My 4-year old great-niece will love this. Me, not so much. There was once a time when at the very least you could count on a good song score in a Disney toon. But the mundane, tone-deaf lyrics here stop the film every time it breaks into song. The positives? Very few. The ice animation is pretty. Kristen Bell shows she has the vocal chops to be an all-around musical star. And Jonathan Groff shines in the (shhhh, don't breathe a word) gay best friend role. But everything is pitched to the youngest common denominator, with absolutely no subtlety or sophistication. I know I shouldn't expect more; but I keep hoping in vain for another Beauty and the Beast.
In 1942 the Chinese province of Henan experienced the dual disasters of war and drought-caused famine. This epic film recounts the story of a well-to-do landlord family forced by circumstances to become refugees fleeing west from war and famine. What befalls them is horrendous, and presented with up-to-date special effects and presumably a cast of thousands. It is also the story of how the government and Generalissimo Chang in particular dealt with the war and famine at the time.
The film is long (2 1/2 hours); but it never felt padded, with a strong, propulsive, chronological narrative which included the experiences of a real-life, committed Time Magazine reporter (played by Adrien Brody). This is an impressive film of huge scope, successfully brought to the big screen; but personally I had trouble differentiating the characters of the central family, and had even more trouble with understanding the politics and military strategy (which was minimally explained in the film in any case.)
This is a documentary consisting of close-up interviews with Lithuanian children in foster care (or maybe in an orphanage, the film was maddeningly vague about the where, and for that matter any context outside of the questions and answers.) Some of the children were really interesting in their interaction with the camera, including a blind girl poet and a deaf girl who signed her skillfully told stories. Others were boring and lost me. But honestly, this film felt mostly pointless to me. Without context, these are just kids being kids...haltingly answering vapid questions which rarely imparted any interesting revelations.
New Zealand, mid-20th Century. A white woman, wife of a powerful and abusive man who is temporarily out of the country, requests a Maori medicine woman to abort her illegitimate fetus before the return of her husband. That's the set-up for this powerful "woman's flick" about three women (add in the faithful lady's maid who is a lot more than that) dealing with the screwed up social conventions in New Zealand at that time. The acting is quite splendid, a tribute to Jewish/Mexican first time director Dana Rotberg's passion for the subject. Very tense, very thought provoking. Not my cuppa (three women, no men, female issues); but this is the type of emotionally fraught issue film that will appeal to others.
Jon is a difficult 14-year old being raised by his widowed mother. After being expelled from school for a series of misfired pranks, he is sent to live with his grandfather, a strict former soldier; and in a manner of speaking Jon comes of age. Arón Piper gives a strong performance as the troubled, but innately good kid. The film turns around a mysterious murder of the town's bully. But it's really an insightful character study and family drama.
A young man working in a restaurant collapses at the start of the film. There's nothing wrong physically, so he is sent back to his father's rural orchid farm to recuperate. But the man has apparently been taken over by a canny demon; and the film becomes a rather inventively fun, peculiar horror story with a high body count. This isn't a genre I usually enjoy; but director Chung spins so many quirky details into his story, that I enjoyed it despite never quite figuring out what was going on.
A video editor who had been tortured by the Egyptian security apparatus in 2009, watches the uprising in January, 2011 from his Cairo apartment. That's the central narrative; but the film branches out to the story of a woman television talk-show host who becomes disenchanted with the station's policy of not covering the riots. Add in the story of a secret policeman and his family, and you get a fairly interesting, personalized view of the Arab Spring. Slow, and occasionally confusing as to time and place...still, the film does transmit the fears and hopes of the revolution. However, two documentaries this year: The Square and Uprising paralleled this story and did it much better.
A young man is fired by his pregnant girlfriend's father for writing an embarrassing review of Malick's Tree of Life. That starts him on a downward spiral of existential angst. Rarely has a film seemed so artily pretentious, with long scenes of nothing happening mixed in with English language pop ballads that were just too on the nose. Maybe the ironic detachment will appeal to some; but for me it was deadly boring.
Three Thai students living in New York City on New Year's Eve 2013, are visited by a mysterious marijuana dealer. What follows is either an allegory about sin, or a drugged out Thai version of Michel Heneke's Funny Games. In either case the film's possibly supernatural message was hard to take, if just this side of offensively bad. It didn't help that the acting was for the most part incredibly amateur. The only saving grace was the director's penchant for weird camera placement and inventive blocking, which actually made the film a visual success.
A substitute German teacher, quiet, earnest, unlikable, is introduced to a high-school class in a permissive, progressive school in contemporary Slovenia. An incident occurs which shakes up the class and they band together, at least most of the class, against the teacher. This is a metaphor for modern society; but it is also a riveting people story. It's amazing how many of the students become vivid personalities. As an adult, I've never really engaged with teenage kids, let alone grappled with school politics. But this film got to me.
Marwan is 12-year old boy living in degraded circumstances with his alcoholic and violent mother. Nour is a student who loses her parents in a sudden tragedy. India is a wealthy married lady who desperately wants to conceive a child. They inhabit contemporary Beirut; but their stories, told asynchronously, never intersect. Or do they? This clever script works backwards to show how fate connects them. It's designed as a puzzle; but it's not difficult to predict where the film is going. Still, this is an involving thriller, beautifully acted. It shook me up, especially the boy's story.
This film is the epitome of the intimate epic. Maybe calling it "Stalingrad" gives the wrong impression that this is a useful history of the actual battle, the way the 6 hour, 1993 film, Gettysburg was. On the contrary. Here the focus is on one small Russian platoon occupying a building inhabited by civilians. They are holding out against a German force, led by an ambiguously sympathetic captain. There are huge battle sequences aplenty; but after one spectacular, fiery episode introduces the audience to 1942 Stalingrad, the killing is more intimate between recognizable characters from both sides. There's also a strange, seemingly unnecessary set of bookends about the 2011 Japanese earthquake and the international nature of the rescue operations. But other than that, it's hard to fault Bondarchuk's excellent direction and a flawless acting ensemble. The 3-D was quite well done, no eye fatigue at all.
A return to form for Woody. First, he's found the perfect younger replacement for his oft used muse Judy Davis in Cate Blanchett (who should be odds on for an Oscar here.) Second, he's channeling Tennessee Williams in a modern day take on "Streetcar" with Bobby Cannavale as Stanley, Sally Hawkins as Stella and Blanchett as Blanche. OK, maybe that's just one of the plots...but it's a great place to start, and all three actors ace their roles. Third, he's managed to set a film in San Francisco and avoid all the scenic clichés. If that isn't enough, he's made a drama that is amusing, polished and relevant, with a conclusion that's emotionally devastating. That's enough for me.
Infectious, gloriously upbeat music documentary starring several background singers coming out from the obscurity closet (actually, Darlene Love and Merry Clayton were well enough known to me...but other great talents such as Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Judith HIll came as a revelation.) The film entertains with some remarkable vintage footage; but it also drives home the point with current day interviews and contemporary recording session sequences, of what it actually takes to be a star soloist in the R&B and R&R worlds.
Anybody who expects a Refn film to be a walk in the park is delusional. Returning to the excessive gore of the Pusher trilogy, he's made a serious art film in the guise of a revenge thriller. Well, serious in that the violence and bloodletting is as stylized as a traditional Thai dance drama.
Ryan Gosling's inert physicality is perfect for Refn's antihero. And Kristen Scott Thomas does a great parody of Ma Barker. Some of the excesses of her character were laughable; but in a good way! The first end title credit is a dedication to Alejandro Jodorowsky; but I think this film is more a tribute to the narrative style of Gaspar Noé and the visual flair of Wong Kar Wai (Larry Smith's cinematography is incandescent.)
Did I say "excessive gore"? I'm going to have nightmares tonight. But give credit to this director for shaking up this viewer.
I've had trouble writing a review of this important film; and it's hard to put into words why. It's about the breakup of a gay relationship...nicely written and directed by a young American making his first feature. Director Birkmeier's doesn't have the visual flash of that more famous gay wunderkind, Xavier Dolan; but his insight into his characters is just as impressive. The story resonated. This is a landmark film in that it actually gets what is significant and unique in the relationship between two men when sex isn't enough. Give credit to the two lead actors, Kyle Wigent and Trevor Rittenhouse, who wear their raw emotions on their sleeves and deliver the witty, bitter dialogue flawlessly. The director mentioned Blue Valentine as one of his influences...and about the best compliment I can make is that his film delivered a similar impact.
Message documentaries are all the same, even one as vital and truthful as this one (yeah, global warming is a fact, and the Koch Bros. and Exxon/Mobil are super-villains). The director does a good job of channeling Michael Moore and his confrontational schtick...but nobody gets confronted, unfortunately. The smoking gun misfires. But good graphics and effective polemics are enough to keep one interested. The sheer magnitude of the corruption is just depressing.
One of my all-time most memorable documentaries was 1994's A Great Day in Harlem. It centered on a photograph which was taken one morning in 1958 on a block in Harlem, where fifty-seven great and near great jazz musicians were posed for history. Apparently there were only two women in the shot; and this documentary sets out to rectify that slight.
Utilizing some amazing period footage and lots of interviews, the film tells the story of women in jazz...from their second class status (to be kind) in the Big Band era, through their increasing presence in today's scene. On the way, there are many nicely filmed sequences of women playing jazz (never my primary musical interest...but that made it even more educational and enjoyable to watch.)
The film ends on an infectious high (I'm not going to spoil it) which made me applaud. One of the primary goals of good documentary filmmaking is uncovering aspects of our lives which are obscure, but worth discovering. I'd say this film succeeds nicely at bringing this about.
Two Arkansas high-school seniors, friends since age 4 and lovers since puberty, are spending their last summer together before the "smart" one leaves for college in New England. That's about it for plot. But director Mark Thiedeman is an artist...an impressionist with a video camera (aided by another artist, cinematographer David Goodman). One can just about feel the textures and auras of small town Arkansas through the screen. Perhaps Thiedeman is a tad self-indulgent with his imagery...there are many more shots of nature and inanimate objects than his two good-looking actors. But at least he's kept the film under 80 minutes and managed to stay just this side of pretentious. Mostly because what little story he does tell is quite poignant and a kind of idealized fantasy that is well worth watching.
This is a film that's hard to dislike. It has a totally correct provenance: timely reminder of the Trayvon Martin case; bleeding heart true-life case of terrible social injustice; talented, first-time director; up-and-coming young star; a recent Oscar winner in a signature role. Yet, it missed the mark for me. Sometimes a film is just too earnest, too on-the-nose; and half-way through I realized I was sort of bored. Get on with it; we already know what's going to happen! OK, I'm a horrible person.
In a summer of gravely disappointing Hollywood tentpoles, at least this one didn't disappoint. In fact, it's pretty terrific. I mean, what is to be expected of a film like this? Sure, the plot is boilerplate, the characters archetypes rather than real people, the outcome preordained by unbreakable rules. But isn't that besides the point if the object is to bring to the screen unprecedented, humongous visuals (great 3D, incidentally) and a sound track to match? And del Toro delivers the goods.
OK, maybe it's lucky for him that his main actor is no Taylor Kitsch. Charlie Hunnam is totally buff and has a blond persona which lights up the screen. But is it also luck to have cast the indomitable Idris Elba in the vital moral center leader role? And give one of tv's freshest comic talents, Charlie Day, the mad scientist role which he runs with? And find the perfect comic relief villain role for Ron Perlman? No, del Toro is completely in charge of the vital tone of the film; and most of the time it's just jaw-droppingly amazing to watch.
Del Toro admitted in Q&A that he made this film for his 11-year old self...and maybe it's a good thing to be 11 again and feel the wonder. I did.
This film documents the early career and murder/conspiracy trial of fugitive black activist (and Communist and Black Panther etc.) Angela Davis. Her story is so familiar to me, that it is hard to imagine how a documentary could present anything new or of contemporary resonance. Yet, the narrative is as timely today as it was in the early 1970s. Sure, the filmmakers have an axe to grind (and let's face it, Nixon, Reagan and J. Edgar, the villains of the story, are still useful boogeymen for the left). But I can only hope that the current apathetic generation of young "revolutionaries" is watching, because this is a story of hope for the better future which is now...and that hopeful future is diminishing daily.
Andrés (Enrique Lunazzi) is a goodlooking teenager from a religious, middle-class Argentine family. He has a job, he goes to school, he's a big punk rock fan whose idol has just died. He's also possibly gay; but his inchoate desires and attraction to a local guitar player in a pick-up band are muted, barely acknowledged. This might have made an interesting gay coming-of-age film, sort of an Argentine version of the superb Swiss film Fogi is a Bastard. However, director Prado is obsessed with a camera style that is art for art's sake: extreme out-of-focus close ups, long takes which don't progress the action, sudden pans to nothing. It gets very annoying after a while. And then there's the scenario which coyly hints at significance and then cops out big time. It isn't actor Lunazzi's fault. He's on screen (more or less in focus) in every scene; and he delivers a subtle, truthful performance.
I never really watched Downey's tv talk show. Actually, I don't go in for talk shows period. But I was aware of his incendiary, right-wing, bellicose personality in the 1980s. At least I knew enough to hate the guy, just from his rep...sort of the way I hated other abusive tv talk show hosts like Joe Pine in the '60s, Wally George in the 70s and Jerry Springer in the '90s without actually having to watch them or their shows with any regularity.
But I have to admit that his show probably made good tv...just as this documentary about his life, career and death makes a good movie. It's show biz, baby...all that pizzazz. Even if the fights were probably faked, even if he was a blow-hard fraud, damn it, his schtick was entertaining. The film contains some phenomenal animation to illustrate the few parts of Downey's life that weren't photographed. And it's edited with the speed of a roaring train, an apt metaphor since Downey's life was ultimately a train wreck.
Yes, this is another advocacy documentary...one that does for orcas (or killer whales) what The Cove did for dolphins (only without a real smoking gun.) The film does a number against multi-billion dollar corporation Sea World, which never replied. I'm not a bleeding heart animal lover; but this film was effective in showing how these wild and potentially dangerous mammals are cruelly captured and exploited. I'm not exactly sure what the film proposed to do about it; but I've personally never been much interested in attending Sea World and I'll bet that people watching this film will feel the same way.
I'm too old to be a Journey fan...my musical era of total involvement was the '60s and '70s. By the early '80s I'd tuned out the pop music culture (although I was editing rock videos in abundance from groups like Styx, The Police, Fleetwood-Mac, Michael Jackson etc. etc. etc., I wasn't a music fan by then.) Still, I was aware of their songs...which have just become more ingrained in the culture this century due to such exposure as the "Glee" pilot.
So I didn't approach this documentary with any preconceptions or particular interest in the band; and I was surprised. The present day Journey has a new lead singer, a Filipino named Arnel. His story...a boy from the poor barrio of Manila, discovered on YouTube singing in a Journey cover band by a band desperate to find a new lead singer, thrust suddenly into the spotlight in a triumphant return tour of huge venues...is a "rags-to-riches" story worthy of the fiction of Horatio Alger.
By focusing on the Filipino kid, who turned out to be spectacularly talented and rather humble, the film avoids many of the pitfalls of the usual hagiographic, publicity centered rock doc. There's plenty of performance stuff; but the meat and potatoes of the film is a nicely shot and edited view of the behind the scenes life of this sui generis phenom from the Philippines. And this material worked for me.
Occasionally a documentary comes around that has something important to say and is shot and edited with the raw power of history in motion. This is one of those films. It tells the story of several incredibly brave men and women (proud "kuchus" in their slang) who are out as gays and lesbians in Uganda, where the government is on the brink of passing popular laws to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Moreover, these laws would make not reporting the suspicion that someone is gay a crime carrying a penalty of three years in prison. Incredible...if it were not actually happening.
The filmmakers have had amazing access to these endangered men and women (and one charismatic man even was martyred while the film was being shot). But the film also takes us into the presence of the haters (a newspaper editor is particularly evil...spewing anti-gay propaganda with an ingratiating smugness that would have done Joseph Goebbels proud.)
This is emotionally shattering stuff, reminding us of the power that documentary filmmaking at its best has to alter our perception of the world and possibly effectuate change.
It's unfortunate that comparisons between this flick and Olympus Has Fallen are inevitable. For on its own, this film works fine: thrilling action, convincing villains, a splendid lead performance by Channing Tatum, and most important: a script that holds water despite its inherent absurdity. However, it's impossible not to feel that we've seen all this before. And let me add that Jamie Foxx was terrible as an Obama avitar, lacking Presidential gravitas in every way. Bottom line: there have been far worse summer popcorn movies this year that aren't considered box-office duds.
A multilingual documentary about the process of rehearsing and discovering the essence of Verdi's opera "La Traviata" for an outdoor production in Aix En Provence. The music is ravishing, of course. However, the film is assembled as if random takes were thrown together with or without sound...an editing technique I found annoying. After almost two hours of watching the various artists (soloists, chorus, orchestra etc.) rehearse various parts of the opera, I felt no more enlightened about the creative process than I started with.
Verbinski's live-action cartoon is a grossly overblown Western of gargantuan inauthenticity. In Q&A Bruckheimer claimed that he loved the Westerns of his youth (citing "Bonanza", "Have Gun Will Travel" and the films of John Ford among others); and that his desire was to bring this love of the genre to today's youth, who have lost the connection to the mythology. If remaking the PIRATES films on a train instead of a boat is the way to do that, then I'm just a hopeless old fogey. Yes, the special effects were fine, the practical stunts by an army of daredevils remarkable, and Johnny Depp's "restrained" Tonto an original creation. I'll even go so far as to admit that the action sequences were well blocked and edited, pretty remarkable considering the audacity of the concept. But that concept was to overplay and satirize every convention of the genre's past; and I found that meretricious and deeply offensive.
"Let's make a stupid comedy about the Rapture arriving in L.A. and invite all our actor friends to play themselves and joke around." And weirdly enough, instead of the disastrous ego trip this ought to have been, the darn thing is really funny and works on multiple levels. It's also a stupid comedy.
This is a documentary about the banality of evil as an Indonesian version of Laurel and Hardy reminisce and re-create a film about the good old days of the mid-1960's. The two men featured here are comic creations...except they actually personally killed over 1,000 "communists" in the mid-1960's, as part of a state-sanctioned extermination of millions; and these monsters remain unpunished heroes in their country. The film is overlong, the dialogue drones, the film-within-the-film ridiculously amateur; but the back story is so powerful that the cumulative effect is repulsion and amazement in equal measure.
Sure, it's a non-stop talk-fest, just like the previous two films about Jesse and Celine. But what dialogue! Each film effortlessly skips ahead nine years with remarkable economy of exposition. Here, the wonderfully familiar characters have matured as they reach their 40s and widen their intimacy to include their children. Their relationship has deepened. They are experiencing real life as few fiction films have ever achieved.
Hawke's and Delpy's dedication to portraying their characters' inner lives is remarkable. Hawke does wonders with his smile, charming, insincere, passive aggressive. Delpy uses her still taut body to remarkable effect; but it is her astute verbalized observations that consistently hit the mark. This is the perfect storm of two actors in complete control of their acting method, and a director who has unparalleled skill at using a constantly kinetic camera to propel the dialogue. One can only hope that in 2022 we will be able to return to these characters at the next stage of their lives.
I hated the youthful, based-on-real-life characters in this flick. Vapid, consumerist, sociopathic celebrity worshipers: the female versions of Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho", just lacking the homicidal urges. The token guy with self-esteem issues is such a patsy; but as played by Israel Broussard, he at least came off as a well rounded personality whose character progression was symbolized by his increasingly stylish wardrobe (kudos to the production design team!). But, I have to admit that despite lacking any central focus to empathize with, Sofia has made a biting satire that never failed in its objective to be a punch in the gut to apathetic L.A. Westsiders such as myself. Final note: Emma Watson continues her successful attempts to de-Potterize herself with a spot-on Valley Girl accent. Hated the characters and their activities, loved the film.
We have a new winner for the most bombastic soundtrack and score ever presented on film. Henry Cavill does make a fetching Superman; but as origin stories go, this is just about the least believable ever. Add points for most of the supporting cast, especially Crowe and Adams (but not Shannon's General Zod, too one-dimentional). Points off for the cheesy flying f/x's. And even more points off for the anti-climactic final battle. To sum it up: I guess it could have been worse.
The best thing about the two new Star Treks is the casting. The worst thing is everything else. For a Hollywood blockbuster wannabe, the story is a rehash, the effects are just so-so, the film sags seriously in the middle, and too many of the action/battle sequences have a sameness about their structure and blocking. Still, there's that cast. And Leonard Nimoy's cameo. This one just got away from J. J. Abrams, proving that more gigantism isn't necessarily better.
Months ago I saw the trailer for this film and said to myself: this is one summer film to watch. So even though I'm heavily immersed in the 6-week long Seattle film festival, I took some time out to watch it. And wonder of wonders, the film was just as good and inventive as the trailer promised! Well, maybe it does stray a little far into unlikely happenstance (a scene late in the film on a bridge, when events are not nearly as under control as the characters would like to believe, is particularly iffy). But the filmmaking is so slick, the large cast so splendid that all is forgiven.\
This is a reasonably authentic fictionalized memoire of film auteur Olivier Assayas's youth from 1971 on...an era of leftist fervor that is something of an echo of the real '68 student riots. Clément Métayer, in what appears to be his first film, plays Gilles, talented art student at an elite high-school, who is more interested in dabbling in political activism and sexual liberation than studies. He's intense, committed, but also something of a novice at life. He travels the Euro-hippie circuit; but mostly for a series of affairs with girls (one in particular played by an up-and-coming ingenue, Lola Créton). Like most films of this type, it's rather episodic and formless...which gives the film its authenticity, but distances the viewer from becoming very involved with the "story". This is a very personal, but minor work by a world-class filmmaker who never lets nostalgia get in the way of clear-eyed recollection.
Set in picturesque Arkansas river lands, this coming-of-age story combined with revenge thriller mixes stifling atmosphere with tour-de-force acting. Two barely teen-age boys discover a dangerous vagrant while playing explorer. Much mayhem ensues. Also valuable life lessons. Matthew McConaughey delivers another delicious, charismatic performance. But young Tye Sheridan virtually steals the movie with a charmingly youthful turn which reminded me of Brad Renfro's star-making debut in The Client.
Of course it's excessive. This is BAZ LUHRMANN! It's also spectacular, gorgeous, gruesome and...yes, overlong. I loved the 3-D and the soundtrack music (didn't seem anachronistic at all.) Add Luhrmann to the handful of directors who actually know how to make 3-D indispensable, and not just a trick to raise grosses (a studio strategy which is destined to fail.) About 3/4 of the way through I started to phase out. It was like trying to get through a gigantic piece of chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and cherries and pecans and caramel syrup. Indigestible, yes, but delicious and sinful.
Simon is a college grad who has decamped to Paris, escaping from a badly ended relationship. The film follows his descent into the hell of the Parisian underground of hard-R rated sex and blackmail. As played by an all-grown-up Brady Corbet, Simon is a very modern anti-hero...somewhere between lost boy and total heel. Director Campos made a huge splash with his first film, the creepy prep school shocker Afterschool. Here he deftly avoids the sophomore jinx by doing Gaspar Noé… more
The film tells three parallel stories which illustrate different dangers implicit in internet social media. The stories culminate in a cross cut montage of rare filmic power, emblematic of the success of the fine script. Director Rubin is making the transition from documentaries to fiction thriller; and he shows a fine eye and skilled use of actors. One standout in the large cast is Max Thieriot, playing an underage internet sex worker showing off his buffed torso at every opportunity.… more
Can an old fashioned baseball biopic be successful in this day and age? You bet. And I predict Oscar in Harrison Ford's future (another lead that will likely be presented as supporting, and a truly wonderful depiction of a real person...perfect Oscar bait.) Maybe it's just because I'm old enough to recall the actual era of this film, and was a huge baseball fan as a youth; but this film nailed the feeling and reality of the time and the romance of baseball. Those aren't casual achievements.
A mysterious organism with the potential to wreck havoc with human lives is loose in the world. That is the underlying premise of Shane Carruth's dense and challenging follow up to his ambitious 16mm marvel of a few years ago, Primer. Carruth is a true auteur hyphenate: writer, director, actor, composer, editor (although in this case one has to admire the contribution of co-editor David Lowery). With this film he has achieved success in each of those fields.
I can't… more
First time writer/director Josh Boone has struck gold with this well crafted romantic drama about a family of compulsive writers. It's a smart film about smart people with a strong cast and three compelling love stories which parallel each other and avoid clichés. This is territory that Noah Baumbach has mined successfully in such family dramas as The Squid and the Whale; and director Boone is an equal talent to watch develop and hopefully blossom.
I gave up trying to make any sense out of the narrative and attempted to submit myself to the lovely imagery and hypnotic score. Still, it was impossible for me to deny that for me, at least, the Emperor had no clothes. At least superficially this film could be analyzed as a protracted Before Sunrise/Sunset about two people relating to each other in a coma. And that is a slender premise for a movie. Still there were moments I was… more
Raise your hand if you had a clue? I tend to feel resentment when a film has such an unreliable narrative that just about any random interpretation of the reality is open to question. Sure, Danny Boyle knows how to make movies that are thrillingly filmic on the surface. But almost inevitably they fall apart when subjected to close, rational viewing. He's no Christopher Nolan, that's for sure. I left the theater feeling hoodwinked...and not caring whether it was possible to make sense of the story after all. That is an epic fail in my book.
Can an adult thriller with mostly long-at-the-tooth actors catch on in today's film marketplace? I have my doubts. But people are missing out on a corking good film with high moral purpose and an intriguing premise combining All the President's Men with Running on Empty. The film is worth a watch just to catch a rare glimpse of a spectacularly well aging Julie Christie.
Three stories searching for a unifying theme and finding it! I was fortunate to have read no spoilers, so I'm not going to add any here. Let's just say that Cianfrance is one of the most exciting directors to appear lately. Sure, he's never met a steadycam shot that he didn't love. But his direction of actors and his flawless sense of narrative cohesion are lovely to behold. Add to that some great kinetic action scenes and a story resolution… more
For an action thriller to work for me...all I ask is that no matter how unlikely or incredible, at least I don't have to bend my mind into a pretzel to suspend disbelief. This film had enough production value and enough seat-of-the-pants suspense (despite a certainty that I knew how it was going to turn out) to get me over the hump. It helps that the A cast and gritty action director were on their game. I was adequately into… more
I didn't think the played-out police procedural genre could offer up a new twist, one that both surprises and shocks but remain internally consistent. A crime was committed, and exactly 23 years later, committed again. Right from the start we're presented with a known perp; so this isn't the traditional who-done-it. Rather it's the story of how a heinous crime affects people forever in an ever widening circle like ripples in a pond. The film is immaculately directed. Ulrich Thomsen… more
I watched this TCM version of the film thanks to the kindness of a letterboxd friend who sent it to me. I was certain that I had watched it back in 1969...but I was wrong. And honestly, I'm not sure how I could have missed it (after all I was definitely old enough to get into any X-rated film at the time...plus I liked Frank Perry as a director.)
The film remains remarkably timely, both thematically and in the look… more
A pair of teenage African-American taggers live aimless, petty-thieving lives in present day Queens. The girl (played by Tashiana Washington) is street-smart and feisty, the boy (gawky Ty Hickson) sort of endearingly inept. Their everyday existence is well portrayed with some humor; and let's give credit to the writer/director's eye for detail and ear for realistic dialog. I was especially impressed by cute, young Zoë Lescaze, who plays a white artist/druggie, inhabiting an altogether different movie. This is slice of life, going nowhere filmmaking. But I enjoyed it.
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
The film is set-up as a Gothic horror flick, complete with weird family members with mysterious pasts. It sure looks the part: creepy mansion; characters whose evil stares replace actual substantive character development; grisly, semi-erotic killings. Director Park has done this before, only in Korean where the dialogue isn't quite as silly sounding. Nicole is appropriately zonked out, and Matthew Goode is pretty fair at channeling Ted Bundy. But for the first time I wasn't impressed by young Mia Wasikowska, whose transformation from meek high-schooler to psychopathic killer was unconvincing. By the end, I just wasn't convinced that this was a story worth telling.
Raimi's notion of appropriate tentpole filmmaking is to add excess upon excess. OK, maybe he's not as bad at this as Michael Bay; but he comes a close second. Not just one bad witch, when two will do better. Not a mere treasure, but one that even Scrooge McDuck would be jealous of. And the more fake climaxes he can pack into a film, the more the threadbare plot appears substantive.
Admittedly the 3D special effects are nice (although the… more
Sure the plot is ridiculous and retro; but there's not an ounce of fat in the script, which is taut and feels remarkably un-bloated for a blockbuster wannabe. The 3D special effects and sound design are especially fine. Maybe Nicholas Hoult is a little wan to carry a tentpole; but he certainly is adequate to the role of Jack. Nope, the film deserves better than it is getting at the box-office.
Good special effects; but the action sequences were poorly edited...a problem because they made up almost half of the film. Luke Pasqualino made a fine young William Adama, however. I understand this was a compilation of several episodes originally serialized on the web. The film's continuity did suffer from its episodic nature. I'm a fan of the second Battlestar Galactica television series; but this didn't measure up to the original in dramatic terms, or actually in any way.
Ten years after the superb YOSSI & JAGGER, Eytan Fox has made a sequel of sorts. I don't suppose it is a spoiler anymore that Jagger died in the original film, and the closeted Yossi (now a cardiologist) is still mourning him, the love of his life. It's a protracted grief, all the more damaging because it is solely internalized. It has made Yossi bury himself in his work, let himself go to seed physically, and resign himself to a loveless,… more
Contrived plot...but then I knew that going in. Soderbergh's direction is, as usual, fine: in this case stylish and Hitchcockian. But how many MacGuffins can fit on the head of a pin? Almost the entire plot could be figured out prematurely just by the casting (or miscasting, as in the case of Channing Tatum.) Brian De Palma would have done this much better twenty years ago, it feels that dated.
Creative animation and a clever premise don't quite make up for a story which depends on arcade game nostalgia which I don't have. Call it a lack in me; but I just didn't get involved in the story despite the dynamite graphics. Still, I can appreciate the way the animators expertly mixed and matched styles, depending on the era the characters came from. And the vocal talent was a step better than usual, especially John C. Reilly who managed to imbue Ralph with pathos as well as bravado.
Fine animation (special kudos to whoever did that living mane of red hair for the heroine). And Julie Walters' witch was the best vocal acting of the recent animations. But why would anybody want to spend so much effort on such a lame script? If this is Pixar's idea of female empowerment, they're delusional.
A letterbox friend reviewed this film yesterday, and darn it if I didn't realize that I wanted to watch it again, so I pulled out the old DVD. Sure, it's just a French version of one of those old fashioned ABC Afterschool Specials: teen angst about coming out to parents, girl friend, best buds. And despite supposedly being a gay story, all the get-naked-sex is heterosexual. Still there's tenderness here, and universal truths...and some very good acting (Julien Baumgartner especially,… more
Oscar nominated French Canadian short about an elderly pianist reliving his past in a haze of dementia. There's the germ of a good film here; actor Gérard Poirier's portrayal of dementia is realistically manic. The film tries hard to stir the heartstrings (I head sobbing nearby in the theater). Unfortunately, for me the story seemed too formulaic and overwrought. I was unmoved, even a little bored.
Oscar nominated short about a soldier stuck in limbo starring charismatic Dutch actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who is having a moment (along with RUST AND BONE and BULLHEAD...this guy seems to be able to change his entire appearance with ease). Too bad this weird afterlife/fantasy film made little sense...all retro atmosphere like a Terry Gilliam film without a speck of humor.
Oscar nominated short about two young Afghani boys wandering through Kabul and dreaming of a better life. The film presents a really interesting and beautifully photographed view of city life among the underclass of Kabul. The script is predictable, and even for a short film takes too long to make its point; but the acting is passable, especially the two boys. Not a bad effort; but the nomination of two similar coming-of-age films taking place in two of the armpits of the world (cf. ASAD) was unfortunate.
Oscar nominated short film about a young Somali boy facing important life choices. All the non-actors were Somali exiles; but even for a foreign language film, the line readings were terrible. Some good ideas and a realistic depiction of one of the worst places on Earth...still, I wasn't engaged.
This is a 3-D riff on a similar theme to that of the superior MONSTER HOUSE of 2006. In this case it is about Norman, a young boy who can see dead people, and his friends as they cope with zombies and a witch's curse dating back to the Salem witch trials.
The animation is interestingly gothic, with realistic characters produced by a novel process called replacement stop-motion (first used in CORALINE and improved here). It provides a realism unusual for animated characters while also utilizing real, scaled down sets for some of the well photographed sequences.
Still, it's the province of big budget animation today to make kid's films...and this script doesn't deviate much from the template of children overcoming the shortcomings of adults. The superior character and production design raise it to "interesting"; but not much more than that.
Some documentaries are so compelling, so important that they stick with you. I watched this film several months ago, but even today it stands out as the one documentary the Academy missed completely on, certainly one of the best of the year. There were several good docs this year about miscarriages of justice...most of which ended happily (The Central Park Five, West of Memphis). And of course Errol Morris just about created the genre with The Thin Blue Line. But no happy ending in this film.
The case in question was a murder trial in New York state, where the defendant was accused of murdering his baby. The conviction relied on a confession rather than non-existent evidence. And, as the film makes clear, the confession (later renounced) after 10 hours of interrogation, could probably be considered as coerced. However, that isn't the sole matter of contention. Actually, expert witnesses (some denied standing by the judge), were pretty clear that the baby's cause of death was by means impossible to achieve by "murder". In other words, despite the police assumption that a crime had taken place, in reality NO CRIME WAS COMMITTED. At least that's the conclusion that the film seems to prove. Still, the defendant was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to 25-years to life...and appeals seem to be going nowhere.
The film exhaustively documents its conclusion that justice definitely was not served. The failures of the system were so blatant that it is impossible to watch this film without feeling dismay, if not horror. That is the mark of great documentary film making. And yet, to date, this film has failed to achieve the public traction (for example what the Paradise Lost trilogy achieved) to affect the outcome. I'm outraged that the Academy documentary committee didn't manage to bring this film to the attention of a larger audience by at least short-listing it.
I think this was designed as a prequel to the director's ALIEN, which it resembles thematically and design-wise. I missed the PROMETHEUS initial release last summer; but I did want to watch it on the big screen in 3-D and check out the Oscar nominated special f/x. And yes, the special f/x were quite good...we've come a long way since 1979's ALIEN. Too bad the script was so leaden and predictable. But Michael Fassbender does great replicant (ok, another Ridley Scott reference...the guy shouldn't be blamed for stealing from himself). But unfortunately Noomi Rapace doesn't quite have the heft of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. I see that PROMETHEUS 2 is in the works. Why?!
The Ardman animation style gets a high gloss treatment in this satire of pirate movies (as if PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN wasn't satire enough.) Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin play straight guys to the zany pirate band and its Captain who is determined to win the "Pirate of the Year" prize. I'm impressed by the effort and skill which goes into the Ardman technique; but this script is tragically unfunny and a waste of some serious vocal talent (Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman et al). So many modern animations are based on non-stop chase sequences, each one trying to outdo the last (actually that's the formula for most big-budget effects films these days, too). Frankly I find most of these films repetitive and boring...it was all I could do to stay awake.