Friday, September 2, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #7: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, TANGLED, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN AND MORE!

It's been a good week for me to catch up on newer films, and there were some interesting ones this week, and mostly good. Although, it seems by my stats that these movie reviews are the least popular parts of my blog, as most of you don't read them. I've heard some complaints that they're too long, and I write too much, and people don't have the attention span that you think they do. You know what Mom, thanks a lot, but I think my audience is slightly more sophisticated.

However, if you do get sick of some of my reviews, I'd like to recommend a blog by Jennifer Meachem called "The Rambling Reviewer." It's a more generalized review blog, and she does ramble, but she reviews a lot of films as well,  and she has a couple interesting movie reviews up right now, including a 5-star review of "Sucker Punch," that some of you might find interesting. Her site is:

http://theramblinreviewer.blogspot.com/, so check it out, but after you finish reading mine.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) Director: Greg Nolfi

4 1/2 STARS

It's a shame that I have to announce it from a rooftop that a movie is filled with actual ideas, but "The Adjustment Bureau," is the kind of movie we could discuss, interpret and analyze for hours. Considering the source material, that shouldn't be a surprise; it's based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the great sci-fi writer whose work has influenced such varied filmmakers as Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner"), to Richard Linklater ("A Scanner Darkly"), to even Steven Spielberg (the underrated "Minority Report"). Matt Damon plays a young New York Congressman, who's known for such actions as winning the election and then getting arrested for a bar fight the same night. After a losing election, he runs into a girl (Emily Blunt) in the men's bathroom. They have a quick make-out session, and then he goes a little off the teleprompter on his concession speech. Months later, he runs into the girl again, on a bus. Unbeknownst to him, this wasn't supposed to happen, and this causes a group of mysterious hat-wearing agents to take him and explain to him that he isn't supposed to have contact with her, for it ruins the plan. What plan? Yeah, that person's plan, referred to here as "The Chairman".  The members of the bureau, who are played perfectly by great character actors like John Slattery, Terrence Stamp and Anthony Mackie.  They seem to have an alternate universe existing behind certain doors in New York City. I'm only touching the surface of the many many layers of theological theories this film examines. Later, by chance, the Damon and Blunt meet again, and the Bureau tries to get involved again, by correcting the plan, or at least they think they are. It's a romantic, action, sci-fi, thriller, and a good one on that level. If it's got a flaw, it's that it doesn't go as far as it can, and ends kinda suddenly. It suffers compared to last year's "Inception," also one of the few Hollywood movies that dared to have deep thoughts, and took them farther than anybody would've imagined. Still, "The Adjustment Bureau," says a lot and leaves opens for in depth analytical interpretations that will only grow upon close inspection and multiple viewings. Like the Bourne movies, "The Adjustment Bureau," continues Matt Damon's impressive streak as the thinking man's actor, with another great performance in a thinking man's film.

TANGLED (2010) Directors: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

3 STARS

Disney has finally gotten around to rewritting the Rapunzel tale, and it's probably a good thing they did rewrite; it never really was the best of any of the famous childhood Princess fairy tales to begin with, and considering that, with "Tangled," they did a decent job. Ultimately though, this is one of the most minor of entries in the Disney canon. The story involves, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) a long, long blonde-haired teenager who's about to turn eighteen, and wants to one day leave the castle that's she been kept her entire life in by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), an old woman who one day discovered the magic power of eternal youth, which is implanted into Rapunzel's hair, making it grow long and blonde, or something like that. They explained the complete backstory in the beginning, but I'm gonna lie, I was only half-listening. It's Disney, there's a Princess, unless they do they're way out there projects like "Wall-E," it's basically retreading old material. Eventually, Rapunzel has a meet cute with Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) a noted outlaw who is at first capture by Rapunzel, and who then helps her escape from the castle. They certainly do a lot with her hair. About every possible sight gag you could think of, they figured out a way to throw it in here. Also, the animation is good here. I didn't watch the 3-D, but the scene with the floating lanterns that rise across the village is certainly memorable, and a good use of that technology, although other than that, there's no reason to watch the 3-D of this (Or most movies for that matter). I think considering what they had to start with, "Tangled," is pretty impressive. They really had this core story, and they used every trick in the book to do it, from comedy, to intense drama, and the unexpected musical numbers, in order to find a way out of a scene. They put some work into this one, and made it about as impressive I think they could've, so it's a recommendation, under the caveat that there's better choices Disney out there. It's a rental, probably not the Disney film you want your young kids playing on a constant DVD loop though.

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011) Director: Jason Eisner

2 1/2 STARS

I soooo wanted to like this movie, and I was with it for awhile, but by the end "Hobo with a Shotgun," the joke of portraying overly excessive violence, just goes way too far, and it really loses the comic intentions, and basically turns into a bunch of blood, guts, gore, and not much else.  I had some high hopes for this film, from first-time director Jason Eisner. The film is based on his trailer, which was seen as part of the movie "Grindhouse," in the Canadian release of the film. For those who didn't see it, "Grindhouse," was a double-feature collaboration between Robert Rodriguez ("Planet Terror,") and Quentin Tarantino ("Death Proof"), which was an homage to some of the more low-budget exploitative/horror films of of the '70s you'd usually see at some of those cheaper drive-in theatres of the time, and the theatrical release included some memorable fake trailors for other movies from some director friends of QT and Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez himself recently made the movie "Machete," based on his own fake trailer from the film. Eisner won a contest in Canada, and got to make his own trailer, which he has now adapted to this feature-length film. I gave "Machete," a 5-star review last year, and "Grindhouse," made my Ten Best list the year it came out. (QT's "Death Proof," alone would've made my list that year) "Hobo with a Shotgun," does have the feel of those gringy low-budget bloodfest of the era, but the problem is that while Tarantino and Rodriguez take those inspirations and make good movies out of them, Eisner, just really makes a bloody mess. This might be the bloodiest movie I've ever seen, and the violence is cartoonishly garrish and over-the-top, from the beginning. People are hung like meat to be sliced by baseball bat made of razorblades, have their necks trapped in potholes and tied to the bumper of car, and yes there's a vigilante hobo, (Perfectly casted Rutger Hauer) who kills people, with a shotgun. He kills those that slaughter the rest of the town, which is headed by a family of maniacs, all of whom dress like their villians from "Miami Vice," and are at times hard to tell apart, (Two of them are played by the same actor) unless their name is on the back of their jacket. The movie goes downhill after a scene involving a school bus that really just goes beyond the kind over-the-top bad movie violence a film like this needs, and frankly I stopped laughing after that, and the violence just became continually worse and constant. It's just too mind-numbing, and not enough wit to hold this together at the end. I can see how Eisner could've made an amazing trailer out of this material, and he made about half a decent film, but he ran out of ideas other than come up with weirder, more disgusting ways to kill his characters. This movie started out funny, but by the end I became nauseous. Very disappointing.

BEST WORST MOVIE (2010) Director: Michael Stephenson

3 STARS

As disappointing as "Hobo with a Shotgun," was, it probably isn't as bad as "Troll 2", the movie that's infamous for having the lowest score rating ever on rottentomatoes.com. I never even heard of the original "Troll," which is okay, 'cause apparently the two films in fact have nothing to do with each other. This is the story we're told by Michael Stephenson, who directs this documentary on the making of and phenomenon of "Troll 2." He played the little kid in the movie, and now that the movie has gained a small cult following, he's taking a look back at the movie, including finding the original cast and crew, which involved an apparently successful and devoted Italian filmmaking duo as the writer and director, and an interesting crop of the movie's lesser-known actors. I should put actors in quotes there, because they included one guy who was just recently out of an insane asylum, and the star of the movie, George Hardy, is a very-well respected dentist, currently living in Alabama, who got the part at an audition when he was living in Utah, where the film was shot. He's not a good actor, but he's a great personality to follow for this film. The original film was called "Gremlin," and was apparently supposed to be a vegetarian vampire film, apparently by the time it got released, straight-to-video, and later on HBO viewings, the title had been changed, probably as a way to sell more copies. (A practice that isn't that uncommon if anybody still goes to Blockbuster they'll see all those straight-to-DVD sequels that they're filled with, that are really just bad remakes of the originals, at best.) "Best Worst Movie," is best when it looks at the filming and talks with the dubious cast and crew of the film, and there's a joyous scene where they revisit some of the sets with the director and replay mockingly some of their more famous scenes. The movie then spends a lot of time looking at the cult fandom the film has earned, and it earned some, which many sold-out viewings of the film happening around the country, and making their actors, somewhat popular on the cult film autograph circuit. These scenes are interesting, but mostly drag the movie, and their a particularly disappointing trip to England at a sci-fi/horror convention that doesn't go over as planned. Still this is an entertaining movie, about a notoriously not-so-entertaining movie, and it's a fun little documentary, albeit, it's kind of all of the place, but the strong parts about the making of the movie and the looking back with the cast and crew is certainly special, as they really try and figure out just how they made such a memorably bad film.
MONSTERS (2010) Director: Gareth Edwards

3 1/2 STARS

Gareth Edwards's first feature "Monsters," swept the British Independent Film Awards, and earned him a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut Feature, and it's a film that's got clear skill in it's filmmaker, as he puts together a few different genres into a constantly compelling story, that actually doesn't play out predictably. The film starts by informing us that a probe to one of Jupiter's moons that possibly contained signs of life from the planet disintegrated over Mexico six years ago, and ever since, most of the country has been quarantined off at the U.S. border, who have natural built a wall. Not just any wall though, a wall that would make the Great Wall in China is miniscule in comparison. Naturally, the two American in Central America (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) lose their passports. Andrew (McNairy) is supposed to get Samantha (Able) home, after he promised her father, (The movie is aware of some of the worse cliches, and has a tendency to correctly brush over them) and now that involves, having to find some way through the quarantine zone, through some kind of underground delivery passage. The film is based in the fear aspects of sci-fi and horror, but it's also a road trip movie, it's also a romance, and it's also a Conrad-esque journey it's very intriguing world that Edwards creates. It's not a typical monster movie. There's occasional moments when we think these aliens are around, and we're always wondering when will they show, and he teases us with this. We suspect that a character that goes off behind a building to go to the bathroom, might not return, but then she soon does. Even when we are told that the Monsters are nearby, hiding in the trees, we can't even see them. There's a little "The Blair Witch Project," influence here, at least for a while anyway. Finally at a gas station of all places, we finally see the aliens. They're impressive, beautiful, and possibly destructive. Yet, the movie doesn't give us the A, B or C possible endings we've been thinking. Edwards is certainly a skilled director, although what he might be best at is his storytelling, his writing. He's got a very wise ability to play with multiple genres here, and tell a surprisingly traditional human story, in the type of movie world where that sort of story isn't normally told. It's certainly an impressive debut for Edwards, and more importantly it makes me want to know what he's gonna to do next.

LETTERS TO FATHER JACOB (2010) Director: Klaus Haro

4 STARS

I knew very little about "Letters to Father Jacob," going into it, and it was one of the more interesting surprises I've had watching a film in a while. It's from Finland, and the story involves, Leila (Kaarina Haazard), a convict with a heart-of-stone, who's surprised to find that she's gotten a sponsor in Father Jacob (Heikki Nousiainen) who's willing to allow her to work for him as she's released from a long sentence. Father Jacob, we find out is blind, yet he continues to recieves letters everyday from people he's come in contact with over the years, former parish members, local townsfolk, peope who are asking for prayers or guidance, or some other help from him, and he needs to read them. They arrive everyday. His bed is even held up by them. Leila does other household chores for him, reluctantly. He keeps a large amount of money in a drawer sometimes, when he isn't giving it out as a loan to one of the people he helps. He doesn't even seem to care if it's stolen. He's old, and he doesn't particularly need the money anyway. Soon however, the letters start coming more and more infrequently, until the postman stops coming by house finally. The movie paces itself, but it's a simple story. The movie's runtime is less than 80 minutes in fact, but that's not the reason I'm recommending it. I'm recommending it, because of the impressive acting, and at the subtle changes Leila makes as she works with Father Jacob, and the small town start to rub out her stubbornness, although not entirely her pain. There's a good reveal at the end that further explains how these this odd couple pairing wasn't as fateful as it at first seemed. It's a good-little that deserves an audience to find it.

THE OUTSIDERS (1983) Director: Francis Coppola

3 STARS

It seems like everybody in my elementary school read S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders," except for me. I remember it being popular at the library, and often being passed around. It's a little strange, not that I think about it, 'cause the movie had been out since before I was born, and most of the other popular children's lit titles of that era, hadn't been made into a film, and many like "The BFG," still haven't. I haven't read the book, so I can't do a comparison between the two (Which, I think is an overrated practice anyway), but the movie, was one of those early '80s movies Francis Ford Coppola directed that started to push his focus to films about teenagers along with "Rumble Fish," and "Peggy Sue Got Married", (Although granted, the latter was a time-travel to a teenager story, but still...) and the movie stars, well, apparently everybody young from the eighties that wasn't in the "Brat Pack." Ah, no I stand corrected, Emilio Estevez is in it. The story is actually a fairly straight-forward '50s gang warfare tale, between rich kids and not-so-rich kids, in this story, they're the Socs, and the Greasers. After a couple Socs attack Johnny and Ponyboy (Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell), the conflict ends in the death of one of the kids, and with the help of the head greaser, who's basically the oldest one still around (Matt Dillon) they have to hide for a while, and change their appearances after a little time has gone away. On the way back to town, they run into a burning schoolhouse and save some of the kids, but getting themselves seriously injured in the process. I have a feeling the book was probably better. I'm not one of who instinctly believes that of all popular adaptations of novels, but with so many characters that, eventually end up at a brawl at the end, that's basically predestined to occur, a novel would probably be deeper and filled a lot of the gaps that this movie leaves in. Here, under Coppola's direction, it basically feels like a typical story of rival youths, that's reminscent of earlier similar films, and there's an ending which involves a voice-over from a character that has passed away, that might be powerful in a book, but it's not effective here. I'm recommending it 'cause I think there's enough here, and in terms of the talent that can be traced to this movie, it's certainly an important film for it's early performances by some future Hollywood heavyweights, but it does have the feeling of a missed opportunity to make a great movie.


LE DOULOS (1962) Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

5 STARS

This movies has murders, gangsters, break-ins, and occasionally a woman to slap around. "Le Doulos," which directly translated means "The hat," but in this case, a better translation might be, "the police informant," has the look and feel of one of those old-time gangster film noirs that the French so love, and especially director Jean-Pierre Melville. His movies are often about the underworld, and those internal seedy characters criminal that have rejected all other aspects of normal society. This is the third of his films I've seen after "Army of Shadows," which was about the French Resistance movement during WWII, and "Le Samourai," which is about a lonely, quiet hitman who seems to have a key for every possible car ever ever made, just in case he needs to steal one. "Le Doulos," begins as a story about a recently-released convict, looking to get back at those that sent him to prison. Where, it ends up, I couldn't even tell you. Even if you're able to follow the story, which I don't think you can, and not really supposed to anyway, the movie then has a scene where Silian, the Hat, (Jean-Paul Belmondo) talks to the Police, and tells us a completely different perspective on everything that we've seen up to that point. Is his version actually what happened, or is he making it up for the Police? I don't know, and I couldn't care less, cause the film is about style. It's about bad guys who dress like bad guys and do bad things, any story there is or is given, is simply just to go from one bad thing to another bad thing. The famous American film counterpart to this is probably Howard Hawks's "The Big Sleep," which is about a detective investigating a crime. It doesn't particularly matter that if you follow logically the explanation of what happened in that film, one character killed two others after he apparently jumped off a bridge. In Melville's world, anybody can backstab anybody else at any time, with or without a reason, and that alone is scary to walk through, so there's no particular need to give an explanation.
COMEDY OF POWER (2006) Director: Claude Chabrol

3 1/2 STARS

Claude Chabrol, along with the aforementioned Jean-Pierre Melville, were two of forerunners of the French New Wave. He passed away last year after finishing his last film "Inspector Bellamy," with Gerard Depardieu. I've actually seen quite a few of his films, but I'm not the biggest fan of him. He likes to tease the audience a little too much, by starting out by setting up a genre, in the case of "Comedy of Power," it seems to be courtroom drama, led by a tough-minded, smart investigative attorney (Isabelle Huppert, one of my favorites), investigating a major fraud case involves the disgraced heads of a major banking institution. The title, very literally references the kind of faults of logic the powerful have in this story, where it's becomes readily apparent that it's not so much that they got caught, but how they didn't get caught until now. Then Chabrol, will abandon all that drama and intrigue that he has created, and start dwelling on something else, which in this case focuses on the personal life of that Jeanne (Huppert). He's beloved by many, but I find him annoying, precisely because he's such a good director that he gets me excited at the beginning of his films, that when he suddenly decides to pull a 180, and do something new. I feel cheated. He basically created everything to start telling one movie, and now he's going give us a middle finger by not giving us that. Here, the investigating and especially the interrogation scenes of are especially good, and the personal life stuff, is so-so, and unlike some of his other films, this constant teasing of genres actually works pretty well in this film. To those who might be interested in his work, he was an amazing director, I wouldn't be so annoyed by his style if he wasn't. It works in this film, "This Man Must Die," "Le Boucher/The Butcher," and my favorite would probably be "Merci Pour le Chocolat," which is his version of a Hitchcockian-type story, and I would avoid "Les Biches," completely.
OFF THE BLACK (2006) Director: James Pondsoldt

3 STARS

Nick Nolte stars in this intriguing little Independent dramedy, about an old dying loner who will make one lasting relationship before his death, probably with somebody much younger. This variation involves Ray Cook (Nolte) as a part-time High School Baseball Umpire, and a young pitcher (Trevor Morgan) who he catches toiletpapering his house after a game where he made a controversial call. After making him do a few household chores around the house, he makes a deal with him to pretend to be his son at his upcoming 40th High School Reunion. Reluctantly, he agrees. It's an interesting little premise, and it's interesting little film. Nolte's performance is the key to the film, and he's very good as one of these rugged old bastards who's face looks like a catcher's mitt. There's some strong supporting work here, also from Rosemarie Dewitt, who appears to be Ray's only friendly contact with the outside world. There's a few too many gimmicky touches to this film, including Ray, for some reason, apparently videotapes himself talking about his day at the dinner table. His random thoughts, and otherwise, that's clearly a device of it's writer/director, and there were a couple other unusual notes, but there's nothing in this film that's particularly off-putting but there's nothing particularly special either, other than Nolte's performance. This really is a film to show off his acting ability, he's a good actor, the film shows that, and it knows enough not to do anything else.  


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