Archive for November, 2011

50/50 (Jonathan Levine) 2011

Posted in F on November 28, 2011 by moviemoses

50/50 is inspired by the real life story of writer Will Reiser and his struggle with cancer along with real life friend Seth Rogen.  Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds out he has a rare form of cancer for which he needs to immediately start chemo for.  To help him through his problems are his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston), and new therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick).

I think what I appreciate about this movie the most is that it never gets weighted down on any one aspect.  There is that perfect blend of elements which makes it easy to sit through.  I could certainly see the script falling into extremes by either making it too melodramatic and making it emotionally exhausting to the audience, or too jokey in an effort to make it commercially successful.

This is certainly aided by the great cast which was assembled here and how they play up to their strength.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a very good job with Adam and his struggles.  He is trying to cope with the idea of possibly dying at a very young age while at the same time dealing with everyone else.  He is both looking for comfort from his friends, while at the same time feeling like he has to comfort the people around him when they hear the bad news.  Adam doesn’t talk to his mother because she already has enough on her plate with a husband with Alzheimers.  But in trying to spare her feelings he is freezing her out.  There are times when Adam could have been seen as dickish to his friends but Gordon-Levitt does his job in showing that it is more about being torn apart by all these emotions.

Seth Rogen is obviously the comic relief in this movie.  Now I have not hidden the fact I don’t like much Rogen’s previous movies but here he is actually very funny.  Kyle is someone who is clearly freaked out by Adam’s news, but is trying his best to roll with the punches and make him happy.  I usually don’t like Rogen’s characters because he plays a man child who doesn’t care if he is a dick or not.  Here he is still childish, but you can tell how much he cares about Adam.  Here, it is very endearing that Kyle is a bit of a doofus because it is all for the good cause of cheering Adam up.  One of the funniest scenes is when Kyle takes a picture of Adam’s girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) kissing another man and presenting it to both Adam and Rachel.  Kyle is practically dancing with joy and doing air trombone over the fact he saved Adam from a bad relationship all the while Adam is shocked and horrified.    Rogen does a great job in making Kyle very lovable.

There is also a bit of romance involving Anna Kendrick (who may currently be the cutest woman alive).  Her parts are a pleasant middle ground where her and Adam can have funny flirtations while at the same time dealing with Adam’s emotions in relations to his cancer.  There are also some good supporting characters played by Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer who play fellow cancer patients.

50/50 succeeds in just about everything it tries to do.  It delivers a very personal story about this writer’s personal struggles while at the same time making a funny movie.  We feel for Adam and his struggles, but it never becomes too heavy for the audience.  The cast and especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen do a great job in carrying the material.  2011 is actually becoming a great year for comedies and 50/50 is among them.  I recommend you go check it out.

Hugo in 3D (Martin Scorsese) 2011

Posted in H on November 28, 2011 by moviemoses

Young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who takes care of the clocks inside a train station in 1930’s Paris.  During his free time, he tries to fix an old automaton which his father was trying to fix up before he died.  He is caught trying to steal parts from the local toy merchant (Ben Kingsley) who later takes Hugo on as an apprentice.  Hugo and the merchants daughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) later become friends and try to both fix the automaton and work out the mystery behind the toy merchant’s past.

This movie is most likely going to end up on my bomb category since it cost about $170 million dollars to make and opened at #5 at the box office it’s first weekend.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only heard about this movie being released a week before it opened.  That is a bit odd considering Scorsese’s name and all that.  Maybe the problem is it is being released in the overly congested holiday season.  Maybe people don’t think Scorsese had it in him to change genre’s into childrens films (which is ludicrous if you see the numerous genres Scorsese has dabbled in over the years).  The only thing I do know is that it is a shame because Hugo is a great movie.

For one, this is one of the few movies I can say is worth seeing in 3D.  I am not someone who outright rejects 3D but like with anything in a movie, it is only as good as the effort put into it.  Overall I liked Avatar and one of the reasons is because Cameron went all out in making the movie such a beutiful spectacle.  You don’t even have to go that far.  Even movies like Drive Angry 3D put thought into making the 3D an enjoyable addition to the film.  In the case of Hugo, Scorsese shows his talent in making a setting that utilizes the full use of 3D.  It’s not things being thrust in your face, but we see the full depth of the setting surrounding the characters.  Hugo is crawling through these giant clockwork parts and moving through this large station and the movie feels so alive and always active.  It is all so colorful and active that you are enjoying seeing Scorsese play around with all these tools he has at his disposal.

At the heart of the story is a message about film preservation.  The mystery with Kingsley’s character involves films and how the industry changed.  It may seem strange and out of character for a kids movie to talk about preserving history.  And while it certainly seems more geared to the adults in the audience, I think the story is brought to the kids level by the characters played by Butterfield and Kingsley.  They can identify with a child trying to find his home and with a man finding his inspiration and his imagination again.  Kingsley gives a great performance and carries a lot of the emotional weight of the film.  Butterfield and Moretz also give entertaining performances.  I get the feeling Moretz was enjoying playing a somewhat normal girl character after playing a genderless vampire and a psycho killer superheroine.

There are some little nits I can pick with the movie.  I actually thought one of the weaker parts was with Sacha Baron Cohen’s character.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate his character or even dislike it.  I just got the feeling Scorsese was finding him a lot more entertaining than I actually did if that makes sense.  The story also does take a little too long to get going and some of the characters are superfluous.  But even with all that being said, those things I mentioned aren’t “bad“ things just things I didn’t love as much as the rest of the movie.

So yeah, I really enjoyed this movie.  Scorsese makes an absolutely beutiful movie  and has the story to back it up.  Once the movie gets going you are invested in the characters and has a great theme of film appreciation.  It actually kind of feels like Scorsese was trying to make his kid version of Cinema Paradiso.  I am only comparing themes of course and not talking about which is better or any of that.  This movie is recommended and hopefully can stay out of my bomb list.

Immortals (Tarsem) 2011 SPOILERS!!!

Posted in I on November 16, 2011 by moviemoses

I REALLY wanted to like this movie.  You have no idea how much I wanted to like it.  There is so much on the surface of it that can be appealing.  For one, this movie does have a gorgeous art scheme.  If there is one thing you can depend on with Tarsem, it is that the movie will have good visuals.  You also have Mickey Rourke giving a badass performance as the lead villain.  Lastly, with a movie about gods and mortals in a war, you expect to have tons of great action in it.  Too bad the rest of the movie sucks ass.

What is my problem with the story?  It is that the story is entirely pointless.  Let me put it to you like this.  Let’s pretend our protagonists didn’t exist in this movie.  Let’s imagine they completely disappear at the beginning of the movie.  If that happened, it would not have any effect on the ultimate outcome of the movie.  The main villain has free reign to do whatever he wants and nothing would change.  I really don’t ask a lot of my movies but one thing I do ask is that you don’t waste my time.

I’m sorry if I harp on it but frankly I can’t believe it.  They build up the whole movie that our main character is the only hope and that he has to prevent the Titans from escaping.  In the end, he doesn’t prevent the Titans from escaping and the gods come down and end the entire conflict.  I suppose you could say he kills the main bad guy but so what?  Who’s to say the gods couldn’t have killed him too after he released the Titans from prison or when the mountain came down?  It’s like if Luke Skywalker failed to blow up the Death Star at the end of Star Wars, and then a big asteroid comes and crashes into it and destroying it.  You would be sitting there like “What the fuck dude!?“  I am also brushing past several plot inconsistencies and holes as the writers are seemingly making the rules up as they go along.

That leads me to my next failure that the characters are dull and uninteresting.  Theseus really has no character arc.  When we meet him he is a flawless fighter and when we leave things he is exactly the same.  He has no real struggles or challenges to overcome.  There is some crap thrown in about Theseus finding faith or needing faith but even that point is torpedoed when the gods come down and chat with him.  How exactly does one get faith when he is given clear and unambiguous evidence that gods exist?  Isn’t that…oh what’s that term…A CONTRADICTION!?  The only other characters of note are Stavros (Stephen Doriff), a character even the writers don’t find interesting enough to write for and Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who is only around so we can see her bare ass (not complaining about that mind you).

I wanna say this movie is all flash and no substance but I’m not even sure I can go that far.  I saw this movie with some friends with whom all they wanted was some dumb action movie ala 300 and they thought it blew ass too.  As I mentioned in the first paragraph there are some nice aspects to the movie but ultimately this was a dull experience.  I didn’t care at all about the characters, the plot was bad to say the very least, and the action was actually few and far between.  This movie pissed me off which is actually hard to do.  So yeah, if you didn’t get the hint already I don’t recommend the movie.  My only hope is the filmmakers don’t follow through on their threat at the end of the movie of a sequel.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Woody Allen) 1982

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on November 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Blah.  You know, up till this point the retrospective has been pretty damn good.  Sure, there have been some Allen movies I might not have liked as much as the rest like Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Sex.  But even that movie was still overall funny and good.  This one?  Just, blah.  I hate these kinds of reviews.  I like to be able to point out things I like or dislike.  I’ve spent a long time staring at the little blinky line of my word document wondering how the hell I’m going to explain why I don’t care for it but how do you express the sheer ‘meh‘-ness of this film.  The movie is partially inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s (at least tonally) Smiles of a Summer Night.  That is already a bad start for me since I didn’t really care for Smiles of a Summer Night.

The movie is about three couples going on a weekend trip to a romantic summer house.  You have the starchy scientist Leopold (Jose Ferrer) who is soon to be married to Ariel (Mia Farrow).  You have inventor Andrew (Woody Allen) who owns the house and is married to Adrian (Mary Steenburgen).  And you have Andrew’s tomcat friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and his date the ditzy Dulcy (Julie Haggarty).  During the weekend, each guy falls for another person’s date and the traditional wacky shenanigans ensue.

This movie doesn’t feel like a Woody Allen movie and instead feels more like an extended sitcom from the 70’s.  You have all these “quirky characters“ getting in “mixed up situations“ of trying to woo these women from their respective partners and the “hilarious misunderstandings“ that come of it.  I hope that by the excessive use of quotations you can note my sarcasm but if not I will outright say it is.  It is all played up with this aire of whimsy and wackiness but to me it felt tired.  There is none of the usually fresh Woody Allen banter nor the interesting characters.  It is just all stuff like, “Oh! Maxwell thinks he is going on a romantic walk with Ariel and Leopold thinks he is going to be meeting up with Dulcy.  Let’s sit back and watch hilarity ensue after a word from our sponsor!“

This movie is plotted a little too much which is why the characters are so weak.  Everyone here is a one dimensional stereotype: Leopold is a scientist so he is logical like a Vulcan, Dulcy is an airhead, Maxwell is the tomcat, etc.  The movie has all these characters finding true love and going through all this but I don’t really care.  I also feel Woody goes too far into the goofy in some areas.  I don’t mind a wacky movie, but the tone is rather inconsistent at times I guess is what I am saying.  For the most part you have a comedy about characters setting up various romantic trysts, but then you throw in stuff like Andrew inventing a bicycle powered helicopter or flying spirit balls which makes things too bizarre for the rest of the movie.

This movie was made while Zelig’s production had to be put on hold and for me it does feel like a diversion.  I’ll admit I wasn’t the best audience for this movie.  As I mentioned before, I didn’t like Smiles of a Summer Night.  So, if I didn’t like the original, why would I like Woody Allen trying to copy that formula?  There are some Woody fans that will say they love this film and hey, more power to em.  For me, this was one big ‘meh‘ sammich that I had to take down whole.  I didn’t like it, and I didn’t really hate it.  It just exists for me.  It ran for 88 minutes of my life and then was gone.  Blah.

Up next is Zelig.

J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood) 2011

Posted in J on November 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Even though the trailer was rather uninteresting, I was looking forward to J. Edgar.  Eastwood has been more consistently great as of late (exception of Hereafter) and a great actor in Leonardo DiCaprio.  I only glanced over a few of the reviews coming out which expressed a general disappointment.  It seemed the story wasn’t as big or epic as fitting one of the most powerful men in the US.  But even if the movie wasn’t great, I was expecting the movie to be a good and entertaining movie.

I certainly didn’t expect the movie to be such a boring slog.  My main flaw is that, despite an earnest effort by DiCaprio, there isn’t much we are given to the character of J. Edgar Hoover.  Despite being in just about every scene, I never really found him interesting or compelling.  This is due to a few problems with the story and the framing of the character.  For one, Hoover is always a guarded person.  Roger Ebert, in his review, lists that as a big positive for the movie.  Ebert thinks Eastwood is looking at a person who is essentially an actor, playing the J. Edgar tough G-Man role in both his public and private life.   A man who is dedicated to his role as it were.  While that may be an interesting idea on paper, it doesn’t translate to a compelling character.  I understand Hoover was a very private person so it is not like I am expecting anything detailed, but give me something.  I thought one of the points of a biopic was to give us some insight into what made the person tick, not a re-enactment of a Wikipedia page.

The other problem is that we have to move very quickly through Hoover’s life.  It’s like if you ran through a Hoover exhibition at the museum and the guide was trying to give the whole lecture in one breath.  “HewasbornhehadadomineeringmotherandhebecametheyoungestpersontobecomedirectoroftheFBIhebroughtinfingerprintingandforensicsandohbythewayherevolutionizedthecardcatalogsystem“ * passes out from lack of air*  This kind of quick Cliffs Notes approach also applies to the characters and all we get are very broad strokes.  We get that he is paranoid but no major reasons as to why he feels this way.  We get the impression he is a strict moralist who is almost obsessively dedicated to his work but we don’t know where that comes from.  We get he has a domineering mother (played by Judi Dench) but even her role is fuzzy and unclear.  Why, for example, did she latch onto J. Edgar and not his unmentioned brother?  It’s implied she is religious and into paranormal stuff, but how much does that factor into his upbringing?  Most of the time rushing through a person’s entire history (especially one who’s career is as long as J. Edgar Hoover’s) diminishes the product.  I don’t need to know what happened in Mark Zuckerberg’s childhood for example.  I learned everything I need to about the man in a snapshot of when he made Facebook in The Social Network.  I didn’t need to see Howard Hughes‘ whole life in The Aviator, by the end the audience can see the dark road he is heading down.

Even important side characters are pushed out of the way.  Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) personally kept Hoover’s secret files and one of his most trusted associates.  Why?  Why did she do this?  She was a close confidant and she did some illegal and immoral things for her boss but we are given no clues as to why she felt to close to this man.  Where Eastwood goes out most on a limb (as far as historical accuracy) is the claim Hoover was in a romantic relationship with his second in command Clyde (Armie Hammer).  But combined with the fact we are rushing through Hoover’s life and Eastwood’s inability to push things further we don’t learn much more from this.  Again I am left asking things like: why is Clyde sticking with this man for his whole life?  Why does he like Hoover?  What does he get from the relationship?  Of the times we see Hoover he is stern and does nothing but push Clyde away at even the slightest hint of intimacy.  I just don’t get it.

The production of the movie is solid enough.  For a relatively small budget, we get the proper look and feel of the era Hoover lived in.  The aging effects are…inconsistent.  For DiCaprio the aging looks good but for Hammer they are downright laughable.  He is way too young looking for that process and it looks like Johnny Knoxville when he puts on old man makeup in the Jackass movies.

I didn’t hate this movie, but I guess I will join the camp of reviewers who were really let down by it.  The production is solid, DiCaprio gives a fine performance, and you can tell Eastwood cared about the material.  The main character though is still left as a mystery which, given the fact we are supposed to follow this person through a whole movie and learn about him, makes it feel like the movie is perpetually spinning its wheels.  Halfway through the movie, the story felt like it grounded down to a dead stop and it never gained any of that momentum back.  If you are interested in the subject, I would rather you wait for DVD.  For everyone else, I don’t think it is worth your time.