Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (6/23/13 - 6/29/13)

Coup de Grace (Volker Schlondorff) ***1/2 - A German army unit fighting Bolshevik guerillas find themselves stationed at the chateau of one of their officer. While there, the sister of the officer falls in love with another officer who refuses to return her affections. Unrequited love at the backdrop of war is nothing new. Though it's extremely well-crafted and acted, I thought the first two acts come off as a bit cold to me because the characters were unpleasant and I thought I've seen better films. But then the third act twists came up and it lifts up the entire film and makes EVERYTHING make sense all the way to the haunting ending. It's overall very, very good.

The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance) ***1/2 - This is an interesting case. It is ALMOST a great movie. As in milimeters close to being one. The first 2/3rds of the film, the one concentrating on the bank-robbing motorcyle stuntman and new father played by Ryan Gosling and the rookie cop that gets caught in a web of corrupt police played by Bradley Cooper are top-notch. It falters a bit on the third act which flash-forwards 15 years later concentrating on the now teenage sons of the two characters despite a great performance by Dane DeHaan playing Gosling's character's son. I personally like it a bit better than Blue Valentine, the director's previous work. It's a worthy, solid piece of work.

The Heat (Paul Feig) **1/2 - This is a buddy-cop action-comedy that has a plot that's strictly paint-by-numbers and somewhat formulaic, it's almost parody. Nothing to crow home about. However, what makes this particular one enjoyable is the undeniable talent and hilarity of Melissa McCarthy who almost single-handedly lifts up the otherwise mediocre material. She creates genuine laughs while adding believable character nuances that you almost don't notice the generic plot. I hope someone creates a vehicle more worthy of her talents someday

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Great Scenes # 52: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Years ago, I was working on a script which is about a romance/infatuation between two young kids because I think a more serious, realistic film hasn't been made about budding sexuality at that part of our lives. It's usually white-washed/sexless or on the flip-side portrayed as something over-the-top, dark and negative. Well, Wes Anderson did it and this particular scene is pitch-perfect. It combines childhood innocence and budding sexuality in a very tasteful, funny and even sweet and endearing way. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (6/16/13 - 6/22/13)

Hatari! (Howard Hawks) **** - I wonder why this movie isn't more popular than it is. It stars John Wayne, it's directed by Howard Hawks, one of the greats and it features an unforgettable score by Henry Mancini which includes the piece "Baby Elephant Walk" which is way more popular than this film. Add to that the fact that it's really a fun, delightful and superbly crafted film. It's about a group of men and women who make their living capturing wild African animals for zoos. Sure, it's vaguely politically incorrect (but a lot of films of this era are, though) and the animal capturing sequences may upset PeTA supporters but it still doesn't change the fact that those sequences are quite impressively shot (because they're REAL, no CGI here!) and just as rousing and exciting (and in many cases even MORE exciting) than any modern era action sequences. Oh, and it's also really, really funny! It's very light and breezy and more character than plot-driven. It's something that they hardly make any more. It's a wonderful, wonderful film. I like "Baby Elephant Walk" a whole lot more now.

World War Z (Marc Forster) *** - I have to say this film is minor miracle. Negative buzz surrounding it with numerous rewrites and reshoots often spell disaster. But it came out fairly decent. I will preface this review by saying I love zombie movies and I'm a fan of the book. As a zombie movie, this film is far from the best. It's fairly toothless. Those expecting gore will be disappointed since this is a PG-13 movie. As an adaptation of the book, purists will also be very disappointed. Apart from the title and the overall concept of a global zombie pandemic, there's only a very vague at best resemblance to any plot point or character in the book. Despite all that, I have to say that as a summer blockbuster spectacle, it's pretty good. It's an entertaining thrill ride for anyone whose least favorite part of a zombie movie is the gore.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

R.I.P. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini passed away at the very young age of 51 today. He is, of course, best known for his brilliant portrayal of Tony Soprano in the groundbreaking HBO mob series The Sopranos but he has made his name as a very reliable character actor on film as well. Since this is a film blog, I'm featuring one of those performances and if you haven't seen this particular film, I'm taking this opportunity to recommend it. It's In the Loop, a British made satirical film that's simply one of the most brilliant pieces of film writing I've ever seen at least in recent times. James Gandolfini is one of the standout performances in this huge, talented cast. Featured above.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (6/9/13 - 6/15/13)

The Desperate Hours (William Wyler) **** - The plot is simple and perhaps a bit cliche by now: A trio of escaped convicts hold a suburban family in hostage. Director William Wyler may not be Alfred Hitchcock but he still is able to retain suspense and tension althroughout the film. Humphrey Bogart, who plays the leader of the convicts, was fantastic. He creates a frightening, yet all-too-human villain. He's the main reason that even though I've seen a lot of these types of films before this, it still feels fresh and gripping.

A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-won) *** - Two sisters come to live with their father and stepmother after their mother dies. Then strange and spooky things start to happen. The film is a slow-burn and builds its horror and tension quite gradually (crazy shit happens in the second and third acts). It introduces lots of twists and turns, some of it, I felt didn't quite work so well. But still, it's a very well-made psychological horror film with some really, really good atmospheric scares. I like the fact that director Kim Ji-won managed to avoid cheap jump scares.

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder) *** - I'm not a fan of Zack Snyder and I'm a huge fan of the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve so I'm very wary of this "reboot". That being said, this is probably Zack Snyder's best work since his Dawn of the Dead, that's not to say this is his masterpiece. Thank goodness he stopped doing "slow-mo" shots which I found kind of irritating. Now, I know this is supposed to be a big action summer movie but for GOD'S SAKES, they should really slow it down with the action sequences! It's one action sequence to another. So much so, that the highlights for me are the quiet Smallville moments featuring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane who are able to inject much needed humanity to the proceedings. A better filmmaker would have built on that slowly instead of overwhelming the audience with one big action set piece after another. Everyone else acquits themselves well (even though Michael Shannon is no Terence Stamp) and I think there's a great movie in there somewhere but overlength and overindulgence in CGI set pieces drown it in just being good.

The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci) ***1/2 - A mute vigilante goes around the west killing bounty hunters who prey upon outlaws for the reward money. This is from the director of Django and I didn't like this as much as that film and it's not because of the VERY bleak ending that makes George R.R. Martin seem tame by comparison (so bleak they had to make an alternative and ridiculous happy ending for certain markets) The ending really inverts the Western genre a bit (I wonder if this would qualify as an anti-Western). Jean Louis Trintignant is terrific as the Western hero who's both badass and quite tragic and of course Klaus Kinski is a terrific villain. Oh, also features a TERRIFIC Ennio Morricone score. It's more than worth seeing it just for that.

After Earth (M. Night Shyamalan) ** - I had very low expectations going in since the only reason I'm seeing this is that it's the only other movie playing. Anyway, I didn't find it particularly offensive. It's just not very good. It's too bad because the concept kind of has potential. A rewrite and perhaps a different young leading kid (or a few more acting lessons) could have made it into a decent popcorn movie but alas it's only an uneven, occasionally dull, at best average vanity project for Will and son Jaden. Director M. Night Shyamalan who was once this promising, exciting filmmaker now only shows just barely a glimmer of his cinematic talents here. It's kind of sad, really.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (6/2/13 - 6/8/13)

A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone) ***1/2 - Had a mini-marathon of the first two films of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy that I still haven't seen a.k.a. films I should have seen by now. The first one is a Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo and pretty much follows the same plot. It's my least favorite of the trilogy but that's not to say it isn't a pretty great film. It takes a while to get going and could have used a bit more of the black humor of the original but when it gets going, it never lets up. Extra points for the great Ennio Morricone score.

For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone) **** - Now THIS film I loved. The second in the Dollars trilogy is a thrilling, classic Sergio Leone spaghetti Western, almost as great as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are marvelous together as a pair of bounty hunters trying to bring down a gang of murderous bank robbers. It's fun, it's thrilling and even though it's well over two hours, the time seems to just fly by. It's everything I want in a great Western. Again, extra points for the great Ennio Morricone score.

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) ***1/2 - I must say it is VERY refreshing to see a nice, intelligent grown-up film for a change. Which is what this is. It's not perfect. But I'll take it. At first, I thought it would be about the pharmaceutical industry and how people are over-medicating themselves but as it turns out, it's about something else entirely. The big twist is KIND OF problematic but Soderbergh's direction and the great cast, especially Rooney Mara, keeps things credible and gripping.

The Hangover Part III (Todd Phillips) **1/2 - First, the positives: I like the fact that this is NOT so much of a remake of the first film like the second film was and this makes it a notch above Part II. There are a few laughs to be had but it's nowhere near as funny as the first one. This one suffers from being a tonal mess. It seems to want to be an action-thriller-comedy but it does not seem to find the right tone in order to blend those elements together in something consistent and cohesive since the darker elements often jar the wacky, broad humor.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (5/26/13 - 6/1/13)

Epic (Chris Wedge) **1/2 - First the positives: The film has GORGEOUS animation and eye-popping production design and character design. The concept of the film had potential despite the fact that it IS essentially Fern Gully meets The Borrowers. However, the film never really tries to do anything special with the concept and instead goes for something just a tad generic. It also doesn't help that some of the dialogue is kind of atrocious and the attempts at humor fall mostly flat despite the talents of Chris O'Dowd and Aziz Ansari. It's nothing offensive or horrible about it and kids will find it entertaining enough but it won't be too impressive for anyone over 12.

La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni) **** - This is the only film from an unofficial trilogy of films writer-director Michelangelo Antonioni did in a certain period of time which I haven't seen until now. The other two, L'Avventura and L'Eclisse are both masterpieces and this is no different. A couple visits their dying friend at the same day the husband's, a rather famous author, latest book gets released. The film follows them around for this one day. As with the two other films, this film is slow, ponderous and haunting and actually carries some similarities in terms of style and themes but each film manages to impart something different. I would have to rewatch all of them to write something more substantial than that. That aside, the film features stunning cinematography and great performances from Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti.

Now You See Me (Louis Letterier) **1/2 - The concept is fun: A quartet of magicians pull off elaborate illusions and rob banks of corrupt business men and give it away to their audiences. It has a fantastic ensemble cast. Though, I have to admit, the director, Louis Letterier, made me cast doubts concerning this film. Having now seen it, I have to say the first two thirds of the film is undeniably fun. The ensemble of actors grab the material and seem to actually have fun with it. The third act, however, stretches believability a bit. Though I was willing to forgive it at first and suspend my disbelief and logic, then came the final reveal and the film pretty much lost me. It does not COMPLETELY ruin the film but it was bad enough for me to knock down my rating a couple of notches.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalyspe (Fax Bahr/George Hickenlooper) **** - I'm a huge fan of Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now and I was aware of the fact that it was a troubled production and he went through almost literal hell to get it made. Having seen this brilliant documentary, which is about almost as great as the film it was documenting, I have to say it's a miracle that it got completed and turned out to be both critical and commercial success. It's an endlessly fascinating and compelling documentary.