Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Magic Mike (2012)

* * *

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey

A plot point by plot point description of Magic Mike would make it sound like a basic backstage performance story, where a wide-eyed tyro is taken under the wing of a solid mentor, and everything is fun until suddenly it isn't so much fun anymore. Fortunately for the film, it is helmed by Steven Soderbergh, a director with enough strength of craftsmanship that he can take well-worn genre notes and make them sing like new. This isn't to say that Magic Mike is a brilliant piece of work, but it's a solid enough drama, and a fairly entertaining one at that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

* * * 1/2

Director: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Bae Doona, Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant

Cloud Atlas is a lot of things - ambitious, extravagant, messy, a mix of genres with sometimes jagged pieces that don't quite fit together - but it is never, ever boring. If audiences embrace it more than critics have, it may well develop a reputation as one of the most entertaining movies of the year. That is has some pretty fierce detractors is not surprising - the film does have its flaws - but, in the end, it is less a film than it is an experience, one you are either willing to give yourself over to or you're not. If you are, you'll certainly be rewarded.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Library Project: October 20 - 26

A busy week left me without a ton of time to work through my DVDs, but I managed to squeeze in a few good ones. Here's what I watched:

October 20: Far From Heaven (2002) - Todd Haynes's beautiful homage to the work of Douglas Sirk, anchored by Julianne Moore in one of her absolute best performances. It works brilliantly as both a throwback to a distant style of filmmaking, and as a film in its own right.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Multi-Character Performances

#5: Ralph Fiennes as Ignatz Sonneschein, Adam Sors & Ivan Sors in Sunshine

Sunshine is a sprawling epic in which Ralph Fiennes plays men from three generations of the same family, each forced to confront anti-Semitism in various forms and to varying degrees of intensity. Fiennes creates three distinct characters within the film, while also instilling them with the common threads that connect each of their stories beyond the fact that they're connected by a generational line.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

* * * *

Director: Robert Wiene
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher

Robert Wiene's German Expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is, perhaps, the only film ever made where the production design is the star. Its jagged, highly stylized sets are some of the most memorable ever put on film and go a long way to creating the film's nightmarish vision of madness and horror. Caligari is a film that stands the test of time in part because it presents a vision so weird that it can never seem dated, but also because it's simply a great piece of filmmaking.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

* * * *

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

They investigated every inch of his two album covers and combed through his lyrics looking for something, anything, that would provide a clue as to who Rodriguez was and where he came from. To the shock of his fans in South Africa, where he was as big, if not bigger, than Elvis, he was unheard of in his native America. His life and death were shrouded in mystery until two fans - journalist Craig Bartholomew Styrdom and record store owner Stephen "Sugar" Segerman - undertook the task of learning the truth about what happened to him. In the process they discovered a story more incredible than they could have imagined.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Library Project: October 13 - 19

Another week watching my DVDs, and a particularly fruitful one at that. Here's what I watched:

October 13: Dark Passage (1947) - the least of the films to co-star Bogart and Bacall. This gimmicky noir lacks the charm and energy of their other pairings, though it does start to find its footing near the end.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

* * * 1/2

Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson

It's not quite a movie within a movie story. It's more like an idea for a movie within a movie where the characters seem vaguely aware that they themselves are ideas for characters in that idea for a movie. Seven Psychopaths, writer/director Martin McDonagh's follow-up to 2008's In Bruges is a wickedly clever, ultra self-aware, and sometimes brutally violent comedy and easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: Argo (2012)

* * * *

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

When it comes to movies and marketing, a little hype can go a long way. Sometimes hype sets expectations too high, making a perfectly good film seem disappointing, but every once in a while a film is equal to the advance word and Argo is certainly one of them. All the talk about the film being a legitimate Best Picture threat is entirely justified, which is all the more amazing when you consider that the film is so thoroughly a genre piece. A taut suspense thriller that plays all the right notes at exactly the right time, Argo is the kind of movie that is "old fashioned" in the best possible way.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Library Project: October 6 - 12

Fell a little behind this week as I continue my journey through my movie library, but at least the majority of the movies I watched are bonafide masterpieces, so I guess that balances things out a little bit. Here's what I watched this week:

October 6: Camille (1936) - Garbo delivers one of her best, and most acclaimed, performances in this romantic drama co-starring Robert Taylor. Directed by George Cukor, Camille is an absolutely stunning period piece set in Paris' demimonde.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday's Top 5... CIA Movies

#5: Fair Game

One of the great underrated films of 2010. Based on the memoir by Valerie Plame, the film examines both the roots of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's manipulation of the media to support that war. Naomi Watts is fantastic in the lead role and Sean Penn is not nearly as "Sean Penny" as you would expect as Plame's husband.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Your Sister's Sister (2012)

* * *

Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass

Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister doesn't have a ton of plot, but it could do with far less. It hinges on three very assured and engaging performances but those performance often find themselves at the mercy of a plot which, the more it develops, the more soapy and contrived it starts to seem. When the film pulls back and just lets the characters be, it's fantastic; it's only when it starts to force the plot that the structure begins to creak.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: The Deep Blue Sea (2012)

* * * 1/2
Director: Terence Davies
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston

Despite the fact that not much else was playing at the time, I had avoided The Deep Blue Sea when it was in theaters because a cursory look at its plot made it sound similar to The End of the Affair, the 1999 film starring Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes, which managed to be approximately a million years long despite having a runtime of only 120 minutes. Appearances can be deceiving, however, because The Deep Blue Sea is really very little like that film and is in fact a deeply engrossing drama anchored by one of the finest performances I've seen all year. It's also gorgeously photographed, which leaves me kicking myself for having missed the chance to see it on the big screen. Lesson learned.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Library Project: September 29 - October 5

Another week down making my way through my DVD library. Here's what I watched:

September 29: Before Sunset (2004) - ...picking up where I left off, I rejoined the adventures of Jesse & Celine, kicking the week off with Richard Linklater's slightly superior follow-up to Before Sunrise.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Badass Liam Neeson Roles

#5: Darkman in Darkman

Part superhero movie, part horror movie, in Darkman Neeson plays a scientist who runs afoul of the mob and ends up seriously disfigured. He's subjected to an experimental treatment that renders him impervious to pain and gives him enhanced strength and that can only mean one thing: it's ass kicking time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: Looper (2012)

* * * 1/2
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

A genre film done right can be a thing of beauty. It may not end up winning a lot of awards, but its balance of craft and entertainment will ensure that it always has an audience. Looper is a great genre film from a young director whose track record is so sound (Rian Johnson's previous films are Brick and The Brothers Bloom) that in time he may prove to be a sleeper candidate for "best of his generation." Looper is a near perfect science fiction/action film, one brimming with intelligence and packed with well-executed action.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: The Master (2012)

* * *
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, is an ambitious, enigmatic, beautifully photographed, and sometimes brilliant piece of work. I feel like I should have liked it more, but as I left the theater my feelings were more akin to a shrug. Individual scenes in The Master are amazing but as a whole I found the film rather unaffecting. It is by no measure a bad movie. It's a movie I admire in many ways, but one which ultimately left me unmoved.