Month: July 2013

Trailer Reviews 7/13/13- “The Counselor” and others

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Good afternoon, everyone.  I think I’ve seen more trailers in the past week than in any similar time period before.  That’s fantastic, and some of them were even good.  Let’s see what’s coming, and if it’s attractive.  🙂

“Burn”–  If there ever were a documentary about firefighters, the one city I’d like to see involved would be Detroit, considering that some citizens of that fair city seem to enjoy setting it ablaze from time to time.  As the trailer points out, the city’s dwindling population leaves many abandoned houses and buildings, which can only invite crimes like arson.  Besides concentrating on a city in decay, the trailer tells us that we’ll see the real struggles behind a city’s firefighting force.  It takes a specific kind of person to do the job firefighters do,  and I’ll venture a guess and say it’s tougher to do that job in Detroit.  Those interested in what real struggles firefighters have may be interested in this one, which was technically released in April of 2012.  If there are any concerns, it’s that director Tom Putnam was responsible for the travesty that was “The Hottie and the Nottie”.  For real.

“Passion”– Brian DePalma’s latest features Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in starring roles, with the former playing a domineering boss, and the latter her seemingly naive understudy.  “Passion” appears to be a remake of the French film “Crime d’amour”; watching this trailer certainly brought to mind other films, like “Single White Female”, “Fatal Attraction”, and even “The Devil Wears Prada”.  It’s not a great trailer, and it may not be a good movie, considering DePalma’s track record of the past 15 years.  However, it’s possible that the ‘standout’ scene of the trailer- Rapace and McAdams getting fresh- may be the one thing that draws anyone to see this.  It’s already been delayed once, but we’ll finally have our chance to see it August 30th.  I’d normally pass on something like this, but Noomi Rapace is on my ‘must see’ list right now.

“Third Contact”–  It doesn’t get any more ‘indie’ than this.  Filmmaker Simon Horrocks made this in 2011, but just recently (yesterday) completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to get this into theaters.  Each contributor was promised a digital copy of the film to watch, which I found was a very unique way to get people to help make a film.  The question is- will the film be worth it?  If the trailer is any indication, this might actually be pretty good.  A good rule of thumb in my world is that if you have a black and white, stylish, mind-bending, sci-fi thriller that talks about ‘opening up a hole in the universe’, you may have a winner.  It’s also a great title.  There is currently no word on when the theatrical release will be, or where, but  if you really want to see it after watching the trailer, follow the director on Twitter- he’s quite prolific with his tweets.

“Diana”– German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (“The Invasion”) and Aussie actress Naomi Watts bring us a biopic on an English princess whose story is quite familiar to most people, just not on the silver screen.  This movie will apparently cover the final two years of Diana’s life, and promises to give us additional insight.  To be honest, I’m not sure what new ground this film will cover, especially with the English, whose infatuation with all things ‘Diana’ contributed, some have opined, to her demise.  It’s also possible that it has been just long enough (16 years) since her death that the filmmakers thought it was necessary to bring the past to light.  I find it interesting, although she does slightly resemble Diana, that Naomi Watts was cast.  Just as Queen Elizabeth I and II have been played by Brits, Diana seems like the type of real life figure that a Brit would seem obligated to play.  Perhaps Diana was so loved, and her death recent enough that a Brit wasn’t willing to tackle it (even American Jessica Chastain was previously cast in the role).  Either way, I don’t know if there will be anything revelatory about the film, or if it’s even necessary considering how well she was (supposedly) known.  It’s possible that a strong performance from Naomi Watts will garner enough attention to get myself or a broader audience interested.  “Diana” opens September 30th in the U.K., but no release date is currently listed for the U.S.  I’ll assume that within the following two months the U.S. will see a release.

“The Counselor”–  Some teaser trailers do just that- tease.  The teaser for “The Counselor” certainly falls into that category.  I’m going to see this no matter how this or subsequent trailers intrigue me, and for very good reasons.  Ridley Scott, a personal favorite, is behind the camera.  Cormac McCarthy, the gifted author of The Road, and No Country For Old Men, wrote the script.  Michael Fassbender is involved.  Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem add intrigue, but I only needed those first three names to get my attention and a paid ticket.  I sincerely have no idea what this movie is about other than the short blurb on IMDB, but I don’t care about that.  With these people involved, it could be about teddy bears and I’d see it.  This is the perfect blend of creative souls- the stylistic (Scott) and substantive (McCarthy).  Count me in on October 25, 2013.

“Kick-Ass 2”– Prolific comic writer Mark Millar is an odd duck.  I’m ‘not a fan’.  However, the first “Kick-Ass”, the film equivalent of his creation, if nothing else, was very interesting.  I assumed it would be funnier than what it actually was, a hyper-violent, ‘realistic’ hero movie, directed by Matthew Vaughn, someone who has crafted some really good films, like “X-Men: First Class” and “Layer Cake”.  This time around, there’s no Vaughn, replaced by “Never Back Down” helmer Jeff Wadlow.  (sigh) The red-band trailer I saw promises to deliver on more violence and realistic ‘heroes’, and I’m guessing the renamed Red Mist character should cause plenty of controversy.  Once again, the ‘main character’ (in this case Kick-Ass) takes a backseat to more colorful supporting characters.  I’m really only interested in seeing this because of Chloe Grace Moretz (really talented young actress- think Dakota Fanning but less morose) and Jim Carrey’s Colonel Stars & Stripes.  Carrey recently made some noise decrying the violence in this movie (apparently he didn’t read a script, nor was he aware of his surroundings during filming).  Kick-Ass 2 opens August 16, 2013.

“Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2”–  Despite a couple of cute moments, the first film was forgettable, and this one likely will be as well.  The movie bore no resemblance to the book I adored as a child, and have enjoyed reading to my child now.  I wish it would have, because the heart of that involves a lot of wonder and images of love from grandparents.  The first movie involved nothing incredibly inspiring, and the trailer shows science being defied once again with ‘food hybrids’. Alrighty.  See for yourself September 27,2013.

The next trailer review will include “How To Train Your Dragon 2”, “Lovelace”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and others.  Thank you for reading. 🙂

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Film Review- ‘Despicable Me 2’ (**1/2)

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Gru (Steve Carrell) gets iced by Lucy (Kristen Wiig) on his way to becoming ‘Amicable Me’.

“Despicable Me 2”   ** 1/2 (out of 5)

Every once in a while, a movie made for children will surprise me, either because I’m moved by the emotional richness of the script, or something visually astounds me.  The original “Despicable Me” wasn’t entirely either of those things, it just made me laugh.  Ok, so the scene in the original centered around the three girls and the finger puppet kittens was heartwarming, but not in the same way that Disney or even DreamWorks does ‘schmaltz’.  It’s fair to say that the sequel has even less heart, and more hyperactivity than the first.

The story centers around Gru, the former supervillain turned ‘legitimate business man and single dad, who gets pulled back into the mix by the ‘AVL’ (Anti-Villain League).  They need him to use his vast knowledge of nefarious ways to pinpoint a new villain that’s using a ‘serum’ that turns things into purple-hued monsters once injected.  He’s partnered with Lucy (Kristen Wiig), an intense AVL agent who (mild spoiler alert) might just be quirky enough to accept Gru for who he is!  Cue the awkward ‘getting to know you’ moments between the two, the hints from the three adopted girls about getting their dad out on the dating scene, and weave it with the search for the supervillain behind the purple serum, and minions doing their thing, which includes fart guns, singing 90s R&B ballads in minion-speak, and occasionally smacking each other.  The villain is fine, and occasionally funny while playing up the cultural stereotypes. 

Getting back to hyperactivity on-screen, I know that ‘kids these days’ possess tiny attention spans, enjoy ‘shiny’ things, and opt for fart jokes or colliding minions to genuine humor, but I’ve reached my limit.  The octogenarian part of my conscience tells me the sugar-induced, ping-pong style of animation lately exceeds acceptable levels, to the point of distraction, and ultimately, boredom.  Lately, my child doesn’t remember the personalities of most animated characters, or the story arcs, but reminiscing about fart noises and minion speak is easy.  It’s possible that because he’s a boy, those types of silly things are top of mind.  I know that “Despicable Me 2” isn’t around to do anything other than make money, and it has already succeeded greatly in doing that, but I don’t know exactly what it accomplishes other than existing as a bloated blooper reel.  The creator, Chris Meledandri, has made a name for himself creating beautiful animation that farts, dances, and plays nostalgic or trendy music to get our attention, in an attempt to steal some thunder from the Disney/Pixar machine.  The minions sure are initially funny- the first few hundred times they have a slap fight.  After that the slapstick humor turns into tired humor.  Then they struggle to make someone laugh, then throw in some hyperactive moments.  There’s nothing truly original here.  It’s the same idea as “Three Guys and a Little Lady” with the math switched around, mixed with some moments reminiscent of “The Incredibles”, and enough new faces to sell more merchandise at Universal Studios.

My last thought- the filmmakers created this universe, but appear to have only a smattering of villains, and no ‘heroes’? That’s depressing; I figured at this point we’d hear about the ‘Superman’ of this particular world.  If this individual doesn’t exist, then how do they define who the villains are?  How does the Anti-Villain League operate- is it like MI-6, with Double O agents, or do they call on individuals with extreme intelligence and engineering skills to combat the evil people?  Maybe I’m just too caught up in traditional definitions of good versus evil and worthwhile animation and blah.  Maybe I’m thinking too much about it (likely).  Either way, just like “Monsters University”, “Despicable Me 2” is unnecessary, feels incomplete, but isn’t terrible.

Mini Reviews- ‘Cloud Atlas’, ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Argo’

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Happy Saturday, everyone!  When I don’t get the chance to see something that’s playing in theaters, I’ll do a review of something I saw at home.  In this case, I’ve seen three movies recently that have stuck in my head, the brilliant “Cloud Atlas”, the visually stunning “Life of Pi”, and the tense, perfectly executed “Argo”.  These three have been available to rent for a while, so I’m not breaking any ground here, but I’ve finally been able to see them.  (Note- video release reviews will be mini-reviews- the big theater releases will get more ‘print’ from me.)

“Cloud Atlas”  Everything is connected.  The magnificent trailer (one of the best ever created) gave us that tagline, and after seeing this in its’ entirety, I can’t help but keep the thought in the back of my head.  From what I understand, this movie was adapted from a very engrossing novel by David Mitchell.  I confess, that like usual, I did not read the book before I saw the movie.  Most of the time that’s completely fine- if the movie is good, the original source material just enriches my experience if I get to it.  I have a feeling, considering the variety of storylines involved with this movie, that something along the way was left out of the film that fans of the novel are upset about.  That being the case, though, I can’t imagine additional material squeezed into an already full film.  Not only is it full, one really needs to pay attention to the various parallels throughout the hundreds of years that span the life of the film.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant (who, I believe, has been under-utilized as a villain) , Susan Sarandon, Doona Bae, among others, all play various roles spanning time, and so it’s quite necessary to pay attention to what’s going on.  I can assure you, the effort is wholly worth it.  “Cloud Atlas” could have been an expensive disaster, making no sense and cementing (in my head) that the films of the Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix” trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (of “Run Lola Run” and “The International”) are no longer appointment viewings.  Instead, it’s a beautiful film, in both tone and execution.  In the three weeks since I’ve seen it, I’ve thought more about this movie than any other.  The filmmakers treat the subjects of love, culture, humanity, and class-ism with such respect that I can’t help but admire their efforts.  Although it wasn’t represented at the Oscars this past year, I truly feel this was the best film I’ve seen in the past year; it’s bold, unconventional, and successful in weaving a multitude of storylines around a central theme that we are all connected.

*Side note- I saw “Cloud Atlas” at home, in 2D.  Theaters were offering 3D showings of this film, but I didn’t make it there, and the 3D version isn’t available to rent or purchase.  Although most 3D versions of movies don’t bother to take the time and make an acceptable conversion, I feel strongly that this one would have been worth the upcharge.  Here’s hoping one day that Warner Brothers makes the 3D blu-ray available.

“Life of Pi”– Speaking of the Oscars, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel won four of them, including the rare ‘Best Director’ win for a picture that didn’t win Best Picture.  Having seen only four of the nominees, I can say with certainty that “Life of Pi” is an accomplishment, especially in the way of visual splendors.  (Cinematographer Claudio Miranda took home Oscar for his achievement, which I cannot disagree with)  For those not already familiar with the story, it follows a young man named ‘Pi’ Patel (short for Piscine Molitor Patel), a curious, kind child that appreciates and explores all kinds of religions in his youth.  He sees things differently than others, and it turns out to be a trait that serves him well.  At about the age of 13, Pi finds himself shipwrecked (an incredible sequence) with a few animals in his life boat, and without giving anything else away, his ability to cope with the one animal that takes over eventually shapes his life.

I’d offer that this movie isn’t quite as challenging as it should be; there are questions about religion, or better yet, spirituality, that the film attempts to tackle, but maybe that’s the point- not challenging us, but allowing the viewers to think for themselves.  The ending of the movie, where the interviewer (Rafe Spall) questions the outcome of adult Pi’s (Irrfan Khan) story, brings the question to the forefront, but never arrives at a conclusion.  One could say that spirituality, or religion, is similar, in that we choose to believe or not believe in a higher power in times of great despair or happiness, and most of us (if not all of us) have never been privy to hardcore evidence that a higher power actually exists.  That entire conversation exists in a different setting than here, but what I love about this movie is that it never preaches to us.  I may be interpreting it differently, but the message that being open-minded about our spiritual faith can lead to our being able to endure trials is a positive message.  In an age where it’s harder and harder to have conversations about spirituality instead of taking a side, I appreciated the film’s ability to pose the question to us and stand back.  That’s a brave stance to take in the spirituality discussion, and it makes the movie better for it.

*Side note- I waited to see this until I could rent it in 3D- I’m very pleased I did.  A small handful of movies are able to provide the depth of image that this did in 3D.  It’s immersive and beautiful, and I highly recommend seeing it that way, if at all possible, at least once.

“Argo”– I’m no longer surprised that Ben Affleck is an incredible director.  The man is eventually going to win an(other) Oscar for doing just that.  His latest, “Argo”, did win Best Picture this past year, and Affleck the director was nominated for his handiwork.  Whether or not it was the best film is debatable (it wasn’t), but what isn’t questionable is the quality and economy of this movie.  There are no wasted scenes, no unnecessary exposition, no forced emotion, nothing.  It’s straight, to the point, efficient, and brilliantly edited.  It’s effective without forcing the emotion and tension from the viewer.  Affleck’s movies have gotten better each time.  First, “Gone Baby Gone” was outstanding.  Then, “The Town” topped that.  I have no problem stating that I’ll see anything Affleck makes from here on, as well as anything producing partners Grant Heslov and George Clooney (also fellow actors) put out.  They all seem to have a very keen eye for projects that may not be groundbreaking in terms of creativity, but certainly entertain and inform.

“Argo” centers around the mission to extract six Americans from Iran during the Hostage Crisis in the early 1980’s.  I was aware of the situation from history books and TV programs, but was not aware of this particular mission.  There’s a reason for that- it was classified until the Clinton administration.  According to the film, the idea was that a CIA agent would extract the six Americans (hiding out at the Canadian Embassy after the U.S. Embassy was run over by angry Iranians) by masquerading as Canadian filmmakers, shooting a movie called ‘Argo’.  Real steps were taken to make it seem like ‘Argo’ actually existed.  Hollywood producers and marketing were involved, ads run in magazines, storyboards drawn, all to give the impression that ‘Argo’ existed, and thus the cover story to give the Iranian officials.  This was the option over a military extraction, and avoiding a full-scale war.  Everything had to go as planned, and so we have this tension throughout the second half of the film, knowing that any slip-up would cause the loss of life, as well as the possibility of igniting a war.

It helped that I didn’t know the true story, or the outcome, before seeing this.  Also worth noting is the fact that this happened, all without the loss of life (as far as the movie tells us).  In contrast with “Zero Dark Thirty” (which I admittedly have not seen), this true story involved a high-risk mission that didn’t involve assassinating anyone.  By now, we’re so used to our heroes getting out of sticky situations using violence, it was almost refreshing to see something that involved purely dumb luck, trickery, and smarts to get the job done.  With the period-specific garb and hairdos, as well as the retro-era fonts and opening titles, Affleck and crew pulled off a hugely entertaining and tense film, that, dare I say, made me yearn for the ’80s again.  I don’t know whether to smile or cry with that statement.