Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘review’

[Note: If you want to skip ahead and just see the list without the explanations, they’re on the bottom.]

There were two major themes apparent to me in the 2012 film library.  One was obviously the resurgence of the auteur as many old (and new) branded directors were able to show off their works all at once this year, resulting in quite a strong line-up throughout the year and one of the best years for film releases in a while.  The other theme was a bit less apparent but an intriguing one – the notion of the unlikely protagonist and his or her representation within a community.  Whether it was President Lincoln as the unlikely catalyst in pushing forth the 13th Amendment or M’s surprise turnaround as the quintessential Bond Girl, the year made for some terrific and memorable characters that any writer and director would love to have.  And so, without further ado, here is my Top 10 (and a few others):

(What did I Miss This Year: Unfortunately, I missed a majority of animated films and as always, I had trouble watching a majority of foreign films as well. I will note any changes in future blog posts if there are any when I do catch these other films.)

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Levo_League_Beasts_Southern_WildBeasts of the Southern Wild is a film that really explored the notion of community and diaspora in fascinating ways, right in the center of the United States but in an unlikely setting of the New Orleans bayou.  The film definitely has it’s abstract moments that may confuse more than enlighten but really, it’s the central relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink and the outstanding performance of young newcomer, Wallis, that anchors the film. Oddly enough, Beasts probably ends up being the most reflective film of 2012 that showcases the trials and tribulations of the community in the U.S., much like many cities were facing themselves through financial hardships and the forces of nature.

9. Django Unchained
django-unchained-christoph-and-jamie-waltz-foxx

Quentin Tarantino is, no doubt, very proud of his work in Django Unchained, which has led to the majority of my complaints lodged against the film.  Nevertheless, the film is a fantastic romp through Tarantino’s twisted homage of the Western and his continued love for the exploitation genre.  Helped by a fantastic cast and two strong performances from Di Caprio’s crazed villain and Waltz’s whimsical German cowboy, Django ends up not only being an entertaining ride but also one that smartly twists and turns Western tropes and stereotypes into fascinating commentary and ideas that feel fresh and inspired.

8. The Cabin in the Woods
Cabin2The Cabin in the Woods is a strange Top 10 entry on a superficial level – the film lacks any major big acting force (save for one fun cameo) and the film’s budget works against the big aspirations that potentially the film could have reached.  Moreso, the film requires a viewer to ‘get’ the jokes and the gimmicks behind it before fully understanding it’s purpose.  Luckily, I feel that I got what Whedon and Goddard were going for and was pleasantly surprised by the results of this deconstruction of the modern horror film.  Witty, self-aware and compelling, The Cabin in the Woods is a terrific example of how smart script writing and careful balance can create quite a memorable experience amongst any genre.

7. Bernie
120427_MOV_bernieJackBlack.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeBernie was one of my biggest and most welcome surprises of the year as one of the best biopics of the year, not a small feat given it’s competition.  School of Rock director Linklater and Jack Black team up once again for this more subdued but fascinating look at a murder case involving a possibly gay mortician and his older mistress in a small Texan town.  It’s a bizarre, real-life story only made stranger thanks to it’s strange cast of characters and the fact that the town loves the main character.  Propped by the mockumentary style and a controlled yet eccentric performance as Bernie from Black, the film is seemingly unbelievable for some of it’s ridiculousness yet believable because of the presentation and performances.  Bernie is interesting to see how the story run it’s course and even more intriguing in looking at the polarizing forces of the justice system and town politics.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
628x471I still have not read the book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower but many that have are happy to report that the movie sticks pretty faithfully to it’s source material.  I preface with this statement since some may wonder if this placement is simply due to the faithfulness of book’s author and movie’s director, Chbosky’s, adaptation.  Sure, it would have been part of my list of pros, but the movie proudly stands on it’s own as an emotional and well-produced look into a freshman’s life at high school.  Although Perks still includes familiar stereotypes of freshman troubles, the way they are approached not only feel fresh but authentic thanks to the careful dialogue beats that try to convey the many confused emotions of a growing teenager and the complicated lives they lead amongst others that are having the same troubles.  Although most of the young cast gives off solid performances, it really is Ezra Miller that shines the brightest here as an openly gay senior and the difficulties he has to face.  All-in-all, Perks feels grounded in it’s perception of teenage life and presents students not as tropes but as actual emotional beings.

5. Samsara
samsara1I love Koyaanisqatsi, one of the first films I’ve watched that really embodies the dialogue-free movie that tries to tell it’s narrative through the natural sights and sounds of the world.  Then it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that I also fell in love with Samsara, which definitely has many interesting similarities to Koyannisqatsi.  Mostly dialogue-free and making most of it’s scenery shots, Samsara makes interesting commentary on a number of themes ranging from materialism to the cycle of life.  Although, at times, the film falls too much on direct messaging of it’s commentary and feels heavy-handed, the majority of Samsara’s messaging feels fascinating and insightful alongside some beautiful cinematography and locations.  In an age in which special effects continue to improve, it’s a testament to state that Samsara showcases how beautiful the world can naturally be while still including interesting thematic value to it all.

4. Cloud Atlas
CloudAtlas1Cloud Atlas is this year’s quintessential love-it-or-hate-it movie and for good reason.  The very ambitious film tries to adapt a post-modern novel that flashes back-and-forth between six different time periods and also are connected.  There are definite missteps within the film adaptation such as bad prosthetic makeup and a heavy-handed script that tries to make the themes too apparent.  However, if one can get past such misgivings, there is a lot to take in with Cloud Atlas both as an adaptation and as a film.  The Wachowski siblings and Tykwer create a fascinating universe to play around with with an almost theater-like approach with the same actors reprising multiple roles and a multitude of genres.  The end result is a fascinating homage to media as a medium while still holding true to the themes of the book of destiny and connection.  Again, the film is far from perfect and will definitely not please everyone, but Cloud Atlas is one of the most ambitious ones of the year with an earnest heart and six different tales worth listening to.

3. Silver Linings Playbook
"Silver Linings Playbook"Silver Linings Playbook is the most audience-friendly movie on this list I believe.  I say that because it’s general narrative structure and plot points are typical of any romantic comedy and on their own, are unsurprising and fairly blase.  However, as Director Russell has shown time and time again, his directorial expertise comes within his rich characters and energy behind them.  Silver Linings Playbook contains some of my favorite characters of the year and what I believe are some of the strongest performances all-around.  The main two protagonists, Pat and Tiffany, are individuals with heavy problems both in their life and their minds, setting up not only their characters’ journeys but the film’s frenetic style.  Silver Linings is fierce in really perpetuating the speed and back-and-forth actions of Pat’s bipolar disorder and although at times, it seems like you’re having to catch up, the energy and frenzy create a unique experience that bends the typical narrative structure.  Alongside the camera and pacing are Lawrence and Cooper.  Both put in such unique interpretations and feed off of each other that they create not only an undeniable chemistry but deep characters that audience members feel like they want to get to know better and connect with.  The end product is possibly the strongest emotional film of the year that sticks too close to it’s guns narratively but is so enchanting and enlightening in terms of it’s characters.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
movie_-_Moonrise-KingdomIn between my third and first choice is what I believe to be the most well-realized vision of the year with a balance of great characters and terrific story.  On one level, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s fascinating homage to both television in the mid-20th century and children’s novels with it’s whimsical narration, stylized narrative sequences and colorful atmosphere.  Anderson holds true to his vision and creates a fascinating world with lively characters that are both mesmerizing and consistent, helped much by his colorful cast of both veterans and newcomers from Murray to Hayward.  Furthermore, the film goes one step further and utilizes it’s unique style to propel an engaging plot about childhood stereotypes and the pains of growing up, all with their unique Anderson quirks.  It isn’t necessarily complex at first glance and Anderson has been keen to these types of films throughout his career, yet Moonrise Kingdom accomplishes a terrific feat as a whole – a unique vision that is skillfully insightful and colorfully entertaining.

1. Zero Dark Thirty
SUB-24ZERO-articleLargeOn the other side of the spectrum of my top three is my pick for the most technical and well-executed film of the year – Zero Dark Thirty.  I do believe the film lacks the character and intimate pull that Moonrise and Silver Linings pull together.  However, for what the film foregoes in it’s characterizations, it makes up for in sheer narrative bravado and intricacy in this sprawling dramatic thriller in the search for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.  Director Bigelow and her team create a massive, complicated timeline and then presents it in such an engaging yet consumable manner that, although oversimplifies certain narrative elements, leads audiences through the dangers of intelligence gathering and it’s political webs.  It lets the audience decide as to what is morally right and wrong while continuing to utilize it’s main character, Maya, as the sole connection back to the audience of any possible empathy.  The film ends up being one of my favorites of the year because of Bigelow’s successes in capturing the audience’s’ attention nearly every moment of it’s running time and constantly raising interesting questions of the successes and casualties on the war on terror.

Honorable Mentions:
-The Master
-Lincoln
-Argo
-Celeste and Jesse Forever
-Seven Psychopaths

Top 10 Movies:
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
9. Django Unchained
8. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Bernie
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
5. Samsara
4. Cloud Atlas
3. Silver Linings Playbook
2. Moonrise Kingdom
1. Zero Dark Thirty

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Time travel films fall into an interesting and ironic dilemma fairly unique (although not completely) to their genre – they must figure out how to explain and rationalize the concept in an efficient method while maintaining sense and flow.  It’s a difficult proposition and has been tackled in various ways throughout the years whether as a mere plot device that is used sparingly (ala Men in Black III) or in zany ways that is explained along the way (ala Back to the Future).  In the end, the best of these films try not to be bogged down too heavily with the concept and surround it with other strong fundamentals.  In many ways, then, Looper does a fascinating job at maintaining sense and intrigue by not worrying too heavily on the origins and semantics of time travel and turns out a solid film about morality and justice although unfortunately, it does not do enough to satisfy with some loose and unpolished parts and potential that isn’t reached.

Looper follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a Looper, a person who has been hired to kill captured prisoners of gangs from the future who are sent back via time travel, which has been invented thirty years later.  Doing this allows Joe to obtain wealth and power in a dystopian world with only the rich and the poor.  However, loopers have on condition in which due to the nature of the work, they must at the end of their tenure kill their future self who is sent back in a similar way.  Unfortunately for Joe, he meets his future self (Bruce Willis) sooner than expected but is outsmarted by him.  Now, the younger Joe needs to clear his name while on the run from his employer, run by Abe (Jeff Daniels), while figuring out how Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) play into his older self’s plan.

Looper is at it’s best when it focuses on it’s atmosphere and builds an intriguing background behind it’s characters.  The film has a beautiful look about it that is grounded in the present day yet feels free to mix itself a bit with sci-fi elements here and there such as hoverbikes and mutant abilities.  It also creates a world that lacks a middle class – simply a very impoverished world versus a rich and powerful one.  Utilizing mostly dark and gritty overtones while sprinkling in actual urban and suburban (and rural) neighborhoods, the dynamic is immediately set as an interesting one, especially mixing in the loopers and their role within the world.  Much like it’s world, the main characters, Levitt and Gagnon, are quite noticeably well-rounded and well-acted.  The characters may seem well far and apart but there is an interesting dynamic not only between the two but also within each of their own arcs.  Gordon-Levitt continues his march as a steady lead with a role a bit darker and focusing less on his charisma and more on his gritty attitude.  Personally, the prosthetic make-up wasn’t much of a distraction and his mannerisms to Willis are pretty spot-on to make the case that the two are one and same but even further, he pulls off a character that audiences will both stand behind yet still double-back on as his motivations aren’t exactly pure.  The other surprise standout is Gagnon as well who shows off a mature and smart child set in the middle of several disputes – it is a fine performance that holds up against other veterans actors on set.  Finally, the plot as well is fairly well-written and well-paced to match.  It’s noir styling mixed in with both a sci-fi and gangster setting makes for a good mix that doesn’t rely too heavily on one genre yet does not forget it’s elements as well and to it’s credit, doesn’t worry about having to explain the mechanics of it’s world such as how time travel came to be since the plot needed no such explanation.  The culmination to it’s climax also deserves a good mention as it comes off as very solid.  One final mention needs to go to the cinematography work that (at least early on) is frenetic and fascinating to watch unfold.

The disappointing foils to these positive, however, come within the film’s devaluation of it’s other characters, some underwhelming special effects and all-too-convenient plot devices and arcs.  On one level is the simplistic characters.  Other than the main characters mentioned prior, many of the other characters’ motivations are fairly simplistic and one-dimensional.  The villain for instance (Jeff Daniels) is created to be a very hardened, no-nonsense character yet never really is touched on other than supposedly frightful moments of anger.  Even Willis is relegated to his usual gruff action role and is only given some context thanks to the time travel mechanic (along with one terrible transition shot that tries to establish a connection with Gordon-Levitt and Willis that is almost laughable).  Just as strange is the special effects which unfortunately is in stark contrast to the beautiful atmosphere.  Futuristic elements like the hover bike seem poorly thought out and it’s the film’s benefit that there isn’t too many special effects heavy scenes.  Finally, much like the side characters, although the ideas are clever along with the plot direction, some of the plot devices seem too obvious and out in the limelight that most audience members should notice before the actual reveal – more of a shame as some of the interesting back-and-forth moments are dulled by these revelations that come too early and too plainly.

Looper is a solid and fairly clever sci-fi time travel film that still felt like it didn’t live up to it’s full potential.  The Blade Runner-esque noir world created here is fascinating in it’s creation surrounded with a good dichotomy between Levitt and Willis along with some clever twists along the way.  However, there are noticeably cracks in terms of fairly one-note characters, some underwhelming special effects and plot devices that are too evident.  Make no doubt about it – it was a pleasure watching Looper from start to finish topped off with a satisfying ending, but when the concept of a film is so strong, it’s disappointing to see it not go even further and tighten up the loose cogs that made the film merely good rather than great.

Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

Read Full Post »

There is no exact rule for what a film can and cannot do (granted, if we dig deeper, there are intrinsic elements that people do expect but for the sake of the review, I wanted to focus on this general aesthetic).  Instead, it has a sense of purpose in what it wants to try and accomplish.  One of the most important elements I believe a film has to prove before the film ends.  However, even after trying to generally prove it’s central purpose, the said film needs to make the purpose worthy of discussion and prove that it brings a unique insight into the table, especially one that challenges the audience with a powerful question.  So comes Compliance, a film based on true events, that falls very much into the center of this category.  It asks and presents a large moral dilemma, but unfortunately falters when trying to give meaning and purpose behind it all.

Compliance follows Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a call from a police officer one day that one of her employees, named Becky (Drema Walker), had been caught stealing from another person and needs to be detained until police could arrive.  Sandra detains Becky into the back and thus begins a long ordeal between the police officer, Sandra, Becky and a host of other people connected to the incident in the film including the person on the other line, Officer Daniels (Pat Healy).

Compliance’s strong suit is in the good aesthetic value of the fairly simple story.  Very little of the plot happens outside of the fast food restaurant and the interior is not exactly filled with interesting set pieces.  The problem that creeps up is simply all the attention of the film being put onto other elements of the film other than the scenery and a close inspection of context and narrative.  At least on a purely aesthetic level, the film is fine.  The colors are muted and dark to reflect the tone of the film while the actual actors seem to fit their roles in terms of appearance.  Compliance also sets up interesting ideas and themes with it.  The narrative explores obedience and power in different facets whether it is over a faceless medium or a manager and her employee.  It also asks about what common sense would be and the levels of relationships that affect the final outcome.  The fact that it is based on a true story definitely adds a bit more at stake to what may seem like an outlandish premise.

The problems, however, creep up in terms of how much one buys the premise and the lack of little else other than the conflict.  Although the film opens up in gigantic letters that it is based on a true story, the film does little to provide the audience with much context and conflict.  Instead, it gives out little morsels of character exposition and is too set on telling the plot straight than trying to imagine and think about more of the relationships of these characters inside and outside the fast food restaurant.  Personally, the lack of this context was a strong factor in feeling that the film did not do enough to explain itself and ended up more ridiculous than shocking.  Showing the audience the perpetrator as well felt as more of a scare tactic than much usage of trying to explain his motivations.  Under the film’s current guidance, hiding the perpetrator under a veil would have serviced the story much better.  Yet the presentation style and the film order felt so by the books that it did not do the end product enough justice.  Such a laid back approach felt to skew the film with more questions than answers – questions that the film could have either filled with it’s own assumptions or at least give scenes of provocative thought to.  The best scene in the film perhaps is in it’s final scene between the manager and another character, discussing the events that had transpired – a scene that had some weight in terms of character development and thoughtful questions on it’s subject matter.

Compliance is a tough pill to swallow, not exactly because of it’s subject matter but the decisions made in it’s presentation and characterization.  The central tale of Compliance is told fairly clearly with little room for the imagination and in that sense, makes for an interesting character study and moral issue of obedience to authority and personal sensibility.  However, personally, the film’s stand as an omnipotent passerby feels inadequate for the subject matter, only subtly hinting at why characters may have acted in a certain way.  This slight glance at the characters’ back story only fuels more of a desire to see how characters acted in different situations compared to the moral challenge presented in the film and to present more characterization that seemed lacking.  The end result is a fairly sad ordeal into those that abuse power and those that don’t do more to recognize such abuse but failing to put much substance behind the spectacle.   

Director: Craig Zobel
Rated: R
Running Time: Approx. 90 Mins.

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

The magnificence of films like Koyaanisqatsi is not just in the fact that it’s filmed without a single line of dialogue or mostly landscapes.  It is that they give these moving images meaning and depth through cinematography, syntax and sound/music.  Although seemingly simple in some respects compared to other genres, these films are constant battles of both mapping out the importance of it’s imagery and then creating a significance that doesn’t undermine the final product as a whole.  So comes Samsara, a film that is very much in the vein of this tiny genre of symbolic landscape/no dialogue films.  Although the final product at times seems too upfront and forceful with it’s themes, Samsara succeeds in both wowing audiences with it’s beautiful captures of both nature and humans alike while creating meaningful context around it.

Samsara is, at it’s core, a film about nature and human beings – both in harmony and against one another.  The meaning of the title literally translates to continuous flow or cyclic forces.  Shot in beautiful 70mm film, Director Fricke and his crew travel to 25 countries and views a variety of objects from volcanoes to city landscapes while also looking towards individuals and the people’s lives.

The toughest criticism to lodge at the film is in how  it’s messaging sometimes becomes so explicit and causes these sections to feel out-of-place amongst the rest of it’s film.  Samsara is a very subtle film in the different aspects it views and usually lets it’s themes flow out in such non-explicit ways.  However, there are enough noticeable moments in which Fricke cuts away from this technique and literally creates a very controlled and more noticeably manipulated scene.  Understandably, this comment may seem strange to lodge at a film in which scenes are obviously shot in certain ways and scenes are, of course, presented in a specific way.  Still, these scenes stand out because it seems easy to point out that they are manipulated and breaks the subtle consistency used throughout the rest of the film.  Similar messaging appears in the aforementioned subtle technique as well and works to bring forth the ideas and so unfortunately, these very overt scenes come up as a bit of a disappointment in comparison.

Luckily, other than these examples, Samsara is poignant both in it’s visual and aural presentation along with the symbolic overtones.  In terms of the different aspects visualized, Fricke and his crew have picked up both some of the obvious locales but also many fascinating sights as well of both the man-made and nature.  Some of the shots seem so surreal that it’s an amazing sight to think that little special effects tampering was involved.  Probably some of the most fascinating shots involves large bodies of people and the unique situations that it involves.  One of the most surprising involves a prison which I won’t spoil here.  In addition, the music, full of hymns, chants and electronica do a pretty good job of complementing the scenery as well.  Finally, there is a great sense of modern and relevant themes that are both global and interpersonal.  The film feels both as a celebration of life and a harsh look into the problems the world is facing that is deeper than simply the world versus humans but also ‘East’ versus ‘West’ as well as obesity and consumption.  Even though it may seem a bit preachy at times, the visual interplay and juxtaposition create creative scenarios that flow into one another and give meaning to a sea of people roaming around.  The introduction and ending as well serve as great starting points and bookends that bring the experience altogether.

Samsara is far from the first film to utilize just cinematography, sound and music to tell it’s plot but is still an impressive feat to see come together nevertheless.  Some of it’s overt thematic tellings may be a bit much and it’s ‘plot’ mechanics are rudimentary than innovative.  However, the shots are utterly gorgeous and many times amazing while as a whole, Director Fricke, weaves in fascinating themes such as ‘East’ versus ‘West’ comparisons to the quest for human perfection, all without a single line of dialogue.  Samsara is a beautiful painting that embodies the modern human life from it’s worst to it’s best and is another fine example of the relevance and importance of cinema.   

Director: Ron Fricke
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 102 Minutes

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

Read Full Post »

Dildo.  Raunchy.  Phone sex.  These words might evoke either a.) pornography b.) a raunchy Hangover-style comedy or c.) a dramatic documentary.  However, it’s fascinating to note when films utilize societal taboo concepts to help support a different idea that may have been much more unexpected.  And thus is the segway into a very surprising summer film, For a Good Time, Call as it mixes together a raunchy film about two sex phone operators with a story about a budding friendship.  Although few will be surprised at the general story arch and probably will feel the characterizations needed more room to really breathe, the overall comedy is not only funny but also appreciative of the chemistry between it’s characters and the subject matter.

For a Good Time, Call follows Lauren (Lauren Miller) who just learned that her boyfriend has called for a break in their relationship to fly off to Italy and is being forced to move out as well as losing her full time job.  On the other side is Katie (Ari Graynor) who is about to get evicted and reluctantly needs a roommate.  For better or for worse, their mutual friend, Jesse (Justin Long) hooks them together and forces them to become roommates, even with a past standing feud.  Soon, however, Lauren learns about one of Katie’s side jobs as a phone sex operator and becomes more interested in becoming involved.

The comedy is at it’s weakest when it lacks much context and meatier characterization to justify some of it’s proceedings along with a fairly simple story arch holding the film together.  The film is definitely very briskly paced both to it’s benefit and it’s folly.  The tight structure allows the film to push forward at a fairly breakneck speed that allows for the jokes and the laughs to keep coming but at the expense of some of it’s context and plot.  This problem rears it’s head with the two main characters, who have a fascinating growth period but their initial meeting and the reasons for starting their ‘friendship’ off at such a low point felt more inconsequential, even in such a setting that is slightly more loose with it’s plot logic.  Not helping the lack of meatier context is the fairly simple plot structure as well.  Although there is one fairly good plot surprise (at least in my personal viewing), expect the plot to hit the beats you expect it to and twist the way you think it will.  The structure and plot itself follows that previously mentioned simple structure, making decisions fairly simple to see and creating a situation in which you may understand the sympathy of a character but may not fully fall onto their side due to the lack of more substance.

However, for all it’s smaller errors, the overall comedy is held up with some great jokes from nearly all it’s cast along with the undeniable chemistry and craft put into it’s main characters and concept.  The film utilizes it’s phone sex premise to some pretty hilarious remarks not just because it may play with some vulgar innuendos and such but also because the writing has good respect and insight into the craft as well.  Nearly all the characters seem like they are given some great lines and jokes because of the brisk pacing which helps to focus jokes pretty well (especially the plethora of great cameos).  Speaking of the actors, along with an energetic (and funny) performance from Long, Miller and Graynor are also terrific to watch, especially playing off of one another.  Although their personality types may be fairly simple, the quick wit in how they respond to one another and the energy and spunk simply glue you to the characters as the film progresses.  Their roles are well-written and lots of fun to see transpire from start to finish.  Finally, on a larger level, the film, although it has it’s romantic moments, focuses on the friendship between Lauren and Katie more than anything else and surrounds the humor around their relationship.  Reminiscent of a close relationship film like Superbad, the focus and nurturing of that friendship alongside some of the insanity and absurdity erupting from the phone sex service makes for a smooth film that doesn’t create an overly sentimental or melodramatic proceeding but instead lets the audience care about the characters while still laughing and enjoying the trappings.

For a Good Time, Call is a surprising culmination of raunchy humor mixed with respect for it’s characters and subject matter.  Sure, the story may be a bit simplistic in terms of it’s overall story arch and the characterizations seemingly a bit too simplistic.  However, there is some good fun to be had in both the fun way it plays around with the concept of a call girl service and the great chemistry between the two leads that the script not only greatly respects but also balances well without being too overly sentimental.  For a Good Time, Call is definitely one of the best comedies of the year to date.

Director: Jamie Travis
Rated: R
Running Time: [Approx.] 80 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

Envisioning a trilogy is always a daunting task that few filmmakers have successfully been able to achieve (let alone a long-running series).  Not only does the narrative have to be engaging but needs to thematically make sure to connect with prior entries and wrap up loose ends.  In most cases, third entries usually fall with bloated budgets, too many ideas and a lackluster wrap-up that makes the journey getting to the end satisfying.  Where does The Dark Knight Rises fall?  Somewhere a bit in the middle.  Although the film succeeds in bringing some fascinating ideas and themes to the table and giving a good sense of closure, it also feels as if there are one too many ideas, leaving some sparse emotional context and an uneven plot logic that will disappoint some fans.

The Dark Knight Rises follows Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.  He has hidden away from society and not taken to his cape and cowl since then while Alfred (Michael Caine) continues to stay by his side while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) continues to watch over the city with the help of new officers such as John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  His family’s company is still run by Fox (Morgan Freeman) who is connected with a philanthropy project from Miranda (Marion Cotillard).  However, a new threat emerges as Selina (Anne Hathaway) reveals when she steals Bruce’s fingerprints for one of her employers, connected with a shadowy figure named Bane (Tom Hardy).  Bruce must decide whether to take up the Batman once again as the city comes under attack.

The Dark Knight Rises is at it’s best when it explores the depths of it’s lofty themes and it’s characters along with all the fantastic aesthetic trappings.  Probably the most fascinating positive points are the ambitious themes that are touched upon throughout the film.  Nolan has rarely shied away from comparing his Batman films to present-day issues and this film is little different as he tackles poverty disparity to role of governmental lies and does his best to integrate them into the actual plot and as lets it brood until it explodes by the film’s halfway point.  Even more intriguing is how Nolan encapsulates the entire three films into the growth of both Gotham and all of the characters that have been with the series since the beginning.  These characters, such as Gordon to Alfred to Bruce Wayne himself, are given large moral dilemmas that have been haunting them since the first film and come around full circle into the main spotlight here.  Especially in regards to Batman’s saga, Nolan finds a fairly good way to deal with the symbolism behind the character and the importance of it’s presence by film’s end.  Also, the obvious high points of the film that were fantastic from the prior entries are still top-notch here.  Zimmers’ score is still appropriately epic and the eerie chant-filled soundtrack works well to both be creepy and bombastic – differentiating itself enough from the previous entries yet still creating a good sense of continuity.  The cinematography is also terrific and noticeably better than the prior films as the shaky cam during the action scenes have been replaced by a steady overview, greatly enhancing the massive and crushing blows that occur often throughout the film.  Finally, there are a number of huge set pieces that feel massive in scope and very tangible that only continue to grow in scale and scope from a really interesting opening set piece in the sky to the vast battles all throughout Gotham below along with the cast doing a good job overall.

However, the film runs into issues with it’s own ambition and narrative structure that nullifies it’s final impact.  All-in-all, much of the issues derive from the massive scope the film decides to go in from the outset.  Although admirable and in many ways successful, both the film’s structure and some of the emotional context feel underwhelming because of the speed and amount of narrative that needs to be covered.  For instance, the first half of the film is fairly scattered in terms of the plot it’s trying to tell with many character introductions (or re-introductions) along with a relentless pace that clashes constantly.  This type of strange ebb and flow continues with character interactions that feel too abrupt and strange, such as a love interest between Bruce and Miranda that seems more sporadic than romantic, and late plot twists create much less interesting characters all-around because of them (especially in regard to Bane).  Additionally, although it’s understandable in terms of the themes Nolan wants to complete, the ending especially has this feeling of trying to fit in a conclusive ending than something appropriate to the tone and spirit of the film thus far.  Finally, there are some strange plot logic questions that come to mind such as a prison sequence in the middle and Bruce’s entrance in the final act that add only to some of the confusion and dampen the ambitious themes that are set forth.  Additional minor quibbles include Bane’s voice (improved from the preview screening in December but still creating some problems during longer monologue sequences) and some strange stunt sequences that result in more awkward moments than heroic ones especially near the final act.

The Dark Knight Rises is a highly ambitious if imperfect ending to Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  As a whole, the film works hard to tie together the prior two movies, is bold in the depth of it’s narrative arch and creates some fascinating thematic statements.  However, the film is held back by a sporadic first half and some strange character/plot choices.  It lacks the finesse and care that was shown to it’s previous entry and will likely disappoint very hardcore fans or viewers expecting to be impressed even more.  However, there is still a very interesting underlying film at the end that few could have completely expected and pushes forward Nolan’s belief in the symbol of what Batman stood for and the notion of identity that gives the film a powerful emotional edge – something that any film enthusiast is sad to see end.  

Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 164 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

Read Full Post »

Allen is known, in recent years, for his European fascination in films as he showcases his love for the foreign nations he has visited into some brilliant and insightful pieces on both the human psyche and in turn his perspective on the nation itself.  Each nation seems to truly bring a unique and different story from it and Italy is no different in To Rome with Love.  The question is – does it effectively tell it’s story and give some unique insight, especially since it divides it’s duty into four smaller plot threads?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always succeed as not all of the four stories are coherent or deep as it may have originally been thought out, but the end product itself is still a fun and interesting romp through Rome.

To Rome with Love follows four different small stories.  One is with John (Alec Baldwin) who is on vacation in Rome and decides to walk around his old living grounds when he comes across Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who invites John to his home where Jack’s girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) lives and where they all learn that Sally’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page) is moving in while she tries to figure out her life .  The second involves Jerry (Woody Allen) and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) who are visiting Rome to meet their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her new fiancee Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).  The third involves Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) who has just come to Rome for a job with his new wife, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi).  However, when Milly gets lost in the city, Antonio gets an unexpected visitor from a prostitute, Anna (Penelope Cruz) who won’t leave.  And finally, there is a plot involving Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who is a normal Roman citizen who suddenly gets an influx of paparazzi and media attention for no discernible reason.

The main problem comes with the imbalance of the strength of the stories.  Half of the film feels weaker than the other, an unfortunate problem that affects the more small story/sketch-like format of the film.  Even though the film’s style is more evocative of Allen’s earlier comedies, at least two of the smaller narratives aren’t as strong or have a fairly weak follow-thru that becomes all the more apparent because of the stylistic choice that was decided on.  The two that seemingly seems the most affected by the narrative are from Leopoldo (Benigni) and Antonio (Alessandro).  Their premises are actually interesting and thematically seem to have some good insights into both Allen’s views on Italy and society as a whole.  However, the ideas seem to run out of steam fairly quick at the outset or soon after.  Regarding Benigni’s plot, for instance, the much more reserved role works fairly well to point out the radical change that occurs for the character, but the theme and message are fairly obvious and by the time the plot point comes back up again, it feels overused as it offers nothing truly new to the audience and especially since most of the film is supposed to be humorous, these points come out to be some of the weakest.  Perhaps that’s an overall feeling of the film – none of the plotlines feel fairly revelatory or thematically potent.  The result is a whimsical look that is cute and innocuous but not truly deep.

However, there are still some good humorous moments to be had and does provide some interesting looks into Allen’s unique mindset of Rome and it’s surroundings.  The other half of the film definitely is much more enjoyable and intriguing to see play out.  Allen’s storyline involving his daughter’s fiancee’s Italian father is quite humorous and although the main joke becomes a little stale by film’s end, the interesting notion feels both classical and fresh thanks to the witty and inane banter of Allen and Davis foiled with the rest of the family and the ‘dream’ that they want to accomplish.  It provides an interesting dichotomy to a theme of ambition versus luxury and skill versus luck.  Baldwin’s storyline is probably the most fascinating of the film due to it’s structure.  Although the ‘secret’ behind the storyline is fairly easy to figure out a few scenes in, Allen continues to support it with strong writing and the appropriate actors that can pull it off such as Eisenberg and Page who have an intelligence and speed that makes the scenes move by so quickly yet feel deep.  Additionally, it uses Rome as a backdrop for romantic mischief and feels that it has the most interesting insights.  Both insightful and clever, these plotlines shine on their own and feel fun to watch play out along with the general structure of the film that views Rome as an interesting arena for such small stories that pop up among the locals to the foreigners and both.

Allen’s latest European-centered film isn’t perhaps his strongest work but still has a lot of charm and some smart insight into love and society.  On the one hand, some of the humor and plotlines fall flat as they go on for too long or seem more random than insightful and engaging.  However, that isn’t to say Allen fails as the other plotlines still radiate some original interesting perspectives and (as usual) a loving look into Europe with some beautiful framing and insight into Allen’s unique perspective on what the country means to him.  Perhaps, in the end, that is his ultimate takeaway from Rome, a city full of whimsical and human stories without a sense of too much gravitas, even if it ultimately meant creating some stories that were more or less incomplete thoughts while being able to uncover some fascinating ones.  

Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »