Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category
Movie Review #690
Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…
Studio: Danjaq LLC – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) – United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Russian
Directed by Michael Apted. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade. Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein. Characters by Ian Fleming (uncredited).
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Premiered in the USA on November 8, 1999; in Singapore on November 12, 1999; in Malaysia on November 16, 1999; in Iceland on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 22, 1999. Wide release in the USA on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 26, 1999.
I’ve mentioned it now and then, but I’ve never exactly clarified that my reviews do indeed come from my taking notes on movies. Sometimes I’ll end up taking two whole pages of notes, front and back. Others, I’ll finish with six or seven notes in total. It appears that my notes on “The World Is Not Enough” filled the whole front side of legal paper. I suddenly feel like I’ve killed trees, because I could have narrowed all but one or two of my comments on the film down to one word: silly.
In fact, that one word is so prominent throughout this nineteenth episode of the James Bond saga that I’d have to watermark the sheet with a giant, boldly lettered “SILLY.”
But for the sake of not sounding like a total imbecile, I’ll avoid using the word “silly” to excess.
The prologue was a mess. Everything from the gun barrel opener–in which Pierce Brosnan could have posed much better–up to the moment James Bond drops off a hot air balloon to save his head from catching on fire with the rest of the hot air balloon, it’s all just a cluster of unexplained, unexplainable, and completely random bits of action. They seem to flow into each other as if they were one action sequence, but truth be told, if it weren’t for those fancy, über-cool gadgets of Bond’s, his villains would have already a) outsmarted him beyond any possibility of a plot, or b) killed him. Lucky for him, he not only has all the right gadgets, he has them with him at the opportune times. Which means he’s either a lot smarter than he seems to be, or Q (his quartermaster in charge of the high-tech stuff) has him prepared for absolutely anything that might occur.
That’s the first fifteen minutes of the movie. What follows, thankfully, is a lot more enjoyable. The title sequence is a lot of fun, with the mesh of psychedelic imagery and a song (as you might guess, called “The World Is Not Enough”) from the Wisconsin grunge band Garbage. Contrast with the remixed Bond theme, which actually is garbage.
Nothing is really as much fun as the title sequences after this. The plot is highly unusual for a Bond movie, so it puzzles as much as it excites. Why would MI6 assigning Bond this mission to keep Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) safe, when clearly, Bond would’ve taken this up as a personal vendetta anyway? Am I wrong to say that basically, they’re promoting a personal vendetta, all of a sudden? Why is M (Judi Dench) only concerned that Bond will end up sharing a bed with Elektra? How does nobody at MI6 have the slightest clue that Elektra’s dangerous? Why is M behind bars?
The movie seems to rush its action sequences in without even thinking. Moments of this movie are exciting, especially when Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards take the stage, but many action scenes can really hurt the film. Things blow up when Bond goes skiing with Elektra. I mean, they come from the sky, pummel to the ground, and blow up if they don’t land safely, if that makes more sense. Still, skiing? I mean, I don’t have a problem with skiing, but come on, we need an explanation, especially when things just suddenly start exploding. This was the first collaborative “Bond” screenplay from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. They’re still working on writing the hero’s adventures, as of “Skyfall”. I’d have to guess that there’s one reason they weren’t immediately fired after writing a completely goofy debacle like “The World Is Not Enough”: the innuendoes. Conversation is solid here, but innuendoes are really the icing on the cake. If you’ve been wondering why this doesn’t garner any lower a grade, there you have it.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.
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Movie Review #689
This review is dedicated to anybody who likes the phrase “between a rock and a hard place.” I use the idiom a lot, but I never thought that it would mean “in a situation that requires drinking my own waste product, using a video camera to lower my self-esteem, and amputating my arm.” Losing sleep, all right.
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents…
…in association with Everest Entertainment…
Made in Association with: Dune Entertainment
Studio: Pathé – Cloud Eight – Decibel Films – Darlow Smithson – Big Screen Productions
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Danny Boyle. Produced by Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, and John Smithson. Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy. Based on the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.
Rated R by the MPAA – profanity, infrequent disturbing content, infrequent violence. Runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. TIFF premiere on September 12, 2010. Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2010; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 16, 2010; at Austin Film Festival on October 26, 2010; at London Film Festival on October 28, 2010; and at Denver International Film Festival on November 5, 2010. Limited release in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on November 5, 2010. Limited release in the USA on November 12, 2010. Wide release in the UK on January 7, 2011; and in the USA on January 28, 2011.
“127 Hours” is a realistic adaptation of Aron Ralston’s memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The latter title is perfect as a seven-word descriptor of the story. Ralston is hiking for fun one day, when he slips at a canyon, falls through, and finds his dominant arm caught between a boulder and the canyon wall. Not much really happens in the story, but it truly is a gripping drama, harrowing, perilously depicted, with all 127 hours (that’s five days, plus an extra seven hours) of this predicament encapsulated neatly into ninety minutes.
The gears behind this movie is James Franco’s performance. His depiction of the hero makes for an amazing true story and a rather poignant tale. He’s downright transformative and sincere in his portrayal, and he depicts the increasing lack of self-esteem most painfully. Okay I guess that’s not exactly painful to watch, once you get to three minutes of Ralston sawing off his arm with a pocketknife.
This is Danny Boyle’s movie. I didn’t enjoy his “Trainspotting” nearly as much as “Slumdog Millionaire”, which just goes to show that even in his weakest efforts, Boyle is a master of style. “127 Hours” is as stylish as most independent dramas might get. Not only are titles well designed, the entire title sequence is oustandingly designed, shot, and edited. The use of split-screen is incredible. The set design looks a bit like a set, though I could very well be dead wrong; no harm, no foul. The cinematography, conducted by Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle, is entirely convincing. Documentary look, jump cuts to impressively explicate the passing time. What really stands out, despite all of this, is A. R. Rahman’s musical score. Simply put, this is what makes the movie so much tenser.
The story earns points on an emotional level for its believable display of cabin fever. Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle wrote the screenplay as the perfect adaptation of Ralston’s memoir. My one problem with the book was that it didn’t feel like a series of plans to get out of the situation; it felt like a mess of flashbacks, with a couple of interludes in which we found escape plans. The flashbacks (and sometimes just visions) will be seen as hallucinations in “127 Hours”. They grow into more depressed, tragic visions as the story progresses, but what makes them so saddening to begin with is the reality that these are nothing more than visions in Ralston’s head. They’re one of few things that can distract Ralston from the fact that he could, potentially, die before escaping the canyon. We’re given ninety minutes to ponder and sympathize with his character. Apparently, and ever so surprisingly, that’s long enough.
The World Is Not Enough
127 HOURS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
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Movie Review #687
Albert R. Brocolli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…
Studio: Danjaq — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distribution Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK — USA
Spoken Languages: English — Korean — Cantonese — Spanish — German — Icelandic — Italian
Directed by Lee Tamahori. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Characters by Ian Fleming. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — violence, sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 13 minutes. Premiered in the UK on November 18, 2002. Wide release in the UK on November 20, 2002; and in the USA on November 22, 2002.
Featuring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (007), Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson (Bond girl), and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves (Bond villain). Starring Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, and John Cleese. Also starring Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Lawrence Makoare, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, Rachel Grant, Ian Pirie, Mark Dymond, and Michael G. Wilson. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Madonna.
“I thought it just went too far–and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
- Roger Moore
Love explosions? Well, here ya go. “Die Another Day” is really, really dumb, and since it makes the difference between terrible and decent, it’s also really, really fun. No one in cast or crew really seems to be paying much attention to the story’s logic. In fact, if something fails to make sense, expect deus ex machina to solve that problem. But the movie works, if for one purpose only: to entertain. Okay, if we consider that “Die Another Day” also wants to show us how über-sexy Pierce Brosnan is, then I guess that’s two succeeding purposes.
The movie has an alternate title in the critics’ world. Commenting on the excessive product placement, BBC and a few other sources began calling it “Buy Another Day”. I didn’t notice too much product placement, but to be fair, the marketing tie-ins were countless. If there’s anything just as distracting, it’s the self-referential humor. Bond picks up a pair of binoculars and tells Jinx (Halle Berry’s Bond girl) that he’s just an ornithologist, so he’s at the beach for nothing more than to watch birds. If you’re a relatively serious fan of James Bond, you’d probably know that the real-life person who inspired the name is an ornithologist named James Bond. Clever in some contexts, but in this one, I just couldn’t help my eyes from rolling. Another one is with John Cleese, whose portrayal of Q I have absolutely nothing against. He’s traditional, funny, and, you know, perfect. It’s just that when he appears, he has to bring back the Python days with a “flesh wound” joke. Maybe if he’d killed the Black Knight earlier in the film, I’d have smiled.
James Bond’s 20th outing is really cheesy. In the same ways, it’s also exciting. Brosnan isn’t as good as the better Bonds, but his delivery does top much of the rest of this cast, to whom he, Cleese, and Berry are a collective saving grace. He has enough charisma, to be sure. “Die Another Day” plays our as half fashion show, half video game. It’s long and soaked with innuendo and PG-13 sex. But even at 2 hours, 13 minutes, it seems worth its while.
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Movie Review #676
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Columbia Pictures – Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Produtions – B22
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) – Columbia Pictures – Sony Pictures Releasing
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Italian – French – Swiss German – German
Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 1 hour, 46 minutes. London premiere on October 29, 2008. Premiered at London Film Festival on October 29, 2008. Wide release in the UK on October 31, 2008. Wide release in the USA on November 14, 2008.
Featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond (007), Olga Kurylenko as Camille (Bond girl), and Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene (Bond villain). Starring Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, and Jesper Christensen. Also starring Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Joaquín Cosio, Jesús Ochoa, Lucrezia Lante della Rovere, Glenn Foster, Paul Ritter, Simon Kassianides, Stana Katic, Neil Jackson, Karine Babajanyan, Sebastien Soules, Brandon Jovanovich, Martin Busen, Alexander Krawetz, and Dale Albright.
“Like you said…take a deep breath…make it count.”
Camille (Olga Kurylenko)
Opening up, the only thing about “Quantum of Solace” that isn’t wildly unfocused is the title animation, set to the song “Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys and Jack White. We’re constantly being told where Bond is in heavily stylized title overlays, and in fact, it seems to be all about style. James Bond, in the opening action sequence, faces a deadly fight all across town, and he manages to escape with a nosebleed and a gash on the forehead. The editing is horrible, with jump cuts galore.
And so it continues as one, long chase sequence. But believe it or not, “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t need a line of true dialogue to bring out what it really is (and what it really should be): a direct sequel to “Casino Royale”. That was not only a reboot, but a reinvention of the series. We got a depthy look into Bond’s beginning. Now we see how Bond proceeds after the death of Vesper Lynd, whom he loved ever so dearly. We don’t see him with a Bond girl in the “usual” Bond girl-ish way for, well, the whole movie, because he’s wrought with his own grief. His anger and vengeful attitude makes this all the more tense. And when the writers get to this sentimental side of the tale, the film flies by. As Judi Dench would describe it, this movie is “bloody exciting.”
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Movie Review #675
Paramount Pictures & Skydance Productions present…
…in association with Hemisphere Media Capital & GK Films…
Studio: Plan B Entertainment – 2Dux² – Apparatus Productions – Latina Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA – Malta
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Hebrew – Arabic
Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Ian Bryce, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Based on the novel by Max Brooks.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, disturbing content. Runs 1 hour, 56 minutes (Unrated Edition runs 2 hours, 3 minutes). Premiered in London on June 2, 2013; at Champs-Élysées Film Festival on June 15, 2013; and at Belgrade Blockbuster Review on June 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on June 21, 2013.
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, and James Badge Dale.
“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught. But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths. She’s a bitch.”
–Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel)
You know the story. I can think of a total of nineteen movies, plus TV’s The Walking Dead, that practice the same mythology as “World War Z”, and that’s without really thinking hard. Some call this very tale the “zombie apocalypse” genre. It’s basically a blend of creature feature and disaster movie elements.
“WWZ” wants to invent, though, so it’s not just “zombie apocalypse.” I give it points without hesitation for its desire to put this in war movie/Call of Duty context. The one problem it faces is that the “zombie apocalypse” genre is so specific, so established, so common, that we need significantly more time allotted in the film t adjust to something that seems brand-new. Unless you have absolutely no skepticism of the story–the “war on zombies”–it’s a bit of a trial to get through “WWZ” as a fluent film, unless you have a large bucket of popcorn to take your mind off the occasional dull spot. The film ends assuring us that this is “far from the end,” and in fact, it feels like part one of a continuous trilogy. Doesn’t this mean that director Marc Forster (“Stranger than Fiction”, “Quantum of Solace”) should have waited just a little while before assuming we get what to expect in a zombie-cum-war movie?
Part of me feels like there was initially more explanation that was snipped out. It’s as if Forster covered up the blank spots himself. What I’m getting at is that “WWZ” is well-written. Brad Pitt ever so naturally plays a father who wants to take care of his family more than anything else. Even if the set design looks suspiciously more like the Big Apple, Pitt’s character lives in Philadelphia as a UN employee, and when he’s called to action on day, he has to think of the world as if it were his family. In other words, his job is now to save the world, specifically from zombies. Any transition from these action sequences into the encompassing sentimental drama, or vice-versa, varies between sudden and nonexistent. However that may be, these two tones work great in separation. The drama features believable dialogue all around. We don’t hear the word “zombie,” for example, until the forty-minute mark, and Pitt’s family chats like an actual family. If there’s one thing severely wrong with the action here, it’s that it comes along way too soon–as earl as seven minutes. Everything else about the action, however, is flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes for most of the excitement. I actually applaud it for maintaining the PG-13 action movie imminent in the veins of “WWZ”, by deftly cutting away from anything that would seem, well, horrifying. A hand-in-hand employment of camerawork and editing (Roger Barton) operates effectively during the title sequence. That opening is a series of newsreels that use contrast between blurry and sharp snapshots to form the impending title.
“WWZ” is based on a satirical novel by Max Brooks. His dad’s Mel, by the way, and such is even more reason to think that this stern approach was practically a rewrite. The dramatic viewpoint was acceptable, but to be clear, I would have much preferred the satire. It’s so much easier to bring in “something else” for the sake of comedy. Brooks Sr. did it all the time. He wouldn’t just go into the historical details of the Spanish Inquisition, he’d bring in a musical number about it. I don’t doubt Brooks Jr.’s zombie book features a likably offbeat inclusion of war themes. I’m just not compelled to read it, because this movie adaptation’s all-too-serious approach doesn’t exactly make for a memorable story.
I can say it three times if this second time isn’t enough: “WWZ” does have some fun action sequences. These zombies are frantic. They truly are (as my friend’s father put it) “’28 Days Later’ on steroids.” There’s zombies throughout the movie, but to be honest, they really aren’t the primary focus of the movie until the climax. Most of “WWZ” is about Brad Pitt’s Good Samaritan character. If that’s what you’re truly seeking, might I recommend “Captain Phillips”, in which Tom Hanks plays a selfless man who will do anything if it means steering his boat and crew out of danger.
POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only one who is especially impressed when Brad Pitt doesn’t play an antihero? Am I the only one who thinks such is rare?
Quantum of Solace
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dallas Buyers Club
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Movie Review #663
Marvel Studios presents…
…in association with Paramount Pictures & DMG Entertainment…
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Country: USA – China
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Shane Black. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – frequent violence, mild sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 10 minutes. Premiered in London on April 18, 2013. Wide release in China on May 1, 2013; and in the USA on May 3, 2013.
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Also starring Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Jon Favreau.
Maybe I’m missing some insight from skipping over “Iron Man 2”. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t find “Iron Man” or “The Avengers” to be anything special. Or maybe I’m right in saying that there’s a reason “Iron Man Three” is such a fun time.
The movie reroutes from mot other superhero movies. It does have a handful of exciting action sequences, especially during the forty minutes leading up to a creative finale–but this isn’t strictly an action movie. “Iron Man Three” is a comedy with big-budget accoutrements. If nothing else, the film proves that superhero movies can focus on personality and peril as one concept, not just on the latter.
This is thanks to the screenplay, which, despite its loose pacing, is terrific. Shane Black wasn’t writing the script alone, but the film is obviously his own. He also provides as the director, and in either department, he seems to be the one cinematic figure who deserves to be working with Downey. Black accentuates exactly what we want in Downey’s character: a personality that’s half Brad Pitt, half Jack Nicholson. (And, of course, wears a bunch of scrap metal.)
It’s not just the Guy Who Plays Tony Stark, though. Don Cheadle works as well as he ever has. He performs in the buddy role, a telling necessity for every Black script since “Lethal Weapon”. His job is evidently to known when to take Downey seriously. It seems pretty difficult to me. I’ll also mention the performances of Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Particularly Kingsley’s, for his transformation into the role of a figure known only as “the Mandarin.”
By now, we’re used to accepting superhero movies at face value, or close to it. But “Iron Man Three” isn’t so shallow. It’s dug beneath the face and entered mind value. A trend that began with “The Dark Knight” for blockbuster characters to have their flaws exposed–now that’s a step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, if Tony Stark is nothing more than “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” then we’ll all want our money back eventually.
Movie Review #660
Studio: Dovemead Limited – Film Export A.G. – International Film Production
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Richard Donner. Produced by Pierre Spengler. Created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Story by Mario Puzo. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and David Newman and Leslie Newman & Robert Benton. Additional uncredited writer: Tom Mankiewicz.
Rated PG by the MPAA – mild violence, infrequent and mild sexual content, profanity. Runs 2 hours, 23 minutes (2000 restoration runs 2 hours, 31 minutes). Premiered in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 1978. Royal European Charity premiere in the UK on December 13, 1978. Limited release in New York City, New York on December 11, 1978; in Boston, Massachusetts on December 13, 1978; and in Los Angeles, California on December 14, 1978. Wide release in the UK on December 14, 1978; and in the USA on December 15, 1978.
With Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent. Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, and Jeff East.
I would forgive the set design, the obvious blue screens, and the home video look in “Superman”, even if the technical department reunited everybody who worked on the looks of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. (And believe me, the looks aren’t that miserable at all.) “Superman” goes the distance with its campy look. It also embraces it. You don’t have to fanboy the hell out of yourself to love the opening titles, not to mention the story that follows. You could be the average six-year-old. Or you could be the average thirty-six-year-old.
“Superman” isn’t an action movie, either. The melodrama is what heightens our faith in the movie, especially when the implausible adventure arrives. Mario Puzo wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Evidently, his heavy work on “The Godfather” strengthens this movie: it’s an epic in the making, not a thin, fleeting comic book. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s tale comes as the rise of a hero–or, in this case, a superhero–starting from the very beginning. The movie flies by faster than a speeding bullet, and honestly, I can’t imagine the pacing being any stronger. It’s 50 minute before the “Superman” costume is used to transition from Clark Kent’s boyhood into his adulthood. 51 minutes before we see Lois Lane working at the Daily Planet. 71 minutes before we see Clark in costume, ready to save the world. A time after that, the name “Superman” is first uttered. We’re told unmistakably that Superman will return; I doubt not that when he does, we’ll begin to see the fall of this hero.
The “Superman” story is one of the most transcendent pieces ever written. This reimagination, from director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Omen”), was a prototypical effort in the superhero genre. Three and a half decades later, it definitely has competitors. Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy being the universally decided cream of the crop. Though even its imperfections, “Superman” has yet to be topped, in its representation of the genre. Knowing that the movie remains fresh, comic booky, and fun (even in the über, über impossible ending), I doubt it’ll lose that power.
Movie Review #655
Studio: Muse Productions – O’ Salvation – Division Films – Annapurna Pictures – Iconoclast – RabbitBandini Productions – Radar Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Harmony Kormine. Produced by Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Jordan Gertner, Chris Hanley, and David Zander. Written by Harmony Kormine.
Rated R by the MPAA – strong sexual content, profanity, nudity, frequent drug material, frequent violence. Runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2012. Limited release in the USA on March 15, 2013. Wide release in the USA on March 22, 2013.
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and Gucci Mane. Also starring Heather Morris, Ashley Lendzion, and Emma Jane Holzer.
Selena Gomez. Vanessa Hudgens. James Franco. These three make up the bulk of the main cast, and they were all on the Disney Channel. Which many of you probably knew, anyhow; I’m just throwing it out there to begin with, because you’d never think these people knew what “wholesome” meant. Part of the movie’s irresistible nature, in fact, comes from how hard R [SEE FOOTNOTE] it is–”hard R” being a film rating, but moreover an attitude of style. The movie is filled with full-frontal nudity, profanity, drug use, and all around partying. Add in some dubstep, which is the score. Now the cinematography, which switches liberally between the hallucinogenic, the VHS-ish, the Hollywood. Don’t forget the clever script, the enthused acting.
With all that in the mix, what we have here is a party, in and of itself.
“Spring Breakers” is a precursor to this August’s “The Bling Ring”, except this one tells a much heavier moral tale. The movie is a sly blend of egalitarian drama and tragicomedy, where Selena Gomez plays a Christian college girl perfectly. She’s been warned about sin all her life, but as it’s surrounded her forever, she’s also become desensitized. So when her sorority friends team up and rob a few gullible folks to pay for a spring break, she doesn’t feel guilty, ’cause she ain’t the one who stole somethin’. She’s constantly keeping her worried relatives posted about the vacation, and she’s having guiltless fun meanwhile. After all, she’s just watching people drink and snort cocaine; she hasn’t done so herself.
Lo and behold, the cops find out about the illegal acts her friends took part in. Gomez is guilty by association. She goes to court, then jail, clad in a bikini alongside her three friends. They’re bailed out by a gangsta, the role into which James Franco transforms himself. Where her trip in California was once Heaven, it’s now Hell. Now that she’s out, she’s dying to get back home.
“Spring Breakers” never once loses its fun. Even ending on a huge minor chord, the movie feels exhilarating every step of the way. My single, true complaint is that the “Material Girl” story falls apart after an hour of film time. The script loses focus of its main character (Gomez) and tries a bit roughly to give its other antiheroes morality, at this point.
Still, we’re left with a message, and if the movie manages to pull that off for its time, and to entertain the whole way through, I wouldn’t shrug it off so quickly.
FOOTNOTE: The MPAA rates this R “for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout.” Indeed these guys did stuff for Disney, but if you’re interested in a Disney experience, I advise you to steer clear of “Spring Breakers”. The nudity, for example, is so frequent and graphic, it might be worse than the a stereotypically risqué foreign film.
Movie Review #644
Studio: Color Force – Lionsgate
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Francis Lawrence. Produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik. Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn. Based on the novel “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA, for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. Runs 2 hours, 26 minutes. Premiered in London on November 11, 2013; in Los Angeles, California on November 18, 2013; and in New York City, New York on November 20, 2013. Wide release in the USA on November 22, 2013.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Toby Jones, and Willow Shields.
If you saw “The Hunger Games” a year and a half back, you already know how the sequel plays out. Looking at the story only, they begin and end the same way, with climactic scenes that could only be closer if shot-for-shot. But here’s where the Prophetic Mr. Ebert comes in. ”It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about.” The horror and romance genres have been self-replicating for at least three and a half decades, but each addition is no different than the last. That’s why the approach taken to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” makes this a valuable sequel.
“Catching Fire” is not only more certain of its story, it’s more involved in it. (It’s also slightly better.) I’ve always firmly believed that dystopian sci-fi isn’t only about showing a corrupt, futuristic government. It doesn’t work unless it’s accessible. “Catching Fire” tackles this well, with a story that can be effectively–and rather unexpectedly–bothersome. It was hardly even suggested what the government of Panem was in the first installment; this time around, society is nothing more than an oversized tabloid. The bulk of the movie warns about people who can never go far enough with exploiting innocent people, just so long as the public is entertained. Pair that with the film’s overall glamor, and what came to mind was a cross between 1984 and “Desperately Seeking Susan”.
And after that, it’s the return of the “kill or be killed” theme. This is the 75th Annual Hunger Games, and the celebratory plan is to bring back a handful of the previous victors. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are now against the elites.
Throughout the movie, we see see a few new faces worth noting, but shoutouts go specifically to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amanda Plummer. (You could probably guess the kinds of characters they play.) Another mention goes to Liam Hemsworth, whose role as Gale is no longer a cameo. Even with that having been adjusted, the major improvement seems decidedly Jennifer Lawrence, who did well with “The Hunger Games” as it is. Now she’s a fully interesting, more defined character. She seems to have PTSD, and she pitches that to us believably.
Francis Lawrence took a slightly heavier approach with “Catching Fire”, which almost makes me glad that Gary Ross, an impressive director at the least, refused to take part in this sequel. The “kill or be killed” scenes are continuously thrilling, marked by great cinematography. Jennifer Lawrence’s stunt double doesn’t look a thing like her, but why should I complain? I was entertained. The movie even pushes the envelope with its PG-13 violence, even going to torture sequences to illustrate Panem’s increased corruption. By the end, Lawrence had so much blood on her, she looked a bit like Uma Thurman after the Crazy 88′s in “Kill Bill”.
The screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as Michael deBruyn). Both of whom have undeniable talent. Between them are the screenplays for “127 Hours”, “The Full Monty”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”, “Oblivion”, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Toy Story 3”. All acclaimed, by the way, and their adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s novel is solid. The problem is they just don’t seem interested in the story itself. It’s of note that things seem to play out at a rigid pace. It’s a pretty slow movie.
Though we can get past the fact that “Catching Fire” is a dragging, 400-pound roll of carpet. There’s several staples fastening us to that roll, and moving along with it is (needless to say) enjoyable.
Movie Review #642
Studio: Touchstone Pictures – American Empirical Pictures – Scott Rudin Productions – Life Aquatic Productions Inc.
Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
Spoken Languages: English – Icelandic – Filipino – Portuguese – French – Tagalog – German – Italian
Directed by Wes Anderson. Produced by Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, and Scott Rudin. Written by Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach.
Rated R by the MPAA, for language, some drug use, violence and partial nudity. Runs 1 hour, 59 minutes. Premiered in Los Angeles, California, on November 20, 2004. Limited release in Los Angeles, California, and in New York City, New York, on December 10, 2004. Wide release in the USA on December 25, 2004.
Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, and Bud Cort. Also starring Noah Taylor, Seu Jorge, Robyn Cohen, Waris Ahluwalia, Matthew Gray Gubler, Antonio Monda, Isabella Blow.
I’d like to start out by saying, kudos to Seu Jorge. The guy who sang David Bowie’s music…in Portuguese, with an acoustic guitar. Kudos. Jorge is surrounded by Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, and Bud Cort. And at the head of this A-listing from “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is Bill Murray, as Mr. Steve Zissou himself. Therein lies the rub. No, I don’t have anything against him. I respect his method acting that propelled movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Lost in Translation”. He delivers at the same caliber in “The Life Aquatic”. But we’re not used to seeing Bill Murray as a lead actor in Wes Anderson’s films. He’s always been an enjoyable supporting character in the director’s oeuvre. He just can’t carry the film on his own.
Steve Zissou is maybe the only protagonist I can think of that I’ve ever hated in a Wes Anderson movie. Essentially, it’s because he’s not a bumbling, adventurous youth, unlike the rest of Anderson’s protagonists. He’s a lazy adult who egotistically believes that he’s a hard worker. He sees no reason for anybody to hate them, no matter how consistently he manages to screw them over. He reminds one of James Cameron, in the way that he makes documentaries and loves to explore the sea. (I still can’t tell if they were supposed to be real or faux documentaries he made.)
There’s three things that set him apart from Cameron, though. One, Cameron can waste three hours and not bore his audience. I say this in reference to the film itself, as well as the documentaries, which are screened to an Italian audience. Two, Steve won’t stop talking about the people he knows who have died. It’s funny at first, then obnoxious. Three, I highly doubt Cameron is this much of an asshole.
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” feels too long. Way too long, and that’s at less than two hours in running time. The Criterion Collection currently has the rights to the movie, which puzzles me as much as their distribution of two Michael Bay films and zero of Francis Ford Coppola’s. I don’t want to suppose what will become of movies that begin to emulate this so-called “criterion,” but I don’t have to either. “The Life Aquatic” was a box office failure, received hither and thither by critics, and has a cult following far smaller than anything of Anderson’s. No way in hell will coming directors be emulating it.
I will admit, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” did have its moments. I laughed pretty hard during an opening moment, where Bill Murray completely takes charge of the screenplay, written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. About an endangered species of sharks, he’s asked the question, “What would be the point of killing it?” He pauses for the longest time, then responds, “Revenge.” Yes, this can be an amusing movie. But for a love letter to Bill Murray, it’s not the least bit amusing. (It’s also pretty unadventurous for a movie dedicated to Jacques Cousteau.)