Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Don Jon

Don Jon might be the first time I've ever reviewed a movie without being 100 percent certain of how good I think it is. I'm certain it's a bold and ambitious movie, with a lot to say, that only occasionally gets muddled in how much it's trying to get across and how completely reprehensible it's characters are. My final opinion on it might have to wait for a year end list, or perhaps a second viewing, but  I will say it's without a doubt worth seeing.

The plot is concerned with Jon (played by director Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a casual womanizer working a low end bartending job and is rather intently addicted to internet porn, as he finds sex unsatisfying (something he will go on about at length, as one of the film's primary gimmicks is an intensely introspective internal monologue from Jon). One day, while at the bar, he meets an incredibly hot girl (Scarlett Johansson) and begins to fall for her. Problematically, she is disgusted by internet porn and demands, amongst other things, that he give it up.

This sounds like a general 'Ladykiller in love' storyline, and for a solid chunk of the movie that seems like what it is for the first the half or so, or at least what it's riffing on. The main thing that keeps it from being one of those, aside from the turns the plot takes in the third act, is the way it treats it's characters. Almost all of the major characters, with the possible exception of 2 people (one of whom doesn't speak until the third act) are all irritating, idiotic, insufferable people. The movie, to it's credit, is clearly aware how terrible they are and treats them appropriately, but that doesn't make them any less infuriating, so just be prepared (pretty sure I saw someone leave partway through due to that).
Easily the most fascinating thing about this movie is the way it's directed, or at least the way it's edited. The rapid fire editing technique is usually used in action scenes (and makes things kind of incoherent) but here it's used to put us in the character's mindset and it never ceases to be entertaining. A lot of the camera shots are really uniquely used, especially closeups, mostly to enhance the aforementioned glimpses into the characters mindsets.

The script and actors are both on the good side. Levitt and Johansson both throw themselves rather admirably into their intensely dislikable characters (it's worth pointing out that Johansson has the accent down better for...some reason), and their interplay is highly entertaining, even as it's occasionally infuriating. Julianne Moore is also good in a smaller, but pivotol roll, that I really don't want to spoil. Although I must say, my favorite character has to be Brie Larson's (that's funnier when you've seen the movie).

It's interesting to me to note that the script, which is well written and fairly unique, is also one of the film's biggest problems. Simply put, the movie is trying to do too much. It's got commentary the similarities between porn and generic rom-coms, the nature of relationships, how porn warps our idea of sex and even the give and take in relationships. It's a lot, and I mean a lot, for a movie to get across in a short amount of time, and it occasionally gets muddled. The characters occasional drift into being outright cartoon characters, especially towards the beginning and some of the visual metaphors can be painfully on the nose.

I'm still not convinced Don Jon is a great movie. It's an interesting one, offbeat and fascinating to watch and a great first effort from Joseph Gordon Levitt. It's highly flawed though and the nature of it's characters means it can sometimes be a bit of a chore to watch. Still, a movie doesn't have to be perfect to be a good movie, and while it may not be great, Don Jon is at least pretty good, and certainly worth your time. Perhaps if I see it again I'll report back, but until then, see you next time.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders how many people are gonna be surprised by how this movie ends.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Prisoners

After you’ve seen a certain number of movies, you start to feel like you can predict an entire movie based on its trailer, just knowing movie conventions. Example Prisoners: After seeing the trailer I felt that I could probably predict the vast majority of the movie, partially felt the trailer was telegraphing too much, but that’s neither here nor there. But, while being able to predict most movies gets a trifle boring sometimes, it means it’s extra awesome when a movie manages to surprise me. And I honestly can’t remember the last time a movie I thought would be so straightforward managed to blindside me so hard.

The plot is concerned with two families with two families, the Dovers (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and the Birchs (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), who meet up for Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner, both family’s youngest daughters go out for a walk and promptly disappear without a trace. Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki is assigned to track them down, but the only suspect they manage to turn up is mentally handicapped and is quickly released. As Loki (get it all out of your system now) continues to try and figure out what happened, Mr. Dover becomes increasingly convinced that the first suspect is the right one and kidnaps the mentally handicapped man, with the intent to torture him until he confesses.

It may sound like I’ve said too much right there, but trust me that’s barely more than the setup. The plot is a lot darker, morally complex and intricate than the trailers are giving away. You’d expect, with the way the plot goes, for Loki to be a genius detective in the Will Grahm mold, but he’s just a normal cop, maybe not dumb but certainly not a genius. Of course, given that Jackman’s Keller Dover is literally a deer hunting, God fearing survivalist, with a doomsday bunker in his basement and the skills (and not to mention the will) to set up a self-made torture chamber, complete with a sleep deprivation room, you’d expect he’d turn out to be the Jack Bauer hero of the piece. But the movie is smarter than that, and as Jackman’s character descends more into moral compromise and even outright evil, you begin to realize that there might not be a hero in this movie.

A lot of credit for making this story work has to go to the screenwriters. The screenplay is both incredibly deft and remarkably efficient, setting up characters quickly enough to be established when things start going to hell, but also setting them up in ways that makes the darker character turns that come later feel believable. The Pennsylvania setting is actually a stroke of minor genius, as it gives the entire proceeding a cold and bleak feeling that a lot of other areas in the country wouldn’t. And while the mystery is perhaps a tiny bit too complicated for its own good (although at least it manages to avoid the Murder She Wrote issue), it’s well structured and I imagine the actual resolution will manage to knock more than a few people on their ass.

But as numerous movies have proven in the past, a great screenplay is nothing if you haven’t got good actors and all of the actors here are going above and beyond. Gyllenhaal is a good actor and he’s been doing great at playing cops lately, his naturally soft affect allowing him to remain calm when everyone is freaking out around him. All of the parents manage to play their parts well, in particular Maria Bello, but Jackman is the true standout. His character arc is easily the darkest and most brutal of the bunch, forcing us to watch as his ‘father knows best’ cliché is stripped down to nothing, until only a thug remains, who’s every action seems to do nothing but make things worse and he sells it all the way to hilt. It’s easily one of the best turns of his career, the kind of incredibly dark performance that mainstream name actors almost never get to give and the entire movie is worth seeing just for it. And before I move on, special credit must go to Paul Dano for choosing an atypical (for Hollywood) take on a mentally challenged character.

Getting beyond all that though, there are some minor issues. The eventual reveal of the killer and their motivations feels like it would be more at home in a Thomas Harris knockoff than in this stark and grounded detective story. I’m hesitant to declare that a complete problem as it seems like that might part of the point, to drop the kind of morbid, sadistic serial killer that you usually see in Thomas Harris or James Patterson books into the middle of an otherwise real world and see how everyone reacts (The answer? Not well.) But even if that is the case, the two elements don’t entirely gel, not enough to cause major problems but enough to make me notice.

I don’t think anyone, least of all me, expected this movie to be this good, especially given that it’s a mid-September release, a time usually reserved for dumping grounds. But the fact remains, Prisoners is one of the more intense and movie-going experiences I’ve had  this year and easily the best thing in theaters right now. Do not miss this one.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders if getting to be in this is why Jackman seemed so much more awake in The Wolverine.

Friday, September 20, 2013

DVD Review: Temptation; Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Tyler Perry is one of the more fascinating people working in the film industry right now. Of course any movie coming almost entirely from one man (writing, directing, producing and occasionally acting) are going to be fascinating, if only because there’s no net to stop the more out there ideas, for good or ill. With Tyler Perry, the results are pretty much universally negative, but they’re oddly fascinating. I’m surprised no one has mentioned to him how poorly his costumed caricature bit as Madea fits into the rest of the movies he puts them in, or how poorly he manages to write his characters or how flat his direction is (and the less said about the way he treats his female characters the better). Still, he and his career are truly fascinating. And since Temptation is his first movie to not include Madea (and his Madea movies are much too similar to each other to review) I figured it’d be worth seeing for the purposes of discussing it.

Of course, the other reason I wanted to see it is because a few friends recommended it to me. And why did they recommend it to me, you ask? Because, they said, it’s bad. And before you assume my friends hate me, I will remind you I own a copy of The Room on blu-ray, so the idea that I’d enjoy a movie because it’s bad is not completely without precedent. And Temptation is…well it’s something else.

The plot is devoted to a wonderful and perfect woman in a naturally wonderful and perfect marriage with her childhood (and I mean early childhood, like 5) sweetheart. She moves to the big city (DC, I think, not that it matters) in an attempt to make it as a marriage counselor. But she’s unhappy, working at a matchmaking service for rich men, until she meets a rich programmer (we never find out what he did to become rich, but this movie isn’t in it for our benefit) whom she’s attracted to. Soon she begins to be tempted to cheat and then she does and blah blah blah. Look it’s basically a bad Cinemax porn movie with all the actual sex replaced by moral judgement.

The biggest and most hilarious problem with this film is the script. Tyler Perry has always been a flat out terrible screenwriter but never worse than here. It’s actually bad enough that I started to wonder if he’d ever interacted with another human being. Not a single line of dialogue sounds like a thing a human being would actually say and none of the character action have any consistency or any connection to what’s happening to them.

It’s also got a bizarre presentation, that’s almost entirely at odds with how the characters actually act. The first time the main character is seduced, the music and presentation are more like a slasher flick than a seduction. And it’s rather impressive how much they try to make the main character’s mother the moral grounded center of the film and then she still manages to come across as an unhinged fanatic.
Which is where the other major problem of this movie comes in, the unending moralizing. I’ve got no problems with a movie that wants to make a point, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it, but there’s a point where it starts to go overboard and when you are literally stopping the movie to have a pointless scene where a character screams that several street hooligans that they need Church, then you’ve gone too far.

Aside from that, there’s not much to say about it. It’s as badly directed as most of Tyler Perry’s movies are (though it’s fondness for random establishing shots make me compare it to Mr. Wiseau’s masterpiece). He’s also got this inability to get his actors to do anything other than overact to the point of embarrassment. I could point out that this is his theater background showing, but you’ve probably already figured that out so…yeah.

Tyler Perry is a prolific enough director that he makes Steven Soderbergh look lazy, and you’d think that with that level of output, his movies would begin to improve, if only through sheer trial and error. But between this and his upcoming Madea movie featuring Larry the Cable Guy (a teamup that made me want to call up Idris Elba and uncancel the apocalypse) I think he might actually be getting worse. As it stands, Temptation is an utterly worthless movie except as a punching bag for a bad movie party. And if that’s your bag, have at it, but be warned; It is, in quality, to Showgirls what Birddemic is to The Room: Limp, boring and preachy. So just be aware what you’re getting into, and I’ll see you next time.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he doesn’t have the time or energy to go into the fact that Kim Kardashian is in this movie.

Monday, September 16, 2013

An Announcement

Terribly sorry about the extended Radio Silence from this blog. My computer is completely dead and due to saving up for a new one, I haven't been able to hit up any new movies. But I've got a couple of DVD Reviews coming up in a few days and I have a big (for this blog) announcement:

For the month of October, as a celebration of Halloween, I shall be each week be seeing 2 Horror films and their remakes and I shall compare and contrast them. I've already got the lineup and most of the movies prepared, so I will be posting the first of those the first week of October. So...look forward to that.

Also I am open for suggestions of what to call it. Remake Month is a little too on the nose. Anyway, that's it, see ya later this week for those DVD Reviews.