The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rio (2011)

After being a little more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda, and then adoring last year's How to Train Your Dragon even more than critically lauded Toy Story 3, it goes without saying that in my mind, Dreamworks has gone from being a factory of second-rate animated fare to a studio that could someday rival even the Grand Deity of Animation itself in terms of consistent quality (the "Grand Deity of Animation" being Pixar, of course). Dreamworks' latest effort, Rio, hasn't quite taken them to that point yet, but it's still a ridiculously enjoyable and lusciously vibrant romp.

The film follows Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a rare blue macaw who lives in Minnesota with his owner,
Linda (Leslie Mann). When Blu is taken by ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) to Rio de Janeiro in order to mate with the fierce and independent Jewel (Anne Hathaway), he is promptly kidnapped by a group of bird smugglers. Thus, with the help of the other birds of Rio, Blu and Jewel must go on an adventure through the streets of Carnaval in order to escape and return to Linda and Tulio.

From the very first scene (an exhilarating musical number), the film takes full advantage of the resources that are at their disposal automatically from the plot - those being the gorgeous colors and delectable beats of Rio and of Carnaval. The score, helmed by John Powell (one of my favorite underrated film composers), is, needless to say, amazing - and the use of classic bossa nova is intelligent and perfect. And then there's the visual spectacle on display, one of reds, blues, oranges and yellows, put on display most effectively in the climax of the film, which takes place in a Carnaval Parade. It's in this aesthetic care that the film gets its most success.

Also, it's important to mention the quality of the voice acting on display. Though perhaps Rodrigo Santoro takes it too over the top, the rest of the cast is splendid. I'm a shameless Jesse Eisenberg fan, and I loved him here - he was neurotic, funny, and adorable. Anne Hathaway is, well, Anne Hathaway and what's better than that? And then there's Jemaine Clement, whose deliciously evil work as bad bird Nigel is made even better by a musical number that could have come straight out of "Flight of the Conchords".

As much as I wish awesome voice-overs and great aesthetics are enough to make a film succeed completely, they're not. Unfortunately, Rio suffers from an unspectacular screenplay. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it; it flows well, it's funny, and there are unexpected touches of heart here and there. But, it lacks the sparkle that everything else about the movie has, preventing the film as a whole from reaching the heights that it could have.

However, it's impossible not to enjoy Rio. It's cute, adorable, vibrant and totally entertaining. It may not have taken Dreamworks to a Pixar level (and it's certainly no How to Train Your Dragon) but it's still great fun for any age.

See it: if you like any of the actors involved, if you think Dreamworks has potential, if you like bossa nova, if you kind of want to feel like a kid again, if you've ever seen Black Orpheus.

Skip it: if you didn't like How to Train Your Dragon, if Jesse Eisenberg does nothing for you, if you're imperative to cuteness.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mini Review 4-Pack!

Guess what guys? Today you get an extra special treat, which is that I am going to review in short a few movies. It'll be fun!

The Help - The narrative is very clunky, but the spot-on performances from every single member of the cast and the visually appealing aesthetic more than make up for it, and I'll be darned if I wasn't a teary mess by the end. Emma Stone is great, but this is Viola Davis's movie and she runs away with it, giving a performance of sensitivity and gravitas. However, best in show goes to Sissy Spacek, who somehow manages to turn the word "napkins" into one of the funniest moments in the movie. (7)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Cliche time - I admired this movie more than I enjoyed it. Considering this could have been a total joyride made for money's sake only, it was surprisingly artistic and intelligent. It tackles themes like animal testing and human evil in ways that are, while not always subtle, usually successful - not an easy task. Plus, the CGI was UN BE LIEVABLE. Bonus points for the cinematography. (7)

30 Minutes or Less - In short, the movie is as enjoyable and funny as it could have hoped to be but it's nothing really special - and for 83 minutes, it somehow seems to drag. Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg make a really great tag team though, with Ansari being wildly hysterical and Eisenberg providing a unsurprisingly powerful amount of real acting in a role that could have come off as hysterical and incoherent. (6)

Crazy, Stupid, Love - This one was tough for me. I think that I'm confusing how much I wanted to like this movie with how much I actually did. That being said though, despite being imperfect and falling prey to some minor cliches, it's definitely one of the best big-studio romantic comedies in a LONG time, thanks almost completely to the remarkably talented cast, none of whom can really be singled out because they were all just so good. I will say though, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were simply superb, and the amount of chemistry they exuded was irresistible. (7 - but a super high seven. Like, almost an 8. I'd have to see it again.)

And just for fun (and because I love lists), my top 10 performances from this quartet, in no order:

  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Sissy Spacek, The Help
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help (um, range much? this was completely different from Tree of Life)
  • Jesse Eisenberg, 30 Minutes or Less
  • Aziz Ansari, 30 Minutes or Less
  • John Lithgow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
  • Marisa Tomei, Crazy Stupid Love
  • Liza Lapira, Crazy Stupid Love

So, which of these movies or performances was your favorite? As always, your opinions, be they affirmative or negative, are always welcome below

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"I don't really know what kind of girl I am."

As a movie viewer, reviewer, and critical watcher, I find myself so often confronted with the problem of expectations, assumptions, and outcomes when going in to see a film, an issue I've talked about on this blog before, most notably in my post regarding my conflicting feelings for I Am Love. However, the problem here isn't so much a purposeful act of contrarianism, but self-imposed limitations in the range of films that I watch, and that I want to watch.

For example, when I see a trailer for a big-budget superhero movie or a goofy family film, I'm not nearly as excited or intrigued as when I see a trailer for a foreign artsy drama or a quirky indie comedy, mentally proclaiming that the former "are just not my kinds of movies".

The thing is though, when movies like the aforementioned I Am Love and other films I less than loved such as Precious and Up in the Air (all of which I was really excited for) fall flat in my estimation, while movies like Kung Fu Panda and Thor end up being highly entertaining and enjoyable, I can't help but question my own presumed taste (even if the formula does work the other way around, with many movies that I knew I would hate absolutely living up to their expectation).

The most recent example, and the one that prompted me to reflect on this topic, is Jurassic Park, which I finally saw for the first time only a couple of days ago. I was expecting to enjoy it, sure (it's not so popular for nothing, right?) but I wasn't expecting at all to love it as much as I did. I thought that there was no way that a movie about dinosaurs on an island could be that good and thus I was rather surprised when I found myself absolutely falling head over heels for it.

It's a problem that I'm not sure really has any solution, besides perhaps toning down my own snobbery and keeping an open mind to even the most unappealing of movies. That's not to say that anyone should go see everything because it "might be good" - I mean, that would be impossible! But, that perhaps good cinema can exist in many different realms and by widening our horizons you can get the best of everything.

Of course, I'm still young, and my tastes are still developing. What I find entertaining now I may find detestable later on - who knows what my cinematic tastes will be like in one, five, ten, twenty years - but I hope I can always examine myself and that I don't get in the way of my own moviegoing experiences.

P.S. This post obviously has nothing to do with the ever polarizing Juno, but the quote seemed appropriate.

Do you find yourself surprised by your own tastes and expectations? Are your tastes still developing? Love Jurassic Park? Hate Juno? Sound off below!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Quick List of Anticipated Movies

I'll be honest with you all - I've been a bad moviegoer this year. I've seen not more than ten films, and I've missed out on a lot of movies I've wanted to see. Plus, besides The Tree of Life, I've not been floored by any of the year's output (though almost everything has been pleasantly and surprisingly enjoyable).

However, there are quite a few upcoming releases that I just can't wait to get my hands on - so without further ado, a quick look at my top ten most anticipated releases for the rest of 2011.

10. Shame - This would be higher based on the Fassbender/Mulligan factor (both actors I love) if there was just a bit more information about it. For now though, I'm content with my curiosity.

9. A Dangerous Method - Cronenberg is a fascinating director, and with Fassbender as one of the leads, this is a must see. Also, after Keira Knightley's surprisingly powerful work last year in "Never Let Me Go", I'm looking forward to see what she can do with what looks like strong material.

8. Crazy, Stupid, Love - The cast is impeccable. Julianne Moore and Emma Stone? Ryan Gosling AND Marisa Tomei? It's coming out this weekend so thankfully the wait isn't that long!

7. The Artist - It looks so quirky and interesting - the silent film aspect is intriguing and I look forward to something so different and unique.

6. The Skin That I Inhabit - It seems like Almodovar has been trying to make something frightening for the past few years, what with "Volver" and "Broken Embraces" having dark elements. Thus, this all out horror film is extremely exciting - plus, remember what happened last year when an auteur made a shameless horror movie? Brilliance, that's what.

5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I love the book, and though I was underwhelmed by the original, the trailer looks like Fincher's going to blow us all away. I can guarantee that I'll be midnight screening this one.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin - I read the source material, which was unbelievably dark and disturbing, and it's a perfect role for Tilda. Honestly, Tilda's one of those actresses who I would watch reading the phonebook.

3. Contagion - OH MY GOD THIS CAST. I love every single member of this cast and the trailer looks frightening and thrilling.

2. The Future - I've not seen Miranda July's debut feature, but I'm a big fan of her writing (if you haven't read her short story collection, "No One Belongs Here More Than You", you absolutely should), and the trailer showed a lot of promise.

1. Melancholia - Um, did you guys see the trailer? There is absolutely nothing about this that I don't want, right now.

A Good Year for Westerns!

So, remember that big announcement I made the other day? Well, the first episode of Amir and my new series "A Good Year" is up over at his blog Amiresque. GO CHECK IT OUT!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Super Exciting Announcement!

Hey guys!

So I have a cool announcement. Yay! Amir, from one of my favorite blogs, Amiresque, and I are starting a new series entitled "A Good Year" in which we discuss a particular...cinematic entity (actor, director, genre, etc.) that had particular success in a given year. The first episode of this awesome project will be up this weekend and I hope you all can join us - I think you'll like what we have in store.

P.S. Here's a hint: The above gif has NOTHING to do with our series. It just looked relevant to the whole "excitement" theme of this post. Haha!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 So Far: Performances, Part II

We previously discussed this year's men - now let's take a look at the lovely ladies who have made the first half of 2011 joyous. (Pardon the delay on this, some things came up - also, pardon the lack of pictures, blogger is being an annoying little poopyhead as usual!)

Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris

In a very general sense, Cotillard plays the muse in Midnight. I recently read an article where Cotillard was interviewed, and asked how she defined a muse. She filled up about half a page discussing the implications of being a muse - the artistic and emotional openness required, the trust, and so much more. Cotillard's complex knowledge of her potentially simple character shows in her irresistible work in Woody Allen's latest, as she turns her fantasy muse into a fascinating mix of complex emotion, motive and mysterious beauty - all while making it look effortless.

Vera Farmiga in Source Code

Speaking of silently complex performances, here we have another that fits into that category. On paper, the character of Goodwin is little more than a cipher to the audience - an expositional plot device. Of course, though, Vera Farmiga would never let her character be ONLY that. Even though the movie skirts around the philosophical questions it wants to ask, Vera is not afraid to question them herself with her performance, as she expresses every doubt, every insecurity and every bit of inner pain through her eyes, while the rest of her physical composure shields it all in a way her character must have been building up for years. It's a perfectly structured and ever-surprising piece of work.

Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: First Class

There is a lot of good acting in First Class (we already spoke about Fassbender and McAvoy) but Lawrence stands out above the rest. In the first movie I've seen her in since her impressive work in Winter's Bone, Lawrence proves that she's an actress with a bright future ahead of her. Her Mystique is, in a word, organic - everything she does feels totally natural. Even when she's spouting lines as clunky as "mutant and proud", Lawrence comes across with conviction. She's not afraid to show fear, something that's far too sparse in superhero films, and when she's scared, it's a fear from the bottom of her soul. When you consider how much of this performance was done through the guise of CGI, it is truly impressive.

Elle Fanning in Super 8

I've never been a huge fan of Dakota, but I'm starting to find a real affinity for her sister, who does such great work in Super 8. Shedding all signs of child-star pretention, Fanning turns her love interest role into an interesting piece of actorly characterization. It's hard to believe that she is, in reality, the youngest of the entire cast! Her "acting" scene at the train station alone is enough to offer commendation - in that one scene, we see a girl with talent, a sad talent that will probably never be cultivated because of her family life.

Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life

As the mother figure in The Tree of Life, the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Jessica Chastain has a lot of different roles to fill - matron, fantasy, ideal, and human. She rises to each of these challenges masterfully. Like her costars, Chastain feels real in every frame, and in her beautiful characterization, pulls the audience in from the beginning. Watch as she contrasts a playful chase through the house with her sons to a frightened and angry flee from the kitchen after one of her husband's meltdowns - it's powerful stuff, and of all the stunning elements of The Tree of Life, Chastain is easily the most memorable.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 So Far: Performances, Part I

I haven't been the most faithful moviegoer in 2011 - out of all the movies I've wanted to see (I still haven't seen Insidious, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Meek's Cutoff, and Incendies, among others), I've only caught a meager 11. However, it's been over half a year and I've seen enough good to do a little tribute to some of the performances. In part 2 we'll talk about the ladies, but let's start with the men (and in some cases, boys).

Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in X-Men: First Class

As the power duo at the forefront of First Class, Fassbender and McAvoy work wonders with the only average material. Their chemistry is immaculate, thus making the moments of tension in their relationship so much more effective. Seeing two such interesting actors in a context as surprising as a superhero movie is rife with possibility and these two took advantage of this opportunity to the fullest.

Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life isn't really about the acting. It's not really about the cinematography either, or the screenplay, or any other individual element. It's about everything coming together in perfect symmetry to bring Terrence Malick's vision to the screen. That doesn't mean each element isn't perfect though, and Brad Pitt's quiet and subtle performance in the film is no exception. Pitt is one of the most famous actors of our time yet he sheds all fame for this role as a troubled father. His opening mourning scene is one of the best of his career and though we don't really get a lot of information about his character's backstory, Pitt seems to know it all. it's truly moving work that proves that Brad Pitt is just as respectable an actor as he is a figure of pop culture.

Hunter McCracken in The Tree of Life

If there's a "lead" role in The Tree of Life, it's newcomer Hunter McCracken's role as Jack. Not only does McCracken synergize perfectly with his older counterpart Sean Penn, but he carries every single moment of his screentime with uncanny naturalism. Where most child acting is characterized by over the top theatrics, McCracken gives as close to "de glam" as possible. It's hard to believe that this kid is actually NOT the character in the movie, and it's a shame that McCracken will probably not be in awards discussion later on this year. If only he was a little girl!

Joel Courtney in Super 8

Joel Courtney's work in Super 8 is almost the polar opposite of his similarly aged colleague Hunter McCracken's previously mentioned work, but it is still worthy of commendation. Courtney is as unpretentious as possible, embodying the ideal child that every audience member can relate to. He can go from being hysterically funny to completely sympathetic within seconds, and his blaring innocence works perfectly for his role. It should be interesting to see where he goes next.

Chris Hemsworth in Thor

Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking, and sure, Hemsworth's work in Thor is not even close to being on the same level as, say, Brad Pitt's aforementioned performance. Yet, I still felt a need to mention him here - in a role that is characterized by steely masculinity and almost nothing else, Hemsworth manages to add a level of charisma and charm that was unexpected and truly welcome. The fact that he's taking the film seriously - but not too seriously - is a big part of why his performance works. He allows himself to be funny, passionate and even at times ridiculous, all to the benefit of the overall film, which would have been a lot less fun to watch had he not been doing so well in the lead.

So there you have it - a few of my favorite performances so far. What were yours? Disagree or agree with anyone on the list? Comment below!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

Perhaps the most interesting part of my experience watching "The Tree of Life" (besides the movie itself) was the utter quietness that fell upon the crowd after the credits began to roll. The previously boisterous group was now whispering, if not completely silent. I personally didn't want to say anything after seeing the movie, I just wanted to continue reflecting inward - because that's what this movie does. Malick's gorgeously shot meditation on the transience and insignificance of human life is on such a high level of cerebral and emotional comprehension that instead of merely throwing ideas at the viewer and hoping they stick, it pulls the things it wants to say out of the very soul of the viewer, allowing its philosophies to float and eventually take root. Though one could argue that the film is borderline gratuitous in its spiritual self-importance, the meticulous beauty of every single shot allows the film to never drift into languishing boredom. In a movie so structured around conversations with God, Malick has become God himself - he has created a timeless universe that despite its period implications, exists in its own realm, and has allowed his fascinating characters to simply exist. In short, it's a piece of art, the catalyst for important philosophical discussion, and a masterpiece.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)

Of all the penguin movies out there, this may just be the worst. It's certainly not offensively bad by any means, but it is almost intolerably annoying, due largely in part to Jim Carrey's performance as the title character. I truly like Carrey's acting in even some of his worst movies, but here he's a mess - the screenplay is basically a series of fragmented ideas and jokes and in what can only be interpreted as a desperate attempt to make these fragments work, Carrey overacts to the point of idiocy. At one point, Carla Gugino's character sincerely states "you're a complicated man, Mr. Popper", a factoid both Carrey and the screenwriters clearly forgot to explore, despite the latter's desperate attempts at fleshing out the character with daddy and ex-wife issues. What is perhaps even more troubling is the confusing morality at play - the Penguin Expert, who is truly just doing what he can to help the penguins, is portrayed as evil, whereas Mr. Popper, a man who egregiously concludes that his New York apartment is a suitable place for Antarctic life is portrayed as a hero who can bend the law at will.

Of course, it's not all terrible. Carla Gugino actually makes good of her meager character and a few of the gags are actually extremely successful (especially the Guggenheim scene, which was just the right amount of ridiculous). In addition, the CGI penguins were undeniably adorable and surprisingly convincing. However, even though my target-audience-younger-siblings liked it, I do find myself worrying for the state of family cinema. If this kind of mindless, shallow filmmaking is what children are becoming used to seeing, more interesting family films are going to be come increasingly unaccessable.


Note: I have not read the book, but I have a hard time believing that a Roald Dahl novel could have been this vapid.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sorry, sorry!

I hate apologizing for not posting but seeing as I haven't done so in a couple of weeks I thought I'd let you all know that I'm fine - I've been feeling a particularly lazy streak, coupled with transitioning into summer + my newfound obsession with watching the show "Damages" on Netflix. Which, I love. If any of you are fans of the show, please sound off below - Glenn Close and Rose Byrne are so fantastic! Anyway, look out for reviewish type things of "Super 8" and "X-Men" soon, along with another addition to the Catherine O'Hara project. Carry on!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A quick question about X-Men.

I have a question for all of my amazing readers. I'm desperately looking for a movie to see this weekend, and since I'm back at home in the middle of Florida my options are kind of limited. The cast of "X-Men: First Class" is very appealing and I think it looks like it could be a fun movie to see.

The problem is, I haven't seen any of the other X-Men films.

So my question for you guys, who have seen the films or have a bit more knowledge than I of the franchise - do you think it would be acceptable to see "First Class" without having seen the other three movies? Responses below!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Perfect Trio

The Oscars rarely have a category that is 100% perfect - but last year's Animated Film category has been on my mind lately and I can't help but consider it an anomalous example of this occurrence.

You all already know my adoration for How to Train Your Dragon, which was my pick for the winner last year (not that it had any chance). I rewatched it today, and while I was expecting it to drop in my estimation, I actually enjoyed it even more, especially John Powell's marvelous score.

Toy Story 3 was a wonderful winner, the perfect ending to a masterful trilogy. Really, it could not have been a more perfect ending to the long running series and somehow it manages to pack such poignance and emotion into an action adventure movie about toys. Pixar does it again.

And finally, there was The Illusionist, which I finally caught on DVD this past week. Had I seen it before I made my top 10 list, it surely would have grasped a spot on there and I'm even tempted I now prefer it to the other two for the win. What Triplets of Belleville lacked in emotional resonance, it made up for with sly humor - the opposite is true of The Illusionist. Though it doesn't sport the mocking humor of Chomet's previous work, it is instead full of beautiful animation and emotional resonance that carries through the entire film. Truly a beautiful piece of work.

So anyway, this is a rather random post but I had to pay homage to this great trinity of films. The Oscars are not always perfect but the past two years of animated films (don't even get me started on 2010) really have been worthy contenders.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011)

Yes, I did see this. Disclaimer: I watched it because my sister basically forced me too. At the same time, I went in willingly as I was actually kind of curious about the movie - and, not being truly familiar with Mr. Bieber or his music, I thought it would be at least fair to give the kid a chance. Color me pleasantly surprised - it turns out that Justin Bieber is actually extremely talented! Behind all the frighteningly obsessed fans and the glamorous production value, Justin is just a regular Canadian kid who worked really hard and got really lucky. The story is interesting enough, but as far as filmmaking goes the movie is acceptable at best. For its target audience I think it's obviously is a 10/10 - the director completely caters to the fanbase and that's fine. But for the rest of us it's a bit of sensory overload. Though the film touches on the more serious (and more interesting) aspects of Justin Bieber's career (such as the loss of childhood that all prodigies face or the pressures from fans) it never delves into the depth that it could, and that would create legitimately compelling cinema (not that it was going for that in the first place). It's no masterpiece, and I haven't been quite caught Bieber fever (*heh*) but it was interesting enough and its 1.3 on IMDb really is uncalled for.


Friday, May 27, 2011


This can't be happening!

My feelings on this news can be summarized with the following GIF:

A moment of mourning for "United States of Tara", the third season of which is really going marvelously (last week's episode? Brilliance. Rosemarie DeWitt's reaction to the revelation of Bryce was fantastic). It will be missed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Woody Allen's record hasn't exactly been spotless lately. For example, though I basically enjoyed his effort last year, I was certainly in the minority, and his other recent films "Whatever Works" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", though with their admirers, are certainly not up to par with Allen's earlier filmography. That's why "Midnight in Paris" had so much promise - with many at Cannes calling it a return to form for Allen. And though the film does deliver in many ways (especially in the charm that it's been repeatedly said to exude), it also fall short from being as good as classic Allen.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter who is on a vacation in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and who is also working on a novel which he hopes will solidify him as a legitimate writer - not just the shallow corporatized one he feels he has become in Hollywood. Feeling disillusioned by his modern life and with his fiancee's rich parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller) and pedantic friend Paul (Michael Sheen), Pender yearns for what he considers the golden age of Paris - the roaring 20's. Gil soon gets his wish when a mysterious car comes to pick him up at the stroke of midnight, and transports him directly back to the time period for which he yearns, throwing him into the midst of great authors and artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) along with an enigmatic beauty, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), with whom he soon falls in love.

As a continuation of Allen's cinematic love affairs with European cities (Barcelona in "Barcelona", London in "Tall Dark Stranger"), "Paris" is completely successful. Sure, it treats Paris like an unrealistic utopia, but that's acceptable considering that most Americans see it in that way. Plus, Allen never forgets the fact that the film is in essence a love letter to Paris, filling the screenplay with monologues about its beauty and even making the movie's first three minutes a montage of Parisian streets. For someone who's never been to Paris (like myself) this adoration of the city is perfectly welcome.

Also completely welcome is the lack of a narrator. This allows the film to work on its own behalf for the most part - a refreshing change from the plodding narration in other recent Allen films.
Though Wilson is given a few solo talking-to-himself monologues that could be effectively interpreted as narration, he sells them, and despite the fact that it doesn't quite allow the film to speak for itself as much as it could, compared to a bored sounding male reciting how excited a particular character was about architecture, it's tolerable and, occasionally, even a bit endearing.

What's absolutely not endearing about the film, however, is its complete lack of complex characters. Though it does make sense for the famous authors and artists of the past to be somewhat "fake", there's no excuse for real life characters like Inez and Paul, both of whom (among others) are devoid of any shades of interesting characterization. Problems like this make many of the plot points of the film more like plot nubs (because they're pointless -- ha ha, get it?).

However, that is not to say that the acting is poor, as the cast works very well despite the script's shortcomings. Wilson is probably giving his best performance to date (it helps his character is actually kind of interesting) and works perfectly as a stand-in for Woody. Mimi Kennedy, Adrian Brody and Alison Pill all shine in brief roles, and Marion Cotillard gives her potentially stock character the most interesting shades of humanity (not that this should come as any surprise - it seems like Marion is always doing more than the script's bare minimum). And even Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen do well considering what they're given to work with.

But despite the movie's fundamental problems, it still manages to be irresistibly
charming and utterly adorable. I couldn't stop smiling throughout - it's funny, it has clever dialogue, and the ending is almost perfect.
It's not necessarily the Woody Allen comeback some are claiming it is, but we're definitely getting closer. If Woody can mix the charm and fantasy of this film with the complex characters of his earlier work - perhaps we'll then have a new masterpiece. For now though, we can at least enjoy what he's giving us.

See it: If you have a yearning desire to go to Paris, if you like seeing a cast at its best, if you are a Woody Allen die hard, or if you've always thought that Owen Wilson could be taken seriously as an actor but he just never got the right role.

Skip it: If you like complex characters, or if you've seen "I Spy" and know that Owen Wilson can never be forgiven for that movie.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thor (2011)

The problem with a movie exceeding expectations is that it then warps your critique of that movie. Did I enjoy "Thor" as much as I did because it was a legitimately good movie, or was it just because it exceeded rather drastically my remarkably low expectations? Perhaps a bit of both. For me the most surprising aspect of the film was actually Chris Hemsworth's performance as Thor. The character Thor could have been so easily turned into a muscular lump of grunts and growls but Hemsworth nuances his performance with emotional ups and downs that turn Thor into one of the more interesting superheroes of recent memory. However, best in show easily goes to Kat Dennings who steals every scene she's in. The biggest problem I had with the movie was that it was far too reliant on CGI, which made it feel a bit artificial - for example, Asgard was not anywhere near as awe inspiring as it aspired to be because it felt so phony. Anyway, "Thor" is surprising - not brilliant or timeless cinema by any means but as a piece of entertainment it totally succeeds.

(It's tough for me to decide between a 6 and a 7. Hm)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - "Matador"

The following post (which contains some minor spoilers) is for Nethaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series at The Film Experience. Head over there to check it out!

Perhaps the most prevalent theme in Pedro Almodovar's film Matador is the relationship between the masculine and feminine side within each person. In fact, much of the action of the film relies on this relationship, through the parallel that Almodovar creates between gender and violence - a parallel that is brought to life through the strange love affair between the characters Diego (Nacho Martinez) and Maria (Assumpta Serna).

Thus, even though Matador is a visual feast, and there are many shots that can be singled out for praise, there was one that I kept going back to.

In this shot, we see Maria carefully applying lipstick while sitting in her car. At this point, Maria has already been established as both a murderer and as sporting a rather "masculine" public persona. Her short hair and her stark black and white business outfit are cold, emotionless, and unsentimental. In the film, mirrors are used numerous times as symbols of introspection and internal reflection and thus gaining such an intimate view (notice the closeup) of an indelibly feminine aspect of Maria feels almost voyeuristic. However, we're not the only ones looking...

Diego is spying on Maria as well, and again, through a mirror. It's interesting that the first time in the film that Maria sets her eye on Diego, whom she has idolized for years, it's through his secondhand reflection - there's already this disconnection between these two hopeless people on the path to destroying one another (literally).

And then, perhaps my favorite moment of this shot - Maria drops her lipstick onto her lap, shocked after realizing she was being spied on. The lipstick leaves a small, bright scarlet mark on her skirt. It's a fleeting moment, but so important - even though she's abandoning her briefly vulnerable femininity through dropping the lipstick, Diego has already exposed something hidden in her, and that small little mark is proof. Plus, this is an Almodovar film - the color red is obviously important.

The shot is short but it sets up the entire remaining duration of the movie perfectly. In fact, the trajectory of this introduction to Maria and Diego's relationship doesn't quite come full circle until towards the end, when Maria reveals her obsession with Diego to him.

It's a frightening and sinister moment, and it completes the arc that began with their first meeting, setting new events into action. Matador may not be Almodovar's most brilliant film but it is still a fascinating and daring piece of work that captivates its audience in a macabre manner, making us not so much different than the "despicable" characters onscreen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Life in Movies

Andy over at Fandango Groovers is hosting a blogathon in which we compile a list of movies - one from each year since we were born. It was a ridiculously fun task and I tried to include movies that "affected" me in some way or another - go here to check out the other entries and read on for my life in movies!

1992: Porco Rosso - Looking over a list of notable movies that came out in my birth year, I was shocked to see that I have missed out on almost every single one - nope, I still haven't seen "Reservoir Dogs" or "Unforgiven", or even "Lorenzo's Oil". It's bad, I know. However, as many of you know, I have quite an affinity for Hayao Miyazaki and thus it comes as no surprise that I have seen his 1992 release, "Porco Rosso". As a whole, I've often thought of Porco as the lowest point in his filmography (even if the lowest point is miles above most other filmmakers high points) but the scene where Porco dreams of a legion of the spirits of deceased pilots is perhaps one of the most beautiful Miyazaki has ever put to film.

1993: Super Mario Bros. - Though it's infamous for its alleged horribleness, I'll be the first to admit that I actually did not hate Super Mario Bros. I've always been a bit of a video game fanatic, and so when I watched Bros. for the first time I was too busy geeking out about seeing the Italian plumber in the flesh to really worry about how terrible the movie was. Truthfully, it's not even a faithful adaptation of the game (perennially cute green Yoshis being portrayed as freaky looking dinosaurs, for example), but as a symbol of the 90's I think it will last the test of time.

1994: The Lion King - I'm proud to say that The Lion Kingwas the first film whose poster I had hanging up on my wall. It's also the first movie whose t-shirt I sported. Needless to say, calling it a "part of my childhood" is a bit of an understatement. In fact, it wasn't until I recently went and saw the musical adaptation that I completely comprehended what kind of impact it had on me - during the opening scene, I began sobbing, waves of nostalgia and beauty overwhelming me. It's a little bit sappy, I know, but it's the truth.

1995: Se7en - I saw Se7en about a year ago, but still, it often creeps its way into my thoughts, especially whenever I catch a glimpse of a modern day crime-investigation show that inadvertently pays homage to David Fincher's darkly frightening masterpiece. Brad Pitt usually satisfies, but in Se7en he's particularly sensitive, along with a surprisingly memorable Gwyneth Paltrow, both pawns in the film's sinister plot.

1996: Waiting for Guffman -You all probably already know that Catherine O'Hara is one of, if not my absolute favorite actress. What you probably don't know is the very moment I fell in love with her, which was during her 'minimalist acting' monologue in "Waiting for Guffman". Catherine is brilliance throughout, but this is also the movie where I fell in love with Parker I'll-Always-Have-A-Place-At-The-Dairy-Queen Posey, and Christopher Guest's acting and directing.

1997: Life is Beautiful -I suppose you could say that my seeing this was a major step forward in my development as a film buff, since it was the first foreign film I ever watched. As a middle-schooler I remember feeling like I needed to watch this film because if I did I would seem so smart and alternative. No, "Life" is a beautiful film and though it's been ages since I've watched it it was definitely a turning point for me.

1998: The Parent Trap -Whenever I see poor Lindsay Lohan being berated by the media, I always feel a pang of sympathy for her, no doubt instilled by my love for "Parent Trap". To say this movie was a staple in my childhood is an understatement - I watched it constantly and listened to the soundtrack nonstop. The movie even holds up to my more discerning eye, since I rewatched it recently, and it's hard to deny the acting chops that Lohan possesses. Not to mention a simply lovely performance from Natasha Richardson that makes her recent passing so much more saddening.

1999: Mystery Men - This cult classic is a favorite in my family since we used to watch it on every road trip we took. I just watched this a week or so ago and the hilarity is not fleeting. And the cast is AMAZING - this is the first film where I saw Geoffrey Rush, and William H. Macy, and Greg Kinnear (who does perhaps his career best work here, no joke) a hysterical Hank Azaria, and a spicy Janeane Garofalo. If you haven't seen it, go rent it now - it's awesome.

2000: Dancer in the Dark - Bjork is one of my favorite musicians, and the soundtrack to this film introduced me to her. Besides the fact that this is probably the saddest, most emotionally draining movie I have ever seen, Bjork is brilliant and for that reason I cannot thank this film enough.

2001: Spirited Away - I don't think my mind was quite the same after I watched this movie. It's not that "Spirited Away" is one of the most revolutionary or shocking or groundbreaking films ever - it's simply that, at the time I watched it, I had never witnessed anything so complexly beautiful and gorgeous before. Miyazaki suddenly became my favorite director and "Spirited Away" became what I called (and still call) my absolute favorite film. I've watched it countless times and I will never grow tired of it.

2002: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - I had to fit an installment of the Harry Potter series in here somewhere, since I have and always will be a huge HP geek. By the way, I'm totally a Hufflepuff.

2003: Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King -Really, what can be said about the epicness that is LOTR? I cannot even describe the emotions in words.

2004: Napoleon Dynamite - My twelve-year-old self was not quite prepared for the indie brilliance that "Napoleon Dynamite" brought to the table. Perhaps one of the most polarizing films of my seventh grade life, my classmates either loved it or hated it - personally I was on the love side of the spectrum. It's just so unbelievably quirky and yet, completely endearing. GOSH!

2005: Good Night, and Good Luck -When people are arguing over whether they're Team Crash or Team Brokeback, I'll always stand behind the fact that I'm team Good Night and Good Luck. When I first watched this film, I thought I was so cool because it was a Best Picture nominee, and it was in black and white, and it had jazz music in it. Even though I didn't really understand the political history behind it. Fastforward a couple of years and I realized how exquisite this film really is - it's marvelously directed and acted with a simply phenomenal soundtrack.

2006: Little Miss Sunshine - Though 2004's entry is also partially to thank for this, I give "Little Miss Sunshine" credit for getting me into indie cinema. Sure, it's kind of crossover between indie and mainstream, but it made for a perfect transition. Full of great performances and perfectly loveable writing, LMS became a personal favorite after I watched it.

2007: Ratatouille - I always knew Pixar was great, especially after "The Incredibles", but "Ratatouille" was where I first really fell in love. It helps that the film was followed with the amazing "Wall-E" and the heart wrenching "Up" but I really cannot describe how much I love the little cooking rodent. Michael Giacchino's soundtrack over the lush visuals of Paris make me swoon every time I watch it.

2008: Slumdog Millionaire - As far as firsts go, this is the first Best Picture winner that I ever saw in the theaters. It was rather a monumental occasion for me - it was a prestige movie and I watched it in a packed theater, excited because it had won BP about a week earlier. I know this isn't one of the most unanimously loved winners of the big prize in the past few years, but I personally find it to be the perfect celebration of why we go to the movies in the first place.

2009: Inglourious Basterds - I hope I don't make myself sound too stupid when I say that for about the first two chapters of my favorite film of 2009 I thought, who knows why, that it was based on a true story. Of course, I figured out that it was fiction but that misconception may have just made this movie ten times better for me. This is, probably, the movie that influenced me to become a blogger though - after watching it, I was obsessed and I began to read movie blogs, and well, the rest is history.

2010: Scott Pilgrim Vs the World - What better way to end a retrospective on the movies of my life than my recent number one film of 2010. It was simply a film made for me - countless video game and other nerd-friendly references, a fun rock-inspired soundtrack, and a hilariously brilliant cast full of powerful actressing. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but to say that I love it is an understatement.

So there you have it! I got a little long winded but it's hard not to when you're being nostalgic. Check out everyone else's posts as well and comment below on which of these movies you love too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" Trailer

I've had a wary eye on this movie ever since it started getting early buzz for actress Elizabeth Olsen (sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley), and this trailer did not disappoint. It looks like this film will have that extra punch of grittiness and unsettlingness that I wish had been more prevalent in the impossible-not-to-compare-to "Winter's Bone". John Hawkes's presence is very reassuring (he looks sufficiently creepy but lovable) and as a proponent of the elder Olsens, it should be fascinating to see what their sister does in what looks to be a very actressy vehicle.

How about you? Are you yay or nay on this Sundance drama? Comments below!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What're You Reading?

It's common sense that the movie blog world is full of people with good taste in film. But what I've also found out is that it's also full of people with great taste in books as well, and it's interesting to see what everyone has read and enjoyed as of late!

Personally, I recently finished both the "Millenium" and "Hunger Games" trilogies, both whose movie adaptations have been getting some attention lately, and both of which I enjoyed immensely. As far as "The Hunger Games" goes, I'm really excited about the movie. I could be biased since I already knew about Jennifer Lawrence's casting before I started reading, but I think she'd be the perfect Katniss. I've now just started "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" which is so far very charming and humorous.

So how about you guys? What have you been reading lately? And any recommendations for me? The comments are open to all!