REVIEW: Mojave

19 01 2016

MojaveYou know how Al Pacino is one of the greatest actors of his generation, yet is still in such films so obviously beneath him as “The Humbling?” Or how Robert DeNiro does movies like “Stone?” Well, if Oscar Isaac is one of the great actors of our time (see: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “A Most Violent Year”), then”Mojave” is like his “The Humbling” or “Stone.” It’s a chance to cut loose and maybe get some of the negative impulses out before having to deliver a real, controlled performance.

“Mojave” comes from the mind of William Monahan, who gave the world a real gift with his script for “The Departed” … but also a lump of coal with “Edge of Darkness,” the last non-ironic Mel Gibson movie. It’s a literate work but also one of overwrought, overblown pretension. Isaac hams up his character, the mysterious desert drifter Jack, and seems to be enjoying himself. If only I could have shared in that feeling.

He gets an enjoyable moment here and there, but these are never enough to redeem – much less cohere – the mess that is “Mojave.” The film dabbles in far too many genres, sub-genres and plot digressions that I do not really know what to call it.

Monahan begins the film with Garrett Hedlund’s Thomas, a frustrated actor (the most severely underrepresented group on film – NOT), who meets Jack in the desert while trying to escape his life. The two share an exaggerated, overly articulate conversation, but it’s at least compelling. For whatever reason, I had the impression the movie would be a pure two-hander. “Mojave” might have been better had Monahan kept it this way, just letting the two men feed off each other. Hedlund could certainly use a meatier role; he has yet to further develop the charisma shown in 2012’s underseen “On the Road.” But Monahan mostly just leaves him to sulk. Actors, you know? C2stars

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REVIEW: Inside Llewyn Davis

17 01 2016

Inside Llewyn DavisCannes Film Festival – Official Competition, 2013

“If it was never new and it never gets old, it’s a folk song,” explains Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) after yet another gig strumming his guitar at Greenwich Village’s Gaslamp in”Inside Llewyn Davis.” The film is full of folk tunes in its soundtrack as it recreates the pre-Dylan early 1960s scene in New York. Yet, in many ways, the Coen Brothers’ film itself is a folk song, if judged by the definition they provide.

Llewyn’s story is all too familiar – and one that hits close to home for anyone yet to achieve the lofty success they were promised with every participation medal. Most stories of musicians trying to enter into the business involve some measure of pain and frustration, but for Llewyn, the bad breaks seem almost cosmic. He’s always a smidgen too early or a moment too late to shake off the funk that seems to set a tone of frustration and misery for his life. “King Midas’ idiot brother,” his ex-flame Jean (Carey Mulligan) describes him, and by the end of the film, such a mythological explanation for Llewyn’s woes seems entirely possible.

It proves frustrating to watch him endure trial after tribulation, though not because the beats are tired. The doomed slacker routine may have been done before, but certainly not like Joel and Ethan Coen do it. Insomuch as the duo would ever make something so straightforward as a “personal” film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” addresses the price a person can pay for trying to maintain the purity of their art. Llewyn decries the easy, the accessible and the crowd-pleasing, lamenting anyone who panders to these attributes as sell-outs or careerists.

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REVIEW: Unbroken

21 12 2014

In terms of below-the-line talent on “Unbroken,” director Angelina Jolie assumes the role of Nick Fury by essentially assembling The Avengers of the cinema.  Every writer credited on “Unbroken” has penned an Oscar-nominated script.  Behind the camera as director of photography is Roger Deakins, cinematographer to great directors like the Coen Brothers as well as franchises like James Bond.

Those images are then spliced and joined together in the editing room by William Goldenberg (Oscar winner for “Argo“) and Tim Squyres (a consistent collaborator of Ang Lee who was Oscar nominated for “Life of Pi“).  And underscoring it all is Alexandre Desplat, the absurdly prolific composer for everything from “Philomena” to the “Harry Potter” series.  Essentially, “Unbroken” boasts what would be the ultimate fantasy squad if such a concept existed in Hollywood.

Rather than exuding passion for the craft, though, everyone phones it in. This dream team works in service of a rather bland and familiar inspirational story, and their respective skills do little to change that.  Instead of elevating the material, they are complicit with Jolie in playing it safe to ensure “Unbroken” plays to the least common denominator of audiences. They color by numbers when they could have been painting something truly inspiring and extraordinary.

The incredible true-life heroism and survival of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) has all the makings of a truly rousing film.  He had to triumph in the face adversity and anti-immigrant taunts as a child.  He funneled all that into the sport of track, which eventually took him to the Berlin Olympics in 1936.  Then, he survived for months at sea in WWII before getting captured as a POW by the Japanese.  These events give “Unbroken” quite a story to work with, yet the extraordinary feels rather ordinary.

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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: On the Road

2 06 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Jack Kerouac and his pals were some of the most interesting people to walk the planet in the 1950s. They did as they wanted, lived in the moment, and thankfully had the memory and the brains to put it all onto paper for their adherents in future generations to admire as a holy text. So why on earth is the film adaptation of his seminal text, “On the Road,” such a bore to sit through?

That’s the question that kept going through my mind as I went sporadically in and out of sleep during the film. (I would not have nodded off back in the States, but the feeling of boredom and tedium definitely would still be in the air.) Granted, I haven’t read the source material, but the general spirit of liveliness just seemed totally absent, replaced by the same ennui that hipsters rebel against. I’m now caught in a conundrum: should I read the book to redeem and perhaps better understand Walter Salles’ film, or is my lack of enthusiasm an indication that reading Kerouac’s prose would just be an exercise in futility?

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REVIEW: Country Strong

8 01 2011

Unintentionally hilarious, “Country Strong” is a wannabe rehash of “Crazy Heart,” “Walk the Line,” and “Dreamgirls.”  It’s ridiculously melodramatic and populated with four stock characters who go through alarmingly little growth throughout the movie.  With no reason to care, it’s easy to kick back and enjoy some surprisingly classy country music.  That means there’s none of that soulless pop-country blend that Taylor Swift has pushed into the mainstream; it’s the country music you’ll hear in the saloons and bars in the heart of America.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kelly Canter plays a shamed superstar country singer pulled out of rehab early by her demanding husband and manager James, played by Tim McGraw.  Neither are in love with each other anymore, as Kelly has her eye on small-time singer Beau (Garrett Hedlund) and James goes after the much younger Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a beauty queen turned country-pop star who seems to be a Taylor Swift parody in herself.  As you can imagine, the two upstart country singers Beau and Chiles, whose relationship begins rocky, ultimately find each other in love.

I’m not going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the humor; I assume it was really poorly made and acted.  Denim-clad Paltrow is pretty dreadful when it comes to playing the rehabbing drunk apparently based on Britney Spears, tripping over cliches just like the movie itself.  She could have taken a few notes from Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married,” who totally nailed the confusion and disillusionment of the not-quite-rehabbed woman.  McGraw is fine playing a tough guy, and Hedlund feels natural on stage and behind the mic.  Leighton Meester, on the other hand, is comedic dynamite – which is probably attributable to her sub-par acting skills.  Funny, I thought she would have really picked up some great technique on “Gossip Girl.”

As long as you aren’t looking for a story or acting, you’ll enjoy the first hour and a half of “Country Strong.”  It’s corny, campy fun in country style.  But beware of the world’s worst ending, so bungled and poorly written that it derails the entire experience and leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth at the end.  It’s almost like in an effort to avoid predictability, they chose the most bizarre ending even though it didn’t fit with the movie’s tone or events.  So, in order to get the optimal experience out of a crummy movie, stop watching “Country Strong” after Kelly’s big concert in Dallas.  Make your own ending to the movie and just be satisfied with the dumb melodrama.  C





REVIEW: Tron: Legacy

30 12 2010

The so what factor looms large over “Tron: Legacy” as it thrills the eye but leaves the mind way in the dust.  It provides a visual spectacle in an entirely digital world that’s dazzling enough to merit the extra cash for 3D and IMAX.  But even with all of that firepower, when the credits roll, it leaves no sort of statement or impact.  It’s almost as if the movie wants you to leave your experience in the theater and take nothing with you.

The movie features a storyline that can be understood only in its most general sequence of events.  It’s a step up from its predecessor’s plot – which was about as intelligible as binary code – in that it makes sense and has a simple theme at its core.  “Tron: Legacy” deals with perfection and its ultimate subjectivity pretty sloppily; I doubt the writers even know what the words utopia and dystopia mean.  And in a year where “Black Swan” provided an all-encompassing cinematic exploration of similar themes, an ugly stepchild is a generous term of endearment for this movie.

Nearly two decades after the mysterious disappearance of his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) investigates a strange page in the run-down family arcade.  What he doesn’t expect, though, is to get unwittingly swept into the server that his father built where he is ill-prepared to face the hostilities of the computer.

In a world of “programs,” Sam (the 2010 model of Jake Sully) is a rare “user” and thus hunted by the tyrannical power of the server, CLU (also played by Jeff Bridges).  Only thanks to Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the protege of the now Zen Buddhist-like Kevin Flynn, is Sam saved from almost certain death or deresolution.  Kevin has discovered life-changing developments for the real world inside the computer but has been exiled thanks to CLU’s evil bidding and unable to escape with the information.  However, Sam’s arrival opens up a mystical portal to the outside world, and the journey there takes them to the ends of cyberspace, including a stop off at the house of a David Bowie-wannabe (Michael Sheen).

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