Now You See Me (2013) – 6 (IMDb 7.4) – Crime, Mystery (USA)
Now You See Me is about a team of illusionists that use their craft to steal considerable amounts of money and give them to the “poor” or should I say the people who lost most because of the financial crisis. If it sounds like a modern-day Robin Hood with a bit of random social commentary thrown in there while cashing in on the Inception aesthetic: That’s exactly what it is. Sure, it’s entertaining enough, but at the end of the day it’s all about playing a trick on the moviegoers audience, and if a film’s main concern is to “blow you away” instead of just telling a good story and making it about the characters: I don’t have to respect it. My favorite part of the films are the actors, great cast, I especially enjoyed Mélanie Laurent in this, but that’s just because I’m such a huge Inglourious Basterds fan.
Blame It On Rio (1984) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.5) – Comedy, Romance, Drama (USA)
This was a nice little sex comedy, but it’s nothing extraordinary. Being a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita it was difficult for me to resist this film completely, but it is rather silly in its humor and execution. It all revolves around two friends that go to Rio with their daughters. One of the friends is divorcing his wife, the other friend is going through a rough patch, so it makes sense for him to cheat with his best friends daughter, right? But then we find out he’s not the only one who was cheating and then somehow stuff gets resolved in a minute or two before the credits role. The film is ultimately unsatisfying because it’s cliché filled and a bit “morally undecided” as to what message it wants to get across. There is however a Woody Allen-esque aspect to it that I found rather enjoyable.
A Good Year (2006) – 6 (IMDb 6.8) – Comedy, Drama, Romance (USA)
I certainly enjoy a good romantic film, but Ridley Scott’s A Good Year is over-the-top cheesy, schmaltzy and saccharine. It’s just too much of everything. The characters are not very realistic in my opinion. There is a bit of a twist at the end which feels unnecessary and forced and overall it’s just too preachy. The film’s attitude seems to be someone continuously repeating to the public: “I figured out everything about life”, while at the same time being a sappy fairytale. Okay, so the film is not interested in being realistic when showing a rich & successful business man traveling to la Provence (France) to sell the estate he inherited from his uncle, but were those flashbacks really necessary? I don’t think so. Even so the film looks beautiful, mostly because it’s the French countryside and Marion Cotillard and at the end of the day if you have that going for you I can’t completely dislike a film like this one.
Howdy. It’s been a while. I’ve been
busy lazy. Sorry. For some odd reason I also didn’t watch a great deal of movies last week. Only four to be exact. Luckily, all four were home runs. Well, two I had already seen, so I knew they were good (or to my liking) but still, I’ve had some bad surprises re-watching movies. That wasn’t the case however. Moving on, here are a couple of thoughts on the movies I watched this past week.
Love Exposure (2008) – 9 (IMDb 7.8) – Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance (Japan)
Sono Sion is probably my favorite Japanese director. His movies are always very violent, but also very dramatic and deliberately paced. This film however moves at a brisk pace, probably because it’s four hours long. It doesn’t feel four hours long however. It’s very entertaining and there’s not a single dull or boring moment, if you can believe it. I’ve seen it a while back now and it was due for a re-watch. It did not disappoint. The film is about a young man (Yu played by Nishijima Takahiro) whose father becomes a catholic priest. It all starts to become crazy when his father asks him to confess his sins every single day, but he has nothing to confess. So he joins a gang of misfits and starts getting into a life of crime to “connect” with his father. Meanwhile an evil cult is planning some evil shit and out main character is falling in love with a girl who is very distrusting of men. Wonderfully acted, great soundtrack and fun story. The humor is a bit “Japanese” and results “weird” for a Western audience, but other than that I have no complaints. My favorite scene is still when Yoko (the main female character played by Mitsushima Hikari) recites Corinthians 13.
Pain & Gain (2013) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.7) – Comedy, Crime, Thriller (USA)
I enjoy Michael Bay’s films and it’s no secret/mystery/shame for me. Some people believe in guilty pleasures, I believe in watching whatever you like and stand by it. Pain & Gain might just be Michael Bay’s masterpiece. It’s his “fuck you” to everyone who said he can’t do a film about characters, although it’s still not quite satisfying in that respect. What Bay really excels at is the visuals. His films are insane in that regard and he is a true innovator and the most copied action auteur (along with Tony Scott, may he rest in peace). What’s baffling about this film is that it’s based on true events. It’s played as a dark comedy, which is an interesting thing to do, especially if you know how serious some of the things in the film are and how everyone else would have gone the serious route to be “respectful”. Bay doesn’t care. He shoots the story of three bodybuilders kidnapping a rich guy, just as he would have done with any other picture, only his budget is considerably smaller this time. It feels a bit like we’re back to Bad Boys. What really stood out in this film for me were the performances, especially Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson’s. This really is the year for films about the American Dream, and Pain & Gain‘s take is just as interesting as the ones that are going to win a ton of Oscar gold.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Into the Abyss (2011) – 9 (IMDb 7.3) – Documentary (USA)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – 8 (IMDb 7.8) – Comedy, Drama, Romance (USA)
I liked Wes Anderson’s film the first time I’ve seen it, but revisiting it I felt like I really got it. I might just have to write an analysis of it at some point, but I’m too tired to do so right now. Anyway, Moonrise Kingdom is about two young kids falling in love and escaping together. It’s about boy-scouts and broken families, flawed, lonely individuals and lush visuals: Basically it’s a Wes Anderson film. It feels like a very personal and important story for him and it’s also one of his best (my favorites still remain The Royal Tenenbaums and the very underrated Darjeling Limited). The two kid actors do a fine job for their first film, I liked them a lot more rewatching it and the supporting cast is great, but of course that’s to be expected with big names such as Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman and other great performers. Also very noteworthy: Alexandre Desplat’s score, boy was he on a roll lately. Roman Coppola co-wrote the screenplay, and I feel that I need to remind people of that, because they tend to underestimate him and his collaborations with Anderson. Not much to add, very sweet and romantic and of course one of my favorites of last year.
That’s it for this week. Hopefully I get to see more movies next week, but then I’ll also have more to write, but hey. I know I’m getting to see my most anticipated of the year (
which you should know by now you’re sick and tired of hearing me talk about) in two days, so expect a review on The Bling Ring soon!
Two disappointments this week. Actually: It’s three, but we’ll get to that. For now enjoy the meh films of the week.
Only God Forgives (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 6.4) – Crime, Drama (Denmark)
The best thing about Only God Forgives is its beautiful neon infused cinematography by Larry Smith and Cliff Martinez’ atmospheric score. It helps to set a very specific mood and tone throughout the film. It’s no ‘Drive 2′, I’ll tell you that much. None of the characters are likable, they are realistic, because they are horrible people, but at the end of the day: Why should we care about them? In terms of performances Kristin Scott Thomas definitely stands out, but the Thai cast is very good too; not too impressed with Ryan Gosling (who was great in Drive). The story is simple: Billy (Tom Burke) is a fuck up who rapes and kills an underage prostitute. The Thai police let the father of the girl have his revenge, so he kills Billy. This is where Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes in. She flies all the way to Thailand to ask Julian (Ryan Gosling) to get revenge for his brother’s death. Stuff gets complicated, people die, you know the drill. All in all fairly disappointed, but I did like that the film feels a bit Danish, especially in its humor.
Cabaret (1972) – 6 (IMDb 7.7) – Drama, Music (USA)
Not a big fan of Bob Fosse, I watched this, because Sofia Coppola mentions it as one of her influences. Also, I’ve been watching Arrested Development a lot and Liza Minelli is great in it. She’s actually the best thing in season 4. Anyway, Cabaret feels uneven. It’s not my sense of humor, it’s wanna-be “moral lessons” are pathetic, but the songs and numbers are quite good. Maybe Fosse should have stuck with that: Filmmaking is not for everybody. I feel however like I’m in the minority for disliking Fosse, so make up your mind and watch the film yourself if it sounds like something you’d enjoy. The story is predictable, quite boring in some parts and I prefer the more mature Liza Minelli we have now, if I have to be honest.
Next up bad movies. Or should I say movie. Or should I say.. Ugh!
Last week was a great week for movies at my house. I watched three Woody Allen films, re-watched one of last year’s favorites (Spring Breakers) and one of my all time favorite films: Lars von Trier’s Dogville. I also managed to squeeze in a short film by Lukas Moodysson called Talk (1997). All in all a very satisfying week for movie watching. How about you guys?
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Zelig (1983) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.7) – Comedy, Fantasy (USA)
A black and white faux documentary written, directed and starring Woody Allen as a human chameleon, literally. Charming film, funny, thoughtful and probably one of Woody’s best film. I also like Mia Farrow in this, she’s great as the psychologist trying to cure Woody Allen’s character from his strange disease. I guess Woody was trying to make some kind of social commentary and of course reprising his usual themes (love, art, death) and the film has much more going on under the surface than what it looks like. Good film, works for me, recommended.
Spring Breakers (2012) – 8.5 (IMDb 5.7) – Crime, Drama, Comedy (USA)
Alyce (2011) – 7.5 (IMDb 5.1) – Horror (USA)
Good horror movies aren’t easy to come by these days, Alyce is certainly one of the best American genre films in a while. Successfully mixing comedy and horror (which is never easy) Alyce tells the story of a young woman that accidentally kills her best friend and her subsequent descent into madness. The film works so beautifully thanks to Jade Dornfeld’s convincing performance and a witty script. While the story and the subjects discussed in Alyce are hardly new or original its execution is well above average genre fare. The only thing bothering me is the blatant social commentary, which I agree with ideologically, but is poorly presented and mostly out of place.
Scoop (2006) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.7) – Comedy, Mystery (USA)
Another great Woody Allen film from his British period this time. Scoop starring Woody Allen himself, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman is a funny comedy/mystery. Typical Woody Allen humor, an intriguing case and some great performance make this film worthwhile. The story revolves around a young journalist (Johansson’s character) that gets a scoop about a serial killer from a dead journalist. Helpless she turns to Woody Allen’s character, an illusionist, who assist her, if only because she is so incredibly good-looking. Hugh Jackman’s character is the suspect and does a fantastic job at playing this charming rich kid above suspicion.
Au Hazard Balthazar (1966) – 7 (IMDb 7.8) – Crime, Drama, Criterion (France)
This film is a classic and part of the criterion collection, so it was about time I checked it out. This is the first film by French auteur Robert Bresson that I’ve seen and I enjoyed it. It’s about a young girl and her (mis)adventures, all of which are tied together by this donkey that shows up in her life very early on. It’s a character piece I would say, an exploration of many themes part of the human experience, so it’s difficult to pin it down to just one, because it’s about a number of things. Strong performances, a well wrought screenplay and gorgeous black & white cinematography are what sticks out for me in Au Hazard Balthazar.
Dogville (2003) – 9 (IMDb 7.9) – Crime, Drama (Denmark)
Small Time Crooks (2000) – 7 (IMDb 6.5) – Comedy, Crime (USA)
Considered one of Woody Allen’s lesser films Small Time Crooks is actually an excellent exploration of what fame and fortune can do to people. It’s also features one of Allen’s most hopeful endings, this and Midnight in Paris are as close at it gets to a happy ending for him. I really dug the story of this normal Manhattan couple who suddenly makes a lot of money selling cookies. The wife wants to be part of high society, but the “real” rich people don’t care about her, because she’s ignorant and has bad taste. Her husband, a thief, doesn’t care, he seems to be missing their old life. He was content with what he had, even if it was mediocre.
The Purge (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.6) – Horror, Thriller (USA)
Great concept doesn’t always equal great movie. The premise of The Purge is that in the future the US government will legalize crime for one night of the year, so that people “get it out of their system”. The film is about a family whose home is invaded and how they have to fight to survive. Besides plot holes and a cheesy script, I must say the atmosphere and tension mostly work. It’s the cast that sells it. The social commentary is so obvious I won’t discuss it, but it does make you think and it does bring up some interesting questions and issues. At the end of the day though this film is more interesting from a philosophical stand point than a filmmaking one.
That’s it for this week. I tried to keep the reviews really short: It saves time. See you next week!
Greetings, Welcome back! Another edition of ‘What did you watch last week?’
Last week as you may have noticed I mentioned Sofia Coppola and her new film The Bling Ring almost everyday: That’s because I was really excited for its (limited) US release. This week I promise not to turn into a Sofia Coppola fan club and to talk more about other directors and films too.
I didn’t watch a lot of movies last week, so instead of three posts I’ll just do this one. Also, I only watched ‘good’ films and a ‘bad’ one, so there’s no need for the ‘meh’ section.
So in chronological order, here’s what I watched this past week and a couple of thoughts.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) – 4 (IMDb 4.8) – Horror (USA)
This was supposed to be a direct sequel of the original horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The opening titles refresh younger audiences’ memory about what exactly happened (as if we needed that). While this newest addition to the franchise certainly has some interesting ideas it’s overall very clichéd and run-of-the-mill. There’s nothing to distinguish it from the general horror remake and sequel craze happening in today’s American film industry. The characters are flat, the story is predictable, the aesthetic is boring and there’s not really much gore or excitement either. It certainly isn’t worthy being associated with the original film, especially considering how scary and innovative that one was when it first came out. My two cents: Happily skip this one, unless you’re a die-hard fanatic of the franchise. I watched it in 2D, so I can’t say much about the 3D aspect, except that some stuff you thought was cool in 3D looks beyond silly in 2D.
That Obscure Object Of Desire (1977) – 8 (IMDb 7.9) – Comedy, Drama, Romance (France, Spain)
Written & directed by genius Luis Buñuel, Cet obscur objet du désir is a charming art house film about a middle-aged man recounting his romantic entanglements with a with a young, attractive schizo/gold-digger/both? to strangers on a train. Played more “straightforward” than his other films, I found myself really enjoying this film for its playfulness and lighthearted romantic comedy with dramatic elements. As part of the Criterion Collection one can however also see how it’s an important film. It’s shot very well, there’s a political subtext, there’s a confusing double-casting of Conchita (the object of desire): Carole Bouquet plays a frigid, puritanical woman, while Ángela Molina is the voluptuous, sexy, seductive side of the same character. All in all highly recommended, especially for Woody Allen fans.
Lick the Star (1998) – 8.5 (IMDb 5.9) – Drama, Short (USA)
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Lilya 4-Ever (2002) – 8 (IMDb 7.8) – Crime, Drama (Sweden, Denmark)
Prova d’orchestra (1978) – 7 (IMDb 7.1) – Drama, Music (Italy)
Orchestra Rehersal is part of Federico Fellini’s color/art house-era and it shows. This film doesn’t present the traditional narrative, but is rather played as a faux-documentary. Fellini himself is interviewing musicians on their instruments, how it relates to them personally and the instrument as part of the bigger picture: The orchestra. Of course being a Fellini film it is imbued with his typically irreverent humor and populated by the characteristic collection of people cast solely because of their interesting face. Prova d’orchestra is a charming little film, with political undercurrents and social commentary on the goings-on of the period it was made in: There’s big talk about unionized labor and the orchestra could be read as a metaphor for society as a whole. Good film, but a bit slow in certain parts.
Somewhere (2010) – 9 (IMDb 6.3) – Drama (USA)
As teased last week I watched a lot of good movies. Some of those I’ve already reviewed, so if you want full-lenght thoughts on them, just click the title. I also had a lot of fun with the short horror films of Tim Buel.
Chicken with Plums (2011) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.9) – Comedy, Drama (France)
Radio Days (1987) – 7 (IMDb 7.5) – Comedy, Drama (USA)
Written & directed by Woody Allen (and featuring his witty voice talents), Radio Days is a nostalgic look at an era in which radio was the dominant media. Made in a time where television substituted the medium, now in turn rendered obsolete by the internet, Woody remembers his childhood and in the most romantic and whimsical way possible. The film is a series of anecdotes and memories connected to radio programs and listening to songs on the radio. At the same time that’s the films only “flaw”: It is unfocused and jumps from bit to bit without presenting a clear narrative or story. But that is a minor criticism, because I’m not one of those that needs a traditional narrative to enjoy a film, here however it takes a little bit to get into and understand what Woody is going for. Once you get it however it’s a satisfying, charming little film.
The Coast Guard (2002) – 7 (IMDb 6.5) – War, Drama (South Korea)
As you may or may not know Kim Ki-duk is one of my favorite filmmakers. The Coast Guard was the only film of his I hadn’t seen yet. The reason being, that I’m not a big fan of war films, unless it invovles crazy nazis. Of course this is not only a war film, but also a Kim Ki-duk film and I’m always on board for that. The Coast Guard is Kim Ki-duk’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), in that it shows the pointlessness of war and how nonsensical the whole notion of it is. Kim injects personal drama and all of his favorite themes into this one turning it into a fascinating character piece and one of the best war films I’ve ever seen. That being said, it’s also a heavy film and definitely not for everyone; but because of its subject matter – North vs. South Korean conflict – it’s a relevant film that I would venture saying has a historical significance. Not my favorite Kim Ki-duk, but definitely worth checking out.
Stoker (2013) – 7 (IMDb 7.2) – Drama, Mystery, Thriller (USA)
V/H/S/2 (2013) – 7 (IMDb 7.1) – Horror Anthology (USA)
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Stroszek (1977) – 8.5 (IMDb 7.9) – Comedy, Drama (Germany)
Last week’s favorite film came at the end of the week. Last night I watched Werner Herzog’s Stroszek with my brother, in anticipation of the director being honored for his career at the Locarno Film Festival this summer.
Stroszek is a small masterpiece from the German director, that much like in his 1970 black & white film Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started Small), returns to a fascinatingly strange cast of characters. The story follows a drunk street musician and his friends trying to make a new life for themselves in the United States. It is very much a character piece, with a lot of humor and heart, all of which is accompanied by a melancholic and irredimably pessimistic view of humanity which culminates in a triumphantly quiet and perplexing ending. This may all sound artsy fartsy to you, but Stroszek is much more than just a statement from Herzog: It’s a story about the human condition and what it means to be human. How is our life different from that of an animal? How are we, as human beings, different from animals? And is there a thing such as happiness on this sad and lonely earth?
This film tries to answer those questions and is bold in doing so and that’s what makes it such an important essay about humanity. It also helps that Herzog genuinely loves his characters or at least is able to present them in a way that the audience will empathize and root for them. Underscored by some great music and shot beautifully Stroszek is a film that I’m sure will stay with me for a long time and I already can’t wait to re-watch.
Unfortunately, like (almost) every week, there has to be a couple stinkers. Last week I watched two of those: Eli Roth’s written and produced Aftershock (2012) and Italian comedy The Worst Christmas of My Life (2012). Sadly, both of those failed to impress me, if you’re still undecided about them read my mini-reviews and find out why.
Aftershock (2012) – 3.5 (IMDb 4.8) – Horror (USA)
Shot and set in Chile, the latest Eli Roth production is a disappointment on almost every level. Being a fan of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever and his Hostel films, and I think he is a very knowledgable genre expert. He also seems to be a completely sweet and likable guy, so it is almost heartbreaking to see his career take such a wrong turn, even though I realize he didn’t direct this film.
Aftershock is about a group of (unlikable) guys partying in Chile. As in most horror films, something goes terribly wrong: In this case mother nature takes a stab at playing the villainous role. The exploitation film and tries to imitate the genre’s humor, but fails miserably with badly timed jokes and unfunny remarks. The violent elements such as the rape fail to make an impact, because of the way their presented and shot and the surprising lack of nudity. While the film’s first two acts are a rehash of Eli’s own Hostel films, the third act tries to be a mean-spirited, nihilistic exploration of human nature, but ends up feeling completely unearned. The loosely drawn character archetypes, imitating The Hangover’s annoying and unfunny trio, and the poor acting rob the film from any credibility and sense of realism.
Fear and shock, can only be achieved if the viewer has any shred of belief in what’s being presented to him: Aftershock is as clichéd and unrealistic as it gets. Still, I can’t bring myself to fully hate this film, because of Eli’s involvement, the exotic location, some eye candy and a cameo by Spring Breakers star Selena Gomez.
Il Peggior Natale Della Mia Vita (2012) – 4 (IMDb 5.4) – Comedy (Italy)
The Worst Christmas of My Life is the sequel to Alessandro Genovesi’s own The Worst Week of My Life (2011), both of which star the charming and adorable Fabio De Luigi. The movie is about an ‘extended’ family spending Christmas at their bosses castle in northern Italy. Just like in the previous film, Fabio’s Fantozzi-esque character Paolo is at the centre of all kinds of unfortunate events, that piss off most of his relatives, but make the audience smile. Of course everything resolves (in a way) and Paolo saves everybody’s favorite holiday.
De Luigi and is the only reason me and my brother decided to watch this movie, pretty much expecting a silly comedy, with silly gags. Being Italian you can’t help but laugh at some of the jokes, though half the laughs are unintentional. Genovesi’s obnoxious and uninspired directing style doesn’t get any better with this one. Much like in Happy Family (2010), he is deliberately ripping off Wes Anderson’s style and quirks, and doing a bad job at that. Even in his casting choices he’s trying to imitate Anderson’s genius. Whenever the film tries something that is not Wes Anderson related it is even worse. Every scene has a score, mostly not fitting the scene at all, and the plot doesn’t come together as nicely and satisfying as the filmmakers would like you to believe. Genovesi’s nauseating copying of Wes Anderson is so distracting it takes you out of the movie, while De Luigi’s likable screen persona somewhat manages to rescue it from complete ridicule.
This past week I managed to watch mostly films I really enjoyed. Part of it had to do with me re-watching one of my favorites in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom (2010) and Jørgen Leth’s Det perfekte menneske (1967), so those were safe bets. Also, how could I dislike a documentary about one of my all time favorite filmmakers? Impossible. In The Realm of the Senses, was not a surprise either, because everything that is in the Criterion Collection is there for a reason and always worth checking out.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.6) – Drama, Romance, History (Japan)
You know how some movies are described as “wall-to-wall action”? By that same token In the Realm of the Senses would fall in the category of “wall-to-wall sex”. Contrary to exploitation cinema, this film however is artfully shot and composed and never goes into sleazy territory, even if its subject matter would easily allow it to. Then again it is based on true events, so maybe that’s what’s grounds the film into some kind of reality and good taste.
The story about two lovers that are physically consumed by their lust and carnal desires succeeds, because it embraces its subject matter without being judgmental or condescending. If you’re starting to get excited about Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, I can imagine this would make a great double-feature and approach some of the same themes. Much like Nagisa Ôshima’s Empire of Passion (1978) the climax of the film is pure poetry. Definitely recommended if you like movies that are less about plot and more about penetrating into the mind of its characters and exploring the madness that is our human nature.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) – 8 (IMDb 7.6) – Documentary, Biography (USA)