Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Starring: Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother) and Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses)
Director: David Wain (Role Models)
U.S. Release: February 24th, 2012 (Rated R)
Runtime: 98 minutes
Paul Rudd's once up and down career has blossomed into a solid body of work. Beginning his upswing in 2004 with the instant classic Anchorman, Rudd then followed suit with another excellent supporting role in the hysterical comedy The 40 Year Old Virgin. After a couple more years of successful secondary stints, his career finally took off when he starred in the 2009 smash hit Role Models. A mere three years later, Rudd finds himself once again teaming up with his Role Models director David Wain. But Wain and Rudd are no strangers to one another. The friends and colleagues have worked together on every film that Wain has directed, including his most recent work Wanderlust. Unfortunately though, Wanderlust is no Role Models.
Wanderlust follows a husband and wife named George (played by Rudd) and Linda (played by Aniston) who are struggling to get by in New York City. But when George unexpectedly loses his job and Linda's attempt at a documentary gets turned down by HBO, the couple can no longer afford their mortgage. While trekking to Atlanta to shack up with George's more successful and far more intolerable older brother Rick, the husband and wife discover Elysium. Elysium is a commune-like property filled with dozens of free-spirited members living under the direction of a divine leader named Seth. Although the experience seems far fetched, could Elysium be just the lifestyle that this couple needs?
Wanderlust is an overly simplistic and re-hatched attempt at R-rated humor. The film's story becomes lost behind the overly animated characters that exist on screen. As Wanderlust serves up its obvious plot twists, it becomes apparent how brutally shallow the movie really is. Rarely does a film cause its audience to give up on its leading characters so quickly. Pinpointing the problems in David Wain's Wanderlust becomes a daunting task, mostly because there is so much blame to go around.
In addition to its aimless plot, Wanderlust finds little solace in the performance given by its leading actress Jennifer Aniston. Even though her co-star Paul Rudd is far from spectacular himself, Aniston is simply woeful in the film. With remarkable ease, the actress elevates her already unlikable character to a whole new level. But despite the movie's spotty lead performances, Wanderlust does offer a wide variety of outlandishly comical side characters. With the aid of a few minor roles, there are a handful of laugh out loud moments which manage to keep the film mildly entertaining.
Unfortunately for fans of well written comedic genius, "shock comedy" has become the latest craze. Everything from the bathroom scene in Hall Pass to Maya Rudolph defecating on the street in Bridesmaids, the bigger the shock the better. Wanderlust rides this bandwagon and musters up plenty of frontal nudity (both male and female). But don't worry, I won't spoil the biggest shock of all.
Wanderlust is a drifting hour and a half adventure to nowhere. Centered around over the top side characters and containing very little substance, the film becomes a somewhat purposeless experience. As is the case with any comedy, Wanderlust has the occasional highlight. However, the distant gap between these rare moments is far too difficult to withstand. Heed my advice and stay clear of Wanderlust.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4
NOTE: This review and others can be found at Movie Critic Dave's syndicated site Geekscape.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Film: Safe House
Starring: Denzel Washington (Unstoppable) and Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern)
Director: Daniel Espinosa
U.S. Release: February 10th, 2012 (Rated R)
Runtime: 115 minutes
I spent a significant part of my childhood idolizing the work of mega-actor Denzel Washington. Although I've never been much of an action junky, there was just something about the 1991 filmRicochet that had me hooked. Pitting a young Denzel Washington against the revenge-seeking and villainous John Lithgow, it was pure magic. Fast forward more than 2 decades and Washington is still known for taking center stage in countless heart-pounding action movies. But Denzel's latest effort Safe House, in which he stars alongside heartthrob Ryan Reynolds, plays more like his early 2000's work Man on Fire and Out of Time ... it leaves much to be desired.
The film follows a young CIA agent named Matt Weston (played by Reynolds) who mans a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Desperate for a chance to prove himself to his superiors, Weston gets more than he can bargain for the moment the CIA's most wanted rogue agent, Tobin Frost (played by Washington), arrives at his location. And when his safe house isrecklessly attacked by mercenaries, Weston will go to no end to keep Frost detained.
Directing his first American film to date, Daniel Espinosa's Safe House is a meandering attempt at film making. Bogged down by an unforgivable script, Safe House is an obvious disappointment. Rather than spending the film's runtime developing its plot and characters, Espinosa trades depth for gun fire and fight scenes. What makes this scenario so unfortunate is the fact that, at its core, Safe House offers some interesting ideas. However, the movie never takes the appropriate steps needed to derive the story and, as a result, ends up feeling all too flat.
Despite its poor script and directorial execution, Safe House manages to remain somewhat bearable thanks, in large part, to its cast. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds prove to be stellar once again in their respective roles. Yet, no matter how strong of an effort the talented pair of actors and their co-stars give, it seems as though all of the movie's characters are non-apologetically misused. To its discredit, instead of building off of its own premise and characters,Safe House takes the wrong approach by desperately attempting to measure up to big time action films such as The Bourne franchise.
With a runtime knocking on the door of two hours, Safe House's initial intrigue and natural flow quickly wear thin. The overabundance of gun fire and combat scenes leave the action film feeling surprisingly drawn out. All in all, there's far more potential than there is resolution, as Safe House clearly deserves a better fate. However, it's evident that even the feature's strong cast and crafty plot twists are completely mishandled. As you can guess, I suggest keeping a safe distance from all things Safe House.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4
Monday, February 27, 2012
As of 11:40pm last night, another awards season had come and gone. As expected, The Artist reigned supreme and took home 5 Oscar statues including Best Picture, Best Lead Actor (Jean Dujardin), and Best Director (Michael Hazanavicius). For any naysayer who is yet to see the film, The Artist is truly an astonishing masterpiece worthy of its Best Picture label. I was quite the skeptic prior to my initial viewing, but I walked out of the theatre reminded of all the reasons I love movies.
Tying The Artist with 5 Oscar victories was Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Another wondrous tale recognizing the earliest years of cinema, Hugo earned all of its wins in artistic and technical categories. As I read earlier on Indiewire.com (courtesy of Peter Knegt), it's interesting to note that Hugo's 5 Oscar wins are more than the combined total of Scorsese classics Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull.
In a rather predictable evening (I went 9 for 10 in my Oscar Predictions), the only major upset came at the hands of Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady). Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher landed her a third Oscar in which she edged out Viola Davis (The Help). Also, a big kudos to Christopher Plummer who took home a Best Supporting Actor victory for his role in Beginners. At the nostalgic age of 82, Plummer represents the oldest person to ever win an Oscar. For a complete list of winners for last evening's Academy Awards, click here (courtesy of IMDB.com)
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Film: The Woman in Black
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter franchise)
Director: James Watkins (Eden Lake)
U.S. Release: February 3rd, 2012 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 95 minutes
I have a startling confession to make. In all of my years on this planet (which is only 29, so let's not get carried away with it), I am yet to see ANY Harry Potter movie. In fact, James Watkins sophomore horror tale The Woman in Black is my first Daniel Radliffe film. Radliffe and Watkins have the difficult task of making this one time Susan Hill novel turned critically acclaimed stage play turned television movie, into a United States success. Although the story has now crossed oceans and spanned decades, The Woman in Black is still as frightening as its ever been.
The film opens with a young widower lawyer named Arthur Kipps (played by Radcliffe) leaving his four year old son and nanny for a business venture to a remote village. Upon his unwanted arrival, Arthur discovers the vengeful and terrifying ghost of a woman who's spent years wreaking havoc on the locals.
The Woman in Black is a modern depiction of classic supernatural horror at its best. Combining a strong story with many other necessary ingredients, director James Watkins serves up a somewhat rehashed, but welcome, addition to the horror genre. Escaping the dull and ineffective characteristics used as the backbone of recent ghost-centered films such as the Paranormal Activity trilogy and countless exorcism movies of the past decade, The Woman in Black's most brilliant scares play off of its taut back story. Rather than using its scariest moments as a crutch, Watkins beautifully blends together the film's dramatic and horror-based elements. In doing so, the director builds a bond between the audience and the character of Arthur Kipps. As a result, every thrilling and intense scene becomes that much more powerful.
By relying a great deal on the character of Arthur Kipps, Daniel Radcliffe's performance becomes an enormous make or break aspect of the film. To the movie's benefit, Radcliffe never disappoints. His spot on portrayal of a moderately disconnected widower trying to unravel a small village's ghost story is nothing short of brilliant. Radcliffe effortlessly branches out from his Harry Potter label and demonstrates his ability to lead a successful acting career without wizardry. In addition to Radcliffe, the entire ensemble serves their purpose and helps propel The Woman in Black to forefront of modern horror.
Despite its fine acting and its wonderful direction, The Woman in Black lacks an unquestionable sense of originality. Following closely in the vein of the 2002 horror hit The Ring, Watkin's film succumbs to the occasional cliche. There are clearly moments of imperfection but, to the picture's credit, they are merely rough patches in an otherwise grand pasture.
James Watkin's The Woman in Black is a fantastic example of strong film making. Its subtle score and dark tone intensify every frightening scene, inevitably creating a thrilling viewing experience. The Woman in Black will not be in theatres for much longer, but any true fan of horror should go out of there way to see this excellent addition to the genre.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Saturday, February 25, 2012
If you're a movie geek like this guy, you'll spend Sunday evening glued to the television watching the 84th Annual Academy Awards on ABC. One way to spice up the occasion is to have you and your co-watchers fill out an awards ballot and create some friendly competition out of the event. In last year's Oscar Prediction Blog, I chose 8 out of 10 categories correctly. This year, I plan to up my game ... a lot. All early indicators are pointing to a HUGE night for the rather unseen, yet wonderful, black and white silent film The Artist.
Best Picture: The Artist
For the final award of the evening, it would be an absolute shock to hear another film's name called. The Artist has been a steady and unmovable frontrunner for the past three months and counting. Ultimately, its closest competitors The Help, Hugo, and The Descendants aren't very close at all.
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist)
As the Academy so often does, Best Picture and Best Director go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. That thought alone makes Michael Hazanavicius a safe bet for tomorrow evening. Couple it with a DGA win, and Hazanavicius is pretty much a sure thing. His stingiest opposition, Martin Scorsese (Hugo), is merely a crack in the sidewalk to step over.
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
At this point, you should recognize a theme emerging. The Artist has proved to be a lovable movie, and its leading star, Jean Dujardin, is at the helm of its charm. Unlike the aforementioned races (or lack thereof), Dujardin faces stiff competition from George Clooney (The Descendants). Although hearing Clooney's name called wouldn't be a shock, I still believe that The Artist shows up big tomorrow tonight and Dujardin gets the nod.
Best Actress: Viola Davis (The Help)
As the big evening looms closer and closer, there's been a slight outcry from Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) supporters. Truth be told, Close and Oscar-regular Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) won't be able to steal the win from Viola Davis. Unlike the other two ladies, Davis actually starred in a film that most people enjoyed and that will definitely factor into the Academy's decision.
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Perhaps the most undisputed prediction for the evening, Christopher Plummer is the type of pick you bet the farm on. He's swept just about every major precursor award and his field of competition is rather mediocre. Without sounding too risque, Plummer also benefits from playing a homosexual role and the Academy is usually quick to honor such performances.
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
With an extensive collection of precursor wins, Spencer has set herself up as the clear frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actress race. However, I am not as sold on this selection as most people are. Although I expect her to win, there is a not-so far fetched scenario where Spencer splits votes with her co-star Jessica Chastain (The Help) and the onslaught of support for The Artist propels Berenice Bejo to the forefront. I wouldn't count on such an outside chance, but keep it in the back of your mind.
Here are my predictions in four other categories:
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash
Best Animated Film: Rango
Best Foreign Film: A Separation
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
With merely 5 days to go until the 84th annual Academy Awards, today marks a very important milestone along the road to the Oscars. Today is the deadline for all Academy members to have their votes sealed and postmarked. Therefore, the widespread campaigning for votes will finally seize (yeah, I'm talking to you Jean Dujardin). As a critic myself, the Academy Awards is my Super Bowl after the Super Bowl. Having been glued to movie screens since the start of 2011, here's my take on how the major Oscar races are shaping up down the stretch:
With Alexander Payne's The Descendants quickly falling out of contention, the Best Picture race is down to three. The odds on favorite to walk away the big winner at Sunday's ceremony is, without question, The Artist. The black and white silent film has been a freight train during the awards season. However, with the backing of a strong Screen Actors Guild showing, The Help has positioned itself as the prime culprit for an upset. In a distant third, the widely supported Hugo still has an inkling of life left. Outside of the big three, the rest of the Best Picture pool is filled with garnish.
As the winner of the Directors Guild Award, The Artist's Michael Hazanavicius is the clear frontrunner. What is shaping up to be a HUGE night for Harvey Weinstein's prodigal baby, Hazanavicius does have some stiff competition from Oscar-regular Martin Scorsese. Scorsese illustrated his diversity with the beloved family film Hugo, and it wouldn't be a shocker to see him walk away victorious. The only other longshot with any chance of winning is Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life). However, Malick's polarizing film is sure to turn away a large portion of voters. As for Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and Alexander Payne (The Descendants), enjoy the free cocktails.
Clearly the Best Actor race is the closest of the bunch. Prior to the SAG awards, I would've bet the farm on George Clooney (The Descendants) outshining the competition. Yet, The Artist's own Jean Dujardin managed to steal a SAG win and has been the toast of the town lately. If there's as much love for The Artist among Academy members as I think there is, Clooney will go home empty handed. Dujardin, who hit the US campaigning circuit hard with his surprise appearance on SNL, has the slight edge. My condolences to fans of Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), and Demian Bichir (A Better Life). The three of them are too far out to even consider.
Reminiscent of any old episode of Scooby Doo, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) is nothing more than obvious bait to sway your attention from the clear favorite, Viola Davis (The Help). Even with Golden Globe and BAFTA wins to her credit, Streep's loss at the SAG awards is far too telling. Academy members truly appreciate the acting in Taylor Tate's The Help, and they'll make it known by giving the statue to Davis. I'm sure there will be a few sentimental members voting in favor of Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), who's never won before. Also, Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) appear to be distant longshots at best.
Best Supporting Actor
Both supporting races look to be as locked up as Lindsay Lohan after another DUI. Christopher Plummer (Beginners) has been smooth sailing to the Oscars and I don't see any of his competitors stealing his thunder. If I had to claim a main opposition to Plummer, it would have to be Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn). However, I don't see Branagh, Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Nick Nolte (Warrior), or Jonah Hill (Moneyball) spoiling the evening for Plummer.
Best Supporting Actress
Similar to Christopher Plummer, it's been a one woman wrecking ball with Octavia Spencer (The Help) in the Best Supporting Actress race. Perhaps only a nuclear holocaust could prevent Spencer from claiming the victory on Sunday evening. A nuclear holocaust, or Berenice Bejo (The Artist). Unlike Plummer, Spencer faces the odd challenge of potentially splitting votes with her castmate Jessica Chastain (The Help). If enough votes are split, it could pave the way for a surprise winner in the form of Bejo. With As much love as The Artist has been receiving, clearly you can't ignore the film's biggest female star. In the back of the pack are Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs). Even though this would be the perfect category to recognize a character from a comedy film, I can't see McCarthy or anyone else from the field dethroning Spencer.
That about wraps up my Oscar update. Be sure to join in on the fun and vote for this month's poll concerning the Best Picture race. Also, for a chance at some fun prizes (including a Grand Prize trip to Los Angeles for a film premier) be sure to check out the Outguess Ebert contest. Stay tuned for my final Oscar predictions which will be announced on Saturday.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Starring: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) and Sigourney Weaver (Avatar)
Director: Oren Moverman (The Messenger)
U.S. Release: February 10th, 2012 (Limited - Rated R)
Runtime: 108 Minutes
I'm sure if you ask Leonardo DiCaprio and the mastermind who's often filming him on the other side of the camera, Martin Scorsese, they'd tell you that they believe in destiny. The amazing duo have already collaborated on four films since 2002, demonstrating their somewhat cosmic connection. After a critically acclaimed directorial debut in which his supporting star Woody Harrelson received an Oscar nomination, Oren Moverman has finally made a follow up to his indie hit The Messenger. Taking a page out of the Scorsese handbook of directing, Moverman once again teams up with Harrelson for his crooked cop tale, Rampart. This time, the result is un-Scorsese-like.
Rampart is set in 1999 Los Angeles where a long time renegade cop named David Brown (played by Harrelson) sees himself pitted against a city of misfits. Refusing to give up his merciless tactics and methods of coercion, Brown ultimately ends up at the center of a videotaped police brutality scandal. With legal fees mounting and his financial state crumbling, the corrupt officer sees no boundary to the lengths he must go in order to survive the ordeal.
Rampart is a cluttered journey into the mind of an unstable police officer. Almost immediately, Moverman introduces the audience to the chaotic personal life of David Brown. With two children born to different mothers (that are also sisters), Brown's unusual home life sets the foundation for the muddled story line and assortment of ideas that is Rampart. Any sense of solace comes at the hands of the film's leading star, Woody Harrelson. Even with the aid of such a gifted actor, Harrelson still only manages to make this jumbled mess a moderately tolerable experience. Furthermore, David Brown's character has a sense of charisma that should have been utilized differently to impact the story. However, rather than attempting to humanize the corrupt officer, Oren Moverman creates a completely unlikable protagonist. In doing so, the director unsuccessfully sends the movie in a dark, downward spiral of unspeakable depths. Therefore, Rampart is a depressing tale that offers very little reward.
Despite the film's disarrangement of ideas and structure, Rampart does prove to be mildly entertaining. Harrelson's onscreen effectiveness unquestionably captivates the audience. And since his character knows no boundaries, this tiny little fact disallows the audience to sacrifice its attention. All eyes will stay peeled to the screen for the film's 108 minute duration, yet Rampart's final moments are perhaps the most dissatisfying. Hence, be warned. There's no light at the end of the tunnel here.
For me, Rampart was love at first theatrical trailer. As previews often do, Moverman's tale of corruption seemed too good to be true. And with the amazing success of his first collaboration with Harrelson, the possibilities were endless. However, Rampart is a below-average and clueless effort. If you're expecting an action-packed thrill ride revolving around a crooked cop (much like Training Day or The Departed), you're in the wrong stratosphere. Rampart loses its purpose early on and, unfortunately, it never finds its way back. In conclusion, make sure to avoid this one.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Film: This Means War
Starring: Reese Witherspoon (Water for Elephants), Tom Hardy (Warrior) , and Chris Pine (Unstoppable)
Director: McG (Terminator Salvation)
U.S. Release: February 17th, 2012 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 98 minutes
For couples, Valentine's Day offers a chance to relive the romantic foundation of a strong relationship. For Hollywood, February 14th means that a slew of hard to swallow romantic comedies will overtake movie screens all across the country. 2012's most notable rom-com to cash in on the Hallmark holiday is McG's This Means War. With a trailer and premise nothing short of vomit inducing, only cast mates Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and rising star Tom Hardy could rescue this film from the Valentine's Day abyss.
This Means War follows a pair of CIA operatives named FDR (played by Pine) and Tuck (played by Hardy) whose relationship transcends co-workers and enters the realm of brother-like territory. But when the divorcee Tuck and the womanizer FDR both fall head over heels for Lauren (played by Witherspoon), the two men would rather dish out bullets than take one for each other. As the two men go to great lengths to sabotage one another's chances with Lauren, she struggles to decide over which guy is the right one for her.
With any movie, expectations play a large role in an individual's final judgment of a film. To be brutally honest, I expected very little (emphasis on very) from McG's latest work, This Means War. And to the film's credit, it surpassed my minuscule anticipation. The feature boasts a three-headed monster of lead characters, centered mostly around Reese Witherspoon as the trophy to be won. Although Witherspoon is delightful at times, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are the true backbone of the film. Their on-screen male competitiveness is highlighted by their character's desire for grandeur. This Means War offers a sprinkle of laugh out loud moments throughout Hardy and Pine's little game of "anything you can do, I can do better". Another surprising focal point of the film resides in the minor character Trish (played by Chelsea Handler). Handler serves as an over-the-top, charismatic spokesperson for all single women trying to find the right guy. Her smattering of comedic one-liners undeniably keep the film afloat. Kudos must be given to director McG for selecting a versatile collection of actors and actresses.
Despite the movie's occasional laughs and its solid cast, This Means War is far from perfection. First and foremost is the weak and artificial CIA back story used in the film. It's creation only offers an almost pointless subplot and numerous out of place action sequences. Furthermore, McG's latest work delivers an obvious resolution that can be seen almost as soon as the opening credits role. With a poor script and a paper-thin foundation, ultimately, This Means War can only go as far as its cast can take it.
This Means War is an entertaining and sporadically comical film. It's easy to sit through and never too pseudo dramatic. However, as a whole, the movie is far too run of the mill to recommend to anyone. I suggest waiting for DVD or catching the feature while it's on television somewhere down the line.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
If you're a fan of classic cinema and you intend to keep on reading, you may want to brace yourself first. Over the past week, two major studios have announced that they will be re-making the classic Alfred Hitchcock films Rebecca and Suspicion. Both films helped garner back to back Best Actress nominations for their star, Joan Fontaine. She ultimately took home the statue for her role in 1941's Suspicion.
Veena Sud, writer for the Danish version of the AMC hit television series The Killing, has been signed on to pen the script for the re-make of Suspicion. At this point it is uncertain whether or not the film be a virtual re-make, or if it will take its own direction. Either way, it has enormous shoes to fill. Hitchcock mastered the art of the thriller decades ago, and it will be difficult for any copycat to reach similar heights. Just ask Gus Van Sant, whose 1998 re-make of Hitchcock's Psycho left much to be desired. The only thing we can do is wait and see.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Yesterday's British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) hardly factors into this year's 84th annual Academy Awards. But don't tell that to the Oscar frontrunner, The Artist. The black and white silent film has be an unstoppable force throughout the awards season, and the BAFTA's is no exception. Taking home 7 wins at the event, including Best Picture, Director, and Lead Actor, The Artist is the odds on favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars. Furthermore, the film's leading star, Jean Dujardin, has placed himself in a favorable position to steal the win from George Clooney (The Descendants). With Oscar ballots due one week from tomorrow, expect some more awards talk in the upcoming weeks. For a complete list of BAFTA winners, click here (courtesy of Peter Knegt at Indiewire.com).
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Film: Perfect Sense
Starring: Ewan McGregor (Beginners) and Eva Green (The Golden Compass)
Director: David Mackenzie (Young Adam)
U.S. Release: February 3rd, 2012 (Limited - Rated R)
Runtime: 92 minutes
Between the Y2K scare in 2000 and the Mayan's 2012 doomsday prediction, there has been no shortage of apocalyptic-based films of late. Most of these pictures center around the notion of chaotic survival and tackle the frightening idea with a lack of beauty and grace. However, Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie's latest feature, Perfect Sense, addresses the topic unlike any other movie to date. Virtually creating his own genre blend of Apocalyptic Romance, Mackenzie opens our eyes to the suppression of such fear through the power of love.
Set in present day Glasgow, Perfect Sense follows the budding romance of a chef named Michael (played by McGregor) and a scientist named Susan (played by Green). Initially, the suave chef and emotionally guarded scientist appear to be quite the mismatch. Yet, as it turns out, their irregular puzzle-piece temperaments fit together perfectly. While the pair recognize a strong connection and begin to open their hearts to one another, a mysterious global epidemic swoops across the world affecting the rich and poor alike. Somewhat spaced in its attack, the disease destroys human senses one at a time. Through all of this chaos and madness Michael and Susan realize one important discovery ... that love is the greatest sense of all.
Director David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense is a beautifully artistic approach to the overdone "end of days" genre. Original in its delivery and indescribably moving at its core, Perfect Sense is everything a romance movie should be. Mackenzie does an amazing job of using the backdrop of a global catastrophe as a source of conflict for the film's central characters. Furthermore, the script is excellent and the character development is top notch. Couple the feature's rock-solid foundation with its remarkably talented cast, and Perfect Sense has all the right ingredients for a successful indie flick.
Despite all of the film's highlights, there are a few insignificant imperfections. Although I was rather undisturbed by the fact, Perfect Sense occasionally uses a narrator to describe the affects of the disease and how humanity adjusts to losing a certain sense. Some viewers may feel insulted by the director's need to explain what's happening on screen, especially since you should be able to figure it out on your own. But outside of the director's use of a narrator and a debatable third act scene where Susan's character becomes unforgiving of Michael's disease-imposed moment of anger, Perfect Sense is a formidable film in every regard.
Having had the luxury of screening Perfect Sense in October at the Philadelphia Film Festival, I was utterly blown away by the movie. Perhaps its most powerful moments are those where the director shows the mysterious disease unbiasedly sweep across the globe. Affecting the rich, the poor, the young, and the old, it becomes shockingly clear that no one is exempt. Mackenzie uses this sense of fear to perfection and it helps heighten the movie to another level. In Perfect Sense, we're reminded that Ewan McGregor is one of Hollywood's great young actors and his co-star, Eva Green, has a bright future ahead of herself. And although the movie may not find a theatrical release in a city near you, it's available on Video on Demand for rental and I highly recommend going out of your way to catch Perfect Sense.
Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails)
Director: Josh Trank
U.S. Release: February 3rd, 2012 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 83 minutes
Every now and again the unthinkable happens and a group of unknowns claw their way into the limelight. Traversing the small, yet crowded, gap between ordinary and heralded, the trio of young stars in Josh Trank's debut film, Chronicle, do just that. What began as a series of clips on the viral video haven Youtube, Chronicle is the latest sci-fi/action extravaganza to sweep across the nation. With the aid of its three leading actors, Chronicle is able to go beyond the norm and transcend the modern surplus of "found footage" films.
Chronicle follows the life of a verbally and physically tormented teenage outcast named Andrew Detmer (played be DeHaan). The troubled teen decides to invest what little money he has into a camera, and Andrew begins filming every dull aspect of his life. However, the moment Andrew's older and more popular cousin Matt Garetty (played by Russell) convinces him to come to a party and socialize, their lives change forever. Outside of the party the cousins, alongside class-president to be Steve Montgomery (played by Jordan), use Andrew's camera and light to investigate a strange hole in the ground. While down there, the boy's discovery gives each of them superhuman capabilities. But as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.
Josh Trank's debut work, Chronicle, is a solid film propelled by its talented, yet unknown, cast. Each of these fine young actors demonstrates an amazing amount of skill throughout the duration of the movie. Any rare moment of on-screen insufficiency portrayed by DeHann, Garetty, or Jordan can be chalked up to poorly constructed dialogue. But, truth be told, such moments are few and far between. Each character unique and vital to the success of the story, these up-and-coming actors are truly the heart and soul of Chronicle.
Despite its unquestionably strong cast, Chronicle is a fantastic premise that becomes submersed by its abundant potential. The movie blends together a Hancock-like capacity with teenage instability and it creates an intriguing look at how people handle such a gift. The beauty of Chronicle rests in the convincing manner in which the film bypasses the mystery behind what these super powers are and, instead, tackles the notion of how they should be handled. Using a science fiction and supernatural backdrop to address the issue mortality seems so perfectly obvious, yet virtually unvisited. On the other hand, this clever approach is somewhat halted by a few minor flaws. Utilizing the "found footage" and real life camera theme feels a bit deficient. Instead of complementing the strong backbone of the film, such tactics end up weakening its credibility. Furthermore, Chronicle abruptly begins to go haywire in its third act. A more subtle lead up to this issue of power struggle and morality would have better serviced the feature.
With a rarely dull 83 minute runtime, Chronicle is an entertaining and creative journey into the supernatural. And although the film's potential far surpasses the final product, Chronicle does not disappoint. The movie is a dream come true for fans of intense visuals and special effects. If you enjoy such elements of film making, it's an immediate must see. Otherwise, Chronicle is worth checking out at your own pace.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Film: The Grey
Starring: Liam Neeson (Taken)
Director: Joe Carnahan (The A-Team)
U.S. Release: January 27th, 2012 (Rated R)
Runtime: 117 minutes
Joe Carnahan's The Grey had me hooked the instant I caught a glimpse of its first theatrical trailer. As a big fan of Liam Neeson in any action role, and an even bigger fan of the idea of watching him pummel some flesh eating mountain wolves, The Grey seemed like a delicate blend of combative survival with a hint of redemption mixed in. After the film's first weekend in release, it topped box office sales with almost $20 million. Couple that with an abundance of glaring critical reviews, and it looked as though The Grey would be a dream come true. But the truth is, be careful what you wish for.
The Grey stars Liam Neeson as Ottway, a depressed man working among oil riggers in Alaska. When Ottway boards a plane to leave the site, he's unaware of the danger that is about to ensue. With only 7 individuals initially withstanding the horrific plane crash, Ottway attempts to lead the group to safety. Struggling to endure the frigid winter conditions and a pack of wolves who view these men as intruders, Ottway and company battle extreme odds in order to survive.
With a theatrical trailer promising massive thrills and countless action-packed sequences, The Grey is an occasional heart-pumping tale of survival. Director Joe Carnahan teams up with his leading star Liam Neeson once again (previously with The A-Team) to provide a similar result. Ultimately, The Grey is a drawn out fiasco that is highlighted by infrequent glimmers of hope. In between these 6 or 7 fiercely intense scenes, the film's poor script and dull pursuit of a dramatic tone becomes far too evident. Losing its sense of focus and appeal, The Grey proves to be nothing more than a disorganized and cluttered display of ideas.
In addition to its lackluster execution, another major downfall in the film is its character development. With hopes of creating an emotional connection, Carnahan tries to lure the audience in by addressing the back stories of certain central characters. However, The Grey's most memorable moments come at the hands of its survival story, not its dramatic elements. It's human nature to want to root for these men to outlive this ordeal. Therefore, Carnahan's inadequate attempt to humanize these characters illustrate the director's unstable sense of direction for which to carry out the film. Rather than incorporating more thrills and keeping the pace of the film moving, Carnahan tries to take The Grey to areas it never needed to venture.
The picture obviously has its fair share of flaws but when The Grey is hitting on all cylinders, it works very well. There are a decent amount of glaring moments that truly amaze, yet they end up serving as a bigger reminder of how good the film could have been. Furthermore, unlike many people who disliked the movie because of its controversial closing scene, I actually enjoyed the film's resolve. The movie's conclusion serves as a satisfying approach to ending the story.
Truth be told, The Grey is a middling attempt at an action-packed survival tale. In between the film's highest points, you'll grow tiresome of waiting for another impactful moment. Despite all of the praise it's received, I suggest waiting for DVD. There's no need to rush out to see The Grey.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
As it turns out, having a breakout year sometimes does you no good during awards season. In my January 2012 poll question asking "Which actor or actress had the best collection of work in 2011", the top three finishers will most likely walk away from the Oscars empty handed. Winning the poll with 36% of the votes was the Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress, Jessica Chastain (The Help). Yet, due to the overwhelming success of her co-star Octavia Spencer, it looks as though Chastain will be spending Sunday February 26th cheering on her friend.
Ryan Gosling (27%) and Michael Fassbender (18%) finished in second and third place among voters. Unlike Chastain, this pair of gifted actors missed out on Oscar nominations. Both, however, turned in strong performance after strong performance in each of their respective roles. Closing out the poll were Brad Pitt (2%), George Clooney (1%), and Emma Stone (1%). Be sure to also vote for February's poll, it asks "Which nominated film should win Best Picture at the Oscars?"