Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys And Aliens (C)

Yes it's true; despite the many great films in theaters at the moment, I saw/am reviewing Jon Favreau's latest special effects extraviganza Cowboys And Aliens. Do I regret this decision? Suprisingly, not too much. While Jon Favreau is an incredibly bland director (or at least I think so), his films are almost always, if nothing else, entertaining. Living up to its title, along with the director's sence of entertainment, Cowboys And Aliens was a fun diversion from reality... but absolutely nothing else.

The real shock of the film, rather than exploding aliens, was how Jon Favreau wasted every cinematic tool at his disposal. Despite the common criticism of the film's title, Cowboys And Aliens had an original and unexplored premise: What if cowboys were attacked by aliens? But instead of taking this unused premise and making the film his own, Favreau cops out and opts to remake the same alien invaision movie we've been watching for years; just set in the Wild West. Even the aliens look oddly familiar (though I'm not sure from which film), and the ships they fly in are an odd mix of Independance Day and Battle Los Angeles.

However, the dilemma over the wasted premise isn't nearly as egregious as the dilemma over the wasted cast. If you cast Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Paul Dano, and Sam Rockwell, you should give them something to do other than mope around or play a two-dimensional stereotype. All of these (especially Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell) deserve much better roles than these.

Though it may not seem like it from the trailers, Cowboys And Aliens is an incredibly violent film, and may just top The First Grader for the most violent PG-13 movie I've ever seen. Characters are graphically shot, stabbed, beaten, torn to pieces, and the aliens fare even worse. This film's violence is barely a step down from another alien invaision film: Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers. The reason I'm mentioning all of this, is because a steady stream of moms were leaving the theater with their young children, and I can only assume the violence was the cause.

Like a disappointing amount of summer blockbusters, despite its carnage, Cowboys And Aliens is an incredibly forgetable film. Though I only watched the film a few hours ago, I've already forgotten most of the opening act. What I do remember was, that despite this scathing review, I had a pretty good time in the theater. So I guess that's a "C"

Grade: C

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (B)

The reason why this review is coming so late is because I've been debating with myself whether it's even necessary to review this film. If you're a Harry Potter fan, of course you'll see it anyway (if you haven't seen it twice by now), and besides, I'm a completely biased critic. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was one of the first movies I ever saw in a movie theater, and I've seen them all in the theater since. However, after much thought, I figured why not? Maybe I can add something new to the Potter conversation that hasn't been said by the thousands of other critics who wrote a review for this film. Unlike these other critics, I will not wax poetically about how everyone in the series has grown over the last 11 years. I also won't describe the plot of the film. Besides the fact that you already know it, you can read any other review for that. Now enough of my ramble, lets begin the review.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 is not really a Harry Potter movie. The Harry Potter movies circle around Harry learning magic and going on slightly scary adventures with Ron and Hermione. Obviously HPDH2 is not like this. Rather, it is a WWII war film which happens to contain vast amounts of sorcery. When spells crash into the mighty grounds of Hogwarts, it is more akin to the Nazi blitz on London than anything found previously in the Harry Potter universe. I do not mean to imply that this is a bad thing. Actually, in nearly every case but one, it is a great thing. However, that one case is that this style affects the "emotional end" of the series.

HPDH2 could have easily taken an extremely melodramatic style to give every character their own special goodbye, and it would've been horrible. No one but the die hard Potter fans want to see that. But because there's so much action going on in this film, many characters are just thrown to the side in favor of action. Characters like Fred and Lupin die without any real significance. For the casual fan, this might be unnoticeable, but if you wait 11 years for this moment it's a bit disappointing. Actually, it's very disappointing.

One thing which isn't disappointing is Alan Rickman's farewell performance as the dark and brooding Professor Snape. I've always noticed that his performances in this series have gone sadly unnoticed, and hopefully this will be the film where he is finally acknowledged for his fine work. Maybe an Oscar nomination (but not win. He's not that good) wouldn't hurt.

HPDH2 is a slightly disappointed way to end the multi-billion dollar 11 year franchise, but by blockbuster standards it's pretty good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the theater to see it again.

Grade: B

Tabloid (B-)

Errol Morris' new documentary, Tabloid, has one of the most bizarre and unique plots I've ever seen in a film, let alone a documentary. The film centers around Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming winner with a genius IQ of 169, and her accidentally tabloid fodder life. You see, when Joyce's boyfriend left her to preform his duties as a Mormon missionary in England, rather than move on, she hired two bodyguards and a pilot to take herself to England and "rescue" him from the crazy cult (Mormons) that was destroying their love. And after having one of the hired bodyguards use a fake gun to abduct him, she tied him up on a bed, and proceeded to have sex with him for three days straight. After here, the lines of truth and lies become blurry.

This is such a fascinating story that all Errol Morris would've needed to do to make this an interesting documentary would be to just give a few interviews and call it a day, and that's exactly what he does. Besides a few interviews with McKinney, two tabloid reporters, a regular Mormon man, the pilot to get to England, and a dog cloner (don't ask), there really isn't too much material here. It's sad to see that Errol Morris was denied an interview with Kirk Anderson, McKinney's boyfriend and true love/rape victim. If that interview had been allowed, there might be some thought provoking material to add to this story.

Tabloid is still a very fun movie though. As the story continues, you become more engrossed with what's happening on the screen, and desperately makes you want to know what happens next. Every event in Joyce McKinney's life is just more insane than the last, and by the dog cloning finale comes around, you realize that there is no better ending than dog cloning. How else can you top abducting a Mormon in the name of love?

While there is close to no take away value from this film (other than true love can be found anywhere, from virgin religious Mormons to clone puppies from South Korea), Tabloid should be seen simply for the fun you'll have watching it. Tabloid had the material to become a truly spectacular documentary, but instead settles for being a merely entertaining one. But still, in the world of documentaries, entertaining isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Grade: B-

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rubber (C+)

As Lieutenant Chad says in the opening monologue of Quentin Dupieux's new film Rubber, many things happen in a film for no reason whatsoever. Why does E.T have to be brown? Why do aliens always have a need to destroy New York? Why do the characters in terrible romantic comedies always fall in love by the end of the film? No reason. In Rubber, Quentin Dupieux takes this idea of "no reason" and raises it to an all new level: If there isn't a reason to explain E.T's brownness, why does there have to be a reason to explain a killer tire with telepathic abilities who decides to use his powers to destroy humanity? Of course there shouldn't be a reason to explain how this murderous tire came to be, any backstory in this film would have defeated the entire purpose. But unfortunately, this movie simply has no reason to exist.

Let me make this clear: I enjoy the B-movie/softcore grindhouse genre (EX: Steven Spielberg's Duel), and I also enjoy the Sci-Fi movie of the week for "so bad it's good" entertainment. Rubber can easily fall into both of those categories, but my problem with the film is that by the 45 minute mark you've seen everything this film could possibly throw at you (besides the surreal/genius final ten minutes, which I am not going to spoil in this review).

Now this is the part of the review when I knowingly become a bit of a pretentious pseudo-intellectual when it comes to this film, but something needs to be said about the film's techno score. I know very little about scoring movies, but the score of this film is incredible. After watching the film, I immediately picked up two tracks from the soundtrack on iTunes. I'm not sure if it's on youtube (it probably isn't), but if it is you should check it out. Okay, my pretentious pseudo-intellectualness is now over.

Rubber is not a great film, but it's an incredible ode to "no reason." People die for no reason, inanimate objects have supernatural powers for no reason, and unless you want a fun first forty-five minutes and a hilarious twist there's no reason to see it.

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Top Five Movies Of 2011 (so far), And Other Stuff

While 2011 is only half over, I honestly believe that this could be the best year in cinema since 2007. Nearly every film I've seen this year has been decent, and there are still many acclaimed films which I have not yet seen. So if you are confused why a certain film isn't mentioned, the reason is that I haven't seen it. With apologizes to The Tree of Life, Meek's Cutoff, Beginners, 13 Assassins, Win Win, Source Code, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Rio, and Certified Copy, here are the top five movies of 2011 so far...

5. Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris is definitely not Woody Allen's greatest film, but it's certainly a fun romantic comedy. Midnight in Paris plays like Night at the Museum directed by Woody Allen, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it's usually a great thing! Despite being 15 minutes overlong and an annoyingly bad performance by Kathy Bates, Midnight in Paris is my fifth favorite film of 2011 so far.

4. The Trip
The Trip is a flawed film. The editing is choppy, there are too many unnecessary scenes where nothing happens, and it takes the first 20 or so minutes for the film to find its groove. That being said, there will be absolutely no other film this entire year which will make you laugh as hard as this one. The believable mixture of friendship and rivalry between Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (playing themselves) creates laughter, along with unexpectedly moving moments. By the time you've finished your hour and a half trip with Coogan and Brydon, you'll want to immediately go again. For these reasons The Trip is my fourth film of 2011 so far.

3. Rango
With Pixar's Cars 2 turning out to be a bonafide critical disaster (currently 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, 39% less than Pixar's previous low point Cars (74%)), Rio being considered a mild disappointment, and Hoodwinked Too, Mars Needs Moms, and Gnomeo and Juliet being just as terrible as their names made them out to be, it takes a special type of movie to save a floundering genre from a year of disappointment. Entering the movie theaters in a blaze of glory, Rango was able to do this. Actually, it was able to do more than this. Rango was also a key factor (along with True Grit) in bringing back the western genre, and introducing it to a whole new generation. With its whip-smart humor, well done action sequences, and some of the most gorgeous animation to ever hit the silver screen, Rango is the third best film of 2011 so far.

2. Bridesmaids
I feel terrible that my review of Bridesmaids was so short. Because I spent so much time attempting to convince people not to see The Hangover Part II, I was not able to truly acknowledge the genius of this film. Director Paul Feig has done the near impossible by creating a romantic comedy which is appealing to everyone. But of course he doesn't deserve all the credit; every single actor or actress in this film gives it their all when it comes to this film. I cannot think of a single performer who gave a sub-par performance. Bridesmaids is hilarious, heart warming, touching, disgusting, raunchy, romantic, charming, and the second best film of 2011 so far.

1. My Perestroika
Director Robin Hessman has done the absolute impossible: Create an hour-and-a-half long documentary which not only captures the entirety of the Soviet Union, but makes it one of the most enjoyable movie going experiences I've ever had. Through five mid-life Russian citizens who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union, you see the true Soviet Russia behind all the propaganda and lies. In a perfect world, every documentary or film would be a great as this one. Told through song, stock footage, Soviet television broadcasts, interviews, and pool, My Perestroika is without a doubt the best and greatest film of 2011 so far.

Honorable Mention:
The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet is not the sixth best film of 2011, but it definitely does not deserve all the scathing reviews it's been receiving from the critics. Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz do an incredible job with the material, Michel Gondry's direction is fun and loose, and the film mixes action and comedy fairly well. This is a flawed film, but it's certainly a lot better than Thor, which received bizarrely spectacular reviews. The Green Hornet isn't one of the best of the year, but it doesn't deserve all this hatred.

The Worst Film of the Year So Far:
I Am
I feel terrible having hated this documentary because of how much this movie obviously means to director Tom Shadyac. He put his heart out on the line, and now I'm smashing it to pieces with a sledgehammer. Do I want to smash his heart apart? Absolutely not, but something needs to be said about how terrible this movie is. I Am feels like a bunch of uplifting stock footage stapled together with pointless interviews with a half-assed score thrown to go along with it. The only reason I spared this film with a D+ is that I appreciated what Tom Shadyac was attempting to do. Hopefully, I won't have to watch another movie this bad over the rest of 2011.