In Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 6:10 PM
Movie #242 Mission: Impossible III
(2006, US, d. J.J. Abrams)
One of my favorite action films of the last decade, Mission: Impossible III is a film that tries to take every cliche and convention of the action genre and turn it on its head. The feature film directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, the film not only showcases his talent for visual flair and big set pieces, but also for his subtle and real treatment of character. There are only a few quiet scenes in the film, but it’s not here that Abrams highlights his characters. It’s in the loud moments. And unlike other films, which require a sad scene or a midpoint to highlight certain character traits, Abrams is able to get all that done in the middle of a chase, with bombs and explosions and bullets going off everywhere. With a stellar supporting cast including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Michelle Monaghan, M:I:III never really lets you go. Traveling from city to city and coast to coast, it is a wonderful example of hiding exposition in action and keeping the audience on the edge of their seat. Anchored by the (not surprisingly) solid performance of Tom Cruise, the film is intense, fun, and most of all, the smartest action film since The Bourne Ultimatum.
In Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 6:02 PM
Movie #242 Swingers
(1996, US, d. Doug Liman)
The early directorial debut of Doug Liman is the comedy film Swingers, which is strange considering his now semi-large filmography. Operating the camera himself, Liman is the final piece of the puzzle that adds “independent comedy” all over this film. Though its title may suggest the film is about some experimental couples, Swingers is in fact about a single guy named Mike (played by Jon Favreau, who also penned the film). A young and out-of-work comedian in Los Angeles, he tirelessly searches for love, or really any semblance of it, with his not-really-on-the-same-page friend Trent (played by an almost unrecognizably skinny Vince Vaughn). They go to parties, talk about life, make a spontaneous trip to Vegas, hit on some waitresses, and get into other shenanigans but Mike is never happy. Just having got out of a four relationship, his mind is still set on his ex. Every girl he looks at is another he cheated with. Every line he pulls is a betrayal of trust. Swingers is a wonderfully comedic and post-modern film that echoes the troubles of a young and carefree lifestyle. It is about growing up and learning to move past obstacles in our past, when everything ahead of us is as bumpy as before. A social phenomenon on its own, introducing a bunch of new catchphrases into colloquial English, Swingers is insightful, exciting, but mostly really, really funny (It’s also awesome to watch people play NHL in a movie)
In Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 5:48 PM
Movie #241 National Treasure
(2004, US, d. Jon Turteltaub)
The first film to capitalize on the Dan Brown Phase (following the release of the novel The Da Vinci Code), National Treasure is a fun flick that combines action with historical intrigue and puzzling mysteries. It’s a treasure hunt film, but unlike those that take place in the Far East or the Middle East, this one takes place right in our backyard: Washington DC. To be honest, I think it’s a standalone film. Though it gets nothing special from its core cast, the film still manages to be a very exciting and tense ride, echoing the very best treasure hunt movies of the past. The real standalone here is newcomer Justin Bartha, whose whimsical antics as a supporting character are nothing new to the genre but still a fresh infusion of spirit. With a wonderful ending and well paced plot points, National Treasure (unlike its sequel) is a film that will have you rooting for its protagonist in no time.
In Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 at 5:35 AM
Movie #240 Ocean’s 13
(2007, US, d. Steven Soderbergh)
There’s not much to comment on about Ocean’s 13, apart from saying it’s fun. As far as the acting goes, there’s not much of that here. It seems as if the A-list group of actors sort of rolled out of bed in costume and said their lines. As far as the directing goes, the shots are all over the place, sometimes zooming in suddenly on a character’s face or zooming out way past traditional filmmaking styles. As far as the story goes, they pretty much tread the same ground as they did in the earlier films here: a few guys are out for revenge and aim to steal a lot of money from his casino. But this said, Ocean’s 13 does have the supreme advantage of being fun. Somehow, all these eclectic pieces work together. The lack of acting comes off as sly humor. The strange directing comes off as a strategy to keep you on your toes. And the story feels… fresh. With the huge, albeit same, payoff and traditional Ocean’s structure, the third film in the franchise, does a surprising job of getting its jokes across, even though half of them are purposively written to confuse the audience. Fun, funny, and occasionally kind of smart, Ocean’s 13 is an easy film to watch (perhaps a little long) but one that rewards viewers with more than they put in.
In Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 at 5:17 AM
Movie #239 Kung Fu Panda 2
(2011, US, d. Jennifer Yuh)
Apart from the Toy Story franchise, it’s something most animated film studios get wrong: the sequel. Even Pixar failed this year with the horrendous Cars 2. But that said, I’m happy to report that Kung Fu Panda 2 deserves a huge high five, not only for making a good film, but for making a sequel that didn’t rely on the original in the first place. Though its fat jokes are still there in plenty, the sequel sets a different tone for itself. We are introduced to a new story, but an interesting story nevertheless: Why is Po (voiced again by Jack Black) have a father who is a goose? On that simple premise, we are re-introduced the world of Kung Fu but this time a fat panda has something to say about it. Though the end of the movie does happen a little too quick and the entire enemy weapon turns out to have a little too simple of a weakness, it is the story that is key here. Po is forced to beat the bad guys, but the only way he is able to do that is if he is able to come to terms with his past. Featuring an all-star voice cast including Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, and others, Kung Fu Panda has enough of a character arsenal as well to keep the dialogue interesting and spicy. Simple and sweet, Dreamworks Animation scores another winner in a summer that doesn’t have too much to boast about.
In Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 at 4:41 AM
Movie #238 X-Men: First Class
(2011, US, d. Matthew Vaughn)
Though I don’t think this is my favorite installment of all the X-Men films, I think I can say it is the best. What Vaughn does here is awesome: he takes an already socially charged theme and sets it in an even more poignant time: the Kennedy administration. More specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis. And though the backdrop of the entire film revolves around a sort of “Will they nuke Cuba/USSR?” or “Won’t they?”, it’s the characters here that are really allowed to come to life. It’s an origin story for origin stories. Tracing the early lives of both Magneto (played with intensity and to near-perfection by Michael Fassbender) and Professor Charles Xavier (a calm James McAvoy), First Class depicts the early days of the mutant revolution. It is a film not about fighting for rights, as the later ones fashion themselves to be, but about realizing that rights are worth fighting for in the first place. Vaughn, most known for directing L4yer Cake and last year’s strange but awesome Kick-Ass, somehow is still able to infuse his own filmmaking style into this period piece. Though not at all style over substance, the film still does have its moments straight of a Guy Ritchie film (i.e. a first person transformation into a Beast). With great action set-pieces (the climactic Battle of Cuba comes to mind) and wonderful editing that pays tribute to the great 60’s classics through use of split-screen action and upbeat music, First Class is a must-see film for film enthusiasts as well as fans alike.
In Uncategorized on July 15, 2011 at 6:55 PM
Movie #237 X-Men
(2000, US, d. Bryan Singer)
This is the sort of film that knows where it’s going. And by that I mean, the filmmakers and producers were fully aware of developing this film into a long-lasting franchise. Because if you look at this film for what is alone, there is nothing truly special about it. We have a lot of character set-ups, a lot of power set-ups, a lot of characters, a lot of strange exposition, yet the story is still only about Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman). It’s the rare origin story in that it doesn’t actually use crazy visual techniques and massively over-budgeted sets to tell its story. Compared to most origin stories, its actually quite a quiet film. This is where Bryan Singer works his magic. He tells the powerful story of Wolverine and the desperation of all mutants in this only somewhat-spectacular tale. Focusing on the heartache these characters go through and the pain they suffer is the strength of this film. Though it does have its fair share of big action set pieces, these are sequences propelled by character and by conflict, rather than an overwhelming modern need to maximize everything with CGI and rigged explosives. Knowing its franchise capability allows the filmmakers to set the groundwork for what action will accomplish in the later additions. And by doing so, Singer is able to highlight probably the most culturally relevant superhero story and highlight its anecdotal qualities. This is a film about the underprivileged, about those without rights and without freedoms. It is about minorities. It is about race. It is about gender. It is about sexuality. X-Men‘s application are, in fact, endless. And that’s how this movie succeeds.
In Uncategorized on July 15, 2011 at 6:44 PM
Movie #236 Rabbit Hole
(2010, US, d. John Cameron Mitchell)
There’s always a delicate line one must be able to walk on when making a film that revolves around the death of a child. Especially when that film is centered around the normal lives of two parents who are coping with the death of that child. Such is the case the audience is put in with Rabbit Hole, a painfully realistic film that never forces emotion out of the audience. While the success of the film is sometimes measured its ability to play with our emotions, Rabbit Hole is the film that must never attempt to that, with the consequence that it may become forced or fake. It is the film about two parents, played honestly by Aaron Ekhart and Nicole Kidman, as they individually try to set their lives back on track following the tragedy that highlights their lives. Two people who used to be one are now on two completely separate pages and are forced to reconsider everything as they try to pick the pieces up, if that’s even possible. Rabbit Hole is a sad film, but it makes up for it in its honesty. There is no massive spot of hope at the end. You would be wrong in predicting everything comes back together and Kidman is pregnant by the close. It is a film not about moving on, but about questioning whether or not moving on is possible. One of the best films of 2010, Rabbit Hole is powerful, subtle, and powerfully performed.
In Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Movie #235 No Country for Old Men
(2007, US, d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
A film far too analyzed in critical studies, No Country for Old Men is so simple, it’s mistaken for being complex. In a single sentence, it’s about a two guys who want the same wad of money. One is chasing the other. We have the stone-faced, satanic serial killer on our left, played by Javier Bardem. And we have our good guy Texas boy on our right, played by Josh Brolin. It’s a silent film. An atmospheric film that is as much about the Texas landscape as it is about greed and fate. It moves slowly, yet with definition and precision. The actors are pitch-perfect, the tension delivered to a tee, and the suspense sometimes unbearable. There are only a few lines spoken in the film and the ones that matter are cryptic enough to make us think. It is a film about doubt, a film that leaves us with more questions than we came in with. About the ending, about the characters’ fates, motives, and even the film’s time period. But the basic line is this: it’s a wonderful, wonderful film from the Coen brothers that will keep you on the the edge of your seat.
In Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Movie #234 Star Trek
(2009, US, d. J.J. Abrams)
Though I don’t think he’s the storytelling prophet some people claim him to be, J.J. Abrams is one heck of a storyteller. Today’s filmmaker has no grasp of story, simply cool visual tricks and perhaps an interesting premise. It’s sad that there aren’t more like him. A real storyteller can take a science-fiction film and make it interesting for the general audience. A real storyteller can surpass genre and amaze the audience, whatever their preference may be. That is what Abrams has accomplished with Star Trek. Though far from a perfect film, Star Trek is a film that not only revived a dying franchise, but rebooted it with full vitality. A great story at its core, Star Trek is filled with surprises, but unlike other filmmakers in his generation, these aren’t visual surprises. They are plot surprises. With a likeable lead in Chris Pine and stellar performances from Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban, it’s an action-packed film that uses its visual tricks not as a crutch but as an enhancement to its storytelling. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I suggest you do so. Don’t let the genre sway you. Pretty soon you won’t be able to wait for more time-travelling journeys, alien planets, and interstellar enterprises.