RSS

Tag Archives: Steven Soderbergh

Monthly Report: October + November 2013

Another month or two, another bunch of movies seen. October was a bit middling with few real highlights, but November picked up in a big way. November 11 in particular was a great day, with two 5/5 movies seen, something I don’t think has ever happened before. Good times.

Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)
A solid horror movie, albeit one with few surprises along the way. What I really liked about it was how the characters and their reactions felt largely believable. They filled standard parts for a horror film, but they did in such a way that they didn’t come off as mere archetypes. That was cool, and a spark of just the kind of thing I’d expect from the director of Lars and the Real Girl.
3/5

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
I wouldn’t take any of the theories on Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining presented in this documentary as anything resembling facts, but it’s nonetheless quite fun to listen to people talk about something they’re passionate about and have devoted a lot of time to. It’s all fairly well executed and presented, but it does get a bit samey at times. Perhaps a shorter run time would have been a nice idea.
3/5

ent-god-bless-americajpg-abbb-de-311965954

God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)
As subtle as a bowling ball, and roughly as sharp, but at its best, it’s a really funny black comedy; at its worst, it’s Goldthwait soap-boxing in the guise of 10 minutes long montages of TV parodies. It’s a good movie, but hardly a step forward from his previous film World’s Greatest Dad.
3/5

Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
A sweet story combined with an interesting look at East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the basic premise of a lie that needs to be upheld is far from rare, the setting and earnestness makes it work here. A fun and fairly touching watch.
4/5

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
The acting is the strong point of the film, with Channing Tatum doing everything right in the lead and Matthew McConaughey putting in a supporting turn that’s charisma all the way through. The story is fine, but you’d expect a Soderbergh movie about male strippers to either have more to say, or at least put a fresher spin on things. There’s a lot of angles that could be explored here, and it feels like there’s plenty of missed opportunities. Not the director’s bravest effort.
3/5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Very 80s-y. Freddy is more goofy than anything, and the ending is awful, but it does have its moments. Although not many.
2/5

The Eye (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2008)
Jessica Alba sees something scary and freaks out. Repeat a thousand times. Roll credits. Weak horror movie with a story that moves at a snail’s pace.
2/5

Avalon (Axel Petersén, 2011)
Kind of dry, like many Swedish films tend to be. Johannes Brost puts in a strong lead performance, and really shines when his character is stricken by guilt. Those scenes are the highlight of the film. The rest, I could take or leave. The ending is pretty but weak.
2/5

side-effects1

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Twisty, tense and entertaining thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. The antidepressant element of the plot helped introduce some welcome ambiguity to the proceedings, and Rooney Mara puts in a performance at least as good as the one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Just a damn solid film.
4/5

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Perhaps not so much a slow-burner as a late-starter, The Innkeepers lulls you into first thinking it’ll be one certain kind of horror film, only to carefully flip your expectations upside down – or at least 90°. By the end of it, the tension and atmosphere had me clutching my pillow tightly. Great pacing, wonderful execution, and a very compelling set of lead characters. Best horror film I’ve seen in quite some time.
4/5

Win Win (Tom McCarthy, 2011)
There’s little particularly new or noteworthy about the story and characters in this film, but fine execution goes a long way and makes this a solid and enjoyable watch regardless. With a lesser cast, this could have turned out really weak.
3/5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
While there’s a lot to like about this film, the best reason to see it is to witness Elizabeth Olsen‘s terrific performance in the leading role. There’s a lot of tricky emotions at play for her character, and she nails it all. The rest of the movie can’t really hope to match it fully, but that says more about Olsen than anything else. It’s a fascinating character study, as much about paranoia as about cult life, and while the ending really caught me off guard, it did so in a way that made me reevaluate what the film was really trying to say. And that’s fine. As is the movie.
4/5

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
Brendan Gleeson is in fine form here, playing a somewhat grumpy policeman. He and Don Cheadle have plenty of fun interactions with one another, rising above your usual “buddy cop” routines. The plot itself might be somewhat familiar, but that’s not what you should be here for; the Irishness of both the humor and the tone is what makes the film stand out.
4/5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
The opening scene had me immediately enthralled. 10 minutes in, I had found 10 or so things about this film I really loved. And then it just kept on going at that same high level. A horrific tale to be sure, but it’s impossible to tear one’s eyes from the screen. A top-notch performance by Tilda Swinton, and Ramsay’s directing is flawless. Had I seen this when I was first getting into movies some years ago, it would have blown my damn mind. Even watching it now, it still does.
5/5

gravity-movie-review-space-2

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I wasn’t all that enamored by Cuarón’s much-beloved previous film Children of Men, finding it visually impressive but sterile to a fault in terms of story and characters. I was thus a bit wary of Gravity, in spite of all the praise it has been receiving. Well, Gravity is good. It’s really good. Great, in fact. The visuals are certainly the highlight here too, but they’re combined with solid characters (Sandra Bullock has probably never been better), thematic food-for-thoughts, and more suspense and excitement than you can shake a stick at. Wonderful.
5/5

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Cool Norwegian thriller that ramps up and transforms as it moves along. Some of the more comedic parts feel a bit out of place, but that’s about the only major gripe I have with the film. Everything else is pulled off really well, which makes for a captivating ride.
4/5

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Exhilarating action scenes, solid plot and characters, interesting theme of old vs new, expert pacing, and visually stunning. That last thing is almost done to a fault, as there were times when the flashy cinematography took me out of the moment. Overall, however, this is a very fine action film, one of my favorite Bond movies, and another winner from Sam Mendes.
4/5

Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi, 1993)
Six Degrees of Separation somewhat fails to get its point across, and the transition from stage to screen is not a particularly smooth one. Whether Will Smith is just ill-suited for this kind of theater material or whether it was just too early in his career for him to tackle it, I’m not sure. He’s not bad, but his part is one that ought to sparkle, and it doesn’t here. The cast is fine for the most part, though the acting is lacking in “oomph” until Stockard Channing‘s big emotional scene towards the end.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.4 / 5
Best film of the months: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Worst film of the months: The Eye

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 1 December, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My backlog for 2012

It’s getting to that time of the year where people start constructing their Top 10 lists of the best films from the past twelve months. I will of course not be doing this. Hell, I still haven’t gotten around to doing my 2011 list yet. You might remember a list I made back in January where I named all the 2011 films I wanted to see before I finalized my Top 10. Well, I still have eight movies or so left on that one.

Still, that’s no reason to not look to the future, or present, or what have you. I’m fantastically behind in my 2012 watching as well, as you can imagine, due to a combination of delayed Swedish release dates, laziness, and an ongoing desire to catch up with not just the newest stuff, but also 100+ years of cinema. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be ahead of the pack, but I’ll continue doing what I can to keep up.

Without further ado, here are the films I want to see before I put out my Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2012 list. Maybe they won’t be great, and maybe there are others I’ll see that will be, but this is my current personal check list. It could change in the future, I should point out. In alphabetical order:

Amour – because I ought to watch more Michael Haneke anyway.

Argo – because there is no reason to abandon the Ben Affleck train yet, considering how great Gone Baby Gone and The Town were.

Bachelorette – because I like comedy.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - 6

Beasts of the Southern Wild – because of the image above.

The Campaign – because Will Ferrell is funny, and so is Zach Galifianakis.

Celeste and Jesse Forever – because it’s always interesting to see funny people branch out.

Cloud Atlas – because ambition should be rewarded.

Cockneys vs Zombies – because even if only a few people are talking about it, they all seem to love it.

Compliance – because the premise intrigues.

Cosmopolis – because a friend emphatically told me that it would be right up my alley.

Django Unchained – because it’s Quentin Tarantino. Duh.

end-of-watch-posterEnd of Watch – because it somehow seems unfair to watch Rampart without seeing this one too.

Flight – because it’s Robert Zemeckis doing live action.

For a Good Time Call – because, much to my perplexity, someone told me I might possibly love it.

Frankenweenie – because in the middle of working on this blog post, I took a break to listen to the Oscar Talk podcast, and they had a lot of compelling praise for this one.

Hitchcock – because The Remains of the Day recently reminded me of what an amazing actor Anthony Hopkins is.

Holy Motors – because I have no idea what to expect from it.

Hyde Park on Hudson – because no matter how mediocre critical and public response has been, it’s still Bill Murray.

Killer Joe – because everyone seems to dig it.

Les Misérables – because big musicals need to bounce back from some critical duds the last few years, and being a fan of the genre, I will gladly support this endeavor.

Life of Pi – because the religious aspects seem to be something everyone likes, which is quite frankly insane. When have people ever agreed on anything religion-related before?

Magic Mike – because it’s Steven Soderbergh. And because Kevin Nash is in it.

The Master – because I was only missing Hard Eight to complete Paul Thomas Anderson‘s filmography, and I won’t let this one ruin my percentage.

Nicole-Kidman-in-The-PaperboyThe Paperboy – because there has to be something to all these award nominations Nicole Kidman keeps scoring, no?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – because I’ve been confusing it with On the Road for quite some time, and I’ve seen that one now.

Premium Rush – because someone made an off-hand comparison of it to Crank, which I fucking love.

Safety Not Guaranteed – because it’s time travel.

Savages – because it looks so vibrant and colorful.

Searching for Sugar Man – because it’s supposedly one of the best documentaries of the year, and I like good documentaries.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – because of the basic idea.

The Sessions – because the story sounds like something I’ve never seen before, and because it’s John Hawkes in a rare leading role.

Seven Psychopaths – because In Bruges was great, and the cast is promising indeed.

Silver Linings Playbook – because when awards bodies start paying attention to comedies, it’s usually a sign that I’ll love the movie in question.

Skyfall – because it’s Sam Mendes.

Take This Waltz – because 1) it’s Michelle Williams, and 2) see the note on Celeste and Jesse Forever.

This is 40 – because I’m not yet even remotely tired of Judd Apatow.

Wreck-It Ralph – because in addition to being a movie lover, I’m also a gamer.

wreck-it-ralph-banner

Is there anything else from 2012 that I really desperately absolutely ought to check out? What 2012 film do you still feel like you need to see?

 
22 Comments

Posted by on 15 December, 2012 in Lists

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Contagion (2011)

With Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have crafted a viral outbreak movie that differs from the norm. This one has a very realistic feel to it as it examines the way a fatal pandemic begins, how it spreads, who tries to stop it and how. We also get a look at the effect it has on people, as well as that of the efforts to contain it. The film has similarities in its matter-of-fact tone and multi-character structure to Soderbergh’s 2000 drug trade film Traffic, but Contagion places less focus on the characters and more on the core subject. The virus is always the center of attention.

It comes from Chicago. Or Hong Kong. Or somewhere else. Nobody knows at first. What’s initially thought of as just a fluke occurrence or two soon manifests itself as a highly contagious disease. People who contract it get a nasty cough and might die within a day or two. The mortality rate is estimated at one in four, but that might be incorrect. Through carefully zoomed-in shots, we become aware of the way it spreads before the characters explain it explicitly. A handshake. There’s the virus. A credit card being handed to a cashier. The virus is there too. And in a world where jet planes fly halfway across the planet in a day, we know contagions spread easily.

As said, there are plenty of characters in this movie. Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first one we see as she sits in a hotel lobby coughing. She might well be Patient Zero. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spearheads the work to contain the virus. He might find himself biting off more than he can chew. Working with him is the driven Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) who’s sent to Minnesota to investigate one cluster of the disease. Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization, meanwhile, is sent to Hong Kong for similar reasons. Scientists, most notably Sussman and Hextall (Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle) work tirelessly to come up with a vaccine. Inserting himself into the mix is freelance journalist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), spreading conspiracy theories and sowing dissent online. There are reasons for his actions. While all this is going on, family man Mitch (Soderbergh-veteran Matt Damon) loses his wife and one of his children to the virus but is given little time to grief as his older daughter (Anna-Jacoby Heron) still needs to be kept safe from the contagion. Mitch himself appears to be immune, but others in the cast will contract the virus.

The realistic tone of Contagion occasionally reminded me of Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 drama United 93. Particularly in the early goings where nobody is really sure what’s going on, the same sense of helpless dread is present, if not to the same degree of effectiveness (the first act of Contagion moves a bit slow and is bogged down somewhat by technical jargon). But once the ball really gets rolling, the film’s strive for realism becomes it’s greatest asset. Why? Because it’s different and fresh. There’s no immediate breakdown of human civilization, no sensational miracles and no evil army sent out to reinforce quarantines by any means necessary. The aim is to paint a picture of what a large-scale outbreak could be like if it happened in real life, and the film certainly feels believable.

The movie jumps back and forth between all its characters and their story arcs (which rarely intersect directly). At times the film gets too crowded, leaving some people on the sideline for a bit too long. Most egregious is the case of Cotillard’s character, who very much disappears during the film’s second half and had me going “Huh? Oh, right, she’s still here” when she suddenly popped up again. Her story could have used another scene or two both to keep it in the viewers’ mind and to flesh it out more. It’s easy enough to infer what happens as it is, but the emotional weight is diminished when we don’t get to see it. But in a way, this works to hammer home the point that the film is about the virus, not the people. All story threads are resolved in the end, but the aftermath for many characters is left ambiguous.

While Contagion isn’t a perfect film, the good far outweighs the bad. It engagingly shows many different aspects of the outbreak in its effect in personal (Mitch and Beth), professional (the doctors) and social (Alan) spheres. The actors all deliver good to great performances, with Winslet and Law leaving the strongest impressions on me. It’s shot beautifully and has an oddly fitting score. Is it Soderbergh’s best film ever? No, but it puts in a very admirable effort. It’s more ambitious than your standard Hollywood flick (the star-studded cast and the marketing gives off that vibe) and its stark tone which might turn some people off. For those willing to immerse themselves in its narrative, a feast is waiting.

Score: 4/5

 
7 Comments

Posted by on 3 November, 2011 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.

Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.

Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.

So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.

This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.

10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)

“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”

This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”

9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”

Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
15 Comments

Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 great movies from the 2000’s you probably haven’t seen

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for more films to add to your already-too-large list of movies to watch. However, if you’re anything like me, you’re also very active in your pursuit. You read forum threads, blogs, critics lists of great films and so on. You’re already aware of most of the big blockbusters, most of the year’s critical darlings and everything inbetween. Finding new stuff gets harder and harder. Everybody knows of The Dark Knight. All but the most casual moviewatchers know of Memento. And while the average Joe might not be the slightest bit aware of foreign films like Oldboy or American indies like Winter’s Bone, a movie nut like you already saw them a long time ago. Twice. They’re hardly obscure among film fanatics.

But then there are the films that nobody ever talks about. The casual movie watcher never heard of them. The movie nuts skimmed them over. The critics reviewed them and forgot about them a month later. They rarely if ever pop up in online discussions, or blog posts, or anywhere.

And yet they’re movies I found myself really enjoying for various reasons. So if you’re looking for more movies to add to your watch list, you could do a hell of a lot worse than these 15 films from the past decade.

CASHBACK (Sean Ellis, 2006)

After a bad break-up, art student Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) suffers from insomnia. Not knowing what to do with all his extra free-time, he takes a nightshift job at a supermarket where he discovers he can freeze time at will.

Cashback is a delightfully funny British comedy. Ben’s new co-workers is a colorful bunch that all get their shots at providing laughs, whether it’s his overbearing boss, the kung fu expert or the juvenile slackers. The time-stopping thing mentioned above is not a gimmick the movie uses to base all its jokes and plot around. Rather, it provides time for Ben to reflect on how he views the world, his situation and the women around him. There’s plenty of monologues and flashbacks to flesh out his character, which makes for a nice counterpoint to the movie’s more humorous side. Also featured is a fairly touching romance developing between him and co-worker Sharon (Emilia Fox), as well as plenty of gratuitous nudity. So there’s something for everyone!

THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (Roger Avary, 2002)

Here’s another comedy, but one very different from the humor Cashback provides. The Rules of Attraction follows a couple of college students as they embark on various short-lived romances. Bisexual Paul (Ian Somerhalder) is attracted to bad boy Sean (James Van Der Beek), who’s pursuing the virgin Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who’s saving herself for Victor (Kip Pardue), who’s on a crazy vacation to Europe, and so on. But while there’s plenty of sex and partying going on, this is not your typical college sex comedy. This is comedy of the black kind, where every joke is punctuated with the despair and lack of direction that’s plaguing its protagonists’ generation. The characters are not likeable, but then they were never meant to be. It’s the second part of that sentence that differs The Rules of Attraction from most post-American Pie films in its genre.

The film is based on a novel of the same name, penned by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. The book (featuring a very rambling and at times incohorent tone and multiple narrators, none of them reliable)  is one that you’d never think could work as a movie when you read it. Director Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) magically pulls it off, though. Highlighting the comedy yet never losing sight of the darkness, he comes up with plenty of clever and unusual solutions on how to present the haphazardly compiled events of the plot. It’s a captivating and isolated world we get to visit, one that will probably make you laugh as much as it makes you feel filthy.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
58 Comments

Posted by on 7 August, 2011 in Lists

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,