I find there to be a lot of beauty in Los Angeles at night. It is a bit odd, as I find most films that portray LA primarily at night tend to be centered on crime. Something about the way this city is illuminated by its street lights, cars, and various other forms of activity just does something for me. Certain films and filmmakers have proven to have quite the handle on filming this sort of thing. I think of a director like Michael Mann, who seems to understand exactly how to shoot LA at night, given what he brought to films like Heat or Collateral. With Nightcrawler, a dark, satirical neo-noir, writer/director Dan Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit seemed to want to do all they could to capture amazing photography of this city at night. As a result, we watch a slimy character do all he can to get great footage, while in turn finding something sublime in how wonderfully shot the whole thing is.
Archive for the 'Movie Reviews' Category
What do you see when you look at these older actors taking care of business? A week after writing about Liam Neeson’s latest foray into the realm of B-movie thrillers, I now get to write about Denzel Washington’s latest action/thriller. All I can say is The Equalizer certainly takes its time. By the end of this 130 minute feature, it felt like I had watched a whole season of the CBS series that inspired this film and I would not exactly call that a good thing. Denzel Washington may radiate confidence and director Antoine Fuqua may know how to stage stylish action sequences, but The Equalizer is a film that misunderstands how to balance a sense of poignancy with the slaughterfest that occurs anytime Denzel’s spider senses start tingling. It also goes on to pad itself with a lot of dull material.
It is one thing to put out a film that is a film that shows off the hundreds of hours of work that went into crafting a wholly unique world and set of characters, but it is another thing to merge that craftsmanship with a wonderful story about identity and societal roles of all things. Of course, it would be easier to just say The Boxtrolls is a high-spirited, mad-cap adventure-comedy that may not be as complex or tinged with darkness in the same way that Laika’s previous films, Coraline and ParaNorman, were, but still another fine entry from a studio that has done wonders in the stop-animation world in recent years.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is a nice change of pace as far Liam Neeson’s career as a B-movie action star goes. While the film may be sold as another chance to see Neeson use a particular set of skills to beat up some bad guys, it is really more of a detective story that flirts with noir-ish elements, with some grisly thriller aspects thrown in for good measure. Based on a series of novels by Lawrence Bock, which is focused on the character Matthew Scudder, Neeson’s performance not only keeps this film together overall, but establishes a new potential franchise, which would be more interesting than watching him rescuing various kidnapped members of his family from European gangsters over and over again.
Director Terry Gilliam falls into the category of filmmakers that make movies that fit entirely into their own genres. Quentin Tarantino makes Tarantino movies rather than straight comedies or action movies. Tim Burton used to not really make horror or fantasy films, but instead he made Tim Burton films (hopefully he gets back to that soon). I could go on, but Terry Gilliam does not really make science fiction films, he makes Terry Gilliam films, and that is what The Zero Theorem amounts to. While the film feels like it has too much indebted to his own past work, specifically his best film (arguably), Brazil, The Zero Theorem is still unlike any sort of traditional take on dystopian sci-fi worlds, because Gilliam operates on his very own level, even while battling studios to preserve his vision. As a result, while visually arresting and well-acted, it is not as conceptually interesting as it is a fun polish on some old ideas.
A Walk Among The Tombstones movie trailer could initially fool someone into thinking they should be expecting Taken 3. The trailer for A Walk Among The Tombstones shares some of the similar DNA to Taken with the same leading man, Liam Neeson, as well as familiar plot devices such as a tape recorder. However, the cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” by Nouela (it can be heard here) reminds us that this is a much more darker and grizzlier crime drama tale than the Taken films. It’s also based on a novel by Lawrence Block of the same name, and believe it or not, once upon a time in 2002 Harrison Ford was attached to star. So I honestly don’t feel tooted now that my movie has been in development for some three years now, but I digress. Continue reading ‘‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ Mostly Thrills (Movie Review)’
At this point, seeing another YA novel adapted into a film only brings up so much excitement. Part of it comes from there being only so many of these types of books I want to see as films and the other part is pretty simple: lots of these films are fairly dull and too focused on being a franchise-starter first, an enjoyable film second. I had no real opinion on The Maze Runner going into it. I have not read this book series, the cast is made up of younger actors I have seen in some things, but haven’t regarded as ‘the next big thing’, and there is a rookie director at the helm. Keeping all of this in mind, it would be easy for me to go into the flaws of the logic in a movie like this or even how it could have handled certain aspects regarding dramatic tension better, but honestly, I had a good time watching this film. The Maze Runner has a key thing going for it and that is consistency. It is not overlong, it is decently acted, features effective enough visuals, builds its tension and mystery well, and has a serious tone that does not come off as cheesy. This may not be the next big triumph for YA novel film adaptations, but it is far from the worst.
I have large doubts that 20 years ago, following the debut of writer/director Kevin Smith’s Clerks, anyone predicted that one day this man would make a film about a mysterious man turning an unknowing participant into a walrus, but here we are. Based on an idea that stemmed from an episode of one of Smith’s podcasts, SModcast, which he hosts with his best friend and former producer pal Scott Mosier, Tusk is a twisted horror-comedy that certainly features some memorable images, but mainly serves as a way of telling us that Smith has no desire to really move beyond entertaining his own fanbase, despite stepping away from his comfort zone, from a filmmaking standpoint. Given that I am a fan of Smith’s and hold a few of his films in high regard, I was certainly happy to go along with seeing how this film turned out, but if I had no clue about what this film was, I am pretty certain I would have thought Tusk was a film made as some sort of dare.
This is Where I Leave You is the kind of film that walks the line between being aware it is not treading new ground, but still wants to make you happy, based on all the talented actors involved, and treating its subject matter in a more serious manner. It is a film featuring characters that are mostly not all that inherently interesting, but because they are played by people like Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, the film at least has some reliable performances to stand behind them. It is nothing new to have a small period of time serve as a way of course correction for the lives of a family in a film, but while this film is fairly enjoyable, it lacks much of anything to really make it stand out. It is a film that does just enough, but sits a couple spots away from being essential viewing.
The Skeleton Twins is the kind of film that features a few actors giving the kind of performances that make it look easy. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are best known for their work on Saturday Night Live, but clearly have aspirations to delve into more dramatic work, better showing off their range as performers. It is one thing to find the humor in certain scenes, but it is another to make that humor play in scenes that come in between some heavy dramatic material. This is a film that features some really dark material, but is able to develop a story that can follow a fairly formulaic level of plotting and still succeed, based on the confidence of the actors involved and the filmmakers working behind the scenes. As a result, The Skeleton Twins works as a sad comedy for the art house crowd and manages to rise above the easy complaints about these sort of family-focused stories.
The Drop is a strange sort of film, as it is ostensibly a crime drama rooted in its characters, but not quite focused enough to claim to be about one thing in particular. Sure, Tom Hardy is the lead in this film and we are basically following his mysterious character, who seems like a simple enough guy that could blow at any minute; but the film, while fairly straightforward, puts a number of things in front of its characters in a way that makes it hard to describe simply. As it stands, The Drop is a well-acted feature about criminals, gangsters, abuse, sorted pasts, moving on in one’s life, just trying to get by, and a cute little dog.
I saw writer/director’s Ari Folman’s 2008 film Waltz with Bashir and was very intrigued by where he would go next. That film revolved around a character searching for his lost memories as an Israeli soldier and was made using unique animation techniques. Folman’s new film, The Congress, is similarly about finding one’s self in a sense, but it comes at this topic from a different angle. Based on a science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, The Congress follows a character through an allegorical world that depicts the extreme merging of the entertainment industry and technology in ways so complex that people literally become animated characters. This is a film that has too many ideas to fully make work, but thanks to a strong lead performance by Robin Wright, let alone the nature of the film, there is a lot to appreciate or dissect about what is seen in The Congress; aspects that I am still thinking about.
Sometimes I find myself asking, “Why wasn’t this better?” Life of Crime has everything going for it. The film is a prequel of sorts to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, as both films feature three key characters. More specifically, crime novelist Elmore Leonard wrote both Rum Punch and The Switch, the novels both films are based on. Regardless, the film has interesting source material and circumstances going for it, as well as a great cast, most of Leonard’s dialogue still intact, and a nice period-film aesthetic to top it all off. Still, Life of Crime never manages to be anything more than average. It is unfortunate, but I have some thoughts as to why this may have been the case.
There’s a funny story about this movie review. Should I tell it to you? I wrestle back and forth of whether I should or shouldn’t because it has nothing to do with the film itself, but oh what the hell. I’m all for entertainment and having a good time. Many months ago my Irish dancing friend, Gregg Senko, was sending me the same text over and over all day long in like fifteen minute intervals or something close to that. It was real annoying because I was trying to focus at work. The text simply read “As Above, So Below.” Having never seen the trailer for this film I had no idea what he was talking about. It was going on about six o’clock or so when we had just sat down for dinner and upon the arrival of yet another text I finally couldn’t take it anymore and I texted back as politely as possible something to the effect that I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. He texted back and said it was a new movie. That was it! Continue reading ‘‘As Above, So Below’ Is Actually Pretty “Descent” (Movie Review)’
In 2005 I fell in love with Sin City. While the worst thing that film may have given since us was the directional ambitions of the graphic novel’s creator Frank Miller (see don’t see: The Spirit), it had plenty else to offer. Director Robert Rodriguez delivered an ambitious and visually stunning adaptation of a few books from the acclaimed graphic novel series, leaving audiences clamoring for more. It unfortunately took nine years to finally see more from this world, which finds audiences already satisfied with similarly visually striking films since and more or less content with having the one Sin City film behind them. But now we have a sequel and while there are some issues with the results, for the most part, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a fun ride back through the mean streets of this stylishly gritty town.
I tend to enjoy seeing process be put on display in film. A lot of times that applies to crime dramas or heist films, where you see the way things play out in a wordless manner, involving a lot of the inner workings of certain activities. Love Is Strange, a film that is not remotely close to being a crime drama, puts process on display early on, as our two lead characters awaken and get ready for their wedding. We watch them go through morning routines, leading up to their attempts to hail a cab. It does enough establish a sense of place, but more importantly, it allows us to watch two actors who seem incredibly comfortable in their roles. That is how this film plays out for the most part, as we watch actors work very well together in a fairly low-key comedy/drama, and enjoy being in their company.
A long time ago Bing Crosby and Bob Hope had a successful series of comedy films, such as Road to Morroco, where they would travel somewhere and basically have fun with each other in various locals. After finding a lot to enjoy in The Trip and now having seen The Trip to Italy, if Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon want to continue making films where they play exaggerated versions of themselves, while traveling to different countries to eat amazing looking dishes, humorously argue with each other, and do hilarious impressions, then I would be all for it. The Trip to Italy not only continues to give these two the opportunity to have a lot of fun together, it also plays even better than the first entry, with plenty of laughs to be had during this European vacation.
A film like Frank is not for everyone, but who cares? I had a lot of fun with this offbeat comedy that keeps the head of its main character inside a large papier-mâché head. The film is a comedy, a road movie of sorts, and a look at experimental/indie music culture. It is also very funny, well-acted, and a little bittersweet, given what we learn of Frank, the man behind the head. Given that Michael Fassbender can work for me in just about anything, I was not surprised to be so taken by this film, but it is still one I want to see be given a chance, because having a little (or a lot) of weird can be a very good thing.