Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Invisible War Movie Review

When I was growing up there were these laughably ineffective TV messages aimed at kids to ward them away from drugs. They usually featured some variation on a good clean looking kid being approached out of the shadows by some shady older kid offering drugs and calling him a chicken for refusing. We always laughed at the absurdity of these ads because they looked nothing like anything we ever experienced. Every teenager knows that this is simply not how kids encounter drugs for the first time, or any time for that matter. The target message – “Just Say No” to drugs – was effectively lost for a complete failure to understand the issue.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Movie Review

I’m coming at my review of Zero Dark Thirty after it has become a lightning rod for criticism and charges that it depicts torture as having elicited a positive outcome in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, overplaying the role of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” in tracking down the world’s most wanted terrorist. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s defense is as reasonable and accurate as you can get: depiction is not the same as support. But the specific charge is that the story, as laid out in Mark Boal’s screenplay, has the chain of information leading to bin Laden coming from facts gleaned through torture. I recognize this is problematic, made more complicated by the fact that Boal and Bigelow have touted the journalistic nature of the film.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review

Peter Jackson’s expansion of his mega-profitable behemoth of a franchise has gone from being a labor of love and an astounding cinematic adaptation of a beloved trilogy of books to a cynically calculated cash grab. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just the first in a three part film adaptation of Tolkien’s single book prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Clocking in at just under three hours, it is already nearly twice the length of the 1977 animated version that was already a decent adaptation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Premium Rush Movie Review

Premium Rush starts with a bang-whoosh, revs up the adrenaline with a dynamic camera following a bike messenger through the streets of New York City, and kicks up the rock soundtrack. Then it doesn’t let up for the next 90 minutes. Just when you think you’ve settled into a groove along with the story, it throws you for a loop by doubling back on itself to fill in some crucial piece of story information. A digital clock appears on the screen to let you know what time it is or was. Then just as suddenly it whizzes you back into the present.

Django Unchained Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino likes to make movies that he would like to watch. Well, shouldn’t every filmmaker do the same? It’s widely known that Tarantino came up on movies by working in a video store and devouring all the trashy B-movies he could get his eyes on. All of his movies are basically slicked up versions of those same midnight and drive-in classics that were his film education. Spaghetti westerns have served as one of the largest influences on his movies, particularly the Mexican standoffs that tend to occur in the climaxes of films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In the last decade he has specialized in revenge pictures, with Django Unchained being the latest, this time an American slave revenge fantasy in the style of a cheap spaghetti western.

Frankenweenie Movie Review

Tim Burton has spent his entire filmmaking career searching for the magic of those old science fiction and horror films of the 1950s and 1960s. That’s the stuff he grew up on and it obviously touched him on a personal level because almost everything he does pays homage in some way to them. Ed Wood is both biography and homage to the director of the cheapest “so bad it’s good” B-movies. His latest film, and first stop-motion animation as director, is Frankenweenie, which happens also to be a remake of an early short film he made in 1984, before he ever stepped behind the camera for a full-length feature. The original short film runs 25 minutes and stars Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall as the parents of a boy who loves his dog, Sparky, and directing cheap 8mm films in the back yard (like Burton did as a boy). After the dog dies in an accident, the boy uses science to reignite life in his dead beloved, much to the dismay of the townspeople, who, in the spirit of Frankenstein, burn down an old windmill in an attempt to destroy the grotesquery of resurrected death.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

ParaNorman Movie Review

Laika Entertainment is filling the niche of animated features intended for children who are a little more grown up. Their first two films, Corpse Bride and Coraline, are darker and more macabre than the fare churned out by the other big animation studios (although Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar produce some fantastic animated films). Laika’s third feature, released earlier this year and just recently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, is ParaNorman, an equally light macabre story that is great family fun if you leave it the youngest and most impressionable members of your clan unless they can handle ghost, zombies and scary witches.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Killer Joe Movie Review

I can’t remember seeing a film so depraved, immoral, and pointless as William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, based on the play by Tracy Letts. Of course, I’ve never seen The Human Centipede, so there may be hope yet. I’ve seen it described as a dark comedy and yet I found no humor in it. It is full of characters so stupid, who make such bad decisions – life-changing decisions – without much thought, that it’s almost impossible to side with anyone. There is perhaps one exception in the form of a pure innocent young woman, but she is such an odd portrait of a human being that her entire character has no credibility.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Important Anniversaries Marked in 2013

* The Oscar winners noted were released in the previous year, but given the award in the year noted.

10 Years Ago (2003)

Well, I graduated from Connecticut College and then spent three months backpacking Europe, visiting (in order) England; Scotland; Ireland; France; Belgium; The Netherlands; Germany; Austria; Switzerland; Austria; Czech Republic; Hungary; Croatia; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Croatia; Slovenia; Italy; The Vatican; Italy; Greece; Italy; Switzerland; Italy; France; Monaco; France; Spain; Ireland.

That's 19 countries in 83 days. On that trip I visited 63 different cities, towns, and villages, and slept in 43 different locations. Total cost of the trip: around $7000.

Quentin Tarantino's epic nod to Asian kung-fu and gangster cinema began with Kill Bill vol. 1

Peter Jackson's trilogy concluded with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl launched a huge money-making franchise starring Johnny Depp.

notable deaths: actors Gregory Peck (85), Charles Bronson (81) and Katharine Hepburn (96); entertainer Bob Hope (100); director Elia Kazan (94)

Top grossing film for the year (domestic): The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($377 million)
(worldwide): The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.1 billion)
Academy Award Best Picture winner*: Chicago directed by Rob Marshall
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner: Elephant directed by Gus Van Sant

Movies from my collection
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
28 Days Later...
Intolerable Cruelty
My Life Without Me
Kill Bill vol. 1
The Italian Job
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Non-movie related
- The space shuttle Columbia disaster in February.
- Fire in a West Warwick, RI, nightclub killed 100 people in February. I was working in the area at the time.
- U.S. and allied forces invaded Iraq in March.
- U.S. Supreme Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in Lawrence vs. Texas in June. Hooray for blowjobs and anal! (How many page views do you think this post gets from people looking for porn now?)
- Final flight of the Concorde in October.
- Saddam Hussein captured in December.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Short Cut Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

The wooden acting of the two eponymous leads, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, sink this updated version of the classic fairy tale almost as quickly as the decision to turn it into an action and special effects spectacle. Several narrative inconsistencies don't exactly help either. However, the special effects are truly amazing, involving some of the most detailed and effective use of CGI in recent years. Probably the best part of the entire movie is the extraordinary cast used (with the aid of mind-blowing effects) to play the dwarfs: Bob Hoskins; Ray Winstone; Toby Jones; Ian McShane; Eddie Marsan; and Nick Frost among them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Compliance Movie Review

In the early 1960’s Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment that had subjects administering what they believed were electric shocks to a third party at the behest of an authority figure in a lab coat. It was ostensibly an attempt to discover if millions of people throughout Europe who aided in committing the atrocities of the Holocaust could actually have simply been following orders that conflicted with their own sense of morality. What is a human’s natural response to a person in a authority and how far would we go before standing up to such a person? Milgram’s findings, which were later confirmed in further studies in different parts of the world, were troubling and revealed a side of human nature that should make most people uncomfortable. It turned out a large majority of the subjects were willing and ready to cause bodily harm to another person because they were told to do so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Short Cut Review: Mirror Mirror

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Director Tarsem Singh's films are always visually splendid with imaginative production design and costumes. He brings the same creativity to the classic Snow White fairy tale, turning the tale, if not on its head, a little askew. Julia Roberts is the evil queen, a role she was perhaps destined to play at this point in her life. It pokes a little bit of fun at the beautiful starlet who has aged out of that role. Not that Roberts isn't still beautiful or a great movie star, but it's a well known truism in Hollywood that youth is valued over experience and actresses her age get left behind. There is more than a knowing wink at that in her character. Armie Hammer is the impossibly good-looking prince and relative newcomer Lily Collins is Snow White. The great look of the film and occasional good humor, especially the seven dwarfs who have a very good introduction, don't always help overcome the languid storytelling.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Short Cut Review: Magic Mike

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Steven Soderbergh's slick direction elevates what would otherwise be a formulaic ride through familiar territory. I'm still not convinced, despite Soderbergh's continued insistence on casting Channing Tatum, that he's much of an actor. Matthew McConaughey, on the other hand, is just marvelous in the role of a brash male strip club owner, a guy working the small time who dreams big. It's all beautifully photographed, the screen is often full of hard male bodies (there's a little bit of female flesh tossed in some early scenes), and it generally feels fresh and alive.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Movies of 2012 (Or My Top Ten)

Update 2/13/13: I added The Turin Horse into the top ten list and bumped The Perks of Being a Wallflower out after seeing the marvelous Bela Tarr film.

Each year I find it more and more difficult to put together a ranked list of the ten best films of the year. Of course it's all just a subjective listing anyway and to call them the "ten best" of anything is sort of meaningless. It's more apt to refer to them as my "Ten Favorites" I suppose, like I did with my list of favorites of the '00s, which is an alphabetical listing.

Tradition still demands a ranked list, although many critics nowadays make their lists alphabetical. Still others don't limit their lists to ten, which is anyway an arbitrary number. When I'm looking at the films that moved me or excited me most in a given year, should I really limit myself to just ten? What if there were two or three others I really loved? Do I have to decide which to keep and which to cut? I have often listed, in addition to my top ten, several additional films I admired from the year.

When I look back over my previous years' lists (I've been doing this since 1996) I occasionally find decisions I made that I no longer agree with. That tells me that these things are fluid. Something at the bottom of my list ten years ago might now make my top 20 or 30 today. Did I really put a Harry Potter movie on one of my lists? So these lists become a snapshot of how I was feeling at the moment or at that time in my life. Bear in mind my lists only take into account the 70 - 120 movies I see in any given year. A professional doing this full time sees around 300 or more. In most cases I remain fairly satisfied with all my number 1 picks throughout the years. However, this year's list feels much more to me like a general listing rather than a ranking than any other previous list I've made. I've done my best to rank them, but if I made this lest a week ago, or if I redo it in two weeks' time, it could be a very different order.

I will avoid commentary on each film here and instead provide links to my reviews, except where I have not written any full length review.

This list is based on 72 feature films I've seen that were released in cinemas in New York City and Long Island between January 1 and December 31, 2012.

1. The Intouchables dir. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano - I was shocked this film didn't make the five nominated films for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, just as I was when France's Of Gods and Men didn't make it two years ago. This was simply one of the best and most enjoyable films ever made about a quadraplegic. It's touching, smart, funny, and electrifying without ever resorting to the usual cloying Hollywood cliches this type of film is known for.

2. Zero Dark Thirty dir. Kathryn Bigelow - review coming soon
3. Amour dir. Michael Haneke
4. The Turin Horse dir. Bela Tarr
5. Lincoln dir. Steven Spielberg
6. Holy Motors dir. Leos Carax
7. Argo dir. Ben Affleck
8. Silver LiningsPlaybook dir. David O. Russell
9. Beasts of the Southern Wild dir. Benh Zeitlin
10. Jack Reacher dir. Christopher McQuarrie - At the risk of losing some credibility, I thought this movie was simply fantastic. I loved every minute of it. It was the most thoroughly enjoyable movie experience I had all year. No, I don't think it's the best movie of the year, but given my reaction to it I simply couldn't leave it out of the top ten.

In alphabetical order, here are several more films that I greatly admired from the year:

Barbara dir. Christian Petzold
Friends with Kids dir. Jennifer Westfeldt
The Kid with a Bike dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Looper dir. Rian Johnson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower dir. Stephen Chbosky
Rust and Bone dir. Jacques Audiard
Searching for Sugar Man dir. Malik Bendjelloul
Skyfall dir. Sam Mendes

All feature films seen from 2012 (based on US commercial release dates)
* Full length review available on this site
titles in bold received at least one Oscar nomination

*5 Broken Cameras dir. Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi [Palestinian Territories, Israel, The Netherlands, France]
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry dir. Alison Klayman [USA]
*The Amazing Spider-Man dir. Marc Webb [USA]
*American Reunion dir. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg [USA]
*Amour dir. Michael Haneke [Austria]
*Anna Karenina dir. Joe Wright [UK]
Arbitrage dir. Nicholas Jarecki [USA]
*Argo dir. Ben Affleck [USA]
*The Avengers dir. Joss Whedon [USA]
*Barbara dir. Christian Petzold [Germany]
*Beasts of the Southern Wild dir. Benh Zeitlin [USA]
Bernie dir. Richard Linklater [USA]
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel dir. John Madden [UK]
*The Bourne Legacy dir. Tony Gilroy [USA]
*Brave dir. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman [USA]
Bullhead (Rundskop) dir. Michael R. Roskam [Belgium]
*The Cabin in the Woods dir. Drew Goddard [USA]
*Casa de mi Padre dir. Matthew Piedmont [USA]
*Cloud Atlas dir. Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer [USA]
*Compliance dir. Craig Zobel [USA]
*Damsels in Distress dir. Whit Stillman [USA]
*Dark Horse dir. Todd Solondz [USA]
*The Dark Knight Rises dir. Christopher Nolan [USA]
*Dark Shadows dir. Tim Burton [USA]
*The Deep Blue Sea dir. Terrence Davies [UK]
*Django Unchained dir. Quentin Tarantino [USA]
The Expendables 2 dir. Simon West [USA]
*The Fitzgerald Family Christmas dir. Edward Burns [USA]
*The Five-Year Engagement dir. Nicholas Stoller [USA]
*Flight dir. Robert Zemeckis [USA]
*Frankenweenie dir. Tim Burton [USA]
*Friends With Kids dir. Jennifer Westfeldt [USA]
The Gatekeepers dir. Dror Moreh [Israel]
*The Grey dir. Joe Carnahan [USA]
*Haywire dir. Steven Soderbergh [USA]
*Hitchcock dir. Sacha Gervasi [USA]
*The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dir. Jackson [USA, New Zealand]
*Holy Motors dir. Leos Carax [France]
*How to Survive a Plague dir. David France [USA]
*The Hunger Games dir. Gary Rossi [USA]
*The Impossible dir. J.A. Bayona [Spain]
The Imposter dir. Bart Layton [USA]
The Intouchables (Intouchables) dir. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano [France]
*The Invisible War dir. Kirby Dick [USA]
*Jack Reacher dir. Christopher McQuarrie [USA]
Jeff, Who Lives at Home dir. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass [USA]
*Jiro Dreams of Sushi dir. David Gelb [USA]
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo) dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne [Belgium]
*Killer Joe dir. William Friedkin [USA]
Kon-Tiki dir. Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg [Norway]
Lawless dir. John Hillcoat [USA]
*Les Miserables dir. Tom Hooper [UK]
*Life of Pi dir. Ang Lee [USA, Taiwan]
*Lincoln dir. Steven Spielberg [USA]
*Looper dir. Rian Johnson [USA]
Magic Mike dir. Steven Soderbergh [USA]
*The Master dir. Paul Thomas Anderson [USA]
Mirror Mirror dir. Tarsem Singh [USA]
*Moonrise Kingdom dir. Wes Anderson [USA]
On the Road dir. Walter Salles [USA]
*ParaNorman dir. Chris Butler and Sam Fell [USA]
*Perks of Being a Wallflower dir. Stephen Chbosky [USA]
The Pirates! Band of Misfits dir. Peter Lord [USA, UK]
*Premium Rush dir. David Koepp [USA]
*Prometheus dir. Ridley Scott [USA]
*The Queen of Versailles dir. Lauren Greenfield [USA]
Robot & Frank dir. Jack Schreier [USA]
A Royal Affair (En kongelig affaere) dir. Nikolaj Arcel [Denmark]
Ruby Sparks dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris [USA]
*Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os) Audiard, Jacques [France, Belgium]
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen dir. Lasse Hallstrom [UK]
*The Salt of Life dir. Gianni Di Gregorio [Italy]
*Savages dir. Olive Stone [USA]
*Searching for Sugar Man dir. Malik Bendjelloul [Sweden, UK]
*The Sessions dir. Ben Lewin [USA]
*Seven Psychopaths dir. Martin McDonagh [UK]
*Silver Linings Playbook dir. David O. Russell [USA]
*Skyfall dir. Sam Mendes [UK, USA]
Snow White and the Huntsman dir. Rupert Sanders [USA]
*Take This Waltz dir. Sarah Polley [Canada, Spain, Japan]
*Ted dir. Seth MacFarlane [USA]
*This Is 40 dir. Judd Apatow [USA]
*To Rome with Love dir. Woody Allen [USA, Italy, Spain]
*Trouble with the Curve dir. Robert Lorenz [USA]
*The Turin Horse (A torinói ló) dir. Bela Tarr [Hungary]
War Witch (Rebelle) dir. Kim Nguyen [Canada]
*Wreck-It Ralph dir. Rich Moore [USA]
*Zero Dark Thirty dir. Kathryn Bigelow [USA]

Short Cut Review: Bernie

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Bernie has a lot of fans behind it. People really seem to love it. Not me. It's an amusing satire, or black comedy, or however you want to classify it. It's such a bizarre story that if it weren't based on fact, I wouldn't believe it. Bernie, the Texas funeral home director who befriends a cranky old woman and becomes her full time assistant/benefactor before murdering her in a fit of frustration, is surely one of the year's great cinematic characters. Jack Black got a lot of buzz for his performance. Just because he plays against type doesn't necessarily mean he's acting great. All in all, it's a cinematic trifle, a mild diversion that moves a little too slowly at times and never adds up to the revelatory experience I awaited.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Amour Movie Review

Michael Haneke makes films that I deeply admire much more than I truly love. They are technically sound. It is clear he has a profound natural ability to use the camera to create chilling scenes, empty spaces that suggest isolation, and stories that reveal various elements of the human condition. Whether it’s the cruel sadism of Funny Games, the psychosexual power of The Piano Teacher, the paranoia of Caché, or the wicked punishment of collective guilt in The White Ribbon, Haneke’s films are always challenging, never made for easy viewing, and rarely offering anything short of material for endless discussion with your cinephile friends.

Early Oscar Predictions for the 85th Academy Awards

These are my "instant" Oscar predictions based on initial instinct. I will revise these at a later date, but if the ceremony were today and I had to pick now, this is how it would be.

My predictions are in bold with an asterisk.

I have Life of Pi with 2 awards, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables with 3 each, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hobbit, and Skyfall with 1 each, and Lincoln with 7.

Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Did I Do (2013) Edition - Or 85th Oscar Nominations Reactions

Full list of nominees here.

Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises totally shut out of all categories. Really expected a technical award somewhere for each, or at least one of them.

Not counting the Foreign Language Film, Documentary, and Short Subjects categories, 29 different films received nominations. Lincoln leads with 12, followed by Life of Pi with 11, Les Miserables with 8, Argo with 7. 

How did I do in my predictions?

In the top 8 categories I correctly guessed 36/44 (81.8%). That's much better than last year, but not quite as good as two years ago.
If I include Animated Feature as a top category, then I've got 40/49 (81.6%)

Across all categories I got 76/107 (71%).

I got only 2/5 for Director. But I scored an astounding 18/20 in the acting categories and 8/10 in the Screenplay categories.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Barbara Movie Review

German director Christian Petzold’s movie Barbara is one of the most paranoid films of recent years. Not in a lunatic, they’re all out to get me way, but in the very real way that political dissidents lived in East Germany during the Cold War. This particular study, which could easily be considered a sister film of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s brilliant The Lives of Others, concerns a female physician forced to give up her prominent post at a hospital in Berlin for a life at a pediatric hospital in the countryside. I’m not sure the reasons for her exile are made explicit in the film, but Wikipedia (not necessarily renowned for its accuracy) says it was because she applied for a visa to leave for the West.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Short Cut Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

A sweet comedy drama about several British retirees who try to make a new life for themselves in their twilight years in exotic India. Some wonderful acting (especially from Judi Dench) supports a movie that is likely to appeal more to older audience members, but anyone who appreciates a well-told story should be pleased. I would suggest it's also appropriate for anyone who has ever had the travel bug or gone to live in a new country or thought about going to live in a new country. It may never be too late in life to learn new things or strike out on an adventure.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Short Cut Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

In Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, directed by Lasse Hallström from a Simon Beaufoy adaptation of the novel, a fisheries expert played by Ewan McGregor is enlisted to help a wealthy and eccentric sheikh realize his dream of bringing salmon fishing to the country of Yemen and an environment totally unsuited to the sport. Along the way he falls in love with Emily Blunt. It's a pleasant enough light romantic comedy that has occasional forays into more serious subject matter, most of which are easily forgivable. Beaufoy retains mere hints at the political satire that are the fore in the novel. It might have made for a more interesting film had been a more faithful adaptation in that respect.

Searching for Sugar Man Movie Review

Have you ever heard of the folk singer from the early 70’s known as Rodriguez? He released two albums back-to-back. His record producers also worked with such well-known and esteemed acts as Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and other big Motown hits of the era. That’s because Rodriguez was based in Detroit and, well, any big record producer in Detroit in the early 70’s certainly worked with a big Motown act. Rodriguez sold half a million records, was nationally popular, and his music spearheaded a national political movement. You still say you’ve never heard of him? That’s because the only popularity he ever had was in South Africa. The president of the now-defunct record label that put out Rodriguez’s records says he probably sold about six copies in the U.S. No one associated with Rodriguez ever knew of his immense popularity in South Africa.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Queen of Versailles Movie Review

The economic crisis has been hard on everyone. Yes, believe it or not, even well-off to wealthy people lose out during hard times. The documentarian Lauren Greenfield didn’t initially set out to show what happens to a wealthy family after the stock market took a massive tumble in 2008, but that’s what she ended up with. Greenfield first approached Jackie and David Siegel about making a film showcasing the house they were building in Orlando, Florida. It would have been the largest private residence in America, although the Siegels claim they didn’t have that as a goal when they started. David Siegel is the owner of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world. He just wanted to move his family, consisting of his wife and seven children, to a home that didn’t feel as cramped. The 20,000 square feet they were living in just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

The Deep Blue Sea Movie Review

I can’t figure out why director Terence Davies thought it necessary to adapt The Deep Blue Sea, the 1952 Terence Rattigan play about an extra-marital love affair in post-war London, to the screen again. It was done once with Vivien Leigh in the starring role in 1955 and, though I haven’t seen it, I would bet that it’s a much better production, if only because it fits its time period. Davies’ version, which stars Rachel Weisz, does nothing to update the material or to break it free of its period constraints, both in terms of subject matter and film style. This is a movie that moves as slow as molasses on a cool day. For a story about a woman desperately in love with a man whose ardor has cooled, it just feels stilted and wrong.

Holy Motors Movie Review

All the world’s a stage, right? And each of us is merely a player with many roles to perform. Monsieur Oscar has many performances (or appointments) to give during the course of one day in Leos Carax’s enigmatic and occasionally frustrating Holy Motors.

Oscar (Denis Lavant) is driven around Paris in the back of a white limousine. Inside the space he occupies seems impossibly large and is outfitted with all manner of makeup, wigs, prosthetics, costumes, and props for Oscar to play, at different points in the day, a beggar woman, a technical stand-in for an action sci-fi film, a thug, a father, and on and on. His driver Celine (Edith Scob), who also serves as his assistant, tells him at the start of the day he has nine of these appointments, but I lost count around five.

Les Miserables Movie Review

I saw Les Miserables on Broadway as part of a class trip in sixth grade. There are three observations I’d like to make after seeing Tom Hooper’s new film adaptation, with a screenplay by William Nicholson, of the stage musical. The first is that I’m surprised a public school took eleven-year olds to a play that features prostitution, suicide as a means of atoning for lack of mercy, and the innuendo-laced number “Master of the House.” The second is that the show must have made quite an impression on me because, although I only saw it that once, I have several vivid memories of the staging of certain scenes. The final observation, and the most noteworthy, is that it is a damn fine musical. It’s got some riveting numbers, many of them as emotionally moving as anything in the history of great musicals. Yes, it occasionally suffers from one of my biggest pet peeves about some musicals: lyrics that narrate action. But as in the great tradition of opera, Les Miserables is a sung-through show with hardly any spoken dialogue. When it’s on point, however, as in the songs that focus on the expression of deep emotion, it is thrilling and moving.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie Review

Beasts of the Southern Wild got a great deal of attention last year, from its Sundance Festival premiere in January through its national release to talk of possible Oscar nominations including Best Picture. I think a lot of it has to do with the type of production it is and less to do with the whimsical fantasy elements and completely adorable young actress who stars. It was written, produced and directed outside the studio system with a cast comprised entirely of non-professional actors. Plus the film is made to feel unlike any other film you’re likely to have seen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Everything I've seen in the second half of 2012

Here's a list of every movie I watched in the second half of 2012. You can click here for the first half.

Combining the whole year I saw 211 feature length films. Of those, I wrote and posted 172 reviews. Because I posted reviews in January for movies watched last December, and also reviews for some short films, my total reviews posted for the year is 178.

I saw 64 films in the cinema during the calendar year. 124 of the feature films I watched in 2012 were films I'd never seen before, which means I do a lot of repeat viewing.

I haven't written reviews for 27 of the films I saw this year, a high number considering my goal with this blog was to write reviews for every movie I watch, be it old or new. Of course I took the month of August off the Internet and decided that any movies I watched during that time (with the exception of movies for my October Horror-fest) would not be reviewed. I've also watched the entire Up documentary series, which is 7 films) with no intention of reviewing them individually. And I still ambitiously expect to write reviews for 8 of the most recent films I've watched without reviewing.

Here's the list along with the dates I watched them and the format I saw it in. An asterisk indicates a movie I'd seen before.