Monday, December 31, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED - an absurd love affair

Quentin Tarantino is among the favorite directors that most people have a soft spot for, much like Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan. He is famous for uncompromising gratuitous violence, pithy dialogue and a wild use of mise-en-scéne. Most everyone knows that he was a video store geek turned master filmmaker. It makes perfect sense that he would pay homage to a little known but much loved subculture of ultra-violent spaghetti westerns from the 60's and 70's sometimes starring the beautiful Italian man, Franco Nero. He decided to take a crack at his very own modern rendition of Django—hold the D. 

It must be said that the original films (there are seven that I know of) are not really all that good. Nevertheless, they have incurred a reliable cult following over time. This, I think, is what makes Tarantino's new film so special. Not only does he pay ode to these films that shocked him and engendered an absurd love of cinema bizarro (which I also share) but he does so with panache, style and contemporary sensibilities. He made a far better and far more watchable film than any of the forebears. The flashback sequences are rightly grained and filtered to give one a vicarious presence of what it was like to experience these films once upon a time, sitting in the video store—namely—shitty VHS copies. 

Tarantino cast the film very well. He introduced Christoph Waltz to American audiences with his previous work, Inglorious Basterds. He hasn't been as well utilized since. Waltz has an interesting way of sweetly patronizing you into a cataclysmic rage while being amused and disarmed of your wits. Tarantino exploits this trait to near perfection. Jamie Foxx was an odd choice to replace Nero, although perfectly apt for the new narrative take. His performance was a welcome change. Leonardo DiCaprio is generally always good. His acting felt a wee bit contrived this time round. Some scenes drag on and some melodrama is attempted but not always to complete satisfaction. Samuel L. Jackson reigned supreme as the gimpy, disgruntled butler who spews pejoratives at every convenience. Kerry Washington did a fine job as the weepy heroine but I would be interested to see who else they had in mind for the role. However good a director, Tarantino cannot act as evidenced near the end. A number of interesting cameos are donned throughout as well. 

I think QT made an excellent film with a few hiccups in the middle but eclipsed the questionable with a great opening and denouement. A truly well made homage to a forgotten era with enough twists and turns and blood and humor to last you to the next one. 

Recommended Viewing: Django (1966) - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - The Wild Bunch

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.2   -   The Fan: 8.9
             MetaCritic: 81
 Rotten Tomatoes: 89
                    IMDB: 8.8

LES MISÉRABLES - a never ending aria

Tom Hooper's Les Misérables was a musical treat but a hard film to enjoy and therefore sit through. A handful of lines are spoken—nearly the entire movie is sung solo. I mentioned in an earlier review that I thought Anna Karenina would have fared better as a tragic musical, I felt just the opposite for this film adaptation. 

I think I would have loved this movie if it would have been either fully dramatic live action or just part musical but as a nonstop melodious stage play it could not capture me. I felt kept at a distance, like the characters lived in fantasy world that I could not connect to. Most will remember the superb rendition in the late 90's starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean or perhaps the other seven in existence—maybe we didn't need another version like those...

I imagine those that adore the Broadway play may like this film as pure escapist delight. I will give honorable mention to at least one scene. Anne Hathaway nearly made me burst into tears as I viewed in wowed silence, her powerful soliloquy, delivered in a one shot master stoke of raw, emotive, self realized suffering and utter destitution. It showcased, for me, the power of lyrical song and strong emotion which, heretofore, had yielded nothing but a pleasant apathy. 

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo's perennial classic, has continued to enrapture audiences since its publication in 1862. As well it should. At once, an awesome story of revenge, love, redemption and forgiveness. I just can't believe that this new version was the best way to share those motifs with us. It was very well made and designed but somehow the spirit was lost in the artifice. Bode thee better in thee times immemorial and thee times yet to come. 

Recommended Viewing: Les Misérables (1998) - Les Misérables (1934) - The Hunchback... (1939)

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 7.5   -   The Fan: 6.4
             MetaCritic: 64
 Rotten Tomatoes: 72
                    IMDB: 8.2

Sunday, December 23, 2012

THIS IS 40 - hollywood 40 that is

This is 40 is Judd Apatow's new comedic film about aging in our contemporary electronic society. Some pathos, some laughs and some nonsense is propagated. 

Movies like this tend to make me feel inadequate. There are myriad moments that convey reality, albeit in a superficial way, that tend to induce empathy and likewise contempt. I'm scared to get older. It's unfair and frightening especially if you feel you have not succeed at any goal attempted, many times, with naive bliss. Nonetheless, I can relate to Paul Rudd this time round. He plays a goofy father that pursued his musical passion which is currently failing as a business. Leslie Mann plays a working house mom that, like all women in particular, wish not to be aging. It's incredibly easy to see why.

The cast is full of current comedic characters and a number from the previous "sort-of sequel", Knocked Up. Both Albert Brooks and John Lithgow fill their stereotypical antifather roles very well. This is life—not at 40—but always... rife with daddy issues. The odd thing about it is that these people, at 40, look amazing, unlike many at 40, which takes away from accepting the message as a serious comment. Melissa McCarthy makes this apparent at the end with a number of self reflexive jabs. To sum up, there are a few inside jokes that are common throughout and fun, a mass of gratuity and some social issues of note delivered by a host of familiar faces. Overall, I enjoyed the film and would view it again. It is rather overtly coarse in nature so the under 10's should probably be kept at bay.

Recommended Viewing: Knocked Up - Funny People - Wet Hot American Summer

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.9   -   The Fan: 7.7
             MetaCritic: 58
 Rotten Tomatoes: 50
                    IMDB: 6.3

HE GUILT TRIP - the road less taken

Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand. Sounds like a film for the ages. Indeed it is—ages 45 and over only. 

The story follows Rogen in his late twenties whom is down on his luck as a salesman. He went to school as chemist and has created an organic cleaning product with a silly title which he now tries to sell to large companies. His mom, Streisand, plays your average lonely, single house mom who has nothing better to do than bother her son. They meet up and she divulges a sexy secret about the origin of his birth name which in turn compels Rogen to electronically seek out this man of mystery in hopes of a possible reunion. Maybe to get his mom off his back? A road trip ensues with lots of geriatric anachronistic humor. 

I will say that I'm sure my own mom would like this movie especially the part when she tells her son that he's a shit and to drink the fucking water. I believe the humor was poor and the message hackneyed in the extreme but I couldn't help viewing it without my own maternal sensibilities challenged. The Guilt Trip does contain a tear inducing moment near the end and a number of intermittent scenes of poignancy, yet be that as it may, I would only recommend this movie to unhappy mothers with happily distant sons. 

Recommended Viewing: Take This Waltz - Funny People - What's Up Doc?

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 3.5   -   The Fan: 4.4
             MetaCritic: 51
 Rotten Tomatoes: 37
                    IMDB: 5.6

JACK REACHER - grasping at straws

Where the hell did this movie come from? It felt to me as if it was excised from some long lost 80's vault only to be projected for audiences to their lasting peril. Action TV from the last 10 years was better than this. 

You may as well call this a comedy of errors. The casting was not utilized to their full potential, the dialogue was god awful and the story was weak and lazy. I enjoyed a few scenes but the whole way through, the narrative pushes, felt coerced and forced. This film may be a candidate for a bad good movie. You get lines like "I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood with my boot!" Also, Cruise is portrayed like some modern day sherlockian bad ass with massive attitude which plays poorly. You may enjoy the GTA car chase and near complete lack of theme music or the last gun battle but I think laughter would be more appropriate. 

As for the cast, I believe Tom Cruise is still a viable actor and has worked on numerous projects worthy of his talents. This was not one of them. Oh Werner Herzog! Why oh why did you choose this movie!? I was so excited to see him play the arch nemesis. I thought he might be like Alan Rickman in Die Hard but he failed to make a lasting impression. Rosamund Pike was like a comic book heroine. Duvall was Duvall

It had a few moments of interest but all in all Jack Reacher lost his, already tenuous, grip on me. I'll wait for Oblivion next April. 

Recommended Viewing: A Few Good Men - Magnolia - Collateral - Born On The 4th Of July

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 4.9   -   The Fan: 5.4
             MetaCritic: 48
 Rotten Tomatoes: 63
                    IMDB: 7.3

Monday, December 17, 2012

THE HOBBIT - an expected journey

Bored? Peter Jackson to the rescue—usually. No one disputes the fantastic job he did with Lord Of The Rings. He ushered in a whole new way to appreciate fantasy with adult sensibilities and stunning special effects. His two subsequent efforts were first good then terrible. The King Kong remake was enjoyable but the dreaded Lovely Bones adaptation was just plain awful. His earlier works like Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners were all marvelous in their own right. We could, perhaps, throw in Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles for good measure. 

In comes The Hobbit with it's troubled path to production. You will hear things about high frame rates, an unnecessary trilogy and how Guillermo del Toro was on board, then left and so on and so forth. You may have even asked yourself why he didn't immediately choose to direct this years ago, when offered, as I did, because I thought—who else could direct The Hobbit? But, I now see that it may have been a good choice to stay away. No matter how good The Hobbit could be it would never eclipse the greatness of LOR and so you have thrown yourself into a situation that will be underwhelming. He went ahead anyway and what we get should be expected—more or less.  

A quick aside regarding 48fps. Is it another gimmick? No. A slice of film history is needed with a dash of tech. The first moving pictures appeared in the 1880's and 90's with special cumbersome devices that captured light and overlaid onto film in rapid linear sequences. The history is of course riddled with details and goes much further back than the late 19th century but in the interest of brevity I will keep the description terse. Edison, the Lumiére Brothers and Méliés et al. all tinkered around with this new medium and eventually projected it for audiences to their horror and delight. Many of the first mobile cameras were operated by hand cranks which in turn enabled different frame rates for the light to pass through the film and emulsify. Many times 15fps was chosen and that is why many silent films look sped up to your eye because less discrete pictures/frames pass during each second. Moving pictures is the great illusion of motion and hence the magic of the movies

In the early 20's, groups of filmmakers decided that 24fps was the most realistic speed, and still retained a certain ethereal quality. Despite a number of experimental attempts, the 24fps statute has remained virtually unchanged. No one can say it is right or wrong. So in the age of digital, it may be time to try out new frame rates for mass audiences. You will be seeing twice as many pictures per second and hopefully a fuller and richer second by second image. Is it any good though? I leave that to you—it seems hyperreal and strange at first but so did high def, which, now I want not to live without. 4k is on the way with OLED displays which will also change your perception with cumulative saccadic lethargy—but well worth it, I assure you. Get ready for the best visual experience of all time in the next decade. 

Enough digression. How was The Hobbit? Mediocre as a stand alone film. Maybe as the first part of a nine hour film this movie becomes acceptable. That statement needs a brief clarification. If I were to sit down and watch a nine hour movie—straight through—then I think I would except this section as is, however tedious and needed, to build up the future drama and action. Next—the makeup and costume design is poorly done and just downright irritating. Of all the races in Middle Earth, the dwarves are the most annoying and make a poor choice to accompany a silly hobbit and an antiquated wizard for three hours. Obviously there is no choice here but to follow the storyline in the book. But Jackson created characters that were excessive, bad humored and histrionic with little character development. Namely, you simply don't care if anyone lives or dies. Even Bilbo is given little screen time to win your fancy until the very end. 

I believe that the overall superficial look and vibe of a character, for better or worse, influences your apt  reaction to immediate likability. Consider comparing Aragorn to the likes of Thorin. Yes, this concept may seem blatantly racist but I think I can explain otherwise. Certainly humans feel a palpable connection to other humans even if you happen to be unrelated and have no reason to care about them. Thus you can feel vicarious pain for those in need or those worse off than yourself. When creatures are anthropomorphized in movies (made humanlike) ie the Ents (living trees) from The Two Towers or like Wall·e the robot, you subconsciously identify with them because they have arms and legs and eyes like you as well as, presumably, emotions and a brain to feel with. To deviate too far from this yields unwelcome results. Try to relate to a volcanic rock that has no features. Simply, you do not empathize and therefore feel nothing. Also, if a creature or costumed character deviates too far from this model or designed just plain ugly like dwarves and orcs, you tend to care little. Its in our nature to love beauty and aesthetically pleasing things—generally this helped us to survive once upon a time and still does to some extent. Why do you think babies are so cute? Do you like bunnies or bats? I say all this to point out that it's hard to care and connect with hideous and abstruse beings, however negative that sounds. In summation—the dwarves persist in being a cognitively strenuous group of vagabonds that yield a modicum of affection, but a gifted director could have changed this perception. Consider the The Huntsman earlier this year, that was not a good movie but the dwarves are likable and probably the best part of the film. I could and probably should elaborate these ideas further but for now I will choose to move on. 

As expected, much of the special effects were astounding, however, certain sequences were poorly done—especially the dragon fire near the beginning. The great lizard looking creature (Azog) was a formidable bad guy and appeared well designed as well as Golem and the Great Goblin. Still, The Hobbit seemed to be directed by some protege of Jackson's trying to capitalize on the success of the LOR trilogy with certain scenes guest directed by the master himself. The movie crawled along with many scenes taking far too long to move on. You know when your whispering to yourself that you wish this part would just end already, that something is amiss. 

This is no Lord Of The Rings and barely worthy of critical homologous treatment but as I have argued, the story and characters simply aren't as good as those in LOR and despite the inevitable comparisons, will not live up to hopeful expectations. That said, I still believe Jackson has it in him to do a much better job—this movie may be a slow moving stepping stone toward the grandeur that, perhaps, is yet to come. 

Recommended Viewing: LOR Trilogy extended - Wizards - Logan's Run

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.3   -   The Fan: 7.4
             MetaCritic: 58
 Rotten Tomatoes: 65
                    IMDB: 8.6

HITCHCOCK - mr. macguffin

Meet Hitch. Hold the cock.

As an autodidactic cineast I can safely proclaim to entertain a morbid love affair with Mr. Hitchcock. He happens to remain one of the most well loved and remembered British film directors of all time—sort of...

Hitchcock directed nearly 70 films in a prolific career spanning five decades. He is most well known as a horror enthusiast by the general public for The Birds, Rear Window,  North By Northwest, Vertigo, Rope, Dial M For Murder and of course, Psycho. Students of film with be familiar with his earlier work that is oft praised like The Lady Vanishes, Strangers On A Train, Shadow Of A Doubt, Spellbound, Notorious and The 39 Steps to name a few. Personally, I am a fan, albeit scattered. I have viewed 35 of his works and am happy to stop there. In my view, The Master of Suspense really doesn't hold up all that well except, of course, for a handful of masterpieces, aforementioned and a number of indelible sequences. 

I cannot verify the truthfulness of this new film. I can only presume that the caricatures put forth are based on seeming fact and that the period was represented with the upmost detail and verisimilitude. It felt about right. Yet, this movie is intentionally playful and hyperbolized. The double narrative follows the doppelgänger of Hitch's psyche with pleasing but not utterly satisfying results. Helen Mirren and the great Anthony Hopkins steal the show. Both superb. The rest of the cast was properly chosen as well. Ever since A Serious Man, Michael Stuhlbarg shows up everywhere. I shall not complain. 

There are enough references to the bizarre obsessions of Hitch to keep fans happy but nothing too new or novel. He liked birds, blondes and bloody deaths. Earlier this year Tobey Jones also characterized Hitchcock in the HBO film, The Girl. It may as well be the sequel to this movie, however, it was a much darker look at his inappropriate advances toward Tippi Hedren and his sometimes abject, loathsome nature as director. Apparently, if two movies are going to be released about the same character in the same year, just call in Tobey Jones for the independent version, as evidenced in Truman Capote. :)

It may be said that I have underestimated Hitchcock's multitudinous gifts of manipulation, voyeurism, suspense, shock and devious surprise. To that end, perhaps it is possible that we all still quiver in his ever looming shadow—that most famous of all profiles—the corpulent, witty, irascible genius, Alfred Hitchcock.    

Recommended Viewing: Rebecca - Shadow Of A Doubt - Marnie - Lifeboat

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.9   -   The Fan: 7.6
             MetaCritic: 56
 Rotten Tomatoes: 67
                    IMDB: 7.3

Monday, December 3, 2012

KILLING THEM SOFTLY - a somnambulist with a gun

What we have here is an elegant hit man caper. Surely not to everyone's taste, but as for me, I gobbled it up with wanton abandon. 

For those lucky few that caught The Assassination Of Jessie James By The Coward Robert Ford you will hopefully be ready for the next film in Andrew Dominick's repertoire. This is an arty film—not artsy fartsy but certainly not your average Hollywood venture either. Killing Them Softly reminded me of early Godard or Truffaut back in the 60's under the French tidal surge of the nouvelle vague. Back when people experimented with cinematic conventions and when, sometimes, meaningless scenes just dragged on for the pure riveting pleasure of watching luminescent celluloid flash 24 pictures of ecstasy into your Cartesian theater for pure hallucinatory, illusory stupor inducing enjoyment. The palpability of the 70's was in the air as well, when many directors had complete control of their craft. This was the generation of auteurs—a time when society considered film an art form and accepted many different ideas and perspectives. Then Spielberg sailed in with Jaws and changed all that. Blockbusters were born and so were money hungry studios. Of course they existed before but after the success of Jaws in 1975, Star Wars in 1977 and the tragedy of Heaven's Gate (an enormously expensive film that tanked) the movies never remained the same. 

This film was photographed exceptionally, with pristine attention to detail. The sound effects are also interesting and excitingly experimental in nature—the Ray Liotta, getting thrashed scene, is one of the most pleasing and innovative things I've seen in a long long while. Just splendid. The pace is slow with many conversations lasting an uncomfortable amount of time with little to no background music for added trepidatious effect.  I would offer one criticism that the humor, many times, felt forced and even unnecessarily gratuitous, but still, I enjoyed it for the most part. There is a running motif of current politics throughout, which, I believe is present to be an ironic and absurd statement on the state of America and those of us that live in denial of the truth. Though I don't tend to concur with the films' pessimistic denouement, regarding every man for himself, you can't help but to agree when standing in the shoes of the hapless hit man. You know right from the opening sequence that this film will be different. Don't hate it for trying. 

Recommended Viewing: The Assassination Of Jessie James - True Romance - The Visitor

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.0   -   The Fan: 8.5
             MetaCritic: 64
 Rotten Tomatoes: 78
                    IMDB: 7.1

ANNA KARENINA - to die for

Leo Tolstoy—haven't yet got around to reading his literary canon—possibly because each novel is a flippin 1000+ pages! That normally wouldn't stop me but a long winded, sweeping Russian novel just doesn't sound that appealing at this stage in my life. Perhaps I should reconsider. Perhaps not. 

Anna Karenina is Joe Wright's third movie with his muse Keira Knightley. They are a terrific pairing and yield superb novel adaptations. I thought Pride and Prejudice was one of the best Jane Austen adaptations to date. This new film is, I believe, the least watchable of the three. 

Anna Karenina is set up like a extravagant stage play with many ingenious, rapid scene changes right before your eyes. The clever set design, notwithstanding, I still couldn't bring myself to enjoy the movie. It was irritating to watch and harbored multiple conflicting juxtapositions. The comic relief felt misplaced, the love story was unconvincing and the overall vibe seemed off kilter. Weirdly, I felt the need numerous times for someone to break into song. It seems as if the whole concept would have faired far better as a tragic musical. The costumes are beautiful, the score is apt and you will see enough close-ups of Knightley to last a lifetime. I applaud the attempt at something different but all in all it didn't work out. 

Recommended Viewing: Pride and Prejudice - Sense and Sensibility - The Last Station 

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.5   -   The Fan: 5.0
             MetaCritic: 63
 Rotten Tomatoes: 61
                    IMDB: 7.1

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The new film from the unheralded comic genius, David O. Russell, was in a word, brilliant. It's my new favorite movie of the year. The best romantic comedy since 500 Days of Summer. 

Russell never ceases to amaze me. He is able to take any banal genre convention and magically transform the fatuous platitudes into pure exhilaration. He has a very recognizable idiosyncratic way of turning drama humorous. I love it love it love it. Like Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster and The Fighter before it, Silver Linings Playbook does not disappoint. To be fair, I knew I would like the film going in, but you never know for sure. I was pleased with the actors and direction all the way through. 

His gift with editing is apparent immediately and thus you are instantly aware that you're in for a cinematic treat. It's a bit difficult to explain but his fast cuts and camera work are so deliberate that you can't help but appreciate the attention to detail and squirm with satisfaction from scene to scene. Each sequence is vibrant with intense, but not overplayed emotion, with a charge that keeps you riveted and portends a future meeting of crazy characters that you, literally, can't wait to see portray the next histrionic outburst. Look out for Chris Tucker! I couldn't stop laughing—had a perpetual smile on my face the whole time—I still do. 

Recommended Viewing: The Fighter - Limitless - Three Kings

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.5   -   The Fan: 9.3
             MetaCritic: 82
 Rotten Tomatoes: 89
                    IMDB: 8.3

RED DAWN - a new level of dumb

Let me first submit that the original Red Dawn from 1984 was as ridiculous as this new monstrosity. Yet, somehow, like many 80's films, you can join in the fun without feeling like an idiot. 

This Red Dawn remake consists of multifarious issues right from the get go. The producers decided to shoot for the young teen demographic which was a blathering mistake. Many of the actors are becoming well known but are directed poorly. Most obvious, though, is the glaring incongruity with any feasible sense of reality. Either the North Koreans are the most incompetent war criminals ever or the filmmakers are. 

It's a facile but splendid film narrative, in principle at least. North Koreans make a surprise landing on American soil and try to take over the whole country. Sure. A group of teens escape the initial takeover and jettison to the woods where they train themselves to be relentless disruptive warriors. Sure. I'll admit that I love the idea—a total filmic fantasy. Almost anyone could be given this script and make an awesome movie—everything is in the idea of everyday joes taking back their land—with lots of guns and C4 no doubt.  However, you have to engage the audience with some conception of verisimilitude. This new film doesn't even try—and so becomes laughable and just downright irritating. The insurgents continually break into the army camp and surreptitiously vacate but we never see how. They also walk around in big groups with guns! Not conspicuous at all. There are myriad egregious errors of this kind. You will walk out feeling like your intelligence has just been assaulted by repeated billy club bashings.

Recommended Viewing: Red Dawn (1984) - Dr. Strangelove - Road House :) Yes :) Road House

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 3.0   -   The Fan: 4.4
             MetaCritic: 38
 Rotten Tomatoes: 11
                    IMDB: 5.8

LIFE OF PI - wilson reincarnated as a tiger

Life Of Pi is the feel good type of film, made to please, but with an utterly vacuous message.

The film follows the story of a young boy who grew up in India raising animals in a zoo with his family. His dad is offered a new job in Canada and so they set out in a great ocean liner to the new world. During the trip a massive storm capsizes the boat and Pi (the protagonists name) finds refuge on a bright, white rescue boat with a zebra, a tiger and a hyena. Days pass and Pi must learn to cope with the wild animals on board. It comes down to just him and the tiger. 

Life of Pi consists of various pernicious ideologies that boggle the mind. First up: religious relativism. This insidious idea has been around for a while now. Somehow people think that due to a poor history of war, a multitude of disagreements and other atrocities etc, that these days all religions should be on equal footing and that one is no better than another, or worse still, that there is no conflict between them. They are all just viewpoints on how to live. It's as taboo to criticize anyones religious views as it would be to question their cultural heritage. In point of fact, because religion, in many societies, is so enmeshed in their daily life and culture they will likely take offense from any disapproval. Anyway, Life of Pi blatantly embraces this nonsense. I call it that because all world religions have some aspects in common but all have fundamentally conflicting dogmas that have contributed to a long terrible history, up to the present day, with no sign of consillience. For this reason alone, I hated this movie. 

Next we have the inconceivable zoological characterizations. In real life no one would have tried to survive with an effing feral tiger on board a small boat. I would have killed and ate that sucker right away and I'm more or less a vegetarian! I appreciate the idea that the conflict kept him alive but when the truth comes out at the end, the whole external, made inner, conflict becomes bogus anyway. The animals were anthropomorphized with human like actions and feeling even though you were sometimes confused by the moments of seeming animal veracity like, for instance, when the tiger wont look back at him in the end because animals 'don't care'. We are left with this mish mash of post modernistic mumbo jumbo and fallacious casuistry. The film is beautiful at moments, has a surprise ending and much to contemplate, though, only if you are ignorant of the world at large and intellectually dishonest. Most people will love this film but I submit that the ideas put forth are deleterious to the common man and more generally to our own inner animal. I can't get past my subjective mind on this one. I love Ang Lee but you can throw this one out with the seawater.

Conned by 3D once again—don't waste the money.

Recommended Viewing: The Beach - Brokeback Mountain - Cast Away

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 7.5   -   The Fan: 1.5
             MetaCritic: 79
 Rotten Tomatoes: 87
                    IMDB: 8.4

Sunday, November 18, 2012

THE SESSIONS - sex for sale

The Sessions is the current indie fave and it's not hard to see why. 

I haven't seen Helen Hunt on screen for a while and although she looks odd through most of the film, she gives a very real and engaging performance. She looks beautiful one minute and like an anorexic skeleton the next. Maybe she had weird dieting habits before the film—she does get fully nude multiple times! Jeff Hawkes has become the quintessential character actor and everywhere man. I'll bet you have seen him in something before, you just might not be able to remember where. He's great and always brings some levity to the screen. William H. Macy tends to constantly be a treat as well. 

The story follows a man in his late thirties that is confined to an iron lung for most of the 24 day, owing to a hapless crippling of childhood polio. He would like to experience a sexual encounter but can't move anything but his head. This is a bit of a problem. Yet women seem to like him because of his endless joviality and charisma. Sex surrogate to the rescue!

The uniqueness of this movie lies in the subject matter. Sex surrogation. Essentially, a woman has decided to become a sex therapist vocationally but feels the most impactful way of helping men will be to physically engage in sex with them—for money. Is this just intellectual prostitution? I might have been tempted to say yes if I hadn't seen a documentary a few years back, directed by the gifted Kirby Dick, about this very subject. These women really want to help certain men overcome their own emotional stigmas, anxieties and problems with intercourse. The obvious problem is that these diffident men don't have control of their feelings like the surrogate who can just laterally sequester them despite the terse six session maximum. I don't have any answers and although I admire the courage of these women—ultimately, the act probably carries more trouble than its worth. Maybe I should seek out some evidence for myself ;) 

Recommended Viewing: Me And You And Everyone We Know - The Waterdance - Private Practices

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.2   -   The Fan: 8.4
             MetaCritic: 80
 Rotten Tomatoes: 95
                    IMDB: 7.3

LINCOLN - a tired sage

Monsieur Spielberg is at it once more with his new Civil War drama centered around the political genius of Lincoln

First, I will admit that I didn't really care for this film. It carried on with a deliberate lethargy which assumed too much from the viewer. The whole film seemed uncompromisingly superficial at its best—nearly documentary in style and content. All the actors were acting away onscreen with their various issues but we, the audience, never really come to care. Despite a few brief moments of built up suspension and release, Lincoln just dragged on with an insouciant attitude toward us all. 

Although, one idea that I gleaned and care a great deal about, was discussed. A leader in power will have to make terribly difficult decisions that affect many souls. Therefore when you try to contemplate all possible outcomes of a current decision or dilemma, you may tend to dissuade yourself from taking the proper action. For instance, freeing the slaves; what's next? Women the right to vote?!!  This line of reasoning is illogical. There will always be the next issue to tackle but you should be concerned with the current matter at hand, albeit, with a certain prudence. Various issues of this nature may enter your thoughts as you watch. 

Spielberg is now making films that can no longer be counted on for original and compelling content. This has been the case for many years, unfortunately. I still have hope for the future and will set my sights for his next futuristic epic, Robopocalypse.   

And yes, Daniel Day Lewis was superb at vicariously wearing the spirit clothes of Abraham. 

Recommended Viewing: There Will Be Blood - Young Mr. Lincoln - Munich

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 7.5   -   The Fan: 7.0
             MetaCritic: 86
 Rotten Tomatoes: 90
                    IMDB: 8.2

TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN: PART 2 - tangerine dreams for marshmallow minds

The most epic battle in 3 millennia—the ultimate showdown between primordial powers and nascent love riddled vampires—the terrifying collusion of man and beast—with special effects not eclipsed since Star Wars and the divine acting talents not yet equaled in the history of teen cinema—the supreme denouement—a film for the ages. Sure.

This has got to be one of the most baffling bad series of films ever made. They are obviously not made for someone like me—I'm clearly not the demographic—I am not a wanton teenage girl or a dejected mother. That said, why should I say anything about it at all? Well, I always try to keep an open mind. Even if something does not seem to appeal to me, I will generally try to give a shot anyway because you never know what you may learn or even come to cherish. So in comes Twilight. Surely this has very little, if anything, good to say about anything. 

I believe I comprehend. A teenage girl, not beautiful per say but rather average, someone like you—becomes the obsession of the 'hottest' supernatural guy around. Ok. You certainly reciprocate. You fall in love, like real love, your first love, über crazy lovey dovey love. You might say, well alright, what's so bad about that? Every teenage fantasy. I guess what I find terribly disingenuous and downright insidiously malicious is that ideas like this seem to be treated as something that should be your sole desire or lifelong goal of wish fulfillment and the idea of everlasting love being the only thing that matters in life. Not reality. Who cares, its a movie, you say. A fantasy, no less. I guess I wouldn't, except for the unconscionable amount of unseemly interest and swoon by the millions. Young girls want to believe in this drivel and do. The doddering writer, Stephenie Meyer, seems to be exploiting her own unrealized teenage feelings. 

It's possible to have good teenage or any age fantasy narratives without appealing to an emotional pseudo-reality. Harry Potter for instance. Films like Twilight plant fatuous ideas into young people and only set them up for disappointment. Likewise, the filmmakers did a piss poor job on all the films. The special effects are of kindergarten quality as well as the structure of the story. They also seemed to dumb down the whole enterprise. Teens are far smarter than you think—they should be treated as such—yet, if you tamper with their developing, sensitive emotions you are bound to come out on top. Thank you Ms. Meyer for the imminent destruction of countless teen psychologies and handing pharmaceuticals the next generation of drug dependent sociopaths. 

Recommended Viewing: Harry Potter Saga - Lord Of The Rings Saga - Star Wars Saga

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 4.0   -   The Fan: 2.4
             MetaCritic: 53
 Rotten Tomatoes: 51
                    IMDB: 5.8

Sunday, November 11, 2012

SKYFALL - the dark knight rises

Bond. James Matha F**kin Bond. He's back with a shot of epinephrine to the proverbial forehead. 

The film will, of course, be of interest to any Bond fan, to any action fan and somewhat surprisingly, to any Ian Fleming fan. Even though Skyfall is not among his novels it somehow feels that it should have been. Still, you can easily enjoy Bond films without liking Fleming's books. Skyfall captures the quiet essence, the dapper, urbane Englishman, and the ruthless killer that is greatest super hero of literary espionage.  In fact, multiple moments in the film could be traced to narratives of super hero films of the past decade.

I found the 3rd installment, with Daniel Craig as the titular hero, the best rendition so far. I will admit that I didn't much care for the last two despite the critic and fan approval; for Casino Royal in particular. I can't quite put a finger on it, but I admit, that Bond movies are more suitable to my tastes when Roger Moore or Sean Connery are in the lead with stories that are far more inconceivable, yet jovial, concomitant with ridiculous action and world domination in mind. Skyfall continues the tradition, although, the film continues to poke fun at its own past with continuous self reflexive jabs. If they were less disparaging and more jocular in jest than I would be apt to accept the comment. It seems like filmmakers are saying 'Oh! Those silly old Bond movies, look how far we've come'. I suppose audiences today want more realistic dark action, who am I to say otherwise?

Skyfall is at once riveting action and slow paced drama. They decided to craft the story around M with a former agent out to kill her due to bad history between them. Not my favorite Bond concept but interestingly more personal than usual—complete with Bond origin story. I'm sure nearly everyone will like it, and rightly so, but alas, my subjectivity compels me, still, toward the forgotten Bond of old.  

Recommended Viewing: On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Goldeneye - Goldfinger

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.5   -   The Fan: 8.0
             MetaCritic: 81
 Rotten Tomatoes: 91
                    IMDB: 8.1

Monday, November 5, 2012

FLIGHT - a sobering voyage

It's been twelve years since we've been graced with a live action flick from Robert Zemeckis of Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame. His last effort was the isolated island picture, Cast Away. In between he turned towards realistic CGI work like The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. He is certainly a gifted man—commensurate with his talents we now witness his latest stratospheric voyage, Flight.  

Denzel Washington has geared up his best 'tude for us this time round. He plays a familiar repressed, destructive alcoholic in the same vein as Jack Lemmon, Ray Milland and Nick Cage from a long cinematic heritage of terrible drunks. In a terrifying scene he lands a jumbo jet in a church field with little loss to life on board due to superior aviation skills. However, he was .24 tanked during the crash. So if the wrong people get wind of the bad news it could be life in prison for the valiant captain. 

This may sound depressing—it is, yet the superb direction brings much levity to the fore, and thus a truly entertaining and poignant ride ensues. I really enjoyed this movie from start to finish. I think it was Denzel's best film in quite a while. All the actors, however brief their appearance, did a fine job. My only quarrel would be the strange religious overtones, I'm not sure what point they were trying to make—either sacrilege or deference? Make up your own mind I guess. Anyway, my favorite kind of Hollywood cinema conflates humor and serious relational drama in an thoroughly exciting way—like David O. Russell's, The Fighter—that's exactly what you'll get here.  

Recommended Viewing: Contact - Back To The Future - Glory

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.5   -   The Fan: 9.0
             MetaCritic: 76
 Rotten Tomatoes: 77
                    IMDB: 7.7

WRECK-IT RALPH - a refreshing thwack

Wreck-It Ralph is Disney's latest computer animated enterprise. And it was a lush whopper. Tempestuous action, brilliant color combined with wonderfully creative environments and ample childish humor will be in store.  

I grew up in video game culture. I had the original Nintendo and played many of the classics through to completion. It amazes me the nostalgia that pixelated graphics can render. I won't say kids are spoiled today. Different games for different times. Yes games are far more expansive with stellar graphics that were unimaginable when I was a kid. Yet, Super Mario Bros. 3 was good 20+ years ago and will still be good in 20+ years. It's simplicity reigns supreme. I don't get to play games much anymore but I by no means think they are a waste of time or a mark of nerdom. I played God of War 3 a few months back and had the time of my life for ten hours. It's amazing how far games have come. 

Back to Ralph. Pixar is the undisputed king of CGI animation. That said, Disney has crafted a film that presents a challenge to their sovereignty. It's no surprise that John Lasseter was apart of the project. You might expect it to be a movie with a lot of old game characters. Don't get your hopes too high, though, this is an original story with only brief references to the golden oldies. It took an unexpected story turn for me and spent much of the time in candy land. The creativity of the worlds and idiosyncratic personalities are plenty to keep your enjoyment level elevated with various high octane chase scenes and much forgotten sound effects to provide all the catharsis one could handle. I can't wait for the next generation of games. Fantastic Virtual Reality is headed our way. 

By the way, the opening silent film, Paperman, was great—waterworks were employed.   

Recommended Viewing: Wall·e - Tangled - Rango

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.3   -   The Fan: 8.8
             MetaCritic: 72
 Rotten Tomatoes: 84
                    IMDB: 8.4  

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS - more like aluminum

It's should be no surprise that the Wu Tang's RZA finally decided to make his own Kung Fu flick. The Wu Tang clan are enormous fans and supporters of classic Kung Fu cinema. It's too bad they didn't leave it that way. 

The Man With The Iron Fists shows its inchoate colors with first time director RZA. Hip Hop does not meld too well with over the top action sequences. It just doesn't seem to fit. The multiple poorly placed cross fades also show a slight ineptitude. The editors, I'm sure, made magic with what they were given. The acting, makeup etc etc are of low quality as well, which is a shame considering the massive budget. 

I've been exposed to a few hundred Kung Fu/martial arts films. The plot lines are nearly always incomprehensible and convoluted, the acting is generally terrible and the action scenes are always impossible. This is why I love Kung Fu. It's entertaining because it is usually a good bad. The only way a film can be good bad is when the filmmakers think they are creating something great. So the unbelievable atrocity before you is usually hilarious for this reason. I do not mean to say that Kung Fu films have no real merit—some do such as King Hu's A Touch Of Zen and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or even Zhang Yimou's Hero. I think, in general, however, that many of these films are just mindless action movies—sometimes you want nothing more. 

The Man With The Iron Fists is a bad bad movie. If RZA set out to copy the great old Kung Fu, he did so with poor modern sensibilities.   

Recommended Viewing: A Touch Of Zen - The Chinese Connection - Drunken Master (1994)

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 4.5   -   The Fan: 5.1
             MetaCritic: 53
 Rotten Tomatoes: 55
                    IMDB: 7.1

Sunday, October 28, 2012

CHASING MAVERICKS - a ho-hum pursuit

Chasing Mavericks is a true story about a boy and his surf board. The real brazen teen Jay Moriarty to be precise. The movie seems to claim that his genes are somehow more driven to the aquatic terrain than the rest of us. They might be right.

The film is virtually encap-sulated in the trailer. A coming of age story about a fearless 15 year old boy without a father tries to conquer one of the biggest waves the planet Earth has to offer—the mighty mavericks. His mom is slightly dim witted and lazy and so relies on him to take care of himself and her—played by the ever beautiful Elisabeth Shue.  Gerard Butler is a regular Joe that loves to surf and agrees to train the young padawan. A little bit of Rocky ensues and then bang bang splash we're at the end with the big wave upon us. Will he survive?

Chasing Mavericks is like most athletic centered dramas—inspiring. However, this film is really not one for the books. Your California 15 year olds might enjoy it but I would guess the most pleased demographic will be at the ripe age of 9.  

Recommended Viewing: The Endless Summer - Riding Giants - Big Wednesday

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.5   -   The Fan: 5.5
             MetaCritic: 44
 Rotten Tomatoes: 33
                    IMDB: 5.7

CLOUD ATLAS - blah blah balh blha hbal lhba

Um, I know I know—I said Taken 2 was the worst movie of the year but I believe I spoke too soon. Cloud Atlas, somehow, manages to embroil your senses in six parallel narratives without engaging your mind or emotions for three dreadfully long hours. An utter tragedy. 

I had strong inclinations from the get go that this film was probably going to be mediocre at best. It's too bad because there is a lot of talent present. As everyone knows, the Wachowski Brothers were codirecting this film with Tom Tykwer. Both directors have crafted masterpieces. The Wachowski Brothers created the world of The Matrix. The first Matrix movie has one of the best science fiction plots out there. The next two were enlightening in their own way. Speed Racer was actually rather innovative and bracing despite the poor reviews and negative viewer reaction. Anyway, the brothers can direct good cinema. Tom Tykwer is also an exceptional filmmaker. His Run Lola Run, Heaven and Perfume are particular exemplars of his talent. Nearly all the performers in Cloud Atlas have deserved renown and for good reason as well.

So, the combinatorial of persons involved yielded shocking, unwatchable, unpalatable nonsense. It was surprising to me that scene after scene harbored nothing of interest at all. The makeup was silly and unnecessary, the dialogue was puzzling and thoroughly unengaging, the acting was boring and the story was simply nonexistent. Are we all connected? Is reincarnation the way of the natural order of things? Perhaps Yes and Yes. But certainly not in the way this movie (and book) puts forward. Evolution via natural selection confirms that we all (humans, animals, plants—LIFE) are related—all distinct cousins of one another—all connected through RNA and DNA. Death and rebirth seem to be intrinsic in all life and non life from trees and monkeys to stars and galaxies to even possibly universes. However, I need not even say that so far there is absolutely no proof that any of these rebirths are the product of soul transfer or parthenogenesis etc. I love a good laborious mystery but I need to be able enjoy watching it while I dissect it. This film was just an unwelcome challenge to get through. Please save your time and money and skip this horrible illusory snickery trickery.  

 Recommended Viewing: Mulholland Dr. - Lost Highway - 12 Monkeys

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 2.0   -   The Fan: 1.4
             MetaCritic: 55
 Rotten Tomatoes: 62
                    IMDB: 8.4

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Hmmm. The preview made this film look quite good, as most trailers do. I guess I was hoping for a slightly more comical Warrior part 2. They should have laid off the silly factor and gone for more respectability.

Kevin James has acted in a number of non-witty slapstick comedies as of late. I like the guy but his films are relatively puerile and adolescent for the great majority elapsed screen time. He has fallen in the pit with Adam Sandler—a less raunchy pit that is. I would like to see if he could handle a dramatic role, maybe as a crazed gangster of some sort.

I would say that Here Comes The Boom comes in with a bang and goes down with a bang without too much of anything interesting in-between. Is it inspirational? Maybe on some level—it's hard not to be taken in by the magic of cinema no matter how lame the attempt at manipulation might be. Salma is looking as hot as ever so if that be your only reason to check it out, then so be it. Enjoy the Spanish poster!

Here Comes The Boom is a Kevin James movie. Nuff said.

Recommended Viewing: Warrior - Raging Bull - Our Hospitality

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.2   -   The Fan: 5.4
             MetaCritic: 41
 Rotten Tomatoes: 44
                    IMDB: 5.9