Wednesday, November 25, 2009

10 Favorite of the Decade...? (kind of)

Recently I was asked what my ten favorite movies of the decade were and when it comes to listing things, I tend to be against that. Then again, at the end of the day... one film will always be better than the other and so on and so forth. So without further ado, here I go...

1. Memento (2001, Christopher Nolan)
2. A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg)
3. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood)
4. Munich (2005, Steven Spielberg)
5. Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes)
6. Sideways (2004, Alexander Payne)
7. I'm Not There (2007, Todd Haynes)
8. American Splendor (2003, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini)
9. Wall-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)
10. Dancer in the Dark (2000, Lars Von Trier)

UPDATE: I'm going to lay off of reviewing films because of this year-end blowout idea I had. Once I'm on break and school is over I'll get back to updating more regularly.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UPDATES- October

Capitalism: A Love Story- Michael Moore's new documentary is not so much about corruption on wall street or the failing economy but it instead focuses on the social fallout of living in a nation that grows poorer by the minute. I'm often torn when I see a Moore film because I disagree with his politics but I admire how he structures his work and how he's also a very interesting host/narrator. He begins to go overboard toward the film's finale, when he goes from his usual deadpan over-the-top humor to using words such as "evil" and that we are in need of a "citizen's revolt" to describe how we should look at the antagonist that he calls capitalism-at-large. Moore strikes me as the kind of guy I'd like to listen to and laugh with at a frat party, but I wouldn't want to take a class from him. That being said, this still bears the fun trademarks that have made Moore's past work as notable as it has become. RATING: OK

A Serious Man- Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg in his brilliant breakout performance) is a man whose life is a series of mishaps. His wife cheats on him, his kid sucks, and he probably isn't going to get tenure. So how does a man deal with all of this? Well he turns to both weed... and his rabbi. Gopnik's Jewish heritage figures very prominently into the story-line as an additional lens to view Larry's situation through (and it leads to some humorous stereotyping). The Coens seem to be making some very bold decisions with how to end their films, and this offbeat and powerful concluding scene will leave you reflecting on what you've witnessed for quite a while. RATING: GOOD

Couples Retreat- The surprisingly funny and pleasantly relaxed marriage comedy from newcomer John Billingsley, features the re-teaming of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau (also starring Malin Ackerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Kristen Davis, Faizon Love, Kali Hawk, and Jean Reno) as part of a group that goes on a couples retreat expecting some peace and quiet but are soon plunged into tense therapy where they learn that if they are loyal to themselves, they will become loyal to their spouses. The film starts to bug me once the couples are on the island for a significant amount of time because the film becomes more impersonal as the lives of these characters move aside to allow for sight gags, sex jokes, and egos that only exist to make the audience giggle. Humorous, but it doesn't push the envelope in any unique way like other comedies from this year have. RATING: OKAY

Law Abiding Citizen- Clyde (Gerard Butler) is vengeance-stricken husband and father whose family is mercilessly slaughtered. Nick (Jamie Foxx) is a district attorney and moral-driven husband and father whose by-the-book ethics lead him make a deal with the men who murdered Clyde's wife and daughter. Soon a plot that could only be described as The Silence of the Lambs meets Death Wish meets Saw commences and when its revealed how Clyde is carrying out his revenge, the film only becomes less plausible. Rationality soon disappears and Nick's character arc as a man who refuses to budge on his morals and ethics... well that whole aspect of his character just does an unexpected 360 giving the movie no point. F. Gary Gray is a capable director but this project was originally conceived to be the fifth film by Frank Darabont, but the studios opted for the more action-oriented route. What a shame, instead this film is just a sordid mess. RATING: BAD

Where the Wild Things Are- This is based on the children's book by Maurice Sendak and is the third film from director Spike Jonze as well as the second script from Dave Eggers. The film stars Max Records as Max, a young boy who feels that life is tough. Max is a jokester and he is always looking for a way to pull one over on his mom (Catherine Keener). After he goes too far one night when his mom's boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) is over for dinner, Max is shunned to his room where he eventually escapes to the mysterious island of the Wild Things. The Wild Things (voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, and Paul Dano) all find themselves teaching Max one of the toughest lessons a little boy has to learn, how to grow up. Affectionately moving, beautifully shot, and meticulously designed, Jonze has once again reminded us of how imaginative his cinematic visions can be. We can only wait patiently to see what else he will unleash on our minds as his career flourishes. RATING: GOOD

Black Dynamite- Michael Jai White and company know exactly the formula to create the movie they were looking to make. White first of all plays Dynamite with this poker-face scowl but he also leaves enough open for the audience to interpret him as one of those characters who is struggling against "the man." The movie also has that progression of a guy who is trying to avenge his brother, then he starts taking drugs off the street, and finally he exposes the government as a corrupt power-hungry organization. The film has the satire needed to take a look at blaxploitation and it is enough of a de-constructor that it never acts like a film that is trying to be something that it isn't (and by that I mean something serious). Combine that with the nostalgic look and White and director Scott Sanders' penchant for comedic timing, and you have something that is like the brain child of Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song meets I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. RATING: GOOD

New York I Love You- In this sequel to Paris Je T'Aime, this anthology film takes the same concept of taking different types of filmmakers (from The Last Shot writer Jeff Nathanson to The Edge of Heaven director Faith Akin) to showcase different kinds of love (from romance to sex) with many different actors (from Ethan Hawke to James Caan) and all taking place in different types of neighborhoods (from Brooklyn to Staten Island). Like the previous installment, the film works half-and-half. Certain stories by certain directors just seem to work such as Allen Hughes's (Menace II Society) tale of pure romance between Drea De Matteo and Bradley Cooper to director Brett Ratner's (Rush Hour) tale of raunchy sex between Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby in a wheelchair. Different types of love are shown by having Shia LaBeouf learn about life from the elderly couple of Julie Christie and John Hurt in a segment from Shekar Kapur (Elizabeth) to Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan dealing with cross-cultural love in a segment from Mira Nair (The Namesake). The two that stick out in my mind would be Joshua Marston's (Maria Full of Grace) tale about an old Jewish couple reflecting on their lives (they are played by the excellent Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach) and Yvan Attal's (My Wife Is An Actress) flirtatious encounters between Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn. I realize I've showcased a lot of the vignettes but I'm hoping that will get most of you to check this out (the film also has one of the last works from the late great Anthony Minghella as well as the directorial debut of Natalie Portman) but once again, I've only mentioned about half of the shorts. The other half ranges anywhere from dull and boring to downright awkward. Either way, I hope more movies come out in this series so that I can keep deciding for myself on which kind of love I find the most interesting to have captured on film. RATING: OKAY

Amelia- Mira Nair's Earhart biopic is simply just too old school. The most modern element of the whole film is the fact that Amelia's story is told in flashback as she is crossing over the ocean on her doomed flight. Even if those moments are very dramatic, we all know how this story is going to end and the film doesn't do anything to even try to remotely lead into the suspense of Earhart's final moments. The musical score is overly dramatic and the "landscape-porn" cinematography doesn't serve any purpose since there is no meaningful story attached to those images. Swank also plays the part in a borderline ultra-feminist manner. Yes women were looked down upon a lot back then but that doesn't mean that trying to supplant those ideals into a film in today's "politically correct" setting just doesn't hold that much weight with an audience. The supporting players are tolerable but the film is just too much of an ode to styles and stories that we've witnessed before. RATING: BAD

The Vampire's Assistant- Here we have a film that is more childish then those first Harry Potter films but I'd assume this adaptation of Cirque Du Freak is even worse-off because of the fact that this is a childish film with a very mature group of characters. Yet the story barely distinguishes between the different motives of the different characters and why so-and-so belongs to a certain faction over another one (like what is the difference between John C. Reilly being a vampire and Ray Stevenson being a vampaneze). The performance from Chris Massoglia as Darren is too generic and overly corny. The film is littered with subplots that go nowhere and actors such as Willem Dafoe and Ken Watanabe just appear for seconds to be forgotten in a few moments. RATING: BAD

Saw VI- Very preachy, very long, and all it does is attempt to add another layer to a story that ran out of drama five films ago. It is full or horror and gore but it has no point to it at all. Since I've subjected myself to each film of the series so far, I feel as if each installment is worse than the next and I'd frankly like it all to stop. Didn't this fad of constant horror sequels die in the eighties? RATING: BAD

Rest of October and all of November to follow soon...

UPDATES- September

College has been very crazy this semester so I stopped reviewing movies for a while. However, I've still been going out to see (as well as downloading) as many movies as I can afford. Since it is approaching the end of the year, I'll probably do a list of my favorites in a variety of categories for this year and perhaps even the decade. But for now, here is a quick run-down of all the movies I've seen since I last wrote a review. October and November will soon follow. I'll stick with a simple "good," "okay," and "bad" rating system.

The Informant- Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, a man who informs on the price fixing scheme at his corn production company to the FBI. Damon pulls off this really screwball version of what is essentially Russell Crowe's character in Michael Mann's The Insider. However the humor that is advertised in the previews really doesn't reflect Steven Soderbergh's intent with this movie (which he directs with his usual distinct and yet always evolving visual style). This movie is more in line with the type of humor we saw last year in Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's Burn After Reading Surprisingly enjoyable for a movie thats about corn, a character's inner ramblings, and how Scott Bakula and Joel McHale somehow make convincing FBI agents. RATING: GOOD

The Surrogates- A semi-tolerable thriller about a world where people relax in the comfort of their homes and send out their physically-identical, self-controlled robots (known as Surrogates) to go to work. Bruce Willis stars as an FBI agent who is investigating the murder of a Surrogate which led to the death of its operator. The film has some good philosophical arguments present but the story often leaves those behind in the name of big-budget action sequences. Also, the joy of seeing Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames together again since Pulp Fiction quickly turns into a gimmick. Lately, the rule of thumb with Bruce Willis seems to be that any movie where he has hair in it, will most likely be bad. When he's bald, it's usually just okay. RATING: BAD

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men- Based on the short story by David Foster Wallace and written-directed by actor John Krasinski (of The Office fame), the film deals with a variety of relationships between unrelated characters in which a young woman (Julianne Nicholson) tries to learn about the male mind for her graduate studies by talking to the men in the respective relationships. As perceptive as the film might seem, it basically tells us that confessions can expose the truth but it seems that Krasinski and co. are unhappy with the reality that sometimes the truth is that we all have human needs that might border at times on the side of selfishness. A lot of the ho-hum plot is made up for by having a wide array of talented actors in the ensemble (Ben Shenkman, Timothy Hutton, Chris Messina, Will Arnett, Will Forte, and Christopher Meloni to name but a few). RATING: OKAY