REVIEW: The Lego Movie

31 07 2014

Back in 2012, “Zero Dark Thirty” gave audiences a pulse-pounding conclusions as it showed SEAL Team 6’s bold mission to kill Osama bin Laden in stunning detail.  Yet even as gripping as that was, I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit when I saw who they cast as the finger behind the trigger: Chris Pratt, who I knew and loved as Andy Dwyer (and his FBI alter ego Burt Macklin) on the TV comedy “Parks & Recreation.”

Well, as it turns out, Kathryn Bigelow was as right about Pratt as an action star as she was about Jeremy Renner as a fine dramatic actor.  And now it’s Pratt who’s laughing all the way to the bank.  “The Lego Movie” proves that Pratt doesn’t even have to be present in the flesh to lead a movie towards some very fun adventure.

Pratt is like the world’s oldest 7-year-old, a lovable, innocent kid that you can’t help but root for because he reminds you of all the naive optimism of a simpler state of mind.  When his plastic Lego teddy bear of a character, Emmet Brickowoski, chants the film’s theme “Everything Is Awesome,” it’s hard not to smile a little bit.  He’s not just singing from a place of pure naïveté like Selena Gomez on “Barney,” but also from a position of contagious optimism that makes Emmet quite irresistible.

Thankfully, the writing/directing dynamic duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (they who blessed us with the gift of “21 Jump Street“) matches Pratt’s enthusiasm throughout “The Lego Movie.”  They bring a boundless imagination to the project, resembling the kind of creativity that Legos themselves spark in children all over the world.  What they ultimately construct is wild, wacky, and quite inspired. Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Super

30 07 2014

SuperJames Gunn’s “Super” plays like a stubborn sidekick to Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 revisionist comic book action flick “Kick-Ass.”  Perhaps it should have adopted a name defining itself better in relation to that film: “Half-Ass.”

Gunn’s film is made in good fun, but “Super” is a little too footloose and fancy-free for its own good.  The off-kilter antics follow cuckolded sad-sack Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson), who dons the costume of “The Crimson Bolt” in order to win back his wife (Liv Tyler) from the clutches of a drug lord (Kevin Bacon).  The material is wacky enough for Wilson to dive into head first, but it feels a bit like an abandoned pilot for a Dwight spinoff of “The Office.”

Frank works as a quirky, peculiar character to follow, but the same could not be said for Ellen Page as his wannabe partner-in-crime “Boltie,” also known as Libby.  Page goes balls to the wall in her performance, though it winds up feeling rather sloppy, especially in her chemistry with Wilson.  She’s so unhinged that I wondered if she simply stopped taking her Adderall during the filming of “Super.”

Gunn’s total package resembles Page moreso than Wilson in the end, unfortunately.  The tone in the film fluctuates from over-the-top hum or to downbeat drama and then to a teenager’s wet dream of gory violence.  By the end, I found myself wondering if I was watching the scribblings of a deranged comic book devotee who’s been to one too many Comic-Cons.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Fading Gigolo

29 07 2014

Fading GigoloOn paper, “Fading Gigolo” sounds like the kind of movie Woody Allen would have made in the ’70s or early ’80s.  The bored Murray (Allen) facing the obsolescence of his current job decides to pimp out his unconventionally virile buddy Fioravante (John Turturro) to jaded women.  The concept is ripe for laughs and some good character development.

Sadly, Woody Allen didn’t direct “Fading Gigolo.”  That position belongs to John Turturro, who can’t quite recreate the magic of the acclaimed director he managed to cast in a key role.  Whereas even the minor films of Allen manage to provide a unique experience, Turturro’s film is rather bland.

Allen’s character is firmly supporting, which is a shame since he’s the best thing “Fading Gigolo” has going for it.  Even though it’s a little bizarre to hear him speaking someone else’s dialogue, there’s a certain vitality his trademark persona brings to the screen.  The same could not be said for Turturro, who seems to be sleepwalking through the film.

Fioravante is supposed to be entrancing these women, but I’ll be darned if I could tell you what exactly was capturing their imaginations.  Either Turturro was on downers the entire shoot, or he just actually lacks the charisma to hold the screen as a leading man.  He’s been great as a character actor for the Coen Brothers in the past, so I don’t quite know what to think.

In the director’s chair, Turturro is every bit as colorless.  He could certainly have learned the economy of comedy on set from Allen, but he proceeds with making a bloated film that lacks a pulse.  Everything from the way Turturro directs the actors to the elevator music he chooses to score the film feels drained of energy.

And I don’t mean to imply that Turturro is some kind of an anti-Semite, but I felt ill at ease with the way he portrayed the Jewish community in “Fading Gigolo.”  Much of the plot centers around Murray trying to convince a Hasidic rabbi’s widow to see Fioravante for some healing sessions, creepily against her strict religious vow of modesty.  His presence brings about the curiosity of a particularly zealous Hasidic neighborhood watchman played Liev Schrieber, complete with fake sidelocks.  The whole community seems to be constructed as rather exotic by Turturro, almost to the point where their differences are the butt of jokes.

Perhaps it’s just me who found that troubling, but I can make other assertions about flaws in “Fading Gigolo” with confidence.  It’s a film conspicuously lacking in humor as well as in panache.  C+2stars





5 Years a Blogger: How did it get so late so soon?

28 07 2014

So late so soonOnce upon a time, I sat in front of a computer screen for 30 minutes and typed out a post entitled “Marshall and the Movies – The Beginning.”  That was five years, 744 reviews, 568 random factoids, and 1,658 posts ago today.  I don’t think anywhere in my wildest dreams I could have ever imagined I would be sitting here, five years later, still cranking out posts on my blog.

When I started “Marshall and the Movies,” I could not attend an R-rated movie without parental supervision.  Now, I can legally buy and consume alcohol.  The writer who began this blog was a naive high schooler, and the one who is writing this post is a (perhaps slightly less naive) rising college senior.  At times, I still feel like the same person who started the site – but realize that I’m really not.

My life now scarcely resembles what it looked like July 28, 2009, but I’ve been grateful to have this site – and the movies – to fall back on through the various sea changes over the past five years.  I haven’t always been entirely consistent, I’ll admit.  I’m so thankful to everyone who kept coming back regardless, though!

Not to beat the “Boyhood” drum again, but Richard Linklater’s film really does have me hypersensitive about the seemingly imperceptible changes in ourselves that accumulate over time.  I look back at the way I reviewed a Woody Allen movie in 2009, and it looks absolutely nothing like the way I review it now in 2014.  But I can’t really even be embarrassed about the way I used to write because the site is such an incredible time capsule for my intellectual growth (not to mention all that’s happened in the world of cinema).

I’ve so enjoyed sharing these past five years of moviegoing with you, from the good to the bad.  The discussions and debates I’ve had over posts I’ve written, whether in the comments or in person, do hearten me so.  Clearly, I’m a firm believer in the importance of film on both a personal and cultural level, and I thank you for working with me towards achieving my “mission statement,” if you will:

“What I do hope to do is to inspire a deeper appreciation of movies, foster a desire to discuss movies, and connect with people through the glorious medium of film.”

Marshall and JulieI’m filled with nothing but gratitude for everyone’s support of this endeavor, particularly those who encouraged me from the beginning when the continued existence of “Marshall and the Movies” was nothing certain.  This site has led to so many great things in my life, and I hope it has led to something great in yours as well.  Maybe it was connecting you with a great movie, or maybe it was making you think a little more about a film.  But whatever it was, I’m so humbled and honored that you’ve let me be a part of your life in some small way.

So thanks for 5 interesting years, and here’s to … who knows how many more!  I can’t express my gratitude to you all enough.

 





REVIEW: Noah

28 07 2014

After “Black Swan” topped my best of 2010 list, Darren Aronofsky could have made a film about virtually anything, and I would turn out to see it.  From the earliest announcement of Aronofsky’s “Noah” in 2011, I was deliriously excited to see his distinct spin on the well-known Biblical story.

I maintained faith in spite of nearly every media report drumming up controversy about the film.  It became impossible to escape stories that claimed Aronofsky was replacing the original narrative with an environmental message, or that he was purging God from the film entirely.  Going in, I had the impression that I was bound to be offended by something in “Noah,” no matter how artfully Aronofsky presented it.

As it turns out, nothing that generated headlines about the film offended me.  What did, however, was the simple and rudimentary script of “Noah.”  It felt like Aronofsky went into production with the first draft for something that shows potential for greatness but achieves little of it.

As a character, Noah feels remarkably incomplete and incoherent.  His motivations are unclear, and I’m not sure whether to interpret that as Aronofsky saying God is confused … or whether Aronofsky himself is confused.  Russell Crowe turns in a rather schizoid performance, grappling with the seeming non-sequiturs of his character as much as he is with anything relating to God.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man

27 07 2014

A Most Wanted ManDirector Anton Corbijn came into film through photography, a background which makes itself quite evident in “A Most Wanted Man.”  There’s a certain placidity and patience in the proceedings that seem to bear the mark of a photographer’s cool distance.

Corbijn’s perspective gives this adaptation of John Le Carre (the mind who gave us “The Constant Gardener” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“) a distinct flavor, one that adds rather than detracts from the mix.  Though this spy film tackles counterterrorism, it lacks a definite endgame like “Zero Dark Thirty” had to push it along.  Instead, the focus is on the seemingly never-ending process of apprehending terrorists, not the final product of those efforts.

The calm collectedness and careful restraint of Corbijn does a great job highlighting the grimy, laborious legwork done by a Hamburg, Germany intel unit headed up by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Günther Bachmann.  He has a knack for foresight and playing the long game, two traits that put him at odds with the more impetuous, results-driven German intelligence community (not to mention the American embassy, represented by Robin Wright’s ambassador Martha Sullivan).

Bachmann quietly enters the fray to handle the curious case of a Chechen, Issa Karpov, who washes up in Hamburg and enters the city’s network of Muslim terrorist cells.  His approach is to use this refugee as a pawn to gain access to the real power players and continue working up the chain.  Along the way, Bachmann must join forces some unwilling participants, including a shady banker (Willem Dafoe’s Tommy Brue) and a lawyer who provides counsel for terrorists (Rachel McAdams’ Annabel Richter).

“A Most Wanted Man” does drag on occasion, but it’s consistently interesting thanks to the way Corbijn’s direction allows us to savor the careful maneuvers of counterintelligence chess.  While the film might be a little less ostensibly artistic than his last outing, 2010’s “The American,” Corbijn’s chosen aesthetic for the piece suits the highly-plotted story quite well.  It also allows Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what will sadly be his last leading role, to quietly show his mastery over the craft of acting one final time.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: Lucy

26 07 2014

Lucy” may well be the most peculiar movie of summer 2014.  Director Luc Besson strangely amalgamates high-brow ambitions with B-movie antics.  It amounts to a simple-minded film about big ideas, something far less than Besson achieved on “The Professional,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t have a decent amount of fun on the ride.

Clearly Besson feels more comfortable in the realm of the non-human, staging vibrantly kinetic car chases and action sequences with flashy visuals.  These sequences have a definite panache to them, which is good given that they largely have to power the entire film.

Besson keeps “Lucy” moving at a swift clip, so brisk that you almost don’t have time to think about how excruciatingly bad his inane dialogue is.  It’s obvious that he views words as means to the ends of expression and plot development, not ends in and of themselves.  Worst of all, these unimaginative lines are delivered by Scarlett Johansson and company with feeling equivalent to rote recitation, rendering the film’s human element unintentionally laughable.

The film’s editing could have used some work, too.  Besson begins the film by heavy-handedly intercutting animals and prey with the events of the story (a clumsy attempt to be artful).  Then, he cross-cuts an intellectual lecture given by a professor played by Morgan Freeman (an obvious ploy to be taken seriously on an intellectual level) between multiple scenes of Lucy.  If you think about it, the edit really makes no sense as it either has no sense of time … or Freeman’s Samuel Norman is giving the world’s longest address!

Read the rest of this entry »








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