Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review: You Tried


                Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece – not the movie, but the award-winning novel by celebrated British author David Mitchell. Published in 2004 to sensational reviews, the story sprawls across countries and generations, starting in 1850s New Zealand and ultimately ending up in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, as well as genres; we get everything from a pulpy conspiracy thriller to a farcical comedy to a dystopian science-fiction coming-of-age tale, all seamlessly woven together through the subtly connected characters and Mitchell’s elegant, versatile prose. If ever a truly unfilmable book existed, this might be it.

                I’m still not sure whether this attempt by the Wachowskis (the duo behind the revolutionary sci-fi action flick The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (director of the German-language Run Lola Run and the Clive Owen-starring The International) to bring Mitchell’s vision to life is more daring or reckless. Certainly, in a time when the movie industry seems less focused on quality than quantity and even independent film-makers adhere too closely to predetermined clichés and norms, any project of this scope and ambition deserves resounding praise for its efforts alone. Regardless of how the end product turned out, whether it was an awe-inspiring tour de force or an awe-inspiring catastrophe, people were going to talk about it, which is more than I can say for the majority of movies that flit into theaters nowadays.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seven Psychopaths Review: Insanity, He Wrote


                You need a thick skin to enjoy Seven Psychopaths. As anyone who’s seen 2008’s cult favorite In Bruges knows, Irish playwright/writer-director Martin McDonagh is far from conservative when it comes to violence, profanity, nudity and political incorrectness, not treading the line between provocative and offensive so much as lunging over it with no-holds-barred and middle fingers flying. In the span of 110 minutes, he pokes fun at virtually every segment of the human population, including writers, the Irish, the obese, blacks, gays, Christians, Fox News and, of course, women; at least midgets – whoops, I meant dwarves – somehow manage to escape unscathed this time. In short, if you have delicate sensibilities and/or are not secretly psychopathic, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to leave…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Argo proves (again) that Ben Affleck is the real deal


                Argo, the latest pulse-pounding, refreshingly intelligent thriller from actor/former tabloid sensation/now-respectable director Ben Affleck, opens with an animated montage that summarizes the general political history and climate of Iran. A combination of cartoon storyboards and archival video footage are used to illustrate the circumstances that led to the United States offering asylum to a deposed, cancer-stricken shah and the subsequent 1979 storming of the American embassy by a group of Iranian students, who held hostages there for 444 days. What follows is a gripping account of how the CIA, led by technical operations officer Tony Mendez, helped extract six Americans who’d escaped the embassy by disguising them as Canadian crew members for a fabricated movie. Gifted with such a fascinating (and, considering the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, eerily relevant) storyline, Affleck turns in his best work yet as a director. Who would’ve thought that the star of such gems as Armageddon and Gigli would be such a virtuoso behind the camera? What’s more, it’s only his third feature film, and if this current trend keeps up, his next one could be even better.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Master Review: So... Now What?


  Paul Thomas Anderson has a knack for theatricality. His 1999 tour de force Magnolia might as well have been a play filmed on camera, and the critically beloved Best Picture nominee There Will Be Blood has, at least on the surface, all the makings of a classic Shakespearean tragedy. How effective that theatricality is probably depends on the whims of the individual viewer. Personally, I thought it worked splendidly in Magnolia, but There Will Be Blood was overwrought to the point of pretentiousness. The thing is, when your movie is full of hysterical characters, exaggerated emotions and intense music, the actual content has to be worthy of all that drama; I suppose my main complaint about There Will Be Blood is that beneath the breathtaking cinematography and deliciously spine-tingling score, the story itself is rather ordinary, and I’m still not quite sure what people find so fascinating about the character of Daniel Plainview. After that chilling, wordless opening scene, it looked promising, but by the time the credits rolled, my main thought was: So what?

                I was sincerely hoping that The Master would alleviate the sour taste left in my mouth by There Will Be Blood, and while I watched the movie unfold, I did find it thoroughly compelling. Still, as I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling gnawing at the back of my mind that something was missing, a feeling that only intensified the longer I thought about it. It isn’t that The Master is a bad film; in fact, it’s a near-flawless film, at least from a technical standpoint. But it could have been more. It could have been a masterpiece, a genuine revelation. Instead, it’s merely another well-made, well-acted prestige picture, more intriguing than brilliant or powerful.

The Time of Their Lives


   Adolescence is a funny thing. It’s a time when kids start to stumble out of the blissful ignorance of childhood and into the complicated world of adults, when they’re expected to find themselves as individuals yet nothing seems more important than the need to fit in, to belong. Ripe with soapy drama and easily manufactured conflict, the subject has been tackled endlessly in movies, TV shows and books. However, the truth is that said movies, TV shows and books often aren’t particularly good, all too frequently succumbing to lazy stereotypes and artificial sentimentality – high school as seen through the eyes of the middle-aged.

                The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or radical. Stripped to its bare bones, the story seems melodramatic and cliché-ridden, populated by the stock character types we’ve come to expect from every teen flick. There’s the shy, bookish loner, the charming and attractive girl of his dreams, the outspoken gay guy, the secretly sensitive (and, in this case, closeted) jock. Furthermore, touching on bullying, drinking, drugs, sexual responsibility, homophobia and even sexual abuse, the movie covers enough issues to fill an afterschool special or ten; one character even says as much halfway through. Add to that an obsession with mix tapes that gives it a slightly dated feel, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole affair sounds like a mediocre, histrionic sap-fest. And yet, to the contrary, Wallflower turns out to be one of the best teen-centric movies in years.