So I'm getting lazy...I don't want to do the genre thing. Sorry, not sorry.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Into the Woods
Million Dollar Baby
The Lost Weekend
The Road to El Dorado
The Theory of Everything
Under the Skin
Best: "Weekend" and "Tropic Thunder"
Worst: "Bridesmaids" and "Pandora's Box"
Top 10 Movies of 2014
Best Seen in 2014
So working my way through classics has given me the opportunity to see a whole lot of awesome movies. How do I pick just ten? To qualify, the film must be seen for the first time. Repeats don't count. Leggoo....
30. Body Heat (1981)
Lawrence Kasdan's directorial debut is a sexy thriller. The best of its kind.
29. Four Lions (2010)
The worst kind of comedy and the best kind of comedy. What other movie can joke about suicide bombers?
28. Incendies (2010)
A nasty war movie; but beautiful in its calmer spots.
27. No Man's Land (2001)
Another war movie, unlike any others. About the pointless system that breeds violence.
26. Videodrome (1983)
David Cronenberg with a torture meets sexual fantasy, apocalypse movie. It's just as screwed up and glorious as it sounds.
25. The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Guillermo del Toro's best movie. End of story.
24. The Big Chill (1983)
Lawrence Kasdan again with a different genre; but still original, still magnificent.
23. 8½ (1963)
Ah, Fellini. You knew it had to happen. But why so soon? Who knows? Is that a cow?
22. Vampyr (1932)
Vampire movie? Surreal death scenes? Yes please!
21. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
So what's so special about watching a woman making housework for three house plus? Well, Akerman gives her audience power of observation. It's amazing!
20. Dead Man (1995)
I'm not a big fan of Jim Jarmusch; but Johnny Depp and the insane antics of cross-dressing meeting rock-n-roll is hugely successful.
19. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Claustrophobia, governmental control, hilariously awesome. Frank Sinatra? Yeah, why not?
18. Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)
The most original WWII movie you'll see.
17. Mean Streets (1973)
Martin Scorsese's breakthrough movie is his most haunting. Religious imagery, Robert de Niro being young, and the origin of everything Scorsese.
16. High Plains Drifter (1973)
Clint Eastwood is the only one who could have turned a western into a ghost story.
15. Gallipoli (1981)
Peter Weir is a genius and his war movie makes Mel Gibson relatable and brings the tears.
14. Chungking Express (1994)
A Tarantino-like thriller/meets romance.
13. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Perhaps the movie that had the most influence on me this year; but a great documentary past that.
12. The Last Wave (1977)
Peter Weir again and with the most bizarre apocalypse movie.
11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
So it's not just because I watched this like five bazillion times this year; but I really love the quirky, self-aware, sci-fi mockery that is this movie.
10. Weekend (2011)
The most heart-breaking and romantic gay movie in a billion years.
9. City of God (2002)
Just watch it.
8. The Lives of Others (2006)
Just watch it 2.0.
7. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Romantic and reserved.
6. La Dolce Vita (1960)
Fellini again. Is that a cow?
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Wes Anderson and claymation go together like...well, Wes Anderson and claymation.
4. Paradise Now (2005)
Here we get the darkest with the antithesis to "Four Lions".
3. The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin's movie about doubt and religion...not exactly about demons.
2. Papillon (1973)
Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman being insane prisoners? Yes please!
1. All That Jazz (1979)
So Bob Fosse's scathing love/hate relationship with theater and film is far and beyond the best thing I've seen all year. And now for a musical number...
Okay, so yet again, I find that I haven't seen a lot of the movies that I wanted to...the most notable ones being "Birdman" and "Nightcrawler". Alas, some movies come and go too quickly in theaters. So without further prolonging, here are the ten best movies that I saw in 2014.
Bennett Miller's wrestling movie that has a trifecta of powerhouse performances, lead by Mark Ruffalo's understated turn. "Foxcatcher" is anti-sentimental and incredibly haunting. This is sure to earn its share of awards.
9. NYMPH( )MANIAC: VOLUME I & NYMPH( )MANIAC: VOLUME II
Though Lars von Trier tried his very, very hardest to make his movies to be the most controversial films of 2014; but it didn't really work out that way. What was left over was a very thoughtful work, however that meditated on addiction and affliction. Its ending may have been an orgy of self-indulgence; but the five hours that led up to that were filled with enough dazzling moments that it more than made up for it,
Who knew that Gareth Edwards could make such a perfect action movie? "Godzilla" manages to pay tribute to the original, while still finding ways to bring excitement and even new monsters to the serious. All roaring for the sequel!
This year's most enjoyable film, "Pride" won so many hearts over and made a story about miners and an LGBT alliance wickedly funny and deeply moving. It's a coming of age story, a banner-waving ode to modern times, and an ovation worthy flick.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
It's so much freakin' fun. Nuff said.
Xavier Dolan's newest movie is nothing if not an emotional punch to the gut. His long played themes of maternity and adolescence have finally reached their peak. It's an absorbing work; but not for the faint of heart.
A movie that was 12 years in the making, "Boyhood" is a rock-n-roll/everyday view on life. There's no climactic moment, but there doesn't need to be. Linklater proves his worth again and again with each passing scene in this movie.
Literally one of the most WTF movies in recent years, "Wetlands" charm is surprising since most of the screen time is eaten up by orally fixated horrors. Never has degradation and perversion been such a blistering masterpiece.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's best piece so far. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is perfection from its first frame to its last. You'll never have so much fun as this.
1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
It was going to take a lot to top "The Grand Budapest Hotel", but Ana Lily Amirpour's feminist vampire movie brought chills, laughs, and the giddiest sense of pure joy. Slick, hipster, and frightening. Wonderful beyond wonderful.
Under the Skin
"Ida" takes a lot of premises that could be great and mashes them into a movie that runs short of what it could have achieved while feeling slightly more than just stereotypical. So take any movie based in the aftermath of WWII and shoot it in black and white...what is it about? The Holocaust of course! I know it may seem a bit uncouth to joke about; but the lack of originality (or at least, surprise) here is so glaring that it doesn't come across as an emotional powerhouse like it could have.
Everything that director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski does is for the purpose of anti-sentimentality.
Take this for example: The story's climax comes at the very beginning when a young girl named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told that before she takes her vows and becomes a nun, she needs to visit her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). So Anna goes off to find her aunt and when she does, they have literally just met for the first time when Wanda drops the bombshell on Anna, Oh btw you're name is Ida and your Jewish. This changes literally everything about how Ida/Anna was raised. How can she now identify with something that she's had no idea about for her entire life?
Pawlikowski doesn't shoot this scene for tears and frustration, just for the maturity of subtle resignation, which is kind of cheating the viewer out of at least one tissue. Anna/Ida is such an old soul that these things don't seem to bother her; but she does say that she wants to see her parents' graves. Unfortunately, that may be a little difficult because most of the Jews in Poland during the time of the war, don't have marked graves...but they try anyway.
Wanda and Ida travel up to a little country house where supposedly Ida's parents hid during the war and Wanda starts to question the boy who owns his father's land now. They don't get the answers that they want and eventually track the old man down to a hospital where things start to become a little more clear as to why Wanda has started to become more emotionally explosive.
The only time we see an emotional rise out of Ida is when it is surrounding her religion and the implications that spin-off thereof. Because she now sits between two religions, Ida has to make a choice on which one will be the more prominent role in her life. But Catholicism is her life, what she was raised on. How can she reject that?
In all honesty, the religious struggles are not the centerpiece for Pawlikowski's movie, but the plot instead...which is a shame because it's far less interesting and less moving.
"Ida" is shot in crisp black and white with a lot of interesting camera choices. The shots will often crop a character out of the frame or focus on one part of their head instead of letting us see their full face in the frame. It's interesting and it's not distracting, so that's nice; but it hardly constitutes as anything that revolutionary.
The movie's "foreign" feel, which I am quite secure in saying has been perfected by Michael Haneke, is also the reason for its "shrug of the shoulders" narrative that almost appears to not even care about its characters.
There is an entire side-plot that surrounds Ida giving up her future vows to know what the world tastes like, even that Pawlikowski heavily implies that she might not be heterosexual—and it serves no one any good.
"Ida" does have it's great moments though and Kulesza's performance is one of them. It looks amazing, it feels pretty true to the time period, and it doesn't shout too loudly about what its next movie is going to be. Still, it feels recycled and I can't help but want something a little fresher from such a promising film.
"Ida" is good, but that's where it stops.
What is now being heralded as one of the most original horror movies of the 21st century fails to live up to its own praise. "The Babadook" is the wunderkind of 2014, breaking out from Australia and making Jennifer Kent a more noticed presence, particularly for marking the territory of the horror genre as not a boy's only club.
The movie is a character study of a mother and her son. Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are not your typical single-parent family. The husband is gone for the picture, having died on the ride in the car to the hospital when Samuel was born. Now without a partner to help her raise a troubled child, Amelia slips into some sort of rut. She can't seem to bring herself to be completely over the death of her husband; yet she can't exactly mourn day and night. Working at a nursing home, Amelia's job security isn't that great either. Basically, it's a stressful situation and it gets worse by the constant doings of Samuel.
This is a destructive little boy. He seems to be a genius with making toys for himself that can break windows or inflict the maximum amount of pain; but no matter, because it's only the repercussions of these actions that "The Badadook" really focuses on—not the fact that an extremely young child can manage to craft and perfect weapons.
It's this knack that Samuel develops that gets him into trouble. At school, a few darts aimed at the wrong places and Samuel is sent to too many detentions and the school board has "a talk" with Amelia, something that she doesn't take so well. She is convinced that Samuel is an outsider and will feel even weirder with the school's suggestion: have a one-on-one monitor help Samuel, Convinced that she's doing the best thing, she pulls Samuel out of school and searches for another one, as the anniversary of her husband's death starts to roll around again.
Troubled sleeping seems to run in the family because Samuel will often wake up in the middle of the night having nightmares. Ah, and what a lovely time is coming their way.
One night, Samuel picks the book Mister Babadook as the midnight reading of choice and it is a hell of a bad idea. This quirky looking book dissolves into a scream-fest when the titular character threatens to kill the reader. It's only a few pages long and yet the book manages to chill both Amelia and her already monster-skiddish son.
So the book goes on the top shelf and it isn't thought of again, until weird instances start occurring around the house, usually at night time. This is added onto the already straining relationship between Samuel and Amelia.
Other quick jolts of violence firmly condemn both Amelia and Samuel as the outsiders in the realm of the movie.
But wait...there's more.
As the pressure of the nighttime scares starts to get to Amelia, the power balance shifts as does the animosity.
This titular nightmarish figure appears to be haunting Samuel, but his mother is still convinced that he's playing, so she ignores it until it becomes almost irrefutable.
"The Babadook" makes the most of the littlest. The simple knocking of a door can send chills up your spine; but here's where Kent runs into an enormous problem: there is nothing new to the horror genre. By watching old silent horror flicks, Amelia is Kent's way of acknowledging this fact; but it still isn't enough to push us into the unique territory. "The Conjuring" was so self-aware and so deliciously understanding of this fact that it didn't bog the horror down or make it feel....lazy, for lack of a better word.
It's all been done before and true to the mold, Kent's movie has a horrible third act that does not satisfy in the least. As always, what it unseen is the scariest, for when the Babadook starts to reveal more and more of itself, it starts to trip and suffocate.
"The Babadook" has powerful performances that are sometimes misguided. It's scary, yet; but not scary enough.
Pardon the horrible sentiment, but sometimes the Babadook, baba-doesn't.
I should make a disclaimer: I never liked the musical. There, that's out in the open and now I can say whatever I want and you can't be all like "ah-ah-ah" because my prejudices are there for you to see.
"Into the Woods" holds no appeal to me as a broadway play because I think it's a lazy piece of "non-comformist" garbage that tries its best to be intricate and instead ends up messing with all your favorite stories and leaving you with a sour taste in your mouth. So let Rob Marshall make a movie out of that and see where that goes....okay, cool.
Now, Rob Marshall has done some great things and look no farther than "Chicago" to see his golden peak. Even "Nine" had its glorious moments; but with "Into the Woods", he tackles another sort of beast because it's another sort of musical altogether, isn't it?
For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of "Into the Woods", it's actually quite simple: assume that many "fairy tales" abide in the same universe, the same realm, and the same woods. As the amount of property shrinks, the characters get closer together and that is what gives "Into the Woods" some of its charm. Hey look, it's Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk meeting and talking. Cool!
The movie begins with many a character wishing for something more; but they don't deviate from theirstorybook scripted counterparts. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the festival and her evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) won't let her. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (a vastly under-appreciated Tracey Ullman) are trying to sell their cow so that they have money to eat. Then there's a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want a child but they don't realize that they've been cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep). So they are given an opportunity at the beginning of the movie: collect a lot of random ingredients that will assemble the different tales into a movie gumbo and then bring them back to the witch for a baby-making-curse-breaking stew. Needed: one blood-red cape, hair the color of corn, a shoe of gold, and a cow the color of milk. With three nights to do it, the baker sets off into the woods and tries to start collecting the items as soon as possible.
It's clear from both the stage play and the movie that the most important story arc is that of the baker and his wife. Everything that they do is vastly more important that the rest of the characters. The witch is your plot device, showing up whenever anything runs into a hitch and explaining what happens to the rest of the clueless characters and sometimes to the audience.
So let's go and set up these tales and see how they all play-out. Cool, right?
Hmmm, maybe for you.
Besides the problem that I have with the premise of the movie itself, the music is another issue. Everyone here is a good singer, with minor exceptions; but the actual songs are not catchy enough to be singable and not screechy enough to be haunting. They can't really be hummed or sang without that "broadway" feeling of "oh god, I've fallen asleep and now I'm stuck in Seth MacFarlane's fantasies". The one-note played again and again thing might have worked in third-grade; but it doesn't work for me. Sorry.
The minor characters start to be introduced and we start to see the complexities that tumble out thereof. We have two princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) who turns out to be the baker's sister, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and the big bad wolf (oh look it's that guy who's still riding off the fame of dressing up and being fanciful....er, I mean Johnny Depp).
Now let's add singing....*groan*.
By now you're probably thinking that all I have to say about the movie is just to tear apart the mere concept of it, and why not? That's fun. But there is more to it. "Into the Woods" has a stagey feeling, and not in a good way. It looks like it was shot on a set in a Hollywood studio garage with a few fake trees, some boulders, and a bag of leaves. The reason that "Les Misérables worked so well is that Tom Hooper understood that he couldn't confine his story to literally one set. We get it, it's in the freakin' woods! Move on!
All hail Meryl Streep! Okay, there I've said it, now I can keep going...
Besides the funny-meets-horror feeling of the movie that so inappropriately that juggles the viewer from laughing to puking and back without the blink of an eye, "Into the Woods'" dramatic shift comes far too late in the movie and by then, I didn't care.
When the inside of a stomach looks like three sheets and the woods quantifies as a bunch of leaves with a few rocks, I think you may have a serious production value issue. The costumes also suffer from this. The wolf looks comically stupid with a fake tail and a bunch of ill-placed whiskers and voila you have a high-school musical...which is what this felt like all along.
But then there's the CGI which swoops in and reminds us about how amazing it is to have practical effects.
"Into the Woods" sometimes feels like a movie in which everyone tries their hardest to be as British as possible because somehow fairy tales and singing sound better in the UK. It also tries to make sure that we understand that people screaming is unpleasant, so they do that as often and as loud as possible.
In its best moments, "Into the Woods" feels like a tapestry, woven together and spiraling back on itself; but those are few and far between.
The acting is good, mostly. Anna Kendrick has done better work and Lilla Crawford is given the thankless job of being the most annoying character in the history of cinema and naturally Johnny Depp is there for no particular reason.
There are so many better musicals for you to weep over, why not go to those?
Oh, and don't be deceived with the "PG" rating, this is not a family movie, unless you want to explain cheating on your spouse, death, and sexual awakening to your kids. By all means, go ahead then.
To be fair, there's also depression and resignation, so enjoy your popcorn and beg the movie gods for Rob Marshall to go back to making "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, something you'd never thought you'd say.
Just from its title "Under the Skin" gives its movie many layers, pun intended. The film is so stretching, so confusing, and so inexplicably unsettling that for most of it you feel cocooned in the world itself. For this is no ordinary earth we see in "Under the Skin" and director Jonathan Glazer is sure to prove just that. He makes commentary on humanity and inhumanity and his film resembles a plethora of great directors including Kubrick, Roeg, Lynch, and Cronenberg; yet it is enough of itself to escape all those comparisons and be judged by itself.
The movie is a slow one, with very little action (with the exception of one or two scenes) and much implied.
An unnamed woman (Scarlett Johansson) has been walking the streets and driving the roads. The first time that we see her, she's peeling the clothes off of a dead woman and wearing them. She keeps this outfit until she can get to a mall and buy her own clothes, which remain in place for the rest of the movie, her only outfit. With bright red lipstick and tight fitting clothes, the woman starts driving, searching for men. We understand the predatory nature of these drives from the first moment because once she gets close to grabbing one (figuratively) we start to hear the dissonance from the sound editing. Random clicks and whirls and beeps and synthesizer noises berate the viewer, it's like R2-D2 is having a meltdown; but it completely works.
The indie filmmaking aspect of the movie is so in tune with the "science fiction" nature of it that it becomes its own feeling...or as Matt Zoeler Seitz calls it "an experience".
There is the alien nature of the movie, and the "not alien". It's human, it's unfortunate, and it's uncomfortable, but it's true and beautiful and sexual.
"Under the Skin" seems more than anything else like a commentary on sexual aggression, which can be seen with the way that the woman cruising the streets for man flesh. But as far as sex scenes go, for "Under the Skin" is very and sometimes violently sexual, these are the most peculiar I've seen in years. They are unforgettable and, yeah, a little claustrophobic on top of the bizarre sound editing.
The movie has almost no dialogue and the scenes that don't involve talking are often the most important in terms of narrative development. Curious, because the audience demands some sort of explanation and none is given.
The word "skin" feels like it should, confusing and metaphorical.
Here we see why Scarlett Johansson has become one of the more prominent actresses of recent years. She is amazing in a role that demands so much from so little. Her expressions seem both too empathetic and too inhuman...it's pretty amazing and wholly unassuming.
Its fault lie with its timing, which can sometimes feel boring. Long chunks of time are used for seemingly nothing, just watching ScarJo walk around and be mysterious.
Above all its complexities and the lack of narrative structure, "Under the Skin" is physically haunting.
It does creep beneath the skin.
This review contains SPOILERS!
"Pandora's Box" is one of the silent cinema age's tales of morality. It concerns a woman of loose morals, who seems to be both a prostitute and a lady. The movie's acts which rarely seem to serve any purpose other than breaking up the monotony each plow into the next one until at last the film feels both overly compressed and stretched past its breaking point.
Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the main character of "Pandora's Box", a seductress like no other. She likes in a nice loft and every man who shows his face becomes ensnared with her feminine charm and her wiles. Yet we don't see her as the villain of the movie, which is something for certain you would get in 40s films. Instead, her male counterparts are often the aggressors and we see her as the victim of many unfortunate circumstances. She is unafraid of using her sexuality to get out of a tight spot.
One of her chief clients/lovers is a prominent doctor in the town and he comes to tell her that he's breaking it off because he's getting married and the scandal would bring him under. But she flirts and dances and bats her eyes and he goes a little weak and the knees; but remains resolute, his jealousy increasing when he finds another man in her apartment.
So he goes along with his marriage; but his son Alwa (Francis Lederer) thinks that his father should marry Lulu instead.
And here is starts to get nasty....I'll condense as much as possible:
The doctor returns to Lulu and eventually marries her which only leads to his son confessing his love of Lulu to her on the night of her wedding. Jealous beyond reason, the doctor tries to kill Lulu only to find himself dead. Now Lulu is on trial for the death of her very brief husband.
The amount of plot twists that jerk you around is not even enjoyable, since the story has no real compelling atmosphere to it. Lulu isn't praised or condemned (which is fine if the story was interesting) and her surroundings keep changing from riches to rags and then eventually something far more nasty.
The end scene of "Pandora's Box" makes us scratch our heads and wonder if the whole movie was some sort of altruistic sermon on the dangers of being a promiscuous woman. It was certainly seem that way, and Lulu had it coming this whole time...that's what I don't appreciate.
As the movie starts to increase its drama steam, we get more and more ridiculous circumstances that range all the way out to the flat-out bizarre. It makes no sense and the way it hinges makes me believe that the writers and director G. W. Pabst just wanted to stretch his movie out as long as possible without losing everything in it.
Characters are introduced too suddenly, scene changes skip over months, and eventually I stopped caring about the entire mess.
It's a silent scream, but hey, maybe you like that kind of thing.
Think back to the last film of real controversy that came out. For me it would have to be either "Blue is the Warmest Color" or "Zero Dark Thirty"...nothing else really compares with the backlash those two films (both great films, mind you) faced. Now place yourself in the 40s, when censorship was bearing down on filmmakers and studios and then observe the potent power of "The Lost Weekend" which is nothing short of a horror movie. It takes a tender subject: alcoholism, and transforms it into an Academy Award winning tour de force in which everything is inverted and Ray Milland gives a brave performance.
The movie unashamedly classifies our hero, Don Birnam (Milland) as an alcoholic within the first few seconds of the film. He stands in his bedroom, packing his suitcase under the careful eye of his brother while a bottle of liquor hangs outside his window. It's all he can think about.
His brother Wick (Phillip Terry) knows about Don's struggle with booze and he's planned a long weekend away from the city to clear Don's mind. It's a forced rehabilitation of sorts...yeah, he's pretty oblivious to the liquor hanging just outside the window. Eventually, Wick finds the bottle and Don's nonchalant acting caves in on him: he has a problem but it's his problem and he doesn't want any help from anybody.
But his girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman) is one of the biggest reasons that Don hasn't drunk himself into a stupor quite yet. Her unconditional love is almost too good to be true, which of course makes Don even more depressed since he's the one who is holding Helen back from "greater things".
Stereotypically, Don is a writer who is haunted by the ghost of his next work. Having wrestled with alcoholism for several years, he wants to write a novel called The Bottle in which he recounts the various instances that sink under the skin of an alcoholic that the average passerby might not realize.
There is this deadly gossip to "The Lost Weekend", one of the reasons that Don is so hesitant to stick his face into public and an even larger reason as to why he starts drinking as soon as he does.
After much protesting and evading, Don manages to slip away from Helen and Wick and he goes to the bar with some money that he steals from his brother. At the bar he downs shot after shot while continuously telling the bar tender that he could quit at any time, it's just the knowledge that he could have booze in case he needed it that makes him comforted. The bar tender is not so sure about Don's hypothesis and tells the man that he doubts he'll ever quit or he'll ever write his book.
There are a few side stories to "The Lost Weekend" that don't really serve but to draw out the length of the movie. At less than two hours, the movie has probably twenty minutes that could easily be shed from its running time.
Essentially, "The Lost Weekend" boils down to vignettes of Don drinking and the various unspeakable horrors that the liquor does to his mind and his friends.
By the end of the movie, we are convinced that Don has a serious problem and the solution of the movie is far too campy and preachy to really do anyone any good. But keep in mind that this was long before the time of movies that actually inspired challenging ideals about controversial issues. Even "Citizen Kane" with its "naturalistic detachment" fails to make anything so spectacularly poignant as a moral lesson.
"The Lost Weekend" tries to do this and for that, it is commendable; and it is a remarkable piece of film. Its look has barely aged even though its story might have. The glamour of the silver screen is evident in every scene, even if the source material is more than a little sappy.
You might be blindsided by the power of this piece or the sentiments it contains; but "The Lost Weekend" proves its status even on the first watch.
This review contains SPOILERS!
All hail Quentin Tarantino!
Oh sorry...that was the opening for another review. Or was it?
If you look up anything about "Amores Perros" our dear friend Quentin Tarantino pops up time and time again and maybe that's because the story telling structure that the movie has so closely something like "Pulp Fiction" where multiple stories converge and time is displaced without care.
Car wrecks, broken legs, missing dogs, dog fights, stolen money—it sounds like it should be a crime movie; but separating itself into three parts, the movie's running time exhausts its novelty and its story.
The title translating to "Love's a Bitch" kind of gives you a clue of where director Alejandro González Iñárritu is coming from. It's a story devoid of sentimentality that tries its best to succeed on just its narrative value and after two hours of going nowhere, it's less enjoyable to feel the wheels churning underneath your feet.
"Amores Perros" begins with the showcasing of dog fighting. If you are an animal lover or squeamish in any way, these scenes will make or break you, not because they are exceedingly violent; but because the film manages to convince you of its animal brutality. Similar to a film like "Sátántangó", "Amores Perros" is seamless in its violence; but that's not necessarily what's supposed to make the movie glorious. Unlike Tarantino (you'll find a lot of cross-referncing in this review), Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn't seem to relish in the violence and it certainly doesn't contain it just for aesthetic pleasure.
There are three distinct story lines:
The first one contains Octavio (Gael García Bernal) and Susana (Vanessa Bauche). Susana is married to Octavio's brother, Ramiro (Marco Pérez) and they have a child together, but everything isn't hunky dory. He's fairly abusive and extremely jealous, even though he is the one who's seen cheating. Octavio obviously has feelings for Susana; but he doesn't have the means to care for a wife and a baby so he does nothing...until a stroke of ill-fated, violent luck falls into Octavio's hand.
The head honcho dude in dog fighting, Jarocho (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), is nothing short of a psychopath. He enjoys sicking his dog on random street creatures so that he can get his fill of bloodlust. But one days things don't go according to plan: Octavio/Ramiro's dog Cofi wanders out and into the sight of Jarocho who tries to let his dog kill Cofi...it doesn't work out and Cofi breaks the dog's neck and returns home. Now with a potential prize fighter on their hands, Octavio decides that dog fighting might be the way to go.
The second story line involves a cheating husband and his mistress. Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) has a wife and two daughters and it seems like the hyper-domesticated, normal life is quite boring to him because he slips into another cliche: the straying husband; but not with just any woman, with a supermodel named Valeria (Goya Toledo). After a period of time, Daniel leaves his wife and moves in with this woman...but we all know that an affair is different than living together, or at least, that's what Iñárritu is telling us. They begin to fracture apart and soon everything little thing because a huge deal until they wake up in the middle of the night having shouting fights. It's spectacularly melodramatic and never enjoyable to see.
The last storyline is the most ethereal of them all, the one that tries to make some vast point about humanity; but it doesn't seem to work on the level that it should. El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría) is a homeless man with a troubled past who occasionally works as an assassin. He totes around a posse of pooches and seems to have some higher knowledge; but he's also struggling with the realization that his wife has just died and his daughter has never known him.
So in essence, Tarantino wouldn't care about the things this movie does and the only resemblances are the story telling technique (which wasn't solely Tarantino's to begin with) and the occasional spurt of violence.
"Amores Perros" is at times, incredibly watchable, and others it remains tedious.
It's the kind of movie that tries to examine every possible niche of a society and tell us something about humanity: it fails on "ever present" spectrum and it also fails to deliver a meaning to it all. This would be fine if the stories didn't become so muddied over time.
Quentin Tarantino's debut feature film is nothing short of masterfully gritty and surprisingly realized for such a young man. I know the stigma is that young directors and writers have less talent or less experience to draw from therefor their films (or frankly other works of art) are "less". People like Tarantino blast away that stigma with the calm fortitude of blood of guns, and he's never been more enjoyable to watch than here.
"Reservoir Dogs" proves many things about the director: he has a love affair with film (the movie practically stinks of it, not that that's a bad thing), he is not afraid of killing, he is anti-sentimental, and he has a deep fascination with story-telling and how that relates to chronological order. Tarantino would go on to proves all these over again with "Pulp Fiction" which, until recently, was his only film to win an Oscar ("Django Unchained" nabbed him another one, both for screenwriting interestingly enough).
The movie begins at a restaurant where a table full of hired guns are having a calm conversation about tipping and "Like A Virgin". Tarantino's flair for dialogue shows up in his first scene in which he himself acts. It seems like as the movie goes on, Tarantino places more and more faith into his actors and eventually evaporates himself out of the film. Or maybe he's just a big movie nerd...who knows?
For someone who describes himself in uncomplicated fashions as a comic-book geek, it's curious to see how ruthless Tarantino gets with "Reservoir Dogs" which sometimes resembles more of a run-of-the-mill thriller and crime drama than anything else.
After the dinner scene we flash forward to "after the job" time and something has gone incredibly wrong. One of the guys has been shot and is bleeding heavily from his gut, one of them has already revealed his identity, and one of them is sure that the team was set up by an insider...there's a rat among them.
The team was hired by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to take out a shipment of diamonds coming to a small store. The cuts were nice and the danger seemed almost non-existent, so what's there to lose? Well, there are a few lives, maybe a few limbs, maybe even an ear or two.
Given code names, the team knows nothing about each other to ensure the others' safety just in case. Joe is a man who likes to keep his butt covered. Also in the butt-covering business is Joe's son, Nice Guy Eddy (Chris Penn) who vouches for his father at all times and is seen as the "spoiled kid" at other times. We're not sure whether to hate him or not; but then again, that's the reaction we have towards most of these guys. Most of them don't seem like terrible people out of the gate, Tarantino uses the foundation of a few characters to make sure whether we hate someone or not. It's quite clever.
"Reservoir Dogs" resembles a stage play more than anything else that Tarantino has done. It takes place mostly in one warehouse, where the remaining team are waiting for orders and others after the debacle. Then we randomly have flashbacks leading up to all the men's presence or demise.
Mr. White (Harvey Kietel) is the most seasoned of all of the men. He is the maverick here and he has known Joe for the longest. Then there's Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) whose nervous antics and ramblings about professionalism set Mr. White's teeth (and ours) on edge. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is the unfortunate receiver of a bullet to the gut and he can't manage to get anything out of his mouth without screaming and eventually passing out. Without medical attention, he will be dead soon.
Lastly in order of importance, there's Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) who is several times called a "sociopath". His "are you going to bark all day, little doggie?" taunting does nothing to help the already tense situation.
Ultimately, it's a mystery, a thriller, but also a character piece. Tarantino has been the target of criticism for developing "caricatures" of people; but that's not necessarily true or relevant here. If these are exponentially exaggerated versions of people (which I don't think they are), "Reservoir Dogs" would still succeed massively because it's entertaining, gripping, and just full of enough violence to make you wince. It's bloody fantastic.
It's impossible to criticize the cultural landslide effect that "M*A*S*H" had on and after its release. Based on the book by Richard Hooker, this screwball-comedy-meets-political-commentary surrounds the doings of a Korean War field hospital. Inspiring one of the most successful and popular television series to date, "M*A*S*H" is one of Robert Altman's highest achievements of film.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the director's other work includes "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" because based on visual style alone, you could make the comparison, and I did...pleasantly surprised, I might add (oh god, self-aggrandizing is the worst...contradictory on top of everything else). The low-light, nitty-gritty and sexualized overtones of the film fall right into Altman's wheelhouse though with "M*A*S*H" he finds himself at the helm of a much more controversial vehicle than even a movie about whores.
"M*A*S*H" begins as Captain Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) gets transferred to his new station along with Captain Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt). The two stop and eat lunch after pissing several men off and start flirting with the lieutenants.
At one point a character states: "I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps!" The response: "He was drafted." This sums up the entire philosophy of the movie. There is no reverence for any for of hierarchy whatsoever and you'll be hard pressed to find a moment in "M*A*S*H" that isn't rife with political incorrectness. Still, the movie's irreverence is for a purpose and its humor pokes through all the dreadful and sometimes wince-worthy jokes...most of which are played out at the expense of a woman.
Altman's movie isn't strictly misogynistic, but it definitely is flirting with the definition of it. Here's why that's forgivable: the woman who is targeted the movie, cheaply named "Hot Lips" after a night of passion is broadcasted to a group of men who hate her, is the system of bureaucracy defined. She embodies it, and that's why all the men hate her. She likes to do things by the book and finds companionship and the same mind in Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall). These two elitists try to bring down the reign of fun and game in the field hospital and for that, they get mercilessly targeted.
"M*A*S*H" knows how to play with the ridiculous without seeming too far gone. Not many other movies could find humor in a situation in which a man who had erectile problems once, now convinced that he is a latent homosexual, plans on killing himself. That's a bit dark, even by today's "Family Guy" standard. Or how about a bet the men have on whether or not Hot Lips' natural hair color is blonde? Yeah, that scene is pretty insensitive to all parties included.
But the point of "M*A*S*H" is to see the war, the effort, and the hierarchy as a cosmic joke. It's laughably inept and gloriously faulted, that's what Altman is saying at least; and it says something for the audience of the time to respond so warmly to what could have been a grotesque failure of the cinema.
"M*A*S*H" not only went as far as the public wanted it to go, it went farther and it mocked what other movies were not willing to mock. That is why it has been immortalized and that is why it is classically great.
But more than just the sum of all its ideas, "M*A*S*H" is wickedly funny and sometimes just wicked, but enjoyable nonetheless. It proves a point about humor, about war, and about military. You may disagree with its ideas, but you can't disagree with the movie.
"Tropic Thunder" is the comedy that every other movie has been trying to recreate for the last five years. It's the smartest comedy I've seen in a long time and it just as funny as it should be. The movie obviously draws its inspiration from the debacle of making "Apocalypse Now" but it goes much further than that and, to borrow a word from the more modern world, it's quite "meta". This self-referential, explosive fest of laughs and gore does nothing but leave the mark very high for any movie to follow, comedy or not.
At its beginning, "Tropic Thunder" plays like a movie about a movie about a book about a situation...but that's not quite it. Because it's a movie about the making of the movie of the book of the...you know, nevermind, it doesn't matter.
Tropic Thunder was a best belling book about the Vietnam War told by Four Leaf Tayback—and is being made into a movie. "Tropic Thunder" is the movie about the making of the movie of the book. God, this is getting difficult. It actually makes a lot of sense when you watch the movie.
A big name studio has purchased the rights to the book and have hired a first time director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to direct a lot of huge stars with big egos, a job which is just as hard as it sounds. Critics' darling Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the head honcho of acting here, the one who spouts the most "mumbo-jumbo" about the art of being someone else. Against him we have the man playing Four Leaf Tayback in the movie trying to be made, Tugg Speedman.
Let's put it this way:
"Tropic Thunder" is like a documentary about the gnarled up making of "Tropic Thunder". We watch the actors try to make a drama, with all the behind the scenes goodies you could ask for. Anyways, continuing...
Trying to break the mold of a stereotype and type-casted action star, Tugg (Ben Stiller) is trying to elate himself to the source material and please his agent (Matthew McConaughey). Frankly, there are so many jabs towards war movies inside "Tropic Thunder" that you may think twice when you see "Saving Private Ryan" or "Apocalypse Now".
Shooting on location in the Vietnam jungles, "Tropic Thunder's" production is placed in halt when the studio executive, Les Grossman (Tom Hanks) learns of a 4 million dollar screw up. He tells Damien to get his ducks in a row, or else.
The real life Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) is on set and offers some advice to the new director: make your actors really feel like they're living in the Vietnam War. Take them away from their fancy massages, their televisions, and their assistants and give them a real taste of the war.
It's kind of like "The Hunger Games" except actually enjoyable.
So Damien, Four Leaf, and the explosion special effects guy (Danny McBride), take the actors off into the forest and leave them there with some handy dandy explosions ready to stir the emotion. What they don't realize is that they've flown into the territory where actual guerrilla warfare seems to be happening. That's what first impressions tell us anyway.
In essence, they've dropped our boys into an actual threatening situation with no way out except "finish the movie".
The other actors include an Eddie Murphy type, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a newbie Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), and an advertising junkie, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) who is always hawking his own product: Booty Juice. As if this weren't enough, Kirk Lazarus has undergone "pigment surgery" to turn him into an African American soldier.
This movie seems primed to offend; but it doesn't, or at least it didn't to me.
"Tropic Thunder" is so glorious in its best moments and never, ever dull. It's so smart, so wickedly clever, and full of so many funny scenes that you'll think that you've imagined it up. Ben Stiller directed and helped write this scathing commentary on Hollywood and the award generating machine.
From its simple fart jokes to the more obscene comments, insinuating on the levels of mental handicap that an actor should play that will win him an Oscar—"Tropic Thunder" is so audacious to be brilliant and so self-aware to be unnaturally smart.
It is a boy's movie, and why shouldn't it be? It's glorious.
Andrew Haigh's "Weekend", not to be confused with the Jean-Luc Godard film of the same name, is one of the most innovative movies in recent years. Not by any stretch of filmmaking in its more technical sense is "Weekend" beyond its cohorts, but it's because Haigh relishes in the simplicity of his story. He never seeks to push the gay agenda and he never forces opinions down his throat and for that, "Weekend" appears to have almost the same magical caliber that "Before Sunrise" did.
It's a horrible movie, a beautiful movie, something so close to perfect that it literally makes me hurt. It's a nightmare and exceedingly heartbreaking, but it's also filled with moments of uncontainable joy.
Much like what its title would imply, "Weekend" takes place over a weekend, two days and some change.
Russell (Tom Cullen) is at his friends' house. They smoke some weed, drink some booze, and he goes home early, claiming that he has to get up for work. On the way back to his flat, he stops off at a gay bar and drinks some more. The way the film is edited suggests that he is there for a few more hours and we get the idea that he may not be that comfortable with sharing his "gay life" with his friends, even though he may be out to them.
At the bar, Russell makes eye contact with Glen (Chris New) and tries to pursue him; but things get in his way and he ends up making out with another guy.
The next morning, we are shown that he and Glen actually did manage to go home together and Russell, the more romantic appearing of the two, fixes them breakfast.
Glen pulls out a tape recorder and demands that Russell spill every secret of the previous night. What did he think of the sex? What did he not like of the sex? Was he insecure about his body? Did he not like Glen's body?
Russell is very uncomfortable with these questions but plays along with Glen, who claims that it is all for an "art project". And then after the tape recorder gets cut off, there is some sparse conversation about being gay and whatnot and then the two awkwardly shake hands in a hall way and they part ways.
This is more than your typical one-night stand though and Russell can't shake Glen off his mind so he texts him and suddenly the two meet up again. What Haigh manages to do almost perfectly is to unite the chemistry of Chris New and Tom Cullen, bottle that up, and serve it to his eager audience. These two are so good together (not to say that they constitute a "cute couple" because the movie is far more realistic than that) and nearly every scene contains them both, which is to say, the acting is almost unparalleled and it gives rise to the wonder of the indie flick.
It seems like there could be nothing better between these two until Glen decides to come clean: he's leaving at the end of the weekend for America and he won't be back for two years, if at all.
How do you deal with that knowledge, particularly when you're falling in love with someone?
The result is an often harsh, rough, uncompromisingly romantic, and bitterly sweet film that delves into all sorts of nuances that range from the heteronormativity of the media to the expression of affection to the social resignation of coming out of the closet.
For me one of the key moments in the film comes at the end of a highly intellectual, emotionally devastating, boozed and stoned conversation in which Russell brings up happiness. He wants a relationship in his life and he's wondering what Glen has against the prospect (the scene isn't played out as Russell asking Glen to be his boyfriend, in fact the conversation is mainly hypothetical...mainly) of having a boyfriend. Glen is a little hostile and asks Russell bluntly, "Are you happy?" The response: "I'm fine."
What "Weekend" manages to do is render the horrid notion of spending your life alone into something that glimpses the "perfection" of the heteronormative marriage. It's not surprise to know that Andrew Haigh would go on to develop the TV series "Looking" which focuses on a group of men searching desperately for love.
With "Weekend", which is not only beautifully shot and acted, but also filled with the same intense passion we see on screen, Haigh pulls this dreary realism into a light which is both unpleasant to see and impossible to tear your eyes away from.
The film goes by in the blink of an eye, and yet you may find yourself never wanting to see it again and not being able to stop thinking about it. It is poetic.
Maybe it lacks the puffy sentimentality that we would expect from a picture that carries such emotional weight; but it doesn't delve into such nonsenses and this is its strength. We all put on brave faces when we're hurting. We all smile and say "I'm fine" and yet that isn't the case. "Weekend" exposes that, but it doesn't have an answer, nor should it. It's primary interest is its story, and what a beautiful, tragic story it is.
I don't know, I guess I expected something progressive...
I'm late to the game on this one, I'll admit it. "Bridesmaids'" popularity came and went a long time ago, but it still remains culturally relevant, considering that anything Paul Feig now touches is billed as "from the director of 'Bridesmaids'". So I went into it with the accolades in mind: two Academy Awards nominations, the praise of critics for finally making a raunchy girl movie, the equality we've been waiting for. Maybe that was a mistake, maybe having the thoughts of others pounding in my head was not the right way to watch this movie, because it was anything but all of those things.
"Bridesmaids" is a ghastly insight into how women are portrayed in the media. Not only does it not serve as a reminder that this is a male dominated industry; but it also just goes to prove that not ever good idea can be funny or inventive.
So take a group of women, or one woman in particular, who's down on her luck. Now, in any romantic comedy, she would be saved by a man in her situation. Finding true love will alleviate all her worries and stresses. Thank god that we've come so far as to place all those ridiculous behind...oh wait, nevermind.
Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig, also the co-writer), is a woman whose life seems to be going nowhere fast. She is the casual sex buddy of Ted (Jon Hamm), but that relationship is killing her, because—like all women—all she really wants is someone to talk to and be romantic with in every sense of the word. Annie used to own a cake and pastry shop, but that got closed down due to lack of business. Now she spends her time working at a jewelry shop, dolling out horrible advice to couples who want to get married. Unable to control her own personal problems because of her "female emotions", Annie just spills out on the verge of tears many times at her job. She is in a constant state of depression throughout the movie. Wow, that's funny and cheery. Let's laugh at a mid-life crisis. Um, no thank you.
Annie's best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces one day that she's going to get married. Oh, married? Ugh, this ruins everything. But wait, the drama isn't over yet. Lillian asks Annie to be her maid of honor and to make her dream wedding come true. That's a lot of responsibility for a woman who doesn't even have enough money to pay her rent; but Annie accepts gladly.
Lillian is marrying into some serious wealth and at a party for the soon to be newlyweds, Annie gets to meet the other bridesmaids. There's Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Becca (Ellie Kemper), Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and Helen (Rose Byrne)—they make up future sister-in-laws, cousins, childhood friends, and the wives of business partners. Helen is the bitch among them, at least that's how Annie sees it. This perfectly beautiful woman who has her head full of air starts vying with Annie over the "best friend" label and instead of doing what any sane person would do in these moments, the female antagonism gets too much for Annie and she starts committing outbursts which are the movie's "funny moments".
Seriously though, what horrible person thought that watching a down-on-your luck loser who only wants a genuine relationship with her friends get beaten around verbally and physically eventually losing her cool and exploding in tantrums would be enjoyable to watch was seriously misguided. Ah, but there's the pooping in the sink scene. Really? That's how you justify this movie, with poop jokes?
I find "Bridesmaids" nothing short of repulsive in its implications and deadly dull in its humor.
The group of maids continue and Annie keeps falling into this cyclical nature of being a loser. She gets pulled over by a friendly cop, who eventually lets her go because of her cakes (there's no innuendo there).
But wait, let's examine the other pieces of the puzzle. Besides Megan who is the funniest part of the movie, purposely so, the maids are a group of bitchy women who only find solace in drinks and superficiality. One of them is a mother of three boys who tells the conservative one she should cheat on her husband a little.
In essence it boils down to women vs women. Helen vs Annie.
It's this simple concept that I just can't get into no matter what. Helen is so overtly evil and Annie is so depressingly sad. It's pathetic.
I just can't even describe what the movie does that makes it so incredibly awful. I find myself enraged at it.
If this is the new wave of "women's humor" count me out.
Michael Mann's "Heat" or as I like to call it "Stupid Women Who Can't Cope With Emotions or Logic and Enjoy Abusive Relationships" is nothing if not one of the quintessential crime movies ever made and this proves a point. The movie is glorious, beautiful, thrilling...it's pretty wonderful; but it doesn't try to stretch the genre and so it makes itself a very easy success without trying to rectify wrongs that need rectifying. That being said, Michael Mann shouldn't be held accountable for all the sins of the crime nenoir thriller, nor should he have the responsibility. It's just interesting how he navigates the tropes, and they are just as offensive as they always were; but that is very forgivable since "Heat" isn't an anomaly in this respect. Hell, we even see these same themes in a recent movie like "Drive".
But maybe that was too much too soon.
"Heat" works because Dante Spinotti is behind the camera. Los Angeles has never looked more beautifully bleak as it does here. The noir style is so tangible, so wonderfully present that the daunting running time of "Heat" flies by simply by how the film looks.
The movie's plot is fairly simple, even for its more complex and thrilling moments: good guy vs bad guy. Thief vs cop.
Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is one of the best in the business, the business of crime. It's not that he enjoys stealing money or holding people up at gunpoint, it's just what he's best at. He's a very logical man. Why mess with something that's already working?
Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles police, the antithesis to Neil. The two don't start out with knowledge of the other. This doesn't begin like "The Fugitive". Instead, they are fairly oblivious to each other, which makes the movie more interesting.
Neil holds up an armored car and takes a million dollars worth of bonds but something goes wrong. One of the guys on the team, Waingro (Kevin Gage) has a few screws loose and starts killing people. That wasn't part of the plan; but Neil is used to improvising, but make no mistake that this will not be forgotten or forgiven.
The rest of the crime team is rounded out by only one other unstable man, Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) who likes to gamble his shares away and has a wife a kid dependent on him. There is a lot of Scorsese-esque scenes in which the woman is verbally smacked around and she takes it because...hey, abuse is cool. I'm not saying that these situations don't exist; but it doesn't serve any purpose in the plot besides making the viewer uncomfortable and furthering the stereotypes that we should be glad to get rid of. Okay, off my soap box.
After the first robbery, we start down a domino path of pursuing the bad guys and not knowing that we are being pursued. The film rightly never takes a side, so you kind of want both Vincent and Neil to win. They are both "good people" in a sense.
Vincent struggles with his marriage and the mental problems of his house, particularly his step-daughted (played by a very young Natalie Portman). While Neil wonders how he manages to be so lonely, he's having a crisis of life.
So we see these two men with their struggles and it's hard to pick a side, so don't.
"Heat" feels a lot like "Se7en" does, it is a story; but it is also a city. The movie encompasses this grand feeling of being everywhere. It's a bird's eye view of the hotels and the alleys. No nook or cranny is overlooked.
It would only be the hands of a true master who could pull this off. Michael Mann proves his sheer brilliance in this piece, which captures the gritty emotions of noir and provides a standard candle for us to measure thrillers with for the next few years. This movie inspires the sleek flawlessness of "Inception", the gritty noir of "Se7en", the crime of "The Dark Knight", and it is paired with "The Usual Suspects" as one of the more daunting films to take on.
Good versus evil fades for the last act of the movie. We just see two men trying to do what they do. It's about the routines.
"Heat" is a knock-out, even for its genre sins. It's wonderfully morose, horribly entertaining, and gripping in every scene.
"The Theory of Everything" is a cosmic movie...not because it's really good; but because it literally is as comic as its subject likes to think. For undertaking to study such a life like Stephen Hawking, one would think that there would be this balance between the man's grandiose theories of existence itself and then the humanizing aspect, played out easily for drama-ready audiences in the form of a disease. Yet here is the problem: even the film manages to mark a balance between the work and the man himself, the filmmakers are more interested in Stephen's wife than Stephen. Okay fine, I could go with that. You want to make a movie about the true nature of love and how it can overcome many obstacles...great. but there's still not enough here to make "The Theory of Everything" anything less than slightly uncomfortable with moments of great acting.
It's in the first few frames of the movie that we see Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) meet. They are at a "science party" and their eyes meet across the room, Stephen awkwardly introduces himself and the rest is a brief history of love and marriage.
The best moments in the film come in the first third, when Stephen is at Cambridge studying for his PhD and starting to show symptoms of his disease, ALS. This is just the prime rib of drama waiting to happen. A man with a brilliant mind trapped by his own body, what more could you want? Oh, a love story? You want a love story? Well, guess what? You get that too! It's like drama heaven!
But the story doesn't end there...it's not even close to being finished there.
While studying at Cambridge, Stephen cannot decide what he wants to do his doctorate program on until he comes down with this motor neuron disease. Time! That's what he wants more of and that's what he'll do his program on.
Aided by one professor in particular (played by David Thewlis as the stereotypical "helpful professor type") Stephen writes his proposal and gets his doctorate quickly. The science involved in "The Theory of Everything" is actually quite interesting. While the movie is not that keen on knowing ever facet of Hawking's theories, they throw little tidbits of truth to the viewer in the form of references to UV radiation, the comic microwave background, quarks, and the like. It's not anything revolutionary; but it certainly is enough to make us realize that this wasn't some script that didn't bother putting any effort into its research. Some effort was better than none.
Yet this still isn't what the movie is about and as Stephen's condition worsens and Jane remains resolutely determined to care for him, we see the shift take place. Stephen disappears from our story as soon as he starts to lose the ability of speech, speaking in mumbles. The amount of time the screen gives him without the presence of Jane is minimal. She takes the spotlight, this is her story now. This makes sense considering that "The Theory of Everything" is based on the book by Jane Hawking and not A Brief History of Time.
We get it, Jane has struggles. The potential for tears and string-pulling music is very high here but director James Marsh (who won an Oscar for "Man on Wire") takes a very odd approach. At times, he's the sentimentality king and at other times, he doesn't choose to place that dollop of feelings that we need. What comes across is a risky movie about a life that deserves to be immortalized.
However, we already have that immortalization. "A Brief History of Time" by Errol Morris served as that, so why do we need this film? The only possible answer is that this film is for the wife and for the love story.
Eddie Redmayne here is tremendous, if a bit abused by both the script and the directing. Once he starts to lose his motor abilities, he kind of becomes a set piece for the drama surrounding his wife and her...ahem...needs. Yeah, that's right. *wince*
Jonathan (Charlie Cox) is a choir director at the church that Jane attends and he starts to become involved with the family as he cares for Stephen and helps Jane out with the children.
Amidst the struggle for emotion versus realism on the screen there is this great "God vs science" theme that continues throughout the movie that can be seen embodied in Stephen and Jane. They are at odds with each other over this fact and the movie blows this aside for more tasty drama prospects.
The film takes large risks, so it's hard to be anything but impressed with it...and yet it is nothing if not terrible trite and ordinary so it's hard to be anything but upset with it. "The Theory of Everything" lacks Morris' ability to combine both the research and the man.
The one actor who really shines in this movie because of their treatment and their performance is Maxine Peake as Elaine Mason, a speech therapist who enters near the end of the move; but shines in every single scene.
So what makes "The Theory of Everything" both splendid and uncomfortable? It's because it tries to be daring, while playing it safe...it drives to make an unconventional story using the most conventional techniques we have seen.
It's drama, it's glorious, and at times it heaves along like an exhausted freight train, slowly barreling from one scene to the next.
A brainchild of Sacha Baron Cohen, "Brüno" tries to recreate the effect that "Borat" had, except this time for the gays. Don't try to make the mistake that the movie is mocking the stereotypes of a genre, because it's really not and for all its highly offensive moments, it's only to expose bigotry that we chuckle...well, that and for the balls of Cohen (hmmm, phrasing).
Beginning in Austria, "Brüno" plays like a documentary, following an openly gay fashionista as he tries to claim eternal famehood, something that's becoming more and more hard to define and recreated. Our hero, Brüno (Cohen, obviously), begins trying to make his name big with a magazine, in which he believes that he holds the power to make something a trend or break it in its cultural footsteps. But it only tacks a few candid camera gags before Brüno is kicked off the magazine and tries to find himself fame in other places.
He decides that he'll move to America and because a celebrity. An A-listers, not a B or C-lister. But how does one just spring into the spotlight at "nineteen" years of age? Brüno thinks that maybe he should make a talk show about celebrities and then he'll ride the waves of success all the way to the bank.
Things aren't quite that easy and Brüno starts fumbling for his 'get famous quick card' which he sees in places like charity and in becoming heterosexual.
The plot isn't what we watch the movie for. The gags are. The time when Cohen pretends to perform fellatio on a ghost in the presence of a psychic...that's what we watch the movie for. As such, it is designed as an equal opportunity offender and some critics say that Cohen picks targets that are too obvious: redneck, Christians, black people. Indeed, the movie can come across as a racist, horrifying piece of nonsense pieced together at the last minute by a comedian who is trying to bottle lightning twice. To some extent they might be correct; but that doesn't stop certain moments of shock and horror from being side-splitting funny.
What really works in "Brüno" besides the outrageous and uncomfortable sense of not knowing if these people are really getting pranked or if they have had some knowledge of this beforehand, is Cohen's inability to let anything daunt him. In creating this character, he does not care how he appears, how he is talked to, or what he does in public that will bring around a laugh.
Seth MacFarlane said in an interview that almost nothing is off-limits in comedy, because even if it's a cheap laugh, it's an honest laugh. Cohen seems to agree with this to some extent, except he takes it a step further and becomes the joke that crosses "the line".
Again, don't get the idea that "Brüno" is high-brow commentary either, because it's far from it. There are moments when Cohen seems to be stretching at something, like when he tries to seduce Ron Paul to leak their sex tape...but at the close of the scene, it's all just for a laugh.
Brüno's assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) accompanies Brüno to America and is the abused sidekick in the relationship. As the movie progresses director Larry Charles and Cohen find a way to work Lutz into more of the gags.
Shocking, yes. Hilarious, yes. Offensive, double yes.
Still, beyond all its OMG moments, "Brüno" is funny, plain and simple. And that's all it was really going for, wasn't it?
To give it its full name, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is a movie mainly about the curious little corners you can find in America, and how people act in those corners when presented by a videocamera and someone claiming to be of a different culture. Somehow you begin to get faith in humanity when certain people don't immediately turn violent with some of the more horrifying gags in the movie...then again, when Sacha Baron Cohen gets up at a rodeo and proclaims that he hopes that President Bush crushes his enemies and drinks their blood and he is greeted with a thunderous applause, maybe some of that faith was misplaced.
Maybe the reason that I find "Brüno" funnier is because it has more "real life" gags in it than "Borat" which consists of more plot. Perhaps that's a good thing, but I didn't find it as funny.
Starting off in Kazakhstan, we meet Borat (Cohen) who is sent to America to make a documentary so that he can learn the ways of the USA and report it back to his country so that they can become superpowers as well. Immediately, "Borat" is an offensive piece that deals in ugly and vulgar stereotypes and it's pretty damn funny as well.
There's antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny and just plain ol' Cohen being an asshole. You shouldn't expect anything less.
After his plane lands in America, Borat accompanied by producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) travel around New York looking for ways to improve their country. In doing so, Borat meets with a group of feminists and you can probably guess how that goes over. Then, in an effort to make himself funnier, he meets with a humor coach and that goes about as well as the feminist party did.
When he is in his hotel room, Borat discovers reruns of "Baywatch" and falls head over heels in love with Pamela Anderson and he decides that he will travel to California and marry her.
Convincing his producer to do this is not so easy, so Borat lies to him and claims that this is all for the documentary. Oh yeah, and they pick up a bear along the way.
At first, "Borat" seemed like a staged nightmare with scenes back in Kazakhstan depicting such monstrosities as "the running of the Jew" in which a goblin-like creature would try to catch someone with money. Then, we the movie gets to America, we see Cohen where he really shines: in awkward and improvised situations. The "real-life" aspect of the movie can become questionable at times; but at others it simply doesn't matter because it's funny.
"Borat" starts to mock the rednecks, the "uncultured", the Christians, the conservatives, and the younger generations. One scene shows Borat getting picked up by frat boys and the result of that scene is nothing if not disturbing.
If you identify with any of those, I would suggest sticking clear of "Borat"; but my guess is also that if you do identify with those, you wouldn't be watching the movie anyway.
"Borat" is funny, but I think it could have been funnier. The whole "I must get to Pamela Anderson" thing is actually funny; but it wears off quickly. There are moments when the film drags a bit and times when the jokes could have been funnier. It's smarter than it appears for sure, but that's Cohen for you.
Larry Charles directs the movie and one wonders how present he was for the shooting...random thoughts.
Anyways..."Borat" is designed to shock you and to make you laugh and I think it succeeds on both fronts quite well.
Neill Blomkamp's splash into the limelight is perhaps the most curious anomaly in recent memory. In the year that the Academy doubled the Best Picture category nominee numbers, "District 9" found itself with four cozy nods, one for the elusive and coveted "Best Picture". When you consider that it was going up against powerhouses like "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker", it seems even odder that such a complex, frustrating, and ruthlessly visceral work could manage to float to the top.
"District 9's" complexity lies with its storytelling, and not with its metaphors. Neill Blomkamp is not one for subtlety and the workings of his alien-not-so invasion story closely mirror apartheid. It would be his next movie "Elysium" that sealed his fate as a preachy director who may have reached too far for his limitations as a screenwriter (I for one, am one of those who enjoyed "Elysium" greatly for what it was). With "District 9" however, he crafts such an explosively splendid work that most of the critical audience were left scratching their heads. Why haven't we heard of this guy before?
I would argue that most of the film's success leans heavily on Peter Jackson's money as producer; but that's another story.
"District 9" is the forerunner to "Pacific Rim", a cohort to "The Hurt Locker", and the answer to the grim realization of "Alien". It never praises its extra terrestrial creatures, never gives them a pedestal to stand on, nor does it completely ostracize the human world (though let's face it, it does everything but).
In 1982 , an alien mother ship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa and doesn't budge. There is no man in silver coming forth with a message from the stars, no menacing force that tries to thrash Earth into submission which leads to a joyous action sequence. No, there's nothing. After time, the humans decide that they will investigate and they find on the ship a race of creature that is dying, malnourished. These insect-like creatures are deemed "the Prawn" and they are brought to Earth.
It doesn't take long before the feelings of inequality start to settle in the minds of the humans. What started as a refugee camp has turned into a slum and the appearance of alien weapons prompts people to take drastic measures. They quarantine off the zone and call it district 9. No humans are supposed to travel in the zone; but there are some illegal happenings that occur within the walls that seem too trivial for the government to care.
When the movie opens, district 9 has become essentially inhospitable for human or alien life. The Prawns living there no are addicted to cat food (their drug of choice) and often result in petty thievery. They sell their weapons to a local self-appointed war-lord who gives them their cat food in return.
Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) works for Multi-National United (MNU) and he is assigned the task of relocating the aliens. He must go to the ghetto and force each being to sign a piece of paper and then the relocation to district 10 can begin. The first parts of the movie are shot in a documentary style, the film cleverly letting us know that something happened to Wikus and we are about to see the last few minutes of recorded time. Now, the film does transition out of this; but I find it rather seamless that way it comes from documentary to narrative film...that's just a personal opinion.
Wikus comes to the slums where he cross paths for a minute with an alien named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope). Christopher has been worked on a way to get back to his ship and it has taken him these 20 years to do so. On the day that he finished the last piece to the puzzle, (literally and metaphorically) Wikus comes to his door and confiscates the important piece...and from there, everything goes to hell quick.
What strikes you first about "District 9" is how flawless some of the visual effects are. Even a few years later, they still stand up, and they aren't abused too much. The aliens themselves are genuinely stunning creations of the big and small screen. It absolutely matches anything seen in "Avatar"; but we're not going to start making those comparisons now.
The second thing that strikes you is the odd feeling, the aura if you will, that the film has. It mirrors nothing made recently besides itself. There is this tangible dread, this gory beauty, and this horrible sense of stifling madness that Blomkamp manages to elicit. Add this to a stunning performance by Sharlto Copley in a really underrated role and you have the magic that makes the movie.
But Blomkamp's darker side emerges really ferociously throughout the picture and we notice how his statements start to fade into the background as his bone-crushing violence takes the stage. It's both unsettling and inspiring.
"District 9" does have issues though, and the racism is one. While crafting a story that tries to beat the idea of stereotyping killing into its audience, the movie doesn't realize the times that it does the very thing it condemns against. We still have a white male protagonist and we still have black people being viewed as witch doctors and 'tribal people'. Though these scenes are small, they do make for a hefty speed bump that Blomkamp has to vault over.
All-in-all, "District 9" is visionary if nothing else, simply by its scope and its style. The movie remains one of the better sci-fi thriller of the 21st century and is sure to be seen many more times. Attribute that to what you want, but Blomkamp's talent has to take part of the credit.