Friday, December 24, 2010

A Wonderful Review of Gulliver's Travels

It is highly unlikely I will ever see this movie to write my own review of it, so I read A.O. Scott's review in the NY Times. It is worth a read to anyone who has read Swift's 18th century satire.

The funniest thing about the review is that it will absolutely only be appreciated and understood by people who otherwise would have no interest in a Jack Black version of Gulliver's Travels and those who are certain to despise it for the very reasons Scott (in the voice of Swift) lays out.

For those who will love the movie, they probably won't understand a single word of Scott's review after "Dear Sir."

Roger Ebert started writing gimmicky reviews like this a few years ago. I wonder if that's what happens when you simply run out of ways to bash a bad movie.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter's Bone Movie Review: An Unusual Slice of Americana in One of the Best Films of the Year

Wikipedia tells me that the novels of Daniel Woodrell have been dubbed “country noir.” That would certainly be a fitting term for the film adaptation of his novel Winter’s Bone. Adapted by Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini and directed by Granik, the film presents a slice of life so distinctly American it belongs in the canon along with The Godfather or The Grapes of Wrath.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Movie Review of Tron: Not exactly a classic, but a staple long missing from my diet

It’s easy to forget in the digital age, when nearly every film (a nearly obsolete word, come to think of it), if not shot digitally, has some digital elements, that computer computer generated images had its origin somewhere. CGI and digital technology inundate movies nowadays. They’re used to build action sequences from the ground up; create fantastic creatures; eliminate unwanted elements such as safety wires, boom mikes, and even an actor’s skin imperfections, from the frame.

Disney Studios’ Tron was one of the first feature films to employ heavy use of 3D CGI animation. It’s remarkable to consider that only eleven years passed between this film and Jurassic Park, two films that are hardly in the same league as far as CGI animation goes. And yet the latter film owes a great debt of gratitude to the former.

The American Movie Review: Mid-Life Crisis of an Assassin

George Clooney has that rare gift of being able to combine movie star power with a knack for challenging and adult movies. Consider his filmography over the last ten to twelve years. He’s worked with Steven Soderbergh on six films, the Coen brothers on three and younger new Hollywood directors such as David O. Russell, Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman. All this and he’s directed two thoughtful and interesting films himself. If his films since Out of Sight haven’t always been great, at the very least they’ve been provocative.

His latest is The American, directed by the Dutch born still photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn. In the past I’ve been critical of music video directors who have attempted to transition to feature films because too often their work is far too kinetic and/or incapable of sustaining a compelling story for two hours. Corbijn directed all of Depeche Mode’s videos from 1986 – 1998 and a couple of U2’s videos. Those videos, like this film, are marked by deliberate composition and attention to surrounding details.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon Movie Review

There’s a sequence in the animated film How to Train Your Dragon in which Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) soars away on the back of a dragon he’s been, well, training. The dragon takes him high up into the clouds, down to the surface of the ocean, darting in and out of and around craggy rock formations. The sequence is exhilarating and bears comparison to Jake’s first flight on the winged creatures in Avatar, which is completely shamed by this film.

It says something about the storytelling skill of screenwriters and animators who are able to draw such a strong emotional reaction from an adult with regard to a cartoon character. Hiccup is an outcast from a clan of Vikings (who bizarrely have Scottish accents – except the kids). He is the shame of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), who is the clan leader and strident warrior. The Vikings have one principal enemy – dragons. They are regularly beset upon by various species of the winged beasts that deprive them of sheep, homes and the occasional limb.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I Movie Review

Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic presents the items bequeathed by Dumbledore in his will
As the Harry Potter book series progressed, they became denser, packed with more and more material. As such, as the films have trudged onward they’ve had to make various omissions in order to fulfill a kid-friendly movie running time. They’ve also grown to be darker as the full weight of the power of Voldemort and Harry’s predicament comes to bear. The result has been a series of films that I imagine would be virtually incomprehensible to any viewer who hasn’t read the books. I say this because I’ve often had to try to refresh my memory of missing details from the book to aid my comprehension of the story of the screen.

My hope was that the splitting of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts would resolve this problem. Without a doubt, Steve Kloves has done a fine job of drafting a story that makes sense for Part I, but so many of the details the characters use to make connections are given little more than a cursory glance.

The Kids Are All Right Movie Review: A Typical American Family - Made from a Sperm Donor

Annette Bening is one of the lucky few Hollywood actresses who has transitioned gracefully into middle age without being cast aside for younger ingénues. I believe she’s done this by consistently choosing good material that reflects her maturity and professionalism as an actress. Her performance as Nic in The Kids Are All Right is so good it almost demands your full attention or else you might miss the fact that she’s acting.

That is the real shame of it in terms of recognition. Awards voters tend to reward the flashier performances, hence the reason Bening was Oscar nominated for her diva roles in American Beauty and Being Julia. Those performances almost announce, “Watch me Acting!”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Town Movie Review: Ben Affleck's Second Film as Director Shows He's Not a One-Hit Wonder

Film noir of the 1940s and 50s, with its dark subject matter, antihero protagonists, chiaroscuro lighting and often down endings, is largely regarded as an offshoot of the place of the American psyche following the harrowing years of WWII. Likewise, the resurgence of the genre, dubbed neo-noir in the 1970s (including films like Chinatown and The Long Goodbye), reflected the public’s attitude toward the downward spiral of the American empire in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam.

So one might think that today’s political climate – two wars with no end in sight, one of them started on dubious evidence, a financial crisis the likes of which no one has seen in more than 70 years – would foster a another slew of noir films. And it has – in a way. In recent years, novelists and film makers have veered toward noir subject matter, but this neo neo-noir doesn’t look a whole lot like the genuine article. This new version tends to come with happy endings and a lighter touch. Will audiences simply not accept the unhappy ending these days in spite of the great challenges we face?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Shrek Forever After Movie Review: A Dying Franchise Gets a Final Reprieve

Puss let himself go a little bit

What is it about the shift from bachelorhood to family man that makes men suddenly wake up one day and wonder how they got themselves into a lifestyle that is the complete opposite to what they imagined as young men? Mid-life crises are often exploited for dramatic purposes and there are more than enough real-life examples of men who leave their wives for a younger woman or just an exciting fling. There must be something hard-wired in men that causes them to seemingly leap from the single life to married-with-children with little to no consideration for the intervening years.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Expendables Movie Review: Sylvester Stallone and other 80s Action Heroes Get a Dusting Off

Poor Sylvester Stallone. It must be dreadful to have been one of two kings of 1980s action films only to suffer a swift and steep decline through the 90s. Now well into his 60s, he is devoting himself to sad knock-offs of the films that made him a superstar once upon a time. First was Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment in that series, then Rambo, his fourth film playing that character. This year he came back for more as writer, director and star of The Expendables, an action film which revels in cheesy schlock, washed up stars and dead bodies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Predators Movie Review: An Arnie Classic Defiled

Adrien Brody awakens to find himself in freefall, hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity, desperately searching for a ripcord. His parachute opens quite late and he slams into the ground. Luckily he gets up virtually unscathed with no broken bones. Hopefully his career will turn out the same way after taking this part in Predators, the reboot (or sequel of sorts because reference is made to events in the original) of the 1987 cult favorite which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Shortly after landing he links up with several others in the same situation. They’re all left to discover what an American mercenary, an IDF soldier, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer, a doctor, a death row inmate, a Japanese Yakuza, a Sierra Leone guerilla, and a Russian Special Forces soldier all have in common. Well, one thing is that they all rather conveniently speak English. Phew! If they didn’t, the film would have been a hard sell on American audiences.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

25 Years Ago This Month: December 1985

In typical movie release calendar tradition, December 1985 was packed with the studios' various prestige movies vying for awards consideration.

One such film was Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca DeMornay. Roberts earned his one and only Oscar nomination (to date) for the film. He went on to become a trashy B-movie star. The director, Andrey Konchalovskiy, went on to later direct the wonderful Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell buddy copy film Tango & Cash.

The eventual Best Picture Oscar winner, Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa opened to rave reviews and went on to become the number 5 box office success for 1985, just behind...

A Nightmare on Elm Street Movie Review: A Reboot Following in the Grand Tradition of Other Banal Reboots

6 June 2012 - Minor edits for clarity and typos.
The recent remake of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on the rather dubious – no, absurd – premise that fifteen teenagers would all have absolutely no memory of having gone to a nursery school at age four or five. I haven’t got a lot of distinct memories from my nursery school days, but I know where it was and I know I went.

Once as a teenager I met one of my old classmates and we vaguely recognized each other in spite of the physical changes that accompany the transition from age 4 to 16. Five of the characters in the film go to high school together, believing that they met each other in middle school. None of them remembers anything from their early childhoods. This serves one purpose, only useful to the plot’s feeble attempt at mystery and suspense: to create confusion among the kids and allow for drawn out sequences of discovery and investigation.