Archive | October 2014

180º South (2010)

180º South

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Chris Malloy

Featuring Jeff Johnson

Yvon Chouinard

Keith Malloy

Imdb Link

A group of mountain climbers make a half year expedition from up north, all the way to Patagonia, where they plan to climb one of the largest, and most difficult mountains around.

Few times have I ever encountered finding a film so absolutely stunning and thrilling, while being completely bored to death by it. I think I know why this contradictory phenomenon happened to me while watching 180º South.  We get to follow a group of explorers, mountain climbers, and surfers, as they make a dangerous sailboat trip down to South America, and then climb one of the most dangerous mountains around. This sounds exciting, and visually, it is. However 180º South has the subtitle of “conquerers of the useless”, which explains everything I dislike about the film. Even though these people go on a huge, epic journey, full of adventure that most people will never experience, it just feels inconsequential. As though even though they took this huge journey, which meant a lot to them, it was useless, it didn’t mean anything. This takes a lot away from the tone of the film, which should have been grand and exciting, inspiring those watching to go out and live a little. Instead, it makes me feel like getting up and going to Mount Everest, or skydiving, or scuba diving the great barrier reef would just be useless. Of absolutely no importance. This coupled with a lazy narration makes the movie a lot more boring than it ever should have been. However, the stunning visuals make up for it. I have never seen a documentary that is so stunning (other than Samsara but I don’t really count that as a documentary). Every shot, from the lighting down to the landscapes, is like a masterful painting to look at. In the end though, 180º South is like a longer, less inspirational GoPro commercial. Full of amazing feats, great camera work, but all of it meaning nothing.

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Scarface (1983)

Scarface

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Brian De Palma

Starring Al Pacino as Tony Montana

Imdb Link

Tony Montana is one of the many criminals to emigrate to Florida from Cuba. In Miami, he finds his living as an assistant to a drug lord, but finds he wants to be larger than that.

It’s unbelievable that up till now, I have never seen Scarface. This was one of those films that I always hear is one of the best of all time from everyone I know, but when I get around to watching it, I just find to be mediocre. There’s a lot of amazing things about Scarface, but there are also an equal amount of not so great things. For example, the cinematography is great, every shot has a certain vibrance and style to it that makes it incredible to watch. However the music by Giorgio Moroder is absolutely awful. It’s a cheesy, 1980s romantic drama sounding electronic score that is not just dated, but just outright bad in the first place. Wherever there is something good, there is something that is the opposite. More pros, I’m a sucker for rags to riches stories and crime dramas, Al Pacino blew my mind with his performance, the film has a lot of great material thematically about excess, and Brian De Palma has a nice visual style in his editing. Now some cons, the pacing is off, taking half an hour to get through a single scene sometimes, and then moving so fast we can hardly catch up. The dialogue is really cheesy, and oftentimes unnecessary, and finally Al Pacino is one of the only cast members that does a good job, and finally, the way Tony Montana is developed doesn’t help us view this as a fall into darkness. He starts as a douchebag, he ends as a douchebag, there’s no real character arc. So in the end, Scarface did disappoint me, but it isn’t a terrible film. It’s just mediocre. I can see why people are huge fans, but I just don’t fall into that group.

Horns (2014)

Horns

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Parrish

Imdb Link

Ig Parrish, who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, wakes up one day with strange horns growing out of his forehead. Horns that have strangely persuasive powers.

I have to say, I enjoyed this movie just as much as I had hoped I would, and it is a lot better than the reviews it is getting lead you to believe. Horns isn’t a new masterpiece of horror or anything, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a twisted, fun, and oftentimes very creepy horror movie. The director of the film, Alexandre Aja, is actually very talented. Of everything that he’s directed, Horns has the most artistic value for sure, although Piranha 3D’s strongest feature was Aja’s direction. A lot of the directorial choices made in Horns were simply excellent, for example, the first shot, which was a long take, is the perfect way to set up a movie. It sets up the love felt between this couple, and then destroys that all in a minute by showing Daniel Radcliffe lying on a floor alone, passed out with a bottle of vodka. I was really surprised at how well Aja set up the tension without having to use his trademarks of over the top gore and shock horror. 90% of Horns is just suspense, and the suspense is incredibly high. The film is also incredibly funny. There’s a lot of wit here, and a ton of really dark humor involving people confessing their darkest secrets, which get really out there, and really crazy. I couldn’t stop laughing at the entire doctor scene. The script is well written in a sense that it delivers what you want out of a movie like this, some good scares and some weird laughs. However otherwise it can be a bit of a mess. It’s full of cheese, and it jumps back and forth tonally a lot, never getting a perfect mix, and instead just flipping between dramatic and comedic. I also really need to give Daniel Radcliffe a shout out. He disappears into this role, and his American accent is spot on. Not once did I see Harry Potter trying to be American, but I just saw an incredibly talented actor doing an incredibly outstanding job in a genre film. I may not have loved everything about Horns, but it is a fun movie above all else, and I had a great time watching it.

Les Miserables (2012)

Les Miserables

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette

Imdb Link

2nd Watch

Jean Valjean has been in a French prison for the last nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread. Upon getting parole, Valjean discovers that he can make a difference in the world, and goes on the run. Becoming a mayor, a father, and a guardian angel to all around him.

I’m a huge musical buff, and when it comes to the best musicals ever written, it always comes down to Les Miserables and Book of Mormon. When it comes to songwriting, you don’t get much better than anything in Les Miserables. Think of the talent it would take to come up with any of the beautiful melodies in this musical, and think of having to tell one of the most epic, grand stories ever written using only that music. The fact that Les Miserables exists, and that it works is a miracle in itself. I can’t even imagine how difficult the musical would have been to write. So obviously I’m a huge fan of the original musical production, and when I first saw the movie adaptation, which was probably my most anticipated film of ever, despite the mixed reviews, it was immediately a top five film for me. I haven’t watched it since the day it was released in 2012, and I’ve had it on my shelf pretty much since the Oscars of that year. This week though, I found myself humming “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and decided that I really needed to watch Les Mis again. I can safely say now that putting this movie in my top five was me just being way too excited that this movie turned out good, but after a rewatch, it’s still cemented in my top 100. This is a damn good movie, and actually a good deal of the things that people dislike about this movie are the things that make me feel this is a successful adaptation. I mean, the performances are absolutely top notch. I could argue that this is the best ensemble cast I have ever seen, in any film, ever. Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is one to go down in history, and while he may not have as pure a voice as any other Valjean I’ve seen, the amount of emotion he puts into his performance takes him above and beyond the rest. Anne Hathaway wrecked me emotionally every time she was on screen, she is just absolutely spell binding. Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, and Samantha Barks all have great turns in their less flashy roles. Hell, I even like Russell Crowe’s stone cold force of nature Javert. A complaint I hear a lot is that “this is a musical, why aren’t these all professional singers?” and that is because the director made a choice to get quality actors who could express their feelings through their eyes and through their voices instead of actors who can make pretty sounds. In a film like Les Miserables, the singing needs to take a back seat to the storytelling. Speaking of which, Tom Hooper’s direction is excellent. I love the extreme close-ups, it’s a really neat stylistic choice that really gets us into the characters’ minds. Instead of blocking a scene of Anne Hathaway pacing and singing “I Dreamed a Dream”, he just puts a camera real close to her face, and lets the magic happen. The closeness gives us a real intimacy with the actors. Personally I love it. The one thing I’m not a huge fan of with Tom Hooper’s direction is some of the blocking. I get that a lot of the sequences are hard to put together, but there are a lot of times where you just know Hooper could have done better. Anyways, you can tell I really love this movie. It may not be in my top five anymore, hell now it’s just in my top five favorite movies of 2012, but this is definitely one of the most successful movie musicals ever made. A whirlwind of great acting, direction, and of course, above all else, beautiful music.

St. Vincent (2014)

St. Vincent

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Starring Bill Murray as Vincent

Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver

Melissa McCarthy as Maggie

Imdb Link

A young boy, Oliver, and his mother Maggy move in next door to a cranky old man named Vincent. After losing his keys to the house one day, Oliver has to go over to Vincent’s for a few hours, leading to Vincent becoming Oliver’s babysitter.

St. Vincent is a charming movie. It’s a good Bill Murray comedy, with a lot of laughs and a good heart, but it isn’t much more than that. I liked it a lot, but it is getting much more praise than it deserves. I mean, it won the runner up prize at TIFF last month. The runner up prize in years past has gone to heavy hitters like Argo, or Prisoners. Personally, at this year’s TIFF I saw 4 movies that are more accessible and better films than this one, but I digress. This is a positive review so I’m not going to spend my time bitching about how this wasn’t the best movie at TIFF. Bill Murray is back in form here. I haven’t seen him in a good lead role that wasn’t just an imitation of everything else he’s done in a while. The last few movies I’ve seen him in have just been Bill Murray playing his persona, way too deadpan, not very human, and very monotone. St Vincent is Bill Murray done right. For one, he actually plays a character and not just another “Bill Murray” caricature I’ve come to expect. His is one of the better performances I’ve seen this year. He’s fun to watch, and he reaches some really deep emotional places. The script, for the most part, is one of the most original comedies in recent times. Other than a very heavy handed ending, and an unnecessary thing happening to Vincent that was a huge part of the plot but really didn’t need to be because it neither pushed forward his character or the themes of the story, it worked really well. In the end, I found myself enjoying it more than the trailer led me to believe I would, and enjoyed it less than the huge amounts of praise led me to believe I would. I do recommend this to people who want a good heartwarming movie.

Wild Strawberries (1957)

Wild Strawberries

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Starring Viktor Sjostrom as Isak

Bibi Andersson as Sara

Imdb Link

Isak is a doctor and a professor, who must travel across Sweden to receive a lifetime achievement award. His son’s wife Sara tags along for the ride, and Isak evaluates all his life choices.

Wild Strawberries is the second Bergman movie I’ve seen after The Seventh Seal and strangely enough both films have been disappointments. I keep seeing Wild Strawberries on “best of all-time” lists, but I don’t really see it. It’s a perfectly alright movie, but it never hit me as anything more than alright. It never made me feel anything, I felt that the dream sequences were much more confusing than profound, and I didn’t think it was particularly well shot. The acting was amazing, and a lot of parts of the script were great, and full of some really excellent symbolism. Even though a lot of the parts were great, it really is balanced by the not so great. For example, in a touching human drama, I think I’m supposed to feel touched, or feel some emotion. In a profound look at the meaninglessness of life, should I not feel thoughtful? I came out of the movie not really effected in any way by what I had just watched. Furthermore, the visuals of the film were another thing that was iffy for me. I thought the camera angles were great, but the lighting was not so much. While every angle was really well chosen, a good deal of the time that was over shadowed by the burnt out lighting. Whenever characters go from shadows into sun, they lose all features and just become bright blobs, which of course makes the film less pleasant to look at. Just overall I found Wild Strawberries to be decent, but nowhere near as good as I expected.

Summer Wars (2010)

Summer Wars

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

Starring Ryûnosuke Kamiki as Kenji

Imdb Link

A computer programmer, Kenji, works for the world’s largest Internet company, Oz. The most popular girl in his school asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend to appease her grandmother, and Kenji spends a weekend with her crazy family, while Oz is hacked into by a military artificial intelligence.

I’m not a huge fan of anime outside of Studio Ghibli’s work, and don’t often watch it, but I’d been told that Summer Wars is fantastic, so I decided I might as well give it a shot. It really was fantastic. This movie is everything I want out of an animated film. It has great visuals, a heartwarming story, really funny dialogue, and a concept that is absolutely ridiculous. The animation is beautiful, and it looks like so much more than “just another anime”, with some truly brilliant coloring choices (mainly in Oz, where everything is white but the characters, so they stand out in a vibrant way). The story’s human part is really sweet, with characters that suit it perfectly, including one of the most badass grannies I’ve ever seen on film, and a very dynamic protagonist. The parts set inside a computer are completely ridiculous and the premise behind Oz just would not work when you think about it, but what makes it work in Summer Wars is the fact that it makes you believe it would work so fully. Then of course, one thing I was really happy about was the fact that it didn’t take itself seriously at all. One thing I find with a lot of anime I don’t like (COUGHpaprika) is that even though the premise is ridiculous and the visuals are outlandish, it feels the need to be some super serious sci-fi drama. Summer Wars was all about having fun,  you can tell the writers had fun writing it, the actors had fun voicing it, the director had fun creating it, and the audience has a fun time watching it. It’s just one of those movies that is just two hours of pure enjoyment. It’s really a fun, funny, and visually beautiful movie that I recommend to all.

Venus in Fur (2014)

Venus in Fur

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Roman Polanski

Starring Emmanuel Seigneur as Vanda

Mathieu Almaric as Thomas

Imdb Link

A theater director/writer is just finishing up auditions for his new play when an actress, Vanda, shows up late, insisting she auditions for him.

This was much better than I expected it to be. Polanski has always been a solid director, but his last film based on a play, Carnage, while solid, was not extraordinary, it just played it far too safe. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the play that Venus in Fur is based on, but I hadn’t heard anything about the movie since Cannes last year. After watching it I can safely say that this movie deserves more hype than it’s getting. The film is very close to the source material of the show as I understand it, only changing some dialogue, and the setting from New York to Paris (because Polanski can not film in New York, or anywhere in America for that matter). So the film only features two actors in one confined location. Yet despite this, the way that the film is blocked makes it feel like it would be hard to do on the stage. Roman Polanski’s direction here was incredibly good, taking the original play and making it feel like more than two actors on a stage. Somehow, with a constant movement in the camera and masterful blocking, the experience feels cinematic. I also need to say that the story of the play and the thematic content is incredible. I loved the way the characters progressed so you gradually realize their motivations. Vanda was an incredibly fun character to watch for that reason, and she was played masterfully by Emmanuelle Seigneur. I loved the transition from ditzy actress to… well I won’t spoil it for you, but just know, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The ending though, what the hell were they thinking with the ridiculous naked dance number? That came out of nowhere and made it feel unnecessarily absurd. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Other than that, the film is pretty damn good.

Howl (2010)

Howl

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman

Starring James Franco as Allen Ginsburg

Imdb Link

Allen Ginsbourg is a poet, whose poem Howl is being tried for being obscene literature. We see him talk about his poem, as well as animation over a reading of the poem, and a court case.

Howl is a strange little experimental film that’s unlike any other I have ever seen. It jumps back and forth between interviews, black and white flashbacks, a court case, and gorgeous animated versions of the titular poem. All the interviews and court scenes are word for word taken from actual interviews and the actual Howl obscenity trial. The way the story is told is completely unconventional, and it feels a lot more like a documentary filmed with actors rather than a film. It achieves exactly what it’s going for, and the key to that is a line in the interview section, where Ginsburg says something to the like of “People have this idea of what literature should be, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” He wrote Howl as a screw you to conventional literature, these filmmakers made Howl as a screw you to conventional filmmaking. Of course the fact that it succeeds doesn’t make it good. I admired it, but I didn’t enjoy it, I found it to be incredibly stilted in the way the film was put together and the dialogue was delivered. The actors, even while saying real people’s words, all seemed to be just acting, no one made you believe that these were real words, it just felt acted. Even from James Franco, who is one of the best actors out there under the right direction, gave a really flat performance. Just overall, it’s an admirable movie, but it’s not very enjoyable. I would possibly recommend it because it’s interesting, but not for much else.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Thomas Alfredson

Starring Kare Hedebrant as Oskar

Lina Leandersson as Eli

Imdb Link

Oskar is a young boy living with his single mom, and being bullied day in and day out. A man and a young girl Oskar’s age move in next door. Oskar and the girl, Eli become fast friends, but as Eli moves in a series of murders start happening around town.

Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight, and by that I mean, it’s a good vampire paranormal romance. The movie really surpassed my expectations, I had previously seen the English language remake Let Me In, and I thought it was decent, nothing special. So I thought that this would probably be about the same. I’m having another The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo moment now. Where both the original and remake are very similar, and yet the original feels so much more interesting. I don’t know for certain what makes it so much better than the remake, but it really is a million times more enjoyable even though Chloe Grace Moretz was superior, and Let Me In is a very high quality film. I think what makes this film work so much more than Let Me In is the different tone. Let the Right One In focuses more on the romance and the innocence of youth than it does on the scares. This is more of a romance than it is a horror, which is a wise choice, and it’s actually one of the best romances I’ve seen in a while. Another focus the film has is on the innocence of childhood, which is one of the best choices in the film. The way the film is shot is very basic, flat white lights instead of high contrast fancy lighting, which gives us a kind of innocent feel. Then there’s the music, which is a bright, maybe even playful melody on the piano. All this adds to the creepiness of the film. Even though there isn’t much focus on the scares themselves, this movie is certainly really creepy and unsettling. The ending is also one of the most incredible endings I’ve seen in a long time. But I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Go watch it if you haven’t.