Monday, November 21, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

Movie quotes:
Cary: He's too stoned!
Martin: Oh, drugs are so bad!

At a glance:
A joint J. J. Abrams / Spielberg monster sci-fi movie that is loud, fun, and derivative

Our review (with spoilers):
1960s small town America, and five teens witness a major train wreck up close while making a super 8 movie. One of their teachers purposely wrecked the train, and he warns them not to tell anyone what they have seen, or they and their families will be eliminated. Soon, dogs are fleeing in all directions, people start disappearing, and machines of all kinds are stolen in the night.

True, Super 8 feels a lot like every other bunch-of-misfit kids movies (like The Goonies, etc.). It’s highly derivative, and it’s a little disappointing that it really doesn’t have much new to offer. This feels like an oh-so-carefully planned and plotted Hollywood Blockbuster. On the other hand, under the skilled direction of crowd pleaser J. J. Abrams, all the right chords are struck. It’s feather-light, satisfying, and forgettable – with a couple of nice performances from Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning.

Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A Spielberg pastiche of uncanny precision and sublime pointlessness."
- Henry K. Miller (Sight and Sound)


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Melancholia (2011)

Movie quotes:
"The earth is evil; we don’t need to grieve for it."
- Justine

At a glance:
Lars von Trier’s slow-moving, occasionally beautiful but mostly painfully entertainment-free end-of-the-world tale is really a thinly disguised ode to depression

Our review (with spoilers):
There’s no doubt that I have masochistic tendencies, and I like to confirm that every couple of years by forcing myself to sit through the latest Lars von Trier joint. It all began many years ago when I was taken to see von Trier’s first English language film, Breaking the Waves. Eschewing its supposed artfulness and deep hidden meaning, I found it to be an absurd film, populated with people performing moronic acts to suit the hidden pleasures of their director. Art porn, as it were. Many critics disagreed – but I don’t care. I took a long break, but was not disappointed by the deep symbolism, talking foxes, genital mutilation, and abject fail of von Trier’s Antichrist. Many critics agreed – but again, I don’t care. And now this.

Melancholia begins with an 8 minute segment of unrelated end-of-the-world scenes, all filmed in super-slow-motion. I was glad my partner wasn’t watching this; she had enough of super-slow-motion during TV coverage of Wimbledon tennis a few years back.

And then the film proper starts, with section 1 – Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and you know what? Von Trier proves once again that he has limitless talent. The wedding scenes are filmed with a hand held, but it is not for style – it is the perfect way to portray the claustrophobic dining and dancing. I was completely immersed in the moment. The content, however, is another story: we watch Justine trash her own wedding, not by getting drunk and vomiting, but by (supposedly) being depressed, although it comes across more as petulance and immaturity.

Section 2 is titled Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and now Justine is in full depression mode. Perhaps this is being caused by planet Melancholia, which is tracking toward Earth (although scientists say that it will not collide). Justine is now paralyzed with depression; there are long scenes of her trying to get into the bath while Claire tries to help her and coerce her. The dour Gainsbourg is not ideally suited to help anyone out of depression – perhaps if an in-drag Jim Carrey or Robin Williams had been cast in that role, the movie would have been a lot shorter. Next, Claire brings out the big guns: she makes Justine’s favorite food: meatloaf. Justine, guided to the table with eyes closed, smells this delight and smiles for the first time. She eagerly takes a bite, but then quickly spits it out and begins to cry, saying, "It tastes like ashes." "Good ashes or bad ashes?" asks Claire. Okay, Claire did not say that; I’m just punching up the script with a few jokes. Claire actually says, "Did you say ashes…or asses?" Alright, Claire did not say that either. I’m really seeing Emma Stone in this role now.

The next day, Justine rides her favorite horse, but in another painful-to-watch scene, almost beats the poor animal to death when it will not bend to her will by crossing a narrow bridge. Later, Justine planet-bathes naked in Melancholia’s light. Claire is an observer to this. As Melancholia draws near, Claire begins to stress about the collision and basically continues to do so for the next hour of the film. John (Kiefer Sutherland) keeps telling her that the scientists are right. When John realizes that they are wrong and a fatal collision is imminent, he scoots into the beaten horse’s paddock and somehow gets himself killed. These are not happy people, even if no planets were about to crash into the Earth. Claire reaches full hysteria, but the depressed Justine gets into a Zen-like state as the end nears.

I’ve pieced together a possible reason for why von Trier has made Justine the character who ultimately copes with the end of the world better than Claire. Von Trier suffers from severe depression, so he casts the depressed woman as the one better suited to cope with life and death. The Earth and its inhabitants deserve to die anyway, in his eyes. That is the way von Trier he sees the world. His movies are without joy. His characters are driven to desperation; they often torture themselves and others. If you find anything redeeming in all of this, good for you. I see it as a petulant child indulging his own ego. I will say this: I respect any director who can get their work to the screen without having it reshaped by a Hollywood committee, or changed by counterproductive audience screenings. Woody Allen, Ken Russell, and, yes, Lars von Trier are names that spring to mind.

Rating: 1 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"I see Lars Von Trier movies to remind me why I hate Lars Von Trier movies."
- Willie Waffle (

"If only Lars von Trier took into account that audiences might actually want to enjoy "Melancholia," rather than endure it, or sift through it, or submit to the director's will, he might have made something extraordinary."
- Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Idiot Brother (2011)

Movie quotes:
Omar: [slowly] I’m…Officer…Omar…Coleman. I’m…your…parole…officer.
Ned: I’m Ned Rochlin. Why are you talking so slow?
Omar: I just figured, looking at your sheet, that since you sold grass to a uniformed police officer that you must be retarded.

At a glance:
A mildly funny, extremely pleasant actor-fest about a likeable man who naiveté causes problems for his family

Our review (with spoilers):
Our Idiot Brother is a mildly amusing comedy about a naïve man and his mildly quirky family. The title may sound like dumb and dumber, but this is a completely different take on the same type of character. You’d be hard-pressed to believe that Ned (Paul Rudd) could exist as is in real life, but there are certain elements of his character that can be seen in real people, and that gives the story an honesty that many laugh out loud type comedies do not have. Could the script have been improved by being punched up with a few more jokes? Perhaps – but at the risk of making it feel like a script that had been punched up.

The film starts are Ned’s trusting nature leads him to sell pot to a cop – and not a plainclothes cop, but a cop in full uniform. This leads to a jail term that might depress the average person, but Ned just views it as another adventure on the journey of life. When he leaves prison and is rejected by his former girlfriend, Ned turns to his mother and three sisters for a little help. As the different family members share him around, Ned’s honesty reveals hidden, often nasty truths, and soon, virtually every relationship he gets near is placed in jeopardy.

Nothing too deep or humorous happens here, but it matters little, not when you get to watch the immensely likeable Rudd having so much fun with the role, and when the film is, ultimately, as sweet as he is. He is helped immensely by a wonderful supporting cast (Emily Mortimer, who I loved in Transsiberian; Steve Coogan; Elizabeth Banks; Zooey Deschanel; and the wonderful Adam Scott). It’s such a good cast; they lift the script to a higher level than it would have achieved with lesser actors.

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Rudd brings color and dimension to a borderline-simpleton schlub who could have easily become a one-note cliché."
- Alexis Loinaz (Chicago Tribune)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Movie quotes:
John: Well, I’ll be perfectly frank. I’m excited about this corporate merger between our folks and the French company, but otherwise…I’m not a big Francophile.
Helen: John hates their politics.
John: Certainly been no friend of the United States.
Gil: Well, I mean, you can’t exactly blame them for not following us down that rabbit’s hole in Iraq with the whole Bush -
Inez: Oh please, let’s not get into that discussion again -
Gil: We’re not getting in – by the way, it’s fine for your father and me to disagree – that’s what a democracy is. Your father defends the right wing of the Republican Party and I happen to think you’ve almost got to be…like a demented lunatic, but it’s like -

At a glance:
Woody Allen parlays his love of art, history, and nostalgia to create a charming, Paris-based story of a Hollywood writer at the crossroads of his career

Our review (with spoilers):
Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) arrive in Paris to do some pre-wedding shopping. Gil is in love with the city, particularly with its rich history, while Helen just wants to buy things and return to the good old USA. This is a somewhat unlikely couple; they disagree on the big things, but importantly agree on liking pita bread. One night, while Gil is out walking, he is transported back in time to his cherished 1920s Paris. There, as well as meeting a number of famous artists and writers (for example, Ernest Hemingway) he is instantly attracted to the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Soon Gil is questioning the decisions he has made in the present as he falls in greater love with the past.

After numerous failures and partial successes, Woody Allen has again done what he has done so many times in the past: he has created a gentle, insightful, funny ‘film’. Almost anyone can create a handful of scenes, but Allen makes a coherent, singular object which tells a story and creates a character arc. Likewise, Owen Wilson rides this great script to produce an Oscar-worthy performance, full of natural joy, humor, and melancholy. There were tears in my eyes from his performance, and from the startling realization that Owen and Woody are back, baby!

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Woody Allen must have had a great time writing this screenplay."
- Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)

"An effervescent, witty and absorbing tale lost in time ... Allen rekindles his character love affair that made him such a satisfying film-maker a couple of decades ago."
- Lisa Giles-Keddie (


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

Movie quotes:
"Who honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us and at the same time sings that we’ll never die? Who teaches us what’s real, and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we’ll die to defend? Who chains us, and who holds the key that can set us free? It’s you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!"
- Sweet Pea (closing line)

At a glance:
Less a movie and more a collection of music video gaming sequences, Sucker Punch offers a wealth of visual candy and a teensy bit of plot

Our review (with spoilers):
Five girls work as dancers/escorts and are virtual prisoners of an evil man named Blue. They escape, literally, into a dreamworld where they fight mechanized dead Nazis, fire-breathing dragons, or glowing-eyed giant Asian martial artists. Fortunately for (some of) us, they do all this while still wearing their midriff bearing sexy dance outfits. To call this misogynistic is like calling water ‘wet’. That’s obvious but then these are dream/video game sequences and the girls are dressed just like girls in these video games have been attired for 10 plus years. This is a hen’s night out movie, and all five hens make a game effort to get it to work, and perhaps none more so than Abby Cornish, the gamest hen of them all. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

There are times when watching a film that I become painfully aware of said film’s "target demographic" and realize that I am not in it. Not even close. Such is the case with Sucker Punch. I can feel in my bones that if I were, say, between 15 and 23 again, I would think this film was the coolest thing ever. The girls are hot and young and they wear plenty of eyeliner. Even most of the guys wear eyeliner. If  there’s an Oscar for Best Eyeliner, Sucker Punch has got the statue – and on a more serious note, they’ll probably win a second one for Set Design or Special Effects - and probably for Sexiest Fetish Outfits.

But despite its general lowly ranking amongst critics, if one treats this film as a series of music video escapist fight game vignettes, anchored together by a dead-simple story, it’s a success.

Rating: 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Sucker Punch is what you'd get if you mixed Mulholland Drive, Showgirls and Tomb Raider and then turned it into a music video."
- Matthew Toomey (ABC Radio Brisbane)


Friday, November 11, 2011

Drive Angry (2011)

Movie quotes:
Cultist: We're gonna live forever!
The Accountant: If, by "forever", you mean the next 5 seconds, you're absolutely right.

Jonah King: I'm going to kill you then defile your body.
Piper: Until now and then, I'm gonna fuck you up!

At a glance:
Nicolas Cage and Amber Heard get a sassy, smart script and turn Drive Angry into an entertaining action film with a campy supernatural/religious vibe

Our review (with spoilers):
This is what is called ‘grindhouse’ – a movie about rednecks and for rednecks, but Drive Angry is also spoofing the genre – that’s kind of a given when Nicolas Cage is involved. Nic has taken on some ridiculous roles lately – he seems to enjoy acting of any type – but this one at least does not take itself seriously. If you are a ‘condemned’ soul like Milton out to avenge the death of a family member, you need someone pure of heart. Piper (Amber Heard) is who you want – she’s rough and ready, too – but has a righteous streak and is in many ways naïve and innocent. She’s the perfect angel to ride alongside the mythical avenger. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she looks great in short shorts and big cowboy boots too.

Milton has to affect his rescue from a crazed satanic cult leader bent on human sacrifice, while at the same time trying to stay ahead of a suit-wearing ‘accountant’, played to perfection by William Fichtner, whose job is to return Milton to the prison he escaped from.

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Makes a loud, incoherent but oddly compelling case for the enhancing effects of stereoscopic projection on certain treasured objects of the cinematic gaze, like classic Detroit muscle cars, women's breasts and Nicolas Cage."
- A.O. Scott (New York Times)


Wake Wood (2010)

At a glance:
An emotionally gripping, gory and scary film about a grieving couple who get an opportunity to spend three days with their recently deceased daughter

Our review (with spoilers):
A couple grieving over the loss of their daughter gets an usual opportunity: the chance to be with her again for three days. Such is the way of life in the small towns of horror – the inhabitants often have a deep dark secret that they have agreed to hide. In this town, the locals know a way to extract the life force from a recently deceased corpse and then use that to reanimate another one. Louise (Eva Birthistle) and Patrick (Aidan Gillen) ask that their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly), who died suddenly when she was mauled by a dog, be brought back. There are just a couple of problems: one, as you might imagine, it’s going to be pretty hard for the couple to let her go again when those short period of grace expires. And two, that’s going to be irrelevant, because the couple has not abided by the rules of the ‘game’, and the consequences will be disastrous.

The film combines the heartfelt grief that accompanies the loss of a child with a moody, scary horror/slasher vibe. It’s rare that a film can be so tense in the build-up, yet actually deliver on what it promises – and this one does. Plus, it’s got one of the best finales I’ve seen in some time – scary, funny, calculating, and just self-referential enough to make everything that came before it that much more fun.

Finally, the acting across the board is extremely solid. It’s the full package – a horror movie that will appeal to a wider audience (as long as that audience can handle a bit of gore).

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"With deliberate echoes of classic Hammer horror, this moody and inventive thriller gets under our skin with its deeply personal plot, which pays as much attention to horror as emotion."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)