Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Perestroika (A)

In my review of Marvel Studio's Thor, I had trouble writing an introduction for the film simply because there really wasn't anything to write about. Now, writing a review of the new documentary My Perestroika, I am faced with the opposite problem. My Perestroika is such an absolutely genius film, I have no idea where to begin.

My Perestroika contains all elements which make up a fascinating documentary:

1. Compelling subject
2. Fascinating characters
3. A rarely mentioned topic
4. Gorgeous and surreal examples of stock footage
5. Brilliant direction

The focus of the documentary revolves around how the fall of the Soviet Union shaped the lives of five old classmates. Told through their home movies, along with interviews from the modern day, you see the drastic change the fall of the Soviet Union had on them, and also the drastic change that these classmates had on the Soviet Union. This film plays like Michael Apted's Up series if it had been summarized into one complete epic film. Though I have only two films out of Michael Apted's previously mentioned Up series, I can safely state that My Perestroika accomplishes much more than both of those films combined.

My Perestroika also deserves a praise that I doubt I've ever bestowed to a documentary before: Its soundtrack. The soundtrack to this film is absolutely spectacular, mixing Russian children's songs with 80's Soviet Era punk-rock. A bizarre combination that while in this review might sound, well, bizarre, in the context of the film it works spectacularly.

I would also like to note that this is director Robin Hessman's first feature length documentary. The fact that he was able to direct a documentary this well on his first try is an incredible accomplishment. Even though this documentary will unfortunately most likely get overlooked come time for Oscar season, Robin Hessman is now a huge director on my radar, and should be on your radar as well. Though I already said this once in this review, I believe that it's necessary to say it again: This is an absolutely genius film.

Grade: A

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thor 3D (C)

I've been sitting in front of my computer for around thirty minutes trying to come up with a clever introduction to this review of Marvel Studio's new release Thor, but unfortunately I have nothing to say. You may think that I'm implying that this is a terrible film, but I'm not. Thor has beautiful special effects, fun comedy, and enough fight scenes to qualify itself as a fun summer blockbuster. It's also certainly a whole lot better than the commercials and trailers made it out to be.

The reason why I struggled so much with writing an introduction to this review, is that behind the special effects, fun comedy, and fight scenes, you'll find absolutely nothing.
Thor has no morals, no opinion, and most importantly no heart.

Saying a movie has no heart is a critic cliche which I'd prefer not to use, but in this case it's extremely accurate. This movie will entertain you for 114 minutes, and then leave your mind completely. You might say that I'm being a snob when reviewing this film, and that these factors of my critique are why summer blockbusters exist in the first place. Well, you may be right, but you're probably wrong. As movies like
Inception proved, summer blockbusters don't need to be pure dumb spectacle, and could easily become something much greater.

I will, however, give
Thor credit on its post-production 3D. Post-production 3D is usually a huge scam for the film companies to make a buck off ignorant movie-goers (EX: Clash of the Titans), but in this film it really works. You easily become immersed in the realm of Asgard, and the fight sequences have an extra jump to them.

Thor is not a great film, but it's a solid blockbuster. If you'd just like to be entertained for two hours, you could do much worse than this.

Grade: C

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Am (D+)

I feel like a heartless cynic for disliking Tom Shadyac's new documentary I Am so much. From watching the film, you can tell that he honestly wants to get his optimistic message out about how we can change the world. You can also tell that this film was designed to be his "Swan Song" from the world of cinema. Oh, I wish I could have loved this movie. Its morals are very insightful, and I'll always have a spot in my heart for Tom Shadyac's previous comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar. Unfortunately, I Am is for the most part a manipulative, unintentionally hilarious, incredibly tedious, hypocritical trainwreck of a documentary.

I Am feels like a terrible song written to raise money for a natural disaster: While the song itself may be terrible, you admire what the band is trying to do to help the cause. I admire Tom Shadyac for having the courage to sell his mansion along with his status of being one of the Hollywood elite in order to become a better human being, but it probably deserved to be a story on Oprah, rather than the focus of a documentary.

This entire documentary can be summed up from one piece of dialogue taken from the film:

While Shadyac is having his mind read by an electrolyte filled clump of yogurt (don't ask), he turns over to the scientist who designed this bizarre experiment and asks "Do you know why this is happening"? The scientist then shrugs and replies "Not exactly."

Well put Mr. Scientist, well put.

Grade: D+

Monday, May 9, 2011

Please Vote For Me (A-)

When the documentary Please Vote For Me was originally released into theaters back in 2007, I had no idea it existed. Actually, I didn't know it existed until only a few days ago when it was mentioned on the radio. The premise seemed simple: Three Chinese third-graders partake in an election against each other to decide who becomes the class president (here called "class monitor"), while learning about Democracy at the same time.

After seeing this film, I can honestly tell you that this documentary is absolutely fantastic. This is a film which accomplishes more in its 58 minute runtime than any other film I've seen in a very long time. Because most of the enjoyment of this film comes from the suspense of who will win the election, nothing will be spoiled in this review.

While as mentioned before, the main plot of this film surrounds a class election, other aspects of the film are just as fascinating. You see the troubled parents of these third-graders using anything under their control to have their children elected, whether its field trips to the city monorail, or telling their children to boo their opponents. The lengths these parents go could be made into an entire documentary on its own.

Because of it runs only 58 minutes and is right now on Netflix Instant View, the moment you finish reading this review you should definitely go check out Please Vote For Me.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Super (C-)

Over the last year, four movies have been released where the main plot revolves around ordinary individuals dressing up like superheroes and fighting crime. Each one of these movies had their own special moral about the consequences of doing this:

In Noise, the moral was that becoming a vigilante is illegal, no matter how good your intentions might be.

In Kick-Ass, the moral was that if you attempted any stunt which superheroes do in the comics you'd inevitably be killed.

In Defendor, the moral was that anyone who dared to become a "real life superhero" was criminally insane and needed serious mental help.

In James Gunn's new movie Super, the moral is that...well... to tell you the truth there really isn't any real moral in this film. Despite one character's unexpected death, Frank D'Arbo (played by The Office's Rainn Wilson) never faces any consequences for the brutal acts of violence he commits under the disguise of THE CRIMSON BOLT. Whether it's ridiculous or genius, it takes a director real guts to tell his audience that nearly no wrong can come from beating people to death in a red spandex suit.

Speaking of guts, this movie is horrifically violent. The Crimson Bolt's weapon of choice is a pipe wrench, an idea which seems funny and kind of quirky at first, but quickly becomes incredibly disturbing. As a matter of fact, the statement: "seems funny and kind of quirky at first, but quickly becomes incredibly disturbing" is the perfect way to describe this film.

Note Ellen Page's character Libby. When we first meet her working at the comic store, she seems to be a slightly more grown up version of Juno; quirky and sarcastic. But by the time she officially becomes The Crimson Bolt's sidekick (Boltie), we see her as she truly is: A violent and deeply disturbed psychopath whose only reason of becoming a sidekick is to mercilessly beat strangers to a pulp.

While from my description, it may not seem like it, but Super is a bizarrely religious movie. Frank's hero is a Christian superhero from an after-school special type of program named "The Holy Avenger". The scene where he decides to become a superhero involves him being literally touched by God, but in the most twisted way possible (Hint: It involves tentacles).

Despite all of it's flashy violence, and a memorably insane performance from Ellen Page, Super cannot be recommended because of its final act. Like the previously mentioned Kick-Ass, Super attempts to be a parody of sorts on superhero movies, yet during the final act Frank magically gains all the shooting skills in the world. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and the only good thing about it is that there are no jet packs.

If you enjoy superhero movies, or just a fan of good ol' super-violence, this should probably do the trick for you. But anyone who doesn't fall into that category, you might want to stay away.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

God of Love (B+)

While God of Love may sound like a corny fun romantic comedy, it absolutely is a corny fun romantic comedy. Luke Matheny directed and starred in this Oscar winning short film about a lovestruck New Yorker who is given a box of darts which when thrown at someone, makes them fall in love with you for eight hours. After eight hours, they return to normal.

God of Love is the exact opposite of what usually wins the Oscar for best short film: Dark and depressing. God of love is a quirky comedy which plays like what Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's The Tooth Fairy would be like if it was directed and starred Woody Allen. It's awkward, romantic, set in New York, and the main character is Jewish. How much more Woody Allen can you get?

God of Love is a forgettable, but fun ride. At 18 minutes it's perfect to watch while waiting for a bus, and contains enough subtle jokes to make rewatching it seem alright.

Grade: B+

Rango (A-)

Every year, around fifteen animated movies come out which are absolutely horrible. Just last Friday we had the animated abomination Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil. Not only are these types of animated movies horrendous, but now because of the 3D craze unfortunate parents are forced to cough up the extra three-and-a-half dollars a person for lackluster post-production 3D. Should I pity these sad souls suckered into buying $15 a ticket for the likes of Mars Needs Moms and the previously mentioned Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil? Absolutely not, for they missed out on taking their movie-craving children to see one of the greatest achievements in animation since the masterpiece which is Spirited Away. And how would they have been able to see this spectacular animated film? In glorious, spectacular, old fashioned, non-money stealing 2D! What could this movie be? It's name, is Rango.

Before I begin reviewing Rango I'd like to admit that I have a huge personal bias in favor of this movie. Even if it had been a crudely animated abomination of the likes of those already mentioned, it would have at least received a "C' simply for being a western. Not enough westerns are being made anymore, and I hope that the success of Rango and True Grit really bring the genre back on the map again.

Rango is simply one of the most stunning animated movies of the last twenty years. Every frame of the film is fully realized in the most realistic way I've seen in an animated movie...ever. The animation here really puts Pixar to shame, easily defeating any of their long lineup of films. At one point a human character appears which looks more realistic than the characters in A Scanner Darkly, and that movie was barely animated!

It takes real skill to come of the dreck which was the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and make this movie, but director Gore Verbinski pulls it off amazingly, especially for his first time directing animation. Of course, he doesn't deserve all the credit. With the spectacular voice cast of:

Johnny Depp
Abigail Breslin
Ned Beatty
Bill Nighy
Timothy Olyphant

By this point, Rango probably is no longer playing in your local theater, but the moment it comes out on DVD, run to the REDBOX and rent it before someone else rents it first. Whether it's for a child or not.

Grade: A-

Cold Weather (B+)

Cold Weather, the new film by indie director Aaron Katz, is a difficult movie to review. If you look at it's plot synopsis it appears to be an average run-of-the-mill "Hardy Boys" style mystery movie:

"Doug (Lankenau) returns home to Portland, Oregon after dropping out of college in Chicago. When his ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Rikoon), materializes and subsequently disappears, Doug sets on an investigation with his co-worker, Carlos (Castillo), as the two men put their love of old detective novels to use."

If the film had followed that plot, it would've probably been a decent film, though a forgettable one. Luckily, it doesn't. The film more closely examines Doug's relationship with his more successful sister, and his newly found friend Carlos. Every character in this film is played by an unknown which was a casting choice which worked outstandingly. All the performances in this film are subtly brilliant, especially the actor who plays Carlos, Raul Castillo in his feature-film debut.

One other way that the film drifts away from the plot mentioned above, is in its pace. Despite having a relatively short runtime of 96 minutes, the detective work only takes place within the last half of the film. The first half is spent displaying Doug's life in a way possible which could only exist within an independent movie. As an example, there is a ten minute silent scene where Doug and his sister enjoy lunch and walk on the beach. It's a beautiful scene with no plot, no dialogue, and certainly no mystery.

Though Cold Weather is well shot and well acted, the general plotlessness of the first half does lead eventually to tedium. Aaron Katz obviously wants us to completely understand our three heroes before leading them into the fray, but some scenes definitely should have been left on the cutting room floor. Even at 96 minutes, it still feels a bit too long.

All in all, Cold Weather is a great film, but is not for everyone. If you like your mysteries with tons of jumps, shooting, and explosions, this is not your kind of movie and you will be bored to tears for a good majority of the movie. However, if you don't mind missing out on those high-octane thrills Cold Weather should be on your radar if it comes to an independent theater near you.

Grade: B+