Thursday, January 8, 2015

Interstellar Review

Interstellar is a very ambitious movie.  And in a time when so many movies aim to be mediocre, mass-appeal, CGI-smorgasbords,  a movie that tries to be big and important and occasionally succeeds is a very exciting thing.

Interstellar follows a team of scientists/astronauts, led by Matthew McConaughey, into the far reaches of the universe in search of another habitable planet.  That's about all I'll say about the plot, since many of the thrills of this movie come from experiencing the twists and turns the story takes.

Which leads me to my main criticism of Interstellar.  It just tried to be too many things at once.  This two and a half hour movie dives into so many subplots, rabbit holes, and digressions, that it doesn't really do justice to any of them.  There are no less than six "big ideas" tossed into the air during this film, any one of which would have provided enough material to explore for the entire running length.  Instead, we get meager little helpings of all six, and not one full, satisfying meal.  Because of this, there were parts of the movie that were very engaging and exciting, and then other parts that I just wanted to fast-forward through.  Nolan just couldn't keep all the balls in the air at the same time, which is understandable.  No one could.

If I had one other criticism of Interstellar, it would be that it tried a bit to hard to jerk tears, a few too many times.  It's like Christopher Nolan heard critics say that his films were cold and unemotional, and he said "You want emotion?  I'll pack so much emotion into one film you're head will spin!" As someone who absolutely loved his previous films, and wasn't bothered by their supposed sterility, this borderline melodrama rubbed me the wrong way.  Anne Hathaway's "love is the only force that transcends time and space" speech was particularly schmaltzy.  That being said, there were some moments that really hit me in the gut and have stayed with me.  Matthew McConaughey watching his children's tapes from home was powerful, in large parts due to McConaughey's vulnerable, raw performance.

Criticisms aside, Interstellar has stayed with me for the few days since I've seen it, which isn't true of most other big-budget adventure pictures I've seen recently.  At times, the spectacle is truly awe-inspiring, made all the more impressive by Nolan's frequent use of practical effects.  The emotion of the film, while at times a bit ham-fisted, occasionally packs the punch it was aiming to.  And above all, I don't want to knock a movie for dreaming big.  4/5 stars.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Whiplash Review

Whiplash is the most intense movie I've seen since The Grey.  As a reminder, The Grey is about Liam Neeson being constantly attacked by vicious wolves in the desolate Alaskan frontier.  Whiplash is about a jazz orchestra.

Directed by relative newcomer Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is about a young man named Andrew (Miles Teller) who is accepted into one of the top jazz orchestras at a fictional music conservatory, reminiscent of Julliard or Yale.  Once in, Andrew encounters Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a sadistic instructor who torments students in order to create true artists.

Fletcher may be one of the most fascinating characters ever put on a screen.  J.K. Simmons' performance is unpredictable and terrifying.  He has such a powerful stage presence, it's no wonder the performers in the band (many of whom are real musicians, not actors) look panic-stricken whenever he is conducting.  I'd be shocked if Simmons doesn't net a Best Supporting Actor nomination this year.

Miles Teller is equally commanding, if in a less showy way. We as an audience come to realize Andrew is just as damaged as Fletcher, just in different ways.  The movie is about these two vain, selfish, cruel humans navigating around each other and clashing.  It's explosive.

Like I said at the beginning of this review, I spent the entirety of this film clutching the arm grips of my chair.  I had no idea what was going to happen next, and I was scared to find out.  This independent film about a jazz orchestra is more thriller than drama, and it's certainly one of the best movies of the year.


Friday, September 9, 2011


I liked Contagion, although it was flawed, particularly in the third act.  However, the first two acts were effective enough to make me forgive the third’s shortcomings.
Contagion was different, which is probably what I appreciated most about it.  The most noticeable differentiation between this and movies like it is the evident lack of zombies.  The disease in the film is not a supernatural, science-fiction future  disease.   It is just a disease we have not yet encountered, and are therefore unprepared for.  It doesn’t turn its victims into zombies or vampires or zombie-vampires.  It makes them sick and then it kills them.  Which, when you think about it, is much scarier than a sci-fi zombie disease.  In zombie movies, the breakout is just the stepping-stone for the real threat.  In this movie, the threat is the disease itself, which is much more elusive and less combatable than a hoard of zombies.  You don’t know when the disease will get you, and once it does, it’s too late.
The ensemble acting was fine, if not remarkable.  This isn’t a knock on the actors here, many of who are some of my favorites, but rather a flaw in the script itself.  The film had trouble expressing the emotional consequences of a deadly outbreak such as this.  The few times it did felt awkward and forced.  I also noticed a definite downplaying of significant deaths, which I’m assuming was on purpose, to show how sudden death could be. 
The first two acts of the film work efficiently and effectively.  They instill the sense of dread and helplessness necessary for a film like this to work, and more importantly, they don’t glamorize and dress it up.  The film presents the facts as they would be presented in real life.  The film isn’t trying hard to entertain the audience; it’s trying hard to captivate them.  This deliberate, realistic pace makes the later scenes of riot and destruction more terrifying, as we’ve already been convinced this is all taking place in the real world.
As I said, the disappointment comes in the third act, or roughly the last half hour of the film.  Basically, SPOILER ALERT, Contagion found its resolution too early and too easily.  There was never any real climax.  Things got bad, things got fixed, and then the movie went on for another thirty minutes.  I kept waiting for the other foot to drop, and some horrific twist to occur, but nothing ever did.  The film ended by showing how the disease began, which might have been interesting if scientists hadn’t already correctly predicted it in the first half of the film.  They didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know.
Mediocre third act aside, Contagion was a smart, engaging, and most importantly, very realistic portrayal of a possible phenomenon.  The first two acts of the film were expertly crafted, and have left me feeling very conscious whenever I touch my face or shake hands with someone.


Sunday, July 31, 2011


            With Somewhere, Sofia Coppola took a not very complex story and tried to pretend it was some deep, insightful masterpiece.  She did this by dragging out shots to nearly unbearable lengths, and made the bold move of not ever really having anything happening in the movie.  She tried to make her own little 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The problem was, she just didn’t have as much to say as Kubrick did.  With Odyssey, Kubrick would place an image on the screen, leave it their long enough for the audience to think about it, and then he would move on.  Coppola tried to do this too, but missed the part where you show something worth thinking about for ten minutes. 
            Take the opening shot of the movie:  A black Ferrari drives laps on a dirt course in the middle of nowhere.  Each lap takes a long time, as most of the track is off screen.  After about the second lap, the audience understands that this is probably a metaphor for the main character’s life; how he is “going around in circles”, and that despite his obvious financial success, he’s still left unfulfilled and bored in his life.  Then Coppola lets the shot go on for about another nine laps.
            She uses these excruciatingly long sequences of monotony throughout the film regularly.  I realize she did this to make the audience see just how dull and tedious the protagonist’s life is, but she could have done this in about four minutes and then moved on with the story.  Instead, we’re left with the feeling that she just needed to pad out the film’s running time.
            The fact is the story itself just wasn’t new or interesting enough to warrant such ballsy moves on the part of the filmmaker’s.  Stephen Dorff plays a guy who, despite his riches and numerous women, is left unfulfilled in life due to his lack of meaningful relationships.  This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept.  In fact, Crazy Stupid Love, which I just saw last night, deals with this same exact concept with a secondary character, and still manages to be entertaining and funny and dramatic, and doesn’t feel the need to torture the audience into understanding the point. 
            All this being said, I didn’t hate this movie.  I realized all the reasons that I should have hated it, but for some mysterious reason, I just didn’t.  It could be Elle Fanning as the protagonist’s daughter, who shines brilliantly and injects the film with a very intentional jolt of energy.  It could be the music, which I really dug.  But I think the reason I couldn’t hate this movie is that it actually tried to be something.  I would much rather see a movie that tried to be great and wound up being mediocre than a movie that tried to be mediocre and succeeded, (Green Lantern, Transformers, Thor, Captain America, which was so mediocre I couldn’t even think of enough things to write about it to warrant writing a full review).  This is the first time all summer that I’ve been able write a lot about a movie I’d seen, and for that, I’m grateful.  It feels good having a lot to say about a movie, even if most of those things aren’t positive. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses is hilarious.  Seriously.  Go see it.  You’ll like it.  I promise.
            And don’t worry. This isn’t one of those comedies that shows all the best jokes  in the trailers, which is what I was afraid of, since those were some damn funny trailers.  Don’t get me wrong, they showed some great moments, but there are many more to be had in this movie.  And it’s probably for the best that they showed such funny stuff in the trailers, since I actually wasn’t planning on seeing this until I watched the full trailer and laughed my caboose off.
            This is an unparalleled comedic ensemble cast, and each of the seven, yes seven, lead actors gets to have his/her moment in the sun.  That being said, Charlie Day is the best.  This will be the film to propel him to stardom.  Every line he said was met with uproarious laughter by my theater, and more importantly, he just portrayed an extremely likable guy.  Mark my words, Horrible Bosses will do for Charlie Day what The Hangover did for Zach Galifianakis.  Let’s just pray Day handles it better than Galifianakis did.  
            Like I said, the remaining six cast members are also hilarious, especially Kevin Spacey.  Jason Sudeikis had the toughest sell in front of him, as he was the only cast member I wasn’t partial to before the film.  Also, his character causes the most trouble for the protagonists, so he could have easily come off very irritating.  I’m happy to say he wound up being just as likable and funny the rest of the cast.
            It’s hard to discuss this movie without spoiling too much, as much of the enjoyment stems from the shocking and unexpected twists the plot takes.  For a comedy, this movie was surprisingly intense.  I jumped at a few parts, and was really concerned about what would happen to the main characters.  I guess that just goes to show how far good, likable protagonists can go.  Even if it hadn’t been funny, this would have made for a very interesting film.  The pants pooping hysterics are just a bonus.
            So seriously, just go see it.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Transformers: The Dark of the Moon

            It doesn’t make sense to rate Transformers: The Dark of the Moon.  This isn’t a movie that deserves to be described as “good” or “bad”.  The only way to describe it would be to call it “a Transformers movie”.
            That being said, this movie is bad.  It wasn’t as goddamn painful as Revenge of the Fallen was, but it was still bad.  To be honest, I have a hard time remembering anything from any of the Transformers movies.  They’re all just a blur.  But I do remember my reactions to them, and my reaction to this one was far less severe than my reaction to the second one.  So kudos on that Michael Bay.
            As with both the other Transformers movies, the only parts that I really found interesting were the scenes before the giant robots show up.  I enjoy seeing Shia LaBeouf’s crazy antics as he tries to get with a hot girl.  It’s entertaining to me.  I might even watch a whole movie of that.  Especially if you add an over the top John Malkovich.  Then the giant robots showed up and completely ruined everything.
            I’ve noticed with huge, CGI driven movies like these, my mind turns off as soon as the action starts.  When I see giant robots and aliens fighting in a big city, my eyes immediately glaze over, my brain turns off, and I don’t switch it back on until real people show up again and start talking.  This isn’t intentional, it’s just that it is very difficult to relate and be emotionally involved in scenes that you know were created in somebody’s computer.  That is why I was a little more pleased with this Transformers movie.  There was actually an action scene that I didn’t zone out on.  The scene in question is the one where the team of humans is inside the building that is being tipped over by a big worm transformer.  For the first time in this series, I actually was interested in one of the action scenes, which is a big deal.
            That’s really all I have to say about this movie.  It wasn’t as horrible as the second one, but it still wasn’t any better than getting punched in the head.  I’m looking forward to next week when I get to review Horrible Bosses, since for the first time this summer, I don’t already know if that movie is going to be good or not. It’s hard to complain too much about Transformers or Green Lantern, since you know what you are getting when you buy your ticket.  I’m excited for a surprise.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern

           As far as stupid superhero movies go, Green Lantern was mostly watchable.  I wasn’t dying to get out of the theater five minutes in, which was a nice change of pace from most of the other summer blockbusters released so far (with the exception of Super 8).  I’m sure my expectations played a role in my enjoyment of the film.  I expected it to be god awful, and it was just semi awful.
            Obviously the acting wasn’t anything special.  Ryan Reynolds is a likeable guy, Blake Lively is gorgeous, and Tim Robbins is that guy from The Shawshank Redemption.  My favorite character had to be Peter Sarsgaard as the secondary villain, Hector Hammond.  My reason for this was that he was the only character that I hadn’t seen a million times in other superhero movies.  There’s the cocky lead that gets responsibility suddenly thrust onto him, there’s the generic love interest, there’s the nerdy comic relief friend, etc.  Sarsgaard actually thought outside the box with his character, and gave him some interesting depth that was unique in a movie like this.  In fact, I’m kind of surprised the studio executives let him get away with playing the villain as a whiny, darkly amusing nerdlinger.  However he got away with it, good for him.
            The main villain came in the form of Parallaxagam (or something like that, I’m not bothering to double check imdb for this review), a giant cloud of evil fear gas.  This villain was much scarier when it appeared 20 years ago in Fern Gully.  The only time Parallaxative was actually menacing was when it swarmed New York at the end of the movie, since the audience had something to compare it to, size wise.  This was actually a pretty intimidating visual.  For the rest of the movie, it just hung about in space, looking as ominous as a Rastafarian wig that someone dropped in a fish tank.  And for the love of God, if you’re going to make your villain a giant cloud of gas, don’t give him a tiny human head in the center.  That just looks stupid.  Seeing as how he never said anything important anyway, I’d have suggested just scrapping the head and all of its useless dialogue entirely. 
            I’d like to take a look at the comics the movie was based off of and see if there would have been a way to make the aliens look less cartoony.  There was uproarious laughter in my theater every time the “elder” aliens were shown, and stifled laughter every time Mark Strong appeared.  If they wanted the effects to look that ridiculous, the filmmakers should have made the movie itself a bit more light and fun, rather than taking itself so darn seriously. 
            All in all, if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be terrible, you’re mostly right, but maybe not completely.  And if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be a masterpiece, nothing I can say is going to dissuade you from seeing it.  Everybody wins.