REVIEW: Looper

30 12 2012

It’s about time for a changing of the guard in science-fiction, and “Looper” heralds perhaps the sign that the genre is in young, fresh, and good hands.  Rian Johnson’s time-traveling tale is an intelligent film that hopefully points to revitalization by the people who grew up on the classics of the 1980s.  Its delicate construction and serious contemplation moves Johnson into the league of J.J. Abrams and Duncan Jones in terms of directors moving what was formerly considered kitsch into respectable art.

“Looper,” upon a little bit of pondering, feels very much inspired by James Cameron’s “The Terminator.”  Though we still watch that movie nearly three decades later, it’s mainly to be amused by the ex-Governator, not to be wowed by the script or the direction (and most definitely not by the performances).  And yes, it’s in the Library of Congress and is unilaterally praised, but “The Terminator” is able to get away with its unabashed Roger Corman, B-movie background now largely because of our fondness for nostalgia.

Johnson takes what worked about “The Terminator,” the time traveling plot device and the thematic weight, and sets it in a frame evoking “A Clockwork Orange” or “Blade Runner.”  His “Looper” takes place in a future not blatantly dystopian, but rather cleverly thought out with depth that doesn’t draw attention to itself.  Viewers willing to take the plunge into Johnson’s world multiple times will undoubtedly be rewarded by the subtle details he hides throughout the film.

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REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom

17 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Wes Anderson made a name for himself on clean, quirky visual style, and “Moonrise Kingdom” forges a further name for the director on that basis. It’s a Wes Anderson movie for people that love Wes Anderson movies, and for everyone else … yeah, there’s a different movie for you out there somewhere. If his insistence on the rule of thirds, smooth horizontal tracking shots, and manipulation of the mise-en-scene frustrated you in “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Darjeeling Limited,” then this movie, which is Anderson stylistically to a T, will only frustrate you more.

I, like many, enjoy the quirkiness of Anderson’s idiosyncratic eye, so watching “Moonrise Kingdom” felt like devouring sugar for an hour and a half. The film almost feels like the director is making a tribute to his own technique as it hits the viewer with a sledgehammer with its flair within the frame. But that sledgehammer is more like a blow-up hammer you get at a carnival, one that whacks you in a fun and enjoyable way (provide you don’t mind the bump on your head). He does extreme close-ups on written notes, takes it to Kubrickian lengths with his dolly shots, and sports costumes and sets that look both of their time and out of this world. I doubt there is anyone that couldn’t tell you what a Wes Anderson movie is after watching his latest feature.

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REVIEW: Red

26 01 2011

There’s more to the fun of “Red” than Helen Mirren firing away like a madman with a machine gun.  It’s an action movie not afraid to flash its AARP card, which makes its rather typical action and plot feel a lot fresher than it probably is.  With Bruce Willis finally embracing his age, rather than doing movie after movie that’s one “yippee-ki-yay” away from complete implausibility, it’s a nice change of pace for the action star that could signal better days ahead.

As Frank Moses, the retired and extremely dangerous (hence the acronym RED) former CIA agent, Willis is having a rough time adjusting to life after his time in black-ops.  He’s trying to do the whole suburban thing, but the only thing that gives him real joy is chatting with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a federal pension phone customer service representative.  Of course, at 55, main street Americans only wish they could be receiving retirement benefits as opposed to unemployment benefits.

But whatever normalcy he built in suburbia is shattered as he’s drawn back into the bullet-ridden world by an attempt on his life.  Frank discovers that thanks to being part of a Guatemalan mission back in the ’80s, he’s being targeted for death.  Gathering up a gang of other Baby Boomers including the incredibly paranoid conspiracy theorist Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Frank’s terminally ill mentor Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), and Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former assassin with class and grace.  Yet the best part of all is that Frank brings Sarah, oblivious to the perils of the, along for the ride.

The trigger-happy travelogue through the United States is a wild romp that excites and entertains at surprisingly high octane and high thrills.  At 110 minutes, the premise ages quickly and begins to drag a little bit.  Yet the entertainment is always solid as the bullets fly and bombs explode, even as the trek through the plot gets a little … dare I say it, old.  But it has a plot, and that’s more than I can say for most action movies nowadays.  B





REVIEW: Cop Out

30 08 2010

The first joke, so to speak, in “Cop Out” involves the mispronunciation of the word homage by Tracy Morgan’s idiotic cop.  He says it as it appears, phonetically sounding like “home-age.”  Any lover of sophisticated art – or really just anybody with common knowledge, like Bruce Willis as Morgan’s brutalized partner – cringes, and perhaps simultaneously laughs.

Although Morgan’s Paul can’t pronounce the word, he is well aware of its meaning.  He loves to pay homage to cinematic tough guys, particularly the “bad cops,” in an attempt to make himself intimidating to the accused criminals.  It works about as well as an iPhone that’s gone through the spin cycle in the washing machine, which is to say not very well.  However, it does provide amusement for the other guys at the station, as well as us, the audience.  It’s like watching a montage of Tracy Morgan’s “SNL” impressions, and it’s hard not to get a kick out of watching him butcher great lines from classic movies.

The joke of paying homage keeps coming up throughout the movie in bits and fragments, always good for a nice chuckle.  But the movie lags and bores when Morgan has to play the hopelessly pathetic character written for him in the script.  One has to wonder how he can choose such hackneyed fare when his day job is working for Tina Fey, one of the brightest bulbs in the comedic universe at the moment, on “30 Rock.”

And then there’s our old friend Bruce Willis, playing the character as bored as we are.  He’s supposed to be the straight man in the routine, but he just looks bored and ready to head back to his trailer.  While such emotions can be a character choice, there has to be some variety to give off the faintest illusion that he’s not on the screen just to cash the paycheck that follows.  I don’t know what he thinks will come first, the AARP check or the offer to reprise John McClane for “Die Hard 5: Just DIE Already!”

In a year where “The Other Guys” cornered the market on making the stale buddy cop genre somewhat bearable, it seems that “Cop Out” is “The Other Cop Movie” of 2010.  This is a title made even more insulting by the fact that it’s directed by Kevin Smith, the mind behind some of the great independent movies of the 1990s.  I haven’t seen any of his earlier movies, but based on this, I’m not very keen to go back and examine his collection.  It seems to me that Smith is like the M. Night Shyamalan of comedy – a meteoric rise followed by a steep fall.  “Cop Out” isn’t bad enough to be called rock bottom, but any worse and Smith gets dangerously close.  C /





What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall