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Monthly Report: May 2012

Compared to the previous two months, May was a bit disappointing in terms of both quality and quantity. The quality is unfortunate, but it’s due to knowingly dumb choices on my part. As for quantity, I was on my way to another movie-filled month until a certain video game called Diablo 3 derailed everything. No need to worry, though. I’ll be back in the swing of things sooner or later, with a planned Saturday viewing of Prometheus likely to get my film-watching back on track.

For now, enjoy this overview of the films I saw in May.

The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
I wish I had gotten to see this one before seeing The Avengers, because it’s hard to be all that impressed with the action here after seeing what Hulk does in that other movie. To be fair though, The Incredible Hulk puts in a good effort action-wise, as the stakes are carefully ramped up throughout the film. The climactic battle is satisfying. More problematic is the story, however. Bruce Banner is an interesting character, arguably moreso than the other Avengers, and Edward Norton is quite okay in the part. Unfortunately, Norton’s Banner disappears when CGI Hulk jumps into the fray, and the disconnect is there. The lack of strong supporting characters also hurts the narrative aspects of the film. Still, this remains a decent movie. The tale of an unwilling and tortured soul of a superhero is compelling, and the action is solid. The Incredible Hulk ranks somewhere in the middle when comparing the pre-Avengers films.
3/5

Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988)
Well-crafted thriller in which Harrison Ford – at the top of his acting game – tries to find his wife (Betty Buckley), who has gone missing on their vacation in Paris. The first half or so is particularly good. The Pace is methodical, everything is uncertain and tense, and there’s a realistic tone to everything. Unfortunately, the film eventually boils down to something we’re more familiar with from regular Hollywood thrillers, and the atmosphere weakens a bit – something not helped by a few unnecessarily humorous touches. Still, Ford himself performs admirably from start to finish, and the end result is a positive one even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the Polanski thrillers of earlier days.
3/5

The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
There were scenes and moments in this road movie that I found quite beautiful, but they can’t make up for the dullness that surrounds them. The mood of the film never quite seized me, despite a stunningly wonderful performance by Richard Farnsworth. I could see myself growing to like this movie with time, but for now, it’ll have to settle for lower marks.
2/5

Puncture (Adam & Mark Kassen, 2011)
The problem with basing a story on real events is that you need to stick somewhat close to reality. Puncture features an interesting tale of lawyers trying to work against a health care conspiracy, one I found myself quite engrossed in. However, the lead character (a very good Chris Evans) is a junkie, and this aspect eats up too much of the screentime for my liking. It feels like an unwelcome distraction. Still, you couldn’t really make the movie without touching upon it, I suppose. This one could have been even better than it was had it chosen a different way to tackle parts of its subject matter. Enjoyable nonetheless.
3/5

You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson, 2010)
Al Pacino shows that he’s still capable of great performances in this biopic on Dr. Kevorkian and his struggle to legalize euthanasia. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t match him. As important as the issue is, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. Pacing is also an issue as there are slow stretches where the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
2/5

American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (John Putch, 2009)
There’s a scene in this movie where an old ugly hooker is performing oral sex on a guy and uses her dentures to nibble his nipples. That actually made me snicker for a split-second. It’s the comedic highlight of this movie, the rest of which is absolute horse manure. No, wait, that’s not fair. Horse manure at least has useful fertilizing properties. This movie is worthless.
1/5

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010)
To begin talking about Hesher the movie, one must mention Hesher the character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He has the kind of larger-than-life presence that commands attention. He’s a heavy metal Joker, only he’s in a family/grief drama with a slew of black comedy, rather than in a superhero movie. He operates on Hesher logic, something distinctively different from real logic. The movie is infected by his “agent of chaos” ways, and it makes for a really fun ride for the first half or so. It’s one of those movies where you have no idea where it’s going to go, which is a rare quality to have. That it eventually becomes apparent that not even the movie knows where it’s going is a shame, and Hesher the character becomes more of an ill-fitting obstruction than anything. When it’s all said and done, this film offers quite a few laughs and has some good acting on display, but it is also uneven and awkward. A for effort, but not for the end result.
3/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Herman, 2008)
Holocaust drama from the eyes of a German child (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who befriends a jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) stuck in a camp. The film does a pretty good job of filtering the unknown horrors of the situation through the main character’s innocence, and there’s little faulting the performances – I was particularly impressed by Vera Farmiga who plays the worrying mother of the protagonist. I’m a bit torn on the ending, though. It’s sad – like most holocaust films tend to be – but it also felt vaguely manipulative. I’m not entirely sure whether this was due to my own expectations of where the film was going or not. Nonetheless, I wasn’t entirely enamored by the way the story ultimately went. A fine film, but not a great one.
3/5

Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
Here’s a case where the selectiveness of the awards season can lead to conveying the wrong ideas about a film. Christopher Plummer got all the attention for his supporting performance as the old gay father, which had me thinking that this would be the sole stand-out quality of the film. Oh, how wrong I was. This is a wonderfully bittersweet movie from top to bottom. Oliver’s (Ewan McGregor) problems with love and commitment are juxtaposed with the situation his dad was going through, showing us the guards and masks we subconsciously put up in order to avoid hurting ourselves and others. This one tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways, and the result is a great movie.
5/5

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2007)
I’m torn on what score to give this video game adaptation. I watched it and its sequel back to back, and this first one is certainly the better one. That’s not saying much though, because this is still a bad film. Are there enjoyable parts of it? Sure. While most of the actors sleepwalk through the movie, there are at least some that realize what kind of movie they’re in and decide to ham it up quite a bit – Matthew Lillard in particular. And there is at least some modicum of effort evident in making the film look good design-wise. I’m tempted to give it a score of 2, but… no. The Lord of the Rings-wannabe script is ridiculous, and Uwe Boll has no idea how to shoot action scenes. This gets a 1 and likes it. Only recommended for Jason Statham completionists. Like me. And even I regret seeing it. Uwe Boll has done it again.
1/5

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, 2011)
And again. Because if there was one thing missing from the first one, it was a fish-out-of-water angle to the story where a guy gets transported from our world to medieval fantasy. And Dolph Lundgren in the lead instead of Statham. And tracing the plot of The Matrix rather than Lord of the Rings. This movie is an utter failure, even when compared to the already bad first film. In that one, there was at least budget (60 million dollars!) to get some name actors onboard and to stage big battle scenes. This one, by comparison, feels like some dozen guys running around the woods in shoddy LARP costumes. An even bigger problem is the fact that nothing really happens for most of the film. It’s not just a bad movie, but also a boring one. Stay the fuck away from this one.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 2.5 / 5
Best film of the month: Beginners
Worst film of the month: In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds

 
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Posted by on 31 May, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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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 »

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

 

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Rewatch Review – Up in the Air


Sometimes, awards season can be overwhelming. All of a sudden, there’s tons of movies you need to check out. A vast majority of them will be really good, too. It can be very intense, and it’s easy to get too caught up in it and only view films in comparison to their competitiors rather than for what they actually are themselves. The 2009 season was very much such a case for me, especially since I got too hyped up about everything that it was inevitable for me not to be let down. In a slew of greatly anticipated films, Up in the Air was the one I had particularly high hopes for. A critically loved dramedy, made by Jason Reitman, the same guy responsible for Thank You For Smokng (which I really dig) and Juno (which I love), and starring Mr. Hollywood George Clooney. This would be my favorite for the season, surely. Well, it wasn’t. I very much liked the film, but I didn’t feel it really brought anything fresh to the table. What was so great about it? Why was this at one point considered a Best Picture frontrunner? And, perhaps the most unfair question of all: Why wasn’t it Juno?

It wasn’t Juno because it didn’t need to be. It was considered a Best Picture frontrunner because people thought the Academy would love it (it ended up not winning any Oscars at all). And what’s great about it is everything, as I have now discovered on a rewatch.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. When a company boss doesn’t want to tell his employees himself that they’re being let go, he hires a guy like Ryan to handle the unpleasant task. The firm he works for has clients all over the US, so he spends a lot of time flying from one city to another. He barely has a home and maintains little contact with his relatives. And he likes it that way. As he says himself during one of his side gigs as a public speaker: “The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake: moving is living”. He feels no need to settle down. He’ll take pleasures where he can find them.

But then two women enter his life and upset it, one on a professional level and another on a personal one. The former is young hotshot Natalie (Anna Kendrick, here sporting a speech pattern that oddly reminds me of Jesse Eisenberg) who’s come up with the idea for Ryan’s company to start firing people over video phone calls, thus threatening to cause a permanent halt to his days of constant travelling. The other is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who much like Ryan himself spends a lot of time travelling for work. They meet each other at an airport, find mutual attraction and end up having sex that same night (they’re both gorgeous and charming, so who can blame them?). But what starts as a casual friends-with-benefits scenario soon grows for Ryan, who realizes that he might be falling in love with her.

One problem I recall having with the film after my first time seeing it was the feeling that the two sides of Ryan’s life don’t intersect in any significant way. They play as two separate stories, ocassionaly encountering but rarely affecting each other. This is something I don’t really see as a problem now, for two reasons. 1: Many of us are the same way, keeping our professional and social spheres apart. 2: They do intersect. The intersection is Ryan. The threat of a new direction in his working life doesn’t does affect his relationship with Alex, not directly but through the change it has on him. There are two different stories at play in Up in the Air, but it’s one and the same main character in both of them.

I maintain that Clooney’s role as an assassin in the brilliant and underrated character study The American is his finest work to date, but his turn as Ryan Bingham isn’t far behind and is certainly the more pleasant of the two. Ryan is very charismatic, always ready and willing to turn his charm on but smart enough to know not to when he’s firing people in his job. This is one of those roles where Clooney is constantly acting, even when he’s not the focus of a scene (keep an eye on him during the part where Alex is consoling Natalie; he’s always smiling or frowning or doing something). It’s a character it’s easy for us to buy an actor like Clooney playing, but that doesn’t mean he’s just coasting by. He’s working the character for all its worth. And his two co-stars are equally great. Vera Farmiga is alluring as Alex, the kind of woman you’d just as easily fall in love with as Ryan does, and there are plenty of nuances to the performance that really shine through when you know how the story will play out. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick plays Natalie as an ambitious rookie, full of confidence that you know just won’t be able to hold up. She fires off her lines with stable precision when the character is working, but it’s in a party scene where she lets her hair down that Natalie becomes a fully fledged character. This is where her professional and social spheres converge.

It came as a surprise to me, but I found myself loving Up in the Air this time around. Removed from all the Oscar hoopla, I find little to complain about. It knows when to push the comedy and when to give breathing room to allow the viewer to ponder the emotional sides of the story. It’s very funny, and the funny comes both in the lines the character deliver and in the all too recognizable situations they find themselves in. It’s not profound or revelatory in the plot elements it touches on (which might be what disappointed me the first time around), but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s not something we’ve seen a million times before. Ryan isn’t a detached grouch who learns to become a better man; he’s pleasant and happy from the start and finds new pleasures and ways to be happy as the film progresses. I hesitate to call it a character study, but perhaps that’s what it is. It has an engaging plot, tons of humor, an easy-going intelligence to its proceedings and some stellar acting. What’s not to like? I wish I’d have seen all this the first time I saw the film, but better late than never.

Score: 5/5

 
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Posted by on 9 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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