Archive for the M Category

Match Point (Woody Allen) 2005

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on July 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Match Point is about Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a semi professional tennis player who is now an instructor at a country club. He gets in a relationship with Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and has hopes of marrying into an upper class family. Trouble comes when Chris falls for struggling actress Nola (Scarlet Johansson) who threatens his family life.

Initial reactions toward Match Point probably were more glowing than they should be but I can certainly understand why. Slogging through Allen’s filmography recently has been like eating Ramen noodles for every meal for a month. Your first real meal back will probably seem like Filet Mignon no matter what. In this case, we don’t get Filet Mignon, but a well cooked steak nontheless.

The obvious movie to liken Match Point to is Crimes and Misdemeanors. But it would be unfair to say that even though they share the same themes that they are necessarily trying to do the same thing. While Crimes was trying to be a pure philosophical statement about morality, I think Match Point is settling for being a straight thriller. In Crimes, the murder was simply a means to get to the discussion. In Match Point, follow Chris as we learn all about him and his situation. Our questions are more about what he is going to do and whether he will get away with it or not, rather than musings about justice in a godless universe.

This is where the film really shines. Allen does a great job with creating tension in this movie. All during the crime we are unsure as to what mistakes he will make or whether anyone will see him. After it happens, we are on the edge of our seats during his interviews with the police and whether he will slip up with his story.

There are things that still keep this movie from being as interesteing as Crimes. For one, Chris is a little too cold and calculating to be a lead we can really get invested in. I get that was the point that Chris can think ahead which makes him capable of what he was doing. But in Crimes we could somewhat sympathize (at least a little bit) with Landau’s tortured character and his moral crisis. Chris’ cold demeanor has him come off more sociopathic than anything else.

I also found myself more entertained with the two stories of Crimes than the one in MP. The Allen subplot was a welcome respite from all the heavy material. In Match Point all we have is the one story which make things a little tedious by having it be one note.

Match Point is obviously no Crimes and Misdemeanors but it is still a very good and effective thriller. Allen effectively ramps up the tension when it comes to the third act. While the themes of morality and class are not as strong as in Crimes, they still do elevate the material. This is a refreshing film after the dreadful last couple of films and it doesn’t hurt it feels like Allen actually gives a crap on this one. This is definitely one worth recommending to people.

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Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen) 1995

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on February 5, 2013 by moviemoses

Mighty Aphrodite is about Lenny (Woody Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) who adopt a child.  The child turns out to be a genius and Lenny decides to track down the mother believing that she too, must be brilliant.  Turns out the woman Linda (Mira Sorvino) is a prostitute and a complete moron.

This is seen as a good time in Woody Allen’s career.  I suppose with this and my Bullets review I am entering controversial territory.  I find these movies to be very lazy for Allen.  Allen has always been a joke writer and he has told how he has a drawer full of jokes, ideas, and concepts.  This is purely speculation and I have next to nothing to back it up.  It just feels like after his debacle involving Mia Farrow and his underage stepdaughter, Allen is perfectly fine by running on cruise control.  Whereas before he was always venturing into new territory and breaking new ground, now he says “fuck it“ and is content playing it safe with his drawer ideas.  What if a mobster became a playwright?  Fuck it, I can stretch that out to 90 minutes and ride things out another year. A Greek tragedy set to banal upper class New Yorkers petty issues?  Fuck it, I don’t feel like doing anything meaningful.

Keep in mind none of this means this is bad.  Mighty Aphrodite works and is charming and makes you chuckle occasionally   But this reminds me of when I was wrapping up college and a term which I believe is ‘senoritis‘.  I would wait until the last minute to do a book report or a paper and then do the absolute bare minimum to get by because screw it, I’m graduating anyway.  I feel like my English teacher handing my paper back going “You can do better“.

I know that Woody knows he can make an entire movie based on his Woody persona which he has done with Aphrodite.  All Mighty Aphrodite is is Mira Sorvino talking lewdly about sex and being a prostitute and Woody getting flustered and nervous.  I can picture the whole movie in my head without even seeing it.  I can picture Sorvino mentioning about how a client likes that she snowballs him and Allen looks nervous and is gesturing wildly with his hands and he stutters something about how he doesn’t want to know how to use Hostess cakes in those ways.  The problem is it doesn’t feel like effort is put into it.  It feels like Allen is on autopilot.  One of Allen’s neurotic tendencies is that he has to be working all the time. His one a year output is not so much that he has all these great movie concepts that are screaming to get out but more about he has nothing better to do with his time off.  It kind of reminds me of my father who will go insane by retirement because he has no other hobbies.  This is Allen on autopilot because he can’t think of anything better to do with his time now that the Knicks aren’t playing.

As I said before there is nothing bad about Aphrodite and I have no problems with people who find it funny.  But for me, I appreciate someone a lot more when he/she  puts it all on the line and fails spectacularly rather than someone shooting for mediocre and achieving it.  This is a film which I have no intention of ever revisiting because there is nothing special that stands out.  I got everything I ever needed out of one viewing and there is no reason to ever go back to it.  Blah.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (Woody Allen) 1993

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on September 11, 2012 by moviemoses

I know to many this is their favorite Woody Allen comedy.  To me this seemed like a safe diversion in light of Allen’s marital scandal and ill timed movie about infidelity.  It feels like Allen is falling back on his reliable schtick ala Broadway Danny Rose in order to remind people of why they liked him in the first place.  MMM is kind of a spiritual successor to Annie Hall since it is a reteaming of Allen and Keaton and this was the cut out subplot from Hall about a murder mystery.  Here you have Larry (Allen) and Carol (Keaton) who have kind of settled into the dulldrums of their marriage.  Carol suspects their boring neighbor of murdering his spouse (who seemingly had a heart attack).  When Larry is hesitant to play along with Carol, she asks Ted (Alan Alda) to help her which makes Larry jealous.

Seeing Keaton and Allen together again I am reminded of how much more I prefer the Keaton collaborations.  It is not that I think Mia Farrow was a bad actress.  It is just that I thought Allen did a good job of writing for Farrow, while Keaton had a presence all her own.  The banter back and forth feels effortless and the chemistry still feels genuine.  Like my review of Broadway Danny Rose, I struggle to really stretch out this review because as I said, this is the reliable Allen formula you know and love.  Allen and Keaton bicker back and forth under the thin plot of a murder mystery.  There is not much else to be gleaned from this but as I said, the lead is in top form and haven’t missed a beat since their absence.  I still have no idea how the hell this would have ever fit with Annie Hall as Hall was a more intelligent yet funny look at relationships while MMM is a wacky almost buddy comedy.

The supporting characters are also very fun to watch.  I always appreciate seeing Alda outside of MASH as I think he was an underused actor outside of TV.  While a semi rival to Larry, he is not the over the top smarmy jerk from Crimes and Misdemeanors.  He and Anjelica Huston do a great job of being both potential love interests and fun people along for the ride of this interesting thing going on in their neighborhood.

My feelings still mirror that of Danny Rose.  This is a very funny a light comedy from Woody Allen.  It doesn’t reach the ambition or the enjoyment of his best works, but they are enjoyable on their own.  The cast is having fun and work extremely well together and the dialog is sharp and witty.  It is obvious that if you enjoyed the pairing of Allen and Keaton you should definitely check out Manhattan Murder Mystery.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) 2012

Posted in M on June 14, 2012 by moviemoses

Once again I will launch into a tangent because at the moment one of the most difficult things in the world to me at the moment is writing a review of a Wes Anderson movie.  There is a reason why I have shied away from writing a review as of yet.  It is because I can’t really think of how to describe one without using the word “quirky“ about 50,000 times.  Normally I can liken a directors work to something else like “If you like these movies then you will probably like this director’s stuff too.“  But Wes Anderson has a style of his own that the best I can say is watch Rushmore.  If you like that then you will like his quirkier stuff.

I’ve also been down on Anderson as of Darjeeling Limited. To me he’s been suffering from the same problem I’ve had with Tim Burton.  Both have been locked into their quirky comfort zone and are stagnating making same movie after same movie.  At around the time of Darjeeling I just about swore off his films because that one felt so lazy and like Anderson was sleep walking through it.  But my swearing off Anderson’s films didn’t last too long.  Maybe I needed some levity after being pissed off by Prometheus.  I came into the trailer wanting to hate on it and by the end I let out an exasperated groan and said “Goddammit, I got to go see it now.“

The story is about Sam who runs away from his Scout Troop and Suzy who runs away from her home.  They met a year earlier and fell for each other and they ran away to spend time together.  The kids are being tracked down by the troop leader (Edward Norton), the town police officer (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray).

So how is Moonrise Kingdom you may or may not ask?  Well, it’s quirky.  Really I think Anderson’s gone past 11 on the quirk and has gone to plaid.  I’m sorry if its repetitive but I’m really at a loss for words.  I can’t even say there are many crafted jokes and much of the humor is about seeing these goofy characters in this oddball world.

If there was something I felt was missing from this one as opposed to Anderson’s other films was a clear plot.  Don’t get me wrong, Anderson’s films are not complex stories but are simple framework for getting characters together.  In Life Aquatic, it doesn’t really matter what Steve is doing, but at least we have a clear goal and an end point.  In Moonrise Kingdom I was appreciating the characters and the humor but for the longest time I was asking where this was going.  After the kids escape you are left wondering “what’s next?“.  Because of that the pacing was a little more meandering than the other movies.

The best thing I can say is this movie worked for me despite my mood going into it.  The kids are charming as all hell and the quirky (there I go again) tone matches the story.  This is like a fantasy about these kids having an adventure and the tone feels like the kids are making the world out of their imagination.  So the nature of the story compliments the tone.

Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman do a good job as they have the formula down pat at this point.  Edward Norton was very funny as the straight arrow troop leader who leads his troop like a military camp.  If there was a weakest link it is unfortunately Bruce Willis which is disappointing as I really wanted a funny role from him.  He doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the humor that everyone else is doing and comes off looking confused.  It is that same bored performance you expect from his bad action flicks like Hostage.  Everytime he was on screen I wanted to slap him and scream “Snap out of it!“

I’m not sure how much a recommendation will do for this movie.  If you are a Wes Anderson fan you will already be seeing it and if you are not then I doubt this will win you over.  I came in wanting to dislike it but in the end I was won over so I guess there’s that.  If I were to rank this among Anderson’s other works it would probably be under Life Aquatic, Tenenbaums, and Rushmore.  It’s cute, but doesn’t have enough to measure up compared to his best work.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird) 2011

Posted in M on January 2, 2012 by moviemoses

When I saw the trailer for this movie I let out an audible groan.  Not another one.  It almost seemed comical how many sequels could be churned out for an action series with little/no intention of making something fitting Mission Impossible.  It is kind of like those foreign exploitation remakes like when Bruno Mattei does Terminator 2 or Jaws 5.  It’s got a shark terrorizing people in a peaceful harbor town.  It’s close enough to a Jaws sequel right?  In the Mission Impossible series its like “Hey we have…people doing spy stuff aaaaaand I guess some of the character names are the same.  Generic Tom Cruise action series; you have a home!“

But I guess I’ll go a little further and explain briefly how I felt about the series.  Mission Impossible was a good action thriller if you can take it as just an action thriller.  If you are looking at it as movie actually about Mission Impossible you will be mad especially at the raping of the team and especially the complete character assassination of Jim Phelps.  MI:II is actually funny to recall because as a kid I thought it was fun and looking at it recently I wonder what brain damage I suffered at that age to make me think that.  MI:III was okay except that it really didn’t stick with me.  Honestly, I really don’t remember anything about the movie except for small bits.  It was directed by JJ Abrams and it honestly felt at the time like he directed a movie version of Alias except with Tom Cruise instead of Jennifer Garner.  It also seems like many others forgot about this movie too as many of the people I talked to about Ghost Protocol called it Mission Impossible III.  So this was another movie was really dreading to see but as it turns out this is probably my favorite action movie of the year.

This is, hands down, the best Mission Impossible movie of the bunch.  It helps that we FINALLY have a team collaborating on a mission instead of it being the Tom Cruise show.  The crew actually has more character development than Tom in this one.  Simon Pegg does a great job at comic relief (whitout going overboard on goofy), Paula Patton is very charismatic, and Jeremy Renner shares some of the action.  While Cruise still handles most of the big action, it is strange that he seems to be in the Jim Phelps role of wise leader.

The focus is on the action, which is done extremely well.  I wouldn’t give this movie a back handed compliment by saying the plot is simple but that it does the job it needs to do for the purposes of this type of movie.  We are quickly told who the bad guy is and shown why he is evil and the mission is layed out simply in ‘go to A and do B‘.  The complications aren’t in the plot but how the team decides to work out their plan.  That is why this works.  We aren’t fussing over plot details and instead invested in the mission and how they plan to deal with the problems that come up in their path.  Bird does a great job in giving the audience several different and inventive action sequences such as the tower climb, the sand storm chase, and the parking garage brawl.  And because we actually care about the characters it makes the action all that more intense.

The movie still has the over the top gadgets but they work to better effect in this movie.  For example, I hated the face mask plus the voice box because it seemed like an easy out for everyone involved.  It added no drama or tension to the story and was used as a lame reveal every single time.  Here one of the tech pieces used are the climbing gloves which, while complete nonsense, doesn’t change the fact Ethan Hunt still has to physically climb to the top of a 130 story building.  Bird does a better job than the other Impossible directors in establishing the universe of this movie.  It is set up as a rather tongue-in-cheek action movie where characters can bounce off cars and not get hurt and all the spys have super cool cars/gadgets.

If I had a complaint it might be that the villain is almost non-existent.     Seriously, he and Ethan don’t exchange ANY dialog in this movie.  If there was one thing I actually loved about MI:III is was Phillip Seymore Hoffman as probably the only villain in the series with any menace.  But that being said, the movie was more about the mission to get to the villain rather than the villain himself.

Ghost Protocol is kind of like the Iron Man of 2011.  It is a film that not many people were expecting to be awesome and just caught everyone off guard.  I’m sure this will spawn some more sequels and here’s hoping they have the same energy and imagination as Ghost Protocol.  I loved this movie as it was the summer blockbuster I was waiting all year for.  Check it out.

 

Manhattan (Woody Allen) 1979

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on October 19, 2011 by moviemoses

It has been said that Woody Allen did not want this film to be released.  He supposedly offered to make another movie for free if they kept it on the shelf forever.  Now there is still speculation as to why he feels that way and Woody has never really given an adequate explanation beyond saying he didn’t like his acting in it.  Not only is this odd because Manhattan is the highest grossing Allen film ever (also many people’s favorite), but you figure out of the forty something films he’s made that he would feel a little more embarassed about some of the others that may come later in this retrospective.  But anyway, onto the review.

In Manhattan, Woody plays Isaac who is an author and writer for a television show.  He is currently dating a 17 year old named Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) but things soon get more complicated.  His friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is having an affair with the intellectual Mary (Diane Keaton).  Isaac soon falls for Mary and tries to have a relationship with her.

Obviously I haven’t yet seen all of Woody Allen’s movies, but I doubt I will find one as beautifully made as this one.  This is all of his creative talents coming together.  The look of the movie and the black and white photography is gorgeous.  No matter what your opinion of New York is, he manages to make it look like one of the most romantic places on Earth.  Allen was experimenting with teh black and white and the Gershwin soundtrack but it completely works.  It further adds to the tone and the romanticism of everything that is going on.

Despite all the romance for the city, there is more melancholy in the human relationships.  The characters, despite bemoaning the fact their relationships stink, do not have a problem having affairs with others.  Yale is even shown to be content with dicking around his best friend.  Mary is someone who, despite being intellectual, admittedly has problems and does not plan further than a week or so.  Seemingly the only reason Issac is with Tracy is for some kind of ego boost.  Tracy looks up to Isaac and his intellect but he has no use for her as she gets quickly ignored in conversations.  When things go wrong, you can’t help but feel the characters dug themselves into those holes.

This movie is obviously also funny.  In addition to the witty dialog you have some other funny moments such as when we meet Mary’s ex (who was built up as a hearthrob/stud) is none other than Wallace Shawn.  Another is a subplot which involves Isaac’s ex writing a tell all book about Isaac and their relationship.

As I mentioned before, this is one of Woody Allen’s most popular films and there is good reason for it.  This is a movie which has top notch artistry along with a good blend of romance, drama, and humor.  If you have seen any of the other typical Allen films and liked them then you should go and check this one out (I don’t know why you wouldn’t have checked it out by now if that were the case).  Manhattan is one of the greats and worth a shot.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller) 2011

Posted in M on September 28, 2011 by moviemoses

Moneyball is based on the book which deals with real life Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (here played by Brad Pitt).  Beane’s Athletics are one of the lowest payroll teams in baseball and things get bad when Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen (three all stars) are bought out for way more money by the bigger teams.  Faced with the impossible task of rebuilding he is interested by the ideas of a nerdish assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who believes he can manipulate the system using statistics and not money.  By getting players with good on base percentages and ignoring any other irrelevant issues which drive down their prices, they can make a winning team without spending as much as the Yankees.

 

I wish trailers flat out told me Aaron Sorkin (WestWing, Social Network, Few Good Men) wrote this movie.  That to me is a bigger selling point than anything else.  I’m being serious here.  The man has done such great work his name means more to me than Brad Pitt or millions of dollars in special effects.  I am getting ahead of myself though.

 

I went into more detail my feelings about sports movies in my Warrior review so I won’t really harp on it too much again right now.  Suffice it to say, you don’t need to be a baseball fan in order to see Moneyball.  True this is based on what some call a nerd book about fantasy baseball and outlines a historic moment in the game of baseball, but that is not the only thing in this movie.  At the heart of the story it is an inspirational story about an underdog, about innovation, and about a personal story.  The first two kind of go together in that Beane was essentially fighting the ‘old guard‘ who had their preconceived notion of how to build baseball teams and that there was no other possible way to do it.  It took a lot of effort and, well, balls on the part of Beane to go all in with his plan.  He was fighting with just about everyone’s philosophy on what baseball is and was putting his career on the line.

 

This also rolls into the ending which I was discussing with friends after we finished seeing it.  I guess I will warn spoilers although I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything with history.  After all, do I need to say SPOILER ALERT: the Titanic sinks at the end of Titanic.  We were discussing about how the ending does not slap any false sentimentality or try to manufacture some big win to end on a high note.  Beane’s Athletic’s lose in the playoffs, and he is the first one to shit on the idea he broke some record or something because winning a ring matters.  But this is tempered by the fact Beane really wins in the big picture.  His way of doing business has changed the game and others have used the model successfully.

 

What really sells this movie are the writing, the characters, and the actors.  Brad Pitt does a fantastic job as Beane as he has to do some rather difficult work.  Watching the movie it seems like Beane is a charming guy but if you think about it, a lot of other actors could really screw it up.  Beane is an emotional guy who is a cutthroat businessman and doesn’t care who he steps on in order to see things through.  One scene (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT) is when the manager won’t field the players he wants and Beane trades away all those players (all stars included) until the manager relents.  In another actor’s hands, he could really be seen as a megolomaniacal dick but with Pitt and the writing it takes on a better tone.  Even Jonah Hill, who I pretty much hate in any other movie, is fun in this movie too.  This is due to the face he isn’t playing Jonah Hill and has a toned down performance.  He and Pitt have great chemistry as they can throw subtle one liners at one another instead of Hill usually hamming it up.

 

But as alluded to earlier, my real love of this movie is with the writing.  This movie is funnier than the majority of comedies out there today, which is even more embarassing since Moneyball isn’t a comedy.  The dialog is so witty and charming and unlike say Diablo Cody or Kevin Smith, doesn’t call attention to itself.  Everyone is their own unique character and they just feel like people you would want to hang out with instead of long monologues with pop culture references.  I don’t know why I’m hatin on Smith or even Cody since I, for the most part, like their stuff.  I guess it is to highlight how much Sorkin does it better.

 

I’ve read some reviews which bring up the fact this movie was originally to be directed by Steven Soderbergh.  This is used as a negative to imply that with Soderbergh this would have been a classic.  For that matter you might as well compare The Social Network (also penned by Sorkin) to compare since they have similarities in story.  In a way I can see where they are coming from.  There isn’t much in the way of flashy direction to spice things up and most of the scenes are talky scenes.  There are also some…less than necessary stuff such as Beane’s relationship with his ex (played by Robin Wright).  But that being said, I don’t see it as that big of a criticism.  Director Miller knew what the strengths of this movie were which is the writing and the acting and he highlights those.  Pitt and Hill are fun as hell as their characters and they deliver wonderful dialog and that is where the charm of the movie is.  While he may have done a little more, I’m not really going to fault him for trying too hard and screwing up something already great.  Moneyball is one of my favorites of this year so far and I recommend to baseball fans and not baseball fans alike.