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They Came Together (2014)
A much-needed laugh-a-second pastiche of romcoms
David Wain and his well-established troupe of actor-comedians -- along with a few new brilliant featured players -- have done it again. This is not only a smartly crafted film that transcends the lazy simplicity of a prototypical parody film (it actually has a forward-moving plot and characters who develop over the course of the narrative, as opposed to just a string of jokes loosely tied together). It is also the first movie I've seen in years that left me laughing out loud at every turn.
This likely has as much to do with the high caliber of its cast as the incisive and hilarious writing that is also true to the prosaic genre it is skewering.
As much as I've enjoyed (surprisingly) some of Wain's more commercial fare of recent years, it was so refreshing to see his reliable team and him back in doing what they do best and have proved to be the unarguable masters of: Pure pastiche. It's one thing to poke fun at romcoms (especially THESE days with such predictable drivel bombarding us wherever we go). But to deftly embrace the genre and play with it WHILE also playing by the strictures of said genre is what makes Wain a true craftsman.
Unfortunately, as with The State and Stella, such comedy isn't as easily accessible and fast-food digestible as the hackneyed, broad comedy most audience members are being fooled into spending their money on today. But, it's nice to know that at least someone is out there working to make funny films for the rest of us.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Woody Allen completely redeems himself at last
Blue Jasmine is the first Woody Allen movie (aside from possibly Match Point) that I not only didn't hate, but actually loved since Sweet and Lowdown.
Allen went back to school and relearned story structure, character development and pacing. Laugh out loud funny from moment one until the end, with the best ensemble by far (they actually seemed like they were real people and not just du jour stars acting in a Woody Allen movie!).
Cate Blanchett gives the best performance of her career or anyone else's in a long time (with kudos to her obvious rubric, Judy Davis, who she channels marvelously throughout).
And Andrew Dice Clay will make you cry; so glad to see him being used in such a clever way. He deserves this.
This will absolutely sweep all awards, and for the first time in over a decade, the Allen crew will have actually earned it!! No more resting on laurels and skirting by on "Well, yeah it had some problems, but that one part was soooo funny/good ..."
Hope he stays in the U.S. Clearly it does him some much needed good after his prolonged Euro vacation.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I've heard of plot holes, but this movie is stinky Swiss cheese!
Granted, I found the first Nolan Batman to be overblown, dull, trite, and a bit silly (does Christian Bale really need to talk in the Batman voice like that? Thank goodness they made fun of that on South Park), and the second to be a bit better I suppose, but the third might be the worst of all.
And the fact that there are those claiming it was "perfection" or "flawless" must have either seen a different film than I or are taking their job in the studio's marketing dept. way too seriously (most likely the latter).
Let's forget Bale's awful voice work which has marred the entire Batman legacy throughout these three films (there continues to be one Batman and his name is Michael Keaton; I'd rue the thought of how the latter-day Burton would ruin the series further, but his initial two remain some of the last great masterpieces of commercial/studio film to be consigned to celluloid in the last era).
Why did Bane need to sound the way HE did? I tell you, I'm not expecting cogent story lines or apt character development from a film like this or from Nolan, but as soon as Bane started talking in the first two minutes of the film, my girlfriend and I turned to each other and knew right away we were in trouble.
Forgetting the fact he sounds like an arch-villain from an early 80s action cartoon (or an American Sean Connery, perhaps), whomever did the technical work on his ADR really dropped the ball. You can tell easily that his voice was incorporated into the soundtrack in a way wholly different from everyone else in the film. He sounds like he's talking in voice over the entire time. Yikes. If this movie gets nominated for Best Sound Editing, I'll know the Academy has absolutely no credence at all anymore.
Other technical and editing faults spiral throughout the film. I blame Nolan again for this, as so many of the scenes in which characters are talking to each other are clearly edited poorly. Really took me out of the film. And, again, I'm not looking for artistry in a shoot-em up comic book movie made for acne-face'd teenagers, but one would think the filmmakers would AT LEAST get the spectacle/technical aspects of the thing right. Shame. Lazy work all around.
The acting was, as usual for these films, subpar except for possibly Gary Oldman who for once didn't have a slew of cliché comic book/TV lines to spout ("Gotta get me one of THOSE!" Yich).
Then, of course, there's the many, many, many plot holes that are truly just befuddling. Namely the fact that we have an underground prison that is a central focus of the film and is supposed to be enshrouded in pure darkness, is to be "Hell on Earth," and one of the worst -- if not THEE worst -- places someone can be exiled to... and yet whenever they show the actual place, it's well-lit and the folks who "live" there seem nothing but nice, as though inhabiting a communal little village in which you have doctors and gurus and mentors helping each other out. WHY is this place a Hell on Earth that would spawn "pure evil" like Bane? I couldn't figure that one out.
(And without giving any spoilers, the way out of the place was so obvious -- even to the prisoners themselves -- that it makes one wonder why more of the prisoners don't just up and leave.)
You also have the total unreality of a booming metropolis under complete lockdown for like six months and yet everyone still somehow has electricity, water, heat, food, makeup, clean clothes, etc. and even a relatively chipper attitude throughout? I would've thought Gotham would digress into Lord of the Flies pretty quickly, but apparently everyone just stays traditionally phlegmatic in Nolan's yawningly dull cinemaverse.
(Not to mention a police force stuck underground who seem to be kinda fine with that after months of no light or clean bathroom facilities.)
Sorry, there's suspension of disbelief and then there's just bafflingly lazy writing mixed with lobotomized audience members.
As with the first Batman, I was also so incredibly bored for the first hour or so trying to stay awake for Nolan's signature needlessly convoluted, chaotically discursive, and haplessly disorganized "plot"lines that rather than being fooled like the illiterates who found this movie to somehow be better than Sunset Blvd, The Professional, or Once Upon a Time in the West according to the IMDb score they gave it, I knew -- yet again -- that Nolan is no genius but only a comic book enthusiast who thinks he's making a two-hour TV drama.
And two hours were two hours too long here. Even when the movie finally picked up with some action about halfway through (aside from the loud and obnoxious first few seconds that might as well have been one explosion before moving into the doldrums for the next interminable sixty minutes), I had trouble keeping awake, wondering how much longer this seemingly five-hour marathon would go on for.
Why didn't I leave sooner? Because $20 for an IMAX ticket is too much to step away from in this day and age and I thought MAYBE there would be some kind of pay-off in the end (there really wasn't; it goes pretty much where you think it would go).
So, in conclusion: 1) Fair to poor acting, 2) Awful sound design and voice work, 3) Shoddy/lazy technical logistics, 4) Meandering and hopelessly disorganized script -- surprise -- 5) And, sadly for an action film whose one goal is to entertain popcorn flick style, BORING.
Take Shelter (2011)
Sorry, just wasn't good
Like so many others, I saw this film for three reasons: 1) I've been a longtime Michael Shannon fan and am excited to see he's finally getting bigger roles for himself ("My Son, My Son..." being one of my favorite recent films), 2) The trailer made the film look astounding, and, of course, 3) The movie has been receiving great plaudits and reviews.
You can imagine my disappointment then when almost right away I realized what a mistake I had made in spending the $10.50 on a film that clearly wouldn't hold muster.
Almost immediately, I realized I was watching some kind of M. Night Shyamalan film at its worst (which is saying a lot). "Take Shelter" indulges in a protracted and achingly dull build tinctured by religious subtext that leads to what is inarguably a hackneyed ending with no substance. The entire film might as well have been one big "nightmare"; the ending was that cliché and obvious.
I've been particularly disappointed lately with similar films that appear to have something going for them in the trailer and concept -- "Source Code," "Inception" -- but on actual viewing, turn out to be TV show fare invoking the garden variety plots and uninteresting twists that anyone who is a reader or film fan has grown tired of being lived out over and over again in recent cinema.
I thought this movie would be calculus, but really it was just algebra... maybe basic arithmetic. And much like other contemporary films like "Donnie Darko" that have been pitched as new or even "cult classics," it's not a matter of "not getting it," it's a matter of simply having seen it too many times before.
These are not vibrant and innovative indie films; these are poorly made movies that because of budget constraints and inexperience of the writer/directors, simply look and seem bad enough to be "indie," when in fact they're no different than the crap spewed by larger studios.
I guarantee after this, we'll see the director trying his hand at a "Spider-Man" movie or "Twilight" or god-knows-what, and that'll be the last you'll see of his more "inventive" independent films...
Ultimately, "Take Shelter" is boring, pointless, and confusing/unrealistic in its character's motivations. The rigidly formulaic script seems like it was written with a chart, which wouldn't surprise me at all.
The acting is probably the only decent part of the movie, but -- again -- as the writer/director chose to marinate the project in soap opera melodrama, that too is not saying much.
If you're a fan of films like "Darko" and just can't get enough of your "Lost" or "24" box sets, maybe you'll dig this film. For everyone else, ignore the hype. This one's another sheep in wolf's clothing.
Film socialisme (2010)
Thank goodness truly provocative cinema still exists
We recently screened Godard's contentious "Film Socialisme" at a small art-house cinema in Boulder, CO where I live and I couldn't be more delighted by the response. Namely, there were many people who were infuriated about the film, leaving in droves and upset that such a film both exists and/or would be shown at said theater (the only art-house theater in the city, actually).
One patron was even angry enough to leave a note behind for the concessions stand stating that she "speaks French" and was particularly upset about the subtitles of the film. She'd probably be the kind of person to get upset about the "punctuation problems" in ee cummings' poems. And don't get her started on Andy Kaufman!
First and foremost, "Film Socialisme" is without a doubt a beautiful film. The way in which it was shot and edited is visionary, a true patchwork of modern/post-modern society/cinema today. The kind of film that -- as with the majority of Godard's ouevre -- may be ahead of its time but will certainly be enjoyed by sincere cinephiles looking for something new, bold and fresh. Beyond any sense of provocation, there were true moments of visual/audio splendor that simply cannot be seen anywhere else (by sheer merit of the fact that, yes I agree, no one else would be "allowed" to make/distribute such a film; and that in itself is important when considering whether or not you should spend the money/time on seeing it in the theater).
Clearly, the subtitles of the film -- which are minimalist and fractured (clearly intentionally) - - are a play on one of the film's many themes: the breakdown of communication and language (think Gertrude Stein texting you viz. her thoughts on modern society). That people are growing angry about the challenging and innovative way Godard has aptly chosen to play even now with the very subtitles of his film is extremely exciting. Not to mention the fact that, again, aside from the "gimmick," the subtitles become a poetic innovation unto themselves in which Godard combines words into fascinating portmanteaus that invoke clever wordplay a la some of the greater avant-garde/surrealist literature.
He has finally gone that extra distance in deconstructing every aspect of the film (including, at times, a brilliant dalliance with the audio mix that clearly has confounded viewers a la similar experiments by the likes of the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman and La Monte Young; there are moments in which you truly wonder whether or not there is an "actual" breakdown of the film being shown -- especially if you're lucky enough to see this film through digital projection; "Is there something wrong with the disc?! Oh no!!" Very exciting. Audience interaction, indeed!)
Ultimately and as per Godard's typical (?) MO, the film is a firm lashing of the perpetuated bourgeois culture (particularly in America; hence his giving us the finger for not knowing French or the many other languages interspersed throughout the polyglot film; "You don't want to learn another language? Fine. Try figuring THIS out!!")
Like Lenny Bruce and a younger John Waters, with "Film Socialisme" Godard is shaking up audience members -- particularly his "greatest fans" -- by provoking them in ways they may not be comfortable with, in ways that may simply repel them. "You want to be shocked? I'll shock you, but be prepared to be, well c'mon: shocked." We don't go to Godard films to watch a clear narrative or to understand everything that happens. It's poetry, it's visual/audio artistry, it's -- ultimately -- play and experimentation. And Godard has once again succeeded in creating something that will not allow us to remain static in our seats. If you can't handle that, he is saying as always, then feel free to leave and don't forget to ask for a refund on your way out.
The megaplex is right down the street. Or, hey, buy a copy of "Breathless" and watch a nice "really weird and wild!!!!" noir film with a plot. It's all up to you!
In the end, the film defies quotation marks. If you want "challenging," you've got plenty of it on Netflix. If you want challenging, however, see "Film Socialisme." Just don't be too upset if it... challenges you.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Stocked full of fun, a forgotten Christmas classic!
This movie is sensational!
Having originally outgrossed Nightmare on Elm Street during its first run before being yanked for being too much for persnickety parents -- take THAT, Freddy! -- Silent Night, Deadly Night is one of the many films I remember seeing posters and VHS boxes for in the ol' video store as a kid -- along with the likes of Slumber Party Massacre and Sleepaway Camp -- that made me both frightened and curious...
Growing up into an avid cinephile, I forgot my youthful memories of the films until recently when a buddy of mine who specializes in the 80s slasher/horror genre got me hooked right into the scene. I've found loads of great films that are simple, pure fun, Silent Night, Deadly Night probably being my favorite for hardcore passion and purity of vision.
No compromises here!
What's great about the film is that you don't just get some off-the-wall outrageous and wild moments of true slasher uniqueness -- images that will be indelible in your mind for the rest of your life, for sure! -- but also some circa 80s magic: everything from hair to clothes to one of the best/worst soundtracks you've ever heard (some of the songs, including one that plays over a hilarious TV-show-esque montage makes you think Trey Parker is singing with his signature sardonic crooner's drawl).
After watching a film like this, it's easy to see why well-known cineaste-filmmakers like Tarantino are so into the genre: again, the purity of vision and outright passion to put something out that is just pure entertainment, going the distance in every way without worrying about anything but constructing a commercial product that will appeal to the most base, primal sensations and overstimulate to the point of nearly being overwhelming makes for something far too rare in the rest of cinema history. Watching a movie like this is like eating a bucket full of chocolate!
This is true exploitation at its very best; it's a film that makes you feel dirty for watching it at points, and -- yes -- that you should be "punished" for watching/enjoying its splatterfest.
Give it a try...!
Unwatchable, not just because of Shia
This movie was unbelievably awful. Never thought it possible that Oliver Stone could make a film that would be across-the-board bad.
Even the music, aside from a few of the Eno/Byrne songs, was horrible; and the few "good" songs previously mentioned were used inappropriately over dialogue, etc.
Whereas the first film was about morality, truth, the human soul and actual characters, this mess is quite literally about Wall Street and the financial crisis without being humanistic at all. The verbiage is as complicated as the needlessly complex plot (just read the synopsis to get an idea of how foolishly turgid the movie is).
There should have been no sequel at all, but if one had to be made, there were a lot more options available with such an indelible and fascinating character as Gordon Gekko. A real shame. Oliver will hopefully come back strong with his next film.
The fact that Allan Loeb wrote this and Just Go With It and The Switch and still has a number of other projects in the works confirms and exacerbates my fear about the reality of Hollywood today, the choices that creative executives are making.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Not just best Toy Story, best movie of 2010
Finally saw Toy Story 3.
By far the best movie of last year, and in fact that only one I would classify as truly "great." I love the other Toy Story movies, but this was definitely the best. Not only was it laugh-out funny through a majority of it -- even within the first few scenes -- but there were moments of action and intensity unlike anything I'd ever seen in a "cartoon" before, and maybe even live-action.
It was perfect. Flawless.
And it was interesting to watch such a well-made movie... that actually made me feel good for once rather than more depressed or scared or angry!!
One of the tricks of Pixar that the few other studios competing for the same market refuse to learn is this: while talking with one of the writers of Finding Nemo way back when, I explained to him my surprise at how well the screenplay came off in the film, how funny and enjoyable I found the movie to be despite its being "for kids."
He laughed and explained to me that he and the other Pixar folks knew their kids would make them watch the DVD thousands of times... and since said kids would be happy just seeing talking fish, why not write the rest of the movie for adults? Make it something they could enjoy endlessly, too? Good point.
Check out Toy Story 3 if you haven't yet. Pixar wins (again)!!
Source Code (2011)
Boring, trite and everything mainstream cinema has been for too long
I had seen Moon and thought there was definitely something there.
As someone who grew up on sci-fi books and Twilight Zone, I was well-prepared for the story and "twist" that -- frankly -- was rather obvious and direct from the get-go. But, I love Sam Rockwell, thought he was the key to the film, and I was ready to see something from the same director. I was particularly interested to see what the kid would do with a bigger cast, more money and a larger platform.
Well, he did exactly what every other small, indie director does once he can "break out": he made a total flop of a film loosely based on ideas and stories we've seen a million times before.
Now, I didn't much care for Inception (and those who did might enjoy this film, because it's very similar, less for story -- which is comparable -- and more for tone: a heady, needlessly complicated film that puts style and pseudo-intellectual malarkey above plot and character development), and I did not see Deja Vu (which sounds very similar, especially the "eight minutes" part, if I recall from trailers).
Regardless, Source Code was no more "original" than any other large-scale movie that has come out in the last 20 years (if you think Sixth Sense -- which I actually thought was a decent film -- was "original" in its "twist" ending, then you really need to read more and/or, again, watch a few episodes of Twilight Zone). Frankly, no studio and no investor (indie or otherwise) can take a chance on a director's sophomore effort and -- essentially -- a first- time writer. Nolan got to do what he did with Inception because of the Batman franchise. Period. It's Show "Business," not a non-profit museum board. These movies have to make money, not art. It's just the way it is nowadays, especially with more and more execs fearing for their jobs.
To be blunt, I fell asleep through most of this film. Granted, it was late and I was a little tipsy from a previous dinner, but the sleep saved me from having to watch endless repetitions of the same series of sequences running with -- again -- far too little actual plot and almost no real character development.
I'm not surprised at all that this film was the writer's first theatrically released project and that his previous endeavors are straight-to-DVD Species sequels. This film was exactly the kind of project that a fellow like that has mulling around in his head -- we've seen it before, has little to no real substance, understands little of traditional plot/character development, shoddy/wooden dialogue with "hollow men" type characters who are all completely 2-D (some rather "intentionally").
And, yes, regardless of what anyone might want to say about quantum physics or whatnot, it will be as clear as day to anyone else who understands both narrative screen writing theory and Hollywood politics that very obviously there was an ending (which was neither "tragic" nor "happy," just a little more "real")... and then the studio brass probably got nervous and had one of their nephews slap on the saccharine "Everything will be fine, folks, go home and tip your waiter on the way out" tag that so many people are complaining about (even though I fell asleep, I awoke for the last 30 minutes or so, and both my friend and I were well aware that "second" ending did not belong).
I'm surprised that David Bowie's son would be involved in a mess like this (another reason I had seen the film), but -- as they say -- "even Karl Marx had to pay for his beer."
Overall, this movie has nothing to offer an educated audience nor one looking for something unique and even remotely interesting. Yes, I felt similar viz. Inception, but look what happened there. So, many I'm totally off-base.
Up to you!
Are you kidding?
There's a good reason this movie performed so poorly at the box office and that the studio itself clearly had no interest in promoting/marketing this film. Normally, I wouldn't give much credence to BO--plenty of great movies never see the light of day--but this time, popularity and quality go hand in hand.
What seemed like a great premise goes nowhere fast and turns into a mishmash of about six other films and far too many genres. You've literally got ninja warriors with alien demons along with tried and true sci-fi tropes that we've seen far too many times before. The end result isn't a psychological thriller or a complicated and taut sci-fi fantasy film, but just solid crap unworthy of even a made-for-TV-movie.
To discover that the director decided to "meld" a script he already had with the one he read by the screenwriter of this pile is not a surprise. The only surprise is that there weren't thirteen or so other scripts that were cut and pasted together to make this one a gruesome and sad reality.
The only reason I continued watching the film to the end was because I thought that maybe- -just maybe--there would be some fantastic twist or last minute revelation, and though there was a feeble attempt at such a plot turn, in the end, there's really nothing worth sitting through in Pandorum.
Don't waste your time the way I have. If you have any sense of taste or any semblance of understanding of film/sci-fi, you'll quickly be able to detect within the first five minutes of this mess that you won't need my advice. Just trust that what's bad never gets better.