Saturday, July 28, 2012

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD - fiercely divergent

Right from the start it must be said that Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a very unique film, indeed, and is more of a special experience than a super great movie.

The setting is the American south, laden with misery in the bayou, which is colloquially referred to as the bathtub, by the young, breakout performance via Quvenzhan√© Wallis. At times it's a difficult film to watch with a fairly wild editing style and frenetic pace, yet truly an artistic endeavor emerges magically before us. 

Beasts is part fantasy, part contemporary reality. It deals with climate change in a way that I'm sure not many others are thinking of. Immemorial, feral creatures resurrected to life due to melting Arctic ice, seek out food and flesh in their long journey, which promptly ends in the marshy wetlands. I'm not entirely sure as to the subtextual meaning of the creatures but their ferocity strikes a chord, somehow, with our probable impending doom, if nothing is done about our current situation. 

Desolation and despair are words that barely capture the backdrop of the movie - you really don't want to live here, despite all the attempts of the inhabitants to stay, which is what compounds the visceral experience you have watching the poor characters trying to save their way of life. A moving spectacle, photographed extremely well and riveting performances that bestow shock and awe are why people are talking about this one. Your eyes will scarcely be able leave the screen.

Recommended Viewing: Dancer In The Dark - Paper Moon - The Princess And The Frog

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.5   -   Subjective: 8.0
            MetaCritic: 86
 Rotten Tomatoes: 86
                   IMDB: 7.5

THE WATCH - alien misadventure

Ben Stiller's new comedy, The Watch, is high concept alien fun but little, if any, substance can be found. Every time I see a trailer for a new Stiller or Vince Vaughn comedy, I always find myself readily anticipating it, only to find myself almost always disappointed and underwhelmed. If you liked Zoolander and Tropic Thunder you will probably like this. I enjoyed those films but felt they suffered from being too ridiculously silly in aspects that could have easily been far more clever. 

The Watch is like Old School; crass humor and dirty jokes run amok with Vaughn and Jonah Hill as their supreme conveyors. The story is a series of set pieces that feature the group of comedians in situations that seem to be conducted in a way that allows for off the cuff and unscripted humor with each person trying to one up the other. The result is mixed with some funny moments but most you will have discerned in the preview. 

The alien narrative is a conflation of Men In Black, Predator and Battleship; vomitous extraterrestrials come to earth to rob us of our skin as a deceiving mechanism and attempt to construct a transmitter to reach their mother ship to come down and destroy us all - a supremely logical scenario. Rather banal at this point. A few laughs to be sure but a movie for a group of dudes after a bender would be rather an apt viewing for this I should think.

Recommended Viewing: Killer Klowns From Outer Space - Barbarella - Alf

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.5   -   Subjective: 6.2
            MetaCritic: 36
 Rotten Tomatoes: 14
                   IMDB: 5.8

Saturday, July 21, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - only to fall and get back up again

I decided to see the trilogy of Batman films, back to back, at the Palisades theater on Thursday. This, I believe, was a mistake. Christopher Nolan has to be one the most overrated directors working today. It's either I'm not clever enough to grasp his labyrinthine plots or the narratives are so unrealistic and so nebulous that one most transport themselves into a different state of being to live and breath in a Nolanian universe. For some directors this would be a welcome departure but it's not worth it when your deep thinking comes up vacuous. It's as if he comes up with some good scenes, films them quickly and crudely, and then just tosses them to the editor to make into a story. 

The man must be a genius because he has somehow convinced the entire population under the age of 30 that he is one of the best directors working today. His only truly good and original movie was Memento - it also happens to make sense which is a plus. Not all movies need to make sense, mind you, but if they don't then the effort and time spent viewing them should be worth the endeavor. Nolan's movies are a bit like Lost, at times absolutely riveting to watch but at the end no one understands how or why the plot ended up the way it did. Therefore, the fun trying to work through it and engaging your Sherlockian wits is completely wasted which I find rather insulting to an audience.

Batman is not a superhero - he is a disgruntled uber rich guy that happens to have a lot of smart friends that enable him to imbibe his intrinsic blood thirst - probably for the right reasons - to curb crime vigilante style. In some ways he is the best "superhero" of all because any man/boy could aspire to actually become him. I like Batman and I like the Frank Miller version of him - most do. I think most audiences enjoy more mature superheroes over camp and corn. I appreciate what was attempted with the trilogy but as mentioned above I think it's hype far overwhelms the actual quality of cinema viewed. No one I know even questions the fact the The Dark Knight was a good film, everyone loved it. I'm sorry to say, not me. As much as I tried and wanted too, I couldn't bring myself to say I liked it much at all. Of course nearly every scene with the joker was mostly fantastic but good scenes don't always make great movies. I think of it like Avatar - grand in scope with some truly great stuff in there but overall of poor quality compared to great cinema within the specific genre or even just films by the director early in his career. Would The Dark Knight be a great movie without Heath Ledger? Does his performance alone make it great in most minds? Does dialogue, direction, editing etc not count? No, yes and no.

Consider Bane who was the trilogies supposed final villain. His voice sounded like a Patrick Stewart possessed Darth Vader - utterly stupid. Much like the choice to alter Batman's voice. The plot twist at the end also completely undermines Bane's evil as a character and makes him appear weak and used which is a type of twist that many should find unpleasant and unsatisfactory. Not only that but his only superpower is strength and the ability to break necks in poor choreographed fight scenes - rather lame. Catwoman's story is banal and boring and rather superfluous - are Batman's two love interests in any way believable? I've said it before and I will say it again - yes this is superheroes, not real life drama, but a certain veracity must be achieved in the fantasy story you create to not break the rules of that universe otherwise it never feels right. Nolan's storytelling then is, I think, what drives me crazy. It's like he telling a story that only he and his crew understands and lets the audience in on bits and pieces at times far later in the story but by then you forget why you should care. It's just plain bad storytelling especially because it deceives us that it is exceptional. 

I'm sure I am nearly alone in my thoughts, which is ok, I usually am. All I will say is that I've read a couple hundred books on the subject, seen over 8,000 features and directed plenty of short films and music videos to know when I see good movies. I'm caught up in it - obsessed with it. I love nearly all art forms and consider cinema to be the greatest in the last century for it's unique ability to combine all others into one coherent awe inspiring spectacle. I value respect and intellectual discourse on aesthetics. I wish more people would take the time to critically evaluate the import of such things but not all of us have the time, energy or concern. However, visual stimulus affects us all and we would do well to put heed and credence to that which deserves deference and admiration. Nolan's Batman is nothing more than eye candy stimulation with little depth or purpose.

Recommended Viewing: Warrior - X2 - Batman (1989)

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.5   -   Subjective: 6.0
             MetaCritic: 78
 Rotten Tomatoes: 87
                      IMDB: 8.6

Sunday, July 15, 2012

TO ROME WITH LOVE - european saunter part three

Woody Allen is old and questionable in character yet clearly a sagacious and prodigious talent. He writes all his scripts by hand on his ancient typewriter - 42+ to date. The prolific genius of Allen has produced a film, for me, of near equal value every year for the last four decades. There is great and good and unsure Allen but never bad.

To Rome WIth Love is Woody Allen’s latest endearment - this time set with an Italian backdrop. The man likes his fantasy stories. Midnight In Paris, his last effort, was critically well received by fans and non-fans alike. TRWL was not quite as good but was still classic Allen and of course droll and witty as expected. 

The story is set up with a series of four vignettes told during the period of about a week or less. Woody makes an appearance in one of the stories as his neurotic self with Judy Davis as his sidekick. Jessie Eisenberg plays a lovesick young man debating his lofty affections for Ellen Page while being mentored by Alec Baldwin. Then we have two local stories that are more prosaic, yet still fantastical.

Allen's parents lived to a very old age so I hope I will continue to get a prodigious amount of laughs and tears for a couple more decades.

Recommended Viewing: Vicky Christina Barcelona - Midnight In Paris - Whatever Works

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.5   -   Subjective: 8.0

             MetaCritic: 55

 Rotten Tomatoes: 45
                      IMDB: 6.4

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN - radioactive entertainment

As far as superhero movies go, this is one to see. In my humble opinion it far surpasses the other three recent attempts by Sam Raimi. 

Andrew Garfield was fantastic as Spiderman. He gets the coy science geek down perfectly. I never have been a big fan of the webbed vigilante but his representation was very well done and well suited to the silver screen - nearly everyone is sure to connect to the unlikely hero. Emma Stone suited the coquettish heroine role quite nicely as well. In fact, the entire cast was superb, leaps and bounds above the others. 

I should not be surprised I guess but in fact I was shocked many times by little reveals in the story and by pleasing character arcs. I was also intrigued by who lived and who died - quite a good script overall. There are, of course, some holes in the plot and ridiculous tidbits they ask us to believe, like a high school intern having the passcode keys to an elite science building, but hey, this is superheroes were talking about after all. This was good mindless escapism that doesn't ask much of you with too much overbearing scientism and too little character development. However, I will say that it's rather interesting that current science discoveries generally influences movies like this and plays upon the public fears of "mad scientists" as it has done since Frankenstein (1931).  At least they curb the bad science with spiderman who wishes to use technology for good. I hope all will aspire to emulate and get caught up in the great web of scientific grandeur. 

By far the best cameo by Stan Lee so far.

PS - I did actually go see Katy Perry: Part Of Me and all you need to know is she a perfect person with a near perfect life. 

Recommended Viewing: The Avengers - The Punisher (1989) - Batman (1989)

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.5   -   Subjective: 8.2
             MetaCritic: 66
 Rotten Tomatoes: 74
                      IMDB: 7.6

SAVAGES - sanguine ferocity

Savages is Oliver Stone's most recent attempt to once again rivet us as he once did with Natural Born Killers and U Turn. Stone is a very smart man turning out multiple political masterpieces over the last three decades as well as intense social commentary pieces. Savages was vicious and exceptional from start to finish. 

Taylor Kitsch was finally cast well and aptly portrayed a disturbed warmongering Iraqi veteran. His partner Aaron Johnson was equally believable as the green Mr. No     Thank You. Blake Lively shined as the threesomes all Cali girl and served as a superb narrator. 

Stone hasn't been this good in a while. The script written by Stone et al was clever and kept you involved and interested from the first few lines. You really cared about the characters and had a strong desire for them to live and prosper. The story was edited to perfection via Stone's slightly odd proclivities. This was a drug production is the good life gone bad story but for some reason if done well, endlessly fascinating. This is one of the best - up there with Blow and the like. I was also very impressed that the savagery was not overdone, which is to say, Stone showed some restraint and didn't let himself go too far but found just the right amount of violence and gore to satisfy and shock. This is good filmmaking and high entertainment a la Roman Times.  

Recommended Viewing: Any Given Sunday - U Turn - JFK

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.0   -   Subjective: 8.5
             MetaCritic: 62
 Rotten Tomatoes: 54
                      IMDB: 6.8

Sunday, July 1, 2012

MAGIC MIKE - who doesn't appreciate the human form?

Yep - screw you - I saw it by myself in a theater packed with women. I do not happen to fly on a different angle and I don't particularly have any interest in watching men take off their clothes, let alone Channing Tatum, but I do appreciate good cinema and let me tell you this is the good stuff.

Many will resent this notion but I think to truly recognize the greatness of certain films (and really of all art in general) you need to have a broad range of artistic experience, taste, erudition and intelligence to be able to identify that what you are seeing is something unique and special. Soderbergh fans should be well suited to his style by now and enjoy the film very much. Your average teen might like the dancing scenes but will probably have a difficult time liking the rest of it.

Channing Tatum - a good actor? This I cannot yet tell but most likely you will not see a better version of him anywhere else - Soderbergh got the best out of him. Many of the lines felt like screw-ups and were probably just left in - the film really benefits from it - the screenplay felt so authentic and genuine. The color and look of the film really transports you to Florida. It's hazy and flush with summery hues. The dance scenes are spectacular and somehow not degraded by gratuitous closeups or skin exposure, however, trust me, no female will be disappointed in the sheer length and time spent on good looking shirtless men. Soderbergh has a gift for taking marketable subjects like hot actor male strippers and deliver the goods without cheapening them, all the while respecting his audience's intelligence. He is equally adept at bizarre small indie movies as well as enormous budget extravaganzas - can anyone else do this so well and seamlessly? I don't love everything he directs like The Good German, Haywire or Che but he has enamored me by nearly everything else from Bubble to Ocean's 11 to Contagion. He is certainly is one of the most talented and greatest living filmmakers. Please keep making films. Watch out for the penis pump!

Recommended Viewing: Bubble - The Informant! - Contagion

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.5   -   Subjective: 8.5
             MetaCritic: 72
 Rotten Tomatoes: 79
                      IMDB: 6.3

TED - a barrel of laughs covered with fluffy raunch

Ted was an impressive, laudable effort for first time live action director, Seth MacFarlane of renowned Family Guy fame. Ted was pitch perfect for his unique voice comedy imbued within an animated teddy bear and the many vocal talents that show up in the 13 years running sitcom. 

Family Guy fans will no doubt love the film - and they should. It is Family Guy with the gloves off and a welcome R rating. What really impressed me about the film was that raunch was not overdone to the point of just making you feel sick and stupid for watching it. The comedy hit the right notes with a general estimate of 90 to 95% of the jokes and gags succeeding, culminating in truly genuine laughter based upon the audience and my own reaction. Like Project X earlier this year, my jaw hurt afterwords because I couldn't stop freaking smiling and laughing my ass off.

The overall narrative may leave some leaving a bit disappointed because it is nothing very memorable or even all that interesting - but hey - we got a foul mouthed teddy bear animated to lifelike perfection beating the crap out of Mark Wahlberg and a Flash Gordon extended cameo as well as a plethora of creative expletive use and Tom Skerritt. What more could one ask for? Every young boy's wish comes true in Ted. Thank you Peter Griffin

Recommended Viewing: Who Framed Roger Rabbit - Seed Of Chucky - Family Guy 

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.5   -   Subjective: 8.6
             MetaCritic: 59
 Rotten Tomatoes: 69
                      IMDB: 7.6