Compliance

August 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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Yikes.  I can’t remember the last time I felt this uncomfortable in a movie.  I was on edge the whole time and left the theater with a knot in my stomach.  I realize this is not a selling point for most of you but if you like a film that will make you think, more than any other film this year, this is it.  A McDonald’s store manager in Mount Washington, Kentucky in 2004 received a phone call from a man identifying himself as a police officer and saying that one of her employees was accused of stealing.  He had her bring the female employee into the backroom to detain her until he arrived.  He then slowly made increasingly more provocative demands.  With the exception of changing the names of the restaurant and the people, this film is scene for scene almost identical to what actually happened in that incident.  I am well versed on the Milgram experiments but was stunned at what he was able to get that manager, accused employee, and several other people to go along with.  The stark soundtrack, claustrophobic/close-up cinematography and beautifully natural acting (especially by Ann Dowd as the store manager) all added to the intensity.  This should launch Ms. Dowd’s career; she has done mostly bit parts until now.  I will be watching for director/writer/producer Craig Zobel in the future, as well.

Killer Joe

August 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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Disturbing is perhaps the best word for this film, but also funny and a little bit brilliant.  Nobody in this small Texas town is nice, from the hired killer to the simple minded, “innocent” daughter, who is capable of her own deviousness.  Chris owes money to a drug dealer, so he and his father hatch a plan to kill his mother for her insurance money.  They hire Joe, a very corrupt cop to do the job.  Though we all know things are going to unravel, they do so with an unrelenting intensity that kept me glued to the screen.  Every single scene, from start to finish, is fraught with violence (emotional, psychological and, eventually, physical).  The incredibly strong cast is headed up by Matthew McConaughey, in a brilliant performance.  He is so lethal, even at his nicest and most benign, that I actually had to check IMDB to remind me that he can be likeable.  While, Thomas Haden Church’s role appeared to require little of him other than to look dazed most of the time, Gina Gershon was stunning in the critical final scene of the film.  Everyone was at his/her best in those final, awful, awful, bloody, brilliant moments.  And the last few seconds… a work of art.

ParaNorman

August 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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From the stop-motion animation studio that gave us “Coraline” and “Corpse Bride,” this film has the same basic gothic look that makes it well suited for a story about zombies, witches and a young boy who sees ghosts.  What makes this film infinitely more fun than “Coraline” is its adult sense of humor.  It is riddled with clever references to horror films and literature from the past, from the obvious (a hockey mask) to the subtle (the town’s name is “Blithe,” which I’m sure is a reference to Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” a comedy about ghosts).  Posters on walls, street signs, and t-shirts can all potential be very clever, as can much of the dialogue (eg “Hey Norman, I don’t get why zombies can only eat people. Is it some kind of allergy or something?” “I think it’s more of an allegory, Neil.”).  Some of the humor (quite a bit of it of a sexual nature) and a great deal of the dark story (which is ultimately about murdering children) is not at all appropriate for kids.  I really wouldn’t show the film to anyone under 11 or 12.  This style of animation has its limits and can look clunky in parts but also creates a depth of field that CGI cannot yet copy and, as I said earlier, is well suited to the creepiness that pervades this film.  All in all, it was the best animated film I saw this year.

Easy Money

August 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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This Swedish film from 2010 has just earned a U.S. release because of the sudden fame of its lead actor, Joel Kinnaman (who has gained some notoriety over here for his acclaimed role in the TV show, “The Killing,” and who is about to become a huge star as the lead in the new “Robocop” remake).  So, thinking he could cash in on that, Scorsese picked up the film for distribution.  It does make sense, though; this is a very Scorsese film about drugs, money, betrayal and violence.  Kinnaman plays J.W. and young cabbie in business school who has wormed his way into hanging out with the cultural elite by pretending to be one of them.  Now, he’s in love and afraid she’ll find out the truth.  What’s a boy to do when an opportunity for big money comes along?  Well… you can probably imagine.  The story has plenty of twists and turns and double crosses as it does a fairly good job of building tension towards the inevitable explosion but this is not an American film and how things end up is not so easy to guess.  The film was a bit slow to start (and in patches throughout, but only by U.S. standards).  The momentum built nicely and I felt invested in several key characters, some with conflicting interests.  So, overall, it was a good solid film.  The only reason it is not higher on my list is that I have seen many others like it.  In the end it didn’t do much to surprise me.  Btw- the Swedish name was “Snabba Cash;” I find myself just saying that name over and over.

The Campaign

August 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Posted in 2012 | 2 Comments

½

I can only blame myself; I had my doubts but I saw it anyway.  I suppose I was looking for some Christopher Guest-ish humor (à la “Waiting for Guffman”) and/or some savvy political commentary (à la “Wag the Dog”).  Instead, I got empty attempts at both and a whole lot of neither.  Everything missed the target it was aiming for: both the political commentary and the individual characters were so overblown as to be more absurdist than insightful.  And the scriptwriters had a love of taboo racial and sexual humor that strayed right past shockingly funny into creepy.  Eck!

The Imposter

August 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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I feel like I want to recommend this movie to everybody and yet I know that most people won’t like it.  Like “Marwencol,” this is a documentary that explores how people deal with trauma but the mood could not be more different.  It explores the story of Nicholas Barclay, who went missing from his small Texas town when he was thirteen.  Three years later, a guy shows up in Spain claiming to be him.  The family apparently accepts him as Nicholas despite glaring problems and they take him home.  We know from the beginning that the guy is actually 23 year old Frédéric Bourdin and, as the story unfolds, he walks us through exactly what he was doing and thinking at each step.  We also hear from Nicholas’s family members, the FBI, American Consulate in Spain, and P.I. and others as the whole thing unfolds and eventually unravels.  The story is a disturbing one and has no happy endings but it is truly fascinating and left me wanting to talk about it more than any other film this year.  Did the family actually know he wasn’t Nicholas?  If so, why did they take him in?  If not, why not?  For anyone who loves a puzzle or is fascinated by human nature: this is the film for you.

Total Recall

August 4, 2012 at 8:58 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

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In a summer with no shortage of reboots, remakes and films in a series, I seem to be doing a lot of comparison to other movies (“how does The Avengers compare with Thor?” “How does this Batman compare with the last two?).  Most of those films do fairly well by comparison and this one is no different.  Unlike most of the critics, I don’t squirm over the remake of a “classic” film that fails to reinvent or reinterpret the original work.  Just an update in special effects is enough for me in a film like this one.   I never had much respect for the original “Total Recall,” which was, after all, just its own special effects bonanza and a Schwarzenegger vehicle (neither did the critics judging by the reviews at the time, though some of them seem to be moaning about it now).  The major plot twists are basically the same, though the rest of the story is different and no better or worse than the preposterous original.  It definitely shows how action films have changed in the last 25 years; this movie is basically non-stop chase scenes from the opening sequence to the last one, just as most action films are in this video game-influenced, ADHD era.  What really stole this show for me was the mesmerizing city scenes, which were like the way “Blade Runner” wished it could look.  I would watch movie after movie that took place in that dystopian universe.  For me, it was the best sci-fi world in recent memory.

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