Friday, January 24, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #79: "IRON MAN 3", "THE CROODS", "THE ACT OF KILLING", "THE HUNT", "AT ANY PRICE", "LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED", "OBLIVION", "A HIJACKING", "JACK THE GIANT SLAYER", "THE EAST", "PARADISE", "YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET", "BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME", "AS I LAY DYING", "RISE OF THE GUARDIANS", "THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN" and MORE!

Whew! Lots of movie reviews this week. Award season coverage pushed me back a couple blogposts so there's a little more than usual this week, and on top of that, I have a lot more to watch than usual, as I have to try and catch up on everything for award season.

Anyway, a couple things, first of all, I'm unsure of how well the google search engine tab at the top of this blog is working, so if anybody has anything of mine that they want to look at, let me know; there's a decent chance I've written something on almost any subject or reviewed a recent movie at some point, so if you have trouble finding it, tweet me, Facebook me, comment, ask, I'll find it, and send links. I'm working on the problems, I might at some point in the future ever consider switching away from Blogger perhaps, I'm exploring many options, but if you any trouble or issues with my blog, let me know.

The only other thing I had a thought on was the controversy that came after Woody Allen was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Golden Globes, and of course some of the accusations laid against him. I don't many qualms about being a Woody Allen fan, but that said, I do tend to believe most of the accusations against him, and frankly I think about what Theodore Dreiser said, that "Moralists have no place in an art gallery." And frankly that's correct. If we're talking great artists who've done or have been suspected of doing despicable things, Woody Allen, barely breaks the Top Ten, and you know, at the end of the day, you don't judge the artist, you judge the art. It'd be nice to say that the world's greatest artist are also the world's greatest people, but let's face it, that's just simply not the case and it never will be. You can say or do whatever you want based on you're own morals, but as much as some may try, the art will live on, so we might as well embrace it. Good art is so rare as it is.

Anyway, onto this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS starting with four of this year's OSCAR NOMINATION FILMS!


IRON MAN 3 (2013) Director: Shane Black

✰✰✰



Well, I still don't fully understand the logic of the Marvel-, (Marvel Universe, is that what it...-? Marvelverse? Mar- [Flips hand] Ah, forget it.) Anyway, it just doesn't quite pass the logic test. I had that same problem with "The Avengers", but think about, a terrorist is able to control the airwaves to deliver his messages, explodes bombs randomly across the country, attack landmarks with helicopters and infiltrate the highest levels of the governments, but don't bring the Avengers together, instead, deal with it ourselves, 'cause it's making the government look bad? I got one, how about since most of the Avengers are already Americans, why not, the next time anybody dares to attack us, how about calling on the Avengers, to go beat the living hell out of the threat, and talk about the brilliance of the American superhumans that can destroy armies, and piggyback off them? Well, the ineptitude of the U.S. Government aside, I'm lukewarm to "Iron Man 3", it's clearly the weakest of the "Iron Man" movies, and also the most cliche-filled, but, for the ways that both the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) go through some, legitimate personal and emotional perils both together and apart. The movie takes place after "The Avengers" film, and Stark has been working on a collection of his Iron Man suits, most of which, he doesn't even need to be inside to control them, and it's causing him a lot of sleepless nights, plus, he's suffering panic attacks, and other side effects from going through that wormhole. The government's hired Colonel James (Don Cheadle) to have his War Machine painted red, white and blue, to be the Iron Patriot to work for the government, and Happy (Jon Favreau) has taken over the Security measures at Stark,- (Industries?, is that it? Yeah? Okay.) ...Stark Industries, much to the chagrin of, most everyone. Favreau has also passed over the directing and writing honors to Shane Black interestingly enough, who of course wrote the great script to "Lethal Weapon", but hasn't directed since the quirky Hollywood comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", which, is memorable, although not particularly special. A mysterious Middle Eastern figured named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, in a really cool performance, that I don't want to give away why) who's for some reason, impossible to find, and seems incalculably powerful and restless. He's however a figure controlled by Stark's competitor Aldrich Killian, who's resurfaced in Pepper and Tony's lives years after their first encounter, which we see in flashback, and Tony basically ignored, but now, his company, AIM is contracted by the government and he's looking for revenge, as well as winning back Pepper, who's Aldrich's ex-girlfriend. Ironically Tony's ex, Maya (Rebecca Hall) works for Aldrich as a botanist, who's become more and more morally disrupted, and tries to get ahold of Stark for help, but is interrupted by his house getting attacked by the Mandarin. There's a lot more going on, and I'm only really scratching the surface, and a strange scenario plays out where Tony's getting help from a small mechanically interested kid (Ty Simpkins) while Tony's stranded in Tennessee in the depth of a snowy winter. The action scenes I really enjoyed, I'll admit the movie has some flat parts. Guy Pearce for instance, not his fault, but this is not a villain that seems equal to Stark or that intriguing of one really, and it goes back and forth a bit too much between the similarities or symbolisms of the modern world, particularly involving the government while also trying to be it's own universe. It's a little confusing to see iron suited heroes blowing up oil refineries, mixed with "Downton Abbey" going on in background. It's a mixed review, but the character is still interesting, and the inner journey they sent him on, was interesting enough for me.


THE CROODS (2013) Director: Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders

✰✰✰



I'm always amazed in modern animation, particularly in computer animation, how they manage to get the hair to flow so perfectly. Such long hair as those of Eep Crood, (Emma Stone) as we get some gorgeous over-the-shoulder shots of her looking down off the side of a land formation or a cliff. It's similar to my hair, so I notice things like that. Mine isn't perfectly straightened, so like Eep's, a cave teenager who wishes to wonder off into the ever-changing world without getting eaten or stepped on by a superanimal, it flows in the back, but not more than it's possible for someone who lacks the proper beauty regiment. (Something, I'm slowly gaining, admittedly.) Other than that, honestly, I wasn't too interested in "The Land Before Time with People", I mean, "The Croods". (That was mean, it was better "The Land Before Time"). It's following a trend in recent animated films to be, about the importance of family, and the importance also of being an individual. Frankly, the movie is a good remake of Plato's famous "Allegory of the Cave", very literally in fact. Grug Crood (Nicolas Cage) the family's father insists on making sure everyone remains in there so as, very reasonably, not to get killed. Cavepeople got killed quite often by, going outside and other such dangerous activities. The family does go out every week for a good game of breakfast, that's a nice sequence. Soon, a guy comes into the picture, literally named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who's a survivalist who's recognizing that the world is close to ending, or shaking, or,eh,...- Wait, what exactly was he able to foresee? Now I'm confused, anyway, after some reluctance, rib-breaking and biting, he starts leading the family towards the sun and a path towards, eh, well, a new excited life in the Great Valley. Dammit, I didn't wanna use another "The Land Before Time" joke, but it's so easy here. Look, it's not a bad animated film but it's not a great one, in many ways it's very cliched. Many of the jokes don't really work, but there are a few moments that are quite amazing, animation wise, many of them involving the movement of land formations. The animation is better than the movie, I'll say that. I like Eep as a character, her hair especially, and her costume. Do animated movies have costume designers? Couldn't hurt, I guess. It is a recommendation, but obviously not a strong one. It's just that, we go to movies often to see things we don't see elsewhere, and here's a family, a hormonal teenage daughter, a strict dad, and a new boyfriend who he doesn't like. I've seen all this, and when you see something like that, in animation in particular, where there's endless possibilities,.... (Shrugs)


THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

✰✰✰✰1/2



Note: Sorry if this particular review is a bit scattered. I had written it once before, a much-better written review before, but somehow I lost it, and I tried recreating it  (Ironic,considering the movie, I know) but couldn't do it exactly.

I knew that Indonesia was a stronghold for several terrorist organizations in modern times, and always wondered why. It probably would've been easy to simply do a traditional interview biodocumentary on the death squad gangsters and hoods, who killed a million so-called Communists after the '65 military overthrow of the government, but instead director Joshua Oppenheimer took one of the more intriguing routes, by having the killers make movies of themselves, depicting their vicious acts. They get all they need, they hire locals as actors, and they can shoot anyway they want in order to depict their own experiences and viewpoints of the slaughtering. "The Act of Killing" chronicles these gangsters and hoods, now 40+ years after these atrocities, most of which made them rich, and they still basically have bought the now democratic Indonesian government, the films they create are visceral, and there frank talk is odd and disturbing. They don't immediately come off as mass murderers. They even go on TV promoting the film, the gangsters are still respected enough. They often call themselves gangsters which they were/are, and promote that by saying that the word originated from the latin for "Free man".  During one shooting break, one of them tells about how he'd keep the girls, particularly the young girls alive just to rape them. How or why they feel that they can so easily brag about their acts, I don't know. I guess they don't think they can really be taken in anymore or they've got enough power and allies still in high places On of the reasons they're documenting their crimes in this way is because there isn't the footage that say, the Nazis so calculatingly took of the Holocaust, most of which, they thought would be a document of their achievements, and that their eradication of the Jews would be looked upon in history books with praise. Here, as they reenact the bloodied massacres and viscous interrogations, among other scenes, some may still think they were in the right. We know now that the crimes weren't so much anti-Communist inspired, although that's how it was promoted, but was more of a Pol Pot, reflected death of the intelligentsia and others who simply disagreed with the reforms, or were accused of such acts. Or were simply named names, on a list provided somewhere. One of them was a journalist who bragged about his names, which he gave to the death squads. The movie doesn't show old footage, in fact the motif of a modern-day Jakarta, complete with McDonald's undermines the ironies. Some were annoyed that the new regime refused to show American films in the theaters they owned after they took power, losing them a lot of money. We hear sporadically how some of the killers lost their minds and couldn't live with themselves. Some of the victims, one of them claims, haunts him for nights on in, in his sleeps. It is true that the winners write the history books usually, but a film like "The Act of Killing" proves that, that's not always true.


THE HUNT (2013) Director: Thomas Vintenberg

✰✰✰1/2


I'm watching over Vintenberg's "The Hunt" again, as I begin writing this, because I worried about some biases that I didn't foresee before. For instance, while a lot of people have been comparing the film to something like "The Children's Hour", but I was recalling a film called "The Green" that few people saw but remained in my mind above the troubles and struggles of a gay couple who become ostracized by their community and then with each other when one of them gets accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a high school student. That's become one of the most overlooked films in recent years. Here, the teacher is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). He's a divorced father, who lives alone, but is good as an kindergarten teacher. He even begins dating again as it begins to inch towards Christmas. Then, he gets accused of sexually propositioning one of his students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). He's suspended, and startled at the accusation. It's clear the kid is lying, but not everyone thinks so. And soon, the people surrounding him start to reject him, and few believe him. Even after the girl says she made it up, her mother Agnes (Anne Louise Hassling) thinks that she couldn't have made up the story, and talks about how she only thinks it's imaginary and block out the moment in her mind. It's possible something like that can happen, and has, so it's not unreasonable the parents position, for awhile anyway. Vintenberg is one of the Dogme '95 filmmakers who revolutionized digitial filmmaking back in the '90s, and he's a good filmmaker. His last film "Submarino" was haunting. Maybe it's because I've seen better films on the subject recently, but the film lacks to me, while it still remains effective. Mikkelsen gives a really great performance, and that carries the movie. The film earned a Foreign Language Oscar nomination earlier this week, one I wasn't surprised by, but also one that I'm not sure it entirely deserved. Thinking on back on it, and considering it again, I think his character remained a little too insular however. He's a loner, although dating at the moment, a co-worker, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) but most of his decline occurs when he's alone and in his empty house, driven to madness by his stigmatization. He ends up fighting with Klara's father, eventually, because of his protectiveness. And you know, in hindsight, some of the sequences I don't get. There's a scene with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) getting kicked out of a supermarket because of his dad.- And actually that's the problem. There's a lot of scenes that are examples, and they aren't really organic to the story necessarily, it's just a lot of same thing, repeated a different way, and if didn't really come off effectively as a narrative. Still, recommending it, but it's not the masterpiece that some are making it out to be.


AT ANY PRICE (2013) Director: Ramin Bahrani

✰✰✰



I expect certain observations about the modern world and those who live within it from Ramin Bahrani, the great young director of "Chop Shop", "Man Push Cart" and "Goodbye, Solo", all great indy films he shot with little-known, or in some cases non-professional actors that earned him great acclaim. He is one of the most natural directors around, and in that sense, "At Any Price", his most professional film to date, is a bit of a disappointment. He's got well-known actors giving life to his usually eccentric and determined characters, but somehow they come off cliched here, even at their most realistic. The film revolves around a seed salesman in Iowa, Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) the best salesman in eight counties for Liberty Seeds. Describing his job would take a bit of an agricultural economics lesson, but in modern times, farmers use cryogenic seeds instead of natural seeds, which are produced and sold by competing manufacturers. They're a little different than regular seeds, and the usage of all seeds is heavily regulated, and a farmer can only grow using one kind of seeds per season. Competition is fierce. In order to by land for his son Grant (Patrick W. Stevens) who's off seeing the world, and climbing Mt. Aconcagua in order to stay away from home. Instead, he tries focusing on his younger kid, Dean (Zac Efron) but he's quickly building a reputation as a local legend on the figure eight racecar circuit, and seems determined to grow up become a NASCAR driver, leave with his girlfriend Cadence (Maika Monroe) if she's willing and then never come home again. The father's annoying, and definitely a salesman first above feelings and emotions. The opening scene is him going to a funeral to try and quickly buy the departed's land. He also may have been involved in reseeding, which is illegal with the cryogenic seeds, but as his competition continues to make end roads into his territory he becomes desperate. His wife Irene (Kim Dickens) is patient, and more emotionally appealing to her kids, but not really strong enough to hold back on Henry's more headstrong nature that seems to alienate everybody. Except Cadence, who's grown up without a family and enjoys be taken under his wing going on salestrip through Iowa. There's also a role played by Heather Graham, and I'm gonna not reveal exactly the way she's used, other than to say that, she is one of the most criminally underused actresses around, and even here, she isn't exactly what I would think of as a character but rather she's more of a marker on other characters path, and that, that kinda bothered me, but a lot of this film bothered me. It's well-made, well-acted by Quaid, although I think, he borders on the cheesy at times, but the real problem is that, you never quite buy why his sons and family are such antagonistic to him. Efron, has a tendency to go to a blank expression, as oppose to a more visceral and emotional way to represent his emotions. In some cases that's okay, but there's a clear disconnect between him and Quaid, they seem to be on such different acting wavelengths that they just don't really connect the way they should. Plus, parts of the story itself are really traditional and predictable. Not all of it, but I typical expect Bahrani to be more creative in his plot structure than to pick a more obvious choice of what paths the movie takes. Plus, he's really good at realism, and this movie feels a little too pretty and pristine, to really come off as realistic. It looks like "Days of Heaven" when it would probably be better if it looked like "Winter's Bone". I think he struggled with this film, but it's still interesting enough anyway, to watch the struggle, plus there are glimpses of greatness here. He'll come back from this, thankfully it isn't the worst thing to came back from either.


LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED (2013) Director: Susanne Bier

✰✰1/2


Susanne Bier's follow up to her great Oscar-winning film "In a Better World", "Love is All You Need", is a light, light, light little romantic comedy, done reasonably well, but not exactly memorable or exciting. Especially from someone who can give us such emotionally intimate films like "Brothers" and "Things We Lost in the Fire", and here,- basically it's a nice, simple, rom-com (After a long pause, he finally decided to end that sentence with a period). Yeah, that's about it. The title, is of course from The Beatles song, but the main song you'll hear is Dean Martin's version of "That's Amore". Not sure why, being Italian I've heard it many times in my life, but it doesn't have too much to do with the movie about a couple getting married in Greece, and they two parents of the bride and groom, who start with a meet cute, and then slowly begin to fall in love over the course of the sorta chaotic wedding reception, which pales to other movies, but is rather ornate and asinine compared to other. I'm not gonna lie, with Pierce Brosnan as the main guy, and a child's wedding in Greece being the event that brings the characters together, well, I spent a decent part of the movie thinking about "Mamma Mia". Well, the movie is better than that film, although that's a pretty low mark to aim for, but still.... Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is coming off a divorce, and cancer treatments. She's bald and wears a wig as she meet Philip (Pierce Brosnan) an international food distributor, who's son is marrying her daughter. That's really all there is to it. There's naturally a correlating and predictable subplot about their kids, worried about whether they should get marries, all this while the wedding is being planned,-

You know what, you're all five or six steps ahead of me already, and that's the way the movie essentially felt. It's not the worse of it's kind it's not the best, it's a disappointing blah from a normally good director. And it plays "That's Amore" a lot, despite the title, and it didn't have much believe amore or love. I wish I had to more to discuss about it, but frankly that's it.


OBLIVION
(2013) Director: Joseph Kosinski

1/2


"Oblivion" starts out a little bit like "Wall-E" but with humans who've had their memories erased instead of a lonely robot who's out to package the destructed remains of Earth, the parts that are somewhere recyclable before their mission ends and they return to the last human colony left, on Titan, the famous moon of Saturn. The two humans are Victoria and Jack (Andrea Riseborough and Tom Cruise), Victoria relays to Mission Control, represented by what I suspect is not necessarily a human character, Sally (Melissa Leo) and to Jack, who spends his days going around what's left of America and collect and fixing crashed drones, and trying to salvage other remnants of the past. Their memories have been erased, but somehow, Jack still dreams of electric sheep, or more importantly, has scattered remnant images of New York City, particularly a woman he sees in a crowd. The images haunt him, while Victoria, who likes the candlelight dinners and skinnydipping they have in their amniotic glass pool, she mostly just wants to soon get back to Titan. Then, on one of those famous last or next-to-last missions, a drone falls into an area close to a forbidden zone, which, despite no possible people or surrounding able to exist, a beacon call was being made from there. The ship turns out to have cryogenically frozen people there, and despite the drones, who were sent to destroy whatever might've been able to survive, he saves the human and unfreezes her, and the girl, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who's been frozen for 60 years. Then the movie loses it's way as Morgan Freeman's character as a leader of a Mad Max-style band of renegades who've someone are still living on the planet, kidnap and basically, recruit them to their cause, whatever that was. The third act of this movie, which, maybe lasts about an hour or two, or it seemed like, there's a lot of special effects, and some vague notion of a greater meaning and symbolism about rebirth but, if you can get to that, through the plot loopholes, through the CGI, through the downtrodden tone, through of mess of clones, drones, and actual humans, all seemingly still fighting a war that supposedly ended decades ago, and in the uninhabitability of the planet that they're all doing all of this on, well, congratulations to you. "Oblivion" is the first film I've seen from "Tron: Legacy" director Joseph Kosinski, and it's based on a graphic novel that he created the story to, but this thing out well, and turns into a mess. One interesting credit here is that the script was co-written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt, but under the name Michael DeBruyn, which is the name he's also credited under for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire". Not sure why he's switched last names, although if I had written part of "Oblivion", I might be changing my last name too.


A HIJACKING (2013) Director: Thomas Lindholm

✰✰✰✰


"A Hijacking" is the second Danish film I've reviewing this week, after "The Hunt", which was also co-written by this film's writer/director, Thomas Lindholm, and the movie is surprisingly simple in scope and basic in it's execution. The movie begins with the crew of a ship, that is soon boarded by Somali pirates. I know, that sounds a little like "Captain Phillips", but this wasn't a military vessel, it was a ship run by a Danish corporation. When we find the CEO, Peter (Soren Malling), he's brokering a deal with Japanese investors, when word of the hijacking begins. The rest of the movie, for all-intensive purposes, is about the slow pace of the negotiations. K&R, which stands for Kidnapping & Ransom in the lingo of the insurance world. The process is slow; Peter is advised not to be the one doing the negotiation himself, but he insists, knowing full well that if all goes wrong, there's blood on his hands. Ironically, that's something the pirates actually did, they hired out Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) to negotiate on their behalf during these intense and stressful phone calls, and the even more intense and stressful games of waiting and chicken in between. And btw, when I say that, that there's a long time between, I'm not kidding. They take months, and the Somalis have more experience with this kind of negotiation. It's a tricky and intense slope. If it was up to Peter, he'd give whatever they'd ask for and more just to get them home. They shot this movie interestingly. The actual phone negotiations are improvised, and the scenes on the boat, were actually on a boat in the Indian Ocean, and the conversations were improvised between both sides simultaneously. Many of the cast members, including the professional hostage negotiator are actually non-actors playing themselves, this is easier for them to play, but it also in orders us to get the step by step, play-by-play aspect of the movie, which is really the crux of it. In fact, when the movie does stray from that, it's almost more than we can handle. The CEO has to keep the story private in order to save their lives, but also can't afford to give them anywhere nearing their $15million asking price, because if he does, then everybody knows that's what you'll get the next time. It's hard to believe it, but the longer they last, the more likely everyone will get out alive, (Simultaneously, they're also more likely to end up dead.) The film has similarities to "The Hunt" in how it's a film about how an ever-continuing situations cause increased frustrations while a situation is unable to be solved. The movie still has some issues where it's slow a bit, I think the attempts to make more cliched and traditional characters of some of the crew members, which I think, at certain moments, it would be better not to focus as much on them so intimately, but still, overall, a very solid and detailed film. It's a good playbook to what a dogme-styled, natural-feeling look film should kinda be.


JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013) Director: Bryan Singer

1/2


Trying to take "Jack the Giant Slayer" seriously is a chore, even when the movie does have occasional fluttering moments of inspiration. I mean, it's "Jack and the Fucking Beanstalk", even done well, this had about a snowflake chance in Vegas of landing and sticking. Well, it doesn't really stick. I guess, the-eh, well, of several additions to the original story includes a Princess, Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) who being courted by older male royals, but somehow is attractive to an easily-distracted commoner named Jack (Nicholas Hoult) who's family's poor and the farm is struggling. When we get to, the big scene with him selling a horse, they come up with an effective story about why the beans when wet, will eventually do what it does. The seller is a Monk, who's looking for a runaway horse, claiming the beans are religious relics of an earlier time, and instructs Jack to take them the church to receive his proper compensation, but the house gets engulfed, and then lifted, and soon, the King arrives at the sudden large growth on his kingdom. Oh, the reason that they, the king's men join Jack, as he climbs the beanstalk is that the Princess was in the house at that time, for reasons that aren't particularly imaginary, the Princess was in the house, and now they have to try and save her. The climbing is itself full of death and adventure, but also, the part of that ancient relic and time thing, leads them to the mythical land of the giants, is where the Princess was captured, and they then must save her. There's some other good actors in the film, most of which are playing the normal kind of royal politicking and scheming and trying to take over the throne type behavior. None of which is really interesting. It moves the plot forward, somewhat, but you know, we knew how the story was eventually gonna end and could only end. The giants were sorta creepy to me visuals, kinda reminded me of marionettes with Easter Island heads. Actually, no, you know who they reminded me of, Richard Moll. Remember, Bull from "Night Court"? Yeah, kinda like that. Anyway, I don't really know what else to tell about "Jack the Giant Slayer". It was entertaining enough to keep on I guess, that's about the best I got out of it. It's an honorable attempt, but basically this is the result of some very unimaginative studio exec probably. I can see those conversations in my head, the exec telling Bryan Singer the idea. That "Jack and the Beanstalk" is fair game or in the public domain, everybody knows it, loves it, and we don't have to pay for the rights, and easy it'll be to write. Like a scene out of "Barton Fink" practically. That's the problem, the fly on the wall of the conception of the idea of the movie, is more interesting that the film.


THE EAST (2013) Director: Zal Batmanglij

✰✰✰



The latest collaboration between Zal batmangli and Brit Marling, "The East" almost plays like the reverse of their previous film "Sound of My Voice". That film had Marling as a cult leader, claiming to be from the future and had been organizing an army and group of protectors for/from her crimes. Now Marling, who's becoming as well-known for her writing as much as her acting, plays Sarah, the operative hired to infiltrate the cult. However in this case, the group isn't a cult as it is an environmental terrorist organization who threatens and executes their attacks often by terrorizing companies and their employees, including the highest-ranked CEOs and their families, by using the same chemicals and techniques with which they destroy the world onto them. She works as undercover operative, not for a government, but for a private firm that specializes in protecting the multinational corporations by using counter-terrorism measures against these anarchistic groups. This group is led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) a quietly charismatic yet thoughtfully determined young manipulator, who works out his attacks with a careful precision, only a few in the inner circle even realizing the entirety of the operation. The first one we see him execute, involves the normally living in the woods gang, dressing up, attending an executive black tie soiree, and then poisoning the champagne with the same arsenic chemicals that the company poisons other with. "If it truly is safe, then nothing will happen," he informs her. When Sarah tries to inform her boss, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) she informs her to do nothing, because that company wasn't one that paid for her services. There's capitalism at its darkest from both ends, and this time, it's not-so-much, whether Stockholm Syndrome should take in, but when and how. Another member of the group who's extremely devoted is Izzy (Ellen Page) who's a daughter of a head of a major pollutant that continually gets high marks from all the environmental government organizations they've bought off, hellbent specifically on making her parents feel what they've done. It's one of Page's best roles and performances for awhile, she's perfectly casted for this. The movie, does become predictable and a certian point, and the movie take a turn that probably could've been stronger if they didn't. It became a bit of a message movie, and there is romance to some extent. It's another solid film Marling, who's getting more work in Hollywood roles now, but she's really niched out a writing spot for herself with these roles she creates, with this, the aforementioned "Sound of My Voice" and her first feature "Another Earth". This is probably the weakest of the three, maybe cause it's a little more traditional and straightforward a tale; I've seen versions of this character and this story before, while the other two films seemed more original and fresh. Still, she's become a really powerful actress and writer and I'm beginning to know her hand in something from anywhere.


PARADISE (2013) Director: Diablo Cody

✰✰✰1/2


(CONFLICT OF INTEREST Warning: It's possible that I may know people or know or know some people or... who in some ways worked on the film.)

"How did she get this so right?"  was a question I kept asking myself as I watched Diablo Cody's directorial debut. She couldn't have just simply looked up some things like on wikipedia, you'd have to know what you were looking for, and you'd have to know somebody, who really did live in Vegas to get this sense of the town, yet you also have to be a visitor, one from someplace that's the complete opposite of Vegas (You don't have to look far for that) to fully experience it as well, while still not completely being swallowed up by the Vegas night. Actually, it's not Vegas; it's "Paradise", something that most people don't know. The person who tells poor Lamb (Julianne Hough) that is Loray (Octavia Spencer) a singing bar-waitress at the Riviera, where the thonged backsides of the "Crazy Girls" have been arm-on-hip-on-arm-on-hip have been welcoming people for decades, and she studies film at UNLV when she can afford the tuition (You may be asking if people like that exist? I knew four, and I can think of a couple could've been the inspiration for her character). Yeah, people like that exist. Lamb came from a cult religious sect in Montana who used to be bathed in the light of the lord until a plane crash melted most of her body. She's recovered, but remains in skin graphs and bodystockings, as she painfully sits down to take her showers in the morning. She's also lost all sense of a belief in God, and figured that it's time to start sinning, and after collecting millions on a lawsuit for the faulty plane, she's chosen to live it out in Vegas with the sodomites, as she calls us. In some ways, it's exactly what she expected, uncomfortable elevator rides with drunk rich yuppies, Muslim cab drivers complaining about the Trop light being too slow (Which is nothing compared to the bus stop which should be on Trop on Boulder, but is actually closer to Nellis for some reason) and while she's barely able to down a shot of Peach Schapps, her first drink, the eccentric British bartender, William (Russell Brand) is constantly refilling penises with vodka for the bachelorette party on the other side of the bar. "Can you refill my dick?" Anyway, when Loray and William see the poor thing is truthful about what she is, they decide to help her, by showing her the real Vegas. What real Vegas? It's somewhere from Fremont Street up 'til you get downtown towards North Las Vegas. The Strip, is actually is technically in what's called "census-designated area" called "Paradise", there's actually quite a few of those here like Spring Valley, The Lakes and Enterprise to name a few,  and more growing as the town, is still growing and being shaped (It is only about 100 years old remember, the boundaries keep changing a bit every so often.) They take her through the experience, where she wants to be able to fly on the zip line again, possibly to help erase her memory of that other flight. First, they find a SIN bar, which stands for service-industry night, and Loray and calmly introduces her to the locals. Lamb keeps checking off sin after sin, flirting, rhythmically moving to music, smoking, porn even, but she isn't having the fun release that she thinks she was supposed to have.Ye-ah, that's not atypical at all. The voiceover is probably unnecessary, but much of the rest of the film, feels right, despite some of the weaknesses Julianne Hough has as an actress here, but it's still the best I've seen from her. I shouldn't doubt Diablo Cody anymore, but I am still somewhat perplexed and surprised that she got such a realistic look at Vegas, especially from an outsider. Maybe she worked at the Deja Vu in Vegas a few times, and hung around and observed, who knows?


YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET (2013) Director: Alain Resnais

✰✰✰


At 92 years old, Alain Resnais is one of the last of the French New Wave filmmakers, still working. Actually he predates French New Wave quite by quite a bit, and he's still making interesting films. His latest, aptly titled "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet", almost seems to be a declaration about his continue work, as evergrowing, and yet the film itself, seems to be about the past, and whether his work can continue to be relevant, long after he does pass. The title, is also the famous improvised quip from Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer", a line that simultaneously foreshadowed film to come, while also declaring the end of an old era. This film begins with a death, and then ends with a rebirth. The death, comes when a famed playwright, Antoine (Denis Podylades) suddenly passes. His butler informs numerous people of his death, and have them all gather at his estate for what already seems like a strange reading of his will. As the actors are brought together, many of whom are basically playing themselves, from a pre-recorded message, he informs them that he has last task for them to help them out with, and that's to look at a production of a local theater company, who's looking for the rights to perform his play "Eurydice", which all the actors performed at one time or another, and then we see the production, which is when the movie takes off. Soon, the actors start recalling and saying the lines, almost exactly as the actors in the film. Then, they start performing the play themselves, or it seems that way. It keep going back and forth, as they get caught up in the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Yeah, folks, that not technically a new story, but we let that slide. In fact, the movie's based on a play by Jean Anhoulih, who did write "Eurydice", and some of the movie's stars were in that play at varying points. The movie has that same kinda feel and Louis Malle's last film the great "Vanya on 42nd Street", as we switch from the viewing of the performance, to the performance of the actors which may or may not be live, but emotionally it's connecting, which is the point. He asks them to judge whether the work was still relevant, as all artists generally hope for, that their contribute to the arts would outlive them, which is probably the question that the ever-spirited Resnais is also asking. It certainly is, with films like "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Night and Fog", "Mon Oncle Americain", "Last Year at Marienbad", and even quality modern films like "Private Feats in Public Places", Resnais will certainly be remembered long after he's gone, and still be relevant and his work watched and analyzed. As to the film, probably not one of his best, but still, quite a strong film, and memorable. Certainly an interesting storytelling technique above anything else.


BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME (2013) Director: Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori

✰✰✰✰



In some ways, I'm already a little behind the eight ball on "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me". Yeah, while music is not my immediate forte, I usually consider myself fairly knowledgeable in the history of rock'n'roll, particularly what we would probably call classic rock, but, while I've certainly seen Big Star's name on more than a few greatest albums list (All three of the bands work are considered by Rolling Stone to be among the 500 greatest ever made) I'll have to admit that I'm not particularly familiar with them. I certainly want to know more about them, they're influence has long survived the band, which is considered the epitome of Memphis rock, starting with Alex Chitlon, the former lead singer of the Box Tops who had one of the biggest hits of all-time with "The Letter". I'm actually writing this review while listening to their first album "#1 Record", and the song I recognize most, is "In the Street", but I don't recognize their original version; I'm much more familiar with Cheap Trick's version of the song, which doubles as opening theme song from "That '70s Show". They didn't last long as a bad. After two albums, they broke up, although they confess that they had really broken up after one, and somehow cobbled together enough for their second. They received critical acclaim, but had a bad distribution deal, and lacking radio airplay, they soon split and formed other bands. Alex Chilton, eventually reformed the band in the nineties and they toured until he passed away. Songwriter Chris Bell died in '78, and the music would go on to influence the alt-rock scenes like R.E.M., The Flaming Lips, and The Replacements, who make appearances in the film. Rockumentaries are always a little tricky, you usually want to see them on people you're at least somewhat familiar with, so that you can have an appreciation of them, but other times you want to discover their work, and Big Star for me at least, is somewhat in between, so it's hard to connect to the film on either level in particular, but I'm definitely recommending it, 'cause it is good, it's on a group that more people should, and it made me want to go listen to their music, which btw, I recommend to everyone while we're at it, 'cause after hearing their work, I think I can see where Rolling Stone and other great artists have been coming from for years.


AS I LAY DYING (2013) Director: James Franco

✰✰


Not that I ever really gave that much thought to any kind of Faulkner adaptations, or possible adaptations, in fact the only reason I actively acquire copies of Faulkner's work is that it looks good on a shelf, but a constant use split screen however, is not the editing and/or filmmaking technique I thought anybody would use to tell, any of his stories. "As I Lay Dying" is the first attempt to adapt the 1930 novel which like most Faulkner was thought unfilmable given it's stream-of-consciousness nature, and they were probably right. The story is simple enough, Anse (Tim Blake-Nelson) is determined to respect his late wife Addie's (Beth Grant) wishes and bury her a few towns over and travel there by mule care, with her in a casket, as the run into numerous interesting characters along the way. The film was co-written and directed by James Franco, and got released around the same time as his other directorial effort "Interior: Leather Bar", a movie about a gay bar that I will presume has absolutely nothing in common with this film, other that both film weren't seen by many and most of those who did relatively panned them both. The problem wi-, (clears thought, tsks, scoffs, tsks again.) One of, the problems, with Faulkner is that this book in particular isn't about  the travails themselves, which frankly aren't particularly interesting and the more gruesome they get at times, the more feeble-minded a fool's errand the story becomes, but instead, it's the random and symbolic, thoughts on life and nature that one observes and thinks about during this journey. There's no real, to replicate that, and I guess that's why Franco resorted to every trick in the editor's playbook. When I talk about the split screen, it's used poorly not here, not just in terms of it being a bad subject matter choice, it was sorta done instead of editing. Where it's the same scene, presumably shot with two different cameras at the time, (Well, I'm about 99% sure they were) and instead of cutting back and forth, we just see both sides at once, while they're happening. That's something that kinda worked for a film like Mike Figgis's "Timecode", partly because that was part of the gimmick/experiment in that case. When something like that is used correctly like in "Woodstock", or De Palma's best films like "Carrie" for instance, or in both of Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies, they add something to the viewing experience, and they're used for very specific scenes and purposes, here they're none of that. It's used about half of the movie, and there's no rhyme or reason to when it's used, probably other than to keep the film somewhat interesting, and keep you looking at the screen, while for much of the time, we're really just traveling with a casket on a mule-pulled carriage. It's a misfire on a lot of levels "As I Lay Dying". I understand the reasoning in wanting to adapt Faulkner, and Franco seems determine to explore him; he's currently filming a version of "The Sound and the Fury"; that might be more interesting, and possibly more conducive to those split screens, although I hope he doesn't use them there either.


RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (2012) Director: Peter Ramsay

1/2



The fact that "Rise of the Guardians" was from Dreamworks is disappointing, 'cause it has all of the earmarks that are usually association with the worst kind of animation. You know the kind, the cynical kind that's supposedly made "for kids", supposedly. "Hey, kids like Santa Clause, kids like the Easter Bunny, kids like the  Tooth Fairy, let's put them all together in the same movie?" someone probably said. When movies are made with that kind of cynicism and disrespect to the audience, it's always bad, but when it's done with the hard work involved in animation, it really stings. Even when it's computer animation. "Rise of the Guardians" takes place in a world where the supposed fictitious characters of our youth who children believe in are in fact guardians of the children like patron saint or fairy godmother or something like that, gods possibly who protect and look out over the human race over the more evil guardians like Pitch (Jude Law) who's the Boogeyman, who's making a play to take over the land of the world, by making children stop believing in the guardians. The first one he manages to erase is Jack Frost (Chris Pine), who barely understand that he is even a guardian as a side effect of being forgotten by kids is that he's also forgotten all of his own memories. (Guardians were all once people to begin with). I thing the obvious underlying parables are religious in tone, and there's nothing wrong with that per se, but the whole movie is fairly dark to begin with, again nothing wrong with that, and it's interesting to see these more typically angelic characters that we normally think about in more idol-istic ways, behaving in more stringent, rebellious and at times militant manners, bringing a new side or two to these characters, but are they sides we really wanted to see? There's nothing particularly funny in the film, it's overly dark, and frankly, it makes me want to disbelieve is Santa (Alec Baldwin) and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) less that ever before, although it does get right that no kid ever really believed in Jack Frost although he really seems to do is make snow fun. Overall, is depressing and forgettable, for kids and adults, nothing more than a curiosity that'll only entertain the maybe the youngest of kids. The movie's ideal probably for dental office waiting rooms, and not much more.


THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (2012) Director: Peter Hedges

1/2


There was an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" once, where, this alien being wanted to learn and experience what it was like to be a humanoid creature, so he snuck aboard the Enterprise late at night and then he impregnated himself in Counselor Deanna Troi. That's definitely an idea I've thought about myself once or twice, but that's not relevant, anyway (Oh, and btw, Marina Sirtis does stand-up occasionally, she's pretty damn funny if you ever find some of it.) the whole episode involves Troi giving birth to the species, and then spending his entire lifespan through the whole episode, before eventually leaving as a grown up, having completely his study of humanoids. It was a terrible episode in hindsight; I think it was the first one without Gates McFadden and Diana Muldaur was the ship's doctor for a season. She could never stay on a show for long could she? Anyway, that's kind of essentially what happens in "The Odd Life of Timothy Green". Cindy and Jim (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) have been trying to have a kid for years, and they have one last night of, daydreaming and hypothesizing about what they would've done if they had a kid before officially putting to bed that thought as it's medically impossible finally. They write what there kid would be/do, like scoring the winning goal and being sensitive, honest, bunch of other stuff, which they write down, and bury in the backyard one Truman Show-esque, suspiciously rainy night, when later that night, Timothy (CJ Adams) appears  at their door covering in rain, dirt, and leaves in his shins. They're apart of his body, and there's no real way to explain it, and it isn't. (Annoyed breath) And, there isn't too many ways to explain the movie either. Why we needed it, what the point of it's existence was, why making pencils out of leaves would save the pencil industry, none of it is really works. I mean, we're trying to buy into this fantasy, and the movie begins, by telling us, this is a story that's hard to believe, and it's told in flashback as the couple is working on adopting a kid, so, we already kinda know the ending, which is a sad ending, and what's worst than that really, is that we know exactly what the characters are gonna learn and how they've changed at the end. There are ways to do a flashback, (Not that this story should've had one, it shouldn't have) that curb our, the audiences' ability to know the entire impact of the story that's being told. This movie, almost seemed to know that the core story is so ridiculous and so unbelievable, that they're just gonna give it away, and let us know that it's gonna get to this point eventually, and now we're just waiting for it. I think this was a very costly decision script-wise, cost, we've basically been given the blueprint for the movie, before we see the movie. Basically, they made the first act of the movie, the cliff notes of the movie, bad enough it's not a good movie even though Garner is trying, and there's some cliche, although interesting supporting work from Dianne Wiest and Robert Morse, and Rosemarie DeWitt, and-eh, Ron Livingston among other. Shohreh Agdashloo shows up, but really, if any movie, needed the element of surprise, it was this one. There's ways this film could've worked, in the Capra-esque or "Harvey"-type sense, but it just sabotages itself from even being in that conversation.


THE DILEMMA (2011) Director: Ron Howard

✰✰✰


"The Dilemma" could be an alternate title to literally 99.99999....% of all movies, ever made. You'd think they'd come up with something a little more creative. The movie itself is a bit of a strange combination. On it's surface, it looks like it belongs in the milieu as the Judd Apatow works, as well as his imitators. It stars some people who you'd find in that world like Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, but then the film's choice of director seems way outta leftfield with Ron Howard, who, while he certainly knows a thing or two about comedy and more importantly cars, that the main characters are designing an engine that they hope to sell to Chrysler that would imitate the engine of their classic muscle cars in terms of feel and noise, but would also be environmentally safe and fuel-efficient, he hasn't really focus on light comedic films in a long time, maybe since "Cocoon" or "Splash" even, or the underrated "Night Shift". (In case you're wondering where cars belongs in Ron Howard's motifs, "Rush" his latest, is actually his second film about auto competitions after his directorial debut "Grand Theft Auto"  and let's not forget "American Graffiti" and even "Happy Days" too. And "Apollo 13", big engines that take us to distant places, it's in there.) Ronny (Vaughn) is the business side, the public persona of their company, while Nick (James) is the engineer and designer who works long hours getting ulcers on his inventions and designs. However, the two do occasionally take breaks and have double-date nights with their wives. Ronny's girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) is a world-renowned chef with a major Chicago restaurant while Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder) went to college with Ronny and Nick, and is trying to convince Ronny, a longtime bachelor who's still recovering from a severe gambling addiction from a couple years ago, to finally propose to Beth, which he secretly starts trying to do as the meeting with Chrysler soon approaches. Then, "The Dilemma" comes in, when Ronny sees Beth, cheating on Nick with a young tattooed guy named Zip (Channing Tatum, who's really becoming one of my favorite actors with each performance, especially comic performance). Of course, he wants to tell Nick, but he's busy and killing himself over the presentation and design and this could crumble their efforts and ruin their one-shot to make an impression with Chrysler, represented by Susan Warner (Queen Latifah) an excited executive who's improvising most of her cameo presumably. Hence, the dilemma that Ronny faces, and while how he deals with it, I will not go into, I will say that much of the movie was fairly hit-and-miss for me, but ultimately, while the film isn't particularly funny, the story actually holds up. It is a dilemma one that he knows he has to handle carefully, or it can blow up in his face, and possibly risk the livelihoods of many fragile people. Winona Ryder's performance by the way, is very key to this film and a very good performance that reminds us just, how powerful an actress she can be. She has to play, many different facets of a woman that are both, very likable at certain times and incredibly unlikable at others. It's not a perfect movie, and it's a very minor entry in Ron Howard's canon, this is almost a throwaway piece that maybe a Susanne Bier would've made more interestingly, but the mismatch is rather intriguing. I'm recommending it.


HEARTLESS
(2010) Director: Philip Ridley

✰✰✰



Philip Ridley is a cult British filmmaker who's gothic horror mixed with Lynchian absurdism violence has definitely garnered a reputation for himself. Despite that, "Heartless is his first directorial effort in fourteen years, and the first film of his I've ever seen, and the movie felt much to me, like a combination of "Don't Look Now", mixed with "Blow-Up". The protagonist is Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess) a photographer who was born with an ugly facial disfigurement, that covers half his face with a heart. It's a modern-day East London, filled with shadows and grit, and a bizarre string of murders involving some hooded characters that no one seems to be able to identify. Jamie thinks he's photograpphed one of them, and is convinced that the hooded people in masks, aren't in masks at all, and he begins scours his photos, and the streets for the demonic characters. I think explaining what happens next is pointless, because the film really is about the effects of the scenes on us. The violence, the characters inflicting it on us, the sense of fear, of dread, the search for an unknown, etc. The images that we encounters. This seems to be more relevant than whether or not even if Jamie's search is a legitimate investigative pursuit, or that he's just going crazy. I mentioned "Don't Look Now", and the genius of that movie was that it was about the tunnel-visioned search for the creature, and not so much about the creature itself, which is where "Heartless" sorta goes wrong. The title by the way, comes from a song that's used in the film.  The movie was also noted for having a theatrical release date, DVD release date, and a download date within days of each other, as a way to get the film out to more people at once. Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" was the first film to experiment with that kind of multiple release strategy, to mild success, and now it's more common. "Paradise", which I reviewed earlier, started On Demand for instance. I'm not used to Philip Ridley's work, so I'm a bit reluctant to completely analyze, as I'm not sure I'm the best critic of his material at this point in time. It does create mood and have an effect, although I don't think it's one that was as long-lasting as you'd expect for someone who didn't make a film for a decade and a half. I'll recommend 'cause I think it should be seen, I just wish it went somewhere.


SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (2002) Director: Edward Burns

✰✰✰✰



I don't have any particular reason, for why I've been reviewing so many Edward Burns movies recently. Luck of the draw believe it or not, although I've had a growing affection for his work, although it can be erratic at times. "Sidewalks of New York", is one of his better films. It's story revolves around seven New Yorkers who aren't inherently connected but through the conceit of inter-connected storyline structure all are a few steps away from each other. The strange thing is that, the movie is so well acted that they actually don't have to be to be interesting, but it gives an excuse for the unseen documentary filmmaker to observe and then interview them about sex and love, and what they have to say about it, and their own beliefs and actions and how they often coincide and conflict. I'll try to shorthand the best I can. Tommy (Burns) is currently divorced, and looking for a new place, and to start dating again. He currently lives with Carpo (Dennis Farina) a lifelong bachelor with all the angles and so-called fatherly advice on women and how to nail them. He met Maria (Rosario Dawson) at a video store, and they begin to slowly date. She's also just out of a relationship, a divorce from her husband Ben (David Krumholtz) who's still trying to get back with her, despite having cheating on, but the main discourse was a disagreement over children. Ben however has become attracted to a waitress at a coffee shop, Ashley (Brittany Murphy) a barely-out-of-high school troubled young girl, who's starting college, and is dating Griffin (Stanley Tucci), who's on his second marriage to Ann (Heather Graham) a real estate agent, who's currently showing around Ben to lofts and apartments, and is somewhat blind to her husband's affairs, despite his affinity for bragging about his inability to believe in marriage and romance with only one person. Tucci gives the best and most memorable performance, and once again reminds us of how he can be one of the greatest of bad guys whenever he gets a chance. They're not uncommon themes for Burns, who's often done the subpar Woody Allen thing in looking at relationships and the personal struggles in trying to determine whether you're in love or falling in love, or in love with the wrong person, or with the wrong person, all of these decisions seem to happen, if not too late, at least at intersections of misappropriate times, and responses. It also shows something that I think we like to think can be controlled, but rarely if ever actually is. That while we tend to think and hypothesize and play out the numerous life scenarios in our own head, and identity exactly how we would react if they ever came up, the simple truth is that, we really don't know how we will react and what the future may hold. I'm not sure what the future holds for any of these characters, anything more than immediately after the film, and then we only suspect or hope we'll know. "Sidewalks of New York" at it's core is great actors acting with each other, and that's why it ultimately succeeds, even with or despite the Altmanesque gimmick.
Post a Comment