Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Linklater's Boyhood Captures Lightning In A Bottle...

...for twelve straight years!!
The gimmick alone is worth the price of admission. Richard Linklater took his core cast and shot a little bit at a time for twelve years so we would actually be able to watch these guys grow. How cool is that?
But let's look beyond the gimmick... which the more I think on it feels less and less gimmicky and more and more natural. I wish we could get movies like this on a regular basis. Anyway, Boyhood actually captures something else across the years. A complete and well structured movie with some genuine insight into human existence and the nature of relationship.

Linklater's been doing such interesting work lately, and it's because he's never been afraid to experiment, mix things up, and try new things. I mean, this guy made a trilogy out of conversations on boardwalks (Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight). He put animated cells over live action film... twice (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly)! He's shot in pseudo-documentary style on multiple occasions and intentionally made a studio set feel like a low budget hotel room that he just happened to rent one night. This feels like a natural step in his filmmaking career and its so incredibly interesting to see him play around with the foundations of filmmaking.

His cast clearly trusts and respects him as well. Ethan Hawke has worked with the director at least half a dozen times. And those films have enriched his career in a way most actors can't even begin to hope for. Patricia Arquette turned in one of her best performances in this movie. And to witness the performances he managed to pull from Ellar Coltrane and his own daughter, Lorelei over such an extended period of time is a somehow magical thing to experience.

I know it's like three hours long and that can seem like a trek for many filmgoers, but Boyhood is worth the sacrifice of half an afternoon. And I'd be surprised if it didn't rear its head come award season.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes May Be The Best Film Of The Summer...

...And it's almost definitely the smartest. Believe me, I always walk in to a Planet of the Apes movie with a certain level of fear. Maybe they'll miss the mark. Maybe they'll try to make this an action movie a la J.J. Abrams' Star Trek... which believe me, would NOT work for this franchise at all. So stepping into Dawn... I had to hold my breath for a bit because it could so easily have gone wrong.

The advent of Rise was surprising enough as it was. See I didn't think there was a whole lot more anyone could do with the Planet of the Apes franchise after the original series had essentially brought us full circle... and then Tim Burton had just decimated the property. But somehow it worked again in 2011. I guess broad social commentary in an epic post-apocalyptic sci-fi world will always have some level of appeal. But beyond that, Dawn is just a really intelligent movie. It actually takes the time to ask genuine questions and it goes through a process to try and effectively answer them. So what we get as an audience is a big budget sci-fi film that allows us to think... which, in all sincerity (and believe me I still enjoy the new Star Treks... at least the first one), is what has been so sorely missing from other major rebooted sci-fi properties of late.
I'm so incredibly relieved to see what Matt Reeves has done with this movie. Because he obviously gets what Planet of the Apes is. He effectively found a way to jump into Rupert Wyatt's Rise setup without missing a beat. From the writers' room up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a true successor to Rise... and it, in fact, overcomes the negative shortcomings of that earlier film (like subpar human performances), allowing it to break through to the next level. This is one of those movies I'm gonna be talking about for a long time to come.
Flawless CG combined with an exceptional story of two cultures trying desperately not to make the mistakes they know they are prone to, amounts to the best of the best in filmmaking.
Literally, the only negative I can draw from this movie is, there wasn't enough Gary Oldman. That's probably because I think Gary Oldman is too good an actor for the role he was given. But consider this, Andy Serkis as Caesar is the star of these films. The humans involved have always been secondary. And somehow, these flicks have made the audience 100% okay with rooting for another species. They make us actively compare ourselves to that species and understand them... perhaps even better than the mess of humans that could represent us after such a disaster.
I can't praise Dawn of the Planet of the Apes enough. It accomplished everything I wanted it to while still allowing the opportunity for another film to flourish in the near future. And I'm so glad Matt Reeves is signed on for the next one. I just hope nothing slows the production on this third installment because I would love to see another Apes movie in 2016!

Grand Piano Is Too Much Fun

Do you remember that time, you sat down to watch Speed with your friends... and someone made an asinine comment like "how cool would it be if they took this premise and did it on a piano?"... and everyone just stared at them for a while? Because what kind of mind would think of such a ridiculous idea... actually what did your friend even mean by that?
Well your friend was actually totally a genius. Because Grand Piano is epic beyond belief... and its tagline should absolutely be Speed... ON A PIANO!!
Now what does that mean? It means Elijah Wood is a great concert pianist who's finally coming back to the craft after five years away just to play this one last show. I know what you're thinking, "this already sounds like an action movie." But seriously, hold back your snarky remarks until the end. As Elijah sits down and begins playing, he comes across a message hidden (well not exactly hidden) in the pages of his sheet music. Yes! The message reads, "Play one wrong note and you die!"
Oh man. This movie just got awesome! See, the brilliant thing about setting an action thriller at a concert is, the intense musical cues are literally built in. He can't stop playing or he's gonna die. But he can try to do other things. He is, after all, a piano genius. He knows the easy parts well enough, and he has a cellphone... so he can...
I actually think you should watch it yourself, so don't let me ruin anything else for you. It's not perfect, in fact some of the secondary actors are just downright awful, but Eugenio Mira and Damien Chazelle crafted a very fun movie here. It's something I'd absolutely consider rewatching in the same way that a movie like Speed is rewatchable... just... how did they think of that moment? How did they keep the bus going that whole time? How did they keep the plot moving like that? At first it seems impossible, but somehow it works. Check it out on Netflix today!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Begin Again Is A Welcome Relief

This summer's been a bit hard to stomach movie-wise. So it's nice to get a little relief from the overbearing Hollywood blockbusters. I didn't need to go far to find Begin Again. But I was surprised to enjoy it as much as I did.
It's the kind of movie that has a language all its own. In the silence there are still words being spoken. 
There's a charisma emanating from Mark Ruffalo's relationship to Keira Knightley, and it's so specifically structured, like a great building. I've gotta say, it was also refreshing to not be watching a love story. These are just two like-minded people who actually understand each others' desires... musically.

John Carney knows what he's doing. As a writer/director he's really carving out his own little niche in the industry. After Once it seems it would have been fairly easy to walk away from music and push a career as an all-around good filmmaker, but he seems set in his ways and I for one appreciate getting his multiple takes on the world of music. The cast was excellent as well, between Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley it's fairly obvious these days you're gonna have some quality performances. But add Mos Def to the equation, Hailee Steinfeld, and Catherine Keener with... Adam Levine (?? Doing something similar, but less silly, to what Justin Timberlake did in Inside Llewyn Davis)... and you've got a really interesting movie.
And honestly, don't knock the Adam Levine casting. It is a music movie after all. And he did a more than serviceable job playing a sellout. His character had a surprising final moment as well that I really think was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. That may have been John Carney getting it more so than Adam Levine getting it... but regardless, his casting was surprisingly the right decision for this picture.

I guess my only negative thought on the movie falls during the credits. For some reason there were two additional scenes designated to occur after the real movie had ended. And while the first of these scenes makes sense as a statement about what the music business "should be"... the second one practically destroys the entire movie in a single line. It's really confusing to have witnessed that moment. And at the very least, it should not have been the last thing we saw of these characters... especially when the actual ending of the movie was so fulfilling and concise. Oh well. You can't win 'em all.
Begin Again is one of the best things in theaters right now. So give it a chance. You'll be glad you aren't watching Transformers, I promise.

Earth To Echo Ain't E.T., But It Ain't Bad Either

After Super 8, I kind of figured E.T. "remakes" were done. Super 8 seemed to prove to me that the magic of E.T. was really just a one time thing. Because it had never been seen before, E.T. hit audiences in just the right way and left them thinking about family and other life in the universe in a way movies hadn't really done before that. And Super 8 just didn't manage to capture my heart in the same way. So I was surprised to be getting another "sort of" attempt with Earth To Echo.
Well, it didn't exactly fail. Earth To Echo was a good family movie. Kids will definitely like it... especially boys... for it's attempt at creating a fun video game-esque puzzle. And parents will most likely be able to tolerate it because it has just enough heart and momentum to not be boring the entire time. But it's not E.T. Attempting to recapture that magic feels like a pipe dream.
Regardless, the concept for Earth To Echo is pretty fun. Let's make a found footage movie that kids can enjoy. What with the way the sub genre has taken off over the last decade I'm honestly surprised this idea hadn't reared its head sooner. And the cool thing about it is, despite all of the gimmicks that people can never seem to let be with found footage, it does work in a kids film. Or at least, it doesn't negatively impact the movie. I do wonder though if the gimmicky nature of some of the dialogue would seem false to children... something I usually wouldn't consider in a kids film... if the youngest generation is growing up with technology at their fingertips from such an early age, is it compelling to them to see a bunch of kids running around with cameras... what's actually special about that these days (ignoring, of course, the alien aspect of the film)?
But I digress. Earth To Echo was good enough for what it was. And the young actors did a pretty good job considering they had to carry a movie. In that way, it does bring back memories of other 80s flicks. Because somehow these kids definitely understood everything they had to do which really makes me respect first-time feature director Dave Green for getting those performances out of Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, and Ella Wahlestedt.
Earth To Echo is a good enough distraction for the kids. And sometimes that translates to good enough for parents as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thankfully Snowpiercer Was Awesome!

This is more like it! Man it's been a rough couple of weeks for movies. Fortunately this new Joon-ho Bong flick hit theaters just when I needed it the most... when I had begun to lose all hope for this summer.
Snowpiercer is just plain interesting. It's thoroughly entertaining all the way from the source concept: the last remnants of the human race, stuck together in a constantly moving train...
sociological and scientific metaphors abound. And it's just damn fun to watch... from beginning to end. It reminds me of older films like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover or City of Lost Children... that kind of art house film that somehow managed to get bigger than life. This is a BIG art house flick in the best possible way. And it's the kind of outlandish perspective we've been missing in bigger Hollywood movies that somehow seem smaller despite their massive budgets. Not that Snowpiercer had a small budget, but when you compare it to that of expected blockbusters, it's at least half the price.
But enough of that. This movie had an exceptional and often surprisingly cool cast. Chris Evans was clearly having a blast and it's so interesting to see how excited he gets about making movies like this. I hope he continues to choose such solid projects in the future, now that he has some amount of movie star clout to throw around.
Kang-ho Song is amazing as usual. He constantly proves to me that Korean cinema can provide a platform for good actors to be big and entertaining. Ah-sung Ko was also wonderful to watch! I love how much of The Host (2006) made it into this movie. And I love that Bong clearly still trusts these actors. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the epic talents of John Hurt here as well. He's just too damn good. I could list off the rest of the cast, but I really don't want to ruin any of those surprises. Just be prepared to catch a glimpse of a whole bunch of awesome actors you know and love doing their damnedest to make a good movie. It's really quite cool how many people wanted to be a part of this.
Snowpiercer is the antithesis of the studio summer blockbuster. It shows what a big idea can be if it is allowed to flourish. And it proves that two writers working together on an idea is better than an entire stable of producers trying to get their ideas stuffed into one movie. It never wavers from its path and at every turn, the stakes get higher until by the end of the movie I was just so happy I got on the train with these absurd characters.
If you're as sick of movies like Transformers 4 as I am... check out Snowpiercer. It's so much more what Sci-Fi is supposed to be.

Why Did Michael Bay Get To Make Another Transformers??

Well that was the longest 2 hours and 45 minutes of my life... You probably know this by now, but that's the ridiculous runtime of Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Why is that runtime so disorienting to me? Because, when I was sitting there in the midst of it, I realized that the movie had no content. I can't even begin to imagine how someone wrote a script as long as that without writing in any character development or emotional arc... or plot for that matter. Age of Extinction is just a bunch of weird action combined with unnecessary vanity posses.
It felt as though every scene was specifically made with the hopes that it could make it into one of the trailers at some point down the line. And in many respects, that's what happened. If I had grown up on Transformers the way I grew up on so many other properties, I'd be freaking out right now calling for the studio to just start over, to release Michael Bay and say "we're so sorry to have put you through this agony for the last decade... please forgive us." Because the only even remotely good one is the first one and at this point, seeing what this franchise has become, I think even that is stretching.

Odder still, it turns out the studio was lying about the movie's success for some weird reason. And that is not cool. To try and convince everyone that they had the first $100 million flick of 2014 seems particularly petty. After all, they did manage to rake in a hefty sum... something to the tune of $96 million. But that doesn't change the fact that they tried to intentionally lie to the movie public. I work in a theatre and can personally attest that we did not hit any of the numbers we would expect for such a large opening. At this point I think Paramount should be apologizing for a plethora of things.
Essentially, Transformers: Age of Extinction is a terrible mess and the worst example of what "big sci-fi" can be. I wouldn't waste my time if I were you.