I don’t like horror movies. I wanted to get that out of the way because “The Cabin in the Woods” is (mostly) a horror movie, even if it’s not a particularly terrifying one, and I think how you feel about a movie like this might depend on your particular feelings w/r/t the genre. Continue reading
“Bad Teacher” isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not a very good one. More than anything else, it’s lazy. Continue reading
I tend to judge movies based on my expectations. This is unfair, I realize, because my expectations are mainly created and cultivated by countless factors irrespective of the actual intent and content of the movie itself. But I visit a lot of movie sites and I read a lot of movie news and I generally consider myself very well-informed about new movies (it is the only arena of life where I consider myself well-informed), and anyway everybody views movies w/r/t their expectations, don’t they? If a marketing campaign convinces you some horror flick is going to be the scariest thing on the planet, and if you show up and it’s roughly as scary as “Babe: Pig in the City” (which is to say dark but not scary, unless you are a young child or afraid of pigs or something), you are going to be let down. If you know nothing about a movie and wander into a screening of that very same movie, you might enjoy it for what it is rather than what it isn’t.
This is all a roundabout way of saying I really enjoyed ”X-Men: First Class,” and while I was not expecting to despise it (I am a fan of comic book movies and, in particular, the comic books upon which this film is based, so I was predisposed to at least enjoy it on some level), I was not expecting to like it quite as much as I did. Continue reading
Two very different movies opened in theaters last weekend: A medieval stoner comedy, if you can believe such a thing exists, and an action-thriller about a teenage girl who is also a killing machine.
“Sometimes, children are bad people, too.”
This movie was an absolute gem. I don’t want to spoil much, but the basic story is this: Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenager being raised in seclusion by her father (Eric Bana). He is training her to be an assassin and teaching her about an entire world she has not experienced (she has lived in the wilderness, with only her father, for her entire life). A CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett wants to capture them. Hanna goes into the real world, and the chase begins.
I wasn’t really looking forward to this movie, which is not to say I was dreading it or anything like that. Rather, there were just a lot of other movies that seemed more appealing to me and, had I compiled a list of “Must-See Movies in 2011,” this would likely not have cracked the top 30 films. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect two reasons: (1) Joe Wright’s three prior movies (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” and “The Soloist”) didn’t suggest somebody who was a natural fit for this kind of movie. He seemed to be more focused on the capital-P Prestige movies, the ones that let actors and scene designers compete for awards. And (2) the trailers, while nicely cut and everything, simply made it look like another movie about a young female killing machine. Going from “Kick-Ass” and “Let Me In” to this and onto “The Hunger Games,” it just seemed like an odd little sub-genre exploiting the inherent dissonance found when an innocent young girl likes to brutally assault people. That’s fine, if you like that, but it didn’t really rev my engine. But I saw it, almost on a lark, almost out of absence of much else that looked particularly interesting at that particular moment in time.
And “Hanna” is phenomenal. I strenuously recommend this movie. If you were not thinking of seeing it (and, as I’ve explained, neither was I), trust me, it’s terrific. The only downside to recommending it so strongly is that you might sit down with some kind of raised expectations, rather than the blank slate I brought to this movie (I knew the actors were going to be good and the trailer was interesting, and I knew the basic premise, and that was it), but that doesn’t matter because it will live up to that kind of hype.
It’s a really remarkable little film, somehow fusing the action-thriller framework with dark fairy tale underpinnings and winding up with a relentless yet precise piece of filmmaking. Things never stop moving forward, yet at no point do they rush through any development nor take any narrative shortcut. It’s a movie with well-developed characters, and rather amazingly for the thriller genre, the titular star is a young woman who is never required to be an object of sexual objectification. She’s simply a person, and the movie around her matches that mature nature of storytelling. A lot of credit has to be given to Wright, his cinematographer and his choreographers. Wright inventively captures the fight and chase sequences, giving us thrilling moments that are entirely navigable; unlike so many action movies these days, which rely too heavily on quick cuts and shakey-cam footage to make things look intense but really seem disjointed and incomprehensible, this movie’s action sequences have something approaching visual poetry. Wright has said he looked to dance to inspire his action scenes, and it shows, because these things are choreographed in such a pitch-perfect way that you can feel the focus that went into making every action and reaction seem real and visceral. He avoids cutting whenever possible, giving us lengthy takes that help give the film a more realistic feel. There is one particular scene involving Eric Bana moving through an airport where I watched, waiting for the cut, waiting for the seamless shift to a different edit, and it never came. They simply followed the scene from the beginning, through the action and right up until this particular (and outstanding) sequence had quieted and ended.
That these things are vividly orchestrated well can be attributed, in large part, to Jeff Imada, who served as fight and stunt coordinator on this film. He also served the same role on Paul Greengrass’s two “Bourne” films, but here the editing and camerawork keep things stable as opposed to frantic. Wright’s cinematographer, Alwin Kuchler, has never made a movie with this level of action (the closest peer was Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” so, nothing similar), and this newness to the form seems to enable a fresh set of eyes documenting the proceedings.
The way Wright and Kuchler capture Hanna is illustrative of their care as well as the power of their star. Ronan moves across the screen like an animal at first, an alien unsure of her surroundings. The young actor, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in “Atonement,” is excellent as the girl who has heard of electricity and automobiles and music and all of these other modern trappings, but is experiencing them for the first time. She is framed as isolated and small, a lone figure amidst the snow or the desert or the water, and this allows the rare moments where she fills the screen to have more power. Her psychic drama playing out before us, Ronan’s face registers just enough for us to know what’s going on without ever overstepping into Ack-Ting. She’s quite excellent
The music here was perhaps the nicest surprise. The Chemical Brothers provide a score that works in perfect harmony with the action, building up to precise crescendos to match what’s on-screen while never succumbing to that overbearing DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN cannon fire that seems ubiquitous in action movies these days. I suspect somebody who is so inclined could enjoy this movie if they focused more on the aural treats than the visual cues, because the score is that fleshed out and propulsive.
The two key adults in the film, Bana and Blanchett, are as good as always. Bana has long excelled at playing the vengeful, coiled man who eyes the world in terms of wrongs that need righting, so he’s in his element here. Blanchett is reliably solid in a role that I could not stop thinking Tilda Swinton would have killed (it’s the red hair, I guess) as the brutal CIA agent on their tail, though her character never develops any additional dimensions (beyond certain implications made during the unspooling of the film’s narrative). That they are not wondrous beyond words isn’t really vital; they are every bit as good as they need to be and nothing more. But the class of actors playing these roles should give you an idea about the caliber of film here.
Really, see this movie. As soon as you can.
* * *
I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by this movie, which might be my own fault. It was never sold as anything other than a loving homage to the “Beastmaster”-esque sword-and-sorcery cheese epics of the 1980s. I was never into those types of flicks. And yet, mostly due to Danny McBride and the other people involved, after watching that initial red band trailer, I guess I just thought it would be great. It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s certainly not great.This movie is exactly what it looks like: a goofy, delightfully vulgar little romp involving witches, wizards, quests, creatures and swordplay. McBride, who co-wrote the screenplay, is clearly paying homage to those 1980s movies rather than outright spoofing them, which is a good idea in theory (because it doesn’t get bogged down in references) but not a great one in execution (because not a lot of people loved those movies).
I suspect that McBride’s comic persona is like Russell Brand’s — you love him or you hate him, because it’s hard to watch him take up this much screentime and have no opinion at all — but I think he’s just the best. Even when the movie trundles from set piece to set piece, waiting for the next joke, McBride never stops being McBride, which is tiresome if you don’t like him but enjoyable for those of us who think he’s great. There’s an attempt to thread an actual storyline through this, and most of the attempts at characterization and maturation coming from McBride’s relationship with James Franco. Franco, who is all smirks and heroic, simplistic bravado and is pretty good at those things, plays his much-more-dashing older brother. (Oh, right: In this movie, McBride and Franco are princes. McBride’s prince is a lazy stoner, Franco’s prince is a hero and enrolled in five different knight programs. Justin Theroux, who is terrific, plays a wizard who kidnaps Franco’s beloved Zooey Deschanel. They head on a quest to rescue her. Natalie Portman also shows up as the requisite tough guy.) It’s nothing approaching the relationship sketched out between Franco and Seth Rogen in 2008′s “Pineapple Express,” David Gordon Green’s last effort with these cats. (And yes, that’s the same guy who directed “All The Real Girls,” he makes movies like this now.)
Anyway, the movie itself is perfectly fine and enjoyable and everything. There are some really funny jokes (really, there are some great laughs here), some stretches where nothing happens, some inventive sequences and some very bizarre moments that will either work for you or they won’t. It’s not for everybody. It’s obviously going to enjoy a long life as a “cult comedy,” a label this thing was tagged with six months before release, living on in dorm rooms and suburban dens for eternity.
This isn’t a particularly deep movie warranting exhaustive inspection, so I will keep my thoughts relatively brief: This thing was all right. It wasn’t the best superhero movie ever, nor the funniest Seth Rogen comedy, but considering it was a bizarre attempt at fusing the two sub-genres, I think it was a success.
Rogen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Evan Goldberg, plays Britt Reid, the scion of a newspaper publisher; when his father dies, Reid decides to play hero in an attempt to do something with his life. His partner and mechanic is Kato, played by Jay Chou, who really does all of the superheroics. Christoph Waltz does his suave thing as the bad guy, Cameron Diaz plays the Token Female and Tom Wilkinson classes things up as Reid’s late father.
The director is Michel Gondry, the madcap visual genius behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep.” The superhero genre has its own requirements and inherent baggage, as does the two-guys-who-really-love-each-other Seth Rogen film. The third element of this oddball triangle is Gondry’s direction, which seems mostly restrained, but when he lets loose the film seems to come alive: witness the sped-up early scene with Reid, or the Kato-vision that allows for the film’s best action sequences, or the split-split-split screen later in the movie.
Each of these three disparate elements (the genre, Rogen and Gondry) have warranted their own films before, and combining them is a risky endeavor. I think it worked. There are some laughs, some nice visuals, Rogen and Chou are pretty solid together and I don’t think it ever became particularly boring. (To put it another way: It’s a perfectly acceptable substitute if the movie you want to see is sold out, like what happened to us. Three of the four people I was with thought it was perfectly entertaining, and was exactly what we expected. My wife thought it wasn’t funny enough to be a comedy nor action movie-y enough for a comic book movie. So she wildly disagrees with my assessment.) The superhero genre and the Rogen comedy have become, in many ways, rote and tied to a particular structure; it’s nice to see a film take both of these constraints and try to do something different.
To change things up a bit, here’s a Q&A review of the No. 1 movie in the country, “TRON: Legacy.”
Q: So what’s this all about?
The movie is “TRON: Legacy,” Disney’s new $170 million blockbuster-in-waiting. It stars Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen.
Q: How does it relate to that old movie that nobody can rent or buy?
It’s a sequel to 1982′s “TRON,” which was a financial misfire for Disney but nonetheless had an exceedingly big impact on contemporary cinema. It represented the first time CGI was extensively used in a movie, and while you could argue all day about whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s nonetheless an historic thing.
Q: So do I need to see the 1982 original to understand this one?
Oh, definitely not. I’d never seen it, if that helps, and I followed this thing fine. My knowledge of the original “TRON” is limited to what I’ve seen in the various parodies over the years. Lots of lights and grids and a guy trapped in a computer and all that.
The seventh Harry Potter book will spawn two feature films, a decision largely made for commercial reasons but realistically attributable to creative ones. The big, sprawling books have been too long, digressive and windy to properly lend themselves to the ebb and flow of the cinema. The natural result has been movies that either felt stilted in the interest of adhering to the plot (the first two films) or ones that scuttled rather important or viable bits in the interest of expediency (the sixth and most recent movie).
In halving the final book and letting it’s 759 pages play out over roughly five hrs of cinema, the filmmakers run the risk of letting their material get the best of them and again ignoring proper flow and storytelling. That’s the worst case scenario, of course. Luckily for all involved, from the studio to the filmmakers to the $800 million dollars’ worth of audience members guaranteed to attend, that’s not what happened. Rather, it is the best case scenario played out on screen: Finally given the luxury of catching their breath and letting scenes settle, everyone involved finally has the space for actual rumination. Moments that would have warranted reflection but been summarily ignored in favor of the next plot point are given their room here.
And there are many such ruminative moments. The seventh film finds Potter and friends on the run, hunting for bits of their enemy’s soul, only they don’t know where to look nor what to do when they find them. Their world is rapidly closing in on them, with the evil forces seemingly everywhere and dwindling forces for good looking to a teenager to save them.
I’ll admit the flaws up front: This is not a particularly stunning bit of storytelling, nor is every beat perfect. This is because, ultimately, it’s half a movie. The only questions worth answering are 1) Is it worth seeing on it’s own and 2) does it make you wanna see the second one, not just to see how it ends but because this one set it up? On both cases, a resounding yes.
Once you get over that it’s half a movie, you can appreciate the groundwork it’s laying while also setting up and resolving certain elements. Harry, guilt ridden and lost at the opening, reaches a more adult plateau at the end; Ron, the stalwart friend nonetheless giving up the most, has to go through his own catharsis and journey. And Hermione, as the lone competent wizard seemingly in the entire Potter universe, is the thread holding them together. She also seems the most polished of the young actors, tho all have their moments.
From the opening movie, the real treat has been watching Britain’s best and brightest march across the screen and have a ball. Some of them were subdued (the late Richard Harris), others colorful (Keneth Branagh, Emma Thompson), while others still added an air of prestige and gravitas to moments that needed it (Fiennes, Gleeson, Oldman, Thewlis and Gambon). The standout addition to the later films has been Helena Bonham Carter’s mad witch, a role she attacks with relish and with which she dominates the screen.,
But the best had been, from the first, Alan Rickman’s Snape. He is barely in this movie, so I hope you enjoy his scene. This is a side effect of following the book, of course; the entire point is to isolate Harry and his friends, which means less screentime for others so we can focus on the hero’s journey.
The journey itself is perilous, and several sequences of action and tension show how the series has grown and evolved. Some of the action here is top notch — the early scene moving Potter via broom, a mad escape from the Ministry of Magic — while other scenes, like a run through the woods, could be sharper. But moments like Ron’s fever dream, or the sequence explaining the titular Deathly Hallows (an unexpected and phenomenal visual treat), show us a franchise sure of itself enough to try and wow us and succeed.
The reason these scenes resonate so is because after all these years, we care about the characters. It’s not just about time spent. It’s about the way this series has gotten better and richer, while the young actors have all grown into their roles with an almost absurdly fitting maturity to match the story’s progress.
Yes, it ends seemingly mid scene. It feels very “Empire Strikes Back” (in addition to heaping helpings of “Lord of the Rings”), with things bleak and the fight looking lost. I like that. It sets up the final film not just as the last leg in a journey – which it is, and for which we’d still show up, excited, if that were the case — but as the exciting conclusion we need and want to see. Not just because of our investment over the yrs. But because this film sets up threads that richly warrant a conclusion to do them justice.
In that sense, it maybe feels like an extended trailer. But it’s more than that. It’s a chapter in a series that has begun to feel more cohesive, particularly in the latter films when the director didn’t change, and the episodic nature of things means it feels less unsatisfying than another film in another series might. An open-ended Batman, for instance, would feel unfulfilling. Here, knowing there’s a finite story, we know better. We know it’s about the journey right now, and leaving the end for another film helps hammer that home. Instead of focusing on wrapping things up, like other films have, it just focuses on servicing the characters. Because of that, it feels like this film has it’s own worth and value. For once in this series – for the first and only time – we can just enjoy being with our characters and enjoying their growth and progression. It’s a hell of a thing for a big franchise to pull off such a commercial move and find an artistic benefit, but they’ve done it.
Fresh off the big New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg comes the first wave of reviews for “The Social Network,” the Facebook movie that seemingly precipitated that story. And they’re quite positive!
Devin Faraci, who made CHUD the best movie news site around until he recently departed, had this to say. He calls it:
…a big, chewy movie, one that is about so many things and has so many things to say. It’s dense and deep and often delightful. It’s a great film not just about the founding of Facebook, not just about living in the modern digital age, but also about the very impetus for creativity.
He also makes the excellent point that David Fincher, an obsessively visual director, may have found the perfect creative partner in Aaron Sorkin, an obsessively verbal writer. (For perhaps the first time since they were announced for their respective gigs, I actually understand why Sorkin and Fincher were drawn to this material.)
I had high, high hopes for this movie. The trailer, set to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” was one of my favorite trailers last year. The film did not live up to that promise. It was visually engaging, filled with a series of crisp, arresting vistas. And the monsters are really works of art; the mix of puppetry and CGI (right? that’s what it is?) works wonders, giving them a tremendous presence that feels real and yet just fake enough.
But the rest of the movie is just a languid mess. The kid is as good as could be; it’s not the kid’s fault. The movie just has no story, no plot, nothing propelling it forward and only modest characterization keeping things interesting. (Yes, I liked the interplay between the monsters at times — to a point.) That the short book by Maurice Sendak did not lend itself to a feature adaptation is unsurprising. On some level, you have to give Spike Jonze credit for trying. A failed experiment, but a valiant one nonetheless.
“INCEPTION” | MOVIE REVIEW
This is going to be a short review, because even after sleeping on it I feel like I’m still processing the film. But nonetheless, some thoughts: The only question that matters is, should you see it? Yes, you undoubtedly should. I liked this movie a lot, but I did not love it. I feel like that was mostly due to my own outsized expectations; my adoration for Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” coupled with just how good this looked/how good the buzz was, put me in a place where anything less than a masterpiece would let me down. But while it didn’t necessarily meet my own expectations, it is still an absolutely fascinating, intelligent, creative, confident movie, an original work and a more rewarding piece of pop cinema than most others.
The plot, as you know, deals with Leonardo DiCaprio and a gang of dream thieves. From the trailers, buzz and reviews, you’d think this movie would be impossible to follow. In actuality, it was both complex and surprisingly straightforward; the complexity comes from tracking the rules and where people are at any given moment, which is manageable but it’s easy to get lost here or there (I did). But it is a pretty straightforward story, handled with narrative dexterity by Nolan, who as a writer/director weaves together multiple planes of reality with a touch that can be favorably compared to Kubrick. Whereas Kubrick favored the paucity of dialogue in “2001,” Nolan is creating a much more multi-tiered reality here, and he does so with gusto and verve, mixing interesting notions and ideas with absolutely energizing visuals and action sequences.
This is a movie that demands more attention than most other mainstream blockbusters. You can’t drift off during scenes, or it’ll take you a while to catch up. But it’s not an impossible movie. It’s not a riddle folding upon itself. It contemplates big ideas, but doesn’t get bogged down in them or slow the narrative to deal with them. The label of “Bond meets ‘The Matrix’” is spot on, and I’d add that Nolan’s entire oeuvre has led him to this moment. He hasn’t made a bad film yet (and the critics who savage this movie often reveal in their reviews they didn’t like some or all of his earlier movies, which makes me think they came into this ready to rip it apart), and that streak is still going. (By the way, it’s been said elsewhere, but don’t trust any critic who thinks they’ve completely figured out and can analyze the movie after one sitting. They’re quite wrong.)
It might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a masterfully put together piece of mainstream filmmaking, an intelligent, grand film masquerading as a summer blockbuster. You should see it. And, like me, you’ll probably want to go back again just to pick up everything you missed.