Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is a hard working and extremely talented director who's movies have almost all shared a weird quirk: They are all focused on adults who act, on some level or another, like children. Therefore it seems like a natural extension that his latest film is mostly focused on a pair of children who act like adults. It's equally odd that this addition has allowed him to not only make what I think is the best film of his career thus far, but also easily one of the best films I've seen all year.

The story is devoted to an emotionally disturbed young boy who one day, up and runs away from the boy scout camp on the remote New England island he lives on. He is headed for an emotionally disturbed young girl on the other side of the island, with whom he intends to run away. Their disappearance sets the island in an uproar, as multiple groups begin to circle the island to look for them. Oh and as the narrator so helpfully tells us, there is a huge hurricane set to hit the island in 3 days.

This is one of those rare movies which doesn't slack off in a single department, so it'll take me a while to list all of it's good parts. The first and foremost, and one of the more unique ways it excels, is in it's incredible direction. The cinematography is one of the most singularly unique styles I've seen in years, although people familiar with Wes Anderson should recognize it. I can't even think of a way to describe it, but it consists primarily of long flat pans and large wide shots, which I know doesn't SOUND interesting, but trust me, when you see it you'll know what I mean. Combined with an eclectic and strangely beautiful soundtrack and some amazing visuals, the whole film is lent an air of the surreal, like magical realism that never quite makes the leap from the unlikely to the fantastic.

The plot is subtle and eventually poignant, beginning as a simple 'kids running away from home' story and spiraling out of control, into subplots involving every single character and event. This is one of the ways the script shines (in many ways it's the first truly 'Oscar Worthy' script of the year, signaling once again that this is likely to be a good year for movies), as essentially every character introduced in the first act has an arc, an impressive feat with the large cast. The dialogue is rapid fire, often accompanied by fast edits, but it all feels natural and in character, and subtle changes in word use allows each character to have a unique voice. I've no doubt that when more people have seen it this movie will be deemed 'hard to classify' as it flits back and forth between deep pathos, magical realism, romance and comedy so easily that it's hard to tell where the lines are between the genres, if they even truly exist within this film. And usually you'd expect the large cast and genre hopping to leave the film feeling overlong and thinly spread, but on the contrary, it feels so rich and alive that when I came out I was shocked to find it was only 94 minutes long.

When looking at the cast I can almost sense what I think is a subtle joke in the casting and character priority. The two leads, IE the kids, are played by complete unknowns (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward and oh LORD what finds they are) whereas the supporting cast is populated entirely with name stars (Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Bruce freaking Willis). Oh and I'm not kidding about Jared and Kara, both of them are absolutely incredible, really selling their 'world weary adult trapped in a child's body' characters (it helps that Kara Hayward has EXTREMELY intense eyes). Of the adult actors, Edward Norton and believe it or not, Bruce Willis are the standouts. Edward essentially walks away with every scene he's in and Bruce Willis gives one of the best dramatic performances of his career. As for the rest, Francis McDormand is as good as she always is, Bill Murray is fantastic in a subtle and quiet performance and Tilda Swinton does a great job in a smaller role.

Honestly, I'm at a loss of what else to say about this. I'm sure it's symbolizing SOMETHING, as nothing can be this surreal and beautiful without having something to say, but I'll have to see it a few more times to figure out what. Right now it's in limited release, but hopefully it'll get a slightly wider theater count soon. If it comes anywhere near you in the future, or is near you now, do not miss this, it's a sure thing for one of the best films of the year. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found it very distracting that Bruce Willis had hair.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DVD Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black is one of the hardest kind of horror flicks to get right. Ghost stories, while great for basic scares and jumps, tend to be kinda losers when it comes to plot and acting. Hell, scratch that. Jump scare movies in general, tend to fail on both those levels (best example in a movie that's actually pretty good: Drag Me to Hell. Seriously, the plot and characters in that movie are pretty much non-existent). And while The Woman in Black is not without it's hiccups, it's well made and highly successful at it's primary mission. And it's primary mission is to SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF YOU!

The story is devoted to Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young solicitor who is sent to a mysterious house in the middle of nowhere (literally: The house is surrounded by what looks like miles of marshland on each side, with a single narrow road allowing access when the tide is out). When he gets there, he finds something is amiss: All the people in the town don't seem to want him there and are extremely protective of their children. And when he arrives at the house he's seeing things, objects are moving unbidden and he's sure he's not alone.

Okay so it sounds sorta cliche, but it's a haunted house story, which aren't known for narrative backflips. But it's extremely well made, and has above average acting and script for it's genre. The house in particular is one of the best settings I've seen for a movie like this, fantastically disquieting and creepy before shit even begins to go to hell. The jump scares are extremely well put together. Okay so jump scares are the film equivalent of a dude jumping out of the bushes and yelling BOO, but it's harder than it looks to put together and this one does an admirable job. I can't tell you about any of them, for obvious reasons, but trust me, you'll be jumping out of your seat enough times to make this worth it. Add in a pretty good script and fantastically devoted performance from Daniel Radcliffe, who really manages to sell his character and feel like he's from the age the movie is set in (even while he appears a bit too young to have a son) and you have a movie that's well above what passes for average in it's genre.

There are some minor nitpicks I could make, most of them involving the words 'horror dumb' (IE where a horror protagonist is forced to act like an idiot to advance the plot) and for the record, no it's not as good as The Cabin in the Woods, but those are minor issues compared to what this movie does right. If you're in the mood for a good scare, this one should more than do it for you. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like to beg this movie to STOP SHOWING US THAT FUCKING TOY CLOWN!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

This Shit Needs To Stop

Okay, so I usually don't do politics on this blog, because this is a film blog first and foremost. But hey, this relates to film. I'm still gonna drop it behind a cut, so if you don't want to read it, don't.

Monday, May 21, 2012

DVD Review: Immortals

I tend to try and avoid quoting or referencing other people's reviews in my own, especially when the other people are about a thousand times better known than I am. But, when Roger Ebert called Immortals 'the best looking bad movie you will ever see' (paraphrased) I really can't find a single argument with it.

The plot is devoted to...I'm not entirely sure, frankly. It's greek mythology days and some jackass named Hyperion is wandering around looking for a bow that will let him unleash the Titans because...I'm not quite sure. Something about his family dying and the Gods not stopping it. Anyway, Theseus (yeah him again) is captured and his mother is murdered by Hyperion himself, so he decides to fight for the other side, rescuing the Oracle that Hyperion needs to find the aforementioned bow.

The astute among you might have already guessed what the issue is with this movie, but I'm in a generous mood, so I'll start with the movie's good points: It looks great. Okay yeah, the visual design resembles what Jack Kirby would come up with after drinking heavily at a Lady Gaga concert (seriously, the fuck is this?) but the action sequences are exceptionally well shot and put together. It was direcred by Tarsem Singh, a director well known for his distinct and unique visual style and this is easily one of his most accomplished visions, even if he (like the director of the other visually distinct Greek action movie) is a little too fond of speed ramping. The entire movie seems in service of this style, with the characters not wearing clothes, but costumes, and not wielding weapons, but props, not constructed, but designed (for a masterclass in this kind of style in a BETTER movie, go watch the Sweeney Todd movie).

Unfortunately, that's maybe half the movie there, and the other half (IE, plot and characters) is essentially a train wreck. The dialogue is awful, the characters silly and all of it is really thinly sketched. I'm still not sure why Hyperion is after the Gods, just by way of an example. This is compounded by some awkward pacing, in which a large section of the movie is given to a LONG ass second act where they try to characterize everyone, and I find myself screaming “I DON'T GIVE A SHIT!”

I dunno. It's one of those movies where the action sequences are so good and the plot sequences so terrible, that I was half-tempted just to fast forward through the shittier parts. It's better than the remake of Clash of the Titans, but that's the definition of damning with faint praise. If you're in the mood for a Greek actioner and your worried about wearing out your copy of 300, then maybe? But that's a very specific need. Otherwise, I'd give this one a pass.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he finds the title odd, given that not even the Gods are properly immortal.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: The Dictator

It's not that The Dictator isn't funny. It is, much funnier than Bruno. The problem is, it's not very substantial, none of the insight of Borat, and as such I'm not sure it's going to be as lasting or meaningful. But you review the movie you've got not the movie you want. And taken strictly on it's own merits, it's funny, even if it's not entirely successful or perfect.

The story, for once not a mockumentary (and after Bruno I wouldn't be eager to return to that well either), is devoted Admiral General Aladeen (played by Sacha Baron Cohen), a Kim-Jong-Il style Dictator (the film is 'dedicated' to Kim, in the first of several jokes that flirt with tastelessness) of a fictional North African country called Wadiya. Basically insert every stereotype that we've come to expect from the likes of Gaddafi, Kim, Hussein, etc. and shove them into one person and you have Aladeen. He goes to the US to speak about his nuclear weapons program to avoid getting bombed and ends up getting shaved and left for dead on the streets of the US.

You can probably guess the rest of the movie from there, and yeah you'd be right. Aladeen meets up with an American, has to learn to work with her and a Wadiyan refugee to get himself back into power, begins to develop feelings blahblahblah. Okay, so it's not the most original setup for a movie in the world, but it's an excuse for Cohen to try out another borderline offensive character, albeit in a more conventional setup than Borat.

The movie is funny, is the most important part. In fact, I'm wondering if there's any point in writing a review past that. There is little else to say about it. Most of the jokes land, some of them don't, like almost any other comedy. There's a cute little twist, involving the reasons for democracy coming to Wadiya being not entirely pure, and what seems like a message towards the end, but the movie never stops being funny.

If I had to come up with a complaint, it would boil down to the movie not feeling very substantial, as I said above. It feels kind of thin and random. A movie that focuses more on Wadiya itself would probably be better and while there's humor to be found in thrusting Aladeen into a New York setting, it was funnier when it was Borat and this feels like a weak attempt to recapture that setting.

Ultimately, The Dictator is still not as good as Borat and I'm not sure anything Cohen will do will equal or surpass it. But it's funny and I enjoyed it. It's another odd step in the career of Sacha Baron Cohen, as he tries to decide whether he wants to be an actual actor, or a Will Ferrel style comedy star. And while his results this time are imperfect, they are a hell of a lot better than anything Adam Sandler and the like are usually putting out, so if you're inclined, yeah it's worth a look.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and if nothing else Sandler's career has to get better after Jack and Jill...right?

Monday, May 14, 2012

DVD Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Isn't that title a doozy? Anyway, this movie got famous on the independent circuit for being the 'holy shit, that person can ACT!' vehicle for Elizabeth Olsen (the fact that it's her first movie made it all the more impressive). And while her performance is jaw droppingly impressive, to assume that's all it is would be to sell the movie intensely short.

The plot is concerned with Martha, a woman who has spent the last few...years I think, in a cult in upstate New York and has just gotten the will to escape. She begins living with her sister, but it becomes increasingly clear that her experiences with the cult have left her warped and she begins to be increasingly odd and paranoid. The title refers to her different names (her real name is Martha, Marcy May is the name the cult leader assigns her, and Marlene is the name all the women on the compound answer the phone with). Her experiences with the cult are revealed piecemeal through flashbacks played in chronological order.

Which, incidentally, leads me to one of the films oddest triumphs, in a very wonky (but effective) bit of pacing. The way the flashbacks work, the cult initially just looks like a slightly odd hippy commune, like more relaxed Amish. It seems to be gently introducing us to the weirdness, with some subtle dialogue and hints of brainwashing. Then, in one scene we get all at once how sick and twisted the cult is, which would be a flaw if it didn't so perfectly mirror Martha's actual experiences with the cult. All of this is held together with a great screenplay and a subtly incredible soundtrack.

As I said, Elizabeth Olsen is getting all the attention for her incredible performance, and it's well deserved. She is alternately playing a character so desperate for affection and so brainwashed by the cult, that she is willing to overlook, and even participate in, the horrors going on around her to remain at the compound (in the flashbacks) and playing a woman so damaged by her experiences that you can't even tell where the damage ends and where the woman she was begins (in the modern day segments). This is an incredibly tricky piece of acting, and she pulls it off like a champ. Of equal importance is John Hawkes (who some of you might remember from the also excellent Winters Bone) as the cult leader. I don't want to tell you too much about it, but trust me he does incredibly (as do all the other cult members).

If I had to come up with a complaint, and I do, it'd be about Martha's sister and her husband. Both of them are fine as characters and well acted, but the movie's structure requires they act like idiots, ignoring all the symptoms of Martha's damage to keep the plot running. But that minor nitpick doesn't stop the movie from being an excellent film and, besides the great acting, one of the best films about a cult from the inside ever made. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he knew the cultists were brainwashed when they didn't insult the leader for his awful singing.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Roommates Fanpage

I was under the impression that I'd already posted this here, but since I obviously forgot, here is the fanpage for my documentary. Watch there for updates on how funding it is going and, if it gets funded, how filming it is going.
Roommates (Documentary on The Room) Fanpage

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: The Avengers

The first question that people must ask about the culmination of a 4 year project to bring together 4 separate superheroes, from essentially 4 different genres into one movie is: Was it worth it? Yes, it was. The second we must ask is: Is it good. Yes, it is. Is it the best superhero movie ever? Naw. Is it the deepest or most meaningful? Not even slightly. But what it is, is approximately 10 different kinds of fun.

The plot is concerned with Thor's brother Loki stealing a magic cube that does whatever the writers say it does. Loki wants to use it to summon a race of alien monsters so Nick Fury summons a buncha superheroes to kick their asses... No really, that's it. Seriously, there's some character beats, and a subplot about mind control, but the story is really that straightforward.

That's not a complaint by the by. A lot of good movies are extremely straightforward, especially action movies. And The Avengers is most definitely action focused. Indeed, it seems one of the main advantages to having it's characters set up beforehand is to allow the movie to cut straight to the action. And what great action it is, taking full advantage of it's varied characters abilities and superheroes abilities to absorb insane levels of damage and just ignore it. A personal favorite early fight scene involves Thor and Iron Man throwing each other around like a pair of super sayians. All of this action is fantastically well directed, with great editing and camera work. Joss Whedon (who is having a GREAT year) has never directed anything this action heavy before, but he shows a natural talent that many action directors can only dream of (coughJJAbrahmscough).

The screenplay is about the best you could hope for a movie this action oriented, showcasing Joss' signature ability to balance large casts without it feeling forced. One of my favorite things about the big final fight scene is that everyone is given something to do, without any of it feeling forced. Those of you worried that this would be 'Tony Stark: Guest Starring the Avengers' can rest easy. Okay yeah, he gets a lot of the dialogue (and most of the funny lines) but overall, it's a team effort.

All of the actors are turning in great work (especially Robert Downey Jr. who remains an inspired choice for his role) but the real surprising turn is Chris Evans as Cap. I found him to be an incredibly flat and one dimensional character in his movie, but it seems his casting was based more on his ability to play modern day Cap, as his performance and character is much more interesting and nuanced. The other big one is Jeremy Renner in a surprisingly good performance as Hawkeye.

There are some minor nitpicks I could make. I preferred Edward Norton's Bruce Banner to Mark Ruffalo's (nothing against Mark, I just think Edward did a better job). On the subject, I think I liked that movie's design on the Hulk (IE, that he was an exaggerated version of the actor playing Banner) a little better. I suppose Nick Fury and Maria Hill weren't given much to do and the first act seemed to zip by kinda quickly.

But then, nitpicking is unhelpful. This isn't the most complicated or deep movie I've seen lately, but it doesn't need to be. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do and I'm more than inclined to recommend it just based on the sheer amount of fun I had watching it. I was engaged, I was excited, I laughed, I cheered, what more do you want from an action/superhero movie? If you're in the market for a good time at the movies, definitely give this one a look, it's likely to be the best pure action movie of the year.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he spent much of the movie wondering where War Machine was.