Brave

June 30, 2012 at 8:34 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ½

This visually lush movie shows Pixar at its animation best, if not its story-telling best.  The scenes of Scottish woodlands (dripping with moss), of shimmering lochs and streams, of craggy hilltops covered in fog are so beautifully rendered that this film is definitely a feast for the eyes.  Just Merida’s wild tresses are a feat in and of themselves.  However, the story and dialogue hardly rise to the level of other Pixar works and feel more like typical Disney fare, which is to say that, if you liked “Lion King” or “Mulan,” you will certainly enjoy this.  I see no reason to go to this film for the story (unless you want to impress its very modern post-feminist message on your young children) but, if you are a lover of animation, I think this gorgeous film is worth checking out—on the biggest screen you can find.

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Rampart

June 28, 2012 at 8:32 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ½

There’s a lot to recommend about this film.  Harrelson is perfectly cast as the corrupt cop whose career is coming undone.  Every scene is anchored by him and he captures the nuances of the character’s limited emotional range beautifully: disdain, apathy, emotional distance, explosive rage, controlled rage, sociopathic charm, self-loathing, and a bottomless, feeling sorry for himself pain that is difficult to watch.  Relatively new director, Oren Moverman, knows how to frame scenes to create a constant sense of tension; in particular the camera work and the lightening are key in developing the film’s atmosphere.  Strangely, most of the rest of this huge cast (Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, Anne Heche, and Cynthia Nixon) barely has any screen time, though I will say that Ned Beatty and virtually unknown Brie Larson (who plays Harrelson’s daughter) are also both magnetic to watch.  Really the film is all about Harrelson.  In fact, I couldn’t help shaking that this was just a Harrelson vehicle and that it would not be worth watching with another actor in the role.  In the end, this story is like so many corrupt cop stories and not nearly as good a story as many others.  The plot itself is unimpassioned and uninteresting and, if I were rating it by itself, it would barely be 1 lozenge, but, for every other reason, I would recommend this film.  If great acting is enough to make you see a film, don’t miss this one.  Otherwise, rent “L.A. Confidential.”

Marwencol

June 27, 2012 at 8:30 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

I don’t even really know when this film was released in the U.S. (maybe this year/ maybe last) but it is so lovely, I decided I had to write about it.  This documentary is ostensibly about the recovery process of a man who had been beaten almost to death but it is really so much more graceful and beautiful than that.  Having lost most of his memories, Mark decided to create a fantasy world named after himself and two significant women in his life (Wendy and Colleen).  Just outside his small home, he built the town Marwencol on 1/6th scale and inhabited it with dolls and action figures he bought/ had donated from the local hobby shop.  Every major person in his life, including his five attackers, has a character in the town representing him/her.  The characters go through stories and live in a beautiful and entirely realized world that represents the deepest, most vulnerable parts of Mark’s psyche.  The film is so touching and fascinating and, in the end, is a very bittersweet examination of the ways people try to heal.  The most moving and human film I have seen this year.

John Carter

June 26, 2012 at 8:28 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

½

It was what it was.  The problem with big “Event” movies is that they now have to rely on more than just special effects.  Once, this film would have wowed me but we are now so inundated with green screens and animatronics that it is hard for anything to rise on special effects alone.  Beyond some cool looking ships and green people, the film has nothing: uninteresting plot, flat dialogue, uncreative action scenes, boring bad guys, and poor acting.  But it does have lots and lots of hopping.  So, if you like that, I guess…

A Cat In Paris

June 25, 2012 at 8:22 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from a 70 minute animated film about a cat, but it was nominated for an Oscar (though, god knows why).  This slow moving caper about a cat that doubles as a cat burglar’s side-kick plods along when it should be skipping.  It seems to want to have fun but doesn’t know how.  There are clearly moments when the audience is supposed to laugh (and I even did, once or twice), but most fall flat.  There are moments of peril that have as much believability, and so about as much peril, as a Roadrunner skit.  The artwork is sketchy and flat and, while the movements are sometimes graceful, the facial expressions are not.  Dialogue seems to be an afterthought and is almost entirely expository; to paraphrase one of the cops, “move along.  Just some plot here.  Nothing to see.”  At brief moments, there was real whimsy and the potential for a more human film broke through but, in the end, the rest of the film was as flat as its animation.

Prometheus

June 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊

In the end, I think it might have been hard NOT to be disappointed in this film, given my expectations.  I will give credit where it’s due: it was visually stunning from beginning to end and full of evocative images.  Michael Fassbender’s David character was fascinating and stole every scene he was in.  Between Scott’s directing and Geiger’s sets, the film is sufficiently creepy and the second half is basically one action scene after another.  With so many things right, it is a shame to have one such big thing wrong: the story.  It is convoluted, indecipherable, and full of plot holes.  Characters do things for no justifiable motive, including the whole, really implausible, reason for the trip to begin with.  There is a kernel of a good idea that is lost in murk and confusion.  The next day, I listened to an hour long podcast that tried to explain that plot.  Any movie story that takes that much work to try and understand has a serious problem.

Elena

June 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

There is nothing so perky as Russian noir and, true to form, this little confection will not be featured on any tourism sites.  Elena and Vladimir are on their second marriage, having met ten years earlier.  Vlad is wealthy but Elena was just a nurse before they met.  They both have adult children who are the primary source of tension between them.  When money becomes an issue, things go terribly wrong.  What really works is what happens afterwards.  The audience has expectations about how this is supposed to go and all of that is turned on its head without ever losing a constant sense of dread.  With its minimal score by Phillip Glass that punctuates moments of impending peril (eg a baby on a bed, teen boys headed into the night, a power failure), the film suggests that terribly things may (or may not) happen at any time.  With the brilliant final scene mirroring the first, it suggests that nothing has really changed in any of these bleak lives and the only thing any of them can really look forward to is just more tragedy of some type at some point.  As I said: perky.

Moonrise Kingdom

June 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Posted in 2012 | 1 Comment

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

It is rare for me to see a film that I think is essentially perfect but that is what I kept feeling throughout this one.  It is, without a doubt, Wes Anderson’s best film since “The Royal Tenenbaums” and possibly his best, period.  It captures Anderson’s quirky, bizarre humor at its most endearing and effective.  Every scene is so beautifully framed that you want to stop the movie and just look at everything in the background; the mismatched colors of all the scout uniforms, the red plaid flannel inside the tents, the corduroy numbers on the tent doors, the covers of Suzy’s books (created just for the film), the police station, the houses at Summer’s End, the church, Bob Ballaban (god, Bob Ballaban alone is worth the ticket!).  Add to that the soundtrack and the beautiful deadpan acting… it is all so perfect.

The Way

June 12, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ½

Emilio Estevez wrote, directed, produced and acted in this small, simple film, which stars his father, Martin Sheen, as a grieving father who decides to walk the road his son died on.  “The Way” refers to The Way of St. James, or Camino de Santiago, which is a Catholic pilgrimage route that runs for a couple hundred miles through France and Spain.  When Estevez’s character dies in the Pyrenees along the route, his father leaves the U.S. for the first time in many years and decides to do the pilgrimage on his behalf.  Along the way, he hooks up with three other pilgrims, each with his/her own demons, and learns something about himself and his son.  If that sounds exactly like standard indie fare, you’d be correct.  As such, the film was pleasant to watch (the scenery was truly beautiful), sometimes vaguely funny, and generally heartwarming.  Though all the characters had facets, none were explored too deeply.  Even the father’s grief was kept safely removed from the audience.  This did not exactly require an “Apocalypse Now” level performance.  Sheen and Estevez are deeply Catholic and Sheen did the way a few years earlier with Estevez’s son.  So, this was a deeply personal movie for them.  I just wish we had not been left so outside of it.

I Wish

June 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

◊ ◊ ◊

The latest film by my favorite Japanese director, Hirokazu Koreeda.  Two of his last four films have been at the top of my list that year (“Nobody Knows” was #2 in 2005 and “Still Walking” was #1 in 2009).  While I greatly enjoyed this film, it does not quite match up to the quiet brilliance of those two, perhaps because it lacks the utter bleakness of the former film and the devastation of the latter.  That said, it captures the melancholy of growing up in a way few American films can.  The story tracks two preteen brothers who live in different cities as a result of their parents’ divorce and their efforts to see each other again.  This story is then overlaid with a whimsical story about the magic that occurs when two Shinkansen (bullet trains) pass each other.  It is lightly sweet and funny throughout and almost felt a little too weightless for me.  However, the bittersweet realism of the ending was redemptive; nothing changes, we just get better at dealing with it.

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