Monthly Archives: September 2012

Weekly Recap 9/23 – 9/29

9/23/12 The Master (2012)

I’ll get around to seeing this again. I’ll also get around to writing more than two sentences and hotlinking some screenshot to my initial thoughts.

9/25/12 Take Shelter (2011)

Michael Shannon’s face is a leather jacket. I wouldn’t want to wear it, but I’ll watch it in anything, especially if he’s half as good as his blistering performance in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. But honestly, the dread psychosis Shannon’s character grapples with can be read on his facial expressions alone. He starts experiencing startling nightmares and visions of a massive storm, but the problem is everyone thinks he’s wacko. His wife is his lone ally, played marvelously by Jessica Chastain in what in hindsight was clearly a career year. Chastain is a freaking monument of tolerance and loyalty, and Nichols’ script puts her through the ringer. By its climax, different kinds of trust are demanded from both Shannon and Chastain in an effort to keep their marriage together. What’s more, David Wingo’s score sprinkles tinny echoes throughout, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t sound like wind chimes. Although Take Shelter’s gut punch of an ending might seem cheap in its ambiguity, this remains a corrosive study of one man’s destructive psyche — a tale that mirrors the likes of Dom Cobb’s obsession with reality in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. In my own crazed mind, that’s high praise.

9/29/12 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Who? After five installments of Connery, George Lazenby’s one (and only) appearance in an official Bond role is disorienting at first, refreshing occasionally, and uneven throughout. A 007 veteran, Peter Hunt’s transition from the editing room to director’s chair clearly overwhelmed him as he can’t quite decide what to do with his camera, vacillating from dynamic long tracks to cheap-looking zooms, and bafflingly enough, incomprehensibly-edited action sequences. Aside from its incessant need to remind you its story takes place in the Swiss Alps, ‘The Spy Who Loved Skis’ deserves credit for its gigantic cajones. Not only does it question Bond’s ability to get a job done (via his ‘resignation’ from MI6), but it calls out his philandering and magic wiener by turning 007 into a full-time lover. The conceit doesn’t always work, especially since Bond’s fiancee in Diana Rigg eventually ditches any promise of wit, but the mere prospect of de-clawing Fleming’s iconic creation is a bold idea, and one that keeps its word til the very end. Well, just nearly.

This week was pretty… weak. I promise I’ll have more Cage soon, too. Or I’ll collapse from the weight of a hundred unfulfilled promises.

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There will be confusion: ‘The Master,’ reviewed

I’ll likely write more on PTA’s latest after a second viewing, but for now:

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Judge Dead

According to HitFix, Dredd placed sixth this past weekend at $6.3 million, behind End of Watch, Trouble With the Curve, and House at the End of the Street. Those were all new to theaters. But Dredd also managed to lose out to Finding Nemo 3D — rereleased eight years after its initial run — and last week’s Resident Evil installment. Looking at its earnings, you’d think Dredd came out in August. You might also think ‘What the hell is Dredd?’

Neither of those thoughts are good.

In a genre overstuffed with repetitive, formulaic cash grabs, Dredd stands out as a simple and entertaining example of a comic adaptation that really works. Oh, and its 3D is worth the ticket price, which is also a sentence I never thought I’d type. Most critics dug it (17/28 positive Metacritic reviews, 77% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and audience reactions have been even more positive. So what’s the problem?

  • Judge Who? – Now I was pretty excited to watch Eomer, son of Eomund deliver some ruthless justice to Mega City-One’s miscreants, but as my Star Wars novel collection likes to remind me: I’m a beautiful and unique flower. The vast majority of people don’t know who Dredd is, and on the off chance they do, they’re likely still forgetting Sly Stallone’s cringeworthy middle finger to the source material.
  • We Won’t Say A Thing – People don’t necessarily need to have some past familiarity with a character to enjoy it, but Dredd was facing decent competition already. Shouldn’t Lionsgate have done a little more to introduce him?

  • There’s a vague mention of what a “Judge” actually does, and we get a few shots of ‘that mean lady from Game of Thrones’ but other than that? I still wouldn’t know what this is, and I’m not just being unfair to 60 second TV spots.
  • I dug Dredd’s theatrical trailer, but again, that’s because I already knew who he was. To most people, he looks like another one-note antihero with a bucket on his head. At least draw a connection to Avengers or Batman. DO SOMETHING. Spoiling action set pieces or making bad judgment puns is no way to go about selling this. Though in hindsight this is all very ‘duh.’
  • Is it the 3D? Maybe it’s the 3D – Yes, those studios love to tag on the extra $2.50, but it’s actually worth it. Director Pete Travis does some cool things with three dimensions here, and the effect never feels cheap. I know, I can’t believe it either.

Studios, in general, do not like ‘new.’ Of course, when running a top entertainment enterprise with millions of dollars to keep track of, dependability is understandable; executives want profit, ROI, recognition, as they should. But dependability too often leads to predictability on the consumer’s end. There are those who enjoy going to a movie on a Saturday night and getting exactly what they expected, and that’s perfectly fine. But less variety is usually a bad thing.

Since Dredd likely won’t get a sequel, a reboot, a rehash, or a remake, the ever present ‘comic book’ movie genre has lost a little something. It wasn’t a huge hit to the superhero boom, and Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers will keep right on chugging along. But we definitely lost something.

So if you’re looking to avoid all the Paul Thomas Anderson pretension this week, maybe consider thinking about possibly seeing this movie?

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Weekly Recap 9/16 – 9/22

9/16/12 For a Good Time, Call… (2012)

9/18/12 Chungking Express (1994)

“Some things need time to sink in.”

Quentin Tarantino loved Wong Kar-Wai’s breakout film so much he picked it up for distribution through his short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures. Though debate persists as to why the film was such a box office disappointment in the U.S., Chungking Express might not have been a film for the masses. Period. That screen cap isn’t shoddy frame stopping on my part; the director is painting. The step-printed images are meant to be blurry. Wong Kar-Wai’s samples colors, melodramatic actors — some of whom are cloyingly romantic — 90’s urban soundscapes and low-lit street corners and back alleys, the dingy places where smuggling deals are made. Everyone dwells on the past. The seedy, midnight shroud is reminiscent of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, and that’s probably not a coincidence. Its structure and dissections of love — one on memory, the other, time — are less disjointed as they are deliberately segmented. There are thematic connections here of course, but any story links are fleeting, like a bump of strangers in the bustle of Hong Kong night life.

9/19/12 Haywire (2011)

In some respects, Steven Soderbergh’s commercial tryst from his experimental indulgence of, really doing whatever the hell he wants, feels influenced by what’s come before. I haven’t seen Magic Mike, but Haywire rejects the Bourne series and its influence on Hollywood fare. Haywire’s story isn’t nearly as essential: something about contracted killers hired out by Uncle Sam and something about a double cross. And really that’s all you need there. More importantly however, Soderbergh’s style is an affront to Greengass’ reviled/imitated shaky cam style from Supremacy and Ultimatum. You’ll find few quick cuts, and Soderbergh’s long takes and deep focus shots elevate routine chase sequences and an amazingly okay performance from MMA amazon Gina Carano. Couple that with its authentic fight sequences and David Holmes’s retro horn sex, and baby, you got a stew goin’!

9/21/12 Dredd 3D (2012)

I could go on about how much I loved Karl Urban’s perma-scowl, the film’s hyper-violence, Lena Headey’s smart villain, the intricate world building so foreign to most actioners, the script’s commitment to a simple premise, or the actual ingenuity of 3D in a film. But I won’t, because there probably won’t be another Dredd movie.

9/22/12 Magnolia (1999)

Is anything clear after only one viewing of a Paul Thomas Anderson film? Maybe I’m buying too much into the critical cult here. Or maybe I just didn’t care for the ridiculously sprawling and cumbersome Magnolia. Its daunting long takes put everything this side of Pulp Fiction and Children of Men to shame with their rigorous coordination. What is apparent is Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackey and his ability to be loathsome and fascinating and magnetic all at once. But PTA’s style almost insists upon itself here. Along with those long takes, Anderson’s original screenplay is impenetrable to tackle against its scope and massive runtime. From The Master stretching back to Boogie Nights, Anderson’s been fascinated with family issues and relationships, and I was certainly entranced, even with its trudging pace. PTA’s pre-millennium mass probably deserves a second take. I’m just not looking forward to setting aside another three hours anytime soon.

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Would someone explain to Mr. Shyamalan where he can find the @ key?

Quick. Do a Google search for M. Night Shyamalan’s Twitter account. It should be right next to “twist endings” on recommendations.

Got it? Now check out his timeline. Don’t bother toggling the “All” and “No Replies” view options either. They’re exactly the same.

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I’m not complaining about his lack of discretion. Taking issue with someone you follow on Twitter is a lot like calling them up and then getting mad when they talk to you. No, I’m not even annoyed; more amused. There’s an ‘old man’ kind of quality to this that’s fascinating, since it’s apparent he knows full well how to use most of Twitter’s features.

He can certainly retweet:

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Terrible “apple twist vodka” puns aside, I find it rather strange to see the man’s conversations played out in the Twittersphere (I think that’s a thing). Shyamalan’s responses are never directed at the respective account. They remain nested within the Newsfeed like everything else.

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Then again, a part of me thinks he’s fully aware of what he’s doing and that this is nothing like my dad forgetting how to login into Yahoo! Mail every other day. For starters, check the dates on those RTs. Not all that current, which tells me he’s hand selecting them. Oh, and the content all generally pertains to After Earth, his forthcoming film with Will Smith as “Cypher Raige.” Yeah, I dunno either. What I do know is that this is smart marketing on Shyamalan’s part. When he’s not making himself look like a good guy, he’s shoving the #AfterEarth hashtag into the trending topics section. He got me to blog about it, and I’m not much of a fan.

Better make that two celebratory shots next time, Mr. Shyamalan.

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Just wipe down the receiver when you’re finished: ‘For a Good Time, Call…,’ reviewed

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Weekly Recap 9/9 – 9/15

9/9/12 Kill List (2011)

You can blame the lump in your throat all throughout Ben Wheatley’s Kill List on the ominous DVD menu and its cult symbol; there’s a dread that slowly rises to a crescendo. My soul has been squashed and then diced up into a million pieces. Kudos to the sound design for crafting such a truly unsettling atmosphere in, to avoid any spoilage, a very different third act. I need to see this again, I’m just not sure I’ll be ready.

Thunderball (1965)

Now Playing disagreed with my fondness for Tom Jones’ title theme, but we’re rock-solid on every other criticism of Connery’s fourth entry. It amazes me that Thunderball’s budget was so astronomical because the production value is in a perpetual state of flux. As is the audio dubbing. And green screens. Every set piece goes out of its way to be underwater or surrounded by water or at the very least about water and it’s all basically terrible. John Barry is once again fantastic and an underwater twist on the cavalry charge is nice, but it’s too little too late. To make it extra awkward, one of Bond’s early lady pursuits is a tad ‘rapey’ by today’s standards. Surprisingly, Thunderball’s sexual politics are generously muddled and it’s nice that Luciana Paluzzi calls out Bond’s magical penis powers, even if it’s too little too late. And yes, that’s the only unintentional double entendre you’ll find here.

9/11/12 Next (2007)

Um, I guess Nic Cage’s hair has gotten… pretty interesting as of late?

You Only Live Twice (1967)

In much the same way Thunderball is an overvalued Bond entry, Lewis Gilbert’s foray into Ian Fleming  is overlooked; I’m including me here. Though I recalled this as the seminal appearance of Donald Pleasance’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld, my selective memory repressed how much fun You Only Live Twice has. Gilbert is more than a competent storyteller, and sequences are shot with skill and an eye for the visually seasoned: a bird’s eye rooftop fight sequence and the silhouetted reveal of a samurai army (yes) instantly spring to mind. Twenty minutes are wholly unnecessary, especially given their Asia-fication of Sean Connery for… some reason, and its Cold War plot is merely an updated take on From Russia With Love, pitting American and Soviet space programs against one another. Still, even if it’s not particularly exciting, Roald Dahl’s script only tells us as much as we care to hear. And seriously, does John Barry never bring it with the scores? A fun helicopter battle now seems hokey in its dated effects but Barry’s use of the classic Bond theme is a cocky affirmation of what we already know: Bond’s going to escape somehow, so let’s cut the illusions and just enjoy ourselves, shall we?

9/12/12 The Innkeepers (2011)

Excuse the generalization, but it seems easier to talk about the what than the how in a film — doubly so with horror. ‘Oh and then that one part where that thing comes out of nowhere? What was up with that?’ Ti West’s The Innkeepers is all about the how, and that’s a very striking effect to leave on an audience, because he doesn’t show anything that’s truly terrifying. Most of the time, West doesn’t show much of anything. Instead, Wunderkind West — who writes, directs, and edits — exploits our trepidations to the nth degree, particularly with a bravura sequence in the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s creepy basement. Of course. Though its lack of substantive scares occasionally bogs down the momentum, The Innkeepers rises above bone-dry material, namely in Sara Paxton and Pat Healy’s amateur spirit hunters. But forget catching any satisfying shots of ghost reveals, because West deals in a taut, minimalist visual language. By the time this 100 minute slow-burn had ended, my stomach physically hurt. I was worried I’d caught some bug. Nah. Clenching.

9/14/12 Clue (1985)

Guess who’s coming to dinner? A bloody board game! Bear in mind Clue was an idea hatched over 25 years ago, long before the days of Battleship or Adam Sandler-helmed Candyland one-offs. Jonathan Lynn’s punny mystery-comedy has plenty of wit and self-awareness to distinguish itself from a bargain bin entry, but a handful of fun performances from the likes of Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, and Spinal Tap’s Michael McKean elevate what could have so easily been a phoned-in paycheck for talented character actors. Not to mention Tim Curry’s Wadsworth makes a perfect guide in this 90 minute exercise in excess. As a bonus, Clue even manages to divorce itself from its game board origins by shirking concrete resolutions. You’re not planning on any detailed detective work are you? Enjoy the ride like me. In the living room. With a glass of bourbon.

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