Category Archives: Film Reviews

REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

Author’s Note: The most mild of spoilers are included here, and do not extend farther than a plot summary that extends ever so slightly farther than that which is easily gleaned from trailers and pre-release word-of-mouth. Seeing as how the film is exceedingly highly-anticipated, I have taken great strides to avoid any and all spoilers. Regardless, if you want to stay completely in the dark, wait until after you’ve seen the film to read this. Enjoy.

What comes to mind when you think about the perfect trilogy?

Two come to mind, for me: Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. That’s all that comes to mind; don’t send me hate mail on this one, please. The perfect trilogy is something to behold, due to just how difficult it is to get all of the right elements in place thrice, let alone just once. Batman Begins ushered in a new era of superhero movies, where it’s more than allowed to go subtle, delicate, and dark, three things which were wholly absent from each Batman movie that came before. I theorize that Christopher Nolan (see: Memento, Inception) paved the way for art house directors to tell these stories, a thing which has worked perfectly since then (see: The Avengers). These directors understand that, while Batman, The Avengers, Spiderman, etc. sell tickets, they never quite work perfectly as just action movie alone. The blend of the real and the unreal, and how to harness that blend, is Nolan’s greatest assert. It is also what made the second installment in the trilogy, The Dark Knight, one of the best films ever made, no matter the subject matter.

This is why expectations for the final film in the trilogy were incredibly (and almost dangerously) high. I’m not going to ruin the movie for you, so I’ll recap things: nearly a decade after the fall of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne has sent himself into self-administered exile. Dent’s death proves to be the fire that Gotham needed, and under a new law, the city has entered a new era of prosperity, rather than one of bloodshed and despair. Then, on the anniversary of Dent’s passing, Wayne is given a delicate wake-up call that Gotham may not be the utopia which everyone sees. What follows is a series of twists and turns, leading from the disappearance of a senator, to a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises, lead in part by the one they call Bane. To anybody with any familiarity of Bane as a character, it’s easy to see the dark place this particular road leads.

As far as plots go, Rises is the best kind of convoluted. It rewards the diligent viewer time and time again, and while it does occasionally get bogged down by slightly incomprehensible directions, it reaffirms that Batman is the kind of hero that deserves intrigue as much as balls-out action. There are definite themes of the disenfranchised taking back what they are owed, and the toll one must pay for exorbitant power. Bane, while being a truly bad dude, represents the marginalized and downtrodden of Gotham, serving as the flip-side of Batman’s heroism: in essence, Bane is the personification of the chaos that Joker stood for in The Dark Knight. There are clear and present parallels to be drawn between any great revolution, and there’s no surprise that things take the turns they do. Nolan ends the film on an open-ended note: it’s almost as if Nolan wanted to pass the torch along to the next person who wants to tell the story, even though he’s decided to bow out.

Finally, a take on the cast of characters: Anne Hathaway, arguably the weakest link present, delivers the finest performance of Catwoman to date. Rather than feeling like an over-sexed burglar railing off hackneyed cat puns, the character is expertly layered, painting a picture of a woman doing what she has to to stay alive, rather than for fame and fortune. Catwoman is a silly character, but against all odds, Rises makes me feel something I’ve yet to feel for the character: respect. Tom Hardy’s Bane is more menacing than he has any right to be, but takes that fear and humanizes the monster behind the mask. Everything in that character could have gone wrong, but it is a mark of Hardy’s abilities that he managed to cast his character in a new light. Even his voice, hard as it is to understand in the beginning, grows on you very quickly as you begin to adjust to the sound. As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he shines as always, bringing a true and clear humanity to a film that can feel too large for its own good at times. There are a lot of other new characters introduced in the first act, which makes it slightly difficult to stay on top of things if you aren’t trying, but just keep in mind: it all pays off.

People are far too quick to add a tag to movies like Nolan’s Batman films, and it feels insulting at times. You hear things thrown around all the time: “X is the best X movie I’v seen in years!” People will undoubtedly add the “superhero” or “comic book” tags to The Dark Knight Rises, and indeed, the series as a whole. However, The Dark Knight Rises serves as a remarkable ending to the finest deconstruction of the hero genre since Watchmen, and stands as proof of what a dedicated and loving film maker can do – no matter the genre tag you attach.

REVIEW: Young Adult

How do they always make someone so gorgeous look so profoundly ugly?

One of the best things you can say about Jason Reitman is that he knows exactly how to make an easy movie. In his relatively short career, he has made two movies that I could watch every day if I had to (Thank You for Smoking and Juno), and one that I could not, but could at least watch once a week (Up in the Air, and it’s only a once-a-week film because it’s so damn sad.) There’s something effortless about how he writes characters, which makes for movies that you could watch without blinking if they were twice as long. They’re movies you wish you could live in.

Young Adult is decided not a movie that you could watch every day, or even many times in your life. Without giving too much away, over the course of the movie, Charlize Theron says and does more than a few incredibly uncomfortable things, the least of which being the act of ruining the baby shower of her high school sweetheart’s wife, and verbally assaulting Patton Oswalt. There is something ugly inside of Theron, and for some reason, directors just seem to love pulling it out of her.

Theron plays Mavis Gary, a divorced and incredibly lost YA (“that’s industry speak for ‘young adult,'”*) writer who, upon receiving an email about the new birth of the first child of her long-lost high school sweetheart Buddy (executed wonderfully by Patrick Wilson). She decides to, in the midst of (not) writing, leave Minneapolis and head back to her home town to try and win him back. Along the way, she drinks heavily, abandons her dog, and pals around with former classmate Matt Freehauf (Oswalt, who here does not act as much as he says Oswaltian things – do not read this as a complaint). She makes everyone around her uncomfortable with her brash (read: emotionally stunted) behavior, and alienates anyone and everyone who wants to help her.

It’s not a surprise that the title of the film has a double meaning: while Mavis may be a YA writer, she herself is a 38-year-old who is still trapped in the role she filled when she was twenty-plus years younger, much to the disdain of the people who knew her then, and have learned to try and avoid knowing her now. To say that Gary is emotionally stunted is more than a small understatement, considering how she treats everyone, and every situation, throughout.

It feels hard to focus on anyone else in the film but Theron, but I would feel like this review would be incomplete if I didn’t spend a moment talking about Patton Oswalt. It’s hard to consider his turn here as acting, as he essentially plays himself, but with a crutch, but here he shines brighter than almost anyone. He manages to bring a dose of realism and humanity into every scheme Mavis hatches, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for every “real” moment that she has. It would also be insulting if I ignored the incredible writing prowess of screenwriter Diablo Cody, who dazzles once again in making people who feel real, even though they feel like people you would never meet, or want to meet. It seems that Cody is at her best when writing teenagers, and it just so happens that this made her a perfect for Young Adult in a way. She managed to, because of this, write characters that felt authentic in their immaturity; at any given point, it feels like the people you’re watching still think they’re in in high school, but nobody has told them that they’ve aged.

In the end, it’s clear that Mavis is not a terrible person. She is a person who finds herself frozen in time, longing to get back to that time. The same could be said of everyone in the film – they’re all still young adults in their own way, and they really can’t be blamed for being so awkward and uncomfortable all the time. It makes Young Adult a movie completely worth watching, even if I may never watch it again.

 

*hey, that’s the name of the picture!

REVIEW: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass

"Me? I'm Kick-Ass!"

As a service, I should let you know that there are spoilers in here. Not major spoilers, but parts of the plot of the film are given away. I won’t ruin the ending, though. Thank you!

I learned to hate writing film reviews. So stuffy is the practice of reviewing the motion picture that there are sites (albiet sites that provide a very useful service) meant to collect everything anyone has ever said about a movie, throw it into a blender, and tell you how good it is in numbers. Few movies that are released these days are thick enough to warrant lengthy discussion and interpretation, which is saddening, but is to be expected.

Kick-Ass is not a movie that warrants lengthy discussion and interpretation. however, for the first time in a long time, I found myself back in the theater, right back where I started with media criticism, wanting to be wowed. Was I wowed? Why, yes I was. But now, for a little context on the movie you’re reading about, if you’re unaware of its existence:

“Okay, you cunts… let’s see what you’ve got!”

This short and to the point line is, in Kick-Ass, delivered by a 13-year-old girl in a purple wig and a plaid skirt. Cute? Very, especially since she proceeds to execute a room full of giant angry crazy druggies with guns. Though the movie may be the story of pathetic motherfucker Dave Lizewski’s (Brilliantly played by Aaron Johnson) alter-ego, the movie truly belongs to Hit-Girl.

If you are unaware of the film, here’s what’s going on:

Dave Lizewski is your normal comic-book-loving, bully-beaten, awkward-around-girls-and-masturbates-to-African-tribeswomen teenage boy. One day, after having his money stolen for the umpteenth time, he decides that he should put on a spandex suit and start taking the law into his own hands. And so, Lizewski becomes the triumphant Kick-Ass. And things for him begin to go…almost more poorly than before. When he tries to fight crime for the first time, he’s stabbed in the stomach and hit by a speeding car, leaving him with damaged nerve endings and metal in his body. Oh yeah, and the girl of his dreams befriends him because she thinks he’s gay. So there’s that, too.

https://i2.wp.com/beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/00589/johnson-moretz-k_589562gm-e.jpg

She can't see through walls. But she can kick your ass.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, down-for-the-count ex-cop Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage, perfectly in his element after Bad Lieutenant) is about to shoot a pre-teen girl in a pink winter coat in the chest from 20 feet away. “Is this going to hurt?” The girl asks. “It’ll hurt about as much as being punched in the chest!” he tells her before firing. She drops to the ground. What just happened? You’re thinking if you haven’t seen the trailers (get on this shit, really!) After pulling the bullets out of her Kevlar vest, she stands up and tells him that he’s going to have to buy her ice cream if he’s going to shoot her again.

The spirit of Kick-Ass wears its heart and its influences on its sleeve, a trait that sets it apart from almost every superhero film of the last decade, and possibly ever. Ultimately, the antagonists introduced as the larger evil do give a glimpse of what their true motives are, even Chris D’Amico, the son of our Big Bad, the coke-selling crime lord Frank D’Amico, who just wants his father to pay attention to the fact that he’s alive. Eventually we find that Damon’s reasons for teaching his daughter to wield guns and blades as effectively as possible are to allow her to help take down the operation responsible for his fall from grace in the police department. This story may be the most well-done moment of the movie, tugging on your heartstrings ever so gently while you learn about Damon and Mindy’s back-story, in comic book form.

As said, this movie belongs to Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, who put on the best and most affecting show here. They prove to be a lot of the heart of the film, and Cage actually makes you, in a rare turn, feel a lot for his character, who, above all else, wants to bring down the people who are responsible for everything that’s happened in the last 15 years of his life. The chemistry between he and the young Chloë Grace Moretz practically leaps off of the screen, stealing the show from the title character entirely.

Kick-Ass is tremendously violent, the colors are saturated to the brink of insanity, and there’s so much blood and guts that you could very well feel a little queasy after the film’s first true bloodbath. But most importantly, there wasn’t a point in the movie where I felt that it was going on too long. The events herein are timed absolutely flawlessly, and there’s never a point where it gives away its two-hour storyline; it’s a lot of information, but everything would be just as comfortable if it were an hour longer.  I never, at any moment, felt the urge to check my watch, which so many movies these days do.

So, did Kick-Ass “deliver”? In short, fuck yeah it did. It’s the kind of film that makes me remember why I’ve always loved going to the movies, and why I love talking about them. It may not become an instant classic, but it should. It may not do the job of picking apart superheroes the way Alan Moore’s Watchmen did, but it does the same job of putting a spotlight on the silliness of everything, and lets you smile at how absurd everything is, without forcing you to suspend your disbelief. And that’s worth sitting through “The Twenty” for.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Recent Films But Were Too Lazy to Go to the RedBox to Get

My wife and I recently got sick of re-watching the same movies over and over. So, we started taking advantage of RedBox and have recently watched most of the heavily talked about films from the last few months. If you’ve put off watching them, here’s the break-down of what was really good, and what the fuck’s going on:

1) The Hurt Locker: A highly trained bomb-diffuser in Iraq learns about not being an asshole to your comrades, because Lord knows, if you don’t shut your mouth, they might just discuss blowing your ass up. It also features a crazy-ass general who shows up to tell him that he’s hot shit, and a wild man, like five to ten times each, only to disappear a minute later and never be seen again. Is there anything more off-putting than a non-sequitur in a film about the people who diffuse roadside bombs in Baghdad? Four Stars

2) Brothers: Spiderman (Tobey Maguire) leaves Padme (Natalie Portman) behind to go to war and gets his ass blown up in a helicopter crash. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to fill the fatherly role that Peter Parker left after his death…OR IS HE REALLY DEAD?! (No. No he’s not. Hilarity does NOT ensue.) Prepare to fucking cry and scream like a newborn infant. Five Stars

3) Up In The Air: George Clooney is a sexy, corporate ass-kicking down-sizer. His job is to fly around the country, fuck the gorgeous psychiatrist from The Departed, fire people, and in general just be a really cool guy. UNTIL TRAGEDY STRIKES, and his company decided that he’s going to train that chick from Twilight (one of the ones that isn’t Kristen Stewart) to fire people, because her system of firing people on a web cam is probably a bad idea. Hilarity ensues! (Really, it does in this one.) I will watch absolutely anything Jason Reitman releases. After Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and now this, I will follow his ass until the end of the earth. Five Stars

4) The Informant!: You had best better watch your fucking ass, or Matt Damon will SMOKE IT. It doesn’t matter that he’s the worst spy ever to exist, he’s still going to make damn sure your ass comes to justice. Until everyone finds out that he’s just a tattle-tale and the Smothers Brothers, Patton Oswalt, and Paul F. Tompkins go after his ass. These are the good times people, and this is what we’re going to get from Steven Soderbergh now that Bernie Mac is dead and we won’t get another Oceans movie. However, in all fairness, it was a really fun ride, and it proves that Matt Damon is really, really, really awesome, and totally not a cake-eater. Three-And-A-Half Stars

5) An Education: The fantastically charming Peter Sarsgaard (sporting a British accent and a soul patch) charms the dress off of a 16 year old schoolgirl who you have never heard of before. No really, you’ve never heard of her before. But she’s marvelous, looks great in a British all-girl-school uniform, and gets really fucking pissed when her boyfriend turns out to be the biggest dirtbag on the face of the earth. An Education swims in its own wit, and it has every right to, being that Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy, A Long Way Down, How to Be Good) wrote the screen play. This may be one of the most impeccably done coming of age films done in a long time, and having Doc Ock be the most over-the-top father in the world makes everything all the better. Five Stars

6) The Men Who Stare At Goats: It has Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and George Clooney as some of the craziest people ever to co-exist with each other, which is saying something for a group of people that includes Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Dude. Clooney and McGregor go on an adventure in the Iraq desert, and along the way Clooney tells him all about the group of people who the US government worked to train to be psychic weapons. The movie begins with the disclaimer: “More of this is true than you would like to believe,” which is true. Keep in mind, when you watch it, that the New Earth Army actually existed. Also take in the irony of Daniel Ocean talking to Obi-Wan about Jedi. Three Stars

7) Public Enemies: I love Johnny Depp. That said, it’s been awhile since I felt compelled to turn off a movie. I almost wanted to deliberately scratch the disc and return it to Redbox, telling them the DVD didn’t work, and could we please, please, please have our $1 back. Terrible. Fuck this shit. One Star

8 ) The Damned United: This is one that may have slipped under your radar, but: Lucian from Underworld plays the formidable Brian Clough, the football manager who, after taking the Derby County F.C. to the very top, was placed in charge of Leeds United, and royally fucks everything up. One of the most entertaining sports movies I’ve seen since Friday Night Lights, with the usual fun of British actors from other films co-mingling into the same film (i.e. Clough’s Derby County co-captain happens to be Wormtail, while the F.C.’s chairman happens to be Horace Slughorn. That, and Miles O’Brien happens to be the former captain of Leeds United. Full marks to whoever recognizes the disgruntled Leeds footballer and wonders if he still likes dags.) All in all, a wonderful sports film about how, if you’re a royal pain in the ass, someone’s just going to fuck your shit up and kick you out the door. Fuck off now, The Blind Side, not everything needs to be heartwarming. Five Stars

9) Julie & Julia: However, heartwarming is not always a bad thing. Amy Adams plays a woman who’s yelled at by people who were affected by 9/11, and realizes that the best way to learn to cook is to cook her way through all 500+ recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, all in a year. The film is interwoven with Meryl Streep playing a marvelous Julia Child, who plays against Stanley Tucci reaffirming that not all actors need to do serious roles to be the best at what they do. All of the players here have chemistry out the wazoo, and in the end everything feels warm and fuzzy, which is something that, despite everything, I do really like. All I can say is, try and eat a big meal before this movie. You don’t want to be hungry for it. Four Stars

10) Moon: Zaphod Beeblebrox is on the moon, ALONE. Only now instead of being a deranged man who just wants to bang Zooey Deschanel (AND WHO WOULDN’T), he’s the single most depressed and isolated man in the world, and it doesn’t help that the only company he’s had for three years is an emoticon-faced Kevin Spacey robot who IS NOT GOING TO TURN EVIL. Seriously, this isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey. Zaphod hurts himself, finds out that a moon-combine has been damaged, and goes to see what the damage is, only to find… DUN DUN DUUUUN! HIMSELF. HILARITY DOES NOT ENSUE. In fact a lot of really fucking sad shit ensues. Duncan Jones directed this, and if you think that you don’t know who that is, it’s worth mentioning that his real name is Zowie Bowie, aka the son of David Bowie. A film about the moon by the son of David Bowie? Where the fuck are the spiders from Mars? SERIOUSLY THOUGH, BRING TISSUES. FIVE DAMN STARS
That’s all I have for now. This has been my month in film, and I hope you enjoyed me babbling about these movies!!

Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Standing in line for popcorn, I look up and see Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, the rodents who permeated my childhood, staring at me from 20 feet up, larger than life. Seeing this, I speak some of the truest words I’ve spoken in my life:
“I realize, my cynicism and displeasure in the entertainment community at large has become something of a burden, and is becoming a problem.”
It’s true. I have always found that, even since I was young, the MST3K Mantra did not apply to my overall outlook on music, movies, and television. Rather than being content with the latest blockbuster, from an early age, I thirsted for something more than what I was given. A fondness for overwrought foreign films about Abortion and people like Dave Longstreth and Jeff Mangum clouded my judgment, and made it so that I nearly wept upon seeing The Golden Compass, and have yet to even read reviews of The Spiderwick Chronicles, despite how long it has been out.

Upon realizing exactly where I stood on the crags of criticism, I approached the greatest challenge I possibly could: the sparkling, muddy Spike Jonze adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Possibly the most important book of my childhood, it was hard to ignore my instincts to judge the film as anything more than what it was: a love letter.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, somehow, a summary: Max, a young boy with a big imagination, finds himself in approximately my position of displeasure with the world around him, and thus, he decides to leave his world of rules and oppression and start anew across the sea. He comes across an island full of great furry beasties, and, as they say, the wild rumpus begins. He is crowned king, but time wears on and he realizes that being like an animal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Spike Jonze, of course, is the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Being Spike Jonze means a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to bringing certain things to the table, including surreal humor and overdone character study. And this is exactly what the adaptation is: a character study. The wild things, serving merely as a metaphor for animal instinct in the original Maurice Sendak story, each of them bears their own distinct personality. The main wild thing, Carol, takes Max under his wing after his crowning, and helms his project to build a fort for all of the group to be safe in. Everything is injected with love, love, love, and as an end result, we are shown not the advancement of any given plot line, but the personal growth of every major player. Being that the original text is 10 sentences long, it gives a lot of room for expansion on everything therein, using the images as the jumping point.

Ultimately the thing most people are put off by is the lack of plot development and the fact that nothing really happens over the course of the film. To those people I ask, why does there need to be a stream of events? Why can’t the characters merely live their day, and let us view it from the outside? Have we become so jaded that we shut out the validity of films that show the kinds of things that we have done 50 times during this particular work week? The wild things are people you know, and you know that full well, even if they have horns and manes and one guy gets his arm ripped off and replaces it with a stick. Jonze goes as far as to prove that you know these people by having two unintelligible owls tell a character the Loud Interrupting Cow knock-knock joke by hooting. What could be more slice of life than that?

By the end of the film, I felt nothing more than warm and fuzzy. If I were pressed to give a critical opinion, I would say that the film needed more structure and served as nothing more than a way for Jonze to exercise his childish genes. But for Where The Wild Things Are, I am able to forget what we as critics are taught to say and believe, and just believe in something great.