Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Assassination of Precious Lawrence: The Squeakquel

It would seem, after looking over the movies watched this week, that the theme is “breakout performances.” Each movie contains either a new or career-defining performance at the center of each narrative: Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious,” Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence…” and Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James…” All three were nominated for Academy Awards. Unfortunately, however, none of them won. In all cases, they were bested by other actor’s in career-defining roles. Sidibe was beaten by Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.” O’Toole had the poor luck of going up against Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lastly, if you’ve seen “No Country For Old Men,” you know it would be pretty tough for Casey Affleck to get noticed in the shadow of Javier Bardem’s performance as the deranged Anton Chigurh. In any case, bad luck aside, the performances are truly amazing and should at least be rewarded with a viewing. (I guess in order to keep with the theme, we'll just consider the "Chippettes" as the break-out performance in "Alvin and the Chipminks: The Squeakquel.")

Precious: Based on the Novel by SapphirePrecious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire – (2 ½ Stars) – Clareece “Precious” Jones is illiterate, pregnant with her second child, and stuck with her abusive mother until an opportunity to attend an alternative school presents itself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious with an emotional intensity that makes it seem as if she has been acting for quite awhile, where in fact this is actually her first movie. Based on a true story, it’s hard to believe, let alone stomach, what happens to Precious. The movie does have an uplifting message to it, but it doesn’t shine through the rest of the grime as much as one would hope. (Netflix) (109 minutes – Rated R for Child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language -2009)

Lawrence of ArabiaLawrence of Arabia – (4 stars) – Based on the true exploits of T.E. Lawrence during World War I, “Lawrence of Arabia” is an epic that only David Lean could accomplish. Peter O’Toole, in his breakout performance, brings a full range of emotions to the conflicted Lawrence who is caught between two worlds and allegiances. As is the usual in a Lean movie, the scope and scenery of the movie are breathtaking. (Netflix) (227 minutes – Rated PG - 1962)

In general, whether intentional or not, people are always trying to classify things. Whether it’s music or movies, books or video games, everything always has to be defined. However, more often than not, we may come across media that defies conventional labeling. So, in response to this, new labels are created such as RomCom, Dramedy, Bromance and Mockumentary (to name a few). But even then sometimes our best creative inventions aren’t enough to categorize a movie. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is just such a movie.

Since the movie revolves around a famous outlaw and takes place in the 1800’s, most people would be quick to slap a “Western” sticker on the cover and call it a day. But, in doing so, it would be doing the movie a great injustice. I enjoy a good western every now and then, but not everyone would share my enthusiasm, and would end up putting “Jesse James” back on the shelf where they found it. I’m not going to invent a new portmanteau, but considering this movie a “character study” would probably be the best I could come up with.

Brad Pitt plays the infamous Jesse James, and is devilishly suited for the role. He plays him as both a sympathetic family and sociopathic anti-hero. James is a man of whom paranoia pervades. Casey Affleck is the Brutus to Pitt’s Caesar, playing the part of Robert Ford. Affleck plays Bob Ford perfectly awkward. Like the star-crossed kid who finally gets to spend time with his idol, but is unsure quite know what to do with himself once he meets him. Always lurking in James’ shadow, he doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to “be like [Jesse] or be [Jesse].”

The movie’s score is a haunting piece of work by the duo of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that has quickly become one of my favorites. It manages to capture the intensity and tragedy of the situation and players involved. The direction, by relative newcomer Andrew Dominik, has the maturity of a seasoned veteran. The cinematography also manages to capture the harshness and beauty of the time period. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford” has a very deliberate pacing to it as well. The viewer is given time to examine and observe each character and their actions. In the end it is this perfect combination of elements that combine to make “Jesse James” a superb piece of cinema. (Netflix) (159 minutes – Rated R for Some strong violence and brief sexual references - 2007)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The SqueakquelAlvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel – (2 Stars) – Alvin and company return in an all new adventure, but this time they aren’t the only singing chipmunks on the block. This movie is basically everything it is advertised to be. If you liked the first one, you will most likely enjoy this entry. If you can’t stand the sound of high-pitched pop tunes, you’re better off watching something else. No surprises here. (Netflix) (88 minutes – Rated PG for Some rude humor – 2009)

Movies for this week:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

UPDATE: What would you like to see on this site?

After only a couple votes, it was pretty obvious (and easy to implement) Netflix links into the reviews. I am currently working on a way to also add a "Request a movie review" link. You also may have noticed that I added a Digg button, a Facebook "Like" button, running time, rating and year released information to each post as well (The "Like" button is only on the most recent post). As always, if there is anything else you'd like to see, please let me know in the comment section.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Zodiac Killer

As I previously mentioned, this week was a bit of a cheat. I’ve already seen Zodiac and was pretty sure I would like Sherlock Holmes. But then again I had not watched “Zodiac” with a reviewer mindset and I had not actually watched “Sherlock Holmes” yet, so it’s fair. With all that being said, I must admit I still have not finished Lawrence of Arabia or had time to watch “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (which is just as long as its name). I still have both movies from the library, so I should have them for next week. I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the first half of “Lawrence…” and I have seen “Assassination…,” but once again not with a reviewer mindset. Since I only watched two movies this week and enjoyed them both, I will write (and recommend) an extended review for both.

Zodiac – (5 Stars)
There is something that draws people into true crime stories. Turn on the news and you will probably find out about someone who committed some crime. More often than not you will also be “treated” to the details as well. But if the general public wasn’t interested in them, they wouldn’t be on television. I guess it is just human nature to be curious about the happenings of those around us. What crime really gets our attention better than that of a mysterious serial killer? “Zodiac” tells just that kind of story, that of the infamous Zodiac killer, who had California buzzing in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But where many true crime movies have failed, “Zodiac” succeeds in making the movie interesting and engaging, without being voyeuristic.

 “Zodiac” is a thoroughly fascinating, visually stunning movie. David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) directs a great ensemble cast in this distinct three act crime procedural. The first distinct act of the movie follows the initial crimes of the Zodiac killer and his lust for attention, sending letters and ciphers to newspapers. We are introduced to the various law enforcement agents who will be investigating, as well as the hotshot newspaper writer (Robert Downey Jr.). On the outside looking in is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist at the paper. The second act of the movie explores the criminal investigation into the Zodiac killer and the third, and final, act follows Graysmith as he sets about writing a book about the identity of the killer and his own investigation that leads him to do so.

 The movie stands out in all the little things it does right. The movie is about a serial killer, but the murders are never shown in an overly graphic way. The murders are shown, but aren’t the focal point of the movie. The characters are all extremely interesting, especially when you think about the fact that they are real people. Some of the relationships between the characters are fictionalized, but this is used more as a way to bridge the narrative. Finally, the pacing of the movie is just right. The movie covers a long period of time, which can sometimes doom a movie to being more of a montage, but “Zodiac” never misses a beat while it moves throughout the life of the investigation. It is this combination of skillful direction, on target acting, and attention to detail that makes “Zodiac” a cut above the rest when it comes to true crime dramas, and many other movies. (Netflix) (157 minutes - Rated R for Some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images - 2007)

Sherlock Holmes – (4 ½ Stars)
Sherlock Holmes has the distinction of being the most portrayed character in film. Despite this fact, a lot of people have probably not seen a Sherlock Holmes movie but still have various preconceptions as to how he should be portrayed. Enter Guy Ritchie’s aptly titled “Sherlock Holmes.” Advertised as a new spin on an old character, Ritchie enlists Robert Downey Jr. to take on the mantle of the World’s Greatest Detective. Along for the ride is Jude Law as Watson, the straight man to Holmes’ eccentricities. While the case Holmes’ works could have been better, the atmosphere, characters, and intricacies of the film more than make up for it.
One of the biggest fears I had going into watching the movie was that they would “modernize” Holmes and Watson. The trailer only exacerbated this with its quick cuts, fast music, and pithy remarks. Once I was able to sit down and watch the movie, my fears quickly subsided. Downey plays Holmes with a fantastic wit and energy with Law’s Watson playing off him perfectly. Many envision Watson as the fat, bumbling sidekick to Holmes’ stiff, intellectual detective. However, as evidenced in the source material, Watson was a trained, fit army doctor and Holmes definitely something of an eccentric. The movie does have a bit of a “modern” feel to it in little touches here or there, but not to the extent portrayed by the trailers.
Sherlock Holmes’ latest case pits him against an aristocrat who delves into the mystical arts in his quest to unite and strengthen London under his power. The case itself is probably the weakest aspect of the movie. In the end the character story as a whole is satisfying, and the mystery is wrapped up well. This take on Sherlock Holmes is not for everyone, but most will probably at least enjoy it as a very good action/mystery. (Netflix) (128 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material - 2009)

Don't forget to get your opinion heard in this month's poll and check out the previous post about changes to the blog.

Movies for this week:
Lawrence of Arabia (for real this time)

What would you like to see on this site?

Something I always enjoy when I visit a site is a poll. No matter what website I am on when I see a poll I answer it. To me it is a way of getting input from the people that visit and (hopefully) enjoy the site. When the poll is asking for ideas/contributions to the site it's even better. Well, I'm not sure if anyone else shares in my zeal for all things tabulatory (I think I just made that word up), but I know people like to share their opinion. I've included a poll to the right of this post that asks for your input on changing/expanding/improving the site. If you select the "Other" choice, I'd ask that you comment below this post. Feel free to comment on any of the other choices as well. You can choose more than one option.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Everybody’s Four Blind Goats

Finally caught up on missed reviews. All of these movies were watched this past week. I didn't have time to finish watching "Lawrence of Arabia," so I will review it this week. Next week's movies are a bit of a cheat (and also a slow week in terms of DVDs in from the library). I'm almost positive I will thoroughly enjoy "Sherlock Holmes" (I've seen clips of it) and I have already watched "Zodiac" and 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" before. However, for the sake of people who haven't seen them, I am officially reviewing them. Enough about next week, here is this week:

The Men Who Stare At Goats – (2 ½ Stars) - Based on a true story of a very strange division of the military focused on harnessing the “hidden” talents of soldiers. Ewan McGregor plays the straight-man journalist to George Clooney’s “Jedi.” While the movie was funny in parts, by its drug-induced conclusion it is more ridiculous than anything else(Netflix) (93 minutes - Rated R for Language, some drug content and brief nudity - 2009)

Everybody's Fine – (3 ½  Stars) – After his wife passes, Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) tries to reconnect with his grown children by traveling cross-country to visit each one. De Niro does a fantastic job as the distant father being kept in the dark by his kids regarding how they are doing. The supporting cast is also top notch (Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore). Has the feel of an “indie journey” movie. (Side Note: I couldn’t resist thinking that besides being “fine,” they were also all “Goode.”) (Netflix) (99 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Thematic elements and brief strong language - 2009)

Four Christmases – (1 ½ Stars) – If you have seen any comedy that revolves around a dysfunctional family, you have in essence seen “Four Christmases.” The movie is predictable and chock full of almost every comedy cliché known to man. That’s not to say that there aren’t parts that were amusing. Even at just under an hour and a half, I felt like my time could have been better spent. (Netflix) (88 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Some sexual humor and language - 2008)

*The Blind Side – (4 Stars) –

I have a love-hate relationship with inspirational sports movies. Being a sports fan, I enjoy watching great (usually true) stories that include the sport(s) I love. I am also partial to great stories of redemption or struggle. The problem I usually have is how these stories can be handled. Usually they are opportunistic, sappy, or downright cheesy. However, “The Blind Side” manages to take an inspiring story and tell it in a way that isn’t any of these things.

Another thing to note about the movie is Sandra Bullock’s performance. I haven’t seen all of the other movies that included the “Best Actress” nominees, but Bullock does a fantastic job. Her character is different than any of her previous roles, and I think this is why she does so well with it.

“The Blind Side,” while it gets close to falling into the same traps as most sports movies, manages to stay “in-bounds” enough to make it stand out. One word of caution is that this movie is PG-13 due mainly in part to the background of Michael Oher, the player the movie is based on. (Netflix) (126 minutes - Rated PG-13 for One scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references - 2009)

Movies For This Week:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Brother’s Fantastic Sister’s Law-Abiding District Doctor

This week I have decided to institute a small change in the format by adding an expanded review for what I will dub my “Must See” pick of the week. I’ve denoted the movie* and attached a longer, more in depth review. Once again, I found a movie^ that I had previously forgotten to review, so it is included as well.

Law Abiding Citizen – (2 Stars) – After he loses his family, and the legal system fails him, a crafty engineer (Gerard Butler) decides to exact his own revenge on the killers, the legal system and the entire city. Butler chews up the scenery as the psychopathic avenger, while Jamie Foxx plays the unlikeable lawyer protagonist. Lack of believability and apathetic characters make this strictly a “popcorn movie.” (Netflix) (109 minutes - Rated R for Strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language - 2009)

The Brothers Bloom – (4 ½ Stars) – Two eccentric confidence men target an affluent recluse as their final score. The Brother’s Bloom is a wonderfully inventive con movie full of beautiful scenery and rich characters that keep you interested and invested all the way through to its conclusion. (This was the close runner-up for “Must See” Pick). (Netflix) (113 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Violence, some sensuality and brief strong language - 2008)

Doctor Zhivago – (4 Stars) – David Lean’s cinematic epic about a Doctor/Poet caught up in the Bolshevik Revolution.  Omar Sharif’s emotionally portrays Zhivago as an individual, a beacon of hope, in the harsh reality of a communist Russia. The movie also stands out in its beautiful landscapes and breathtaking cinematography.(Netflix - currently unavailable) (197 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Mature themes - 1965)

^District 9 – (3 ½ Stars) – 20 years ago an alien ship comes to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa. On board is a race of malnourished, insect-like aliens. Now, the stranded extraterrestrials are forced to live in slum-like conditions and are seemingly not allowed to leave. The movie starts out very strongly with an intriguing premise but slowly devolves into a decent, but ordinary, action movie. The main character remains unsympathetic until the very end, and the dialogue also leaves something to be desired.(Netflix) (112 minutes - Rated R for Bloody violence and pervasive language - 2009)

My Sister’s Keeper – (2 Stars) – Anna (Abigail Breslin) was born as a “designer baby” to help combat her sister Kate’s leukemia. But as she grows older, Anna begins to have second thoughts about giving herself over to the painful procedures that help prolong her sister’s life. What could be an interesting movie that tackles relevant moral questions is reduced to a run-of-the-mill family drama that, from what I gather, is not faithful to its source material. The movie is full of unnecessary voice-overs, painfully drawn out “dramatic” moments, forced emotion, and a ridiculous amount of “inaudible dialogue.” (Netflix) (110 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking - 2009)

*Fantastic Mr. Fox  – (4 ½ Stars) –

Fantastic Mr. Fox is not your typical “family movie” in much the same way that Wes Anderson isn’t your typical director, or Roald Dahl your typical author. These quirks are what make everything work so well. The movie fits in well with the rest of Anderson’s filmography, utilizing the typical dry humor and dysfunctional family unit. It also stays very true to the heart of Dahl’s literary works.  However, Dahl and Anderson are not for everyone.
                The movie, in some cases, has been advertised as another of the yearly crop of animated (although to be fair, it’s actually stop-motion) movies that come out every summer much to the delight of kids and the dismay of parents. Despite these perceptions, (Roald Dahl is the author, after all, of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory) most children will more than likely not be as entertained by this movie. In general, the parents will in all likelihood find more they enjoy. Like the book it is based on, Fantastic Mr. Fox is for older children. That’s not to say that it contains content objectionable to young children, but rather most of what happens would probably go over their head. The movie just doesn’t have the prevalent silliness of most family movies that draws the younger crowd in.
If you are a fan of Roald Dahl or Wes Anderson, you will enjoy this movie. It is the cohesion of Dahl’s source material and Anderson’s witty filmmaking that really drives Mr. Fox to be exactly as its title denotes: fantastic. However, if you are looking for some light, family fluff…this is not it.(Netflix) (87 minutes - Rated PG for Action, smoking, and slang humor - 2009)

Movies For Next Week: