The Official Review Thread of 2010

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Jun 25, 2010 7:07 pm

Pauline Kael's review of The Deer Hunter was entitled The God Bless America Symphony -- expressing her view that the film, while orchestrated as a full-scale work, had content more at the level of minor pop song. This, in the end, is about how I rate I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino's Italian film starring Tilda Swinton.

It is, in many ways, a major piece of film-making. Guadagnino provides not pretty pictures, but expressive pictures throughout -- capturing hidden beauties that go way beyond the pictorial (though, for sheer sensuality, he also photographs food that has a you-can-almost-taste-it-level matching Like Water for Chocolate). Narratively, he sets plenty in motion -- introducing us fluidly to a fairly wide group of characters, enmeshing us in their lives/decisions, all in the context of rich themes and pleasing leitmotifs. For more than half the film's length, I was carried buoyantly aloft -- overjoyed, after long months of disappointment, to have finally found a film that offered something like the full joy of cinema.

My problem? The film then went in a shockingly pedestrian direction (stop reading if you want to avoid the spoiler that's been in most reviews already)...having Swinton's mother character fall into an affair with her son's chef friend. There's nothing particularly outre about this affair that would have kept it from turning up in a movie of the 30s or 40s (unless you consider the affair to be an incest substitute, but, honestly, even that topic has been covered enough it wouldn't feel terribly fresh). This affair leads to the most dramatic moment of the film, one I'm sorry to say registered for me as almost completely random -- and thus pure melodrama. (I won't be specific, as that would be a true spoiler) Given that the entire resolution of the plot depends on this event, it left me greatly dissatisfied at the climax.

And yet, and yet...even during that last section, I found the film's techniques impeccable. The way the mother's affair is uncovered is not only beautiful staged, it has emotional/thematic resonance. In terms of details, the film never falters. I just lament that, for me, there's something vacant at the core.

With all that, I certainly recommend it to all those who, like me, have been starved for something substantial of late. You'll definitely feel like you've seen something. I just caution you not to expect the world.

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Postby Mister Tee » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:16 am

El Secreto de Sus Ojos is a good enough effort that I wish I loved it rather than just liked it. I found the initial crime investigation plot engaging (big fan of the genre) and the characters, with one exception, worth following. (The exception is Sandoval, whose "I'll be helpful, but screw up at key moments" persona got real annoying -- I had to doubt someone like him could sustain his career over that many years on such a razor's edge) For much of the running time, I was absorbed, and enjoyed such developments as how they tracked down the killer. And, as Italiano says, the scene at the football stadium was very exciting.

After that, though, I had problems with where the story went. The good cop/bad cop scene that broke the killer seemed too obvious...it was clear what the boss was doing, and the killer just seemed stupid for falling into the trap. (It was in many ways reminiscent of the as-predictable "You can't handle the truth" scene in A Few Good Men) Then, I found the politically-corrupt release of the prisoner a banal plot twist, which set the story adrift for a while. The ultimate mystery denouement did come as an interesting surprise (I was expecting something more along the lines of the husband being involved with the murder), but the fact that I'd had my interest lost for the interim 15 minutes made it less effective.

Finally -- and this may just say more about my sensibility than a flaw in the film itself -- I was disappointed in the outcome with our two leads. It seemed to me the story was in all other ways saying there's a cost to be paid for the choices one makes in life -- that steps taken close off options, make us sadly settle for less than what we desire. I thought it would have been perfectly in keeping with the rest of the story, thematically, for the pair to ruefully lament that the events recounted in the film cruelly kept them from the life they might have had together. Instead -- despite the fact that she's got a ful life from which it will be difficult to extract herself -- the film seems to posit an "It's never too late for love" thesis, which is an audience-pandering happy ending I didn't think the material backs up.

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Postby Greg » Sun Jun 20, 2010 8:59 pm

Toy Story 3

I loved how the film seemed to have never-ending plot twists and imaginitive ways to play on the uses/cultural histories of the toys. My favorite parts were when Buzz Lighyear reverted to his Spanish-language program and the satire of Ken's pretty-boy image, especially how Barbie "tortures" Ken to get information.

8/10

By the way, much has been made about the ticket prices for 3D movies. I paid $8; but, it was for a Sunday matinee.
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Postby Sabin » Sat Jun 19, 2010 2:24 pm

Cyrus (Jay & Mark Duplass)

This movie is its own Cyrus: bipolar, fucked up with women, and no idea what to do with itself. It begs you to love it half the time, while the other half it is actively repellent. All three performances are from different films. John C. Reilly humorously mugs his affable persona whereas Marisa Tomei seems to mine the material for real pathos. And all the while, Jonah Hill gives a performance of batshit uncomfortability. It's really a shame that nobody involved really seems to know exactly what movie they're making because this is a very strong piece of work by Jonah Hill. His first scene finds that balance between intentional and unintentional character awkwardness. Like Gabourey Sidibe, the frame lingers on his massive frame as if he were Hannibal Lector. I think there is far more honest opportunity for less problematic exploration in what the Duplasses do with Hill. The problem is that these man-boys don't know what they're trying to do.

The film we are promised in the trailer does not happen at all. It bounces from Funny or Die manic sensibility to cuddly mumblecore schmaltz with myriad sequences edited to cozy guitar music designed to truncate scenes of actual character growth into pseudo-montages. Effectively this undercuts the growth of the characters. It's being implied that these characters feel this way but I certainly don't feel drawn in. I feel like Sideways has been used as a template for man-child cinema with how it uses montage to establish a flow, but it's largely been misinterpreted. Cyrus uses montage as a crutch, and I never understood what Marisa Tomei's character saw in Reilly's. I think this is because the Duplass Brothers aren't thinkers, writers, directors, etc. The Puffy Chair is a strong film because it feels lived-in. Cyrus feels like a put-on, stuck between Hollywood's approximation of mumblecore and an inspired straight-comedy like There's Something About Mary. We need more of the latter.

Amazed at how little I liked this.
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Postby anonymous1980 » Sat Jun 19, 2010 7:18 am

TOY STORY 3
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Jodi Benson, Blake Clark, John Morris, Emily Hahn, Laurie Metcalf, Timothy Dalton, Kristen Schaal, Bonnie Hunt, Bud Luckey, Teddy Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Garlin, R. Lee Ermey, Jeff Pidgeon, Charlie Bright. (voices).
Dir: Lee Unkrich.

PIXAR has done it again. How do they do it? This movie is quite simply pure and utter joy and fits quite nicely with the previous two installments and is definitely another feather under PIXAR's cap. Face it, if your weakest film is Cars, you're doing something right. There are lots of clever gags in this one as well as lots of genuine heart. The ending is particularly very moving and beautiful. And great voice acting all-around too. Most of the voice performers were given a chance to shine. Very easily the best film of 2010 so far.

Oscar Prospects: This is locked in for a Best Animated Feature win. Also possible noms for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (if eligible), Best Original Song ("We Belong Together"), Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.

Grade: A




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Postby Sabin » Sun Jun 13, 2010 12:34 am

The A-Team (Joe Carnahan)

This is the most retarded movie I've seen in years. It is always cross-cutting between the future, something in the past, and a present discussion of whatever ridiculous plan is being hatched, so it's almost like there is no "Present" in this film, everything is some kind of slick, pseudo-montage. The action is intensely chaotic. The performances range from non-existent mugging, bad (Biel), and whatever ridiculousness Patrick Wilson is doing. He's actually quite enjoyable. It's a completely silly performance. Everyone else is phoning it in.

I have never seen credits go on this long. There is a scene where a tank is plummeting from a plane in the sky and they need to hit water, so they fire off to the side so that the explosive force will laterally push them towards the water. It has the most offensively marginalized African American character in a long time. The list goes on about how utterly ridiculous this film is. It is the first feature length parody I've seen in a long time, and it might be the best bad movie since The Happening.
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Postby anonymous1980 » Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:08 am

THE A-TEAM
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, Henry Czerny, Brian Bloom, Yul Vazquez, Maury Sterling.
Dir: Joe Carnahan.

I was not expecting much from this movie but I surprisingly had fun with it. Thanks to the engaging performances of the cast (well, Jackson's no Mr. T). I remember watching the TV show when I was little and I remember being entertained by the outrageous action scenes and knowing very little of the plot. This movie's the same way and is highly enjoyable and entertaining in that very same way. I mean, come on! A movie with a scene where guys are trying to fly a tank with a parachute isn't a movie to be taken seriously.

Oscar Prospects: Maybe Visual Effects, Sound and Sound Editing.

Grade: B-

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Postby Mister Tee » Tue Jun 08, 2010 1:04 pm

So...Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Start with the expected/obvious: Burton continues to elicit extraordinary design from his collaborators. The great thing about the look of this film is its variance, both from earlier Burton work, and from section to section of the film. The universal pastels of the prologue are leagues away from the stark forest tones, which are then replaced by the deep colors of the Red Queen's castle, and later by the bleached-out White Queens' realm. All very different, but all striking in some way. Rated for design alone, A or A plus, and I'd assume the usual sets/costumes/makeup/effects nominations will be forthcoming.

But, as usual, the narrative runs far behind. I admit to getting my hopes up during the prologue, as the script wittily played on our foreknowledge of the story, presenting real-world analogs to the Wonderland figures in a way that brought to mind the opening segment of The Wizard of Oz.

But as soon as the Bandersnatch started pursuing Alice with its menacing teeth, I though, Christ, we're in Avatar again -- a feeling underlined by the swooping predatory bird, and then the utterly standard Jabberwock. As for the "plot"...whatever history there was between the two queens managed to feel both underdeveloped, and over-familiar, from numerous films of the recent past. I found myself thinking how frighteningly limited a palate Hollywood has cultivated for its audiences in the current climate -- a person can go to the movies 50 times a year, and only see 2-3 basic stories told. It's even more offensive in this case, as they somehow took one of the most famously creative pieces in world literature -- one I've seen rendered in I don't know how many versions -- and reduced that to run-of-the-mill Hollywood entertainment for the new millenium.

Kind of shocking that a billion dollars worldwide can be generated by something that provides so little fresh pleasure.

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Postby Greg » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:31 am

Get Him To The Greek

Gorss-out comedy with not too much gross out, but not enough comedy. The developing psuedo friendship between the Jonah Hill and Russell Brand characters was almost endearing. The funniest scenes actually involved the cameo appearances, such as Paul Krugman.

5/10
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Postby Sabin » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:54 am

Get Him to the Greek (Nicholas Stoller)

I wasn't that big on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The dopey man-child love triangle involving Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Jason Segal has been ditched for the most trashed road comedy in ages. There's something to be said for that and it's worth a few laughs. It's entirely disposable. I was afraid that Jonah Hill and Russell Brand would wear out their welcome immediately. That didn't entirely happen. I laughed enough during this film to mildly recommend it to certain audiences.
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Postby ITALIANO » Sun Jun 06, 2010 7:30 am

I would still give MY personal Oscar to The White Ribbon, definitely a superior effort, but I can't deny that The Secret in Their Eyes is a very enjoyable movie experience (so much that maybe it doesn't really matter that it's not a great movie). For once, a big, ambitious story which works on several levels (both from the narrative and the chronological points of view), full of - usually not banal - dialogue, and with at least one wonderfully shot scene (it takes place in a football stadium, I won't say more). It doesnt completely make sense, but even when it doesnt it reminded me of some Italian crime movies (not giallos) of the 70s, which werent too realistic but were still incredibly involving. And speaking of the 70s, the recreation of that era is done with extreme care and sublety, unlike in some recent American (and Italian) movies where it's overdone but sadly very superficial. (The 70s seem easy, but they arent).
The movie is very Southern American in some of its themes, including a pervasive feeling of regret and nostalgia, a sense of lost opportunities, the mix between the political and the private, and in the way it uses a conventional (on the surface) crime story to say something else.
That "something else" isnt always as deep as it thinks it is, and the (long) movie has its weak spots. But it's dense, it has its own atmosphere, and by the end it is emotionally (and partly intellectually) rewarding. It's also very well acted.




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Postby kaytodd » Sun Jun 06, 2010 1:31 am

The Secret In Their Eyes (dir. Juan Jose Campanella)
Actually a 2009 release but it did not open down here until this week. I remember there was some controversy over this film beating A Prophet and The White Ribbon for Best Foreign Language Oscar. I was a partisan for A Prophet, but now that I have seen The Secret.., I am surprised there was a controversy. I cannot remember a film giving me this much pleasure and excitement in a long time. Complex murder mystery with numerous twists. Every one of them plausible, not mere plot devices. And every one of them added to my enjoyment. This story is wrapped skillfully around a moving love story involving two characters who kept things to themselves for far too long. The story also moves back and forth in time. Except for the hair and makeup, this was also pulled off flawlessly. I was never confused during this complex story. Add to that the best chase scene set piece I have ever seen. Best Editing and Adapted Screenplay Oscar Nominations were in order. I did not find any of the performances Oscar worthy but every performance was outstanding.

****** out of ****

BTW, I recommend this film.




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Postby anonymous1980 » Sat May 29, 2010 7:13 am

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina.
Dir: Mike Newell.

I don't play video games so I'm entering into this film with very little prior knowledge to the source material. Though it's not 10,000 B.C.-bad, thanks to John Seale's good cinematography, some pretty neat visuals and Alfred Molina's hoot and a half performance, it's still sub-par and the aforementioned good stuff about it aren't enough to redeem it. I'm not against silly entertainment. But this movie's neither silly enough nor thrilling enough to sit through.

Oscar Prospects: Maybe Sound and Song.

Grade: D+

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Postby Sabin » Wed May 26, 2010 5:15 pm

Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn)

There is more to say about Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic book Kick-Ass than most Hollywood motion pictures this year. By nature of its very [flippant] existence, it courts controversy by featuring an 11 year old girl as lethal killing machine. We’ll get to this in a moment. I’d like to discuss John Romita, Jr. He’s the son of the great John Romita, Sr, and, after years of living in his father’s shadow, has to be considered one of our great contemporary illustrators. He’s illustrated basically every major Marvel or DC character at some point, and he work has remained both cartoonish (flying in the face of the Image-era grotesqueries) and very human. In discussing Mark Millar’s admittedly retarded comic book Kick-Ass, one must take into consideration the art of John Romita, Jr. for lending an inkling of gravity to the comic book equivalent of Jerry Bruckheimer. There hasn’t been a Hollywood quasi-blockbuster in some time that has refused sympathy for its protagonist like Kick-Ass, and those involved studied the prose of Millar’s script rather than how John Romita Jr. managed to undercut Millar’s flippancy with beautiful illustrations demonstrated that these are children who should not be doing this.

Then again, we’re talking about Matthew Vaughn, Guy Ritchie’s producer over here. So I’d imagine – for all his admittedly slickness, and ye gods, is this guy going to be making major Hollywood films for some time – that certain tertiary aspects were either ignored or overlooked. In the comic book, Kick-Ass does not, not, not, NOT get the girl in any way, shape, or form. He’s Kick-Ass. He sucks. He sucks as much as a character possibly can suck. Both re: its overblown finale and Kick-Ass’ very distance romance with Katie, Kick-Ass starts the film as he ends it: masturbating. Which is the point. This is a reality check to a masturbatory fantasy. The first half of the film does a very good job of showing that Kick-Ass does indeed suck. His first outing as a superhero goes about as badly as it could possibly go. He gets stabbed and hit by a car. They overlook some of the baggage that he carries with him, like his guilt over his father having to pay for a hospital bill. But then he puts on the costume again. He gets his ass handed to him again and again. Kick-Ass as a comic and a movie comments on our desperate need to be special, to be something more than we are, and our arrogant myopia in doing so.

Commenting on the latter is one of the strongest depictions of the Youtube era I’ve seen. Chronicling Kick-Ass’ rise is a hit-counter on a youtube page of his “adventures”. Soon copycats start up, including the son of a mafioso known as the Red Mist. This is a bait-and-switch in the comic but here it’s foreshadowed from the beginning. And yet, in showing the son of a mafia boss AND two vigilantes watching Kick-Ass’ escapades, Vaughn comments on truly fringe members on opposite ends of the spectrum joined by their mutual contempt for this total maroon. There is a lot of humor to be found in Kick-Ass’ choices, and a lot of annoyance to be found in his snarky tone. “Show but don’t tell” is about as Pre-Production 101 as you can get. Throughout the film, Kick-Ass draws comparisons to American Beauty, Sunset Boulevard and other movies featuring a morbidly sardonic deceased protag (NOT SPOILERS), when there is so much more to be gained from just one of his utterances of “Holy shit!” Coupled with its soundtrack (the worst of its kind since Watchmen), we have a movie that is not nearly as intelligent as it thinks it is – and that gets very annoying indeed.

Snark and subversion are two very separate things, and because this is an adaptation of a Mark Millar film, it’s very snarky indeed. About the only thing truly subversive thing about Kick-Ass is that it is Rated R and allows for people to get truly hurt, if not Ass Kicked. There is some humor to be found in this, but it flirts with the cartoonish as well. Lord knows, the comic book isn’t a memorable depiction of organized crime, but these gangsters cannot be taken any kind of seriously of their own accord WITHOUT a bazooka entering the scene. “Can’t it just be fun?” Sure! No problems with it just being fun, but the pretense of subversion amidst asininity is obnoxious.

Which brings us to Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz, quite good here and in (500) Days of Summer), an 11 year old daughter of a vigilante who is first seen taking a bullet to a Kevlar vest and will spend most of the film decapitating people. Beyond discussing what makes this subversive if it is at all, I’ll just say I don’t have a problem with this. For about three-quarters of a century, Robin has served by Batman’s side, a young boy in tights fighting for vigilante justice. Hit Girl isn’t the first subversion of the Boy Wonder archetype but she is the most pronounced I can think of. The “Sidekick Thing” has always been an incredibly problematic device, and without mining it for pathos it’s entirely possible that Hit Girl will end up as one of the strongest female characters of the year. She’s not played for pathos (as she is in the comic book) so the filmmakers do not acknowledge that at heart she’s just a little girl. She’s as strong at the beginning as she is at the end. Is it wrong to show a young girl slaughtering a bunch of gangsters? I don’t believe so. You can show a young boy doing so with or without blood to controversy. Is it wrong for a girl to know how to slaughter a bunch of gangsters? Honestly, no it’s not. More girls should. There is so much violence against women that even while losing, showing a strong young girl trading punches on an even battlefield with a middle-aged man is a step forward.

That being said, the film does play to conventions of the hero rising and ultimately I find it very disappointing that it must do it so brazenly. These guys missed the point or the compromised in production because they had to ensure it would please crowds. And then they compensated by assurances of intelligence via meta-observations and shameless ploys for sequelitus. I think there is a lot in Kick-Ass that is worthy of some form of conversation re: content, era, violence, but mostly it’s a very competent action film by a director whom I don’t hate and look forward to better works from, but that also managed to rub me the wrong way consistently.

And god! What a shitty soundtrack!
Philomena is one of the year's best Philomenas!

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Postby Greg » Mon May 24, 2010 11:39 am

Iron Man 2

I didn't see the original Iron Man; but, that led to no problems with me following this one. The sound work and visual images were quite impressive and I really enjoyed the use of computer type/images floating in the air; and, it had a few nice touches of humor. The big problem I had was with the overuse of stereotypical Washington-type villains and too much time being given to their verbose dialog, especially the defense contractor.

5/10
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