Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can't reviewdle, writing.

I'm working on a bunch of very cool things at the moment and poor old Reviewdle has been left languishing.  I've seen some movies, I just haven't written about them*.  So I'm going to do something a little different today and smash out four reviews at once.  Expect them to be even more opinionated, even less well thought out and waaaaay less edited (what's less than none, anyway?).  No time to lose.

Moonrise Kingdom    
BAM, June 16, 2012
Movie #22 for 2012

 The prevailing vibe of WES ANDERSON’s latest is awkwardness.  Some of it is intended.  Some of it is, unfortunately, not.

The intended stuff is he intended to be awkward is marvellous, regular Wes Anderson material - deadpan pauses and delivery; straight-on shots of blank-faced actors; saturated, off-tone colors; off-center framing and those jerky 70s-style pans and zooms.  The other, unintentional awkwardness comes from the flimsy story, the budget CG, the flaccid pacing.

I’m in a quandary.  I like Wes Anderson - I like him a lot - he’s original and has a great aesthetic. I appreciate his attention to charming detail when creating his self-contained, quirky worlds.  But this film left me cold. There is an overabundance of bit characters and although a great cast and fine performances - especially, surprisingly, BRUCE WILLIS - these peripheral characters added very little.  Most of all though was the awkwardness of the young leading man.  Although sympathetic of his situation and his desire to escape, I didn’t warm to him at all.  That wouldn't be a problem except that in a Wes Anderson film, quirky is supposed to equal charming, not annoying.

Sleepwalk With Me  
BAM, June 20, 2012
Movie #23 for 2012

In Sleepwalk With Me, MIKE BIRBIGLIA writes, directs and stars as Matt Pandamiglio, a slightly fudged version of himself.  Matt is a bartender with aspirations of stand up comedy despite much evidence that he’s not very good.  His girlfriend of nine years is starting to wonder if the relationship is worth sticking around for and Matt’s anxiety begins to manifest as sleepwalking, with dangerous consequences.

Birbiglia is utterly charming and completely funny.  He - and the story - manage to be funny and heartbreaking and surprising and delightful and sad all at once.  The story - which he has told in the auto-bio form in book, recordings and a live show - is about how started out as a comedian, the implosion of his first serious relationship and his experience suffering from REM Sleep Disorder (where sufferers don’t get dopamine when they’re asleep and so act out their dreams of things like Insect-Jackals and the winning the Dustbustering Olympics).

This version of the story is tightened and tarted up for film.  It gets a couple of rom-com clich├ęs in it - off-kilter parents, a girlfriend who gets obsessed by their upcoming wedding, a wedding - but it also has a couple of surprises - a genuinely big heart, an engaging perspective (it’s a rom-com from the guy’s perspective) and a break-the-mold story.

And you know what, I don’t actually mind that this is the fourth retelling of the same story - it’s a story worth retelling.  And Birbiglia is worth hearing out.

United Artists Court Street, June 22, 2012
Movie #24 for 2012

I have...issues with Brave. 

On the one hand I very much liked the girl-hero, for the as-ever amazing animation and for the tremendous action.  On the other hand, I am very much less excited by the murkiness of the message in this story.  Essentially a spirited, resourceful, wilful young princess (ugh, why always with the  princess?) called Merida learns to obey her overbearing, guilt-tripping mother when following her heart leads to a catastrophic mistake (a magic spell that turns mama bear into a bear).  The mother also learns to loosen up a little, so I guess it's win-win for her.

There are some pretty interesting characterizations here that I feel seriously uncomfortable with - and I feel like it’s territory that Pixar have usually been strong at avoiding.  (It would be easy to blame the "Disney" part for that, but the film does have Pixar's name on it too.)  For instance, men are portayed as hopeless, warmongering buffoons who need to be controlled and looked after by women.  And apart from Merida and her mother, women are largely absent - Merida does not have any peers or friends and the only other person in the castle seems to be a maid/cook of whose buxomosity the writer and director make much ado.  The clowns of the piece are the three young princes and they too disquieting - less funny and more cutesy sinister - and breast obsessed - than is strictly comfortable.

While there are a couple of scenes that really pop with energy and style, mostly it’s just confusing and strangely disquieting.  And sadly, a few weeks after the fact, it's the flaws that stayed with me.

BAM, June 24, 2012
Movie #25 for 2012

Let me preface this review by saying that I loved Alien and the Director’s Cut of Bladerunner is freaking awesome.  I have not loved anything that RIDLEY SCOTT has done since.  I did not love A Good Year, I did not love American Gangster and I don’t even want to talk about Gladiator.  But still, for Alien and Bladerunner, Scott has a soft, squishy hold on that place in my heart for favorites.

I was interested to see where on the spectrum Promethueus would fall.  I had hoped for Alien, I got A Good Year.

Yes, the film looks great, and yes there is some very effective body horror in it, but the characterization is terrible and the writing worse.  And here’s a thought for casting: if the script calls for a Brit, cast a Brit.  If the script calls for a Texan, don’t cast a Brit.  If the script calls for an old guy, don’t cast a 45 year old.  We can tell - we are not brain dead.  And you used up all your “disbelief suspension” points on the crappy science and faith “plot points”. 

I am not, in general, against prequels.  But prequels made 30 years after the fact are always going to be problematic.  And now I hear that Scott is planning a Blade Runner sequel it just seems like he's Lucasing his own oeuvre. 

The film gets two and a half from me, but this perspective and insight on the film gets at least a four.

*I'm seeing Magic Mike tomorrow, so you can expect the review for that in about a month. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bros 4 Lyfe

The Intouchables  
Angelika Film Center, June 8, 2012
Movie #21 for 2012

Phillipe (FRANCOIS CLUZET) is a super-rich paralyzed white guy who, depsite having it all, is scared and a little dead on the inside.  Driss (OMAR SY, pictured, right with Cluzet) is a poor black guy who, despite having very little, is very much alive.  When massively unqualified Driss applies to be Phillipe’s carer so he can be knocked back and then get unemployment benefits, Phillipe sees something in the young man and hires him regardless.  They learn to trust each other and eventually they become solid bros. 

What a seriously boring and stale plot, amirite?  If it was an American movie is would be a cloying, eye-rolling train wreck of emotional manipulation.  But this is a French film and, against all odds in the plot department, is somehow engaging, funny and touching.  I blame the performances - and Sy and Cluzet are genuinely interesting actors and keep their characters, for the most part, out of the mawkish and sentimental. 

Yes, it is a feel good movie (ugh), but it also has a French sensibility rather than a Hollywood one, and that keeps it from being, well, awful, basically. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


Angleika Film Center, May 20, 2012
Movie #20 for 2012

Bernie was nothing so much as disappointing.  I liked so much of the idea of it - RICHARD LINKLATER (his latest, Me and Orson Welles was one of my faves of 2010) directs a subdued JACK BLACK in and a true and surprising story.   But the execution was bland and awkward.

Bernie (black, pictured) is a small town undertaker who is well liked for both his professional talents and personal charms. He is friendly to everyone, even the crotchety widow who hates, and is hated by, everyone in town (SHIRLEY MCLAIN).  The film ends surprisingly, and yet, inevitably, in her murder. 

I feel uncomfortable with films that blend fact and fiction, like the embellishments of historical fiction and biopics (don't get me started on Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) or like Bernie, where Linklater blends documentary and re-enactment.  He has the real life townsfolk do candid documentary interviews, but he also uses actors to do scripted documentary-style interviews too.  And he uses the townsfolk in the re-enactments.  It’s an interesting idea to blur the lines between retelling and recreation (again, it’s all about the good ideas), but every time an actor does a to-camera interview, or every time a townsperson acts, I was pulled out of the flow of the film by its awkwardness.  I like that Linklater tried it out, though, even though it failed to produce anything more than a tepid, increasingly boring and awkward movie.

At least one and a half of those stars is for MATTHEW MCCONNAGHEY.  He’s freaking golden. 

Assembling all over the place

The Avengers  
Regal Union Square, May 11, 2012
Movie #19 for 2012

Take everything I said about Cabin in the Woods, replace “horror” with “superhero” and it’s not a bad review for The Avengers*.  Especially the bit where it’s okay if Joss Whedon writes everything.

Despite not growing up with tights and flights comics (and not having much time for them now), oh!  How I love a superhero movie.  I have the same blinkered affection for the genre as if it had been meaningful my whole life, despite being fully aware that is essentially very stupid.  I also, you may have picked up, have a deep and blinkered affection for Whedon.

I struggle to believe that anyone else could have made this film: they would have added an unnecessary sex scene, would have cut character development, wouldn’t’ve landed so many lines and would have been condescending (at best, offensive at worst) to women and probably every non-whitey.

I like that Whedon gives the supes here a sense of vulnerability (either physical or emotional or, even better, both). It feels like someone somewhere had decided that a real sense of danger for hero-characters would somehow make them weak.  Whedon shows that it doesn’t - it makes them easier to like and barrack for.  There is also a palpable sense of damage and dysfunction.  Which is right, given the source material, and, above all, interesting to watch.

As it is, The Avengers is big, fun, funny, surprising, and nowhere near as dumb as its sibling superhero blockbusters.  It’s a challenging film to pull off - six headlining superheroes in a dysfunctional super-group - and it has its flaws (notably Samuel L. Jackson who misses the tone and timbre of Whedon’s dialogue and Agent Hill who, despite early promise becomes a boring old sounding-board-in-a-skin-tight-jumpsuit).  But the flaws are far, far outweighed by good stuff: the other performances, dream cast and, yes, the writing.

*Which I absolutely refuse to call by its stupid proper title Marvel’s The Avengers.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't go into that Cabin

The Cabin in the Woods 
Regal Union Square, April  sometime, 2012
Movie #18 for 2012

Cabin in the Woods does for horror films what Sam Raimi’s 1981 film Evil Dead did for, well, horror films.  Which is to say that it loves the genre so very, very much that it ends up redefining it.

In what has always been the stupidest of genres, The Cabin in the Woods has both a brain and a nuanced story.  Honestly, Joss Whedon should write everything.  Can that happen, please?  Can Joss Whedon write everything?  Then everything would be better.  He and co-writer (and also director Drew Goddard) use humor and big brains to develop characters and a clever plot to undermine and break down the horror genre, rebuilding it slightly different to make a better, stronger film.

There are a bunch of great established (RICHARD JENKINS, BRADLEY WHITFORD) and emerging  (KRISTEN CONNOLLY pictured second from left, FRAN KRANZ, pictured right) character actors giving great performances; the horror appropriately yucky and the layers of plotting appeal very very much to my brain.  The CG is pretty budget, but maybe that’s okay since the sets, costume and makeup, performances and above all the writing were so very solid.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A film apart

A Separation  
UA Court Street, April 4, 2012
Movie #17 for 2012

A Separation is basically a family drama with the sensibility of a thriller.  Revelation after tiny revelation mounts tension upon tension until nobody is what they seem to be.

Simin (LEILA HATAMI) wants to immigrate to America, but her husband Nadir (PEYMAN MOYADI, pictured) won’t leave his elderly father in Iran.  They are at an impasse, and so decide to separate.  This is the event that seems to spin out a series of increasingly unfortunate circumstances and increasingly desperate actions, involving their daughter Termeh, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s husband.

The writing and performances are so subtle and so very well done that every new scene is a shaft of light exposing something in the characters that feels both shockingly revelatory and known at the same time.

It’s about as good a character-based story as I’ve seen.

Of Mars

John Carter  
UA Court Street, March 29, 2012
Movie #16 for 2012

There are silly films, and there are silly films, but every now and then you see a film that is so staggeringly, so epically silly that it kind of takes your breath away.  John Carter is such a film.

John Carter (TAYLOR KITSCH, pictured) is a civil war soldier turned gold-miner who - with a whole lot of superfluous but entertaining back story - is magically transported to Mars where a civil war is taking place between the good Martians (including love interest/scientist/princess LYNN COLLINS and her dad CIARAN HINDS) and bad Martians (including DOMINIC WEST).  On the sidelines are immortal watcher-type Therns (including MARK STRONG) and a war-loving race of tall, green and mean Tharks (voiced by WILLEM DEFOE, SAMANTHA MORTON and THOMAS HADEN CHURCH), who kind of adopt John Carter when the weaker gravity of Mars means he can leap about and fight real good.

Writer-director ANDREW STANTON clearly adores the source material, but his choices in adapting it are a little puzzling.  I like that he doesn’t over-explain everything (he credits us with half a brain among us and we do catch on eventually) but he has made some choices that are completely confounding - he has clearly modernised in places (the princess is a warrior and a scientist, for example) but stuck to the old fashioned in others (the grave danger of the climax is that she might marry the wrong guy.  In a bikini, no less).

Stanton has a good eye for action - some of it is quite fun - and the early playful tone between Carter and the princess is just right, but much of the dialogue is snort-worthy (although I believe it would have been faithful to the text) and the premise is just beyond where I am willing to stretch (which, I assure you, is quite a long way).

I’m not calling it the silliest film I’ve ever seen.  But I’m not calling it anything else, either.