It’s funny that with the amount of technology and information at our disposal, space remains a fairly unexplored and unknown entity to a majority of the human race. Sure, we know more about it now than we did fifty years ago, but considering that we’ve been putting people in spaceships for just that long, it’s still a pretty foreign concept, the idea of actually being in space. So, to experience the wonder of merely floating around thousands of miles above the face of the Earth, and then face the horror of potentially being lost in the vastness and darkness of space, all in the span of an hour and a half, at the hands of visionary director Alfonso Cuarón…I’d imagine to most it’s pretty incredible.
After being struck by debris from a Russian satellite during a spacewalk, two astronauts, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, find themselves stranded in nothingness, low on oxygen, without any help in sight as they struggle to survive against the dangers of space. It’s a fairly straightforward survival story, taking us through the motions and protocols of what to do in such a situation, but it’s the situation itself that makes Gravity so fascinating. Whereas the kinds of perils we’re used to seeing characters face usually come from weather, animals, or a number of other natural factors, here the problems they face come from a lack of anything. There’s nothing to hold on to, no one they can signal for help, and, really, nothing to stop them from spinning uncontrollably forever. As far as problem solving in life threatening situations go, this is a whole new ballpark, which makes it all the more tense and exciting.
Of course, the most unforgettable aspect of Gravity, as well as the most important reason that it should be seen on the biggest screen that you can find, is the view. In our lifetime, this is probably the closest most people will get to experience what it’s like to be in space. Floating around his subjects with several of his trademark uninterrupted long takes, Cuarón creates a feeling of weightlessness and authenticity that, when paired with flawless CGI, would make even the most cynical moviegoer believe that Gravity was actually filmed off-planet. There’s never a moment that feels like we’re watching actors in front of a green screen, and the story is surprisingly free of any easy solutions for Bullock, who manages to carry a majority of the movie on her own, creating a character who feels more fleshed out and relatable instead of just being a proxy for the writers to carry us through a series of cool shots and camera effects.
Unfortunately, while the experience of Gravity is undeniably effective, once the euphoria of being swept away by its stunning effects and intense action has faded, it seems as though it’s more of a singular, fleeting experience, really. Like an expertly created rollercoaster, Gravity is all about the moment, going through the motions with Bullock and hoping to get out alive. But once it’s over, that’s it. Sure, it’s nice to think back on it, and, of course, that’s what we paid for when we walked into the theater, but, aside from some near-death reflections by Bullock’s character, Gravity is pretty devoid of any kind of overall grand ideas or thoughts on anything but wanting to be alive. It’s a minor complaint, and one that the movie doesn’t necessarily need to worry about, seeing as people will probably want to return to it over and over again for entirely different reasons anyway.
In an age when the difference between home theater and movie theater grows smaller and smaller, it’s wonderful to see a movie like Gravity come along and show us something that should only be experienced on the big screen. While it’s obvious to see what took Cuarón and his team so long to accomplish in the years since his last film, 2006’s Children of Men, it’s a little disheartening to find that at the end of all of the spectacular effects and breathtaking action, there’s very little for the audience to take away from the experience once the credits begin to appear on the screen, accompanied by incredible blasts of noise. However, for the time you are stuck firmly pushed back in your seat, staring at the screen in agonizing tension, Gravity is nothing short of incredible.
9 out of 10.
Released: August 2nd, 2013
Plot: When Christian, an LA trust-fund kid with casual ties to Hollywood, learns of a secret affair between Tara and the lead of his film project, Ryan, he spirals out of control, and his cruel mind games escalate into an act of bloody violence.
Review: Hey Internet, donate to my Kickstarter to help me make a shitty movie! My dearest internet, do me a favor and read this New York Times article about the making of The Canyons and then return to my humble corner of the internet. I’ll wait.
Great, isn’t it? After reading that can you really blame me for wanting to watch this train wreck of a movie?? I mean, come on! Drama, drama, drama! I do have to admit, however, that I am a bit biased: I’ve been completely obsessed with Lindsay Lohan and her habits since Mean Girls and James Deen happens to be one of the few male porn stars I like.
Where to begin? The Canyons follows young Tara (Lindsay Lohan) as she struggles to figure out which empt, shallow, personalityless man she wants to be with: rich, swinger and playboy Christian (James Deen) or poor struggling actor Ryan (Nolan Funk). Problem. Ryan is the boyfriend of Christian’s assistant Gina and Tara is seeing Ryan behind Christian’s back. SCANDALOUS!! But they have an open relationship. But Christian doesn’t want her with other guys. But does that really matter?
I went into this movie expecting a monumental fail and that’s what this is. After the shit storm that both writer Bret Easton Ellis and director Paul Schrader went through to get this movie made, it kind of surprises me that they both very much stand behind it. Although, at this point in the game, they need to sell tickets.
Let me start off by saying this movie is in no way good. The story is cliche and boring, a lot of the acting sucks, and I don’t know what Schrader was thinking with the majority of his direction. Seriously. I love a good long shot in a movie but god damn take it easy! Calm down girl! Schrader tries to turn this Spanish novella esque movie into some type of an art piece with these long takes that follow the characters through a location or captures an uninterrupted conversation. Kudos to Lohan for remembering her lines but dammit if some of those conversations didn’t feel awkward and badly ad libbed.
The movie’s titles are a montage of abandoned movie theaters. The title cards in the movie showcasing the day of the week are also pictures of abandoned movie theaters. I’m not sure what Schrader is trying to convey with these images. Cinema is dead? Maybe, but he’s certainly not contributing to its rise.
Nolan Funk plays Ryan the actor James Deen’s character, Christian, hires for his new movie. I have no idea who Nolan Funk is but it was VERY evident he didn’t want to be in this movie. The entire time it just seemed like he wanted to go home. He showed up, rushed his lines, and then he was done. He’s so awkward in this movie! The rest of the non-principal actors just aren’t good. They’re flat and their acting resembles that of made for TV movie actor’s. And it’s not a surprise. The pacing and story structure of the Canyons is seriously like a Lifetime made for TV movie starring Valerie Bertinelli or Meredith Baxter
The story is so dramatic and over the top and it really goes nowhere. None of it really matters until the final 15 minutes when everything goes bat shit insane and suddenly Christian is some deranged American Psycho psycho. And by the very end of the movie, I threw my hands up and yelled “what the fuck!” Fuck character development. Christian went from boring and slightly annoying Hollywood producer to homicidal maniac in a matter of minutes.
This movie is shit. Shitty shit shit and weird and creepy. But I can honestly say that the the best parts of this movie were Lindsay Lohan and James Deen. I don’t really know what I expected from Deen as far as acting but I didn’t expect him to be REALLY good. I mean, yeah, he’s a porn actor but who knew he could actually carry a role. And Lohan. Who knew she could still do anything! She actually played the hell out of Tara. Honestly, there really wasn’t much to her character but, still. I think I expected Lohan to be all over the place but no, she was pretty level throughout.
Don’t go see this movie. Just don’t. It’s not good. It’s not even sit-around-and-make-fun-of-it-with-your-friends good. IF you do decide to see it Internet, then see it for Lohan’s and Deen’s performances. And see it for the now infamous orgy scene. I have to admit that I really liked the way that portion of the movie was shot. And lastly, if you REALLY need to see it, and you REALLY love Lindsey Lohan, then see it for Lindsay Lohan’s boobies.
Side not: Christian brings in his techy friend to “hack” Ryan’s Facebook (Christian somehow doesn’t know how to use facebook because it seems like all the tech guy did was search for Ryan and found his page), his bank accounts and Tara’s TextV. That’s her Text TV…texts that she gets….on her TV. TextV
…and what the fuck was up with the music in this? It’s like someone tried to mimic the Drive soundtrack and score on Garageband.
3 out of 10
I finally watched this movie, and I loved it.
This movie on the other hand, wasn’t very good at all!
“I’ll Wait for Video”: My column in which I review films way later than everyone else on this site because I don’t get to see them until they’re on video since having kids.
Zero Dark Thirty is the story of the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, showcasing the many ups, downs, frustrations, and eventual success of the greatest manhunt of the 21st century. While the film opens to real audio from 9/11 set to a black background, the story really kicks off in 2003 as a CIA analyst named Maya enters a terrorist interrogation. Maya, played with brilliant restraint by Jessican Chastain, is a silent witness in the background during this scene, getting to see first hand the brutal ways in which the CIA would make its prisoners talk, including water boarding (more on that later). We view this scene through her eyes, just as we do all of the events that follow during the course of the next 8 years. We accompany her to the interrogations, meetings, bombings, shoot outs, and more that make up her participation in the 10 year hunt for Bin Laden. She is our guide, something that is essential as we see a series of events that is so intricate and complicated that the average American could not possibly fully comprehend without her.
Though I’m sure we are only getting a fraction of what actually happened during this investigation, it feels like we are being given an all access pass. We are uncomfortable during the torture scenes, saddened when failure leads to more death, frustrated by how slow the hunt goes when politics get in the way, nervous during an automobile pursuit of a key terrorist and elated and relieved when success is finally attainted in 2011. As Maya goes, both physically and emotionally, so do we. Chastain is able to convey Maya as much through looks and gestures as through the dialogue. It is as nuanced a performance as she gave in Tree of Life, even given the much more traditional narrative structure of this film.
Any yet, the true star of this film is director Kathryn Bigelow. Her camera work is eye catching and never releases us from its grip. In fact, it is the use of hand held camera and some limited found footage that gives this film an immediacy that makes this film such an intense experience, even though we already know how it ends. The way it cuts together adds another level intensity, particularly in the few actions scenes, such as the bombing of a CIA facility and the SEAL Team 6 raid on Bin Laden’s compound. The editing also jumps the viewer through time quite a lot, and yet the viewer is never lost as to what has happened in that lost time.
While Bigelow does seamlessly move us through the investigation, the jumps in time do prevent us from fully emotionally investing in Maya. We only ever get to know Maya the CIA analyst. We experience her emotions as they pertain to the case, but we’re never given real access to her as a person. We see her frustration build as the year’s go by, but nothing else. What has she left behind to live in the middle east? Who has she left behind? What is important to her outside of the investigation? Maybe that’s the point though – the investigation consumed her life. It’s all that mattered to her and so it’s all that should matter to us. But without any additional background on her it’s hard to invest in her as anything more than and investigator. The final, haunting shot of her in the wake of Bin Laden’s death (spoiler alert? I hope not) could have been even more powerful if we knew her more.
In addition to the acclaim this film has received, it has also come under a fire due to it’s depiction of torture. Some have argued that Bigelow has somehow endorsed this torture through the act of not condemning it. That’s ridiculous. Bigelow, from the beginning, sets out to tell this long and winding story in such a way that she is not passing judgement on any of it. She has the facts present themselves and then does something I wish more filmmakers were brave enough to do – allow us to make our own decisions about what we are seeing. The only influence over us is Maya. Otherwise we are free to condemn or praise the acts of torture. We are free to endorse the politicians proceeding with caution or criticize them for not acting quickly enough. All of this is for us to decide. Bigelow chooses not to manipulate us. Instead of using the film as a platform for personal politics, she allows the facts to speak for themselves. It is through that act that we can view this riveting series of events and then come to a much more important conclusion – our own personal truth. It is for this that she should be praised almost as much as having made one of the finest films of last year.
4 out of 5
For more of my pointless musings on film, see me on Letterboxd
Prequels are a tricky thing to pull off successfully.
Take the Star Wars prequels for instance – if you don’t take into account the stiff dialogue and even stiffer acting, the inherent problem with them, before even seeing a frame of the film, is that there are no true stakes (a favorite of my favorite podcast – Filmspotting). We knew the fate of all the characters going into the films. Even if they were new characters we didn’t know from the original trilogy, all that did was give us an indication that those characters probably were not going to make it out of the new trilogy alive (alas poor Mace Windu, I hardly knew you). It’s hard to invest in a story and set of characters when we already know what will eventually become of them. An argument could be made that it’s about the journey, but then we would have to get into a much larger discussion about the success of that journey (not a can of worms I’m opening right now).
So, all of that is a lead up to ask the question – does Monster’s University subvert the inherent problem of the prequel in that we already know the fate of these characters? And if not, is the journey at least worth it?
I would argue not really for the first question, but absolutely for the second.
There never is a concern that Mike and Sully might not eventually become “scarers”. We know they will from Monsters, Inc. In fact, we know they will become legendary “scarers” that will change their industry. Whether they graduate from Monsters U or not is never a real concern because we know they will get what they want in the end. However, the journey is interesting.
The characters, just as in the first film, are well developed, animated, and, most importantly, well voiced. John Goodman and Billy Crystal do not miss a beat stepping back into these roles. There is a real sense of fun in not only seeing Mike and Sully again, but in seeing them as young men (monsters?) when they first meet.
Also fun is seeing the way that the filmmakers utilize college movie conventions and clichés. Knowing they cannot actively avoid them altogether, they instead use them as opportunities for humor. One of my favorite sequences in the film was when Mike first arrives on campus and is walking through the quad while all the different organizations pitch to him to join. Anyone who has ever been to college or watched a college-based film will find a lot to laugh at in this sequence, which is cleverly written and animated.
While this is one of my favorite scenes, it is also the source of one of my biggest criticisms, which is I think the best gags in the film are not really accessible for it’s core audience – children. I took my two young children to the movie. They both liked it, certainly, but neither of them even knew what college is, much less seen some of the college themed movies that no doubt served as an influence in some way (think Revenge of the Nerds minus the drinking and sex).
Another criticism, though much more minor, is that the film seems to have one too many climaxes. Just when I thought the film was over, there was a twist that led to another 20 minutes worth of film with the actual climax. I enjoyed the extra scene, but wondered if it really added anything in the end (trying to remain spoiler free, but I assume you’ll know what I’m talking about if you see it).
It may seem that I’m being too critical for a movie that I generally did enjoy. I thought it was filled with fun moments, good animation and very good voice work. I certainly recommend it for children and I think there is enough in there for adults to enjoy as well. While I would not put this in the upper echelon of Pixar’s catalogue, I’m a believer that even Pixar’s lesser works are better than many other movies I see, and I can easily put Monsters University in that category.
3 out of 5.
There’s a lot riding on Man of Steel. Not only are fan of Superman looking forward to a potential new franchise after the non-starting Superman Returns, but the studio seems to be looking at this as an opportunity to begin building their own Avengers-style universe for the Justice League. This excitement and anticipation has not only made Man of Steel one of the biggest movies of the summer, but of the year as well. Which leaves the only question left to ask, well…is it any good? I think the answer can be summed up with something I heard a fellow movie-goer enthusiastically tell his friends as they made their way out of the theater as the credits rolled: “Well, it wasn’t bad!”
And it wasn’t. Unfortunately, that’s about the best thing that could be said about Man of Steel.
Attempting to reboot the Superman franchise, Zach Snyder, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer give us yet another origin story, and spend the movie introducing us to their version of the iconic character. He isn’t mopey, like in Superman Returns, or your typical all-American boy scout, as Christopher Reeve portrayed him. Instead, their Kal-El is more mature, concerned with the impact his presence and the knowledge of his existence would have on the people of Earth over anything else. These concerns, as well as any attempts at characterization, are bombarded at the audience through several flashbacks featuring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent, teaching their adoptive son how to live and control himself. Despite their aggressive presentation, these flashbacks are perhaps the one thoughtful, heartfelt aspect of the movie that actually makes the audience care about any of the characters, making it glaringly apparent when current day Clark, played with an earnest plainness by Henry Cavill, isn’t given much to do but constantly charge at other invincible aliens at hyperspeed and destroy everything in his path.
The story follows Superman struggling with his identity as rogue military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives to reclaim the last remaining Kryptonian blueprints and use them to rebuild his home planet on the crumbling remains of Earth. Naturally, this leaves Superman conflicted as to whether he should let Krypton disappear forever, or sacrifice the planet he’s called home for his entire life to ensure its survival. It’s not a bad idea for a conflict, but the general events that transpire and the massive, city-demolishing action that takes place during the movie seems so bland and generic that you could replace the characters with nearly any other superhero and villain, and it would be the same movie. It’s almost as if you replaced the Transformers with Superman and Zod, and just pressed play. It follows all of the conventions of a modern day action movie, but never justifies the violence and destruction with seemingly any consideration for the world that it inhabits. We’re meant to believe that Clark has this massive respect for humanity, while he smashes and blows up skyscrapers with little to no thought. Literally thousands of people would have to die in Man of Steel, but, of course, we’re only focused on the fates of the three or four people that have been given a few lines in order to make us give a shit about them and only them. It’s almost embarrassing how dark and real the filmmakers were trying to make Man of Steel, only to fill it with so many clichés and moments designed to thrill that only make you go, “Really?”
I get it, though. This is what they think audiences want, and, hey, who know? Maybe I’m in the minority who doesn’t think that Superman has to be about darkness, death and destruction. While people these days seem to relish in the bleak reality that fills their escapism, there comes a point where I wonder what purpose such cynicism and despair serves in the story of Superman, unyielding defender of truth, justice and the American Way? In his final moments of battle with Zod, we see our hero watch as a human family is put in direct danger as he struggles with whether or not he wants to destroy the last of his species. In an obvious gesture meant to show his allegiance to Earth, Superman kills his enemy, only to find that the family has also died a slow, horrible death despite his violent action.
Earth is safe, but nobody wins.
So, then what was the point? That there is no justice? That even doing the right thing has terrible consequences? Man of Steel offers these questions, but gives very little comfort that what we’re watching is even the story of a good man, let alone a Superman. It’s good to have characters that are conflicted, and perhaps there shouldn’t always be a clear cut solution to every problem and issue, but there’s got to be some kind of middle-ground where we can have a Superman that is a three-dimensional character that doesn’t wallow in misery and devastation.
Still, despite all of these rambling complaints, Man of Steel isn’t bad. Aside from Cavill’s transparent Kal-El and Amy Adam’s seemingly pointless (though admittedly capable and courageous) Lois Lane, there are some great performances and moments throughout the movie. Costner and Lane are great as Clark’s adoptive parents and Michael Shannon, who’s at the very least watchable in anything he’s in, plays Zod as a surprisingly level-headed and collected super-villain, and not necessarily the screaming maniac he otherwise could’ve been. Also, departing from his usual slow-motion and hyper-kinetic style of filmmaking, Zach Snyder instead goes for a lot of hand-held, natural looking shots, especially for the flashbacks, which adds a level of realism and feeling to some already emotional scenes. I just wish there was more of this kind of emotion spread throughout the rest of the movie, and less of the bland mega-action that occupies a majority of it. Perhaps then it would feel a little more special, a little less hopeless, and as exciting as a new Superman movie should be.
6 out of 10.
Having gone into J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise in 2009 with little knowledge of the original TV series and films that the universe was based in, I, along with seemingly a multitude of other moviegoers, was almost instantly enthralled with his vision of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her crew. It was a fantastic experience that came out of nowhere, alternating between rollicking fun and emotional heft with an impossible ease, and leaving me wanting more of these characters and the world they inhabit. And now, with the release of his follow up to that movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, we see that he hasn’t lost his touch, building upon the foundation laid with the first movie, and giving us even more action and excitement, and a movie that should rightfully be called something along the lines of “the perfect summer movie”.
So, then why doesn’t it feel like that?
I’M GOING TO WARN YOU NOW, THERE’S SOME SPOILERS UP AHEAD.
Catching up with Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the main crew of the Enterprise, now a few years out since their last adventure, we follow them as they come face to face with an enigmatic figure who seems bent on destroying Starfleet. It’s an intriguing mystery, and Abrams and his writers make the lead up to every twist and turn engaging and exciting, even building their universe with the introduction of longtime Starfleet enemies, the war-bent Klingons. However, as the mystery unfolds and we learn more and more about Benedict Cumberbatch’s rogue villain, the less interesting and urgent the story gets, especially to anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the Star Trek mythology.
ALRIGHT, SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET NERDY.
With his original Star Trek, Abrams’ employed a plot device that broke his universe and characters into an alternate timeline than that of the one Star Trek fans had come to know and love from the original three seasons of television and six feature films. Not only did this allow him to pay respect to the past, but it also gave he and writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci the opportunity to tell whatever stories they wanted without having to worry about upsetting the old order of things. So, with this opening to go ahead and tell whatever stories they wanted to tell with these characters, why in the world did they try to re-tell one of the most popular and iconic stories in the history of the franchise?
While it’s interesting to note that these characters and plot points still exist in the alternate timeline, was it necessary to spend a whole movie that’s been years in the making and that an ocean of fans have been salivating for to tell this same story again?
Did you have to call him Khan?
Aside from the fact that it feels like such a wasted opportunity to do something new and original, from the moment that some untested photon torpedoes turn out to be the frozen bodies of genetically modified humans, everything else just feels by the book. By the time we finally get to the true name of ex-Starfleet agent John Harrison, discover who the real villain is, and are explained to what’s really going on, everything already feels like a foregone conclusion; something that the audience figured out scenes before they should’ve.
Of course, these problems could very well just be mine and mine alone. But I feel like there comes a point after you’ve seen enough movies where you can tell what a filmmaker is doing way before you’re probably supposed to. Star Trek Into Darkness kind of suffers from the metaphor of Chekov’s gun (no relation to Anton Yelchin’s character) in that the film is so loaded with heavy-handed foreshadowing, that it essentially leaves very little tension or suspense as to exactly what’s going to happen. Sure, it’s shocking when the hero of a movie is killed, but when a character states that there’s a mysterious, regenerative cure a few scenes before it happens, there’s no doubt in the audience’s mind that there will eventually be a need for that cure. While Kirk’s ultimate sacrifice and emotional goodbye to Spock is surely meant to bring a tear to the audience’s eye, it merely feels like another step towards the eventual conclusion where everyone’s fine, the bad guys lose, the good guys win, and everyone flies off into space towards another amazing adventure. It keeps Spock’s role-reversing exclamation of “Khaaaannnn!” from being as chill inducing as it was surely meant to be, instead making it just plain silly.
Of course, this is also coming from someone who’s actually seen The Wrath of Khan, a factor that I’m sure the producer’s weren’t really too worried about. Seeing as these new movies are probably targeted towards a generation who aren’t familiar with Ricardo Montalban’s ridiculous pecs and the fact that there used to be filmmakers who possessed the balls to kill off Spock, I’m sure they felt that this would probably feel new to a lot of people. Going into Star Trek Into Darkness with none of the baggage a fan brings to the table, the twists and story are probably infinitely more surprising and unpredictable. Despite this reliance on the past, it has to be noted that this isn’t quite an exact retelling of Wrath of Khan. Although there are times where the similarities are cringe inducing, Into Darkness is mostly its own movie, and provides some great laughs, exciting action sequences that are pretty spectacular, and does some great things with the characters so wonderfully introduced in the previous film. While their arcs are pretty familiar, with Kirk learning what it means to truly lead and do the right thing, and Spock being forced to consider the impact that his life and death have on the people he loves the most, especially Uhuru, there are plenty of nice moments where the characters get to shine. Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a lot more to do here than in the previous installment, and even John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and Karl Urban’s Bones have some great moments to shine.
It’s always an impressive feat when a movie like Star Trek Into Darkness manages to not only provide the requisite incredible action and thrilling adventure that comes with most great summer blockbusters, but also gives its characters a good amount of depth, providing them with some great dialogue, heartfelt conflict and a plot that puts them to good use. While it would’ve been truly special to place all of these elements into a story that hadn’t already been told almost flawlessly thirty years ago, it’s hard to simply dismiss Into Darkness. Despite its flaws, predictability and convenient use of teleportation, J.J. Abrams has once again made a solid, entertaining action-adventure movie with a heart of gold. I can only hope that by the next time everyone comes together to make another Star Trek movie, the filmmakers will have a few new tricks up their sleeves, and a story that the current cast can make their own.
7 out of 10.
A picture of a bird can mean a lot of different things. Depending on the angle of the picture, whether the bird is perched on a branch or flying through the sky, whether it’s a cloudy day or not; these can all make this picture of a bird mean totally different things to different people. However, if you take this picture of a bird, and place it next to a picture of an airplane, suddenly there’s something completely different going on. There’s a comparison happening between these two images, perhaps in an attempt to create some kind of statement, or a juxtaposition that’s meant to challenge the audience’s ideas of exactly what it is they’re looking at. It’s precisely for this reason that whenever the credits roll at the end of a Terrence Malick film, the first names I look for are for those of the director of photography and editors (of which there were five on his latest film, To the Wonder). While I’m sure most of what ends up in a Malick movie comes from some journal he probably wrote thirty years ago, it’s the efforts of these people that captures the mood and emotion of what he’s trying to go for. His films seem defined by their imagery, using beautifully composed and photographed shots placed in an eccentrically specific order in an attempt to create a feeling or idea that cannot properly be expressed through words. Unfortunately, while To the Wonder may look beautiful, the underlying themes and ideas aren’t really clear or interesting enough to sustain the movie, making it seem like the efforts of all involved have pretty much been for nothing.
While traveling through Europe on business, a nameless man (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a vacationing woman (Olga Kurylenko), who he brings home with him, along with her ten-year old daughter. While everything seems nice for a while, as time passes she and her daughter become frustrated and unhappy with their lives, eventually taking out their aggressions on the man, which leads to their eventual breakup. However, this is all just the very basic understanding of the series of events that takes place in To the Wonder. With very minimal dialogue, most of the narrative comes through the woman’s poetic Ukrainian voiceover (which is translated in microscopic subtitles), and the most complex human emotions are conveyed through simplistic body language: either the two lovers are constantly, wildly entangled and happy, or looking away in despondency. Add to this a subplot involving Javier Bardem as a priest suffering through a crisis of faith, and the ultimate point of everything feels as flighty and unfocused as most of the film looks.
The characters seem to long for a point; an ultimate happiness or meaning in their lives that they can’t decide on. The woman seems lost, always looking for something new that could potentially fulfill her emptiness, while Affleck’s character barely feels present in the scenes he wanders through. He goes about his day, is frustrated when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to, and can’t seem to understand why the great romance he had in Europe has disappeared. Bardem’s character has the most straightforward arc, as he continues working with the poor, sick and disadvantaged, seemingly disgusted by them, but working towards a greater understanding of god’s plan for him, never giving up despite his disillusionment towards the church. It’s a collage of lost people trying to connect, but never seeming to care that they’re no good for one another and continuing to try anyway. While Malick seems to be showing the audience the struggle to find happiness and fulfillment as an almost unending, Quixotic journey, the structure and paper thin characters do nothing to help us relate either to the people or their problems.
Many would probably argue that Malick movies should be seen if for nothing else then the mesmerizing visuals, just as I’m sure many would argue Michael Bay movies should be seen for the amazing explosions. While it’s a wonder to look at and think about, what final conclusions may exist of To the Wonder can’t seem to justify the time spent ruminating on the lives of these characters. If the ideas were strong enough, then perhaps everything else wouldn’t need to matter so much, but it’s all too loose and seemingly inconsequential that by the time the credits roll, it feels like no one, the audience or the characters, have learned a thing or grown in any way. It’s hard to completely write off a movie when it’s made in such a way that you know that there has to be more to it than what it’s parts may suggest. But when the message of the whole seems to be “happiness isn’t easy”, it’s even harder to justify trudging through it ever again.
5 out of 10.
I figure April, post-Oscars, is as good a time as any to tell you my thoughts on the previous year’s films. Now that it is completely irrelevant, let’s talk about 2012. Well, after an anti-climatic 2011, I went into 2012 with high expectations. New films from Tarantino, PTA, and Spielberg intertwined with the epic conclusion to Nolan’s Batman series, the ultimate superhero movie in The Avengers, and a David O. Russell movie filmed in my own hometown. Last year was a fantastic year in film. However, I set my expectations so unrealistically high, that I was ultimately disappointed. However again, in reflection, just wonderful. As per tradition, let’s start with the worst:
10. The Campaign
9. The Dictator
8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part 2
I am feeling oddly nostalgic about this choice. It is the last chance I will ever have to put a Twilight movie on my Worst of the Year list. These movies are an anomaly in that they are beloved by so many, but are clearly terrible in every aspect of filmmaking. I suppose, in a way, the Twilight Saga, is the ultimate guilty pleasure.
7. Killing Them Softly
5. Casa de mi Padre
4. The Three Stooges
I want to start by saying that I generally don’t mind remakes. However, in the case of The Three Stooges, I find it to be a bit odd. Unlike most remakes, these actors are not re-playing characters that appeared in a movie that everybody loved. They are interpreting characters that were developed over the course of 30 years by three men who spent their entire careers, and lived their lives as, The Three Stooges. To me, this comes across as a mockery rather than an homage.
3. House at the End of the Street
I am a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think that she is loaded with talent, and she has a bright career ahead of her. This movie is another piece of modern horror movie garbage.
2. The Obama Effect
1. Silent Hill: Revelation
So to be fair, I haven’t seen Silent Hill since it was in theaters in 2006. To be unfair, it doesn’t matter. I insisted on going to a movie theater and paying for two tickets to see this movie in 3-dimensions ($26), knowing full well that it was going to be mindless garbage. And somehow, I was still disappointed in it.
Dishonorable Mentions: Act of Valor, The Watch, Parental Guidance, Take This Waltz, Safe House, The Lucky One, Piranha 3DD
Good stuff. Now that we got through that bullshit, let’s talk about how AWESOME 2012 was.
10. Moonrise Kingdom
Somehow Spielberg’s long-awaited Abraham Lincoln biopic caught a bit of a bad rap. It seems that the people who were really looking forward to it were let down. And that, to me, is difficult to understand. I thought the performances were spectacular, and even though I knew how the story would end, I found myself entirely captivated by the sequence of events that led to it.
Having seen all of the 007 films, I have come up with a tagline for the James Bond Complete Box Set: “22 of the same movie and Skyfall”. This movie has taken Bond to a whole new level. An Oscar winning director teams with Oscar winning actors and one of the all-time great Cinematographers to create a story that is more than just an unstoppable, suave British secret agent attempting to use his toys to stop a nuclear bomb from destroying the planet with one second left to go.
7. Silver Linings Playbook
Alright, I admit it. I have a bias towards this movie, as it was shot in and around my small suburban-Philadelphia town. But even so, it is a pretty great story that tells us that we’re all a little bit crazy. My favorite thing about Silver Linings Playbook? The way the story was presented was just as crazy as the characters it was portraying. Good artistic choice, David O. Russell. Side note: The picture above takes place like one mile from my house.
5. The Avengers
After seeing, and enjoying, the films that preceded The Avengers, I was intensely excited about finally viewing “the ultimate superhero movie”. My only concern was how so many large and varying personalities could fit onto one screen. With each Avenger more than holding his own in his feature film, it seemed impossible to reign them all in and still maintain the greatness that made them individually wonderful. In this instance I grossly underestimated Joss Whedon. The Avengers is one of the best pure superhero movies ever made. It is a prime example of the limitlessness of cinema.
4. The Grey
When I first saw the trailer for The Grey, I said, in a sarcastic tone, “Oh cool. A Liam Neeson wolf movie”. I now rescind my sarcasm. The Grey is an intense study of human nature, that reminds us that we, too, are just animals. Biggest surprise of the year.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
The new mindless phrase that I’ve been hearing a lot from people, especially in regards to Christopher Nolan movies is “it has problems”. What the fuck does that even mean? Name a movie made in the history of movies being made that doesn’t have problems. Was I disappointed in The Dark Knight Rises? Of course. I knew I’d be disappointed the minute after I walked out of my first viewing of The Dark Knight. I set my expectations so unrealistically high that not even Chris Nolan could meet them. Does that mean that The Dark Knight Rises is not an amazing movie? Nope. It is incredible. Nolan used his final Batman movie to basically say that nothing matters. He tore the entire Gotham world apart and left us with nothing but a glimmer of hope that things will get better. I love that!
2. The Master
I’m not really a huge PTA fan. I respect him greatly as a filmmaker. And I appreciate, and for the most part enjoy, his movies. I just don’t necessarily see him as the best filmmaker of all time!!!! But The Master is phenomenal. Hoffman and Phoenix acted circles around each other.
1. Django Unchained
If one thing can be said about Quentin Tarantino, it is that he started at the top of his game, and he has remained there every since. I have often said that if there was one person in the world I could talk to about film/ filmmaking it would be Quentin. Django is everything I expected it to be from the first trailer I saw a year and a half ago. Witty dialogue, exceptional violence, a wonderful soundtrack, and characters that are slightly off-center from realism or convention, or in shorter terms, a Tarantino movie, help to make Django Unchained the best in a 2012 class of extraordinary movies.
Honorable Mentions: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Amour, Wreck-It Ralph, Argo, Magic Mike, The Expendables 2, 21 Jump Street, Sleepwalk with Me
It’s hard to know where to begin with Stoker, the English language debut of acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-Wook. While far more subdued than his more violent and shocking revenge thrillers or fantastical love stories, this genre-straddling exploration of a family grieving the loss of their patriarch still retains an enormous amount of the director’s style. Perhaps it’s this Asian influence in the tall grass and dysfunctional family dynamics of the American mid-west, but there’s something about Stoker that’s stuck with me, and I can’t seem to figure out just what it is.
On the day of her father’s funeral, India (Mia Wasikowska) meets her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a mysterious man whose existence had been kept from her until their introduction. Through her grief and her mother’s invitation to Charlie to move into the house with them, India begins to suspect that there’s more to her uncle’s presence than he is letting on, and her life slowly starts to spin out of control. Underneath the dizzyingly dreamlike editing and visual effects, it’s apparent that there’s a lot going on just beneath the surface, and from what seems like such a small, insular story there is a grand importance behind every event and revelation. Part of this comes from the cyclical, mystifying script by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, who fills the minutes with sparse, enigmatic dialogue, instead focusing on the characters’ actions, past and present, to tell their stories and make sense of what exactly is going on. We depend heavily on India’s experiences to carry us through the movie, which seem almost as confounding to her as they are to the audience, but each detail tends to come back and fill in another piece of the mosaic until the whole thing comes together at the end.
Stoker questions exactly how much we are affected by our heritage, and how much is passed down to us through the blood of our family. While using the superficial elements of clothing and appearance to make its overt examples of how we are made up of the people we descend from, at its heart, Stoker doesn’t have too much more to say on the subject than other thrillers of this nature, like Frailty, for example. While it’s been said that there are no new stories, just new ways to tell old ones, Stoker finds a multitude of new methods to convey its old ideas, and presents them in a compelling, original way that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.
Having now spent some time away from Stoker, I’ve been able to step back and give some thought as to what made it so appealing to me immediately after seeing it. And I realized that this feeling had very little to do with the story or characters, and it all comes from having been manipulated by a great filmmaker. Like any great director, Park Chan-Wook can take nearly any story and spin it into a film that demands to be watched and thought about. Stoker may not be a perfect movie, and it’s very possible that many people will leave the theaters having felt they just wasted a little over an hour and half of their lives, but I feel that most will recognize that there’s something in its DNA that was put there to stay with us long after the credits have rolled. Though there may be no new stories, there will always be new filmmakers to make us believe that what we’re seeing is fresh and original, and Stoker is a prime example of the effect this kind of filmmaker can have on such ordinary material.
8 out of 10.