Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pretty Sure I Was Just Raped By The Counselor

When I walked in to see The Counselor, I knew what all the reviews were saying. I thought I was prepared... that maybe there was something they were all missing. I thought, "There's too much talent involved for this to be a bad movie."
I know now I was just being naive. And in my naiveté I was about to subject myself to possibly the worst film I have ever seen.

However, this comes with an asterisk. Truly, The Counselor couldn't possibly be the worst movie ever made. There are far shittier ultra-low budget, never released shit-fests out there... Monos, The Hands of Fate comes to mind. But movies like that never stood a chance. The Counselor had... well... practically everything going for it:
Ridley Scott was directing. And he is a good director. No use knocking him over a few duds like Robin Hood.

The film sported an all star cast most producers would be drooling over. Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and...
Cameron Diaz?

That was the first sign the dream was crumbling. Then...
Weird how they both have that same eerie smile...
Cormac McCarthy, for the first time, was writing the screenplay. Okay? That could be interesting. Perhaps he'd be able to translate the nuances of his characters, his story... perhaps he would be the best option to show us what his world would be like in film.

Nope. No dice. Sorry to disappoint you.

For all of the positives this film seemed to be sporting, at the end of the day none of those great actors could outperform this god awful script. Sure a few of them really tried. They practically succeeded. But then Cameron Diaz would come on screen and everyone, for some reason, just let her take over. I have to say, Cameron Diaz should never have been allowed to play this part. Now in her defense, I don't think anyone could have actually made it work, but I tend to doubt literally any other actor would have played it quite as poorly as she did.

Spoilers if you care... but do you really? This is a warning, so you probably want to read this.
Once Cameron Diaz takes over the movie... well more at the very end at which point it already had become hers... she begins to monologue. And her ability to do this is so incredibly lacking I immediately burst out in laughter. I'm talking one of the worst sequences I have ever seen put to film. I'm talking the end of all that is good and pure and meaningful in this world bad. This is the last scene before the credits.
End Spoilers.

I hate this movie. I love Michael Fassbender, but somehow as the title character Cormac McCarthy managed to write a script that gave him nothing, I mean NOTHING, to do.

Not only did The Counselor tease me with a potential starring role for one of my all time favorite actors (Fassbender),
it then sucker punched me and left me instead with a starring role for one of my all time least favorite actresses (Diaz).
And I used the term "Actress" because I honestly don't believe she deserves the moniker "Actor".

Thanks for ruining my night Cormac McCarthy. I won't soon forget this.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jackass' Bad Grandpa

Yeah, I went to see Bad Grandpa.
And I had a great time. Granted, I saw it in a 21+ screening where I got to drink throughout the movie.

I still think it's hilarious that Spike Jonze is so close to this one sketch from Jackass lore. Even playing a variation of the character in one of the earlier flicks. But his involvement in this feature project brings a surprising level of clout and quality to a potential mess.

So what's the story with this? Well, for starters there IS actually a story. It weaves in and out of prank sketches that, while at first felt slightly awkward, the more the booze kicked in the easier it all became to compress and blatantly laugh at until, at the very end, the entire audience seemed to be laughing together... which is always fun.

Knoxville was good in that he stayed in character even when he probably shouldn't have. But the real prize here was the kid, Jackson Nicoll.
He was just always on point and totally into everything the filmmakers wanted him to do. It's great to watch someone new and without reservations play so well off of adults who have been doing it for years.

Anyway, I know it's silly. But Jackass doesn't really disappoint. You know what you're getting every time and the fact that there's always something new to it makes it all feel worthwhile. I honestly wonder what the world would be like without it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

All (Of The Dialogue) Is Lost...

...And thank god for that.
Robert Redford's performance in All Is Lost was more believable than I am used to from him. But I think that mostly came out of the script not allowing him to say pretty much anything throughout the hour and forty minute run time. That's not a bad thing. I think silence in film is vastly underrated.

A good actor can relay more information with a look than he can with a monologue. We as humans instinctively understand when the water is coming in and his eyes go to the crack in the wall and we know he is already FUUUUCKed. And as amazing as some of that was... well ultimately the myriad issues of the film took over.
I guess now's as good a time as any to admit that I'm not a big Redford fan. Generally speaking, I find his performances lacking and usually in his films it feels to me like he is being propped up by the other actors around him (see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; see All The President's Men). So sitting through an hour and forty minutes, just staring at the man... you can imagine I wasn't the happiest of campers.

Now I loved Margin Call and for J.C. Chandor to have made that on his first attempt is nothing short of amazing. But here he somehow managed to lose me in his sophomore endeavor. At every turn, I felt as though Our Man (that's the character's name btw) made another dumb choice until, at a point, I felt like he lived his life to the rules of a bad horror movie always running up the stairs rather than out the front door. That's the script. You know?
Okay, sophomore efforts are hard. I'll still give J.C. another chance. But All Is Lost is not my kind of movie. And even though I will not be surprised when Robert Redford is nominated for Best Actor, I will vehemently disagree.

Why All The Fifth Estate Hate??

I finally saw The Fifth Estate.
And while walking in, I was confused. I had seen the trailer and loved it

but almost all of the critics seemed to be bashing it to pieces. So I sat in my seat alone. Didn't even invite friends because no one seemed interested. As the lights went down I instinctively knew which way I'd side.

The Fifth Estate is not a bad movie. Not by a long shot.
In fact, it has one of the most consistently good casts I've seen this year. From the quite excellent leads, Daniel Brühl and Benedict Cumberbatch, to the surprising (I didn't know they were in this movie) co-stars, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci (???), to the incredibly sexy Alicia Vikander... I honestly can't recall a single bad performance.

Then there's the script. I don't believe there is nearly as much problem with the script as many of those oh so subtle reviewers seem to claim. At one point I recall one critic blasting it as being incompetently un-cinematic. And while there is an element of that (namely the computer sequences) and the script does a poor job tiptoeing around that (a la a metaphorically never ending office with only two employees) the majority of Assange and Berg's relationship seemed quite real to me.

Now I don't know the facts. I wasn't there. But neither was the rest of the media. So when Assange himself gets up and claims the movie to be utterly untrue, I have to wonder... Because the picture this film paints is one wherein both characters see the world the way they want to see it. And there's a succinct believability for me in that. I don't think it "demonizes Assange", nor do I think it claims that Berg is absolutely right. I think The Fifth Estate did a surprisingly good job of staying unbiased. And perhaps that's where the real hate comes from.

I tend to dislike films without "bias"... but when I say that I mean a film without a clear perspective. I think The Fifth Estate still had that and I'll disagree with anyone who claims it was lopsided until they can prove it to me.

One Quick Almost Spoiler
Anyway, there's a scene that I still cannot get out of my head. When Assange goes to Berg's parents' house for dinner, there is a moment that was so believable to me. And in that moment I sensed a better representation of a character's hidden perspective than I think I've ever seen on film. If you've read this blip and know what I am referring to I really want to talk to someone about it!!
End Almost Spoiler

The Fifth Estate... some say it's too smart... some say it's too stupid... and I'm just left here feeling like Goldilocks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Carrie Remake...

...Another failed attempt.
Don't get me wrong. There are elements of this film that do work, though they may be few. But I have to ask, what does it say about our culture that we decided another Carrie was a worthwhile investment? At what point do known properties stop being marketable... remarketable? Disney's business model has worked for many years, by that I'm referring to the Disney Vault. But that seems to be more the exception to the rule. And even then those are not remakes, but rather the same original films rereleased.

What stirs me so wrong about this rethinking of Carrie is the incredible lack of character development. This seems to be a theme for me lately. And while it was understandable with Captain Phillips, with a property like Carrie it is simply unforgivable. So much so that the film lost all sense of depth and excitement. What worked so well in the original was a knowledge of who those other characters were that picked on Carrie. When you just give them faces and say they were involved it feels like rambling and not so much like actual story telling. Even stranger, the screenwriter of the original was involved here... but perhaps it's telling that he only has eight writing credits over the last 40 years.
And maybe it's just my love for the original talking here, but lifting it into the present day did nothing for me. Honestly it took away another piece of what it is that makes Carrie such a quality piece of cinema. I would have much preferred a period piece. Go back to the seventies and since you're already trying to recapture bottled lightning... go all the way. You know?

Chloë Grace Moretz has done nothing but solid work since breaking on the scene back in 2004 (she was 7 at the time). And Julianne Moore is just an excellent mainstay performer always bringing something interesting to her films. But somehow neither one of them could seem to save this heaping mess of a movie.

12 Years A Slave

While anticipating a great movie, sometimes it can be difficult to separate one's expectations from the final product. Often times this leads to a drop in the viewer's appreciation and allows for a solid movie to subjectively appear poor in quality. So when I say I legitimately thought 12 Years a Slave would be THE BEST film of the year, it means a great deal to come around after seeing it and still say that it will be ONE OF the best of 2013. Why the slight drop off? Reality.
In truth it probably wouldn't have mattered if I had anticipated this film or walked into a theatre with no expectations. It is a great movie. But with a few nit-picky flaws that hold it back. Mostly at the beginning and within minor acting performances... oh and the score could have been much stronger. But the cinematography, directorial focus, and well... the lead performances easily masked those issues.
By the end the audience had developed a keen understanding of Chiwetel Ejiofor's Solomon Northup. We only wanted him to succeed because we recognized the injustice of his situation and the pains he has taken to keep his sanity under horrendous stress. He fought back in situations where most would turn their heads and consistently confirmed in our minds the utter hopeless nature of the world he lived in. I think Chiwetel's been en route to an Oscar for the last ten years... and perhaps this is the performance that breaks him through.
Michael Fassbender delivers like no other actor I've seen. Every film I see him in... not matter how I feel about the final product... always has a bright spot as long as he is on the screen. He just doesn't let up. Fassbender is the definition of consistency and I would love to see him represented in the best supporting actor category.
This was the nature of my anticipation. Two of my three favorite living actors in one film (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender... the third being Colin Firth) playing off of one another. I relished the opportunity to see them butt heads. And the payoff was absolutely there. With this caliber of lead performance, Steve McQueen almost didn't need anything else at all. Though he still managed to lure Benedict Cumberbatch (who has been on quite a roll lately), Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, and Brad Pitt. All while also stirring a brilliant performance from newcomer Lupita Nyong'o who helped to bring added life to the second half of the film.
Steve McQueen has, with only three films under his belt, managed to gain my trust, at least for the next decade. He is a smart filmmaker and a good filmmaker... and the two rarely go hand in hand.

I know it's a touchy subject, but 12 Years a Slave does deliver. Please go see this film.

Friday, October 18, 2013

On Captain Phillips

There was a definite chill in the room before the lights went down and my screening of Captain Phillips began.
It was a feeling of uncertainty. No one quite knew what to expect. Granted there was already a book out written by the man himself, and one could easily guess the outcome based on the news reports back when the actual incident took place. But the bigger question wasn't related to "How is this going to end?" It was more a question of "Will they capture the intensity of the moment?" And in some ways they did.
What was sad to me about the film, what kept it from living up to expectations, may have indeed been a strength to the overall picture. Its honesty. So here is my harshest criticism... Some stories do not warrant dramatizations.

While on the surface a Pirate Hijacking sounds like an intense and exciting action thriller, Captain Phillips left much to be desired. The actual events... the way in which the pirates conceded at every step... the way in which the crew just sort of did nothing beyond their basic training and the only one who really seemed to step up when the going got tough was Phillips himself... left me waiting for something interesting to happen.

Now this is not intended to be a negative review. Much was good about the film. Tom Hanks did a fine job. Barkhad Abdi was convincing as hell. From a technical standpoint it was very solidly done. But the true story left too much on the table for my taste.
I live by the philosophy that motion pictures should be something that we cannot see in our everyday lives. Because film is an escape. In that capacity, for me, Captain Phillips failed. Now obviously, the film was not created to please me. And those events did happen. And even from my own philosophical standpoint, a pirate hijacking is something most people would never see in their regular lives. But this felt mostly like a film with one character (his name's in the title) and a whole bunch of wood fillers for actual people. When the screenplay comes from the book written by the man who didn't know anybody else involved all that well (new crew, new ship, new pirate invaders) it's hard to figure out what everyone else is thinking.
So what I guess I'm saying is, this film was not made for me. It may be made for you. And it'll definitely show up for a few award nods. So you may as well give it a chance. In this one situation I am just not a great source for approval.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Don Of Ladies, The Jon Of Habit

After a rather long week I finally got around to seeing Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature-length directorial attempt.
And I was impressed. Now it's not a perfect movie, but there are enough of the right things to inspire confidence in future endeavors.

First, let's consider, the budget was only $6 million. For that price, JGL got a bargain from a practically all-star cast. Himself, Scarlett Jo, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza (whom I haven't seen in anything since my childhood), Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson... with cameos from Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Meagan Good, and Cuba Gooding Jr? That sounds like at least a $24 million affair to me.
The limited sets and shots certainly went a long way in contributing to the cheapness of that budget, though what's nice about this film is the repetitive view of Jon's world is pretty much a necessity in getting the point across. For any human being stuck in habit, it can become difficult to realize your surroundings have been the same each and every day. So many times, people don't step out of their security blankets... their home, their car, their gym, their church, their club... sound familiar?

What Don Jon manages to explore so well is that belief that in our lives everything has purpose, so we fill meaningless locations and activities (porn, romance movies, looks, one night stands, football) with memories and focus and more focus. But we continually miss out on the bigger picture. We miss out on the connection. We work so hard to fill these things, that we sometimes forget we ourselves must be filled... and the only way we can hope to receive that same satisfaction is from another. Someone else must be allowed to see us and be with us. Jon seemingly searches all movie long for this and watches as others around him miss the same cues he does.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a lot of promise with his first outing. He came up with a concept that was easily shootable but managed to pack it with a very solid and surprisingly intriguing message. And clearly everyone wanted to work with him. For those and a few other reasons I would probably recommend this movie. At the very least, give it a chance when it comes to netflix or whatever service you're using by then.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Understanding The Gravity Of Gravity

Gravity is one of the most thrilling movies ever made. Unlike any other film, it is more reminiscent of a roller coaster, or a really intense video game. From start to finish it pulls the viewer in and relentlessly tugs at their sanity. After all, what would you do if put in that same situation? With this one question, the video game metaphor comes to life in a completely metaphysical way.
Of course I can only speak from my own experience, but the most shocking element of the film for me wasn't the utter chaos and destruction taking place on screen, it was the emotional turmoil taking place within my head. Wanting to reach out and help her. When in first person, I felt like I was becoming her and all I wanted to do was just... reach... down... and grab... that... handle. Of course I'm referring to that near orgasmic climax when she reaches the Chinese station and is truly out there without a tether, no communication, no ship, no one else to help her out. It's just her and that fire extinguisher which is without a doubt almost out of spray. And she lets it go and reaches and reaches and the station is just beneath her head and just centimeters from her fingertips and all I want in the world in that moment is for her to GRAB THAT GODDAMN HANDLE AND GET THE HELL INSIDE!!

It's truly an impressive feat to get everyone in the audience's teeth chattering like that.

So by now you're asking, "why is he writing another post about this movie?" Well this one isn't so much about the movie its self as it is about what comes next.

It's no secret that the film industry has been floundering of late. Ever-growing budgets, and a decrease in audience attendance (really an increase in other options besides going to the local cinema) creates this odd market flip wherein a single motion picture can essentially bankrupt a studio. Video games are a part of the problem as is television (but these days to a much lesser extent), the internet, and Netflix. Actually the most difficult issue the film industry has to deal with today is surprisingly the reason film became so popular in the early twentieth century to begin with.

That is, keeping audiences interested.

In today's world, I find myself constantly over-sated. I can watch videos on my phone, my ipad, my laptop, my home computer, my 42" television. I can read books on a device that mimics the exact look of ink on paper and I get the scores of all the football games with a little buzz from my pocket. And it's only getting crazier. With the advent of Google Glass and iWatch and whatever else they think up next (a car that actually drives its self allowing me to do whatever I want on my way to work perhaps) it is becoming more and more difficult to separate from the rest of humanity... or rather to simply focus on one task, one individual moment. There's just too much going on in the world.
Like with the initial coming of television (and later the VCR), film once again has to find a way in a market that is ever flooding. It has to prove that it is THE place you can go to have nothing pulling you in another direction. Because it's dark in there and the screen is so big, there is an unwritten rule (and more increasingly a written one) of no cellphones, no talking, no ruining it for anybody else. There is a sort of psychology to it. And people want to comply. But they're having a harder and harder time of actually paying attention. Some movies are too big and loud and many people just want to stay home and watch the next episode of Breaking Bad. After all it has the same quality of drama but from the comfort of the couch. And I know this is nothing new. It's been happening for years. What the film industry has been searching for with those big "blockbusters" with the constant noise, the explosions, and the third act that decides it's just gonna repeat those two things until it feels like it's done it enough and it should probably stop, is create


that can't be had on the couch at home.
Enter Gravity. With Gravity's video game makeup and roller coaster feeling on that same massive film screen (and even bigger with IMAX), the audience has been afforded an experience they don't want to turn away from, because they feel a part of it. It's a step. And it may be the next step of "blockbuster" filmmaking. So what does this mean?

It means a slew of copycat films. Perhaps a new genre, the "experience film". When Avatar came to theaters it was a sign of the changing foundation. Whatever we may think of it, Avatar proved that good 3D could be a reason for audiences to sit down in a dark theater... they came in droves. So the industry bit. They bit too hard. 3D once again had a backlash. But, unlike in the 80s, they invested too heavily and have kept it going this time. It seems these days every big movie is in 3D. And that includes Gravity. But unlike all of those other copycat movies, Gravity's 3D is pretty much a necessity. It brings you further into the world of the film and helps to make you feel like a part of it.

Now I have a few worries here. The first being Alfonso Cuarón's career. Cuarón is one of my most favorite directors. I just wonder what could be next for the man. Does he fall into the trap and try to make another "experience" movie like Gravity? Or does he move on knowing he's already mastered that style? It took him seven years after Children Of Men to make Gravity. Is there a chance he stops there? Is there a chance he never makes another motion picture? The second worry is, when the copycat flicks come along (and I'm pretty confident they will) who's gonna be in charge of them? If it's a studio trying to force it and they hire just any director, just any writer, just anybody we could be in for a long drought of quality filmmaking. This style of movie requires absolute precision. And I don't know how many directors could manage to hit all of the marks. Beyond that, what would another movie in this style even look like? Where would it take place? Space is so hard to do and Gravity managed it with an exceptional element of realism. Does it work underwater? Or in a war zone? Does it work with anything other than space?

So that's where I'm at right now. I am currently obsessed with Gravity. I've seen it twice and I want to see it again in IMAX. But (and here's the over-satiation kicking in) what's next?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rush Is Surprisingly Awesome

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Rush
the new Ron Howard movie with Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. And let me just start by saying, I was impressed.

In the past, I have had a difficult time with Ron Howard's work.
I think he is an excellent producer, but when it came to his directing style and (perhaps more telling) the stories he chose to tell I frequently would find myself yawning and checking the time. So when I walked into that theatre to experience his latest film, you can imagine I was something less than enthusiastic. Then the movie started. Niki Lauda... I mean Daniel Brühl began to narrate. And I was just hooked.

From start to finish, from race to race, I had to know what was next. I felt an honest connection with the two leads and their perspectives. I felt respect for the caliber of filmmaking. And I came to respect Ron Howard's directing chops.

The story simply cruised across the screen and I never once felt the just over two hour run time. Simply put, I was invested. And when you go to the cinema to see a flick, that's all you can really hope to be - invested.

It's interesting to note the heaviest advertising push came with Hemsworth's image and name,
though in truth, this is Brühl's film for at least the majority of the time. And he really made an impression on me.
When I looked at the images of the actual racers, it took me a minute to adjust.
The casting was so superb and their mannerisms so dead on, that even in those old and frozen pictures I felt like those were the same people I had been watching the entire movie.

What's more, the races were just so fun to watch. I don't enjoy formula one racing... actually any professional racing of any kind wherein the competitors simply go around an enclosed track a myriad of times. So when a film makes me enjoy that "sport" I have to tip my hat.

If you wanna see a good rivalry film, a great sports story, and just a damn fine picture, do yourself a favor and check out Ron Howard's Rush.

Prisoners... In The End You Probably Won't Care

I just got back from Prisoners.
It was an alright movie, though surprisingly riddled with flaws.

The overwhelming consensus I have heard from others on this film is that it is too full of holes. Which is funny, because I didn't really notice any recognizable plot holes... more like unnecessary plot tangents. Unless they were referring to physical holes, like holes in the ground or underneath houses or cars...
"They must've seen Prisoners."
because then, yes, I agree there probably were just a few too many. But what this flick suffers from is... well the tangent thing. Sometimes we can call that a red herring, but I feel like in this one it's just unnecessary plot additions that added to the already overbearing length of the movie (2hrs 26 minutes).

This issue may come from the writers not knowing where they were going from the outset (the final moment was kind of awkward). But then rewrites should certainly have helped. So I'm left wondering if the studio was responsible.
Alcon Entertainment has a rather questionable track record in my opinion. They're responsible for my least favorite Chris Nolan flick (Insomnia) as well as 16 Blocks and The Wicker Man remake. And those are the memorable ones. Most studios tend to have a mixed bag. Some good films, some bad, and maybe one or two or three great ones. But when going down their list of product, I see none of the latter and not much in the way of the former either.

However there were several great performances and the look and style of the movie were solid which is why I can't blame the actors and I'm shy to blame the director.
Jake Gyllenhaal gave an excellent performance and I think Hugh Jackman (who I thought could've won best actor last year for Les Mis) is  building up to one of those performances that forever makes haters stop hating... he just didn't quite get there this time around. Paul Dano really could've been anybody in this film. But that's not his fault... unless you wanna blame an actor for taking a job. I think he did what he could with the role he was given. And Viola Davis continues to be consistently good in everything she does.

Obviously it's not for me to tell anyone what they can and can't see. But at this point in the season, there are just too many other good films coming out for you to have to waste your time with a film like Prisoners.

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity

I just saw Gravity... Wow!
This could have easily been a let down after so many years (seven as I count back to Children of Men). And I'm having trouble comprehending that it's been so long since that fantastic film. But Gravity is not a disappointment. Not even remotely. This flick is a triumph. If ever you hoped to be taken on a roller coaster without the dangers of some teenager forgetting to properly buckle your seatbelt... well, you may actually still need a seatbelt for this.

Gravity combines so many great elements from various media into an epic piece that can only exist in film. I loved the feeling of first-person pressures, like I was in a video game trying at every turn to help Sandra Bullock when every bit of the universe seemed out to get her. I loved the music... and the silence. I loved two very brilliant performances. I once had doubts about Sandra Bullock's ability to carry a movie... not anymore. At least not with a director as talented as Cuarón.
Let's face it... the man's made seven movies since 1991. The man's made seven EXCELLENT movies. Yet after arguably his greatest feat in Children of Men (a modern masterpiece by my reckoning), he stopped. Flat. For more than half a decade I felt an emptiness in the film world because he wasn't there making a follow up. But that's just it. He wasn't making a follow up. You can't call something as epic as Gravity just "a follow up". He wanted to get it right. His passion is apparent in everything he touches. And he doesn't make movies just take movies. He makes THE movie. Each time.

Sólo con tu Pareja, A Little Princess, Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, The Prisoner of Azkaban (arguably the best stand alone film in the Harry Potter series), Children of Men, and now Gravity.

That's a hell of a list.

After tonight, I'm so glad to know he's back. And I'm already chomping at the bit to see what he's got in store for us next.