237 posts tagged Movie Reviews
Monsieur Lazhar - directed by Philippe Falardeau. Starring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron.
A moving tale about grief, political correctness and education, Monsieur Lazhar is an evocative film that tackles an array of serious topics but never in a way that comes off as pedantic. In fact, the film addresses issues like immigration, politics and etiquette in such a subtle yet effective manner, it’s almost like cinematic jujitsu. Director Philippe Falardeau skillfully weaves through so many themes that are traditionally heavy but are somehow a lot more palatable when their interconnectedness is explored. Many stories have been told about the relationships between students and teachers, but Monsieur Lazhar offers a new and interesting take on what kind of relationship that can be. The film follows Bachar Lazhar, an immigrant from Algeria who finds work as a substitute teacher at a middle school in the predominantly French-speaking Montreal, Quebec. He enters the school during a tumultuous time, however, as a disturbing incident has just occurred and both faculty and students are on edge. Lazhar’s back story puts him in a unique position to relate to the school’s situation, and his story is about connecting (some may even say reconnecting) with people - from the new culture he finds himself in, to the fragility of the student population and anxiety of the school’s faculty.
KILLER JOE (2012)
Dim-witted Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes a lot of people in Dallas some money. He comes up with the harebrained idea of having his mother killed so he can profit from the life insurance policy. He enlists the services of a contract killer slash cop, dubbed Killer Joe (played by Matthew McConaughey), and along with Chris’s father (Thomas Haden Church), stepmother (Gina Gershon) and little sister Dottie (Juno Temple), they all conspire to execute this nefarious scheme. But as expected with ridiculous stories like these, things don’t exactly go according to plan. Written by Tracy Letts and directed by The Exorcist’s William Friedkin, Killer Joe is a dark dramedy that follows the trailer park bunch as they get themselves in way over their heads with the wrong crowd.
First and foremost, Killer Joe is so poorly-written and performed right out of the gate. Tracy Letts’ screenplay has some potential, but the corny, contrived lines are so terribly crafted it’s incredible that this was greenlit at all. It’s as though Letts took a crash course in How to Talk Like a Hick and decided she knew enough to pen a script that would make these characters believable. The problem was that the dialogue sounded like it was written by someone who didn’t know much of what they were talking about, and the result was a air of incredulity that lingered throughout the entire film. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church in particular just seemed like they were playacting. Their recital of dialogue had absolutely no conviction, and as such despite the sheer ridiculousness of the entire situation, it was hard to laugh or invest anything in these characters’ actions because of how unconvincing the two were. Hirsch seemed almost unwilling or just unmotivated enough to get dirty. His character needed to ugly it up a bit, not only by being physically more gross, but by altering his diction to suit his character as well. It’s interesting to me that this was the case with Hirsch, because although Alpha Dog was set in a different subculture, he was able to immerse himself a little bit more in that role, which resulted in a much more convincing performance. Similarly, Haden Church just didn’t seem like he was into his character at all. It didn’t seem like he was even trying. At the end of day, both I felt were miscast in their respective roles, but probably could have done more had they been given better direction and better dialogue to work with.
McConaughey, Gershon and Temple were the only ones in the film who felt like they understood their characters and conveyed that on screen, although after a while Temple too started to come off as grating. McConaughey was convincing as the unflappable, steely-gazed Joe, although he too wasn’t exactly blessed with good lines. The film also had such an odd combination of moods, as though it didn’t quite know if it was funny, serious, suspenseful or satirical. I felt that the film would have done much better had it figured out exactly what it wanted to be. A far superior film that explores the same subject matter but consisted of much better writing and performances is Home Fries, which is pretty underrated despite its stellar cast and hilarious script. In comparison, I felt that Killer Joe was a film so obviously a film, made by people who don’t seem to know much about the characters they are trying to tell stories about, let alone the world these people are in. If the film was an attempt at making fun of the hick lifestyle, it wasn’t very humorous. It also wasn’t harsh or insightful enough to be a commentary on the subculture. Not only that, but the film was also emotionally barren. I felt nothing for these characters nor desired to know what would happen to them. Overall, Killer Joe joins Bachelorette and Hick as one of the worst films of the last year.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - directed by Alison Klayman. Starring Ai Weiwei, Danqing Chen, and Ying Gao.
There’s a quiet storm brewing in China, and Ai Weiwei is right in the thick of it. The activist artist has been causing quite the stir in China with his provocative work challenging the status quo that has had a stranglehold on Chinese freedom of expression for so long. Alison Klayman’s brilliant documentary explores the turbulent political conditions in China, focusing on the activities of Ai Weiwei as a representation of a society that feels like it’s on the brink of revolution but that is still struggling to make real change happen. Like Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” exhibit, where millions of tiny sunflower seeds are assembled in one vast room, his work is but a small part of a big tapestry that calls for freedom, fairness and transparency. It’s a call to arms that beckons people to wake up and recognize oppression, especially when it’s thinly veiled as harmony and community.
The documentary follows Ai Weiwei as he constructs his fearless art exhibits, wrangles with members of government police and on a seemingly regular basis, fights for his very existence and the right to express himself. For Ai Weiwei, communication is the essence of his being, and everything he is doing stands for something. The media-savvy revolutionary takes to Twitter, blogging and printed propaganda to rally the world towards a cause that little seem to care about. After all, China has been a dominant world power in the past decade, with its rapid rise to the top of the economic food chain. Weiwei’s art challenges that façade; he implores people to see past the smoke screen of China’s economic prosperity and asks the world to put the country on a microscope. For that, Weiwei has seen tremendous pushback from government authorities, putting his life in a constant state of peril.
But despite the shroud of uncertainty and what seems to be an air of perpetual hopelessness for freedom of expression and democracy in China, Weiwei remains optimistic for the future. He believes in the potential for media to usher in change, and he has faith that young people of the generations that follow will look at what he has started and build on it to create meaningful change for China. Klayman’s documentary is inspiring, but it never comes off as propagandist. Weiwei is a sympathetic figure, but his story is presented not in a way that seems like it’s being demagogued, but rather, through a bit of show and tell. Viewers decide for themselves what they find to be meaningful struggle, and at the end of the day, we are all reminded that even as we snuggle safely in our beds free from fear of being abducted while we slumber, there are people all around the world whose voices are always trying to be silenced. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an exploration of the power of art to be transformative and revolutionary, and whether it goes on to change lives and reform regimes is left up to the viewer to decide.
The Avengers - directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
The superhero franchise is alive and well thanks to Marvel and its ambitious undertaking of assembling six of the comic book universe’s larger-than-life heroes and putting them all in one fun, explosive and action-packed movie. With the help of guru of all things geek Joss Whedon, Marvel served up one of the biggest, most entertaining films of the year. Funny, dramatic, exciting and playful, it’s a testament to how big and bold films can be, especially when colorful characters like the Avengers are involved. With so many egos to balance, there needed to be a solid script and the right cast of characters to pull off a film on such a grand scale. Not only did the film need to introduce some new faces, but it also needed to develop the existing ones in new ways. And the film accomplishes that without ever belaboring the point.
The film features people clad in funny-looking costumes, but there’s never a time when audiences question that. We accept this as reality, because not only are the actors convincing, but the script seems grounded. This marriage of the extraordinary with the humanizing of superheroes results in a film that makes one feel like a kid again. We believe in these superheroes, but we also know that in many ways they are like us. The usually unflappable Tony Stark is revealed to have a heart, the boy scout Captain America is literally out of his element in this brave, new world he’s in, and Dr. Banner has to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much he tries to do normal things and help people, he’ll never really be average. How Whedon and company were able to convey these to audiences without dwelling too much on character development is quite a feat. But the best thing about The Avengers is that is makes you believe in heroes again. In a film industry saturated with superhero movies, it’s remarkable that Marvel and Whedon were able to craft just the right blend of genres to entertain even the haughtiest of movie critics.
Everything about The Avengers is big, big, big, and almost to a fault. A sequel would do well to focus on something a little bit more intimate, which will undoubtedly be more of a challenge. That said, it would have been easy to dismiss The Avengers as just another mindless superhero romp were it not for the incredible attention to detail and magnetic performances that shine in the film. There’s some very nuanced pieces in the film that would delight hardcore comic book fans without alienating those who aren’t as invested in the material. The witty banter between characters and elaborate action sequences cater to both fanboy whims and casual viewers, resulting in an endlessly entertaining film that never bores. The Avengers is an adrenaline-pumped action film that audiences are only too willing to go along for the ride because it’s just pure fun.
Holy Motors - written and directed by Leos Carax. Starring Denis Lavant, Edith Scob and Eva Mendes.
Holy Motors is a mesmerizing odyssey of disguise and performance, one minute strangely melancholy, the next bursting with movement and excitement. Leos Carax paints a world that is odd but deeply alluring, full of intrigue and mystery. It’s a story about the beauty of the act; a day in the life of an actor who has become a master of disguise, so much so that the lines begin to blur between what is real and what is imaginary. “Who are we, who were we, when we were who were back then?” Kylie Minogue’s character sings in a scene in a dilapidated building littered with mannequins and costumes, remnants of a time when it was apparent when something was an act. Now even the actors themselves don’t quite know how to function in the real world without giving a performance. Even audiences aren’t quite sure how to distinguish between what’s play or what’s real, begging the question: is an actor’s performance ever really over when the director yells “Cut!” and the camera turns off? After all, in this day and age, the cameras never really stop rolling, do they?
Denis Lavant’s Oscar plays the main focus of this frenetic piece, showing off his incredible chameleon-like talents as he morphs from one character to the next. A mysterious white limousine transports him from location to location for the various appointments he has throughout the day. As he roams the streets of Paris in a colorful array of different costumes, the only time audiences get a tiny glimpse of the man behind the mask is when he wearily collapses on the limousine seats. It’s absolutely entertaining watching Lavant transform from one disguise to the next, at one point dressed as a hunchbacked old beggar woman, the next as a tracksuit-clad, knife-wielding gangster. Although Oscar may seem weary of his work, with every character he is given he puts on quite the show. The film itself has a sense of humor about its own story, at one point making an American photographer exclaim “It’s so weird! It’s so weird!” multiple times, almost echoing what audiences are undoubtedly thinking.
There are hints of a larger entity at work: an agency that employs these actors for performances in real world settings, but it’s one that is never really explored in the film, cementing emphatically an air of off-kilter mystery. It’s uncomfortable and all over the place, but in a manner that always seems intentional, from its haunting score all the way down to the derisive humor apparent in one scene at a cemetery where the tombstones read: “Visit my website”. It’s a great homage to theater and film, while also a lament of the ever-changing times and media. It seems to be a celebration of the transformative power of cinema, and how it can sometimes feel all-consuming for those involved in its development, from actors to directors. There’s an element of science fiction weaved throughout the film, with engaging imagery that is reminiscent of a funhouse. Most of all, Holy Motors has an entrancing atmosphere that feels very old world while at the same time also strangely futuristic. Thought-provoking and creative, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is a surrealist tale that is an interesting combination of self-awareness and theatrical drama.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Holy drawn out and overindulgent Batman, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was all over the place and then some. That seems to be what most have come to expect from a Tarantino film, but it wasn’t always that way. Overindulgent doesn’t necessarily spell trouble for a film, especially when Tarantino is concerned. In fact, when done right, it can be wildly entertaining, as has been the case with most of the auteur’s earlier films, such as True Romance and Pulp Fiction. The over-the-top nature of those films seemed appropriate for the world the characters were in. In True Romance, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) gets entangled in the seedy criminal underbelly of Detroit when he meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette). So the shenanigans that follow make sense and feel genuine once those circumstances are taken into account. Unfortunately with Django, Tarantino was unable to strike the perfect balance between endlessly witty and trying too hard, instead meandering around the same tired jokes that resulted in a terribly contrived picture of the world he was trying to paint. He also failed to bring the unnecessarily drawn out story to a fulfilling climax, which was disappointing considering the film clocked in at a whopping 2 hours and 35 minutes. Not all was lost, however, since the ever charming Christoph Waltz managed to snap me out of my stupor during certain moments (which I can assure you, were very few and far between). His character, Dr. King Schultz, was a breath of fresh air amidst a hot mess of a film.
LES MISÉRABLES (2012)
It would be an understatement to say that attempting to adapt one of the most popular and longest running musicals of all time for the big screen is an incredibly daunting task, but Tom Hooper sure is the man for the job. The King’s Speech director approached the film adaptation of the much-loved musical in a way that married the best of what broadway has to offer with the magic and grandiosity of film. The power of theater is in its authenticity; with actors conveying emotions directly to an audience without the filters of editing and special effects that can sometimes distract from the genuineness of the material. The magic of cinema, on the other hand, is in its capacity to take something to an entirely new level in scale. Everything is bigger, bolder, and brighter, yet without entirely sacrificing the intimacy offered by broadway. With Les Mis, Hooper was able to offer audiences the best of both worlds, and he was extremely fortunate to be blessed with a marvelous and multitalented cast consisting of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, to name a few. Not only were these actors gifted with amazing voices, but their performances perfectly matched the evocative music and story.
JACK REACHER (2012)
Based on the book series by Lee Child, Jack Reacher is about an ex-military cop who emerges from a life of recluse when a shooting spree in broad daylight leaves five people murdered. Reacher’s unorthodox services are enlisted by a lawyer, played by Rosamund Pike, in order to get to the bottom of what turns out to be a bigger conspiracy than a random murder spree. Also starring Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog and Robert DuVall, the film is an awkward mix of mystery and action, with Reacher more of a rain man-type detective than a Jason Bourne. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, except when you know absolutely nothing about Child’s series and you base all of your expectations on the film’s trailer, you’re probably going to come away from the film disappointed. Despite my love of Tom Cruise, nothing could save Jack Reacher from a hopelessly mediocre script and painfully slow pacing, especially for something marketed as an action film.
It’s surprising that a film like this couldn’t have turned out better. After all, you’ve already got a big name like Tom Cruise attached to the main character. The problem with Jack Reacher is that it doesn’t quite know how to match the title character’s extraordinary skills with a remotely challenging plot. Instead Reacher, with his no-nonsense, devil may care demeanor and a can of whoop-ass for a weapon of choice, spends the majority of the film running around looking for clues to a conspiracy that is neither masterful nor threatening. Even with Werner Herzog playing a fingerless villain (his back story is rather amusing) with a cold, dead eye, the film lacked a sense of urgency usually propelled by a mildly interesting antagonist. With too much talking and not much doing, Jack Reacher suffers from B movie sickness, where larger-than-life characters are dragged down by a plot the audience could care less about.
Tom Cruise actually did a good job with a character who wasn’t exactly meant for him, spouting off off-color jokes that we normally wouldn’t associate with the Maverick. But I couldn’t help but feel that Reacher was more suited for a Jeremy Renner-ish type actor; not a big name one who brings a lot of expectations along with him, but one who could pass for a ghost who could beat a man to a pulp in ten seconds flat. Believability contributed a little to why Reacher wasn’t successful. And it’s not that Tom Cruise hasn’t done enough action films to warrant a status of biggest badass in Hollywood; after all he’s proved many times with Top Gun and Mission: Impossible that he can carry an action drama type of film. It’s more to do with the type of character Jack Reacher is, and Cruise not fitting the persona of a rough-around-the-edges type of guy. Regardless of this, I thought Cruise did an okay job; Reacher’s problem had more to do with a very ho-hum storyline and dull supporting characters. There wasn’t enough action, and what little action was in the film was not choreographed very well. While Rosamund Pike also did a solid job, overall I felt the actors were too good for the story they ultimately set out to tell.
Again, it’s rather unfortunate that this wasn’t a better movie. Jack Reacher as a character is interesting, with his unique brand of vigilante justice. But the film suffered from an unbearably cheesy script and really terrible pacing, with some audience members nodding off in the middle of the film and then snorting themselves awake during the good parts (there weren’t very many, so some had a pretty good nap). When you have a puzzle to solve, audiences need to care about the various moving parts in the film so that they can marvel at whatever grand conspiracy one sets out to untangle. With Jack Reacher, it was difficult to really care about a story that didn’t feel urgent or weighty, and characters who never feel like they are really in any sort of mortal danger. If this is what director Christopher McQuarrie has to offer, a lukewarm, painfully dull story and unimpressive action scenes, I’m a little worried about Mission: Impossible 5, which he is slated to direct. At least this Tom Cruise fan still has the upcoming Oblivion to look forward to, and here’s hoping that one blows everyone away.
WARM BODIES (2013)
If the world ends right on schedule, what better film to ease your armageddon-dreading woes than one about finding love in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? If the undead can do it, we sure can! And that’s what Warm Bodies is all about - puppy love so strong it can kickstart the coldest, deadest of hearts. Based on a book of the same name written by Isaac Marion and directed by 50/50 filmmaker Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies stars Nicholas Hoult as R, a zombie teenager who meets the love of his life, Julie (played by Kristen Stewart doppelgänger Teresa Palmer), while attempting to devour her boyfriend. The pair strike up an unlikely romance while fleeing zombie hordes and “bonies”, a special breed of zombie that eats anything with a beating heart. Turns out having eaten people’s brains does not preclude one from being welcomed back into human society, so when R discovers that he becomes increasingly more human the more time he spends around Julie, the pair try to convince the rest of the human survivors that the cure for the zombie apocalypse is as simple as the pitter-patter of a heart.
While this film certainly doesn’t take zombies seriously (looking for 28 Days Later? You won’t find it here), it’s not as edgy as some might expect it to be. Some parts are funny, especially R’s self-aware musings, narrated in angsty glory by Hoult. Comedy staple Rob Corddry is also part of the film, with his character delivering some of the humor. Other parts are pretty mediocre, with no real danger to fear despite the bony menace that hunts R and Julie around. The film definitely comes off as a sanitized version of the dark humor that can sometimes be characteristic of horror parodies (like Shaun of the Dead and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but I can’t help but think it would have been better served had it been marketed towards adult audiences instead of the teenage crowd.
The film is essentially Zombieland-lite; a humorous take on the popularity of zombies with a bit of a romantic twist. It’s no surprise that many have drawn comparisons to Twilight; not only is the film made by the same production company behind the teen vampire series (Summit Entertainment), but its leading lady is the spitting image of Kristen Stewart. The resemblance was so uncanny, that at times I forgot that it was Palmer in front of me. After a while, however, one gets used to Palmer’s acting, and she appears to be a sunnier, more likable version of Stewart. Comparisons aside, Warm Bodies is a lot more clever than Twilight, with its tongue-in-cheek approach to zombie romance a welcome change.
While there were certainly some laughs, the rest of the film was largely uneventful, save for perhaps the gross negligence of one John Malkovich, who was also in the movie, albeit in a much more limited capacity than we’re used to seeing of him. Malkovich was severely underutilized in the film and I felt that there was some real potential to make him a much more interesting character, but this was ultimately squandered. Apart from a solid soundtrack (which was largely showcased in a series of hipster-inspired scenes), Warm Bodies doesn’t have too much to boast for, except perhaps the charm of its leading man. Hoult did a great job with his role, appearing both awkward and endearing at the same time. His character pretty much carried the entire movie.
Admittedly the film’s marketing is pretty clever, with a well done trailer and some witty posters. While it’s nothing groundbreaking in the zombie genre, it certainly doesn’t pretend to be, which is what makes it entertaining. Overall, not a film I’d probably pay to see in theaters, but something I’d wait for on DVD instead. Warm Bodies is a fun popcorn movie to see with your friends on a boring Saturday night, but while it does offer a few laughs, ultimately it’s just not exciting or different enough to be memorable.
Quite possibly one of the most obnoxious films of the year, if not ever, Bachelorette stars Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan as three friends who get invited to a mutual friend’s (Becky, played by Rebel Wilson) wedding, which goes horribly awry when in a drunken frenzy, the bride’s dress is ripped and a hellish night of trying to fix things ensues. Sounds like fun, right? It’s not. Bachelorette is a steaming pile of awful, which is surprising, considering the film’s cast has so many likable points between them that it should be damn near impossible to dislike anyone or anything in the film. However, despite the presence of comedy favorites like Confessions of a Shopaholic’s Isla Fisher, Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott, and the ever charming James Marsden, Bachelorette not only suffers from a mind-blowingly unfunny script but manages to make all these lovely people completely vapid and obnoxious.
Not only does nothing meaningful transpire in the film, no character arcs or moments of enlightenment dawn on any of the supposed protagonists, making it 90 minutes of girls calling each other bitches, whores and various other names. Neither of the male characters are any better, with Marsden’s character a walking encyclopedia of misogyny, and Adam Scott’s character, well, I don’t even know how to describe his character to be quite honest. There’s a way to develop a film around a character who is initially unlikable. Young Adult, for instance, is an example of such a film, with Charlize Theron’s character, Mavis, being a mean girl who never got over her teenage cattiness. The difference is that in Young Adult, Mavis’s blemishes are at once both endearing and embarrassing. Sadly, the same thing can’t be said of Bachelorette, where all of the characters are just so irritating, I’m shocked at how I managed to survive the whole film without pulling my hair out. Kirsten Dunst’s character is a type A control freak, Isla Fisher’s a type B hot mess who loves drugs, and Lizzy Caplan’s is a vulgar kleptomaniac. I’m all for antiheroines, but even these characters were hard to root for because their motivations were completely absent in the film. If that was the point of the movie, how insufferable characters can be, then a job well done on that end.
Story-wise, however, Bachelorette is certainly nothing new. It tried to be Bridesmaids and The Hangover at the same time, but failed in that no part of the script ever came off as funny. It was exhausting to watch the women squabble in every single scene. The problem with Bachelorette is that it’s not only pointless - the audience learns nothing new of the characters and they in turn don’t learn anything themselves - but it doesn’t quite know what it is. Is it a romantic comedy? If so, there was no romance or comedy to be had. There were no couples to root for and no mushy scenes to feel all warm and fuzzy about. Overall, Bachelorette is a complete waste of time and one of the worst films of the year.