The Official Review Thread of 2011

The Original BJ
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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2011

Postby The Original BJ » Thu May 26, 2011 11:47 pm

I barely could work up much energy to talk about In a Better World when I saw it -- not that I've had much time to talk about anything I've seen lately -- but I completely agree with you, dws.

And, to quickly get to what I think is the crux of the issue, aren't the movie's Africa segments really what is giving the film this "cache" among a certain set of people?

I actually thought the film's main thread dealt with the ways in which violence begets violence in a decent enough, if unspectacular, manner, but the Africa sequences really rubbed me the wrong way. For starters, they're pretty tangential to the movie's main narrative, which makes it seem as though they were incorporated into the film to make it seem more important than it is. (Unlike the average Oscar voter, I don't think depicting the suffering of people in "exotic" locales automatically lends a film significance.) And while the Africa plot does tie in THEMATICALLY to the main thread...this is the element of the movie I find most offensive. By contrasting these two stories, isn't the film making the statement that "we" (in the white, civilized, western world) have the capacity to commit violent atrocities as appalling as those black, beastly, savages in Africa? Is "our" world not much better than "theirs"? (Or rather, given the way the stories end, isn't there more hope for "our" world?) This is the thesis I took away from the movie, and I found it appallingly condescending, flattering a sensibility that feigns cursory interest in the "issues" of foreign cultures while seeking affirmation of first-world superiority.

I did like the performances -- I thought the kids acquitted themselves well, and the woman who played the mother was quite good. And the central narrative does have enough melodramatic hook to it to keep the viewer mostly engaged in a what-will-happen-next manner. It's not a terrible movie by any means but its political/cultural dubiousness makes it very troubling for me.

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Re: The Official Review Thread of 2011

Postby dws1982 » Thu May 26, 2011 10:56 pm

In A Better World
When Huntsville books a foreign film (usually a Sony Pictures Classics release), I feel obligated to go see it, if only to do my part to encourage them to keep bringing them to town. Here's a movie that has me questioning that policy. If this were an American movie (and it could be adapted as an American film very easily), no one would give it a second thought. There would be no Academy Award. It probably wouldn't even make the Sundance lineup. I think we need to admit that subtitles automatically give a movie some type of credibility in certain circles. There's no other way to explain this. Essentially, it's a movie for people who like to go around and tell people they watch foreign movies. There's more to say about the movie itself (and I'd like to throw something together soon), but its reception definitely represents a critical/cultural issue that I'm not happy about.

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Postby Sabin » Sun May 22, 2011 4:42 pm

Win Win (Tom McCarthy)

All of Tom McCarthy's movies are about surrogate families. They're all Sundance-approved vanilla ice cream that melts if you hold it to the sun too long, but I do believe he means well by them and they're not without their respective charms.

I was having a horrible day before going into Win Win last Thursday. A horrible day! I happened to be in Long Beach and saw it was playing at a theater and thought to myself, "Why not?" As I saw Win Win, everything got better. Like, literally. I can't explain it, but during and after the film I started to get texts during the film trailers and everything that was horrible about my day got 200% better. I heard back from a job. A short I did got into a film festival. And on and on.

Is this because of Win Win?...well, I don't want to jinx anything, so I'll just say yes. Yes, it's because of Win Win.

Paul Giamatti becomes the guardian of a mentally incapacitated old man for the monthly allowance he will receive, and then removes the man from his house and places him in a home because he does not have the time to care for him. He thinks it's a victimless crime. Then the old man's son comes to visit him while his mother is in a clinic for drug abuse. This child is played by Alex Shaffer, a dyed-blond wastoid with headphones perennially around his neck and a gone look on his face. Much of the charm of this film is the understated way in which nobody really knows what this kid is going to do or if anything is getting through to him. Everybody goes from being rather terrified of his potentially (and, yes, eventually) violent young man to projecting onto him rather hilariously. This kid turns out to be an amazing wrestler and he brings the school's team back from the verge of embarrassing non-placement. McCarthy isn't interested in sports movie cliche. As in life, when chances are blown, they are blown, and what's more important in life comes around the corner when you pick yourself back up. I liked this attitude quite a bit.

Shaffer is an incredible find and plays the part to deadpan perfection. The rest of the cast is mostly fine. The first half of the film is a lot of fun. The second half is considerably less, as it becomes a fairly maudlin slog towards uninspired redemption. I could have used a little more pluck as the film unwinds towards its inevitable payoffs, but it's harmless. Lots of stuff I disliked, but it saved my day. And it has an awesome song by The National that I really liked. I think the title deserves a shrug to go along with it.
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Postby anonymous1980 » Sun May 22, 2011 12:18 pm

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Keith Richards.
Dir: Rob Marshall.

The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series is an improvement over the third, but unfortunately not by much. Rob Marshall offers very little in terms of revitalizing the franchise. It's far from the "fountain of maggots" like one reviewer has branded this but it's still nothing really special. Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane rises above their material with the former two offering their share of laughs. But all in all, it's a meh film.

Oscar Prospects: Costume Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing are possibles.

Grade: C

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Postby Sabin » Wed May 18, 2011 12:29 pm

I was absolutely floored by the score by The Chemical Brothers. Only once in a while during the film does it feel like a shitty music video, which by this film's very nature is something of a miracle. But this is a great, entertaining score. The sound design is fantastic, and also the production design in Hanna is outstanding. Literally every scene of the film is filled with interesting locational set pieces. Sonic is right to say it is bong hit cinema, and on the page it is somewhat dopey stuff, but everybody involved sells it with such conviction that I don't care.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
...
...
...
...
For instance, the downfall of the villainess (Cate Blanchett in the worst performance of her career) by way of a very small coincidence. She trips and falls. I don't think I could write that without feeling dirty. But the manner in which Joe Wright sets it up and pays it off, it just feels like "Of course she did!" Maybe I'm just increasingly becoming a sucker for Hollywood scale productions that embrace an off-Hollywood aesthetic and amp their formal prowess smartly to 11. Or maybe it's because we're starting the summer up and I doubt I'll see anything as genuinely exciting as Hanna. But this is genuinely exciting stuff. I can see many people on this board being bludgeoned into submission. All I can say is that I sure wasn't.
...
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ONE MORE THING!
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I'd also like to mention the performances for a moment. Saoirse Ronan is the best possible choice for this role, the perfect meld of awakening and blank. Eric Bana gives a reliably strong performance. And Cate Blanchett is quite bad, but like Sonic says her ridiculousness is somewhat appropriate for this film. It's an overheated drag queen performance full of easy indicators as character traits. She's never convincing. On the one hand, an actress like Tilda Swinton would kill it. On the other, there aren't many American actresses who could so it's better to just embrace the cartoon.

But the traveling family that Ronan joins is a beautiful group of actors who register such bohemian humanity that I was really taken in by them. They're like outcasts from Into the Wild without a trace of judgment placed upon them, and the best of them is Jessica Barden who was in last year's Tamara Drewe which I have not seen. This girl is obscenely talented, creating the kind of carefully studied portrait of teenage yearning and arrogance in equal parts that there always seems to be two truths and four lies going on under every delivery. She's a fantastic young find, and she shares a scene with Ronan that is sublimely beautiful. They're tucked away and going to sleep and pillow talk back and forth about Hanna's secrets before a light kiss and going to sleep. This is the kind of scene that could feel wildly inappropriate in the hands of someone like Joe Wright, who is essentially all surfaces. But he stations their eyes always in the rightmost part of the frame, over the shoulder and right up close. He keeps cutting from one to the other, which constitutes one of the most graceful exercises in jumping the 180 line that I have seen. When you jump the 180 line, it is a deliberately disorienting choice. But when you keep doing it, it feels disorienting, which is exactly what Wright wants you to feel. Like a young teen, a'flutter with excitement and falling asleep after a huge day. The minute the scene started, I thought we were in perv territory. By its close, I thought it was the most graceful thing he had shot.




Edited By Sabin on 1305740425
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby OscarGuy » Wed May 18, 2011 6:05 am

Was anyone else impressed with Hanna's musical score and its sound effects/sound mixing?
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Postby Sabin » Wed May 18, 2011 1:21 am

I'm pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed Hanna. It's a big hot mess of a flick, but the damn thing is so absurdly committed that I found myself having an awesome time. Joe Wright should stick with empty projects like these and stay away from anything with genuine emotion.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby Johnny Guitar » Tue May 17, 2011 7:58 am

Yeah - I'd agree with that, Eric.

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Postby Eric » Mon May 16, 2011 11:50 am

Mostly I found it refreshing that Melissa McCarthy could play a character such as the one she plays in Bridesmaids and not instantly be saddled with closeted lesbian punchlines.

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Postby Damien » Mon May 16, 2011 1:23 am

Johnny Guitar wrote:(And on the Frammartino - those goats are amazing!)

Truer words were never spoken. :D
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Postby Sabin » Mon May 16, 2011 12:09 am

(Johnny Guitar @ May 15 2011,10:19)
I'll happily watch all the raunchy, gross, crass stuff in comedies like these. Bring it on. The Farrelly Brothers, or David Wain, have shown that it can be done wonderfully, and with wit and humanity. But there's something very stuttering and tentative about a lot of the Apatow (& Co) movies. The decisions in these movies to have scenes go on for a long time, to marry emotional dramatics to body humor (under the banner of iconoclasm against good taste), seems like equivocation & indulgence rather than probity & risk. If you set Bridesmaids next to Bobcat Goldthwait's excellent Sleeping Dogs Lie, you can see the immense gulf between these two examples of films of a comparable "type" ...

I saw Sleeping Dogs Lie four years ago and I remember it basically scene for scene, and there aren't a lot of films I can say that about. It's an ungainly film to look at, and ranks about the ugliest excellent film I've seen in ages. In some ways, the closest sister it has might be Desplechin in that this film is not content to tell a "Hollywood story". This film whirligigs (as Desplechin's films are described at times) throughout an entire chapter of a person's life with little regard for upping the stakes in the third act with a big set-piece, etc. I want to watch it again, but when I think about the kinds of films I would like to make, Sleeping Dogs Lie is right at the top. Bobcat mines a situation that one would liken to sketch for incredible emotional honesty. And while I see that Melinda Page Hamilton has found a steady line of work afterwards, I will not understand why Greta Gerwig (as good as she is) has rocket-launched while this defter comedienne has not.

As for Apatow, I don't know anymore. I was never much a fan of Anchorman (which Apatow produced), although it's certainly an endearing...experience, as calling it a film doesn't seem right. So the true beginning of CinemApatow was The 40-Year Old Virgin, another very endearing experience. I admire how Apatow allows his films to run long, to ramble through two hours of screen-time towards a lower key conclusion. He does this in Knocked Up and Funny People, and usually to mixed results. He's an impossibly dull filmmaker, and I think you nailed it on the head. I have a lot of affection for Funny People, a bad movie with its heart in the right place and its head by a pool in the Hollywood Hills. And as a director of actors he's often times more of an enabler than anything else with the best performances seemingly brought to the table beforehand.

But these days as with J.J. Abrams, Apatow is more of a label, and while the talents he has shepherded is rather awesome, some of the films are really not. Mike White wrote that Apatow used to make portraits of the underdogs and now he makes movies of bullies. I'm not sure how much I agree with that, but his films have embraced the boorishness of Adam Sandler as his circle as grown wider and wider. With Bridesmaids, the fault clearly lies with the script, and apparently the year of reshoots they did. I had friends who saw the film at Sundance two years ago and I'd love to know what they thought of it, but by all accounts it's a radically different film. The lack of character given to Maya Rudolph is incredibly disappointing.

...and yet, while I'm disappointed by Judd Apatow as of late, I can't feel as though I'm taking something for granted that has been genuinely hydrating. Aside from the Farrelly Bros. who absolutely owned comedy as I grew up, the state of the genre became increasingly dire as the late nineties rolled into the early part of this past decade. Remember the barrage of Scary Movies, and ersatz American Pies? For ages, television was the last bastion of inventive comedy be it on Newsradio, The Larry Sanders Show, or some batshit Will Ferrell sketch on SNL. And you kinda hoped that something in theaters would have a similar sensibility, and we would see that in Zoolander and Wet Hot American Summer before they died at the box office in week three. Apatow has become incredibly successful with messy comedies that have wonderful moments in them. I don't really like Bridesmaids but there are some very good moments in them, and these moments outshine a lot of what I had access to in middle school, in high school, in college. So I'm oddly defending him while disappointed and in complete agreement.
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Postby Johnny Guitar » Sun May 15, 2011 10:26 pm

anonymous wrote:I have not seen ANY of the first four Fast & Furious movies and there's nothing here that made me think I'm missing anything.

I think I've only seen the first Fast and the Furious in the franchise but I'd go ahead and endorse it. I think it's a fairly strong action film. A lot of muscle, not much flab - on more than one level. So if you're ever inclined to give the series another chance, start with the first ...

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Postby Johnny Guitar » Sun May 15, 2011 10:19 pm

Sabin wrote:The film itself is rather schizophrenic.

Yeah, I just got back from Bridesmaids and this seems about right. Every good or simply refreshing instinct that the movie has - e.g., just eliding the whole "romance" aspect in the run-up to the wedding - is undermined by the tired conventionalism of various other aspects. How is a movie that is over two hours long, with only a few real comedic "set pieces," with so many of the par-for-the-Apatow-style "serious" scenes about finding oneself yadda yadda ... still so incredibly thin on almost all of its characters? (For instance, Rose Byrne, who does very well with what little she has, is a cipher who can be described in a single sentence.)

I'll happily watch all the raunchy, gross, crass stuff in comedies like these. Bring it on. The Farrelly Brothers, or David Wain, have shown that it can be done wonderfully, and with wit and humanity. But there's something very stuttering and tentative about a lot of the Apatow (& Co) movies. The decisions in these movies to have scenes go on for a long time, to marry emotional dramatics to body humor (under the banner of iconoclasm against good taste), seems like equivocation & indulgence rather than probity & risk. If you set Bridesmaids next to Bobcat Goldthwait's excellent Sleeping Dogs Lie, you can see the immense gulf between these two examples of films of a comparable "type" ...

I also agree, Sabin, about Melissa McCarthy - I don't think I've seen her in anything before (not that I remember anyway), and maybe it was just a case of her getting the most entertaining character in the movie, but she was wonderful.

(And on the Frammartino - those goats are amazing!)

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Postby anonymous1980 » Sun May 15, 2011 6:06 am

FAST FIVE
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Joaquim de Almeida, Elsa Pataky, Michael Irby.
Dir: Justin Lin.

I have not seen ANY of the first four Fast & Furious movies and there's nothing here that made me think I'm missing anything. I thought I'd check this out due to the surprisingly good reviews and if this is the best this franchise has to offer, then there's nothing for me in the first four. Although I have to admit, the first action sequence on the train and the outrageously badass climactic chase scene in the end were a lot of fun to watch. But most everything in between, save for some amusing bits provided by The Rock (doing his best Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive impression) and Gal Gadot's good looks (front and back), all fall under I-don't-care-this-is-boring stuff. Justin Lin definitely has talent (his "Modern Warfare" episode of Community is quite great) and I can't wait to see what he can do with a decent script.

Oscar Prospects: Maybe Sound Editing.

Grade: C




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Postby Sabin » Fri May 13, 2011 6:04 pm

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)

When I make out my list of the years best supporting performances, I'm definitely going to carve out a slot for Melissa McCarthy. At first, I wasn't sure if I even liked her character. Literally her first line of dialogue involves an insane story about being saved by a dolphin. As the film went on, it became clear that she was the only character who delivered what the film promised. Her character is pure id and her stream of consciousness non-sequitars are fucking insane. I look online and see that she has been in Gilmore Girls and (ugh) that fat & fat sitcom Mike & Molly. She won me over.

The film itself is rather schizophrenic. It starts off stronger than any studio comedy I can think of, with Annie (Kristen Wiig) engaged in hilarious sexual acrobatics with Jon Hamm before he asks her to leave which results in an impossibly embarrassing exit over the fence. She establishes a hilarious bond with her lifelong friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph, whose presence on film must thus far be considered a crushing disappointment for such a gifted performer; she is boring as fuck here). And then the film starts to spiral into convention as it tackles myriad conflicts with lip service: old friend-new friend rivalries, self-destructive spirals, hitting bottom. Every scene is peppered with hilarious beats of behavioral comedy but it's weirdly mid-tempo throughout. Kristen Wiig is the most outstandingly gifted comedienne to hit Saturday Night Live since Gilda Radner. She has the former's graceful gracelessness and she does what she can the role (which she co-wrote), but it only intermittently offers her the opportunity to break through. Clearly, she's courting mainstream stardom, but it's at the sacrifice of her remarkably specific character studies that annihilated single scenes, like in Knocked Up where she arrives on-screen more fully formed than anybody else in the film could ever hope.

The rest of the cast is largely devoid of arcs, and sadly Jill Clayburgh's last film appearance is nothing special. In fact, it seems as though the editors actively cut around her...

...there is a scene in Bridesmaids that describes the film as a whole. Before a fitting, Annie takes the gang to a Brazilian restaurant where only perfect maid-of-honor in waiting (Rose Byrne) opts out for fear of bloating. The girls get violently ill during the fitting, and all of the secondary characters (Melissa McCarthy, Ellen Kemper, and Wendi McLendon-Covey) run to the bathroom where the vomit all over each other and shit in the toilet. Not really my cup of tea, although the audience ate it up (just as they did a similar joke in the trailer for The Change-Up). What does work are two little hilarious bits:

1) Wiig refuses to acknowledge the restaurant gave them intestinal distress, all evidence to the contrary where the one person who has not eaten there is the only one not dying. Wiig is a sweaty, corpse-like disaster who insists that not only is she not feeling ill but she's actually just hungry. Byrne offers her a pistachio and she consumes it so fearfully. I was dying.

2) Rudolph fears she is ill and so in her dress she leaves the bridal boutique and runs across the street, until she can't anymore and sits down in the road with a look of incredibly embarrassment and horror on her face as she begins to use the bathroom. We don't see it. We don't hear it. It is only evidence from her face. She begins to wave traffic around her. She later talks about it like it was an alien encounter.

Now, I understand why you need the image of CBS' Molly sitting in a sink shitting and describing it as lava coming out of her. The other two bits in this extended joke are so much funnier and sharper. There is another extended joke sequence on a plane that has a similar problem. The "main joke", where Wiig loses her mind on drugs, had me sitting there stone-faced. The ancillary jokes? A thousand times funnier.

There are two types of comedies it seems are being made: I Love You, Man and The Hangover. Now, I like I Love You, Man. It's a mess at times but it's very warm-hearted and observant and enjoyable. I think Hot Tub Time Machine is a much better example of what The Hangover is trying to do, but whatever. By its very title, you could ask yourself which way is this film going to go and give up after a while. So did Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo. It tries to have it both ways and neither one is incredibly successful to be honest. It's worth a look because its sentiments are genuine and these ladies are always entertaining to watch, but that's about it. Which is a shame because I want to like this film for what it "is", but it has no idea. Or if this was what they set out to do in the first place...really?
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver


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