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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REVIEW: The Crazies

17 08 2010

The Crazies” is a hodgepodge of all our favorite horror premises.  There’s the apocalyptic disease aspect that reminds us of “28 Days Later.”  There’s the last people on earth vibe that emanated from “I Am Legend.”  There’s also the sick zombie action that has led to four “Resident Evil” movies.

You would think that a movie that makes us recall such titles would be worthwhile.  But instead of having something for everyone, there’s is nothing for anyone, granted that they’ve seen any movies in those sub-genres.

Uninspired even by remake standards, “The Crazies” just feels like a waste of time as you watch it.  For an hour and 40 minutes, we trudge through the typical escalation of a viral epidemic that ravages a small town in Iowa.  After 48 hours, the virus turns its victims insane to the point that they would kill friends and family.  The sheriff and his pregnant wife (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), among the few uninfected left in the town, have to battle off the zombies to escape to safety.  Not only do they have to fight the crazies, but they are also up against the company that accidentally dispersed the biological weapon, trying to hide their mistake.

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.  C- /





What To Look Forward To in … February 2010

7 01 2010

We’re still in some hazy territory in the month of February, but the new decade looks to give this month some much needed energy.  Fueled by two movies originally scheduled for release in 2009, I might actually drop a good amount of change at the movies in February (not just on repeat viewings of Oscar nominees).

February 5

Put “The Notebook” in front of anything and you are guaranteed a flock of screaming girls coming with boyfriends in tow.  Put wildly popular model/actor Channing Tatum in the poster and you can add some more girls aside from the hopeless romantics.  “Dear John” has just that: a super sweet story from author Nicholas Sparks and girl eye candy Tatum.  Thankfully for the guys, the filmmakers cast Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer’s Body”), who isn’t so bad on the eyes either.

I’m a little weary to endorse “From Paris with Love,” another John Travolta villain movie.  He’s only good at playing subtle ones (“Pulp Fiction”) with the exception of “Face/Off.”  2009’s “The Taking of Pelham 123” was a disaster mainly because of Travolta and his villainy established only by constantly dropping the F-bomb.  Potential redemption here?  I’ll need positive word of mouth before I watch Travolta go evil again.

February 12

“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is the name given to the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s kids novel “The Lightning Thief.” Clearly Fox is setting up a franchise with the title, and they picked the right place to stake the claim. I read the book in seventh grade, and it is the real deal. I even got a chance to have lunch with the author, Riordan, who is one of the neatest people I have ever met. Whether they ruin it or not is yet to be known, but the movie is being helmed by Chris Columbus, the man who got the “Harry Potter” series flying. That has to count for something.

If Pierce Brosnan isn’t a big enough star to draw you to the aforementioned movie, you should find solace in “Valentine’s Day,” which features just about every romantic comedy actor ever. Literally, I can’t even list all of the stars of the movie here. The post would just be too darn big. Garry Marshall, director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” is in charge here, so I find some comfort in that. But if the movie flops, this will be a high-profile disappointment.

Sorry girls, the werewolf in “The Wolfman” is not played by Taylor Lautner. Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro metamorphasizes in Victorian England into the hairy beast when the moon is ripe.  This werewolf is not based on cheeky teen lit but on the 1941 horror classic.  And this adaptation is rated R for “bloody horror violence and gore.”  Get ready for some intense clawing.

A big winner at Cannes and a contender for the Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, “A Prophet” is a foreign film that may be worth a look.

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