Archive | October, 2011

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

31 Oct

Title: Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Eli Craig
Writers: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: 
Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons
MPAA Rating: 
R, bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity
Runtime: 
89 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
88%

Horror/Comedy films are a tough thing to pull of successfully, and for the most part they either work tremendously well or they don’t at all, because it’s one really fine line for a film to walk, but when they do work, they many times make for a seriously entertaining time. About three weeks ago I saw Burke and Hare, a film directed by no less than the great John Landis and that boasted a cast full of great people, but no even with that pedigree could it strike a great balance of funny and scary, and I ended up giving the film a C+, but then you have the great modern films that have really made it work, like 2009’s Zombieland (which I ranked as the eleventh best film of that year) or, of course, the genre staple, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead (which was my fifth film of that year).

So, as a Halloween morning treat to myself I thought I should go ahead and check out Tucker & Dave vs Evil, a film that wanted to join those great horror/comedy films. And look, this isn’t as great as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but it’s not by much that it misses the high marks left by those two films, as it really manages to find its center, establishing a central plot that holds steady as the filmmakers manage to mine quite a bit of hilarity, scares and, most surprisingly, a fair bit of heart out of it. This is how these films have to be done, you need to identify your central spooky and wacky joke, and get all that you can out of it, and when a movie is done by talented people who really work on it, and has that good-spirited vibe to it, the results will be like the one we got with this film.

Instead of using zombies, like those two great examples of the genre I keep citing did, this one employs the murderous redneck horror movie staple to turn back on its head and mine for some really solid laughs while still keeping the spooky vibe of it all. Because this really is a horror movie cliché, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes are examples of classic horror films that have used this isolated rural setting to get their scares, implying that there’s always something off about the people who inhabit these places that makes you automatically be afraid of them. And this film starts off by following that well-treaded blueprint, as you have a bunch of preppy college kids driving in a van through a hillbilly town, stopping at one of those classic gas stations all these movies have, being looked at really weirdly by the locals in their pickup trucks. Then these kids will put up their campsite in spot where exactly twenty years ago a famous massacre occurred to kids just like them, and of course after hearing such a creepy story they will proceed to do some skinny-dipping because that’s what kids in these movies always do.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil, however, stops the clichés right there, and then proceeds to bust through every single genre convention and imagine a scenario in which the guy playing a banjo was just a guy playing a banjo because he likes music and not because he wants to murder you, and those weird locals are really just normal guys. It takes the set-up it establishes and puts it on its head for some seriously awesome comedic effect. It’s just really cool to see a movie that goes on to show us every cliché in the rulebook for a movie like this and then go ahead and turn the other way, making one of the college kids the only crazy guy in the movie and our two main hillbillies be really good-natured and helpful guys. Those are the titular Tucker and Dale, played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, two guys who mean no harm and just want to go a cabin they just bought and want to refurbish to enjoy a fishing trip.

But what happens is that their cabin is right in front of the campsite of the college kids, and as the latter group goes skinny-dipping, the two hillbillies decide to go for some midnight fishing and scare off a blonde girl that was part of the group of college kids, and as she’s scared she falls into the water and the two guys rescue her unconscious body from the water and get her on their boat. But of course the college kids will think they just kidnapped her, and that’s when the whole movie just goes into overdrive and the real violent fun begins. And it’s just really cool to see how it all plays out, as stuff just keeps going wrong in some really deadly ways for everyone involved and events keep point to the fact that Tucker and Dale probably are the murderous rednecks the kids think they are.

And debut director Eli Craig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Morgan Jurgenson, never once stoops for easy spoofs and laughs, but instead always does a very careful deconstruction of the clichés that really work splendidly well, and even if the college kids never really get to show much depth, that’s okay because this time it’s them that are being seen as caricatures, and it all fits into the mold Mr. Craig is giving us. And Mr. Tudyk, who I’m a big fan of from his work in the Whedonverse, and Mr. Labine do a lot with the material, always working for some really well-deserved laughs and not some cheap ones, and 30 Rock‘s gorgeous Katrina Bowden, who stars as Allison, the blonde girl that the guys rescued, is perfect in her role as well. Tucker & Dale vs Evil really knows how to balance the comedy and the horror, getting one genre to feed the other in their splendid take on the isolated redneck murderous town cliché, a really solid addition to this genre, and a great option for Halloween.

Grade: A-

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Take Shelter

30 Oct

Title: Take Shelter
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: 
Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain
MPAA Rating: 
R, some language
Runtime: 
120 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

I keep saying 2011 is the year of Ryan Gosling, for the sheer fact that the guy has used the year, building up on the momentum he got late last year for the masterpiece that was Blue Valentine (my fourth favorite film of all 2010), to really establish himself not only as probably the greatest actor of his generation, but also a superstar that general audiences really adore. However, I’ve actually only seen one of Mr. Gosling’s films of 2011, that one being Drive, which I gave a perfect score to and stands as my favorite film of the year, and I’ve still to see Crazy, Stupid, Love. or The Ides of March, so I guess that a more logical choice for the thesp who’s had the biggest 2011 is Jessica Chastain.

If Mr. Gosling has used the year to establish himself as a superstar and not just some great actor, Ms. Chastain has used it as one incredible coming out party that only keeps getting better, an actress basically unknown half a year ago and now being one of the most ubiquitous we’ve seen in quite some time, and with the added luxury of having every film she’s been on be a really good one. This is the fourth film I’ve seen of Jessica Chastain this year, and as if that wasn’t impressive enough, once you take a look at those films your jaw drops just a tiny bit more, the first one was The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s latest masterpiece which stands as my second favorite film of the year so far and to which I gave a perfect score to, then I saw her in The Help, the critical and commercial success to which I gave an A- to, and then I saw her about a month ago in The Debt, to which I awarded a B+ to. That’s a pretty amazing slew of films to appear in the span of a single year, the fact that she still has Coriolanus and The Wilde Salome still to come, alongside heavyweights such as Al Pacino, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes to name but a few, only reinforces that she’s really breaking out and establishing herself as an actress you really have to keep an eye on.

But we’re here now to talk about the fourth film starring Ms. Chastain I’ve seen this year, Take Shelter, and boy is it a stunning film. I seriously loved this one, a really subtle piece of work by writer-director Jeff Nichols, who knows how to craft a really awesome sense of uneasiness alongside really mesmerizing drama, and who gets yet another fine performance from Jessica Chastain who goes head-to-head with Michael Shannon, who delivers one of the very best performances of the year as Curtis LaForche, a man from a small town in Ohio who starts having some deeply disturbing apocalyptic hallucinations. This is really spellbinding filmmaking, a film that really creeps under your skin and makes you feel seriously uncomfortable in that great kind of way, using these apocalyptic visions as a metaphor to explore the general uneasiness that plagues the contemporary American family.

And it’s cool because even though you personally can’t connect to having these apocalyptic visions (or at least I hope you can’t, for the sake of your sanity) you can still connect to the feeling Curtis is experiencing, that uneasy vibe in the pit of your stomach that makes the hairs in the back of your head stand up, in which you’re absolutely certain that something horrible is about to happen, sooner rather than later. We’ve probably all felt that, but when we feel it it’s kind of like this paranoiac feel that lasts a second, we get it and then it leaves our mind, whereas Curtis is in that state 24/7, so you can kind of imagine how freaky it must feel for him trying to hold it all in. And it’s just amazing to see a thriller that relies on these mental kind of things and not on some kind of big event, probably of the supernatural kind, one that relies on us investing in this Ohio family that’s apparently quite happy in their existence until these strange occurrences threaten to deter their lives as the head of the family starts thinking the world’s pretty much about to end.

Because these are serious visions Curtis is dealing with, nightmares that leave him paranoid for the rest of the day, that he wakes up grasping for air to fight off that storm he has seen in his dreams that’s clouded the flat horizons of his small town, accompanied by a series of tornadoes and lightning. And this is all just really masterfully conveyed by Mr. Shannon, a guy that can appear to be this stable blue collar worker, a good husband and father, but that in his eyes can show this underlying sense of unease that really stays with you. This is a guy who apparently has all the needed ingredients for a happy life, but who’s now living with the ever-constant fear of it being taken away; his wife, Samantha, a stay-at-home mom who makes pillows to sell in fairs and their daughter, Hannah, who has lost her hearing, with mom and dad learning sign language as they wait for the insurance to deliver implants that will help her. On the surface they look like a rather typical middle-class family, gentle folk, who go to church and who have reasonably-sized ambitions, keeping their hopes up even amongst the horrible financial climate of our times.

So it’s really intense to watch Mr. Shannon play Curtis, a guy who partly believes that this is all about some approaching schizophrenia that also tormented his mother and who goes to a doctor to help him out with his sleep, having to pay richly for some pills, but also a guy who’s other part can’t help but make him believe that these dreams are real, that a storm is coming, and that he has to prepare in order to save his family. To do that he starts building a shelter in the backyard, and even as his friends and family start worrying about his sanity and ask him why he’s so hellbent on doing it he doesn’t confess to them and instead just calmly replies that it simply needs to be done. So we see the small community talking about Curtis behind his back, the only one of his paranoias that’s actually real, and his best friend trying his best to help him out, knowing that in this economy if he loses the job he has he might not find another one.

And it’s just amazing how Mr. Nichols chooses to show this to us, I mean, we always know that this is all inside Curtis’ head, but the way Mr. Nichols builds this film still makes us really uneasy about what’s going to happen next, making this an intensely nerve-racking experience that feels like a masterful horror film but that’s always just a really richly observed exploration of psychological collapse within the confines of a typical American family, it’s really amazing to watch it all unfold. We knew this was a talented filmmaker who in his debut, the amazing Shotgun Stories, show us he really had a terrific gift, and that film also featured Mr. Shannon, and his upcoming third project, titled Mud and to come out in 2013, will also feature the actor, making the Nichols-Shannon one of the most exciting tandems in modern filmmaking.

Because Michael Shannon really is impeccable in all of this, the energy and just the intensity he brings to his roles is always, no matter the project, seriously outstanding to watch, a character actor who by now has perfected that fine line between unhinged and sane, which he displays week in and week out in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, having given us roles that are sublime in their subtlety and now showing just how great he is by taking on a leading role. And that skill set adds to the way Mr. Nichols build up the tension, because even though we see in Curtis a deeply disturbed man, we also see a rational and intelligent one, caring for his family and thinking about his family history with ailments and going to library to check on that stuff, his crumbling down isn’t a thing that happens overnight. It’s a really stellar performance by Mr. Shannon here, filled with so much tension that you have to believe that something awful, storm or not, is about to happen to this man.

The storm, whether it’s real or hallucinated is just this really awesome metaphor Mr. Nichols creates alongside his amazing cast, the Oscar-nomination-worthy Mr. Shannon and Ms. Chastain, who elongates her amazing streak of stellar performances this year, and once the “storm” actually happens, there’s this incredibly powerful scene between the two that kind of concludes the film and lets the ending come to screen, and ending that will make you understand that you’ve just witnessed a pretty much perfect film, one that has managed to take, head-on, very real problems and melt them with these grand apocalyptic dreams, and that will leave you hungry for the next film this amazingly talented actor-director combo has in store.

Grade: A

Dream House

30 Oct

Title: Dream House
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jim Sheridan
Writer: David Loucka
Starring: 
Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language
Runtime: 
92 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
7%

 

I didn’t really know what to make of Dream House when I first heard of it, on one side it seemed like a generic haunted house movie, but then you read the names of the people involved in it and you had to at least put some faith in the film. I mean, this is a Jim Sheridan film, a six-time Academy Award nominee and the guy responsible for such amazing films as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer and In America, the fact that a guy like him, one who has given us three of Daniel Day Lewis’ most masterful performances, was attracted to this material had to mean something, and the fact that he had lured in Daniel Craig as well as Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, two of the finest actresses working today for my money, only backed up that opinion. And yet, upon watching Dream House it became painfully obvious that my first opinion was the right one, it ended up being just a really predictable and overdone horror film.

And it sucks because you know that Mr. Sheridan is a guy that obviously has it in him because he’s done really great movies, but this is a guy that should have realized by now that he should stick to doing movies that resonate with him personally and have some sort of relationship to his life, his best films have been all about Ireland in some way, where he’s from, with In America, which he co-wrote with his daughters all the way to an Academy Award nomination, being somewhat semi-autobiographical about his experience about immigrating to New York. But ever since the very moving In America, which came out in 2002, Mr. Sheridan has tried to tell other stories, and they’ve all been a far cry from the level of greatness achieved with his past films, making the very dubious decision to direct 50 Cent on 2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was based on the rapper’s life, and then taking four years off to make Brothers, which was actually a fine film with amazing performances by Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but that in the end really failed to resonate the way his past films have. And now he comes out with Dream House, which only makes it even more obvious the man has to go and make a film about stuff he actually knows about.

But then again apparently Mr. Sheridan himself knew this film wasn’t a good one, fighting over creative control of the film while on set with the head of the studio and going ahead and shooting some new scenes when the original ones didn’t go well with test audiences, which resulted in the studio taking the film away from him and cutting it themselves, even releasing a trailer that kind of spoiled a lot of the film’s good bits for people. That resulted in Mr. Sheridan wanting to take his name off the film, which is obviously never a good sign and I should’ve known this wasn’t going to be good. But still, you know? I mean, this is Jim Sheridan and a cast full of really competent actors, not to mention the talents of Caleb Deschanel (father of our #1 girl over here, Zooey), a very talented and experienced cinematographer who has worked on the likes of Being There and The Passion of the Christ. So it was still quite a shame to see so much wasted talent.

Will, the character Mr. Craig plays, is this successful guy from Manhattan who decides to relocate with his wife Libby, played by Ms. Weisz, and their two daughters to a new home in the New England area. But you know that a film that introduces this successful guy and then has him relocate to a new house to spend more time with his family probably won’t be about domestic bliss for all that long, and indeed that’s what happens when Dream House turns into this really kind of slow and foolish haunted house movie, a thriller that never once really thrills. The thing is that the movie never really established anything for it to then take down to our shock and horror, I mean, obviously we’re supposed to be alarmed when these people find out that their supposedly perfect new life isn’t as it seems, but we never really care about their lives for us to care about the new findings surrounding it, and thus the film never really has a fighting chance.

The stuff that happens is that apparently there was once a murder in the basement of the house, but the police and their secretive new neighbor, played by Ms. Watts, really do nothing to help out, and all the stuff we get to eventually find out about the murder really doesn’t gel at all, so it gets to the point that because these mysteries end up being so stuffed and inconsistent we don’t care at all when there’s that middle-of-the-film twists that’s supposed to take things for a loop. Look, this isn’t an unbearable film, because even if Mr. Sheridan and his team are nowhere near the top of their game they’re Mr. Sheridan and his team, and even if Mr. Craig kind of sucks here at least we have Ms. Weisz who always delivers. But the thing is that a year from now when you ask me about Dream House I’ll tell you that this was the film in which Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz met and then got married, the rest won’t really matter.

Grade: C

What’s Your Number?

28 Oct

Title: What’s Your Number?
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Mark Mylod
Writers: Gabrielle Allen and Jennifer Crittenden, based on the novel by Karyn Bosnak
Starring: 
Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Joel McHale, Blythe Danner, Ed Begley Jr., Andy Samberg, Zachary Quinto, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Thomas Lennon, Mike Vogel, Chris Pratt, Dave Annable, Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Ari Graynor, Eliza Coupe
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and language
Runtime: 
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
24%

 

Every time I walk into a movie with Anna Faris in a leading role I go into it with the exact same feeling, and every time I walk out of an Anna Faris movie I walk out with the exact same feeling. The initial feeling is excitement, the latter one is disappointment. And What’s Your Number? Ms. Faris’ latest attempt at leading a great solid movie that could maybe launch her into the super stardom she so deserves is yet another one of those. And it’s really frustrating for an amateur critic like me, or just as a general audience member, to see this, because Anna Faris, for my money, is one of the funniest actresses working today, and yet she’s never really gotten her big break and all the films she chooses to be the lead in turn out to be really either quite crappy or just okay at most, even if she’s her regular awesome self in them. And it suck to see it happen again here, a film in which she’s great as she always is, and has her impeccable comic timing in, but a film that just wastes her talents and becomes this predictable rom-com that just happens to have a tremendously underrated and great comic actress in the leading role.

And I know that Ms. Faris’ detractors will say that she probably isn’t that great a comedic actress if she hasn’t done a single great film in which she’s been the lead, which is a fair point I guess, but people, trust me when I say she is. And if you don’t want to trust me, then trust the vast majority of far smarter people than me, actual movie critics, that say she is, or just go ahead and see her movies for yourself and you’ll realize that’s just a really really intelligent kind of comedic performer, it’s just that she’s had spectacularly crappy luck as far as choosing projects go. But even when those films tank like some of them have, she always escapes them absolutely unharmed, people will always give her another chance and another one after that, because they know deep down inside that her brand of charm is really unique and she’s just a really great actress waiting for the right role to really breakout. Because, make no mistake, audiences really like her, she’s a gutsy performer that seems just super humble, and has this ditzy sort of personna built to her while at the same time seeming super smart, and she knows how to play that to great laughs.

But anyways, enough about me and my lovefest for Anna Faris, it’s just that I wanted to make it clear that any sort of success What’s Your Number? falls short from achieving is not because of her, this is just another case of her rocking the hell out of a role in a movie that’s otherwise quite bad. The title is a reference to a study in a women’s magazine that says that a woman who has had more than twenty sexual partners has about a four percent chance of ever getting married, and Ms. Faris’ character, Ally, reads it and, since she’s had nineteen, proceeds to track down all of her exes in order to see if maybe her husband-to-be is in there somewhere and they just overlooked that potential at the time and she doesn’t have to go for number twenty since that would basically make her unmarriable

So we see Ms. Faris being very good as Ally, who goes to her younger sister, played by Ari Graynor, whom she envies quite a bit, for relationship advice, and then we see her enlisting the help of Colin, the character played by Chris Evans who basically spends the movie shirtless here, and who’s Ally’s neighbor who has a lot of one-night stands and will help her track down her exes. And look, there’s something there in that premise and in the character of Ally, but the movie is so dumb as to how it plays with its subject matter that it never amounts to anything, and the approach to it even changes as the movie goes along, in one scene you get a lot coarse sex talk and in another scene it seems as though it’s an outrage that a woman has had sexual partners in the double digits, it just never really finds its footing. And it sucks because if you have an actress as witty and capable as Ms. Faris this could have potentially been a smart and sharply-observed comedy with a tinge of dramatic elements had it been done right, but instead the director and writers are more worried about it being about Ally’s encounters with all of her exes which will of course lend themselves to one recurrent joke with each guy and give the movie a chance to get a slew of cameos from some actors (which include the awesome Chris Pratt, Ms. Faris’ real-life husband).

What’s Your Number? is a film that in the end squanders any potential that could have found in the premise and in its awesome leading lady. Because, when it’s all said and done, who cares about how many people someone has slept with, and what’s worse is that by the end the film itself acknowledges this notion as stupid and not worth talking about for nearly two hours, but by then it’s obviously too late, and all you have left are a series of dumb scenes that waste the considerable talents of Anna Faris. So I guess the only thing to take out of this film is the fact that, once again, Ms. Faris survives an otherwise crappy film, elevates it to the highest heights it could have ever reached with her magnetic charm alone and moves away from it, unscathed, to keeping trying to find the project that will finally catapult her to the A-list, where she deserves to be, and which will hopefully be the new Sacha Baron Cohen movie that she’ll star in. But, until then, I’ll keep seeing her try and find it, because she’s just too damn adorable not to.

Grade: C+

50/50

27 Oct

Title: 50/50
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jonathan Levine
Writer: Will Reiser
Starring: 
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston
MPAA Rating: 
R, language throughout, sexual content and some drug use
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

 

50/50 is a film that tackles rather difficult territory, because it tries to make a comedy out of one of life’s unfunniest subject matters: cancer. And yet upon watching it, this is a film that quickly stood out for me as one of the year’s finest, because it never once downplayed the severity of the condition it was presenting, giving some really heartfelt dramatic moments in the midst of the more comedic elements that were in it. I was just really pleasantly surprised that a film managed to find a way to balance out these elements so perfectly, as Will Reiser, encouraged by his real-life best friend Seth Rogen, wrote a screenplay based on his own experiences as a young man diagnosed with cancer, and gave it over to director Jonathan Levine, coming from 2008’s very good The Wackness, who directed Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the role based on Mr. Reiser and Seth Rogen on the role based on, well, Seth Rogen, and those two give just incredible performances.

And seriously, it all falls on those two main performances, if the approach to their own characters or their chemistry with one another had been off by even the slightest measure then this film would have fallen apart, but Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Mr. Rogen are a dream team, and their supporting players, which include the lovely Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard, add a lot to the wonderful film that is 50/50, one that seemingly knows it’s walking a kind of tightrope because of the subjects it’s tackling, but that does so with utmost confidence, never once doubting itself or the strength of the sum of its parts. And that’s good because, again, this is some serious stuff we’re dealing with here, the title of the film referring to the odds of survival given to a young man in his twenties who’s battling a dangerous and rare kind of spinal cancer.

The road this movie takes is dictated by the conversation the guy that’s been diagnosed, Adam, has with his best friend, Kyle, when he tells him the bad news. That’s the scene that you’ve seen in all the trailers and clips for this movie, in which Kyle, played by Mr. Rogen in a career-best performance, states that those would be the best odds if Adam were a casino game. And that sets the tone for the whole film, a tone that makes jokes about a serious subject, true, but the jokes are a way to reflect really deep things, people who really only want to cry in despair and terror of the unknown future, but who resort to try and say something funny to cheer their friends up, many times the jokes in this movie come off more as touchingly funny than plain-out comedy. And it’s awesome that 50/50 really does pay attention to the people like Kyle, those who are around Adam and who try to figure out how to behave in front of such a terrible illness while Adam himself is battling with the prospect of maybe having to leave this Earth earlier than he intended to. That fact that this cast and crew managed to find something really funny in all of that is just tremendous.

I guess it ultimately was so perfectly balanced between the serious and the funny because it actually happened, Mr. Reiser actually was diagnosed with a spinal tumor and Mr. Rogen was actually his close friend trying to live the diagnosis through with him and desperately trying to help his friend see the light side of things, like any good funny man would. And the people involved, again, are just a wonder to watch, you have Bryce Dallas Howard who’s just brilliant as Adam’s girlfriend who knows she has to be supportive and knows what to say, but a part of her somehow can’t stand someone losing their hair and puking, and she can’t help her words coming out a bit insincere showing that she wasn’t quite as committed to the relationship to begin with, and there’s also the always great Anjelic Huston as Diane, Adam’s mother, who frantically tries to get her son to drink some green tea because it reduces the risk of getting cancer, to which Adam replies “I already have cancer.” That’s the sort of feeling that radiates through the entirety of this film, a perfectly structured comedy but that is underlined with some heavy feelings and some heavy truths.

And then there’s Anna Kendrick. And even though the scenes between Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Mr. Rogen are awesome to watch and their chemistry is amazing, it’s the scenes between Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Ms. Kendrick that really elevated this film for me. I’ve loved Ms. Kendrick since I saw her star-making and Oscar-nominated performance in Up in the Air two years ago (which was by a mile my favorite film of all 2009), and I loved her last year in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which was my eighth favorite film of 2010), and I love her again here, as she plays Katherine, Adam’s therapist. She’s a really inexperienced therapist, it must be said, as Adam is only her third patient ever, and you can see her as though she was reading from a script, desperate to be liked, to prove helpful to her patients, even to the point in which she starts caring too much and not observing from a distance like all good therapists are supposed to. She’s wonderful here, and the complicated feeling that develop between her and Adam were one of my favorite parts of the whole movie.

If people tell you that 50/50 is a “comedy about cancer” please don’t automatically discard it. Because, while it is actually that, it’s not your typical film that will try and manipulate tears from your eyes only to then give some sort of inspirational message, this film is a really unique one, one that doesn’t bullshit you at all and that manages to be really hilarious and incredibly touching at the same time, which is quite the achievement these days. And yes, some parts of it are structured a bit too much like a sitcom, but that’s fine because at least you have actors that generate some real affection, and it’s fine most of all because by the final act of the movie, Mr. Levine and his cast have so carefully established their characters that they can break free from some of the pre-established genre conventions. And that’s why the final part of this movie is so great, because it isn’t afraid of showing depth, of showing characters that aren’t constrained by boundaries, the film starts making it’s own rules, never once being controlled by the pain of the situation it’s presenting, but always feeling like work that came out of true love.

Grade: A

Weekend

24 Oct

Title: Weekend
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Andrew Haigh
Writer: Andrew Haigh
Starring: 
Tom Cullen, Chris New
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
96 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

Sixteen years ago Richard Linklater gave us Before Sunrise, a beautiful film about a young man and woman who meet while in a train ride, spend a night together in Vienna and then leave each others lives, each having a tremendous impact in the life of the other. I adore that film, the dialogue is exquisite and the approach to such kind of a love story, one that from the very get-go is presented with an end-date, is tremendous, as the film goes to offer up a really compelling character study and examination of real love. Weekend, a film written and directed by Andrew Haigh, and starring Tom Cullen and Chris New in their film debuts, elicited the same kind of reaction from me, this is the Before Sunrise for this new decade, exploring homosexuality as it goes on to show an amazing brief romance, and how experiencing pure, true love, even for such a brief time, can really impact one’s life.

I really wasn’t expecting to be as affected as I ultimately was by Weekend. This really is a very special little movie, and if you’ve ever met someone that within a span of a few days has had a huge impact on your life, you’ll really connect to it at a really great level. And what’s so terrific about this movie is that it never once seems as though it was trying to strike such a chord within us as viewers, I mean it does, it really does, but the film never once compromised any part of itself to try and achieve that, it just presented us with a relationship and trusted that we would be a smart enough audience to really appreciate it. And I really feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch a film like this, it’s impeccably authentic, and one that feels really intimate, as you feel like you’re invading the privacy of these two men and become a part of their heartbreakingly bittersweet romance.

And look, yes, this is about two men, who meet a gay club and who form their bond over the weekend that follows their drunken one-night-stand, but it really shouldn’t be labelled as a “gay movie”. That label right there automatically limits its chances of exposure, and I really think everyone should try and watch this movie, because, once you get over the fact that it’s about gay men and that it features man-on-man action, it really is just a truly remarkable romantic indie movie, about two people who have their flaws like we all do, and who connect to each other in really unexpected ways. I really loved just how incisive this whole film experience was, as we meet Russell, a guy who’s really still semi-closeted, and Glen, a gay artist. They meet, they have sex, and then they proceed to talk about the sex they just had in a rather graphic fashion, and from that ensues a truly remarkable piece of character study, as we tackle Russell’s uneasiness with being out, and Glen’s art project in which gay men talk about sex, and from those conversations they form a connection that’s amazing to watch evolve over the weekend they spend together, the sort of intimacy it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in.

And part of the reason why it’s so easy to lose yourself in this film is that very much naturalistic approach Mr. Haigh takes to their relationship, a hook-up that at first seemed destined to not much more than a morning-after coffee and chat but that unexpectedly becomes something more, something extremely vulnerable for both of these men and growingly complicated as an unavoidable goodbye glooms ever closer. And Mr. Haigh, who’s had years of experience in editing departments for films such as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, really knows how to put it all together in a way that feels truly sublime, giving us really great shots of Nottingham, shot in a quite mellow digital video, that add a lot to the eye of detail that is such a great part of Weekend, and give the film a realistic sense of rhythm that feels superb to the eye.

Mr. Haigh seriously is a talent to watch out for, the self-assuredness he demonstrates with this film is just amazing, exploring some really profound themes and giving a brilliantly focussed observation of two men, two men who have to deal with being gay while also  tackling the more universal subject of sheer sexual attraction, and the consequences of when that attraction becomes something much deeper. And as a brilliant a writer-director as Mr. Haigh may be, another stroke of genius was the casting of Mr. Cullen as Russell and Mr. New as Glen, the former is splendid at showing us a man who’s not all that comfortable in his own skin and who has a real loving side to him, while the latter avoids turning Glen into a rather obvious and caricaturesque character of a confident and somewhat confrontational gay man and gives us a really great performance, and the two together bring out a lot in each other, both the actors and their characters, and provide from some truly spell-binding moments in the film.

I loved Weekend, it’s one of the year’s best films for sure. It’s naturalistic style, of an intended lack of polish in the sound design, in us only hearing background music when the characters are, of the dialogue that seems kind of improvised even though it most likely isn’t, it’s all seriously amazing stuff. And what’s most amazing is that it never once compromises itself, a less confident director would have tried to give us all sorts of answers, thinking that its film needed that to keep its audience engaged, but Mr. Haigh knows what he has and he keeps it honest to itself and to the nature of its story, giving us an open ending, that makes the end result all that more satisfying. Go see this film, please, don’t think about it as a gay film because it’s not, it’s a film about the beauty and sadness that love can sometimes bring forward, and it’s a film that has its sexiness not in any kind of love scene, but just in the way that these two characters engage in conversation about stuff movies today don’t talk about all that much, and in the deeper subjects that come form them.

Grade: A-

Machine Gun Preacher

24 Oct

Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Marc Forster
Writer: Jason Keller
Starring: 
Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
MPAA Rating: 
R, violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
Runtime: 
129 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
25%

I remember that for a while there was some Oscar buzz surrounding Gerard Butler’s performance in Machine Gun Preacher, people were saying it looked like something that might be a good fit for him and finally get him the acting credibility he has been looking for, not to mention that he was being directed by Marc Forster, who directed Halle Berry to her Oscar for Monster’s Ball and got Johnny Depp a nomination for his work in Finding Neverland. So I was quite intrigued to watch how this film turned out to be, and quite bummed out to see that even though the potential was certainly there, the movie is just too messy and unsure to be something good, and even though the character is certainly one that could have been explored through all of his very complex layers, Mr. Butler and the movie end up squandering any opportunity for that by taking a very emotionally-lacking approach to their portrayal of him.

The film tells the story of Sam Childers, a former gang biker, an ex-con who led a lifestyle full of drugs and alcohol, but he found religion and was born again and since the late nineties has dedicated his whole life to helping out children in the war-torn areas of the Sudan. Like I said, there is stuff here that could seriously work, a story about an extra drug dealer from Pennsylvania who was part of a motorcycle gang who then converted himself over to religion and started helping orphans in one of the most devastated areas of the world. And, because he’s a man of action, he doesn’t just save the kids, but he also fights against those who get kids to live in those horrible conditions in the first place, namely the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militia that’s been wrecking havoc all over the area, burning villages, making the boys soldiers and the girls sex slaves. This is the story Hollywood dreams about, one that marries sentimental, uplifting stuff with great violence, and yet Machine Gun Preacher is a film that never figures out how to combine the two in a way that works.

And maybe that’s just what did this film in, the fact that the real story it was trying to tell was somehow just too good to be true, encompassing a lot of ethical and political situations, with a lead character that had two absolutely different sides to him, maybe it was just too much to be able to handle in this one film. I will admit, however, that the first act of this film actually worked wonders for me, and had me thinking this would really be something quite good, and maybe that’s because it opens in Pennsylvania and introduces us to Childers as he first was, with his friend Donnie by his side (played by the awesome Michael Shannon), shooting heroin, drinking and robbing people, and really making it a hard time for his wife Lynn, who’s played by the lovely Michelle Monaghan, and their daughter. That part worked for me because Mr. Forster is a director who, as he proved with Monster’s Ball, can handle really well that gritty kind of reality, and he takes it head on, until one day, just released from a stint in prison and having engaged in a night of his usual despicable excesses, Sam goes with Lynn and his mom to church and finds God.

From then Sam becomes this man with a purpose, he feels he’s meant to go to Africa to help out as he can, and he does, deciding to build an orphanage in the middle of a war zone to aid the huge amounts of suffering he’s been a witness of. And once we’re settled in Africa we’re set to deal with the meaning of the film’s title, if a man of God can also be a man capable of exacting a huge amount of violence, as we see Sam, now a changed man, having to go back and take something from his violent past in order to go to combat against the Lord’s Resistance Army. And I didn’t quite like that part of the film, as we get Sam battling with the fact that his supposed purpose is pulling him away from his family and having him commit all of these horrible things, and that whole moral ambiguity didn’t really do it for me. And it didn’t do it for me because I couldn’t connect to Sam to that level, I didn’t care about what it all meant for him, maybe because even though he’s born again and certainly seems to have done something of meaning in his life for a change, it didn’t really seem as though he had really changed all that much deep inside of him.

So that’s why I won’t really be recommending Machine Gun Preacher, because I just didn’t know what it was trying to say. This is supposed to be a man that made the sacrifice of leaving his family to go on a spiritual sort of mission, but more often than not it seems that the guy is just driven by his desire to go shoot some people, though, it must be said, kudos have to given to Mr. Butler because he really does his best at trying to really get us to sympathize with Childers here, even if he fails at getting us to connect or even understand the inner conflicts of the man. But still, I think that even though its pieces are quite effective, once you sum it all up you have a film that doesn’t really know what it was trying to say or where it was trying to go. And it’s a real pity considering how amazing the real-life material this one was working with was, and how it got squandered to be little more than a few action-movie conventions set alongside a couple of sentimental clichés to try and get you inspired.

Grade: C+