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Let Me In (2010)
Earnest, yet incredibly mediocre
Watching Let Me In was difficult, because I wanted to be as objective as possible about the film as it stands alone, yet the comparisons to the stellar Let The Right One In are inevitable. In every way I can think of, this film comes up short in that comparison. But that doesn't mean this film is necessarily bad. It is, however, not great.
The thing about it that I really don't understand is why Matt Reeves wanted to remake it at all. I cannot think of what the audience for this film possibly is. People who are watching it simply because they liked LROI (where I fall) will be intrigued but likely disappointed, and people who responded to the completely misleading advertising for it will almost undoubtedly experience a range of emotion somewhere between disappointed and furious. The story is slow, its about loneliness and friendship and coming of age in a soft, touching, weird (and even violent) sort of way. It's really a simple character study and, at least in today's zeitgeist, is the antithesis of typical 'scary' movies like saw or Halloween. If I had to pick only one word to describe it, it would be 'subtle'. And Let Me In is anything but subtle, which is why it just completely doesn't work.
One of the most atrocious examples of this lack of subtlety and what made me want to bang my head against the chair by the end of the film was the absolutely HORRIBLE score. Honestly, it alone was more than capable of making sure I would never watch this film again. Michael Giacchino apparently wrote the score for LOST which I rarely watched, though I've heard it was very fitting. Here, its like being hit over the head with a hammer while someone tells you its a wet noodle. To be completely fair, in some of its softer moments it feels appropriate but they are far and few between. Its ironic then that LROI barely had much of a score at all, which worked fantastically.
The kids do alright here, in what are really pretty challenging roles. Chloe to me (especially at the start of the film) felt like she was forcing it a bit. I felt myself watching her act, instead of really believing her performance. Again, it really does illustrate just how fantastic the child actors were in LROI.
The film looks great, some fairly cheesy CGI aside. The hospital scene also looked a bit more campy than anything, and the choice to really go all out with Abby's vampirism felt a little jarring and again not super appropriate to the story, but its a choice that really doesn't make much difference.
Ultimately, while Matt Reeves obviously was trying to stay close to the tone and feel of the source material, and I commend this effort (less the awful score), this film was disappointing, and while I fully admit that I possess some biases that simply cannot be fully overcome, I would be surprised if the average film goer felt any different. 5/10
Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Gondry does not disappoint
I went into this expecting something far different than the product delivered. This is no doubt due to the incessant trailers hawking jack black, and that seemed to promise a thorough comedy. This is not, in fact, what this film is. Walking out of my first viewing I could tell that I enjoyed it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. A second viewing helped matters appreciably. It's a relatively unique film in that the plot isn't particularly important, it simply stands as a testament to nostalgia, and the creative impulses we all have, and the celebration and encouragement of them. It's positively quaint at times (and at moments, overly so; a lot of Danny Glover's scenes didn't do a whole lot for me) but overall it's a film that truly leaves you with a positive feeling (an expression that seems to fit the theme). There are moments of comedy (and JB does supply most of them) but he is well restrained for the most part. The display of creativity is perhaps the most striking, as Gondry comes up with some incredibly super lo-fi techniques to recreate amazingly well some of the most famous movie scenes of the last few decades. Gondry remains a director to watch closely, as his films rarely disappoint (though they certainly not for everyone).
The Dark Knight (2008)
Flawed, but absolutely entertaining
This is a deeply flawed movie. Let us open with that, and get it out of the way. The fanboyism and rampant insanity that led it to be ranked #1 for a time has died down a bit, and it has fallen to #4 at the moment. This is still absurd. If anyone here thinks this is the 4th best movie they have ever seen, they need a serious lesson in what great film is. Nevertheless. This film is solid. Going into it, the buzz over Heath's performance was what really buoyed it, and surprisingly he did not disappoint. I honestly believe that, at present time, he deserves a best supporting actor nomination. His performance was epic and tremendous, and a testament to Ledger's skill as an actor. The script by the Nolan bros. also deserves credit here. But it is not without debits as well. The movie open sluggishly, and the ending positively reeks of melodrama. Morgan Freeman is here simply to fulfill contractual obligations. There are a plethora of plot holes easily overlooked by the casual observer. and at the end of the day, this is fine. the film works well as an action movie, and even as a moderate character study. But it aims incredibly high, and though it at times soars, it ultimately falls a bit flat, regardless of whatever hype it has built up. Ledger is undoubtedly an "unstoppable force", but this film is hardly an "immovable object." B-.
A unique experience, emphasis on experience
Magnolia is definitely a polarizing film. Weighing in at over three hours, it isn't for the timid of spirit, and certainly isn't for the impatient. It is essentially a character study, and an incredibly ambitious one at that. We follow a cast of upwards of ten characters as they simply live their lives over the course of a day. But the characters here are certainly varied and, for the most part, highly watchable. Two of our very best character actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman and William H. Macy, deliver excellent performances, the latter most especially as a boy prodigy gone wrong. This is paralleled by a current boy prodigy on the same game show that Macy won on, who is afraid of becoming something similar to Macy's character, said show's host is dying of cancer in a manner similar to the show's producer....and so on. The gimmick that magnolia wields is the sometimes incredulous convergence of chance. It's incredibly intriguing introduction sets the tone perfectly, as it describes three extremely improbable events (which seem real, and I had assumed they were until checking on them), and the film wraps up in the same theme with the oft mentioned "scene" (so called to avoid spoilers). Ebert described it as such: "All of these threads converge, in one way or another, upon an event there is no way for the audience to anticipate. This event is not "cheating," as some critics have argued, because the prologue fully prepares the way for it, as do some subtle references to Exodus. It works like the hand of God, reminding us of the absurdity of daring to plan. And yet plan we must, because we are human, and because sometimes our plans work out." The "event" for me, was certainly unexpected (and undoubtedly memorable), but didn't serve to elevate the events of the film into the same area as the events described in the introduction. What was more striking was the emotion constantly experienced between the characters, and by the characters. William H. Macy is brilliant and pathetic as someone who had such a bright future, but ended up lost and lonely, to the extent that he believes wearing braces could turn his love life around. Tom Cruise is unexpectedly stellar, and his interaction with his father was powerful stuff. Jason Robards' speech about his life's regret stuck with me the moment he finished it. John C. Reilly is perhaps the standout star, playing a simple, utterly boring man, who accidentally, more than anything, affects one of the characters in a way that would seem almost impossible at the start of the film. It is all this, the constant experiences we go through with these characters over the course of the film, that are the real meat of it. The "event", as the character Stanley put it, is just "something that happens." That being said, the film is not perfect. Watching it, one gets the sense that it is somehow flawed, but in a way that one can't quite put their finger on. Julianne Moore's character could potentially have been completely jettisoned. A bit more of it could possibly have hit the cutting room floor, but even at three hours plus, it never truly feels like it is dragging on. Credit Anderson's vision for this. He has created something broad and sweeping, and while it doesn't really have anything important to say, the experience it delivers is at the worst hard to look away from, and at its best enthralling. Perhaps the worst that can be said about it, is that it plays to a very small audience. Whether or not this is actually a debit could very well be debated, but regardless it seems true. I would recommend the film with some slight hesitations. It is definitely challenging fare, but for those willing to brave the journey, it is rather rewarding.
Saw III (2006)
seriously? seriously???? Can anyone actually have enjoyed this absolute abomination of a film? I thought the first saw was DECENT at best, with acting that rivaled the best 9th grade media productions, but this is just embarrassing. It plays like it was edited by a rabid 10th grader on crack. And after two prior films that have proved they can make money, it still looks like it was made for about seven dollars. The "plot twists"...are you serious? It calls for a complete suspension of reason, and then tries to act like it's morally and intellectually superior to every other horror film ever made. The sophomore philosophy major college dropouts who wrote this should be banned from making a film ever again. I found myself looking around the room for ANYTHING to distract me from how god awful this movie was. Stay far, far away. Really, though, when our taste has fallen so far that even when we seek cheap, easy thrills we turn to such dryvel as this...what hope is there?
sneak peek early screen
I attended an early screening 1/10/08 at Michigan State University. I've spoilerized in case anyone doesn't want to know anything about the film, but I will try to stay away from anything that'll be too overt.
Simply put, the film is an amazingly visceral experience. It's studio logo, production logo, film. No credits whatsoever, which just adds to the overall immediacy of it. If you've been following it to any degree whatsoever, you know that it's shot entirely with hand-held cameras. The characters also run. A lot. So immediately, I think this will be a love hate experience. My own reaction to it was that it again, added to the immersion, and I didn't find it to be really distracting at all. Many people I saw it with said they couldn't even watch the screen at times, so buyer beware. It also will anger those who need all the details, and need to have every loose end tied up (or even a majority of them). The entire film is the tape found after the events of the film are over. That's it. There is no set up, and no hold-your-hand-for-you resolution (or really, much of one at all). It's unconventional, and I enjoyed the ending TREMENDOUSLY. I definitely have to applaud the decision to not simply make a cookie cutter action film that is easy to watch. I think it will be interesting to watch how it does at the box office though.
After that...I feel like there isn't much that can be said about the acting, and that should be a credit to it. It absolutely feels like you are experiencing this with the characters, who feel more or less exactly like real people. After leaving the theater I was on edge for a good deal of time, as I tried to shake that level of immersion. The film is also surprisingly humorous, and I would say that our crowd laughed more than they screamed (although the screams were definitely there).
Cloverfield definitely will not be everybody's cup of tea, but if you're already excited about it, I have no doubt that you'll be satisfied. It was a relatively unique experience, and again I want to applaud the decision to make it in that manner.
Definitely recommended: 8/10
a smart, believable little film
Having just seen this film Christmas eve, to what I thought was a surprisingly packed theatre, I feel quite satisfied. I had heard some mixed chatter heading in, although it was mostly positive, and the film did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed the intro, but after the credits I felt that it did lag for about 15 minutes. A few of the initial exchanges between juno and her friend felt strange and forced, but overall it laid a solid groundwork for introducing us to Ellen Page's Juno. And it must be said that Ellen Page is excellent. I had only seen her briefly in the throwaway X3 previously, and she thoroughly impressed me here. Her performance is certainly what anchors the film. This isn't a typical "teen" movie, nothing over the top happens, it isn't absolutely riotous (though it is quite funny). It is, if nothing else, very real. And this all centers on Page's utter believability. She is witty and confident and quirky and unique, but also acts very much her age, and is vulnerable as well.
The other standout performance is the always excellent Jason Bateman. He certainly has a feel for comedy, but he plays it rather understated here to great effect. The subtlety of his reactions both around his wife, and then the effect Juno has on him, were impressive. I was certainly hoping to see him and Micheal Cera together in a scene once again, but was left disappointed.
I would definitely recommend this film. It is being compared to Garden State and Little Miss Sunshine by many people, and I would have to agree that all three films possess at least some of the same characteristics. Jason Reitman has gone 2 for 2, having followed up the effective Thank You For Smoking, with this excellent sophomore effort. It's definitely worth checking out, especially when confronted with the relatively terrible film selection at present.
shades of greatness
I really wish that this series hadn't flamed out the way that it did. I really wish that the writing staff could have kept the show interesting and not felt forced to dip into the familiar bag full of the same old stuff. I really wish that the season finale would not have SUCKED! The pilot was phenomenal (and has one of the most intriguing 5 minute hooks I've ever seen in a pilot), the second and third episodes were solid and seem to set the series up for greatness, but after that, it was a slow descent into mediocrity. The flashback episode flirted with greatness, but the false tension strung out of what became of the Dani California storyline (and the sheer incredulity of what Mia attempted in the later episodes) felt like it just cheapened the show. And did we really have to tie EVERYTHING up in the least interesting way possible? I just felt extremely disappointed after the final credits rolled.
The show has been renewed for a second season, so we will see how it turns out. Duchovny definitely has solid comedic chops and I really have no complaint with him. Natasha McElhone is gorgeous and is equally effective here on the small screen as she is on the large. Madeline Zima won't particularly impress you with her acting, especially after the first episode, but she makes that in other ways (see: punching). Newcomer Madeline Martin brings what I thought was a strange, and unexpected style to the show, but her work here is admirable. Again, my fault isn't with the cast, but rather with the way the writing degenerated. By all means check out the pilot if you haven't, but don't be surprised if the following episodes don't quite live up to your expectations.
what is going on here
Seriously, I don't understand how Justin Long is becoming increasingly popular. He either has the best agent in Hollywood, or recently sold his soul to Satan. He is almost unbearable to watch on screen, he has little to no charisma, and terrible comedic timing. The only film that he has attempted to anchor that I've remotely enjoyed was Waiting... and that is almost solely because I've worked in a restaurant. But I digress. Aside from it's terrible lead, this film has loads of other debits. I understand that it's supposed to be a cheap popcorn comedy, but that doesn't mean that it has to completely insult our intelligence, and have writing so incredibly hackneyed that it borders on offensive. Lewis Black's considerable talent is wasted here too, as he is at his most incendiary when he is unrestrained, which the PG-13 rating certainly won't allow. The film's sole bright spot was Jonah Hill (who will look almost unrecognizable to fans of the recent Superbad due to the amount of weight he lost in the interim). His one liners were funny on occasion, but were certainly not enough to make this anywhere close to bearable. If you just want to completely turn your brain off (or better yet, don't have one) then maybe you'd enjoy this, but I can't recommend it at all.
Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)
OK really now
The leprechaun series is well....for the lack of a better word, insane. What you get out of it depends strongly on your state of mind (and consciousness) at the time, but the series definitely has its strong and weak points, and it will differ depending on who you talk to. Personally, I think Leprechaun 5: IN THE HOOD is absolutely unbearable.
But IN SPACE, is an absolute B-movie gem. Sticking it out through some hyper-marine dialog in the first 5 minutes rewards you with the ultra hot Dr....whatever her name is (honestly, does it really matter?), a fatal boner (with accompanying hilarious dialog), the absolutely ridiculous half/machine German doctor, and the most mind-boggling, jaw-dropping use of nudity I have ever seen. If you have a couple hours to kill on a lazy Sunday, this one is definitely worth seeking out, as long as you have some good friends nearby to laugh along with.
The Fountain (2006)
A moving treatise on life and death
Aronofsky's thoughts on the nature of life and death certainly do not disappoint. I'm shocked, however, that the studio chose to release this film on thanksgiving weekend to little fanfare, where it will almost certainly get slaughtered. At any rate, the film is great and flirts with being tremendous. Matthew Libatique's cinematography never fails to be anything less than breathtaking, and it certainly is here. There are striking, majestic images, and the film truly does look amazing. The film uses silence to great effect, but when Clint Mansell's score does show up, it is fitting and powerful as well. Jackman's performance I thought was strong, and is certainly light years away from his turn as Wolverine in X-men. After seeing the film I can't really imagine Brad Pitt playing this part, as he was originally intended to. That being said, this certainly isn't a movie for everyone, and is probably less accessible than either Pi or Requiem. For those who might not quite "get it", the following is my interpretation of the film, with **SPOILERS**.
The film's theme, at it's very heart, is that holding desperately onto life can lead only to death, while accepting death as a form of life and creation, can make life come alive. There are three story lines, the only one that may really be "real" is the one in the present, but it doesn't matter much as they all end up saying the same thing. In the present, Jackman's wife Izzy has brain cancer and is on her way out, and he is a doctor studying cancer treatments, desperately trying to find one that will save her. All through their interaction in the present, he is obsessed with holding onto her, with finding a way to make her live. He ignores things that she says in conversation, focusing only on the things that he think may allow her to live. He is absolutely terrified about her impending doom. At one point while he is in a hospital room with her, he even exclaims "I just want to be with you!" and her reply to this is "You ARE with me, right now!" But his obsession with finding some way to prolong her life blinds him to most everything else (one notable scene illustrating this is when he walks down the road to a completely silent audio track, even as ambulances drive by with sirens flashing), even to his remaining time with her. What leads to his eventual liberation is what Izzy found so fascinating, and even wrote her story on, the Mayan mythology. Their creation story contains the "first man" who sacrificed himself in order to create the world. It is a common theme throughout all mythology across all cultures, life out of death. There cannot be life without death. We come from the earth, our bodies are built out of it, and when we die we return to it so that new forms can be created. Stars are formed from accumulations of gases and dust, and when they explode with unbelievable grandeur, they spew these components out into the void, where they will form new stars. Izzy was able to find peace in this notion, that her life and death were part of the great mystery of life, and she was able to identify with this great cosmic energy that pervades everything. Jackman's character cannot accept this, and he decries death as a disease, which he will work to cure. But in the end, this is fruitless. Man cannot live forever, and what's more, even if it WERE possible, it would serve only to rob life of its meaning. He realizes this, as in the final chapter of Izzy's book, he has the conquistador taste the sap of the tree, and he then immediately returns to the earth. In this sense he can "live forever", but not in the way that he had hoped as his consciousness perishes. In the future (which to me seemed like a generalization of the present storyline, i.e. the tree of life dying wasn't JUST Izzy dying, but represented life in general) the Jackman character laughs when, after the tree has died, he realizes that he too will finally perish. As the star explodes, we see him rise upwards, identifying with the fact that he will die, and thus transcending it, even AS he dies. And the tree of life blooms, again, life out of death. I would like to quote one of my friends who I think summed the concept up brilliantly: "these things point the way to reveling in and revering the passions we experience in life. In the spirit of these revels, we are engaged, connected, conscious, and wholly (and holy-ly) participating in the moment rather than scheming on how we can prolong, guard, or perpetually keep the moment, all for ourselves (eternal exclusivity being the province of ego), never allowing change to transmute these pinnacles of human-ness we are fortunate enough to find ourselves experiencing. In the words of another wise teacher, "Love is the middle way between attachment and detachment." If we are living from, in, and with love, where will we find the need to hold on, to form an attachment, when we are surrounded, enveloped, and fully part of an energy that is exponentially more powerful?" and thus, why should we be afraid of death. This is why Jackman goes back, and chooses to spend time with his wife, choosing to life his life NOW. This is, in the end, all that we can do, and by recognizing that we WILL die, and identifying with that, EVERY moment that we DO have, necessarily becomes so important, becomes truly alive.
Definitely check this film out, and if you enjoy it, spread the word. Pi and Requiem signaled the arrival of a major talent in Aronofsky, but after The Fountain I positively cannot wait to see what he does next.
The D rock forever
I am a HUGE D fan, and have been since the original sketches aired on HBO. If you haven't seen those, go right now and pick up a copy of The Complete Masterworks by Tenacious D, which also has an amazing live show on it, and as a package is pretty much worth 4 times what you pay for it. That aside, I was stoked to see that this movie was finally being released, and lo and behold at Michigan State they held a free sneak peek, which I just returned from. Overall, it was a bit uneven, but still rocked pretty hard. The cameos by Stiller and Robbins were both great, and Dave Grohl as Satan was awesome. A few of the shots are set up exactly like shots in the original sketches, and fans of the original will constantly be going "ah!". I was particularly pleased that they brought back the nightclub host, and Lee. The songs were pretty sweet as well, though you only get abridged versions of many of them and I am still waiting to hear the full album. From what I've just heard from the film, they aren't nearly as good as the original batch though (and the history of tenacious d, an old song, makes a couple of appearances). Jack Black is kinetic and basically lights up the screen, this has always been true and is never more true then when he has KG at his side. They definitely put on a great show here, and it's well worth your time to check out, and if you're a D fan then you really have no choice. As long as you're not easily offended, it's impossible to not love the D. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics aside, its clear they really do have an amazing love for rock, and they are more than capable of convincing anyone of it (and giving you a rockin good time along the way).
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
Nothing particular novel, but just barely enjoyable enough
The DVD case reads that by taking the best parts of Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects, you end up with Lucky Number Slevin. Rather, LNS wishes that it had the natural assurance of either of these films, but instead ends up feeling slightly forced. The twist wasn't particularly surprising nor very clever or well crafted and its explanation drove on. It was fun to see Morgan Freeman playing a character on the darker side, but the only performance that really stood out for me was Lucy Liu's effortless turn (perhaps because I had just recently watched her completely stoic in Kill Bill vol 1) as the girl next door. There are comparisons made constantly to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is a far superior film, and I would urge you to check that film out if you enjoyed this one. Both films possess a sort of sheen and a je ne sais quoi sense of "coolness", but Kiss' script is far wittier and its performances overall much stronger. In short, this is worth a rent perhaps, but don't expect too much.
The pilot sucked me in, and from then on, I was in love with this world that Joss Whedon has created. This is not sci-fi in the vein of Star Trek, which is more concerned with the monster of the week, and developing a mythology, and the thrill of exploring space (perhaps trekkies would debate me on that, but that's how I always saw it at least). Joss Whedon has said before in interviews that his shows are often about finding and creating family. And this is what this show does so well, at its core. It's a character study, set against an epic backdrop. And oh, the characters. the level of interaction and development is phenomenal, mal's tortured past, the conflict between him and Inarra, Kaylee's pleasant, good-natured soul, and most especially the gradual transformation of River over the course of the series, are all complex, dynamic, and REAL representations of people.
The show is at it's absolute best when the crew is all eating dinner together in the kitchen, laughing and joking. Or when they are on an exotic planet together and are drinking and singing under the stars. The sense of camaraderie and closeness that is generated is sometimes staggering. And the show is drop dead hilarious at times as well. Some of the humor is on the darker side (most notably a tear-inducing scene in the pilot), but it never feels too forced and adds to the overall flow of things. There are definitely one or two episodes that don't quite measure up to the rest, but as a whole it is a series that I would absolutely have sold my kidney to keep on the air. It did see something of a resurrection in the film "Serenity" which is phenomenal as well (definitely watch the TV series before checking it out, if at all possible). I could go on and on, but I'm going to go watch Jaynestown instead. Do yourself a HUGE favor and check this series out. Even if you have never been a fan of sci-fi I can almost GUARANTEE that you will fall in love with it, it's absolutely phenomenal, and i cannot wait to see what Joss Whedon does next.
Arrested Development (2003)
You've doubtless heard fans rave and rave about this show, and may have even checked it out. The camp is sharply divided, people either absolutely love it, or tend to just "not get it." In that sense it may not be for everyone (great television, and great art in general, rarely is), and to each his own. But after watching each season multiple times, I can easily say that it is the funniest show that I have ever seen by an ENORMOUS margin. Even after many repeat viewings, I still end up in tears all the time.
DVD treats this series well simply because it suits itself to rapid digestion (and after getting hooked, you won't be able to get up). The writers include many, many running gags that persist through entire seasons, or even the entire series ("I've made a huge mistake." "Her?"). The entire cast is extremely WELL cast and everyone's comedic timing is spot on. The real stars are David Cross as Tobias, and Will Arnett as GOB. Their physical comedy is drop dead hilarious as well. But Jessica Walters and Jeffrey Tambor are phenomenal, the former most especially in the third season.
As others have stated there is no laugh track and this is part of what throws some of the "we don't get it" camp off. The humor is very fast paced as well, and many of the biggest laughs are very subtle physical comedy, or a line of dialog that is dropped in the midst of a conversation. Some of the music that was written for the show is absolutely hilarious as well, especially the song that plays often when George Micheal is put in an awkward (sexual) situation ("whatcha trying to say to me??").
Start with season 1, give it 4 episodes (go through at least the episode "key decisions" which I believe is ep 4). If you're not hooked, or at least intrigued by then, its likely you wont be at all. But if you're like me, and MANY others, you'll find that you've just stumbled upon one of the greatest shows ever made. VERY highly recommended. 10/10