Marter's Reviews

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Oct 27, 2013 5:12 pm

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has reached its sixth chapter, the promised final installment, and if its quality is any indication, that's likely a good decision. For the most part, I've liked the series, and while there have been a couple of duds, they've been mostly interesting and at least were visually engaging. The latter is true of Freddy's Dead, but it's not in the least bit interesting. If anything, it's funny. This is a cheesy horror movie.

Completely neglecting any of the still-alive human characters, Freddy's Dead decides to follow an entirely new group of people. What connection does the film have to the earlier installments? Well, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is one. He's a child murderer who was killed and now he haunts the dreams of teenagers. He's about the only link that holds the films together at this point, and here the filmmakers aren't even trying to tangentially link this one to the rest. It basically exists to put Freddy to bed for good, and to explain his back story even further so that we can stop wondering about it.

Was anyone wondering about it, though? That's something I have to question. We know the gist of what happened to bring Freddy to Earth -- his mother, a nun, was raped hundreds of times, leading to his birth, and then he killed children, was killed, and now lurks in the dreams, waiting to seek his revenge -- and isn't that enough? Why demystify something that used to be terrifying? You're only doing yourself a disservice for when you inevitably want to once again resurrect him.

The plot: "John Doe" (Shon Greenblatt) has amnesia, but is pretty sure that if he goes back to sleep, Freddy is going to kill him. He finds himself at a youth shelter. Here, he meets a few other teens, a counselor, and a doctor. Most of them are going to head to Springwood, some on purpose, some accidentally, which is where Freddy Krueger "lives." I'm not entirely sure the rules by which Freddy has to operate, but apparently any new victims have to first appear in this place so that he can kill them.

One by one, the teenagers are slowly picked off. Some of these deaths might make a Top 5 list for the whole series, assuming you're able to tolerate Freddy being turned into even less of a frightening presence and more of a prankster. One such death involves one of the characters being dragged into a television, placing him inside the world of a video game, only Freddy has the joystick, sitting there laughing as he moves it around and presses the buttons. It's creative and quite funny, but not at all scary.

The film does one other thing of note: there's a stretch of about 15 minutes in which 3D glasses should be worn by audience members. A character in the film puts them on in a dream, and it transforms the world. We, in turn, are supposed to put on the glasses to see this stranger place. In practice, it basically just gives the filmmakers a chance to poke things out at the audience, but as a slightly interactive device, it makes this sequence stand out.

Oh, and we also learn that Freddy has (or had) a kid. Yes, there's another Krueger running around, which proves a mild point of mystery, but in reality its reveal doesn't even matter. It just adds to the back story. This might be the most plot heavy Nightmare on Elm Street yet, but that's only because of the amount of unnecessary flashbacks we get throughout. We don't need to know any of this. It adds nothing to the character and takes away the air of mystery that helped make him feel menacing. By the end, we're laughing at a character we once feared.

You'll also notice a couple of interesting cameos scattered throughout the film. Alice Cooper shows up as a teacher at a school where there are no children -- the whole town of Springwood is like this; Freddy killed all the children and the adults went crazy -- and Johnny Depp shows up on a television set in an anti-drug infomercial. Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr also have cameos. These might take you out of the film, but with a tone so cheesy anyway, this shouldn't really matter.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is the promised final installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and with it and the previous chapter both not really being worth watching, it might be smart for it to be done. Freddy is no longer scary, the films have gotten increasingly thinner on plot and lighter in tone, and while the special effects gets showcased and the deaths are generally creative, that's all the franchise has going for it at this point. "Freddy's Dead," the title says, so let's let him rest for a while.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Oct 28, 2013 4:13 pm

Wes Craven's New Nightmare
So the story goes, Wes Craven originally wanted to make a metafilm similar to what New Nightmare wound up being around the time he was co-writing the third installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. At the time, New Line Cinema told him "no." Now, three years after Freddy Kruger had been laid to rest "for good" in Freddy's Dead, he's back in a movie written and directed by the man who started the franchise a whole decade earlier. If there's anyone who should get the opportunity to revive the serial killer, it's Wes Craven.

And when I say "metafilm," I mean it. This film takes place in the "real world," and stars Heather Langenkamp as herself. she played the role of Nancy in the first and third Nightmare on Elm Street, who remains the most memorable protagonist, even after six films. In the film, Heather is married and has a kid, although the husband dies so early on that he's almost not worth mentioning. The child, Dylan (Miko Hughes), plays an important role, however. He starts seeing Freddy Krueger (who is billed as playing himself in the credits), and repeating lines we've heard from earlier films in the series. Something is wrong.

Meanwhile, Heather is being approached by New Line Cinema representatives, and Wes Craven in particular, about starring in another Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The plot? Exactly the one that she's living through in the film we're in the process of watching. In fact, Wes Craven, the character, isn't even done writing the script. He writes it as we watch it happen, if that makes any sense.

So, Heather is starring in a Nightmare on Elm Street film that we're watching, and that film is about her starring in a New Nightmare on Elm Street film in which she is haunted by Freddy Krueger, who is trying to break through into the real world. That's exactly what we watch. Explaining exactly what's going on in text is significantly more difficult than just watching the events unfold on-screen, and doing just that is something I'd recommend. The film's meta quality ensures that there's always something to watch, especially if you've already sat through six previous entries.

The film is shot in such a way that it has all the appearances of a drama. Much of it takes place in the daytime, and if this is your first Nightmare on Elm Street film, it's going to throw you for a loop. You'll be missing a lot of the in-jokes and homages that the film brings with it, and you won't be able to "get" what the filmmakers are going for. You might struggle to "get" it regardless. It's trippy.

Dylan starts having "episodes," which the nurses at the hospital think might be caused by schizophrenia. Heather suspects that Freddy is behind it, because what else could it be? If you had starred in a couple of movies about a man who kills people in dreams, and then your child said he's seen this man, despite having never seen the movies, would you suspect anything but that killer coming into the real world to take his revenge on the people who made him famous the world over? I didn't think so.

The film is relatively scary, and takes Freddy Krueger back to how he appeared in the earlier installments in the series. He's mean, has a new set of claws, and isn't around just to make puns. The deaths are primarily homages to the first Nightmare on Elm Street. And when we finally enter the dreamscape, Freddy's lair, we get to see a place which is chilling. There are scares to be had, and there's enough inventiveness to keep them from simply becoming rehashes of earlier films.

If there's one main problem with New Nightmare -- okay, apart from the "acting" of the kid, Miko Hughes -- it's that Wes Craven didn't push the envelope as far as he could have. He clearly embraces and relishes the opportunity to continually blur the lines between reality and fiction, but this only actually comes up a few times. Perhaps the studio didn't give him the opportunity to go full-out, maybe budget limitations got in the way, or I suppose it's possible he was just happy with what he accomplished here. For the most part, I'm also happy.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare is about the best way one could bring back Freddy Krueger. Having his creator return for another chapter, and bringing Freddy into the real world, featuring actors who previously starred in the series is a genius idea. If it had pushed the premise even further, it would be a great movie. As it is, it's tough to recommend if you haven't stayed with the series for most of its installments. You'll be lost if you haven't. You might be lost even if you have.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:51 pm

A Nightmare on Elm Street
After the financial success of both the Halloween and Friday the 13th remakes, it only made sense for the third big '80s slasher series to be resurrected. It also makes sense for it to be given the remake treatment last, as A Nightmare on Elm Street was the last one out of the gate even back when it was first released. The slasher genre is cyclical, it seems. Maybe we'll go through this all again in 25 years.

However, before remaking something, one has to question whether or not the property in question is worth doing another time. In the case of A Nightmare on Elm Street, there was no reason for a remake. The story hasn't been taken in a different direction, there isn't a different idea or point being presented, and the original film still stands up as one of the horror classics. It's smart and scary, which is what made it the more "highbrow" slasher film of the '80s. I get why someone might want to remake Friday the 13th, as it didn't withstand the test of time -- and was arguably never a good film -- but with A Nightmare on Elm Street? This remake isn't justified.

Do you even need to know the plot? The film is the eighth standalone film featuring Freddy Krueger (here played by Jackie Earle Haley, taking over for Robert Englund) as the antagonist. He's been altered slightly here. He never killed children while he was alive; he worked as a caretaker at a preschool and was "friends" with them. Now he's haunting the dreams of teenagers, and if he kills them in the dream, they die in real life.

The mystery this time revolves around the parents hiding something about Freddy -- which, spoiler alert, revolves around them burning him alive, despite having no proof as to whether or not he ever molested the children -- and the teenagers trying to figure it out and then attempting to stop Freddy from killing them. The "did he or didn't he?" mystery would work well to potentially make Freddy more interesting, except that we're watching him kill people regardless, which means he garners little sympathy.

The lead characters: Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner). If there's one good thing that remake borrowed from the original, it was focusing on a small group of characters. It allows for more of a connection with the audience. They basically spend the entirety of the film running around town, trying to learn Freddy's history, all while attempting not to fall asleep. A Nightmare on Elm Street introduces a concept called "micro-napping," in which characters fall asleep for seconds at a time, allowing the filmmakers to have Freddy pop up for a jump scare whenever they think their film is getting dull.

Actually, the "micro-napping" concept works effectively at permitting Freddy -- the film's most interesting character -- a chance at more screen time. This version of Freddy isn't the taunting, more jovial character he wound up being in many of the later Nightmare on Elm Street sequels; he's mean and dark. He still makes a couple of puns, which he steals from earlier films ("How's this for a wet dream?"), but at least he's back to being a menacing presence.

Liberal borrowing from the other Nightmare on Elm Street films winds up as one of this film's biggest issues. We've seen most of these deaths before, and they were often done better with the practical effects in the '80s than they're done with CGI in 2010. If you've seen the earlier chapters, you've seen pretty much everything that's going to happen in this one. Obviously, the goal is to draw in new audiences, but for the initiated this will feel like a lesser imitation of something you once loved.

At least Jackie Earle Haley is having a lot of fun as Freddy, and while nobody can replace Robert Englund, Haley does his best with the material. However, apart from the change from child killer to possible child molester, there's not a whole lot for Haley to do except plays Freddy just like Englund did (at least, when he was still a serious killer). It allows the film to fit in well with the others, but it would have been fun to see Haley take the character in a completely different direction, and would have helped give the film a reason to exist.

It's tough to support A Nightmare on Elm Street. It doesn't justify its existence by doing anything new with the franchise. It's not scarier, more intelligent, or even that different from the original. It plays out like a competent impersonation, but nothing more. Sure, it might get you to jump a few times, but for a film that already watched slasher remakes come and go with little critical (but a lot of financial) success, it should have been much better, especially as a remake of a horror classic.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:42 pm

Freddy vs. Jason
If you were one of the people who watched the entirety of Jason Goes to Hell, you'll remember the fantastic final shot, which saw a hand with a claw glove grab Jason Voorhees' mask into the depth of hell. Horror fans knew that the hand belonged to Freddy Krueger, antagonist of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Jason, the killer in Friday the 13th and all of its sequels, might have gone to Hell, but he was going to be met there by Freddy. A crossover was going to happen, and we were going to get a special movie.

That was back in 1993. It took a whole decade for that crossover film to happen, during which time each character only appeared in one other film. People had forgotten about Freddy, and Jason's film a year earlier didn't do so well at the box office. However, these two character had once been so profitable that they had yearly releases. It was time to bring them together, finally, so that's what New Line Cinema has finally done with Freddy vs. Jason, a film which promises to have the monsters clash and fight to the death.

Freddy vs. Jason revolves around Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) deciding that he needs to come back, but can only do so when the people of the town of Springwood remember and fear him. In order for that to happen, he resurrects Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) to begin murdering people. The town will hopefully suspect Freddy was behind it, and he can then regain his strength and actually murder some people. What a devious plot that Freddy has come up with. But what happens if Jason decides to stop listening?

Well, then Freddy and Jason might have to fight, like the film's title indicates they will. This only happens in the last 30 minutes of the picture, but it's almost worth the wait. The brute-force killer, Jason, facing off against the smart, taunting trickster, Freddy? I'm down for that any day. The characters are representative of their respective franchises, too. The simple, slice-'em-with-a-knife film faces off against the intelligent, creative-kills one. How can you not like that?

I'll tell you how you can not like it. The first hour or so involves the human characters running around trying to figure it all out. We know most of what's going on, as Freddy directly addresses it to us and explains what's going to happen in about two minutes. So, we have to watch these annoying human characters accomplish nothing we don't already know, occasionally dying, all so that we can have our monster vs. monster fight at the end -- which winds up, annoyingly, also involving the humans. The film is called Freddy vs. Jason, right?

It's infuriating to have to sit here and listen to characters explain away a contrived plot that we've already had explained to us in a far more concise manner from a character we like a lot more. It doesn't help that the acting is the worst in either franchise, and that the characters are so thinly written that you expect them to blow away at the slightest gust of wind. The film's first 2/3 feel immeasurably long as we wait for the climactic battle of the titans.

The fight almost makes all of the film's problems worth sitting through. Watching these two iconic characters do battle is an incredibly thrilling experience, especially if you've sat through almost twenty films featuring these two characters. There's a lot invested in the battle, especially if you're far more a fan of one franchise than the other -- for example, I much prefer the Nightmare on Elm Street series and its killer, Freddy. Even though both characters are essentially unstoppable, immortal, and impervious to damage, the final 30 minutes are worth seeing.

I wonder if this film is going to reignite an argument that comic book fans always seem to have. The "who should win?" one. The one where "power levels" and strengths and weaknesses are discussed at length. Where a single frame of a film, or a single page of a comic book is used as an example as to why one character would defeat another, even if another scene refutes that evidence. These arguments always make me smile and laugh, especially because it's often purely hypothetical. At least this film has the characters square off for Round 1. Anyone up for a sequel? I am.

Freddy vs. Jason is 30 minutes of a pretty excellent movie, and an hour of a redundant, unnecessary, and annoying one. Does the finale make all of that waiting around worth it? I'm going to say yes. Even with all of the terribly written and acted human characters running around explaining plot point we don't care about or already know, the showdown between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees is something I thoroughly enjoyed, and if you've been with both franchises this long, this is something you have to see.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Oct 31, 2013 3:12 pm

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Now, here is a great premise for a horror movie. The idea here is that a documentary crew gets to follow the life of a slasher villain for a few days while he goes about setting the stage for his next killing spree. In this world, the likes of Michael, Jason, and Freddy are real, and being a slasher villain is a real profession. We are taken behind the scenes of a life of one such killer. Hence the "behind the mask" from the title.

Leslie Vernon is played by Nathan Baesel, who makes for a likable protagonist/antagonist. Much of the film's first hour is spent watching Leslie deconstruct the slasher genre. A journalist, Taylor (Angela Goethals), and her two cameramen, get to film him and interview him. We learn how much work a slasher villain has to do in order for everything to go as planned, why certain clichés exist, why slasher villains exist in the first place, and all of the little tricks of the trade, so to speak. This is all really funny, and if you ever wanted to see a deconstructionist approach to slasher movies -- this goes farther than Scream -- this is one made just for you.

With about 30 minutes left, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon switches styles completely. The first hour is filmed exactly like a documentary. The cinematographic style, the editing, and the situations -- an sit-down interview -- all make it seem like the film is a documentary. But at the hour mark, it switches into a conventional slasher film. It's here when the film loses momentum, even if it does this switch purposefully and by design.

See, watching the film openly and lovingly mock and reference the slasher movies of the past is enjoyable. Seeing it try to explain away some of the conventions of the genre is almost cute. Viewing its attempt at playing out like a conventional slasher movie -- granted, one in which some of the victims are aware they're going to be killed and try to thwart the killer at every turn -- is fun, but nowhere near as fun as what we just saw.

This is a film for fans of the genre who also recognize that it is, at times, a little silly and a little stupid. If you haven't seen many slasher films in your life, or if you have an outright disdain for them, you won't want to watch Behind the Mask. You won't get the references and while you'll probably understand what's being deconstructed, you won't get as much out of it as a true fan of the genre. This is a movie by fans for fans and if you don't fit into that category you'll want to look for entertainment elsewhere.

A film like this could probably skate by on references to more obscure entries in the genre and be considered worthwhile by the genre's audience. Thankfully -- and perhaps this makes its familiarity entrance point lower -- that's not what it's about. Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street are the only main films that get extensively referenced, and if you've seen a couple of films from at least two of these franchises, you'll probably make it through without missing too much.

So, yes, it's clever and funny for 2/3 of its running time. In its final third, it's less scary than it should be and less humorous than the material that precedes these scenes. It's just kind of bland, doing a mediocre, yet knowing, imitation of a generic slasher film. The cleverness is lost and having the primary character switch from Leslie to Taylor means that a lot of energy is drained, too. It's not that Taylor is lifeless, but Leslie is so much more enjoyable to watch. He's a bundle of joy and enthusiasm.

That's not to say that Nathan Baesel is a great actor, but he's fun to watch but even if this isn't the dramatic material that most actors truly desire. Neither he nor Angela Goethals are veterans of the silver screen, although they both have worked on television in the past. Both come across as natural as they can given the material. Veteran horror actors such as Robert Englund and Zelda Rubinstein appear as well, the former as a Sam Loomis-type character, the latter as an exposition librarian.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a smart, witty, and terribly funny deconstruction of the slasher genre. It has an entry barrier -- if you haven't seen at least a few slasher films and you understand their conventions, you're going to miss a lot of the fun of this film -- but if you reach that and you enjoy this genre, you're going to have a good time. It's a lot more enjoyable in its first hour, before it transitions into the genre it's satirizing, but it's still well worth checking out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 01, 2013 3:31 pm

About Time
Trying to get a new way to get across the "carpe diem" message, About Time is a sentimental and safe romantic comedy that surprisingly has no conflict. Conflict is one of the things that drives stories, but About Time features none of it. It's too busy with its lead living happily and occasionally traveling back in time when it suits him, because he can do that. No, the time travel doesn't really matter. It's a hook with which little is done.

The lead is Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a man who learns on his 21st birthday that all of the males in his family have the ability to travel through time. This includes his father (Bill Nighy), who claims to have read every book he would ever want to thanks to this ability. The limit to this power is that one can only travel back to instances in his own life, meaning nobody can kill Hitler. The future can, however, be changed, so one must be careful. Don't worry, though, because nothing ever truly goes wrong and the film never even teases that permanent damage has been done. It's too safe and sweet for that.

On a blind date -- in a restaurant without lights served by blind waiters -- Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), with whom he instantly falls in love. Tim has been looking for love his entire life, he tells us through voiceover narration. He gets her number and says goodnight. But then he travels back in time to fix a mistake and doesn't go to that dinner, meaning he never met her. This is fixed in the next few scenes, and before long, the two are in a loving, committed relationship.

About Time progresses simply from here and only rarely uses the time travel concept at this point. Tim almost forgets he has it at one point, and the film's overall message involves living each day like it's your last. If you guess Tim eventually decides that rewinding his life to fix mistakes sucks the joy out of it all, you're not going to be surprised by this film. You can see it all coming from a mile away. This is a very easy movie to take in.

It is not, however, an easy one to watch and stay awake. That complete lack of conflict -- or even motivation beyond "we're in love; let's do couple things for 90 more minutes" means that there's very little reason to continue watching About Time. It's not terribly compelling to see a couple's life go almost perfectly for the entire time they're together. The hook of the movie is that one of them can travel in time and that barely even plays into the second half of the picture. This is a snoozer if you're even a little bit cynical.

If you're not, though, you're going to have a field day with About Time. This is a sweet, sentimental and sincere movie that doesn't have any time or patience for anything that even comes remotely close to cynicism or negativity. Its target audience is composed of people who want to escape with two actors and their love for a couple of hours -- people who don't want to see any trouble befall them. It's a hopelessly romantic movie and makes no bones about being exactly that. It doesn't want to be anything else.

It does want to make you laugh, and if there's one strength that it has -- for those of you who need something more than pure love to drive a two-plus-hour movie -- it's the relatively consistent humor that it brings to the table. About Time is quite funny, and you will laugh a fair few times while it plays. It's safe, easy humor, but laughter is laughter and About Time made me laugh. Saying more about the laughs would ruin them, but they're constant enough to keep you awake if everything else is too dull.

Those who like doing so will absolutely love poking holes in the way time travel factors into the proceedings. The internal logic doesn't really work, rules that were earlier established get broken later on without explanation, and it winds up creating plot holes and logistical issues. I wager that most people won't care -- the film isn't About Time travel anyway -- because the romance and Tim's life revelations are what's supposed to keep our attention, but time travel is a touchy subject and it irritates more people than you'd think (or hope) when it's not treated seriously.

The jury's still out on whether or not Domhnall Gleeson is a good enough actor to carry a serious drama, but for a fluffy rom-com he's more than suitable. He's charming and has decent comedic timing, making him perfect for this sort of role. Rachel McAdams is fine but doesn't have much to work with. Bill Nighy is great as the unnamed father, while Lydia Wilson plays the off-the-walls sister well.

About Time is for those who want a two-hour escape from the problems of the real world, as it contains no problems or conflict of its own. For anyone wanting a compelling or convincing story, it falls flat, but for an unabashedly sincere romance, I suppose it does its job. It's funny and sweet and really hard to get too worked up about. It has good actors in a simple, fluffy love story. There's nothing much more to it than that. If this is your type of thing, you'll love it. If you have an ounce of cynicism in your veins, skip it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Nov 02, 2013 3:46 pm

The Game
Talk about a fantastic movie. The Game, the second thriller directed by David Fincher, is a pulse-pounding movie, one that gets the heart rate up and doesn't let you go until it concludes, and even then it leaves you with seeds of doubt. Exactly what you saw might not truly be what you thought, and you'll want to see it again to look for clues and to see if the whole enterprise holds up. I think it does, but you'll have to see it for yourself to find out.

The film stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas, a very rich man who no longer finds joy in much of life. He's an investment banker, which will immediately make you think of his character in Wall Street. On his 48th birthday, his brother (Sean Penn) gives him a certificate to participate in a "game," which is created by a company called CRS. What exactly this "game" is doesn't get revealed until Nicholas starts having a conversation with his television after finding a clown doll in the middle of his driveway, precisely in the same location his father had landed after jumping to his death from the roof of the house. What a chilling scene, this one is, although much of the film gives off that vibe.

The Game will remind many viewers of Total Recall, in which a man pays to go on the adventure of a lifetime. The central question of that film revolved around whether or not the events in the film were happening. Here, we know they're happening but we don't know what the motivation is. Is CRS truly giving Nicholas the adventure his brother paid for, or are they scamming the rich man of his money?

David Fincher continues to throw more at us, and at the main character. The events continue to escalate to the point that by the time the film concludes, we're exhausted. It's so much fun to watch a movie like this one. You're kept on your toes throughout; your mind is active and your heart is pounding. Every time you think you have The Game figured out, you'll learn something new -- something that might not even be real, which you'll learn later -- that will turn your viewpoint around.

These types of twisty-turvy films don't always hold up on inspection. Does The Game? I think it does, although it's entirely possible to view it as a series of contrivances and that if one thing happened differently, the entire operation would collapse. I think that this CRS company would have planned for more than just the single path taken by Nicholas. Or perhaps the lengthy psychological exam taken at the beginning gave them such a clear indication as to the path he would take.

You will want to re-watch The Game to see if you can see the clues. During the aforementioned exam, a picture of a car driving off a cliff is shown, and Nicholas is asked to say the first word that comes to his mind. "Whoops," is what he says. Wouldn't you believe it that this was actually foreshadowing for a situation that he'll have to deal with later in the film. What do you want to bet his reaction isn't "whoops"? There are more moments like this, but I'll leave them for you to discover -- and for me to uncover when I see The Game another time.

Clever viewers will expect the film to take this wealthy, out-of-touch, egotist and humble him through the situations with which he's presented. Clever viewers will not seem quite as clever after watching the film. The Game doesn't take that route -- at least, not exactly -- which is welcome. The theme that one expects to see, and the development anticipated, are both subverted, which makes this movie feel fresh even after watching it and seeing all that it has to offer.

The Game is a very dark film, much like Fincher's earlier thriller, Seven. Those who like brightly lit films will want to watch something else. Most of this movie takes place at night, or feels like it does. There are few happy characters and even fewer happy moments. A suicide, and a suicide attempt, play large roles. The Game is still a lot of fun, but those bothered by motion pictures that aren't easy will likely want to look elsewhere.

Michael Douglas could play this role in his sleep. He doesn't have to give a terribly emotional performance to be effective, because he's smart, cool, calm, collected, and that's all that he needs to be. Does his humanity start to show as the film progresses? Maybe, but maybe not. There's enough subtlety in the performance to make you think this through. And when emotions do boil over -- or at least come to the surface -- Douglas delivers in spades. Supporting work comes from Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger, although both get far fewer scenes and are easily overshadowed.

The Game is a fantastic thriller. It will make you think, it will keep you on your toes, and it is involving for the entirety of its running time. You want to go back and watch it again, right after it finishes, just to look for clues and to see if it holds up. The twists and turns keep things unpredictable, and the whole experience is very worthwhile. It is anchored by a great performance by Michael Douglas, and it is absolutely worth seeing at least twice.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:14 pm

My Blueberry Nights
My Blueberry Nights feels like the type of film that would be praised if it was presented with subtitles and featured foreign actors. It just gives off that type of vibe. The picture marks the English-language directorial debut of Wong Kar-wai, who created motion picture poetry in 2000 with In the Mood for Love and attempts to recapture the same in this 2007 release. And if it didn't star actors you know, and wasn't in a language you understand, you'd probably love it, assuming you saw it in the first place, which you wouldn't unless you were already the sort of person who would seek this type of film out.

What I'm saying is that if you liked In the Mood for Love -- and actually saw it in the first place -- then you'll probably have a good enough time with My Blueberry Nights, too. It's the type of subdued, art house film that's less about any real plot, or even characters, than it is about tone, mood, and the way that it was composed. It's a meditative little film about one woman, Elizabeth (Norah Jones), her journey, and the people she comes across over its duration.

The first person she encounters is Jeremy (Jude Law), the owner of a small café in New York. He, and the small location over which he presides, becomes a safe haven for her, someone who is having issues dealing with her cheating boyfriend. But, still, Elizabeth feels the need to make a major change, and takes multiple buses all over the United States of America, encountering many people in her wake. Jeremy, meanwhile, gets postcards and letters and stays up nights thinking about the woman who used to come to his café to sit, talk, and eat blueberry pie.

Of these later encounters, there are three that stand out. Two take place at the same period in time, and involve an alcoholic policeman, Arni (David Strathairn), and the wife from whom he is currently separated, Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). The final, taking place later chronologically, is with a gambler, Leslie (Natalie Portman). In a sense, there are really three stories in My Blueberry Nights, and all of them are interesting enough to hold our attention.

One of the main ideas at the heart of the film is how love -- and not just romantic love -- functions, and continues to function, even after distance and time have separated its participants. Elizabeth takes 300 days to complete her journey, and over its course we see relationships between a great deal of people. Elizabeth functions as an observer, and it's through her eyes that we see the director's perspective on the subject. It also allows for the character growth of our protagonist, as she learns about life during her travels.

I didn't have a problem with any of this. Because each segment of story was so short, none of them had the opportunity to grow dull. Energy is maintained thanks to the brevity, the situations themselves, and the actors. They all have something to say, and there isn't a single moment wasted. Every frame was left in for a reason. It's true that those who find talking boring will hate the film. If that's you, I recommend skipping pretty much every other project directed by Kar-wai.

At first, I thought the film moved too fast, and didn't allow for enough time to be spent with anyone. That observation is not wrong. If you are looking for much development or even characterization beyond that of Elizabeth -- and even in that case, there's not much there -- you will be disappointed. My Blueberry Nights is more about the ideas and the mood; it doesn't need deep characters to make you aware of both of these things. A lengthier, more conventional film would be entirely different, and while it might be perfectly fine, it would not bring the same points across, or do so as effectively.

There are some artistic flourishes from time to time -- including an overuse of slow-motion shots, which eventually grow irritating -- and the cinematography will seem obscure to audience members who don't watch any foreign films, but the style is generally in service of a purpose, and rarely gives off a "because I can" feeling, which is important.

My Blueberry Nights is non-cameo, real acting, debut of singer Norah Jones, who has surprisingly been given the lead. She doesn't show a whole lot in her performance -- about two facial expressions punctuate the role -- especially when compared to the likes of Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. She's charming enough, sure, but that's about all she has going for her. Jude Law doesn't show much better, coming across as an emotionally stinted man.

My Blueberry Nights is something foreign. By that I mean that it would be highly praised had it not starred American actors speaking English. It is based on a short film also directed by Wong Kar-wai -- that one in Chinese -- so that's likely where that feeling comes from. For what it's worth, this is a film that has enough to say to justify its rather brief running time, and sustains itself thanks to the dialogue and the situations presented within. It is unlikely to be what you expect. It looks and feels different. I quite enjoyed it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Nov 04, 2013 4:13 pm

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters begins with a silly premise. You're probably already laughing based on the title. The film re-imagines the fairy tale characters as hunters of witches, going from town to town and cutting down all of the witches in their paths. After having escaped the witch from the fairy tale, they find out that they're immune to witch magic, and decide to dedicate their lives to killing all witches, under the belief that they're all evil and the world would be better off without them around.

Their quest eventually takes them to some random town where a bunch of children have gone missing. They're hired by the town mayor to find out who is behind the kidnappings and to bring the children back alive, assuming they haven't been killed, eaten, or otherwise removed from the planet. This winds up bringing about a fight between Hansel and Gretel and an evil coven of witches. Famke Janssen plays the evilest of the evil witches, while Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play Hansel and Gretel respectively.

At this point you're probably already laughing at both the premise and how simplistic the plot sounds. I'd try to use more flavorful words to spice up the plot, but that would be deceptive. It's not at all original, and not at all engaging. You sit back and watch the action, some of it is inventive but most of it isn't, and you keep waiting to see something worth watching for. You never get that. And the film is so serious that despite the laughable premise, you're not going to be chuckling your way through the film.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a tiring movie. Not an exhausting one in the way that you'd hope, either. Some movies overwhelm your senses in such a way that you feel legitimately tired after it ends. Hansel & Gretel is one that results in you wanting to fall asleep. It's so mundane, so seen-it-all-before, and it's missing the hint of irony that would function as a spark to keep the film aloft. Instead, it just throws obligatory plot that it doesn't even like and mostly dull action scenes at us in hopes we'll eventually start liking it.

It's weird that the film is this dull, too, because there are some good ideas at play. The film is set sometime in the past, but the characters talk like they live in the present day, the weapons are primarily stolen from a steampunk setting -- Gretel's most noteworthy weapon is an upgraded version of the crossbow used in Van Helsing (which has better action and humor than this), for example -- and some more modern tropes are used well to contrast with the historic setting.

It's also kind of interesting that Hansel is a diabetic, that both lead characters seem to be completely emotionally repressed, and that the whole production is gory and profane; it's not a PG-13 affair. This all makes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters seem more interesting than it winds up being. Most of these elements seem pointless. The film does nothing with the majority of them, and has no pretense of having a deeper meaning. These things simply are, and there's no reason for them, and they don't wind up being engaging.

To be fair, there are a few attempts at humor, but they fall flat. The film's main joke is that Hansel and Gretel are now witch hunters, and we're supposed to find that fascinating and funny. It's not really either. Neither character really seems to have any reason to be based on the fairy tale version except that it gives us an easily identifiable back story -- which the film shows us anyway -- and gives us a singular joke. If you don't laugh at the premise, or you start to but then it grows tiring, the film's brief running time will feel too long.

I mean, isn't this exactly the type of movie that deserves a bunch of strong one-liners? I think I counted one, and it comes in a mid-credits scene (which serves only as an epilogue). For the first 80 minutes or so, I laughed only a couple of times, and each time felt like a forced pity laugh. You know when something is so uninspired that you laugh because you feel like nobody else will and you feel bad for it? That's the type of feeling I had during Hansel & Gretel.

The whole production begs this question, which is the only one I had for the film's 90 minutes: Why would both Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton sign up for this? They can't be hurting that bad for cash, I would hope. Neither is exactly an A-lister, but they're both good actors who deserve much better material than this. One would have hoped Arterton would have got over this type of film with Prince of Persia (not as bad as this), while Renner now has Bourne for action (also not as bad as this). They should both fire their agent and reconsider the films they're starring in.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has interesting ideas that go to waste, a central premise that exists as a joke, a tone that's far too serious -- even with all the over-the-top action going on around it -- and an odd lack of jokes and irony that would have at least elevated it above "terrible." Unless the idea of Hansel and Gretel becoming witch hunters is so funny that you're literally rolling on the floor laughing at the thought of it, skip this movie.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Nov 05, 2013 3:20 pm

Nola
Nola (Emmy Rossum) has finally decided to run away from her home in Kansas -- which contains her abusive stepfather -- and try to make it in New York City. Her first night, she sleeps on the street and in Central Park. On her second day, she finds a job at a local diner, befriends the cook, Ben (James Badge Dale), and sleeps on his couch. From here it progresses in a way you likely wouldn't expect and hits on too many notes to begin to describe. Suffice to say that Nola doesn't remain working in the diner for long, and an ulterior motive for coming to New York is revealed.

Nola plays out like a fairy tale. The lighting and focus are soft, the music is fruity, the dialogue is trite, the characters are arch, and everything comes together so easily that you'd assume it was written for a 6-year-old -- even though it's an R-rated dramedy; it got that rating due to a few colorful choices of language and maybe because some of its themes are a little too much for the kids to handle. It's certainly an odd and interesting film in the way that it has been put together.

It's all silly. It fits together too easily. There's never a doubt in anyone's mind that everything will work out in the end. Does that make it bad? I don't think it does. It makes it safe and predictable, but it's charming and that alone can make it worthwhile. While the premise of a small-town girl trying to "make it" in the big city is nothing particularly new, the way that Nola goes about it is different from most similar films. It's like a dream. It's enchanting.

This is especially true in how the film's tone and style essentially works as a contradiction of its subject. The opening scene has Nola's stepfather hit and attempt to rape her. In New York, the first person she encounters is a creep on the streets. The "villain" of the production is a sleazy businessman. Much of the film deals with an escort service run by Margaret (Mary McDonnell), who also happens to own the diner at which Nola works (you can guess where that's going but it doesn't play out like you think).

That material is all pretty dark, but the film is so colorful and joyful that it gives a much happier appearance. Nola is a bright-eyed character whose innocence and upbeat demeanor -- mixed with strong survival instincts -- makes her a sympathetic character. Some of the dialogue is meant to make you laugh, even though it's far more cynical than you'd expect given the overall feeling of Nola. This is one of those weird, won't-see-nothin'-like-it, films.

When the story is focused on Nola and her attempt to (1) find success in New York City and (2) locate her father, the film works to a great degree. It's when the film deviates from this and involves secondary characters and their issues that it starts to get a little tiring. A big plot point involves a subpoena against Margaret's escort service, so the film drops all of Nola's goals in order to spend time on fixing that. Nola never gets boring but its lack of focus hurts it; it should have spent almost all of its time on Nola.

Audience members who hate coincidences will detest Nola. Everything is as convenient as it can be in this movie. A subpoena has been issued? Lucky that Ben is a law student. Margaret knows a reporter who just happens to have been told to do a story on her escort service. And the revelation about who Nola's father is -- yes, you find out; no, it's not a surprise -- winds up being silly beyond words. But that's how fairy tales work, and I don't think it's entirely fair to disregard Nola because it's convenient and forced.

However, if that robs you of any emotional payoff, I suppose that's understandable (but too bad for you). I found it sweet. No, it's not a strong drama but it's a cute, harmless one, and while it doesn't deliver a large payoff, it's not completely devoid of one, either. You'll be smiling after Nola ends if you have even a bit of sentimental blood running through you body. It's a feel-good movie you watch after a hard day and make yourself feel better.

At Nola's core is Emmy Rossum, who is the perfect type of actor for this role, which requires both the ability to be exuberant, smart, and street-tough, all at various points. Rossum also gets to sing a couple of times, and she shows off her good voice. Mary McDonnell is a veteran actor of considerable talent, but she's wasted here. All of the supporting actors are wasted, even with all the focus on their problems in the second act. The camera and our focus is always on Rossum, even when the film isn't trying to be "about" her.

Nola is a sweet movie unlike almost anything else you'll be able to see nowadays. Its subject matter is somewhat dark, but its style and tone make it come across like a fairy tale. Small-town girl goes to New York in order to fulfill her dreams. It has a strong leading performance, a couple of wasted supporting roles, a convenient and forced story, and a dreamlike perspective of how the world operates. For my money, it was fun and enchanting. I think Nola is worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Nov 06, 2013 2:40 pm

Hot Sots!
Hoping that you'll never be able to watch Top Gun the same way again, Hot Shots! has come around as a spoof movie in the same vein as Airplane! and The Naked Gun. The direct base is the aforementioned Top Gun, which starred Tom Cruise as a fighter pilot who had to overcome his own demons. This one stars Charlie Sheen and has him overcoming his own hotshot personality, as well as the consensus that his father's same tendencies wound up killing another pilot a few decades earlier.

Sheen plays Topper Harley, a man recently discharged from the U.S. Navy, but finds himself being asked back to help with a new mission, apparently ignoring the fact that he could get his entire squadron killed with his foolishness. Ah, but here comes the twist: Lt. Commander Block (Kevin Dunn), the man who asked Topper to come back, actually wants the plan to fail. He's been approached by a couple of businessmen who want the Navy to buy their new plane, and if the mission fails they all figure that the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment will entice the purchase of their plane. Right.

That's not a spoiler, in case you're wondering. We know it early on; it's just that none of the other characters know it. Topper has to go through what little plot there is, which involves training up in order to do this mission, have a romance with his Navy-appointed therapist (Valeria Golino), and play out a rivalry with Kent (Cary Elwes), who is the son of the man Topper's father purportedly killed with his overconfidence and recklessness.

If you've seen Airplane! or The Naked Gun, you know the type of humor to expect from this film. It's a very silly style of humor, making fun of pretty much everything involved in the production. Things happen you won't expect, and yet many times the characters won't even react to them, as if they didn't even happen. You will see and hear absolutely ridiculous things in Hot Shots!, and you will likely laugh at quite a few of them. The spoof movie isn't exactly memorable, but in the moment it's usually quite enjoyable, assuming it's done right.

And Hot Shots! certainly is done right. It doesn't reach the levels of the other two spoof films already mentioned, but it's definitely funny enough to be worth seeing. There's a lot of creativity packed into the brief running time, most of the gags are quite humorous, and nothing drags on longer than it needs to. It's hard to dislike a movie like this one. It accomplishes its modest goal of making you laugh a lot, while also poking a lot of fun at Top Gun.

A movie like Hot Shots! is practically critic-proof. Any of the complaints that I have could be dismissed as intentional and part of the spoof from the film's perspective. For instance, there's isn't a whole lot of plot to the film. It, or its makers, would defend that by saying it was making fun of the lack of plot in Top Gun. The forced love story would be defended in the same way. It doesn't really matter, as the only important thing is whether or not the film is funny, but I'd like to point this out because it's almost impossible to truly criticize this movie.

In order for a spoof film to work out, its creators need a genuine love for the material that is being spoofed. When the humor isn't there, it's often because of either a disdain or a lack of understanding of the source material. Why a movie like Airplane! (a spoof of disaster flicks) or The Naked Gun (cop movies and TV shows are the target) works is because of the affection that they show for their target of satire. Hot Shots! shares that love, and succeeds because of it.

Top Gun is not the only movie that is used as a base here, even though the general story is using it as the primary inspiration. Dances with Wolves, Superman, one specific scene of 9 1/2 Weeks -- you'll know the one -- and a bunch of other movies get one-off jokes taken at their expense. Some scenes are directly stolen and then taken to the extreme. And the actors play it straight, because deadpan makes this stuff funny. They're not laughing, but we most certainly are.

While the lead is Charlie Sheen, who has comedic chops and definitely could carry the film, the standout performance comes from Lloyd Bridges, who plays RDML Tug Benson, a man who has been through so many wars, surgeries and fake body parts that it's amazing he's still alive. The dialogue that was either written for him or improvised by him is the best in the entire film, and if you have no other reason to watch Hot Shots!, it's to see the absolute insanity that comes with this character. It's really something.

Hot Shots!, while not reaching the level of earlier Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof films, is still a lot of fun and works both as a loving parody and biting satire of Top Gun, as well as a handful of other films. The comedy is strong, the actors are wonderfully deadpan, and it's really difficult to dislike it. Lloyd Bridges is a scene-stealer, and you should watch the film just to see where that character goes with each scene that passes, because you won't see such absurdity very often.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:51 pm

Hot Shots! Part Deux
Someone needs to come up with a list of how many live-action films have done some sort of tribute to the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp. You've seen this in other movies, right? Where two people who love each other are sharing a plate of spaghetti and they wind up on the same piece of pasta, which leads to a kiss. That's the one. How many films have done that with humans? Now, tell me, how many have followed it up with one human nudging a meatball to the other side of the plate with his or her nose, like the dog does in the animated film? None? Well, this one does just that.

The first Hot Shots! was a loving spoof of Top Gun. For the sequel, we have taken the Hollywood approach of "bigger is better" and decided to use Rambo III as the base. Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) is now living with monks, having given up his dreams of flying planes for a living ... because of reasons we'll never learn, I guess. He was dumped by the love of his life, a therapist named Ramada (Valeria Golino), and has significantly bulked up, looking more like Sylvester Stallone than anyone probably thought possible.

He is approached by Colonel Denton Walters (Richard Crenna, doing a sendup of his Rambo role) and CIA Agent Michelle Huddleston (Brenda Bakke), telling him that they need help rescuing some Americans, who were trying to rescue some Americans who themselves were trying to rescue some Americans who were captured by Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) some months prior. I think I got that right, although I might have added one too many "rescue some Americans." Oh well.

So, we're going to the jungle to do Rambo III again. Before leaving, Topper has a fleeting romance with Michelle, because we need a love triangle. The informant in the jungle, surprising absolutely nobody, winds up being Ramada, and we move on from there. There's a lot of gunfire, a couple of rescue scenes, and we're basically given an abbreviated version -- which isn't a bad thing -- of the third Rambo, as well as seeing references to other movies that came out in the two years between Hot Shots! movies.

Like before, the scene-stealer is Lloyd Bridges, whose character has been promoted from Rear admiral to President of the United States. You won't understand how incredible a statement that is if you haven't seen Hot Shots!, but go see that film and then just imagine the insanity that can come from having that character run an entire country. Suffice to say that almost all of Bridges' scenes are winners, and it's because of them, particularly in Part Deux's second half, that the film keeps afloat.

With only two years between film releases, one could wonder if Hot Shots! Part Deux wound up being rushed in hopes of cashing in on the first film's success. Most of the jokes that could have been used were done in the first film, meaning there would potentially be less material to draw from in the second installment. I think it's because of this that Part Deux doesn't feel quite as funny as its predecessor, and also why the final third is almost completely devoid of laughs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The only thing that truly matters in a comedy is whether or not it's funny. Everything else can fail, but if it is making you laugh then it is still a success. Hot Shots! Part Deux will make you laugh, although not with the frequency of the first film or many of the other Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof movies. It loses momentum and steam as it progresses, and by the time it ends I had been ready for the finale for a good chunk of time. It was only because of Lloyd Bridges that I hadn't given up on the production.

That isn't to say that there aren't a couple of highlights later on -- a body count meter which appears at the bottom of the screen and indicates when Part Deux's body count reaches that of Total Recall and Robocop is one such highlight -- but there isn't much there, especially when compared to the first film. A couple of additional years of development wouldn't have hurt this movie.

It's amazing to see the physique of Charlie Sheen in this movie. He makes for a believable action hero. Did he need to bulk up for the role, considering it's a spoof movie? Probably not, but the dedication to the role is impressive. Actually, I would have liked to see him do everything he does in this film without the muscle, as it might have been even funnier. Sheen himself is still good in the role he played two years earlier, and the deadpan performances from the entirety of the cast makes the absurdity surrounding them even funnier.

Hot Shots! Part Deux isn't quite the film that its predecessor was -- which itself is not among the top tier of spoof movies by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio -- but it's still a fun watch and if you needed to see a Rambo III spoof, one which actually winds up being more enjoyable than the film it's spoofing, then here is your movie. The creativity and spark isn't quite there, but it's still a funny movie that is well worth seeing. The actors, in particular Lloyd Bridges, make it enjoyable.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 08, 2013 3:43 pm

Thor: The Dark World
It takes a long time to get going, but once it does, Thor: The Dark World winds up being a successful movie in its own right and a definite improvement on its predecessor. It's just a shame that it takes over half the running time to establish or re-establish everything in this universe, set up the plot, unleash the bad guys, and have Thor try to save not only the world, but the entire universe. That part of the movie is good fun. All the sitting around, talking about nothing much while waiting for the plot to begin? Not so much.

The plot: An item called the Aether winds up in the body of first-film-love-interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). She's a scientist working alongside Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), her comedy relief intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), and her intern's intern, Ian (Jonathan Howard). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fell in love with her in the first film. The Aether is something that a race of Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), can use to destroy the universe, or something. It was hidden for centuries, but now it has been unearthed. Queue the fighting.

Seriously, queue it up, because we have to get through a ton of exposition and world building before we get to much fighting. Sure, there are a couple of smaller action scenes in the first hour, but it's not until the second half when The Dark World really gets moving. I suppose we can congratulate it for at least having a story to tell -- the first film only barely did -- but it's so unnecessarily confusing and told with so much exposition that you can only applaud the effort to a limited degree.

It's possible that some of the problem is that in this Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has become the most interesting and enjoyable character in the Thor stories. In this film's first half, Loki is locked in prison and rarely seen. He's sprung in the second, allowing the character to be taken in a different direction and giving us someone alongside Thor who is actually interesting. Love interest Jane and stone-faced Thor just can't cut it.

Once that jailbreak occurs and the plot has been set in motion, Thor: The Dark World becomes a legitimately great superhero film. The action is fun and thrilling, the comedy is ... well, it's there in the form of Darcy and Ian, and the special effects are fantastic and almost seamless -- even though some might complain of CGI-overload, it looked great to me and even though you know it's CGI, it doesn't look different from what real life would be.

I'll also take having an overly complicated plot over one that's essentially nonexistent. That's what the two Thor movies basically come down to. The first one established the character but had the bare minimum in terms of story. This one recognized that problem but overcompensated. As a result, the story requires too much exposition to get over with an audience. A middle ground would obviously be preferable, and I'm hoping that it comes from the third installment, which I have no doubt will happen. They're on the right track with The Dark World.

It's also very clear that the film is far more interested in its superheroes rather than its humans. All of the humans are one-dimensional. Jane is the love interest, Darcy is the comic relief, Dr. Selig is crazy and is in the film because he was in the last one, Ian is also comic relief but mostly there just for Darcy to use as a tool to generate more laughter. And apart from Jane, who also functions as a plot device -- no, that doesn't mean she's two-dimensional -- they're all unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

The only actors who truly seem like they're having a good time are the ones playing Norse gods. Oh, and Kat Dennings, although it seems like it would be hard for her not to bring energy to a project. Chris Hemsworth is stoic as Thor, Tom Hiddleston is campy, hilarious, and scene-stealing as Loki, Anthony Hopkins gets more to do this time around and is great at it as Odin, Thor's father and Loki's adoptive father, and Idris Elba gets a couple of great scenes as the all-seeing Heimdall, much like he did last time around. There's only one cameo from another Avengers member, but it's a great one.

As with all of the Marvel movies, you're encouraged to stay through the credits. Thor: The Dark World contains not one, but two scenes after the main action is over. The first is a mid-credits scene and the second happens right at the end. Admittedly, the only "important" one -- in terms of the universe and story -- is the first one, but I recommend sticking through to the end. Chances are it will wind up mattering in one of the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Thor: The Dark World is an improvement over its predecessor, even if only half of it truly works. It takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it's a lot of fun. After we trudge through the exposition and world-building, we get a thrilling visual spectacle filled with a lot of action, comedy, and heart. Its human characters are shallow and largely unnecessary, the screenplay needed some work, but I'll take this over the first film anyway. Having too much stuff is better than not having enough.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Nov 09, 2013 3:11 pm

Wild Child
Poppy (Emma Roberts) is a spoiler teenager living in Malibu, disrespectful to everyone and anyone she sees. She's a vile person, although early on we can see that there's something from her past causing this type of anger. Could it be the premature death of her mother? Of course, but it's going to take a move to an English boarding school, new friends, discipline, and so on to figure this out. You've seen this type of movie before, and Wild Child does nothing to make it stand out from the crowd.

So, Poppy is put in a fish-out-of-water situation. She has to bond with her new roommates, a bunch of teens who have been going to this all-female school for years. She needs to follow the rules set out by the headmistress (Natasha Richardson). She involves herself in a feud with the most popular and feared girl on campus, Harriet (Georgia King). And she falls in love with the only boy who occasionally shows up -- because he's the headmistress' son -- Freddie (Alex Pettyfer). You go through all the scenes you'd expect from this type of film, all leading up to forced tension and artificial reconciliation.

It's not even that this type of film is oversaturated with tripe. I can't name a whole lot of other movies like Wild Child, but I could begin a list of all the prerequisite scenes in order to make one. It's a problem of "seen one, seem them all," because it takes an extraordinary effort to make one worth watching. It has to have a great lead performance, be exceptionally funny, subvert the norms, or do something worthwhile to justify its existence. Wild Child does none of this and can give us a reason to watch it.

Perhaps it will work as a film for parents to show their teenage girls if they ever begin to have a sense of entitlement. Tell the kids that it's a documentary and that this could happen to them if they don't (1) stop being spoiled brats, (2) make friends, (3) treat others with respect, (4) all of the other life lessons that you want to instill in a child.

What is there to see in Wild Child? The supporting cast is pretty good, especially if you're a fan of British cinema. The likes of the aforementioned Pettyfer and Richardson, along with Juno Temple, Nick Frost, Shirley Henderson, Aidan Quinn and Jason Watkins all have supporting roles. Some of them are barely in the film, but each one gets at least a scene or two in which they do something worth seeing. The life lessons are all there, too, and while it's not a film that will appeal to too many adults, younger teenagers might get something out of it.

It's also predictable, formulaic, and none too fresh. You've seen it all before, and even though it might have some things worth seeing, they're not present often enough to justify viewing the film. There's a distinct lack of depth to anything that happens, meaning that the few attempts at drama fail to a pretty great extent.  The comedy is very hit-and-miss, too, with a few jokes hitting and many more completely missing.

In the end, there's no reason for anyone over the age of 14 to watch Wild Child. The lessons it preaches won't rub off on older individuals, the film's lack of depth and humor will irritate those with a more developed mind, and while seeing the supporting cast might save it on occasion, the film as a whole is forgettable and not terribly interesting. Most will have seen this type of film before, either in an episode of their favorite cartoon or as a film they watched during their childhood. This one's not worth it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Nov 10, 2013 4:25 pm

Basic Instinct
There is a murder. We, as an audience, get to see it, although it's up to the film's police officers and detectives to piece it together and solve it. We don't see the killer's face anyway, although we see the rest of her body. A retired rock 'n' roll star is murdered in bed with an ice pick after having his hands bound. "Kinky," he probably thought before receiving multiple stabs to his neck. Assigned to the case is Detective Nick Curren (Michael Douglas), currently going through his own problems.

The prime suspect, for Curran, is the lover of the deceased, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). She, a graduate from both a psychology and linguistics program, doesn't show remorse for the dead man. Instead, she appears to want to play games with the Detectives. It also turns out that she had written a book in which a murder takes place precisely like the one that occurred at the beginning of the film. Does that give her an alibi or should it act as a preemptive confession? It's up to Curran to bring whoever killed this man to justice.

Oh, and he also has to avoid falling for his only true suspect, especially when more people around him start dropping like fleas. Basic Instinct is a thriller from start to finish. Have no doubts about that. It never tries anything else other than to get your blood rushing. You keep wondering who did it, the film keeps throwing curveballs at you, and everyone has a good time. And when it all comes together, you and the film can be happy together. At least, that's how it's supposed to be.

The best thrillers make you want to rewatch them a second time directly after the first. The reveals make you think back on the experience, on earlier scenes, and you want to make sure everything checks out. With Basic Instinct, you're pretty sure it doesn't. The movie hides things from you. You aren't able to figure it all out because the film doesn't provide enough information until it's ready. There's no point looking for clues you might have missed because there aren't any. It permits a passable first experience but second viewings are a waste.

The film never reaches a proper conclusion, either, which isn't a criticism but a fact. You get an inconclusive answer to the "Who did it?" question. It all depends on how you interpret it. There are multiple ways to take many different scenes in the film, and it all comes down to what you want to believe. The final scene throws another twist in there. This might please some members of the audience -- a little ambiguity here and there never hurt anyone --  but I can see it infuriating many others.

The joys of the film come from the mind games played between the Stone character and the Douglas character. Both in actions and in words, it's a joy to watch both actors interact. The duality in their characters, the way certain elements of one life run in parallel to the other's, and the wordplay in the dialogue scenes is all so sharp that you almost forget that one is a potentially dirty cop who has killed innocent people and the other might be a sociopathic murderer. That's what happens when smart characters are put on-screen.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the film is that it is never dull. At least, it wasn't the first time around. I was consistently entertained even if I had to shut down my brain. By trying to figure out the central mystery, I was doing myself a disservice, because it was never going to happen. The filmmakers weren't going to let me. Basic Instinct runs for just over two hours but it doesn't feel long.

This is the film to make Sharon Stone a movie star, or at least an effective femme fetale. As the shrewd, sarcastic, know-it-all, she shines. As long as she's not required to actually do dramatic acting -- which happens once in this film and yields laughable results -- she is as effective as anyone could be. She comes across as both smart and sexy, and capable of drilling a guy's temple with an ice pick, if she deems it necessary. That capability -- even if we never see her do it and her character is ultimately not the killer -- is so important.

In fact, she overpowers and takes the screen from Michael Douglas, a more established actor. Douglas is fine in the role but does little to draw our attention, despite being the protagonist. There are moments when he shines, but they all involve a back-and-forth with Stone. The same lack of screen presence is true of all of the supporting cast, who are relegated to the background whenever either actor is on-screen. The focus is squarely on their shoulders, and each handles it well.

As an entertaining thriller, Basic Instinct works for a single viewing. It doesn't allow you to figure it out -- although not through intelligence, but through deception and tricks -- and a second watch is pointless because it won't allow you to glean anything new, but it moves along well and is never dull. It has a star-making turn from Sharon Stone, a dependable lead in Michael Douglas, and several fun scenes involving the verbal sparring of the two actors. It's not a great thriller, but it's easily watchable and might just be worth your time to see.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Nov 11, 2013 4:18 pm

Basic Instinct 2
It says a lot about a sequel film when only one thing returns from the original. It also says something when the aforementioned sequel is released almost a decade and a half after the first chapter. It makes you wonder which audience they're targeting, and exactly who was driving the boat for the project's creation. In this specific case, the first Basic Instinct made a lot of money but was quite self-contained. Now here's a pointless sequel in which the only returning player is Sharon Stone.

I suppose that's the only person who needed to return in order for a sequel to work. Stone was by far the most memorable part of the Paul Verhoeven erotic thriller, and the role helped elevate her into the Hollywood starlight. Now, 14 years later, she reprises her role as an author and psychology genius, Catherine Tramell. We saw her manipulate and play games with a detective in the first Basic Instinct. Here, she decides that a London psychiatrist would be more fun. If she was right, we might have a better movie. David Morrissey is no Michael Douglas.

The film's opening scene has a death. A speeding car crashes and falls into a river, and the passenger dies. He was a footballer, and the police find out that he was drugged beforehand. The driver was Catherine, who is ordered to undergo psychiatric assessment. Here is where she meets her new toy, Michael Glass (Morrissey). The outcome of the court case won't surprise you, and Catherine is soon released. Soon, people start dying. Obviously, we think it's her, but the ambiguity of the first film means we can't be sure.

We're presented with multiple ways that these murders could have occurred. Everyone still alive could have done them, and they all have a vague reason to have done so. That is, except Catherine, who needs no reason simply because we know it's fun for her. She knows and sees all, apparently. The film at one point jokingly describes her as omnipotent, but I think that's a closer description than it wants to let on. She can do no wrong in her psychological mind games. She always has the perfect answer, excuse, reason, etc.

The plot is a mess and rarely makes sense. It's convoluted and brings in too many characters whose excuse for existing is that we need more people to suspect of a crime we're pretty sure they didn't commit. And if you're looking for anything in the way of answers, you're not going to get them from Basic Instinct 2. I mean, you'll probably be able to discern whether or not Ms. Tramell is behind the murders, but the film tries to make it seem less clear-cut than it actually is.

Like the first film, you're never going to figure things out -- save for the aforementioned "Is she the killer?" -- because the film won't let you. This isn't a case of you needing to be smarter or more perceptive; the film hides things so that it's impossible to work through any of the mysteries. It cheats, essentially, and that's the most frustrating type of thriller. If you can't rewatch it and learn new things, and you can't use your brain while it's playing, what's the point?

Of course, this was also a problem with Basic Instinct. There are differences, of course. The lurid, sexual nature of the film meant that audiences were titillated and more forgiving. It was 1992, after all, not 2006. Times have changed. That film also had a greater style, having been directed by a man who at least had a vision, even if it wasn't necessarily a great one. This film seems more director-for-hire. Basic Instinct also had a stronger lead, meaning the back-and-forth between him and Sharon Stone was more enticing. Here, it's played out.

Which isn't to say that Sharon Stone has really grown as an actress. You can watch the two films back-to-back and not notice a whole lot of change. Basic Instinct 2 doesn't ever try to challenge her at her craft -- it allows for her to simply monotone every line -- and that works to its advantage. The "drama" in Basic Instinct fell flat, so excising it for the sequel was smart. She's still the seductive manipulator and she is good at that. Stretching that isn't something she seems willing (or able) to do.

The supporting cast shouldn't feature as many good names as it does -- the film's lack of quality could tarnish them. Among the names here you'll find David Thewlis, Charlotte Rampling and Hugh Dancy. Of them, only Thewlis has a major role, playing the head detective tasked in taking down Catherine, because he must have seen the first movie and knew she was the killer. This guy wants to see her put away more than anyone else in the film; it's actually a little scary how determined he is even without evidence.

So, what do we have with Basic Instinct 2? We get a plot that's often incomprehensible, a mystery that you won't be able to solve -- not that you'll care enough to want to -- a leading actress who does one thing well but that one thing might not be worth doing, a lack of style or vision, a couple of sexy moments, a lackluster leading man who will be compared unfavorably to Michael Douglas, and a movie not worth your time. That about sums it up.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Nov 12, 2013 3:25 pm

Turnout
Set against a troubled relationship that gets even rockier as it progresses, Turnout is an attempt to (1) bring us an oddball, East London film about a drug deal gone wrong and (2) show us that deception in a relationship is a bad thing. And perhaps (3) that people from different sides of the tracks might not be compatible at all, even if they love each other, if only one person is willing to put in the effort. This third point is what makes Turnout occasionally unbearable to watch, as its self-obsessed burnout of a lead character makes dumb decision after dumb decision.

Actually, "burnout" doesn't even properly describe the lead, George (George Russo), as in order to burn out, one must first has to be something. From what the film tells us, George has never had a proper job, has never done anything other than laze about, do drugs, and hang out with his mates. In contrast, Sophie (Ophelia Lovibond), his girlfriend, works in an office selling stocks, and is nothing like him. Opposites attract, so they say.

They've got £2,000 left to pay for their vacation, and they have most of the money saved underneath George's bed. Or, Sophie has most of the money saved underneath George's bed. George is broke, having no job, no prospects, and few skills. Sometimes he sells drugs. Presumably he also takes on the occasional odd job, although we never see that happen. One of his friends tells him that there's a sure thing which needs investment -- it's a drug deal -- and while George has no money, there's a large sum sitting under his bed.

Of course, it doesn't go well, and now George has to hide the fact that he stole and then lost Sophie's money, attempt to recover at least most of it through favors and previous debts, and also explain his erratic and neglectful behavior, which is a result of the first two points. What this means for us is that we watch a lot of George talking to people, talking to other people, and drinking and doing drugs, because apparently he can get these things for a nominal amount of money.

We watch him get himself in deeper and deeper water, because as someone who is unemployed and possibly not very well-educated, that's what he's prone to do. The film takes place in East London, and attempts to give us a relatively complete picture of what life is like for the lower class in this area. I'm not going to say whether or not it is or isn't true-to-life, but it's convincing nonetheless. Although, I must question if people living here really do use the word "bruv" a half-dozen times per conversation. I hope not.

The stakes here are the money that the couple is going to use for the holiday, and very likely their relationship, which starts on shaky ground and only gets worse as the film progresses. As it plays, Sophie begins to question exactly why she sticks with this guy, and that's the same question we should ask. She's putting in almost all of the work, and he's hanging around with his friends, doing drugs, lounging around, and neglecting her in her moments of downtime. Why is she with this loser?

Because of the way this is framed, it's really hard to root for George as he's trying to get together the money behind Sophie's back, because if he does, then the relationship -- built on deceit and neglect -- might continue. And because Turnout seems to want us to hope that doesn't continue ... exactly why would we emotionally invest in George's quest? Sure, the film works as a tour of East London life, but as a character piece or even as a semi-coherent drama, it doesn't even come close to succeeding.

There's a touch of style added to the film by director Lee Sales (who co-wrote the story with actors George Russo and Francis Pope), and the cinematography is often interesting, but this far from saves the picture. Sometimes, the music blares over the dialogue, which makes it, in at least a couple of scenes, hard to hear the actors. It's a mistake like that which makes me think Sales was trying a bit too hard, as if he wasn't quite sure of himself while making the film. considering Sales has no other directorial credits to his name, this is a likely scenario.

A potential saving grace for Turnout is the acting. Both George Russo and Francis Pope reportedly grew up in the area, so they're basically able to play themselves, just in a fantasy setting. Ophelia Lovibond often looked uncomfortable and out-of-place among the lad's club feeling of the rest of the film, but that just adds to our understanding that her character really doesn't belong. These are all good and natural actors, and if they were in a film with a better story, it might be worth watching them all interact.

Turnout isn't a particularly good film, but if all you want to get out of it is a slice of life in East London, I suppose you'll get that. You'll also get an emotionally and intellectually contradictory story, a terrible main character, amateurish direction, a couple of nice shots, and some good acting. It's a mixed bag, for sure, and while it's not unwatchable, it's also not really worth seeking out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:39 pm

Bottle Rocket
A caper film absent of cynicism, Bottle Rocket plays like a breath of fresh air in a genre that's stuffy and really lacks in the creativity department. You know how the heists are going to work, and there's really not a whole lot of tension. Even the good examples in the genre stick to the formula harder than romantic comedies do to theirs. Bottle Rocket is so genuine and sweet that it overcomes these limitations simply by taking them completely at face value, while also dropping unconventional characters and dialogue into the mix.

The film begins with a prison break. The difference is that the "prison" is a mental hospital. A voluntary mental hospital. This sets you up for exactly what type of movie this will be. The two main characters are Anthony (Luke Wilson), the one in the mental hospital, and Dignan (Owen C. Wilson), the one who planned the escape. Anthony went along with the plan just to make his best friend feel wanted, which will be a recurring theme. Dignan is always the planner, Anthony always has to go along with these plans.

The next scene has them getting back in "the game," which, because this is a heist movie, involves thefts. We see them ransack a house, successfully stealing most of the valuables. We later learn that this was Anthony's house. If you're not already charmed or intrigued, you had might as well skip this film already, because it maintains this level of silliness throughout. Even when an actual, real, not fake, heist happens, it goes down about as well as you'd expect.

Part of what draws me to Bottle Rocket is the dialogue. Most of it sounds like real people -- not movie people -- talking. Observations about the world, the people within it, and so on. It's rather funny and charming, and because most of the characters are so sweet, it's enjoyable to watch them. They're naive, too, and get in way over their head more often than not, but because they do it with such childhood abandon, it's not like watching the character in, say, a Tarantino film.

In fact, Bottle Rocket plays out like the antithesis to a Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. They have similar dialogue styles, and similar independent productions, and yet the Tarantino films are aggressive and has likable, yet despicable characters. Wes Anderson's debut, Bottle Rocket, has such genuinely nice characters who just happen to be wannabe thieves. They're all good people -- save for the "real" criminal, a man played by James Caan -- and you root for them not because of how interesting they are, but because they're all so nice that you can't help but cheer for them to succeed.

They're also very funny people, and provide a lot of laughs during the course of the film. The dialogue -- co-written by Owen Wilson and Anderson -- is very enjoyable to listen to, but the situations themselves are just as good. The big heist at the end is especially enjoyable. It functions as the culmination of all the work put in by its characters, but because of who they are, it doesn't go the same way that most of these movies do, and that's refreshing.

Where Bottle Rocket tends to fall apart is in the middle. The beginning and finale are fantastic, but in the middle, which consists primarily of the main characters hanging around a cheap motel as they "hide out," is meandering, and the love story between Anthony and a housekeeper, Inez (Lumi Cavazos), is creepier than it is romantic. Again, the naivety of its characters comes into play. What some people might call "stalking," Anthony thinks it totally okay. It's funny, but a little creepy, and the film drags at this point.

There is a third main character, the getaway driver named Bob (Robert Musgrave), dressed up to look like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Along with Anthony and Dignan, he is the third aimless soul looking to find himself. Bob is the coward, Anthony is the straight man, and Dignan is the child. Together, they form quite the team. And by "quite the team," I mean "something that likely won't work but will be really charming and funny and makes for a good watch."

The actors are all good. The Wilson brothers make their acting debut with this film, just like Wes Anderson makes his directorial debut. It's a solid effort all around for the newcomers, who show great charm and comedic timing. They are charismatic, and can play hapless individuals with ease. The actors do sometimes come across as slackers without a goal, so if those types of character irritate you, you'll want to skip Bottle Rocket. Especially avoid the middle part, because a lot of meandering does occur.

Bottle Rocket is a very enjoyable film. It is devoid of cynicism, and like its naive characters, chooses only to look on the bright side of things. It meanders in the middle a little bit, but for the most part it's a very funny, enjoyable caper film that is unlike most of the films in the genre, even though in many spots it's exactly like those other films. It's because of its sincerity and its unorthodox characters that it feels fresh. It is absolutely worth seeing, and I definitely recommend it, unless you for some reason hate people trying to find their way in life, or movies that are a touch quirky.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Nov 14, 2013 4:04 pm

Rushmore
Rushmore is an offbeat coming-of-age story about Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman) a high school student who simultaneously overachieves and underachieves. Outside of the classroom, this is someone who is either the founder or president of over a dozen school clubs. He's the type of person whose résumé could be made up solely of his extra-curricular activities. His marks, however, suffer as a result of this ambition. He's a brilliant person, but he doesn't have the time or the care to get good grades at the prestigious Rushmore Academy.

A library book leads Max to a first-grade teacher, Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams). He falls in love almost instantly. One of his pet projects involves attempting to build an aquarium at the school. For this, he turns to a wealthy man, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray). Would you believe at this point that a love triangle occurs? Because that's exactly what happens. As soon as Mr. Blume and Ms. Cross meet, you can see in their eyes that the youngest member of this trio isn't going to be excluded from any romance.

The film takes a couple of different turns from there, eventually taking us down a road that's a lot of fun. Rushmore is a comedy, and much of the dialogue and many of the situations are quite funny. When smart characters get together -- and the three most prominent ones most certainly are that -- the dialogue is always going to be interesting. Seeing Max and Mr. Blume try to outdo one another and win Ms. Cross' affection, or just talk about anything, really, could fill an entire film.

There's a story about redemption, a story about growing up, a story about manipulators and about letting go. There is a lot of content in this relatively short movie, and it maintains interesting throughout its duration. Rushmore marks director Wes Anderson's second feature film, and it's an improvement over his debut, Bottle Rocket, in that it doesn't drag whatsoever in its second act. It also has more to do and has a more interesting story to tell, in large part because it's more focused on one person as opposed to a twosome.

The characters help to make it interesting, too. Max and Mr. Blume have so many parallels to note as the film goes along, and trying to see all of those will keep you busy. The performances given -- especially the one by Bill Murray -- have the perfect amount of disdain and adoration. You see Murray, for example, give a single look at Schwartzman, and you know exactly how his character is feeling at that given moment: he hates the 15-year-old but also sees so much of himself in the high schooler.

Max is a character who is not necessarily likable. He's quirky and unconventional, but he's also manipulative and selfish. He's not a bad person, per se, but he's not the type of person you want to root for. He grows over Rushmore's duration. Teenagers are often like Max, and because this is a coming-of-age story, one can assume he does some growing up along the way. The development is natural and doesn't feel forced, and some life lessons could be taken from the film if one happened to find him or herself in Max's position.

Much like Bottle Rocket before it, Anderson's film has been co-written with Owen Wilson. The pair has made another film whose dialogue is always a pleasure to listen to. They create interesting characters who have things to say and the intelligence to say them, and that's something that can always be appreciated. The plot is another conventional one but it is done in a way that makes it feel fresh. The eccentricity helps eliminate any feeling of the material being stale.

The cinematography of Rushmore shows unwavering clarity and a keen eye for composition. Backgrounds seem to go on forever, and the majority of the shots in the film are simply nice to look at. They ground great situations, characters, and dialogue. Rushmore truly is a full package film. There isn't a single element that isn't done well, if not extremely well, and it's difficult to even think of nitpicks with it. It's that good.

In terms of performances, the two standouts are Schwartzman and Murray. I've already talked about Murray and his ability to convey multiple things at once, but Schwartzman plays the protagonist and has a great deal of weight placed on his shoulder as a result. It makes it an even harder task that his character does not begin the film as terribly likable, meaning he has to be charismatic enough for us to stay with him but also slimy and manipulative at the same time. This, like the Wilson brothers in Bottle Rocket, marks Schwartzman's acting debut, and it's a good one.

Rushmore is a great film. It does so many things correctly and I can't think of any area where it missteps enough to be worth a mention. It has complex characters, good topics of discussion, interesting dialogue, strong performances, beautiful cinematography, and it doesn't drag for even a moment. This is the type of film that you watch and then re-watch because it's so good. Rushmore is definitely something that you need to see, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:19 pm

The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums is a film containing so many character that it's almost impossible for focus to be kept, and yet that's exactly what writer-director Wes Anderson has done. No fewer than eight characters are given significant screen time and personality, and yet at under two hours, they're all given enough time to feel like real people. Very weird people, with tons of quirks to make them "special," but people nonetheless.

The basic story goes something like this. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) left his wife, Etheline (Anjelica Huston) 22 years earlier, although they were never officially divorced. Etheline raised their three children, as well as a neighbor kid who desperately wanted to be a part of the Tenenbaum household. We are now in the present day, and Royal wants to get reacquainted with his children and wife, even though they want nothing to do with him. He's dying of stomach cancer, he claims, and he wants to make amends for a lifetime of neglect in the six weeks he has left on this planet.

Each of his children were brilliant at a young age. One, Chas (Ben Stiller), understood how to make money on the stock market, and was so well-versed in the art of finance that he successfully sued his father twice. He wants nothing to do with his father now, who reappears in his life at a bad time, considering his wife recently died. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), was an award-winning playwright, and a secret smoker from the age of twelve. She is also adopted, a fact that Royal continually professed at any opportunity.

There is also the tennis prodigy, Richie (Luke Wilson), who won a few championships but retired at the age of 26 after having a mental breakdown on the court. Eli (Owen Wilson) was the kid who lived across the street, and currently suffers from a drug problem while also writing commercially successful Western novels, all of which are bashed by critics. Many of these characters have others in their lives who show up rather often. Margot is married to a neurologist (Bill Murray), Chas has a couple of kids of his own, and Etheline is beginning a romance with her accountant (Danny Glover).

The interactions between all of these characters is incredibly enjoyable. Wes Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson both write some great dialogue, and like the director's earlier films, dialogue is one of the main reasons to watch the film. It's clever, funny, and enlightening. The humor is ironic, sarcastic, and also based around the silly situations and the quirks of the characters. This is a film that will make you laugh more often than not.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a silly film, but there's an emotional truth behind pretty much all of its characters and situation. It uses this silliness -- like many people do in their own lives -- to mask a deeper reality. Characters aren't just quirky for the sake of it; there's a reason behind how they are and you can bet that there will be a few moments in the film figuring out exactly why this is and perhaps helping to resolve -- or embrace, in some cases -- these eccentricities.

It's impressive how well all of these people are balanced, and how the film is perfectly paced. This is such an amazing skill, and it's one that Anderson hasn't previously shown. His earlier films were more narrow in scope and focus. This one has a far greater number of characters, and yet The Royal Tenenbaums seems to have just as much dedication to each one. Nobody feels as if they've been skipped over or as if they don't belong in the film, and they're all three-dimensional beings not defined by their quirkiness, even though that would be an easy trap to fall into.

At its core, The Royal Tenenbaums is a film about a man on a quest for redemption. But it's so much more than that. You've seen the basic story before, but the details and the secondary characters make it so much more than that. There are even a couple of surprises to the story, and the relationships between the different people go in directions you won't expect. Like Anderson's other films, this is a film that feels fresh regardless of how much it borrows from previous works.

It also contains good-to-great performances from everyone. The best of the bunch is delivered by Gene Hackman, who makes a difficult role his and ensures that nobody else can be envisioned playing the part. Ben Stiller is angry for the majority of the film, but shows surprising, raw, emotion at the end. Gwyenth Paltrow's emotional detachment allows her to turn in one of the better performances of her career, while Luke Wilson's generally optimistic outlook perfectly hides a deeper secret.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a really wonderful film. It's hilarious, for starters, and contains am emotional truth underneath its quirkiness. The balancing act that has to be done in order for all of these characters to feel important and real is impressive in and of itself, and a testament to both the directorial skill of Wes Anderson, but also the screenwriting talent of Anderson and Owen Wilson. While it's undoubtedly silly, The Royal Tenenbaums is absolutely worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:20 pm

The Book Thief
Narrated by Death (Roger Allam) and set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief is a compelling film more about the people than about the time period. We know now that Nazi Germany was terrible and we don't need that continually reiterated to us in the movies. It makes for a strong setting for a drama, however, and that's how it's used here. Sure, Nazis show up from time to time and there's the occasional air strike, but for the most part their ever-present threat is more than enough. First and foremost, this is a film about people and their relationships.

The film's lead is Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), a young girl who is given up by her mother and sent to foster parents living on Heaven Street in Germany. The parents are Hans (Geoffrey Rush), the nice father, and Rose (Emily Watson), the strict mother. Liesel can't read, but she brought with her a book about burying dead bodies, which she found at her brother's burial -- he died on the trip to Hans and Rose's house.

Once in Germany, Liesel has a series of things happen. She befriends the neighbor boy, Rudy (Nico Liersch), she begins to learn how to read with the help of Hans, and she also winds up befriending a man named Max (Ben Schnetzer). Max is kind of special, as he's Jewish and winds up being hidden by the family. Liesel can't tell anyone and Max is close to death for a lot of the film, but the two become fast friends. Both of their mothers were removed from them by Hitler, you see, so they share a bond that way.

Despite what the promotional material wants you to believe, the film isn't a thriller about hiding a Jewish man in Nazi Germany. There's really only one scene in which there's a chance for him to be found, and the tension isn't exactly high. It's more about this innocent young girl learning a great deal and growing up over the war's duration, while also building several relationships with those around her. One could say that the war rids her of her innocence, and I don't think I'd argue too hard against that viewpoint. I was more fascinated with how she interacted with everyone around her.

Liesel is our center point, the person we follow around from the film's start to its conclusion. Along the way, she meets a great deal of people, and has a unique experience with each one. She is enchanting, and you can see it in almost everyone else's eyes. They also wind up impacting her life, mostly in a positive way. These interactions are very enjoyable. Good dramas don't need to artificially create melodrama or tension, and while The Book Thief does both on occasion, it doesn't do it often enough to become a problem. For the most part, it engrosses us because it's simply that good.

It's also really funny. That can often be a good measurement of quality for a movie like this one. The best dramas can be as funny as the best comedies. For most of its running time, you get a consistent number of laughs. That ensures that there are moments of levity, which is important to balance the darker and heavier moments that come later.

And, yes, they do come. Even though The Book Thief is PG-13, it doesn't shy away from getting pretty dark. You can feel its conclusion coming from the midway point, but it still hits pretty hard when it arrives. The reason for this is the strong characters that the film has crafted for us. We are emotionally drawn to these people because (1) they're kind-hearted and (2) they're well-characterized. You sympathize with them because they don't deserve to have anything happen to them, but more importantly you emphasize with them and their situation because of the job the film does at making them feel like real people.

This is helped by the performances, all of which are fantastic. There are fewer actors more dependable than Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, and while this isn't the most dramatic work they'll ever do, they sell their roles incredibly well and provide some wonderful and surprising comedic timing. The risk from the filmmakers' part came from the two children: Sophie Nélisse has to carry the film and Nico Liersch certainly has a prominent role.

Sophie Nélisse has to carry this movie. She does a fabulous job at doing that. There aren't a lot of great child performances out there -- most child actors just aren't good enough -- but this is one of them. She displays some serious range here. Nico Liersch initially seems like a kid who has a crush and youthful exuberance but nothing more, but shows he has some promise in later, more emotionally compelling scenes. He holds his own with Nélisse. Both of them have a bright future if they want to continue acting into their adult lives.

The Book Thief is an emotionally gripping drama that happens to be set during the years of the Nazis holding control over Germany. It's not about the period, which we've probably explored enough in film; it's about the characters, their relationships, and the way these people impact each other. It's compelling, it's humorous, it balances its tone to ensure it never falls too far to one side of the comedy and melodrama, and it contains powerful performances from the entire cast. The Book Thief comes highly recommended.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:38 pm

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is an oceanographer and documentary filmmaker who, during the creation of his latest picture, lost his best friend, who was eaten by a giant shark. At least, he thinks it was a shark. He only got a quick glimpse, and he conveniently dropped his camera right before, so he's not sure. Regardless, he vows to set out on a quest to kill this very same shark, avenging his best friend's death in the process.

To do this, he gathers up his crew, acquires funding, and sets out to sea. Because this is a Wes Anderson movie, you'll be unsurprised to learn that most of the members of his crew are weird in more ways than one. There's a German who always looks for attention (Willem Dafoe), a wife who might or might not support his decisions (Anjelica Huston), a financial guy who is here because otherwise funding would be impossible (Bud Cort), a reporter who is writing a story whose purpose is undetermined (Cate Blanchett), and a man who turns up right before the voyage and declares that he may or may not be Steve's son (Owen Wilson).

Along this journey, many things will happen that you will both expect and not expect. I will not ruin either, but I will say that there are a couple of action scenes in this film that feel like they're taking place in a dream -- except it turns out they're actually happening, and that's all kinds of awesome. It also made me wonder what type of film we'd get if director Wes Anderson decided to make an actual action film. One can ponder such a thing, I suppose.

Steve Zissou is quite the character, and I mean that in the way that the barber says "he's quite the character, that guy." He's someone almost defined by his persona, who cannot separate the man from the image. He never wanted kids, and now he (maybe) has one. You expect this to possibly change him and open his eyes to ... something. The joys of parenthood, perhaps, or maybe just toning down the eccentric personality. It doesn't really do this, however, proving just how powerful this identity has become in his life.

The characters and dialogue are what make a Wes Anderson movie. In The Royal Tenenbaums, he proved that he could keep a large ensemble cast well-balanced and developed. It's unfortunate that this skill wasn't utilized in this film. The characters are far thinner, and while they're quirky, there isn't much reason for that apart from that being the expected at this point in Anderson's career. Only Steve Zissou manages to have any sense of dimension; everyone else is a caricature, and most aren't memorable and don't feel important because of this.

It's true that the dialogue is still funny, and the situations are ridiculous, but because the don't involve strong characters, they're less enjoyable. There aren't too many laughs scattered throughout The Life Aquatic, which is unfortunate, because some more comedy would have helped the film. In this sense, it's the first true "failure" for Anderson as, at least for me, it didn't provide enough laughs to be considered a successful comedy. Quirkiness for the sake of it isn't inherently funny.

The film does look great, and it has some interesting visual flourishes to ensure that there's always something to look at even if you're not going to be caring a whole lot. There's some stop-motion animation, a film-within-a-film, an a bright color palette. Now, if these had gone to serve a greater purpose, perhaps we'd be talking about a good film. As it is, The Life Aquatic is watchable but not recommendable, if that makes sense. There's no real reason to see it, but also nothing that makes me want to hold anyone back from doing so.

Part of the reason to see it, if you're inclined to do so, is to see the performance turned in by Bill Murray, who creates such a fascinating character and deserves many accolades for this role. Muray has always had good comedic timing, and gets almost all of the laughs in a film that desperately wanted more of them. But his dramatic work and the man he plays with such complexity here is fantastic, and Murray is one of the main reasons that The Life Aquatic remains so watchable.

The other performances are kind of disappointing, especially in contrast to the tour-de-force put on by Murray. Owen Wilson gets the second most screen time, but he does very little with it. His character is bland and he doesn't have much chemistry with Murray, which results in the father-son storyline falling flat. Even Cate Blanchett, usually great, doesn't do a whole lot with what she's given here. It's like the rest of the cast decided to be lackluster in hopes of highlighting Murray.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou isn't necessarily a bad film, but it's not one that's really worth seeking out unless you want to see the entire filmography of Wes Anderson, wish to see one of the better performances of Bill Murray's career, or desire an homage to Jacques Cousteau. It's not a terribly funny or dramatic film, and most of the secondary actors are playing caricatures instead of actual characters. There's no reason to actively avoid the film, but there's also little reason to seek it out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:41 pm

The Darjeeling Limited
After an accident that nearly killed him, Frances Whitman (Owen Wilson) has decided that enough is enough, and that he and his brothers are going to take a spiritual journey in India that will allow for bonding and self-discovery. The other brothers, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are less enthusiastic, but go along with it anywhere. Their brother did almost die, after all.

They wind up going on a train, the "Darjeeling Limited," and get into all sorts of trouble and fun. Add into the equation a foreign country and a trio of individuals who are not too fond of each other, and you've got what seems like a winning combination. Does it make for a particularly fun watch, however? I'm not so sure it does. This is a meandering film, and while that's the intent, it can at times be frustrating. Add into the mix a script that's not particularly funny and "life-changing" revelations that amount to little more than characters simply no longer moping around, and I feel very torn with The Darjeeling Limited.

The tics and quirks are the first things you'll notice about these characters. Francis is the controlling brother, going so far as to order dinner for his siblings and taking their passports so they can't leave. Jack is the hopeless romantic, unable to let go of his ex-girlfriend but also incapable of throwing himself at any woman who crosses his path, like a stewardess named Rita (Amara Karan). Peter is just hopeless, seemingly unhappy at every moment in the film.

The Darjeeling Limited is a pleasant film in that it offers a sightseeing tour of all of the most "spiritual" places in India, or at least the ones that characters knew about and could reach from the train. India here is a backdrop, but it is not used in a way that makes it feel like a crutch. When a film takes place outside of America, there can be a temptation to rely too heavily on the foreign land to capture the attention of the audience. This film remains focused on its characters.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Darjeeling Limited is not anything seen in the film, but a short film made in 2005 titled Hotel Chevalier, which functions as a prequel to the later release. It was shown prior to the film at festivals, but was absent on its initial theatrical release. Instead, those who wanted to view it had to head to the internet. Hotel Chevalier shows Jack and his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) in a hotel room for a dozen minutes. In this short period of time, it creates more interesting characters, fascinating dialogue and conflict than the 90 minutes of The Darjeeling Limited.

I recommend seeing Hotel Chevalier, which will not be hard to track down. It makes Jack a more interesting character, and will allow for you to understand a couple of references, and a Portman cameo, that are scattered throughout the feature film. Unfortunately, it might also make you expect more, and with your expectations relatively high, you're far more likely to be let down. Hotel Chevalier is quite a bit better than The Darjeeling Limited.

However, for all its ambition, The Darjeeling Limited doesn't really have a whole lot to say, and its characters don't really do much growing. Part of the problem is that they're not terribly likable to begin with, but they don't grow in any way that doesn't feel artificial. There's an emotional void in this film; the characters are kept at an arm's length from the audience. Without much laughter and without good characters, there isn't much to watch for in this movie.

The plot also doesn't have clear aims or ambitions, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but if you're hoping for a true narrative, you'll be disappointed or even frustrated. There's not a great deal driving these characters, and the events of the film happen to them, not because of them. They're aimless wanderers trying to find their way in life, so this makes sense, but from a storytelling perspective it's an irritant.

None of this ever stops The Darjeeling Limited from being unwatchable. It's an easygoing watch, and there's not much that will really turn you off from watching it. It's just that there's nothing really to hold your attention, either. You watch a film like this one, you sit and observe its events, and you don't have a bad time but you're also not exactly ecstatic about the experience. It's a very passive watch, meaning you don't have to put in a lot of thought, and you're not going to take a lot from it, but if you want to see some well-shot images of India and some shallow soul-searching, this is as good a film as any to get both of those.

The Darjeeling Limited isn't a bad film, but it's also not one that's worth seeking out, unless you like seeing films set in India. Its characters are lacking, the dialogue isn't revelatory or funny, and saying that the plot meanders is being generous. It's a pleasant film, and it's not going to bore you or make you dislike it, but it's not something that will enhance your life and it's difficult to recommend it. Do watch the short prequel, Hotel Chevalier, which can stand alone and is far better in only a tenth of the time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:40 pm

Fantastic Mr. Fox
It can sometimes be a bad thing when filmmakers hire extremely well-known actors to voice their animated characters. In this case, such talents include George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and Willem Dafoe. The idea here being that if the film is filled with enough talent, we'll forgive any issues with them or the film as a whole. This tactic sometimes works for audiences, but critics generally don't succumb. I mention this because I'd like to make it clear that Fantastic Mr. Fox is (mostly) a great film, and that's not an opinion clouded by the stars.

The story begins with a caper, or more correctly, a series of them. Mr. Fox (Clooney) has been retired from the thievery business for quite some time, but after moving from a hole in the ground to a big tree, he decides to sneak out at night, behind the back of Mrs. Fox (Streep), and rob some farmers of their chickens and apple cider. He claims it will be the "last job," which you'll recognize as a trope from heist movies. This is not at all how the film turns out. I am very glad it didn't take this direction.

Instead, it focuses more on the aftermath of the robberies, which involves a farmer (Michael Gambon) vowing revenge against the fox. A "war" emerges, and after this point I don't even want to begin ruining what you'll get to watch in this movie. There's family drama, quirky characters, a lot of comedy, inspirational speeches, some incredible stop-motion animation -- it's similar to that used by director Wes Anderson in his earlier film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- and a film that is not boring even for one second.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel published in 1970. Thanks to the stop-motion animation, the film version could be quite faithful to the book. There are minor changes here and there, as well as some added scenes to pad the length and increase character depth, but fans of the book should be very pleased with this movie. Those who haven't even heard of the book should be happy, too, because this is a very enjoyable movie, adaptation or not.

It works because it has interesting characters who are not solely defined by their quirks, sharp dialogue, beautiful animation and character models -- the fur is incredibly realistic -- as well as a layer of depth for the parents who are forced into seeing it by their children. This isn't, strictly speaking, a "children's film," and in fact might be a more enjoyable watch if you're over the age of twelve. You'll get much more out of it if you no longer go "look at the pretty foxes" for 90 minutes.

Part of the humor for me came from the way that Fantastic Mr. Fox self-censors. Instead of having the dialogue re-written to account for a PG rating, or bleeping out all of the profanity, the swear words have all been changed to the word "cuss." A scene involving an argument between two characters winds up having the word "cuss" thrown around quite often, and it's hilarious. It's not as smart or ironic as much of the other dialogue, but this technique stood out to me.

It also maintains a theme of the film, and it's characters, being awfully self-aware. That's not a bad thing, and it definitely made me laugh more than once, but these talking, anthropomorphized animals seem to know that we're watching them. They seem deliciously aware that their situations relate to ours. The father-son dynamic, for instance, often gives off the appearance that we're being talked to directly, as if it's being exaggerated for our benefit.

That isn't to say that it doesn't have one, relatively significant problem. In order to talk about this, some ending spoilers will need to be discussed. If you haven't seen the film and don't want some (somewhat minor) plot details spoiler, go watch the film and come back. It's definitely worth seeing, but on a thematic level it's slightly uneven, all thanks to the way that it concludes. This is your warning.

Okay. Through most of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the characters discuss that they're all unique, they're all wild animals, and that we all have to find our place in this world. We're also shown that we shouldn't let bullies -- the farmers -- force us out of our natural habitats. The ending has the characters living in the sewers with access to a supermarket. Neither of these places is the wild animals' natural habitats. It also shows their willingness to be pushed around by people bigger than them. It's true that the irony of the situation -- when we learn that the supermarket is owned by the three farmers -- makes it feel like they're "sticking it to the man," but thematically it contradicts some of the earlier parts of the film.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a really enjoyable film that only starts to break down, thematically, in its final few moments. Irony is put over consistency, and while it's funny it does leave a bad taste in your mouth if you try to think about what the earlier moments in the picture were building toward. Despite this, the characters, dialogue, situations, animation, models, voice work, and sense of humor all make the film worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Nov 19, 2013 3:40 pm

Moonrise Kingdom
It's rare that a film can so perfectly capture a moment in one's lifetime, but that's precisely what Moonrise Kingdom does. Its two leads are unknown child actors, and they play characters who both run away together in an attempt to live together in the wilderness forever. Their age is 12, and there's an innocence they possess that is often unseen. The story involving them is beautiful. It's just too bad that other things, like nasty adults, have to get in the way of their love.

The first of the children is Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphaned boy scout who is disliked by the rest of his troop. A year earlier he sneaked into the girls' changing room at a school play, and met the other lead, Suzy (Kara Hayward), who was a raven. She's a "troubled child," who might be depressed and definitely has anger issues. She carries binoculars with her everywhere. The two became pen pals and decided to run away together. They are in love. It's very sweet. The innocent abandon with which they live their lives makes it this way.

Of course, their disappearances have impacts on the lives of those around them. Led by Edward Norton as Scout Master Randy Ward, the boy scouts get the chance to put the skills they've learned at camp to good use as they search for Sam. On the other side, Suzy's parents, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) team up with the Police Captain (Bruce Willis) to hunt for the young girl. Oh, and the Captain is having an off-screen affair with Laura, which is mentioned only in dialogue.

About half of Moonrise Kingdom is dedicated to following the two children on their adventure. It's the summer of 1965, and anything is possible, or so they think. The film is like a pleasant dream, or perhaps a bedtime story. It doesn't force its ideas upon you, but it presents something with which you can connect and relate, and it will likely put a smile on your face. That it so perfectly captures a moment in a person's life in addition to being such a pleasant watch makes it something definitely worth watching.

Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film, so you pretty much know what you can expect from it. There's a genuine appreciation of the subject matter, a complete lack of cynicism, a shooting and editing style that isn't like most films out there, characters who have more quirks than extremities, funny but sharp dialogue, and a bright, warm color palette. That last point is especially true here, as the sepia filter was used a lot in this movie, which plays in direct contrast with the dark blues and greens of many films nowadays.

Where Moonrise Kingdom starts to falter is when it begins to focus heavily on the adults of the picture. They're much more boring than the children, and there's nothing about them that we haven't seen before. And because they act far more like children than those actually younger than them -- a fact mentioned in the movie -- they come across as kind of pathetic, really. Sure, it's funny, but this is a film that works best when its main objective is to show these children attempting to be together.

It's hard to picture a film like this one being made. It's difficult to picture the production, especially when the scenes that work the best are the ones featuring inexperienced children, who had never previously acted in a motion picture. It takes a real talent behind the camera to make this sort of film work, and that's exactly what we have in Wes Anderson. He's put together a good, if not great, film, and it's something that does what many others are unable to do. Even though it's not a success for its entirety, it's worth seeing because the scenes it gets right, it gets perfectly.

Most of Wes Anderson's films are more intellectually challenging than most comedies out there. They're offbeat, sure, but they're also witty and smart. Moonrise Kingdom isn't made with the brain but with the heart. It's a love letter to childhood, and a period in time when anything can happen, even if it really can't. Even the characters seem aware that this is the last point in their lives when they'll be able to do something like this. It's a fleeting period, and it's kind of sad.

So much hinges on the performance of the two children, who were 12 years of age at the time of filming. There's no forcefulness to their performances; it all feels natural, even with all of the silly and juvenile things they must do. Their love feels real and that's what matters the most. While there are many known names in the adult performances, they're far less important and don't stand out as a result. This is a film all about the kids.

Moonrise Kingdom doesn't work for the entirety of its running time, but you know what? It doesn't matter. When it focuses on its two leading children, it's pretty much a perfect movie. It captures a moment in childhood so well that you can only imagine how its director, Wes Anderson, managed to get into that mindset. At times, it feels like it could be a documentary. However, like what happens to the kids in the film, the adults ruin the fun. I wish we didn't need them in a movie like this.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Nov 20, 2013 4:43 pm

The Starving Games
I get it. The Hunger Games is kind of silly if you look at it from the outside. The clothing and hairstyles that the rich people have, the character names, etc. -- that's all kind of funny and ripe material for a parody. The problem is that the people providing the parody in this case, The Starving Games, are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who have previously directed Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck. I list their list of titles because the snickering you're doing as I read them is more laughter than The Starving Games can generate.

Here's how these films work: The basic plot is used from one movie -- 300, Twilight, The Hunger Games -- and everything is made silly. The parts that were already silly are accentuated. For instance, the lead in this film is named Kantmiss Evershot (Maiara Walsh), which is probably the least humorous play on "Katniss Everdeen" that's I've heard to date. Gale is now Dale (Brant Daugherty). Peeta Mellark is now Peter Malarkey (Cody Christian). Note: These are supposed to be funny.

The film hits most of the important notes of The Hunger Games, despite the main portion of the film only running about 70 minutes. The rest of its 90-minute running time is filled with a gag reel and the credits. There's no time spent for character development or an explanation of the plot or the universe, but then there isn't any need. The film requires that you watch The Hunger Games before it, otherwise there's absolutely no point.

Now, before  you go rent The Hunger Games -- or stream it, because where are the rental stores? -- I'd like to point out that there's no reason to see The Starving Games anyway. I mean, I'll advocate for you to see The Hunger Games any day of the week, as I still believe it's a very enjoyable movie, but it's not worth watching just to do your homework before seeing its spoof. The Starving Games is so devoid of laughs that you're better off forgetting about its existence.

And, no, it's not "so bad it's hilarious" or even "so bad I can get friends together and rip into it for laughs." It's "so bad it probably will ruin the careers of anyone who was in it or watches it." It is devoid of humor and joy. There isn't a single moment of it in which laughter might start to come from your mouth hole. And if you just laughed at "mouth hole," I'd like to make mention that it's in a class above the jokes of The Starving Games. Any joke you can think of in your head right now is better than the highlight of this movie.

Do you know how uncreative The Starving Games is? It has a whole seen joking about Avatar. Avatar! We're in 2013 (although the film's copyright says 2012, which means its 2013 release is to capitalize on Catching Fire)! Who is so stuck in the past that they're still making fun of Avatar? Friedberg and Seltzer, apparently. And they're not even making fun of the parts of Avatar that you should parody. It's lame and incredibly unfunny.

I'd ruin the rest but there's nothing to ruin. There are pop culture references and references to other movies. You will recognize most of it because the film goes for the broadest of audiences. That apparently involves corpses and soon-to-be-corpses put closer to the ground by virtue of having watched this sad excuse of a film. The internet tells me that The Starving Games cost an approximate $4.5 million to produce. I hope it doesn't make back its budget and its filmmakers never work again. That money could have fed a ton of people. Instead, it will just put people off their lunch for a couple of days.

I'll be the first to admit that my taste in comedy isn't exactly the greatest. I laughed a great deal at two recent "failures," Your Highness and That's My Boy. Most people hated those. That should make me a perfect target for this sort of movie, shouldn't it? I didn't even hate Vampires Suck. For shame, I know. But this movie doesn't even hold a candle to those. It's most comparable to The Hangover series, which I consider the worst trilogy in film history, except even the first two of those got a single laugh out of me thanks to Mike Tyson. The Starving Games doesn't even have one.

A good cast could not have saved The Starving Games. The writing has to be at least kind of okay in order for any of the jokes to work. The best acting in the world would have made this movie even sadder. The only actor of note is the lead, Maiara Walsh, if only because she was on Disney shows a few years back. She might have decent comic timing but it can't show through here thanks to the atrocity that its filmmakers called a screenplay.

There isn't a single moment worth watching The Starving Games for. There isn't even a single scene or line that is worth checking out on YouTube. If you pay good money to see this movie you are financing evil. Pure evil. An evil the likes of which hasn't been seen since ... May 2013, when the third Hangover got released. There are no laughs in The Starving Games and even the most devoted film masochists will be disappointed by its waste of money and time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Nov 21, 2013 4:47 pm

Dallas Buyers Club
Based on the purportedly true story, Dallas Buyers Club tells the tale of a man named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who is diagnosed with HIV (and later AIDS), given 30 days to live, and sent on his way. He decides that instead of dying like a normal person, he would seek out the best treatment available, even if that meant seeking out illegal methods. Eventually, he got drugs and vitamins from Mexico, opened up a "club" which would hand out these drugs to other HIV/AIDS patients, and continued living until his eventual death, which was a significant time longer than the doctors predicted.

That's the whole movie, right there. It's based on a true story, so it's not like you can really spoil something like this, can you? It's not going to surprise anyone that a hard-partying man diagnosed with HIV in 1985 is going to die at some point, is it? This is a film about the journey, not about the destination. Knowing how it has to end is ultimately irrelevant. It's about what this one person was able to do with his remaining time.

It's also about completely slamming the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the organization that gets to decide which drugs are able to be prescribed to patients in America. The film begins by making a quick mention that the only drug approved by the FDA is something called AZT, which was never really tested as safe and that it was only approved because of financial reasons, but Dallas Buyers Club doesn't really get into slamming the FDA until it starts to impact Woodroof's business. It's at that point that all of its evil practices are brought to light.

It's kind of amazing just what Ron Woodroof is able to do with himself after getting himself clean, sober, and pumped full of drugs to treat his symptoms instead of make him high. He's not necessarily a good person -- he does this for profit, he's homophobic, and he's not really a nice person -- but he's smart, cunning, and has a will that you have to admire. And the amount that he accomplishes over the film's duration is inspirational.

Perhaps even more impressive is the doctor who winds up treating Woodroof in Mexico, Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who is the one who concocts the cocktail that nurses Woodroof, and hundreds others, back to a semblance of health. He doesn't really get a lot of credit in the film, even though he's the one who makes any of this possible. Woodroof's tale is inspirational and he makes for a far better main character, but none of it is possible without Dr. Vass. Since the film skimps on giving him credit, this paragraph goes out to him.

There are few surprises in Dallas Buyers Club. The only true surprise comes from just how successful the treatment Woodroof takes is. Corporations are always evil, so the movies tell us, so that doesn't come as a shock in this one. There's one "good" doctor, Eve (Jennifer Garner), because there's always one, I guess. This isn't a complicated or complex screenplay but it tells a story that's worth telling.

It is not, however, a terribly emotionally compelling story. You feel inspired after it ends, sure, but there are a few smaller moments when the film really wants you to care and it's just hard to bring yourself to do so. The ancillary characters are so underdeveloped -- the film is focused almost solely on Woodroof, which is a double-edged sword -- that their fate hardly matters. And Woodroof stays alive right up until the end credits; it's only via text that we learn his fate. One character goes through the slow, painful death, but it's not Woodroof and therefore it's tough to care.

Dallas Buyers Club doesn't suffer from poor acting. Far from it. Two of the performances in the film are Oscar-caliber. The first is Matthew McConaughey, who has really turned his career around in the last few years. He'll never be a tremendously deep actor but he has a natural charisma and is a far better actor when playing an intelligent character. Second, we have Jared Leto, who plays a transgender woman, and is unrecognized. You wouldn't know it was him unless you look at the credits or read it online. Both actors lost a significant amount of weight for their roles.

It's a bit of a surprise that a film lacking in plot and supporting cast still manages to move along at a good pace. The film is nearly two hours in length but only starts to drag in the last ten. A couple of scenes maybe could have been trimmed but for the most part, even though the proceedings are similar for much of the story, we're kept entertained. Some of this is helped by a strong sense of humor and lots of it is because of great acting.

Dallas Buyers Club is a great piece of filmmaking. It has great performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, a consistently inspirational story, a damning message against the FDA, and enough humor to keep the tone somewhat light even though the characters' situations are often very grave. It needed more depth to the supporting characters, but all in all it's a film that's well worth seeing. I recommend giving Dallas Buyers Club a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 22, 2013 4:45 pm

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
There are many approaches one can take when creating a sequel. One of the most used is the "bigger is better" theory in which everything that happened in the first installment has to be ramped up in the second. Better action scenes, more dire consequences, etc. -- these are all a part of this philosophy. While I wouldn't say that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire adhered to this idea wholeheartedly, it certainly does feel as if this was partly going through the mind of both the author of the books, Suzanne Collins, and the filmmakers creating this adaptation.

In a lot of ways, Catching Fire is similar to its predecessor. It does eventually have the "Hunger Games" of the movie's title. The Games involve a couple of the same characters. The supporting cast is all the same. The goal, both in and outside of the Games, is to survive. But Catching Fire does take it all a step further. The drama is stronger, the themes are heavier and more thoughtfully addressed, and the action, once it starts, does feel bigger and better. The filmmakers here have one-upped the first film. Its problems have been fixed and few, if any, issues have popped up in their place.

The film once again stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the hero of the first film. She, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), was selected in the first film to compete in the annual Hunger Games, which places two children from each of the 12 Districts this universe has been separated into. There is usually only one winner, but she and Peeta concocted a way for both of them to survive. Now, their tale of survival and defiance has started a mini uprising in the Districts, who are kept oppressed by the Capitol and its President, Snow (Donald Sutherland).

The aim of the Games is to scare all of the Districts, hoping to keep them in that state lest a revolt occur like the one that happened years earlier. In Catching Fire, it's 75 years since that revolution was quelled, and that means new rules for The Hunger Games. This year, former winners will be put back into the Games. Behind the scenes, it's made clear that this is to ensure Katniss and Peeta both die.

It takes the film a long time to re-establish its universe, the participants, and hammer home some of its themes, like its constant dialogue between hope and fear. It's in the first hour and a half -- I'd wager; I was too engrossed to look at a watch -- that all of this drama and building up occurs. There's no action. We see how all the killing affected the two survivors. Katniss has some sort of PTSD. It's kind of heartbreaking to watch both her and Peeta then be forced to compete again just to survive.

Eventually, we do get to The Hunger Games. Instead of a rather dull forest, we're given a dome filled with a lush rainforest, a ton of hazards, and a beach. And, unlike the first film, the action -- and the whole film, but it became particularly problematic during the action -- isn't filmed with a continually and distractingly handheld camera. No shaky-cam, in other words. The cinematography is clearer and doesn't hide the action.

We're given more interesting secondary characters, too, at least once we're in the games. The old favorites from the last film return for outsider roles -- mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), effervescent Effie (Elizabeth Banks), costume designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Hunger Games host Caeser Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) -- but inside the Games come new characters. Katniss and Peeta even team up with them. Listing them might be pointless, but they have unique, easily distinguishable personalities, and you'll be able to remember them more than anyone not named "Rue" from the first film's secondary Games cast.

The casting, like in The Hunger Games, is wonderful. Jennifer Lawrence continues to shine as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson shows a soft side as Peeta, and the other actors I've mentioned are all veterans and do a great job with their roles. Newcomers to the series include: Philip Seymour Hoffman (no, really) as the new gamemaker; Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as two nerdy contestants; Sam Claflin as Finnick, one of Katniss and Peeta's allies; Lynn Cohen as an old woman who volunteers in place of Finnick's lover; and Jenna Malone as an angry contestant who wields an ax and might just be crazy.

If Catching Fire has a problem it's one that originates from its source material and couldn't be rectified by the film, regardless of quality. It feels like a middle chapter, like it's biding time until the actual revolution from the next book. It lays the groundwork wonderfully and is entertaining in its own right, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it's inconclusive and that all of the really fun stuff is still to come.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a refined version of its predecessor. It's slightly stronger dramatically, touches slightly heavier on its main themes, has a bit better action, is far better shot, and is as wonderfully acted as ever. It's a step up and a better movie, even though it can't overcome the inherent problem of being the "middle film" -- a time-killer.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Nov 23, 2013 4:42 pm

The Avengers
In the 1960s, a British television series, The Avengers, played and was relatively popular. It had spies and saving the world, and was relatively popular. It's odd that an adaptation would be made in 1998, but that's what happened here. Fans of the original series will probably not be too pleased with what has been created, while those who never saw it might have a little bit of fun with this silly and polite movie.

In case you're going to be confused at all about tone, just think about a scene later on in the film, when Sean Connery has a meeting while dressed in a teddy bear suit while addressing other men dressed in similar suits, all of varying colors. I kid you not when I say that this is a thing that happens in this movie, and it's absolutely hilarious. The tone is incredibly light and humorous, and it's kind of difficult to get mad at the film because of this. It's tough to determine where genuine faults stop and become part of the joke. Or perhaps it's just bad, and all of this silliness isn't intentional at all.

In our opening scene, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) beats up a few people who try to attack him. It turns out this was all a test, as he's a secret agent. He is paired up with Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman), a scientist, in an attempt to stop Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery) from destroying the world with a weather machine. Or, it was something like that. The weather is being altered by De Wynter and the duo has to stop that from happening. Motivation beyond that is largely unimportant -- something the film also believes, as it never stops to explain anything.

We essentially spend most of the film moving from set piece to set piece, action scenes to action scenes, and polite conversation over tea to ... more action scenes, in all honesty. Sometimes we don't even leave the action to have tea, as, if the movie is to be believed, it seems to be the primary activity for anyone British. If anyone has to talk to another character for more than two minutes, you can bet the tea will be out and ready for consumption.

It's things like this that make me think The Avengers is not meant to be taken even remotely seriously. No grownup could unironically have their characters do some of these things, right? The polite dialogue fits right in to the silly tone, too. Most movies would have a character grunt or swear, while this one has proper sentences which are enunciated perfectly. There are a great deal of times where you'll be laughing at what's presented on-screen, and it's either brilliance or horrible filmmaking on the part of director Jeremiah S. Chechik. Believe what you want.

A lot of people are going to compare The Avengers to the original television series. Or, they would if they've seen it. I hear it's a cult series nowadays, so perhaps it has more people catching it on home video than would have seen it during its initial run. I don't think these comparisons are necessarily fair -- these people are doing their own thing with the source material, not making a continuation -- but they'll be there anyway. If you love the original series, you're unlikely to enjoy this; if you want a silly B-movie to laugh with, perhaps it's worth checking out.

It actually does have some decent action, and one scene in particular -- in which Dr. Peel is trapped in a trap straight out of the mind of M.C. Escher -- is so visually captivating that I wish it would have gone on forever. Or, at least, longer than it did. There are some standout moments in The Avengers, some of which are good because of the filmmakers' talent while some are good because they'll make you laugh.

If there's one main weakness, it's in the acting. That might sound surprising given the talent featured on-screen, but somehow all three of the actors I've already mentioned are dull and boring. Fiennes doesn't so much as crack a smile, despite much of his dialogue involving one-liners shot back and forth with Uma Thurman, who is sultry but nothing more. Connery laughs a bunch because he knows he's getting paid, but as a villain he falls flat.

The plot never really makes sense, either. I'm sure there are lots of plot holes to point out and most of the reason for everything happening makes no sense, but that's part of the fun with these kinds of movies, isn't it? Of course, if this sort of thing irritates you instead of making you laugh, you won't have any fun with The Avengers, but then, you're probably the type of cynical person who doesn't enjoy movies like this one anyway. That, or you like good movies, which I'm not sure The Avengers is.

I'm confused by The Avengers. It's a silly, over-the-top spy movie about a man and a woman trying to stop another man from controlling the weather and therefore the world. It's full of terrible plotting, poor acting, a flippant and light tone, and is impossible to take seriously. But how much of this was intentional? Did the filmmakers aim to make this movie, or did it grow out of a lack of talent, time, or other reasons? I laughed a lot during The Avengers and it passed the time quickly. It wasn't good but it was certainly watchable.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Nov 24, 2013 3:17 pm

Taken 2
In 2008, Taken was released and was a surprise hit, grossing millions and millions of dollars at the box office and received relatively good reviews from critics. I quite liked it. It was a simple revenge thriller which had Liam Neeson tracking down some people who kidnapped his movie-daughter, played by Maggie Grace. It had some family bonding, it touched on issues such as human trafficking, and it delivered thrilling and competent action that moved at a quick pace and didn't linger -- Taken played for just over 90 minutes.

It was no surprise that Taken got a sequel. What is a bit of shock is that it took four years for such a sequel to come to fruition. Perhaps the rather lengthy wait was so that some of us would forget many of the scenes and plot points of the first film, meaning that they could be reused in the sequel. Taken 2 feels a lot like the original, containing the same basic premise, a bare minimum amount of plot, and enough thrills to get by. Taken 2 isn't a bad film, and on the whole I enjoyed it, but it's not original and I don't recommend watching Taken right before it, as you're likely to get bored.

The film once again stars Liam Neeson, playing a retired CIA operative named Bryan Mills. His daughter, Kim (Grace), and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), are the other good characters who matter. The only villain with any more than a couple of lines of dialogue is a man named Murad (Rade Serbedzija). He's the antagonist, and the father of the main villain in the first film. He's now the one wanting revenge, after having to bury not only his son, but also a dozen or so unnamed henchmen, all of whom were brutally killed by Mr. Mills in the first Taken.

Isn't it nice to see mention be made to the dozens of people who died in the earlier movie? That doesn't happen much in film; the unnamed characters don't even get a second glance after the hero takes them out. Here, the whole point of the villain's evil scheme is to make the protagonist pay for the actions he performed -- and we rooted for -- in the first film.

Anyway, Mills and his ex-wife are eventually captured, while Kim is left in an Istanbul hotel, all alone, and with people chasing her. From here, the film is a collection of fist-fights, chases, and shootouts. And family bonding, which is almost more entertaining than all of the action I just mentioned. In a different world, there would be a drama made about a paranoid ex-CIA agent, an ex-wife whose new husband is a dirtbag, and a teenager finding her way in the world while dealing with both of these influences. Maybe Taken 3 will explore these elements in more detail.

What you want is more of the dumb action of the first Taken. That is mostly what you get here. There's nothing extra this time around -- the human trafficking made for an interesting subplot in the first film; there isn't an equivalent in Taken 2 -- there's just good, old-fashioned action. Or, new-fashioned action, as most of the action scenes are chopped into so many shots that you'll sometimes have a hard time going on. Thanks, Bourne.

I don't remember that being an issue in Taken, although perhaps time has made a fool of me, and I've just forgotten because of the overall impression I have in my head of that movie. It's particularly noticeable in this one during the hand-to-hand combat scenes, where we get a cut every time a character makes a move. Combine that with the shaky-cam and many different angles, and it's tough to remain completely aware of exactly who's doing what to whom. It's not incoherent, but it's more difficult to follow than it should be.

There are several improbable but immensely fascinating scenes in Taken 2. One involves a telephone conversation in which Bryan instructs Kim on how to locate him. It involves a map, string, and grenades. Bryan must have been the best CIA operative ever, if these movies are any indication. He's impervious to damage, incredibly intelligent, has great hearing, and even at an advanced age, can move around better than most. How did the CIA allow him to retire and live a normal life?

If nothing else, the film remains watchable at all times because of this character and the charm that Liam Neeson has in the leading role. It's nice to see an older actor take an action film like this one seriously -- especially with how silly it all actually is -- and he can certainly handle himself in the action scenes. Or, I'm sure he would if we ever saw him do anything during these sequences. These films are not about the villains or the rest of the family; it's about Liam Neeson outsmarting and beating up evil foreigners.

Is Taken 2 as good as the original? No. Is it still pretty fun because it has lots of action and Liam Neeson? Of course it is. It's the type of film you can watch without thinking very hard, and it will surely entertain for 90 minutes as long as you haven't seen the first one recently, as it's pretty much just more of the same. And, as long as Neeson is still game, I'd be totally okay with another one. Let's explore more about this family next time, though.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:41 pm

Mallrats
Two men -- young men -- lose their girlfriends on the same day, for much the same reason. Both of the girlfriends thought that the men didn't spend enough time with them, that they were too into their video games and comic books, and so on. These men, being "mature" college students, do what anyone their age would do: they head to the mall to hang out for the entirety of the day. Apparently, that's what the girlfriends do, too, and so does everyone else who matters in each character's life. This mall must really be an important place.

The men: T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee). The girlfriends: Brandi (Claire Forlani) and Rene (Shannen Doherty). The plot: the men will sulk and then eventually (1) try to get back with their girlfriends, (2) try to sabotage a game show which happens to be taking place that very same day and (3) meet Stan Lee. They also get to aimlessly wander the mall, see silly and weird events, and have intelligent discussions about topics which don't require such levels of intelligence, because that's what fanboys and nerds do.

I don't mean that as a condemnation, but it's how the film portrays them. Incredibly meaningful discussions take place over things that most people won't even think about. Does the cookie shop on the second floor of the mall court as part of the food court, even if the rest of the food court is on the lower level? That's the conversation that stood out to me. Being a Kevin Smith movie, the dialogue is lots of fun to listen to, and it sounds natural; you can tell that Smith has been there.

There are a whole host of wacky supporting characters for the leads to encounter as they hang out at the mall. It would be pointless to try to describe them all, especially because so many of them are used for a joke and then thrown away until we've forgotten about them long enough that the same type of joke will once again be funny. I'm not sure how successful that is. How enjoyable is it to watch one man stare at a poster for hours, looking for a hidden image, while passers-by look at the poster for a couple of seconds and see that very image?

Fans of Kevin Smith's first movie, Clerks, will be happy to hear that two of the characters from that film return. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) are back, and they're once again up to no good. Or, at least, they're not for anyone but our heroes. They get some funny lines and actions but are far less memorable this time around, even if they might be more crucial to the plot. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but, to quote the least meaningful sports cliché, it is how it is.

Truth be told, there's not a whole lot to talk about when it comes to Mallrats, because it has little ambition, little to say, and simply wants to make us laugh and possibly believe in true love. Its characters idle around waiting for the plot to hit them, the jokes are there and relatively constant, and Smith remains a competent director and a pretty great writer. His dialogue and character moments remain the highlights, both in terms of showing truth on-screen and making the audience laugh.

Perhaps the problem with Mallrats is that, despite how much time we spend with the lead characters, they're so juvenile that you kind of hope they don't manage to win back the hearts of their girlfriends. One character tells T.S. that his ex-girlfriend can do better, and that's correct. When we're almost rooting against the protagonists, this puts us in a rather awkward position. It diminishes any drama and makes the film unenjoyable to watch, especially without any character growth to change our opinion.

And there's none of that in this movie. Apart from the artificial "growing up" that the two men do -- which feels forced and comes mostly from out of nowhere -- there's no development or depth to anyone in the picture. It's like Smith came up with some characters, possibly based on either himself or people he knew/knows, but couldn't imagine how they should grow so he left them alone to aimlessly wander the mall. I get that it's one day in their lives, but a lot of change can occur in one day.

Mallrats is a funny little film about a couple of nerds who break up with their girlfriends and then try to win back their hearts, all while spending a day wandering the local mall and encountering silly supporting characters. It's enjoyable but it does little to make you feel, think, or even care. It's not boring, mind, but it's not especially worth seeing, either. The laugh-per-minute ratio is fine, and if that's all you're looking for you won't be disappointed, but if you want a film with a little more meat on its bones, you'll want to search somewhere else.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:45 pm

Evil Dead
In 1981, director Sam Raimi and a crew of amateur filmmakers and actors created The Evil Dead, which has since gone on to be a cult classic. It spawned a goofier remake/sequel, a genuine sequel, and now a remake. Watching the original film now is a bit of a funny experience, as the incredibly low budget and rawness of talent filled it with unintentional laughs and a ton of energy. The remake -- produced by many of the people who worked on the first one -- is a straight-up horror film and likely what was intended by the filmmakers over three decades earlier.

You know the story, or at least you should by now. A bunch of teenagers head to a cabin in the woods, one of them unleashes a demon by reading from the Book of the Dead -- and not the cool one from The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption -- and then the demon tries to find ways to kill them all. Blood, gore, vomit, and a ton of other fluids get spilled on the actors, limbs are cut or ripped off, bodies are inhabited by an evil spirit, and a good time is had by all ... of the audience members, who enjoy seeing these characters put through a living hell for some reason. That's the hope, anyway.

If you were to ask me the names of the characters, I don't think I'd be able to tell you who they are. I could look it up, but then so can you. There are three girls and two boys, and there are relationships between them. Two are siblings, two are friends, and the others are significant others. One of them is trying to fix her heroin addiction by cutting it out cold turkey and holding up in the cabin, while the rest are here for moral support. Nobody planned on what happened next.

Assuming you haven't seen The Evil Dead or any of the other numerous "Cabin in the Woods" movies -- including Cabin in the Woods -- you'll find a lot to like about this Evil Dead remake. It has buckets of blood, a few gross-out scenes, a decent sense of atmosphere, and a couple of genuine scares. It moves at a decent pace -- after the first 20 minutes the rest of the film is in fight-the-demon-and-survive mode  -- and it will feel new and fresh to you.

The problem comes from it not feeling anywhere near fresh if you've seen more than a couple of these before. The Evil Dead was released more than 30 years earlier and back then actually was a somewhat new idea. We hadn't seen dozens of films using the same basic premise. Fast forward to 2013 and we have. Making a straight-faced horror movie about a group of teenagers being terrorized in a cabin in the woods from which they cannot escape isn't a novel idea anymore; it has become a cliché.

The film, as a result, becomes predictable. It's easy to see exactly which direction it's going to take at every turn, and even the few twists -- they're more like slight misdirections -- are incredibly easy to figure out. There are a couple of fan-service nods to the original, including a guessing game in regard to who will become the new "Ash," but most of the material here is too easy. It's not creative and it's missing an energetic spark.

The characters are also quite bland and while you won't have any trouble telling them apart -- hair color helps here -- you will struggle to remember names, who's dating whom, and why they're all so annoying. Granted, strong characters aren't essential to a film like this one, but when it can't hold an audience's attention with its scares and kills, they wouldn't hurt.

Perhaps one might look to the numerous points when director Fede Alvarez throws in a nod to the original two films, or just directly takes a scene or two and inaudibly says "remember that?" There are a few moments that are ripped straight from The Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2. Sometimes, it's just a prop or a line of dialogue. If you are a fan of Raimi's trilogy, you'll get something out of the film in this aspect, but you're also likely going to wind up bored for a good chunk of it. The film isn't bad or incompetent, but it's just another "cabin in the woods" movie that can't be saved by references to its predecessors.

The only actor who puts in genuinely good work is Jane Levy, whose Mia -- I looked it up -- goes through several transformations throughout the film. Levy does a good job with all of them. Perhaps even more impressive is the crew doing all the makeup and practical effects; they're the real stars of the film. Evil Dead looks great and it did seem like most of it was done without the help of CGI, which is usually something to praise, and I suppose keeps it in the spirit of the original.

Evil Dead isn't a bad movie but it's not as inspired, creative, or energetic as the original. As a result, it will bore audiences who have seen more than a couple of these "cabin in the woods" films before. If you haven't, and you're looking for a modern introduction to the sub-genre, this isn't a bad way to start. It has a strong sense of atmosphere, a couple of good scares, lots of gross-out moments, and -- for fans only -- references and nods to the original that will make you smile. I wish it was more enjoyable, but it'll do the job for most people out there.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Nov 27, 2013 4:14 pm

Homefront
I can't remember the last Jason Statham-led movie I saw that had the lead (1) smiling, (2) being a father, and (3) only getting a handful of action scenes. Homefront, which interestingly enough has been written by Sylvester Stallone and was at one time going to be a Rambo sequel, is all of this. Sure, many of the Statham formula points are here -- whether they were included before or after he was cast is something we'll never learn -- but this is a more dramatic film than you'd generally expect given the casting.

Statham plays ex-DEA agent Phil Broker, who has moved to Louisiana after his wife passed away. He has a daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), and he does odd jobs to pass the time and pay the bills, although he doesn't ever seem to be hurting for money. In an early scene, Maddy beats up the school bully. Later at the school, the bully's father tries to cheap-shot Phil, only to be knocked on his behind. This is a family you don't mess with, we learn, so that's exactly what the small town -- as a collective, it almost feels like -- decides to do.

The bully's mother, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), asks her meth-cooking brother, Gator (James Franco), to scare the Broker household. A stuffed rabbit is ripped up, a cat is kidnapped, and a tire is slashed. It doesn't stop there, and before the film ends a miniature home invasion will be staged, Maddy will be kidnapped, we'll have a car chase, a couple of shootouts, and what was initially interested more in the feuds and lifestyle of small town residents -- and meth-addicts -- will have degenerated into what you'd expect from a Jason Statham movie.

What's I find fascinating about Homefront is how much better it works as a crime drama than as an action-thriller. The build-up and exploration of this town, its residents and the politics by which they're governed is far more enjoyable to watch than Jason Statham beating guys up. For the first hour or so, there are only a couple of small action scene -- and they're just fist fights, save for the opening action scene which is like the obligatory kill in a slasher movie, even if it does wind up mattering plot-wise later on. It doesn't get explosive until the last half hour.

This slower beginning gives us time to get to know these characters. Maddy and her father share a few early scenes and you can actually by Statham as a caring dad. I was shocked, too. The supporting cast isn't as cut-and-dry as they initially appear. While there aren't any big surprises, there are a couple of character turns that at least partially redeem previously bad characters, or potentially condemn good ones. There's more depth to the cast than you'd expect.

So, we get to be invested, at least somewhat, in these characters, and then we get to see them shoot it out in the finale. That's about it. Apart from the moderate amount of commentary on this type of town that you've already seen ... in every movie about small towns that happen to have a drug dealer, there isn't a whole lot of depth to Homefront. It all works kind of the way that crackers and cheese works. It's tasty and you can have it for a long time before it gets tiresome, but there's nothing more to it than the cracker and the piece of cheese.

And, yes, you've seen a lot of this movie before. You've seen families tormented by other people for no reason, you've seen drug dealers go a little bit loopy, and you've seen the Sons of Anarchy show up to shoot up a house owned by a character being played by Jason Statham. Okay, maybe you haven't seen the last one, but you have seen gangs show up at a house only to be shown who truly is the toughest guy in the room.

Homefront is wonderfully cast. Jason Statham could play this role in his sleep if it was just a "beat up everyone" movie, but with its slow build and the amount of actual dramatic acting he has to do, I think we can call this "stretching" for him. James Franco gets to ham it up as the main villain. While he's not quite as insane as Spring Breakers' Alien, he's playing on a similar plane here and he does a fine job at it.

When it comes to the women, the most surprising performance comes from Kate Bosworth. She doesn't get roles like this one, but her methed-out character is a lot of fun. Her character arc is also the most interesting of everyone, and she doesn't use the meth addiction as a crutch to generate sympathy or disdain; it's simply an element of her character. Izabela Vidovic plays the too-smart-and-mature-to-be-real movie kid well, Winona Ryder is ... there as the girlfriend to the Franco character, and Rachelle Lefevre is also just sort of there, playing a semi-love interest for Statham but really not doing a whole lot.

Homefront could have been another Jason-Statham-beats-everyone-up movie, but its slow build and surprisingly layered characters elevates it slightly above that. In fact, the pure action the concludes the film is actually the least entertaining part about it. All of the build-up and character and town exploration is far more worth our time. A strong location and good characters makes Homefront an exciting movie.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:08 pm

Oldboy
Over the decade since its release, Park Chan-wook's Oldboy has become a critic and fan favorite the world over. While it might not be a mainstream picture, those who wound up seeing it largely liked it. If you've seen it, you have no reason to see Spike Lee's 2013 remake. If you disliked the original, this one isn't going to change your mind. If you enjoyed the South Korean version, you've seen this material before and the American version doesn't really deviate from that.

The film follows marketing executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) who begins the film as -- calling him "flawed" doesn't really do him justice. He's an alcoholic jerk who treats everyone like dirt and won't even both attending his daughter's birthday. One night, he is taken off the street. He wakes up in what seems like a hotel room, thinking it was just the result of one of his drunken stupors. Turns out, he's been kidnapped. He will remain in this prison for the next 20 years. He is given no communication with the outside world, save for a television which at more than one moment tells him his ex-wife was murdered, he is blamed for the act, and that his daughter winds up in foster care.

These 20 years pass in about 30 minutes for us. During his imprisonment, Joe beats his alcoholism, gets in very good shape, starts chronicling his stay in letters he plans to deliver to his daughter, and tries to think of a way to escape. One day, he wakes up in a briefcase in a field. He has a cell phone, some money, and sunglasses. He vows to find the person who did this to him.

It winds up working the other way around. Adrian Pryce (Sharlto Copley) finds him and gives him an ultimatum -- this is different from the original: If Joe can answer two questions -- who is Adrian (Joe isn't told) and why was Joe imprisoned? -- in approximately two days, Adrian will hand over (1) tape of the murder, (2) a signed confession that Adrian did it, not Joe, (3) a briefcase full of diamonds worth $20 million, (4) Joe's captured daughter, and, finally, (5) Joe will also get to watch Adrian commit suicide.

So, Joe is on a quest not necessarily for revenge, but for answers, his old life back, and ... money, actually. The money is what receives the most focus after the return of his daughter. The whole subplot about how Joe was framed for his wife's murder is basically forgotten about. For a lot of the film Joe is so poorly motivated that you have to think back to this ultimatum in order to remember why he's doing any of this. Without that focus on revenge, Oldboy loses some of its impact. He almost seems content to remain a "fugitive" -- nobody's looking for him anyway; they all think he's dead -- and run away with a medical worker he meets, Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), who acts as his partner in looking for clues and also as the love interest.

And with so much of the film taking place before this ultimatum is issued, the mystery element winds up being far more rushed than it should. We spend more time locked up with Joe than in the original, which means there's less time for him to figure everything out. There's apparently a three-hour cut of this film, and that's one I'd like to see. At just over 100 minutes, the movie feels far too short and underdeveloped.

With that said, the original managed to balance all of this with a two-hour running time, and it was delved far further into the protagonist's psyche. It was also more mysterious and didn't feel like it was handing the audience all of the answers. Spike Lee's version seems to want to over-explain anything that people might be confused about. As a result, it feels dumbed down.

Oldboy is not without its strengths. The somewhat famous hallway scene from the original film is bigger and somehow more violent -- although I wouldn't say it's more impressive; it actually feels out of place given it's stylistic while the rest of the film really isn't. It's never boring, either, which is a bonus. It starts out really well, too, and you can really buy the transformation Joe undertakes given how long we stay with him in solitary. That level of depth isn't kept throughout, unfortunately. And the character who watches over the prison (played in this version by Samuel L. Jackson) is given a slightly expanded role.

Josh Brolin is very intense in the lead role. He made for a strong protagonist and I enjoyed watching him. Elizabeth Olsen isn't given a whole lot to do as his sidekick and love interest, which is a shame. Her character gets more screen time here than in the original -- she even has a real back story and everything -- but mostly she just sits in the background and exists for Brolin to bounce exposition off. Sharlto Copley doesn't take a serious approach to the villain role, although he is kind of fun to watch.

At the end of it all, I find myself asking "What's the point?" The remake doesn't bring anything new to the table. What it does is be a slightly dumbed-down, less poignant version of a film we've already seen. It's more accessible, I suppose, but this material is already pretty perverse; if you're going to see it, you should go all the way and watch the original.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Nov 29, 2013 4:40 pm

Virginia
An odd, inconsistent picture, Virginia is a film with too many ideas and not enough coherency to bring them all together. There's obviously something on the mind of the film's writer-director, Dustin Lance Black, but discerning exactly what is going to challenge even the most astute viewers. What you get out of it might be a glimpse into the life of a small town in America, which might just be good enough, assuming you take the residents as seriously as the filmmaker does.

The title character is Virginia (Jennifer Connelly), a schizophrenic, chain-smoking mother who is engaged in a long-standing affair with the town sheriff,a Mormon family man named Dick (Ed Harris). Her son, Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson), doesn't know who his real father is, although everyone suspects that it's Dick. Dick is planning on running for state Senate, which means the frequent stops to Virginia's house, along with her "pregnancy" -- we know it's faked but nobody else does -- inconvenient. Dick has a daughter, Jessie (Emma Roberts), who is liked by Emmett, despite the adults deciding the two cannot be together.

Four character in, and you likely already have an understanding of the type of juggling act attempted by Black. There are a few more prominent characters, too, and some of them are so silly that you can't help but laugh at their actions. But to them, everything is as serious as the most deadpan person in the room. Only rarely do the characters laugh, and it isn't often that the film urges us to laugh at them. They are important and the film does not want to discredit them even a little.

This is a decision which occasionally doesn't factor in, because there are scenes here and there where the tone changes from serious to funny. The characters almost perform skits, the music turns from solemn to happy, and a warmer color palette sneaks in. But it's one scene and done, and then we're back to the more grim experience that is the rest of the film. These moments pop up every now and then, and while individually they might be fine scenes, they detract from the overall experience by completely messing with the tone.

Some things happen without any explanation or character motivation. Why, despite hacking up a lung every few minutes and being told that "something is growing on your lung," does Virginia both (1) refuse treatment and (2) continue smoking cigarettes at any chance she gets. If there's one thing I'll personally take out of Virginia, it's the anti-smoking message it has. You can blame her mental illness if you want, but that's lazy, isn't it?

The film also opens with one of its final scenes, and then rewinds back a year, leading us up to the point we see earlier. Except it doesn't quite do that, because it misleads us right off the bat. You're not actually seeing what you think you're seeing, and that's going to lead to some audience frustration. We've seen this type of thing before in films, but when the overall product isn't terribly good anyway, it really stands out. The ending is powerful, but there was no reason for this opening scene to cheat (or even for the film to begin that way).

Part of me wants to ignore the scattered plot, silly characters, tonal inconsistencies and murky ideas because Virginia is an original and seemingly personal film. It takes chances and risks, and it should be applauded for that. That it fails primarily because it isn't sure how to balance everything at once is a shame, but it comes mostly out of ambition outweighing talent and experience, not because it wasn't worth making.

This is the type of film that is an actor's dream. It allows for raw, inspired performances. To that end, Jennifer Connelly delivers in spades. She largely downplays the mental illness aspect to her character -- she's not "quirky" due to her schizophrenia -- but it does affect her, and there are several important scenes that she nails. Whatever flaws Virginia has, its lead actress isn't one of them. In fact, I kind of wish the focus was solely on her, instead of the multitude of supporting and secondary characters.

Ed Harris works perfectly as the sheriff, playing a character of hypocrisy and contradiction. He moves back and forth between a man of comfort and quiet to one of pure rage, and he makes both sides to his character's personality believable. Just as much of a main character is  the one played by Harrison Gilbertson, and while he's a good enough actor, he can't compete with these veterans. And, as an aside, just who is he talking to when his narration appears? Virginia is speaking to a man -- the film makes that clear -- but sometimes her son has voice-over narration, too, and it's never explained why or who he's talking to.

Virginia might not be a good film, but ambition and a talented cast can help you overcome a lot of problems. It's a film that has some great acting, and a lot of ideas, even if many of those ideas are muddled in the plot and tone presented to us by writer-director Dustin Lance Black. It's not necessarily worth watching, but if you want something different, you might just find it to be something to check out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Nov 30, 2013 4:42 pm

Dare
Perhaps by virtue simply of its title, Dare had to be something different. You can't name your film "Dare" and then have it not take chances, and this film certainly doesn't play it safe. This is a risky project, taking the generic teen coming-of-age/romance story and doing something different with it. In this case, that means creating three interesting characters, putting them in an odd situation, and seeing how they grow from it -- if they grow at all.

There are three lead characters, all very different, and all getting their turn in the sun. The plot is linear but the perspective is changed at each third that is reached. We begin with one character as the protagonist, but once he or she gets about 30 minutes, we change perspective to one of the others. I suppose the most logical way would be to describe the characters in order of their chance to be the story's focus.

First up is Alexa (Emmy Rossum), a good girl who gets told she can't be an actress because she hasn't experienced anything negative in her life. Second is Ben (Ashley Springer), an outsider who is friends with nobody but Alexa and may or may not be a closeted homosexual. Finally, there's Johnny (Zach Gilford), a seemingly typical popular jock, but with more hidden feelings than anyone else in the film. The relationship that develops between these three is at once surprisingly complex and devastating. By the time Dare ends, you're unlikely to be quite sure of what you watched, but you will know it was a different take on this subject matter.

Part of Dare's power comes from the way it manages to craft out these characters and their motivations. How much of what they're doing is because of genuine affection for the other characters? How much is done in hopes of selfishly becoming someone else? Does one's identity -- both sexual and non-sexual -- get lost in this sort of quest? What even is one's identity? You ponder these things as the film plays and while you might not always get straight answers, the questions will be raised and you'll be thinking. When is the last time you saw a teen movie that made you think?

Dare has been directed by Adam Salky and written by David Brind, and it's based on a short film they released four years earlier of the same name. Together, they have created a fascinating film. Sure, the fact that it explores topics that are actually important to teens -- and adults, for that matter -- is important, but it's also just an entertaining film. It's never dull, in part because of the perspective changes which allow for moments of revelation and further intrigue.

I feel as though parts of Dare were missing or trimmed for running time efficiency. A couple of character transformations happened too quickly to be believable. Alexa's initial change near the beginning -- prompted by a discussion with Alan Cumming in a cameo role playing a theatrical actor -- is almost instantaneous, and it would have been nice to see her struggle to adapt a persona she never previously had. Likewise, after Ben's "coming out" scene, he seems perfectly comfortable as an openly gay man. It's all too quick to be truly realistic.

Without wanting to ruin where the film eventually takes the relationship of these three characters -- and it likely doesn't go where you think it will -- I'll say only that while I watched it I felt as if this wouldn't be able to happen, but after reflecting on it later it made perfect sense given the characters and their personalities. Implausibility becomes possible or even likely if the characters are developed well enough for you to understand where they're coming from. That's where Dare shines.

You might have motivational confusion while it plays, but that will be rectified after it ends. You'll have learned things you didn't previously know and it will (mostly) make sense. Some confusion and ambiguity might still exist, but then you'll just have to think about the characters then, won't you? And aren't teenagers confused a great deal of the time, too? I'd wager that feeling rubbing off on the audience isn't a coincidence.

When Dare does start to go off-track, at least two of the actors keep it easily watchable. Buying in whole-heartedly to its premise are Zach Gilford and Emmy Rossum. The subtle transformations they have to show as the film progresses, along with a surprising emotional depth from each of them, are top-notch. And that's not to take anything away from Ashley Springer -- he's just not quite on the same level. Supporting roles go to Ana Gasteyer and Rooney Mara, while cameos are given to Sandra Bernhard and the aforementioned Alan Cumming.

Dare is a fascinating movie which will raise many questions, some of which it won't -- and doesn't need to -- answer. Its plot is told in an interesting and subversive manner, its characters are well-defined and develop strongly over its duration, and its actors are committed to the idea the filmmakers want to convey. I wanted more, and that's almost always a good sign. It doesn't play things safe, and that works to its advantage. More movies should follow that lead.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Dec 01, 2013 4:41 pm

Easy Virtue
At its best, Easy Virtue is a fun little movie. I say this, but it only reaches this level for about 20 minutes of its 96-minute running time. That's too bad, because when it's right, it's quite good. The tedium surrounding this short period is what makes for a bit of a drag. However, it can also be said that it never gets bad enough to stop being watchable, which I suppose is some sort of praise.

The film begins with style, and continues that trend throughout. We learn that an American race car driver, Larita (Jessica Biel), has recently married an Englishman, John (Ben Barnes), who lives in a mansion in the countryside. This is the 1920s, so such a thing wasn't commonplace. He's a wealthy man who has enjoyed an easy life, while she is the opposite. The dichotomy between these two types of lives -- and by extension, the cultures of Americans and Brits -- is one of the driving forces of the film. John's family doesn't approve of his marriage to Larita, so she has to try to fit in, even though she vehemently disagrees with many of their practices. The back-and-forth exchanges are some of the film's highlights.

This accounts for both exchanges of dialogue and actions. The best stretch of Easy Virtue involves Larita's rebellion in the face of John's mother, Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is the most outspoken member of her cynics. One initially assumes that it's jealousy which fuels her disdain for John's new wife -- the overbearing, can't-live-without-her-son, type of mother is a well-established trope -- but we later learn the character is deeper than that.

The tone of the movie is clearly comedic, although it's a slightly witty comedy that requires a bit more thought than one might initially think. There's a social criticism aspect, too, which treats the crude foreigner, Larita, as an invader to an old-fashioned way of life. And yet there are some scenes played completely for laughs, and a warm, light approach to a few specific moments that seem out of place. It's inconsistent, and while this is very clearly intentional, I couldn't see a specific reason for that decision.

Perhaps it's a case of the play, upon which Easy Virtue is based -- although there are many differences in the two products -- having the same sort of problems. It was written in 1924, and was made into an earlier film by Alfred Hitchcock just four years later. Until this version, it has remained unfilmed since the Hitchcock version. If the basic story sounds interesting to you, check out the earlier film before this one, just for a bit of history. It will also be worth seeing because there's no retrospect to taint the vision; it came out so soon after the play, and was set during the time it was created, that cynicism could not taint it.

That's not to say that I think Easy Virtue is necessarily cynical, but there's an edge to it that you won't find in the 1928 picture. The dialogue is sharp, the performances are jaded, and there's a darkness to it that's hidden by its overall comedic tones. Take Victoria's quiet husband (Colin Firth), who seems dead inside. Why? When the reveal comes it's in no way funny. The way Larita makes him light up balances this out.

Easy Virtue is a relatively fast-paced film, which might surprise you, especially once you're made aware of the fact that it's a period piece set in the 1920s. These films are often slow burns, but Easy Virtue burns through its material quickly, ensuring it never lingers and never gets boring. Even when it's not successful, it moves on fast enough that the temptation to stop watching never crops up.

Where does Easy Virtue falter? Well, there's a whole lot of tedium in the middle, when all we get is a bunch of sitting around and talking about how much they dislike one another. The death of a dog is played for laughs, and the scene in which it is killed seems to go on forever and simply doesn't work. An emotional climax should have put the end to a subplot, but it rears back up to close out the film, even though it really didn't need to. Easy Virtue is mostly a success and only misses in small sections.

It is not, however, completely compelling. I'm not entirely sure what it is about Easy Virtue, because while it remains watchable throughout and doesn't misstep very often, it's not something that I feel the need to recommend. Everyone has watched films like these before, right? The ones that don't do much wrong, but they just aren't too hot about regardless? That's how I feel with Easy Virtue. I thought it was a good film but I don't know how much I, or anyone else, will get out of it.

Easy Virtue is a good film that I don't really want to recommend. It was a well-paced and sharply written film with good acting, precise and interesting cinematography, and enough humor to keep you laughing, assuming you're able to put in a little bit of work to "get" it. And yet, save for about 20 minutes of its running time, I found myself ambivalent to the whole experience. I didn't dislike it, and I never thought about doing something else, but it just wasn't doing anything for me.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 02, 2013 3:36 pm

The Killing
If you watch The Killing at the cinema, you might want to accuse the projectionist of messing with the order of the reels. The film plays with time in a manner not too often seen, and if you aren't paying attention you're likely to get lost in its idea of how a clock functions. Rarely do things happen in chronological order, and when they do it's because soon other revelations will change your perspective of the proceedings in such a way as to rethink them.

The Killing is a heist movie, one in which the players and plot aren't as important as the film they're in. It's about deception, about the manipulation of film form, and about telling its story in a smart, exciting way. It's also surprisingly funny and the cast members are all interesting even if they're ultimately pawns in a grand scheme. That scheme involves robbing a track of its daily take -- which the characters believe will be about $2 million. It's all planned out by Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), who gets together his team and then the plan unfolds, on schedule, although we only see it in bits and pieces.

There is narration which frequently updates us on the time and place of whatever is happening on-screen. If you have the type of brain which can re-order events in your head on the fly and without writing them down, you'll have a field day with this. I wonder what a chronologically edited version of The Killing would look like. It wouldn't be as thrilling, I'm sure, and a couple of scenes of repetition would have to be cut out. But it might me interesting to see.

For the rest of us, the dates and times reinforce one thing: that the film's events don't happen in order. We know when the big race starts -- it's at 4:00 PM -- and we know where. We just want to see all the pieces in place before it begins. And then we want to see the execution. What a thrill good heist movies can be, and The Killing is certainly one of those. We know from the beginning that something might go wrong -- that the plan isn't foolproof -- but we want to watch anyway.

As soon as Marie Windsor shows up on-screen, so wonderfully playing the cheating wife, we are aware that she will somehow interfere. When she's caught listening in on the plan later on, we are certain. The way she manipulates her husband, George (Elisha Cook) means no good can come of it. But there are so many elements that could also ruin everything. The way this is handled is something you just have to let wash over you. You're not going to figure it all out but you're so immersed that it doesn't matter. You put your trust in the filmmakers and you are rewarded with an incredibly fun ride.

Every character has a precise role that is laid out by Johnny. Sometimes we're not sure exactly what that is, although we usually do. It's all about being at the right place in the right time frame and doing exactly what is required. Much like the film itself, everything has been put together meticulously and if even a single element goes awry, the whole production falls apart. If you get taken out of this type of film, it's almost impossible for you to be won back.

What The Killing so fascinatingly does is allow for all of its characters to be memorable and discernible from one another. You know what motivates each of them -- a man needs the money for a sick wife, a crooked cop needs to pay off a gangster, etc. -- and they're all relatively sympathetic. With an ensemble cast, this is often overlooked, but I think it's important. Keeping everyone straight helps the audience follow along, which is especially beneficial when the story jumps around like it does here.

And it's these humans, fallible as they are, who will make the grand scheme either work or fail. I'll spoil nothing other than to say that things don't go perfectly at any point, even when they seem like they will. The plan has too many mistakes, too many elements unaccounted for, and a sprint for the finish line becomes inevitable. And much of this is happening out-of-order or at least partially obscured so you can find out more later on.

The Killing is also quite funny, featuring a sharp script co-written by the film's director, Stanley Kubrick, and based on the novel by Lionel White. It's smart, humorous, contains delicious scenes of irony and surprisingly strong characters. Combine that with intelligent film editing and Lucien Ballard's layered cinematography, and you've got yourself a movie that works solely on a technical level. Add in everything else that it brings to the table and you've got a fascinating motion picture experience.

The Killing is one of the best heist movies. Its manipulation of time and film form creates more tension and intrigue than the plot otherwise would or should, the attention to the individual characters allows for us to know and understand each one of them, and the heist scenes themselves are phenomenally shot. It's all wrapped up in a perfectly paced 83 minutes, and it's compelling, humorous, and a fantastic watch. If you like heist films, this is a must-see. If you don't, The Killing might just change your mind.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Dec 03, 2013 4:45 pm

The Rules of Attraction
It was just past the midway point in The Rules of Attraction where I started to feel something other than negativity for the film. That feeling was a twinge of sadness, this time directed toward a character who previously appeared only in the background of a few key scenes -- and you wouldn't even notice her there; not until the film rewinds and shows you in flashbacks. This character doesn't get a speaking role, and yet was better characterized than those given leading parts.

I felt this touch of emotion because the scene in question was quite sad, but also because it drove home just how far removed from real people the other characters in the film were. They are terribly unsympathetic, incredibly shallow, and self-absorbed -- and put into most movies we would criticize them from being just that. Here, their lack of depth and characterization is the point, as the film's social commentary revolves around denouncing their lifestyle, while also playing out in polar opposition to the generic Hollywood romantic comedy.

There are three main characters, and much of the film centers around their exploits at the college all three attend, and the "relationships" -- or lack thereof -- they get into. The first character is Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), who deals drugs and targets women to sleep with. He describes his personality as that of an emotional vampire. He eventually finds himself enamored with Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who is saving herself for Victor (Kip Purdue), a man currently vacationing in Europe.

Lauren spends her nights looking through a book of various skin diseases in hopes that the sight will throw her off partying and potentially having sex, even though her roommate, Lara (Jessica Biel), does both of those with regularity. The final character is Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a bisexual man who has a crush on Sean, despite Sean having absolutely no desire to have a relationship with him. You can already see the interplay among Sean, Lauren, and Paul. It only gets more complicated as the film progresses.

This complication is aided by the film's style, which jumps back and forth in time, and uses many cinematic tricks which you won't see utilized in a great number of movies. There's a lot of split-screen, scenes which play backward, and narration from multiple perspectives. The fourth wall is sometimes broken, too. This creates an energy and visual flourish which means you'll always have something interesting to look at -- and it creates some rather fantastic scenes -- but there are points when director Roger Avary overdoes it.

The Rules of Attraction is based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which will either draw fans or repulse those who aren't a fan of his work. I didn't like the last adaptation of Ellis' work, American Psycho, and I still believe that the film does not contain much of the satire found in the novel. It comes through clearer in this movie. If American Psycho works, it's primarily as a dark comedy. This one is more effective at making its point and being visually compelling -- and an interesting and relatively well-made film.

I think that taking the characters to such extremes -- there is nothing more to them than drugs, sex, alcohol -- makes the film loses something. The potential for satire is there, and much of it comes through, but by being so hyperbolic we know these characters cannot exist, and therefore there's no reason to criticize them. Exaggerating certain traits, not ignoring anything that doesn't have to do with the aforementioned subjects, might have allowed the film to be more poignant. It's a fine line.

One of the early lines says that the story of the film might bore you. I think it's unlikely to do that. Even if you dislike it -- and by all means, I'm sure the film would welcome the hate; it's supposed to evoke such emotions -- you will not be bored by it. There's enough depth to hold your attention if you were to just take the plot into account. Add in the social commentary and the film's style, and you've got something you won't have any trouble staying awake.

There are a trio of really excellent scenes you will want to look out for. The first involves a split-screen sequence which, without cutting, transforms into a single shot. The second is a stream-of-consciousness montage involving Victor's escapades through Europe, which seems to last forever -- although I would wager it's less than five minutes in length -- but contains so many different moments that you won't remember even a sliver of them. The scene I mentioned in the first paragraph is the most affecting in the film, and one of the most effective scenes I've ever seen.

The Rules of Attraction is a good film about terrible people. None of the characters featured in the film are respectable or anything more than self-absorbed, sex-and-drug-obsessed individuals. That's the point. That point is effectively made, although the extreme to which it's taken is laughable. The film is interesting and visually energetic, and I think it's worth watching, especially for a trio of fantastic moments. You won't see many like this one.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:46 pm

Independence Day
Don't expect logic from Independence Day. Don't try to make sense of all the impossibilities in its script. Don't hope for characters who are more developed than a loaf of bread. Don't think while watching it and you might have a decent time. The type of film that is Independence Day exists to excite and enthrall and do nothing else beyond that. It doesn't make you use your brain to do anything other than appreciate the special effects and the explosions, of which there are many because it's a disaster movie.

The film begins with an alien invasion. A spaceship that is 1/4 the size of the moon is approaching Earth, and is messing with our satellites. It soon breaks into many smaller ships, which only measure a paltry 15 miles in diameter. They wind up hovering above many of the largest cities on our planet, which causes terror among the citizens. Presumably that happens worldwide, but save for a few short moments where we observe military units stationed internationally, all we get to see is how this plays out in America.

To that end, we follow a diverse cast including the President of the United States (Bill Pullman), a fight pilot (Will Smith), and a technician who fixes broadcast signals (Jeff Goldblum), as well as the various family members who come along with these people. The President has a wife and daughter, the pilot has a wife and son, and the technician has a father and ex-wife. We're supposed to care because they have family. That is as much depth as these characters get.

Independence Day winds up being primarily focused on the earthlings' attempts to stave off the alien invasion, which most definitely is not a friendly one like has been the case in Steven Spielberg's movies. We're not making friends with these aliens; they're going to annihilate our entire species if we don't do something quickly. And it's up to these three people -- eventually, anyway -- to figure out a way to stop them. If only one of them was the President, one of them was a technological genius, and one as a fighter pilot who dreams of going into space. Oh, wait.

I guess it all seems contrived and too easy. Of course it's these three men -- and they must be men -- who manage to survive the first wave of the invasion so that they can come together in an attempt to save the world. If any one of them died, there would be no hope. The alien spacecrafts have invisible barriers meaning that not even a nuclear strike has any impact. Entire cities get destroyed in the process, and much of America is in ruins. It's so lucky that these three survived and found each other.

Part of me wants to appreciate that this doesn't feel quite as forced as it could. It easily could have been even more contrived, and would have felt more like a parody than a serious movie. The script isn't quite as stupid as it could have been, even if there's absolutely no depth to its proceedings. The only thing the script needed to do right was provide plenty of action -- which it does -- so any sort of bonus, such as this, is definitely appreciated.

There is a lot of action, and if all you need is something to entertain you for over two hours while you down popcorn and soda, Independence Day will do the job. It might thrill, it might excite, and it might keep the 12-year-old inside you happy. It won't make you think, but then you can go see good movies for that, can't you? You just want to turn off the brain and escape to a fantasy where aliens invade and humans make things up which can maybe or maybe not (for I wouldn't want to spoil a film such as this one) stop them.

If there's one thing I really disliked about Independence Day is that it's not terribly creative. The aliens aren't that well designed, the action scenes have all been seen before, and the technology looks an awful lot like ours. The effects used to create all of this are great, but because of a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers, they feel too familiar. Even though it will consistently entertain -- if you're looking for nothing more than a brainless disaster film -- you might be disappointed that there isn't more.

This isn't the type of film for actors to gloat about, especially because most of the dialogue is incredibly silly. The "inspirational" speeches given by Bill Pullman and the one-liners Will Smith has to deliver are both really funny, especially if the film doesn't completely enthrall you to begin with. It is only Jeff Goldblum who shows well, and possibly only because he sounds incredibly intelligent in comparison to the rest of the cast, thanks to the way his character is written.

Independence Day isn't a good movie but it is a consistently entertaining one. If all you want to see is a bunch of action and destruction taking place in large American cities, then you'll likely be content with this film, even if you might hope for more creativity. If you want intelligence, strong characters, a good script, or anything resembling depth, you'll want to look elsewhere. Get yourself in the mindset of a 12-year-old and you might have a good enough time to justify watching this movie.
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