Thursday, November 13, 2014

John Wick - **1/2

John Wick is a watershed event in the history of video games. Its designers have somehow overcome the uncanny valley and made a game that has the most incredible graphics I've ever seen. The only problem is that I can't play it, because it's actually a movie. It's full of visual flare and stylistic panache, weighed down by a strange sense of self-seriousness inconsistent with its seeming lack of ambition. It's a satisfying enough popcorn movie until you get through the top layer of butter and realize most of the kernels are stale.

What begins as an almost beautiful look at a man grieving his wife's death quickly shifts gears when a couple of thugs beat him up, steal his muscle car, and kill his dog, a plot turn that signals the introduction of uninvited familiarities. Then it's revenge time. Then it's cheap backstory time: before getting married and settling down, the man was a top-notch killer, "The Boogeyman." Wait, no, "The man you call to kill the Boogeyman." This is all fine while director Chad Stahelski is balancing brutal, matter-of-fact violence with beautiful choreography, and weaving it into a bizarre portrait of a fictitious seedy criminal underworld in New York City. But the momentum stops when Stahelski thinks we have any desire to hear the characters speak all sorts of tired dialogue, and as the plot contrivances start boiling over, our enthusiasm gets turned down to a simmer.

John Wick feels like a great 15 minute short film followed by 90 minutes of alternating action and boring video game cutscenes. No, it's not a game, nor is it based on one, but you might be convinced otherwise while watching it, for it so thoroughly emulates the cheesy storytelling (former hit man wants revenge) and cardboard characters with a singular goal (kill all the bad guys) of an average video game that those who miss it in theaters and pop the Blu-ray into their PS3 will be in for a minor head trip when they come to out of a trance of half-consciousness in the middle of the film and feel a game controller in their hands but are unable to influence what is happening on their TV screen... Especially if it happens to be during the sequence which cross-cuts between Keanu Reeves dispatching Russian mobsters with one of them literally playing a first-person shooter. It even features an in game artificial currency: gold coins redeemable for entrance to the hotel safe-house and favors from allies.

Shoddy storytelling and video game parallels and all, John Wick still manages to entertain on more than just a base-level. Keanu Reeves is an immensely talented actor, engaging even as the tabula rasa titular character in mediocre action films. And Stahelski and DP Jonathan Sela spoil the audience with stunning action sequences saturated in neon light and gorgeous overhead shots of New York City at night. If not for the abundance of hollow dialogue slowing things down, John Wick would easily become an instant cult classic. Instead, it just brandishes the dubious distinction of being simply one of the better action films of a lackluster year. Here's to hoping that that Blu-ray features some spectacular downloadable content.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction - Zero Stars

When did summer blockbusters become hostage situations? When did referring to them as "jaw-dropping" cease to describe their awe-inspiring imagery, but rather their perpetual-yawn inducing relentless stupidity? Just what is it, exactly, for a film to have no value whatsoever? I'm sad, but not at all surprised to admit that these are the questions that ran through my mind while being subjected to Transformers: Age of Extinction, Michael Bay's nearly three-hour fourth installment in his banner franchise of hollow spectacle.

Three years removed from the last time I watched Bay's giant CGI robots fight it out over the course of a bloated run-time, with a miserable intermission in the form of his vile, hate-fueled Pain & Gain (reviewed here), I'm almost ashamed that I endorsed Dark of the Moon (reviewed here) with the mild praise that I did, even giving a tacit thumbs up to Bay's penchant for misogyny, lumping it in as part of the "spectacle," rather than identifying it as the progressively-growing weakness of a filmmaker no longer able create legitimate lasting images. And coming from an Armageddon devotee, I count Ben Affleck trotting an Animal Cracker from Liv Tyler's cleavage to her waistline as a lasting image... I don't know what that says about me, but it certainly doesn't say much for Mr. Bay.

I don't know what it was, exactly, that made me enjoy Dark of the Moon; perhaps it was the ho-hum summer slate of 2011 combined with the fact that that particular set of robots and boobs was actually an improvement on the previous incarnation. Whatever it was, it no longer applies, and I don't think I can ever again trust the version of myself that gave it the OK.

Am I overreacting? No. It's not that Age of Extinction is devoid of any craft. It actually displays considerable talent. In addition to some incredible effects, Extinction also boasts some great cinematography, along with some really beautiful compositions; it reminded me that somewhere deep down, Michael Bay is a truly talented filmmaker, albeit one who has completely lost the ability to string together more than a few minutes of worthwhile material, especially troublesome when he inflicts 165 minutes of cruel repetition on us this time around.

Worse still is that these positive aspects were often contradicted by their context, many of them coming in the first hour, in which Bay seems to be making a concerted effort to develop his characters, showing us Mark Wahlberg's struggling inventor farm-boy father trying to raise a daughter who Bay refuses to clothe, so we get images of college loan refusal and silhouetted dad contemplatively looking off into beautiful sunsets, which would have been effective had we not seen three other Transformers films which conditioned us to ignore the human drama that inevitably gets paved over an hour later by robots bashing each other to bits, as happens an hour after Wahlberg ponders that gorgeous sunset.

But it's not just the ironic negation of the modicum of quality that the film shows, but the utter pointlessness of its being that makes Extinction such a chore to watch. Cut out the stupidity, the misogyny, the out-of-place cliche Japanese samurai Transformer, and you still have a tortuously long blockbuster with an asinine script and played-out imagery that we've seen for nine hours already... How much more robot-on-robot crushing and crinkling can anybody really take? Considering the fact that there's nothing new here, no fresh take, despite the re-boot set-up, Bay and company seem to think audiences are game for hours and hours more of these tired images. I for one say they're wrong, which is why I bought a ticket to a different film when I saw Extinction, and I hope you will to, if you feel the need to watch this trash out of obligation because you saw the other three, because in Hollywood you vote with your dollar, and a ticket to this only begs for Transformers 5, and who knows what wretched depth that film will reach? I definitely don't want to feel obligated to find out.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Locke - **1/2

Stephen Knight's Locke is an intriguing stunt of a film, filled to the brim with dramatic tension as one man in one car in near-real-time puts out all kinds of fires, fending off his boss while attempting to reconcile with his wife and kids on speakerphone, on his way to be present for the birth of an illegitimate son, all while battling some inner demons. It's the kind of totally ambitious cinematic experiment that I crave... And I wish I could say I loved it.

Unfortunately there's only so much that can be done with this premise, but in the end it just doesn't feel like enough. Tom Hardy plays the titular character, and he's very effective in managing the level of stress that we feel while watching him. But again, in the end there's only so much that one man can depict while sitting behind the wheel of a car with the audience seeing essentially just the shoulders up for 90 minutes.

Locke plays like a vignette from the domestic drama version of TV's 24, with Hardy shifting from intense crisis to other equally intense crisis while driving really fast on the highway. It's great in the moment, when you're looking close-up, straight-in at a man agonizing over a life-ruining mistake, but taking a step back reveals that it's not necessarily enough to sustain a feature film, especially considering that its conceit forces Knight to completely neglect that which arguably makes a film a film: visuals.

It's a real shame that Locke doesn't quite work, because the writing is superb. Knight and Hardy are able to present a complex portrait of a man struggling to do what he feels is right. It would have made for brilliant radio theater, but as a film, the limitations of the premise are just a little bit too much to overcome. But still... It was daring, and we should always be up for a dare at the movies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - Marc Webb is Amazing (Spider-Man 2)

I want to make it perfectly clear that I was not consulted on this episode title. With it I believe my co-host, Chad Van Alstin, is attempting to get a rise out of me, as on the show we discuss my distaste for just about everything Webb has done, and come to an agreement that he is not a very good filmmaker... Or at least that's what I took away from his middling comments. What will you take away? Find out by listening to us bitch about Webb's latest cutesy teen romance, 500 Days of Spider-Man The Amazing Spider-Man 2...

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - Top Ten Films of 2013 (Part 2)

On a new episode of The Cinematic Tangent, Chad and I wrap up our lists with spots five through one, sharing three titles and adamantly disagreeing just about everything else as we stutter our way through a passionate debate over the best films of the year... And American Hustle. Zing!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - Top Ten Films of 2013 (Part 1)

On a new episode of The Cinematic Tangent, Chad and I begin counting down our favorite films of 2013, a year we both agree is one of the best for film in a long time. It's a pretty self-explanatory concept, so I guess this is enough said (wink wink).

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - Only God Forgives/Drive

Drive was considered one of the best films of 2011, while Only God Forgives drew derisive laughter at Cannes. On a new episode of The Cinematic Tangent podcast Chad and I discuss the peculiarly intriguing love-it-or-hate-it Only God Forgives and its spiritual predecessor, Drive, by the same director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Is he a pretentious bore or a misunderstood genius? We try to get to the bottom of it while discussing his most recent films, and why one is considered brilliant and the other a disaster, even though they share so much in common.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Secretly Awesome - What Maisie Knew

Release Date: May 3, 2013
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Writers: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, based on a novel by Henry James
Cast: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Joanna Vanderham, Alexander Skarsgard, Onata Aprile
Box Office: $1,066,471
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Normally I reserve this column for older, forgotten films, or those which I feel weren't given their due: great '90s thrillers, like Breakdown, to unexpected delights, like Young Sherlock Holmes. But the intention has always been to highlight films that deserve to be part of the conversation, but generally are not. Which is where What Maisie Knew comes in, which is easily one of the best films of 2013.

Maisie follows a little girl, Maisie, caught in the middle of a custody battle between her parents, a touring rock star (Julianne Moore) and a traveling businessman (Steve Coogan). The film opens with a break-up and Coogan's swift marriage to the nanny (Joanna Vanderham). Though their relationship seems genuine, Moore's character sees it as a ploy to get a leg up in the custody hearings, and marries a friend (Alexander Skarsgard) for appearance's sake.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Lego Movie - ****

"A great film doesn't concern itself with what happens, so much as how it happens.” I’ve used that line once before, in a review I wrote for Toy Story 3 a few years back, describing the joy of being so moved by an animated film about toys. Well, that line is applicable once again, for the very same reason, and quoting it from a review of a widely beloved film is as well, because, believe or not, The Lego Movie is on par with some of Pixar’s best.

It’s a rare and wonderful thing to be surprised by a film these days, and The Lego Movie absolutely blindsides; what could very easily have been a goofy little piece of novel ephemera somehow manages not only to be unique and beautiful, but also smart. It will no doubt go down as one of the best films of this year, and one that will inspire all sorts of backlash by those who see only the surface value of what The Lego Movie has to offer.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - American Hustle/"Based on a True Story..."

On a new episode of The Cinematic Tangent podcast, Chad and I argue about this awards season's darling, American Hustle. While he declares it one of the year's best, I call bust on this overhyped, meandering mess of hollow razzle-dazzle. Also... Where does a film's responsibility lie when telling a story it claims to be true? Must it adhere strictly to the facts, or take liberties in order to entertain its audience? We try to get to the bottom of it, and leave Lincoln and Captain Phillips flailing in our wake.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

American Hustle - **1/2

David O. Russell is a guy who obsesses over the details. Most great directors do… It’s necessary to create atmosphere in a film, or really anything else for that matter, considering filmmaking is creating something out of nothing. Props, costumes, sets, everything: chosen specifically. So having an eye for detail is nothing new; it’s a necessity, expected, and not really worth mentioning. David O. Russell really obsesses over details, which has generally produced some truly amazing and unique films in the past. But in his latest, American Hustle, Russell loses the forest in the trees, focusing so intensely on getting every tacky prop and every bad hair piece just right, that it feels more like a retro fashion show we’re meant to gawk at and applaud for its bold styles than a narrative film in which we can really immerse ourselves.

A loose retelling (“Some of this actually happened”, we’re told at the start) of the ’70s Abscam scandal, American Hustle is an ensemble period piece that reunites Russell with virtually every actor he’s ever worked with, as well as a few new additions. It’s a marvelous cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner; the list goes on. It’s a who’s who of Hollywood’s best and brightest, and they all lose themselves in their parts, creating beautifully nuanced characters with brilliant performances (Russell also has a way with actors).

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Secretly Awesome - The Ninth Gate (1999)

Release Date: December 24, 1999
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Cast: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner
Box office: $18,661,336
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%

Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate has it all. It's a globe-trotting supernatural thriller full of mystery, double-crosses, bad vibes, secret agendas, and sexy femme fatales. It's sort of what Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been, had it been R-rated and inspired by noir films from the 40s. It's maybe a little uneven, with an ending that lacks punch, but it's wildly eccentric, beautifully shot, and directed with wit, making it a blast to watch, despite whatever imperfections there might be.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Quick Thoughts - Urban Legend (1998)

12/18/13: I was eleven years-old in 1998, young enough for my dad to tell me Urban Legend would probably be too scary for me to see. He was wrong, for it lacks the modicum of quality necessary to engage viewers enough to potentially scare them. Scream fooled filmmakers and audiences alike into thinking that asinine premises involving douchy teenagers could be interesting again, and so set off a horde of imitators like this, which took this set-up seriously rather than poke fun at it, resulting in a witless bore of a film. 1/2*

Quick Thoughts - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

12/13/13: Though it features some outstanding production value, Rare Exports is a B-movie at heart. Re-imagining Santa Claus as a piece of folklore in which he is an evil, demon-like beast who eats naughty children, it follows an archeological dig to uncover him, as seen through the eyes of a few rural villagers. It probably would have worked a lot better as a short, expediting some of its lengthier stretches which become a little stale now and then. But even so, it's an original premise, at least to those of us who don't surf Netflix for low-budget Christmas-themed horror films, and it has some solid suspense filtered through a lens of curiosity which I found refreshing. Not a Christmas classic by any means, but certainly has an oddity that is worth a look. ***

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quick Thoughts - Jack Frost (1998)

12/12/13: Jack Frost is the kind of cheeseball family film that benefits immensely from its Christmas theme, ensuring that people will only watch it around Christmas, a time when they are in the precise mood for cheeseball family films. The key to its success is its overlong first act, in which we see Michael Keaton bonding with his pre-pubescent son. The characters are likable and their love feels genuine, lending these scenes a heartwarming quality that, is hard to resist, no matter how great the urge to poke fun at its hokiness may be. all of this despite the fact that these scenes are drawn out and almost redundant, which renders them nearly pointless until Keaton dies and is re-incarnated as a snowman next year, and we realize these scenes are there to build up good will with the audience. Yes, Jack Frost crashes and burns, but the flames are fun to watch, and we're treated to a host of dated CGI effects. **

Quick Thoughts - Jingle All the Way (1996)

12/12/13: Having somehow missed this film when I was its target audience almost twenty years ago, I've always had a strange desire to see it. Boy, what a let-down. Failing to be entertaining on even a level of out-dated charm, Jingle All the Way is a complete bust. Telling the story of a crappy father trying to find an elusive toy to make up for not being there for his kid, the film shoots for the heartwarming sentimentality of the Christmas season through its very inverse, bringing us boring characters in search of superficial fulfillment. In its attempt to lampoon the annual "hot toy" craze, Jingle All the Way only celebrates it, making it tacky, though to its credit it at least creates a fictional toy rather than serve as a ninety-minute advertisement for an existing product. *1/2

Quick Thoughts - EdTV (1999)

12/5/13: EdTV is the poor man's Truman Show, a film that employed the same themes and a similar premise. Both films sniffed out the onslaught of reality television when it was still in its infancy. And while both successfully send up the idea, EdTV actually feels more relevant now, fifteen years later, as it's premise is exactly what TV has turned into (though Truman is still a better film). EdTV also got right America's obsession with celebrity as the film follows Matthew McConaughey's rise from an aloof everyman to conversational fodder for tabloid junkies everywhere. Aside from eerily accurate social commentary, EdTV actually manages to be a solid romantic comedy, pulling laughs from its cast of (mostly) colorful characters and what at the time may have been considered an absurd idea. Probably benefiting from a little bit of distance from its release and the accuracy of its predictions, EdTV is nevertheless a solid entry to the rom-com canon. ***

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Cinematic Tangent - Her/Bible Movies

On a new episode of The Cinematic Tangent podcast, Chad and I clear up some confusion brought on by the technical difficulties in the previous show. Our hodge-podge of second-rate equipment failed us, forcing us to lop off most of our positive comments about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which we re-iterate here, before criticizing it again and launching a discussion about egregious product placement in movies. After that, a rare instance of total agreement as we sing the praises of Spike Jonze's Her, which may be the best film of the year. And then... Bible movies! Chad and I ponder the meaning of all of these goddamn religious-themed movies that 2014 is spitting out at us.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Quick Thoughts - Before Midnight (2013)

12/12/13: Nine years is a long time to wait for an update on a pair of beloved characters, but then again, so was the eight years between the first two films. In all fairness, my opinion might be skewed by my having come in on the second film in the series, Before Sunset, which I consider nearly perfect. Waiting nine years for the next installment in the lives of these characters is a tall order, and may have proved too much, possibly due to unrealistic expectations. Before Midnight takes a long time to settle in on its primary characters, the ones we've been caring about about for 10-20 years, depending on when you came in. The first act highlights a whole group of characters who, while terribly interesting, just were not what I was tuning in to see. Fortunately, the last hour of the film gets back to what made this series the brilliant character study that it is, and shows us the next stage in the relationship of Celeste and Jesse... And it's as poignant and heart-wrenching as ever. ***1/2

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quick Thoughts - Upside Down (2013)

12/1/13: Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst earn our sympathies, stuck in this asinine excuse for a movie. Clearly writer/director Juan Solanas crafted this film as a reason to play with its premise, which involves two planets on top of each other, which are obviously separated by class, and again, obviously the one above is wealthy while the one below is poor, and they're not allowed to interact. But... when considering the physics of it, which is really above and which is below? How does this system actually work? It's one of those high concept movies in which the first ten minutes feature expository narration that explains the film's rules, which barely make sense, even if you really want them to. Lacking the character development to make its love story truly compelling, Upside Down is an exercise in stylistic futility, failing on every front, producing a film that puts cool conceptual visuals ahead of storytelling, resulting in a thoroughly stupid cinematic experience... Fortunately I was drunk. 1/2*

Quick Thoughts - The Fly (1986)

11/29/13: A notch in the argument for remakes being different than the original, David Cronenberg's take on The Fly is nothing short of brilliant. It's perhaps his most straight-forward film, though it's not without the usual Cronenbergian themes of mind and body, and the flesh, and he certainly doesn't skimp on the body horror achieved using great prosthetics and puppeteering. And amidst all of the gross-out scenes is a heart-breaking love story that is slowly winding down to a devastating inevitability that the part of you that likes happy endings in which people pair up dreads, while the other part of you that craves a more complex emotional dynamic can't wait to see. And it's all set to a beautifully operatic score by Howard Shore that haunts you long after the credits roll. One of the best in the filmography of a truly incredible filmmaker. ****

Friday, January 10, 2014

Out of the Furnace - **

Out of the Furnace, Scott Cooper's follow-up to the mostly good Crazy Heart, is full of the same visual richness as that film was. Set amongst low-lifes and good folks with bad luck in an impoverished mining town. It gets right what a lot of Hollywood films get wrong; Christian Bale plays a normal guy with a welding gig without making a big deal of it... Rather than 'designing' a costume for him and fashioning his hair just-so, it looks like the filmmakers just sent him to a thrift store to grab some clothes off the rack and wear them for a few days straight while letting his hair grow. It's a small detail, but important in registering the film's authenticity. Cooper and his crew nail all of these details, and though the direction felt a little stale, the film still managed to look fresh because of them.

Unfortunately Furnace features the laziest screenplay of the year, complete with the third-act cop-outs that almost ruined Crazy Heart. Bale plays Russell Baze, an honest Joe who briefly goes to prison for killing a few people in a drunk driving accident, an interesting turn in the film that essentially goes nowhere, adding nothing to the character or themes. Russell was on his way home from covering for his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), paying off a scumbag loan-shark (Willem Dafoe) who has Rodney throwing underground fights to pay off his debts, scenes which contain more superfluous plot construction than is necessary and which isn't properly utilized. Eventually the film has Russell out for revenge after Rodney and the loan-shark are killed for no apparent reason by some crazy hillbillies who run the New Jersey chapter of this underground fighting ring, but not before one of them butt-dials a buddy with his cell-phone, leaving a voicemail of the murder... Ugh.

There's so much more that is crammed into Furnace's two-hour run-time, but it's impossible to briefly contextualize all of it, mainly because Cooper and his co-writer can't even find a way to contextualize any of it in the film itself. There's a sub-plot with Zoe Saldana as Russell's ex-girlfriend who left him while he was in prison, and another featuring her new boyfriend, a thankless role filled by Forest Whitaker, who I swore was Saldana's father for most of the film due to a lack of clarity and the fact that they barely ever look at each other, let alone touch. It's a confusing dynamic in a pointless sub-plot, only one of several in the film, which together pull so much focus from the story Cooper is trying to tell that it could only barely be said that he tells one at all.

What's worse is that what little there is that is cohesive is riddled with bad dialogue, cardboard characters, narrative convenience, and what can only be described as a lack of umph. It's obvious where every scene is going as soon as it begins, and too many of them are over-the-top or under the mat, completely lacking the edge that it needs for the suspense it wants to build. Fortunately, a top-notch cast delivers all of this with enough conviction to make enough of Furnace compelling enough, even when it's misfiring, so when Russell runs into Woody Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat, the leader of the psycho hillbillies and says, "You got a problem with me?" and Harlan replies, "I got a problem with everybody," only a piece of us laughs at such one-dimensional absurdity, while the rest of us shrugs it off and moves on. And that's pretty much how it goes in Out of the Furnace.

Quick Thoughts - Dutch (1991)

11/28/13: Dutch is an underrated holiday classic written by John Hughes, following the typical "I'll be home for the holidays" wacky road movie formula, note for note. Hughes contributed another great entry to the canon a few years earlier with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and amazingly, still manages to make a completely different film here, even while working with the very same ingredients. I'm not the biggest Hughes fan, but he had an indisputable knack for writing characters who were perfect foils for each other, and though he put them in fun, escapist scenarios which few of us have probably ever actually experienced, they're completely relatable. As written by someone else, Dutch would have turned out as hokey and predictable as it actually is: blue collar Ed O'Neill agrees to drive home his fiance's pretentious, upright son (Ethan Embry) from his prep school... Hijinks ensue, and the two learn a lot from each other. But buried beneath the formulaic surface is a lot of heart and sincerity... And wit. It helps that the gags are actually entertaining, but where Dutch really succeeds is in the development of the relationship that forms, which feels so genuine and real that we push down our instinct to scoff at such predictability and instead root for it, because Dutch reminds us why this premise became formulaic in the first place: it has the potential to be brilliant. ***1/2

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quick Thoughts - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

11/26/13: The follow-up to Guy Ritchie's asinine Sherlock Holmes is pretty much more of the same, albeit slightly less boring (I nodded off a few times in the theater while watching that one). But that could just be chalked up to an even more convoluted plot that takes more attention to follow. If that sounds like praise, let me clarify that "requiring more attention" doesn't equal the adjective "interesting". While I didn't doze at all, I did glaze over a few times during Ritchie's over-the-top action sequences and lame fist fight scenes in which Holmes analyzes each move of the fight while Ritchie shows us each thought in slow motion, right before showing us the exact same thing at normal speed, (which annoyed me immeasurably in both films), and so I missed what were probably key clues and twists... Oh well, so are the hazards of watching things like this. Still, not altogether intolerable. **

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - ***

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is exactly the film that Ben Stiller set out to make, for better or worse. It’s incredibly uneven, takes forever to take off, and is unexpectedly bogged down by an excess of seemingly unnecessary plot exposition, but there’s passion infused in every frame, and there’s something wonderful about that which makes most of the film’s flaws forgivable, if not lovable.

Stiller plays the title character, a tenured, unappreciated photo lab grunt at Life Magazine, who loses an important photograph by the famed recluse photographer, Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn in a cameo so good I almost wish the whole film had centered around him), expected to be the cover shot of the final issue of the magazine. Lost, lonely, and lovelorn, Stiller’s Walter Mitty sets out on an adventure to find O’Connell and infuse his life with meaning. He also hopes to win the affections of a new payroll clerk in his office with whom he’s been trying to connect via an online dating website; however, the site restricts his access due to an incomplete profile left blank because he’s never been anywhere or done anything noteworthy.

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