Category: Reviews

Where the Wild Things Are

Overview: Spike Jonze’s unexpected take on Maurice Sendak’s classic childhood book. Warner Brothers; 2009; PG-13; 101 Minutes. Some Cinematic Highlights (A Formality):  Jim Henson’s Creature Shop preserves and enhances the traditional look of the Wild Things. Jonze collaborated with screenwriter Dave Eggers on a script that assigns the Wild Things empathetic personalities (where before there was just howling and gnashing teeth).  Max Records was born (and named) for the role.  An impressive list of vocal talents, including James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, and Catherine O’Hara add even more dimension to our monsters.  The soundtrack is as organic a marriage of...

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The Artist (2011)

Overview: The fall of a charming silent movie star and the rise a young beautiful dancer intersect at a crossroads in movie history. Warner Bros. (France)/Weinstein; 2011 Rated PG-13; 100 Minutes. The Good: Astonishingly, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo exemplify the era of the film’s focus.  As George Valentine and Peppy Miller (even their names throwback to an era of stylized charm), the two screen talents excel under the unique demands of a film format that most would have thought to be eight decades out of practice.  Dujardin’s facial expressions, from his delightful smile to his contagious melancholy, are...

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Cabin in the Woods

Overview:  Five friends visit a remote cabin and… the rest should be pretty predictable, right?  Lionsgate; 2012; Rated R; 95 Minutes. The Expected:  Whedonites love chit chat. The script penned by Whedon with director and disciple Drew Godard provides… well, it provides words.  Like all of Whedon’s characters, this doomed group does a lot of talking, particularly for a horror movie (or a horror movie spoof?  We’ll get to that later), and whether talking is a fair substitute for character development might be a matter of personal taste.  The Good:  Unsubtle homages come in rapid succession.  There is a giddy sense of nostalgia evident here, and it is most distinct in the betting room scenes, where Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford push the meta-theatrical limit, scribbling over whiteboards that tease us with possibility. The creature work is a brilliant mishmash of CGI, costume, and make-up, cheesy where it needs to be, precise when the reference requires it.  The masked maniac, the werewolf, the zombie, the zombie redneck torture family (different things), Kevin, the merman (oh god, the merman), the giant snake.  For adults, none of these monsters, mutants, or murderers will be scary, but they are a great reminder of having once been scared.  Here Comes Mr. Academic Buzzkill:  I’m uncertain about Cabin in the Woods‘ intentions. Is this film essay a construction of celebration, satire, or diagnosis?  If...

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Shotgun Stories

Overview:  Tensions between two sets of half-brothers explode into a tragic family feud. International Film Circuit; 2007; Rated PG-13; 92 minutes. From the Beginning: From the very first minute, we are deafened by the quiet.  It’s in the distressed position of that long body.  That fatigued breathing.The walls of the house too low for the curtains—a woman’s touch.  The flip of the cards onto the nightstand.  The empty drawers.  The buckshot scars on his back.  This is a movie about a particular type of mean-ness. Not everyone has lived in or around places like this, but most of us...

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The Truman Show

Overview:  An insurance salesman discovers his entire life has been presented to the world as a 24/7 television program. Paramount; 1998;  Rated PG; 103 Minutes Contextualization:  The 1990s marked an interesting moment in movie history.  Studios realized the full potential of movies as magic moneymaking machines. This pre-dated the internet hitting its full potential as a chaotic war machine capable of levelling the democratic cultural battlefield.   Viewership was limited to a single voting method—the box office.  So the flood of funding produced, with few deviations, a string of safe-bet and formulaic genre exercises and what felt like monthly epics...

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Titanic (1997)

Overview: James Cameron’s follows the fictional courtship of young Jack and Rose as they illustrate all of the romantic clichés (the straight-laced social climber vs. the free spirit, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the star-crossed teens) during their short lived journey upon the fateful 1912 North Atlantic liner ship .  20th Century Fox & Paramount; 1997; PG-13; 194 Minutes. The Good: Alright, I’ll put it in print.  This movie is pretty impressive start to finish.  Cameron has always been at the forefront of movie special effects, and this disaster picture is no exception.  What is...

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Shawshank Redemption

Overview: Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, subsequently spending decades in a Maine prison.  Castle Rock Entertainment; Rated R; 142 Minutes. Everyone’s Favorite Movie:  Frank Darabont brings a learned, disciplined hand to this adaptation of the Stephen King short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and his first intelligent move was shortening the title.  Darabont is a student of the classics and his breakthrough masterpiece is evidence of that.  There is an old-school influence at work here, with the movies’ narrow and simplified morality, its black-and-white presentation...

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All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

Overview:  Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is that girl that resides in every high school that all the boys want and all the girls want to be.  Mandy is flawless,  beautiful, athletic, smart and oh yeah… a virgin. She’s also the apparent object of affection for some maniac killer.  RADiUS-TWC; 2006; Rated R; 90 Minutes. Standard Teen Slaughter Stuff:  As junior year draws to an end, a group of high schoolers invite Mandy to a weekend long party on an isolated ranch. The guys call dibs and take bets on who will nail miss Lane. The girls (minus virginal Mandy) spend time discussing which guy they will be sleeping with. As the festivities rage...

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Knowing

Overview: An uncovered time capsule leads a man and his young daughter to discover a countdown that suggests the end of the world.  Escape Artists/Summit Entertainment; 2009’ Rated R; 121 Minutes The Schizophrenic Elephant in the Room: Alright, yeah, we get it, you snickering meme-hungry internet jokesters.  When you put his collected work together, Nicolas Cage comes across as very, very weird and not very self-aware.  Is his inexplicably frenetic energy on display on this movie?  You betcha.  Dude attacks a tree with a baseball.  And I bet you’re not surprised!  But that sort of energy can come across...

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Juno

Overview: A sharp-tongued, offbeat teenager deals with an unplanned pregnancy. Fox Searchlight; 2007; Rated PG-13; 96 Minutes. WHO TALKS LIKE THIS?!:  All other aspects of this movie labor under the weight of Diablo Cody’s unnatural and forced script.  So up front apology (though it should be Diablo Cody’s apology to give), my review will contain the word “script” approximately ten times.  The dialogue in Juno rushes itself impatiently from one quirky zinger to the next and, more often than not, the movie feels like a Goodwill sponsored read-through dress-rehearsal on a Red Bull rush.  Talking speed does not equal...

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Pulp Fiction

Overview:  A collection of intertwining narratives follows a realized cast of characters through criminal lifestyles and loaded conversations.Miramax; 1994; Rated R; 154 minutes. Strike Down Upon Thee With Great Vengeance:  In the five years preceding 1994, the Academy Award for Best Picture was awarded to (in chronological order from 1989) Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, and Schindler’s List.  All five examples of strict genre exercises, seemingly crafted to screenwriting templates and loaded with sentimentality.  And the top contenders for the prize in ’94 included Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump (which would go...

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Killing Them Softly

Overview: Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik, is a crime drama set during the 2008 Presidential election. The Weinstein Company. 2012. Rated R. 97 Minutes. Strengths: There are a few good performances here with Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Brad Pitt. None of the acting performances are bad; however, none of them standout as great or exceptional. There is one scene which features a style choice viewers may enjoy. That scene features a shot captured by connecting the camera to an opening car door. This is an interesting technique that viewers may not have seen before. Weaknesses: Killing...

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The English Patient

Overview:  The Oscar Winning film adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s lyrical novel. Miramax; 1996; Rated R; 162 Minutes. Full Disclosure:  Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is my favorite novel and my favorite singular application of the English language.  Ondaatje’s application of language  (both English and storytelling language) is lyrical, poetic, historical, scientific, layered, and culturally transcendent.  Watching riter and director Anthony Minghella’s attempt to frame that language in film is comparable to watching a not-so-clever teenager attempt to rap Shakespeare.  Or watching a non-native student of Spanish 101  attempt a reading of 100 Years of Solitude after he/she is introduced by Gabriel...

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Overview/Rating/Length: Wes Anderson brings his unique brand to this adaptation of the book by beloved children’s author Roald Dahl.  20th Century Fox; Rated PG; 87 Minutes. I Don’t Want to Live in a Hole Any More, and I’m Going to Do Something About It:  The most common and longstanding criticism against director Wes Anderson is his predictable approach to storytelling.  Many see weak filmmaking in his trademark symmetrical stage arrangements, muted character emotions with their disconnected dialogue, and his certain pastel yellow and red screen saturation.   Detractors like to label it cartoonish, likening the director to an adolescent with...

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George Washington

Overview: George Washington follows a group of kids through a summer living in their impoverished rural southern hometown. It is the feature film debut of writer and director David Gordon Green. Cowboy Pictures/Janus Films. 2000. Unrated. 90 Minutes. The Setting: It could be argued that the key storytelling tool and narrative centerpiece in George Washington is the small, desolate town in which the events occur. Cinematographer Tim Orr captures the depressive feel of the area with a raw and honest camera. He lingers on destitute and depreciated images of the town, while a secondary character narrates and provides voiceover...

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