November Movie Journal - Xanadon't
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At the Movies
Caught 'em on the big screen!
Liberal Arts (2012)
A nicely put together film that benefits from its keen vision and strong understanding of its characters and backed by performances that are every bit up to the material at hand, and in some cases even outshining it.
In some instances the film feels a tad flat, or lacks a certain "wow" take-notice factor, but maybe that's just my way of saying that I really enjoyed the film, but it didn't blow me away or stir me toward spectacular insights.
On the other hand, a good bit of the story and character psychology/behavior strikes such insanely familiar chords with me that the film felt by turns all the more marvelous and at times uncomfortable to watch.
Liberal Arts is a very good film without ever being a great one- but I'll certainly be keeping my out for future projects from Josh Radnor who directed, wrote, and starred in the film.
Huh. I don't remember the microphone including a headset the last time I accepted an Academy Award.
In the opening minutes of Robert Zemeckis' new film Flight we are greeted with a lingering full-frontal nude shot of the very lovely and very sexy Nadine Velazquez (My Name is Earl). Moments later the camera zooms in on Denzel hoovering a big ol' line of blow off his nightstand. Having directed a couple of middle-of-the-road, boring-ass, crowd-pleaser pieces of Oscar-bait (Cast Away, Forrest Gump) in the past, it's almost comical how hard it seems Zemeckis is trying to prove that he can drum up Oscar-buzz and be edgy at the same time. I couldn't help but chuckle.
So here we have the story of a booze-swillin', coke-snortin' pilot that shows up to work one day, fucked up as usual, except that this time he's at the helm of a mechanically-doomed piece of commercial aircraft. Denzel saves the day (this is not a spoiler) but subsequent investigation reveals evidence that the guy was loaded. And that's a big no-no, as you can imagine. Even when his heroic acts of super-pilot awesomeness save 102 of 108 people on board. Deep and unsettling moral questions ensue. Or something.
Truth is, Flight is not a bad movie. The action-sequence that sets the whole film into motion is pure fun doused in adrenaline-sauce. It's a good time at the movies. And Denzel Washington gives the strong performance that not one person in the world by now doubted he would give us. He'll get himself a nomination for sure. And he'll probably win. And I'll be more or less fine with that.
Unfortunately, aside from these two elements, there's not a whole lot to get excited about. Pretty much every single plot-development can be predicted a reel or two in advance. We know exactly where this film is going, every step of the way. The film does a more or less solid job of getting us there, so it works out okay-ish. But there are also a number of moments/shots/deliveries that are astoundingly terrible, silly, or so far removed from reality/logic that it upsets any momentum the film had building in its favor.
Oh, and the soundtrack is about as unimaginative as I ever thought possible. Come to think of it, so is the way Zemeckis treats most every single one of his characters. And really, that's what turns this movie into a ho-hum exercise.
The Paperboy (2012)
If you're looking for something different and are not easily offended, The Paperboy is one of the brighter surprises of the year. It's a sweaty, trashy, vicious little trip of an over-cooked southern murder mystery set in the 60s. Impressive, nasty, exciting cinema.
Bold, grotesque, beautiful, frustrating, playful, imaginative, and quite sad-- Holy Motors is many things, it's about a great many things, and it's likely unlike anything you've seen recently. This is a film that prompts many questions and gives few answers. Just when you think you've got your claws into it, the movie slithers into a new and unexpected direction. It's a film that will cling to your mind for a good while- and if you happen to like it, it's one that will nag around the corners of your consciousness begging to be seen again.
Skyfall tries to do too many things at once, resulting in a bloated story that runs on a bit too long, and left me feeling like certain scenes and set-pieces belonged to some other movie. Oh, wait, no the Shanghai bit with the long fingernail-ed lady was in this movie, you're right.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Nothing less than a purely joyous celebration of movie-making. It's big, ambitious, and nearly 3 hours long. But this is one of those few movies that's justified in its unwieldy length. Cloud Atlas won't be to everyone's taste, but if you don't try to over-think it and just go along for the ride as the film progresses and connects to itself in terms of theme rather than narrative there is a lot to marvel at. I don't think I'd revisit it any time soon, but nonetheless, Cloud Atlas is a noteworthy achievement.
Life Of Pi (2012)
If supremely talented film-makers continue to make 3D films with such impressive results (and Baz Luhrman's Great Gatsby, due out May 2013 suggest there's still more of this type of thing to be had) I just may find myself liking this goddamn trend. Last year the great Martin Scorsese treated viewers with a thoughtful and masterfully executed example of how 3D technology can not only look fantastic when done right, but also help inform and develop the very themes of the movie itself. This year Ang Lee, another master of his craft, took on the 3D trend and emerged with stunning results. Now, I'm less inclined to say that 3D technology was as crucial to the film-going experience this time around but... hot damn if this wasn't a treat.
Here's the thing: Martin Scorsese is an artist. Ang Lee is an artist. These are not studio-hacks operating at the whim of a studio that's looking to make an extra few bucks per ticket simply by slapping 3D "innovation" onto its product. Call me a sucker if you must, but if Ang Lee thinks 3D is the best way to experience his film, than hell, that's how I want to see it. Okay, stepping down from my soap-box... maybe... probably not.
Another thing worth noting is that I haven't read the source material for Lee's new film. Many of you have, I'm sure. I've heard the book is great and that it will change my life forever. Forgive me if I'm at least a bit skeptical about at least a bit of that statement. Having not read the book, I can't say how the film compares at a story-telling or thematic level. I will say that I had a few issues with the film on a story-telling basis, primarily with the intro and "outro" scenes in which our hero (as a grown man) shares some tea, a meal, and his living room with some none-too-impressively played writer conducting an informal interview. These bits (the story-telling frame-work, if you will) are the weakest in the film; everything in-between is vastly superior.
Thematically, at least a good portion of the film deals with the idea of demonstrating the existence of God. The way this concept takes shape left me feeling a bit disaffected as well. This is not to say that the film lacks thoughtful observations about faith or one's process of spiritual understanding. In some ways it succeeds rather well here. It's just that in some respects the film takes lofty (and somewhat ill-calculated) aims without quite hitting its target. If you haven't seen the film, it's difficult to describe. And even if you have seen it you might still call me crazy.
The important thing to understand however, is that even these complaints are minor within the context of the larger movie. Overall Life of Pi is a fun, captivating, affecting, humorous, enchanting, magical, and sometimes breathtaking experience. In most all aspects it's a very good movie that just doesn't quite add up to a great one.
Visually it's absolute bliss.
This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic novel brims with life, movement, spectacle, and dramatic energy. It's gorgeous to look at, utterly unique and brilliant in its visual conception, and further propelled by a fine cast that turn in top-notch performances. Despite its setting in 19th century Russian aristocracy, this film never, ever feels stuffy. Instead, it's simply splendid.
Also, it deserves to be seen on the big screen, so if you feel like taking a chance on a movie theater experience different from your usual fare, this should fit the bill nicely.
Off the New Release Wall
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Ruby Sparks starts a little shaky out of the gate, but quickly rights itself in a manner in which nearly every scene is stronger, smarter, and more conceptually interesting than the one before.
This is a one of those rare independent efforts that teems with imagination and creative power without ever feeling showy or smug. The end result is something rather magical in the way the film offers insight into the creative process, the nature of human relationships, free will, power dynamics, and celebration of the individual human spirit. Ruby Sparks does all of this while affirming its own characters and prompts viewers to look inward at how these ideas touch our own lives and romantic engagements.
This is one hell of screen-play and first time writing-effort from Zoe Kazan. And the on-screen chemistry between real-life couple Paul Dano and Kazan makes the film's inherent strengths materialize in even more impressive ways.
I will say that there was something just a bit less magical involving the scenes with Calvin's (Dano) parents- though I'm not sure just went wrong- not wrong, but less right- here. Of course, the entire run-time can't be as heart-wrenching, powerful, and revealing as a certain "puppet-master" sequence toward the end. Wow.
Give this one a look.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
A better film than I expected it to be- in fact I kind of liked the damn thing, what with the way it actually had me thinking back to Tim Burton's 1989 Batman as much or more than Raimi's 2002 Spider-man. Also appreciated by this viewer is that the movie sets out to be fun and touching rather than over-serious and bad-ass. This isn't to say that The Amazing Spider-Man bowls audiences over with joyful excitement and heartwarming comic-book-romance at every turn. But it doesn't strike out either, and it manages to affect with some bits of drama that are more interesting (I'm not just ready to use the phrase "thought-provoking") than your average comic-flick.
A strong cast that doesn't try to oversell the importance of it all certainly helps out. And since, at the end of the day, my attitude towards these movies is almost always going to land somewhere on the "Meh, who really cares?" continuum, I'd much prefer my mindless popcorn entertainment to be light and fun without sacrificing professionalism, as opposed to over-inflated and needlessly dour without ever sacrificing the smallest amount of narcissism.
Yes, I'm in the minority, but I don't need any more Nolan-esque comic sagas. When it comes to spandex-clad heroes, I prefer a passing entertainment that aims for a fun cinematic experience and mostly hits its mark without getting too huffy about it. The Amazing Spider-Man was good enough for me.
The Comedy (2012)
An angry movie that not many people will see and far fewer will enjoy. I thought there to be a fascinating pulse behind the hipster callousness and disenfranchisement on display. It's not great cinema and it's not a comedy, but it's more interesting and sometimes thoughtful than plenty of movies that get labeled as such.
Catching up with the ones I missed.
Granted it's been nearly 1.5 decades since I watched The Doom Generation and Nowhere, but even still I'm having an impossible time believing that the same director behind Mysterious Skin is responsible for those two films. Simply put, Mysterious Skin is great (if not always easy to watch) film-making, while the other two... well they stand about as far apart as the sun and the moon.
Not since Brick (another Joseph Gordon Levitt vehicle) have I been this thoroughly impressed by a mid-2000s English-language independent film offering.
A promising opening scene shot in B & W gives the audience the impression that this will be a classy affair- an attribute that holds up for the most part through the film's duration. This gives way to a breath-taking, extended chase sequence, certainly the most thrilling and sure-handed sequence in the movie.
Once the film settles in, we are introduced to James Bond, the Daniel Craig version. He's a bit more interesting than I might've guessed and the fact that he's a bit vulnerable and green-behind the ears when it comes to the whole "double-0" status adds to a more overall complete character than many Bond incarnations previous. Eva Green is a strong leading lady, though not always strong enough to overcome a few short-comings in the writing department that occur here and there in regards to her character. The primary villain is suitably scummy and evil, though he's far from the most memorable arch-nemesis in the storied franchise.
Certainly the film's biggest fault has to do with one two many roller-coaster-type pacing elements, and the fact that the film is a good 20 or 30 minutes over-long in general. The poker-scenes were a bit of a let-down (they don't hold a candle to the stronger scenes in Rounders), but I suppose that might be a personal grievance. Casino Royale is slick, mostly classy entertainment that offers up a good many thrillers and a fun chemistry between its too leads, but suffers somewhat in the efficiency department.
A wholly engaging and impressive debut from some guy name Steven Spielberg. With the exception of Munich I actually liked this better than anything he's done in the last 20 years.
Even though this is a made for TV film, Duel embodies so much about what I like about 1970's American cinema- I don't know why I don't spend more time in this decade.
All the elements of a cult masterpiece- and yet, somehow the movie never fully did it for me. I think I need to watch it again and figure out why, after loving the first half, the second half seems to break down a bit.
Really fucking bizarre, at any rate.
It's a big, roaming, goofy movie that's lovable in its "bright eyed, bushy tailed" kind of way. Director Baz Luhrmann seems to have an infectious (well, to me anyway) and simple love for cinema, and it's rare that he does anything without huge, equal measures of joy and gusto. There's also a sort of time-less or "classic" feel to this movie. It's presented in a way that calls to mind old Hollywood stars, scripts, and productions. Everyone seems to be running around with a sort of twinkle in their eye, and it's one that harkens back to a different era of film. I'm not sure how else to describe it.
Part of me sorta gets why this movie underperformed with viewers and critics. A bigger part of me liked it anyway.
The kind where I'd put on my reading glasses if I owned reading glasses.
This Dutch thriller will bring Hitchcock to mind in certain respects, but that's really beside the point, nor does it quite get at the animal we have on our hands here. The narrative is ingeniously constructed for optimal emotional effect and the film's frames are fused with visual cues and imagery that will keep viewers' minds stimulated and engaged in ways that most films don't begin to achieve.
Don't be fooled though; The Vanishing is not interested in being your friend. This movie has got a mean streak and it also isn't afraid to delve into some depressing waters. Whether one finds satisfaction in the end results for our story and characters, there's no shortage of cinematic and story-telling devices to admire.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
The way this was supposed to go is that I was supposed to watch Moonrise Kingdom for the second time and I'd magically fall in love with it and wonder why oh why it didn't elicit more excitement, uproarious laughter, emotional gratification, and mental fist pumps from me the first time around.
Well... that didn't happen.
I just... I just don't...
I just don't love this movie.
My original 7/10 rating stands and Moonrise Kingdom remains the only Wes Anderson film that doesn't just tickle me to my core.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
A pure personal favorite, Safety Not Guaranteed is a movie that I simply adore from start to finish. I'll be picking up a copy one day soon.
Somehow even better than I remembered. I just don't see a way to improve this film. If you haven't seen it in a while (as I hadn't) give it another look. It's the first pure classic that the 2000s gave us and I hope it doesn't get lost on future generations.
Coming off the HorrorFest hangover brought on by October, it will be interesting to see how November plays out. On the one hand there's no shortage of theatrical releases clamoring for my attention as Award Season gets into full screen. On the other, my life is kind of a mess right now (oh don't worry dear reader- everything will be okay) and gluttonous movie consumption just might not be the answer. (*Gasp!*)
Additionally, there's a whole slew of movies sitting on my shelves that I'm eager to sit down with. After all, I paid good money for the damn things. But again... there's a bunch of other shit going on that needs examining/doing/acknowledging/fucking dealing with, etc.
So yeah, we'll see.
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