Archive for the R Category

Radio Days (Woody Allen) 1987

Posted in R, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 3, 2012 by moviemoses

Woody Allen has a rep of being dark and intense but as evidenced by Zelig, Midnight and Paris, and now with Radio Days, he can be straight up cute when he wants to.  Radio Days is unapolagetic nostalgia for nearly 90 minutes.  The movie follows the Woody Allen stand in family, his nostalgic memories of radio, and a few stories of some of the big stars.

The unfair comparison I will be making for this movie is that it feels like Cinema Paradiso but with radio instead of cinema.  The unfair comes in that while Radio Days is a good film it is not on the same level as Paradiso.  I guess if I had to pick a flaw with the Days over Paradiso it would be with a narrative.  Radio Days is more a series of vignettes where in Paradiso it is a fully realized story.  We follow Toto as he grows up and as we follow him through this important period in his life we see how much cinema played a part in it.  Even though we may not have seen the movies Toto has seen we connect with the emotions he is going through.  In Radio Days it feels like we are sitting down with Woody Allen as he tells amusing anecdotes about radio.  Now don’t get me wrong, the stories are all cute and funny but they don’t have the same emotional resonance.  Radio Days is good where it could have been really great with some rewrites.

The movie looks very good as Allen captures the time period.  The costumes and the sets and the actors all do their part in transporting you into the idealized memory of the narrator.  Now granted radio has changed as a medium so I can see some of the audience maybe not getting into what the big deal was.  However I think Allen gets around that by making his stories universal.  We can relate to a quirky family or working hard for a toy you always wanted or gossip about some big celebrity.  It is not hard to swap in your mind radio with television where different family members had different shows and events you followed.  So I really don’t see it as an alienating factor.

I feel like I am doing this movie a disservice with a rather short review.  There is nothing complicated about the movie but it all simply comes together well.  All of the vignettes are interesting, sweet, and funny.  There was not a bad or boring part in the film and it kept my interest throughout its brisk running time.  The performances are all very good and the production is great.  While I didn’t fully love it, this was a very good sentimental trip.  I see this being worthwhile to everyone including non-Woody fans.

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Red State (Kevin Smith) 2011

Posted in R on September 6, 2011 by moviemoses

SPOILERS AND RELIGIOUS DISCUSSION AHOY!

I actually saw a glimmer of hope coming from Kevin Smith’s career after seeing the trailer for Red State. Smith’s career was in a downward trend with Jersey Girl (although depending on if you liked Smith in the first place much sooner), was briefly propped up with Clerks II, and then plummeted straight to rock bottom with the release of Cop Out. The reason I was hopeful for Red State was that it was a change of pace. I can understand a director getting into a funk doing the same thing over and over and trying to appease the same fan base with the same dick and fart jokes. It is those times when directors get away from something frustrating that they can make something even greater. Kar Wai Wong made Chungking Express as a way to relieve tension from the hellish shooting of the epic Ashes of Time and Sofia Coppolla made Lost in Translation when she had difficulty writing Marie Antoinette. Couple this with the idea that the horror genre isn’t that far out of Smith’s wheelhouse if you think about it. He has always been someone who preferred smaller productions with minimal funding and lesser known actors. Also the majority of horror films don’t require…how shall I put it, artistic direction. I really am not harping on Smith’s direction, but merely stating he doesn’t have to do anything fancy in terms of making something scary.

There was a lot of discussion both about the possible religious message and of the political message. The title “Red State” can be correlated with that of the religious right but that does not mean it is always the case. I personally didn’t think Smith *needed * to say anything about those subjects to be brutally honest. Don’t get me wrong, as an atheist I personally don’t mind when someone takes the piss out of religion, but I would rather have someone better suited to the topic. I have yet to see Smith say anything I have found really profound. I remember reading a Daredevil comic he wrote in which the reason he believes people should believe in God is Pascal’s Wager which is so profoundly stupid it is not worth the trouble. But for a more common example for people familiar with Smith’s movies is Chasing Amy. It is a movie about a guy falling for someone who is unattainable through sexual orientation. It was supposed to discuss what it is to be a lesbian and highlight that being gay is not a choice. How did it end up? Well I learned all a lesbian needs is a good deep dickin’ from Ben fucking Affleck and they are turned hetero again. Point is I never heard anything from Smith that would indicate he could make any kind of subtle commentary on either religion or politics or both. Nor does he need to. Who’s to say he couldn’t just make a horror film where a crazy preacher goes out and kills people he thinks are sinners? I would rather he make a great horror film instead of trying too many things at the same time. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After a half a page of preamble, let me start with a summary of the film’s plot.

Red State is initially about three teenagers who set up sex date online with someone they never met before. When they get there, they find out it is a trap set up by local fundamentalist pastor Fred Phelps I mean Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Abin and his church kill people who answer the ad because they are sinners. The movie then goes in another direction when the ATF attempts to serve a warrant on Abin’s compound in Waco I mean wherever they decided to set this film instead. The agents, led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) decide to take no prisoners when the plan gets messed up.

So I guess I will tackle the elephant in the room and discuss the “messages” of the film. As I indicated in my description they are not too subtle. Smith is making commentary on Fred Phelps and taking shots at the government over Waco and in the process completely screws the pooch on both. The problem with Phelps is even highlighted by a line of dialog in the film (always a bad sign when characters point out plot holes) that he is a “seer and not a doer”. Phelps believes God is the one responsible for punishing people for their sins and therefore doesn’t need to get his hands dirty.  He is perfectly happy preaching his message of hate while suing people who try to get in his way. Now Fred Phelps is an evil man who spreads his vile message wherever he can (I cannot denounce him enough), but as far as I know he has never personally advocated any followers take violent action. Now Smith is taking dramatic license, but it is not even internally consistent in that regard either. All during the movie Abin is preaching about how homosexuality is a sin, how it is causing the decline in America, and how it needs to be wiped out. Why is it then that our main characters aren’t homosexual? Instead they are a group of horny hetero teenagers and the movie has to throw out a hurried explanation that they are fornicators and they need to die too. What is the point of making a Phelps character and not doing anything about what one of his main points is?

Things get even more laughable when Smith turns to commentary about Waco. Smith somehow has to make the ATF agents seem more evil than Abin’s followers. Now when you see Abin’s followers kill people methodically during the first half of the movie and say the things they say, you realize how far the director has to stretch to make the government people seem even worse. The movie gets downright hilarious at times when we see how poorly written the ATF agents are and the things they are forced to do through sheer contrivance of the script. I kid you not, during the scenes where I was supposed to be horrified at the slaughter by the ATF agents I was laughing out loud. It’s not because I’m a sick person (although that may also be the case) but it was because the writing was so horrendously bad I couldn’t believe Smith thought this was a good script. Uwe Boll wrote better stuff in Darfour than Smith did here. That’s right, I am saying Uwe Boll did something better than Kevin Smith. THAT’S why I was laughing my balls off during this movie. I was literally imagining Uwe Boll chastising Kevin Smith in front of his word processor for being too stupid.

The other problem in this movie is that there is no one to really root for in this movie. Abin and his followers are all evil murderers and the ATF are made to be even worse. So who are we supposed to care for? You may say the three kids who are captured but you would also be wrong. The kids are modeled in the same fashion as most victims in horror movies today to where they are also annoying twats that you wish the killers would eliminate as quickly as possible. Also because the narrative is so jumbled they are almost forgotten about after the 30 minute mark.

Red State also feels like two different movies. The first half of the movie is (and I know people are going to jump on me for using this term but what the hell) basically a torture porn movie wherein unlikable characters are picked off one by one by their torturers. Then the movie snaps in tone so hard you get whiplash as we go into a Waco shootout. These two halves really aren’t that compatible and neither side are any good because they don’t have enough time to develop. The movie is only 80 minutes long. That’s right, the movie barely clocks in at 80 minutes (ten whole minutes are from the credits). The whole thing is rushed when it didn’t need to be. The characters in the movie are given no depth so there is no connection, the story is rushed through leaving many plot holes, and the time constraint makes it seem like two bad movies instead of one coherent thread. The resolution of the movie actually started out interesting too. I would have given Smith some credit for having balls to try to pull it off but he then decides to play it safe which was actually the worse option. The last ten minutes has Goodman on screen trying to explain the whole debacle like a much shittier version of the psychologist at the end of Psycho. It comes off more as an apology than an explanation. It is almost sad to see Smith try to shoehorn all that and a message in at the same time. Once again I imagine Smith behind his word processor with his head buried in his hands trying to figure out how to write himself out of it all and having nothing and THAT was the actual ending.

The tone of the movie is all over the map too. I know I am beating this dead horse into a red goo at this point so I won’t harp on it too much. I’ll just say like the plot, the tone is also all over from being a horror film to being thriller/action movie to even moments of comedy. Yeah, Smith tries to punch up the dialog with some “zingers” but they are really out of place in a movie like this and breaks the mood. One final shot at Kevin Smith I swear. The man cannot shoot an action scene. Once again I was thinking to myself how much better Uwe Boll was at an action scene than Smith was. I’m serious, Rampage had much better action staged than Red State. Hell, even Bloodrayne 3 had better action in it.

Okay, okay, I need to highlight the movie’s good points. If there is any reason to see this movie it is because of Michael Parks. The man is a joy to see in this role as he is creepy but hamming it up in just the right ways. This was really all the movie needed to be was having him deliver creepy monologues. Sadly he doesn’t get as much screen time as he needs as the rest of the plot pushes him aside. And even though I complained about Smith’s action scenes, I will say he has gotten better in other respects as a director. Faint praise I know, seeing as how he started with a static camera in Clerks but praise is praise.

If you haven’t guessed by now that means you have reading comprehension problems, but it also means Red State is a bad film. The movie suffers by having two rushed plot narratives in an 80 minute film which makes the tone and stories suck altogether. In his effort to make Smith’s targets morally reprehensible he neglected to give us any characters to be invested in or any reason to care. The political and religious messages are ham fisted to say the least and hilariously embarrassing to say the most. Michael Parks tries his best to make the movie entertaining, but it is too little for the purposes of saving this movie. Still…it’s funnier than Cop Out.

Rango (Gore Verbinski) 2011

Posted in R on March 23, 2011 by moviemoses

Now I’ve said before that I don’t really get into animated movies as much as I used to. I still get requests to see Toy Story 3. It’s just most of the time, even the best of kids movies are still, well, kids movies. So I guess it means something when I find an animated movie I really like (or it doesn’t…whatever).

Rango is about a lizard played by Johnny Depp who is accidentally removed from his bowl on a family vacation. He wanders into a town fully of creepy looking critters and decides since no one knows who he really is, that he should adopt a tougher alter ego. Through his lies and various shenanigans, the townspeople believe him and make him Sheriff Rango. Rango gets caught up in a plot by a corrupt politician who later sends for desperadoes to eliminate Rango.

I like Rango because it is a send up/homage to the spaghetti westerns of old. You can see it hits all the genre notes as far as the characters, the plots, and the overall vibe of it. But like any good comedy they take those conventions and turn them slightly for laughs. The art style is what really sells it and makes it unique. These are characters you are not going to see in your typical Pixar or Disney movie. These animals/reptiles/whatever can be both dark and funny given the situations they are put in. I particularly loved a chase scene where a wagon is being chased by moles on roadrunners and on dive bombing bats.

Most of the voice acting is very good with the obvious note of Johnny Depp. He does a great job in the role of playing the cowardly thespian but also playing the role of tough guy. He really sells the performance and in many other hands it could have been an annoying character. There are some other cast members that are very good including Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, Abigail Breslin, Ray Winstone, and Timothy Olyphant.

The story, even though it plays on familiar story tropes, does not ever lag for me. This is probably because it is not so much about the story as the comedy that comes from those tropes. Just when things do slow down, there are some really inventive action scenes to spice things up. I’m sorry, I can’t come up with too many things to rant on. I’m sure if I spent enough time I can come up with some things I didn’t like and some scenes that could be trimmed. But these would be minor gripes in what is overall a great animated movie. I highly recommend it.

 

Restrepo (Tim Heatherington/Sebastian Junger) 2010

Posted in R on August 3, 2010 by moviemoses

Restrepo is a documentary following a platoon through a fifteen month deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley. This has been called the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. Restrepo is the name of the outpost the platoon created (named after a loved soldier who died early in the deployment) at one of the biggest Taliban hotspots.

What makes this documentary kind of special is the cameraman is in the trenches with the soldiers. We see how dangerous it is for these soldiers. A day doesn’t go by where they aren’t engaged in combat. The mountainous region makes movement difficult and easy to hide Taliban fighters. We see the dynamic of the platoon as they try to deal with this rough situation. One character we really get to know is Captain Keaney. He is a commander who tries to do his best to salvage basically a cluster of a situation. He is nice to his troops but works them hard to keep them sharp and alive. He is also given the extremely difficult task of trying to play ambassador to the local village elders. Commanders want him to win their support (because they mostly support and hide Taliban operatives) but it is almost useless. A humorous moment happens when he has to smooth over an incident with the elders which is called The Cow Incident. Kind of like The Hurt Locker this isn’t a documentary with any preachy message or theme. We see all the crap this platoon has to deal with on a daily basis.

Now the thing I love about this movie (the in the trenches cinematography) is also the thing I hate about it. Don’t get me wrong, some of the stuff in this movie is intense. For example, we are there in a humvee when an IED goes off disabling the vehicle and an ambush occurs. That kind of stuff was downright crazy. However, if you have any problems with shaky camera work, you will hate life itself. I usually don’t have a problem with shaky cam. I can see the Bourne movies for example with no problem But this movie is like a camera was placed on a paint shaker. There were many times when I simply could not watch and had to close my eyes for a few seconds to make the pain stop. After the movie, I had nausea like you wouldn’t believe. I understand you can’t have smooth camera work when you are getting shot at, but it still doesn’t make the viewing any easier.

Overall this is a very good documentary. The motion sickness is a huge problem and maybe home viewing may lessen the feeling. I just enjoyed the content and found some points very exciting. And at about 96 minutes, this movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. I would probably recommend this when it comes out on DVD for an easier viewing experience.

Rampage (Uwe Boll) 2009 SPOILERS

Posted in R on June 16, 2010 by moviemoses

Reading IMDb reviews make me lose faith in humanity. It is there you will find 10/10 star reviews for Rampage along with comparisons to Falling Down, Taxi Driver, and Elephant. I have a comparison to make also. Those movies have actual talent behind them while Rampage has none whatsoever and is a steaming pile of shit.

Rampage is about a 23 year old loser who won’t move out of his parents house. Secretly he builds up a suit of armor and a weapons stockpile and one day goes on a killing rampage. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is him killing people.

What really cracks my peppercorn are the reviewers that are attributing “brilliant social satire” to Boll. I hear he is mocking everything from GTA to violence in movies to the state of politics today. That is why there are so many comparisons to Falling Down. Falling Down though actually made you see the main character’s moral outrage at American society. Rampage has none of that and the only message people are drawing from it are the ones we make out of whole cloth to try to give Boll some credit for making something other than Alone in the Dark. I say this because the killer’s motives are not out of any outrage at society or through any ideological beliefs. Sure, he sometimes spouts lines about how the banks stole from the American people and how we are becoming overpopulated, but that has nothing to do with what he does. By the end, we are plainly told he did this because he wanted money and he is a sociopath. That’s right, this whole rampage is done so he can rob a bank to move out of his parents house. His mad ramblings are a red herring, and he only murders because he has no innate sense of morality. Congratulations, you destroyed whatever social message you had for an exploitation bank robbery flick.

Many people bump up their star ratings because this is the best a Boll film (technically speaking) he has done and I can somewhat agree with that. There are no more gaffs behind the camera or questionable shots or shoddy editing. The movie is competently done and with the digital camera it adds a gritty realism to the events happening. That doesn’t mean though that the story (what little there is) makes any sense. This small town seems to be unaware that there is a man in body armor walking down the street mowing people down despite a bomb going off (that destroyed a city block) and people being murdered in the streets with a man with dual uzis. Nope, they just go on about their day like normal until the murderer goes in a shoots them all. Well until he goes into a bingo hall that is. In a very questionable scene, the killer walks into a bingo hall in full gear and guns and no one reacts to him. He eats a sandwich, drinks his soda, calls out a few bingo numbers, and then leaves. In a movie like Postal that might have actually worked as a darkly humorous joke, but here it is the movie equivalent of a record scratch. For 95% of the movie, the murders are played out seriously like grim horror; as if we are watching a real life massacre. And then for no reason we get a tonal shift that would give anyone whiplash.

Other story things bug me too. For example the cops have no clue what is going on. I know the killer bombs the police station but radio dispatch is a completely different entity from the police and would be coordinating efforts. Not to mention the fact the police only have pistols to shoot at the heavily armored bad guy (with no effect) when all agencies carry rifles after the LAPD 44 minute shootout. Also the movie would have you think the killer outsmarted anyone, but his plan would fall through under even basic questioning.

It is quite clear to me Boll is not going for any kind of message or statement but has shown himself to be an unashamed attention whore. With movies like Seed, Tunnel Rats, and now Rampage, he will clearly show anything and everything if it will get him some kind of attention or notoriety. He has shown time and time again he has no skills at telling a story or entertaining people in any way. Like I mentioned with Seed, just because you show something disturbing doesn’t mean you are necessarily scary. Once again, Boll seems to confuse controversy with an actual coherent statement on society. If there is one comfort, its that his films really don’t see the light of day anymore: Tunnel Rats (limped onto DVD release), Far Cry (no American release), Stoic (seemingly unavailable at most places other than Netflix), and Rampage (a smaller Blockbuster release than most Asylum pics). Eventually the attention whores run out of material and crawl back into their holes never to be seen again. I personally hope its sooner rather than later.

Role Models (David Wain) 2008

Posted in R on May 19, 2010 by moviemoses

Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Sean William Scott) are buddies who get into some trouble with the law.  Thank Christ their punishment is NOT to coach the Mighty Ducks.  No, instead they have to do community service in the form of a Big Brother program.  Wheeler gets a foul mouthed breast obsessed kid, and Danny gets a teenage nerd who is into dressing up like a LARPer and going real life World of Warcraft.

Role Models is a funny movie.  As one of my friends said, “Paul Rudd plays a great dick.”  Rudd has a knack of saying dickish things but not making the audience hate his character.  And Sean William Scott is Sean William Scott but he’s not annoying in this movie so I guess its cool.  The movie has a good crude sense of humor and Scott and Rudd play well off each other.  People can say the story’s theme is heart warming, but thanks to Judd Aptow the theme of childish men learning to be responsible adults is becoming so groan inducing.  People like Aptow seem to equate a childish sense of humor with slacker and bum behavior.  I’m 26 and I have a respectable job, but I still chuckle every time I hear the word “poop”.  Poop, heh.

And another issue I have is the movie spends a lot of time (about half the movie) mocking LARPers.  Granted, you don’t really need to dig deep in order to find jokes against that group but it seemed like they spent an unusually long time ripping them apart.  It also seems like Danny’s kid was made into an over the top caricature of a dorky Tolkien reading, dice rolling, pocket protector wearing nerdlinger that it was almost in insultingly bad taste.  He’s not a kid, he is what ignorant people think these nerds are.  Now I say that, but then again I haven’t read the many FF and Dragonball gay fanfics that litter the internet and I try to mentally block LARPing out of my consciousness.  But still, give this kid a little more character than that.

All in all its a fun movie.  It is a little stale plot wise but what really matters is the humor and it is funny.  Worth a rental.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Marina Zenovich) 2008

Posted in R on May 19, 2010 by moviemoses

Wanted and Desired is a documentary about the scandal involving Roman Polanski’s rape case and his subsequent flight from the US. Polanski had consensual sex (or so it is claimed) with a 13 year old girl during a photo shoot where the girl later told the police. Polanski was caught in the middle of a media and court circus with an incompetent star struck judge as the headmaster. What many people may not know is that Polanski plead guilty to the charge of sex with a minor and was going forward with sentencing. The judge was actually issuing illegal orders and grandstanding in front of the cameras (which ultimately resulted in BOTH the defense attorney and the DA in petitioning for his removal). All of the pretrial screenings asked for probation and to both of the lawyers that seemed to be the result they wanted. The judge was looking to be punitive and was going to sentence Polanski to prison time (the sentence could have been as high as 50 years). The judge did not bar Polanski from traveling and he took the opportunity to take a gig working for schlock producer Dino De Laurentis and leaving for Paris.

It is very clear what agenda the maker of this movie has. After watching this movie I can tell you I really don’t know what to make of this anymore. True, Polanski got screwed when it came to his judge and might have gotten a prison sentence. But his lawyer was very competent and got him removed from the case and I have no doubt he would have gotten the sentence reduced to probation or time served given the opportunity. And let’s also not lose sight of the ultimate issue that being he HAD SEX WITH A 13 YEAR OLD GIRL! He knew she was 13 (this was not a case where it was a 17 year old claiming to be older and it was some big mistake), he knew what he was getting into, and he did it anyway. He broke the law, and he didn’t stick around and face the consequences. It is hard for me to weep for a guy who has spent the majority of his life in Paris with his wife and kids, is still considered a genius filmmaker (and has even won an Academy Award), has millions of dollars and millions of adoring fans. Really, I just want the matter resolved. Everyone of the parties, victim included, would rather the issue had been settled 30 years ago.

The movie itself is okay. Wanted and Desired is very comprehensive and covers all the bases. I don’t know if I needed the movie to be as long as it did but many documentaries have the problem of being long winded. Even though I am a big movie fan, I was not that interested in this subject to begin with. This movie is alright, but I won’t be watching it again anytime soon.