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Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Top 5... Tom Cruise Summer Popcorn Movies

#5: Mission: Impossible

When the first entry in the Mission: Impossible film series came out almost 20 years ago, I'm not sure anyone was expecting that four more films would follow. Given the length of time between some of those films (6 years between the second and third, 5 years between the third and fourth), it feels as if each film since the first has been made on the assumption that it would be the last. While M:Is II and III are a bit hit and miss (and Ghost Protocol is the lone entry not to see a summer release), the first film remains an awesome action spectacle.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ten Years Later... Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore

Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka / the amazing chocolatier / Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka / everybody give a cheer / He's modest, clever, and so smart, he barely can restrain it / With so much generosity, there is no way to contain it / to contain it / to contain / to contain / to contain / Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka / he's the one that you're about to meet / Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka / he's the genius who just can't be beat / The magician and the chocolate whiz / The best darn guy who ever lived / Willy Wonka, here he is!

To all the people who will now find that song stuck in their head for an indeterminate amount of time, you are welcome. As of today, I have been living this nightmare, off and on, for ten years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: Trainwreck (2015)

* * * 1/2

Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Amy Schumer

The marketing push behind Trainwreck, which has worked to align the film with star Amy Schumer's ever growing in popularity TV show Inside Amy Schumer, centers on the idea that this film is a sort of anti-romantic comedy, something that turns the genre on its head and is more in tune with Schumer's sharp and sometimes envelope pushing show than with other romantic comedy films. This isn't really true, but that's okay. In terms of storytelling, Trainwreck hits a lot of the familiar genre beats, it just mixes it up a little bit with some slightly more foul-mouthed and overtly (and unapologetically) sexual humor than you might find in the typical romantic comedy. Trainwreck isn't revolutionary, but it is very, very funny and really, that's all it needs to be.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Dick (1999)

Director: Andrew Flemming
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams
Domestic Gross: $6,262,878

Sometimes you can only scratch your head and wonder at box office results. Of all the summer bombs I've looked at for this series, Dick is one of the lowest grossing despite being a really good and really entertaining film. In a fair world, Dick would have been one of the highlights of the 1999 summer movie season, but instead it ended up with a box office gross a few hundred thousand dollars shy of even Gigli's take, a movie that was notorious for being awful even before it hit screens. Dick was one of the best comedies of 1999 and, seen today, it's still pretty damn funny, even though it's a bit odd now to see Michelle Williams in such a purely comedic role. Audiences in 1999 didn't know what they were missing.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2015)

* * *

Director: David Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi

If you're going to nurse an obsession with a film, you could do a lot worse than Fargo. Screenwriters David and Nathan Zellner (the former also directs and plays a supporting role) clearly have an obsession with the Coen brothers' 1996 masterpiece, albeit in a healthy enough way to have created such an affection tribute, and one which unfolds with the same kind of dark irony. Their protagonist, on the other hand, possesses an obsession of a less healthy variety - or, at least, a less discerning variety, as she takes the film's assertion that it is "based on a true story" at face value and won't be dissuaded from that position. At alternate times funny and heartbreaking, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a unique piece of work and a solid companion piece to Fargo.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)

Director: Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Oh Yeong-su, Kim Jong-ho, Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Young-min, Kim Ki-Duk
Country: South Korea/Germany

Gentle though it may be, Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a film that leaves a major impression. It’s a visually and narratively exquisite film about the cycle of life of not just one individual, but of the transition from one generation into another into another. A magical film, both in terms of its magic realist leanings and its deep concern with the spiritual state of its characters, Spring, Summer... is an incredibly moving and engrossing movie that unfolds with such grace and such speed that it seems to be over almost as soon as it has begun. Its beauty is in the way that it remains with you afterwards, floating quietly in some corner of your memory and imagination just as the hermitage which acts as its setting floats in the middle of its lake. While “coming of age” stories are certainly no unique thing in film, Kim’s masterpiece is definitely a very special piece of work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Get Hard (2015)

* 1/2

Director: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart

Premise: wealthy white man gets convicted of a white collar crime and turns to the only black person he knows, who he assumes has experience in prison based almost solely on his race, and hires him to train him so that he'll be able to survive in prison. There are very few ways in which this couldn't end up being racist. At first it seems like Get Hard might, might, have found that way by using the premise to critique white privilege and the cluelessness of the 1%, but fairly quickly it reveals itself to be toothless and uninterested in doing anything by picking the lowest hanging fruit. Granted, once in a while the lowest hanging fruit turns out to be funny, but Get Hard's reliance on it also condemns it to be an utterly forgettable piece of work.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Green Lantern (2011)

Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Peter Sarsgaard, Blake Lively
Domestic Gross: $116,601,172

Poor Ryan Reynolds. So close to being a movie star, yet so far. Of course, he isn't the first actor to fail to make a hit out of a superhero movie, nor will he be the last (though he will get a second chance with Deadpool), but he hasn't exactly had much success carrying other types of movies either, so you have to wonder why Warner Bros. would sink $200 million into a Reynolds-anchored movie. You also have to wonder where, exactly, all that money went since Green Lantern, in addition to all its other problems, looks so bad on a purely aesthetic level. I mean, just look at that picture of Reynolds. How goddamn ridiculous does that costume look? It's not often that a film can claim to reach Batman & Robin levels of garishness, but Green Lantern gets there without any apparent difficulty.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: Magic Mike XXL (2015)

* *

Director: Gregory Jacobs
Starring: Channing Tatum

I didn't have particularly big expectations for Magic Mike XXL - I thought the original film was fine, better than I expected, but by no means great - but I still emerged a bit disappointed by it, not to mention suffering from cognitive dissonance given the number of articles that have been written about how "feminist" the film is. It's not a terrible film, and if all you're looking for in a movie is the display of well-sculpted abs (and one magnificent Twilight joke), then Magic Mike XXL may very well deliver for you. Personally, I thought that parts of it were great, campy fun and other parts of it were so boring that I found myself repeating the immortal, desperate cry of Milhouse van Houten, wondering when the story was going to get to the fireworks factory. The film takes the form of a road movie, and in that respect it takes a lot of diversions and they aren't always especially interesting. But, hey, abs, right?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review: Inside Out (2015)

* * * *

Director: Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Kaitlyn Dias, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader

For a film about the psyche of an 11 year old girl, Pixar's Inside Out tells an awfully mature story. Not content to be merely a farce about personified emotions run amok inside someone's head, Pete Doctor's film has greater ambitions than that. Inside Out tells a story about the sometimes painful process of growing up, about the things that have to be left behind in order to make way for the things to come, and the ways that you have to change the person you were for the sake of the person you're going to become. As a result it's a film that is sad as often as it is funny, and one which is profoundly thoughtful and moving. Pixar has no shortage of great movies to its credit, and Inside Out is surely one of its very best.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: White House Down (2013)

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx
Domestic Gross: $73,103,784

There probably isn't an easier or more overused logline in Hollywood than "It's like Die Hard but [fill in the blank]." Never mind that the Die Hard movies aren't even like Die Hard anymore, there's no easier way to describe a story about an ordinary guy who proves to be extraordinary capable when faced with a terrorist threat in an isolated location. Die Hard in the White House has such a ring to it that in 2013 Hollywood tried it twice, first with the Gerard Butler starring Olympus Has Fallen and then with the Channing Tatum starring White House Down. Yet, while smart money might have been on the Tatum version, seeing as Tatum was on a box office hot streak that saw him headlining 3 movies that broke $100 million in 2012, not to mention that White House Down tries so very, very hard to evoke Die Hard right down to the way Tatum is styled in the film's second half, White House Down fared so badly that it was name-checked by Sony as a key reason for its $197 million loss during the summer quarter. So where did it all go wrong? Where do we start?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: Minority Report (2002)

* * * 1/2

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell

People don't seem to talk about Minority Report that much these days (though that may change when the TV series premieres this fall), which is odd because, aside from being a really good science fiction/action film, it's also a high point in star Tom Cruise's career since the 20th century gave way to the 21st (I'd say it's a high point in director Steven Spielberg's 21st century career, too, except that Lincoln, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can and War Horse are among the 10 films he's directed since 2000, so Minority Report falls more in the middle of his output). I hadn't seen Minority Report in years before sitting down to watch it recently, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it has held up, the soft ending aside. It's a film very much worth revisiting.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Gomorra (2008)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Gianfelice Imperato, Salvatore Abruzzese, Carmine Paternoster, Toni Sevillo, Salvatore Cantalupo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone
Country: Italy

Movies about gangsters, even those which see the gangsters as villains rather than anti-heroes, almost inevitably end up glorifying the lifestyles of their protagonists, even when they make it clear that that life is destined to end in a hail of bullets. These films depict men attaining vast power, living lavishly (usually with a woman – or two – on his arm), and sometimes dying gloriously. As Henry Hill puts it in Goodfellas, “to be a gangster was to own the world,” and all the bad stuff that goes along with the life is worth it because the alternative is being an average nobody. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra adopts a distinctly different perspective from most mob movies, in that his film is very much a movie about “average nobodies,” men who occupy the bottom rungs of a crime syndicate and struggle to achieve little more than survival as a vicious mob war cuts down men and women left, right, and center. It’s a brutal and unsentimental film, and a great one.