August: Osage County (John Wells) **1/2 - I just saw (and actually loved) the play so I know the material. The cinematic translation is not bad....only it could have been great but it isn't. The material is quite strong and the cast is mostly great (though I think Benedict Cumberbatch might have been a bit miscast since I don't completely buy him as Little Charlie) so it's watchable. Although I can't help but be a bit disappointed because it could have been really great since I can see the potential. Tracy Letts did manage to "open up" the play but I think in the hands of a better director, the material would have flown. Oh, crap. Robert Altman would have been fantastic. Oh, well. It's not essential viewing but it could have been a lot worse.
Said (Nicole Holofcener) ***1/2 - I'm actually surprised I liked this as
much as I did. I have to say that it's refreshing to see a GOOD romantic comedy
these days, a genre which Katherine Heigl seems hellbent to destroy. Julia
Louis-Dreyfus really should do more movies. She's a bright presence in this
little film. The late great James Gandolfini is absolutely wonderful. It's
bittersweet to see him in such a different role to what he's known for. Truly a
huge loss. The film is smart, funny and a rather grown-up comedy which really is
starting to feel like an endangered species these days.
Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski) ***1/2 - A
mockumentary (sort of but not exactly) set in the late '70s/early '80s of a
group of computer software engineers competing against each other to find out
which is the best chess-playing computer software. It's deliberately crudely
shot using or at least making it seem it was using, the video and editing
equipment of its time period. Honestly, I wasn't sure about it at first but it
eventually won me over. Some people might get frustrated by the weird tangents
this film goes but I dug it. It's laugh out loud funny at times and surprising.
Gothic (Ken Russell) **1/2 - I've never
heard of this Ken Russell before it was recommended to me. It's a fictionalized
account of Mary Shelley, her husband and her sister's visit with Lord Byron and
Dr. Polidori and the night they summoned....something which preyed on their
fears and nighmares. Four out of the five principal actors (including Gabriel
Byrne and Timothy Spall) give really big, scenery chewing performances with only
Natasha Richardson (playing Mary Shelley) playing a somewhat believable human
character (she seems to be acting in another movie). On top of that, there are
quite a bit of freaky, spooky, startling imagery but unfortunately nothing
really gels together. It seems to want to be a lot of things (campy horror,
black comedy, etc.) but ends up being kind of half-baked. There are some cool,
interesting things in there but it's only just okay for me.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
(Anthony Russo/Joe Russo) ***1/2 - Man, they just keep on coming. Just when I
thought I feel like I'm getting bored with the superhero genre (Man of Steel and to a lesser extent, Thor: The Dark World gave me that), Marvel
managed to pull this one out of the bag. I was actually worried with continuing
the Captain America story in the present-day world would be too much "YAY,
AMERICA! RAH RAH RAH!" jingoism but quite the opposite. In fact, I think the
folks at Fox News will not be happy with the message this film is trying to
convey. It's an anti-fear mongering/anti-surveillance film wrapped up in the
gloss of a superhero blockbuster. It's an overall rather strong film, better
than the first and belongs in the upper-echelon of the Marvel universe films.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters
(Ishiro Honda/Terry Morse) **1/2 - I'm not sure if I should review this film
which came as an extra in my Godzilla
Criterion Blu-ray. This is not a remake per se but a recut version of the
original classic Godzilla picture with
scenes involving an American reporter named Steve Martin (hehehe) played by
Raymond Burr spliced into the original film. I've seen the original film and I
know a thing or two about filmmaking so the inserts are very obvious. It's not a
bad movie per se. Just very unnecessary.
Take a Chance (Alfred J. Goulding) *** - This
is a Harold Lloyd short which came with the Safety Last! Criterion Blu-ray. It's no
masterpiece but it's still quite funny, especially the latter half. You can
definitely see the greatness that is to come.
Wadjda (Haifaa al-Monsour) ***1/2 - This is
the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia (a country known for not
having a film industry) and first film shot by a Saudi woman. The film about a
tween girl, Wadjda whose only wish is to buy a bike so she can race with her
male friend. Through her, we see just what exactly does it mean to be female in
a very conservative patriarchal Islamic society. It's a nice little film that
doesn't really become more than a nice little film though it could have. I hate
to damn it with faint praise since I still highly recommend it because it really
puts a human face behind the veils and shows the humans underneath but it
doesn't go beyond that for me to place it into greatness.