In Uncategorized on November 15, 2011 at 4:58 AM
Movie #354 50/50
(2011, US, d. Jonathan Levine)
Before everyone starts coming at me for not having posted in a ridiculously long time, and without sounding like I’m making excuses – let me just say that I have finished my MAD Challenge and am now just catching up on reviews. This last year has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but more on that in the epilogue – now to the film. 50/50 is a surprisingly moving film. In all honesty though, if the filmmakers had failed with this film, it would have looked pretty bad on them for making a comedy about cancer. Written by Will Reiser and based partially off of a true story involving Seth Rogen and his friend, it is film for which its biggest accomplishment is its honesty. Marketed as a mix of the Superbad comedy with a dramatic edge, the humor in this film thankfully doesn’t stem from raunchiness for raunchiness’ sake. Rather, it comes from character and rather sad ones at that. Seth Rogen, in a very smart move, puts himself in the backseat of this film, allowing for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to really shine through as Adam, a man who’s given a 50/50 chance of living after being diagnosed with cancer. It is a film about acceptance, friendship, and family. It uses visual storytelling to propel itself, an uncommon trait to Rogen and his team, and though it does have its moments of dialogue-driven narrative, this is really honest dialogue and we can’t help but smile and laugh at it. At its core a romantic comedy, 50/50 does the rare job of getting a man to cry in a theater. I dare you not to cry at the end; or at least tear up. Funny and heartbreaking, it is probably the best mainstream comedy to hit theaters this year. And yes, I do include Bridesmaids on that list.
In Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 6:36 PM
Movie #353 Tucker and Dale Vs Evil
(2010, Canada, d. Eli Craig)
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is the sort of film that you don’t know whether or not you want to see until the movie actually starts. As director Eli Craig stated, it’s really a hard film to sell. But once people actually start watching the first three minutes, they’re hooked. It is a film that is so brilliant, so well-written, so immaculately performed, so delicately directed, and so honestly conceived that you have to step back and really wonder, “Is this actually a horror/comedy slasher flick?”. Tucker and Dale is a film that asks the question (according to Craig), “What if Leatherface was just misunderstood?” “What if it was the college kids who made their own assumptions on a creepy, but well-intentioned man and thereby sentenced themselves to their own deaths? The funniest film of the last two years bar none, Tucker and Dale is a film that is also brilliantly acted. British actor Alan Tudyk is as wonderful as ever in this and so is his partner in crime, played by Tyler Labine. Committing themselves fully to the role, there is no room for any irony or winks to the audience – thereby increasing the comedic factor tenfold. Every character here is a great addition to the film, from the crazed frat star (an awesome performance by Jesse Moss), to the blond stereotype, to the Black friend, to the wimp friend. A wonderful film that had the audience roaring with laughter the whole way through, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is proof that there can be high intellect in low comedy. It is proof of what some filmmakers can accomplish, given just a little financial backing.
In Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 6:35 PM
Movie #252 The Double
(2011, US, d. Michael Brandt)
The Double is one of those films that is so bad that you really can’t believe it. Apart from an exceptional performance by Richard Gere, this is probably one of the worst films of 2011. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, though. But it wasn’t for good reasons. This is the type of film that seems purely constructed to make money. Everything seems like a business calculation – from the miscasting of the actors for international gains to the inserts of tensions here, here, and here. It is a film that was made to cut corners in almost every regard and it’s a shame that major actors were even impressed with the material. First time director Michael Brandt, who co-wrote Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma makes you really wonder who he forced into backing him on this film. This is the sort of movie that screws your own future as a first time feature director. It says boldly that, “I don’t know how to make a movie” and it says that over and over and over again. It is a film that delivers no tension, no cool moments, no action, and no interesting plot-line. It is ignorant but most of all a lazy film. Dialogue is used over and over to clarify simple points that make it seems as if these producers just thought absolutely nothing of their audience. Nothing really makes sense here, including the fake-looking locations that are supposed to double for our nation’s capital. I feel sorry for Gere, who hasn’t been on the screen in quite awhile. Thankfully for him at least, no one will remember the movie anyways.
In Uncategorized on September 12, 2011 at 8:09 PM
Movie #351 Restless
(2011, US, d. Gus Van Sant)
About 5 minutes into this movie, I was sure I wasn’t going to like it. I have this thing about indie movies trying their absolute hardest to come off as indie and as hipster as possible. They never work. At least for me. And this film had all the right elements for it: dysfunctional protagonist who crashes funerals for no apparent reason, a girl with brain cancer, and the setting: Portland, Oregon. Hipster central. But then about 15 minutes into this film, things started changing. I started feeling some heart in it. Not the cheesy type or the unnatural type (Juno, I’m talking to you) but the authentic type (think Away We Go). It’s a film that slowly starts to make you care and make you feel for these people. At its core a tragedy, it is also a film that makes you laugh. But again, not in the superficial way. With interesting characters and interesting problems, it is the type of film that could easily be interpreted as being a stupid indie romcom but it isn’t. It’s more than that: it’s a film about accepting loss and coming to terms with death. Sure, it has its cheesy parts, but these happen to be more in the field of romance than in insight. Produced by Ron Howard and daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, this is not Van Sant’s best work, but it is still a showcase to a little versatility. Featuring exceptionally powerful performances by lead Mia Wasikowska and newcomer Henry Hopper (the late Dennis Hopper’s son, who bears a striking resemblance to a younger James Franco), Restless is a quiet but affecting film. Lately we’ve been getting a lot of those, but that doesn’t make this film any worse. Potentially tear-inducing, I, at least, was moved by the whole piece.
In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 7:24 AM
Movie #350 The Taking of Pelham 123
(2009, US, d. Tony Scott)
I usually say this with most Tony Scott films but as far as the visuals are concerned, if you’ve seen one, you’ve really seen them all. His most recent directorial effort was a film with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine called Unstoppable and it pretty much looks the exact same as this film. So do films like Domino, Man on Fire, and Deja Vu. Another clear similarity these films have with one another is through the casting of everyman Denzel Washington. One of the best character actors working today, I’ve always thought Mr. Washington played the Everyman to a tee. Here he is MTA employee Walter Garber (a reference to actor Walter Mathau, who played the same role in the 1974 version of the film), a regular man forced to stop a terrible act of terrorism led by a leader named Ryder (an actually sometimes scary, but mostly one-dimensional John Travolta). The film is frenetic and chaotic, especially when told through the lens of a Scott film, but these are all compliments for the film. It is meant to captivate the audience and hold them at the edge of their seats and it does that. Tony Scott’s other great talent is knowing exactly when to end a film. It ends exactly when you would want it to and doesn’t push the viewer’s patience in any way. The Taking of Pelham 123 is a film that is easy to criticize. Though it tends to hold suspense well, there is no heart to the film and no passion in any of the characters and their emotions. For me, the film read well, but there were moments where I reconsidered the quality in the film, due to the jarring and ultrafast motion of the visuals, which can easily segregate an audience and their response to a film. I liked it, but again, that’s just me.
In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 7:04 AM
Movie #348 Up in the Air
(2009, US, d. Jason Reitman)
Up in the Air to me was the film that should have been recognized more in the year of 2009. Along with Inglorious Basterds, I thought it represented the best output Hollywood provided to general audiences that year. Up in the Air is a smart, well-written, and wonderfully economized script – an extremely talented task considering the thematic relation that task has with some of underlying themes of the film. It is a film that fully realizes really interesting characters that you could definetly meet sometime in your life. These are not extraordinary people, they are average people with average problems and screenwriters Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner do a great job of depicting these guys in an honest manner. As a director, Reitman is able to find truths in the smallest things: glances, smirks, chuckles, beats, pauses, stares. He directs George Clooney in one of the finest performances in his career as Ryan Bingham, an employee of a company whose sole duty is to fire people, travels from city to city, delivering bad news to people and providing false comforts in pamphlets and “how-to” guides. He is a false. But one thing he is very good at is flying. Collecting miles in particular. It’s the one thing he treasure above most. The only thing that is real to him in a life without real connections and honest relationships. He travels 40,000 feet in the air, above problems and above commitments. He likes it that way, until one day he starts to realize what he is missing while up in the air. A wonderful and subtle film, Up in the Air is a film wherein all the components are able to work in perfect harmony, from the script to the score to the wonderful production design. But the real star here is Reitman, a name quickly establishing itself as one of the foremost creative thinkers in Hollywood. Though this film isn’t for everyone (no it isn’t a typical Hollywood film), I suggest you watch it. The bare honesty the filmmakers are able to lay at the audience’s feet is actually quite astounding.
In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 5:04 AM
Movie #347 The Blind Side
(2009, US, d. John Lee Hancock)
This film was surprisingly well received by critics for being nothing more than your average run of the mill inspirational story. You’ve seen this film a million times, you just haven’t seen it with Sandra Bullock. In fact, she’s the only original and powerful thing about this film. Committing to the role like none other (with an Oscar to prove it), Bullock delivers a powerhouse performance and it’s really something to watch. But apart from that, there’s nothing that will surprise you in the plot of this film. We start off with the kid without the right direction, a good lady who is willing to help, things get better, then things get really bad, then things finally get great. Based on the true story of a real NFL player, I guess that’s another reason why people are able to let go of the disbelief and start to let their campy emotions roll. In fact, this is a film that thrives off the campiness within all of us. It is a film that demands any suspension of disbelief but once you do that, if you do let go to this film, does do a good job of taking you on an emotional ride. Catering to conservative audiences everywhere (and somehow drawing in everyone else as well), it is a film that had the luck of just being released at the right time. And the box office numbers prove that, too.
In Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 4:52 AM
Movie #347 Avatar
(2009, US, d. James Cameron)
I always compare James Cameron to be older, much more talented brother or cousin of Michael Bay. They both have a unique grand scale of thinking but they both execute their stories in different ways. Thankfully, Cameron knows how to tell a story, no matter how simple or common it may be. Just like he did with Titanic, Cameron takes Avatar to a whole new level. Sure the story is simple. It’s been repeated in films like Dances With Wolves and even Pocahontas, but the real star of Avatar is its incredible visual imagery. The first great mainstream film to make effective use of 3D technology, it is a film that takes the potential of film to a whole new dimension. I could go on for another page about the milestone achievements reached by the visual effects company, WETA, but any film is only as good as the story being told. And in this case, Cameron proves he can tell a story, no matter how simple it may be. With strong performances from star Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang, it is a film that strongly depends on its visuals, but it least it has a story that can support them.
In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 6:24 AM
Movie #346 The Sandlot
(1993, US, d. David Mickey Evans)
There are a few people I know who would take offense to this review. That for a movie as dear to them as this film is, I couldn’t come up with the right combination of words to correctly describe both the slight campiness of the picture yet its redeeming capability to tug at the heartstrings of the child within every one of us, all while simultaneously germinating our heightened patriotism under the pretense of a sport played with a bat, a ball, and a few bases on the grass. ‘Sandlot Baseball’, they call it. And it’s a pastime people take very seriously. Take for example the cool kids on the block. Our protagonist, a small new kid named Scotty Smalls (played by Tom Guiry) doesn’t know a thing about catching a ball. Naturally, he wants friendship and what is everyone else doing? Baseball. The Sandlot is a story about growing up. Told through the perspectives of some strange, albeit hilarious, little kids whose futures you worry about in the back of your head, it is a film about unity. A film highlighted through the ultimate metaphor of life: sports (At least according to filmmaker Claude Lelouch on the power of the sports film), The Sandlot at its core is a children’s comedy, but for those who watched it growing up (which I did not), I can only imagine what it must feel like watching it now. Probably what Home Alone 2 does for me during Christmas time. It is a severely flawed film. Campy, melodramatic, and sometimes too simplistic to be real. But it’s a film that has to be lauded for the same reasons. An unapologetically positive attitude. A wonderful sports story. A sentimental children’s tale. An underdog movie. A kid’s movie. But I can only imagine what it does for those who have grown up with it.
In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 6:08 AM
Movie #345 When Harry Met Sally
(1989, US, d. Rob Reiner)
Often cited as one of the best, if not the best, romantic comedy ever produced, it’s hard to really appreciate When Harry Met Sally from a 21st century perspective. After all, whether we’ve known it or not, this film has been copied, ripped off, butchered, massacred, and processed into what we know now to be the romantic comedy formula. And they all owe it to this film. So when you watch this movie, try to think of it this way: Every trick you’re watching, they’re doing it for the first time. These are not cliches, they are milestones in filmmaking. And for a film with as simple and repetitive a message as this (that unfortunately, cannot be credited to the film’s originality), it does an incredible job of fashioning itself into a film of its own – a film with thematic content, interesting lines, inspired situations, and one of the best dialogue writers in the industry with Nora Ephron’s pen. It is a funny film but we shouldn’t just leave it at that: it is a film that raises (again, does not re-raise) certain issues of basic differences between men and women (not a first) but does it in a wildly original way (a first). The characters are well-written, breathed to life by the young talent in Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan (and even a small role for Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame). Simply directed, it is a film that allows the words and the spaces between them to breathe – something modern filmmakers should really learn from. It is a film that trusts its beats, instead of spelling things out, and that is a wonderful quality.