Archive | July 2014

The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Rob Reiner

Starring Cary Elwes as Westley

Robin Wright as Buttercup

Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya

Imdb Link

Something like my ninth watch

Buttercup falls in love with her farm boy, Westley. When Westley takes a job sailing across the ocean, he is killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Now, a few years later, as Buttercup is engaged to marry a prince, she is kidnapped by three thugs. A giant, a Spanish fencing master, and a sicilian genius.

The Princess Bride is a truly magical film. From the minute it starts with a kid playing a baseball video game, till the moment the movie ends, it’s pure magic. The film has everything anyone could ever want in a fantasy movie. Extremely long sword fights, revenge, true love, a giant, pirates, miracles, conspiracy, rodents of unusual size. Which makes it a satisfying watch for nearly everyone who watches it. But what makes it the most satisfying in my eyes, is the wonderful satire of fables like it. The film basically takes every element of a classic fable, the princess, the prince, the lost love, and spins them on their head. It all amounts to one of the funniest movies ever made. Even though I’ve seen this movie about nine times now, I still laugh my ass off and never manage to wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face. The Princess Bride is a film that never fails to make me smile, regardless of my mood or situation. It’s one of those films that can instantly turn your day from a four into a nine. This is one of the reasons why it’s the perfect sick day movie I think. I know, I for one, whenever I take a sick day, I watch The Princess Bride. I’ve never been able to decide whether it’s the movie I’m drawn to on a sick day because it feels so fitting (the framing device is that it’s all a story being told to a kid who is at home sick.) or if it’s because it instantly brightens my mood. Probably both. Anyways, The Princess Bride is as close to perfect as any romantic-comedy-fantasy-action-adventure film will get. It’s most certainly a top ten movie for me. Also, I feel obligated to say, if you’ve seen the movie but have not read the book, The Princess Bride, do yourself a favor and go read it. The Princess Bride is simply wonderful.

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Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010)

Madagascar, a Journey Diary

★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Bastien Dubois

Imdb Link

A drawn interpretation of a European man’s trip to Madagascar.

This 2010 Oscar nominated animated short is one of the least coherent films I’ve ever seen nominated for an Oscar. This short film has no story, nothing really going on, it’s just a collection of strangely animated images strung together as a “journal”. While I get what it was going for, in trying to illustrate a little bit of every day of this man’s journey to Africa, it didn’t succeed. It never felt like it was illustrating someone’s journey, it just felt like it was random images. The inconsistent animation styles didn’t help either. It jumped back and forth between every possible style of animation, and while I will admit that a lot of the styles it tried looked very cool, the inconsistency went towards making the film feel even more disjointed than it already did. Madagascar, a Journey Diary is definitely the weakest of all the nominated animated short films I’ve seen of that year. Now here’s to hoping that The Gruffalo is better than this.

Dersu Uzala (1975)

Dersu Uzala

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Maksim Munsuk as Dersu Uzala

Yuriy Solomin as Arseniv

Imdb Link

The Russian army sends a soldier, Arseniv out into the Siberian wilderness to make topographic surveys of the area. Here Arseniv becomes friends with a native hunter, named Dersu Uzala.

I’ve been trying to find this movie for such a long time, and I’ve finally found it. It’s one of Kurosawa’s few films that is not in the Criterion Collection, meaning it’s not on Hulu+, meaning it’s extremely hard to locate. Dersu Uzala was Kurosawa’s redemption film, not only was it his second film to win an Oscar, but it also proved to the Japanese companies that doubted him after Dodes’ka-den flopped, that Kurosawa could still be marketed. Dersu Uzala is a magical, fantastic, epic film. One that feels like a callback to Kurosawa’s epics of the 50s, except in an entirely different location, and minus the samurai. It just has that same tone to it. A tone of adventure, a playful feeling, an epic scope. It captures the feelings that a lot of Kurosawa’s later films seem to be missing. The film also looks extraordinarily beautiful. The snowy landscapes, and wilderness aren’t something Kurosawa dealt much with. He usually stuck to filming in villages, or small forests. To have him shoot a film entirely in the wilderness, nearly entirely outdoors, in the snow, in 70 millimeter film, is astounding. Kurosawa’s always had a way with photography, but he goes above and beyond here. It may not have the awareness to color that Ran has, but it has an environment that is a perfect match with Kurosawa’s style. The writing is damn good as well, Dersu’s broken Russian dialogue is one of the things that makes Dersu Uzala so unique. The way the plot progresses also doesn’t feel like a story, it feels like a study of the friendship between the Russian captain, and Dersu. All in all, Dersu Uzala is a worthy comeback for Kurosawa, and it rightfully won him his second Oscar. This is a beautiful movie, and is everything I hoped for. I really really hope that Criterion decides to add it to the collection sometime soon. I can’t wait to own it on blu-ray.

The Great Beauty (2013)

The Great Beauty

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

Starring Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella

Imdb Link

After turning 65 years old, and learning that his first love has just died, the king of Rome’s night life, reporter Jep Gambardella, starts to look past the surreal, bizarre parties, and reassess his life.

I guess this wasn’t what I expected it to be at all. I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie for about half a year now, and after watching it, I have to say I’m a little bit disappointed. It’s not that I didn’t think it was good, I did. But it was definitely not as good as I had been led to believe. I have to say, The Great Beauty was definitely incredible to look at, it had a great visual style to it, and every shot, every sequence, was gorgeous to view. I have to say though, a lot of the time, especially in it’s first hour, The Great Beauty felt like it was all visuals and not much else. I mean, it starts with what’s basically 15 minutes of lavish partying, with no story, no dialogue, just a lot of Baz Luhrmann-esque quick cuts, and techno music. There were also lots of times where I would say to myself, “man, this shot is beautiful, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose in the film”. It did seem to get a lot better through it’s second half, and I almost never thought to myself that a shot or a sequence was kind of useless in there. Toni Servillo gives an astonishingly good performance, he plays Jep incredibly well, nailing the surface friendliness and approachability, as well as the sad and haunted side of the character. He helped make the film really good, and even when delivering some of the more cheesy lines, he nailed it. Another thing I need to mention is how good the music is. It ranges from techno, house music, to haunting choral pieces; and each piece of music could not fit the scene it’s in any better than it does. Whoever chose the soundtrack did an A+ job. The music combined with the visuals make this a great experience most of the time.Also, while I wasn’t a huge fan, I definitely don’t get the criticisms of it being boring. When people say they didn’t like it, the excuse is usually “it was boring”. I strongly disagree with that. The Great Beauty had a pretty fast pace, and never got boring for me. I can see lots of other flaws in the film, but I don’t see it as boring. Anyways, while I did find The Great Beauty to be a little disappointing, I still thought it was one of the better films of last year. It just never connected with me like I guess it did most others.  I definitely would have preferred The Hunt to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year. The Great Beauty still lands in my top 40 of last year, but from all the hype it got, I was expecting a top 10 film.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Great Film Review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Shorter Review

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good”

-Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Before we begin, you may be thinking “does this guy really think that the third Harry Potter movie is one of the greatest films ever made?” The answer to that question is yes. Yes I do. I think that this movie is the perfect example of something that entertains general audiences, and provides more seasoned filmgoers with what they want to see as well.

The film, directed by master director, Alfonso Cuaron, is the most grand artistic achievement in the entire series of films. It sets the new standard for the series, in terms of how the next 5 films were made.

Cuaron took the series away from Chris Columbus’s happy, fantastical wizard world, and turned it to a darker, more scary wizarding world. Cuaron’s film wasn’t only an achievement in terms of being a single film, but it also became the model for the way each of the following films was created, and what their atmospheres were like.

In the third Harry Potter movie, Harry goes back to Hogwarts for his third year, after an incident where he turns his aunt into a human balloon. On his way to school, Harry learns of an escaped convict, a man named Sirius Black, who was in the Azkaban wizard prison for murder, and he’s the only person to ever have escaped this jail.

After an incident with some Azkaban guards; which are spirits who feed on souls, called Dementors. Harry learns that Sirius may be coming after Harry, to avenge the dark lord, Voldemort. He later learns that Sirius Black was in jail for assisting in the murder of Harry’s parents.

Then there’s a few incidents with a griffin, which is a large horse-bird thing. Another few encounters with Dementors. As well as a new teacher who may or may not be a werewolf. Eventually, it all ends in Harry discovering that everything he knew was wrong, and using time travel to fix his mistakes.

Really, in the grand scheme of things in the Harry Potter series, not much important to the main storyline happens in this section of the story. It’s more of a filler book in the book series than anything.

However, Alfonso Cuaron turns The Prisoner of Azkaban into possibly the most important film in the whole series, because it switched up the tone. It moved up from being filler, to being a transition from the sweet, innocent childhood of the series, into it’s dark adolescence.

Also, not only did it switch up where the film series itself was going, but it changed the entire genre of young adult films, from things like The Goonies, and Gremlins. To dark films like The Hunger Games. I’d argue that before Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, nearly no films marketed to children were all that dark, if you look at any young adult films before this, and after this, you’ll see a huge difference in tone. This was one of the first films meant for children that dared to be grim.

Another thing I feel that needs to be mentioned when talking about this film is the fact that you can see how the director impacted it, rather than the series itself. Sometimes, in big franchise films, the producers want to keep a constant feel through the series, regardless of director, so the producers become the auteurs of the film. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you can feel that this is a Cuaron film. It has all of his trademarks, and little touches to it, so you can tell he had near full artistic freedom on the movie. There are some great long takes in this film, not as long as any of his others, but still impressive. As well as lots of visual nods to Terry Gilliam movies. (The huge magnifying glass lenses on the divination teachers glasses being an example)

It’s rare to see the producers of a film like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban give so much artistic license to it’s director, but I guess that this proves it does happen.

Beyond the dark visuals, and visual nods to other filmmakers, the film is generally just beautifully shot. One of the most beautiful images in it, and the example I give when I argue that this is the most beautiful film in the series, is the image of students walking up the spiral staircase, shot from above. They went into one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England to shoot this one shot, and it just goes to show how beautiful the film really is.

Another thing I’m constantly amazed by with this movie, is looking at it’s visual effects, in comparison to both the film before it, and after it. The Prisoner of Azkaban had some visual effects that were far ahead of it’s time, and that looked far better than the ones even in the next film, which was released a year after it.

All these things go towards making a truly great film, but what makes the film timeless is what it did to advance the entire genre of YA fantasy. You can see it’s influence in every book, every film in this genre since it’s release.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is both a fun film, that entertains casual moviegoers, and an artistic triumph which anyone more serious about film can appreciate, and even love.

The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Thomas McCarthy

Starring Peter Dinklage as Finn McBride

Patricia Clarkson as Olivia

Bobby Cannavale as Joe

Imdb Link

Finn, a man with dwarfism, inherits an old railway station in a small town after his best, and only friend, dies. He moves in, hoping for seclusion, and solitude, but instead, gets Joe, an overly friendly Guido who runs a hot dog truck right outside of Finn’s new home. The two quickly become friends.

This was a lovely film. It’s full of charm, heart, and friendliness that just makes you grin from ear to ear. I was a huge fan of Thomas McCarthy’s 2011 film, Win Win, which was one of the most charming and funny films of that year, and McCarthy definitely delivered again on this one. The Station Agent is everything that Win Win was, but better. It’s got the great soundtrack, the melancholy tone that turns into all out happiness, the well written dialogue, and the excellent performances. The only thing I’d say Win Win does better, is the humor. I didn’t really laugh much during The Station Agent, but I loved it none the less. Recently, I’ve watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and I love Peter Dinklage on it. I’ve never thought he was one of the best actors on the show, but he does have undeniable talent. That talent comes out even more on The Station Agent than it does at any time in Game of Thrones. Dinklage gives one of the best performances of the 2000s in this film. He’s powerful to watch, as every second, you can see every thought, every feeling on Finn’s face. He’s a sad, lonely character, who has been ridiculed his whole life, and has given up on the human race for it. Dinklage plays the role better than anyone else in the world could. He’s been to the same lows, and had many of the same things happen to him that Finn has. Another thing that stood out in the film, was Bobby Cannavale’s performance. Cannavale, who plays Joe, the food truck guy, is absolutely amazing. He brings a kindness, a warmth to the film. You can’t help but love the guy. Also, funny thing, The Station Agent was the second film I saw this week to feature both Bobby Cannavale and food trucks, after Chef. There were some things I didn’t like about the film, mainly Patricia Clarkson. Who was awful. But other than that, The Station Agent is a powerful, heart warming, and beautiful movie. I recommend this to everyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

Dodes’ka-den (1970)

Dodes’ka-den

★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Yoshitaka Zushi as Rokkuchan

Imdb Link

A series of vignettes depicting the colorful lives of people living in poverty in a junkyard outside of Tokyo. Including a young boy who runs around all day thinking that he runs a streetcar, a father and son who live in the back of an abandoned car and dream about building a mansion, and two drunks who swap wives.

Dodes’ka-den is the film that sent Kurosawa’s career into the drain for about ten years. It took him nearly five years to make it, and then it failed so miserably that Japanese studios wouldn’t even let him make another film- maybe ever. He had to go to Siberia to make his next film after this one. And after seeing this movie, I can definitely see why it failed so miserably. This movie is unlike any other film he made. It was his first film in color, so that is unlike his others, but more so, it’s just not as accessible as any of his other films. You can watch almost any other movie by Kurosawa, and it feels artsy but very accessible. It’s not like by being a piece of art, it makes it so no one other than cinephiles and art lovers can enjoy it. Dodes’ka-den was his first film to be like that, and the Japanese public was not into this new style for Kurosawa. So it failed miserably. Personally, I have to side with the Japanese critics that said this film was awful, and not the American critics that have since given it reviews that are up to the level of many other Kurosawa films. I didn’t like this movie. It was just absolute ridiculousness, absurdity that means nothing. It was surreal, but it had no theme that kept it going other than “look at these people”. The film is told in a series of vignettes, all revolving around this junkyard and it’s inhabitants. Whether it be the mentally handicapped boy who believes he’s a streetcar driver (actually one of the only great parts of the film), the alcoholic friends who decide to trade wives, or the man with his seven year old son who plan to build a mansion. Most of the stories went nowhere. Usually in a Kurosawa movie, I’m not thinking about time. In Seven Samurai which runs at three and a half hours, it feels like it’s maybe just over two, maybe less. Dodes’ka-den is just over two hours long, but it felt like an eternity. The first Kurosawa movie I’ve ever seen where I was counting the minutes until it was over. The use of color is masterful, and the shots are beautiful. But just because something looks good doesn’t make it a good film. A good film needs solid acting, directing, and a script as well as good visuals. Unfortunately, this only has one of the above. I’m still looking forward to watching the rest of Kurosawa’s works, but this is definitely a major slump in his career.

Non-Stop (2014)

Non-Stop

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring Liam Neeson as Bill Marks

Julianne Moore as Jen Summers

Imdb Link

An air marshall, Bill Marks, starts getting text messages mid-flight, telling him that someone will die every 20 minutes unless 150 million dollars in transferred to a bank account under Bill’s name.

Well, every year there are a few surprises, and a few films that are a lot better than anyone gave them credit for. Non-Stop was a movie I was really not looking forward to. Then the critic reviews proved that, but somehow, the entire time it was in theaters, Non-Stop had a 7.6/10 on IMDB. So I had to check it out even though it looked like a crappy generic action movie. Well, I have to admit that I was wrong. About everything. Even down to Non-Stop being an action movie. It’s not really, it’s actually one of the most nail biting-ly tense thrillers I have seen in a long time. There’s not so much Neeson being his Taken action hero, as there is Neeson playing a detective type role in a very confined space with a hundred potential murderers. It’s a much better premise than I expected it to be. And it allows for a lot of tension, and mind bending. It was fantastically structured in the way that I never knew what would come next, and I felt like my guesses of who the culprit would be shifted every minute. That’s the mark of an effective “whodunnit” in my books. I mean, when it was revealed in the end, and the motives were told. I rolled my eyes, and the movie went from “badass intense thriller” to “how the hell did this make it past rewrites” in a few seconds. I don’t wanna spoil anything, but it became very cheesy with one line that made the whole movie stupid. It wasn’t even like a twist, it was just a motive that made everything seem less significant because it was so cheesy. It’s like a movie about an airplane hijacking couldn’t be complete without a reference to 9/11. It was shoehorned in, and really any other motive would have felt better to me. And then they had to end it with an implied budding romance. But still, Non-Stop is one of the year’s most surprisingly excellent films so far. I was not prepared for it to be as good as it was in the slightest. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good mystery movie. And anyone who loves some good ol’ Liam Neesons.

Chef (2014)

Chef

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Jon Favreau as Carl Casper

Emjay Anthony as Percy

Sofia Vergara as Inez

Imdb Link

After being fired from his job as one of the top chefs in America at a prestigious L.A. restaurant, Carl Casper decides to get a food truck. And travels coast to coast selling cuban sandwiches with his son, and his best friend.

One of the most charming movies of the year so far. This left me with a grin from ear to ear. A film that appeals to people who love food, as well as people who don’t really love food, but love a good comedy. I myself am one of the latter. I’m not at all a foodie. Food is not something I’m the slightest bit interested in, so I was worried that maybe this would be another “foodie movie” like The Trip, and I would hate it. Well, obviously I didn’t hate it. This surpassed every expectation I had for it. It was funnier than I expected, it was more well made than I expected, it was really a step up from what I expected in every way. This is one of the best comedies of recent years in general. It may not have been filled with ferocious laughter, but every joke hit just the right way to keep you with a smile on your face for it’s entire runtime. Jon Favreau’s script, direction, and performance make this film so damn good. It’s the best thing he has ever done. Hands down. I do love Elf, but this was just better. I can’t even believe that I had semi-low expectations going into this movie, it’s turned into one of my top five films of the year. No question about it. This is a deliciously fun film. It has everything that any moviegoer could want. Lots of laughter, good performances, great writing, and visuals that will leave you hungry. Literally. Can’t recommend this one enough.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley

Imdb Link

2nd Watch

In Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a new threat has emerged in the form of Sirius Black, an escaped convict who seems bent on finding Harry and killing him.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my two favorite films in the series, which is weird, because as a child when I read the books, the third part of the series was always my least favorite of all of them. I mean, plot wise, in the grand scheme of things, not much happens in The Prisoner of Azkaban that really impacts the bigger picture. I mean, yes, it introduces two new crucial characters, but other than that, it’s kind of a filler year. However, Alfonso Cuaron managed to turn this book which I found to be filler into the most interesting film artistically. This movie is an artistic triumph. It differs so much from anything else in the series, because Cuaron dared to do what none of the other directors did. Which was, make the film something more than a blockbuster Hollywood fantasy. Cuaron’s film is stranger, more curious, and ultimately, more magical feeling than any of the other films for this reason. One thing I noticed while watching the film this time, is that if Terry Gilliam directed a Harry Potter movie, this is what it would end up looking like. It has a lot of the Gilliam trademarks to it, the closeups, the weird magnifications (in this case, the divination teacher’s glasses), even the style of writing had a Python/Gilliam feel to it at times. I remember reading somewhere that Gilliam was interested in making a Potter movie, and I can only imagine that Cuaron made the film the way he did as tribute to Gilliam, who ultimately was never allowed to make one. Actually, I’m kind of surprised that Cuaron was allowed the freedom to make the film the way he did. In a series that had been childish and formulaic in direction till that point, where it seemed like the film makers had a way of making them down, you throw a director, hot off of his NC17-Rated film Y Tu Mama Tambien, into this universe and let them have full creative vision. That is risky for a big Hollywood studio. Alfonso Cuaron did something amazing with this film though, he turned the tone of the Potter universe from Chris Columbus’s happy, childish films, to the later films dark, menacing, bleak tones. Aside from all that, I also find the way the film is written to be a lot of fun. I enjoyed every single minute that I watched it. Even more so than I did last time. The third Harry Potter movie is definitely one of the best, it’s daring, dark, fun, and beautiful. It takes the series from it’s roots as a fun, enjoyable kids series, to a higher level.