Friday, March 23, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES - still famished

First, I must say that this is a film geared towards teens - you might say duh, obviously - but I've witnessed many teenage films that are still enjoyable by any intellectual adult such as Thirteen. This is not one of those. Hailed as the next Twilight, I would be inclined towards consent. It is certainly more interesting than the Twilight series in my opinion and the stories show great promise. I cannot speak on behalf of the series of books because I have not read any of them but I have seen all the movies and witnessed the thousands of screaming and wooing teens in the theater. In fact when I attended the midnight showing of the second Twilight I could not even find a single seat in no less than 11 theaters!

The movie takes place in one of many possible dystopian futures. It's important to note that this is not a new story - The Most Dangerous Game was published in 1924 by Richard Connell and subsequently made into classic film in 1932. Many other films have played on the idea of people, young or old, placed into an arena of death and murderous intent - for what - bloodthirsty pleasure viewing of course. It's the modern day gladiator ring spelled out in the fantasy of literature and celluloid. Appropriate for teenagers?  I leave that to you. 

Jennifer Lawrence is the lead - interesting it is, that the last two great teen novels series have had a strong female presence - she is very good in the role and has shown real talent since she first came into public consciousness with Winter's Bone. This movie has a little more appeal towards male audiences than just appeasing their girlfriends, it has decent action and a girl that many guys would do well to chase after. She is smart, beautiful and most important, clever and able to survive in difficult situations.

This movie suffers from it's lack of clear direction, poor cinematography, abject character development and most likely an adherence to a PG-13 rating. It could have been far more exciting and interesting given an R rating - if you don't believe me you should check out Japan's Battle Royale which is far more stimulating and is very nearly the exact same story. Many of the shots convey confusion and are cut so quick that you literally never see anything except blurs - I hate this kind of viewing - it's headache inducing. The director (Gary Ross who directed the superb Pleasantville) would have done much better to put some time into other characters playing the game so that I would have actually cared if some of them died or not. Even Lawrence's character only kills to save another or out of self defense - this is boring because it supersedes reality and lacks interesting moral quandaries. The costumes and future set designs are minimally invasive and seem to me to be mediocre at best but as I stated at the beginning this is a movie for teens and really should not be considered as much more than pop culture realized.

Recommended Viewing: Battle Royale - Surviving The Game - The Running Man

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.2   -   Subjective: 6.5
             MetaCritic: 68
 Rotten Tomatoes: 86
                      IMDB: 8.2

Monday, March 19, 2012

CASA DE MI PADRE - a hispanic nightmare

Hmmm... Ahhh... Hmmm... Aha this is comedy at some other level. I think I get the basic idea of what was attempted here, but much to my disappointment, the aim fell far short of lofty satire to feel more like a B movie for young hispanic children.

Will Fair-ell is the protagonist who is the son nobody loves until everybody has to. And of course the young incredibly gorgeous heroine does as well. A silly facile drug plot is the story propellant in which all the characters become embroiled.  Dry dry dry is the humor throughout and I dare say only the Hispanic population will get the most bang for their buck. Casa de mi Padre feels too outside normal cinematic conventions in a negative way to be convincing. It literally feels like watching a terrible soap opera on some wack TV channel. I am all about innovation but here it feels lazy and  mind numbing rather than invigorating. I do like the intended falsity of the sets and animals, yet that seems to be the extent of the imagination. 

Gael Garcia Bernal is a favorite actor of mine and has starred in many great films of the past 12 years. This is his third pairing with Diego Luna (best friends since childhood) and by far the worst. Save your money and watch this with a TV dinner.

Recommended Viewing: Rudo y Cursi - The King - Y Tu Mamá También

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.8   -   Subjective: 5.5
             MetaCritic: 52
 Rotten Tomatoes: 45
                      IMDB: 5.8

JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME - a quixotic parable

One may consider this a rare gem of a film or complete garbage but that I will leave to you. This little story becomes a parable about three quarters through and you can see it a mile off but nonetheless an interesting development to watch.

The Duplass Brothers, like the Coen's, Polish's, Farrelly's and Quay's clearly have a distinct directors style that creates quite a vibe throughout each cinematic effort. Their three previous efforts, Cyrus, Baghead and The Puffy Chair were enjoyable but like this film, I found them to be a little overrated. The humor is thin and almost seemed to be a marketing scheme from the get go hence I believe Jeff Who Lives at Home would have done better to suppress it entirely and 86 Ed Helms. The film may have worked more for me on a more serious note.

Susan Surandon's character was thought provoking and still steamy at 65. Jason Segel is a good dramatic actor which he shows off here. I like him and will continue to see what projects he chooses next; The Muppets update was really fun and uplifting. 

Unfortunately, I hated the camera work; when they kept implementing little zoom ins for emphasis I wanted to take the camera and bash it into their heads and say, "every shot can be emphatic, try lighting, framing, focus, etc etc but quit the bleeding superfluous over significance." Not a bad movie but a wee bit tedious and unrealistic.

Recommended Viewing: Local Hero - Being There - After Hours

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.0   -   Subjective: 6.8
             MetaCritic: 60
 Rotten Tomatoes: 74
                      IMDB: 6.9

BEING FLYNN - it doesn't suck too bad

Being Flynn is a film based on Nick Flynn's Boston memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Robert DeNiro stars as Paul Dano's (Nick Flynn) neurotic father who is self obsessed and has a penchant for writing. 

The film takes place in Boston and despite being a gentrified clean city, Being Flynn's Boston is dark, damp and unfriendly but not without heart and compassion. Dano is down on his luck and comes to find work in a homeless shelter. DeNiro has been destitute for decades and finally ends up homeless. Father and son eventually cross paths and go through the usual ups and downs of desertion and reconciliation. That doesn't mean boring, however. 

This film showcases DeNiro in his best role in quite a while. He is quite beside himself most of the time, sort of like a dementia patient, completely competent one minute and the next minute, Adolph Hitler. Dano was at his indie best and rarely if ever disappoints. The story never seems to end for Robert but for Flynn's sake I hope it concludes quickly. This is a dark tale but one worth the time and empathy. 

Recommended Viewing: The Son - Henry Fool - A Bronx Tale

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.0   -   Subjective: 7.3
             MetaCritic: 53
 Rotten Tomatoes: 56
                      IMDB: 6.9

FRIENDS WITH KIDS - with grownup kids

Jennifer Westfeldt is a delightful actress to behold as well as a gifted nascent director. The cast is well chosen to provide a partly heartwarming, partly gut wrenching script.

It's a bit odd that no less than four of the actors from Bridesmaids appear in this film but they all manifest distinctly different personas which is certainly an attribute to their acting skills. Jon Hamm, however, (who also happens to be married to Westfeldt) was still the token douchebag. I believe this to be Megan Fox's best role so far; she was well cast and played the hot, young, itinerant NYC dancer to perfection. Westfeldt, herself, brought her usual beaming personality to the fore. She has been a delight in both Kissing Jessica Stein, which she cowrote, and Ira & Abby. I like her movies, they seem to me to be a bit more on the witty bizarre end of romantic comedies but that is a good thing and true deviation from the usual Nicholas Sparks or Gary Marshall schmaltz fest.

Interestingly I think the beginning and the end of the film were it's worst attributes and quite telling of a new director, nevertheless the long middle was quite superb. Check it out.

Recommended Viewing: Ira & Abby - Kissing Jessica Stein - Please Give

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.5   -   Subjective: 8.0
             MetaCritic: 55
 Rotten Tomatoes: 62
                      IMDB: 6.3

Friday, March 16, 2012

21 JUMP STREET - juvenile retreat

This movie is an adolescent spinoff of Superbad. The idea to base a contemporaneous high school movie off a late 80's - early 90's TV show in which current teenagers were just being born is axiomatically a bad idea. However, most teens that view this won't much care - they saw a trailer that appeals to their funny bone with a couple faces they know, so they venture out to see if it lives up to the preview - maybe thats what we all do albeit with a little more anticipation of the abysmal. Still I would have to hit myself and remember the tried and true aphorism, "don't judge a book by it's cover." In this case, ironically, that may have been the proper route to take as this film was quite awful.

Nearly all the humor felt contrived and irritating. I laughed multiple times throughout but it always was more of an autonomous reaction rather than of heartfelt veracity. A few clever moments appeared now and then but they overused these comic devices to their own ennui. I believe humor to work because of timing, presence, character and subject matter. Also, I would suggest that if you have to try to be a comedian then most likely you shouldn't be one. It really is a job(for lack of a better word) that should be done if it is completely natural to your own being and character. When Steven Wright gets on stage you laugh before he even says a word and that goes for many of the greatest stand-ups of all time like Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor and others. There is an energy that should be palpable; every comedian needs to get his start and most likely won't be great immediately but other than someone like Andy Kaufman, I think it's safe to assume you will immediately recognize the innate talent. I'm spewing here and may very well be dead wrong but my point is that nothing in this so-called comedy provides great characters, great natural presence and especially not new or great subject matter. Unlike Project X, which felt like a refreshing hilarious take on all the same subjects, 21 Jump Street keeps hopping around energetically and landing flat on it's face in the street. I'll let you guess the number of times.

Recommended Viewing: Weird Science, Dazed and Confused, Fast Times At Ridgemont High

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.5   -   Subjective: 6.0
             MetaCritic: 70
 Rotten Tomatoes: 87
                      IMDB: 6.6

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SILENT HOUSE - darkness manifest

Silent House was a surprise. Like Russian Ark, it's only ostensible predecessor, the film is comprised of only one shot, however I would question this notion two or three times throughout the film and the directors seem to indicate that it was multiple shots. Regardless, I found the "gimmick" to work very well for this particular film. It added a bizarre strangeness that the normal edit does not provide and consequently you get sucked into the horror. Personally, I found the cinematography to be sublimely done as well. There were multiple sequences and shots where I was left scratching my head asking, "how did they pull that off?"

Elizabeth Olsen is beautiful and quite the paragon of a scream queen. There were a few moments that I was slightly dubious towards her performance but given that she is new to acting and this film being a daunting acting challenge, I would say she did superbly. Like Martha Marcy May Marlene she was natural and understated but altogether captivating. The two male actors, on the other hand, were uneven. In moments they were believable and in others it felt like I was watching a high school student film - this could be the actors or the direction. This took me out of the dramatic tension a couple of times but not enough to ruin the film.

Is this a horror film? Not the usual kind, it more lies in the suspense genre, like Hitchcock's Rope. Silent House is a very dark tale indeed and by dark I mean all three meanings of the word. Most of the movie literally takes place in the dark, it contains a hidden mystery and the end is as unpleasant and dreadful as it could be. 

I'm startled (kinda) by the films I'm enjoying this year so far. All the cinema I have lauded the most have been found footage or gimmicky indie titles. Is a new generation of youthful filmmaking finally making it's way into our collective consciousness as permissible entertainment of value? I don't mean to imply that only young people are making these films, they just seem to have an air of adolescence coming into florescence. I had in principle dismissed found footage films and shaky cam atrocities right from the moment they became numerous and unspeakably annoying to sit through, but the interesting stories and inventive camera techniques are truly winning me over. I am excited to see what may be brewing on the horizon. 

Recommended Viewing: Martha Marcy May Marlene - Rope - Evil Dead

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.5   -   Subjective: 8.3
             MetaCritic: 48
 Rotten Tomatoes: 49
                      IMDB: 5.5

JOHN CARTER - ares would not be pleased

A slew of okay special effects, terrible direction (which is surprising given Andrew Stanton's previous credits) and a couple of humans, apparently called actors, that speak a fatuous form of English, comprise the epic John Carter. Some may recall Disney's sandal saga from 2010, Prince of Persia; high concept, grand in scale but ultimately left wafting in the dust.

Taylor Kitch (lol, whoever came up with that stage name should have their head examined) was the star of this vehicle and I can't say I ever hitched a ride. I do blame the direction somewhat as the movie felt very disjointed and this could be part of the reason I had no connection to him or any other character for that matter. Numerous times I felt like I must have been asleep for an hour only to wake up and find myself still pseudodreaming in this incessant yarn. For example, John Carter arrives on the planet to find aliens that are not speaking English; he is captured, escapes and then suddenly all the aliens are speaking English with virtually no explanation other than John notices! Did I miss something, or was the script writer so lazy that he didn't even bother to throw us a one liner explaining how this could occur. This planet might as well be in some other solar system or another universe altogether because any semblance of high school physics is completely aloof. One minute the 1/10 of Earth gravity on Mars seems to be working but Carter overcomes that rule of the universe in a matter of minutes, apparently you can breath on Mars (no wonder it took Carter half the movie to figure out he was on a different planet especially since the four armed aliens were no clue), etc etc etc etc. 

Like other interstellar - or rather interplanetary blockbusters where an Earth man meets and courts his future extra terrestrial spouse and all the while somehow saves the galaxy or at least one entire planet, John Carter comes up short. The best parts of the story take place on Earth if you ask me, but unfortunately that is only about 5% of the movie. I imagine the novel would be a great read indeed because I can see an interesting story here but it is not told coherently in this film which tries to do too much in one go and therefore sacrifices any semblance of good scifi. This isn't even good kitch. Tharks stay home.

Recommended Viewing: WALL E - Star Wars IV - Spaceballs - Solaris (1972)

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.0   -   Subjective: 5.5
             MetaCritic: 39
 Rotten Tomatoes: 50
                      IMDB: 7.1

Saturday, March 3, 2012

PROJECT X - the ultimate teen fantasy

I know that most will not agree with me but this is not only a phenomenally funny movie but also a great film as well. I saw it at midnight with a theater chalk full of jizz jocks and sweatpant shorties and it was f**king awesome. The energy was palpable in the extreme and from the very first line the crowd was hooked, or rather, fully inebriated by characters they relate to, want to be or actually are. I would argue that the only way this movie could be truly enjoyed is to be viewed in the company of it's subjects.

Yes, this is a movie about teens, for teens and for all I know, made by teens. Like Chronicle, from a few weeks ago, Project X presents itself to be a type of the found footage genre. I think the content was the absolutely perfect choice for the particular vibe that this handheld genre gives. It's your best friends birthday so you film it, right? Not that hard to believe. 

Project X's greatness, to me, lies not in the superficial jokes and inane crudities but in the subtext of what I think most teens, especially in America, yearn to be apart of; for they are the most natural reasons on earth - the chance to meet the opposite sex with high libido and low inhibition. Just being in the atmosphere of chance is exciting. Lets not even try to think about the morality involved - they are throwing a party because they must, it's not even a question whether thats good or bad idea, it's innate for every adolescent, party or die.

Although I suspect many non-teens will just see this film as just another disgusting teen sex/drug raunch fest showcasing what they hate most about todays generation of young people - I would beg them to reconsider and ask them to remember when they were in high school. It would be nearly impossible to eclipse the aura of what Project X captured - the ultimate life celebration fantasy for a teenager. Hardly any other teen film has captured the party aesthetic so well despite how unreal the party became. The film capitalized on this in the best possible way by the greatest possible archetypes with the most stellar style. Did I mention that I could barley keep my intestines from exploding with savage hysterics. 

Project X is a near perfect movie - it doesn't try to manipulate you - it gives you what you want and doesn't seem to overdo it in a cliche way. The movie knows and understands itself - no more, no less. The guy gets the girl, throws the best party ever, attains self respect, gets screwed by his friends and then redeemed, rebels against his parents, destroys all material possessions, overcomes fear, becomes loved by peers, cashes in on fantasies, and most of all becomes a stronger, better person in spite of it. All I can say is, X marks the spot.

Recommended Viewing: Superbad - The Breakfast Club - Animal House

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.0   -   Subjective: 9.4
             MetaCritic: 50
 Rotten Tomatoes: 27
                      IMDB: 5.8

THE LORAX - chicken little with a mustache

Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss brings us a tale of The Lorax, a creature, when summoned, is supposed to defend his thneedy forest generally by constant badgering and impish behavior.  This is a story within a story about a young boy chasing after a pretty girl whom desires a real tree because his town has not a one. He escapes the confines of his small city and finds the man responsible for the destruction of the forrest. The reclusive gentleman proceeds to tell the young man the current state of affairs happened by way of his own selfishness and avarice. Enter the Lorax, the guardian who failed miserably, with Danny DeVito's charisma and you have a panoply of Seussian tounge twisters, witty ditties and plenty of spectacular Seuss 3D landscapes filled with delightful bears, birds and orange fish.

This was proper Dr. Seuss and although a little more geared towards a grade school audience, I still found it's overall message a marvelous one. Especially for children who need to have it jolted into their tiny heads that the world is not in too great of shape and it's going to take some brave people to change the current atmosphere. Pun intended.

The Lorax was a delightful children's story loaded with social commentary and environmental awareness. Fun for you, fun for me, fun for all ages - you'll see.

Recommended Viewing: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) - My Neighbor Totoro

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.5   -   Subjective: 6.8
             MetaCritic: 51
 Rotten Tomatoes: 57
                      IMDB: 6.5