Monday, December 30, 2013

Film Review: Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street

As a Martin Scorsese fan from the moment this once impressionable thirteen year old mind first caught a glimpse of Taxi Driver on late night TV more than thirty years ago, it is with great sadness (and possibly some quite furious anger) that I must state the following:  I did not like The Wolf of Wall Street.  That's right kids, this long-avowed Scorsese fan did not like the director's latest film.  Now sure, there have been other Scorsese films over the year that I have not been the biggest fan of.  Films such as The Age of Innocence, Kundun, The Aviator. The Color of Money, even The Last Temptation of  Christ, are all Scorsese films that have less than tickled this critic's fancy, but none of these films seemed as great a disappointment as did The Wolf of Wall Street when I saw it just two days ago.  Sure, when a man makes no less than five masterpieces in his career, you can certainly cut the guy some slack every once and a while, but even so, the utter disappointment is still there - in fucking spades.

Now others who have panned the film (and we seem to be a minority) have done so due to what they call an excess of sex and drugs and overall immorality.  To that I say, bah!  The film, being about the life and times and exploits of a greedy, repulsive, money-hungry, drug-engorged, sex-addicted asshole of a human being, is a movie about excess, and therefore should be an excessive film.  Add to that the typical excess of Scorsese's auteur style, and the film is bound to go over the top.  This however, is not my problem with the film.  My problem is that I found all this excess (and everything else) to be utterly and deliriously banal as all get out, or should I say, as this film takes the coveted bronze medal in f-bomb movies, banal as all fuck.  Yes indeedy, the first forty minutes or so are actually rather entertaining.  Watching the first act of this film is like watching the Scorsese you know and love.  Perhaps not the Scorsese of Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, but at the very least, the Scorsese of Casino and After Hours.  But alas, then comes the second hour, and then the third, and now any and all love of Scorsese has flown out the proverbial window, only to be replaced with some sort of godawful feeling of despair and outright anger.

Granted, the film does entertain with several quite cinematic Scorsese moments, as well as the director's loving penchant for recruiting re-imagined imagery from everything from The Red Shoes to Hitchcock to Citizen Kane. Moments that make us remember just why we get so damn excited every time the man releases a new film.  But alas poor moviegoers, this is not that Martin Scorsese.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is a different animal altogether.  This is a director that has gotten lazy.  A director that has maybe forgotten what it means to be Martin Scorsese - though since his last two films, the unfairly maligned genre deconstruction of Shutter Island, and the brilliantly filmic nostalgia called Hugo, were a collective upswing from other recent work, this is a theory that really holds no water.  So what is it then?  Frustration in a new digital age?  The fact that one can not help but compare the filmmaker's muses, and let's face it, the mediocrity of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor could never hold up in comparison to one Mr. Bobby De Niro.  No, it must be something deeper that that.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps The Wolf of Wall Street is merely a blip in a career that, as I said before, has created at least five masterpieces, and several more near ones as well.  With the recent release of David O. Russell's Goodfellas-esque American Hustle, my wife said to me, "it's as if two different directors tried to make a Martin Scorsese film this year, and it was Martin Scorsese who wound up the loser."  Now I think I'm going to go watch Taxi Driver again.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review: David O. Russell's American Hustle

From his quirky beginnings in the indie world to his more recent Oscary successes, filmmaker David O. Russell has played his directorial hand at many different honey pots, from teen sex comedy to acerbic war picture to pugilistic, dysfunctional family dramas, but up until now, playing is all the guy has been doing - but it is a long-time playing that has finally led to this, the director's seventh feature film, and very well his first truly great work of cinema.  In fact, American Hustle, the 1978-set story of a group of con artists working (unwillingly, their collective hands forced) with the F.B.I. to ensnare corrupt politicians, may very well be the best damn Martin Scorsese film ever made by someone who is not Martin Scorsese.  But there is much more to American Hustle than mere auteuristic hero worship and cinematic reverence.

Russell's film, the follow-up to his inexplicably praised Oscar big-wig, Silver Linings Playbook (yet another merely mediocre work being gilded to the high heavens come Oscar time), takes the best of the con game movie tropes, adds in the director's best impression of the aforementioned maestro Scorsese, kicks it up a notch or two with great casting and one hell of a nostalgic 1970's bent, twists it into a deft and biting dark comedy, and comes up with what is easily one of the best damn motion pictures of 2013.  Hoo hah!   The film is written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer, and based on the ABSCAM operation of the late seventies. The film stars past Russell compatriots, Christian Bale as combed-over con man Irving Rosenfeld (based, as is most of the main cast, on a real participant of ABSCAM), with Amy Adams as his lover/partner-in-crime. Jennifer Lawrence as his long-suffering and long insufferable wife, and Bradley Cooper as the narcissistic fed fuck-up who drags Bale's huckster into the game to begin with. The film also stars Jeremey Renner (working with Russell for the first time here) as the Camden, New Jersey mayor that acts as target for this gang of grifters.  What Russell does with his film, turning the genre on its head so to speak, is take a group of people who are usually marginalized in society as bad and/or pathetic creatures, and gives his con game a heart and soul.  We feel for these people - well at least some of them - and we care what happens to them - again, to most of them.  It's some pretty amazing shit actually.  Russell has finally made his first truly great film of his career.

As for the acting of Russell's crew?  Bale, of course, is quite spectacular in his role as the ultimate con-man.  Methodically becoming the character, Bale brings his bravura presence into a character who is equal parts bravado-riddled grifter and in-over-his-head huckster with a heart of fool's gold.   The deepest and most sincerely sympathetic character in the bunch.  In other words, ring-ding-ding, Christian Bale is proving once again that he is one of the damn finest actors in the world today.  Meanwhile Adams, Renner, and even Cooper do their respective things with a certain amount of juicy aplomb, but let's face it, it is Jennifer Lawrence who runs away with each and every damn scene she finds herself in - even those in which she shares the screen with the deceptively charming chameleonic Bale himself (well okay, maybe not with Bale, but hey, he is Christian Bale after all).  Lawrence, in the atypical role of manipulative, and possibly semi-psychotic, femme fatale wife-from-hell, and after safer, less-daring roles (ie, a great talent going to waste playing characters anyone could play) in the blockbusters X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games, and her rather overrated Oscar-winning turn in Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, gives her bravest and boldest performance since her breakthrough role in 2010's Winter's Bone.  Wicked (and wickedly funny), Lawrence riptides through the film in much the same way Sharon Stone did in Scorsese's (there's that name again) Casino, infusing her character with just the right parts of shallow gold-digger, wanton powder-keg, and lost little girl.  A brilliant turn from a brilliantly underused talent.  There is also a great uncredited cameo a little past the film's midway point, but I will just let those who do not know of said cameo, find that little tidbit naturally, as they watch the film.  And watch it, you most certainly must.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Film Review: Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

For approximately a quarter of century now, with the release of each new Woody Allen film (and there is usually one a year) critics invariably say one of two things.  Either it is a return to form for the director or it is a lament for the past, far superior filmmaker of the 1970's and 1980's.  In my wish to break such silly tradition, I propose that his latest, Blue Jasmine, is neither a return to form, nor is it something that makes us yearn for the days of Annie Hall or Manhattan.  Let's face it, the director would be quite hard-pressed to match such aforementioned films as these, and we shouldn't keep expecting him to get back to such greatness, nor should we feel so disappointed when he does not.   Sure, the writer-director's output is much more hit-and-miss these days than it was in the so-called olden days, but through the muck of such disasters as Scoop and/or Anything Else, the guy can still make one hell of a movie.

What Blue Jasmine is, is a Woody Allen film, better than some, worse than others, but still a strong and charming film, full of the wry sense of humour that we have come to expect from a Woody Allen film, as well as a deeper and darker undercurrent running through its belly, finally rearing its full form in that harrowing finale, that stands on its own, without need of comparison to the director's past oeuvre.  With that said, I would like to add that even though Allen's new film may not be able to compare to the likes of the filmmaker's golden streak of the past (in this critic's mind, from 1977 through 1995, a streak of nineteen films, Allen made not a single dud) it is easily one of the best he has made since those days, as well as one of the best films of 2013.  Oh well, I guess I kinda just did the very thing I claimed I did not want to do.  Oh well.  Let's move on anyway, for I must let you in on the greatness  that is Blue Jasmine - somewhat surprisingly so, considering the cool reception I had to Allen's last film, and my belief in the overpraising of the one before that.

What Woody Allen does best, other than writing a damn smart comedy (a few damn smart dramas as well), is elicit some damn fine performances out of his stars - something he does once again in Blue Jasmine.  Cate Blanchett, as atypically self-absorbed Allen leading lady, has been getting kudos upon kudos ever since the film first opened, and on top of all this, award accolades and chants of the actor's second Oscar have spewed from almost every Academy Award pundant out there.  Even many of those who dislike the film (and some do quite hate the thing) still praise Blanchett's work in said film.  Her ability to make her audience laugh and cry in one single scene, sometimes in one single take or shot, is quite astounding indeed.  Not many actors can pull off such a feat, and Blanchett does it time and time again in Blue Jasmine.  Of course, we should not, in our praise for Blanchett, forget the great supporting performance handed in by Sally Hawkins as Blanchett's sister in the film.  These two performances shine through and deserve the accolades they are receiving, but at the same time, we should not forget that Woody Allen (here we go) has seemed to returned to form in his latest film.  Well, yeah, I couldn't go the whole time without saying that, now could I?  Seriously though, Blue Jasmine, with its inherent wit and witticisms, is one of Allen's better works, and deserves to be included, if not in his golden first tier, then in his strong and charming second one for sure.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Film Review: Edgar Wright's The World's End

They call it the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.  First came Shaun of the Dead in 2004, a genre satire taking on the zombie film, and the best damn rom-zom-com out there.  Next came Hot Fuzz in 2007, a satiric take on the cop buddy genre, and now, in 2013, comes The World's End, a satire on aliens and the oh-so popular end of the world scenario.  They by the way - the ones that call these three films the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (or the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy on occasion) - are Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost.  All three films are directed by Wright, written by Wright and Pegg, and star Pegg and Frost.  All three films are also quite subversively brilliant, are possibly three of the finest satires in all of cinema, and quite cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs hee-larious.  Oh, and the reason for the trilogy nickname is because a different flavour of Cornetto ice cream is used in each film, each symbolizing each film's theme (strawberry for the blood and guts of Shaun of the Dead, original blue flavour[??] to represent the blue of the police in Hot Fuzz, and mint chocolate chip for the aliens of The World's End).  But really, the trilogy is merely a marketing ploy (not even named a trilogy until someone pointed out to Wright that he did indeed use two different Cornetto ice cream references in his first two films) and is only mentioned here because this critic gets a big kick out of such things.  Otherwise, these three films are no more a trilogy than Antonioni's Trilogy on Modernity.  How's that for some name dropping?  Anyway, I digress.  Let us move on to just what this damn movie is about anyway.

The End of the World is a fast paced, even faster quipped action comedy about a group of forty year old former high school buds, who are brought back together by their ne'er-do-well pack leader Gary King, in order to perform "The Golden Mile" a pub crawl consisting of a dozen pubs, culminating at a pub called, yeah, you got it...The World's End.  While the other four ex hooligans have grown into responsible adulthood, Gary is still trying to live past glories as a grown child-man.  Of course things get a bit hairy when these (mostly) reluctant pub crawlers come back to their home town to perform the aforementioned "Golden Mile" only to find it may have been taken over by aliens, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Of course hilarity ensues, and being that it is Wright, Pegg, and Frost, said hilarity is of the wryest, yet most maniacal set.  With allusions to many past films and such (the official poster is a take-off on a similarly-themed 1977 b-movie called End of the World), and a slew of self-referential inside jokes that range from the five lads all having courtly names (with surnames of King, Knightley, Prince, Page, and Chamberlain) to the names of each of the twelve pubs associating themselves with the actions that take place there (at the Crossed Hands the boys get into a fight, at The Mermaid, they are lured by evil women, etc), Wright's film is on equal par with the previous two - maybe even above par.

The real revelation of the film, other than the amount of growth Wright and Pegg have had as writers, from parody to satire to genuine classic-styled filmmaking, is the central performance of Pegg himself.  Frost, as well as costars Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman (Bilbo himself), and Rosamund Pike, all do wonderful jobs with their parts, but it is Pegg, in his black trenchcoat-clad, Sisters of Mercy t-shirt-wearing best, who goes above and beyond anything this critic has ever sen him do before - and considering how much I have enjoyed the guy in the past, that is saying a hell of a lot.   After a carer made out of playing nice guys (well, for the most part) Pegg now takes on the role of a self-centered and quite damaged asshole, though a self-centered and quite damaged asshole with an inevitable heart of, well maybe not gold, but at least some sort of lesser precious metal.  Pegg plays this role to near perfection (I know if I had an Oscar ballot, his name would surely be written as one of my Best Actor choices) and even though his filmic friends are sick and tired of his antics, I would do "The Golden Mile" with Gary King any day.   And then we have the film's finale.  I am not prone to give anything, but I will say this - it is freaking brills, baby! And Pegg keeps it going all the way to...well, to The World's End. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Film Review: Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave

12 Years a Slave is one of those films that overwhelms in such a thematic way that many believe it to be a good, or even a great film, when in reality it is merely mediocre.   There, I said it, now let's move on.  As a critic, it is my job, my duty even, to explain to you, my faithful readers, just what makes the film in question something you should see or something you should avoid, sometimes avoid like the plague.  As a human being, a person well adjusted into the current state of affairs known as a moral society, and as a practicing humanist, it is my job, my duty even, to take up arms against the historical atrocities, heinous acts such as war and slavery, genocide and destruction, that have plagued humankind since time immemorial.  Within such a conflicting set of ideals and duties, many of my fellow critics have been swayed into believing that just because a film is about one of these said atrocities, then by default it is an important and ofttimes brilliant work of art.  This phenomenon happened most notably with Schindler's List.  The Spielberg film garnered undue praise not because it was a great film (it was not) but because it tackled a subject that so many find, and rightly so, appalling.  Yes, that film had its moments, and some of the acting was quite spectacular, but too often it relied on the typical emotionally manipulative tricks and tropes of so many films that came before it, and in true Spielbergian style, ends up rather trite and ordinary.  But even so, the majority of critics (yes, I am certainly in the minority here) praise Schindler's List as one of the greatest films ever made.  If the film had been about some other, less harrowing historical event, anyone with any cinematic knowledge, could plainly see the film for the mediocre and middle-of-the-road beast that it is.  Sadly, much the same fate befalls Steve McQueen's new slavery drama.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying 12 Years a Slave is a bad film (nor was I saying Schindler's List was).  We'll let that kind of thing for the Adam Sandlers and Tyler Perrys of the film world.  What 12 Years a Slave is, is an average piece of moviemaking, that granted, does occasionally rise above such middling offerings, but nothing even close to the outpouring of praise it is receiving from critics en masse.  And again, just like the aforementioned Spielberg film, such an outpouring of love may very well be the cause of one's empathy toward the atrocities of slavery, often blinding the critical eye at seeing flaws and faults in a film.  Aside from the white supremacist crowd out there (and I am guessing my audience doesn't include very many of them) most people will agree that slavery was one of the worst crimes against humanity the world has ever seen, but just because you make a film about such things, does not mean you have made a masterpiece - a word thrown way to willy-nilly around critical circles.  Yes, the film has a few quite stunning moments (the hanging scene is remarkably harrowing), and some quite stunning performances, most notably star Chiwetel Ojiofor as the titular Solomon Northrup, manly McQueen muse Michael Fassbender as an evil sonofabitch plantation owner, and in a smaller role (mostly unnoticed in the wake of critics falling all over the rather stereotypical performance of Lupita Nyong'o, and her Oscar chances), Adepero Oduye as Eliza, a woman forced into slavery and forced away from her children (after the character's confrontational scene with Solomon, she is my pick for best supporting actress of this film).

The whole thing is made even sadder by the fact that McQueen's two previous feature films (2008's Hunger, and 2011's Shame) were both quite brilliant indeed.   McQueen does manage to include a handful of visually stunning moments in his film, but it is not enough to save the film from its own mediocrity.  Most of the film is just tired cliche after even more tired cliche, and shows us nothing that the hundreds of slavery films before it have already shown us.  A film made in order to win Oscars, which kinda goes against the whole idea of artistic integrity.  I know I am going to get a lot of flack for not really liking (though far from hating, mind you - though no one will remember that part of the equation) a film that is almost universally adored (the same thing happened after I first went public with my disdain for Schindler's List - but really, c'mon, that final scene when Neeson is freaking out because he could have done so much more is quite ludicrous), but flack or not, I stand my ground that 12 Years a Slave is merely average, maybe slightly above average if you squint hard enough, and is only being praised so highly because critics are afraid (whether consciously or unconsciously) that their readers will think they are dissing not just a movie but the whole idea of slavery being the horrible thing it just so happens to be.  I am not afraid of such a thing.  To make matters even worse, please now allow me to state one final thought. Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained made a better and more artistic statement on slavery than this film did.  So there.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Film Review: Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color

A three hour French lesbian drama, where one of the characters is underage, and where the director and actresses are publicly battling over supposed mistreatment on set, and all saddled with the dreaded NC-17 rating here in the states (in France, you only need be twelve to buy a ticket), is not going to be the film that brings 'em into the multiplexes of middle America.  Well, damn good thing too, I say.  This film is too good for the likes of such people anyway.  And let's face it, most of conservative middle class America would probably walk out sometime during the ten minute, unsimulated and uncompromising sex scene in the middle of the film.  Leave those moviegoers to the franchise makers and luke warm rom coms of modern day Hollywood.  Leave those people to the oh so drab so-called indie fare that pretends to be cutting edge material running around the less and less discerning arthouse of the day.  Leave the truly daring art films to those of us who know how to enjoy such things.  Basically, what I am saying is, let those who can, enjoy one of the best films of the past year, maybe even several years, maybe even decade.  Let us enjoy, Blue is the Warmest Color.

What is the story anyway?  Glad you asked.  Loosely based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh (I say loosely since even though the basic storyline of the film follows the novel, there are several major differences - one quite major indeed) Kechiche's film is about the love story between a high school girl just now struggling with her sexuality, and what is expected of her in today's society, and the slightly older art school woman with whom she falls immediately and madly and deeply in love.  Being French, the film never delves very deep into what Hollywood would perceive as a necessary melodrama, instead opting for a fluid storyline that never finds the need to explain itself all too much.  With that style, the film allows the two actresses the freedom to pull off two of the finest, subtly provocative performances of recent years.  These two actresses are the mostly unknown Adele Exarchopoulos (Oscar talk, albeit of the dark horse variety, is starting to buzz about) as Adele (the character's name was changed from the much better Clementine of the novel), the young sexually awakening protagonist of the love story, and the somewhat better known Lea Seydoux (Farewell My Queen, Inglourious Basterds) as Emma, Adele's blue-haired objet de amour (and yes, blue is a colour that runs through the movie like a sweetly overpowering palette).  Both give stunning, naturalistic performances, that compliment the smooth, realistic direction of Kechiche.

Yet, the controversy surrounding the film, from the blatant sexuality to word of laughter during Academy screenings to the director badmouthing the film and his actresses, not to mention the dreaded mark of Cain, ie the NC-17 rating, even with its pedigree of a Cannes victory last May, certainly makes the film a tough sell in US multiplexes (even many arthouses are fearful of booking the film) but it is just as certainly a film that should be seen by those who love honest, sometimes brutally so, storytelling, and bravura filmmaking that hearkens toward the cinema of the Dardenne Brothers (much of Blue reminded this critic of the Dardenne's Rosetta).  It's a real shame that many in this country will not see this film, but as I said before, such people probably do not deserve to see such a film full of stark and unblinking beauty as Blue is the Warmest Colour.  I'm just glad I wasn't one of those undeserving masses, for this is a film that will most certainly be a major player in my yearly best of list.  If you are lucky, it may very well be in yours as well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Early Bird Oscar Predictions

Welly well well, the Oscars may still be several months away, but that's no reason to not get ahead of the curve, and announce your Oscar nomination predictions.  So, without further ado (other than the poster image of American Hustle, that is), here are my early bird Oscar nomination predictions.  Have at 'em.  Oh, and I have listed them in order of probability within each category.  

Best Picture
1. American Hustle
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Gravity
4. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. Lee Daniels' The Butler
8. Nebraska
9. Before Midnight
10. Fruitvale Station

Wild Cards: Her and/or Blue is the Warmest Color

The first four are pretty much locks right now, and that doesn't look likely to change.  It's after that, that things get a bit tricky.  For awhile, it looked as if Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street was going to be pushed back until 2014, but a Christmas Day release has recently been put on the books, so in it goes.  Then again, Scorsese rushed to get the film done in time, so that may hurt the film, even if it is from a master director.  For now though, I'm including it.  I am also including another maybe film, in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis.  It is a small film, but these guys are popular, so in it goes.  Then you have The Butler and Nebraska, and if Oscar is going deep again this year (the rules state anywhere between five and ten nominees in this category - and please don't get me started on the stupidity of such a rule), these two could easily pop in there.  After this, it gets really tricky.  No one else is actually predicting the two films I placed in the last two (possible) spots, instead predicting films like Saving Mr. Banks or August: Osage County or Rush or All is Lost (any of which are very reasonable, and probably more probable guesses), but I'm putting these two critical faves on my list anyway.   Then ya got my two wild card choices.  Probably very wild (especially the 3 hour French lesbian drama that was recently laughed at during an Academy member screening) but stranger things have happened at the Oscars.  Any other possibilities?  Other than those I mention just above (especially All is Lost or Saving Mr. Banks), I suppose either Blue Jasmine or Dallas Buyers Club could sneak in if given enough critics awards leverage, but still somewhat doubtful - at least this early in the game.

Best Director
1. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
2. Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
3. David O. Russell for American Hustle
4. Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips
5. Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

The 6th (or 7th) Man Award: Joel & Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis

Wild Card: Spike Jonze for Her

Just like with BP, the top four seem to be locks here (I think that, no matter which film takes BP, Cuaron is still winning this award), leaving just the fifth spot open for debate.  Granted, I may be overselling Scorsese this year (I actually undersold him in my predictions two years ago, when I did not see the love for Hugo that would be coming), especially with the supposed rush job the director did in post production, but then again, he is Martin Fucking Scorsese, so that alone could pop him in here.  But, in case the film does tank (or at least partially so), the Brothers Coen could easily sneak in there instead of him.  But still, wouldn't it be fun to hear Spike Jonze' name announced on that Tuesday morning?  Too quirky?  Maybe.  Maybe. Other possibilities include Lee Daniels for the rather egotistically named Lee Daniels' The Butler, J.C Chandor for All is Lost, and Alexander Payne for Nebraska.  We could also see Fruitvale Station's Ryan Coogler in there if Harvey Weinstein has his way.  Woody Allen or Richard Linklater are probably asking too much.  Then again, my two faves of the year (Park Chan-wook for Stoker and Wong Kar-wai for The Grandmaster) is probably really asking to much.

Best Actor
1. Robert Redford in All is Lost
2. Chiwetel Ojiofor in 12 Years a Slave
3. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
4. Bruce Dern in Nebraska
5. Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

5a. Forrest Whitaker in Lee Daniels' The Butler
5b. Christian Bale in American Hustle
5c. Joaquin Phoenix in Her
5d. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Wild Card: James Gandolfini in Enough Said

This category looks pretty much tied up for these five actors, but if there is any slip in there (Tom Hanks has been awarded enough, McConaughey still doesn't get the respect he deserves, Nebraska doesn't get any awards traction), then any one of our illustrious other number fives could surprise.  As for Gandolfini, if this were a less competitive year in this category, of if the role had some more meat on it, a posthumous nod would be his, but it probably ain't a-gonna happen this year.  Then again, they could pull (somewhat) category fraud, and bill him as supporting (see below).  The only other nominee I think might stand a chance is Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, but there's going to have to be a lot of precursor buzz around the kid.  In the end though, barring a complete American Hustle sweep (and therefore, a nod for Bale), I think I may be 5 for 5 on this one, unless the love for Hanks goes fully into his supporting chances (see below) and one of the 5a thru d's sneak in.  As for the Oscar itself, I think this might just be Redford's year. A supposedly tour de force performance from a living Hollywood legend near the (maybe) end of his career, who has never won an acting Oscar before. Yeah.  Oh wait, that pretty much describes Bruce Dern this year as well.  Hmmm?

Best Actress
1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock in Gravity
3. Judi Dench in Philomena
4. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County
5. Amy Adams in American Hustle

The 6th (Wo)Man Award: Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

Wild Card: Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
Wilder Card: Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Wildest Card: Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color

The top four feel like locks to me.  Dench and Streep will most likely get nominated here (again!) but this is a battle between Cate and Sandra.  No one else need apply.  As for the fifth spot, it seems like a two way race between Adams and Thompson.  If Hustle goes big (and it probably will) it will be Adams (in an atypical grittier role, and in the lead spot instead of her usual supporting role), if not, then Thompson.  On a sidenote, if it is Thompson as the fifth nominee, this will be the second year in a row with a category made up entirely of past Oscar winners.  As for the wild cards, probably not a chance without some precursory love.  Any others, you ask?  Maybe Kate Winslet in Labor Day or perhaps Julia Roberts as Streep's co-star, if the inevitable bait-and-switch category fraud marketing of her co-lead role in the Supporting category, doesn't pan out (see below).  But what of Naomi Watts, you ask?  Earlier in the year, I had predicted (along with many fellow pundits) Watts inevitable nomination for playing Princess Diana.  As of this writing (the film has opened in the UK, but not in the US yet) the film has a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Doesn't exactly instill confidence in a Best Actress nomination, now does it?  Of course these are mostly from UK critics, and they will probably be harder on a film about one of their beloveds, but I don't see that percentage getting significantly higher come its US release.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
2. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
3. Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks
4. Matthew McConaughey in Mud or The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Daniel Brühl in Rush

The 6th Man Award: John Goodman in Inside Llewyen Davis

Wild Card: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Have We Mentioned: James Gandolfini in Enough Said

At first it looked like this could be Fassbender's year (Oscar loves an evil sonofabitch, and that is just what Fassbender plays here), but as time goes on, it looks like this could very well be someone else's year.  There could be an Oscar in the near future for the  former Jordan Catalano (what, no My So-Called Life fans here?), aka Jared Leto, going transgender and tragic. Whatever the case, these two actors are locks.  After that, everything is up in the air. If Hanks and McConaughey are nominated here, we could see only the second time in Oscar history (the first being 1993 and Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson) where there were two double nominees.  Since this seems to be the most open category this year, we could see almost anyone take a nod here.  I am going with the Rush co-star (again, category fraud perhaps) but Goodman, though it is a very small role, could see his long overdue first nomination if the Coen Brothers film hits big. He has co-starred in the last two BP winners, after all - not that that really means anything here.  We could also maybe see the late James Gandolfini here if they decide to go that route.  A big surprise though would be the Captain Phillips' pirate, Barkhad Abdi sneaks in.  Well, considering I am sort of predicting the possibility, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.  Other possibilities include Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper from American Hustle (they could cancel each other out though), Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street, and, in what could be a huge surprise, ex-SNLer Will Forte in Nebraska.  

Supporting Actress
1. Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels' The Butler
2. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
3. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
4. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
5. Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

The 6th (Wo)Man Award: Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

Wild Card: June Squibb in Nebraska

Winfrey and the mostly unknown Nyong'o are virtual locks, while Hawkins is close to one (Woody Allen and Supporting Actress has a long and prosperous history), and Oscar loves Lawrence enough to probably make her one as well (especially if Hustle is one of the big Oscar nomination morning successes), which leaves that ever popular fifth spot a race between, essentially three ladies. Spencer (obviously) is my choice right now (c'mon, she plays a Martyred mom) but if Nebraska hits kinda big (as in a BP nod), Squibb could sneak in.  Then ya got poor Julia Roberts.  Her role opposite Streep is essentially the co-lead, but Oscar is notoriously bad when it comes to same sex co-leads - one, for some reason or another, must go supporting, and in this case, it is Julia.  Basically, what is the most likely outcome, is Roberts falling somewhere in between the two categories and ending up without a nod for anything. I suppose we could see Sarah Paulson up for 12 Years a Slave, but only if the film hits big and people like Spencer and Squibb are overlooked.

Best Original Screenplay
1. American Hustle
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Nebraska
4. Her
5. Blue Jasmine

Wild Card: Mud

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Captain Phillips
3. Philomena
4. Before Midnight
5. Blue is the Warmest Color

Wild Card: Short Term 12

The top three in each category seem like sure things, but after that, anything could really happen here (there are questions on which category some of these films will end up in).  And let's not forget those wild cards.  This is a category where they could seriously happen.  Other possibles for Original are: Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers ClubFruitvale Station, and Gravity, but only if they go gaga for the film.  Others for Adapted are: August: Osage County, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Spectacular Now.  So there ya go. 

Well, that's about it for now.  I'll let the other categories wait for my final Oscar predictions in January (though I'm sure the 3D spectacle, Gravity, will be up for most of the tech awards, just as Life of Pi did last year).  All-in-all, I think American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Philips, and Gravity are the films destined to lead the nominations, and maybe The Wolf of Wall Street, if that pans out.  We'll see you in January for the Oscar nominations.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Film Review: Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity

I am not one to lightheartedly recommend seeing a movie in 3D, when a perfectly fine 2D version is available just one screen over, but every now and again, it is something I am prone to do.  I did it with Scorsese's Hugo a couple of years back, and I did it with Life of Pi last year, and now here I am doing it for the new film from Mexican New Waver Alfonso Cuaron.  Gravity, seen in the proper 3D, is a gripping tale of an orbital space disaster that has Sandra Bullock floating around the ultra harsh environs of outer space. Seen in this venue, the film is quite exhilarating, and it had this critic on the literal edge of his seat. Seriously, I really was on the edge of my theater seat in many parts of this film.  Whether this veritable visual palpitation follows through to the film's eventual DVD and BD release, and therefore on a smaller home scale, is up in the air - though it is definitely leaning toward, not so much - which makes the old adage, "it's better to see something in a movie theater than at home" all so more true in this particular case.

Be that as it may, Gravity, up on that big screen (and in 3D, don't forget), is a remarkable looking film that keeps one's eyes glued to the projected images.  The story, of a pair of stranded astronauts (the aforementioned Bullock along with George Clooney), trying to make their way from their wrecked shuttle to an orbiting space station (or two), all the while trying not to, ya know, die a horrible death in outer space, is a story fraught with the possibilities of cliche after cliche, and even though such things do pop up now and again, the vastness, the epic visual background (my often agonized enemy, the dreaded CGI, has never looked this good) of Cuaron's film, make up for any storyline blips or bleeps.  Perhaps Gravity never delves into the inner depths of something like Cuaron's masterfully subversive Children of Men, or his brilliantly erotic Y Tu Mamá También, but the look and feel of the film, along with Bullock's rock solid performance (an easy Oscar nod should be coming her way in a few months), make this film one of those current must see type of cinematic events - especially since its impact will surely never transfer over to the small screen.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Film Review: Kimberly Peirce's Carrie

A good remake, huh?  Okay, it can happen once and a while.  Right?  Perhaps.  A good remake (oxymoron perhaps?) must tread that fine line between being faithful to the original while also giving us something fresh and (ironically perhaps?) new.  In essence, Kimberly Peirce's remake of Brian De Palma's 1976 horror classic, which in turn was, of course, an adaptation of Stephen King's iconic first novel, does the first part well.  She may not imbue the film with the almost satiric visual prose that De Palma did, nor does her film have the visceral urgency of the original (De Palma's film is more stylistic, of course), but the director does give her version enough of a chilling realism vibe, to make it more than merely passable as inevitable homage.  But as for the second half of our aforementioned fine line treading, Peirce falls woefully short of the proverbially intended goal line.  Nowhere inside this basically faithful remake, is there even an ounce of freshness.  Peirce seems to bring nothing to the table, or screen, in the way of a fresh outlook on the story.  Sure we get the necessary updates (poor Carrie White's surprise menstruation fiasco goes viral on Youtube) but otherwise, unlike those few fresh remakes we get now and again (Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead and Soderbergh's Ocean films come immediately to this critic's mind) this film is given no real reason to even exist.  Harsh I know, but all too true.

Peirce (coincidentally, to give a bit of a shout out, the director was born just a few months after me in the same town from where I hail), who is only now getting around to her third film, after her spectacular 1999 debut Boys Don't Cry, and her rather lackluster 2008 film, Stop-Loss, handles the chores of remake helmsman well, using intriguing camera angles and imposing, though perhaps a bit too obvious, religious imagery, throughout her film, but as I have said already (hounded about actually), the director gives nothing fresh to the story.  Some have claimed this to be a more faithful adaptation of King's novel than De Palma's film (I've never read the book, so I cannot weigh in on that), but the film seems to follow De Palma's original pretty well (so much so that I keep complaining about nothing new being brought to bare here), so it really can't be that much more faithful. But really, De Palma is one of those directors you either love or hate, and for those of us who love the guy, it is hard to imagine anyone doing something better than he.  Well, except for Hitchcock, but that's a whole other story. So that leaves the performances, and how they fare up to the somewhat unfair, but completely inevitable comparisons to the original.

Sissy Spacek was an unearthly Carrie White, something akin to a living ghost, a beautiful young woman, but not in the so-called typical way, while Chloë Grace Moretz, a stunning girl herself, though more classically pretty (apparently more like how the character is described by King), gives Carrie an almost typical teen angst vibe - albeit a typical ten from hell kinda angst.  Moretz, who at sixteen is more age appropriate for the role (Spacek was a full decade older when she played the seventeen year old high school senior), does a fine job with the character (she is given more depth than De Palma allowed in his auteur take on the book), but let's face it, Carrie isn't the real horror of this horror show.  No siree, the real terror here is Carrie's mother-from-hell, Margaret White.  In De Palma's film, Piper Laurie gave one of the most chilling performances in the genre's long history, and here, Julianne Moore nearly equals such a feat.  The actress brings forth a vibrant, dangerous, and quite freakin' scary as hell demeanor to the role, and pulls it of with a stunning array of subtly and chutzpah.  

As for the rest of the cast, other than Judy Greer's fine take on the Betty Buckley role of good samaritan gym teacher, they are pieced together by a bunch of look-a-like pretty boys and girls with no real depth or soul amongst them. Not that Amy Irving and Nancy Allen, as good girl and bad girl respectively, were ever considered at the top of their fields, but both handed in fun performances in the original.  Hell, one of 'em even went onto marry, and later divorce, the director (the other did the same with Steven Spielberg, but another day for that tale).  And let's not forget John Travolta as Allens' ne'er-do-well boy toy.  We get none of that in the remake.  So yeah, Moretz and Moore do commendable jobs in their iconic shoe-filling, and Peirce does do some good work with her retelling of De Palma's adaptation of King's original source material, and overall, it is a passable remake, sort of something in the realm of Gus Van Sant's inexplicable and quite unnecessary near shot-for-shot Psycho remake, but without anything new being brought to the damn thing (hell, even the Footloose remake from a few years back had some balls to its retooling, so why not here!?), there is really no reason for the film to even exist, no matter how well the leads play their parts.   Then again, such a thing can be said about 98% of the remakes around today.  My suggestion?  Go out and get yourself a copy of De Palma's 1976 classic (there is a lovely Bluray on the market), and watch that instead.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Film Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon

There are oh so obvious allusions to the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, all throughout this film, but one could also look at Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut as something akin to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.  Just replace the mob and drugs of Scorsese's iconic 1990 film with the sex and porn of Don Jon. Now I am not trying to make some outrageous claim like Don Jon is as great a film as Goodfellas.  Sure, JGL's film is enjoyable (more enjoyable than I expected it to be) if not a bit "on the nose" as far as human dramadies go, but it sure ain't in the same realm as Scorsese's modern classic, but still, there are things here that remind one of Scorsese's film.  Perhaps nothing but superficial stuff (circumstantial evidence at best officer), but stuff nonetheless.  The relatively constant voiceover, the straight on shots, the abrupt endings to certain scenes or shots, the Italian family atmosphere all smell of Scorsese 101.  Granted, they are not done here to the expertise of the master, but when perpetrated by the nubile youthful exuberance of the aforementioned Mr. Gordon-Levitt, these things can have a fun effect to them.  But enough of the good, what of the bad, and perhaps even the ugly?

Early on in the film, Gordon-Levitt's Jon Martello, aka the titular Don Jon (he's got a way with the ladies), talks about the superiority of internet porn over the typical Hollywood romantic comedy, which is an ironic thing because the writer/director/star has made what is basically, a typical romantic comedy.  Well, at least for the most part.  There is a third act twist (though twist is probably overstating it) that gives one a somewhat refreshing atypical romcom feeling.  Well, okay, the so-called twist really isn't that surprising, but it's at least something.  Sure, Gordon-Levitt does a fine job in his self-created role (the actor does possess a certain charm), and even Scarlett Johansson gives what she can (she is basically just eye candy with a semi-faltering Jersey accent after all), and Julianne Moore gives the film some quirk and even some depth (albeit unsurprising depth), and we get a wife-beater-wearing Tony Danza to boot (and I mean that very sincerely, and not ironically at all), but overall the film falters mainly for its utter disdain for the out-of-the-ordinary. It certainly does seem like perhaps it wants to venture outside the safe insular world of the Hollywood (or Indie) romcom, but is just scared to take those dangerous steps.

We shouldn't be surprised to see someone like Gordon-Levitt in such a safe film.  He has done so many films that have had the potential to go somewhere different and out of the ordinary but chose safe and dry instead.  Films such as Looper, (500) Days of Summer, The Lookout, even Inception and The Dark Knight Rises were all films that thought they were going over the edge, but pulled themselves back before anything really intriguing happened.  Gordon-Levitt had no creative say in those films (with the possible exception of (500) Days of Summer) but here he is nothing but sole creator, and still he takes the safe road more traveled.   Like I said, there are some enjoyable things in here (there is more god than bad, but only slightly), and some pretty nifty potential (the porn storyline should give it at least some over the edge stuff), and it is a shame that the young first time director didn't do more with said potential.  Perhaps something grittier but still charming.  Perhaps something like the aforementioned Saturday Night Fever, which one must assume was the biggest influence on Don Jon.  Oh well, perhaps next time JGL will dig a bit deeper.  But still, it could have been much worse.  How's that for some back door praise?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Film Review: Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster

Every year, I post a most anticipated films list here on my site.  Back in 2011, the film that topped that list was Wong Kar-wai's much anticipated Kung-Fu epic, The Grandmaster.  But alas, 'twas not to be, as was the case with the Asian auteur's masterpiece, In the Mood for Love, its follow-up, 2046, and his American debut, My Blueberry Nights, Wong went about his typical forever post production, editing rituals, and we did not see a release in 2011.  Okay, so we moved on to 2012, and once again, at the top of that aforementioned most anticipated films list, sat WKW's The Grandmaster, now even with a teaser poster available to the world at large, but alas, once again, the film never made it into theaters, and once again, I would feel the necessity to move the film forward, as it were, to the following year's list.

So, cut to January 2013, and that oft-cited most anticipated films list, and guess what?  Yep, that's right, for the third year in a row, Wong Kar-wai's wouldbe new masterpiece sat atop that damn list.  But this year, things would be different, I just knew that had to be true.  And yes, after releases in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and an international debut at February's Berlin Film Festival, The Grandmaster was finally (finally!) poised for an American release, and then, in August, the great city of New York finally (finally!!) had itself a brand new Wong Kar-wai film.  Granted, it took it a few more weeks to wind its way to other parts of the country, though as of the writing of this review, the film still has not seen a truly wide release (and has yet to play in my hometown of Harrisburg, Pa), but yes, the film, so long in the waiting, and so so long in the anticipation, was finally (FINALLY!!!) here dammit.  Granted, it is being released in the US with 20+ minutes edited out of the foreign cut, so perhaps we still need to wait for the director's cut.  Dammit, I'm sick and tired of waiting.  But I digress.

I suppose now you expect me to critique its merits and/or flaws, huh?  Give you a what's up on the film as a whole.  Basically, now you expect me to do my job, eh?  Jonas Mekas, the crazed purveyor of underground cinema, once said that it was not his job to tell you what a film was about, but instead to get excited by it, and show you that excitement.  I suppose I take that as my motto of sorts (so much so that the actual quote is proudly displayed on my website) and therefore will go no further with a description than letting you know that the film is about the great Kung-Fu master, Ip Man, the man who would eventually come to train Bruce Lee, and his life and times over several tumultuous decades of Chinese history.  I could get excited though.  That I could very easily do.   And even though nothing I could say would be any surprise to anyone who knows and loves Wong Kar-wai and his cinema (or for that matter, knows my tastes in film), excited I shall get.

I could tell you how Wong, along with his DP Philippe la Sourd (in his first real challenge as cinematographer) and his long time production designer/editor, William Chang (pretty much every WKW film can be seen on his list of credentials) have made the film flow with the most subtly rich and luscious manner of visual narrative succulence.  I could rave about the central performance of another long-time WKW collaborator, Tony Leung, and how he once again brings a Wong character to heartbreaking life on the big screen.  I could go on and on about the overall look and feel of the film - a film that only plays at its martial arts roots, but a film that is truly a tragedy on a surprisingly intimately epic scale (yeah!) - or how Wong's use of slow motion and the way raindrops beat off of Ip Man's hat in the opening fight scene, are enough to bring chills to any cinephile worth his salt.  I could rant and rave all night long about the merits of this gorgeous film, and even though it is not Wong at his best (In the Mood for Love will always weigh the heaviest in this critic's soul), and there is still that aforementioned director's cut to be on the lookout for, this would not be a difficult thing to do.  I will instead, leave it at this: whatever you do, see this film.  End of review.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going...But Not Really

Yeah, yeah, I haven't been around in a while.  So fuckin' sue me!  Oh wow, sorry 'bout that.  I should be nice here.  Ah, fuck that too!!  Wow, I am an ass, but that is not why I am here right now (we all know that anyway).  What I am here to talk about, albeit quite briefly, and why I am titularly paraphrasing Groucho, is to say how the posts on this site will be somewhat less frequent over the next few months.  Yeah, like I had to tell ya'll that.  But yes, as my focus goes more toward my comix (go here to see all about that) by review duties will find themselves a bit on the waning side.  But no need to worry oh faithful readers and true believers, for I will still be around these here parts.  My reviews of Blue Jasmine and The End of teh World will be up and running over the next week sometime, and some early Oscar predix may even find their way in here at some point.  So no, I am not actually going anywhere - just bein' a bit more lazy about things around these parts.  So there!  See ya in the funny papers!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Film Review: Adam Wingard's You're Next

When recommending this new thriller from Adam Wingard, I cannot say, with any semblance of seriousness, that what you are about to experience is a movie bathed in originality, or even any huge amount of creativity.  You're Next is not a film that will have you talking about the bravura acting prowess of any of its cast, or the sparkling wit and witticisms of its script.  You're Next is not a film that will surprise you much with it's so-called twists and turns - unless perhaps you have never seen a movie before this one.  No, You're Next is not something groundbreaking like The Cabin in the Woods or High Tension, two films of which I was hoping to be able to compare this one.  What you will get with You're Next though, is a fun and surprisingly funny romp through the silly blood and guts of the genre.  Not the high art set of horror/slasher films, but still an oddly enjoyable one.

The premise of the film is simple enough.  A wealthy and appropriately dysfunctional family come together for the parents' 35th wedding anniversary, only to be attacked by a gang of animal mask wearing home invaders who take joy in picking off the family members one by one.  At this point  the film is merely another home invasion story (though one fellow critic called the film a blend of Ordinary People and Scream) but a few twists and turns later, though admittedly easily predicted twists and turns, and we have ourselves an intriguing little arthousey kinda slasher flick.  Even though the film isn't necessarily scary in any way (a handful of gotcha moments), it is fun to watch everything unfold, and there are some rather interesting types of death, especially in the penultimate kitchen fight scene.  

With the Mumblecore movement at its core (Mumblecore bigwig Joe Swanberg even joins in by playing the most obnoxious of the four quite obnoxious siblings), You're Next never sports a big budget or a big name cast (Swanberg probably is the biggest name), and this D.I.Y. attitude helps to make the film work better than better known faces would have done.   Overall, the film, if not anything spectacular (I really was hoping here), is quite fun, and as I stated earlier, quite funny.  Then again, perhaps I am just a bit more twisted than most.  So yeah, I do recommend You're Next, if for nothing else, the chutzpah of the final girl, and the closing scenes.  And don't even get me started on the creepy feel that the eternally looping "Looking For the Magic" by The Dwight Twilley Band, gives to the overall enjoyment of the film.  Fun, indeed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Forces of Geek "A History of Sci-Fi Cinema" - Pt XII

The fine folks over at Forces of Geek have allowed me the space and time to ramble on about the history of science fiction cinema.  These bi-weekly columns, will make an attempt, however feeble, at discussing the history of this often chided cinematic genre.  From its birth to the latest CGI box office hits, I will take a look at the films that have filled the genre, as well as their literary influences and TV offshoots.  In this episode, my twelfth in the series, I take a look at the space babes and ass-kicking hotties of science fiction cinema and TV. Ooh La La, my fellow sci-fi geeks.

Read my column, "Va-Va-Va-Voom: The Hotter Side of Sci-Fi," at Forces of Geek.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Film Review: Jeff Wadlow's Kick-Ass 2

I have to admit that I did not like this film all that much.  It was okay, one could even say it was meh, if one wished to use a more hipstery type of language, but nothing to write home about, as they say.  I also must admit that I was not all that big of a fan of the first Kick-Ass film either.  A bit less meh than the follow-up, but still quite lackluster.  Now the comics, I like.  The comics by Mark Millar are lots of fun, but the film adaptations leave much to be desired.  The hard hitting sardonic, and yes, quite dark and disturbing, humour of Millar's comics are lost in the more, for lack of a more apt term, family friendly  filmic translations.  Yeah yeah, I know, this R-rated film is far from family friendly, but really, it could have gone a lot farther than it did in trying to recreating Mark Millar's scripted comics.  Then again, people like the film's co-star, Jim Carrey, think the film went too far, but more on that in a bit.

As a bit of a background check here, Kick-Ass is a comic book series written by Mark Millar, with artwork by the great John Romita, Jr., and was published from 2008 to 2010 by Marvel Comics' more mature imprint, Icon.  A film adaptation was released in 2010.  The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, and was a bit controversial for its depiction of violence, especially as it had teenagers, including the then 13 year old Chloe Moretz, in its cast.  As I said, I thought the film just average, and the violence should have been kicked up a notch or three.  Damn the controversy!  With the second series, published in 2011 and 2012, and again published by Marvel's Icon imprint, and written and drawn by Millar and Romita, Jr., respectively, a sequel has been released to the movie going public, and again, the cries of too much violence has erupted, and again, when compared to the comics (which incidentally portrays toddlers being gunned down and teenage girls being gang-raped), said violence is not really all that.  But maybe that's just me.

As I alluded to earlier, after the tragedy of Sandy Hook happened, and those kids were killed (a few months before the film's release), Jim Carrey, who portrays mob enforcer-turned-superhero Captain Stars & Stripes, came out and apologized for making such a violent movie.  Really, Jim?  You act as if Sandy Hook was the first school shooting of its kind.  Like there were no other tragedies, many of them with larger body counts, that happened before you signed up and made such a "violent" movie.  What a hypocritical bastard!  But I digress.  I am not here to talk of some self-absorbed actor spouting off idiotic statements to the press.  Although I will quote co-star Chloe Moretz, now sixteen and playing the murderous vigilante Hit-Girl in the film.  She said of the violence controversy, "It's a movie. If you are going to believe and be affected by an action film, you shouldn't go to see Pocahontas because you are going to think you are a Disney princess. If you are that easily swayed, you might see The Silence of the Lambs and think you are a serial killer. It's a movie and it's fake, and I've known that since I was a kid... I don't want to run around trying to kill people and cuss. If anything, these movies teach you what not to do."  Anyway, I digress once more.

I've spoken so much about the violence and ensuing controversy of the film, but not much on the film itself.  This is probably because I really have nothing to say about the film.  It is a lackluster adaptation of a far superior comicbook series.  Sure, there are some fun moments throughout (Christopher Mintz-Plassse is especially fun as the supervillain known as The Mother Fucker), but overall the film just sort of lays there in a state of self-confusion.  Some say it is too violent, others, like me, say it is not violent enough when compared to the comics themselves, or to other auteuristic action films by the like of Scorsese or Tarantino or Park Chan-wook.  I am not advocating violence, but when it is needed to tell a story, and it is here. The whole fucking point of the story is to show the differences between what is a good guy and what is a bad guy, and how that lined is constantly and rightfully blurred all to hell, and one needs violence to show that.  But then, maybe that is just me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Film Review: Neill Blomkamp's Elysium

As creative and extraordinary as Neill Blomkamp's first film, District 9, was, that is how non-creative and unextraordinary his second film is.  As exciting and groundbreaking as District 9 was, that is just how pedestrian and generic Elysium happens to be.  It's a shame really.  A big shame.  A huge shame because the potential that District 9 handed out (it was on my best of 2009 list) for the South African director's next film was seriously through the roof.  Through the freakin' roof.  And this potential just makes it even more sad that Blomkamp's follow-up is, ordinary.  Quite sad indeed.

Elysium is the story of a future Earth where all the haves live on the titular rotating space station and the have-nots reside on an overcrowded and dystopicstars Earth.  Matt Damon, as buff and as bald as can be, stars as a down-and-out Earther who must fight his way off-world to save himself, the daughter of a long lost childhood love, and pretty much all the other 99 percenters doing their time on bad old Earth.  The story is rather ordinary, and has been done better before, most notably in the 1990 Total Recall (forget the remake from last year), and the way it is presented could not be more cliche-addled than it is.  Full of mediocre action sequences and oh so obvious so-called twists and turns, Blomkamp's film ends up being nothing more than a sad mirror image of the greatness that was District 9.  And even worse, that potential that came with District 9, shoulda, woulda, coulda been exploited here, if only given a better treatment.

The film is full of stereotypes and all the usual tired tricks and tropes, including a strangely accented Jodie Foster as the sternly frigid Secretary of Defense (seriously, does she need the money this badly?), an arrogant villain that will stop at nothing shy of death, and an inevitable one at that, and the aforementioned little girl at death's door and her mother, the love the hero's life that he will be forced to sacrifice himself for in the end, again, inevitably so.  To beat the proverbial dead horse, as fresh as District 9 was, Elysium is that sour, or to be more precise, that bland and expected.  Perhaps if Blomkamp's film, instead of being the pedestrian creature that it is, was more of a mitigated disaster, it might of at least had some much needed oomph to its belly, even if that oomph was rotten.  Instead we get just another tired mainstream actioner - a creature with no oomph whatsoever.  Sad really, and a shame indeed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Forces of Geek "A History of Sci-Fi Cinema" - Pt XI

The fine folks over at Forces of Geek have allowed me the space and time to ramble on about the history of science fiction cinema.  These bi-weekly columns, will make an attempt, however feeble, at discussing the history of this often chided cinematic genre.  From its birth to the latest CGI box office hits, I will take a look at the films that have filled the genre, as well as their literary influences and TV offshoots.  In this episode, my eleventh in the series, I take a look at the robotic arm of the sci-fi genre, all those cwaaazy robots.  There is, of course, not enough time to talk about all of 'em, but I cover the biggies

Read my column, "I Robot, You Robot, We All Scream for Robots," at Forces of Geek.

For links to all the parts in this series, go here, and scroll down to the Forces of Geek section.