REVIEW: Lone Survivor

29 01 2014

There’s no sugar-coating or sanitization of the conflict in Afghanistan to be found in Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor.”  His adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of pulls no punches in its visceral portrayal of the unlikely triumph of one man over relentless enemies and harsh earth.

Despite the film’s ultimate resolution being implied in the title, the action is always gripping and engrossing.  Berg’s riveting handheld camerawork ensures that we’re buckled in to feel every moment leading up to the climax.  Every fall down a cliff, every bullet entry wound piercing flesh, and every last dying breath lands deeply in the gut with tremendous force.  When coupled with masterfully precise sound mixing and editing, “Lone Survivor” has the impact of a film like “127 Hours.”

It’s not all about the action, however.  Perhaps the biggest testament the effectiveness of Berg’s multifaceted approach to “Lone Survivor” is that the film’s most nail-biting scene comes not in combat but in a moral debate.  As Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his SEAL recon team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster) weight the respective merits of killing three of their prisoners to save their own hide or letting them go and risking their own lives, a quintessential problem for America in contemporary geopolitics becomes an immediately necessary quandary to mull over.

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REVIEW: Prince Avalanche

25 08 2013

In the middle of the madness of David Gordon Green’s “Pineapple Express,” there’s a very bizarre and quirky 40-second montage that feels completely out of place.  Though I first saw that film as an unformed, relatively cinematically illiterate fifteen-year-old, I recognized there was something brilliant in the scene.  I didn’t know the director’s name, but I knew he had some artistic talent that was subversively bursting through the seams of this comedy.

Green’s latest film, “Prince Avalanche,” takes all the formalism present in that tiny “Pineapple Express” montage and make an entire film out of it.  The movie attempts to be both absurd and also rather aesthetically pleasing, succeeding far more at the latter than the former.  I will give Green that he can craft a good montage with editor Colin Patton and compose a good shot with director of photography Tim Orr.

But that’s about where my compliments for “Prince Avalanche” stop.  The script is dead on arrival, maintaining my interest for about as long as the aforementioned sequence in “Pineapple Express.”  It centers on two road crew workers, Paul Rudd’s Alvin and his girlfriend’s brother Lance, played by Emile Hirsch.  (I suppose I could pay the film another compliment and say it features the best Hirsch performance since “Milk,” but that’s not saying much.)

Alvin and Lance play out inane dramas on the road while staving off boredom or the problems that actually plague their existences.  To be honest, I couldn’t tell if Rudd or Hirsch cared about the conflicts of “Prince Avalanche.”  And if they didn’t care, why should we?  A few pretty shots of burnt back roads in Texas and a few quirks do not a good film make.  There are ways to make humdrum existence resonate; Green’s film really just generates yawns. C-1halfstars





LISTFUL THINKING: 2012 Superlatives

1 01 2013

New Year’s Day always marks a very interesting balancing act, reflecting on the old while also ringing in the new.  So while people are still thinking about 2012, let me offer up the first annual Superlatives post for the films of 2012.  I’ve already weighed in with the best and worst 10 of 2012, but what about the other 80 movies of the year?  What about the performances?  What about all sorts of other things?  This is the post where I get all sorts of stuff floating in my mind out there.

For the sake of review, I’ll go ahead and re-list my 10 best and worst of 2012.

Top 10 of 2012

10 Best of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Argo,” “Hitchcock,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Looper,” “Bernie,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Master,” “The Queen of Versailles

Prometheus

Honorable Mentions: “Rust and Bone,” “Prometheus,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “End of Watch,” “Holy Motors

Worst 10 of 2012

10 Worst of 2012: “The Grey,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “John Carter,” “Gone,” “The Vow,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Watch,” “Casa De Mi Padre

pitchperfect2

Honorable Mentions: “Pitch Perfect,” “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “First Position,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Being Flynn

10 More 2012 Releases I Still Need to See: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Impossible,” “Promised Land,” “The Intouchables,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Not Fade Away,” “Smashed,” “The House I Live In,” “Searching for Sugar Man”

Vanellope

5 Most Surprising Movies of 2012: “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Bernie,” “End of Watch,” “Hitchcock,” “21 Jump Street

Denzel Washington in Flight

5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2012: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Bourne Legacy

Bachelorette

10 Most Forgettable Movies of 2012 (in alphabetical order): “Bachelorette,” “Hysteria,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Lola Versus,” “Man on a Ledge,” “Men in Black III,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Take This Waltz,” “Trouble with the Curve

Silver Linings Playbook

5 Most Rewatchable Movies of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Argo,” “Ted

Lincoln

5 Movies of 2012 I’m Glad I Saw But Will Never Watch Again: “Lincoln,” “Amour,” “The Invisible War,” “Compliance,” “ReGeneration

Killing Them Softly

5 Most Underrated Movies of 2012: “Killing Them Softly,” “Les Misérables,” “Prometheus,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “End of Watch

The Avengers

5 Most Overrated Movies of 2012: “The Sessions,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “The Avengers

PSH

5 Movies That Got Better with Distance and Time: “Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Prometheus

Brave

5 Movies That Got Worse with Distance and Time: “Brave,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Dark Knight Rises

Argo

5 Movies That Felt Shorter Than Their Runtime: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Argo,” “Django Unchained

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

5 Movies That Felt Longer Than Their Runtime: “Lincoln,” “Anna Karenina,” “This Is 40,” “Damsels in Distress,” The Five-Year Engagement

BOTSW

Breakout Performances: Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road,” Scoot McNairy in “Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Breakthrough Performances: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Pena in “End of Watch,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” Elizabeth Banks in “People Like Us

Best Exotic

Breakdown Performances: Anna Kendrick in “Pitch Perfect,” Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Emile Hirsch in “Killer Joe,” Dev Patel in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

frame 01021605R

Best Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Misérables,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook

The Deep Blue Sea

Worst Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Rachel Weisz in “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter” and “Savages

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Best Heroes: Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables

John Carter

Worst Heroes: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in “John Carter,” Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy

Catwoman

Best Villains: Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Russell Crowe as Javert in “Les Misérables,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained

Skyfall

Worst Villains: Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Javier Bardem as Silva in “Skyfall,” Rhys Ifans as Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man

Joaquin

Best Possessed Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master

The Paperboy

Worst Possessed Performance: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy

Bernie

Best Comedic Performance: (tie) Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street

The Watch

Worst Comedic Performance: The cast of “The Watch

Uggie

Best Cameo: Uggie in “The Campaign

Ryan Reynolds

Worst Cameo: Ryan Reynolds in “Ted

Eddie Redmayne

Best Singing: Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables

Alec

Worst Singing: Alec Baldwin in “Rock of Ages

That’s about all I can come up with for now … may add to this later!  Happy 2013, everyone!





REVIEW: Killer Joe

12 09 2012

Some people would say that a movie that makes you feel dirty and disgusting is an effective movie.  That may be true, because William Friedkin’s NC-17 “Killer Joe” made me want to take a shower as soon as I got home from the theater.  But just because the presentation of abhorrent material was equally abhorrent does not make the movie good, or enjoyable.

While I’ve started to reverse my thinking on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” my original assessment seems to be applicable for Friedkin’s film.  I used such phrases as “the whole was less than the sum of its parts” and “While I can see the art […] I can’t see the clear execution of a vision.”  Other than the movie’s two shocking displays of perverse sexual behavior (which you don’t deserve to have spoiled for you in case you actually decide to watch “Killer Joe”), the film brings little else to the table.

The other hour and a half of the film is just filler to bring about the two discussion-worthy scenes.  I acknowledge that a movie that tries and succeeds to be shocking is an accomplishment.  But being shocking just for the sake of being shocking is nothing to be lauded.

A movie that exists solely to ruffle a few feathers and rattle a few cages doesn’t stick with you after the writhing and squirming in your seat.  The sordidness is ephemeral; it wears off quickly.  And once that feeling is gone, you look to see if it was justified or vindicated by the rest of the film.  Here, it is not.

The Tracy Letts’ screenplay is clunky and feel very stagey and distinctly non-cinematic.  The humor, dark and macabre, is extremely hit or miss; all the laughs come with a heaping side order of guilt.  I will give “Killer Joe” that it has two solid performances: a demonic leading turn from Matthew McConaughey in the year of his career renaissance as a sexually depraved hitman, and a delightful village idiot character played with an appropriate lack of urgency by Thomas Haden Church.  But that’s where my compliments come to a close because this movie isn’t about those things.  It’s about being knowingly repulsive for no other reason because they can be, indulgent art at its worst.  D+