Sunday, November 25, 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK - a definite read

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, ├╝ber 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