Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

* * * *

Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

Coming to this party way late but, damn, How to Train Your Dragon is a really good movie. Like, seriously: it's really, really good. I know that Toy Story 3 was the animated movie of 2010, but I'd say that if Dragon isn't quite its equal, it falls short by only a hair.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: The Grey (2012)

* * * 1/2
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson

"Bleak" is perhaps the best word to describe Joe Carnahan's man vs. nature film, The Grey. "Devastating" is another. It's the kind of film you really have to watch when the weather outside is nice, because otherwise it's just too damn depressing (in hindsight I'm very glad I didn't see it when it was in theatres in January). That it's capable of having such an effect is to its credit, given how easily it could have been a mindless thriller, or a horror movie with wolves playing the role of the killer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Reasons This Summer Will Give You Deja Vu

#5: Ten Years Later... Another Men in Black

In 1997 the original Men in Black dominated the box office, becoming the film with the second highest domestic gross for that year (behind only Titanic) and in 2002 Men in Black II took the world slightly less by storm, securing a place at the bottom end of the top 10 earners for the year. A decade after the fact, was the world really clamoring for another Men in Black film? I guess we'll see soon enough.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Norwegian Wood (2010)

* * *

Director: Tran Ahn Hung
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama

Book to film adaptations always present the possibility of certain problems. The most common complaint is that the film doesn't live up to the book - which is often, though by no means always, true - a complaint that might hold true even if you've never actually read the book to begin with. I've never read Haruki Murakami's much-loved novel Norwegian Wood, but I still feel confident in stating that it trumps the movie. Not that the movie is bad - it's actually pretty good - just that I can't quite shake the feeling that there's something missing from it, something which the novel contains and which makes the story seem more complete and engaging.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Board Game to Movie Adaptations to Expect

#5: Hungry Hungry Hippos

Picture it: A computer animated adventure where 4 hippos - the "straight man/protagonist," the "funny one," the "girl one," and, I don't know, the "nerdy one" - voiced by actors of varying degrees of fame, find their food source cut off and embark on a long (and eventful) trek to change their circumstances. Hijinks and a song by Elton John or, possibly, Phil Collins, ensue.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Our Hospitality (1923)

* * *

Director: Buster Keaton & John G. Blystone
Starring: Buster Keaton

The joy of watching Buster Keaton is something that can be matched by few other film experiences because, while he may have been known as the "Great Stone Face," he knew how to make even the smallest of gestures hilarious. Inspired by the legendary Hatfield-McCoy feud, Our Hospitality is a film that mixes slapstick and Southern manners to great effect, taking a simple premise and getting a lot of mileage out of it without ever running it into the ground. After nearly 100 years, Keaton remains an artist that few can top.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows (2012)

* *

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter

Is there any more bizarrely specific subgenre of film than the Tim Burton fantasy story where Johnny Depp plays a pale weirdo? I should think not. Dark Shadows is their latest outing, a film which didn't really seem necessary when it was first announced and seems even less so now that it's been made. An adaptation of the soap opera from the 1960s/70s that ratchets up the camp factor to about 110, Dark Shadows is a funny movie, but one which never seems to have a sense of purpose.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Burton/Depp Collaborations

#5: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, I am one of the few people who actually likes Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I can't help it; I think that movie is hilarious and so is Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka. I'll show myself out...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Before Sunset (2004)

* * * 1/2

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

A lot of film have ambiguous or open-ended conclusions and sequels to such films can be tricky because sometimes the "unanswered" aspect of the ending is a large part of what makes a film so strong in the first place. Richard Linklater's 1994 romance Before Sunrise is a pretty much universally beloved film, the kind of lightning in a bottle project that becomes one of the defining films of its kind. Releasing a follow-up could have been disastrous, a film that at best failed to live up to the promise of the original, and at worst tarnished the original by virtue of the connection. Instead, Before Sunset actually improved on its predecessor, presenting a perhaps less idealistic vision of its characters, but a more mature and, in many ways, more resonant picture of them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Haywire (2012)

* * *

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender

When Steven Soderbergh announced last year that he planned to retire after making three more films (which, for most directors, would mean retiring in 6 to 10 years, but for Soderbergh would mean retirement within, like, a year), it was shocking but, at the same time, made a certain amount of sense. It's shocking because he's still in his prime and he's such a consistently interesting and excellent filmmaker, but it makes sense because there are few achievements he has left to meet. He has an Oscar, has proved to be ambitious in both large-scale (the Che films) and smaller scale films, has had films that were huge commercial successes, and has made personal, experimental indies, and he's been ridiculously prolific (24 films in 23 years). Soderbergh is an artist with nothing left to prove, which is why he can turn his attention to making delightful genre pictures like Haywire without having to worry that his legacy will in any way be tarnished because he's not making "important" movies.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review: Pariah (2011)

* * * *

Director: Dee Rees
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis

Movies like Pariah are often little seen, stuck in extremely limited release, destined to be a festival darling rather than a mainstream hit. It's the kind of film that's destined to be pigeonholed, in this case either as a "black movie" or a "gay movie," and written off as having niche appeal. It's bizarre considering a film like Pariah probably contains more thematic universality than the current box office top 5 put together, not to mention more resonance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

* *

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt

It's always disappointing when a film that has all the individual elements of a hit just can't find a way to make them work together in harmony. The Five-Year Engagement boasts two talented actors as its leads, several other talented actors in supporting roles, and a screenplay that has real flashes of intelligence and takes its characters seriously as people while still being able to poke fun at them. So what went wrong? Ultimately a nearly perfect first half gives way to a second half that drags under the weight of its plot contrivances and brings the whole thing down.