7.01.2011

My Month in Review: June '11

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, 2011
Two ways through life indeed. As "The Tree of Life" shows, these can be masked and assisted, perhaps necessarily, by one another - grace by way of nature or nature by way of grace. Does it ultimately come down to how we, as individuals and collectively as a species, choose or are raised to view ourselves? I didn't realize how right I was when, in anticipation, purporting the film as what appeared to be a cinematic version of a religious experience. With this I do not mean, however, to imply "Tree" is a "religious movie". It is narrated through its Christian characters' prayers and intensely portrays a symbolic heaven but can be taken from just about any perspective. No matter one's upbringing there is much to relate to; to feel. Never once is Malick attempting the provision of "answers" - his film is an exploration, questioning just as we are, through an ever-searching camera and consideration of "the big picture" (in, yes, a rather "2001"-esque fashion). The incredibly emotional experience reminds me the importance of focusing on family and life's simple things, seeing as nothing is guaranteed or even matters in the end. Finally, in reference to the wide audience controversy "Tree" has been stirring, really folks... I know from my three (so far) theatrical viewings of the man's work it's like some unwritten requisite that Malick films screen with at least ten people hurling ridicule at the screen but next time you feel like talking through the entire runtime, making the least intelligent retorts imaginable (and even checking your voicemail at the halfway mark), maybe you just stay home, eh? Or at least don't sit immediately behind me; your behavior is nigh intolerably cretinous.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, 2011
As though it's not enough to efface his own oeuvre, Allen simultaneously details the irrationality of such an act in this wonderfully clever "nostalgia shop" of a comedy. I'm so glad I somehow managed to get to my showing before knowing anything of the plot - which, without any special effects, is effortlessly more magical than, say, a school for kid wizards - as I wound up presented with great surprise accompanied by great laughter brought on by brilliantly purposeful exaggerations and commentary likening fools to intellectuals and vice versa. And my, when he sheds the nerdy helm and greasy black hair worn by his Loki in this summer's "Thor", Tom Hiddleston is a handsome man! He and Michael Fassbender should play brothers.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Woody Allen, 2010
A lively and darkly hilarious version of Woody's usuals that reminds me a bit of "Burn After Reading". Woody's tragic characters tend to hit home and Josh Brolin's Roy is one of the best yet, though I am remiss not to mention nearly every other key player (Lucy Punch, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts...). Really, my only complaint between this and "Midnight in Paris" is that I wanted to spend more time with the characters before the credits hit.

Scoop
Woody Allen, 2006
Cute fun with Woody's expertly anxious sense of humor throughout. "I love you, really, you're beautiful; you're a credit to your race." And surprise, it's a post-"Lost in Translation" flick in which Scarlett's performance doesn't exactly suck. Something tells me Woody has a fear of touching his eyeballs, hence the contacts quip, repeated by proxy Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris". Does Kevin R. McNally always wear those magic muttonchops?

Green Lantern
Martin Campbell, 2011
A "Top Gun"/"Star Trek"/"Superman" hybrid (complete with iconic theme music), "Green Lantern" is pure, nerd-tacular escapism, taking the ready on a journey through a foreboding space including close encounters, childhood dreams come true and a metaphorical battle against the fear that comes with such things. Unlike this summer's prior, also duality-centric superhero films "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" (thoughts on the latter way, way down below), "Lantern" takes time to develop its characters, their connections and their worlds, doing so through energetically rhythmic editing that entertains while mirroring its could-be heroes' potential paths and paying credence to both sides as opposed to the squander we see with Magneto's unfulfilled potential in the utter mess that is "First Class" and the arguably more heroic Loki's entirely narrow-minded portrayal against his dim, barbaric brother in the pace-blind "Thor" (hey, there's some more Michael Fassbender and Tom Hiddleston for you... they deserve better). I might add that the 3D felt well worth going out of my way for in spite of it having been post-converted. Leave it up to the comic book character whose power is conjuring green light in the forms whatever he sees in his mind to justify post-conversions, eh?

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Sacha Gervasi, 2008
Metal or no, "Anvil!" accesses the soul of hopelessly desperate creativity trapped in a brutal world. I wavered in the beginning but became thoroughly convinced this was a fake documentary (though I hesitated to go as far as to believe it a "mockumentary"). The ridiculously redundant album covers are one thing but the drummer's name, Robb Reiner, is practically a "This is Spinal Tap" reference! I was impressed with how authentic - and authentically emotional - the filmmakers and "actors" made it all seem. Turns out it's all very real and I'd simply never heard of Anvil before, which makes it all the more hilariously and heartbreakingly inspirational.

Taxidi sta Kythira (Voyage to Cythera)
Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1984
"Voyage to Cythera" opens strong, with what can most obviously be compared to a sequence from "2001: A Space Odyssey". These quiet and instantly enrapturing shots don't seem to directly serve what is to follow, but they set an ethereal mood and could possibly be construed as reminders of the insignificance of our lives and the policies and possessions within and without them. Then, as if such an opening was not enough, our could-be lead awakens to a Soviet march, music I consider so closely tied with the essence of film that its mere inclusion enthralls me, particularly considering it's implication here that we may be dealing with ex-Soviets finding their way outside the structure of the CCCP. Read the full conversational review with kiddo in space from The Corrierino's "Welcome to the Abyss II".

Megamind
Tom McGrath, 2010
Mega-amusing! I could have done with fewer overly blatant "in yo face 3-Deee" moments but yeah, this is one perfectly swell time for a format I'm typically a harsh critic on - computer animated family films. On top of the fast-flying Superman parodies, a good voice cast is at work as well. Was Brad Pitt doing a George Clooney impression?

subUrbia
Richard Linklater, 1996
Darker than "Tape", more pessimistic than "Fast Food Nation"... there's a good sum laudable about this relatively lesser Linklater's palpably downtrodden view of young adulthood in America but it often feels half-baked as though the highly notable filmmaker came back from "Before Sunrise" thinking it necessary to simply enforce a reputation as a go-to hang-out movie man. That said, you certainly can't go in expecting "Dazed & Confused" - this is a stripped and almost hateful outing that, in a sense, likens to "St. Elmo's Fire", that is if you accept my often eyebrow-raising theory that "Fire" is a sequel of sorts to the superior "The Breakfast Club" (and, subsequently, that this is the same to the superior "Dazed"). If anything, it does hit some strikingly similar notes while slowly but surely becoming a worthy experience on its own accord.


Further first-time viewings:

Super 8 - J.J. Abrams, 2011
They don't make movies like this anymore. Well, you know, apart from this one. No longer do we regularly see this kind of patience and restraint that emphasizes payoffs and focuses so much on character just for the sake of detail (and this one even tells you flat out that's what it's doing). Sure enough, "Super 8" is very much in line with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Even with imbued humor throughout, it's not quite as good - it lacks a solid iconicity a la the ominous, recurring image of Devil's Tower or the unforgettable five tones and as it unravels it wanes where it should wax, relying perhaps a bit too much on nostalgia value - but it is coated by its summer peers with a hearty lament for the modern state of the blockbuster and allows us to once again experience something like it for the first time. Through the John Farris/Stephen King-esque (and refreshingly well-acted) child protagonists caught in suspenseful mystery as a result of creativity combined with a camera and the memories of youth a film of this ilk is positioned to evoke in most of us, "Super 8" is a love letter not only to those post-"Jaws" movies of our yesteryears, but to the magic of filmmaking in general. Also, heehee, "Romero Chemical".

Adventures of Don Juan - Vincent Sherman, 1948
Flynn-tastic! What a cheeky sense of humor!

The Thin Red Line - Terrence Malick, 1998
This could easily be battling Malick's latest for June's top spot without the 90-ish minute battle sequence in the picture's middle which, though indeed beautifully shot and seasoned with courageous performances and Malick's signature nature, plays more generically than is desirable for such a duration (though I'm sure any veteran would lambaste me for saying so about what could very well be a visceral experience for the so-inclined). After I worried "The Tree of Life" had temporarily ruined other movies for me, I decided to finally, finally, finally watch this and oh, how perfect an addendum to the "Tree" experience it turned out to be, at least in acts one and three.

Larry Crowne - Tom Hanks, 2011
Good, innocent Hanksness with the great supporting actors George Takei, Malcolm Barrett, Bryan Cranston and Pam Grier (I don't care how relatively rough she's looking, she'll always be as hot as Coffy to me). Cedric the Entertainer is also, well, entertaining, and newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw does very well. The undercooked romance is shoehorned in but I'm okay with it - sometimes things in life happen suddenly, just like the film's catalytic firing that spurs the real story, a light and begrudgingly relatable tale of hitting life's reset button.

Bad News Bears - Richard Linklater, 2005
I know I mention "Dazed & Confused" with every blurb I write about Linklater, but in earnest the man's "Bad News Bears" remake - almost a mash of his own "The School of Rock" and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's "Bad Santa" (which, surprisingly, isn't on rinse-and-repeat mode here) - is quite probably the closest he's since come to revisiting a similar vibe of relatively small town middle America (Idaho this time, I think) with a killer '70s rock soundtrack. Now, I've not seen the 1976 original with Walter Matthau so I have no base of comparison, but I was actually quite surprised to find this version well above the dreck it was purported as through advertising (added to the appearance that Linklater was slumming to raise funds for "A Scanner Darkly" or "Fast Food Nation"). Linklater's eye lends an uncommonly classic atmosphere to what could easily have been material on the level of Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler. The only real weak spots come in the forms of the boy actors but Billy Bob Thornton holds them together well, getting us spiritedly behind both him and them with the ever-excellent Greg Kinnear as his funny foil. "Bad News Bears", feel-good family fun for the PG-13 crowd, ultimately captures with accuracy the misery and reward in being part of a little league team.

Bad Teacher - Jake Kasdan, 2011
Hey, here's another "School of Rock"/"Bad Santa" mash-up with a rockin' soundtrack. More in line with "Santa", this teacher-with-ulterior-motives flick is based solely on amoral shock value, none of which is at all shocking but most of which works like a charm thanks to the way Cameron Diaz always seems to bring so much fun and camaraderie to her comedy sets (just look at "The Sweetest Thing" or "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"). Watching Diaz, Justin Timberlake (whose personal history with the star adds to the humor), Lucy Punch (who, after this and "Tall Dark Stranger", has hit my radar of talent to watch), Phyllis Smith (bringing huge laughs with a somewhat new take on her "Office" character although the script occasionally seems to forget about her) and Jason Segel ('nuff said) ham it up and wink at the camera is well worth the one-off, at least for the first hour before a plot tries to kick up, rendering the proceedings rather exhausting for the remainder.

True Grit - Ethan & Joel Coen, 2010
Some appealing moral ambiguity gets thrown out (unfortunately) with some of what have become these filmmakers' redundancies (thankfully; I half-expected the horse dealer to deliver, "You can be a bounty hunter, too, madam!" - and I love "Burn After Reading") as this new "Grit" forms a Coen-flavored western with flair old-fashioned enough to counter certain tone-skewing moments (I.E. our first in-person glimpse of Chaney; that head hitting that rock). Regardless of its blemishes, it settles well. Why have people been criticizing Matt Damon's performance, which seems to me the most endearing aspect? Almost as baffling as the criticism that the picture is anticlimactic.

Harry Brown - Daniel Barber, 2009
A successfully uncomfortable thriller that methodically conquers an easily accessible concept with the help of unforgiving performances and, hehe, Dr. Isaacs.

Daybreakers - Michael & Peter Spierig, 2009
Tonally indecisive and lacking in the effects department but overall a nicely baiting examination of a mythically melancholy near-future world-gone-wrong (one like what might have been had Deacon Frost gotten his way in "Blade") with good leads, oft-striking visuals and the occasional, subtle nod to the past century's vampire classics. It is, more or less, "Gattaca" with fangs. Methinks these "Brothers Spierig" are an inspired choice to take on the ambitious "Power of the Dark Crystal".

Crimes & Misdemeanors - Woody Allen, 1989
I do enjoy Woody's elegance as he works through the dark and foolish aspects of human morality he so likes to deal with and "Crimes & Misdemeanors" is very far from being without merit in many departments, but simply for the (admittedly unfair) fact that I've previously seen the auteur take these themes on better more recently in "Match Point", "Cassandra's Dream" and even, in certain cases, "Midnight in Paris", I can't say my first go with this one has been anything I'm overly wild about. Alan Alda is remarkable, though, as Woody's typical pseudo-intellectual antagonist.

Les demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort) - Jacques Demy, 1967
Based on only this and "Donkey Skin", I find Demy an apparent savant with the instant rendering of unbelievably fanciful ideas into believably magical worlds. These worlds may not be entirely my bag for reasons purely of personal preference (save for this instance's brief Gene Kellyness), but there's little arguing against their seemingly effortless naturalism.

Pump Up the Volume - Allan Moyle, 1990
Picking a concept and sticking hard, this forward-thinking question of rebellion and true definition - not necessarily just of young adulthood - stars Christian Slater as an anarchic high schooler once again, though this time given much better material than in the atrocious "Heathers". It might have been more interesting as a one-man show with only hints of what goes on outside the broadcasts.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Woody Allen, 2008
An examination of various cultures' wildly different ideas of love (and, by extension, art) that benefits from rounded characters (hey, whatever works, right?) but suffers from being occasionally obnoxious and moreover, quite simply, uninteresting.

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) - Louis Malle, 1958
Terribly atmospheric, thanks, yes, to the mise en scéne (I might go as far as to say the story is entirely non-issue) but in greater part to Miles Davis' score.

Rio Bravo - Howard Hawks, 1959
It's good... I guess? I looked at the screen, the movie happened, I didn't argue. Much.

L'Avventura (The Adventure) - Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960
According to what I gather from Dino Risi's roundabout response to being asked how Antonioni responded to criticism from a character in Risi's "Il sorpasso", Risi was only being playful with his contemporary. I do upon my first venture in to Antonioni, however, find myself relating - though not literally - with the sarcastic compliment in question (in this case in reference to "La notte", "Bravo, Antonioni, I had a good nap."). You may call me a journeyman, I suppose. At any rate, for what it's worth, I don't see fit at all to rank this below "Superstarlet A.D.". Perhaps I'll prefer "Blow Up"?

Superstarlet A.D. - John Michael McCarthy, 2000
It accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. In this case this is no Herculean feat, but a success is still a success.

The Ghost Writer - Roman Polanski, 2010
A graciously silent fart in the wind with occasional wafts of Polanski's definitive suspense element (in many cases here, blatant rehashes of "Chinatown"). Reminded me in a sense of "Michael Clayton". Does this mean Tom Wilkinson needs to be in better movies more often? A re-teaming with Todd Field, perhaps? The best part was determining before her close-up whether that was indeed Kim Cattrall or an uncanny British doppelgänger.

Chloe - Atom Egoyan, 2009
Its every note explicitly predictable from the onset, its every technicality unremarkably lacking, "Chloe" is actually far from the worst thing ever but it is ninety minutes you'll almost surely wish you had been doing something else through. At the very least you get to look at pretty ladies Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried.

Scream 2 - Wes Craven, 1997
Well, it's more enjoyable than the first one. The killer is even more pathetic this time and Jamie Kennedy's character goes in to the deep end of annoying stupidity ("The Empire Strikes Back" doesn't count as a sequel? And your reasoning for it... yeah, don't get me started). Still, the meta stuff, particularly during the first act, is quite amusing.

Phantoms - Joe Chappelle, 1998
What if John Carpenter's "The Thing" was a bad movie? Might look like "Phantoms", which I watched only because a certain someone told me "Affleck was the bomb". "Like a motherfucker" indeed. Rose McBorin' and Lame Schreiber, sure... but how did Peter O'Toole get roped in to this one?

The Art of Getting By - Gavin Wiesen, 2011
Here I go being unfair again, as I only saw a chunk of this film and not the entire thing (I'll spare you the details as to how come) but there appeared little hope for improvement with perseverance so here we are. I think it'll be a hit with any artistically-minded teens who give it a chance, but from what I can tell it doesn't have much more than that minimal appeal going for it.

The Newton Boys - Richard Linklater, 1998
Hey, remember when the name "Catherine Hardwicke" was an exciting one to see in a film's opening credits? Anyway, this is perhaps a bigger "who cares" than the only other dislikable Linklater I've encountered thus far, "Me & Orson Welles". Now on to "Slacker", "Woodshock" and... well, I dunno, are "Heads I Win/Tails You Lose", "$5.15/Hr." or "Live From Shiva's Dance Floor" worth checking out just for the sake of completism? Then, of course, "Bernie" later this year... although I'll have to get past the oddly derivative decision to name a movie about pretending a deceased person is still living "Bernie".

Fast Five - Justin Lin, 2011
Well, I finally managed, after having walked out of or switched off "The Fast & the Furious", "xXx", "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick", to sit through an entire Vin Diesel movie. This fifth lap for the "Fast" and infuriating franchise marks a move toward more widely accessible material but thankfully (I suppose), the only apparent redeeming quality from (what I tolerated of) the first installment remains intact - these are modern carsploitation films not unlike similar fare from the 1970s and as such they are proud. The detrimental issue with this unexpectedly second-gear two hours about a gang of hotheads with family values: the plot very boringly plays ring-around-the-rosie with inconsequence masked as pertinence simply to fill time before a climactic chase sequence that is so scatter-shot it all but entirely compromises its many essential car stunts before going all "Ocean's Eleven" (remake) on us. Yeah, the flick is basically about Vin Diesel spitting on the ground while planning a heist that never happens. Yay.

Salt - Phillip Noyce, 2010
Boring as sin. Whatever that means. Sins don't tend to be boring. Well, there is sloth. Yeah, "Salt" is boring as sloth.

X-Men: First Class - Matthew Vaughn, 2011
These X-movies keep getting worse and worse. The only things more preposterous than passing the X-Babies' central genetic mutations off as evolutionary science - a stretch here made notably uncomfortable for the ol' suspension of disbelief - are the mutations themselves, as perfectly highlighted during the scattered climax when a dragonfly lady zips, spewing bombs from her mouth, after an apparently pubescent boy soaring on the sound waves of his cracking shrieks. I take "Sky High" more seriously than I can this overly obvious (thanks for putting that "Moscow, Russia" text there, I'd never have figured it out what with St. Basil's in the background and all... same goes for "Las Vegas, Nevada" with the giant "Las Vegas" sign just behind... ever seen the opening of "Orgazmo"?), shoddily written ("I thought I was the only one," the human magnet said to the telepath while the super-teens randomly spouted, "We think your name should be 'Professor X', and you should be called 'Magneto'," right before the black guy died first), clearly rushed (where's all the '60s atmosphere? Or everything else that's missing, for that matter, such as Vaughn's stylings as seen in "Stardust" and "Kick-Ass"?) and lazily produced (the non-physical superpowers are depicted in the most juvenile fashions imaginable) coward of a film which by all evidence should have remained as it was in development, "X-Men Origins: Magneto", since Michael Fassbender's vengeful Magneto presents the only relatively worthy aspects (still probably would have stunk, though). If this isn't the most embarrassing new millennium Marvel hero film we've yet seen, it's at least in the bottom five with "Elektra", "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer", "Ghost Rider" and, yes, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". Oh, and after this laughing stock and February's "Unknown", I'm fairly positive January Jones is a robot.


Total first-time viewings: 35

Notes:
- Screw it, these "notes" aren't all that ugly, so they're back, when I want them to be, for toss-away thoughts like... this: I'm sort of, kind of, not really considering adding television show viewings to these monthly posts, though I'm not sure how I'd format such an inclusion. Okay, really, I'm looking for an excuse after May and June only managed to reach 41 viewings a piece between first-times and rewatches (record lows for the year thus far... but really not all that bad, I suppose, particularly considering my two jobs and my daughter...) and television shows seem as good a scapegoat as any (better, at least, than "well, the 3D remake of 'Ocarina of Time' came out, so..."). Rewatches of select episodes from "30 Rock" seasons 1-4, "Scrubs" seasons 1-2 and "The IT Crowd" series 1-4 populated this month's idiot-box intake along with a first-time runthrough of all 12 episodes of "Pulling". All incredibly good and worth "wasting" the time on (I particularly recommend American audiences dash to their Netflix Instant accounts and watch "The IT Crowd" as soon as possible)!

Rewatches (6 total): Another Year (Leigh, 2010), Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (Fleischer, 1936), Bananas (Allen, 1971), Megamind (McGrath, 2010), Austin Powers in Goldmember (Roach, 2002), The Other Guys (McKay, 2010)

- As much as I loved "Another Year" upon my theatrical viewing in February, a rewatch showed how much must have passed me right by as I basked in what was my first Mike Leigh film (and still my only even though "Topsy Turvy" and many of the BBC "Plays for a Day" are on Netflix Instant... what can I say, I'm a busy guy... or a slacker, one of the two). I initially commented that it was less concerned with photography, its primary objective being the achievement of total performance freedom for the central actors, Lesley Manville in particular, but I now realize just how lovely a film it is not just for its free and true performances but also for Leigh's careful camera. An unexpectedly much-needed second go for an already-loved film that only seems to get better with age (like... and unlike, respectively... its characters).
- I rewatched other Popeye shorts this month but the fast-talking sailor's first one in color, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor", is so good I'm counting it here although typically I stray from including "cartoons". I watched it countless times as a kid and it's still just as entertaining today if not moreso seeing as I now have a greater appreciation for the characters of Bluto (I mean Sindbad... wait, scratch that also... he's "the most remarkable, extraordinary fellow!") and Popeye as supported of course by Olive Oyl and Wimpy.

3 comments:

  1. 1. Green Lantern was terrible. Really, really terrible. As a rabid Ryan Reynolds fan, I desperately wanted to love it. But had he not been the lead I would have walked out. That's how bad it was. The redeeming quality was Blake Lively. (And yes, I know how insane it is to give Blake Lively props. That is further evidence of how poorly written, acted, and produced it was.) It had none of Top Gun's swagger, Star Trek's humor, or Superman's heart. And you are crazy if you think it did.

    2. Fast Five was entertaining almost entirely because it was so ridiculous. Surely you didn't expect Polanski? At no point did I warrant that the movie had redeeming value on a critical level. It's a popcorn flick, and for people who like cars or Vin Diesel, it delivers. I like both. And you're unamerican if you don't like either.

    3. I agree strongly with your X-Men review. I know this is shocking, given the fact that you like things like Alexander, and I like things like...well...Fast Five, but that mishmash of pathetic excuses for mutants made my stomach turn. A full-on Magneto flick would have been so much better.

    4. Thoughts on Captain America yet?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do at least agree Lantern doesn't hold up to Top Gun, Star Trek or Superman in those regards. Good specifications, those. Still really had a blast with it and am looking forward to seeing it again :P

    I surely wasn't expecting Polanski with Fast Five, particularly considering my above thoughts on The Ghost Writer, hehe (though he does indeed have a couple in my all-time faves, ie Rosemary's Baby and Macbeth). I actually love a good popcorn flick, but Fast Five is definitely not my flavor.

    And yee, we found a film we agree on! I can't believe First Class has been so well-received by critics and fans.

    Cap... I'll be seeing it tomorrow before my shift (in 2D). I'm hoping it will be better than "Thor" but I am expecting it to be super cheesy. Stanley "zee germans!" Tucci, and all. On Sunday I'll be participating in a podcast called Reel Time and sharing thoughts on both Cap and Friends With Benefits.

    You're the bestest for checking out my corner of teh internets! Thanks for the comments :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you want to look carefully to The Tree of Life, you should see this:

    http://reviewingtreeoflife.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete

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