The A-Team (2010)

The A-Team

★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Starring Liam Neeson as Hannibal

Bradley Cooper as Face

Quinton Jackson as Baracus

Sharlito Copley as Murdock

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A high skilled group of military operatives are framed for the theft of some money printing plates.

I think that recently I’ve been noticing frustrating trends in action movies more than I used to. Shaky cam fight scenes and incomprehensible edits to mask actual violence are all over the place, and it has really been bothering me. Never have I been so bothered by shaky cam in any action movie as I was in The A-Team though. This is the first time that any film has actually made me feel motion sick from the way it’s filmed. It was just constant shaking, swooping, swerving, and other camera moves that were obviously meant to conceal violence that would otherwise be witnessed. Aside from that, the plot is ridiculous, and not in a usual, “fun action movie” way. It was ridiculous to a point where any logic went out the window, and it was nearly impossible to suspend disbelief and enjoy it. The performances from all of the actors felt more like imitations than actual performances, for example, Quinton Jackson didn’t make his character his own, he was simply doing a very poor Mr. T impersonation. I haven’t seen the original TV show, but I’d imagine that all the other actors were doing the same. I did often find Sharlito Copley entertaining to watch, but he got really annoying at times, and seemed like he was simply there to be “zany.” Overall, I was definitely not a fan of this film. It has occasional moments where it looks like it could be getting better, but it never really does. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Certified Copy (2011)

Certified Copy

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Starring Juliette Binoche as Elle

William Shimell as James Miller

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A French antique store owner, Elle, who lives in Tuscany, invites an author to spend a day with her.

I don’t get confused by films often, I can usually grasp what’s going on pretty easily, but after watching Certified Copy, I can truly say that I have no clue what the hell just happened. This is a film that I would liken to a plain little box with a lock on it, and a missing key. This is definitely not a good thing. Because a box is never exciting, it’s what is inside that counts, and we never get to figure out what is in there. The story of Certified Copy revolves around two characters, a man and a woman who have never met before going to a remote Italian town together, when all of a sudden a waitress mistakes the two of them as a married couple, and then I guess all of a sudden they’re actually married and haven’t seen each other in forever, or something, or maybe they aren’t and nothing makes sense. There is no way to understand exactly what the connection between the characters is unless you want to make theories about Elle using the author as a “copy” of her actual husband and taking her anger out on him. I’m not a fan of having to come up with farfetched theories to explain the events of a film, especially when the events just felt so uninteresting in the first place. I really enjoyed Abbas Kiarostami’s 2013 film Like Someone in Love, I thought it was a beautiful, slow moving journey through an escort’s daily life, and mentorship. However, his style is definitely… not suitable for every film. He really likes silence, and I’ve heard it said that he hates getting emotional reactions to his films, and cuts scenes that get laughter or any response in early screenings. So in a film that is 95% talking, that is very hard to pull off. It ends up being a lot of uninteresting dialogue that loops over the same themes in order to hit a point in instead of ever treading over any area that will get a reaction from the audience. So no comic relief, no real tension, nothing that makes us truly connect with the characters. Instead, we seem to hear “is a copy ever truly as great as the original” a billion times. Juliette Binoche does a good job, but it’s hard to be really spectacular with the material at hand. There was also some very interesting cinematography, for example, one shot in which we watch a conversation in a car driving through a village, and on one plane we can see the conversation, on another we can see the reflection of the deep blue sky and the buildings on either side of the car, and then finally we can see the people of the village moving around outside the car. The composition of shots like these were simply magnificent. Still, in the end Certified Copy is way too much work with no reward.

The American (2010)

The American

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Anton Corbijn

Starring George Clooney as Jack

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An assassin, whose name may or may not be Jack, is sent to a remote Italian village to lay low from enemies and await further instructions.

The American would be what it would look like if you gave a director like Michael Haneke the Bond franchise with George Clooney in the lead. This is a pretty typical spy thriller script that has a director who took it in a completely different direction. The American is a very slow moving movie, but it doesn’t have a slow moving plot, it’s the style of the filmmaking, the way that every shot takes its time, the actors don’t rush through their movements. This is a spy movie filmed in the style of a European art house piece, which makes it unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I’m not typically an enormous fan of European art-house (I find that like every genre, there’s a lot of great stuff, but then you get the films that miss the point and try and copy the style ending up feeling empty and incredibly pretentious), but I love how it was thrown in as a twist to the spy genre, and it fit the story and location of the film like a glove. So I do really enjoy the film, but as with any film, there are flaws, in this case, the flaws can really weigh it down at moments. The script is where it seems the majority of my problems with the film come from. The plot becomes very stretched out at times, and there isn’t enough conflict throughout the entire film. The fact that an entire section is devoted to Clooney trying to assemble a homemade gun shows that maybe they didn’t have enough story to work with. Furthermore, I think that having a main character who has pretty much zero personality traits other than “mysterious” makes them hard to relate with. Other than that, the director, Anton Corbijn proves with The American that he can take a mediocre script and turn it into something pretty interesting and different. The American is no James Bond movie, it isn’t packed with action or intrigue, but it does have a lot of beautiful shots of the Italian countryside, and a very unique look at an overdone genre.

City Lights (1931)

City Lights

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Charles Chaplin

Starring Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp

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2nd watch

The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind girl, selling flowers on the streets of the city, and pretends to be a rich man to impress her.

I’m incredibly impressed by the Criterion Collection’s blu-ray of City Lights, which makes this film look like it could have been made in the same year as The Artist. The transfer looks incredible, and I think it even helped me appreciate the film even more than I already did. City Lights is everything anyone could wish for in a Chaplin film. It is hilarious, sweet, heartwarming, while also having some very deep, subtle themes about love in it. This is by far my favorite Chaplin film, mainly because it feels to me as though it explores so many different things. City Lights, if broken up, could be four or five great short films, each with a separate gag. What really makes the film special though, is how even though these scenes could all be separate classic short films, they manage to bridge between each other to tell the most beautiful story possible. The variety between the different gags keeps it interesting and fun, and somehow, none of it ever feels like it belongs to a different film, it never becomes disjointed, and every moment goes towards the greater purpose of the piece. In the end, this movie is the most touching Chaplin film, with the reunion that Chaplin has been avoiding, fearing the flower girl will be disgusted by his appearance. In just a few glances, and a smile, we know exactly what is going to happen next in the story. This is silent film done right. We don’t need to be told everything, we don’t need to hear words to know that they’ll end up together, all we need are the faces of these two wonderful actors. Chaplin’s City Lights is a masterpiece of silent cinema, one of the best romantic comedies ever made.

Tracks (2014)

Tracks

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by John Curran

Starring Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson

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Robyn Davidson is a young Australian woman who decides to leave everything behind and go on a walk across Australia.

Tracks is the perfect example of an absolutely average film. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad, it was just about as plain and average as it gets. As I said earlier this week in my review for Peter Weir’s The Way Back, I typically love films about long voyages, a genre that Tracks falls into. However, it didn’t seem like there was enough of what makes me typically love those types of films here. Some things that make me typically love those grand voyage films are the cinematography which can really focus on the beauty of the world, and the peaceful nature of these films. Tracks really didn’t have any of the things that typically makes me love these films. The cinematography was perfectly average, it did not focus as much on nature as it should have, and instead is mainly just boring angles on Robyn and her camels. There were some incredibly beautiful shots, but they were too few with too much boring looking stuff in between them. I think that the one thing about Tracks that stood out was Mia Wasikowska’s performance. I’m not usually a big fan of hers, but she did a very good job here. Her performance as Robyn Davidson is understated, while also very powerful. She has some incredible moments. I don’t think she’ll end up being a player in the Best Actress race, but for now, she’s in my top five of the year. She really does standout as the best part of the film. Also, I know this is a true story, but damn does the thought of going on a solo voyage across Australia, and camping unprotected outside bother the hell out of me. Isn’t there, you know, lots and lots of animals that can kill you in Australia? Taking a voyage like this on isn’t very inspirational, it’s just kind of stupid. Anyways, Tracks covers 2000 miles in its protagonist’s walk, half of the 4000 miles in The Way Back, which is fitting, because Tracks is half the film that The Way Back is.

Please Give (2010)

Please Give

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Nicole Holofcener

Starring Catherine Keener as Kate

Rebecca Hall as Rebecca

Oliver Platt as Alex

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Kate and Alex have bought the apartment next door to them, which is inhabited by an elderly woman who just won’t seem to die, the elderly woman’s two granddaughters feel that Kate and Alex are like vultures.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much from Please Give seeing as I hadn’t enjoyed Nicole Holofcener’s previous film, Friends with Money. However, Please Give was a really charming, funny, and wise film. One major problem I had with Friends with Money was that it felt like it was basically a film that’s theme was “it’s hard to be a rich white woman.” I really enjoyed Please Give because it seemed to be making fun of that. Yes, the film centers on the upper class in New York city, but it makes fun of them more than it celebrates them. Here, we see these people as hypocrites, they’re nice people, but Holofcener has actually given them flaws this time. Kate, for example, is very self righteous, and there are a lot of funny moments where she feels she has to give to the less fortunate. She’ll give homeless people twenty dollar bills, while saying things that would really just make them feel bad about themselves. You can really see how Holofcener has written this as a character point where Kate thinks she’s being a good person, when she’s really just trying to prove to everyone else that she’s better than them. You can really see Holofcener’s growth in this film, as she writes actually realistic, developed characters in this film. Please Give is a comedy that never makes you laugh out loud, but it’s one that is always very charming. I don’t think I laughed out loud once, but that’s not a bad thing as I was always amused. Please Give is one of the better films in the slice of upper class New York life genre, a group of films I’ve never cared for much. It doesn’t have much of a plot, and relies on the characters interactions overall. It feels kind of insignificant in the end, like we didn’t really need to be told this story, but it is a pleasant ride.

Green Zone (2010)

Green Zone

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Paul Greengrass

Starring Matt Damon as Roy Miller

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A soldier in Iraq, Roy Miller, starts to notice that intel on the WMDs seems to always lead to nothing, and dives deeper into what could be a conspiracy.

Paul Greengrass has to represent everything I hate about modern day action filmmaking. This guy seems to think that he can replace any actual action, or nice shots, with the shakiest of shaky cams, and cuts so fast that you can hardly keep up. His films move ridiculously fast, and not in a good way. When I say they move fast, I mean that, for example, we have a fight scene, the camera is already shaking so much that we don’t know who is hitting who, we think we see something but we aren’t sure, and in the midst of that, just to make it even more confusing, it’s cutting to different angles every half second. Watching a Paul Greengrass film is like watching a Toddler with ADHD play Call of Duty. That said, somehow Paul Greengrass always ends up getting great scripts. In the direction of any other competent human being, Green Zone would have been a good film. The script plays out like an espionage thriller, where it’s really America vs America, and showing us the dark side of the war. It’s refreshing to see an Iraq war film that is actually very anti-America. Even The Hurt Locker, and from what I’m hearing, American Sniper have some sort of “don’t fuck with ‘merica” propaganda message in them. Green Zone has none of that, it debates the reasons that the Iraq war happened, it puts the American army not just in a moral grey area, but it outright says that they were in the wrong about everything. I wish that they’d given this film to Kathryn Bigelow, who seems to have the opposite problem to Greengrass. She’s a damn good director, but I never like the scripts she’s given. Green Zone is one of those films that has so many good things about it, but it has an equal amount of bad things which makes it a completely neutral film. But Hollywood, stop giving Paul Greengrass good action movie scripts, and start giving those scripts to someone who doesn’t think you can substitute actual action for blurry laziness.

The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Peter Weir

Starring Dragos Bucur as Zoran

Colin Farrell as Valka

Ed Harris as Mr Smith

Imdb Link

Seven inmates at a Soviet jail in Siberia, six of them political prisoners who disagreed with communism, one of them a thief, escape and make a four thousand mile journey on foot, all the way to India.

The Way Back is an adventure movie like they no other. The film centers on the story of a group of inmates who make an impossible journey from the freezing cold weather of Siberia, all the way down through the deserts of Mongolia, and into Tibet, through the himalayas. I tend to love films that center on journeys like this, where we get a lot of nice epic walking shots, and some really cool landscapes. So as soon as the opening title card saying that this is the story of inmates that made it all the way to the himalayas, I knew that I was going to enjoy the film. As I said, I love films that have lots of epic walking shots and beautiful landscape shots, which is probably a solid 90% of The Way Back. However, what makes it look so good isn’t the fact that it has these grand establishing shots, or the choices of the locations to shoot at, it’s the framing that makes it look so damn good. The framing focuses more on the nature than it does on the people passing through, because the story is really about fighting with nature.  So it feels as if making the actors look good takes a back seat to making nature look as majestic as possible. Another thing I really enjoyed with this film is the fact that it really does not have an antagonist. There’s no one chasing these people, there’s nothing in their path, there’s no conflict with other people. I mean, at first, everyone was trying to escape from the Communists, but after that, there’s no bad guy. This is a film where all the humans team together to be strong, to not break. It’s a film where the plot is driven forward by the will to live, not the need to fight against one another. It’s refreshing to see something like this once in a while when nearly every adventure film nowadays seems to be all about “oh no, people are chasing me and I must get away”, or “I need to prove something to people who don’t believe in me”, or “I have to get from point A to point B or bad things will happen to the world.” Because of its refusal to fall into any of the typical tropes that many writers would have shoehorned in to add more conflict, The Way Back manages to be something really special.

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring Michael Keaton as Riggan

Emma Stone as Sam

Edward Norton as Mike

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Riggan Thomson is a washed up actor, famous for playing a superhero, Birdman, who hopes to get his career back on track by mounting a Broadway play, which he wrote, directed, and is starring in.

So what everyone has been saying is true, the best movie of the year has arrived in the form of Birdman, a clever, surrealist black comedy satirizing superhero films, Hollywood, Broadway, and fame in general. This is what I’ve been waiting to see all year, something that I think about non-stop for days afterwards, something that I can’t wait to watch a second time. In a year full of an enormous amount of great movies, Birdman blows everything else out of the water. This film manages to be one of the most technically impressive, as well as one of the most subtle films I’ve seen in a while. Usually it’s one or the other, but Birdman really is both. The technical side being supported by the whole “made to look like one shot” thing that I’m sure you have heard about, which works perfectly, making the film feel exactly like a piece of theater, but in the most cinematic way possible, as well as having some very impressive CGI (actually, the film wins the award for having both the best and worst CGI of the year in the same scene, having a very shitty looking floating Birdman following Riggan, followed by one of the most impressive looking monsters I’ve ever seen on top of a brownstone apartment). The subtlety is supported by a brilliant script, full of witty dialogue, and symbolism and metaphors that I’m going to need to rewatch the film to fully understand, as well as some great understated performances by Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and a standout performance from Edward Norton. Even though all the actors give career best performances, the real star of the show in Birdman is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his direction. You can tell how perfectly everything comes together because of his vision. The film is full of incredibly strong choices, and without these choices, I doubt the film would be even a quarter as impressive as it ended up being. This movie is one of a kind, and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t see often. This is a brilliant film, and I can’t wait to see it a second time.

Last Train Home (2010)

Last Train Home

★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Lixin Fan

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Every year, one hundred and thirty million Chinese workers migrate back home to their home towns, the largest human migration in the world.

This documentary, about Chinese workers going home over a holiday season, is very bland, uninteresting, and all together a bit of a mess of a film. Last Train Home may be about this grand event, but it really centers on a single family, traveling home to be together. This is a cool premise, taking a grand event, and giving a more intimate view on the subject matter, however, they picked the most bland family possible to follow. They were not an interesting group of characters. I’m not saying that they should have been like a reality TV show family or anything, but just people that have something interesting about them. An average family will be interesting to watch, somehow they managed to find a family with nothing interesting about any of them. The director of Last Train Home focuses on these characters to give us a more intimate view on the Chinese migration, but instead of feeling close to these people, they still feel just like more faces in the enormous crowds. There’s a shot in the end of the film, where one of the family members walks away from the camera and blends into the crowd, which leads me to believe that possibly having these people be nearly characterless was a directorial choice to give them an equal importance to everyone else in the crowds. If that was a directorial choice, I respect that, but I can’t forgive it. There is a reason why people write compelling characters, and most documentaries focus on interesting people. I will give Last Train Home credit for the way it looks. It’s hard to shoot a documentary with really good cinematography, especially when the documentary mostly focuses on large crowds of people waiting for trains. However Last Train Home managed to look stunning. The composition of shots and shot choices are for the most part always pretty well done, and interesting to look at. Other than that though, I cannot say that Last Train Home was very good at all.