As I warned in my last blog post, my blogging is currently kept at a low pace. I spent last week in sunny Bulgaria, relaxing and having a good time, and now I’m currently in the middle of moving to my new apartment. I hardly find time to watch any movies, let alone write about them. Hell, I haven’t even found the time to check out The Dark Knight Rises yet. Sad face.
Still, I did get to satisfy my cinematic hunger earlier in July. The yearly local fair was in town, and that’s always a good place to pick up cheap DVDs. The selection isn’t excellent and is mostly comprised of newer releases, which is a large part of why I only watched two films the past month that were made earlier than 2009. So much for expanding my horizons. The two older films were among the best I saw this past, funnily enough.
Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011)
An appealing what-if scenario: what if you had a pill that makes you super-smart, highly focused, and gives you flawless memory? The mind spins with thoughts of what one could accomplish with such a thing. Limitless has Bradley Cooper get his hands on a pill like this, and then tells a story that may not be all that clever, but which is certainly not boring. I could have done with less stupidity exhibited by the supposedly hyper-intelligent protagonist, and the narration rears its ugly head a bit too often, but this is a flashy and fun thriller nonetheless. I was entertained.
Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)
This is my kind of crime movie. Smart, funny, fresh, and peppered with actual characters rather than plot chess pieces. Hell of a cast too, with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez threatening to immolate the movie with their mad chemistry. Possibly my favorite Soderbergh.
Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010)
A well-acted grief drama with the occasional funny bits. The main drawback here is a story that, while told well, isn’t particularly interesting. Parents have lost their child, then the guy happens upon a surrogate, and… that’s kind of it. It’s an enjoyable watch, but not very memorable.
The Hangover Part II (Todd Phillips, 2011)
I will give some credit here for showing that the characters have learned something from their ordeals in the first movie, but this also presents a problem that shows that a sequel to The Hangover is a pretty bad idea. In the first one, the three heroes were trying to find their missing friend. The friend is essentially a MacGuffin, but there’s also a definite fascination present with finding out just what the hell happened during the night, and the hows and the whys. In this second film, however, it’s as though they don’t care to the same extent. “Yeah, crazy shit went down, but whatever. Been there, done that. Let’s just find our buddy.” The film becomes all about the MacGuffin, and most of the plot ends up an irrelevant tangent. Other issues include a way too similar structure to the first one, and the fact that the majority of the jokes fall flat. This is a very lazy sequel to a really funny film.
Devil (John Erick Dowdle, 2010)
If judged as a horror movie by the amount of scares and atmosphere it provides, this one falls short. As a whodunnit mystery, however, it works well enough. Not that the payoff is necessarily satisfying, but the ride towards it is fun, with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Sometimes the chase is better than the catch, after all. Decent film overall.
Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)
A very cool vampire movie that blends its supernatural horror effectively with a coming-of-age story. Suitably creepy, with some good acting to boot, particularly from young Chloe Moretz. And yet despite all this, it’s hard for me to call this movie worthwhile in a world where the Swedish film Let the Right One In, which is based on the same novel, exists. Mostly everything that Let Me In does well, Let the Right One In does a bit better, and there’s not enough real difference between the two to make Reeves’ film an interesting alternate take on the story. This one gets a good grade, but I’d still recommend you stick to the Swedish movie.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Robert Schwentke, 2009)
One thing among many that I liked about this time travel romance was how it plays things different from most time travel flicks. For me, the appeal of many movies in the genre is to discover the cool solutions the film-makers have come up with to deal with the obstacles in the story. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, the really intriguing thing is how much effort have been spent to think of the obstacles themselves, and then resolve them according to the rules of the plot and in as logical a fashion as possible. It’s hard to explain properly, but it makes for a different and fascinating experience. I wish the film would have been a little slower, though. Some breathers here and there to mull over the implications of everything would have been welcome. Still, this is a clever and touching film, and certainly a better time travel romance than, say, Kate & Leopold.
Gamer (Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, 2009)
No movie that has as much stuff going on as this one should be this damn boring. Dumb plot, and the worst of quick-cut shaky-cam action. Massively disappointing, considering how much I adore Crank from the same directing duo. To hell with this film.
Get the Gringo (Adrian Grunberg, 2012)
I like the idea of a Mexican prison that’s more like a mall for bums than a correctional facility. The story starts out well enough, but it loses steam early on thanks to predictable plot elements and uninteresting characters. Mel Gibson tries his hardest to salvage things with the kind of Gibson-y performance one might expect from him – think Payback with worse material – but it’s just not enough.
Lockout (James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, 2012)
The opening scene of Lockout has Guy Pearce‘s character being interrogated. He keeps mouthing off smartass comments, earning himself repeated punches to the face. This is fun, but it’s all downhill once you realize that he’ll keep spewing “wise”cracks the whole film through. Like, every single time he opens his mouth. It gets old really fast. The rest of the characters are equally annoying, the sci-fi prison story is a confoundingly dumb one and takes forever to get going, the action is sparse and lackluster, and the ending is an exercise in contrivance. It’s one thing for an action film to be stupid and insubstantial, but this one is also really dull. Avoid!
Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
A harrowing and visceral experience, genuinely unsettling and quite mystefying. Compelling from start to weird ending. I can’t even begin to explain the film, but I certainly found it fascinating. Give this one a go. You might not like it, but it’s worth that risk.
The Raven (James McTeigue, 2012)
First of all: I know this is John Cusack‘s flesh and blood on the screen, but the whole performance is so Nicolas Cage, in everything from the random shouting to the hair. Now then, the movie. Without looking anything up, I’m going to assume that a certain degree of liberties were taken with the life of Edgar Allen Poe for this one. Maybe he really was some kind of sleuth towards the end of his life and had to deal with the kidnapping of his girlfriend and a serial killer who patterned his murders after Poe’s stories, though I doubt it. This film is a pretty solid yarn. Not great, but it satisfies for the moment.
Rites of Spring (Padraig Reynolds, 2011)
Weak horror of the slasher variety. The acting is uneven, and the reliance on Dutch tilts gets quite annoying. These problems are especially prominent in the films early goings where the focus is on the dual storyline of an abduction and a kidnapping. I was ready to call this movie terrible at this point, but it does pick up a bit after the halfway mark or so, when the proverbial shit hits the fan and the action ramps up. It doesn’t become great or even particularly good, but it shows a certain focus by the people involved, and it’s clear that they know what they want to do. I still wouldn’t recommend this film, but credit where credit is due.
Made (Jon Favreau, 2001)
A spiritual sequel to Doug Liman‘s superb Swingers. Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn once again play a set of best buddies, though the dynamic here is different with Favreau in serious taking-care-of-business mode and Vaughn as an obnoxious fuck-up. The realistic tone from Swingers is kept intact, though the plot here is of the crime variety. The true strength of the movie is Vaughn, who so convincingly plays the kind of character you just want to slap in the face to try to lessen the stupidity that flows forth from within him. The story itself doesn’t matter as much as the ways his character messes it up, and it makes for a fresh take on the genre. Made is also worth seeing for Peter Falk‘s teriffic supporting turn as a low-rung gangster boss.
Detention (Joseph Kahn, 2011)
While not a complete success on all fronts, this rapid-paced parodic blend of both high school films and slasher flicks definitely can’t be faulted for not having its own identity. The jargon employed by the characters get a bit too much at times, and the ridiculous plot contrivances toward the climax serve little purpose, but I applaud the effort of trying to do something different. Kahn’s past experience with making music videos is apparent throughout, but this still feels like a confident piece of filmmaking. Enjoyable.