I probably would have gone considerably lower on Step Up Revolution than the 35% it managed to pull in. The new indie entries, however, fared much better, with both Ruby Sparks and Killer Joe grabbing a 75% score. Looking forward to seeing Ruby Sparks myself.

We now enter August, the biggest “who knows” month of the year in my book. By my count there are four legitimate blockbusters left this summer and one of them opens this week.

Total Recall – Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston
While undergoing a procedure to implant a memory in his brain, a lower class factory worker (Farrell) discovers the truth about his identity. I had high hopes for Total Recall was announced. I’m a Farrell fan and I think he has sneakily had a strong career despite a few misfires (see: Alexander). I am also NOT a member of the camp that think the original Total Recall is some sort of classic and I’m actually in favor of a remake. The trailers, though, did nothing for me and at this point I’m not expecting much. The effects look video game-ish, something I despise, and far too much importance has been placed on a fight between Beckinsale and Biel. I’m just very, very skeptical at this point. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 47%

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days – Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn
Greg (Gordon) struggles to find activities during the summer. Shenanigans ensue. I caught a snippet of the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid recently and it actually made me glad that I don’t have kids. I really and truly hated my life for the few minutes that it hung around on my TV and I had a hard time believing even kids like it. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 50%

Also new: Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones play best friends going through a divorce in Celeste and Jesse Forever…a host of known actors get together for 360, a Crash-like tapestry of interconnected stories…and a couple (Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn) struggle to get pregnant, comically, in The Babymakers.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Trailer Spotlight: Cloud Atlas, Man of Steel, Life of Pi

It's been a few weeks since I've had enough viable fodder for a Trailer Spotlight and enough time to get around to it. This week, though, has been a good one in the trailer department and today I have offerings from a diverse set of films that will drop over the next year.

Man of Steel (June 14, 2013) - Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon
My interest level on Man of Steel was hovering somewhere around a 5 until last week. But I have to say, despite the collective "meh" these trailers created across the blogosphere, I think these are perfect introductions to the film and I now find myself seriously stoked. We're not seeing much here beyond what to expect in the shot department and the overall tone of the film, but I think we're in for excellent returns on both of those fronts. Check them both out. Yes, the video is the same in both but the voice over is different. Love this.

Chasing Mavericks (October 26) - Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue
Has a surfing movie ever turned out good? I certainly can't think of one. Mavericks will probably continue this tradition if the first trailer is any indication.

Life of Pi (November 21) - Tobey Maguire, Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma
Pi is based on a novel that I'm sure I was supposed to read at one point or another but blew off. This is Oscar bait of the highest order (and I do not mean that in a bad way). The word among those who know is that Pi is a near-lock for a Best Picture nomination. And if the film stays true to this trailer, it'll be one of the more visually stunning films of the year. This is a beautiful first look.

Cloud Atlas (October 26) - Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent
This is about as high concept as it gets. I must say, I have absolutely no idea what's happening here despite this being the longest trailer I can remember. The best way I can describe what I've seen thus far is to call Cloud Atlas a combination of Crash and The Fountain with heaping spoonful of dynamic special effects. /Film has a helpful breakdown of what's happening here but I suggest watching for yourself first. This could be very, very interesting or it could be a tremendous bust. I'm very intrigued.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Dark Knight Rises is the sort of film on which I could easily spend 3,000 words. In an effort to keep this review easily digestible, however, I have glossed over and/or completely ignored numerous highlights that probably could/should be discussed. Apologies in advance. Also, I believe this review is completely devoid of spoilers (always my goal) but since you're probably going to see this movie anyway, I would recommend checking it out for yourself before reading. This assumes, wrongly of course, that anyone is actually reading this space rather than absentmindedly browsing through it while looking for literally any excuse to not work.

There’s a reason why sports teams retire the numbers of their greatest players, why the biggest bands close instead of open, and why JK Rowling’s next book will probably stink: no one wants to follow a legend. If anyone ever dared to don number 23 while playing for the Chicago Bulls, he would be placing upon himself a target roughly the size of Rhode Island. This is essentially the place Christopher Nolan found himself in in 2008 when The Dark Knight solidified its place as one of (if not the) greatest superhero movies of all time. Now four years down the line, Nolan delivers The Dark Knight Rises, a fitting and final chapter to his Batman story that attempts, with grand ambition and mixed success, to build upon the groundwork laid out in his last film.

Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, Gotham City has essentially eradicated the mob activity that once ravaged the city. In that time, neither Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) nor Batman, who was blamed for Dent’s death, have been seen by the public and the need for warriors like him and police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has been lessened. But when a new threat known as Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked hooligan with a horrifying plan and the firepower to see it to fruition, begins terrorizing the city, Wayne is forced to bring Batman out of retirement. He underestimates Bane, however, and soon the masked villain has imprisoned Wayne in a pit of despair worlds away and taken possession of a nuclear bomb which he uses to maintain control over Gotham. With his own survival hanging in the balance, Batman must muster all of his strength in order to battle perhaps his strongest opponent yet, with the aid of some unlikely allies.

First of all, it should be noted that The Dark Knight Rises certainly has its share of flaws. If you search through a handful of reviews, you’ll likely find a host of complaints as somehow this has become one of the most divisive films of the year. Those reviewers, whether professional or amateur, are of course entitled to their opinions but you will not get much in the way of negatives from this review. In my mind, almost all of the flaws and perceived flaws within The Dark Knight Rises come down to one of two things: the compression of what probably should have been two films into one (even one as long as this one is) and the viewer/reviewer placing the of his/her own expectations on the film before ever stepping foot in the theater. The second act of TDKR is indeed choppy in places and was probably pared down significantly to get the film in under three hours. Perhaps in hindsight, Nolan should have bought into the current trend of separating the finale of an epic franchise into two parts, thereby giving himself more room for character and (more importantly in this case) story development. I think that would have eliminated most of the real complaints that viewers have had about this film. On the other hand, Nolan could have done nothing to prevent his film from being held unfairly to the standard set by The Dark Knight, save of purposely sabotaging that film a bit in order to make his finale look better. To those who have nitpicked The Dark Knight Rises to death because it isn’t the greatest superhero movie of all time, I would kindly ask you to shut it and instead, enjoy this film for what it is, which is pretty stinking great.

Without question, The Dark Knight Rises is the most ambitious of the three films in this series. It is truly an epic that takes on a complex plot loaded to the very brim (and, in fairness, perhaps beyond) of what the film can handle. In this manner, it is ahead of The Dark Knight, a film I love dearly but which does not bring to the table an especially complex storyline, instead relying on a mesmerizing performance by Heath Ledger to bring everything together. Rises attempts to piece together a far-reaching narrative that I personally had no problem fully buying into even if, again, it could have used more time to develop. One of Nolan’s greatest strengths behind the camera is his ability to add weight to his films, to create high stakes within the story that the viewer can almost tangibly feel and this film is no exception. Nolan creates a set of circumstances, building off of the climate set in The Dark Knight, in which Batman and his fight matter and in doing so, he forces the viewer (or at least, this viewer) to care about a wealthy playboy running around in a Halloween costume. This of course is the product of the culmination of all three films but I think it reaches its peak here, adding a measure of significance to the film that I can’t necessarily remember feeling with any other superhero adventure.

From the standpoint of the actors and characters, Rises lacks the dynamic central figure that the Joker represented in Dark Knight but overall, I think it may be the best of the series. As with the first two films, Bale isn’t given much of an opportunity to really act but he does bring a healthy dose of emotion to the few scenes in which he is asked to do so. Both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine have had more screen time in the previous films than they do here but both do their jobs admirably this time around. Caine in particular makes the most of his time on camera, delivering a sobering speech at one point that has been picked on by some critics but which worked for me completely. On the flip side, Commissioner  Gordon has a much bigger role in Rises than he has before, which simply means the world is treated to more of Gary Oldman, a proposition I can’t imagine anyone ever complaining about. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hits the mark perfectly as a young detective who winds up taking on a much bigger role in the fight against Bane, serving as a level-headed confidant of sorts for both Wayne and Gordon. His mix of hard-knocks toughness, slight nativity, and uncompromising sense of rightness make him a powerful ally and an excellent representation of the viewer in the midst of all the superheroes, super villains, and super geniuses. And Anne Hathaway, whom I confess I have never liked, is magnificent in her role as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, a complex character who continually wages war against herself as to where she belongs in the fight. In my mind, this is by far the most dynamic performance of Hathaway’s career and at times, she is the most important character in the field.

This brings us to Tom Hardy, whose physically impressive baddie has been raked over the coals across the Internet. While Bane’s motives aren’t always clear, his voice, spoken Darth Vader-like through a futuristic mask, is even more indecipherable. This is the only flaw within Rises that truly stuck out to me as something that could have and should have been changed. Bane is already a less compelling villain than the Joker was and adding in the confusion that comes from his speech issue puts him at a further disadvantage. However, this does not keep him from becoming a menacing figure in his own right. Personally I think the decision to move from the Joker to Bane was a stroke of genius for Nolan in that the two villains could not be any more different. The Joker is a cerebral, crazy, deviant personality who thrives on utter chaos. Bane, on the other hand, is a physically imposing, controlled, righteous antagonist who follows a rigid plan to the letter. I believe this transition was Nolan’s best attempt to allow this film’s villain to stand apart from the legendary performance that highlighted the last film. Obviously that didn’t work in terms of convincing fanboys to ignore the urge to compare villains but for me, the differentiation was appreciated and for his part, I think Hardy did a solid job of making Bane a worthy and at times terrifying opponent.

Putting all of this together and tying it up with a satisfying and engrossing final 15 minutes, what you have in Rises is a truly impressive superhero epic that leaves the viewer only wanting more. As such, I firmly believe that this is a film that will only get better with future viewings. Once critics and viewers have some distance between themselves and their unchecked expectations most are likely to come around on Rises as one of the best superhero films of all time. Truth be told, I toyed with the idea that this film is actually better than Dark Knight before finally talking myself down. Regardless, Rises represents an illustrious achievement in film that will not be easily replicated by its contemporaries or its inevitable descendants.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed"

The combination of high concept sci-fi and romance in film is nothing new. The Adjustment Bureau is the most recent example that comes to mind but there are countless entries into the mashed-up genre over the years, despite the seeming clash in ideas. As a sci-fi nerd, however, I find that more often than not this combination fails to impress or turns out downright awful, usually because the two elements fight for attention and end up smothering each other in the process. Safety Not Guaranteed, then, represents a real achievement, entering into a fraternity of select films that tell a worthwhile romantic story while displaying a healthy respect for the science fiction that brings the pair together.

The classified ad read, “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” When her co-worker Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) pitches the ad’s creator as a potential story for their magazine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), an apathetic intern who has yet to find her passion, volunteers to come along for the ride. After arriving in the small town from which the ad originated, they soon track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the eccentric but harmless man who claims to have built a machine capable of taking people back in time. Posing as an interested partner, Darius inserts herself into Kenneth’s life, working with him to prepare for the journey while simultaneously gathering information for the magazine expose, all the while believing that Kenneth is crazy. But as the date of their trip draws near, Darius finds herself smitten by Kenneth and is forced to decide once and for all whether she believes in his reality or not.

Safety Not Guaranteed has a definitive quirky streak that runs through every aspect of the film and it could certainly find a place among Wes Anderson’s stable of films. It is not, however, defined by its quirkiness the way many Anderson films (and their copycats) are. Instead, Safety uses the quirkiness to set the table for its assorted storylines and then proceeds onward with a fairly straightforward set of narratives. In essence, director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly use a taste of weirdness to lure the viewer in to the romantic relationships of each of the main characters as well as the sci-fi undercurrent. I can see how this could turn some viewers off but it worked for me, partly because the setup is excellent and partly because of the strength of the characters and the actors who play them.

There are very few movies of late that feature characters with such high level of likability as what you’ll find in Safety Not Guaranteed. Darius exhibits a gloriously apathetic approach to life that goes hand in hand with the dry, sarcastic sense of humor that Plaza specializes in. But from the outset it is apparent that she is capable of more if only she could find something to liven her up. This spark in her eye, as it were, makes her transition all the more satisfying and gives a little weight to Plaza’s performance (for which she has already won an award or two). Duplass, on the other hand, is exceedingly earnest in the best way possible. Above all else, regardless of whether or not he turns out to be crazy, Kenneth is a believer and that quality is brought to life wonderfully. His wounds from the past drive the sci-fi portion of the film but it is presented in such a genuine, even simple way that I couldn’t help but root for him. It is an odd dynamic that exists between Plaza and Duplass but that sort of mismatched weirdness works well within this film. Even Johnson’s character, who is more than a little scuzzy, exhibits a vulnerable honesty that makes him much more likeable than I expected in the early going.

As the film progresses and the various side plots thicken, the sci-fi element of Safety Not Guaranteed becomes less visible but is never put aside entirely. For some sci-fi films it is important to believe in the science at its core in order to accept the film but Safety Not Guaranteed is structured in such a way that allows the viewer to appreciate the sci-fi without becoming overly burdened by reality. In this way, the question of whether or not the science for time travel will come through plays almost like a will-they-or-won’t they from a sitcom, a facet of this film that I quite liked. All told, this is a charming, somewhat unique little film that I absolutely fell in love with.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie Confessions Blogathon

It’s been awhile since I participated in one of my blogging colleague’s blogathons. This is due entirely to the fact that I feel like I have been behind on my regularly scheduled writing for, like, 6 months or something and haven’t had time to add in many extra ventures. But I’m making a concerted effort to get more involved with my blogging community and so…here we are. Nostra over at My Film Views (link to the left) has presented a blogathon entitled, “Movie Confessions”: 13 questions about the movies you hate that everyone loves, the ones you love that everyone hates, and the like. I encourage you to head over to Nostra’s main page and check out the various responses to this blogathon. There’s some great reading over there! And, should feel the urge to answer a question yourself or vehemently disagree with one of the following statements, feel free to join in the discussion. 

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why? 

Without question, this honor belongs to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This kills me, too, because as a sci-fi nerd I recognize the importance of this film and I understand how ground breaking it was when it debuted. But after three failed attempts to fight through the utter dullness that is 2001, I’ve finally given up on ever finishing it. 

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet? 

This could be a very extensive list. I am admittedly bad at catching up on the classics that I missed through the misfortune of not being born yet. This is due in part to the fact that I already have enough trouble staying on top of all the new releases and in part to the fact that many of my experiences with the classics have been disappointing. As such, I have never seen (let the judgment begin): 

Citizen Kane 
On the Waterfront 
Casablanca (at least not all the way through) 
Apocalypse Now 
Easy Rider 
Taxi Driver 
Dr. Strangelove 
A Clockwork Orange 
West Side Story 

Have you ever snuck into another movie at the cinema? 

For some reason (I suspect this had something to do with girls), my buddies and I snuck into Scream 3 when I was in high school. We bought tickets to Galaxy Quest, which turned out to be the far superior film, and went to see that miserable horror movie. 

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated? 

*Sigh* I hesitate to even say it because I always take grief over this. But my answer is Meryl Streep. There’s no questioning Streep’s abilities as an actress; she’s probably (or definitely) the greatest actress ever. But the problem is, she’s almost never in a movie that I can find even a smidgen of interest in. You couldn’t pay me to see The Iron Lady and she won the stinking Best Actress for it. I also get a little tired (okay, A LOT tired) of all the award nomination she garners with every film release. If she’s in a movie, she’s going to be nominated for an Oscar or she’ll be on everyone’s snub list and that gets annoying. 

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)? 

Federico Fellini. As mentioned before, I don’t have much time to catch up on the classics. I also lack the attention span to follow along with subtitles. So Fellini, to my great embarrassment, has slipped through the cracks. 

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated? 

Hmm, this is a tough one. I often have strong feelings toward a movie than my friends or colleagues (I truly LOVED The Dark Knight Rises) but I don’t think I really love many movies that most people hate. Maybe the film that best applies is MacGruber. I think MacGruber is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen but almost no one, critic or viewer, agreed with me when it came out. Now it’s starting to develop a cult following, though, so maybe people don’t hate it anymore. 

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema? 

I am very conscientious about those around me in any social situation, especially the theater. But, I do see a lot of movies during the middle of the day when the theater is practically empty. And when that happens, I’m not above checking my email during a dead scene, as long as no one is sitting behind me or on my row and the brightness of my screen is turned all the way down. Sue me. 

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why? 

I’m sure I have at one point or another but nothing springs to mind immediately. I am much more likely to see a movie I know will be bad if it falls into a given genre, though. I’m a sucker for action movies so there are plenty of times when I’ll head into an action movie knowing it is going to be ridiculous, over the top, and/or awful. 

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles? 

Yeah, I’m really bad about this. There are very few subtitled films that make it to the big multiplexes where I see most of my movies so I usually have to wait for DVD. The problem there, however, is that my ADD kicks in when I watch a movie at home and I have a hard time following subtitles. 

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched? 

That’s a negative. I don’t buy movies that I haven’t seen. I do own several, however, that I saw in theaters and loved then bought a copy on DVD/Blu-Ray and haven’t watched since. 

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them? 

Outside of my wife’s DVDs (which can be truly awful), I own a few bad comedies that I liked when I was younger (read: “dumber”). But probably the worst movie I own is The Island, a Michael Bay movie from 2005. It is not good. But I rented it once and watched it during a bought of insomnia and thought it was great! So I bought it. And I watched it again. And it was terrible. But I can’t sell it on eBay for anything and I’m not a big fan of just throwing semi-useful items away so…it remains. 

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home? 

My entire DVD/Blu-Ray collection is alphabetized. (I see that my friend Terrence has the same affliction.) From 21 Jump Street (numbers come first, of course) to Zoolander, every film has a specific place on my shelf. More than once I have attempted to do more of a numbering system so that I don’t have to go in and move half of the cases around every time I buy a movie but I’ve never been able to handle it for very long. I may have a mild case of OCD… 

Any other confessions you want to make? 

I probably watch more TV shows than I do movies. I love movies and will gladly go to the theater or rent a movie I haven’t seen before any day of the week. But when I’m at home and looking to watch something I own, I usually opt for a disc of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or a similar comedy/sitcom. 

In addition (and this is hardly a confession since I reference it all the time), I cry in movies constantly. I’m a total wimp on that front. I fought it off for a long time but now I just embrace it. I’m a Movie Crier.
Be sure to stop by My Film Views to check out Nostra's main page for this blogathon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Generally speaking, my opinion of a movie is usually at its highest point immediately following my viewing. By the time I get down to writing my review, I’ve usually talked myself down a bit and have explored the film’s flaws, even if they aren’t that significant. It is the rare film, however, that has the reverse effect. If I’m not completely sold on a film by the time I walk out of a theater, I usually won’t come around on its merits a day or two later. Beasts of the Southern Wild, then, is an exception to the rule, a film I found to be good while watching but may in fact be great given time to gestate.

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), live in The Bathtub, a small Louisiana village on the wrong side of the levee. When a massive hurricane rolls through and devastates The Bathtub and its surrounding area, Hushpuppy, Wink, and a rag-tag group of fellow survivors band together not only to survive but also to preserve their way of life. But while conditions in their own world worsen, Wink himself begins to succumb to the side effects of his hidden disease, leaving Hushpuppy to learn how to take care of herself.

I’m going to be straightforward with you dear reader(s). Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a film that can be easily processed and explained in under a thousand words. If ever there was a film that needed to be experienced firsthand, this is it. There is a distinct Malickian feel to every aspect of Beasts. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to Tree of Life, a comparison I’m sure every film critic will make but one that needs to be mentioned nevertheless. Unlike Tree of Life, however, Beasts puts together a cohesive, linear storyline for its central figure and as such, it is a much more relatable film and one that can be appreciated by the average moviergoer, whereas I felt like a pretentious snob for expressing my great admiration for Tree of Life knowing that most of my readers would not like it.

On the surface, Beasts is a touching story about a brave young girl battling against all the long odds the world has to throw at her but there is much more at play here than just one girl’s journey. At its very core, Beasts is about life itself and the way in which the universe works. Hushpuppy and her band of merry misfits are simply the medium through which director Benh Zeitlin chooses to tell his story and he does so with great elegance. It is far too common to see this sort of far-reaching, broad spectrum film misuse the central figure, almost as a pawn sacrificed for the greater good, and thereby stripping the protagonist of his/her value. (For the record, I think this was the biggest issue with Tree of Life and what kept it from resonating with most viewers.) But here, Hushpuppy stands not only as a triumphant hero in the face of certain destruction but also a symbol for the film’s true meaning. As Hushpuppy goes, so goes the world, as it were.

Perhaps none of this would hit home, however, without an exquisite performance by Wallis. A remarkable young talent who has never appeared on camera before, Wallis is an absolute force on the screen, commanding the viewer’s attention at every turn with a stunning mix of power, vulnerability, and sincerity. Many of her lines come in the form of narration, a risky proposition that is used brilliantly in Beasts. Hushpuppy has a difficult life and Wallis, along with the pitch-perfect staging by Zeitlin, embodies the toughness one would have to develop in order to survive while still maintaining an air of childlikeness, an all-important characteristic that not only gives the film its realism but also allows for actual character and plot development. Beasts doesn’t wallow in the harshness of Hushpuppy’s life and it also doesn’t jump directly into the pool of sympathy for her character the way many films like this do. Instead, Hushpuppy grows through her various situations and as a result, the viewer becomes attached to her not to her circumstances. That’s a very important difference in my book and it stands as this film’s master stroke.

Wallis’ mesmerizing and soulful performance is highlighted by the technical proficiency of those behind the camera. The cinematography is lavish and beautiful, the special effects are effective, and even the sound is pitch-perfect. All of these elements continually combine to set a fantastical stage on which Wallis and her supporters can work. Beasts is at times quite difficult to watch and is by no means a comfortable experience. More than once I found myself squirming like I was watching a horror movie simply because of the honesty with which the film handles its subject matter. I will also be the first to admit that I didn’t fully understand all of its symbolism, much of which centers on a pack of prehistoric aurochs. (Then again, as my high school English teachers would attest, I never was one for symbolism.) Nevertheless, Beasts is a remarkable, beautiful film that has completely won me over and one that I would encourage everyone to head out to see for themselves. 

In Home Viewings: "My Week with Marilyn"

In 1957, recent University graduate Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) was brought onto the production of the film The Prince and the Showgirl as a third assistant director. The film was quite a big deal as England as it would be directed by Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who would also star opposite Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). But while London is in uproar over Monroe’s arrival, it is no match to the upheaval which takes place on the set. Strung out and insecure, Monroe clashes greatly with Olivier, who has no patience for doing things in any way other than the classical methods. With the conflict deepening daily, Monroe finds an unlikely ally in Clark, who she establishes a connection with unlike anyone else on set. Soon the pair begins spending every spare moment together, engaging in a love affair that both know will end badly but neither can wiggle out of.

My Week with Marilyn is the very definition of a film that is flush with stunning performances but low on meaningful content. Everything, and I mean literally EVERYTHING, that is good about this film comes down to the various performances of the leads. And make no mistake, these are outstanding actors giving truly spectacular portrayals. Redmayne is only just becoming a known name on these shores but his blend of charm and bashful awkwardness lends strength to a character that doesn’t have much of that on paper. It isn’t a weighty role but Redmayne seems entirely comfortable and gives it a bit of depth. Branagh, as expected, goes all out in portraying the man who was his real life mentor and delivers on showing Olivier as the complicated man he truly was. And then of course there is Williams who both embraces and battles an absurdly complex personality. Williams has built a hardy reputation for tackling and toppling difficult roles (who would have guessed that after her stint on Dawson’s Creek?) but this one takes the cake. Bringing reality to such a well-known and loved person is a near-impossible task but Williams does so with brilliance, creating an undeniably sympathetic character that transfixes the audience more often than not. Williams is beautiful, haunting, and fully deserving of every award nomination she received for this role.

Unfortunately, the film itself does not live up to the standard set by Williams, Branagh, and Redmayne. In fact, it is completely and totally overshadowed by its stars to the point of becoming thoroughly insignificant by its own accord. I’m all for a good character study but even in the most character-intensive film, there has to be some semblance of a worthwhile storyline and My Week with Marilyn just doesn’t have that. I can’t see a way that any of the narrative would matter to anyone who wasn’t on set during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. That is probably more of an indictment of Colin Clark’s memoirs on which this film is based, as by all accounts Clark tried to wring every ounce of fame out of his time with Monroe. That screams through every shot of this film, prompting me to question why it was made in the first place when it had so little to draw one. One could argue that My Week with Marilyn is worth seeing based solely on the value of its exquisite lead performance but for me, it’s an awful lot to slog through, even if it is one of the better portrayals you’re likely to see. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Jeff, Who Lives at Home"

Jeff (Jason Segel) is the kind of guy who is just a little too sweet to make it in this life. A sensitive, trusting spirit, Jeff lives at home (duh) with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), and spends most of his time smoking pot and wandering. He also has an obsession with the movie Signs and makes every attempt to assimilate that movie’s theme, that everything and everyone is connected, into his own life. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) is the exact opposite. A harder man who is always attempting and failing to create a name for himself in business, Pat has little patience for Jeff and his wild ideas about life. Their paths cross one day, however, and soon Jeff and Pat find themselves on a journey together that will lead them both to mutual discovery and an understanding of each other.

Mark and Jay Duplass have spent the last few years building toward a breakthrough, mainstream moment. Their last film, Cyrus, was a solid entry that displayed a bit of maturity behind the camera and fell just short of being a very good movie. As both writers and directors, the pair has a tremendous amount of talent that oozes through everything they do and personally, I believe it’s only a matter of time until they make a transcendent indie film.

 JWLAH is not that film, however, and that frustrated me a bit. Of course, it is unfair to hold a film to my own personal expectations or to demand something of a film that its filmmakers never intended it to be. Still, though, I was prepared for this film to be a major accomplishment and instead it only partially satisfied. When JWLAH is at its best, it truly feels like a day in the life of Jeff, who is brought to life impressively by Segel, who continues to prove what a tour de force he really is. Jeff is a pained soul whose rosy outlook on life is as much a mask for his struggles as anything else but for me, the Duplass brothers don’t go far enough down this road. I felt like there was so much more to Jeff than the audience is made privy to and that sticks out as a symptom of what is wrong with the film. In truth, the fatal flaw here is that JWLAH mires itself in the kiddie pool rather than striking out for deeper waters. As Jeff and Pat scurry about town, I found myself desperately wanting to connect with their stories but coming up empty.

Likewise, the narrative takes its cue from the lack of real character development and often seems to be only an afterthought. There are long stretches of JWLAH that come across as if Mark and Jay had a great idea for a quirky family drama that plays on the idea of everything happening for a reason and then assembled a great cast but forgot to put much energy into creating a real story. There is nothing wrong with the events of the film but nothing much happens. Mixing that with a sense of shallow character development leaves the film to stagnate when it should push forward and as such, JWLAH becomes a sort of light, fluffy dramedy that could have, and should have been, so much more than what it is. It isn’t a bad movie or unworthy of a viewing necessarily, it just isn’t completely a capitalization on the currency the Duplass brothers have built up to this point. Here’s hoping their next film hits the mark.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 7/16

As I'm sure you know, Comic Con just wrapped up and as always, the event was filled with news and first looks at upcoming features. For a list of some of the highlights, check out the news and notes from ComicBookMovie.com.

Speaking of Comic Con, Marvel announced its upcoming slate of films including the title for the next Captain America film and a new franchise known as Guardians of the Galaxy. The way in which Marvel is dominating DC Comics is just mind boggling.

And speaking of Marvel, the studio gave us a look at the ridiculous box set of Marvel movies that will debut in conjunction with the release of The Avengers on DVD and Blu Ray. The set looks amazing to be sure and part of this is due to the work of Matt Ferguson, a graphic artist (and comic geek) who runs the site Cakes and Comics, linked on the left hand side of the page. He did the design for all of the individual film cases. Matt's work has been featured many times throughout my reviews and I'm proud to have brought his work to this space before he hit the mainstream, so to speak. Congrats Matt and keep up the incredible work!

In "Worst Kept Secret EVER" news, Josh Trank of Chronicle fame has been tabbed as the director of the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. I move that we wipe the record clean of the original films in this series. Seconded?

Darren Aronofsky will build an actual ark for his upcoming feature project Noah. Not sure this thing is going to be good but I know it's getting very interesting.

Ron Howard and Jason Bateman both have been tweeting updates on the production schedule for the fourth season of Arrested Development and we now know that it will begin shooting in 4 short weeks. Still can't believe this is actually happening. Can't wait!

One of these days I'm going to get around to a feature on The Shawshank Redemption aka The Best Movie of All-Time. In the meantime, check out Dan the Man's review for a nice look back.

Weekend Box Office Results
It didn’t come as a surprise to me that Ice Age: Continental Drift unseated The Amazing Spider-Man at the top of the charts this week. This is a franchise that has brought in almost $2 billion worldwide over the last decade and is a major hit with kids who don’t know any better (I hate these movies, by the way). It did surprise me, though, that both of the top films brought in relatively meager totals. $46 million is nothing to sneeze at but in a summer that has seen absurd highs for a number of films, I thought it would go higher. Meanwhile, Spider-Man dropped further than I or I think its makers thought it would, failing to grip the nerd group the way The Avengers or The Hunger Games did earlier this year. On the other hand, Ted was actually featured in MORE theaters than it was last week and continues its remarkable run. It now looks like it will top $200 million at the domestic box office before its run ends. Very, very impressive. And unexpected.

1. Ice Age: Continental Drift - $46M
2. The Amazing Spider-Man - $35M ($200.9M)
3. Ted - $22.14M ($158.99M)
4. Brave - $10.69M ($195.59M)
5. Magic Mike - $9.03M ($91.85M)
6. Savages - $8.73M ($31.46M)
7. Tyler Perry’s Please Stop Watching These Movies America - $5.6M ($55.62M)
8. Katy Perry: Part of Me - $3.73M ($18.58M)
9. Moonrise Kingdom - $3.66M ($32.42M)
10. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - $3.5M ($203.73M)

What I’ll Be Renting This Week
Get the Gringo – Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Dean Norris
Friends with Kids – Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig
Say what you will about Mel Gibson (and there’s an awful lot to say), but the guy knows how to act. Get the Gringo puts him right back into his old comfort zone as a smart mouthed, half-crazy rebel type in an action setting. It’s been years and years since we’ve really seen Gibson go at it like this and I’m excited to get a look first hand. Friends with Kids, on the other hand, illustrates what a great cast can do for your film. Generally speaking, this sort of “life sucks now that I’ve settled down” film doesn’t do much for me but with Hamm, Wiig, Scott, and a host of other talented and funny people on board, I imagine I’ll give it a shot.

What I’ve Seen So You Don’t Have To
Lockout – Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare
Properly describing the experience I had with Lockout is difficult. This movie boasts a razor thin plot, generally bad acting, and some of the worst special effects you’re ever likely to see in a movie that was indeed produced by a real movie studio, not thrown together for $150,000 in some dude’s basement. On the other hand, there’s an at-times-brilliant streak of self-awareness that runs through the film winking at the viewer and smiling wryly, not to mention the fact that Guy Pearce is just plain awesome. At the end of the day, though, the efforts at becoming Taken in Space fall short and it’s really not worth a viewing…unless it’s on HBO…and it’s 1 o’clock in the morning…and maybe you’re not in the most stable frame of mind.

What I’ll Probably End Up Seeing Even Though I Should Know Better
Case de Mi Padre – Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
The reviews were not good and even self-described Ferrell fans such as myself weren’t overly kind to Casa de Mi Padre. But I know myself and I know that if Ferrell is in a movie, eventually I will end up seeing that movie. And more importantly, even if it didn’t turn out well, I respect the man for doing something different. You know, like doing your entire movie in Spanish.

Also New
Three Stooges – Will Sasso, Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked
Intruders – Clive Owen, Carice van Houten
Leverage: Season 4 – Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman
Eureka: Season 5 – Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Sanctuary: Season 4 – Amanda Tapping, Robin Dunne
Alphas: Season 1 – David Straithairn, Warren Christie

New to Blu
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter
High Noon (1952) – Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly
Mean Streets (1973) – Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel
Butterfly Effect (2004) – Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart
A Perfect Murder (1998) – Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen
Just Cause (1995) – Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Blair Underwood
Next of Kin (1989) – Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson, Adam Baldwin

Coming to a Theater Near You
I ended up missing wide on my Rotten Tomatoes prediction for Ice Age: Continental Drift (40% versus 55% prediction) but it is nice to know that I am not alone in my dislike for this franchise. The original Ice Age sits currently at 77% fresh but (as you probably should expect) that number has dropped significantly with each sequel. Ice Age 2 sits at 57%, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs holds as 45%, and now the fourth film enters the field. I’m glad to see critics aren’t buying this bag of blerg even if audiences (see: “kids”) are.

The Dark Knight Rises – Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
Batman (Bale) faces his toughest test yet in the form of Bane (Hardy). That’s it. That’s all I’m going to say. That’s all I know FOR SURE and that’s all I’m willing to find out before heading to the theater this week. Usually I am all for the average moviegoer reading a review or two about a given movie before heading to a theater but this is one time when I really and truly believe that the less you know, the better. And the same goes for me. I will avoid all reviews, I will be skim through Twitter cautiously, and I will probably stay away from live TV in order to prevent a Letterman-esque spoiler. I will not be posting my own review until next Tuesday at the earliest to give everyone a shot to see this without messing anything up. Other than The Hobbit, this is the movie event of the year and probably much longer. Get your ticket, get out to a theater, and revel in what I’m already sure will be a magnificent experience. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Fresh, 95%

Friday, July 13, 2012

In Home Viewings: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"

In 1994, three teenagers were convicted of murdering three young boys as part of a satanic ritual in West Memphis, Arkansas. Despite their claims of innocence, Jessie Misskelly, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison while Damien Echols, the eldest and supposed leader of the group, was sentenced to death. In 1996, HBO ran a documentary called Paradise Lost in which filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made a case for the innocence of the West Memphis 3, as they have now come to be called, and calling attention to their case. Numerous people, including celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, became involved in the case and began raising money and awareness for their cause, prompting a second film from Berlinger and Sinofsky in 2000. It was enough to stay Echols execution and keep hope alive for freeing these men. Finally, in 2007, new forensic evidence came to light that eventually led to a complicated plead out by the West Memphis 3, leading to their freedom. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory gives a firsthand look at the events leading to the release of Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelly and simultaneously points a finger at the father of one of the murdered boys.

Though I have been somewhat aware of the West Memphis 3 for some time, prior to the release of Purgatory I had never really dug into the story and I’ve never seen the first two Paradise Lost films. As such, I cannot speak to the merits of either of those installments. But as for this film in and of itself, I felt that Beringer and Sinofsky did an absolutely brilliant job of both filling in the blanks for viewers, like myself, who had been ignorant to this story, and advancing the storyline at the same time. The filmmakers paint a vivid portrait of life now and then for Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelly and pull no punches in their attempts to show just how weak the district attorney’s case against these men truly was. Having spent five years of my life living just around the corner from West Memphis, I can tell you that it is not the most progressive, tolerant area the country has to offer and that unquestionably played an important part in the conviction of the West Memphis 3 who were, by their own admission, very different from everyone around them. A fascination with heavy metal and some dabbling in graffiti were misconstrued and misrepresented as involvement in the Occult, which was a key factor in their convictions. Judge David Burnett is cast in an unfavorable light, along with the public defenders appointed to the convicted.

At the same time, however, Purgatory treads lightly on the motives of the investigators themselves. The pressure to find the people responsible for the three murders was extreme and Detective Gitchell and his team were perhaps not up to the task. But at no point does Purgatory attempt to make Gitchell out to be a simpleton nor does it make the case that the West Memphis 3 were the victims of witch hunt mentality. It is this relatively simple stroke of grace that allows Purgatory to play as a levelheaded, balanced documentary rather than turning into a fiery assault on the police, the lawyers, and the culture of West Memphis itself. This approach lends far more weight to its core argument than what one would typically come to expect from a documentary of this nature. Instead of wasting time blasting those involved with the investigation and prosecution, Beringer and Sinofsky pour everything into documenting the rise of support for the West Memphis 3 and the case their final team of lawyers put together which ultimately led to their release. This is truly a fascinating, even keel documentary filled to the brim with worthwhile information, culminating in a powerful and sobering conclusion that, in its own way, demonstrates the value of films like this.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Home Viewings: "The Hunter"

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sort of film that is nearly impossible to review properly without spoiling some elements of the plot. Seeing as how I think it's a total misfire, I was tempted to just let the entire cat out of the bag rather than just showing you its mangy tail but decided against it at the last minute. Sorry if this is the worst review ever. 

When a Tasmanian tiger, thought to be extinct for many years, is spotted in the Tasmanian wilderness, a mysterious pharmaceutical company calls upon the services of mercenary Martin David (Willem Dafoe). Under the guise of a university scientist, Martin is tasked with tracking down and killing the tiger in order to obtain its valuable DNA. Upon arrival, he rents a room from Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor), whose husband supposedly saw the tiger but has been missing for several weeks. While Martin’s initial forays into the wilderness prove fruitless, he becomes more and more invested in the lives of Lucy and her two small children, finding a connection he hasn’t felt in his many years of solitude. But with such a high value target, Martin soon discovers that he is not alone in the hunt and his connection with the Armstrongs puts them all in grave danger.

Based on the novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter is one of the more unnecessarily confusing films you’re ever likely to come across. The core concept is very interesting but from that point on the narrative is a convoluted mess that never comes close to measuring up to the premise. There are a number of questions posed in the early going, intriguing questions, but from that point on The Hunter seems more interested in misleading the viewer than it does answering those questions or even really bringing them to the light. I kept waiting for something to break, for a twist that would justify the strange way in which Martin becomes more and more invested in the lives of the Armstrong family. But even as the film shifts its main focus, to give the viewer a reason to care or even a reason to understand. I questioned the motives of every single character within this film until I reached a point at which I simply stopped caring. Because of this, the emotional gong The Hunter attempts to bang in the third act fell completely flat and left me wondering what the point of all this had been in the first place.

For his part, Dafoe is very good in his role. I would gladly watch a film about Martin, his mission, and the scars a man like him carries. Dafoe is one of the few actors who thrives on quietness and when The Hunter allows him to operate within the quiet, he delivers nicely. But these moments are few and far between, overshadowed by a plethora of confusing developments that seem half baked at best. I must be honest, I still have no idea how Sam Neill’s character was connected to the other characters or what exactly his role in the events of the film were. This is one of the more minor flaws as to focus on the more egregious errors would be to spoil things for anyone who still plans to see this film. The Hunter isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen and it didn’t make me hate my life but it struggles mightily with its own plot and eventually winds up becoming an unsatisfying waste of an opportunity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: "Moonrise Kingdom"

From movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to performers like Zooey Deschanel and Michael Cera, it seems that the movie industry has fully embraced the concept of “quirky.” Turn on a TV or visit a theater and you’re likely to find a quirky comedy or a movie starring a confirmed quirk artist. But before the Quirky Craze overtook Hollywood, there was Wes Anderson, standing almost alone among his mainstream contemporaries, presenting the world with his weird and brilliant outlook on life. With Moonrise Kingdom, the Godfather of Quirk returns from a five year hiatus from live action movies with what might just be his best offering yet.

The year is 1965 and the setting is an island off the coast of New England. Having fallen in love the summer before, Sam (Jared Gilman), a troubled Khaki Scout sent to Camp Ivanhoe by his foster parents, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), an equally troubled resident of the island, decide to run away together and begin making their way to an idyllic cove. Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and island police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) begin the pursuit for the two pre-teens and are soon joined in the hunt by Suzy’s parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray). Sam and Suzy prove to be a difficult pair to wrangle, however, and with a tropical storm on the horizon and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) on the way to take possession of Sam, the manhunt takes some odd twists and turns that only deepen the level of devotion between the star-crossed lovers.

Moonrise Kingdom is the type of film that I could write 2,000 words on and still not do it justice. As with so many of Anderson’s films, it is a layered piece of storytelling covered up with a sweet, simple candy shell. I’m not sure anyone is better than Anderson at providing quick and concise backstories that give you all the information you really need to take in the film while simultaneously opening up a much wider reality if you want to delve into it. You can enjoy Moonrise Kingdom on its surface as a wholly endearing if offbeat love story or, if you choose, you can dig into the complexity of the characters and revel in the detailed world that Anderson has created. And best of all, the film works on every level. It is just as much fun to follow Sam and Suzy with the good intentioned but somewhat bumbling search party on their heels as it is to revel in the immense elaborateness of the big picture. Is it a character study or a romance? Is it a comedy or a family drama? The answer is yes and I love that about this film (and pretty much all of Anderson’s other entries).

The true stroke of genius at work in Moonrise Kingdom is in the usage of complete unknowns Gilman and Hayward in the leading roles. Neither of these youngsters has ever appeared in a film before but you would never know that if there weren’t such a thing as IMDB. That is due in part to their own respective abilities, which are undeniable; both of these kids have star potential. But it is also due in large part to the way in which Anderson positions them, never asking them to do too much or to carry the film on their own. More often than not, when you have a movie led by young actors, that movie lives or dies by the quality of their performances. That’s a lot of pressure to put on youthful shoulders. But here, Anderson gives them clearly defined moments to shine and then supplements them the rest of the way with incredible support from the known actors. I expect Murray to be great in this world because he is, of course, a veteran to Anderson’s way of doing things but for once the new blood, Norton, Willis, and McDormand, is even better than the regular crew that works with Anderson. This is the best work than any of these three have done in years and each of them adapts to the quirkiness of both story and characters extremely well. As such, Moonrise Kingdom would have been a success even if Gilman and Hayward weren’t excellent, which they were.

For my money, the thing that sets Moonrise Kingdom apart from some of Anderson’s previous films is that it is complete; whereas I’ve felt that many of Anderson’s other ventures haven’t been cooked all the way through, despite my adoration for the man as both writer and director. This film flows beautifully from scene to scene, line to line, and presents itself as a whole rather than a collection of great characters and cool scenes that sometimes don’t fit together perfectly. If you surveyed ten viewers and asked them what their favorite part, line, or character was, you’re likely to get ten different answers and each of them would be valid. Moonrise Kingdom is a fantastic, outrageously fun film that will do nothing but grow the weird, quirky, brilliant legacy of West Anderson and his team of cohorts. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Week That Was and the Week That Will Be - 7/9

There were two big deaths in the world of acting last week. First, Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86 on Tuesday and then yesterday Ernest Borgnine died at age 95. I wasn't nearly as into The Andy Griffith Show as many of my friends were but I definitely recognize the value of that program and the contribution it made to the industry, not to mention the extreme entertainment value supplied by Matlock, and of course Griffith was the backbone for both of those programs. Borgnine, meanwhile, won an Oscar for his role in Marty and contributed a number of outstanding performances to numerous films over the last 50 years, including The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. Both men will be sorely missed. Rest in peace.

After a healthy amount of speculation as to who would take the part, Jena Malone has been cast in Catching Fire, the sequel to this year's smash hit The Hunger Games, in the role of Johanna Mason. That's a meaty, important part and I think Malone should excel in it.

Channing Tatum has confirmed that there will be a sequel to 21 Jump Street. I can't believe how good that film was nor the fact that I'm actually looking forward to a sequel. I would have lost money on that at the beginning of the year.

In The Hobbit news of the week, Peter Jackson posted a new video on the film's Facebook page on the final day of principal photography and a new poster was released for Comic Con. I'll probably start a daily countdown in the next week or so. Because I am a nerd.

And in The Dark Knight Rises news, Cinema Blend has an an in-depth, behind the scenes interview with Christopher Nolan. Can't wait for this film, either.

Matt at Cinema Slants gives us a 2012 Midyear Report and looks ahead at what to expect in the back half. Check it out.

I don't plan to see Savages anytime soon so if you're looking for a review, check out the one Terrence posted over at The Focused Filmographer.

And Ruth at FlixChatter gives us her monthly column, Five for the Fifth. Awesome questions this time around.

Weekend Box Office Results
Always a huge movie weekend, this year’s Independence Day haul is made more impressive to me given the relative lack of options available to viewers. The Amazing Spider-Man was the only new movie that opened in time for Fourth of July celebrations and last week’s offerings, Ted and Magic Mike, aren’t exactly the sort of films that bring families together on a holiday. Obviously that didn’t stop anyone, however, as Spider-Man pulled in an impressive sum of money (the fact that $140 million seems only okay proves how outstanding this year has been at the box office) while both Ted and Brave held onto a solid percentage of viewers. I gave my money to both Spider-Man, which I liked but didn’t love, and Moonrise Kingdom, which was everything that I could have possibly hoped for. Well done, Mr. Anderson.

The debut of Savages was met with decent reception from audiences but not so much from critics, many of whom panned it as a complete misfire. Someday Oliver Stone will make another great movie. But I guess that day is not today. And finally, The Avengers dropped out of the top ten grossers for the first time in over two months, completing one of the most staggering box office runs in history. Just in time to make way for The Dark Knight Rises to start its own staggering box office run.

1. The Amazing Spider-Man - $140M
2. Ted - $32.59M ($120.24M)
3. Brave - $20.16M ($174.41M)
4. Savages - $16.16M
5. Magic Mike - $15.61M ($72.79M)
6. Tyler Perry’s Worst Movie Ever until the Next One - $10.2M ($45.84M)
7. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - $7.7M ($196.02M)
8. Katy Perry: Part of Me - $7.15M
9. Moonrise Kingdom - $4.64M ($26.89M)
10. To Rome with Love - $3.5M ($5.62M)

New to DVD
What I’ll Probably End Up Renting at Some Point
Margaret – Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo
Being Flynn – Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore
To say that the opinions on Margaret, about a girl (Paquin) who witnesses a bus hitting a pedestrian, were mixed would be the understatement of the year. Some critics held this film up as the unquestionable best film of the year while others deemed it an utter disaster. The gulf between those opinions leaves me interested enough to find out on my own. Being Flynn is a different animal altogether in that most of the reviews were negative and yet I can’t keep myself from watching Robert De Niro movies. I should avoid them entirely as they just make me sad, seeing how far the man has fallen, but I keep hoping I’ll catch glimpse of his brilliance again. *sigh*

Also New
American Reunion – Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott
Flowers of War – Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Xinyi Zhang
Warehouse 13: Season 3 – Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek
The Glades: Season 2 – Matt Passmore, Kiele Sanchez

New to Blu Pick of the Week or Whenever I Feel Like It
Frequency (2000) – Jim Caviezel, Dennis Quaid
Okay, truth be told, it’s been years since I’ve seen Frequency so it may, in fact, be the worst movie ever that does not star John Travolta or Megan Fox. But my memories of it are good and I always thought the concept, a father and son separated by 30 years use short wave radios to stop a crime, was really cool. Check it out if you’ve never seen it before and don’t hold it against me if it doesn’t hold up a decade after my last viewing.

Also New to Blu
Chariots of Fire (1981) – Ben Cross, Ian Charleson
Outland (1981) – Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen
Blade II (2002) – Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman
Brainstorm (1983) – Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood
Senna (2010) – Ayrton Senna
Spawn (1997) – Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen
The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) – Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron

Coming to a Theater Near You
I shot 2-for-3 last week, pegging The Amazing Spider-Man (73% actual versus my 78% prediction) and Savages (53% actual versus 57%) pretty closely and missing wildly on Katy Perry: Part of Me (75% actual versus 50%). Who knew every critic loves Katy Perry?

For my money, this week represents the worst of the summer. With Spider-Man dominating the holiday box office and The Dark Knight Rises set to crush the competition beginning next week, most of the studios were (rightly) afraid of putting much of anything on the schedule this time around so we’ve only got one mainstream film headed our way.

Ice Age: Continental Drift – Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
After the breakup of Pangaea, Manny (Romano), Diego (Leary), and Sid (Leguizamo) use a roving iceberg to navigate through troubled waters and return to their respective families. I must be honest, dear reader(s): I hate the Ice Age movies. This is probably my least favorite animated film series of the last decade or so and I’ve never grasped the appeal. I didn’t see the third movie but there’s nothing about the first two that impressed me in the slightest. But then again, they’ve made, like, $3 billion worldwide between them so I guess they’re not really hurting without my viewership. Rotten Tomatoes prediction: Rotten, 55%

Also New: A young man becomes wrapped up in the world of the drug trade in Easy Money, a 2010 film that launched the career of Joel Kinnaman who’ll star in the Robocop remake…Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver investigate the paranormal in Red Lights…and The Imposter, a documentary about a Frenchman who convinced a Texan family that he is their long lost son.