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Monthly Report: January 2013

I have no idea how this happened. I thought December was very movie-intense at 30 new films seen. Well, in January, I saw 42. Plenty of good stuff was at hand, including two terrific Best Picture Oscar nominees that stuck in my head for days and required multiple trips to the cinema. I did quite a bit of last minute catching up on documentaries and foreign language films of 2012 for award nominating purposes, too. Gotta love Netflix. February will have more work on its plate for me, so I expect there to be less time for movies. Then again, you never know…

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Fitting choice to open 2013 with, don’t you think? This is a more accessible and to me far more enjoyable film than what Miike tends to put forth. The first half is decent enough talky set-up; it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it does what it’s supposed to. The second half is the real gem here though, featuring some of the most badass samurai action I’ve ever seen. Just tremendous stuff, and a great way to kick off movie year 2013.
4/5

All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
I’m not sure why this film has to exist, or why anyone should have to see it. It’s not bad or anything; in fact, there are scenes that are quite impressive, especially the ones focusing on the central characters’ relationships towards each other, which are more complex than what one first suspects. The actors all put in solid efforts, too. It’s just that the story as a whole, despite being based on true events, doesn’t really feel like it’s anything special. There is some awkwardness to the way it jumps around in its timeline. It’s a watchable movie, but by no means a must-see.
3/5

ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORNThe Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Oh, this was a joy to watch. I grew up with the Tintin comics, so this had a lot of nostalgia value for me. It’s way more than just that, though. It’s a hilarious movie, with Captain Haddock providing the lion’s share of laughs, but pretty much all the humor is right on the mark. The animation is teriffic and offers such beauty that it made me wish I had seen it in theater. The action is cool and imaginative, with the astounding “long take” chase scene being just the crown jewel of a big old pile of gold. What I found most impressive was how well Spielberg utilizes the animation format, smartly employing angles, shots and effects in cool ways that would have been tricky to pull off in live action. All in all, this is a teriffic film. The 2015 sequel can’t get here soon enough.
5/5

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Posted by on 31 January, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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Monthly Report: July 2012

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.
3/5

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.
5/5

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.
3/5

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.
2/5

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.
3/5

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.
4/5

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.
4/5

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.
1/5

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.
2/5

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!
1/5

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.
4/5

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.
3/5

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.
2/5

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.
4/5

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.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 15
Average score: 2.9 / 5
Best film of the month: Out of Sight
Worst film of the month: Lockout

 
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Posted by on 2 August, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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Noble failures

I recently got into a discussion online where I made the case that reducing talking about movies to “good or bad” (or similar simplified judgments like a numerical rating) can be detrimental. It’s useful shorthand to convey your general feelings towards a film, but there is always nuances and various aspects that can get lost in this simplification process. An example I used was The Exorcist. I gave that film a 3/5 score, which is basically the passing grade on my review scale. It means that I found the film to be okay and worthy of my time. And while that’s all well and good, it doesn’t tell you any details or reasonings. It doesn’t say anything about how I found the special effects to not have held up very well, to the point where some scenes that were probably scary in 1973 felt more inadvertantly comedic to me when I first saw it in 2010. Nor does it say anything about how good I felt the performances of Linda Blair and Max von Sydow were, or anything else. But now you have some reasoning and detail to my opinions on the film. 3/5 doesn’t provide that. 3/5 is just a number, and a number isn’t much more than a number.

1/5 and 2/5 are also merely numbers. As scores on my scale, they fall below my passing grade. If I give a film these scores, it means I didn’t like them overall. But again, the whole truth isn’t revealed. There are films I’ve given these scores that I can still appreciate for different reasons. Maybe the premise of the story felt fresh and unique. Maybe it tried to do something different that hasn’t been done much before. Maybe it managed to do a lot with a limited budget. Maybe there was one or two aspects of the production I was really impressed with. Sure, these movies didn’t fully succeed with their intended goals and I did end up disliking them (or at least found them to be lackluster) overall, but good ambitions can be worthy of praise alone. There is something to admire about a film that tries and fails, in some ways moreso than a film that plays things safe and turns out merely okay. So as paradoxical as this may sound, there are some films I’ve given 2/5 that I’m happier were made than some films I’ve given 3/5. Even if I didn’t like them as much.

I use the term “noble failures” here to describe these films. Failure might seem too strong a word in some of these cases, but they did fail. They failed to make the passing grade on my scale. And as my scale is highly subjective, so is the use of the word failure here. A noble failure can still have made back its budget and more at the box office, or received critical acclaim, or been a good movie in other people’s books. I’m not talking absolute failures here.

So what are some films I would classify as noble failures?

Well, Dogtooth is one. I really didn’t like this film, chiefly because it didn’t say anything. I’ve heard it described as a political allegory, but that didn’t work for me. What’s the message here? That people who have always lived in alien oppresive conditions might turn violent and want to escape? This isn’t a revelation. The movie is peppered with shocking moments of violence and sex, and it’s all for naught. That said, if taken at face value, there are still some scenes that are vaguely funny. And it’s a polarizing film for sure, so others have obviously seen something in the film that I haven’t. I might have disliked it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people so they can form their own opinions on it. It is at least a unique film.

Richard Kelly‘s Southland Tales is nothing if not ambitious. Every time I happen upon discussions about this film, I’m reminded of individual scenes that were actually quite inspired and funny (the commercial with the cars copulating, for instance). And there is certainly plenty of things to laugh about in the trainwreck sense, such as The Rock‘s constantly nervous steepling fingers, Seann William Scott‘s nonsensical babbling about how pimps don’t commit suicide, and the random musical number. But the film overall is just a huge mess, with a plot that’s impossible to make any sense of and a bloated running time of 140-ish minutes. I enjoyed both of Kelly’s other films (Donnie Darko and The Box), but with Southland Tales his imagination could have used some reigning in. This is a case of where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

What’s the best ever use of an animal in a movie? For my money, it might well be the dog in the 1975 postapocalypse film A Boy and His Dog. This dog is awesome, conversing with his owner in voiceover and expressing so much character through body language and such. It’s really remarkable. Sure, the film as a whole is weird and awkward, but man, that dog! Worth seeing for him alone? Quite possibly.

Many people love Rian Johnson‘s sly Brick, a film noir with high school kids. I found it rather boring in the way it plays out, but the concept is a novel one, there are some teriffic lines of dialogue scattered throghout and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead finds exactly the right tone, hovering just a tad above the material. I’m glad I’ve seen this film, even if I kept glancing at the clock throught my watching of it.

Another film beloved by plenty is Children of Men. I found this one needlessly cold, keeping the characters and story at arms-length that made it hard for me to care about what was going on. But it sure is beautifully shot in all its dystopian grayness, with wonderful cinematography and some amazing uninterrupted takes. People who appreciate these aspects more than me should definitely see the film if they haven’t already.

Low-budget horror film My Little Eye from 2002 is one that could just as easily have gone in my post on films I’d forgotten, as the only thing I remember about it is that I really wanted to like it but couldn’t. In a sea of cheap shoddy horror flicks, this one at least tried to provide some scares, tension and an intriguing mystery, featuring a plot with a bunch of teens taking part in a Big Brother-style reality show. The film didn’t work, but the effort was there. Also notable for featuring an early pre-fame appearance by Bradley Cooper.

What else? Darren Aronofsky‘s debut Pi, which has similar atmosphere to his later films but none of the emotional investment. Rubber, the psychokinetic tire movie that toys with meta elements to limited success. The Tracey Fragments, an Ellen Page movie which uses a unique, if tiresome, shot-in-shot collage style to convey the fragmented mind of a teenage girl. And many other films.

As already stated, I didn’t like any of these movies, and yet I think they deserve better than to simply be labelled “bad” and swept under the carpet. They all bring something to the table and try to be good. Compare this to a film like Captain America: The First Avenger, that is so absolutely stubbornly determined to be merely “okay” that it doesn’t dare aspire to anything. I liked Captain America and was reasonably entertained by it, but I really would have been just as happy having never seen it. These other films listed here, though? I’m glad I saw them all. Even if they’re not very good.

Do you have any films you’re glad that you watched, even if you didn’t like them?

 
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Posted by on 2 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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