“Lincoln” Review

February 24, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

This movie gets the benefit of a lofty subject.  It also fits the profile of what should be a great film.  Spielberg directs.  Daniel Day Lewis acts.  The supporting cast is a who’s who of Hollywood.  It is like a paint-by-numbers manifesto on how to get double-digit Oscar nominations.  However, under closer inspection, “Lincoln” is a flat and pedantic retelling of what was a momentous time in American history.

We are witness to the last few months of President Lincoln’s life, as he pushes through the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, and tries to end the war.  That process involves dozens of congressional debates, war room conferences, private conversations and solemn speeches.   In fact, this movie feels far more like a low budget play than a high-dollar Hollywood production.   I felt like I was watching a “behind the scenes” political documentary on the history channel.

There is nothing fundamentally bad about “Lincoln”… But there is nothing fundamentally absorbing about it either.  It is a colossal bore, delivering no insight or information that is not already common knowledge.  Essentially, the viewer is forced to endure two and a half hours of dry dialogue delivered by crusty old white men.

Spielberg brings very little to the table here.  There are no directorial flourishes…  Not a single “wow” moment or shot.  It is, by far, his dullest effort in his forty magnificent years behind the camera.

Daniel Day Lewis does a good job as Lincoln — but I fear his acting reputation has been coupled with the admiration for the historic President to generate overly lavish praise.  It is a very nice performance, but very far from being the best of 2012.

Tommy Lee Jones has also been getting a lot of nominations in the supporting actor category all throughout the awards season.  I fail to see why.  He is a sour-faced mope who hasn’t ever been on my Christmas list.  In fact, I think he always delivers the standard Tommy Lee Jones character whether or not he wears period piece clothing.

The supporting cast is a distraction too.  They made a massive error casting so many famous faces here.  Every time one of them shows up, the viewer is taken right out of the film, asking themselves who it is and where they know them from.

Listen, “Lincoln” is made with care and it has some good qualities which I don’t have the inclination to detail.  However, I was bored after 30 minutes and it never recaptured my interest.  I watched it at arm’s length and ho-hummed my way to the final credits.  The famous President is a fascinating historical figure, but you wouldn’t know it based on this film.

TWO STARS Lincoln Review

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“Amour” Review

February 24, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The end of life is usually so very anticlimactic.  It can be a dull, monotonous trudge toward the inevitable.  It is often consumed by medicine, paperwork, sleep, mumbling gibberish, pain, loneliness, boredom… etc.  We are embarrassingly helpless during the final months, weeks and days — and we can only hope that we have someone, who loves us very much, that will help us fade away with as little discomfort as possible.  That is the story told in “Amour” — an intimate masterpiece that ought to be seen by everyone and won’t be forgotten by anyone.

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) has a minor stroke, beginning the spiral that will eventually end her long life.  Her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), promises her that he won’t take her to a home or a hospital.  Instead, he takes care of Anne himself… Washing her, feeding her.  For the first few weeks or months (the film is unclear about the timeline), it seems manageable.  But she soon becomes too much for an elderly man to care for without some assistance.  A nurse comes three times a week.

Anne is losing her memory.  Her mobility is a thing of the past.  Her mind is soon unrecognizable.  It is a heartbreaking and sad process that ages Georges quickly.  He is fiercely determined to care for his beloved life partner.  It is clear that they have shared a lifetime of experiences that no one else will ever be privy to.  They are “together” in every sense of the word.  His love for her is unquestioned and immense.

Riva and Trintignant are quite simply astonishing in this film.   Riva seems to be getting all the acting plaudits and awards this year, but that is imbalanced.  I chose the above still image of “Amour” because it is the reverse angle of the iconic poster photo that everyone will be familiar with by now.  Trintignant is equally as mesmerizing here.  This is a couple.  This is a dual performance unlike any you will have seen this year.  Both of them are award worthy and their efforts will not soon be forgotten.  A huge reason why this film is a masterpiece is the work they deliver on screen.  The always superb Isabelle Huppert is also noteworthy as the elderly couple’s daughter.

Michael Haneke is an unsympathetic director.  He and his work are hard to love because the emotions are cold.  He is very careful to avoid any manipulation of sentiment.  His films are very matter-of-fact… Sometimes to a fault.  However, in “Amour”, that technique works with astonishing power.   We observe the intimate moments of this tender couple in their most private of times.   We are spared nothing — the camera lingering for what seems like eternity on the most gentle of scenes.    Haneke’s lack of camera movement is reminiscent of the great Japanese director, Yasujirō Ozu.  We are just a fly on the wall… and nothing is hidden from us.

“Amour” is not a film that many will ever revisit.  It is emotionally draining.  It may be a scenario that we will have to endure toward the end of our own lives.  However, it reminds us that love is the only true key to happiness.  Some will endure that end with no one to love them — and that is truly tragic.  At least Anne has Georges to hold her hand when she hurts.  At least Anne has Georges to feed her gently.  At least Anne has Georges to cut her flowers.

FOUR STARS Amour Review

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“Beasts of the Southern Wild” Review

February 23, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Hushpuppy is a five year old girl surrounded by uneducated, unwashed, alcoholic human trash.  Her father is an abusive, lowlife piece of scum, who has neither the inclination nor the wherewithal to help her rise above.  She is the only character in this godforsaken part of the world with any redeeming qualities.  However, we fear that she will become one of them, unless a miracle intervenes and carries her away from the squalor.

Quvenzhané Wallis plays the lead, narrating her own story poetically, as if she were in a Terrence Malick film.  It is a remarkable performance that has been coaxed out of the six year old actress.  Most of the credit for that performances has to go to the director, Benh Zeitlin.  Clearly, a kid that young isn’t “acting” in the normal sense.  The director almost has to trick the emotions out of her.  It is a manipulation of sorts.  But it works and it is one of the best performances of any pre-teen in recent cinema history.

We follow the narrative as Hushpuppy’s father is dying from years of self abuse.  She ventures on a journey to find her long-gone mother.  She busies herself exploring the poverty stricken world around her.  Through trial and major error, she fends for herself when it comes to finding food and attempting to cook it.  It is a horrific existence that clings onto any thread of hope she can imagine.

The problem with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is that the director seems to want viewers to recognize this community as a pure one, uncorrupted by the evil outside civilization.  It wistfully portrays this “bathtub” of  poverty as something to hold on to and treasure in some way.   Hushpuppy’s journey home near the end of the movie is greeted as some sort of noble decision — when in fact, it is the only one she understands and it happens to be the worst possible one she could make.

I recognize that this film is metaphorically complex.  There are many interpretations to be had here.  It can be seen as a story of fierce determination and hope for the future.  It can be seen as a celebration of loyalty and love of home and family.  But I read it as a tragedy of irreparable damage done to a young soul… a soul that had potential until a community, which time and civilization forgot, crushed her and rendered her doomed to follow the same path.  It is a cycle of despair that is impossible to break.

I hope for Hushpuppy, but I fear it won’t help.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Beasts of the Southern Wild Review

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“The Company You Keep” Trailer

February 20, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

Directed by Robert Redford, “The Company You Keep” seems like it is going to be an absorbing thriller.  The huge cast is very impressive and the plot looks quite promising.

However, it is really disappointing to see Shia LaBeouf included.  He is a talentless tool who should stick to crap like “Transformers” movies.  I have disliked the guy since his “Project Greenlight” disaster, which showed him to be an arrogant jerk.  It’s going to take about a decade of good work to turn his image around.  He is now, where Ben Affleck was about a decade ago.  Affleck’s second act has turned out well.  Perhaps Shia TheBeef can take some lessons from that.

The film opens on April 5th and stars Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Brit Marling, Julie Christie and Sam Elliott.

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“Two Mothers” Trailer

February 20, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

“Two Milfs Mothers” looks like a great vehicle for Naomi Watts and Robin Wright Penn, two of the best actresses in movies today.  Early buzz is good on this film.  It just has to avoid becoming a “Lifetime TV Network” melodrama.

Having already played at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it will become widely available later in 2013.

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“Pitch Perfect” Review

February 19, 2013 |  by  |  movies, music, reviews  |  2 Comments

As we are all aware, there are only three types of people worse than a cappella groups — nazis, al qaeda and the westboro baptist freaks.  Nothing gets people as angry as a bunch of dorks harmonizing American Idol or X-Factor karaoke songs with huge grins plastered across their smug fucking faces!  It is quite literally worse torture than being waterboarded with corked wine.  So, I have to give “Pitch Perfect” some credit for not making me want to carve my soul into bite-sized chunks with a rusty spoon.

The relentlessly adorable Anna Kendrick plays the lead who tries out, against her will, for a collegiate a cappella group fronted by an unimaginative and very strict girl who takes an immediate dislike to her.  Their routines are boring and they always lose to the Treble Makers, their all-male rivals on campus.  The film follows the formulaic path through qualifications, regionals and the National Championship.

There are a few things worth mentioning about “Pitch Perfect”.  Many of the gags work well.  The tone and pace of the film make it an easy watch.  Many of the girls are insanely hot.  Some of the characters are memorable.  And Anna Kendrick’s performance is really nice.  She carries the movie.

Unfortunately, there are easily as many bad things to note.  Many of the gags are killed with repetitiveness.  It stumbles from time to time with cheap, crass vomit humor — a low-brow level of comedy that feels out of place here.  Cliches arrive thick and fast.  The “Glee” error of overtly including a token black girl, a token lesbian (2 for 1 in this case), a  token Asian girl, a predictable stick in the mud “bad girl” etc.  It all feels very forced and by-the-numbers.  The sidebar romance is also utterly unnecessary and not remotely believable.   There is no chemistry and the guy might as well be played by dryer lint, as he has no personality whatsoever.

“Pitch Perfect” makes the typical and egregious error of trying to combine wacky comedy with heartfelt emotions.  They do not go well together… and yet, many modern comedies try to mix them.   I do not want to see goofy humor followed by serious speeches about why parents get divorced or why certain characters are so guarded that they won’t allow love in their lives.   It is tantamount to having a water balloon fight at the end of “Schindler’s List”.

This movie works best when it is lampooning the cheesy world of group karaoke, delivering silly characters and dumb jokes.  It works worst when it tries to make us care.  All in all, it is a very mixed bag that just falls short of a passing grade, but manages to remain ever so slightly watchable despite the horrid music.

TWO STARS Pitch Perfect Review

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“The Avengers” Review

February 15, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  7 Comments

About 150 million people worldwide saw this movie.  That leaves about 6.85 billion (over 97%) who managed to avoid it.  They will be glad they did because “The  Avengers” is just another one in a ridiculously long line of ho-hum superhero movies that Hollywood has churned out over the past decade.  Clearly, these things hit home with the fanboys — the most undiscerning mob on the planet.   They are the type of people who decide to love a movie before having seen it.  If it is a comic-book flick or a fantasy adventure, fanboys start posting how “kick-ass” it’s going to be within hours of a studio announcing the project.

“The Avengers” has all the requisite paint-by-numbers action sequences and witless one-liners.  It has more than enough explosions and CGI magic to get the target audience semi-erect.  The bulging muscles and prominent cod-pieces also aid in breaking down the closet doors.  Most of the 7 to 23 year-old boys watching won’t even notice the token eye-candy provided by Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The plot centers around something called a tesseract.  Bad guys want it.  The team of superheros need to save the world.  Yada, yada, yada.  Who cares?  It is all just an excuse for one animated set piece after another, with decent actors picking up paychecks and spouting poorly written exposition.  Nothing about this movie even remotely approaches wit or intelligence.

Defenders of films like this often throw out lines like,  “It’s only light popcorn entertainment” or  “You need to turn your brain off and enjoy it”.  Well, quite frankly, I like my brain.  I hate turning it off.  I would rather find a film that can entertain me with my brain fully switched on.

Of the myriad superhero movies made since the 1970′s, only a handful have been any good.  None of them have been great.  I am not among the fawning legion.  There are far too many great films out there to seek out for me to waste my time on trash like this.  I can’t even use the “never going to get those two hours of my life back” line, BECAUSE IT IS TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG!!!  Nothing in this slight and insignificant genre should ever break the 90-minute mark.  However, Hollywood will keep making them because they have a captive loyal audience who don’t know any better and are incapable of venturing outside of the familiar.  “The Avengers” sucks.  Fanboys urgently need pussy.  And I am proud to stand with the 97% “minority” who couldn’t give a flying fuck if we ever saw another superhero movie again.

Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to wade in my snobbery by watching one of those movies where they speak foreign and you gotta read and stuff.

HALF A STAR The Avengers Review

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“The Internship” Trailer

February 14, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

Any film with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson is going to have its fair share of laughs.  I loved “The Wedding Crashers” — probably one of the 10 funniest films of the past decade.  I hope the same is true of “The Internship”, but I fear the worst.  This trailer makes it seem more like one giant Google product placement.  And if these are some of the highlights, then the lowlights are going to suck ass.  Nevertheless, I will give it a shot and hope it saved all the good parts for later.

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“Lore” Review

February 14, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The film begins just as WWII is ending, a few days after Hitler’s death.  Lore’s parents are nazis and will soon be arrested, possibly executed by the allied forces.  Her father burns any evidence at their home and flees without a goodbye.  Her mother leaves to join her husband the next day, abandoning the teenager to fend for herself and her four younger siblings.  She has a pre-teen sister, two young brothers and an infant boy to care for.  She is left a small amount of money and the mother’s jewelry as a means of surviving a long journey to her Grandmother’s house on the other side of Germany.

“Lore” is a beautifully shot movie.  It is ethereal in the way it manages to capture such a dreadful circumstance with graceful and elegant cinematography.  It is a lovely work of art.  The story is inherently engaging and dramatic as we follow this family of five across the Springtime landscape in search of safety.  However, the main focus in on Lore herself.  Her burgeoning sexuality and the conflicting emotions about her parent’s beliefs and actions are at the forefront of this oftentimes mesmerizing film.  She is faced with moral and sexual confusion when a young jewish man helps them on their journey.

I have to say that the film tends to wallow in bleakness a little too much.  Director, Cate Shortland, regularly neglects to advance the story or the characters in favor of another Terrence Malick-like shot of nature and beauty set against the familiar refrain of strings heard throughout.  I am not sure the film earns that liberty.

However, the star here is Saskia Rosendahl.  It is quite amazing how often a first time actor/actress can deliver a stunning performance. She creates an intense, nuanced and conflicted character that won’t soon be forgotten.  Should she choose to do so, I have no doubt that she will be a fine actress for years to come.

“Lore” is a very good film, but it is so bleak and unforgiving that many will find it hard to watch.  I can’t envision ever wanting to see it again.  Nevertheless, I admire and appreciate the effort, and I am sure that it is one of those films that will stay lodged in my memory for a long time.


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“Hours” Trailer

February 12, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

This looks like it could be an intense thriller.  Paul Walker doesn’t have the best track record, but he looks very capable in this trailer.  I am very much looking forward to it.

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