Thursday, July 31, 2014
Dir. Richard Linklater
For most of his career, Richard Linklater has tried to find the profound in the mundane - whether through the aimless conversations in his debut feature Slacker or the ponderous romance in his 'Before Sunrise' trilogy. Boyhood, a 12-years-in-the-making coming-of-age story, is by far his most ambitious effort yet (and perhaps one of the most ambitious ever in cinema), and though it's a 3-hour "epic" that literally encapsulates a dozen years of a boy's life, still captures that quiet, shiftless quality that's been a cornerstone of Linklater's best works. Having access to his actors for a year at a time (taking a break between each shooting period), it's fascinating to watch not only the boy grow up (Ellar Coltrane), along with his parents and sibling (played by Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater, respectively), but to see a slight shift in Linklater's own direction as the years go on. On a technical level Boyhood is mesmerizing, and the fact that the film not only works as a movie, but is actually able to elicit emotions, is somewhat of a miracle. It's undoubtedly a groundbreaking achievement, but I do think if it weren't for its "gimmick," critics wouldn't necessarily be foaming at the mouth for this one.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
The Purge: Anarchy
Dir. James DeMonaco
If you go back and read my review of the first Purge film, I mention that the world DeMonaco and Co. built had potential to work in a sequel if they expanded the universe beyond just one house. The sequel to last year's surprise summer hit does just that: we actually get to see what it's like on the street during the 12-hour period of modern American lawlessness, where all crime (mostly murder) is legalized to keep people from breaking the law the other 364 days of the year. With a large city as the filmmakers' playground this time around, this "open-world" film could have been amazing given the right script, and couldn't have come at a better time of release - our actual world is unfortunately reflecting this movie right now - but alas, the lazily-titled Purge: Anarchy is a bland, if ambitious, horror b-movie.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dir. Matt Reeves
To even my surprise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my #2 movie of 2011. Despite being the prequel/second remake of the classic 1968 Heston film, it managed to live on its own terms and create this great new universe. The story that interweaved the beginning of Caesar's "rise" with a very human-centric alzheimers plot with John Lithgow and James Franco, along with Franco's heartfelt connection with Caesar, was brilliant, and the final setpiece on the Golden Gate Bridge, even after my fourth recent re-watch, gave me chills. And much of what makes it so good is Andy Serkis, whose motion-captured performance stole the show - and started a mini-campaign to get him an Oscar-nom. So with Dawn focusing more on Caesar and his ape comrades, I was eagerly anticipating this film, and Matt Reeves is not one to disappoint (I thought Cloverfield actually lived up to the hype). But, lo and behold, much like a handful of other sequels that have come out this year (namely How to Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street), I'm just at a disconnect from most other critics: I found this to be a surprisingly uninspired, "simple" film more fitting with the likes of Avatar than the original Rise.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Snowpiercer, the American debut of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother) is a literal thrill ride. Based off of a French graphic novel, this not-too-distant-future claustrophobic sci-fi picture takes place entirely on a large, non-stop train. After humanity dies off from freezing Earth in an effort to stop global warming, the only human survivors are aboard this train led by a rich and mysterious man called Wilford. The front of the train contains the engine room, where Wilford is, along with the members of "rich" society, and in the back are the poor, "working class," dirty, grimy, forced to eat black gelatinous bricks, and "put in their place" by Wilford's guards and right-hand woman, Mason, played to scumbag perfection by Tilda Swinton. But in the words of 80's hair metal band Twisted Sister, these people aren't gonna take it anymore, and an uprising begins (led by Chris Evans). The film is pretty much their journey from the back to the front of the train in an effort to get answers and begin a revolution.
Friday, July 4, 2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dir. Michael Bay
Right now Transformers: Age of Extinction has already made over $400 million worldwide, and is likely to become the highest-grossing movie of the year. Despite an abysmal 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 2.5 hour-long runtime, and a mostly incomprehensible story, people around the world will still fork over their money to watch these giant robots bludgeon and blast missiles at identical giant robots over and over again. The problem is that this just fuels Bay's worst tendencies; female objectification and racial stereotypes run amok, characters come and go with no meaning or satisfying arcs, plot literally doesn't matter over the spectacle, and audiences don't seem to care. There comes a moment in Age of Extinction where Optimus Prime, fighting a giant robot T-Rex, hops on its back and starts riding it. Within the context of the movie, this makes no sense, but sense doesn't matter in a Bay film. What matters are what he considers a series of "cool" shots, where literally every frame of the movie has to be filled with unrelenting grandiosity, which in effect makes me, at least, numb to everything on screen.