Friday, November 1, 2013

Theater Interruption (Prisoners / Gravity)

Prisoners (2013)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis

"Prisoners" managed to hit a sweet spot for me that very few mystery stories accomplish. The film drops enough hints about the true nature of events that the reveals make complete sense when they happen without being too obvious early on. The acting is great all around and the atmosphere is suitably bleak through Deakins' lens. A tense experience that also manages some ethical questions. Is there such a thing as too far when it comes to trying to save your child's life? Is that line crossed here?

Score: 8 / 10

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

"Gravity" is like many other blockbusters in several respects. It is light on story, simplistic in its characterizations and fairly predictable in plot. However, it is head and shoulders above any other (non-Nolan) blockbuster in terms of execution for the better part of a decade. It is a feat of technical wizardry, an absolute masterclass in camera choreography and perfectly controlled tension - easily one of the most thrilling theater experiences that I have ever had. I'm not usually the one white-knuckled in the theater, but here... I don't often advocate for inflated ticket prices, but if you can still see it in IMAX 3D, do so.

Score: 9 / 10

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Theater Interruption (The World's End / Elysium)

The World's End (2013)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman

Wright, Pegg and Frost somehow find a way to bring their loose "trilogy" to a satisfying conclusion. The World's End, while sporting some obvious inspirations, isn't nearly as focused on referential comedy and parodies as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were. This film is much more focused on its characters and the process of "moving on," while still being extremely funny in its own right. Some might get mood whiplash from the transitions between drama and comedy, but I feel it works for the most part. I've always liked Simon Pegg, but I feel that this is by far his best character and overall performance. One pleasant surprise was how awesome the fights were - it's partially a condemnation of current films and partially a compliment to this movie's crew, but Nick Frost's brawl scenes are some of the most fun fight sequences in recent memory. Seriously great.

Score: 8 / 10

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley

The trailers promised a sci-fi film that would explore (in a one-sided sense) the timely topics of social classes, immigration, and healthcare. What was delivered was an action film with flimsy cardboard cutouts of these issues as backdrops. The story is generic, the characters are (generally) very archetypal, and the dialogue is occasionally cringe-worthy with several very awkward exposition sequences. But that fairly rickety framework is just barely enough to carry an otherwise very cool production. Blomkamp goes a touch overboard with shaky-cam in a couple of sequences, but otherwise shows a really sharp eye for this kind of film. The production design is absolutely fantastic and of particular note is the sound design, which gives a lot of weight and authenticity to the action. Most of the acting is just passable, with two exceptions to either extreme: Copley to the awesome-scenery-chewing end and Foster to the what-the-hell-was-that-hot-garbage end.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Theater Interruption (Kick-Ass 2 / You're Next)

Welcome to the newest installment in our "Summer of... Meh" series.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writers: Jeff Wadlow (screenplay), Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. (comic book)

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

It is not as good as the sequel I had hoped for, but not nearly as bad as the one that I expected, either. There's a pretty decent amount of delicious over-the-top comedy and violence on display, but it is also missing a couple key ingredients that elevated the original (at least a bit). First, you never realize how much you like Nicholas Cage until he is not there anymore. His Big Daddy character was great and far better than the kinda-sorta replacement, Colonel Stars and Stripes, as (under)played by Jim Carrey. Second, the comedy is more scattershot and less satirical than what was featured in the first. The voice-over narration from Kick-Ass was noticeably lacking in this installment as well. Not bad, but not particularly interesting.

Score: 5 / 10

You're Next (2011)

Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen

This one's apparently been sitting on the shelf for a while waiting for a distributor - which is weird, considering the dearth of interesting horror for the past couple of years. Of course, the fact that it is as much a black comedy as it is a straight horror flick could have something to do with that. Wingard and Barrett know their slasher tropes and want to make sure you realize just how clever and subversive they're being in one scene before completely changing course and playing everything completely straight in the next. This results in the movie tripping over itself quite a bit while it tries to play hopscotch between black comedy and horror, but there were still enough laughs and extreme kills that I enjoyed myself throughout. It is nice to have certain clichés turned on their head for once, but it seems like the creators find this far cleverer than it actually is in practice.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Episode Twelve-Point-Five (The Asphalt Jungle / The Wolverine)

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Director: John Huston
Writers: Ben Maddow and John Huston (screenplay), W.R. Burnett (novel)
Stars: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen

A classic heist film that is less interested in the heist itself and more interested in the characters involved. Fortunately, the characters are mostly interesting and far more three-dimensional than most cardboard cutouts you'd find in other caper films. Sam Jaffe is the highlight in an overall solid cast as the criminal mastermind. If there is a true weak link in this film, it is Jean Hagen's character who comes across as clingy and fairly annoying. Great atmosphere and quite tense at times, featuring excellent noir aesthetics.

Score: 7 / 10

The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank (screenplay)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

If there is one thing that The Wolverine absolutely nails, it is the characterization of the title character. The film does a great job of fleshing out Logan's struggles with his immortality and the fact that he had to kill the woman he loved - Jackman is great, as always. The film also nails the action scene on top of the bullet train; it is exciting, unique and has some funny moments. Outside of these aspects, things are kind of a mess. The villains are some of the weakest I've seen and, while the Japanese setting is pleasing, the plot itself is mediocre at best. Very middle of the road overall, but a giant leap forward from Origins.

Score: 5 / 10

Side notes: 1) I still want to know how Aronofsky's R-rated Wolverine movie would have turned out and 2) I feel like I should award a bonus point for how damn awesome that poster is... 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Theater Interruption (Pacific Rim / The Conjuring)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Travis Beacham (story and screenplay), and Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi

It would be easy to call Pacific Rim a dumb, over-the-top action movie on the same level as the Transformers series. But to brush it off so simply would be to ignore the fact that there is a difference between "simple characterization" and "lazy characterization," between "silly" and "stupid," between "embracing your inner child" and "being immature." Guillermo del Toro obviously knows the difference and realizes that just because you are playing with major archetypes doesn't mean you can ignore the details. Sure, the movie is big, loud and cheesy - but it is also obvious that a lot of time has been spent crafting these characters and creatures and del Toro had just as much fun making the film as anybody is having while watching.

Score: 6 / 10

The Conjuring (2013)

Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (screenplay)

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor

Watching "The Conjuring" is almost depressing; on its own merits it is slightly above average, but the fact that 99% of horror that has come out in the past few years is truly bad makes it look like a masterpiece in comparison. It plays out exactly like you would expect a haunted house / exorcism mash-up would. But while it does nothing new, it hits almost every beat very well, flawlessly combining atmosphere and jump scares. Wan is very good about using misdirection in order to keep the scares fresh and seems to have an excellent sense of just how long he can draw out a tense moment before reaching the breaking point. Highly derivative but well executed with only a couple moments of unintended silliness (usually a major problem for me with horror).

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Theater Interruption (Mud / Despicable Me 2)

Mud (2012)

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

A modern day Huckleberry Finn displayed through a mild Southern Gothic filter. Nichols seems to love this setting, beautifully photographing life on the river, warts and all. The story is a simple enough fable and generally doesn't feel too heavy-handed in its coming-of-age messages, though I don't feel like the ending works quite as well as the earlier material, tending to be a bit too over-the-top. I also wouldn't argue against a bit of trimming, as the middle section does start to drag a bit. However, the performances from the kids are surprisingly good and McConaughey continues his hot streak with a role that I wouldn't be surprised to see earn him an Oscar nod.

Score: 7 / 10

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writers: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Stars: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt

I'm of two minds with this movie. On the one hand, this is probably a bit funnier than the first one based purely on a LPM (laughs per minute) metric. On the other hand, the thing that made Despicable Me stand out from the crowd was the villain-as-protagonist angle. By making Gru into a purely good family man, they've stripped the franchise of its best attribute and distilled it down to simple, silly fun. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that (and I'm sure the kids won't care), but it surely will generate a bit less interest for the adults. Solid, funny, vanilla family entertainment.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Episode Twelve (Adaptation. / Arsenic and Old Lace)

Yes, I'm aware that Adaptation. was in the wrong spot on my shelf. It's fixed now. Can we let it go? Good.

Adaptation. (2002)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Susan Orlean (book), Charlie Kaufman  and Donald Kaufman (screenplay)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep

For me, this film perfectly represents the "fridge brilliance" trope. At the end of my first viewing, I was left disappointed and confused by the bizarre turn the film takes in its final act. It wasn't until I was reflecting on the film a couple hours afterwards that all of the pieces clicked into place and I was able to see clearly through the thick haze of meta. Once that happened and I realized that the great performances were, in fact, in service of a very clever script I was able to confirm that I loved the film. Having trouble adapting a novel to the screen? Why not write about yourself having trouble writing about it? Then create an imaginary sibling to help you co-write this screenplay about your inability to write a screen adaptation of the novel. Easy peasy.

Score: 9 / 10

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (screenplay), and Joseph Kesselring (stage play)
Stars: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey

Concurrently holds the top spots among my favorite screwball and black comedies. A light-hearted farce about serial killers featuring a great cast hamming it up for the camera. I know that Grant regarded this as his worst performance, but I don't think such a ludicrous story called for subtlety on his part and I consider it one of his most enjoyable roles. For that matter, it is probably also my favorite performance from Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein. For me, most comedies wear thin after repeated viewings - this is one of the very few that I can watch over and over again and laugh every time. The only nitpick I have about the movie is that I would have loved to have seen Karloff recreate the role he played on stage. Other than that minor point this movie is perfect to my eyes, ears and funny bone.

Score: 10 / 10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Theater Interruption (Man of Steel / Frances Ha)

Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (story and screenplay), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Superman character)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

This incarnation of Superman has some very good things going for it - specifically, Snyder's great eye for action and the wonderful cast (Cavill, Shannon and Costner are absolutely perfect). Unfortunately, it has two glaring weaknesses - specifically, Snyder's complete lack of subtlety and Goyer's weak writing. Every positive is accompanied by a negative and the net result ends up being absolutely average by Hollywood blockbuster standards. The eye-candy action is counterbalanced by glacial pacing. The few great character moments are outweighed by the scenes that Goyer thinks will hit you in the emotions like a truck, but instead have you rolling your eyes. For my money this is the best Superman movie to date, but that bar was very low.

Score: 5 / 10

Frances Ha (2012)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (screenplay)

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

Frances, the titular character, is a (mostly) likable, quirky and charming character - an aimless 27-year-old whose dream job as a dancer isn't going to work out, whose roommate/best friend is moving out, and who just generally needs to get her shit together. So, for an hour and a half, we watch her come to terms with these facts and, in the end, begin to get her shit together. Along the way, she has (mostly) uninteresting conversations with her (mostly) uninteresting and unlikable friends. If it is meant to criticize Frances' generation, the script is lacking teeth. If it is meant to be a comedy, it is lacking humor. What we're left with is a formless film - a good character given nothing to do.

Score: 4 / 10

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Episode Eleven (Annie Hall / Apocalypse Now)

Good god, it has been two months since I watched something off of my shelf? Far too long. Fortunately, it's two goodies.

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

A simple, genuine and touching story looking at love and relationships. The dialogue is great, as is the chemistry between Allen and Keaton. Allen is his typical neurotic self in this, but Alvy Singer feels like a much more fleshed-out character than simply Woody Allen "playing himself." What really sets this movie apart is the number of creative methods that Allen utilizes to tell his story: fourth-wall-breaking asides, animated sequences, split screen, subtitles showing us the characters' thoughts, kids speaking as their adult selves, etc. An absolute classic that codified a lot of genre standards and set an incredibly high bar for quality in romantic comedy.

Score: 9 / 10

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay), Michael Herr (narration),  and Joseph Conrad (novel "Heart of Darkness")
Stars: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall

Among the all time great films in its ability to evoke an incredibly strong mood and atmosphere throughout. This is achieved through some amazing performances (especially Duvall and Hopper) and great cinematography, but perhaps most notably in its impeccable use of music and sound. An intense and insane experience throughout, which only becomes more and more surreal and nightmarish as we travel deeper into the jungle. An oppressive, haunting film - a must-watch. "Drop the bomb. Exterminate them all."

Score: 9 / 10

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Theater Interruption (Now You See Me)

Now You See Me (2013)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin (screenplay), and Edward Ricourt (screenplay)
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson
Starts off promisingly enough with the introduction of the group of tricksters soon to be known as the "Four Horsemen" embarking on the intriguing plot of using magic as a cover for committing actual crimes. The magicians are fun to watch in action, with the highlight being the antagonistic relationship between Woody Harrelson's conniving mentalist and Jesse Eisenberg's arrogant street magician. However, the script violates some of the cardinal rules of storytelling by keeping its most interesting characters (the Horsemen) off screen most of the time and leaning less on true misdirection in favor of lying to the audience. This results in weak character development and manages to sap a lot of fun out of the mystery and reveal. Competently made otherwise, it is a shame that such a great cast and premise were wasted on such a sloppy script.

Score: 4 / 10

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Theater Interruption (Star Trek Into Darkness / Epic)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof (screenplay), and Gene Roddenberry (original series)

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Abrams is a very good action director and the movie keeps up a breakneck pace throughout most of its running time. Sometimes it feels like things are moving too quickly; however, it isn't until after the film ends that you realize it absolutely needed to move that fast. The reason being, if the film had slowed down even for a moment we might have had a chance to realize that the script is consistently incredibly stupid. Character motivations are nonsensical, character arcs are repeats of the 2009 film, the plot is ridiculously contrived and the film belongs to that wonderful breed of science fiction that gets anything even vaguely science-related wrong. As an amusement park ride, it works - if you try to hold it up to any kind of scrutiny, it falls apart. All that being said, the strong performances, excellent production values and brisk pacing cover most of the holes and keep things fun and entertaining while watching.

Score: 5 / 10

Epic (2013)

Director: Chris Wedge
Writers: James V. Hart, William Joyce (original story), Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, and Chris Wedge
Stars: Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Beyoncé Knowles

There's a lot of trope boxes being checked off here: the story is yet another slight twist on FernGully, the characters are bog standard, the plot goes exactly where you expect it to, the comic relief side characters are appropriately zany, characters are voiced by (awkwardly cast) random celebrities, etc. Basically, it is exactly what you should expect from a middle-of-the-road kids' animated movie. On the plus side: the movie is gorgeous, the dog is amusing and Waltz plays a solid villain. Not much more to say, really.

Score: 4 / 10

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Theater Interruption (The Great Gatsby)

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay), Craig Pearce (screenplay) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire

A very faithful adaptation for the most part, with the only major change coming in the addition of a mediocre framing device of a depressed and alcoholic Nick writing the story as part of his therapy. Overall, it doesn't detract too much and it offers a tolerable excuse to directly quote from the novel's text in voiceover. The visuals are the standard Luhrmann affair, totally gaudy and excessive - though I have to say that I felt they fit pretty well will the phony, showy and shallow lives of the characters. Baz directs the picture with all of the subtlety of a music video, but the source material isn't the most subtle anyway. While I found the modern soundtrack a bit jarring at first, I adjusted to the idea and it seemed to fit the mood well enough - there's a couple of great songs in there, especially this early front runner for Best Original Song. DiCaprio is a perfect Gatsby and his intro is one of the best that I can recall in recent history. If you can get past a couple of the more jarring choices that Baz makes (and aren't a Gatsby / jazz purist), this a solid (if a bit overlong) adaptation.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Theater Interruption (Iron Man 3)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Drew Pearce (screenplay), Shane Black (screenplay), and 
Stan Lee, 
Don Heck, 
Larry Lieber, 
Jack Kirby (comic books)

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Iron Man 3 represents a significant step up in quality from the middle child of the series, but it still can't quite live up to the quality of the original. This franchise entry is a mixed bag of elements that work fairly well and a couple of aspects that have been pretty badly botched. The humor and action are well executed and definitely satisfying - in fact, I was extremely impressed that they managed to pull of a kid as a comic sidekick without completely tanking the film. So kudos on that score. The handful of sequences where Iron Man is actually in his suit are pretty awesome, but are too few and far between. Overall, the execution is great and the main problems are due to a mediocre script, which suffers from some pretty severe inconsistencies with the rest of the Iron Man mythos, logical gaps in the plot, a throwaway PTSD subplot and an eye-roller of an ending. It's still a great way to waste a couple hours and watching RDJ do his thing is as entertaining as always.

Score: 6 / 10

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Theater Interruption (Oblivion)

Oblivion (2013)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Michael DeBruyn (screenplay), Joseph Kosinski (graphic novel original story) and Karl Gajdusek (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

Kosinski is building himself a decent track record in terms of visual execution as a director with this, his sophomore effort, following up his work in 2010's Tron Legacy. The film is definitely good looking and Tom Cruise is solid, if unspectacular, in the lead. Unfortunately, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are wasted on weak roles and the script is lacking, to put it lightly. At this point I'm convinced that the title was only recently pared down from the working title of Oblivion: A Copy and Paste Odyssey. By the time we reach the (overly drawn out) second act, it has become a game of "name the original source" for every plot point. With a cobbled together story that lacks anything resembling an emotional core, the only truly engaging part is attempting to spot the telegraphed plot twists before the reveal. Still, it is competently filmed and should satisfy any simple action cravings.

Score: 4 / 10

PS: I swear we'll get back to the movies on the shelf one of these days.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Theater Interruption (Evil Dead)

Evil Dead (2013)

Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez (screenplay), Rodo Sayagues (screenplay), and Sam Raimi (1981 screenplay)
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci

In 1981 The Evil Dead erupted from the twisted brain of Sam Raimi - though a cult classic in its own right, the sequels became much more popular in playing up the comedy. The Evil Dead itself was often unintentionally funny, as the intent intent to make a true horror film was countered by the cheapness caused by the shoestring budget. So, here we are, over thirty years later and Sam is finally producing what he originally intended to show us - a straightforward, no-holds-barred horror film. So, how'd the original vision turn out?

First of all, the film is definitely worse off for not having a charismatic lead along the lines of Bruce's "Ash." To be honest, pretty much all of the characters are really watered-down, to the point where they make even the common horror stereotypes seem interesting. While the plot is still paper-thin, they definitely tried to flesh things out a bit more and provide more of a narrative. To those who are familiar with the series it won't make much difference, but I can imagine it might be appreciated by those going into this thing blind. Where this movie shines is in its dedication to completely over-the-top levels of blood and guts. The unbridled violence and gore is executed to technical perfection and is particularly awesome when much of it is handled without too much CGI. If "blood and guts" isn't your bag, don't bother, this movie has nothing to offer you. For those of you who love some hyperviolence... this is the hardest R-rating I can ever remember seeing and it literally rains blood during the climax. Do it.

Score: 6 / 10

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Theater Interruption (Stoker)

Stoker (2013)

Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson 
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

Stoker is essentially a twisted take on Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. But this isn't Code-era Hollywood here, as Park isn't afraid to crank up the violence and sexual tension to eleven when the story calls for it. Overall, the script is good but not great and really doesn't come together as well as one would hope in the final act, but there is still a lot to love here. Wasikowska, Goode and Kidman are all excellent in their respective roles, but it is Park's direction that really stands out. His use of sound and editing is particularly wonderful in complementing the secluded Gothic aesthetic, producing a tense and oppressive atmosphere throughout much of the film. An excellent Hollywood debut for Park.

Score: 7 / 10

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Episode Ten (American History X / American Psycho)

American History X (1998)

Director: Tony Kaye
Writer: David McKenna
Stars: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo

This film features an incredible performance from Norton and a few scenes that will undoubtedly stick with the viewer. The moments of brutality are particularly memorable and disturbing. Unfortunately, these are in support of a script and director that handle the film's themes with the subtlety and finesse of a jackhammer. There are several moments where the editing and music are trying so hard to make you realize the importance of what is happening that it ends up becoming unintentionally hilarious. A solid, though deeply flawed film. Oh, and Edward Furlong should never be allowed to do voice over, ever... ever.

Score: 5 / 10

American Psycho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Bret Easton Ellis (novel), Mary Harron (screenplay) and Guinevere Turner (screenplay)
Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas

The premiere "How To" guide for fitting in with upper-class society when all you really want to do is stab them to death and play around with their blood. While the film is endlessly quotable and deliciously dark, the main satirical thrust of the film is a bit too heavy-handed for my taste. The black comedy / horror elements hold up fairly well throughout, but much of the Wall Street excess message drags it down overall. Bale is so wonderfully campy as Patrick Bateman, the titular psycho with an insatiable bloodlust, that his over-the-top performance absolutely carries the film. Definitely not for everyone, but if you don't mind your humor being delivered in the form of an axe to the skull, you may just come to love this.

Score: 5 / 10

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Episode Nine (Amélie / American Beauty)

Amélie (2001)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Guillaume Laurant (scenario), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (scenario), and 
Guillaume Laurant (dialogue)

Stars: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus

It most likely won't have you rolling on the floor while clutching your sides, it probably won't bring tears to your eyes and it certainly won't leave you pondering its message and meaning. This film's aims are much smaller - desiring only to bring you a chuckle and a fuzzy feeling in your heart, and at this it surely succeeds. Sweet and stylish, exuding warmth and charm in every facet of its production, from the music to the acting and from the story to the cinematography. Show me the person who can sit through this without cracking a smile and I'll show you the perfect casting for the 347,843rd version of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Score: 9 / 10

American Beauty (1999)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Alan Ball
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Throughout the film I sense that we're teetering on the brink and one false move will send the entire thing crashing in on itself and failing utterly. Whether or not the film crosses that line is up for debate, but I feel it stays upright (though just barely). The main problem is that the characters in this black comedy / satire are written (mostly) as one-dimensional stereotypes and played as "phony" by the actors. Going in either direction is fine, but doubling up on the "phony" factor puts you dangerously close to unintentional self-parody at times. That said, Spacey is incredible to watch going through the ultimate mid-life crisis and Mendes directs like a seasoned pro in his debut.

Score: 7 / 10

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Episode Eight (All About Eve / Almost Famous)

All About Eve (1950)

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (screenplay)
Stars: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders

If not the single greatest script of all time, All About Eve certainly earns itself a spot in that conversation. Featuring a solid story with stellar dialogue, the film plays out as a nearly constant exchange of verbal barbs, which makes for great drama and humor. Some might accuse the dialogue of being a little too perfect and witty, thereby stripping the characters and situations of their reality. However, considering the nature of these characters as actors and writers (along with the simple fact that it is so much fun to watch), I'm entirely willing to disregard that particular complaint. Fantastic performances all around - especially from Bette Davis whose turn as an aging star is probably the best of her career. Plus, the mere presence of George Sanders in a film will automatically boost its score by at least a point in my book. Absolutely amazing movie.

Score: 10 / 10

Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson

The film plays best when it is going for funny and heartwarming - the times when it goes for drama are the times where it starts to fall flat. I don't particularly care for Fugit in the central role - in fact, I'd almost rather remove his character altogether and just follow the band, except that this would mean we wouldn't get to enjoy McDormand playing the eccentric, overprotective mom, who is a definite highlight of the film for me. Guess I'm just going to have to deal. Hudson and the soundtrack are phenomenal and the film does a great job of recreating the feeling of the period in which is is set. Oh, and that "Tiny Dancer" scene is indeed great.

Score: 6 / 10

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Episode Seven (Alien / Aliens)

We're back to the DVD / Blu-Ray collection for the time being.

Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O'Bannon (story and screenplay), and Ronald Shusett (story)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt

Awesome mixture of horror and sc-fi. The art direction and overall atmosphere are absolutely top notch. I know that people debate back and forth whether Alien or Aliens is better, but I have to give the edge to the original. I think it is all about the setting, in the sequel they have to escape to the ship - in this one, there may be fewer villains but there is nowhere to escape to. Feels so much more tense and claustrophobic knowing that the menace must be dealt with directly. And has there ever been a more menacing creature designed for the screen than the xenomorph? Setting aside the fact that the franchise has been ridden into the ground by now, the original concept is still brilliant.

Score: 9 / 10

Aliens (1986)

Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron (story and screenplay), David Giler (story), Walter Hill (story)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn

Barely falls short of the original, but is still great in its own right. More of the same would have been a bad idea (especially considering how perfectly it was executed during the first go 'round), but anything other than the original concept doesn't play quite as well. A catch-22 to be sure. Nonetheless, Cameron manages to keep things very entertaining with this more "action-y" take on the material. Fun side characters, highly quotable, solid action... pass the popcorn, man.

Score: 9 / 10

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Episode Six-Point-Five: James Franco Edition (127 Hours / Oz the Great and Powerful)

Today, we've got a Blu-Ray that got added to the collection after we were already past its location as well as a new(ish) theater release. But hey, they star the same actor so we can totally lump them in together. Cool? Cool.

127 Hours (2010)

Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Danny Boyle (screenplay), Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), and Aron Ralston (book)
Stars: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara

A lot of criticism has been directed at Boyle's hyperactive direction and editing, but I feel that it is fairly effective here. While a slower pace and a more somber atmosphere could have made for a more intense experience throughout, I feel that the higher tempo kept things from dragging (which could have easily happened in a story that focuses primarily on a single man in a single location). The first two thirds of the film still might not engage everyone, but when the story turns to "do or die" desperation in the final act it really shines - taking you from cringing horror to watery-eyed triumph. Franco is great in this and the journey is totally worth the climactic conclusion.

Score: 6 / 10

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner (screenplay), David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), and L. Frank Baum (novel)
Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis

Despite the beautiful scenery and fantastic creatures, Oz is a land devoid of much magic or charm. Finley, China Girl and Knuck are charmless, weak substitutes for the original trio of sidekicks. This leaves the success or failure of the film squarely on the shoulders of the Wizard and the Witches - and while Franco is tolerable as Oscar and Williams and Weisz play their weakly-written roles well, Kunis is woefully miscast. Given Raimi's prior films, I was looking forward to his Wicked Witch, but it fell way, way short for a variety of reasons. The film seems stuck somewhere between taking itself seriously and going into full "camp" mode - either of which would have been better than the limbo we ended up with. Major letdown.

Score: 3 / 10

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Theater Interruption (Mama / Side Effects)

Mama (2013)

Director: Andrés Muschietti
Writers: Neil Cross (screenplay), Andrés Muschietti (story and screenplay), and Barbara Muschietti (story and screenplay)

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier

If there's anything that totally derails the film, it is its uneven storytelling; the first and final acts are more of a dark fairy tale, with emphasis on character, theme and atmosphere. Meanwhile, the middle act is a typical ghost story, overly reliant on jump scares and easily the weakest segment. I also have to say that Jessica Chastain looks way out of place here. However, I absolutely loved the creature design - both in sound and visual style. The feral children are definitely unsettling as well. The story was never anything great, but worked well enough when it took on the more fairytale-esque tone.

Score: 4 / 10

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (screenplay)
Stars: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law

A modern-day Hitchcock that does a wonderful job of keeping the audience on their toes, but may go a bit overboard on some of the plot twists in the later stages of the story. It really does feel like two different films and I would have liked to see more of the first half's atmosphere carried over into the second, but both are very good in their own ways. If this turns out to be Soderbergh's last film, at least it is a significant step up from "Contagion." Mara and Law are fantastic and make up for the abysmal work by Zeta-Jones and the 6'1" void that Channing Tatum leaves on screen.

Score: 6 / 10

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stay Tuned

We'll be returning to our "journey to the end of the shelves" on the 13th. So don't touch that dial! (And explain to me how you are navigating the internet with a dial...)

Monday, February 25, 2013

2012 Oscar Recap / Review

So, the Oscars happened - let's take a look at what they got right and what left us scratching our collective heads. I won't be commenting on the short / documentary / foreign categories, simply because I haven't had the opportunity to see all of the nominees in those categories yet. But all of the feature categories are up for judgement, so let's get started.

Best Visual Effects

Who Won: Life of Pi

Who Should Have Won: Life of Pi

Verdict: Nailed It

Richard Parker, the CGI tiger that Pi shares the screen with for most of the film, is beautiful, terrifying and downright real. Add that to the impressive work during the shipwreck and all of the other gorgeous visuals that were created in post-production and this is truly a no-brainer. Good start.

Best Sound Editing

Who Won: Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty (TIE)

Who Should Have Won: Skyfall

Verdict: Cheap

I mean, really? A tie? You'd think they'd have some sort of procedure in order to keep this from happening, but I guess that isn't the case. They got this one half right, anyway. Skyfall is where it is at - just watch the subway scene again and you'll see what I mean.

Best Sound Mixing

Who Won: Les Misérables

Who Should Have Won: Sinister

Verdict: BZZZZZT! Wrong

Pretty sure everybody who voted here just heard "recorded live on set" and penciled Les Mis in, no matter what. However, the un-nominated Sinister should have taken home the prize on this one. The atmosphere was thick, due in no small part to the audio mix featuring some great drone artists and wonderful work by the sound team. But, of course, the Academy would never give an Oscar to a simple horror film.

Best Original Song

Who Won: "Skyfall" - Adele and Paul Epworth

Who Should Have Won: "Skyfall" - Adele and Paul Epworth

Verdict: Layup

One of the easiest predictions of the night, "Skyfall" was by far the best of the nominated songs. I agree completely with this one - I only wish that Snow White and the Huntsman would have gotten some love here for "Breath of Life" from Florence + The Machine. It certainly could have replaced "Before My Time" on the nomination list.

Best Original Score

Who Won: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Jonny Greenwood (The Master)

Verdict: Oops

The fact that Greenwood's perfect score wasn't even nominated was an absolute joke and the nomination list was really weak as a whole. Nominating Lincoln, Argo and Anna Karenina instead of the superior choices in The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Cloud Atlas. The Academy really lost their way here, though at least they gave the award to a score that was worthy of being nominated.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Who Won: Les Misérables

Who Should Have Won: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Verdict: Reeeeaaaallly?

Freakin' dwarves, man! I would have assumed that this was a gimme, but I guess they really liked the aged Valjean? Gave me a good chuckle.

Best Costume Design

Who Won: Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina)

Who Should Have Won: Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina)

Verdict: Sure, why not?

Unless something comes completely out of left field, this is basically a gimme category for the most well regarded period piece of the year. Nothing else caught my eye, so Anna Karenina it is.

Best Production Design

Who Won: Lincoln

Who Should Have Won: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Verdict: Reasonable

The production value of Lincoln was obviously top-notch, so I can't really complain about this selection. I'm simply far more impressed by projects that successfully bring to life a world that never actually existed, rather than recreating the past (unless it is recreated on a massive scale). As it stands, I would have given the award to The Hobbit and considered recognizing Looper here for its near-future aesthetic, which was subtle but effective. 

Best Editing

Who Won: William Goldenberg (Argo)

Who Should Have Won: William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor (Zero Dark Thirty)

Verdict: Solid selection

Goldenberg is getting a statue in either case, I guess I just wanted to be a bit more generous and hand out a second one. To be honest, I'm perfectly happy with both of these. I simply think that the final act of Zero Dark Thirty leans more heavily on the strength of its editor than Argo's final act does and based my decision on that - both are top notch choices. 

Best Cinematography

Who Won: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

Verdict: Sorry, try again

Don't get me wrong, Life of Pi looks great. But an award for Cinematography should be awarded based on skill in capturing images on film, not creating them in post-production. Look at Bond's fight in the Shanghai skyscraper, shot in silhouette, amidst reflective glass walls and backlit by massive neon lights. Then look me in the eye and tell me that wasn't the most impressively shot piece of film in 2012 - and then I'll proceed to tell you that you don't know what you are talking about and should go home, you're drunk. Following Deakins my pick would have been Mihai Malaimare Jr. for his work on The Master, which was not even nominated.

Best Animated Feature Film

Who Won: Brave

Who Should Have Won: ParaNorman

Verdict: Did they even watch them?

Brave was the third best of the nominees, if I am being generous. Bland and uninspired, it was one of the weakest films that Pixar has released to date. It doesn't come close to matching the concept and charm of Wreck-It Ralph which, in turn, is weaker than ParaNorman - your real winner. As my verdict states, I'm wondering how many people simply checked the "Pixar" box on this one. A brand name buys you statuettes, it seems.  

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Won: Chris Terrio (Argo)

Who Should Have Won: Chris Terrio (Argo)

Verdict: Yes

I almost handed this one to Kushner for the Lincoln screenplay, since it was an impressive feat to keep that kind of dialogue-heavy, political drama interesting for that length - but then I remembered the extreme cheese that made up the prologue and epilogue of that film and went with my next pick, which was Argo. 

"Argo **** yourself!"

Best Original Screenplay

Who Won: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Who Should Have Won: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Verdict: They got one right, anyway

Seven Psychopaths, Ruby Sparks and Looper really deserved nods here instead of Amour, Flight and Zero Dark Thirty. But at least they got the top spot right. Django does a damn good job of balancing drama, humor and action with some amazing exchanges of dialogue throughout. An extremely easy choice from that nominee list - I think my version is a much stronger sampling.

Best Director

Who Won: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

Verdict: FUBAR

This is the one category that was jacked up by the time the nominations were announced. Ang Lee was the right choice out of the nominees, but the Academy completely whiffed on their nominations. A list of nominees that included the truly superior directorial efforts of the year would have featured: Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty). The Academy really screwed the pooch with this one.

Best Supporting Actress

Who Won: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Who Should Have Won: Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman)

Verdict: Predictable

Pretty sure everybody gave up on this category as soon as that teaser trailer came out with Anne singing "I Dreamed a Dream," but I'm not about to give Les Mis the satisfaction of being able to put "Oscar Winner" on the Blu-Ray case. No, instead I'm giving the award to the most entertaining scenery-chewing villain since Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element. Sure, it is a bad movie, but Theron single-handedly makes it entertaining every time she is on screen.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Won: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Who Should Have Won: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)

Verdict: Toughest choice, by far

If I could give this award to Leonardo L. Waltz-Jackson for his/their work in Django, I absolutely would. As it stands, I would have given this one to Leo, though all three are absolutely deserving. This is truly the most competitive category, as Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones are both worthy of a statuette as well and it is very tough for me not to award a five-way tie. Loved all of those performances.

Best Actress

Who Won: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Who Should Have Won: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Verdict: Bullseye

What to say here? It was a two-horse race between Emmanuelle Riva and Jennifer Lawrence - and my choice was Lawrence by a hair. 

Best Actor

Who Won: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Who Should Have Won: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Verdict: Admiral Obvious

Let's be perfectly honest, this one was a lock from the moment it was announced that DDL would be playing Abe. I have nothing against this pick, because both of these performances were absolutely brilliant. I found Pheonix's raw energy as Freddy Quell a bit more engaging than the more relaxed and sedate role of Lincoln, but that's pure personal preference. Daniel Day-Lewis bein' a boss, setting Academy records and giving the best speech of the night is totally fine with me.

Best Picture

Who Won: Argo

Who Should Have Won: Django Unchained

Verdict: Acceptable

Argo wasn't the best film of the year, but it was the second-best out of the nominees. So, while I wouldn't have voted for it, I've no quarrel with those that did. The worst part of this category was that it included Les Misérables, rather than any number of the far superior films that didn't get the recognition that they deserved (eg. Skyfall, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Looper, etc.).

So, there you have it. They did right by a lot of categories, but when they missed... it was often by a long shot.