Friday, March 30, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Rated R
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
Directed by: Sean Durkin
Running time: 102 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is another movie that was added to my list to see back before the awards season. There was some buzz around the movie, especially in Elizabeth Olsen’s performance. It wasn’t enough to garner any Oscar nominations, but the Olsen, and the film itself, did gather some smaller, regional nominations and awards.

Olsen, younger sister of the much more well-known Olsen Twins of Full House fame, delivers a powerful and dark performance. It couldn’t have been easy to take on such a dramatic and damaged character, and to pull it off as well as Olsen did was impressive, but what makes it even more impressive is that it’s only her third film role (according to IMDB). She nails the paranoia and the emotionally tortured young woman required of the role. There were only one or two times when I was watching that I thought: “She looks like her sisters”, the rest of the movie I thought she looked like a younger Scarlett Johannson, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

While the rest of the cast was good, so much less was asked of them that they pale in comparison to Olsen. John Hawkes is the only one who comes close to Olsen in terms of strength of performance. He’s at times creepy and scary, which is what you’d expect from a cult leader. For such a frail looking man, Hawkes is able to deliver some powerful acting, as he did in Winter’s Bone as well.

As for the movie, it was well written and well made. It’s not quite as thrilling as I was hoping for, leaning more heavily on the drama and the paranoia of the title character. I guess it would be more of a psychological thriller. That’s not a knock on the film in any way, as it was really good. I’m always hard pressed to say that I like a movie like this, as there’s not really anything to like about a movie about a woman escaping from an abusive cult.

I did like that it ended ambiguously. Most of the time I like to get some closure from my movies, but every so often, a little uncertainty makes things interesting. And if it makes you think about the movie hours after it’s over, as I found myself doing with this movie, then it was successful in its attempts.

My only real complaint is about the title. I get it, and now that I’ve seen the movie, it makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t sound like the name of a movie I’d ever want to see. That being said, I can’t think of anything better, so I guess it’ll have to do.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Better than Avatar

Trailer: 

Water for Elephants (2011)

Water for Elephants (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Tagline: Life is the most spectacular show on earth.
Running time: 120 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.

I fully intended to never watch this movie once I saw the trailer for the first time. It stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, and is about a circus in the 30’s. Nothing about that seems all that interesting to me. It’s a chick flick, plain and simple, and not one that I thought I would enjoy remotely. Turns out, it was actually pretty decent.

I’m always a little hesitant to watch any movie with one of the Twilight kids in it, given that I’ve watched 3 of those movies so far, and the acting keeps getting worse, but Reese Witherspoon is pretty good, and Christoph Waltz is awesome, so what the hey. Robert Pattinson is a much better actor when he isn’t a pasty, emo vampire. I still don’t think he’s great, but he’s certainly far better than Kristin Stewart and Taylor Lautner. He was able to display something other than brooding on his supposedly handsome face, which was a nice change of pace from Twilight.

Eventually, I’d like to see him in a movie that he doesn’t use his fake, soft American accent. I sometimes forget he’s British, since I’ve only ever heard him speak normally on awards shows. And Patterson’s wasn’t the only accent that troubled me during the movie. Christoph Waltz, who was awesome and deserving of his Oscar in Inglourious Basterds, didn’t attempt to hide his normal German accent, but at times it sounded fake or forced, which was a little bit weird. Other than that, he was good. I don’t know how Waltz could ever play anything other than the villain or antagonist. It’s what he was born to do. As awesome as he is, you never root for him to succeed.

Reese Witherspoon, on the other hand, is someone I want to root for. There’s just something about her and the characters she plays that you want to support. She seems to be genuine in every role that she plays, and this wasn’t any different. She wasn’t nearly as good as she was in Election or Walk The Line, but it also wasn’t as bad as Legally Blonde 2.

The story was pretty good, and they were able to make me care about the circus a little bit, which isn’t easy, since I don’t really care about it otherwise. I don’t know what it is about the circus I don’t like, they’ve got exotic animals, stunts, laughs and oddities, but I’ve just never wanted to go to a circus. I still don’t really want to go, but at least for 2 hours I was marginally into the idea of going.

3 out of 5 stars

Better than Avatar

Trailer: 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Young Adult (2011)

Young Adult (2011)
Rated R
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Tagline: Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.
Running time: 94 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary, from IMDB: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now happily married and has a newborn daughter.

I had meant to see Young Adult months ago as it seemed right up my alley. Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman, featuring Patton Oswalt. Those three things alone should have put it near the top of my list of movies to see in 2011. Then I got super infatuated with the idea of watching all of the Best Picture Nominees, and that kind of became my singular focus in terms of new movies to see, and Young Adult (rightfully) did not get nominated for Best Picture, so it fell off my radar just a bit. Luckily, thanks to Netflix, no movie stays off of my radar for too long before popping back up, so I got to see it around the same time it came out on Blu-ray.

Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary (such an awful name…) is not an awful person, she’s just not very likeable. She was the shizz back in high school, but now that she’s in her 30’s, recently divorced and ghost-writing for a series of teen books, her life ain’t all that great. Add in the discovery that her (happily married) high school boyfriend and his wife just had a baby, and her life is pretty much ruined. So of course she does what any person would do: returns to her home town in an attempt to win her high school boyfriend back.

Theron is pretty solid as Mavis Gary, she’s not a character you’re openly hating, but you’re not really pulling for her happiness either, more than anything else, you’re laughing at her misfortune and her failures. Hers is the character you don’t relate to, but think to yourself: “At least I’m not her…”. In recent memory, it seems that there are more and more of these characters (blonde, attractive, rude, funny) popping up. Sometimes it fails miserably (Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher) sometimes it works (Theron in Young Adult) and sometimes it’s amazing (Kaitlin Olsen in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). For years, it’s a character that’s been dominated by men, so it’s good to see women getting their fair shake at playing characters no one really likes.

Patton Oswalt is, as per usual, awesome and funny as a nerdy guy. He pretty much nails that sad desperation you expect from someone who was bullied to the point of a physical handicap while in high school.  Also, he distills his own whiskey and creates Frankenstein’ed G.I. Joe’s, both of which are totally awesome. AND he gets to make out with Charlize Theron. Patton Oswalt is living the nerd dream (in real life). Sure, his character had to go through some awful things to get where he was, but he’s owning it.

The only other actor I recognize is Patrick Wilson, whom I vaguely remember from Hard Candy, that weird movie with 13-year-old Ellen Page where she seduces/tortures Wilson’s character. He was also good in this.

Young Adult is not hysterically funny, but it’s not devoid of comedy. It’s one of those movies made up of little bits of comedy or funny situations or lines that build up over the course of the movie and accumulate, and you don’t realize how funny it was until it’s over and you’ve been on the verge of laughing out loud for the full 90 minutes.

So when I started the movie, I was not really that into it, because I was looking for it to be Juno for adults, and it quickly wasn’t going that way. Once I realized it wasn’t going to be like Juno (5 minutes or so), I forgot about that and just watched it, which I’m glad I did, because I probably would have not like this very much if I was only going to compare it to Juno. I even made it a point to not mention Juno in my review at all...crap…I guess I failed at that. Oh well. Young Adult is pretty good.

4 out of 5 stars

Better than Avatar

Trailer:


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Green Zone (2010)

Green Zone (2010)
Rated R
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Tagline: Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is done following orders.
Running time: 115 Minutes
DVR

Quick summary, from IMDB: Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region.

his was another of those movies I recorded off of HBO during my free trial period. I like war movies, and Matt Damon, so it made sense to me to watch it eventually. Eventually came to be over the weekend. My wife was asleep, the baby was awake but calm, so I figured I’d give it a whirl. And it wasn’t a bad movie. Interesting and entertaining, with some solid action scenes and a decent plot. Pretty much exactly the kind of movie you want to watch on a Saturday morning. I’ll freely admit I may or may not have glossed over some of the dialog in the middle, but a screeching newborn will do that to you, and I did have to pause it more than a few times for diaper changes and feedings, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with the movie itself.

Right after filming this movie, Matt Damon went on to shoot The Informant!, a role he gained a bunch of weight for, and has subsequently not really lost, so this is the last movie I’ve seen where Damon is a believable action hero. It felt a little like a continuation of the Bourne series (but with the same leading actor and same director, that’s not hard to deduce), in that it was Damon trying to figure out some secrets from his own government, but it was different enough that it wasn’t stale. It also felt a lot like an episode of 24, what with the Middle Eastern locale and Weapons of Mass Destruction and conspiracies, but since I loved that show, I don’t really mind if movies and shows remind me of it too much.
Matt Damon was the centerpiece, and one of the few actors I recognized outside of Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan, since he was apparently joined by actual former soldiers in the cast rather than extras or regular actors. Damon, as per usual, does a good job, and is pretty believable as a soldier. He doesn’t seem like a tough dude, but he’s also not a pansy, so that helps. Kinnear and Ryan had much smaller supporting roles, and both did adequately. Even though she looks exactly the same, I had a hard time recognizing Amy Ryan at first, since I am used to her kind of goofy smile and personality from her time on The Office, both of which were completely absent as a war-time journalist.
There are certainly better war movies out there, even ones about current/recent wars (The Hurt Locker), so it’s not breaking new ground or anything, but it’s not bad.
3 out of 5 stars
Better than Avatar
Trailer:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Beaver (2011)

The Beaver (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Jodie Foster
Tagline: He's here to save Walter's Life. 
Running time: 91 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary: In the midst of a debilitating suicidal depression, toy company executive Walter Black turns to a stuffed beaver puppet to help him cope.

Mel Gibson plus crazy plus talking beaver puppet was enough of a draw for me to want to see this movie. It sounds just ridiculous enough to be awesome. Unfortunately, it also was the downfall of the movie. A plot that ridiculous sets itself up as a heartfelt comedy, and that’s what The Beaver should have been. There were some funny moments, but it played as a more dramatic movie, which, when paired with a talking beaver puppet, falls flat.

The acting was actually pretty good from the four main actors. It was awesome to hear Mel Gibson use something resembling an Australian accent for The Beaver, something I hadn’t heard from him since The Road Warrior. I got the feeling that Mel Gibson took this role because he drew a parallel to his own recent history, from when he went a little crazy. I wish he had used a puppet in real life, which would have been awesome. I don’t normally like Jodie Foster all that much as an actress, but she was decent in this. She did a better job as a director, making the most of what she had and doing the best she could with the source material.

I was more impressed with the kids, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence. In fact, I was more interested in their subplot than the main Mel Gibson centered plotline. Yelchin did a good job as a kind of neurotic and social outcast teenager, and his reaction to his father turning to a puppet was probably the most accurate and authentic reaction of anyone in the movie. Jennifer Lawrence was awesome in Winter’s Bone, and this role was pretty far removed from that one, as she was a popular high school cheerleader, but it wasn’t too far removed or unbelievable. It was a bit unbelievable that she had a past as a graffiti artist; I just couldn’t really buy that. She did a good job with it, and only briefly had to interact with Mel Gibson and his beaver puppet.

The Beaver is an okay movie, but could have been much better. There were hints of a dark comedy here, but it got too serious for its own good most of the time.

3 out of 5 stars
Better than Avatar

Trailer: 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rubber (2010)

Rubber (2010)
Rated R
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser
Directed by: Quentin Dupieux
Tagline: Are you TIRED of the expected? (Also “Careful Where You Tread”)
Running time: 82 Minutes
Netflix

Quick summary (from IMDB): When Robert, a tire, discovers his destructive telepathic powers, he soon sets his sights on a desert town; in particular, a mysterious woman becomes his obsession.

This might be the ultimate “What the &^%*?” movie. Every time I passed by it on the Netflix Instant Queue, that’s what I thought. Of course, I added it to my queue, never really sure when, if ever, I would actually watch it. So I finally said, what the &^%* and watched it. From the start of the movie, through all 82 minutes, that was the only thought I had. Everything that happens is completely bizarre and ridiculous. It’s billed as a comedy, and there were some funny parts, but its excessive weirdness overshadowed its humor.

I get the feeling that the film maker, and probably everyone involved, thought really highly of themselves and this movie. If it’s possible, I think the movie itself thinks it’s the greatest thing ever committed to film. I can’t tell whether it was intended to be satirical of artsy films or if it’s meant to actually be one of those movies.

The film starts with a very deep and actually pretty awesome monologue about why things happen in movies. The answer is: No Reason. It was delivered directly to the camera, and was just the first of several instances where you get the feeling that they were breaking the 4th wall. After that is when it gets really weird. It’s a movie about a sentient tire that blows things up with its mind. It never gets any less weird than that.

It got some positive reviews, and was even shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but the best review I’ve seen of it came from The Daily Telegraph, stating that, “…at 85 Minutes, it’s an hour too long.” This is true. It absolutely drags on and on. I’ll likely never understand how a movie so short could feel just as long as Avatar, but it does.

I don’t know if I’d recommend this to anyone, unless you just want to ask yourself the same question for an hour and fifteen minutes, but if you like weird crap, then this may be for you. I’d like to think that I like weird, irreverent and ridiculous movies (Pootie Tang is one of my top 10 movies…), but this was too weird for me. That’s something I never thought I would say.

I honestly do not know if I liked it or not, so I can’t really compare it.

Here’s the trailer: 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Shia Lebouf, Carey Mulligan, Michael Douglas, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Running time: 133 Minutes
DVR

Quick summary (from IMDB): Now out of prison by still disgraced by his peers, Gordon Gekko works his future son-in-law, an idealistic stock broker, when he sees an opportunity to take down a Wall Street enemy and rebuild his empire.

I DVR’d Wall Street 2 before I’d ever even seen Wall Street. In fact, my entire knowledge of Wall Street at that time consisted of three things: the name Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good”, and that scene from Hot Shots (“I loved you in Wall Street”). Maybe it was a little ambitious of me to go ahead and sign myself up for the sequel, not knowing if I would even like the first one. Turns out, I liked it okay. Rather than watch them back to back, I decided to move on to other movies, keeping the sequel saved up for a later date. Of all of the options on my DVR I hadn’t seen, I chose Wall Street 2 since it was the oldest.

The sequel is nowhere near as good as the 1987 original, which shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise, since it was an iconic 80’s movie, but was it necessary? We (or at least I) sometimes wonder what happens to the characters after the movie ends. Rarely, if ever, do we get to find out what happens after a drama is over. Sequels are usually reserved for comedies or action movies, so while it’s interesting to learn what happened to Gordon Gekko after 20+ years, I didn’t really need to know, I was fine with it when Wall Street ended.

Michael Douglas deservedly won an Oscar for his performance in the original, and you could see glimpses of that greatness in the sequel, but it was really more like a copy than an extension of that great character. In fact, the whole movie kinda felt like a remake more than a sequel, but since Oliver Stone was on board to direct, they updated it and made it a sequel.

I am glad that Oliver Stone was attached; otherwise it would have just been a cheap knockoff. If someone’s going to continue the story, it should be him. It’s not his best work, but neither was the original Wall Street.

I think Shia Lebouf actually did a pretty good job with the Charlie Sheen/Bud Fox young, idealist character. He wasn’t better than Sheen in 1987 (he was barely a year old then), but I sided with him during the movie. I can’t explain why I like Lebouf in this or any of the Transformers movies, but I do. He’s smarmy and funny and a little bit charming.

Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin, the other two big name actors involved both did a good job as well. Mulligan is really good at playing seemingly normal people. So often, actors and actresses go over the top with characterizations that the people they play barely resemble humans, but she consistently seems like a regular person. It may help that she doesn’t look like an actress to me. That’s not meant to be insulting, as she is pretty, she just doesn’t seem fake. Brolin, in the Gekko-like role of the villain, does a good job as well, though paling in comparison to Douglas’s portrayal in the original.

It’s a decent movie, probably better as a standalone than a traditional sequel, but it really wasn’t all that necessary. At least Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone returned, at least giving the film some credence. Plus, they got Charlie Sheen to cameo as Bud Fox, just a few months before his very public insanity.

3 out of 5 stars

Better than Avatar

Trailer:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Election (1999)

Election (1999)
Rated R
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Tagline: Reading, Writing, Revenge
Running time: 103 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary: A high school civics teacher gets involved in the election for class president when he encourages the popular football player into running against the overachieving girl he despises.

I have no good reason why it took me 13 years to finally get around to watching Election, and I’m not gonna try and make one up now. What matters is this: I’ve seen it. And it was good. Alexander Payne has now been thrice nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, winning twice, for Sideways, and most recently for The Descendants. While all three are great, I think Election was the best written of the bunch, and far funnier than either Sideways or The Descendants.

Payne has really succeeded in landing stellar casts for his movies, getting Clooney in his Prime in The Descendants, getting Giamatti just as he entered his prime in Sideways, and getting Reese Witherspoon just before she became a huge star. In fact, her performance in Election may have been what catapulted her into being a movie star. She nailed the overachieving, perfectionist high school girl perfectly.

Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller to me, something he probably hates (or doesn’t), so it was kind of weird to see him as a high school teacher. I feel like they threw in some intentional homage, with a shower seen and having Broderick drive a sports car, so it’s good that they recognized the irony. Broderick is still awesome, though, and I haven’t seen him in much of anything recently, so it was nice to get reacquainted.

Chris Klein was always my second least favorite actor from the American Pie series (only Tara Reid is worse), but he’s just so good at playing that kind of dumb and na├»ve jock, that it makes up for it. He’s just a goofy dude, and he got to be pretty goofy for this role, so that’s a plus.

Had I watched this back in ’99, when I was still in high school, it may have resonated a little bit better, but not much.

Not only was this Payne’s best written movie, but it’s the best of the three I’ve seen overall. How crazy is it that he also wrote Jurassic Park III? I just found that out from IMDB and that’s funny. I may need to re-watch JPIII, just to see if it’s actually well written.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Streets ahead of Avatar

Trailer: 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beginners (2010)

Beginners (2010)
Rated R
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic
Directed by: Mike Mills
Tagline: This is what love feels like.
Running time: 105 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.

There was so much buzz around Christopher Plummer’s performance in Beginners that I couldn’t avoid it, but normally, a comedy/drama like this wouldn’t even be on my radar otherwise. I was pulling for Jonah Hill to win, since Albert Brooks wasn’t nominated, because he was so surprisingly good in Moneyball, but after seeing Beginners, Plummer was the clear cut Best Supporting Actor of the nominees (I haven’t seen My Week With Marilyn, but I’d be shocked if Kenneth Branagh was anywhere near as good as Plummer), followed by Hill, Nick Nolte and Max von Sydow, in that order.

I don’t know what, exactly, it was about Plummer’s performance that sealed it, but he just nailed it. He wasn’t over the top and flamboyant, which a lot of straight men do when playing a gay man. You really felt his denial of the terminal lung cancer he was diagnosed with, and the blinding optimism and relief of him finally being able to be who he truly is, it was pretty remarkable. While I still feel that Brooks’ performance in Drive was the best performance by an actor in a supporting role, Plummer was the most deserving of the nominees.

It wasn’t on Plummer to carry the entire film, which he easily could have done, but on Ewan McGregor. McGregor has been pretty good in just about everything I’ve seen him in, but anymore, I forget that he’s Scottish. I haven’t heard him speak in anything but an American accent since the Star Wars prequels. The story isn’t just about his father’s death and coming out, but also about his budding relationship with a young French actress, and learning how to be happy in a relationship. McGregor is responsible for much more of the weight of the film, and he does a good job.

It was a really good story, and really well done. I really liked the way the movie was done. It was a very serious subject matter, but it was handled a little bit lightly. It also had a very matter-of-fact narrative style that was really interesting, and McGregor even talks to his father's dog like he's a person, which is awesome. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was better than I had anticipated. It’s kind of depressing and slow, but it’s also a little bit funny, but not in a laugh out loud kind of way, just kind of quirky.

3 out of 5 stars

Better than Avatar

Trailer: