Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 Catch Up: Frankenweenie (A-)

Without the presence of blockbuster filmmaker Tim Burton guiding its way through the Hollywood system, it's impossible to imagine any possible scenario in which Frankenweenie, or anything remotely similar to it, could get produced by a mainstream production company. A b/w, stop-motion animated horror movie for kids, with the majority of jokes consisting of homages to old school creature features, and containing the death of multiple beloved pets, this film defies all conventions for traditional kiddie cinema. The first third mostly consists of a child realistically mourning the death of his furry best friend, and the final is a chaotic monster melee, hectic enough to terrify those below 10. In between, Burton shows a mostly unlikable (from a child's perspective) supporting cast ruining the protagonist's chances of reanimating his dog without repercussions. Without Burton's name attached to the poster, a kid's movie like this would be lucky to find distribution at all, let alone play 3,000+ theaters and receive the 3D treatment. However, without Tim Burton, this movie couldn't exist at all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Catch-Up: Cloud Atlas (A)

One of the most unique blockbusters in recent memory, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski Sibling's 172-minute magnum opus was released on October 26 to shockingly little fanfare from both casual moviegoers and critics. With a worldwide gross of $65 million contrasted against its overwhelming $135 million budget, and a respectable, yet disappointing Rotten Tomatoes score of 63%, calling Cloud Atlas a financial and critical flop would seem justified. However, in retrospect, this failure is slightly baffling. Tykwer and the Wachowski's had one of the most unanimously beloved actors of our time (Tom Hanks) as part of their ensemble cast, used an ambitious premise unlike anything previously shown on screen, and utilized the crowd-drawing presence of impressive special effects. Also working in their favor was a major studio buying the domestic distribution rights for their German outsourced feature, and choosing to release it in premium priced IMAX theaters. On top of this, there was no competition at the box office. All major movies were petering out before the release of Wreck-It Ralph and Flight on the next weekend, and there wasn't any reason for Cloud Atlas not to take first place in its first weekend. While there wasn't any possibility for it to recoup its massive budget, winning the box office crown as a modest dud was a realistic conclusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 Catch Up: Argo (B)

(I'm trying to catch up on as many Oscar-baiting movies and favorite films of the year as I can by the end of the end of the month, so some reviews might be somewhat abbreviated)

Everything I could've ever wanted from Ben Affleck's third directorial effort can be found in the opening scene: A perfectly directed and acted recreation of the Iranian militants and students storming the U.S embassy in Tehran at the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s. Grounded firmly in reality while still technically a dramatization of the historical events, it's an impeccably crafted introductory sequence. Affleck directs with a visceral intensity; unwilling to sugarcoat and make light of the looming tragedy. Not once does he cut away from the embassy, and presents the situation almost in real time. The only way to further intensify the proceedings would be if it had all been done in a single take, which admittedly would be downright impossible with all of the supporting characters in play. There are workers hastily trying to shred all documents within the embassy, ordinary Americans swept up in the terrifying ordeal, armed guards who have to protect the building and all those inside, while realizing that firing a single shot could provoke war between the U.S and Iran. Meanwhile, a mob of angry Iranians are slowly swarming the embassy, and a peaceful conclusion is no longer possible. Something horrible is going to happen; this mob is doom for the inhabitants of the embassy, but no one really knows what the inevitable horrors will entail.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holy Motors (B-)

When people settle arguments or make decisions using a coin flip, they always call heads or tails, but never the thin centerpiece which lies between the two. To place a bet on the middle portion would be absolutely ridiculous for any reasonable person, as the odds of success are practically nonexistent. For this reason entirely, it figures no prominence in the coin flip, and seemingly only exists to give the coin the bare minimum thickness for it not to be brittle enough to easily break. Experimental and fringe cinema generally works the same way. On one side of the cinematic coin, there're the minimalist and/or surreal mind puzzles which ultimately reward the viewer for paying constant attention, and provide a type of unique memorability which the majority of conventional films lack. The most recent example of this would be Rick Alverson's The Comedy, which provided an insightful character study outside the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. On the other side, there're the impenetrable indies which completely alienate their audience, and fail to serve any clear purpose other than to dispense pretension. Movies which quickly come to mind are Alain Cavalier's Pater, one of the frontrunners for the worst of the year, and David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis to a lesser extent. Alverson is on one side of the coin, and Cavalier and Cronenberg are on the other. However, director Leos Carax has broken the nonexistent odds to find the sweet spot right down the middle.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Fourth Dimension (Various)

(The Fourth Dimension is availible to be seen legally on Youtube. The link can be found here)

What is the fourth dimension? Three of the leading figures in experimental cinema (Harmony Korine, Aleksei Fedorchenko, Jan Kwiecinski) have attempted to answer this question, each directing a short which is influenced by this enigmatic subject matter in some way. The result is 2/3s of an engaging anthology that raises more questions than it answers. However, for those with an interest in the avant garde, this might be your blockbuster experience of the year. Complete with gibberish rambings, carefully designed puzzle-like narratives, and enough contempation to out think The Thinker, this is a film unlike any other. The important thing is to understand what you're getting into before hitting "play."

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Comedy (B+)

If a director sets out to provoke and torment his audience, and achieves this proposed goal with overwhelming triumph, do you praise him for his successful effort, or scathe his feature with unbridled hatred for being obligated to endure it? Despite an extremely small theatrical release mostly limited to VOD, Rick Alverson's The Comedy has already gained a notorious reputation for being one of the most polarizing films of the year. It's a heavily improvised, glacially paced piece of experimental cinema; with a plot mostly consisting of a wealthy and sociopathic hipster messing with innocent civilians for no discernible reason. Occasionally disturbing, sometimes unbearable, frequently painful, and almost always uncomfortable, Alverson has directed the equivalent of torture porn for the overly empathetic. This is the very definition of a one-time-only film: It's very well constructed and acted, but I couldn't be bribed to watch it again.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nature Calls (C)

(It is impossible to write a review for this film without mentioning the ending, so a spoiler alert is in place)

This has been a particularly difficult review to write, because frankly, I have no real idea how to address this movie. It's completely enigmatic, in that it's never clear whether director Todd Rohal intended his feature to be a pitch black, played straight parody of the 70's styled slob-com, or a horribly misguided attempt to recreate this sub-genre for a present day audience. The plot involves a 40 year old man who remains obsessed with Boy Scouts (Patton Oswalt), who abducts a group of children from a sleepover hosted by his egocentric brother (Johnny Knoxville), and takes them camping in a restricted forest with his dying mute grandfather. Once they arrive at the camp site, he forces the kids to stay with him, and learn about the wilderness and manhood, because no one other than him knows the way home. However, Oswalt is a horrible scout leader; he curses in front of the kids, refuses to acknowledge their requests, and gives them cigarettes on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Knoxville and two of his somewhat psychotic friends (Rob Riggle and Patrice O'Neal) hope to track down the group for almost the sole purpose of brutally attacking Oswalt in retribution for his crimes. Laughing yet?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning (B-)

Replete with plot points involving cloning, mind control, false memories, superhuman soldiers, shady government dealings, screwdriver lobotomies, underground brotherhoods, and regenerating limbs, it's an accomplished feat that John Hyams' fourth sequel to the unlikely "Universal Soldier" franchise doesn't come off as a hastily assembled, ludicrous jumble of insanity. A series packed with as much visceral energy and intensity as offbeat sci-fi elements, this installment pushes usual protagonist Luc Deveraux (most commonly portrayed by Jean-Claude Van Damme) off to the sidelines, and chooses to focus on a new recruit to the Universal Solder program, played by Scott Adkins. Also returning is Dolph Lundgren as St. Andrew Scott, the initial antagonist of the original film. With the two reigning champions of direct-to-video action flicks reuniting for an over-the-top, testosterone infused, gore extravaganza, all director Hyans essentially needs to do is shoot a couple of well choreographed fight scenes, and call it quits to deliver the grindhouse masterpiece college frat boys will inevitably be able to quote verbatim. And while the film doesn't necessarily reach such great heights when compared to ordinary Hollywood action pictures, it certainly crosses this low bar with flying colors.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Footnote (A+)

With a masterful script, incredible acting, exhilarating direction, and an impeccable ability to blend hilarity with heartbreaking drama with the slightest of ease, I've already come to terms that director Joseph Cedar's study on the relationship between a passive aggressive talmudic professor and his competitive and egotistical father will most likely be my favorite film of the year. Having originally seen the feature back in early June, I have attempted to review it multiple times, only to give up, not believing that I had given a strong enough recommendation for those who would read it. Since then, I have re-watched the movie twice, and each time was able to pick up more insights, and further the reasoning as to why I have become so infatuated with the film. Upon my third viewing, I came to a conclusion: This gets closer to cinematic perfection than almost any other movie I've ever seen. It's the closest thing to a transcendent masterpiece to be released into theaters in years; and I honestly cannot remember another feature I've enjoyed, and had this much appreciation for, in a very long time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Hole (C-)

(Sorry for the month long hiatus; after the incident involving my review of the independent drama Brilliant Mistakes, I felt that I needed to take a small break from writing. Hopefully I'll be back to getting out four or more reviews per month starting in November.)

Some movies are based off novels, others inspired by real life events, but rarely is there a feature whose premise stems from a mere quotation. Seemingly based on FDR's iconic quote about fear,
The Hole is an Australian horror feature whose villain is the very essence of fear itself: A bottomless hole leading to an alternate dimension where your nightmares transform into physical form. It's an odd, but engaging premise; one which allows for endless creativity when conjuring up potential creatures and demons to terrify the audience. Without the confinements of a constant evildoer, the director and art department have the opportunity to create as many creepy monstrosities as they desire, while also showing the audience terrors they may've previously imagined, but have never witnessed onscreen. Though the relatively low-budget put some limitations on complexity (12M), it isn't difficult to imagine someone like Guillermo del Toro, or more recently Panos Cosmatos, directing a visually fascinating version of the premise; replete with nightmarish designs unlike anything else we've seen before. Unfortunately, while director Joe Dante has already proven his knack for monsters with his 1984 classic Gremlins, his latest is far too generic and melodramatic to live up to its full potential.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Corporate Mastermind in Peril Double Feature: Arbritage (B+) and Cosmopolis (C)

With an almost endless supply of wealth and political power, it's easy to despise the selective, authoritative citizens who belong to the 0.0001%: The protectors of unadulterated capitalism, and almighty masters of the universe. Because of well known greedy figureheads such as Donald Trump and the Koch Brothers, the public perception of the billionaire has gradually morphed into one of general aversion; even wealthy philanthropists such as Bill Gates are often criticized by a domestic population now cynical of anyone with an annual income over 1 million. Now, getting off my political soapbox, it has always been difficult by screenwriters, directors, and most importantly actors, to portray the ultra-affluent in a sympathetic light because of the almost unanimous negative bias against their kind. Many filmmakers have tried, but few have actually succeeded.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Branded (C-)

Rather than begin this review like normal, by immediately introducing the name of the film and its director, I would like to open with a quote from Cameron Crowe's 2005 flop, Elizabethtown:

"As somebody once said; there's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-presence of success: Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco...A fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folktale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because it didn't happen to them."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Apologizes for my "Brilliant Mistakes" Review

It's come to my attention that many people were offended by my review of the film Brilliant Mistakes, and after re-reading it, I can completely understand where they were coming from. What I said about the film came out mean and needlessly cruel, and I am deeply sorry for what I wrote. I've permanently taken the review off the site, and will sincerely try to have this situation never happen again. Also, please don't think I'm an internet troll, slamming movies without a reason; though my writing may have a couple flaws, I'm never intentionally trying to hurt a film.

Thank you for calling me out on my mean spirited review,


Note: I am also deleting my review of
Funeral Kings for the same reason.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Good Doctor (C+)

A routine medical thriller with a superb closing act, Lance Daly's The Good Doctor stars the typically typecast swashbuckler Orlando Bloom as a pious and insecure doctor in his first year of residency, whose low self esteem inevitably causes him to develop an obsession with an appreciative teenaged female patient. It's a premise that could possibly work better under the format of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where compelling suspenseful ideas could be told in full in a limited period without needing to pad the runtime, but with the excellent supporting cast of Taraji P. Henson, Michael Pena, Riley Keough, and a surprisingly uncredited J.K Simmons, coupled with a tense screenplay from Party Down scribe John Enbom, I was relatively optimistic that the setup could work just as well as a feature film. Though my optimism was justified with the supporting cast, I was met with sincere disappointment in most other aspects of the film. Due to pedestrian direction, a generally dull script, and a mediocre lead, up until the final 20 minutes I frequently found myself bored and disengaged with the story.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Summer of Scares: Compliance (A) and "Summer of Scares" Awards Ceremony

After two downright atrocities (Piranha 3DD and The Last Screening), one nonsensical mess (Keyhole), an intensely deranged Australian exploitation flick (The Loved Ones), and a visually dazzling sci-fi nightmare (Beyond the Black Rainbow), Film Crazy's Summer of Scares is ending on a mesmerizingly terrifying note with Craig Zobel's straight-from-the-headlines psychological thriller Compliance; a feature that not only wins the scariest movie of summer by a mile, but is also, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year. 

Sleepwalk with Me (C+)

Comedian and professional storyteller Mike Birbiglia's semi-autobiographical directorial debut, Sleepwalk with Me, combines traditional staples of the mumblecore movement with occasional bursts of surrealist humor, to analyze the life of a naive, self proclaimed comic. Directed, written, and starring Birbiglia, the film is a passion project of sorts. Though based off his off-broadway show, and best selling book, I first heard Birbiglia's story in a segment around two years ago on the Ira Glass hosted radio show This American Life (Glass would later produce, and help write the script for the film. He also appears briefly as a wedding photographer in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo). In the segment, Birbiglia monologues about his personal life while beginning a career in comedy; stressing over an 8 year romantic relationship moving toward marriage, doubt from parents that this type of sporadic employment will provide steady income, and low self-esteem that his material is any good to begin with. At the same time, all of these internal and external pressures may be causing him to develop RSD, a sleeping disorder which causes him to subconsciously reenact his dreams in reality. It's an occasionally hilarious, melancholic story, but developing it into a movie may not of been the best choice.

Friday, August 24, 2012

30 Second Reviews: The Three Stooges (B+), Step Up Revolution (C+), Peace Love and Misunderstanding (D+), and To Rome With Love (B)

The Three Stooges

In, by far, one of the biggest surprises of the year, the Farrelly brothers have challenged the generally mediocre "modern day update of a classic" mold with their hilarious revival of the classic comedy troupe, The Three Stooges. Capturing the magic of what made the original shorts work so well, Sean Hays, Chris Diamantopoulos, and especially former MMA fighter Will Sasso as Curley, give almost pitch perfect performances by not only replicating the stooges' slapstick mannerisms, and in many cases building upon them. The plot is relatively simple: When Moe, Larry, and Curley's childhood orphanage goes under foreclosure, the gang must go to the big city to find the funds to pay the bank back. We already know the ending in advance, but the lack of suspense doesn't dilute the enjoyment in the least. The Three Stooges is by far one of the funniest, most entertaining movies of the year so far, with enough nynucks for a lifetime: It's the rare example of a seemingly unnecessary remake done right.

Grade: B+

Thursday, August 23, 2012

360 (B-)

More of a visualized connect-the-dots puzzle than a conventional linear feature film, director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) and writer Peter Morgan's (The Last King of Scotland) globe trotting drama examines the consequences and repercussions love has on our personal lives, and in ways we'd never expect in the lives of others. Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins, and Ben Foster are part of a wide ranging eclectic cast, with each character vaguely connected to the other in a series of vignettes of how one person's love in one story influences another character's life in the next. As the film progresses, and we move from short story to short story, Meirelles and Morgan eventually bring the narrative full circle; tying the later players back to those featured in the beginning. It's a risky endeavor to compose any feature as ambitious as this, but most involved seem up for the challenge. However, being willing to fully commit to such a possibly burdensome project, and the ability to execute it with success is a different ballpark all together.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breakfast with Curtis (C)

(Breakfast with Curtis was shown as part of the Rhode Island International Film Festival)

They're few movies that I've desperately wanted to enjoy more than Rhode Island director Laura Colella's community based comedy Breakfast with Curtis, a movie about the generally easygoing relationship between two affable neighboring homes; one a large purple house filled with pot smoking eccentrics, and the other a now reformed hippie couple with an extremely awkward 14 year old son. There isn't any conflict or danger involved, no sudden twists, or any real plot. In fact, only for a single shot does Colella show the world outside the friendly block. It's the cinematic equivalent of sitting out on the porch on a hot day, and drinking a nice glass of cool lemonade. For the relatively short 84 minute runtime, you're simply relaxing with some quirky, newly found friends. And while I certainly enjoyed their company, once the film ends, you're unfortunately left with the mediocre feeling of "That's it?".

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Babymakers (C+)

If someone had traveled back in time to five days ago before I watched Jay Chandrasekhar's crudely comedic sperm bank heist flick, and informed me that not only I find the film to be a pleasant surprise, but would also find it whole heartedly enjoyable, I probably would've written them off as crazy in an instant. An entire movie based off a single bodily fluid couldn't possibly work, especially if directed by the same man whose other major directing credit belongs to the 2005 Johnny Knoxville/Seann William Scott reboot The Dukes of Hazard. Currently residing with an abysmal 8% on the usually reliable Rotten Tomatoes, The Babymakers is an almost universally hated: An endless spree of raunchy, unfunny gags which nonexistent connective tissue to hold it all together. Yet, despite all the warning signs involved, while admittedly flawed, I found it to be a frequently hilarious unanticipated treat.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

30 Second Reviews: A Cat in Paris (C+), Get the Gringo (C-), Dark Horse (C), and Brave (B-)

A Cat in Paris

An impeccably animated French import, directing duo Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol's feline thriller surprised many upon the announcement of its Oscar nomination. Despite not receiving a limited release in the states, coupled with the fact it lacked even a U.S distributor, it usurped mainstream favorites such as Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, along with the admittedly mediocre Pixar sequel Cars 2, and the sadly underestimated and seemingly already forgotten hand drawn gem Winnie the Pooh. Similar to the situation in 2009, where the also hand drawn Celtic fable Secret of Kells appeared out of nowhere to claim a nomination, many were curious as to whether this absolutely independent outsider of the Hollywood system was of any real quality, or simply the Academy championing a small and forgettable feature for no irrefutable reason. It's because of this that I've been enthusiastically waiting for the film's eventual domestic release; curiosity as to whether it deserves the recognition and slight fame the nomination brought. Now, after having viewed the film, though I'm glad this small foreign feature received its 15 seconds of fame, I'm not sure if it necessarily deserved the nomination. Despite excellent hand drawn animation, the plot is a bit of a mess, and the film is too short (70 minutes) to leave much of an impact. Though I'm glad I finally saw it, after coming from nowhere to become one of my most anticipated films of the year, I'd definitely consider it a disappointment.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

30 Second Review: Ice Age: Continental Drift (C)

The main purpose of writing these 30 Second Reviews is so when I eventually struggle crafting the conventional four or five paragraph critique, I'm still able to address my opinion of the film on the site. This rule has held well over the last few months since its creation, allowing me to share short assessments even as writer's block cripples the average writing process. However, for the very first time, we have a tiny takedown not out of necessity, but rather because the subject is so hopelessly generic and paint-by-numbers that I am personably unable to develop even a somewhat thought provoking analysis on it. It's an animated kid's movie that follows the traditional formula so attentively, so vigilantly, that while admittedly slightly enjoyable on first glance, lacks even the smallest glimpse of memorability in the long run. After a clever opening scene involving a prehistoric squirrel's frantic chase for an acorn inside the Earth's inner core, everything falls apart very, very quickly, and by the end, all that's left is the looming feeling of corporate trickery and manipulation for the very fact you've just paid for the fourth sequel to a mediocre franchise. It's the TGI Friday's of cinema: A corporation luring you in with promises of something good, but giving unmemorable inadequacy instead.

Grade: C

Note: The reason the grade is a C and not lower, is because there're a few decent jokes and visual gags. Also, the animation itself was excellent; if only Blue Sky used it to create a better film.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Starry Starry Night (B)

There's a rare, and gratifying feeling once a seemingly mundane children's movie surpasses the modest ambitions of its generally mediocre genre, and attempts to be something far greater than the paint-by-numbers predecessors which came before it. Without the usual Pixar animated treasure to fit the bill (though Brave was undoubtably decent, it's far too generic to fall into this category), 2012 might be considered to be one of the worst years for kid's movies in a very long time. Even with last year's hopefully forgotten Cars 2 debacle, the genre was saved by both Gore Verbinski's animated western Rango, and master filmmaker Steven Spielberg's motion-capture adventure The Adventures of Tintin; films which not only proved entertaining for all ages, but were also two of my favorites to be released in 2011. Surely the genre is in dark times at the present, but have no fear: Starry Starry Night, Taiwanese director Tom Lin's beautifully shot adaptation of the popular Chinese picture book of the same title, is the sweet, though slightly flawed, kid's movie we've been waiting for.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My 10 Year Old Sister's Review of "Moonrise Kingdom" (B)

(It's been a while since my little sister wrote a review for the site, so after a family visit to the movie theater to see Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, I figured it was time for her triumphant return. A regular review of the film written by myself should be coming shortly. This is an almost completely unedited review, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Also, I didn't drag my whole family to see the film; everyone was at least a little interested, even though it wasn't necessarily a kid's movie by regular definition.)

I saw this movie with my brother and my sister. We all had very different reactions to it. My sister hated it. My brother fell in love with it, and I thought it was "ok''. My brother wanted to make the ''indie-ish'' movies to be popular, so he dragged our family to see it. Being an "indie-ish'' movie, I only recognized Bill Murray as the father.

I thought this movie was too violent. From when a dog gets shot in the neck with an arrow (don't worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this film), to where Suzy (Kara Hayward) stabbed a kid in the side with scissors. The trailer made it seem so light and peppy and "quirky" (it was at some times).

Although my brother and sister think differently, overall:

Grade: B

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer of Scares: Beyond the Black Rainbow (B)

Beyond science, beyond sanity, and beyond control, Beyond the Black Rainbow is the disturbing, 80's styled sci-fi nightmare I wasn't particularly sure I wanted, and still am not completely sure I'm glad to have found. More a series of hypnotic and sadistically dreamlike imagery than a cohesive whole with a beginning, middle, and end, Greek director Panos Cosmatos has said the film was inspired by hazy memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons, and sneaky viewings of midnight movies during his childhood. Though it's easy to see where this childhood influence on the film comes from, it feels more like a graphic visualization of one's "bad trip" while on a powerful hallucinogenic drug. Characters smoothly drift in and out, entire subplots are referenced then quickly abandoned, possible twists are acknowledged but never again referenced. It all feels like a dream functioning in present time; a place where people and images flash into existence and then immediately disappear, and new figures and visuals take their place only to inevitably exit as well. The film is in a constant loop of adding characters and plots while discarding the old, occasionally pausing for slight character development for one of the film's few constant players, or a complete non-sequitur with particularly excellent and mesmerizing cinematography. It almost exists in a complete alternate universe of its own; where imagery takes far higher precedence over all other aspects of filmmaking.

That's My Boy (C-)

Usually when writing the reviews for this site, I attempt to keep a somewhat high standard for the films reviewed, so that there will be less scathing critiques featured. However, mostly as result of the "Summer of Scares" feature, coupled with having watched generally mediocre features for the last two month, this watermark has slowly been lowered to the point where the subject of my last review had the title The Girl with the Naked Eye, and not a single explicitly positive review was written in the entire month of June. This is something I'm going to be far more active in trying to prevent in the future: Since the fourth week of June, I've only watched thoroughly enjoyable movies I'm proud to have seen. While a massive leap forward for the quality of the films reviewed on the site is in order, a few ruminants of the dark era remain. Hopefully the last pessimistic review in a long time, lets begin focusing on our "meh" subject: The biggest Adam Sandler box office bomb since Little NickyThat's My Boy. Yes, I'm reviewing an Adam Sandler movie.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012 (So Far)

Continuing last year's tradition, here are, with slight introduction, the Top 10 movies of 2012 so far. Though certainly not all of them will appear on the end of the year list, these are my ten favorite movies released so far this year, ranked from least to greatest. Links for the reviews are listed in parenthesis next to the film.

10. Haywire (Review)
9. Monsieur Lahzar (Not Reviewed)
8. Turn Me On, Dammit! (Review)
7. The Cabin in the Woods (Review)
6. Boy (Not Reviewed)
5. Indie Game: The Movie (Review)
4. Let the Bullets Fly (Review)
3. Moonrise Kingdom (Not Reviewed)
2. Footnote (Not Reviewed)
1. Detachment (Review)

Also, the Top 5 worst:

5. Hysteria (Not Reviewed)
4. The Last Screening (Review)
3. Piranha 3DD (Review)
2. Pater (Review)
1. The Girl from the Naked Eye (Review)

The Girl from the Naked Eye (F)

The Girl from the Naked Eye
(My First "F")
A Written Reflection in the Form of the 7 Stages of Grief

1. Shock & Denial

When I began this site, I made a promise with myself that I would never write a failing review. No matter the quality of the film, I would always find at least one factor which would redeem the abysmal film in some slight way. Two times I came incredibly close to giving the dreaded grade, but was pulled away at the very last second for finding the slightest form of redemption. For the 2011 anti-romantic comedy Something Borrowed, I reasoned that despite it being easily the worst film of the year, John Krasinski was decent enough in a supporting role to not fail it, though even he was mediocre. For this year's French arthouse-turned-absolutely-intoleratible-self-indulgence Pater debacle, I decided that Alain Cavalier, the director, had an ambitious enough premise that absolute failure was mildly understandable. I was also briefly tempted with the beyond abysmal sequel Piranha 3DD, but the quick tangents with Paul Scheer and Vhing Rhames were entertaining enough; in comparison with comedy legends such as Mel Brooks and the Marx Brothers in comparison to the film surrounding it. 

Indie Game: The Movie (A-)

Other than maybe in my tweens, never in my life have I considered myself to be a huge fan of video games. Sure, certain games such as Yoshi's Island and the Mario Party and Pokemon will always bring back happy nostalgic memories, which I'm always grateful for, but not once have I obsessed over an existing game, or watched G4 in mad anticipation for an upcoming one. It's not that I dislike video games in general; even less nostalgic programmed diversions such as Call of Duty or Ratchet & Clank still provide enjoyable entertainment, and could, if on an extremely dull day, be played endlessly. From my own personal experience, they're usually engrossing for a couple of hours or even days, but as time gradually passes, so does the enjoyment. Unless you have an almost unhealthy love for the game, or an aspiring designer studying how it works, it's difficult to imagine playing the same thing for an extended period. However, as I watched the captivating documentary by first time joint directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, Indie Game: The Movie, I realized that perhaps my opinions toward video games have been incorrect the entire time. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer of Scares: The Loved Ones (B-)

For each single individual, the iconic staple of teenaged life, prom, means something unique and separated depending on the memories, or an infinite variety of other factors related to the subject. Because of the decades worth (or at least the 80's and beyond) of romantic comedies related to the special night, grand expectations caused by the cinematic romanticism can easily be created, and be absolutely demolished even faster. In the age in which John Hughes movies such as Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink dominate our perception of how prom works, the assumption of it being a night of sentimentality and emotion largely prevents even excessive enjoyment to be a small disappointment. When media tells you that the experience will be unadulterated perfection for your entire life, and the result is anything less, wouldn't you be disheartened, even minutely, as well? If this is any cold comfort to the disillusioned and disgruntled prom goers reading this review, no matter the disappointment which may ensue, it will certainly go far more successfully than the characters of the Tasmanian exploitation flick, The Loved Ones.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Samaritan (B-)

If there's any particular sub-genre in cinema that I'd be inclined to enjoy more than anything other, it would be the slightly idiotic, pulpy thriller. Though nearly all follow the same conventions, forcing the  predictability to the point where entire lines of dialogue can be recited due to sheer repetition from viewing multiple films from the genre, they're almost always able to provide, at the absolute least, cheap face-value entertainment with some thought involved. The expectations are always fairly low, and for me personally, the film only necessarily has to supply the satisfactory distractions of its genre to be enjoyed. However, it should be noted that enjoyment doesn't necessarily imply recommendation. Earlier in the year, I surprised even myself when I non-ironically praised the near universally panned Nicolas Cage thriller Seeking Justice. It was a throughly entertaining thriller, which achieved every low hanging goal set. But while I admittedly liked the film, I wouldn't recommend it because it never crossed any expectation, and failed to detach itself from the genre formula in any way. Seeking Justice was merely satisfactory pulp, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but isn't particularly excellent either. The Samaritan, an independent Samuel Jackson vehicle, sadly falls into the same trap; it's pure satisfactory pulp, and little more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer of Scares: Piranha 3DD (D)

Despite only being my second entry into the freshly conceived "Summer of Scares" running feature, I'm already beginning to rethink whether the benefits obtained from viewing these hypothetically terrifying features will be greater than the costs involved. I developed the idea mostly because very few horror movies had been reviews on the site (The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil were the only two, and both were more dark comedy than actual horror) despite it being a genre I'm very interested and compelled by, and believed the more diverse set of reviews, the better. It also helped that by coincidence, I'd watched both indie horror flicks Keyhole and the Australian shocker The Loved Ones within a three day period. However, all this setup leads me to the question; what necessarily makes a horror movie a horror movie? Is it the brutality of violence, the lengths a director is willing to go for shock value, a screenwriter's desire to play to the genre's conventions, simply focusing on a disturbing subject? While this definition changes individually, to me, the answer to this question is that the film must be unsettling to a certain extent. Blood, gore, jump scares, kills, and psychological torture are the bonuses; being troubled by the film itself is what includes it into the genre. It's because of this definition that I'm slightly rethinking the feature, or at least its criteria: Piranha 3DD, John Gulager's ludicrous, tedious sequel to the 2010 unexpected surprise success, despite containing a decent amount of decapitation, fails to meet even my fairly low expectations for the genre.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer of Scares: Keyhole (C)

What an odd little experiment.

From the mind of the seemingly indisputably, seriously disturbed surrealist filmmaker Guy Maddin, comes the perverse bizarre nightmare of a neo-noir Keyhole; a film whose very plot description seems like a rejected ramble for the equally strange, though much more likable, SNL character Stefon. A group of 30's styled gangsters led by the charismatic Ulysses (Jason Patrick) hide out in a dreamlike haunted mansion after committing an unmentioned crime. However, Ulysses has ulterior motives when choosing the hideout; he is a former resident of the mansion, and seeks forgiveness from the ghost of his wife for the death of their three children. Though that synopsis may sound relatively normal, here are a few more unmentioned plot points and characters which should change your opinion fairly quickly...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Perfect Family (C)

In times of moral, emotional, or physical distress, a support system is near absolutely necessary to prevent the person from entering depression, or any type of psychological arrest. Many turn to their existing relationships, whether with friends or family, for assistance in these times of need; knowing that their help is near assured. However, whether it's simply due to a lack of strong relationships, some turn to a force outside of their control give hope and confidence; a divine being whose very existence is to protect those who need protecting. Putting faith into this "higher power" can be done with the strongest intentions, but often, leads the person to merely wait for the optimism and happiness to return to life, rather than solve the problems themselves. This is not intended to be a slander of religion, or believing in a God, but when entire faith is put into a power that is intended to solve near anything, the chance of acting to benefit oneself diminishes at least slightly. With this belief in a "higher power" acting as the support system rather than developed relationships, when faith is tested, there's no fallback plan. Your support system cannot have a support system of its own.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (B+)

Often considered to be the most unnecessarily abused form of punctuation, an easily avoidable way to add far too much enthusiasm to the conclusion of a sentence, there's always the powerful allure to include the slightly destructive exclamation point whenever possible! However, occasionally, even greater than the temptation of using one exclamation point (!), is the temptation of using two (!!), or three (!!!)! It's the writer's equivalent to an illicit, and highly dangerous drug! Though it's incredibly entertaining to use, it nearly demolishes the credibility and significance of the article it's featured in! For example, let's examine the exact paragraph you're currently reading! Sentence flow is extremely choppy, each newly established point seems slightly disconnected from the last, and everything seems to be in the written equivalent of an yell! Simply out of coincidence, the only two movies whose titles are exciting enough to feature an exclamation point (the other being the Norwegian teen comedy Turn Me On, Dammit!) ever to be reviewed on this site, are being published back-to-back! Is this much energy on "Film Crazy" at once a bad idea?! Maybe, but at least there's another quality movie to discuss!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Turn Me On, Dammit! (A-)

Over the last several days, a rousing, near universally acclaimed comedic adventure targeted at the general public has been demolishing the box office record books; conquering one seemingly unobtainable achievement after the other in an unrelenting bid for eternal box office infamy. In a mere weekend in the U.S alone, it amassed a trailblazing $207,000,000; almost $50 million more than the previous record holder. On its second weekend, it only dropped 50%, obtaining $103,000,000; also a record. It has grossed approximately $375 million dollars domestic: Almost dethroning 2012's biggest movie so far, The Hunger Games, in less than two whole weeks. It's the cinematic equivalent to an unstoppable force of nature; a medieval warlord with enough power to have complete dominance over foes; the brick home the three little pigs used to protect themselves from the big bad wolf. Its absolute supremacy at the theater was tested last weekend with the release of Tim Burton's highly anticipated adaptation of the cult TV series Dark Shadows, but even this seemingly worthy opponent was stopped in its tracks. The Avengers has taken such absolute precedence at the box office that nearly every alternative has been eclipsed, and overshadowed. Grossing a worldwide total of $61,446, the Norwegian coming-of-age story Turn Me On, Dammit could, without any second guessing, be considered the anti-Avengers. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

30 Second Reviews: We Have a Pope (C+), Declaration of War (B+), The Cabin in the Woods (A-), The Last Screening (D)

When around a month passes, and I'm still struggling to put out a review, I try to cut losses by writing a quick one in only a couple of sentences so at least something related to the film gets posted. It's time for a couple of mildly disappointing 30 Second Reviews! Also, one year Film Crazy anniversary! Wahoo! Thanks for a great first year everybody, and hope the second is gonna be just as amazing!

We Have a Pope

Michel Piccoli stars as a self-doubting Vatican cardinal, who against all odds is elected to become the pope, in this surprisingly secular Italian comedy, directed by and costarring Nanni Moretti (The Son's Room). Essentially the anti-underdog film, Moretti uses the great majority of the film as a light character study into Piccoli's newly appointed pope; a man who feels he is undoubtably the wrong choice for the position, and cannot fathom as to why God chose him. However, rather than using the narrative opportunity to examine this character's relationship with his faith, thus giving more insight as to why he struggles to accept the occupation God chose him for, Moretti instead chooses turn the film into an offbeat fish-out-of-water comedy as Piccoli escapes the Vatican, and wonders about Rome. Though there're some memorable comedic bits (an opening scene depicting a fictional pope election works particularly well), the film keeps disregarding any attempts at real drama; favoring wholesome "Let's see what happens when the uptight cardinals do this modern activity!" comedy instead. At best a lukewarm comedy with an occasional memorable scene; at worst a blown opportunity to portray an internal crisis far beyond normal self-doubt.

Grade: C+

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (B-)

It's often difficult to distinguish the boundary line between genius and obsession, as the two are often linked so tightly they're almost identical. Intellectual genius in a certain subject matter might originate from childhood infatuation, the psychological necessity for absolute perfection, the inextinguishable desire to be the greatest at perhaps any craft, or any circumstance or hypothetical situation. Unless born with an abnormally high IQ, such high intelligence in nearly any profession requires a maximum effort, which can only be achieved with the drive of obsession. This slightly unfortunate necessary stepping stone for greatness works favorably for the artist's work, but can also internally deteriorate its host. The iconic Italian painter Michelangelo was so fixated by his art, he knowingly ignored any attempt of self-maintenance, bathing for example, in favor of continuing perfecting his craft. Speculation states his death may've came as result.

David Gelb's new documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi examines the daily life of Jiro Ono; an 85 year old man widely regarded as the world's greatest sushi chef. Still propitiating his esteemed restaurant in his elder years, Jiro, along with his staff, cook and examine the food with absolute attention to detail. A prime example of the neurotic care Jiro puts into the sushi would be with his octopus, which must be messaged an hour before slaughter to receive maximum flavor. A true culinary genius, Jiro states that during childhood he would have grand dreamlike visions of unique sushi, which inspired him to sharpen his cooking skills to the point where sushi dominated his entire life; and still does. He is incredibly strict with his staff, harshly critiquing their best efforts for multiple months or years, and places intense pressure on his older children to remain sushi chefs, claiming surrendering the job will tarnish the Ono legacy. He is a man more driven by obsession with sushi perfectionism than anything else, and it's this, rather than understanding how Jiro creates his masterful meals, that is the documentary's greatest asset. However, rather portraying this culinary icon as the tragic prisoner of his own neurosis, Gelb is more content on showing us the sushi's development and inevitable consumption. It's a severe disappointment which transforms the documentary from Hertzogian character study to a visually dazzling, yet slightly emotionally hallow, "Food Channel" TV special.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brake (B-)

An infinite number of films, no matter the quality of their opening two thirds, crumble when attempting to reach a conclusion. Whether it be an imaginative action-comedy succumbing to generic violence during its final shootout (21 Jump Street), a romantic drama willing to twist reasonability and character logic for the titular lovers to be coupled by the end (Chico and Rita), or a romantic comedy inexplicably turning into a mediocre melodrama for, well, I'm not necessarily sure (Friends with Kids), no movie is immune to a final third collapse. The three films referenced under parentheses, for example, were each movies I greatly enjoyed until cases of third act self immolation. Because of the severe lack of subtlety in this introduction, it may be easy to conclude that the subject of this review fell victim to the "conclusion collapse", and you'd be completely right. This is the review of a decent, well acted thriller, which was going full throttle entertainment wise until the screenplay hit the brakes for a truly terrible culmination. Though that may've perhaps been the worst pun ever featured on the site, the ending of the film was probably a little worse. Before moving on, let that fact sink in a bit.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Lorax (C-)

Usually it takes very little for a film to stir up controversy. By depicting a religious figure in any form, uproar from at least one "morally righteous" association is inevitable, but these disputes can also take root in seemingly trivial aspects. For example, this weekend's Farrelly Brother comedy update, The Three Stooges, received extreme scorn by the Catholic League for the throw-off visual gag of an attractive nun in a mildly revealing bathing suit. Does the film itself treat Catholicism with slander and negativity? No, but this tiny joke draws opinionated quarrels from certain groups all the same. Illumination Studios' animated followup to their 2010 surprise blockbuster Despicable Me, the Dr. Seuss adaptation, The Lorax, gained notoriety in right-wing circles for its anti-corporate, pro-environmental message. Fox News, along with partners in conservative media, raised controlled hell when the children's movie was released; claiming the film was an effort by liberal Hollywood to subtly "brainwash" the right-wing youth into obtaining moral viewpoints of those on the far left. Though I respect the choices of those who felt so strongly against the film, perhaps they should've waited for an opportunity with a more liberal stance to rally the troops in opposition toward. In general, The Lorax is brightly colored generic fluff, and nothing more.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"High School Sucks" Double Feature: 21 Jump Street (B) and Detachment (A)

High school is an unrelenting cesspool of violated laws and unambitious teens, with each individual unwittingly dooming themselves to a lifetime of monotonous minimum wage employment due to their inability to realize education is given with the purpose of providing students the information necessary to succeed in life. Squandering efficient resources, along with the implied support of the educators, in favor of partaking in pointless and rarely legal activities, students disrespect teachers, abuse drugs, dress far beyond the point of promiscuous, disregard education in general, and verbally and physically harass each other frequently enough so that the random cruelty of bullying becomes something popular, let alone socially acceptable. It's a terrifyingly depressing place where a teenager's dreams go to die, and no student notices until it's too late to reverse what's already happened. This grim landscape is high school, but not under my own personal definition. To me, it's a rather enjoyable place, where you can socialize and learn in whatever measure you choose: By no reason needed to be described as a crevice of broken dreams. However, I am not the director of the two high school set subjects of this double feature: 21 Jump Street and Detachment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games (B)

Because of assumptions, there will be little explanation to set up the plot of the film, because chances are you've already been hearing way too much about it.

Waiting for a deeply beloved novel to be translated from book to film generally has two prime emotions attached: Cynicism and optimism. Essential polar opposites in terms of mental inclination, the desire for a successful adaptation is strong, but due to the frequency of literary-to-cinematic mediocrity, pessimism largely dominates the conscience. For every one Harry Potter, there's seemingly ten Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief: Mediocre conversions that either eliminate the elements of the source material which made it so enjoyable in effort to appeal to generic moviegoers, or attempt to replicate its predecessor in such detail that it engages no one. Though they're certainly more devoted fans than myself of Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, I enjoyed the first book, and while I wasn't necessarily intrigued to read on with Catching Fire and Mockingjay, I was still fairly excited to view the film of the trilogy's namesake. Despite its limiting PG-13 rating, I was curious how director Gary Ross (along with screenwriters Billy Ray and previously mentioned original author Suzanne Collins) would depict the bleak dystopian future which these characters inhibit, along with the suspense and brutality featured in the games itself. Because of excellent casting (Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks), an acclaimed director at the helm, and the expert decision to keep Collins closely on board, my optimism toward the film far outweighed the pessimism. With extra encouragement from glowing early reviews written by critics I greatly respect, along with praise from friends who were at the 12:00am show, I entered the theater expecting the adaptation the novel truly deserved. And in large part, despite grand expectations, it mostly delivered.

The film begins with perhaps the best scene shown on screen in 2012: The Reaping. For those unfamiliar, "The Reaping" is a yearly event throughout the 12 districts of Panem, in which two teenaged tributes are chosen from each district to fight in The Hunger Games. Using shaky hand-cameras (more on this later) to immerse the audience into the cruel ceremony, Ross near silently builds suspense by building layer upon layer of fully realized detail. Capital workers in urbanized hazmat suits serve as security, a creepily glamorous emcee grossly misunderstanding the solemn tone of the event, the ironic wonder of children in viewing the Capital's futuristic technology, citizens of the district in more relief than pity when tributes are chosen. Most of these details are lingered on for only short moments, but blended together form an intriguing atmosphere, which could only be described as the dystopian cousin of Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery. It's an incredible feat by the director, complimented with stellar performances by the actors. While the film doesn't necessarily reach this peak again in terms of quality, it's certainly an outstanding place to start.

Like the Reaping scene, although to a slightly lesser effect, early scenes of the film set in District 12 work due to Ross's ability to capture the urban grimescape Katniss, and other citizens, inhabit. Rather than creating what we might consider to be a generic squalid dystopian town, we are instead met with landmarks disturbingly familiar: A barely fictionalized decaying suburbia. Buildings and homes exist, but are horribly run down. The same applies to a marketplace which Katniss frequents. Sadly, this supposed dystopia could exist in our modern day world, and probably does. By waiting to use CGI until reaching the Capital, we no longer exist in true heightened fiction, but rather a frighteningly realistic nightmare. Also, by waiting to use CGI until the Capital is introduced, we obtain the same sensory overload Katniss and Peeta have when entering themselves to the colorful city. Both exist in visual stark contrast to the other.

With such an excellent beginning, I was slightly surprised to discover that the majority, if not all of the film's problems, were in capturing the games themselves. With the restrictive, yet necessary PG-13 rating, no amount of acting could replicate the loss of the novel's violent brutality in favor of average blockbuster action. We are watching teenagers, and even at one point a 12 year old, be savagely massacred, but due to an inability to show the necessary gore, we could essentially be watching any recent action film with a teenaged lead. Also to be noted is Ross's reliance on using "shaky cam" methods to shoot action. While the style worked during the Reaping sequence to essentially force the audience to become bystanders in the face of cynical cruelty, during fights, it's impossible to figure out what's going on. For example, during the climatic final battle, I thought Katniss stabbed her ally by mistake before realizing what had happened. Though in this style it's impossible to see any blood, which I suppose was the point, it betrays the novel in how violence is portrayed. In fact, during certain sequences the film almost glamorizes the violence it wishes to portray negatively. When the games drone on and on, violence grows repetitive, and I desired any possible cutaway back to the intriguing outside world of Panem.

Despite problems showing the Hunger Games themselves, Ross has, in general, constructed a deserving adaptation due to excellent performances and his own direction. While he still has two more films to convince me that this could be the new Harry Potter, he's certainly proven the series is on a far higher pedigree than others of its young-adult book-to-film companions, and I'm certainly interested to see what happens next in the world of Panem.

Grade: B

Sunday, March 25, 2012

30 Second Review: The Innkeepers (B)

When around a month passes, and there's still struggling to put out a review, I try to cut losses by giving a quick one in only a couple of sentences so at least something related to the film gets posted. It's time for a mildly disappointing 30 Second Review!

With likable characters, most notably a subtly excellent performance from Sara Paxton, director Ti West ratchets up the suspense by waiting until the final few scenes to transform what could've easily been a mildly bleak "hipsters without ambition" buddy comedy, into flat out ultra-intense horror. Though it's surprisingly slow paced, we enjoy spending time with pivotal innkeepers Claire and Luke enough that their adventures in aimless boredom become fairly entertaining, and make it all the more suspenseful when the brutal horror finally kicks in. However, there's a general plotlessness here that's impossible not to detect. Potential plots, themes, and even characters are discussed, which would each potentially serve to further the story, but they're all macguffins. What we're essentially left with in the end are two likable hipsters having enjoyable conversations, and then eventually, being mentally (and physically) scarred by fairly unexplained events almost completely out of their control. Yes it's scary, funny, and a generally entertaining experience, but what's the point?

Grade: B

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pater (D)

After playing at the Cannes film festival almost a year ago, and then reappearing as part of the "Rendezvous with French Cinema" series earlier this month, it surprised even myself to catch up with this relatively obscure French drama about a group of older friends (with most famous cast members being Vincent Lindon and Alain Cavalier, both playing themselves) who take pleasure in dressing up as members of the French government, and videotaping their reenactments of possible governmental scenarios. While I'd heard very little of the film before viewing the screener, I remembered Vincent Lindon's name from various posters when the "Rendezvous with French Cinema" came to my local independent movie theater, and understood the pedigree of nomination for the Palme d'Or prize at Cannes. I also did a bit of research on IMDB as well, and discovered of its multiple nominations at the French Cesar Awards, including Best Director and Best Film. Though the premise was definitely a bit out-of-left-field compared to the movies I usually enjoy, my curiosity inspired me to overlook any possible setbacks or reasons for procrastination, and begin as soon as possible. However, once the film began, it never seemed to end.