10 for ’10: Criticism

29 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

If someone classified this blog (good luck trying to do that, anyone that might attempt to) as one thing, I bet they’d be likely to say it’s a movie review site.  While I do much more, and I urge you to check out all the other things I do, it’s probably true that I am most prominently a movie critic.

So how can I look back on a year of blogging without retrospectively looking at my own writing?  So here are excerpts from 10 of what I believe were my best reviews this year – 5 good movies, 5 bad movies – that I believe best demonstrate my love of writing, language, and some good wordplay.

(NOTE: I’m only putting excerpts because I want you to go read the whole review!  So don’t be afraid to click the links!)

The Good

Black Swan

There’s really no one else but Aronofsky who could pull off a big, brassy movie like this.  He’s simply the best visual filmmaker out there.  As if his first two movies, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” weren’t powerful enough, “Black Swan” is Aronofsky in full bloom, showing absolute command of all cinematic vocabulary.  There is no boundary too sacred or stiff for him to toy with, and he doesn’t so much push them as he does eradicate them.  Thus, “Black Swan” isn’t just a victory for Aronofsky and the rest of the crew; it’s a victory for the craft of filmmaking as we know it.

127 Hours

But overall, it’s the humanity that Danny Boyle brings to the screen that makes this a cinematic achievement unlike any other.  He manages to engage our senses on frightening levels.  The pain we feel as we watch the boulder crush Ralston’s arm.  The disgust we feel when Ralston is left with no alternative but to drink his own urine.  The fear we feel as Ralston slowly loses his mind and begins to have delusions.  The gut-clenching agony we feel as Ralston amputates his own arm – and the catharsis we feel when he at last emerges from the canyon and finds refuge.  Ultimately, Franco and Boyle’s commitment do more than engage our senses.  They engage our souls.

Inception

Nolan pulls out all the stops to make sure that this world comes to vibrant life, beginning with his own script that never fails to captivate us.  It’s heavy on the hard-hitting drama, and he always makes sure to remind us that no matter what’s going on around these people, they are still humans with emotions as complex as the world around them.  These characters are fully realized, with rivalries, passions, and hatreds.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when a movie exists in four different layers of reality, but we manage to stay grounded through these characters and Nolan’s impeccable sense of direction.

The Town

Over the course of two well written hours, “The Town” explores and analyzes this question all the while providing fantastic drama and thrilling chases, robberies, and shoot-outs.  It has Affleck written all over it, and not just because of the location.  He makes Charlestown a character in itself, and we get to know it just as well as any of the people populating the set.  Very few directors have the dexterity to capture a city in all of its glory and sordidness, and it’s a credit to Affleck’s prowess that he can make it feel so authentic.  He also gets the best out of an extraordinary cast, and everything working together towards Affleck’s vision provides one dynamite moviewatching experience.

Toy Story 3

As the movie chugged towards an ending, I realized that I hadn’t just grown up with the toys.  I’ve grown up with Andy, too.  I was too young to remember seeing the first movie, but I was around Andy’s age at the release of the second installment.  And as Andy prepares to move away from home and go to college in “Toy Story 3,” I am only one year behind, getting ready to make the decisions that will push me farther away from home and the innocence of my childhood.  The movie is especially resonant for the generation of children that grew up with the “Toy Story” movies, allowing us to reminisce about the times where we didn’t need laptops or iPods to entertain us.  Once, it only took a few toys and an unbounded imagination to make us happy, and “Toy Story 3″ gives us a window back into the simpler times of our youth.  It’s a feeling both joyous and sad, but overall, it’s beautiful.

The Bad

The Bounty Hunter

The movie is an action comedy – well, if you count Butler punching a few people as action and a few pity sneer as comedy.  We’ve never quite seen a plot like this, where exes fight with stakes as high as prison, but it never feels the slightest bit original.  In fact, it just feels like an old trip down Memory Lane, mimicking every sort of used gimmick with ex-lovers.  But boy, Memory Lane has never looked so run-down or shabby.  It’s time for some renovation.

The Crazies

Sound familiar?  It’s not just a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original; it’s a rehash of every horror movie since.  Eventually, enough is enough, and cheap jumps and thrills only spell out boredom.  The movie gets harder and harder to enjoy as it drags on … and on … and on.  We know exactly what’s going to happen just from hearing the premise.  Maybe the perceived lack of originality speaks to how influential the first movie was.  But I missed the memo that the original was some kind of cultural watershed, so I’m just going to interpret this rendition of “The Crazies” as the latest dull entry into the woefully overflowing “been there, done that” category.

Dinner for Schmucks

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.

Edge of Darkness

“Edge of Darkness” is more of an epitaph than a movie. Gather here to mourn these fallen talents, it seems to cry. Perhaps Monahan needs Scorsese’s vision to succeed; perhaps Campbell needs the stakes of a hero like James Bond to make a movie work; perhaps Mel Gibson just needs some help.

MacGruber

There are movies that beg you not to be taken seriously, and then there are those that beg you not to take the craft of cinema seriously.  ”MacGruber” is the latter of the two, trying to fly on the flimsy premise that a sketch that can barely sustain two minutes on TV could make an entertaining movie that’s 45 times bigger.  Perhaps Lorne Michaels will come up with a more clever way to make money off this movie in the future: take “MacGruber” off the case and slap on the title “The Worst of Will Forte.”

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10 for ’10: Worst Movies

26 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

How do you know when it’s been a bad year for the movies?  Answer: when you have to narrow down a field of the year’s worst.  There were WAY too many candidates for this 2010’s worst of the year; I had to whittle down from a list of 20 to get an ultimate 10.  You’ll notice that “I Am Love” is absent from this list despite me giving it a flat F, and that’s because I saw it way back in 2009.

So enjoy – or cringe – this list of movies so bad, they don’t even get a snide remark under the picture.  They just get linked back to my review from earlier in the year when I totally trashed them.  Take the time to look at the reviews if you need convincing – I think I write my best stuff when I’m mad as #&*$ writing a bad review.

(NOTE: These are the worst movies that I saw this year.  There are probably much worse out there that I simply refuse to subject myself to watching.)

10.
Grown Ups

9.
The Last Airbender

8.
Alice in Wonderland

7.
Clash of the Titans

6.
Splice

5.
Dinner for Schmucks

4.
MacGruber

3.
The Bounty Hunter

2.
The Wolfman

1.
Marmaduke





REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

30 07 2010

Movies have always had a knack for turning pain into comedy; it’s one of the reasons why we go.  We can’t laugh at suffering in the real world, but we can go and sit in front of a screen and be thoroughly entertained by the trials of people we don’t even know.

However, in “Dinner for Schmucks,” pain is just pain.  As if the pain of the events themselves weren’t enough, we are forced to endure a seemingly interminable series of jokes falling flat on their face.  It’s OK to watch pain when it’s a fictional character enduring it – not the movie itself.

The plot is simple, adhering only to the old adage of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  As a rising executive, Paul Rudd’s Tim is invited to a cruel tradition where members of the corporate crew each bring a bozo to dinner in order to lampoon them for their own entertainment.  He hits the jackpot with Barry (a red-headed Steve Carell), an IRS agent who dabbles in taxidermy in his spare time, creating some very intricate mice dioramas.  While he has a heart of gold, he has a knack for destroying everything in his sights.

There’s also a cast of supporting characters, including Tim’s girlfriend with an inconsistent French accent (gotcha!), as well as his psychotic New Year’s hook-up turned stalker, a foul-mouthed secretary, and a sex-crazed artist.  None of them manage to excite us, and it’s not just because we don’t recognize them.  There have been many a no-name comedy sensation, look no further than last summer’s “The Hangover” as proof.  Yet there’s just no comedic spark or energy from anyone, and characters that could make a mediocre comedy bearable just become part of the pratfall.

And then there are the schmucks, who only come out in the twilight moments of the movie.  It’s an interesting cast of characters, headlined by Zach Galifianakis, who thinks that he has the power to control minds.  The schtick is funny for a little while, but even last summer’s golden child of comedy can’t keep the ridiculous character from becoming a one-note role.  Your mouth may be wide open during the dinner, not necessarily laughing but just awe-struck by how absurd the buffoons at the table are.

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.  D+ /





What To Look Forward To in … July 2010

10 06 2010

People are already calling summer 2010 one of the worst seasons in history.  Ouch.  Does July hold anything in store to turn the tide late in the game?  Let’s take a look.

July 2

M. Night Shyamalan give us his most mainstream movie yet with “The Last Airbender.”  Due to James Cameron’s mildly successful film “Avatar,” the Nickelodeon series opted to use only the last part of its name to avoid confusion (although you could make some good money from dumb moviegoers under the impression they’re seeing “Avatar 2”).  It got the quickie 3D conversion slapped on in the past months, which means I’m sticking to 2D here if I even see it at all. I’m worried that some backlash against the conversion could wind up really hurting this movie. But even before I knew about the added dimension, I couldn’t get myself too excited. No matter how extravagant and enormous they make it look, it’s still a Nickelodeon series. I have mixed feelings for Shyamalan; the only movie of his I actually liked was “The Sixth Sense.” I don’t know anyone in the cast save for Dev Patel, better known as Jamal Malik from “Slumdog Millionaire,” and he may end up being what draws me in to see it.

Sometimes I don’t catch everything when it is initially released, particularly indies.  I want to give them their fair shake, so I’m going to feature movies when they open in my hometown if I missed them before.  The first of these movies is “Solitary Man” starring Michael Douglas and thank heavens it’s not Michael Cera (that’s code for Jesse Eisenberg).  In her glowing review of the movie, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called this, not “Wall Street 2,” Douglas’ best shot for Oscar glory.  The story seems friendly enough and the character seems an Oscar type.  Rounding out the ensemble are Jenna Fischer (“The Office”), Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, and Mary-Louise Parker, so it seems pretty audience friendly too.

July 9

I’ll get to the mainstream fare later.  First, I must cover the indie comedy hit of the summer, “The Kids Are All Right.”  More to come later in an “Oscar Moment,” but expect it to make a splash a la “Little Miss Sunshine” and “(500) Days of Summer.”

Adrien Brody steps back into the horror arena after … let’s just say, going places in “Splice.”  This time, he’s rebooting the “Predator” franchise along with Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace.  “Predators” proudly flashes the name of producer Robert Rodriguez.  But here’s what I want to know – will sequel/reboot/remake fatigue catch up with moviegoers by July and kill this movie?

I’m so excited for the release of “Despicable Me.”  Not because I want to see it, but because I’m so tired of seeing the stupid trailers with every movie I have seen for the past year.  My guess is families will still be choosing “Toy Story 3” over this.  Not even Julie Andrews can save a movie that proudly boasts the participation of an executive producer from the “Ice Age” series as if they had Steven Spielberg.

If you are looking for some shaky-cam horror, “[Rec] 2” comes out.  Strangely enough, I must have missed “[Rec]” 1.  But I did know about the predecessor to “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the big indie of 2010 so far, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Opening in Houston on July 9 is “Restrepo,” the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for documentary features.  It takes a look at the grittiest and most intense location of fighting in Iraq and its effect on the soldiers who fight there.

July 14/16

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Meanwhile, opening two days earlier to get out the way is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest blockbuster.  It starts Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as his apprentice.  I’ve been saying for quite a while now that Baruchel needs a big breakout; maybe he will get it with this once people match his face to the voice in “How to Train Your Dragon.”  On the Nicolas Cage front, the role seems kind of kooky.  Perhaps this is his Jack Sparrow?  I may end up seeing this solely for villain Alfred Molina, who rocked Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2.”

Officially released on June 18 but not hitting Houston until July 16 is “The Killer Inside Me,” starring Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson.  Apparently it’s based on one of the most brutally violent and disturbing stories ever.  I’ll trust Kubrick here.

July 23

I’m hoping “Salt” becomes this summer’s “Wanted.”  Just an enjoyable, action-packed movie that doesn’t try to wow you, only entertain you.  Angelina Jolie makes one BA action heroine … or villain, depending on what happens in this movie.

Kiddie fare comes for the third straight weekend with “Ramona and Beezus,” starring Disney Channel sweetheart Selena Gomez.  This could do well because it’s an adaptation of the beloved series that has been around for decades, and it has an impressive adult cast including Sandra Oh, Bridget Moynahan, John Corbett, and Josh Duhamel.  Then again, it could also just fade into the mist of the other kids movies.

Opening on the indie side of things is “Life During Wartime” starring Allison Janney.

July 30

I’m honestly scared of “Dinner for Schmucks.”  I love both Paul Rudd and Steve Carell to death, and the plot here just reeks of a bomb.  My worst fear is that this and “The Other Guys” become the “Land of the Lost”/”Year One” comedy flop combo of 2010.  Maybe Zach Galifianakis can save it…

But what reeks of a stinker even more is “Cats and Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore,” a sequel that no one really wants.  And “Charlie St. Cloud” reeks of Zac Efron.

Meanwhile, there’s some good indie drama with “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall.  See my Oscar Moment for further commentary.

Can July save the summer?  Will “Inception” rule the roost?  What will be the BEST movie of the month?  Let me know by taking the poll … DEADLINE IS JUNE 25.