Sunday, October 27, 2013

Captain Phillips, Machete Kills, The Counselor, Bad Grandpa

Captain Phillips
Dir. Paul Greengrass

Perhaps best known for his directorial work on the Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass' style pretty much defined action thrillers of the 00's.  Captain Phillips, based on the true account of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, is his latest, with Tom Hanks assuming the role of the titular captain, making a serious comeback from a somewhat dwindling career recently.  And making his film debut is Barkhad Abdi, convincingly playing the pirate "captain" (let's just say you won't see Abdi in a Calvin Klein ad).  Captain Phillips, like Gravity, is a claustrophobic thrill ride filled with all the set-pieces you could imagine coming out of the limited scope of a cargo freighter.  The filmmaking is great, I loved the contrast between the respective "captains," and it's hardly boring considering it takes place almost entirely on a boat.  The "message" of the film is a little too blatant, and due to the trailers/based-in-real-lifeness it's pretty predictable, but other than that, I think it's a great true-life thriller.

Rating: B+

Machete Kills
Dir. Robert Rodriguez

I think this series has worn out its welcome.  I was a huge fan of Grindhouse from 2007, the criminally under-seen double feature from Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, of which "Machete" was a fake trailer at the beginning.  Soon thereafter Rodriguez directed a standalone Machete film, with Danny Trejo back playing "the wrong Mexican to fuck with." While entertaining for what it was, I felt the film marked the end of Machete's novelty.  Even with the sequel's exciting cast lineup, including Cuba Gooding Jr, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Demian Bechir, and Lady Gaga, Machete Kills just falls flat.  It wasn't clever enough, it wasn't outrageous enough, and it wasn't nostalgic enough.  At first these films seemed like a sincere return to a previous era's style of filmmaking, now it just feels laborious.  Machete is just not that interesting of a character.  At least other "silent-but-deadly" action heroes like Schwarzenegger's Terminator or Eastwood's 'Man with No Name' had epic stories that surrounded them.  It really just doesn't feel edgy anymore, just rehashing the same shit.  "Grindhouse" has become a stock style at this point (just look at this Ruffles commercial), and it's not enough to simply emulate for the sake of it.  I think Rodriguez is an amazing director, and I'm still cautiously awaiting his Sin City sequel, but I'd rather take a shot from Mel Gibon's "inside out" gun than watch this again.

Rating: D

The Counselor
Dir. Ridley Scott

If you ask me what The Counselor was about, I seriously wouldn't know what to tell you.  Michael Fassbender plays a guy who we never learn about (including his name - everyone just calls him "the counselor").  He wants in on the world of the Mexican border drug game...or something...despite the fact that he's boning Penelope Cruz (whom he has zero on-screen chemistry with) and could lose her.  A cowboy hat-wearing Brad Pitt and a spiky-haired Javier Bardem warn him not to get involved, but he does anyway.  Then there's Cameron Diaz who has two pet cheetahs for no reason.  Other than that it's just all long pieces of undecipherable dialogue that thinks it's poetic intermingled with un-erotic sex and uninteresting violence. Just what the fuck is this movie?  This marks 80-year-old Cormac McCarthy's first foray into screenwriting (best known for his novels No Country for Old Men and The Road).  For whatever reason this just flat out didn't work on any level, and it's clear that the actors involved were in it just for the prestige of working with Ridley Scott/McCarthy.  I don't even know how to review this, it didn't even make sense.

Rating: D-

Bad Grandpa
Dir. Jeff Tremaine

I've always been a big fan of Jackass, the show and the movies, and the pranks were always the funniest bits, for me anyway.  In Bad Grandpa Johnny Knoxville reprises his role of 86-year old Irving Zisman, this time getting the "Borat" treatment in a docu-comedy format.  Unlike previous Jackass features there is an actual narrative to follow, though it's loose enough to allow for the disconnected pranks to work.  And they're as funny as ever.  Basically Irving is on a road trip to drop his grandson off with his dad after his mom is sent to prison, and along the way they get into crazy hijinks (mostly in an effort for Irving to score some "tail"). The kid, played by 9-year-old Jackson Nicoll, has a surprisingly mature sense of humor and he plays really well off Knoxville (never caving or laughing during the pranks).  If you've enjoyed the Jackass adventures thus far and have that type of humor, Bad Grandpa is a ton of fun.  It's sophomoric, it's full of fart jokes, and you get to see an old man's genitals wagging around on the big screen.  What more could you want?  Knoxville knox it out of the park here (sorry, I had to).

Rating: B+

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity, Don Jon, Rush, Enough Said Reviews

Again, sorry for the short reviews (not that anyone really cares).

Dir. Alfonso Cuarón

If movies have taught us anything, it's that space is scary.  But Gravity proves that it can be just as scary without the Aliens.  Set entirely in zero-gravity, this is one of the most unique thrillers to come out in a long time, suspending the audience along with the characters in space - and you will feel like you know what it feels like to float among the stars.  Featuring some gorgeous shots of the Earth, we're introduced to everything we need to know in the first 17 minute-long "unedited" sequence (it was edited digitally but appears to be one fluid shot), where we meet Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a smooth-talking veteran astronaut and his new medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), still getting acclimated to being weightless.  Within moments, they are alerted by mission control (Ed Harris - who coincidentally played mission control in Apollo 13) that debris from another satellite is rocketing their way.  The ship is destroyed, effectively leaving them stranded in outer space.  Talk about stakes!

As imagined coming from Cuarón, this is a spectacular movie that perfectly balanced horror with beauty, sure to placed in many 'Top Ten' lists at the end of the year.  The special effects look as good, if not better, than Avatar.  Sure there may be some iffy moments here and there, like Clooney's face under his helmet looking a little too CGI-like, but considering the scope of the film it's still awe-inspiring.  Plus, somehow he managed to make it just as much about the characters as the thrilling set-pieces.  Everything about this movie was great, if somewhat simplified compared to his previous masterwork Children of Men.  I don't want to give anything away, but I'm happy that it stuck to the 'hard science' angle as well.  If Danny Boyle could have only realized you don't necessarily need an alien for every movie set in space, Sunshine could've been this good.  Seriously, if you're a fan of movies at all Gravity should already be at the top of your watch-list.

Rating: A

Don Jon
Dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is definitely one of the best young actors working in Hollywood right now (I mean, just look at Brick, 50/50, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, etc), but Don Jon marks his first time as a writer/director/star.  It's pretty much about this New Jersey meathead, Jon (Gordon-Levitt) whose favorite pastimes include working out, objectifying women, and watching an unhealthy amount of pornography.  Then enters Barbara (Scarlett Johanssen), a "princess" type who sports a shit-eating-grin whenever she watches a romantic comedy.  Don instantly falls for her after seeing her ass in a red dress, and she falls for Don, unaware of his "nasty" habits.  The heart of the film examines how media influences gender expectations in a negative way, and how we set unrealistic standards for the opposite sex.

It wasn't all that deep of a movie, but considering this is a first-time directing job (granted Gordon-Levitt has grown up in the industry), the pacing and the story were handled really well.  As awkward as a Jersey Shore-type porn addict movie may sound, the explicitness wasn't gratuitous and was shown purely to advance the story.  Also, in the middle of the film the always wonderful Julianne Moore shows up and completely changes the dynamic of the story and characters, which helped save the movie from going into monotony (the film intentionally repeats imagery to show Don's routine, but once it you see the same "sister-on-the-phone" gag for the fourth time it can get repetitive).  All in all, despite it sort of condemning sappy romantic comedies, it actually is one by the end.  A solid one that was able to show the potential of a new actor/director by the likes of Ben Affleck, but still your typical stuff.

Rating: B

Enough Said
Dir. Nicole Holofcener

Kind of an ironic title for the last film featuring James Gandolfini (best known for playing Tony Soprano).  In this indie-romantic comedy he co-stars with another famous TV icon, Julia-Louis Dreyfuss (Seinfeld's Elaine - as if I have to tell you these things).  She's a masseuse with a kid going off to college, he's a TV historian with a daughter in college, they're both single parents, and they hit it off.  The only problem is that one of Dreyfuss's clients, whom she begins to form a strong friendship with, is Gandolfini's ex-wife! Oh, the tension.  Enough Said really isn't a challenging picture, but I thought it was a touching and sweet final performance for a man known for playing tough guys.  The two veteran actors held fantastic chemistry together, and is one of the better movies about finding love at an old age that I've seen.  There are some eye-rolling unfunny moments here and there, but this is just such a quaint little movie, it's impossible to root against it.  Another movie that almost made me shed a man-tear.

Rating: B

Dir. Ron Howard

To me, Ron Howard has no discernable "style" that sets him apart from any other director.  If you look at even his best films back to back (let's say Cocoon, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind), there's no way you'd be able to tell it was from the same director.  He's kind of bland, I'm sorry.  So I wasn't really excited for Rush, one of the few movies to come out set around Formula One racing.  I assumed it would be just like any other sports drama.  Aaaand...that was still the case here.  But the relationship between the two rival racers was well-handled.  The film follows real-life racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), a Tony Stark-like cocky dude, and Niki Lauda, a calculating German relying on precision more than speed.  Unlike other sport films, where we'd follow one character and hate the other, this film truly shows the story from both perspectives, making the races mean a little more than, say, the Podracing sequence in The Phantom Menace (don't know why that's the example that came to me).

But even with a strong central relationship, I thought Rush was exceedingly "OK."  In the end it was a loud, fast-paced, turn-off-your-brain sports flick with not much to rave about.  Every other character is terrible, especially Olivia Wilde's, playing Hunt's wife; milling around for no reason, she should have just left him a long time ago (in the words of Hemsworth "Don't go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality").  Just another "Ron Howard" film to dump onto his pile of other inspirational "whatever" movies.  Frost/Nixon, anyone?

Rating: C

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