You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2012.

117.  Waiting for Forever

An oddball romance with somewhat questionable morals.  Rachel Bilson plays a Hollywood starlet who comes back home to her parents (Blythe Danner and Richard Jenkins) after going through some tough times.  Tom Sturridge is our main character, though I’m not quite sure if I’d go so far as to say our hero.  He was childhood friends with Bilson and has been obsessed with her every since.  Like, stalker-level obsessed.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it is…um…not quite the direction I would have liked the film to go.

116.  Killer Elite

I’m still not quite sure how they made a movie about assassins starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, and Jason Statham (with Yvonne Strahovski for eye candy) so boring.  There are some cool kills and escapes, but not nearly enough action and way too much of people just yelling at each other.  And not a great use of the cast.  Strahovski clearly has the chopsto match these guys in physical combat, so it was a little disheartening to see her just shuffled along.

115.  The Robber

Copying from my film festival writeup:

Honestly, I didn’t even think the action scenes were all that great.  An interesting premise, to be sure, but it never gets beyond that.  As John pointed out, we never really get to know the main character’s motivations.  Which was a problem to me, since finding out why and how he became a world class marathoner and bank robber were the primary things I wanted to know as the film played on.  I’m not saying this needs a Michael Bay remake or anything, but I could see the film being a lot more successful when done by an American writer and director who could put in some more interesting heist scenes and trim out the German nihilism.

114.  Prom

There’s a pretty standard scene in high school movies, where the new kid in town is at the school for the first time and as he’s walking into the building, he notices all the various cliques in the school.  Which are denoted by groups of ten or so people standing close together and dressed nearly identically.  Prom assumes that people want to see an entire movie populated by these high school stereotypes.  As the box office or nearly any successful movie about high schoolers shows, that’s pretty clearly not true.  Aimee Teegarden is perhaps the lone bright spot in the film, but I’m not sure she can quite carry a movie as mediocre as this one.

113.  Larry Crowne

We’ve all agreed to forget this Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts movie ever existed, yes?  I saw the film in theaters with my grandmas, which probably is the optimal use of the movie.  In my notes I wrote: “Never commits to anything.”  Which I’m sure meant something at the time.  I think what past Jared meant is that the film starts down a few different paths, but never really follows anything to completion, so it feels like a draft of a film.  It is also a reminder that Gugu Mbatha-Raw is so much more than a totally awesome name.

112.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I wrote a whole long post on this one.  Which I titled “The Spy Who Bored Me”.

111.  Think of Me

Lauren Ambrose garnered a Spirit Awards nomination for her portrayal of a single mother in Las Vegas trying to provide for her kid.  I’m a big fan of hers, but Ambrose was absolutely deserving of the nomination here as someone at her wits end, increasingly backed into an unthinkable corner.  Dylan Baker also does a superb job in a supporting role as a creepy co-worker.  Because Dylan Baker is friggin’ creepy.  I thought the film did a good job not painting anything in extremes, so Ambrose is poor, but not destitute.

110.  Source Code

Duncan Jones and I clearly have some fundamental disconnect.  Because both this and Moon sounded like absolutely fantastic ideas for movies, and I found myself shaking my head in disappointment at both.  I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it is, but I think maybe I keep expecting Twilight Zone and getting, I dunno, Blade Runner instead.  Actually a better analogy is that, for me, Duncan Jones : sci-fi :: Michael Mann: action.

109.  Retreat

Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy are a married couple going through a rough patch staying at a cabin on an island a ferry-ride away from civilization.  Suddenly a severely injured Jamie Bell shows up claiming to be a member of the army and say that a deadly virus has started to spread and they need to hole up in the cabin and not let anyone in.  That’s something I’m going to watch regardless of box office or reviews.  I liked the power struggle between the three, but would have loved more of it.  The ending is a little bleak, but also someone how terribly satisfying, though it is hard to tell if the filmmakers just backed themselves into a corner or if there was a good way out.

108.  Tower Heist

The film that was supposed to herald the triumphant return of Eddie Murphy and had Brett Ratner set to produce the Oscars.  Such is Hollywood.  The immediately obvious comparison here are the Ocean’s movies.  An ensemble comedy caper succeeds when it has a cleverly-plotted heist, an ensemble where if everyone isn’t clearly defined they at least have clear roles in the crime, and ideally gives off the impression that the actors are having fun.  So, Ocean’s 11.  When the heist is poorly described or the cast becomes bloated for no reason (including a love interest that really should have just been cut from the movie), then the movie just isn’t really fun to watch (Ocean’s 12, 13, and this movie).

127.  One Day

Lone Scherfig’s follow up to An Education tells the story of two people (Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway) and where they are in their lives by checking in on them one day a year.  It is an intriguing device, and I wonder if it is used to better effect in the novel.  I did kinda like some of the points the movie made and Jim Sturgess as an over the top TV presenter.  But ultimately it isn’t quite dramatic and not really comedic, occupying that unfortunate middle space between the two.

126.  Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close’s passion project that sees her playing a woman pretending to be a man.  I think there could have been something interesting here, but the story, like Close’s performance, is very subtle.  Which makes the ending pretty jarring.  Janet McTeer was surprisingly not in the movie for very long, but the scene with her and Close running on the beach was quite good.  I also admired the decision to make Mia Wasikowska’s character so unlikable.

125.  Shame

The movie that proves arthouse snobs are as pervy as the rest of us.  There’s a scene relatively early on in the movie where Carey Mulligan sings “New York, New York” at a nightclub while Michael Fassbender and his co-worker (or maybe boss, I forget) look on.  The scene is interminable, it feels like she sings the song for ten minutes.  I think the scene is a pretty good litmus test of how you’ll like the movie.  But anyway, the movie has great actors, stylish visuals, and the thinnest of plots effectively being used to illustrate a sex addiction.  So I could see how people would like it.  And Michael Fassbender is pretty fantastic.

124.  Kung Fu Panda 2

Good thing John isn’t reading these, otherwise I get the feeling he’d yell at me.  I just don’t understand why people like these movies.  They aren’t particularly fun or funny, and really forgettable.

123.  The Darkest Hour

I loved the premise of practically invisible aliens invading Earth and wiping out the bulk of the populace almost immediately, told through the viewpoint of five foreigners in Russia desperately trying to search for any other survivors.  But goodness gracious did the writing and directing try to eliminate as much emotion as possible.  It is stupefying to watch no one care about anything.  Because blog fav Olivia Thirlby is awesome, you could see her rebelling a little, going out on her own to add some emotion which somehow survived to the final cut.  The rest of the cast (Emile Hirsch, Max Mingella, Joel Kinnaman, Rachael Taylor) is pretty talented but similarly underutilized.

122.  The Roommate

This movie is exactly what you would expect it to be.  If you are expecting a by-the-numbers thriller.  Major props to whoever was in charge of casting for realizing that Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly do kinda look similar and for getting Aly Michalka and Nina Dobrev in the movie too.

121.  The Lincoln Lawyer

This Matthew McConaughey-starrer had a surprisingly favorable reception.  I’m not seeing it, but I tend to have pretty high standards when it comes to things resembling mysteries.  To me, the plot was half baked and reminiscent of every mystery-type show on TV.  I know they are developing this for TV, but it is hard to get excited when none of the characters are particularly memorable, even when inhabited by great actors.  Including Ryan Phillippe back to the sleazy rich guy type he’s so good at.

120.  The Green Lantern

What I most remember from this film is afterward, walking from the theater to Crumbs with Adam, spending the entire journey discussing everything that was logically and fundamentally wrong with the movie.  Delicious cupcakes, though.

119.  Romantics Anonymous

I’m sorry, something has to go terribly wrong for a movie about two painfully shy chocolatiers not to make my top ten.  The French film fall into that Gallic category of movies that are ostensibly romcoms but which I don’t think really contain much humor at all.  Which is unfortunate, because it is a pretty great premise, and there are a number of potentially amusing situations the characters find themselves in.

118.  Something Borrowed

I was perhaps unreasonably excited for this romantic comedy from the director of The Girl Next Door starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, and John Krasinski.  To its credit, the film was very mature about a few points.  In most romantic comedies with a triangle, one person is clearly the “bad guy” and when the good pair finally hooks up, all is right and harmonious with the world.  In this movie, the good pair (Goodwin and Egglesfield) hook up midway through the film, but things aren’t instantly OK.  Even if two people are meant to be together, there are serious ramifications for one of the pair cheating on his soon-to-be wife to do so, along with lots of attendant guilt.  The problem is that you can’t address these messy situations and then superficially dismiss them.  It isn’t fair to talk about cheating and what true love means, only to have Kate Hudson (intriguingly playing against type) be so easy to hate and secretly have been cheating the whole time.  That’s lame romcom deus ex machina.  It also isn’t fair to have a movie about true love and longing only to have Krasinski declare his love for someone and then just decide, well, guess that subplot is done.  I still remain ever devoted to Goodwin, and casting Steve Howey and Ashley Williams in supporting roles is always a good call.

137.  Outrage

Copying from my film festival writeup:

Anyway, Outrage is a Yakuza movie about warring families/clans (apologies if nomenclature is incorrect) who operate within a larger group of clans.  About a half hour into the film, it becomes clear that the movie is really about who is going to kill who, and how twisted the death scene will be.

My fundamental problem with the film, and I’m not entirely certain to what extent it is a cultural thing, is that it felt like so much of the movie dealt with the bureaucracy of the Yakuza.  The guy at the top would order a kill, or imply that he wanted a kill.  His second in command would relay that order to the appropriate head of family, sometimes changing it slightly.  The head would pass on the order to his second in command, or perhaps ignore it.  The second in command passed it on to his henchmen, sometimes, who would execute the kill.  And then the information would go back up the chain a similar way.  Rinse and repeat.  Like the bloodiest game of telephone ever.

The other problem is that we don’t really get to know the characters.  And few of them have any sort of distinguishing characteristic.  So it is hard to care too much when they get offed.

Some of the kills were cool.  But I wouldn’t recommend to see the film just on that basis, there are plenty of movies with better death scenes, I think.   It isn’t a bad film, though, and if you are a mob movie fanatic or completist, it is probably worth your while.

136.  Heartbeats

This film won an award at Cannes and cemented writer/director/actor Xavier Dolan as something of an indie darling.  I was confused to see it was nominated for a Cesar for Best Foreign Film, since the movie is in French, but then I remembered they speak French in Canada too.  The movie is about two close friends, a girl and a gay guy who both become infatuated with the same guy.  The film had some interesting points to make, I think.  Unfortunately, it made those points 20 minutes in, and so we got to see the same situation play out for another hour.  I do see why others liked it so much, though, there’s a lot of style to make up for the lack of substance.

135.  The Three Musketeers

Adam is going to be upset with me for not having this movie closer to the bottom of my list.  Make no mistake, The Three Musketeers is a terrible movie.  And it bastardizes the source material something fierce.  For example, you’d think that swordfighting would be an integral aspect of any musketeer movie, right?  Well, this one goes out of its way to throw in scenes of the musketeers using any number of different weapons, so it feels like 45 minutes until we get to a swordfight.  But that’s OK, the swordfighting choreography  is horribly uninspired.  Granted, the movie does take a bunch of key plot points from the book.  And then you get to the zeppelin fight.  Anyway, the writing is bad, with no clear direction other than maybe petulance from having to adapt the novel rather than creating something original.  Some of the casting is fun, like Christoph Waltz as Richelieu, Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort, Juno Temple as the Queen, and surprisingly, Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham.  This is all prelude, though.  Because of our schedules and poor timing with Easter, for our annual Passover drunken movie watching, we ended up watching this movie on a weeknight after a class I was taking.  I plowed through a bottle of Manichewitz in about an hour.  So we are watching the film in a certain state, lamenting how crappy it was (Adam and I both love the book) when Adam says we could do better swordfights.  I laugh.  He leaves for a minutes and brings back down a big bag.  Out of which he pulls a couple swords, actual real swords, throws one at me and says, “En garde.”  At which point we swordfight for ten minutes with the movie in the background.  And that’s why I gave the movie a little bump.

134.  The Conspirator

The Robert Redford movie about the conspiracy to assassinate Racing President Abe Lincoln and the ensuing trial of Mary Surratt.  I won’t bother listing all the actors out, but the cast is top notch.  Didn’t really have much to do, other than stand around in mid-19th century garb, but hey, they can say they worked with Redford.  There was a surprising lack of story and some themes were repeated over and over.  It seems like there should be an interesting story in here, but maybe only from someone willing to take more liberties with history.

133.  30 Minutes or Less

As you might recall from my blurb on Your Highness, Danny McBride is the worst.  Ugh.  This film’s problems extended beyond him, though.  I find Aziz Ansari pretty funny, I like his most recent album a lot, but I have absolutely no idea why he was cast in this movie or why he accepted the role.  The biggest problem, though, is that the film couldn’t really decided what it wanted to be, a send up of action films or an actual film, and so spent most of the time nervously toeing the line of both.

132.  The Sitter

So I had plans to see My Week with Marilyn, but when I got to E St, a fire alarm had gone off earlier, which screwed with the schedule, and so the theater wasn’t showing any more movies that night.  Desperate for a movie, my friend and I walked to Gallery Place, where we eventually landed on this.  There were a few laughs in there, and I’m an Ari Graynor fan, but the script felt like a hatchet job.  Not just because of Graynor, but Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes to mind when thinking about one crazy night movies, and I think the comparison shows how The Sitter failed not just with jokes, but with building an interesting story around them.

131.  Hello Lonesome

This Spirit Awards nominees features three stories: a guy and a girl fall in love, but the girl has cancer; a voiceover guy doesn’t have any friends or family; a 30-something guy starts spending lots of time with his elderly female neighbor.  None of the stories overlap at all.  I guess there’s a common theme of human interaction, but that’s pretty weak, in my opinion.  But Sabrina Lloyd is the girl with cancer, so yay for that.  Lloyd, not the cancer.

130.  Weekend

If you follow indie movies, you’ve likely heard about Weekend, for everyone else, it is a drama about two gay British guys who hook up for the weekend.  I’ve thought a lot about why I didn’t like this film, because it is generally well-regarded and I’d rather it not just be because the movie is about two gay guys.  I think where I’ve landed is that the gay thing is probably something of a factor, both because it is harder to relate to what it must be like to be gay and because, everything else equal, if I’m going to watch two attractive people getting it on for what seemed like the bulk of the movie, I’d rather at least one be a female.  So part of it is on my end.  But I think the larger point is that, to me, it falls in the category of indie films where people just talk about life and nothing really happens.  And I’ve pretty consistently not enjoyed those.

129.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Cards on the table: I read the first Harry Potter book and didn’t like it.  And this is the first Harry Potter movie I’ve seen.  Clearly not for me, so let’s just move on.

128.  The Devil’s Double

Dominic Cooper does a fine job as Uday Hussein and his double in this film based on a true story.  But here is a description of every scene in the movie: Uday does something horrible because he is a horrible person.  The double is like, “Wow, Uday is a horrible person.”  I just saved you a lot of time.  Though I guess you’d miss a heck of a showcase for Cooper.

147.  Swinging with the Finkels

Won’t somebody please put Mandy Moore in a good movie?!  For me, this was When Harry Met Sally meets Humpday.  Moore and Martin Freeman (who is also great) are a married couple who have lost their spark, so they decide to give swinging a try.  The film’s only funny scene involves Moore and Freeman interviewing potential couples though tonally it is completely different from the rest of the movie.  There’s also a scene with Moore, a cucumber, and her grandparents that is exactly as uncomfortable as it sounds.

146.  Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Dylan Dog

I have a mild obsession with Brandon Routh and his complete inability to emote.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has noticed this, and yet he keeps getting cast in roles where, eventually, he has to show some sort of emotion.  And always with hilarious results.  But that can’t sustain my interest over the course of a whole movie, unfortunately.  The film had some interesting horror/comedy aspects, but mostly was supernatural mumbo jumbo that wasn’t terribly interesting.  Poor Taye Diggs, something went really wrong for him to be taking supporting roles in a clunker like this.

145.  Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

Two relevant pieces of information here.  I have trouble appreciating documentaries.  Haven’t quite figured out why, I think it has something to do with me being so willing to suspend disbelief for films that maybe the opposite is true for documentaries.  And my dad is a huge Phil Ochs fan, so I was fairly familiar with Ochs’s story and music.  And, I should clarify, I’m also a fan.  His lyrics are witty, of course, but the music is disarmingly catchy.  And “Changes” is one of the prettiest songs ever recorded.  Anyway, I didn’t think the film did a good job telling a cohesive story.  If anything, I came away more confused as to what, exactly was Phil Ochs’s place in the folk scene.  The talking heads often seemed more interested in reminiscing about how great the time was and less about Ochs specifically.

144.  Rampart

Oren Moverman’s followup to The Messenger generated some Oscar buzz, but ultimately fell short, settling for a Spirit Awards nomination for lead actor Woody Harrelson.  Who is great, of course.  And his character is kinda interesting.  But the film seems like it is going more for shock than substance, from the nearly recognizable Ben Foster in a wheelchair to whatever the domestic situation was with Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche to Harrelson’s character’s nickname (Date Rape Dave).  Not to mention stunt casting Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, and Robin Wright in glorified cameos.

143.  Hobo with a Shotgun

Watched this with Adam.  I’m reasonably certain alcohol was involved.  In some sense the movie delivered exactly what it promised: Rutger Hauer plays a hobo.  With a shotgun.  So maybe my expectations were too high.  Or maybe the filmmakers focused too much on the premise and ensuing ridiculousness (this is a messed up movie) and not enough on coming up with an actual story to last the whole movie.

142.  Texas Killing Fields

One of the hundreds of movies released in 2011 that featured Jessica Chastain.  To me, this was a police procedural (not a compliment) with seemingly arbitrary pieces missing.  The comparison is unfair because I knew heading in that the movie was directed by Ami Mann, Michael’s daughter (though both are unrelated to Aimee Mann), but like father like daughter.  I don’t know what is with the Mann family that they feel compelled to make interesting premises as boring as possible.  A stellar cast, though, with Chastain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Grace Moretz, and Sam Worthington.

141.  A Dangerous Method

The film enjoyed Oscar buzz pre-release, but ultimately settled for a single Golden Globe nomination for Viggo Mortensen.  Whose facial hair certainly deserved awards consideration.  The cast, which also includes Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and Vincent Cassel is top notch, the script just can’t pass muster.  Unless nonstop psychological mumbo-jumbo punctuated only by someone spanking Knightley is your thing.

140.  Anonymous

Roland Emmerich is way better when he gets to destroy the world.  Here, he treats the theory that Edward De Vere actually wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare in his typical grandiose manner.  But the story is much more intimate.  Rhys Ifans, playing De Vere gets that.  Shakespeare’s works may have shaped the course of the English language, not being able to take credit for them isn’t the kind of thing that affects the fate of nations.  But it is a terrible price to pay for De Vere, and Ifans is great fun to watch as he sees his works go over so huge but can’t tell anyone about it.

139.  What’s Your Number?

The premise is everything that’s wrong about romcoms: Anna Faris reads some article in a magazine about how women aren’t supposed to sleep with more than 20 guys (or whatever), which happens to be the same number she’s hit, so she starts looking up old boyfriends to see if one of them is actually the one.  Meanwhile, her attractive, unattached neighbor who is totally wrong and yet totally right for her (Chris Evans) helps her on her quest.  To the movie’s credit, it tries to get away from that premise as much as possible, but it really shouldn’t be framing the movie at all.  It has a few funny scenes, like Anna Faris’s slipping British accent as she re-connects with Martin Freeman and little kids cursing, and a great supporting cast, but ultimately it isn’t enough.

138.  Season of the Witch

So when Ian and I were doing our baseball road trip through the Rust Belt, we found a local video rental store that proudly proclaimed on its sign outside: “We have Season of the Witch”.  So I had to watch.  It didn’t hurt that the movie stars Nicholas Cage, of course.  The first two acts aren’t terrible.  Cage and Ron Perlman are two knights in the Middle Ages who end up transporting an accused witch to some far away place.  The first part is mostly mind games, you know, is the girl actually a witch, is she screwing with the minds of the people in the traveling party, that sort of thing.  The last act of the movie, though, is just nuts.  I found it jarring and unnecessary, but I can see how they thought there’d be no way to sell the movie if that bit (which does have more action) didn’t make the final cut.

157. Conan the Barbarian

Like any right-thinking human being, I’m a fan of the original Conan the Barbarian.  And I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that remakes are inherently bad, so I was looking forward to this one.  And I think I may have put it in my predicted top 20 summer box office list.  Whoops!  In retrospect, maybe we should have seen this coming.  The original is fun in large part due to its campiness, which is really difficult to duplicate, so instead this version took itself super seriously, with self-evident results.  As an aside, the reported budget for this film was $90 million dollars.  Two comments there.  First, the movie does not look like $90 million went into it.  Second, a movie about a barbarian probably could have figured out a way to have been done a little more frugally.

156.  Hugo

I honestly cannot understand what anyone sees in Hugo.   The script is populated by terribly uninteresting characters, almost none of whom have any discernible arc, and filled with unmemorable dialogue.  Not to mention the entirely superfluous ode to Georges Melies.  Hey, I love film and I’m all for celebrating its heritage.  But tacking on a half hour subplot to end the movie because the characters weren’t doing anything anyway?  That’s inexcusable.

155.  Your Highness

Danny McBride is the worst.  I cannot stand the guy as an actor.  As co-writer and co-star here, he makes a fantastic premise: medieval adventure comedy and an absurdly stellar cast: Zooey Deschanel, James Franco as the dashing hero, Justin Theroux as the archvillain,  Natalie Portman as a warrior (this is the film with her infamous thong shot), and Damian Lewis as a bad guy, and noted indie/Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green, just miss completely.  Unfunny and poorly plotted, the movie is a waste of everything.

154.  The Bang Bang Club

I fell asleep during two separate attempts to watch this film about a group of professional photographers in South Africa capturing the country as apartheid drew to a close.  I think Ryan Phillippe was a little miscast as the lead here.  I mean, it is based on real life events, maybe he did a good job capturing the guy, but to me, Phillippe always seems just a little bit sinister and douchey, and I think he’s a much better fit as a bad guy.  Malin Akerman and Taylor Kitsch are both not nearly in the movie enough.

153.  The Iron Lady

I’m not expert on British history, and I don’t even play one on TV.  But my understanding is that during the decade she served as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher did stuff.  Probably stuff that, I don’t know, significantly affected England and maybe even the world.  Screenwriter Abi Morgan decided the most interesting and relevant part of Thatcher’s life is as an elderly woman apparently battling dementia.  Which is a choice seemingly meant to give Streep the Oscar and bore everyone else out of their minds.

152. Love, Wedding, Marriage

Mandy Moore plays a newly married marriage counselor who finds out that her parents (James Brolin and Jane Seymour) are planning on getting a divorce.  It’s a shame the script is so amateurish because the cast is a lot of fun.  I’m a huge Mandy Moore fan, and I think the first network that can pair her with a halfway decent writing staff is going to have a hit on their hands.  Brolin goes all out as his character rediscovers his Jewish roots while trying to relieve his bachelor days.  And Seymour matches him step for step.  Plus there’s Christopher Lloyd in a bit part as a crazy marriage counselor and the extremely lovely Jessica Szohr as Moore’s sister.  Alyson Hannigan has a cameo, but that pales in comparison to the voice cameo by director Dermot Mulroney’s My Best Friend Wedding co-star, Julia Roberts.  I’m a little surprised the publicity staff couldn’t built more buzz around that.  Mulroney, incidentally, seems to have an unsurprisingly deft touch with romantic comedy conventions, and I’d be interested to see him tackle a better-written script.

151.  The Dynamiter

The Dynamiter was up for a couple of Spirit Awards: The Cassavetes award and Cinematography.  The film wasn’t included in the screeners sent out, and it is tough for us to get to New York or LA for the screening, so the filmmakers were kind enough to send us a copy.  Because I’m easily bought, I’m not going to say anything negative about the film.  It was a somewhat depressing look at growing up without parents, and I think the film conveyed that emotion very well.  And I liked the main actor, thought he did a good job.

150.  The Chateux Moreaux

Would you believe this is the second romantic comedy centered around a vineyard featuring Christopher Lloyd in a supporting role that made this post?  Madness.  Anyway, as long as people keep casting Marla Sokoloff as the lead in romcoms, I’m going to keep watching.  Which probably isn’t the most sane statement I’ve made in my life.  Not caring about wine probably didn’t help me like this movie, but based on everything else in the script, I’m guessing wine connoisseurs wouldn’t exactly say the film depicted anything close to reality.  Sokoloff inherits a failing vineyard that she has to turn around make profitble, Barry Watson is the love interest/winemaker/son of the bad guy (Christopher Lloyd), Amanda Righetti is the best friend and That Guy Taylor Negron shows up. The script is just unspeakably bad.  I don’t know if that’s on the screenwriters, people not telling the screenwriters the draft was crappy, the director going out on his own, or what.  But the continuity is poor, character motivations inconsistent and development nearly random.

149.  Cracks

This film from Ridley Scott’s kid stars Eva Green as a teacher in a 1930s English boarding school with Juno Temple as head girl in the class, along with Imogen Poots, among others.  I like those three actresses a lot, I just wish there was a better story to serve them.  There’s not really much that happens, save for a few audacious reveals near the end that the film seemingly spent forever building to.  It is a shame, because it felt like there was an interesting story there, with the teacher whose stories of faraway travel hide a weakness and the impact a new girl has on a tightly-formed clique.

148.  Terri

Garnered a Spirit Award nomination for First Screenplay, though it certainly wouldn’t have if I were on the committee.  It is too simple to say this film about an overweight, struggling high schooler (Jacob Wysocki) who lives with an uncle (Creed Bratton!) flickering in and out of mental clarity and a guidance counselor (John C. Reilly) trying to get him down a better path is the shoegazing answer to Precious, but, I mean, you can’t just pretend the similarities aren’t there.  The movie felt too slight to me and while I don’t need a film to have complete closure, necessarily, I prefer feeling like a complete story was told, which I’m not sure was the case here.

I’ve still got something ridiculous like 45 more movies released in 2011 in my Netflix queue, but I’ve got to draw the line at some point, and five months into 2012 seems like maybe a good place.  Let’s get this party started.

167.  The Tree of Life

Roger Ebert recently named this film (with a few caveats) as one of the ten greatest films of all time.  So…your mileage may vary.  The thing is, maybe it is high art, meant to be screened on loop in some sort of exhibition hall next to a framed urinal or whatever.  I don’t get art, and I acknowledge that’s my failing as a human being.  But while it is hard to argue The Tree of Life isn’t a movie, in the sense that it is very clearly a series of moving pictures, it isn’t a movie.  According to imdb trivia, there was a movie theater that mixed up the order of the first and second reels of the film and no one realized the error for an entire week.  Which I think speaks to the film’s lack of a coherent structure.  I refuse to believe that a series of abstract images and scenes translates to any sort of meaning other than what you impart onto the film because you want it to be there.  A film can’t be good if you could fall asleep during any point for any length and when you asked what you’d missed, the only accurate response is “nothing.”  Another reason a film can’t be good is if Sean friggin’ Penn is one of your main characters and he has no idea what the heck he’s doing in the movie and thinks it is crappy.

166. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

See, I can hate arthouse and big budget equally!  The Pirates movies bore me terribly.  I suppose it didn’t help that I shlepped out to Tysons so we could see it on an IMAX screen and that the movie ticket cost $20 and that we sat in the first row.  But really, I just don’t understand what this franchise has become.  Maybe it is just too much fantasy for me.  Or maybe that the script, at this point, reads: “Johnny Depp frolicks around.  [insert special effects]   The End.”

165. Hall Pass

I think this dud from the Farrelly brothers about a couple of friends who get a titular “Hall Pass” from their wives to sleep around has gotten derided as being misogynistic.  Which is a completely unfair criticism.  Because this movie doesn’t just hate women, it hates everybody.  It hates life and wants to make you as miserable as it is.  All the characters in the film are atrocious examples of human beings who you don’t want to root for so much as slap in the face repeatedly.  On the positive side of things, Richard Jenkins is great in a glorified cameo (but still a horrific human being), some of the movie uses Cape Cod league baseball as a backdrop, and the film uses the song “Tighten Up”, or so my notes claim.

164.  Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight is known for two reasons: it is where now-husband and wife Chris Pratt and Anna Faris first met, and it was shelved for something like three years (if you believe star Topher Grace it was due to a battle over the depiction of drug use in the film).  Please don’t ever give yourself a third reason by watching this 80s-set turkey.  The premise, one night in the life of a slacker (Grace) working in a video store in his hometown after graduation trying to get the girl of his high school dreams (Teresa Palmer), culminating in a blowout house party, and again, all taking part in the 80s, sounds fantastic.  So it is difficult for me to express how boring and unfunny this movie is.  You watch Parks and Rec, right?  Imagine a movie so poorly constructed that Chris Pratt is playing a straight man whose sole purpose is to rain on Anna Faris’s dreams.  And where he doesn’t get to be Bert Macklin even once.

163.  The Off Hours

A Spirit Awards special.  It was nominated for Cinematography, and as we discussed in our chat, we have absolutely no idea why.  Maybe the nominating committee was impressed that whoever lensed the film didn’t shoot himself trying to figure out how to make a movie where nothing happens look somewhat interesting.  Normally for a poorly thought-out movie like this one, I’ll say it felt like a TV pilot because it sets up some possibly interesting characters that you could see getting into hijinks that are apparently outside the purview of the movie.  But this movie is like a sketch of a TV pilot.  To the film’s credit, it did possibly spawn the line of the year, where, out of nowhere, one character says another character suffers from “cuntitis”.

162.  Wrecked

In this one, Adrien Brody wakes up in a crashed car in the woods with no memory of who he is or how he got there, and the film is about him getting his memory back while he figures out how to escape/survive.  Or, at least, I think so.  At some point, you fall asleep enough times watching the director do nothing but let Brody emote for fifteen straight minutes that you stop caring about the movie.  I love this sort of premise, but the film seems to exist entirely to let Brody fill out his demo reel.  It gets some points for having Caroline Dhavernas, but loses those points right back for not having her in the movie enough.

161.  Bloodworth

Bloodworth was written by character actor W. Earl Brown, adapting from a novel by the recently departed William Gay, so I’m not quite sure who to blame, I hope not Brown, who I’ve liked in other things.  Kris Kristofferson stars as a grizzled man in the general vicinity of death who has come back to the family he walked out on decades ago: his wife (Frances Conroy), three sons (Val Kilmer, Dwight Yoakam, and Brown), and the grandson (Reece Thompson) who hasn’t had a chance to become bitter like the older generation.  And Hilary Duff is in there as Thompson’s love interest.  My problem with the film is that we were never really introduced to the characters, it felt like we were supposed to have gone into the film knowing and caring about them.  Which I didn’t.  Fun cast, though.

160.  Cedar Rapids

Apparently this film was supposed to be funny?  I must have seen the edit without the jokes or something because the only funny bit was Isiah Whitlock, Jr. quoting The Wire in an extremely white boy manner.  Otherwise, yeesh, everything fell flat.  Which is  a shame, because the cast was a lot of fun and featured a lot of funny people.   Maybe Ed Helms wasn’t meant to be a lead?  Anne Heche, nearly unrecognizable, stood out as one of the few interesting bits.  Along with Alia Shawkat at the hooker with a heart of gold.  I was very disappointed with the Spirit Awards for tossing a screenplay nomination this way.

159.  Home for Christmas

I’ll reprint my thoughts from my Film Fest DC roundup:

OK.  When you hear something is like Love Actually, what do you think?  Probably something along the lines of a light, breezy, fun movie with a bunch of interconnected scenes.  Right?  I think that’s fair.  OK.  The very first scene of Home for Christmas ends with a child in the crosshairs of a sniper.  In any case, I disagree pretty strongly with John, here.  I didn’t think the film did a good job at all of eliciting emotions.  And when it did, it used rather cheap ploys.  It it a dark, dismal, drab tale.  Which can be fine, but this film never got past the surface of anything.   Two things I think Love Actually does well is tie the storylines together enough that it makes sense all the different threads were part of the same movie, and make each thread self-sufficient and interesting enough that it could stand on its own.  This movie does neither.  None of the stories go anywhere and they certainly don’t end up together.

158.  Monogamy

We actually received a screener for this film two years ago for the Spirit Awards, but I think it came late and it didn’t help fill out categories, so I didn’t get around to it until 2011, and given its release schedule, I’m counting it.  Chris Messina plays a photographer, because every third movie has to have a main character who it is a photographer.  He does the usual, boring wedding-type stuff, but also has this side business where people pay him to essentially stalk them talking people.  So, yeah.  He’s engaged to Rashida Jones but starts having doubt when he stalks this one lady who likes to masturbate in public.  Because that is totally a sentence that makes sense on any level.  From there, the movie increasingly spirals into inanity.

I just checked back through the archives, and apparently this recap will be the fifth year I’ve talked about the MTV Movie Awards.  Which means…something.  I think.  I keep coming back to them for two reasons: the solid slate of nominees and the show usually knows how to have some fun.  We’d already seen them deliver on the first part (just as an example, the best fight category featured the excellent parking garage fight from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the final fight from Warrior).  The show, however, fell a little flat.

Things got off to a decent start with fun. singing their hit “We Are Young”, which has a chorus meant for an arena.  Janelle Monae even came out to contribute her completely unnecessary bit to the song.  And you probably couldn’t have asked for a more perfect reaction shot, which featured a glowering Kristen Stewart in the vicinity of a pleased as punch Emma Watson.

The problems started as soon as Russell Brand took the stage, as he proved incapable of landing a joke.  I felt badly for the camera guy, who must have been desperately searching the crowd for someone halfway famous who wouldn’t be meeting one of Brand’s punchlines with silence.  I get that he had to run through the latest celebrity tabloid stuff, but celebrities be crazy just isn’t funny by itself.  It was kind of sad how he kept shouting out “Twilight!  Hunger Games!” just to elicit a response from the crowd.

The awards themselves weren’t terribly exciting as, yes, Twilight and Hunger games took down most everything, but the banter was downright atrocious.  The first award presentation had Mila Kunis calling Mother Teresa a dirtbag, and things just went downhill from there.  The show badly needed a dash of Bruce Vilanch.  There were a few notable presenters.  Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield came out in a cool Spiderman entrance (which ended up being repeated, with slight alteration a few more times over the course of the night for big budget movies), and then Stone quickly commanded the stage, talking, essentially, about how gangsta the breakthrough performers were.  She really is the queen of awards show banter.  Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth were also notable in that Hemsworth made Stewart smile.  Check that, he made her positively beam.  He was a revelation in Thor, but I’m beginning to wonder if it wasn’t really acting, if he is, in fact, some sort of Greek god.

They broke up the awards with a few different things.  The only bit was a video with Joel McHale as an archery instructor and featured Jennifer Lawrence and J.J. Abrams talking about him.  It wasn’t particularly funny save for one line near the end.  Charlie Sheen was forced to call Project X an instant cult classic, and from there introduced a party movie cult classic montage, which was a little weak but probably still would have made Brian happy.  And then Wiz Khalifa played, continuing the MTV Movie Awards’s token black person tradition.  Johnny Depp was presented the Generations award by Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, and then he jammed with the Black Keys for a song.  No, I don’t know why.  And, of course, Emma Stone was given the trailblazer award, an award they made up entirely for her.  Which I’m OK with.  There first was a video montage of some of her former co-stars pretending to say nice things about her.  The shtick had been done plenty of times before, and better.  Also needed Woody Harrelson.  Ms. Stone was awesome, integrating a Chris Farley living in a van down by the river joke into the speech.

I didn’t keep an official tally of reaction shots, but I noticed they went to Ellie Kemper a ton, along with Emma Watson, Paris Hilton, Josh Hutcherson, and Channing Tatum.

A few other notes: Martin Solveig DJed, and it was exactly how you’d expect it to be.  They got Jodie Foster to announce best movie, which was cool, but she seemed out of her element.  Russell Brand kept promoting Teen Mom after the show, except it was Teen Wolf that was airing.  It was hard to tell if that was a joke or if he was just confused.  Which may be a pretty apt description of Brand’s hosting job.  And finally, I”ll rep Brian here.  Watch Emma Watson bounding up to the stage and beaming as she accepted the best cast award was like walking into a room full of puppies.

The 2012 edition of Filmfest DC (aka the Washington DC International Film Festival) wrapped up well over a month ago and I’ve been slow as usual to get up my recaps. But I felt this was sort of an underwhelming festival so it was tougher to get myself moving. While there were few films that I actively disliked, most of the selections I saw were fine if not terribly memorable. I’m not even going to bother guessing which of my colleagues would love or hate a film the most.

I will use my usual method of dividing the films into art house and genre fare, but given this year’s theme of international comedies, my schedule leaned heavily towards the latter.

King Curling (Kong Curling), Norway, dir: Ole Endresen

My desire to see this film began and ended with the word “curling.” Genre, plot, pedigree: none of it matters because how often do you get to see a movie about The Roaring Game?

It turns out King of Curling is an average entry in the silly sports comedy genre with an extra quirky bent, like a Wes Anderson version of Dodgeball by way of Norway. In fact, I suspect director Ole Endresen has much of Anderson’s oeuvre in his DVD collection because there are a lot of similarities in style and theme.

The king of curling is Truls, a perfectionist skip of a championship-winning team. But his obsession with perfection drives him over the edge, landing him into a mental institution for a decade. Upon his release, his wife is given control over his life and he must stay away from the ice. But when he hears his mentor needs a life-saving surgery and the upcoming national curling championships has a winners’ pot of exactly the amount needed, Truls tries to get his team back together while not succumbing to his obsessions.

The curling takes a backseat to everything else in the film (and it doesn’t even bother getting the curling right). It’s really about intensely quirky characters in various stages of melancholy and midlife crises. Truls’s three teammates are now consumed with anger attributed to an inability to find a comfortable pillow, seeking rare birds, or hitting on anything that breathes. He escapes his disintegrating marriage on a motor scooter while wearing a bathrobe. And if all that isn’t enough, the shots and color palette are also Andersonian.

In the end it’s fairly forgettable, wrapped up in its quirks instead of finding true humor or making coherent points. I didn’t hate it or anything, but it didn’t do much for me and even at 75 minutes I couldn’t have seen it lasting even one more minute. C.

Headhunters (Hodejegerne), Norway, dir: Morten Tyldum

Here is a comedic thriller that manages to grow both progressively darker and zanier. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter in Oslo who also happens to be an art thief, using his business contacts as marks. He partly does this to continue living beyond his means in a beautiful house with a wife that’s out of his league. When he chooses the wrong victim he has a new problem: finding himself being chased by an ex-special forces assassin.

Roger barely manages to survive several run-ins with the super assassin while simultaneously fleeing the police. Part of the charm of Headhunters is that these situations become more twisted, growing more dark and gruesome but also totally bonkers. As his pursuer follows him to a cabin in the woods you may begin to guess how Roger might get away but you will be quite wrong.

The plot’s twists and turns provide great entertainment and the various threads come together in a satisfying if somewhat pat manner. Headhunters opened in US theaters in April and is still in release. I give it a hearty recommendation: A-.

Robot & Frank, USA, dir: Jake Schreier

Sometimes films just can’t live up to their premises. Maybe some premises are just too hard to live up to? Robot & Frank imagines a near future where helper robots are common tools. Frank Langella’s Frank receives a robot from his son when he begins to show signs of dementia. He’s not fond of the imposition until he realizes the robot’s steady mechanics and emotionless logic would be helpful in his prior profession: burglary.

Unfortunately that’s about all there is to it. The film takes aim at a few points but mostly lands only glancing blows. There are potential points to be made about our relationship with technology and how it shifts our relationships with each other, or a broader look at aging and dependence. There’s a potentially poignant moment where Frank can erase the robot’s memory to cover his tracks after his crime but struggles. The robot has become his friend; can he do to the robot what dementia is doing to him? But it doesn’t make much of an impact.

Instead the film settles for cheap humor, a sweet old man with a new friend story, and a cliched look at the impact of dementia (which sure seems to only appear when the film finds it convenient). It’s harmless and pleasant enough, but I wish it gave more thought to what it was trying to do with its knock-out sci-fi concept. C+.

War of the Arrows (Choijongbyeonggi Hwal), South Korea, dir: Kim Han-min

As a child, Nam Yi promises his dying father he will protect his sister, Ja In. Years later, rampaging Manchus take her and much of their village captive and Nam Yi sets off to bring her home. That’s about it for the plot in this Korean historical epic. The story simply serves to move the action along to the next fight sequence.

And for the most part that’s fine. The archery battles are fun and provide something different from the usual sword fighting in these types of movies. There are some clever touches, like an arrow with a huge blunt head that can blast through obstacles like a mini cannonball. All the action sequences tend to blend together into a big blur and it is somewhat hard to care about most of the characters with such a thin plot. But the action is entertaining and the tone is light-hearted enough that I had a nice time. B-.

Eliminate: Archie Cookson, UK, dir: Rob Holder

One of my favorite aspects of In Bruges is the series of bizarre, fatalistic shootouts near the end. None of the antagonists really dislike each other but they are upholding their own version of a moral code. One characters feels it’s his duty to kill another; his target feels like it’s his duty to run, though he doesn’t really care that much. They take time outs to set ground rules based on what they know of the situation at the time: “I’ll escape from the back of the building and you run around and try to shoot me from there,” “For now I’ll just shoot your leg since it doesn’t do me any good to kill you now but I need to hurt you somehow.”

Eliminate: Archie Cookson stretches that idea over the entire movie. Archie is a former British spy with a career in decline. He works in a translation lab with a bottle of whiskey by his side and goes home to an empty apartment after his wife kicked him out. In his hands ends up a recording whose owners will stop at nothing to keep secret. Hence he becomes marked for death.

The hired assassin is an old friend of Archie’s. The guy massacres Archie’s office when looking for the tape but later meets Archie at a diner. They exchange pleasantries and reminisce over better times. It’s not a lamentful conversation but rather somewhat detached and fatalistic, like they both know what their roles are meant to be: killer and victim. The killer gives Archie a day to find and return the tapes in exchange for his family’s safety.

Archie tries to figure out how to save himself, which sets up a number of chatty shootouts and deadpan conversations. All told it’s an interesting idea to pair this sort of tone with a spy thriller. But it doesn’t entirely work as I don’t think there’s enough of interest happening on screen to make this type of humor pay off time and again across 80+ minutes. It’s also not very believable in the world it creates, that the two sides can lob witty barbs as they hunt each other while dozens of innocents are bloodily and casually dispatched for laughs.

The crowd in my theater laughed a good deal during the screening (and a good deal more than me) so it’s safe to say others may very well get a lot more out of it than I did. But it needed somewhat more polish to sustain its ideas to really please me. C.

Superlasico, Denmark, dir: Ole Christian Madsen

Superclasico made it to the final short-list of nine films in the running for a Foreign Language Oscar nomination and I have no idea how. It’s not that I didn’t like it – I found it perfectly pleasant – but I can’t imagine anyone feeling strongly about it. How did so many voters leave loving this Danish film about a man traveling to Argentina to win back his wife so much that it beat out dozens of other movies?

While in Buenos Aires, the hapless hero must contend with his wife’s new beau, a soccer superstar on the verge of a lucrative move to Europe. He wanders about the city being a general sad-sack and encountering zany characters, like a gruff wine producer and a sexually confident old maid. Meanwhile, the couple’s son runs off to rather creepily obsess over a girl and the wife tries to deal with the chaos her life has plunged into.

I enjoyed the film’s use of Buenos Aires, including a fun sequence where everyone gets lost in the Recoleta cemetery, echoing an experience of my own. It manages to be pleasant in an amusingly quirky way. But it seems to be trying to make some points about modern love that never entirely hit. B-.

Cousinhood (Primos), Spain, dir: Daniel Sánchez Arévalo

Buried somewhere in Cousinhood is a fantastic movie. Alas it has to settle for being merely very good. The film uses the now-common formula of making cogent points about modern life in the middle of profane humor and bromances. This story follows Julian, Diego, and Jose, three cousins who repair to the seaside town where they summered as kids after Julian is left at the alter. He experienced first love with Martina in that town and hopes he can rekindle something with her.

While he hopes to mend his broken heart by getting into Martina’s bed, Jose endeavors to manage his hypochondria on his own without his girlfriend and Diego tries to reconcile a local drunk with his prostitute daughter. All sorts of hijinks, witty banter, and dirty jokes ensue. Each of the plot threads evolve and conclude in satisfying, thoughtful ways without straying too far into patness.

Director Sánchez Arévalo was in attendance at this screening. The movie was an autobiographical and cathartic experience for him: a project for himself after getting dumped and harkening back to his own seaside summers. My impression is that he scribbled out a script and he and his friends headed for the coast. The script could have used a little more polish to hit home its punchlines and themes. It also suffers from basic structural deficiencies like a confused timeline that insists the film takes place over the course of a weekend, which seems impossible given the number of events, encounters, and – I think – days and nights depicted. And yet it still overwhelmingly succeeds and left me with only a small wistful thought of what it could have been and ranks as my favorite narrative film of the fest.

A US version would probably get pilloried by critics for its treatment of its women, and appropriately so. Julian and Jose’s girlfriends are harpies. Martina is some sort of surreally selfless and wise fantasy who puts up with Julian’s bullshit for some unknown reason with no apparent regard for her own desires. I guess even in Spain male filmmakers can devise their perfect women: super hot and caring only to make their men happy. But even though she’s a caricature, at least she’s the most positive and likeable character in the film. She isn’t real but the audience will love her. A-.

June 2012
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