Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Son of God

Movie Review #722

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Directed by Christopher Spencer.  Writers: Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash, Nic Young.  Produced by Richard Bedser, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey for Hearst Entertainment Productions and LightWorkers Media.  Starring Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Amber Rose Revah, Matthew Gravelle, Joe Wredden, Paul Marc Davis, Rick Bacon, Fraser Ayres, Said Bey, Adrian Schiller, Paul Brightwell, Simon Kunz, Sanaa Mouziane, Anas Chenin, Roma Downey, Daniel Percival, Noureddine Aberdine, and Idrissa Sisco.  Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in wide release on February 28, 2014.  Rated PG-13: intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.  Runs 138 minutes.

“Son of God” is director Christopher Spencer’s way overblown attempt to make a Biblical epic.  The paradox here is that it’s so exaggerated that we can see why the Ghost of Cecil B. DeMille might wish to rise from the grave to take the reins on this project, but its exaggeration is so pitiful that we can also imagine that DeMille might wish to cometh anew simply to empty his bowels upon the script.  Let me give you an example.  There’s no doubt that this director wants to cover several years.  I mean, yeah, that’s from the fact that he’s trying to make an epic, but look at the beginning of the movie.  We get such short snippets of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Saul, whoever, that the first five minutes just seems like a trailer for History’s miniseries The Bible.  I didn’t watch The Bible when its ten episodes were on television, but from all the rave that one got, I’m so surprised to see how poorly its apparent followup, “Son of God” , turned out.

Am I mincing words?  Apologies, I’ll be more direct here.  “Son of God” is a very preachy Sunday School lesson.  And it’s more of that than it is a movie.  Not so surprisingly, this feels more like a TV movie.  Way to follow up The Bible miniseries, but come on, a theatrical release?  It’s got poor marketing, among a lot else that’s equally poor.  I guess there is a plus.  If you’re one of those people who reads books and then sees the movie right after, then ends the world over the fact that the movie wasn’t faithful enough, this two-and-a-half hour feature is pretty darn faithful to the Books of the Gospels.

I wouldn’t advocate calling “Son of God” a terrible movie so readily as I would support calling it an amusingly bad movie.  All right, it is terrible, but hey, I was entertained.  How can one not be entertained by a movie that earns more laughs than many modern comedies?  Just watch Jesus and his disciples converse like they’re modern Americans, in their proper Australian/British accents that we stereotypically associate with movies that want to be, uh, legendary-like.  Every “yep,” “doin’,” “goin’,” “ya,” and the pronunciation of “brother” like “bruthah”–it’s all terrifically funny.  (I just kinda wished they’d gone into “oi” and “mate.”  I’d be clapping and jubilantly choking on my popcorn.)

It’s not just the script or the director’s choice not to direct the actors.  The acting had me laughing pretty hard, though I have to admit, I was kind of saddened that the worst actor was saved for the beginning: a Magi.  Or a wiseman, but surely not in the performing field.  I’ll give Amber Rose Revah a hand for her half-decent performance as Mary Magdelene.  She looks like Sandra Bullock, and she’s not just a lookalike.  She’s basically Sandra Bullock minus the Oscar win.

Enough fun and games, though.  The casting choices are rather confusing.  There’s one disciple who we can tell apart from the rest of the bunch, and that’s because he’s bald.  Everyone else looks the same.  The story is narrated by Peter, but I had to really think back to the beginning to place which one was him.  They’re all just roundheaded men with curly hair and large beards.  It wasn’t until Judas killed himself (which, in this rendition, seems pretty sudden and unexplainable) that I realized which of these guys was Judas.

Jesus is identifiable though.  He’s the one who appears and draws up a thought like, “Jesus, trim your hair!  You look like you’re Jared Leto.”  It’s safe to say that if he was, we’d have a good performance.  The depiction of Jesus is not as a man who we want to follow, and again, Peter narrates this story, so that’s rather odd.  What makes it odder is that he’s, in fact, depicted as a pompous asshole.  Yeah, it’s a pretty unconvincing role Jesus has.

Maybe I shouldn’t settle with Peter narrates “Son of God” .  He details the whole movie.  As in, it’s not about Jesus, so much as it is about Peter’s yearning to be like Jesus.  Maybe a better title is Guy Who Wanted to Be Son of God.  The way Darwin Shaw acts out these aspirations are rather amusing.  It’s like watching a little kid try and become Superman, particularly at the end when Peter tries to reenact the Last Supper.  Hey wait, isn’t reenacting the Last Supper sacrilege?  How come Peter lived?

Not everything is terrible about “Son of God” .  A great deal of it is, but that’s only leading up to the finale.  Even if it’s not enough of the movie to make it all that memorable, “Son of God” improves drastically in acting, camerawork, and direction near the end.  The one absolutely cinematic sequence in the whole thing is when the depiction of Jesus’s 40 lashes (we see 14) is juxtaposed with Judas’s suicide.  Yeah, this is the Crucifixion, and it’s quite a way of showing it to us.  The PG-13 “Son of God” received puzzles me so much.  This is just barely less bloody than “The Passion of the Christ”, as I remember that one.  In fact, if there’s one thing that reduces theater walkouts and saves the custodian from having to clean up vomit off the floor, it’s the camerawork.  The sequence lasts maybe twenty minutes, and we cut away only from the most bloody.  As in, just don’t show Jesus’s hands or feet when they nail him to the cross.  Come to think of it, forget what I said about not having to walk out of the theater.  “Son of God” is unintentionally funny and all that, but that’s not exactly a good thing when it’s overlong and covers religion, which is nothing if it isn’t a serious subject matter.  If I were anything but a film critic, I would have strolled right out and demanded my money back.

Tomorrow’s Review

TBD

SON OF GOD IS IN THEATERS.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Movie Review No. 721

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Directed by Lee Daniels. Written by Danny Strong. Article: “A Butler Well Served by This Election” by Wil Haygood. Produced by Lee Daniels, Cassian Elwes, Buddy Patrick, Pamela Oas Williams, and Laura Ziskin for Follow Through Productions, Salamander Pictures, Laura Ziskin Productions, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Pam Williams Productions, and Windy Hill Pictures. Starring Forest Whitaker, Michael Rainey Jr., Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Aml Ameen, Clarence Williams III, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo. Premiered in New York City, New York on August 5, 2013. Distributed by The Weinstein Company in wide release on August 16, 2013. Rated PG-13: some violence, disturbing images, sexual content, thematic material and smoking. Runs 132 minutes.

In the opening scenes, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” wreaks of a movie that we’d much rather call “12 Years a Slave”-lite. Then we realize, this sort of cruelty isn’t in a movie set in the 1800′s. It’s 1926! Now let’s fast-forward to 1957, when Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was no longer a man growing up under an avalanche of powerful racists in the Jazz Age. He was now a butler for the President of the United States.

In getting to this, the movie sets up too quickly, almost unconvincingly, but even so, “The Butler” makes itself clear in delivering its message about racism. Which does seem obvious at first, but an elaboration on the subject matter doesn’t hurt, especially when the message is delivered through the right individual. At the beginning of Gaines’s career, he served the Eisenhower Administration. He retired under the Reagan Administration. That’s seven Presidents this butler worked for. He learned something valuable from each one of them, or maybe that’s just my catching eye of movie formula.

“The Butler” is a very superficial movie, but it does get to a certain spot in our hearts that finds compassion and familiarity to the issues dealt with. Certain protest scenes and a particularly disturbing KKK scene had me surprised that what I was watching was PG-13. Maybe we have faith in a small part of it, because it so reverently and honestly tells of a cultural issue we’re all aware of.

There’s no telling why none (I repeat: none) of these performers look like the figures they’re portraying, but they do so well at it. James Marsden may not look a thing at all like Kennedy, and Alan Rickman may have required a lot of makeup to appear as Reagan, but their personas fit. What I feared of “The Butler” was that it would be cheesy. As I’ve said, it’s superficial. But not cheesy. Superficial, and I’m not really sure whether I can say I’m disappointed or pleased with its outcome. As is the definition of an acceptable movie, “The Butler” met every last one of my expectations. But with a fair bit of woodshed on the project, all my expectations could have been well exceeded.

Tomorrow’s Review

Son of God

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Hello all! Today, I introduce a new feature entitled Short Film Smorgasbord. Each time one of these posts goes up, it’s three short film reviews for three short films.

The entire smorgasbord will count as one (1) review, and this time, they also happen to be (especially important) silents.

Oh and I’ll have a witty title for each smorgasbord (thanks a bunch to Committed to Celluloid for that inspiration).

Enjoy!

Sherlock Holmes, Baffled that the Kelly Gang Made It into the Sealed Room

Movie Review #712

“Sherlock Holmes, Baffled”

American Mutoscope & Biograph. Distributor: American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Directed by Arthur Marvin. Character by Arthur Conan Doyle. Runs 1 minute. Wide release in the USA in May 1900. Starring Anonymous as Sherlock Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes Baffled” is a simple but clever little short. The premise: Sherlock walks into a room to find a burglar. There seems to be a fantasy element to this movie—a humorous surprise that I dare not spoil—and as far as special effects, this 1900 motion picture is waaay ahead of its time. An effort that cracked a smile on my face, a reaction many modern comedies can only wish for. For the first movie to actually feature Holmes, this is quite a nice effort.

“The Sealed Room”

Biograph Company. Distributor: Biograph Company – Reel Media International – American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Languages: English intertitles. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Writer: Frank E. Woods. Based on the novel “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “La Grande Breteche” by Honoré de Balzac. Runs 11 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 2, 1909. Starring Arthur V. Johnson as the Count, Marion Leonard as the Countess, and Henry B. Walthall as the Minstrel. Also starring Linda Arvidson, William J. Butler, Verner Clarges, Owen Moore, George Nichols, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mary Pickford, Gertrude, Mack Sennett, and George Siegmann.

It’s interesting to think that while epics of the last half-century emphasize hope in their respective stories, the epic film actually began with overwhelming tragedy. At eleven minutes, “The Sealed Room” isn’t long enough to stand as a part of this genre, but elongate it and it most certainly is. This isn’t as good as D.W. Griffith can get, but it feels like a considerable (and adequately gripping) precursor to his two best-known epics: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916).

“The Story of the Kelly Gang”

J. & N. Tait. Johnson and Gibson. Country: Australia. Directed by Charles Tait. Produced by W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait, and Nevin Tait. Writer: Charles Tait. Runs 70 minutes (remaining footage runs 21 minutes). Wide release in Australia on December 26, 1906. Starring Elizabeth Tait and John Tait. Also starring Frank Mills, Norman Campbell, Will Coyne, Sam Crewes, Jack Ennis, John Forde, Mr. Marshall, Mr. McKenzie, Bella Cola, Vera Linden, and Ollie Wilson. With uncredited cameo appearances from E.J. Tait and Frank Tait.

Fun fact: 70% of all silent footage that was ever produced, has been lost. Technically, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was the first feature film. Reports vacillate between time lengths of 60 and 70 minutes; the established minimum for a feature film is 40 minutes. 21 minutes of the movie remain, and not a bit of story can be discerned from it. It’s just violence, violence, and more violence. None of it’s graphic, morbid, or off-putting in anyway other than that it’s pointless. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a “Bonnie and Clyde” precursor, but what good does guessing do? What good is it when the movie forces you to guess? Perhaps there was an actual plot when this film (which ironically has “Story” in its title) was issued at feature length. But if I were to watch any random 21 minutes of a decent movie, I’m sure I would be able to make out at least half the plot.

Tomorrow’s Review

The English Patient

ALL TITLES AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

127 Hours

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.

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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.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

“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.

Coming Reviews

Badlands
The Hangover
Revolutionary Road
Se7en
Sucker Punch
The World Is Not Enough

127 HOURS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Dallas Buyers Club

Movie Review #678

Click here to listen to the review

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Studio: Voltage Pictures — True Entertainment
Distributor: Focus Features
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.  Produced by Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter.  Screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.

Rated R by the MPAA – frequent profanity, infrequent and strong sexual content, nudity, drug material.  1 hour, 57 minutes.  Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2013; at Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival on September 25, 2013; and at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 10, 2013.  Limited release in Los Angeles, California and in New York City, New York on November 1, 2013.  Wide release in the USA on November 22, 2013.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, and Dallas Roberts.  Also starring Carl Palmer, Sean Boyd, and Tre Tureaud.  With an uncredited cameo appearance by Catherine Kim Poon.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

If there’s one thing I have to say overall about “Dallas Buyers Club”, it’s that it’s a very lifelike approach to the subject matter.  It’s a very candid approach to its story: that of a man who suffers from the HIV virus, and then AIDS.  All because of intravenous drugs, which he continues to use even after he is diagnosed.  He doesn’t think he even has the disease for the longest time, because he believes that only homosexuals can contract it.  But he starts to realize that it’s serious.  And his largest problem arguably isn’t with his health, at this point; it’s with the U.S. government.  He has found medicines that would allow him to survive for another seven years, rather than the predicted thirty days. It just isn’t FDA approved, so he has to market it to desperate AIDS victims in secret.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is a thought-provoking movie, delving into whether cheating the system to save lives is just as depraved as any kind of drug dealing, no matter how magnanimous.  Matthew McConaughey plays in the lead role, and he mostly carries the film as the central AIDS victim, Ron Woodroof.  Years ago, he was the star of “Failure to Launch” and similar throwaway romcoms.  Just this year, he’s transformed himself as leads in “Mud” and “Dallas Buyers Club”.  The man’s remarkable talent shows in every mark of his performance.  Only better is Jared Leto.  Never until now have I seen an actor fully transform into the role as a transgender, but I say with full confidence that Leto’s role is a shoo-in for the Supporting Actor Oscar.

This is a movie all about acting, rarely about script.  Everything plays out episodically, and for the entire opening, we get a tight “day by day” look at the supposed last thirty days of Woodroof’s life.  I had a few unanswered questions as well.  Nothing here explains or rationalizes the inclusion of Woodroof’s extreme homophobia, and only to beg for reason is that this makes agreeing with him ten times more uncomfortable.  But when the two characters interact, god does it appeal to the viewers’ emotions.

Tomorrow’s Review

Don Jon

The Wolf of Wall Street

Movie Review #674

Click here to listen to the review

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Studio: Red Granite Picture – Sikelia Productions – Appian Way – EMJAG Productions
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Produced by Riza Aziz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Martin Scorsese, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff. Screenplay by Terence Winter. Based on the book by Jordan Belfort.

Rated R by the MPAA – strong sexual content, graphic nudity, frequent drug material, frequent profanity, infrequent violence. Runs 3 hours. Tirana premiere on December 26, 2013. Wide release in the USA on December 25, 2013.

Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. Starring Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, and Kyle Chandler. Also starring Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Cristin Milioti, Shea Whigham. With credited cameo appearances by Rob Reiner as Max Belfort, Steven Boyer, Danny A. Abeckaser, Tracy Friedman, Matthew Rauch, Michael Izquierdo, Donie Keshawarz, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Aaron Glaser, Ben Rameaka, Ben Loving, Davram Stiefler, and Zineb Oukach. Also featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Spike Jonze.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

Welcome back to the World of Martin Scorsese. I’m talking about nothing we’ve seen recently. Go back way behind “Hugo”, “Shutter Island”, “The Departed”, “The Aviator”, “Gangs of New York”, “Bringing Out the Dead”, and “Kundun”. We haven’t seen this enthralling side of the director since “Casino” (1995). We’re talking about movies that pull us in and compel us to genuinely sympathize with the deplorable. “The Wolf of Wall Street” presents maybe Scorsese’s most deplorable protagonist yet. This man is addicted to quaaludes, cocaine, sex, and money. In his mind, everything is a party, and the only thing that can crash that party is tragedy. And overall, I’d assume he’s probably recognized what an experience he’s made of his life. That raging bull of a director behind this movie hits us with the exact same stuff. For a while here, everything’s a wild, tremendously fun party. There’s tragedy at the end, but my one encompassing thought is neither “that was fun” nor “that was kinda sad.” Right now, what I’m thinking is, “What a movie that was.”

The protagonist is portrayed perfectly. Leonardo DiCaprio, here, marks his sixth lead performance in a biopic, but forget Jim Carroll, J. Edgar Hoover, and every character in between. DiCaprio’s performance as Jordan Belfort comes out on top without any effort, because this is the antihero he’s been looking to play all along. We’re every bit convinced of this story and its fascinating character. We’re convinced that DiCaprio plays–no, is this average joe who made his way to Wall Street, and to serving 22 months in jail instead of 20 years, because of two things: his ability to manipulate his words, and his natural cunning son-of-a-bitch personality.

He’s integrated stupendously into the screenplay. This was written by Terence Winter (TV’s Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos), based on the book by Belfort himself. The writer’s a TV alumnus, rarely worked in the movies, never before worked with a director as paramount as Scorsese, and yet he writes it all so freely, so naturally. I don’t care how accurate this story truly is. I just care that I enjoyed it, and that after all three hours (a brand-new record for the director) had flown by right before my eyes, I wanted more of this character. He makes Gordon Gekko seem boring as hell. He takes a job as obviously agonizing as stock brokering and gives it candidly; for a while here, the job actually looks fun.

That’s just the story though. I haven’t even mentioned the style yet. Martin Scorsese’s irresistible techniques lies in one name. Thelma Schoonmaker, editor of every Scorsesean film since “Raging Bull” (1980), who seems to significantly improve with age. I can’t even begin to express how much more fantastic “The Wolf of Wall Street” is with her input. There’s also the soundtrack, which is audio dynamite. Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”. A punk rock cover of “Mrs. Robinson” ends the movie. And it seems every lyric matches up. Look around, Mr. Belfort, and all you see are sympathetic eyes.

Here’s to him.

Tomorrow’s Review

World War Z

Movie Review #665

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2.4.7 Films present…

…in association with Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, and Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Country: France – USA
Spoken Languages: French – English – Persian – German

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.  Produced by Xavier Rigault and Marc-Antoine Robert.  Comic by Marjane Satrapi.  Scenario by Vincent Paronnaud.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – mature themes, violence, mild sexual content, profanity, drug material.  Runs 1 hour, 36 minutes.  Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2007.  Limited release in the USA on December 25, 2007.  Wide release in France on June 27, 2007.

Featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, and Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

I don’t have a problem with a depressing animated movie.  In fact, I honor any such movie for not believing that animated movies are automatically “for kids.”  But I have a real hard time bestowing any honor unto “Persepolis”.  The movie deals with the horrors of living in the Middle East through the eyes of a young French girl.  Yes, it’s depressing, but at the same time, it’s made into a near-comedy by the kind of humor you’d find on the Cartoon Network.  Expect obnoxious voice acting and much more.

I won’t deny that “Persepolis” is stylish.  Its black and white stop animation—complemented with occasional color—is beautiful.  The simplicity of it, I’m sure, is exactly what we’d find in its comic book source.  Of course, I’ll never know, if I have my way.  The movie hasn’t piqued my interest in the comic book (let alone its own story) in the least bit.  The worst part about this is that while Marjane Satrapi is inexcusably an uninteresting protagonist in this true story, the actual Marjane Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed the movie.  Is she mocking her past or embracing it lightheartedly?  The movie blurs that line.

Especially near the end, when we’re exposed to one of the very worst covers of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”.

The flaws pile up, and that mountain all comes down to the movie’s insipid, lackluster overlooking of the obvious: that war and corruption just aren’t things you make a kiddish movie about.  There’s not a head that gives a somber nod in this depiction of the years between 1978 and 1992.  They’re all shallow nods.

Postscript: Seemingly, it’s pretty hard to get the much hated product placement into animated movies, but they’ve nailed it here.  Nike shoes and Michael Jackson’s Thriller make their way into the movie during the same breath.

Tomorrow’s Review

Exorcist: The Beginning

Persepolis

Note: Persepolis was a France-USA co-production. There is a widely available English dubbing (which I watched, by pure mistake), but since the movie was originally recorded in French, my review has been written that way, as well. If you need an English translation, stay put for two days.

Movie Review #665

persepolis

2.4.7 Films présente…

…en collaboration avec Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, et Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributeur: Sony Pictures Classics
Pays d’origine: France – États-Unis
Langues: français – anglais – persienne – allemande

Realisé par Vincent Paronnaud et Marjane Satrapi. Produit par Xavier Rigault et Marc-Antoine Robert. De comique par Marjane Satrapi. De scenario par Vincent Paronnaud.

Classé PG-13 par l’MPAA, pour du matériau thématique maturité y compris des images violentes, des références sexuelles, d’impiété, et le contenu bref de drogue. Passé 1 heure, 36 minutes. Première disclosure au Festival de Film de Cannes le 23 mai 2007. Distribution limité aux États-Unis le 25 décembre 2007. Distribution complète à la France le 27 juin 2007.

Avec les voix de Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, et Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

Je n’ai pas de problème d’une animation déprimée. En fait, j’honore de film qui ne croit pas que les animations sont “pour les enfants.” Alors, c’est difficile pour moi que donner d’honneur à «Persepolis». L’histoire est des horreurs de la vie d’un fille française en Moyen-Est. Oui, c’est déprimé, mais aux même temps, le film s’est fait entre une chose qui est près de comèdie par la type d’humeur on peut trouve en Cartoon Network. On besoin d’attendre les voix ennuyeux et beaucoup de plus.

Je ne vais pas nie que «Persepolis» est stylisé. Son animation monochrome–complété par du couleur occasional–est beau. Le simplicité de ça, je suis positif, est exactement qu’on peut trouve en le livre comique d’origine. Bien sûr, je ne vais savoir jamais, si je peut l’assiste. Le film ne m’ai capturé; pourquoi fait le livre comique? Le plus mauvais facteur de ça, c’est que Marjane Satrapi est inexcusablement une protagoniste ennuie–et elle est le co-auteur et le co-réalisateur. Est-ce qu’elle rigolait de son histoire, ou elle l’embrasse avec trop de levité? On n’a discuté pas.

Particularement près du fin, quand on s’est exposé à un d’une rendition terrible d’«Eye of the Tiger» par Survivor.

Les défauts s’ajoute, et ce mont finit à un défaut fatal: le film ne savait pas que de guerre et de corruption simplement n’est pas des choses pour qu’on produit un film pueril. Il n’y a pas d’un tête qui faire oui que d’attitude sombre en cette depiction des ans entre 1978 et 1992. Tous les faits ouis sont superficials.

Tomorrow’s Review

Persepolis (in English)

12 Years a Slave

Movie Review #650

twelve_years_a_slave

Regency Enterprises presents a film by Steve McQueen…

…River Road Entertainment presents…

…in association with Film4…

Studio: Plan B – New Regency – Film4 – Regency Enterprises
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Steve McQueen. Produced by Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, and Bill Pohlad. Screenplay by John Ridley. Based on the memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup.

Rated R by the MPAA, for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality. Runs 2 hours, 14 minutes. Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 8, 2013; at New Orleans Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 14, 2013; and at BFI London Film Festival on October 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on October 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on November 8, 2013, and in the UK on January 24, 2014.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard. Also starring Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Chris Chalk, Michael K. Williams, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhané Wallis, Devyn A. Tyler, Cameron Zeigler, Rob Steinberg, Jay Huguley, Christopher Berry, Bryan Batt, Bill Camp, Dwight Henry, and Ruth Negga.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

There’s two kinds of movies. Type A: you like it or you dislike it. Type B: a movie defined by quality, where “enjoyment” is irrelevant. “12 Years a Slave” is most certainly Type B, an unflinching masterpiece that has moments to cherish and moments to detest, but it holds the viewer’s attention the entire time.

The biggest compliment I can give it is that it succeeds through its explicit presentation of slavery.  Director Steve McQueen spends one scene after another stripping the human heart of its every layer.  The entirety of it is a two-hour catharsis, with John Ridley’s screenplay providing a most uncomfortable display of these unjustifiable acts. The characters are not complex human beings. They’re defined by either their strengths endurances, or by their weaknesses and cruelties. The brutality is excruciating in dialogue, but it’s far worse seen than heard. For what seems like three full minutes, we watch our protagonist try and save himself as he hangs on a noose. Meanwhile, white folk walk around the plantation nonchalantly. It goes without saying that “12 Years a Slave” gets worse than that, though. Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film presented such repellent flaying scenes.

“12 Years a Slave” is a tale we can only wish not to believe. The reality is immense but so tasteless, it’s almost inconceivable. The epic is based on a memoir by Solomon Northup.  Its full title is the story in a nutshell: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.  The account brings us back to the depicted period in everything: script, music, costume, and most of all, acting. Solomon Northup is well portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a lesser known actor in the cast, but as worthy of an award for his performance as any given performer here.  His performance highlights the determination, opportunism, and bravery in his character. The height of the tragedy is when the slaveowners try to convince Solomon that he’s been a slave his whole life.  Yet he knows the truth, because he doesn’t desire anything at all except to get back to his wife and kids again.  He doesn’t want to work on a plantation, where he’s no longer seen as an educated, respectable human being.

Or, as he put it himself, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

42

Movie Review #646

forty_two_ver2

Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Pictures present…

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Brian Helgeland. Produced by Thomas Tull. Written by Brian Helgeland.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA, for thematic elements including language. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Wide release in the USA on April 12, 2013.

Starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

Summer 2013. My friend and his brother, 12, were over watching “Django Unchained” with me. You’re probably wondering what kind of person I am to show “Django” (and four other Tarantino films) to a twelve-year-old. Their mother was wondering, too. I recall her asking me why I didn’t show her son to an alternative: “feel-good” movies.

I have nothing against wholesome, but there’s something that irks me about “feel-good.” There’s no feeling good when watching them because they’re just too corny. They’re never so bad they’re good, because their optimism makes you want to drive a screwdriver straight through your skull. “42” is pure fluff entertainment of that sort. It takes a cheesy approach to racism and does nothing at all to compensate for its manipulative charms. Hell, it’s a movie about Jackie Robinson, but it’s just as much about baseball as “Django” was about horseback riding.

In other words, if you look at the 1989 Oscar annals, this is 90% “Driving Miss Daisy” and 10% “Field of Dreams”. Both far better movies, by the way. The racism is distracting in “42”, which gives it no chance at any awards ceremony. It’s the central theme, but we don’t want a movie where the racist white guys start to become fond of the meek black guy who has to have others defend him. We don’t want a movie where that’s shown to be how Jackie Robinson’s career began, and we don’t want a movie that makes that little sense. We want baseball.

“42” takes the Disney approach so unstoppably, I’m having trouble understanding that Warner Bros. distributed this. Expect cornball dialogue and an agonizingly straightforward narrative. It’s funny that this narrative isn’t even introduced in a way that wants to interest us. War done, America loves baseball, now here’s Jackie Robinson! That’s what the opening montage seems to say, and after something so immensely predictable about Jackie Robinson, I was ready to ask, “What was that you said about the war being done with? Explain, please.”

I’m kind of sugarcoating it, guys. It’s worse than you think. Brian Helgeland wrote and directed “42”. Less than two decades back, he co-wrote “L.A. Confidential”. And won awards for doing so! Thankfully, there is a savior out there in the production. Harrison Ford is the beacon of light here. He transforms himself so well, you’d have to have seen every permutation of Ford to recognize his face, his voice, even his character. He sounds like an announcer on a game show. Thank you, Johnny Gilbert, for making this a watchable, maybe even tolerable experience.

I seem to remember Michelle Obama recommending “42” when it came out early this year. Has she recommended “Lincoln” to anyone? I mean, that’s about racism. And a U.S. President. And it’s a good movie. Oh yeah I think it’s won a few awards, too, hasn’t it? It’s won a few, oh what are those awards called…Otters, Oslos–Oscars! It’s won a few Oscars. Regardless, that’s something we’ll never be able to say about “42”. I really wonder what she could have possibly seen in that.




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