Archive for the C Category

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen) 1989

Posted in C, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 17, 2012 by moviemoses

Crimes and Misdemeanors has two different storylines.  The main story follows Judah (Martin Landau) a man who has it all.  His mistress played by Anjelica Huston, is threatening not only to bring up the affair to his wife but to expose his shady business practices.  Judah asks his criminal brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) to kill the mistress. After Judah has to deal with the moral implications of his actions after he gets away with murder.  The second story follows documentary filmmaker Cliff (Woody Allen).  Cliff is down on his luck and gets hired on as a favor to direct a documentary on sleazy producer Lester (Alan Alda).  Cliff hates working for Lester and is competing for the attention of producer Halley (Mia Farrow).

Waaaaaay back when I was first getting into film and learning about Woody Allen (farther back then I now want to admit on paper) I’ll admit my appreciation didn’t come quick.  I saw Annie Hall and Manhattan and my feelings were complicated and I kind of stayed away from other stuff.  But then I decided to give it another go and checked out Crimes and Misdemeanors and it was one of those “Wow“ moments.

And really, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film that shouldn’t work so well for me.  I normally would not like a film that is so heavy with its themes and in this movie, Woody Allen is practically sitting you down and having a discussion on morality.  I guess it works because, at least watching it the first time, I wasn’t quite sure where the movie was going.  It starts off pretty normal with Judah worrying about Huston’s character exposing an affair.  No biggie right, especially given other movies Allen has done and how he’s approached infidelity.  But then the curveball is thrown in about possible theft and Judah is considering murder and it feels like a thriller.  We are wondering if Judah will get away with it and when he does will he be so wrecked with guilt that he will confess.  And intercut with all that, we get these lighter scenes with Woody Allen and an absolutely brilliant Alan Alda as the ultimate smarmy douchebag.  It is almost like directoral slight of hand to distract you from the fact several times the audience is sat down for deep philosophical discussion.

This movie also felt honest in how the story played out at least in Judah’s scenario.  There was no tell tale heart or anything like that to bring Judah down.  Judah does not believe in God or in a divine set of morality and was able to live through this experience.  When Cliff tries to re-write the story by saying it would be more tragic if the man turned himself in, Judah shoots him down with “This isn’t a movie.“  The message was so audacious and honest and I was taken back by it.

Martin Landau is fantastic in this movie.  He plays someone being torn apart by the decisions he makes but you also see this dark side to him.  There is a scene where he invites his brother to “discuss“ the problem of his mistress and he has to fake disgust while at the same time ask his brother to kill her.

What makes this movie complete is the subplot involving Allen.  Not only is it a nice tie in thematically but it is a much welcome respite from the heaviness of Landau’s plot.  As mentioned before, Alan Alda is just great as the minor villain.  He is the embodiment of the greedy sellout know it all and Alda chews up the scenery with relish.  Cliff just can’t see life being fair with this know-nothing being a rich producer and eventually getting the girl while Cliff can’t even make his small documentary culminating in the discussion between the two leads.

I had not seen this movie in a while but I was reminded again of how much I love it.  This still is my short list of favorite Allen movie. This was what turned me into a Woody Allen fan to begin with.  If you haven’t seen it yet check it out.

Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau) 2011 Some spoilers

Posted in C, C on August 3, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $163 million

Worldwide Gross: $178 million

In Cowboys & Aliens we follow Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the desert with no memory and a strange alien device on his arm.  Jake gets in early trouble with a local cattle baron named Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) whom he apparently stole money from in the past.  All that is put on the back burner as aliens come and abduct several people in the town including Dolarhyde’s son.  The town must then come together to fight the aliens and get back their family.

Genre mash ups are usually a bad idea.  I mean, look no further than The Wild Wild West.  Or, more preferably, don’t look there at all.  But I think what was giving most people hope on this one was the talent involved.  Here you have geek director Favreau, some writers used by JJ Abrams, and stars like Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.  To be fair and to cut straight to the chase, Cowboys & Aliens is one of the better attempts at doing a movie like this.  That doesn’t mean though, that I can’t bitch a little bit.

For one, this movie seems to take the subject matter just a tad too seriously.  The title, kind of like Snakes on a Plane, is in a way an advertisement of what the film is.  It’s playful and indicates something played for camp.  Something of a better example of a silly concept is Bubba Ho Tep in which an elderly Elvis fights off a mummy in his nursing home.  Cowboys & Aliens comes off more as like an Independence Day type summer blockbuster.  It is an effects driven action movie with some goofy characters thrown in.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that is a bad thing, but it does give something of a false impression to people going in.

I also feel as if the “Aliens“ part of the storyline seems like an afterthought.  I was absolutely loving this movie in the beginning when it was almost purely a Western.  Favreau seemed to have the look, feel, and attitude down.  I was loving the characters and the situations they were in.  Then things just started heading downhill as soon as the aliens showed up.  By the third act when they actually had to explain what the aliens are doing and why they are here that it was really losing me.  It is probably the fault of the five writers this movie has that sometimes the script goes off the rails. Now I am going to be talking about the plot so if you don’t want spoilers skip this paragraph.  I won’t be spoiling everything but talking about details so be warned.

I already have heard the instant rebuttals to all this.  “Oh, I’m sorry there were ALIENS in this movie called Cowboys & Aliens.  I’m sorry you didn’t see that coming.“  Or “Really?  You are picking apart the plot of a movie called Cowboys & Aliens?“  This isn’t my cheif complaint, but yes, I am complaining about the plot of Cowboys & Aliens.  The thing is, I can take a silly plot or if a few things that just don’t make sense.  But the third act gets so stupid that it is REALLY hard to ignore: Olivia Wilde’s character and what she does is one big WTF, the answer of why the aliens are on Earth doesn’t really make sense,  and why the aliens are abducting people doesn’t really make sense either.  The thing I find most hilarious is the aliens are beat by basically a group of dudes with spears.  Yeah, I know it is a tad more than that, but come on.  You perfect intergalactic space travel, weapons that can blow the holy hell out of anything, and can make machines impenetrable to conventional weaponry and by the end its like “AHHHH!!! Pointy sticks!  We didn’t figure they would have those! Run away!”  That goes into my chief complaint about the aliens too.  These are creatures that again, have perfected intergalactic travel, but when they come into contact with humans are rabid animals.  For example they completely ditch their super energy cannons and just charge blindly in and maul the humans as if they are some mutant bear on the loose.  See what I mean in that it goes beyond silly into stupid?  Why does the advanced alien race drop their superior guns and try to bite the humans who do have guns?

Okay you can come back to reading the review again.  I’m not going to spoil anymore.  Another problem is with the characters.  Almost all of them are stock two dimensional stereotypes from westerns.  Which, again, is fine when you are doing a kind of comedy mash up like this.  But even so, there has to be some growth during the course of the movie out of their pre defined roles.  That is why for me, the second act drags a bit because you have these characters on a long journey and do nothing to advance characters during that time.  The first act did such a good job of setting things up and establishing everything, it is surprising that in the second act we aren’t really given a reason to care about what happens.  The only person with any kind of growth is Harrison Ford’s character.  Which even that isn’t great, but compared to the nothing everyone else gets, it is a breath of fresh air.

Now that I’ve spent the majority of this review bitching and complaining, it is time for me to give some perspective on the movie as a whole.  The movie is shot well as Favreau is able to capture the look and feel of a good Western.  The acting (even though the characters are not fleshed out) is very good.  Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Sam Rockwell all do their best to impart some life into their rather flat characters.  The action is okay up until the end when I feel the final fight is rather confusingly shot and rushed.  A rushed villian climax is almost a staple in Favreau movies now that I mention it.  But I digress.  And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this movie overall and found it fun.  On the other hand you have paper thin characters, inconsistent writing from the five writers, downright stupid plotting with the aliens subplot, and some other minor issues.  Basically what this all boils down to is Cowboys & Aliens is a good movie that I think just about everyone can enjoy somewhat, but that the flaws keep it from being a truly great movie.

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin) 2008

Posted in C on May 3, 2011 by moviemoses

This movie took over a month to finally get through.  I had to buckle down and watch this in like 20 minute segments at a time.  Now this movie is actually a critical darling but this was a torturous slog.  Why?

Let me tell you of the plot points we are given in the first 10 minutes alone.  A couple loses a son to leukemia, another son becomes a criminal/alcoholic/all around fuckup, their daughter loathes the fuckup son causing a schism in the family, another child attempts suicide, and the mother finally gets a disease which will result ultimately in her boiling away from the inside a slow and painful death.  Add in some Holocaust footage and you have…well you have The Day the Clown Cried.

Anyway the mother needs a bone marrow transplant and this prompts the whole family to finally come together again for Christmas.  I know there are supposed to be some lighthearted moments interspersed with heartfelt scenes of family coming together and blah blah blah but I just felt jerked around by this movie.  As I said before, all those plot points literally come in the first 10 minutes and that is not the end of the emotional manipulation at hand here.  There are additional subplots involving a love triangle.  You see, one of the sons had a guy and a girl friend.  The guy friend (even though he was in love with the girl) let the son date the girl because he was unhappy and now they are married and the girl feels cheated out of a choice now because she really loves the guy friend and *head explodes*

You know what this movie is like?  Its like asking a friend “How’s it going?” and having them reply “Well, I’ve got a bit of trouble with the family.  My brother came in from Wyoming and he’s staying at my house cause he’s too much of a cheapskate to spring for a hotel and his wife is an absolute bore and I’m also having some digestion issues.  I have had diarrhea the past few days…”  There is creating complex characters, and then there is dumping a pallet load of exposition in your lap.  There are so many goddamn characters and so much family squabbling bullshit I could really care less.  Oh, oh please give me more bitter arguments with uncomfortable moments.  No, not enough; someone blurt out a rape story.  Ok, we don’t go THAT far but you get the point.

Again this all feels manipulative and not natural at all.  What is truly odd is that the movie wants to have its moments of hilarity but at the same time have this overall tone of ennui and depression and angst.  They all but quote Jean Paul Sartre in explaining their existential crises.  And it doesn’t help that (at least in my opinion) nothing is really resolved or settled.  Yeah, they get along somewhat for Christmas and I suppose you could say its a starting point for a renewed relationship with the family.  I however still envision the daughter hating the fuckup son, the suicidal kid will most likely relapse, and so on.  I realize not everything can be settled and done with in a short amount of time, but still there wasn’t enough change to really think they are going in a positive direction.

I will say if I loved one thing about the movie it is Mathieu Amalric as the drunk son.  I had only seen him before in Quantum of Solace but here he is really good as his character is probably the most well rounded of the bunch.  Yes he had his issues in the past but is seemingly moving on with a very supportive girlfriend who seems to be pushing him in the right direction.  He takes the most initiative in confronting family and changing relationships instead of everyone else who is obstinate and too stuck up in their selfish bullshit to see past their own ego.  Everyone else seems to be caught up in a bit of attention whoring for who has the most painful and F’d up life while Henri tries to make the best of a crappy situation.

Maybe I just don’t get.  I will be the first to admit I have misread movies before: come in with expectations of one thing and got something completely different.  I can also just not get what the director was going for or just not get that subtle French humor.  But at least this time through, this movie was a painful 2 and a half hour marathon of family guilt and endless bickering.  Bah humbug.

The Cove (Louie Psihoyos) 2009

Posted in C on May 31, 2010 by moviemoses

The Cove is a documentary about the harvesting of dolphins for amusement parks around the world.  The majority of these dolphins are caught in the coastal village of Taiji.  Only a few are selected and the rest are disposed in a hidden cove.  It is estimated that nearly 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered every year in this cove simply because they are not the proper type for all the Sea Worlds.  We follow Richard O’Barry, the man who popularized the dolphins in Flipper when he captured and trained the 5 dolphins for the show.  Now he has become the world’s biggest activist for defending dolphins.

This is a truly guerrilla style documentary to the point where the filmmakers are openly breaking the law to finish it.  See, the town council and fishermen won’t let anyone with a camera within miles of the cove.  The fishermen in particular just about assault the filmmakers every time they even catch glimpse of a camera.  A good portion of the film is about the filmmakers hatching a caper like plot in order to capture footage of this cove where they slaughter the dolphins.   Cameras are hidden in false rocks and underwater microphones are set up on different sides of the cove.

Now I am by no means a PETA member or a rabid animal lover.  I love eating most anything that swims in the water or crawls on four legs.  But even I was more than a little disgusted by this practice: mostly because the slaughter of these animals are pretty much pointless.  You could argue that their captivity isn’t that bad (although I feel what they are forced to do at places like Sea World is akin to chasing a rabbit on a mini bike till its heart explodes).  However the killing of the thousands of dolphins after is meaningless and well evil.  It’s not like you can eat the meat since it is so loaded with mercury you would be poisoned after a few helpings.  And there are no other uses for the animals or their meat besides thinning the population so the trainers can find better stock without weeding through previous rejected dolphins.  I’m all for killing animals when it serves an actual purpose but when we are decimating an entire species just so we can see a few dolphins play with balls at your local aquarium, that’s when my hackles are raised.

This movie is also a portrait of O’Barry who is shown as a tortured soul.  When he took the first five dolphins for Flipper he had no idea how he was going to change the world.  He pretty much blames himself for every dolphin that is killed and is as emotionally torn up as if he were the cause of another persons death.

There is a lot here to like about The Cove (despite the horrific subject matter).  The almost Caper like set up (almost like Man on Wire) keeps your interest and is not just talking heads.  There is a lot of information presented here touching on all aspects of this industry and the historical background that accompanies it.  As well as a heart felt portrayal of a guy that is racked with guilt over something he did over 40 years ago.  I really enjoyed this movie and I recommend it if you ever get the chance to.

Crank: High Voltage (Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor) 2009

Posted in C on May 19, 2010 by moviemoses

Again, to simplify this review into one statement it would be this: if you loved Crank, then you will love Crank: High Voltage.

Crank is probably my favorite Jason Statham movie and one of my fav action movies in recent years.  Its easy to dismiss this movie as retarded, puerile, juvenile, etc.  I would say those are its greatest strengths.  It makes no apologies for what it is and leaps off the cliff of implausibility to revel in its own insanity.  I would almost go as far as say its a satire of all the action movie cliches we’ve come to know all these years.

But yeah, getting back on track Crank 2 picks up right where it left off.  The Chinese mafia cuts out Chev’s heart because they want it and replace it with an artificial heart that can be charged by electrocuting himself in hilarious ways.  Chev breaks out to chase after his strawberry tart and hi jinx ensue.  You almost imagine writing sessions under a haze of bong smoke.

“So the bad guy gets away with the heart.  How does Chev get back on the trail?”
*bong hit*  “F*ckin…a gay black biker mafia drives by to help him.”
“Yeah, then Chev just bumps into the bad guy randomly”
*bong hit*  “That’s…convenient”
“Shit dude, you’re mellowing my buzz!  Let’s just wrap this up so we can play X-Box”

end scene.

Now there are some flaws (I know, shocking!).  Some of the one liners are forced.  EXTREMELY forced!  Some scenes really don’t make any logical sense, some are unnecessary and seemingly set up an even more illogical third Crank movie but it doesn’t make any sense in just watching this movie alone.

But I had a blast watching it.  I will take whatever complaints you have and just tell you to let it go and just enjoy yourself.  This is Crank 2, you should know what you’re going into already.

The Class (Laurent Cantet) 2008

Posted in C on May 19, 2010 by moviemoses

The trailer of The Class will have to go down as one of the worst in many years. I remember me and my brother watching the trailer before some movie and saying “Sounds interesting, but the trailer makes it look like one of the blandest movies of all time”. None of the scenes really had any memorable lines or actions and the whole thing came off as incredibly mediocre.

Well The Class is not mediocre. In fact, far from it. I think the trailer is so misleading because the movie itself is so authentic and real. This movie does not have a pretension of being an uber schmaltzy or “inspirational” school movie like Dead Poets Society, Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers and on and on and on. It certainly doesn’t have any pretension of coming from “the streets” like Dangerous Minds (ugh) or again, Freedom Writers.

The Class is based on a book from a former teacher and the actor playing said teacher: Francois Begaudeau. The plot, simply put, is about a semester in a French public school. Mr. Marin is the teacher of Junior High French of a diverse class. As I said before there is no overdone melodrama in the plot like gangs in the school or any overdone inspirational crap. Nor is there any witty quips or zinger jokes for the trailer. There is good humor to be had, but most of it is subtle and slow moving. For instance, there is a teacher conference where they are having a debate on how to keep discipline in the school and one of the teachers interrupt for a more “important matter” which is the unfair price hike for coffee in the teacher’s lounge.

Mr. Marin does not have to deal with gang influence or teenage pregnancy or any of that. He just has the difficult task of getting normal/average kids to give a crap about anything he has to say. Marin is almost a ringmaster in a circus. In one instance, Marin is trying to teach about imperfect subjunctives and he has to deal with 15 different tangents dealing from why does he use English names for his examples, what is the point of learning this, what is wrong with using slang, is Marin a homosexual and so on. The task of getting them to do homework is like pulling teeth. When Marin is approached by a history teacher asking if he will teach the kids Voltaire (to synch up with his history lesson) Marin gives a weary response of “its not in their year”. Marin knows its hard enough to get them to read ANYTHING let alone Voltaire. Its not that there aren’t smart kids in his class: there are many. But there are also students on the lower end of the spectrum and Marin knows they are all in the same boat together. There were some concerns going in that real life teacher Begaudeau would not be a good fit as an actor in this movie but he holds his own and is actually pretty charming. The rest of the child actors also do a good job with their roles.

The conflicts are small like dealing with discipline and getting kids inspired to do small creative efforts. I guess if there is one major event is is Marin trying to work with a trouble student in Soluymane (I screwed up the spelling). There is a blow up where Marin insults a few students and Soluymane in turns blows up. The issue comes up of whether or not to expel him. There is an argument for both sides. He has been a problem child for years and one more warning wont do him any good. On the other hand, expulsion condemns him to a worse life. There is no right or wrong answer, only the one given by the school board. In the end life goes on: one class leaves another one enters. Maybe Marin can be of some use to somebody. While there isn’t any grand speeches or dramatic events, the movie just quietly takes you in. I know I’ve been rambling but I have seen so many schmaltzy and over the top school movies, that it is such a breath of fresh air to have a movie that is so genuine. There is not one moment where I thought it wasn’t realistic or overly melodramatic. I can now understand the critical praise of this movie. The Class is realistic but still interesting and entertaining.

Command Performance (Dolph Lundgren) 2009

Posted in C on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

Command Performance is about the Russian Premier and several others being held captive at a concert.  The drummer of the opening act Joe (Dolph Lundgren) survives the initial assault and is determined to fight back.  Many people just label  this another Die Hard but I like to be a little more specific.  I prefer to think of this as a little Under Seige (I’m just a cook/drummer) with a bit of Sudden Death (Die Hard at a hockey game).

It is seeming that the action movie stars of old have become the providers of good B-movie action: Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, and now Dolph.  No I am not including Seagal.  While he is good for a laugh occasionally, none of his movies are really that entertaining and he whores himself out to anyone with a box of Ding Dongs.  But to get back to what I was saying, these former stars know what the audience wants.  They don’t try to reinvent the wheel but to make the most entertaining genre pics they can.  With Sly I love the latest installments of Rocky and Rambo, and with Van Damme you have JCVD, Universal Soldier Regeneration (highly recommend), and even to a lesser extent Wake of Death (though he didn’t direct it).

I guess the point of this tangent is that it seems Dolph is starting to get that as well.  I could give a hundred movies that ripped off Die Hard but Dolph doesn’t care about that.  He just wants to make this movie entertaining which he does.  As just a simple drummer, Joe is able to kill terrorists with all sorts of instruments.  He is able for example to get the drop on a pair of people going to kill hostages by turning the amps to 11 and deafening them with a bitchin’ power chord.  And he doesn’t use guns because, according to his words, bad things happen when he gets guns.  So let me get this straight, this guy who in the previous scene just staked a man in the heart with a guitar neck, says bad things will happen if he gets a gun.  First, that’s freaking awesome.  But I am still curious how getting STABBED IN THE HEART WITH A GUITAR NECK is not bad.  Maybe he means things only get worse when he gets guns.  Anyway…

So yeah, this movie has a lot of fun action and cheesy one liners.  There are a few things that don’t quite work.  The villain (played by Dave Legeno) doesn’t really do anything that memorable.  He more or less just stands around and grunts that he will kill hostages if his demands are not met blah blah blah.  He has no scenes where he is allowed to chew the scenery.  I will also say while Dolph is an alright director, he does have his shortcomings.  It is bad when at times I am mentally setting up how the shot should be.  Overall he does good but there are a few action bits where it is too close and the cutting too choppy for my tastes.  And while this isn’t a flaw I found this kind of amusing.  Dolph’s ego is showing quite a bit as every female character has to remark that Joe is a sexy man and how they want to bed him.  I’m not saying Dolph is ugly (he looks great for his age) but it is a bit laughable when we attempt after attempt of near jail bait trying to get in his pants.

Command Performance isn’t anything you need to rush out to see.  I am its target audience and I would only consider buying it if it was in some multi pack deal with other Dolph Lundgren movies.  But this is better than 95% of other DTV movies and I know a few of you out there have the same odd tastes as me.  If you like cheesy actionsploitation you may want to give this a rental.