30/January/2012 02:48 PM Filed in: The Thing
Any new movie titled “The Thing” comes with baggage. The story of a creature that takes over the bodies of its victims—it literally is what it eats—has been filmed several times, first in 1951, then, most famously by John Carpenter, and now as a prequel, inventively titled “The Thing.” What to expect? Well, more and less of the same.
The new version is an origin story and, like the others, is set in Antarctica. We learn more about the alien, how it came to Earth for instance but it feels like we actually learn too much. The mystery of Carpenter’s version is gone, replaced by straightforward horror chills and thrills. Carpenter’s film was a …, this is a creature feature.
Don’t get me wrong, the CGI is fantastic—a real step above from the ’82 version—and there are some gruesomely scary moments, but the tension and paranoid feeling that made Carpenter’s film a classic, is gone.
30/January/2012 02:47 PM Filed in: Spiderhole
“Spiderhole” is a down-and-dirty Irish horror film about four good looking students who take a page from the Occupy movement and squat in an abandoned building in lieu of paying rent.
“It’s unlawful, but not illegal,” says one of the great unwashed.
Unlawful, illegal… whatever. In a movie with a title like “Spiderhole” it’s entirely possible that something unpleasant is going to happen, and sure enough after some getting-to-know-you-scenes—ie: sex—they soon find themselves trapped, locked in.
One-by-one they disappear, the victim of a crazed surgeon who can’t wait to try out his new scalpels and pliers on them.
“Spiderhole” is a distant cousin to the “Saw” and “Hostel” movies. It wants to play on the murderous madman storylines that made those movies resonate with audiences, but is undone by a contrived plot and a lack of humor.
“Saw” and “Hostel” both took gleeful delight in the horrors they presented and that was part of the fun of those movies. “Spiderhole,” despite some good atmosphere and a few appropriately nasty moments, could have used a bit more tongue-and-cheek.
Still, for fans that miss the “Saw” franchise, this one might fit the bill.
30/January/2012 02:46 PM Filed in: The Descent
The Descent is scary. Run home to your Momma scary. Scream like a little girl scary. Close your eyes and think of something else scary. “Hold me, I’m scared” scary.
It’s the story of a group of thrill seeking female friends who meet a couple of times a year to climb mountains, base jump and leap out of planes. When we first meet them they are all happy, smiling broadly while white water rafting. This being a horror movie you just know that soon those smiles will be wiped off their faces.
Sure enough, not even five minutes in things take a turn for the worse when tragedy strikes one of this feisty bunch. The group works through the heartbreak in the only way they know how—by taking another huge risk. This time they decide to jump in a big hole. They go spelunking.
A yawning underground cave is the perfect setting for a horror film. You have darkness, shadows (and maybe even mysterious shadowy figures), and claustrophobic atmosphere. The Descent makes great use of its surroundings playing off our primal fears—fear of the dark, fear of small, enclosed spaces, fear of not being in control. As the women go further down into the cave their situation becomes dire and the tension builds for the viewer. First time director Neil Marshall skillfully turns up the heat, making the audience feel for this cast of unknowns as their resolve is pushed to the limit. Two miles underground there isn’t any sunshine and the movie reflects that, getting darker the further down they travel. It’s bleak, violent and gets bleaker and more violent as the movie goes on.
The Descent has plenty of gory moments but it isn’t the blood and guts that terrifies. It is the hopeless situation, the unrelenting air of menace that really plays on the viewer’s fears.
30/January/2012 02:45 PM Filed in: Drive
The key piece of dialogue in “Drive,” a new thriller starring Ryan Gostling, happens early on before any of the hard core action begins. Bernie Rose, a shady character played by Albert Brooks extends his hand to Gostling. The younger actor stares at the gesture of friendship for a moment before declining to shake. “My hands are a little dirty,” he says. “So are mine,” replies Rose.
That quick conversation tells us that nobody in this movie is above boards and they don’t care who knows it.
Gostling is a man with no name, simply known as Driver, a movie stunt driver/grease monkey by day and get-a-way wheelman by night. Befriending his neighbors Irene (Carey Mulligan) and young son Benicio (Kaden Leos, who dials the cute kid factor way up) he makes a deal to drive get-a-way for some criminals to square a debt Irene’s husband ran up and safeguard the mother and child. When the deal goes bad he unwittingly becomes involved in a treacherous situation involving Irene’s recently paroled husband, one million dollars in cash and some angry mobsters.
“Drive” is an art house thriller. It’s stylized, with lighting effects, lots of slow motion and interesting camera angles that create a sense of unease that permeates every scene. For every instance of brutal violence director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Valhalla Rising,” “Bronson”) also escalates the movie’s sense of heightened reality. Very long pauses punctuate most every exchange of dialogue and how is it that no one seems to notice that the Driver is drenched in blood as he walks through a tony Chinese restaurant? “Drive” exists in its own world, and it is a fascinating place.
Here Gostling isn’t the easy charmer of “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” he plays Driver like a coiled spring. There hasn’t been a leading man this close-mouthed since Rudolph Valentino was the king of the silent screen. He’s a man of very few words, but his silence hints at an active inner life and his actions certainly speak to having a past. It’s a brave and strange performance, either emotionally shut down, or simply cool-as-a-cucumber, take your pick.
As for his co-stars, Mulligan isn’t given much to do except use her subtly expressive face to make physical whatever is going on in her head, but Albert Brooks, cast against type as a mobster and Bryan Cranston as an unlucky garage owner are stellar. Refn clearly loves his actors, stroking them in long close-ups, allowing the camera to luxuriate on their faces. It’s the exact opposite of what we usually find in thrillers, but here it adds atmosphere and star power.
“Drive” is long-on silence and big on anti-heroes, and is one of the most intriguing movies of the year so far.
30/January/2012 02:44 PM Filed in: In Time
"In Time," a new sci fi film starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, is as timely a movie as will be released this year. It's an allegory for the haves and the have nots. In this case 1% of the population controls 99% of the world's most precious commodity--time. Instead of occupying parks, however, our hero JT sets out get time back on his side.
This movie has a lot of time of its hands, or should I say forearms. "In Time" takes place in a world where people are genetically engineered to stop aging at twenty-five. Sounds like Eden, but this is a dystopian world where once the calendar clicks on your twenty-fifth birthday the clock starts ticking. Literally. A digital readout appears on your forearm and you have one year until time runs out. But, because time is money--again, literally--your wages top up your clock, buying more time. When a time millionaire willingly gives Will Salas (Timberlake) a century of his time, Salas finds himself on the run from the Time Keeper police and one step closer to discovering the secret link between immortality and poverty.
Insert the word "money" for "time" at any point during "In Time" and the story reveals how run-of-the-mill it is. Stripped of its sci fi premise it should have been an interesting comment on the divide between rich and poor but, is instead, content to be a tepid action film. Not smart enough to be an interesting metaphor and not wild enough to be a thriller it falls between the cracks.
JT hands in a performance that makes you wish he would bring the sexy back. The more leads he does in movies, the more i can't help but think his triumph in "The Social Network" was some kind of fluke.
But, as bad as the movie is Amanda Seyfried somehow remains compelling. She is so unusual looking, like an alien cupie doll, and that otherworldliness gives some flavor to her disconnected rich girl character.
Neither is helped by a script which provides as many unintentional laughs as genuine ones and whose idea of witty banter is: "You forget I almost killed you a few times." "I'm willing to overlook that."
“In Time” has an interesting-ish premise, but unfortunately there is not enough quality time in the movie to earn a recommend.
30/January/2012 02:43 PM Filed in: Breakaway
Two things occurred to me while I watched “Breakaway,” a new hockey comedy set against Toronto’s cultural mosaic. 1. Russell Peters does the worst drunk impression ever. 2. Only one letter separates the word “hokey” from “hockey.”
Vinay Virmani plays Rajveer Singh a first generation Canadian with a passion for hockey and a father (Anupam Kher) who wants him to join the family trucking business. Determined to follow his dream, he cobbles together a team, the Speedy Singhs, and takes on the reigning Hyundai Cup champs. Cultures clash on and off the ice as his traditional father pushes him toward devotion and truck driving and the predominantly white hockey league looks down on his team.
It’s amazing that a country which professes to love hockey makes such lame movies about the sport. Ripe with sports clichés—goals scored just as the buzzer rings, determined underdogs and a life flashing in front of a player’s eyes as they storm down the ice—bad puns—Mahatma Gretzky anyone?—and jokes so old they were moldy when Bob and Bing used them seventy years ago—“You just have to stay positive.” “Oh, I’m positive. Positive we’re going to embarrass ourselves!”—“Breakaway” isn’t so much a story but a place where sport movie truisms go to die. The movie has some heart, but feels like an echo of many other sports movies, most noticeably “Bend it Like Beckham.”
There is probably a good movie to be made about the colour wall of hockey, or the first generation Canadian experience of the game but “Breakaway” isn’t it.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Real Steel
Part Rock'em Sock'em Robots, part “Rocky” with a dollop of “Transformers,” “Real Steel” is a family drama about redemption, romance and robots.
Hugh Jackman is Charlie Kenton, a former boxer left behind when the game changed. To keep up with audience demand for more action promoters axed human fighters, replacing them with behemoth thousand pound battling bots. Kenton and his broken down robots barely eke out a living on the circuit, but he sees a chance at making some quick cash when his estranged son reenters his life.
Kenton makes a deal to sell his son for $100,000 to a wealthy relative. The glitch is the adoptive couple will be out of town for the summer, so he’ll have to spend three months with young Max (Dakota Goyo) until he can collect his cash. The kid turns out to be a chip off the old block—stubborn and cocky—but he loves boxing almost as much as Kenton does. When they uncover a robot named Atom at a junkyard they bond in ways neither could have imagined.
“Real Steel” is a strange movie. It’s a father-and-his-son-underdog-romance-redemption-road-trip movie with robots. The funny part is almost all the individual elements work well enough, but when they are slapped together something seems wonky.
The father and son bonding aspect works well enough, although I think if this was real life, child protective services might disagree with me on that one.
The underdog story is predictable, but who doesn’t like a bit of redemption?
The romance and the road trip aspects are played down, but are both important to the story.
Trouble is the movie is so thick with syrup—even the robot Atom has a heart of gold—that it feels like director Shawn Levy has a tendency to let his inner Spielberg get the better of him. By the time little Max says to his estranged father and boxing coach, “I just want you to fight for me… it’s all I’ve ever wanted,” the metaphors are flying thick and fast.
The movie tries to be all things to all potential audiences, and, as a result, feels like less than the sum of its parts.
Sports movies are never about the sports, they’re always about the subtext but here you have boxing robots! That’s something new—they’re not exactly Transformers—but the story insists on ignoring the cool characters—like the robot Zeus, the mechanical Mike Tyson—and focus on the more predictable aspects of the story instead.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
This documentary about O’Brien’s 32 city pity tour after being turfed as host of The Tonight Show could more rightly be called Multi Millionaires Just Wanna Have Fun. The flame haired host repeatedly says he took his act on the road to have fun, but why doesn’t look like he’s having any? Wedged between rehearsal, onstage and candid backstage footage is a portrait of a wounded man struggling with a grave personal and professional disappointment. It’s like watching someone go through a bad breakup for 90 minutes, with musical numbers and the odd joke. For all showbiz aficionados but primarily for Coco completeists.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Obsession (1976)
Director Brian De Palma is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest fans, and in “Obsession,” his, well, obsession with the master of suspense’s film—“Vertigo” in particular—reaches its apex.
The movie focuses on New Orleans businessman Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson). Years after his wife and daughter are killed in a botched kidnapping, he meets and falls in love with a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife.
“Obsession” doesn’t quite measure up to the sublime “Vertigo,” but it does offer up some good thrills if you can get past the implausibility of the film’s finale. The plot points might not add up, but De Palma masterfully manipulates the movie’s atmosphere, creating a sense of drama and dread that is really effective.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: The Whistleblower
Instead of running the title card “based on a true story” up front, “The Whistleblower,” a new drama starring Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci and Vanessa Redgrave, begins with the disclaimer “inspired by true events. Some of the characters may be composites or fictitious.” No “just the facts ma'am” for this movie. The filmmakers decided to take a perfectly serviceable and important story and tart it up with Hollywood story elements. Because facts are often stranger than fiction, it’s a shame they didn’t stick more with the truth and less with the movie contrivances.
Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac a Nebraska policewoman based on a real life person of the same name. Divorced, she’s desperate to move across country to be closer to her kids but can’t lay her hands on either the job transfer or the money to make the trip. To raise the cash she takes a six month job as a peace keeper in Sarajevo, Bosnia. War has ended and a company called Democra Security has been contracted by the U.N. to help smooth the transition from strife to peace. Soon, however, she uncovers a human trafficking ring specializing in young women sold into prostitution. Uncovering a far reaching conspiracy she finds herself making some powerful enemies.
“The Whistleblower” is a well intentioned film that more often than not plays like an episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” albeit with more exotic locations. It’s a police procedural with many of the tried and true plot devices of the genre. Evidence seems to show up when needed, progress is inevitably slowed by bureaucratic process and the main character is true blue. “I’m an American police officer,” she says to a young woman afraid that the U.N. isn’t going to be able to help, “it doesn’t matter who I work for.” No that’s plucky.
Where it differs from other procedurals is in its uncompromising imagery. A dank dungeon brothel is identified by close-ups of chains, dirty mattresses and used condoms and a scene involving the bad guys disciplining one of their captives is too grim to be described here. Those scenes have impact and underline the importance of telling this story from a humanist standpoint, but from a cinematic perspective it all feels kind of standard and often borders on the sanctimonious.
Weisz, in the role that Mariska Hargitay would have played if this was a TV movie, brings some depth to the gritty cop stereotype we’ve seen a hundred times before, conveying urgency and determination.
“The Whistleblower” is topped by an effective and exciting final reel but for my money it takes just a bit too long to get there.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Paranormal Activity 3
I'm a bit of a sucker for things that go bump in the night. The "Paranormal Activity" movies have made a series (and a fortune) playing up on the fear of noises in the dark. The sound in the kitchen. The rustle of a curtain when the window is shut. No other movies have made the switching on and off of a light so sinister. Now, even though the series should be a little long in the tooth by now, the inventively named "Paranormal Activity 3," still made me jump.
As Southside Johnny would say, "Third verse, same as the first." The new film is a prequel to the first films and follows the template set by the first two movies. Set in the VHS era of 1988, recurring characters Katie and Kristi Rey are little girls, living with their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a wedding video editor. When they start hearing strange sounds in their new Carlsbad, California house, he sets up video cameras to find out what's keeping them up at night. The movie asks the question, Is the boyfriend obsessed or is the house possessed?
“Paranormal Activity 3" is 99 per cent anticipation, 1% payoff, but the 1 per cent is pretty good. I think the low-fi feel of the movies -- the picture really does look like home video most of the time -- combined with really natural performances from unknown actors make the "Paranormal Activity" movies feel like real "found footage" movies. Most movies of the genre are a little too slick. These aren't. There's no music, no stars and it feels like you're watching something that could be real.... almost.
I say almost because the premise is stretched a little far in number three. Why does the boyfriend videotape things when he should be running for his life? But the underlying idea that these demons (or whatever they are) terrorize the characters at home, usually at night during the sleeping hours when they are most vulnerable, is still effective and giddy ghouly good fun.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: The Big Year
Not since The Beverly Hillbillies' Miss Jane has there been such a bird crazy character. "The Big Year," a new comedy starring the tryptic of comics Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, is based on a true story of birders trying to break a world record.
"This is a true story," the opening credit reads. "Only the facts have been changed." Wilson is Bostick, the world's best birder (they don't like being called bird watchers). He is the king of The Big Year, an annual competition to see the greatest amount of birds in North America in a calendar year. There's no prize other than bragging rights, but, jokes Brad Harris (Jack Black), "the bird seed endorsements are huge." The film follows Bostick and the efforts of two newcomers to the Big Year, Stu (Martin), a wealthy CEO who is finally taking time to smell the roses and look at the birds, and Harris, an unhappy office grunt who loves anything that flies, as they vie for the top spot.
Whether or not audiences will migrate to "The Big Year" depends on their tolerance for a soundtrack stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with bird songs like a jazz version of "Blackbird," and the trio of leading men.
Each plays to his strength. Black provides the slapstick, martin is the silver haired charmer and Wilson plays the edgy jerk he's perfected in movies like "Drillbit Taylor." The three different styles work well together even though nothing about it really feels fresh. Despite its subject it never really takes flight. There's a more ripple of giggles throughout but the big laughs are fewer and further between. Surely some Blue Footed Booby jokes could have spiced things up just a bit.
Having said that, "The Big Year" is enjoyable enough, particularly if you like footage of our fine feathered friends. The final third tugs at the heart strings when it becomes more about the characters than their birding obsession. Not really memorable, but at least it’s not another installment of Martin's dreadful Inspector Clouseau series.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Beware the Gonzo
Best described as The Rum Diaries without Hunter S. Thompson, drugs or Johnny Depp, Beware the Gonzo is a battle of egos set at a high school newspaper. Starring Ezra Miller and Jesse McCartney, it’s better than your typical teen drama.
23/January/2012 11:22 AM Filed in: Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure
The documentary follows two friends, Mitch and Eddie, who created a pre-internet worldwide phenomenon when they recorded their neighbours having loud hilarious arguments. The tapes spread far and wide and despite the story’s age—all this happened in 1987—this entertaining doc raises timely questions about our right to privacy…
16/January/2012 10:33 AM Filed in: Abduction
In "Abduction," "Twilight" werewolf Taylor Lautner is Nathan, a typical teen who discovers his life isn't what he thought it was when he finds a photo of himself on a missing person's website. His investigation into the origin of the picture makes him a pawn in an international game of intrigue involving the CIA, an encrypted text message and the pretty girl from next door.
There is a certain percentage of the population who would pay to Lautner stand shirtless in a field, abs rippling in the wind. That would be a better movie than "Abduction." He's got the teen angst eye roll down to a science but other than that hands in the most wooden performance since Geppetto carved Pinocchio out of a block of oak. Beware of woodpeckers.
He's in every scene and despite a tense fight scene here or a loud gun battle there; "Abduction" is sunk by bad acting and even worse dialogue. Even old pros like Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver can't get past lines like "there's a bomb in the oven," one of the most hilairously bad lines this year.
"Abduction" will leave you wondering how, exactly, that bomb got into the oven and how exactly, this bomb made it into theatres.
16/January/2012 10:32 AM Filed in: The Ides of March
In “The Ides of March,” George Clooney (who also directs) plays a Democratic Party candidate. He’s the kind of guy who would make the top of Bill O’Reilly’s head pop off. He’s pro-ecology, anti-oil. He wants to tax the rich and legalize gay marriage. If he leans any further left he'll topple over. Although Clooney has spoken out about many of these topics in real life, hasn't made a left wing fm. Instead he's made a warts and all political movie.
The movie focuses its story on Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic campaign manager who will do anything to win, as long as he truly believes in the candidate. He is devoted to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a candidate in the Democratic primary. The first hour is spent getting into the campaign, learning the machinations of a big league primary run, the behind the scenes. Clooney sets up the themes of the piece--loyalty, ethics and the hard edge that comes from playing in the bigs--before taking a right turn--story wise, not ideologically--into different territory.
I'm not going to give away the twist, but it is really then that the movie picks up steam. The first hour is good stuff, great acting from Paul Giamatti, and P.S.H. and a fascinating, if occasionally dry look at life in the political fast lane. Then comes the blackmail, the meetings in darkened stairwells and double crossing journalists.
Gosling impresses as he makes his way from idealism to stark realism, and Clooney looks like he was born to sit in an oval office, but it is the supporting cast who really shine.
Giamatti and Hoffman reek of the backroom. They play opponents but are cut from the same cloth, men who are two steps ahead of everybody else in the room.
“The Ides of March” takes a bit too long to get to the game changing moment, but when the acting is this good, it’s worth the wait.
16/January/2012 10:32 AM Filed in: Scorpion King 3
Scorpion King 3: Was there a Scorpion King 2. Either way the newest addition to the Mummy franchise is further proof of the law of diminishing returns. The further away you get from the source, the worse the movie.
16/January/2012 10:32 AM Filed in: Robotropolis
Robotropolis: is a low-budget robots go nuts movie. With no stars, a familiar story and a few gruesome moments it will likely only appeal to robofans.
16/January/2012 10:32 AM Filed in: Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star
Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star: is a Happy Madison production with all the good and bad that implies. Adam Sandler’s production company pumps out good natured but low rent comedies like this faster than Kim Kardashian can file for divorce, but like Kim’s marriage, this one is a bit of a train wreck.
16/January/2012 10:31 AM Filed in: Killing Bono
The story of a rock singer’s friend who didn’t make the leap to the big time, Killing Bono, is an enjoyable but slight look at the downside of obscurity. Most notable for Pete Postlethwaite’s final appearance as a lovable but campy character with a heart of gold.
16/January/2012 10:19 AM Filed in: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is likely the film that brought to life the image of the poor tormented former child star, living their years out of the spotlight as troubled, demented messes.
Bette Davis plays Baby Jane, a vaudeville star whose best days are far behind her. In her day she had a line of dolls named after her, now she lives in a rambling old house with her sister Blanche (Crawford). Time has not been kind to either of them. Forgotten, Baby Jane lives in a fantasy world, Blanche is trapped in a wheelchair, the result of a brutal car accident that cut her successful acting career short.
Living in isolation they are prisoners in their Hollywood mansion, afraid of the outside world and one another.
A slow burn, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” takes a while to get going, but once this tale of sibling rivalry (touched by the ravages of former fame) begins to escalate it’s a great deal of fun.
Davis hungrily chews the scenery—the film’s most famous line, “But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair! is delivered with untamed gusto—in a performance that contrasts nicely with Crawford’s understated work.
Creepy, campy and chilling, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is this week’s essential film.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: What's Your Number
I'm not going to suggest “What's Your Number?” is a great, or even good movie. It has a typical rom com plot gussied up with some Judd Apatow style barbs and some gratuitous shots of its almost naked stars, but it also has Anna Faris, and for me that's enough. She has crack comic timing and an unpredictable way with a line that takes a Kathryn Heigl level script and turns it into something watchable.
Faris is Ally, a young Bostonian with a bad relationship track record. Weeks before her sister is due to tie the knot she reads a magazine article which suggests the number of sexual partners a woman has had will determine her romantic success later in life. More than twenty, it says, and you have virtually no hope of ever settling down. She does the math and realizes she’s in the danger zone. To prevent going over twenty partners she revisits all her ex-boyfriends in hopes of finding a husband.
“What’s Your Number?” is a strange movie that mixes and mingles both the standard old cell phone switcheroo plot device AND edgy rape jokes. It doesn't have the laughs of an Apatow movie or the heart... but once again, I'll say it, it has Anna Faris.
Faris is working hard here, playing against a script that casts her as the most clichéd of all rom com characters, a desperate woman on the hunt for a man. She’s a harlot with a past but her male next door neighbor (Chris Evans), who has hundreds of notches on his bedpost, is a charmer who simply hasn’t found the right woman yet. Just another example of how wrong headed the sexual politics of rom coms are, even in 2011.
A love scene with a puppet and Andy Samberg is a highlight and one of the things—did I mention Anna Faris?—that make this movie almost special. There are just enough funny scenes (and shots of co-star Evans's abs) to almost make this an in-the-pocket rom com, but then the good stuff is followed by long stretches of by-the-book writing. It's a shame to see this kind of potential wasted.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: Surrogate Valentine
In this unusual romantic comedy real life San Francisco singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura plays a heightened version of himself. When he is hired by actor Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops) to teach him how to convincingly play a musician for an upcoming movie role. The pair hit the road and when Goh’s high school girlfriend shows up at a gig, romantic complications ensue.
This movie has considerable, but low-key charm. The improvisational feel lends a sense of realism to the piece, as though the camera is a fly-on-the-wall witnessing real events. It’s not, of course, but the way the film leaves behind the conventions of typical rom coms leaves more room for the story to ring emotionally true.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: The Girl Next Door
Imagine if “American Pie” and “Risky Business” had a secret love child. That’s what “The Girl Next Door” feels like. It’s a raunchy teen comedy rescued by really charming performances from its leads, Emile Hirsch, who plays a straight A student who lives next door to a porn star, played by Elisha Cuthbert.
When he decides to rescue her from her life of degradation he goes mano-a-mano with a sleazy movie producer (Timothy Olyphant).
How raunchy is it? Well, the advertising slogan was “Matt didn't see her coming...but all his friends have!” Other movies have pushed the envelope more but “The Girl Next Door” feels more lascivious.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: Fright Night
Think about it; Las Vegas is the perfect place for a vampire to hang out. There are no castles or creepy forests but there are lots of potential victims who don't go out until the sun goes down. It's a town that lives at night which makes it the perfect place for Jerry (Colin Farrell) the new vampire in town.
Based on Tom Holland’s 1985 camp classic original of the same name, "Fright Night" sticks to the basic plot of its namesake but this isn't a traditional vampire thriller. It's more "True Blood" than "Dracula."
High school senior Charlie (Anton Yeltin) doesn't believe his childhood friend Ed's (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) claim that Jerry, the new guy on the block, is a vampire. Doesn't believe him, that is, until their friends start to go missing. With the help of his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) and a swishy vampire expert named Peter Vincent (David Tennant in the role Roddy McDowell made famous) Charlie tries to put a stake through Jerry's reign of terror.
Even though "Fright Night" starts as a high school horror, this ain't "Twilight." It's more concerned with thrills and chills and laughs than romance or teen ennui. This is a horror film, and a pretty good one too once it gets past the set up.
The first hour threatens to get bogged down by deliberate pacing and a slowish unveiling of the plot points but is rescued by engaging performances by Yeltin and Poots, and an eerie turn by Farrell. At the sixty minute mark the horror hits, the pace picks up and the blood starts spurting.
"Fright Night" is popcorn horror with just enough bite to appeal to horror audiences and more casual vampire fans.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: Moneyball
“Moneyball,” the new sports drama starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, begins with the Mickey Mantle quote, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about a game you’ve played all your life.” The legendary New York Yankees outfielder and first baseman played eighteen seasons in the big leagues but likely wouldn’t recognize the game as played in this behind-the-scenes drama.
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real life General Manager of the Oakland A’s. Faced with having to piece together a pro team with a budget a fourth as large as the New York Yankees he breaks with one hundred years of baseball tradition—using scouts, instinct and guts—to find a scientific method to build a team on the cheap. With a Yale trained economist (Jonah Hill) he creates sabermetrics, a mind boggling combination of facts, figures and computer algorithms to recruit his team.
It all sounds very dry, but so did "The Social Network" before you actually sat down and watched it. "Moneyball" takes what cold be a dry subject of baseball stats and spices it up with complex, interesting characters, a compelling human story while leaving the usual sport’s movie clichés behind.
It moves at about half the speed of "The Social Network" but that's OK we're not dealing with the fast moving world of cyber space here but the more relaxed pace of America's favorite pastime.
But this isn't a baseball movie. Pitt and Hill, in a rare serious role, dominate the movie with their behind the scenes stories. Like "The Social Network" "Moneyball" places the onus on the characters and not the technology that drives the story. We've seen baseball movies before, but we've never sent the game from this angle. It's a new take on the game, one that may leave Mantel scratching his head but should leave audiences rapt.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: From the Sky Down
The new documentary from “An Inconvenient Truth” director Davis Guggenheim looks at the Irish rock band U2 at a turning point in their career. After the massive success of “The Joshua Tree” and the self importance of “Rattle and Hum” the band decided to regroup and refocus, leaving behind the "earnest po-faced men" of the 1980s. It was time to cut down the Joshua Tree, Bono says and embrace a new, fun direction. The result was “Achtung Baby,” an exploration of dance rock hat cemented their position as one of the world's most popular bands. The documentary, however, for all its talk leaving the joylessness of their middle period behind, is a rather joyless experience in itself.
It could be subtitled, “The Trouble with Authorized Biographies.”
Like the band the doc is rather serious. The opening minutes describe an anthropologist’s take on a band as a clan and continue with loads of VO about the creative process. Along the way we pick the interesting odd fact--the original title of “Mysterious Ways” was “Sick Puppy” for example, and in the studio Bono uses a gibberish language called Bonolese to create the melody before he has written the lyrics--but there is also much talk of Stockhausen theories and of trying to create the sound of new Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. No one can accuse these guys of thinking small.
And perhaps that's where the movie falls down. These men are among the biggest rocks stars, not just on the planet, but ever, but the film doesn't capture that. As the opening says, they're a clan, but they are part of one of the most exclusive clans in the world, and it might have more interesting to dig inside the dynamic that has kept the band together for the best part of thirty years.
Instead the movie spends a great deal of time detailing the band's new sound on “Achtung Baby.” Fine, except they focus on the song “One,” which, of all the tunes on the record, sounds like a throwback to their previous work.
There's an interesting story to be told about U2. “From the Sky Down” isn't it.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: The Tempest
This gender bending version of one of Shakespeare’s classics from director Julie Taymor sees Helen Mirren as Prospera, a woman accused of witchcraft and banished. Beautiful looking, this movie suffers from too many special effects and not enough heart.
06/January/2012 02:26 PM Filed in: For the Love of God
This French movie features Donald Sutherland’s son Rossif as Jesus Christ and two women in love with a Dominican priest. God acting can’t save this dull but heartfelt film.
06/January/2012 01:45 PM Filed in: Shark Night 3D
Didn’t Hollywood learn anything from “Jaws 3D”? Killer sharks in 3D didn’t work then, and they don’t work in “Shark Night 3D,” a movie so awful that charging the extra 3D premium per ticket seems like usury. Quick, somebody call the movie police! The set up is just as dumb as the movie. A group of good looking college students decide to spend the weekend at school hottie Sara’s (Sara Paxton) family home in the Louisiana Bayou. One by one the friends become shark bait for an inexplicably hungry shark (or sharks!) lurking in the salt water lake. “Shark Night 3D” could have been a fun homage to the Roger Corman exploitation films of the 1970s. It has all the ingredients—an unlikely premise, scary swamp people with facial scars, hungry creatures and, of course, the holy trinity of these movies, bikinis, babes and finely sculpted abs. There’s even a redneck who lectures one of the students about “moral relativism.” All the ingredients are there except for a sense of fun. “Piranha 3D” from earlier this year was an unexpected box office hit because it didn’t take itself seriously. It doesn’t have the gory good fun of that movie although it does have some unintentional laughs, one of the dumbest action scenes ever (a motor boat speeds across the bayou, but is later revealed to have only travelled about six feet) and the cascade of bubbles that comes flying off the screen every time the camera submerges has to be one of the most annoying 3D effects EVER. Couple that with characters so uninteresting you hope they get eaten by sharks, and quickly, and a cheesy Littlest Hobo moment and you have the worst fish experience since Uncle Jed ate that rancid sushi. At one point in the film a character emotes, “Stay out of the water!” I’ll amend that line, “Stay out of the theatre!” You’ll be better off.
03/January/2012 10:46 AM Filed in: Tree of Life
Terrence Malick is probably the biggest name director whose movies you’ve never seen. His is the kind of name filmy types like to toss into conversations as a test to see how deep your knowledge of movies runs. Having made just five movies since 1973 he is less productive than a four toed sloth, but as a chef I know used to say, “do you want it fast, or do you want it good?”
His latest, “Tree of Life,” is a star studded look at life, death and the birth of the universe. He compresses the history of the world, mankind and the lives of a Waco, Texas family into two hours and twenty minutes. This coming of age story—or more rightly a coming of the ages story—is impressionistic storytelling, nonlinear, non-story based but not nonsensical.
It’s a deeply spiritual movie—from the Job quote that begins the story to the Amen chorus at the end—that asks the big questions—Why do awful things happen? Are we always in God’s hands?—often in reverential, whispered tones. Style wise Malick constantly tilts the camera upwards, keeping an eye on the heavens.
This is not light summer entertainment. In fact, some will think this is pretentious twaddle, while others will see a movie that replaces traditional storytelling with deep seated feelings.
I’m leaning ever so slightly toward the pretentious twaddle camp, certainly in the film’s first hour, where Malick inserts a long sequence detailing the abovementioned birth of the universe. Faces and lifelike shapes appear in the primordial goop that makes up much of this extended creation scene, and by the time the dinosaurs appear it is hard to remember this is a movie starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
What does it mean? Not sure. Narratively it adds little to the film and as artful as it may be it feels too new agey by half. But as pretentious twaddle goes, it’s really beautiful. If this movie was made in 1968 it would have been a “head” movie, delighting stoners at midnight screenings.
But it’s not 1968, so luckily the first forty minutes gives way to a slightly less impressionistic mid section, based mostly in the family home of Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) and their three kids. It’s a feel, a hazy look at growing up.
Pitt impresses as the upwardly mobile, but thin skinned tyrant father; a man who thought he did everything right only to discover his instincts were off. There’s also a surprising character arc in a movie that is more about intuition than arcs. The family story is effective, its Malick’s struggle to place it within a much larger context and the constantly shifting points of view that obscure the film’s main point, a questioning of faith in the light of great personal tragedy.
Obscured though the point may be, this is one seriously beautiful film. Malick has his characters talk about living in a state of grace—love everyone, every leaf, every ray of light—and it’s not hard to imagine that is an echo of his filmmaking ethos. He finds splendor in the things we don’t see onscreen very often anymore, a pure shot of fireflies flittering in the darkness, landscapes and nature, unadulterated, left alone to speak for themselves.
Critics will use words like textural, nuanced to describe “Tree of Life.” I’ll add a few more. Heartfelt, willfully obscure and intriguing.
03/January/2012 10:46 AM Filed in: Winnie the Pooh
The gentle humor of Winnie the Pooh has been a childhood staple for almost a century. From the original A. A. Milne book in 1926 to radio, television, film and even philosophical adaptations like the Tao of Pooh, the little stuffed bear with a jones for hunny and his pals Piglet, Owl, Rabbit and Eeyore, is a pop culture superstar.
After years of new Pooh stories his latest big screen adventure, simply titled “Winnie the Pooh,” goes back to the source for its inspiration. Disney has woven together six chapters of Milne’s stories to form one satisfying whole.
The movie starts, as all great Pooh movies do—and there’s 51 of them to choose from—with Pooh searching for hunny. Along the way he helps Eeyore, the pessimistic stuffed donkey, find a replacement for his lost tail and searches for a mysterious creature called a Backson.
Directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall have wisely updated the story—the pace is snappier than the classic 1960s cartoons—but kept the elements that have made Pooh an indispensable character for the under ten crowd. The gentle humor is in place, along with the beautiful water color backgrounds of Hundred Acre Wood and the voices so connected to the series (they’re done by different people now, but are true to style established by Walt himself).
Disney has done something special with this reboot; they’ve created a movie that feels modern without sacrificing its nostalgic charm. And at just over an hour “Winnie the Pooh” is geared to the attention spans of a young audience.
03/January/2012 10:46 AM Filed in: Bridesmaids
The big mistake people will make about “Bridesmaids,” a new comedy starring an ensemble of female comedians headed by Kristen Wiig, is that it is a chick flick or a female version of “The Hangover.” It has elements of both, but is closer in spirit to “Knocked Up” or “The Forty Year Old Virgin;” heartfelt comedies that place the characters first and the laughs second.
When we first meet Annie (Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the script), her life is in tatters. Her business is a victim of a downturned economy and her boyfriend (Jon Hamm) calls her his “number three.” When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks Annie to be her maid of honor she should be thrilled but is overwhelmed by the job and her fellow bridesmaids (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper) or as Lillian calls them, the “stone cold pack of weirdoes.”
Kristen Wiig was the best thing to happen to “Saturday Night Live” in years but her big screen output has been somewhat underwhelming. In movies like “MacGruber” and “Paul” it always felt to me like she was simply acting in a long form sketch. She’s always funny, but I never felt like there was a real depth of character there. Until “Bridesmaids” that is. Her work as the neurotic but mostly well meaning Annie is a breakthrough, proving that being funny and having feelings are not mutually exclusive.
The rest of the cast impresses as well. Like Wiig, Rudolph has both the comedic and dramatic chops to make us laugh and care about the characters, and Rose Byrne steps outside of the dramas we’re used to seeing her in to deliver a subdued but very funny performance. Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, virtually the only male actor to utter a line apart from Jon Hamm in a raunchy cameo, brings an enormous amount of charm to the role of Rhodes, the lovelorn cop. There’s good chemistry all round, a key element that prevents the story from veering into rom com territory.
So far I’ve talked about “feelings” and used words like “heartfelt” to describe “Bridesmaids,” but don’t get me wrong, this is still a wild comedy. It doesn’t out-raunch the “Hangover” guys, but there are bodily function jokes a plenty, one very funny sex scene and language that would make a teamster blush. The girls can throw it down with the guys, but somehow it’s not as gross. Much of it is still gross, just not as gross.
“Bridesmaids” is the funniest movie so far.
02/January/2012 05:06 PM Filed in: Nowhere Boy
There is no shortage of John Lennon on celluloid. There are five official Beatles movies, documentaries like “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” a 2006 movie that focuses on Lennon’s transformation from musician into antiwar activist, and even experimental short films like the John and Yoko shorts like “Two Virgins” and “Apotheosis.” He’s been portrayed by everyone from Paul Rudd (in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) to Monty Python’s Eric Idle but rarely has any actor captured both Lennon’s rebelliousness and vulnerability as Aaron Johnson does in “Nowhere Boy.”
The coming-of-age-story of one of the most famous people of the twentieth century, “Nowhere Boy” examines Lennon’s relationship with his estranged mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), the woman who raised him. For the first time on film we see the effect the combustible combination of women had on his life. His mother’s ready! steady! go! lifestyle helping to form his rock ‘n’ roll side, while Aunt Mimi’s more slow and steady influence brought out John’s sensitive, artistic side.
“Nowhere Boy” is a fascinating character study that reveals the formative years of a complicated man. Aaron Johnson, who was eighteen at the time, succeeds because he doesn’t try to imitate Lennon, instead he plays a young, confused man who is on the cusp of growing up. Sure, the distinctive Liverpool accent is there as are the right period details, but it’s what is beyond those crutches that make this performance, as they said in “Yellow Submarine,” “a tickle of joy on the belly the universe.”
First time director Sam Taylor-Wood gets the muddled mix of excitement, testosterone and disappointment Lennon felt on an almost daily basis just right, and in the process has made one of the best Beatle bios to date.
02/January/2012 05:06 PM Filed in: Hobo with a Shotgun
The world can be divided into two groups. People who would go see a movie titled “Hobo with a Shotgun” and people who wouldn’t. If you are in the former group you’ll likely love the movie. If not, well, perhaps go see “Jane Eyre” instead.
Shot in Halifax by first time feature director Jason Eisener, the movie is the model for truth in advertising. There is a hobo (Rutger Hauer) and a shotgun. It’s what he does with the shotgun that, depending on your point of view, makes the movie either a grindhouse treasure or a gratuitous blood fest with no redeeming value. You see the hobo has just ridden the rails into Scumtown, the most corrupt Canadian city in the east. Ruled by crime kingpin The Drake (Brian Downey) and his sadistic sons (Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman) it is a cesspool of sleaze where the streets run red with Technicolor blood. The level of carnage brings out the hobo’s inner Charles Bronson as he brings some 20-gauge vigilante justice to the town.
"Hobo with a Shotgun" is like what would have happened if Roger Corman made "Death Wish" with a fake blood budget the size of a James Cameron movie. It's an unapologetic revenge movie that makes movies like “The Toxic Avenger” seem restrained. Any movie with kitschy lines like “I'm gonna sleep in your bloody carcass tonight” is OK by me as long as it delivers in other ways, and "Hobo with a Shotgun" does. Of course, it is first and foremost a squishy ode to the movies that filled drive-ins and grindhouses during the Nixon years but it also has a deliberate sense of humor about itself—a headline describing the Hobo's rampage reads, “Hobo Stops Begging— Demands Change”—and seems genuinely affectionate about the movies it is paying tribute to.
"Hobo" even has the same kind of pseudo social commentary that Roger Corman used to try and shoehorn into his exploitation movies. For instance, according to Corman "The Big Birdcage" wasn't just a babes, bars and bondage women-in-prison picture but a highly nuanced ode to women's lib. I think Eisener probably has his tongue in cheek when his characters take a stance on the issue of homelessness, but nonetheless the addition of some strange social commentary perfectly fits the tone of the genre he's trying to emulate.
Director Eisener's highly developed visual style and sense of the absurd fuels the entire movie. It's clear that most of the budget probably went to Hauer's salary and the blood supply, but Eisener makes the most of every scene using inventive camera angles and tinting the action with lurid cartoon colors. Blood has never looked this red and b-movies have rarely looked this cool.
02/January/2012 04:21 PM Filed in: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
“Uncle Boonmee,” the Palme d'Or winning Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is better seen than explained.
The surreal story of a man (Thanapat Saisaymar) dying of acute kidney failure is a marvelous and purposeful study of the meaning of life. As Uncle Boonmee explaores his past lives, searching for the reasons for his illness he is visited by spirit guides--his dead wife’s ghost (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) and his son who returns is manifested as a Monkey Ghost (Geerasak Kulhong) with glowing fiery eyes. Add in a horny catfish, the birthplace of his first life and some slapstick comedy and you have an entrancing look at life after death.
Weerasethakul slowly guides us through Boonmee’s lives, allowing time for contemplation of nature, the mystery of life (or lives) and the idea that ghosts are tethered to people, not places.
Funnier than you think it will be, richer with meaning and beautifully photographed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a unique and wonderful film.
02/January/2012 04:18 PM Filed in: 127 Hours
Wikipedia defines survival as “the struggle to remain alive and living.” Next to that definition should be a picture of Aron Ralston, the poster boy for survival at any cost. His name may not ring a bell but his remarkable story of how he literally found himself between a rock and a hard place will make you wonder how far you would go to stay alive. You see, Ralston is the American mountain climber who was trapped by a boulder for five days in May 2003 and was only able to free himself by amputating his own arm. His story is told in unflinching detail in 127 Hours, starring James Franco, a film is so intense some audience members have suffered panic attacks and lightheadedness.
That reaction is the result of careful direction by Danny Boyle. Because we essentially know how the story is going to end Boyle keeps us along for the ride by building up tension slowly as he moves toward the movie’s Big Scene ®. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it is rather masterful filmmaking. When he does get to the amputation scene (admit it, you’re curious) he creates a movie topping sequence (it starts to get grim at about the hour-and-fifteen minute mark) with visuals that leave something to your imagination and a jarring electronic soundtrack that is less grueling but more effective than any cutting scene from the “Saw” series. It may not show everything, but trust me, it’ll be a long time before you order a rare steak or beef tartar in a restaurant again.
Boyle fleshes out the bare bones of the story, adding in heartbreaking hallucinations of survival and a montage of soda commercials that illustrates what happens when thirst goes beyond the physical to become a mental thing.
It’s all tied together by Boyle’s visual sense. He uses a variety of shooting styles to really give us the idea of why Aron loves this terrain and how dangerous and extreme it can be. It gives us a feeling for both the isolated vastness and beauty of Aron’s surroundings.
At the heart of it all is James Franco as Aron. Like Ryan Reynolds in “Buried” this is a performance that isn’t limited by its physical circumstances. Reynolds spent ninety minutes in a box and gave the performance of his career while Franco, trapped by a boulder, alone in a tight uncomfortable space does some seriously good work. His choices of roles have been esoteric of late—playing Allen Ginsberg in “Howl” for instance—but in “127 Hours” he has found the part that should earn him some well deserved recognition from the Academy.
“127 Hours” isn’t an easy movie. When Aron tells himself “don’t pass out” during the amputation scene he could well be talking to the audience as well. Imagine the most uncomfortable you’ve ever been. Now multiply that by a thousand. No wait, a million. That’s the experience Boyle and Franco are offering up, a grueling but worthwhile story of survival against all odds.