Friday, November 22, 2013

Quick Thoughts - Erik the Viking (1989)

11/17/13: Erik the Viking feels like the Monty Python equivalent of an SNL film, material enough for a great sketch, maybe even a series of sketches, but stretched far too thin at feature length. It's occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, which is more than I can say for most SNL productions. And even in its duller stretches, Python silliness seeps its way in for some ephemeral chuckles, and any Terry Jones film is good for some great homemade effects to liven things up. **1/2

Quick Thoughts - The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

11/16/13: I'm not sure how much of this film I actually understood, or how much I was even supposed to understand. Buckaroo Bonzai is a famous surgeon who is also a stunt man, who also headlines a rock band, who finds himself busting out his dead wife's doppelganger from prison after she tries to kill him. From there he gets tangled in an interplanetary conflict with aliens from another dimension, which the film somehow ties to Orson Welles' presentation of War of the Worlds. The manic absurdity is nearly kept in check by absolute committal by its oddly respectable cast and sincere filmmaking form director W.D. Richter. It's leagues beyond convoluted, and would be total garbage if it weren't so beautifully trashy... In other words, it's Grade A cult material. **1/2

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Thoughts - Superman Returns (2006)

11/16/13: Bryan Singer's take on Superman should be held up as a model for how to put superheroes on the screen. It hits every note with equal measures of humor and grace, even in its action-filled third act. Singer develops both sides of his quote/unquote tortured hero beautifully, making us care about not only what happens to him, but also how he reacts, and does so without subjecting us to two hours of lumbering scenes of Superman brooding. Returns picks up where Superman 2 left off, refusing to acknowledge the hokum that took place in the third and fourth films, and Singer takes great pains to modernize the character while maintaining the feel of the original films, along with an almost nostalgic tribute to the original comics from the forties, yielding a fun, flashy film that is romantically shot with warm colors and soft edges. And the underrated John Ottman score is pure beauty. ***1/2

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quick Thoughts - Dumbo (1941)

11/15/13: Like Snow White and a handful of other early Disney films, Dumbo is a beautifully animated, though incomplete film. Despite some heart-filled character development and a handful of funny cartoon gags in the early going, the second half plays much more sporadically, like a series of barely-related episodes that coalesce into something much less satisfying than the idea of a movie about a flying elephant promises, and leaves its themes of individuality and acceptance only half-realized. The penultimate sequence features Dumbo getting accidentally drunk with a mouse and going on a ten minute acid trip. It's gorgeous, but makes no sense and has no place in the film. Dumbo is interesting as a piece of film history, but by no means great. **

Quick Thoughts - Trouble with the Curve (2012)

11/14/13: Trouble with the Curve is a bad movie made by talented people. The drama is less predictable than it is routine, though both adjectives will suffice; its characters aren't exactly one-dimensional, but they certainly lack the necessary depth to make them, or the story around them, truly interesting; and far too many scenes feel as though they were crafted to put the characters in situations that set up a transparent metaphor which accentuates their emotional states, which would be fine if the characters didn't then vocalize the metaphor itself:

-"Come closer."
-"I'm keeping my distance."
-"You do that a lot."

Get it? Interactions like this permeate the film, over-clarifying what little complexity or cleverness there might have been. And still its cast is able to pull off much of this with enough conviction to make it watchable, even when the script has them using baseball terminology in dramatic context. So how did such a lousy script attract such a good group of actors? Clint Eastwood did it as a favor to director Robert Lorenz, his former assistant director, and then... Well, would you pass up a chance to act alongside Clint Eastwood? Yeah, me either. **

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quick Thoughts - Pacific Rim (2013)

11/13/13: Guillermo Del Toro's latest is essentially Independence Day with robots and sea monsters... And I mean that in a good way. Just about all large-scale effects showcases share a certain set of stock elements already, so should we really care if one shares a number of exact plot points with another? Perhaps it would be a negative if Pacific Rim didn't do so well what most of these films do so poorly, which is to create a universe in which these incredibly ridiculous events seem somewhat plausible; the most amazing thing about it is that the world of the film was as entertaining as the set-pieces themselves... The more I learned about this strange future, the more I wanted spin-off films dealing with various aspects of it. Generally, giant CGI blank versus giant CGI blank scenes are vapid and devoid of any real humanity, not to mention an entire film based on such a dynamic; after the prologue explaining that after alien monsters started destroying cities, man built huge robots to fight them, I thought I was in for a Power Rangers film and got nervous. But Del Toro's robots, manned by two pilots who must synchronize brains, lend an almost spiritual component that steers the film in interesting directions, focusing less on the CGI itself, which is crisp and beautiful, but more on the characters within it. ***1/2

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quick Thoughts - Wrong (2012)

11/13/13: It took me two sittings and a whole lot of will-power to make it through Wrong, Quentin Depieux's latest experimental offering. I was intrigued by his first film, Rubber, a send-up of the horror genre about a homicidal tire, but didn't have the heart to seek it out after hearing that it was unbearably pretentious. While I can't speak to that claim directly, I can say for sure that Wrong fits that description precisely. I have no doubt that Depieux could expound on what the film really means, or that some viewers, desperate to validate their experience spending ninety minutes watching it, could formulate some bullshit about how deep it is, but Wrong is about as shallow as it gets. Its absurdity comes off as jokes in search of a punch-line and its surrealism passes as nothing more than an attempt to cover up Depieux's lack of true imagination. I'm sure he'd argue that I just didn't get it, and to tell you the truth... I'm fine with that; given what's on the surface, I really don't care what's underneath. *

Quick Thoughts - Another Year (2010)

11/12/13: Mike Leigh is a master of writing brilliantly nuanced characters and pulling out truly raw performances from his actors. In this sense, Another Year is another notch in is belt, and Lesley Manville's broken, needy, alcoholic narcissist might be Leigh's greatest triumph as a writer/director. However, it's just about all the film has going for it as Leigh chronicles four dinners, separated by changing seasons, which Manville's character attends, invited or not. Seeing her through the eyes of her more mentally stable friends, a likable Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, is interesting, and perhaps vital to her presentation, but the pair provide no real drama in the moments Manville is not around to stir things up and make the audience cringe, a chunk of time which is unfortunately too much to sit through waiting for something to happen. But still, a film by the great Mike Leigh, even half-cocked, is better than most. ***