Monday, December 31, 2012

Pwaters' Top Ten of 2012!

It's time to start blowing confetti all over your living room, because I'm going to list my ten favorite films of the year.  I think 2012 was a badass year for movies and for once I had a tough time picking what was going to make the list.   But no more time for meaningless chit-chat.  It's time for my TOP TEN of 2012!  Buckle your seatbelts.

10. Skyfall
(Dir. Sam Mendes)

Skyfall is simply an amazing Bond film.  It doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything, but it's superbly acted, amazingly shot by Roger Deakins, and well written.  There hasn't been a more beautiful looking action film this year, and Judi Dench gives a smashing performance in what will sadly be her final Bond picture.  It also features possibly the biggest explosion of 2012.  It's a ridiculously large explosion.

9.  Klown
(Dir. Mikkel Nørgaard)

I guarantee that this film will eventually be remade by someone like Judd Apatow or Todd Phillips in the future.  This Danish movie is about two friends on a debaucherous trip in the countryside: the sex-crazed Casper and his buddy Frank, who in an effort to prove his fatherhood potential to his girlfriend "kidnaps" his 12-year old nephew and brings him along on this over-the-top journey.  Klown has the raunchiness of The Hangover, the style of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the outright disgusting factor of Jackass.  Please don't show this one to grandma, unless she is unusually progressive (or is it degressive?).  Either way, I thought it was the funniest movie of the year in the most awkward ways possible.  

8.  Paranorman
(Dir. Chris Butler, Sam Fell)

Strangely enough, this film is one of two on my list that are supernatural stop-motion animated films aimed towards older children featuring a young male character trying to save a small town.  Even stranger is how radically different those two films are. But looking at Paranorman, it is not only amazing to look at, it's actually really funny and has great characters.  The film has a real sense of sorrow as we follow Norman dealing with his "power" in the first portion of the film, and becomes a really fun zombie action film in the other half, complete with Pixar-ian jokes only mom and pop will "get."  Paranorman deals with hefty topics like morality and ignorance at the cost of human life, all while wrapping it up in a package an entire family can enjoy.

7.  Frankenweenie
(Dir. Tim Burton)

Really you guys?  Tim Burton's cash-ins like Alice in Wonderland make billions, but when he finally goes back to his roots and makes one of his most personal films in years nobody goes to see it.  Perhaps buried underneath the other, more family-friendly animated film this October, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie is an unfortunate under-performer.  The film is absolutely beautfiul to look at with its stark black and white photography, and has a really strong (and timely) pro-science message behind it.  It proves that Burton still has it in him to produce more Ed Woods during this latter portion of his career. So if you've been late to the Frankenweenie train, please be sure to check out this awesome little ode to monster movies.

6.  The Dark Knight Rises
(Dir. Christopher Nolan)

It may not have reached the heights of The Dark Knight, but TDKR really did hold its own and featured some of the most memorable scenes and lines this year.  What person left the theater without doing the Bane voice?  We're all guilty of it - it's just so damn cool.  Sure there are plot holes, sure there are really strange character choices (um, why does it seem like everybody knows Batman is Bruce Wayne all of a sudden), but I have to give it the benefit of the doubt even during its most ludicrous moments.  TDKR is a nearly perfect end-cap to the Nolan trilogy and my head was spinning (in a good way) by the end of it.

5.  Looper
(Dir. Rian Johnson)

This is Brick director Rian Johnson's first "big" action movie, and I think this guarantees it won't be his last.  Looper has some of best action and time travel I've seen in a long time, implementing them in unique and iconic ways, and uses them to serve the story in what turns out to be a pretty interesting character-driven narrative.  The plot deals with time travel-ed up themes of selfishness and nature vs. nurture, all while delivering some of the coolest visuals in a sci-fi movie this past decade.  And JGL knocks it out of the park (as always).

4. Django Unchained
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Yup.  I'm always up for anything Tarantino.  Pretty much knew this film would end up on the list before the year even started; Django Unchained is yet another insane creation from one of film's best working directors.  All at once it's a meditation on slavery, a quest driven by love, a violent spaghetti western, a blaxploitation flick, AND the best "buddy comedy" this year.

3.  The Imposter
(Dir. Bart Layton)

From what I've seen this year (which isn't really that many), The Imposter is my favorite documentary.  The way the story unfolds is so captivating, so it's hard to know how to exactly recommend it.  Really - don't watch the trailers, don't read the synopsis, just go out and rent or download or buy this movie!  All  I can assure you is that the story of this "imposter" is incredible and a little troubling (kind of a theme among my top movies this year).

2.  Bernie
(Dir. Richard Linklater)

Jack Black has never been better in his first role that gives him "street cred" among the end-year awards season.  He plays this pleasant, church-going funeral director that everyone loves and regularly takes care of the sweet little old ladies around town.  One of these ladies, played by Shirley McClaine, is kind of a bitch, but Bernie becomes close friends with her anyway.  I don't want to ruin the twist that comes towards the middle of the movie, but it does take a dark turn, showing that Bernie isn't exactly perfect all the time.  I loved the small-town humor, I loved the dark subject matter, I loved Jack Black, and I loved how the line of morality is blurred in this quirky little movie.  To see Jack Black go from rocking his "fucking socks off" in Tenacious D to singing "Blessed Assurance" with a church choir in Bernie is kind of insane.

1.  Compliance
(Dir. Craig Zobel)

Compliance is the most affecting movie I've seen this year.  It's an intense thriller set all in one location, a fast food restaurant, and with a simple phone call things get progressively more and more...well you'll just have to see for yourselves.  I would imagine a lot of people might react negatively to where this film eventually goes, but I thought it was fucking brilliant.  If it weren't for the fact that this was based on a true story I would be right there with the haters, but supposedly this very closely resembles what actually happened.  It goes to very dark places, so it's not for everyone, but I think Compliance is a great (but depressing) look at human nature and how we're compelled to follow orders.

Honorable Mentions: Prometheus, Les Misérables, The Raid: Redemption, 21 Jump Street, End of Watch, Chronicle, Robot and Frank


Well there you have it - another year down!  In my opinion 2012 was a bloody great year for movies and choosing which films didn't make the cut was an uphill battle of mind and courage; I was this close to including Les Mis, which certainly deserves a spot on the list.  In case you're interested, for the record as of now I've seen roughly 85 movies that came out this year, and reviewed 76 of them.  Again, I'm not a professional critic (though I wish I was), so I don't see every movie that comes out (which hopefully doesn't rob my little blog of all its credibility).  Anyway, thanks for reading you bitches...see you next year! xoxo

And some "top" films I missed this year: Holy MotorsCosmopolisBrooklyn CastleAmour, The Impossible, This is Not a FilmYour Sister's SisterThe Lonliest PlanetOnce Upon a Time in AnatoliaKeep the Lights OnBattleshipRed DawnThe Twilight Saga Episode V: Vampires on IceThat's My BoyMan on a LedgePiranha 3DDRock of Ages, and Madea's Witness Protection.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pwaters' 2012 Movie Superlatives!

I will soon post my top ten films of the year, which I'm sure everyone is uncontrollably excited for, but first I feel the need to dole out some praise (with a dash of malice) towards various aspects of this year in movies.  Don't know really what else to say, but I'm adding this sentence just to make the top paragraph of my post have some weight to it.

(mandatory orangutan)

BEST ACTOR - Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

I don't think there was a more spellbinding performance this year other than Joaquin Phoenix playing Freddie Quell in The Master: a broken down, lost man whose violent drunk outrages make him a true outsider of society - that is until a charismatic cult leader played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman accepts him.  Phoenix's face is contorted, along with his body, in a way I've never seen an actor do before.  Your eyes are glued to him, never knowing when he's gonna snap.  It's just a crazy-good performance (I mean that figuratively AND literally).

Runner-Up: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Instead of making Lincoln into some sort of bigger-than-life Bill Pullman-at-the-end-of-Independence Day inspirational speaker, Day-Lewis, in his infinite acting genius, gave him the humble, soft-spoken nature he likely had in real life.  Of course it takes a British guy to fully bring to life this American icon. Slavery: it's done.

BEST ACTRESS - Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

This movie kind of fell under the radar this year (and unrightfully so).  Following up her powerful performance in Another Earth, Marling plays a woman claiming to be from the future.  She has gained a small cult following, and watching her manipulate the members who challenge her is intense, while also walking that thin line where even as an audience member, you're not quite sure if she's "real" or not.  Seriously, Brit Marling will work her way to the Academy Awards sooner or later.

Runner-Up: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

I think Ms. Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is one of the best scenes of 2012.  Shot all in one close-up take, you feel the raw emotion of every word coming out of her mouth.  A beautiful scene deserving of the Oscar alone.

BEST MUSIC SCORE - Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises

You can never go wrong with Hans Zimmer.  I've been listening to this soundtrack since it has been released and I think it's a masterwork as far as movie scores go.  Seriously, just go about the interwebs, find it, and listen to it beginning to end.  From Bane's haunting introduction music, to Selina Kyle's sleek piano theme, to the huge "Batman" stuff towards the end, it's everything a great score should be.  One of my favorite tracks is "Imagine the Fire" (taking place during the big finale), which will hopefully play below (may be loud).

Runner-Up: Howard Shore, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
How can you not like this?  Listening to this score makes me want to slay a dragon.

BEST SONG** - Adele, "Skyfall" from Skyfall

Adele's opening song to the latest 007 flick was one of the best of recent Bond memory.  Enough said, it's a song as smooth as Bond himself.

Runner-Up: John Legend, "Who Did That to You" from Django Unchained

Django Unchained is yet another great soundtrack in the Tarantino universe.  While QT doesn't usually employ original music, John Legend took it upon himself to send him a track out of the kindness of his heart and it was just groovy enough to land in the film.  Since Quentin notoriously hates technology, Legend mailed him the track on a cassette tape in an envelope.

BEST TRAILER* - The Dark Knight Rises

Movie trailers really are an underrated art form.  If you think about it they may as well be one of the most important aspects of marketing a film; a solid trailer will put asses in seats, and no amount of bad reviews will be able to stop it.  Usually the best trailers come from big-budget action films with loads of "money shots" and get you with big, loud, giant spectacle.  While the TDKR trailer does boast all of those things, unlike most action movie trailers it starts off with a quiet piano, and slowly crescendos towards the "Batman" action we all want.  In effect the trailer almost feels like a mini-movie, and when it premiered I got chills down my balls (especially at the line, "Not everything...not yet").

Runner-Up (TIE): Zero Dark Thirty and Les Misérables

 Equally badass trailer; let's go get Bin Laden.          With Susan Boyle's Seal of Approval 

BEST POSTER* - The Amazing Spider-Man (Teaser Poster)

(click to enlarge)

You take a look around a movie theater and you start to see the same cookie-cutter posters over and over again (just do a quick Google search and you'll find all the copy cats out there). But when this poster was released for the new Spider-Man flick, I was pretty, I want to say...amazed?  First off, it's a poster for a superhero movie where the hero doesn't even have his suit on, and the dark shadows that make the Spider symbol looks so iconic and badass.  A good poster is one that catches your eye as you walk by it, and this one really stands out - especially in an era where it seems so little artistic value is placed into these framed sheets.

Runner-Up: John Carter  
John Carter was shitty in almost every way, but it had a terrific poster.

(Click to enlarge: in case you didn't figure it out from the first poster)


I absolutely loved Bobcat Goldthwait's previous film World's Greatest Dad (off the top of my head, I'd say it's in my top twenty or thirty films of all time), so I was very excited for his next film as you might have imagined.  The concept seemed really different and cool: a guy goes on a killing spree, offing the annoying, priveleged people of the world (pop stars, Jersey Shore types).  But it ended up overly preachy and didn't have much of a story.  And it had an extremely awkward relationship between an older guy and a young girl.

Runner-Up: Brave
I wanted it to be really good to make up for Cars 2.  Why, Pixar?!  Change yer feehhhht.


The fact that there's a sect of people out there saying that The Avengers is a superior film to The Dark Knight Rises baffles me.  I mean, it was OK as far as these types of movies go (it was certainly better than Thor and Captain America), but come on.  The entire movie revolves around a magic glowing cube.

Runner-Up: The Cabin in the Woods

Yeah, I guess I'm not that big of a Whedon fan (except for Firefly).  Even though not as many people saw it as The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods has a nearly unanimous seal of approval from "nerd culture" that I don't understand.  Sure the finale of this movie is amazing, and Richard Jenkins is great, but the meat of the film following the "young adults" (and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) is as badly acted and scripted as any of the shitty horror movies that came before it.


A modernized remake of a hardly relevant 80's TV show starring Channing Tatum and skinny Jonah Hill: how the hell did this turn out so good?  This is by far one of the best mainstream comedies in a long time, and was able to single-handedly change my mind about Channing Tatum.

Runner-Up: Ted

I still hate the "Thunder Song," but Ted came as another pleasant comedy surprise this summer.  And remember - there's nothing as powerful as a young boy's wish...except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles; it is an unbelievably impressive compliment of weaponry: an absolute death machine.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hope you enjoyed this - kind of a new idea on my part, tell me if I should do this again next year or if I should take this blog and shove it up my ass.  And remember, I haven't seen every movie that came out!  I'm not perfect! I'm sorry!  I tried my best! I'm never good enough for you (weeps uncontrollably)

* These categories only include films officially released in 2012; so if there is a trailer from 2012 for a movie coming next year (2013) it doesn't count, but if it premiered in 2011 for a 2012 release it does count.
** I would have given this to Les Misérables, but because it was not original music I didn't think it qualified

Les Mis, The Guilt Trip

Les Misérables:

I was a huge fan of Tom Hooper's last picture, The King's Speech, but I still wasn't sure if I would be into this flick before seeing it.  I'm not really a musical guy, so I had absolute zero frame of reference as to what to expect (besides what was in the trailer).  I was afraid I wouldn't understand the dialogue being sung, and that it would be too pompous and boring, but I was very wrong.  I actually sat through that near three hour musical absorbed and entertained the entire time.

I'm flabbergasted (a word I seldom get to use) at the middling response this film is getting from critics.  All the main actors are at the tops of their games here: Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is brilliant, and Hugh Jackman is absolutely amazing in the lead role of Jean Valjean.  He simply must get a nomination for the role.  And I've been hearing mixed things about Russell Crowe, but I thought he did a fine job as well (again, I'm unfamiliar with other Les Mis's).  The camera goes as close to the actors as you can get, with all of their emotions pouring out of the screen. Hooper brought this tale to life so damn well, I'm sure that if placed in other hands I would have been asleep.  His decision to have the actors sing live instead of dub themselves over in a studio makes a world of difference in their performances.  And the art direction is so well done, with every set piece and location brimming with movement and little details.

Here and there things might have dragged a little (like Sacha Baron Cohen's "comic relief" and a love-at-first-sight moment), but I thought this was a moving, goosebump-inducing achievement. As long as you don't mind your movies/musicals a little bombastic, I think Les Misérables is an incredibly big and beautiful film.

Rating: A-

The Guilt Trip:

The combination of Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand in a mother/son road trip movie has nearly endless comedic possibilities.  The Guilt Trip employs none of them.  While the casting choice was inspired and spot-on, the script is bare bones on laughter or substance, and mostly comes off as annoying.  The first two thirds are embarrassing at best and it's just a shame that these two talented leads couldn't shine in their roles.  Seth Rogen is clearly phoning it in, pandering to an older crowd that couldn't handle the raunchiness that makes him who he is, in effect looking more bored than ever.  I did think there was a good chemistry between the actors however, and the last leg of the film was actually pretty sweet and heartfelt.  It's almost the reverse of This is 40; in that film the relationship stuff felt forced, but the comedy worked, and in The Guilt Trip the relationship worked, but was as equivocally funny as a singing wall bass (wait...scratch that, those are actually kind of amusing).  Unfortunately I look primarily for laughs in my comedies.

Rating: D+ 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DJANGO Unchained

Quentin motherfucking Tarantino.  I'm a huge fan and consider him among my favorite directors.  I've loved everything he's ever done (except for maybe Four Rooms), so whenever a new project of his surfaces I'm on board.  Like his previous effort Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a sort of revisionist historical piece.  Taking place during a pre-civil war Texas, Django (Jamie Foxx) is a newly freed slave, bought by the likes of Dr. Schultz played by the amazing Christoph Waltz.  He has the intention of using Django to help capture and kill some bounties, and they become partners in violent justice.  In return for his services, Schultz promises to reunite Django with his wife (Kerry Washington), who is a servant on the fourth worst plantation in Mississippi, run by Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio).

It's a considerably less "important" work than Inglourious Basterds, which even Tarantino outright said in the dialogue was his "masterpiece," but Django Unchained is still a ton of fun.  It's definitely Tarantino's funniest film yet, with the first half feeling almost like an outright comedy.  Waltz is on fire here, having fun being a good guy for a change, and is the best character in the movie by far.  Django himself is what you'd imagine him to be: the less vocal, Eastwood-type to offset Waltz.  DiCaprio also shines and is also having fun role reversing, playing the bad guy.  But one of the most interesting performances in the film, and one I did not see coming, was Samuel L Jackson playing Candie's right-hand slave man.  Whereas Candie is the equivalent to Waltz's Hans Landa in Basterds, Jackson is a slave who has worked his way into his owners good side, which means he has the most complex character decisions when it comes down to "choosing sides." 

The violence, a staple of Tarantino films, is bold and bloody.  It's fun when it needs to be and brutal when it needs to be; with the subject of slavery at hand, I think Django handles the issue really well and reminds us of the horrors of this historical reality much better than Basterds did with the Holocaust.  The anachronistic music works for the most part (now that I've grown more accustomed to it since Basterds), and it's just a fun ride.  The film suffers from "two ending" syndrome, and takes a bit of a nose dive (as did Pulp Fiction) when Tarantino decided to put himself in the movie, with the worst Australian accent I've ever heard no less, but the little things don't cancel out the big picture.  The checklist Tarantino fans have is fulfilled: great dialogue, crazy violence, and a badass soundtrack.  It may not be as iconic as the best Tarantino films, but it's a completely entertaining blaxploitation spaghetti western that only Quentin could have made.  

Rating: A-


Sunday, December 23, 2012

This is 40, Jack Reacher

This is 40:

Judd Apatow's "semi-sequel" to Knocked Up stars Paul Rudd and Apatow's actual wife, Leslie Mann, as a married couple with two girls, coming to terms with their age and relationship.  Even though this falls prey to the same things that have plagued Apatow's other works, like self-indulgent "sweetness," I thought it made up for in laughs.

This is 40 feels kind of like a mess, like more of a rough cut than a polished finished film, but I found myself laughing more than I thought I would.  Paul Rudd is great, and the kids, who are also Apatow's real life children, were surprisingly good.  And for you fans of Bridesmaids out there, Melissa McCarthy, in her small one-scene role, is fucking hilarious.  If you thought she was funny before, you can see her go over-the-top (I'm pretty sure the crew just told her to "go there" and let her go unleashed).  The script was pretty so-so (it tries too hard to be an Albert Brooks movie, who coincidentally stars in the film as Rudd's father), but the cast elevates the material.  So yeah, its sickeningly sweet and "relatable," but is pretty damn funny.

Rating: B-

Jack Reacher:

Think what you want about the 'real life' Tom Cruise, but the man is an amazingly dedicated actor.  I mean, at the age of 50 he was hanging off of the world's tallest building in Ghost Protocol for our enjoyment.  I assumed Jack Reacher would yet again be a showcase of Cruise's ass-kickery, even if it would be as intelligently written as the carved racial slurs on a bathroom stall.  But no.  Although there are a few glimmers of hope, Jack Reacher is probably the most boring "action" movie all year.  First off, from what I've read online, the character in the books it's based off of is 250 lbs and 6'5" or something like that (too lazy to fact check); so the best guy to play this brute force is...Tom Cruise?!  As awesome as he is, he's a tiny elf-man.

The story begins with an actually well-handled wordless sequence where a sniper randomly picks off five people and drives away.  Reacher, an ex-military outside-the-law drifter, catches wind of the guy police have taken in and tries to get to the bottom of this mystery (for the crime is "too perfect" and someone else must be responsible).  Him and some DA chick band together to get the bad guys, among whom documentarian Werner Herzog plays a villain.  OK, on paper this sounds pretty good, but in execution you just don't care about anything.  It plays more like a badly made mature crime-caper than an outright action flick, and fails at having any sort of stakes.  There's no real reason to cheer on Reacher, because for one he's a drifter with no ties to anyone (his death means nothing), and the accused sniper, even though he didn't shoot these people, he admits to having killed innocent people before.  The whole thing felt cheap and stupid, with Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall wasting their talents with a weak script.  Bleh.  There's a decent car chase scene somewhere in there though.

Rating: D

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hurt Locker 2: Abbottabad Drift

Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her award-sucking war film The Hurt Locker.  This film has been getting just as favorable reviews from seemingly all the critics in town, citing this as a masterpiece and claiming how brilliant Jessica Chastain is in this telling of the hunt for Osama bin Laden taken from supposed "first hand accounts."

I did really like the action in this film - Bigelow is great at putting you right in the middle of this world, and the eventual seizure of bin Laden's compound is handled magnificently.  Even though everyone knows the ending (hint: we killed bin Laden), I still felt my buttcheeks squeezing in tension during those scenes.  The controversial 'torture' scenes, which have been upsetting certain politicians, are indeed quite disturbing but feel truthful.  And Jessica Chastain, who has been on a roll recently with roles in The Help and Take Shelter, finally is given material where her fierce inner-woman can come alive.  She's the one member of the CIA who organized the whole plan to take down bin Laden, which is clearly what happened in real life.

My complaints are similar to those I had of Lincoln (and Argo for that matter).  Even though I enjoyed the action bits, and there's some great acting on display (including Jason Clarke, playing a guy who doesn't fuck around during interrogations), about two-thirds of the film is endless political jargon.  The characters get into the nitty-gritty of their jobs, and I found it impossible to pay attention at certain parts.  Maybe I'm just not nuanced enough, maybe it's from all my years of playing Call of Duty and losing my sensitization, but I just found it tough to sit through.  It's really "well done," and feels like an honest portrayal of this mission (despite the obvious changes for the theme of the movie) - if anything the assault of the compound is worth seeing it for - but this is most definitely another overrated film from critics.

Rating: C+

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rust and Bone, Any Day Now

Rust and Bone:

A couple limited release movies for you (they'll likely be available in DVD/download in the near future).  First up is Rust and Bone, a French language movie starring Marion Cotillard as an orca trainer who loses her legs in a horrible whale accident.  She falls in love with the equally faulted Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a bouncer/security guard/fighter whose heart is in the right place but often employs shitty behavior (like forgetting to pick up his 5 year old son at school while screwing a woman from the gym).  The film is a no-nonsense look at disability and at the romance that forms between both actors as they help fill in each other's emotional voids.

I rather enjoyed this picture, I have to say.  I wish the ending to the film felt more cohesive to the rest of the movie, but the performances were really strong and it was shot beautifully - pretty much what you'd want out of a drama like this.  And Cotillard is great at shedding a tear (if I remember it was four, four separate single-tear shots and each of them were dramatic).

Rating: B

Any Day Now:

You may recognize Alan Cumming from The Good Wife and a bunch of shitty movies like The Smurfs and Garfield (and not recognize him under heavy makeup as Nightcrawler from X2), but this is probably his first major "breakout" role.  Cumming and Garret Dillahunt play a gay couple trying to win the custody of a mentally handicapped boy whose mother was put in prison.  In this infuriating courtroom drama set in the late 70's they have to deal with biased, homophobic lawyers and judges and fight the injustice of the court system in order to live as a family and to give this child his only chance at a good life.

I really enjoyed this film as well.  Cumming can be hilarious at times (especially when he's working as a drag queen at the local gay bar), but puts a lot of power behind his character, in effect not making it seem like a pure stereotype.  They used an actual person with Down syndrome for the kid, and he actually was pretty good in the role.  The grittiness of the era was well captured, and the courtroom scenes really got to me with how corrupt everything is.  Those with working tear ducts might want to bring tissues.

Rating: B

Also, just wanted to share that at the screening I went to there was a Q&A with Alan Cumming afterwards.  Wasn't really the best Q&A I've ever seen, but he has apparently been doing them since May, so I can't blame him for being tired of answering questions.  The craziest bit of info he shared was at one time Sylvester Stallone was slated to play the lead.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Amount of Frames-per-second

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is unprecedented fantasy filmmaking.  We all thought he would leave Middle Earth behind (with Guillermo Del Toro originally slated to take his place), but he's back in the hobbit-hole to adapt the precursor to the 'rings' books, The Hobbit.  Jackson made headlines when he announced that he would be shooting the film using 48 frames-per-second; in a normal film, footage is shot using 24 frames-per-second, giving movies their "film" look.  In 48fps, things are more "life-like" and action is cleaner (without blurred motion), and Jackson promised that this was the future of filmmaking.  Well fuck that, because I thought it was way too jarring and distracted from the movie.  I hardly got used to it and I'd have rather gone to a regular screening.  But with that gripe out of the way, I think The Hobbit is as charming and adventurous as its source material, with some structural problems that keep it from being amazing.

Jackson's decision to split The Hobbit into three films (and the sheer fact that this is a prequel) makes An Unexpected Journey fall a little on the "light side."  As strange as it is, even though the plot moves at a glacial pace, the film is PACKED with shit (it's as if he released the "extended cut" to theaters).  Goblins, orcs, elves, big-ass wolves, you name it.  There's a lot of spectacle on display and everything looks great (and sounds great, with Howard Shore returning as composer).  But some of the plot feels inconsequential, and the dwarves feel more like those of Snow White than Lord of the Rings. Granted, the actual book was more geared towards children, but following up LotR, it doesn't have that same edge.  Also, the humor that works on the page rarely translates, and there were a lot of awkward lines.

I was definitely entertained by it, but The Hobbit had a strange tone to it and its great sequences (such as Bilbo's riddle game with Gollum) were more episodic and don't add up to a solid whole.  I do like that Bilbo actually did have a character arc within the film, but I think it doesn't stand well on its own.  There were quite a few elements added that were not in the book (not being a big Tolkien reader, they may be explained in his other works) that I felt added very little to the story.  It's fun if you ignore the problems, but personally I think Jackson overstayed his welcome in this franchise.

Rating: B

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hitchcock, Flight, Killing Them Softly

I just farted out these reviews; sorry they aren't more detailed or exciting -- but the year is ending and soon I'll be posting lists of things!  So look forward to that.  


When the first pictures leaked out of Anthony Hopkins dressed up in full Hitchcock attire, it was pretty exciting.  When I found out that Sacha Gervasi would be directing the film, the guy who directed one of my all-time favorite documentaries Anvil: The Story of Anvil, I got even more excited.  Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most brilliant and rightfully famous directors of all-time, and to see his story be put to screen would have to give audiences a good understanding of the man as a true artist.  Hitchcock (the film) fails to do that and ends up as something I'm sure the master himself would despise.

Hitchcock is supposedly about the making of Psycho, yet we hardly ever see the brilliance and artistry that went into the picture; the film spends most of its running time showing the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife (Helen Mirren) as a potential affair looms between her and writing partner  Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).  The actual making of Psycho seems to have just happened around Hitchcock without much effort, and the team of people that helped make the film a classic, including Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, are there simply for name-dropping and the subject for jokes.

Sure it has its moments of quaint little Hitch-isms that display his morbid sense of humor, but Hitchcock fails at being a serious look at a serious artist.  It panders to the audience with a very broad sense of the man, and does not at all feel written for adults.

Rating: C-


Robert Zemeckis is finally back to directing live action movies after his decade-long stint making creepy motion-capture animated films like The Polar Express and Beowulf.  Flight features Denzel Washington as a pilot with a drug and alcohol problem.  During a particular flight while experiencing a mechanical error, he safely lands the plane with a skilled maneuver despite his condition.  The film shows Washington dealing with his addiction and impending court trail.

I've heard mixed things about Flight, but I found it highly enjoyable.  Although the film is different than what it's advertised to be (it's not so much a mystery of a malfunctioning plane as a pure Denzel Washington acting piece), I thought the film was handled pretty well, despite not being anywhere as good as most other Zemeckis films.  I thought Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle, playing Whip's friend and attorney respectively, had some of the best bits. John Goodman and Melissa Leo were solid as well in their limited roles.  This was a pretty standard drama; it doesn't break any new ground in filmmaking, but it's a solid acting piece and there are a few really well-handled sequences (one being the big plane crash scene).  I probably would have rather seen the movie about the intricacies of a plane crash, but it's never a bad thing to see Denzel do his thing.

Rating: B-

Killing Them Softly:

Andrew Dominik's third film is a (very) low-key crime drama featuring some familiar faces like Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Richard Jenkins playing characters involved (or were involved) in the world of crime.  The film beats you over the head with its political messages, with every TV, radio, or billboard blaring loudly with speeches from Obama or George W. Bush.  Dominik really wants to drive home the comparison between criminals and capitalism, but what should have been subtext is just text.  There are some really great sequences in this film, such as a tense robbery being committed by under-prepared thugs, but mostly it featured just two characters sitting across from each other, going on and on about their plan(s).  Honestly I found myself dozing off for certain sequences - it was just boring.  Clearly Dominik is a talented filmmaker, which makes this muddled mess even more confusing.

It's not without its moments, and Ray Liotta is great in his brief screen-time, but the constant use of "subtext" and long drawn out dialogue sequences make it tough to sit through.  And on a side note, this has been the least successful Brad Pitt movie in almost 19 years, earning a measly $7 million.

Rating: C

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Anna Karenina, The Sessions

Anna Karenina:

I am definitely not the target demographic for this film.  Usually these period romance pieces are not my cup of tea, but I was a big fan of Joe Wright's Atonement and last year's Hanna (which managed to squeeze into my top ten) so I wanted to check it out.  For those who aren't versed in the world of classic literature, Anna Karenina is an adaptation of a famous Russian novel from 1877 about a woman committing adultery.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  She falls for this strapping young lad, cheats on her husband, and a bunch of posh english phrases like "exquisite" and "charming" are thrown around for a couple hours.

Of course I'm over simplifying it, but it was just a slog to sit through.  On a technical level the film was brilliant, and the life that director Joe Wright, the set designers, the costume people, etc brought into it was pretty breathtaking.  But that was the problem: I was more interested to see the next cool camera move or the next big luscious setpiece than I was about ANY of the characters.  Maybe I'm just not cultured enough to appreciate the story, but it was hard to 'buy' even the affair between Kiera Knightley and Aaron Johnson's character.  I can't help it, but every time I see Aaron Johnson I think of his "loser-ish" role in Kick Ass, so it did not fit in my imagination that he was some steamy icon of masculinity that Kiera Knightley would be willing to sacrifice her reputation over.  I just didn't care, I wasn't invested, and to top it all off the theater I saw it in was filled with old people who kept clearing their throats throughout the movie.  AUAGGHUUGH.  AUGUH.  AUGH.  AGH.  A. - 10 mins later - AUGHUH.  Then repeat for the whole film.  Wasn't my thing, but if you like this sort of stuff, go for it.

Rating: C+

The Sessions:

John Hawkes has been popping up a lot lately, most noticeably in Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene as typically creepy characters.  But here he plays possibly the most sympathetic character you're likely to see this year; he plays real life poet Mark O'Brien, a Christian paralyzed from the neck down who spent his adult life in an iron lung.  This is the story of how he dealt with his sexuality by means of a sex therapist (played by Helen Hunt) and spiritual advice from a pretty liberal priest (William H. Macy).

Now I'm not sure how much of this translates into "real life," but parts of this must be fictional.  Some of the things that happen in this movie are just...I just think it's pushing the boundaries of possibility.  But that really doesn't hurt the film at all, in fact despite that tightrope of decency it's walking, it stays on track for most of the film (lets face it, sex with a handicapped person is a touchy subject).  The three main actors are all at their respective top games and it's funny and heartfelt throughout.  It's easy to see why this won the Audience Award at Sundance; it's that feel-good-but-still-shed-a-tear type of movie.

Rating: B+
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...