There's a lot riding on Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Years of home video releases and endless quoting have transformed the first Anchorman into an unyielding comedic juggernaut. When Anchorman 2 was first announced, I w...
It's a stereotype that the French are more cultured than Americans, but obviously that's a hard claim to either prove or disprove. There are any number of examples that could be used to show it either way, but here's evidence that, as far as I can tell, is incontrovertible:
What's in a Name?, a drama-comedy completely devoid of action that centers around a really uncomfortable dinner party, is one of the biggest blockbusters in France's history. It outsold The Avengers on opening weekend.
I'm a bit at a loss of what to write here. I've always been weird toward deaths of well known individuals as to when how soon is "too soon." After spending the last few days thinking of all the positives of Paul Walker's career, when is it safe to talk about the negatives again? Sure Walker is the most attractive everyman I've ever seen, but he just never quite got the right material to emphasize it. He's always been stuck in middling solo films or in big name franchises playing second fiddle to someone else.
But Paul Walker was always trying to be more than a pretty face. Those middling solo films like Eight Below? It was his attempt at branching out past the action star he was portrayed as. With Hours, Walker once again tried to break out of that "Everyman" mold...with stymied success.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey blew me away when I caught it in theaters and I gave it an appropriately high score because of that. It was truly stunning and another epic coming from Peter Jackson, but upon re-watching it the complaints I had with the film stood out even more, especially the fact that the film's plot was stretched pretty thin to make the movie the length it was. It just felt like padding for the book's plot.
The Desolation of Smaug does not have this issue. Mostly because the book's plot is what feels like the additive this time. Yes, it hits its key points, but the stretched feeling is gone because the movie isn't stretching anything. If you're a fan of Jackson's prolific Middle Earth than you're going to be a fan of this movie. If you came to see the original story of The Hobbit unfold then you'll like about 20 minutes.
When I sat down to watch Out of the Furnace, I had nothing but high hopes for the film. The trailers looked amazing and suspenseful and the premise seemed engaging. Plus, how could I possibly get burned on a film that stars some of my favorite actors?
Before I knew it I was already covered in gasoline, and writer-director Scott Cooper was lighting a match.
Sometimes a movie in an established genre takes an idea from another genre and implements it, completely subverting any expectations. It's not that the genre changes, necessarily, so much as the context. A story that initially seemed pretty typical suddenly opens up to some new and exciting places. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's pretty awesome.
Monsoon Shootouts adds parallel timelines to a noir thriller. It's mostly successful.
[For the next week, we will be covering the South Asian International Film Festival, taking place in New York City from December 3rd through the 7th. You can find out more information here, and keep track of all of our coverage here.]
I had no idea Disney's Frozen would deliver as much as it did. With Disney's latest Princess films (The Princess in the Frog and Tangled) doing well in some areas but fudging others, I did not expect a whole lot given that the brunt of Frozen's advertising was focused around the gag character, Olaf. What I experienced was something akin to a "defrosting." As the film went on I slowly grew more and more in love with it, and after thinking about it for several days, I finally understand why I walked out of Frozen feeling so happy.
Disney's Frozen is the most involving piece of classic Disney Animation (which should spark a nostalgic burst of happiness in anyone who remembers classic 2D Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin) in recent memory. Frozen somehow tows the line between current and classic Disney. The use of new avenues of animation while still invoking the nostalgic musical overtones of 2D Disney definitely help cement Frozen as a film you will remember fondly alongside the likes of Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and every other Disney classic you can think of.
Fifty years. I can't imagine what this means to people who tuned in to November 23rd, 1963 and watched The Unearthly Child play out. I can't imagine what this means to people who've followed it for more than a decade. I consider myself a neo-classicalist Whovian, jumping on the bandwagon back in the Eccleston era and then jumping backwards when the time was right. Genesis of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani and so many other classical stories are now some of my prime favorites. Truthfully, though, Doctor Who means a lot more to other people than it means to me and so, with the 50th Special, I can imagine it being more special and a lot more emotional.
Regardless of all these weird, loose comments, there's still a review to be written. This is my perspective of a near-twenty something who, for all purposes, adores Doctor Who. I've seen it shift and change over the years and whilst I've waggled my finger at some of its fringe-sexism, its blatant diversion into LOST-style structure and 'Mystery Box' plotting, there's always been something to enjoy. These past few series haven't really grabbed hold of me like the Eccleston/Tennant era did but with The Day of the Doctor I can truthfully say that I haven't enjoyed a Doctor Who story like this in more than five years.
It’s somewhat fitting that, early on in Homefront, the platitude ‘Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” can be seen on a wall, because it’s a fitting description for the latest Jason Statham vehicle. Homefront brings up ideas and themes, each worthy of deeper exploration than Sylvester Stallone’s (yes, that Sylvester Stallone) limited screenplay allows for. I mean, you could write a whole movie around what this movie uses for padding.
The film definitely improves as it goes on, and the action is satisfying, but there’s always the nagging sensation that what you’re seeing is the product of compromise upon compromise, resulting in an overall lesser product.
I'm a pretty big fan of The Hunger Games series of books. I tore through them in a day and while Catching Fire isn't my favorite in the series, it does have the most intriguing setups in the trilogy. The production for Catching Fire has notably gone through a bit of trouble with its change of directors (now helmed by Francis Lawrence), and most fans (including myself) were worried about the nature of the adaptation given the original Hunger Games film had a fair share of problems.
The trailers for Catching Fire showed a film that seemed to learn from its predecessor's mistakes (less shaky cam footage, more balanced use of color, Phillip Seymour Hoffman joined the cast), so does the final product hold up to the potential of the series? Is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hotter than a fantasy or is it filled with catastrophe? Read on for the answer!
It's a dead week for the movies. The biggest thing coming out is Best Man Holiday, and we didn't see that. Instead, since it's opening wide today, we've got a review for The Book Thief, which has the dubious title of "Movie With the Worst Trailer of the Year." That trailer is easily the most desperate Oscar plea ever. "From the studio that brought Life of Pi"? Really?
So clearly The Book Thief, which is based on the book of the same name, is going for some sort of Oscar grab, but you may have noticed it's not really getting much buzz. The reason for that is pretty obvious: it's callous, predictable and not very good.
Doppelgangers are the stuff of horror and of comedy. It would be uncanny to see yourself as a stranger -- the self's own reflection as the Other -- and yet being able to step outside yourself might provide you with some perspective about your own buffoonery. I suppose there's another issue in all this. There's the unstated question: would I be my own friend or my own worst enemy?
In It's Me It's Me, there's a bit of comedy and a bit of terror involved in this tale of multiple doubles. (I guess technically that'd just be "multiples.") When the film embraces its strangeness it's like the Japanese cousin of Being John Malkovich, Michel Gondry's odder movies, or a Franz Kafka story. (I guess technically that'd just mean work kind of like Japanese writer Kobo Abe.) Strangeness really is the film's strength, and that winds up being its throughline.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's New York theatrical release.]
I'm one of the few folks I know who liked the original Thor. It's not the greatest Marvel film out of the dozen or so available, but I dug its Shakespearean vibe (two brothers fighting for a throne, secret bloodlines, star-crossed lovers, etc.) and hammy nature even if most folks won't think the same. After Thor's character got a bit of fleshing out during the events of The Avengers (turning Thor into the second best thing in Avengers after The Hulk), Thor: The Dark World looks to expand out even further in Thor's second solo effort.
Now with a change of director, change of cast, and change of tone, does Thor: The Dark World bring the hammer down? Or does it have a bad case of hammer toe? Read on for the answer!
I'm still young. Young enough that I can understand and generally relate to the characters in So Young, but also old enough to see just how silly they actually are. It's an odd place to be, and it leaves me wishing I was a few years older. Being young, or so young, anyway, is overrated. The desire to recapture that magical age where nothing really matters seems to miss just how awful it is when nothing really matters. I'm past that, mostly, and I'm thankful for it. I look at some of my younger friends, still at that point, and they want more responsibility, to age and for things to mean something. The more realistic of them know that life doesn't end in college.
So Young would disagree, choosing to believe that nothing really matters after college (or even high school, in some cases). What happens then are the defining moments and driving forces for the characters' lives, ones that stick with them for years beyond. And that's not cute or romantic.
It's just sad.
[This review is being posted as part of our coverage of the New York Chinese Film Festival. All of our coverage can be found here.]
You probably haven't heard too much about About Time, and if you have you may have passed it off as another romantic comedy and simply forgotten about it. Hell, we've done a grand total of one post on the film and I'm not about to admit I didn't think of it again after writing it. It looked forgettable.
Having now seen the film I can tell you it is anything but that. It's not what your expecting and it's all the better for it. About Time is the answer to a cynical Hollywood. A relentlessly hopeful film about love, family and, oddly, time travel from the great Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Knotting Hill). In a holiday season shoved full of disingenuous award grabs About Time is the perfect sort of film to remind you to have fun at the theater.
Ender's Game has had a long, hard road getting to the big screen. Since Orson Scott Card's science fiction classic released in 1985 a movie has been in the works, but it just couldn't get out of development. Now, nearly 20 years after the book's publication and with a host of sequel and spin-off books to feed off of in the future, the story comes to the theaters.
For fans of the books, which should include almost everyone since it is often assigned as high school reading, it's a little worrisome. The trailers look more like a big action movie than the thought provoking young adults book it actually is. Where does Ender's Game land? Squarely on Ender.
Most press screenings are pretty stodgy as far as audience reaction goes, even for comedies. When people laugh, it's often the very polite and quiet kind -- almost private -- a synonym for, "Oh my, how absolutely drôle." When watching Man of Tai Chi, Keanu Reeves' feature film directorial debut, such propriety cannot hold.
I was sitting between two friends who are also film critics, Steve Kopian and Peter Gutierrez, and it felt like being at the back of the classroom. As the film progressed, my face hurt from grinning so much. I snorted out several stifled laughs at the silly moments. Both Steve and Peter were also giggling at Reeves' stilted performance and goofy lines.
Then it finally happened. There's a close-up of Keanu Reeves seething with hate. He stares directly into the audience for a few seconds, which is funny enough. And then he roars like a lion. The room erupted, and I laughed so hard I jolted forward in my seat.
I'm still not sure if we were all laughing with Man of Tai Chi or at Man of Tai Chi, but I think if you go into the film with the right mindset, it doesn't matter which.
Slavoj Žižek is one of the most popular public intellectuals in the world, though maybe in a "big in Japan" sort of way. (Most public intellectuals who aren't Noam Chomsky or a member of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism have "big in Japan" appeal.) If you're not familiar with him or his work, he's a Slovenian philosopher influenced primarily by Karl Marx and Jacques Lacan, the notoriously difficult psychoanalytic thinker.
Žižek is a cult figure and a divisive one. Hip-to-it humanities students dig on books like Violence or The Sublime Object of Ideology, while Žižek critics like John Gray publish lengthy and intelligent critiques of his thought in The New York Review of Books. He has been dismissed by some as "the Borat of philosophy," which is kind of true for all the good things and bad things that label entails.
This may sound boring and esoteric, but Žižek's a fascinating thinker even if you don't buy into what he's saying. One example: he's mentioned in lectures how the national character of a country is manifested in the way they design their toilets. (Yes, that's included after the cut.) It's this kind of thinking -- at once absurd, persuasive, entertaining, and even enlightening -- that drives The Pervert's Guide to Ideology.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 DOC NYC film festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]
Many people who hop into documentaries casually expect a certain amount of overt filmmaker guidance -- voiceover narration, talking head interviews, infographics, archival footage; anything to help impart information. Yet the vérité doc resists those impulses in order to record reality as it happens. Filmmaker guidance occurs through the editing rather than with voice or outside imagery, and I think that's why these kinds of documentaries can be the trickiest to pull off.
I'm starting out by saying this because These Birds Walk is a documentary that really pushes the vérité elements as far as they can go. There is minimal hand holding in the film, and I think that'll put off people who don't watch many documentaries or have an aversion to the vérité style.
And yet even with that caveat, I think These Birds Walk is an extraordinarily beautiful film about runaways and abandoned children in Pakistan. The documentary has a subtle narrative structure (as much as real life can have a narrative structure, at least) that helps accentuate both the heartbreak of their existence and the brief moments of exhilaration when they seem the most alive.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2013. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]
Cormac McCarthy books have been made into some of the best movies you will ever watch. The likes of No Country for Old Men and The Road are the epitome of how adaptations should work and McCarthy's blend of philosophical dialog and actually interesting plots just makes some damn fine movie watching. It stands to reason that McCarthy himself should be able to spit out a damn fine screenplay then. After all, you're just cutting out the middle man here.
The Counselor proves that sometimes a middle man is a good thing.
It’s easy to ignore what’s going on half a world away. By the time the Egyptian people were fighting to take down Mohammed Morsi earlier this summer, I had forgotten all about the 2011 revolution. Of course, hearing about it brought back memories, but even those were pretty fuzzy. The whole thing sounded important, but I was too busy dealing with less important things to understand what was going on.
I paid a lot more attention to this summer’s events, and I went into The Square hoping that it would fill the gaps in my knowledge about what had been happening over the past few years. It doesn’t really do that, because it’s mainly focused on the events of 2011 and 2013, but it does give context for what kept bringing these men and women back to Tahrir S quare. And now I feel like I have a grasp of what has happened.
That may actually be a dangerous thing, empowering the ignorant to believe they aren’t ignorant, but it doesn’t change the fact that if there is going to be a definitive document of the Egyptian revolutions, Jehane Noujaim’s The Square may well be it.
There are many examples of desire in Blue Is the Warmest Color that are nuanced and downright erotic. These moments are communicated in coy shifts in facial expression, through the brinkmanship of flirtation, the intimate risks of proximity; the way two faces can occupy a frame and cause tension through the simple and invisible intermingling of breath. These characters are so obviously attracted to each other -- magnets -- that the forces keeping them apart will have to succumb simply given the laws of science and of lust.
Moments like the above are some of the best romance I've seen on screen all year because it feels so raw and honest.
The oddest thing? The explicit lesbian sex scenes everyone's talking about feel so false and devoid of passion. In a film that gets so much so right about falling head over heels for someone, somehow it also gets so much so wrong (though not always) about sex with someone you love.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 51st New York Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's limited theatrical release.]