Friday, January 27, 2012

Movie Review: "The Grey"

There are few movies that I'd say are purely for guys, and The Grey is one of them.  Directed by Joe Carnahan, The Grey is a tense survival tale, and a contemplative piece about the fear and certainty of death.  When a plane carrying oil riggers crashes in the snowy Alaskan wilderness, they are isolated with no sign of help, and are being hunted by wolves.  Their only hope for survival is a wolf hunter, played by Liam Neeson. 

Chalk this one up as another Liam Neeson-starrer where he plays the awesome middle aged man with mean skills and superb attitude.  While not a write home performance, Neeson, and the rest of the cast, for that matter, all do their jobs admirably.  While the script is nimble, often not fleshing out the supporting characters beyond stock facades, The Grey is really about one thing, Liam Neeson, killing wolves, and survival.  The tale is so harrowing, so tense, so gripping, you cannot turn your eyes away.   Even in the quiet moments, you are tense, because you do not know how far behind the wolves are, this is a testament to the superb direction from Carnahan, who is proving himself to be one of the better directors of his generation.

I give The Grey an A-

Friday, January 20, 2012

Movie Review: "Red Tails"

George Lucas's long gestating film about the Tuskegee Airmen finally made its way to the silver screen.  While Lucas only has an executive producing credit on the film, Red Tails (named for the red-painted tails of the Tuskegee Airmens' planes) has much in common with George Lucas's Star Wars films.  Rather than delivering a Saving Private Ryan, Lucas, alongside producing partner, Rick McCallum, and director Anthony Hemingway, often slight the history to create a film that is pure entertainment.  Red Tails is reminiscent of the war films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Propagandist in a sense.  It's heroic, pulpy, and chock full of adventure.  It does not paint the Germans as human beings, but as soulless bad guys.  In many ways, the film simply pales in comparison to modern day war films, where filmmakers are now more interested in representing the psychological and human issues that war brings than trying to represent the daring courage and heroism of the military.  Even if Red Tails features stock characters we've seen a hundred times before, it's a fun, action-packed adventure.  While I do hope that someday a historically accurate, and thought provoking film about the Tuskegee Airmen will finally be made, for now, Red Tails will entertain, but not necessarily inform.

I give Red Tails a D

Movie Review: "Haywire"

Funny enough, it's rare nowadays that a film's title actually sums up my feelings about an individual film, but that is the case with Haywire.  A black ops soldier is set up and is now seeking revenge on the people who set her up.  The only difference between this film and almost every action flick of the '90s is that it features a female protagonist (actress Gina Carano), and is directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Unfortunately, this is not one of Soderbergh's better efforts.  It's just when there is nothing new added to this tried story other than a female lead who is nowhere near as charismatic as the male action stars that anchored these kinds of movies in the '90s, why should I watch it?  Not to mention, the movie's chaotic pace, that makes it hard to follow, leaving no time for emotion, making this film cold and heartless.

I give Haywire an F

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Predicting the Globes

I rarely know where to stand with the Golden Globes -- one of the major precursors to the Oscars. What makes the Globes unique is that it is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who vote on these awards, in short it is an organization made up of men and women from other countries voting for their favorites from this year in American film. Another thing that makes the Globes unique is how it divides films into two categories, Comedy and Drama, so that it is harder to get a grasp as to what movie or performance is trending come Oscar time. As well, the Globes don't meander into tech categories like the Oscars, nor do they separate Original Screenplay from Adapted. So basically, anything can happen with the Globes, which is why I tend to have a worse track record at predicting them, but I love this type of game, so I'm gonna do it anyway.

Same as the past two years, Ricky Gervais is hosting again. Will he offend nearly everyone in Hollywood? Yep. His schtick is getting sort of old now, and I don't seem to get why the HFPA are so keen on him. The Globes had been without a host for nearly two decades and was highly entertaining, why Gervais was brought on two years ago, is beside me. Regardless, you watch these shows for who wins and to see your favorite film folk, plus, as an added bonus the Globes dish awards for television. Now, I don't watch enough TV to really be informed enough to do good predicting, so I steer clear of those categories. As such, the Globes have a tendency to go with big names rather than smaller ones, so I'm taking that into account in my predictions. So without further ado, here they are:

Best Original Song - "The Living Proof," The Help
Best Original Score - Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Best Screenplay - Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Best Director - Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Foreign Language Film - A Separation
Best Animated Feature Film - The Adventures of Tintin
Best Actor-Comedy or Musical - Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress-Comedy or Musical - Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Best Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical
- The Artist
Best Actor-Drama
- George Clooney, The Descendants
Best Actress-Drama
- Viola Davis, The Help
Best Motion Picture-Drama - The Help

So I'm predicting a big night for The Artist and The Help. Even though The Help did not get a screenplay or directing nod, I think there might just be enough of a love for the movie itself to get it the big win (as well, the Globes love populist fare, just look at two years ago when Avatar swept the show). As for Tintin for Animated, just another wild hunch, with the character being so popular overseas, perhaps enough childhood memories of the voters gets him a win. Plus, The Artist just seems unstoppable at this point, and with it being a French production, I foresee the HFPA being very kind, allowing it to usurp John Williams in the score category.

Find out what really happens tonight at 6 p.m., central time. NBC gets the honors of seeing if I can improve on my 7 out of 14 tally from last year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Movie Review: "The Descendants"

Director Alexander Payne's The Descendants is a star vehicle for George Clooney. Here Clooney portrays a Hawaiin father who must deal with pulling the plug on his wife in acoma whilst trying to learn how to take care of his two daughters and learning at the same time his wife was having an affair. All just peachy. The brilliance of Clooney's performance shines in his ability to make the transitions from his character, Matt King's dealings with his wife dying and caring for his daughters to him hunting for the man his wife was seeing on the side. By handling these transitions so deftly, Clooney and Payne manage to evoke humor and pathos in these moments, just as it very often emerges in real life, and it is always believable. It can be seen in Clooney's eyes when a line or action triggers his change in emotion, such as when he follows the man home and learns that he has a wife and kids, there is a noticable reaction due to this visual trigger. Of course, Clooney gets stellar support from the acting ensemble, in particular his potty-mouthed seventeen-year-old, played authentically by Shailene Woodley. While the resolution drags, resolving the major conflicts a touch too early, the emotions on display here are so real that Alexander Payne's deglamorization of the Hawaain lifestyle never fails to keep one watching.

I give The Descendants an A!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review Roundup: Marilyn Monroe, a "Dragon Tatto," and a "Zoo"

I've gotten backed up on my reviews recently, but what can I say, there's been so many movies come out that I've wanted to see I've spent more of my time watching movies than writing about them, which is how I prefer it. As it is, over the past two weeks or so I've been catching up on movies that I missed from the earlier part of the year, while catching some movies just now reaching my neck of the woods and finishing up with all of the major holiday releases that I wanted to see. Even still, I have at least four or five more movies I wanna see before I feel I can effectively finish my year end list of my favorite movies from 2011, and this is just another step in that end game with my reviews of: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, My Week With Marilyn, and We Bought A Zoo. So bear with me, my 2011, Year in Review is coming, as I am aiming for next Friday, a week from today.


Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not a kiddie movie, but a fell-fledged aberration from what is acceptable in modern culture. Tons of nudity, sex, and violence, infiltrate the senses within the two-and-a-half hour runtime of David Fincher's adaptation of the bestselling novel, of a hacker enlisted to solve a fifty-year-old cold case. The senses are barraged with so much of what is typically not seen as socially acceptable, that it is often hard to find a grasp as to the story and the purpose of why our senses were barraged to begin with. Not only that, screenwriter Steven Zaillian gets a bit carried away with the adaptation, with so much of the story focused on Lisbeth Salander, the titular girl with the dragon tattoo (who is played well by Rooney Mara), rather than focusing on Daniel Craig trying to solve the murder. The thing is, Salander plays no real importance to the plot till halfway into the film, and that first half could have easily been shortened had so many scenes of Lisbeth not been included that did little to add to the story or to her character, but simply add to the barrage on our senses. Well acted, with moments of genuine suspense, but is filled with too much excess to find any real traction to keep one engaged in the story or its characters.

I give The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo an F!


Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn is almost a forgotten Marilyn Monroe classic in its own right, but rather than playing the traditional blond that she was known as, Marilyn is simply herself. My Week With Marilyn is only a small slice of Marilyn Monroe's life, transpiring over the four month filming of the movie, The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. The primary story follows 23-year-old Colin Clark, played naively by Eddie Redmayne, the third assistant director on the picture who becomes friends with Monroe, and perhaps more. The movie is based upon the true Colin Clark's memoirs from the set of the movie, and what is so brilliant is how the movie hints at the larger issues in Marilyn Monroe's life, relaying things such as Marilyn's desires to be taken seriously as an actress and to be a mother through how actress Michelle Williams plays Monroe, and never wastes time showing us her entire life story, keeping us in Clark's experiences with Monroe and simply letting that shape the picture of who the woman was. While the subplot between Colin and wardrobe assistant, Lucy (Emma Watson), is shortchanged for the Colin-Marilyn relationship, the film as a whole is just a fascinating marvel for a lover of film history. Plus, it sure is a kick to see Kenneth Brannagh as Sir Laurence Olivier.

I give My Week With Marilyn a B+!


Movie Review: We Bought A Zoo

Few movies are as genuinely good-natured as We Bought A Zoo, and sometimes it's just fun to watch movies about the human spirit and to realize that life truly is beautiful. In We Bought A Zoo, Matt Damon portrays Benjamin Mee, a widowing father who is now having to care for his fourteen-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter on his own, so what is his solution when his son is expelled from school, to buy and renovate a zoo, of course. What We Bought A Zoo captures so effortlessly is grief and love, how both can often be the same, yearning for lost love, and how one can conquer the other and help a person to carry on with life. Benjamin and his family rediscover love in their newfound home, love with the zoo staff -- from Scarlett Johansson to Elle Fanning -- to the animals themselves, and also rediscover their love for one another. We Bought A Zoo is just honest and true in how it portrays relationships, in how Benjamin tries to figure out his relationship with his distant teenage son, and how he tries to keep his daughter from having to grow up too quickly and help her remain an innocent child. The real winners here are the actors, Damon, Johansson, the kids who portray Benjamin's children -- in particular the too-cute-for-her-own-good Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie -- I especially loved Thomas Haden Church as Benjamin's older brother who lends some of the largest laughs of the movie. Simply what director Cameron Crowe has achieved here is a movie that is funny, touching, and genuinely makes you feel good. Of special note, the music by Sigur Ros' Jonsi accentuates all of the right moments and never misses a beat.

I give We Bought A Zoo an A+!