Saturday, January 26, 2013

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! “Movie 43”is Pretty Stupid, But at Least I Laughed



I’m not sure what most critics expected with the sketch comedy flick “Movie 43.” I’m not even sure what all the celebrities in it expected once they saw it put together. My guess is they refuse to see it. But this thing has so many famous folks jam packed in it you’d think it was some kind of glitzy charity event. It has Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Anna Faris, Gerard Butler, Emma Stone, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Live Schreiber, and even McLovin. And there are plenty more where that came from too. The best thing I can say about the movie, which is pretty awful as whole in all honesty, is it’s sort of fun to see really famous people acting like total nut jobs.

Yes, it’s fun to see Oscar-winner Kate Winslet gag at the sight of the testicles hanging down from Hugh Jackman’s chin. Yeah I enjoyed watching Oscar-winner Halle Berry make guacamole with her, obviously fake, booby. I thought it was funny watching Elizabeth Banks get pissed on by an animated cat. I enjoyed Emma Stone referencing The Golden Girls. It’s funny thinking that Anna Faris wants her fiancé to poop on her. There’s lots of poop in this movie, yes there is. It’s childish, irreverent and altogether silly humor, but what makes it fun is seeing just how game these actors are. Sure in many cases I’m sure they were practically blackmailed into appearing in this, but I have to admit it was fun to see a stupid movie in the vein of a “Kentucky Fried Movie” again.

“Movie 43” was conceived, appropriately, by one of the Farrelly Brothers, who shot the film over several years as certain actors became available. All the segments are directed and written by several filmmakers including one by Brett Ratner, one by Elizabeth Banks, and two by Farrelly himself (probably the best of the bunch). Even if one vignette is painfully unfunny, such as the superhero skit with Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristin Bell, and Uma Thurman, they’re over quickly enough that you don’t have to sit in pain for too long. And at a swift 90 minutes, the movie ends quickly enough.

I actually kind of admire “Movie 43” for being the epitome of tastelessness and offensive humor, but it’s certainly not for everyone. In fact, it’s really for no one. I mean I did laugh a bunch of times in spite of the lunacy going on onscreen, but the movie is really ultimately just plain dumb and pointless. It only even slightly works if you find it hilarious watching really famous people doing really stupid and gross things. But I think I’m actually one of those people. The movie’s structure is just plain awkward, using a framing device which involves Dennis Quaid pitching horrible ideas for a movie, which involves the segments that make up the film. Funny thing is Greg Kinnear, playing a producer, insists that Kate Winslet would never appear in a movie where a guy has testicles hanging from his face. If that were only true.

I’m not quite sure what the title refers to, but I’m assuming 43 is the number of actors who wished they never appeared in this thing.  GRADE: C+

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tsunamis, James Bond, and Teddy Bears, Oh My! The Best Movies of 2012


2012 was a great year for movies. There were some gems and then there was John Carter. The less said about that one the better. I haven’t been a particularly big fan of the Oscar movies this year with the exception of Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Life of Pi. And there were certainly some shocking omissions. Not a single nod for The Dark Knight Rises, really? There were some truly polarizing films this year that couldn’t quite stand up to the nitpicky nerds who have nothing better to do than find every conceivable plot hole and inconsistency in every summer blockbuster. There were so many good movies this year it didn’t take much effort to come up with a solid list of 20 movies worth seeing. I’m not sure if this list accurately reflects the word “best” but these are certainly my favorite movies of the year. Here’s hoping 2013 is even better.



1) The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)

 The only movie I saw three times in the theater was “The Dark Knight Rises.” The concluding chapter of the immensely popular Batman trilogy is soaring and rousing closing chapter and caps off the series in a tremendously satisfying way. Although, I realize, not exactly to everyone. Much has been said about various plot holes and some implausibility but with a movie this entertaining that stuff doesn’t really matter. Any movie that followed the success of “The Dark Knight” was bound to be scrutinized under a microscope. This movie worked on every level for me, it belongs on such a great scope that it just feels epic. As the final chapter it feels like there’s so much more at stake. The finale was so exciting and thrilling and an ending so pleasing I can’t help but want to watch it again and again.





2) Argo (dir. Ben Affleck) 

Ben Affleck has become a creative force to be reckoned with. This is his third feature film and it’s the third time his films have my year end list. “Argo” is arguably his best film, and it’s a film deserving of all the praise and awards its been honored with. “Argo” tells the true story about the CIA’s mission to help American hostages escape from Iran in the 1970s. The film is taut and thrilling and actually very funny. It’s sort of a strange mix of “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Munich.” The film’s highly praiseworthy 70s style and aesthetic is simply marvelous. You’d swear this was a film made at the height of the American New Wave. And it’s the best of the Oscar-nominated bunch.







3) Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott) 

Ridley Scott triumphantly returned to sci-fi filmmaking with this long gestating project that changed form just as many times as the alien creature that inspired it. It began as an “Alien” prequel, morphed into its own entity, and then sort of morphed back into an “Alien” prequel again. The story follows scientists on an otherworldly mission to discover the creation of humanity. But there are a few bumps along the way as they begin to breed a new life form of their own. Starring Noomi Rapace in a strong female lead ala Ripley, she’s destined to discover the creators of man and ends up giving birth to her own disgusting creature in the film’s most disturbing sequences that will certainly be remembered for years to come. It’s a film that refuses to answer all your questions and is as provocative as it is engaging and beautiful.






4) The Impossible (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona) 

This impeccably crafted disaster drama is based on a real family’s ordeal during the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The wave killed thousands and thousands of people. Bayona has meticulously recreated the events in an equally horrifying and impressive way. It’s not always the easiest film to watch but it’s simply intoxicating. The performances are outstanding especially Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts and a young Tom Holland playing her eldest son. The two share a fascinating screen presence as mother and child who refuse to give up hope of reuniting with the rest of their family. A truly gripping, realistic, and rewarding cinematic experience.







5) Frankenweenie (dir. Tim Burton)  

Tim Burton returns to stop-motion animation with a vengeance with this stylish gothic tale about a boy so attached to his loving dog that he tries to revive it Frankenstein-style after its hit by a car. This wonderfully fun and quirky tale, filled with Burton’s trademarked weirdness, is shot in glorious black and white with lovingly created bizarre characters and a fun story about the power of friendship between boy and dog. This is arguably one of the most quintessentially Tim Burton-esque films the auteur has directed since 2007’s Sweeney Todd and certainly one of the most purely delightful.







6) Looper (dir. Rian Johnson) 

What a truly original, thought-provoking, and entertaining movie this is. Those are the elements the best science-fiction films have to offer and Looper is no exception. Taking place in the future where time travel has been invented but quickly outlawed, goons send hits back in time where “Loopers” kill them and dispose of them. Eventually they’re forced to “close their loop” but killing the older version of themselves. Joseph Gordon-Levitt comes face-to-face with his older self, played by Bruce Willis, who goes on the run. The film features terrific performances and effects – it’s truly destined to be a modern sci-fi classic.







7) Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes) 

Who would of thought British stage director turned art-house film director Sam Mendes would be what the James Bond series needed oh so badly? One of the best movies in the long running spy series, “Skyfall” features terrific action, character development, and emotion – the later two nearly a first for the series. The film has the cojones to kill off Bond before the end credits – don’t worry he’s not really dead – and features a wickedly good turn by Javier Bardem as one of the series most charismatic and insane bad guys. Judi Dench gives a wonderfully emotional performance as M, who actually - surprise - turns out to be one of the best Bond girls ever. I was enthralled the entire time; it gives long time fans hope that the series will endure another fifty years of movies equally as good.





8) Ted (dir. Seth McFarlane) 

Easily the funniest comedy of the year (with 21 Jump Street a surprising close second). This wickedly funny and smart high concept comedy from the mind of the guy who created TV’s Family Guy, invites us to believe in the story of a man and his real-life best friend teddy bear. A child’s wish is apparently a powerful thing in this film as it turns a boy’s teddy bear alive. The talking bear quickly becomes an international sensation and then becomes a has-been. As an adult Ted (voiced by McFarlane) is still best buds with his human counterpart played by Mark Wahlberg who begins to drive a wedge between him and his girlfriend played by Mila Kunis. This movie is filled to the brim with filthy scatological humor and it’s freaking hilarious. The movie has fun with typical genre conventions but it does take itself seriously enough that you don’t realize just how quickly you become invested in Ted as a real character (and some really nifty CGI effects help).





9) Sinister (dir. Scott Derrickson) 

It just wouldn’t be my top ten list without a great horror movie making it on here. I’ll admit that 2012 was not a very good year for horror. But it did produce a very scary film that is on the level of last years Insidious. “Sinister” is an odd hybrid of “found footage movie,” “ghost story movie,” and “murder mystery.” A true crime writer moves his family into the house where strange murders had previously occurred (bad idea) and then he finds reels of the most disturbing home movie footage you’ve ever seen in you live. Welcome to America’s Scariest Home Videos. There are some truly warrant scares here and the film’s story never quite goes where you expect it. Truly fun stuff for fans of the genre.






10) The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross) 

Let’s credit director Gary Ross, who made the wonderful fantasies “Big” and “Pleasantville” for making The Hunger Games work as a thrilling and exciting film. It’s story is essentially for adults: in a dystopian future teenagers are forced to kill each other as part of a sadistic reality show. Yet this is somehow a popular young adult novel that young girls seem to fawn over as if it had teenage vampires in it. It has way more in common with “Battle Royale” and “Series 7: The Contenders” than “Twilight.” This is a no-holds-barred science-fiction thriller that simply amazes. Jennifer Lawrence gives one of two great performances this year as Katniss who volunteers to take part in the “Hunger Games” to save her sister’s life. Everything about this world is fascinating from the clothing to the architecture to the disturbing way the bourgeois leaders pimp the children and teenagers out as they prepare to fight to the death. It’s still bizarre to me that it has such a strong following for such a young demographic, but it was disturbing and dare I say and rather fun; and it’s as far from the quality of Twilight as you could ever imagine.



11) Life of Pi – Beautiful photography and stunning visuals. One of the most emotionally rewarding films of the year.



12) Wreck-It Ralph – Truly original and classic. A wonderful nod to nostalgia with terrific animation. How is this not a Pixar film?



13) Django Unchained – Tarantino’s bloody good time revenge Western. Gripping, with some truly memorable performances and moments.



14) ParaNorman – A great year for animation includes this wildly fun stop-motion animated tribute to the horror genre.



15) Silver Linings Playbook – A fun, quirky, and ultimately uplifting romantic comedy with really likeable performances.



16) 21 Jump Street – Destined to fail, this surprisingly hilarious comedy is another win for nostalgia.



17) Wanderlust – A criminally underrated romp from the hilarious Wet Hot American Summer weirdoes.



18) The Amazing Spider-Man – A fun and thrilling, if slightly unnecessary, summer blockbuster. But it’s definitely worthy of the Amazing in its title.



19) Hitchcock – A great behind-the-scenes look at the Master of Suspense’s making of Psycho. Truly rewarding for Hitchcock fans.



20) Killer Joe – A completely bizarre and disturbing thriller. Exactly what you’d expect from William Friedkin. 

And a tribute to 2012 in film:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Manhunter: “Zero Dark Thirty” is More Admirable than Lovable



I liked “Zero Dark Thirty,” but like most CIA spy thrillers it had one familiar element that tends to annoy me: it’s confusing. The CIA is such a secretive organization, as it should be, and yet time and time again in movies about it I find myself sometimes dumbfounded about what exactly is happening. Maybe it’s that I just don’t care all that much? I know it’s not with every movie since I was able to follow the similarly themed but way more entertaining “Argo” enough to enjoy it as one of the best films of the year. The basic elements are there in “Zero Dark Thirty” a CIA woman is on a decade long search for one of the most wanted terrorists in the world: Osama Bin Laden. Of course, we know how this story ends, but we don’t exactly know how everything will play out. There are some surprises and shocks and things we may have heard about in the media. It’s a rather well-made and sometimes intense (especially in its last half hour) film by Oscar snub and director Kathryn Bigelow (who made the superior but similar Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker just a couple years ago).

Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, who you might remember appeared in nearly 80% of all movies back in 2011, plays CIA operative Maya. Is Maya a real person? I don’t know. I’m sure she’s based on a real person or perhaps several. Set shortly after the events of 9/11, in the beginning of the film, she’s assigned to assist a guy named Dan (Jason Clarke) interrogate a detainee who may have information on Saudi terrorists. Dan repeated tortures the prisoner. Time passes by as Maya is deep in a search for a link to al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden. This search takes up most of the film. Maya, much like Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” is a woman operating in a man’s world, whose determined to find what she’s looking for (a crazed killer in both instances).

Along the way May narrowly escapes death herself several times. Working in the Middle East is not exactly the safest places to be employed. Bigelow stages some of these sequences with surprise and suspense worthy of Hitchcock. Of course the rather bloated runtime doesn’t really do her any favors. And Chastain’s performance is certainly fun to watch as she progresses towards sniffing out the terrorist leader who many refer to as if she’s looking for a needle in a haystack. Perhaps, but it’s the determination to find that needle that keeps her going. This movie could have also easily been called “The Impossible.”

A majority of the films overlong runtime is devoted to characters talking about things us laypeople won’t really quite grasp. I could grasp enough of Mark Boal’s thoroughly researched script to keep myself chugging along, but it doesn’t always have the tightness to keep myself overwhelmingly thrilled the entire time. In contrast, “Argo” was a monumental achievement of entertainment and tremendously intense suspense. The film finally does come alive in the film’s hotly anticipated final sequence which we’ve all read about: the raid of Bin Laden’s compound. It’s a sequence of nearly unbearable tension. The use of sound, or sometimes lack thereof, and editing is masterfully done. While no one filmed the real life incident, I imagine this would be the closest thing to the real thing we could hope or ever want to get.

“Zero Dark Thirty” feels like film that’s to be more admired than actually loved. It is way more of a procedural and I felt rather distanced from it. I didn’t find myself too emotionally invested but Chastain is very likable and she’s a great strong presence in a film filled with very few female characters. You’d never necessarily think a woman was behind the camera, but with no directing nomination, you’d have thought the film must have directed itself anyways.  GRADE: B

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

2013 Oscar Nominee Predictions

UPDATE: The nominations have finally been revealed, there are certainly some shocks. Anyone who predicted the Directing category correctly must be psychic. Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were both shockingly snubbed. Amour's Michael Haneke and Beasts of the Southern Wild's Benh Zeitlin replaced them. Haneke was not really as shocking, but no one would have predicted Zeitlin. Argo's best picture chances are zero to slim now. Unless it can pull a Driving Miss Daisy and win without a directing nod (it did get an editing nomination which helps a little). There was a strong showing for Silver Linings Playbook with all four acting categories receiving a nomination. Lincoln dominated as expected, though broke no records, with 12 nominations, with Life of Pi bringing in 11. A stronger showing indeed. I dont know why I doubted the love for that film who's buzz seemed to wain in the last month or so. I'm personally glad Hitchcock, Prometheus, and Ted can now call themselves Oscar-nominated films. I'm also glad Skyfall got five nods, including original score for Thomas Newman who i'm a big fan of. Unfortunately I'll now have to sit through Amour, which I'm not really looking forward to. I did so-so with my predictions. I'm proud that I got all five Editing nominees correct. Many thought SLP wouldn't get that nod but I saw it coming. Even Mirror Mirror for costume design wasn't a guarantee, but has anyone actually SEEN those costumes? I can't imagine Lincoln not winning Best Picture at this point.

The full list of nominations is HERE.




[from Wednesday]: The nominees for the 8th annual Academy Awards will be announced on Thursday morning, my second favorite movie-related day of the year. Here’s the list of the film and actors I think will be announced by Emma Stone and Seth McFarlane. You’ll notice that Best Art Direction is now called Best Production Design and the Makeup award is now Makeup & Hairstyling. Also, the Original Song rules have changed, after last year’s embarrassing debacle; there will be five nominees. Without further ado here are my sorta fearless predictions:



Best Picture

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Miserables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

(Alternative – Amour)



This is the second year the Academy will see a range of 5 to 10 nominees in the Best Picture category. It remains to be seen how many films will actually be nominated. I’m thinking there will definitely be nine or even ten nominees. If last year’s weaker slate of films produced nine nominees there’s no reason to think that there won’t be just as many nominated this year.  If this was a traditional year with five nominees I firmly believe they would be Argo, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. I’m curious as to how the foreign film Amour fits in, if at all. Traditionally, only really popular foreign films make it into Best Picture, the last being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Have any people who aren’t Oscar freaks like me even heard of Amour? Exactly. I’m curious if Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Master could make it in, I’m not quite sure about the later. But anything could happen. I actually wouldn’t be overwhelmingly surprised to find Skyfall or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel show up here, but those are definite long shots for sure. If my predictions hold up Lincoln could be on its way to scoring 14 nominations which would tie it with Titanic and All about Eve for the most nominations ever. It’s probably more likely it’ll receive 12 or 13. Argo is poised to get at least 5 or 6, though it could receive more in some craft categories, which it may need if it’s going to go all the way.



Best Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Ben Affleck, Argo

Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Tom Hooper, Les Miserables

(Alt – David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook)



We’ve got a pretty decent race here. All five have been cited by the DGA, but I’m only pretty confident in four of these choices. Tom Hooper seemed like a lock for awhile, but then his movie was released and a flood of backlash ensued. Many complaints people have about the movie seem to do with his direction of the material. So I find him rather vulnerable. I think David. O. Russell could easily replace him, but Hooper gets the edge since he didn’t direct a “comedy.” Michael Haneke for Amour is a possibility since the Directors Branch is a little more daring than the other branches. If this does end up as the final five, Affleck would be the lone nominee who hasn’t already won in this category - though he did win for writing “Good Will Hunting” of course. A directing category in which all the nominees are previous winners, how fun is that?


Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Denzel Washington, Flight

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

(Alt – Joaquin Phoenix, The Master)



Joaquin Phoenix seemed like an obvious choice so long ago. What happened? The divisive nature of his film I think. I feel pretty confident in this five, but Cooper is probably the most vulnerable – though with nominations from the BFCA, Globes, SAG, and even BAFTA a miss here would be an all-out snub at this point. How cool would it be for Ben Affleck to score a surprise nod here ala Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby?Also, it's worth noting that no actor or actress has even won an Oscar for a Spielberg movie (though nine have been nominated). If anyone could pull it off surely Day-Lewis could right?


Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Helen Mirren, Hitchcock

Naomi Watts, The Impossible

(Alt – Emmanuelle Riva, Amour)



I’m still not sold on Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva or Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis making it. If either of them did, they’d be the oldest and youngest nominees, respectively, in this category ever. I’m not very confident in Cotillard or Mirren. Either them could easily be left off, but SAG nominated them, so that’s why I’m going with them. Watts didn’t score a BAFTA nom which worries me a tad, but I’m sure the Academy will be on her side. It’ll be a battle between former nominees Chastain and Lawrence for the win.


Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

(Alt – Javier Bardem, Skyfall)



What a weird category this year. The precursor awards have been all over the place. I could easily see Christoph Waltz (who is totally a lead by the way) bumping out DiCaprio, or both of them getting snubbed. Bardem got a SAG nom, but this would be the first ever acting nod for a James Bond film. Of course, what better way to start then with one of, if not the, best Bond movies ever? There’s not even a frontrunner for this category yet. I really think anything can happen here.



Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Field, Lincoln

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy

Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
(Alt – Amy Adams, The Master)



Just give it to Hathaway now already. The others will just be happy to be nominated. Especially if these five ladies get nods, Hathaway would be the only one who hasn’t already won. Kidman is a sort of a long shot I know, but SAG nominated her, so why not go all the way? Probably not, but crazier things have happened. I’m sure Adams will be the most likely one to replace her – though Smith is not necessarily a guarantee either.



Best Adapted Screenplay

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Lincoln

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Silver Linings Playbook

(Alt – Life of Pi)



I’m not sure how Les Miserables and Life of Pi could be Best Picture nominees without also being Screenplay nominees but it happens more often than you’d think. The writer’s branch is notorious for throwing out curveballs in these two categories, often citing nominees no one even thought would be nominated. Wallflower could happen as many have suggested, but who knows really?



Best Original Screenplay

Amour

Django Unchained

The Master

Moonrise Kingdom

Zero Dark Thirty

(Alt – Looper)



I’m still not certain that Looper has a very good shot at a nomination here. Joseph Gordon-Levitt films, with the exception of the ensemble-driven Inception, tend to be strangely snubbed in this category (remember when everyone was predicting 500 Days of Summer and last year’s 50/50?). Having said that, anything can happen here. The writers tend to throw in a foreign film (Amour), a quirky comedy (Moonrise Kingdom), a weird movie that’s just happy to be nominated (The Master), and then the obvious Best Picture nominees (Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained). There you have it.



Animated Feature

Brave

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman
The Painting

Wreck-It Ralph

(Alt – Rise of the Guardians)



Disney could score here with three nominated films. I’m not quite sold on Rise of the Guardians, or ParaNorman actually, since some artsy fair tend to get thrown in here. Which is why I’m going with The Painting; a movie no one, including myself, has ever heard of.



And the rest of the pack:



Documentary Feature

Bully

The Gatekeepers

How to Survive a Plague

The Invisible War

Searching for Sugar Man



Foreign Language Film

Amour

The Intouchables

No

A Royal Afair

Sister


Best Cinematography

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Life of Pi

The Master

Skyfall


Best Costume Design

Anna Karenina

Cloud Atlas

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Mirror Mirror


Best Film Editing
Argo

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty


Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Men in Black 3


Best Original Score

Anna Karenina

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Life of Pi

Lincoln
 
Best Original Song

“Learn Me Right,” Brave

“Pi’s Lullaby,” Life of Pi

“Skyfall,” Skyfall

“Still Alive,” Paul Williams: Still Alive

“Suddenly,” Les Miserables



Best Production Design

Anna Karenina

Cloud Atlas

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Life of Pi


Sound Editing

Django Unchained

The Dark Knight Rises

Lincoln

Skyfall

Zero Dark Thirty
 
Sound Mixing

The Dark Knight Rises

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Skyfall

Zero Dark Thirty


Visual Effects

Cloud Atlas

The Dark Knight Rises

Life of Pi

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Prometheus

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Lady in the Water: The Tsunami Drama “The Impossible” is an Emotionally Riveting Experience



“The Impossible” is one of the best disaster movies I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. It works so well because it isn’t really one of those “fun” disaster movies where you get to see popular landmarks blow up. It’s one of the few that’s actually based on a real life event: the tragic 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean, killing over a quarter of a million people. “The Impossible” tells the true account of just one family affected by this catastrophic event and follows them as they endure the horrors of an event so unimaginable you’ll be shocked at what you see. It’s not a film that’s always extremely easy to watch; it never shies away from showing the true power and destruction and death a tidal wave can cause. And even if the basic story elements are that of a TV movie-of-the-week, the performances and production value make it an Oscar-worthy achievement that has to be seen to be believed.

The film hinges on the nearly perfect performance of Naomi Watts as Maria. She’s traveling to Thailand for a Christmas vacation with her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and three young sons. Little do they know that in just two days a large underwater earthquake will cause a tremendous tidal wave to wash them away while they lounge out by the pool at their fancy resort. The tidal wave actually occurs rather quickly into the film and it’s a spectacular sequence staged by director Juan Antonio Bayona (who made the creepy Spanish thriller “The Orphanage”). While you can tell the film doesn’t have the budget of say an Armageddon, it makes up for it in a heartpoundingly disturbing recreated disaster sequence. Everyone is instantly swept off their feet by the nearly 100 foot rogue wave. As Maria comes to while being swept away in the raging water she tries to reconnect with her eldest son Lucas (a simply splendid Tom Holland). Here the badly injured mother and son must make sense of what just occurred while attempting to reconnect with their other family members. A task itself which seems impossible.

I found myself simply transfixed by what was occurring onscreen, unlike much of the Oscar movies that have been released thus far. The disaster sequence was as horrific as it was impressive. Watts was certainly a trooper as was the young Holland who gives one of the film’s most impressive performances. His presence reminded me of what charmed the pants off people who watched Jamie Bell in “Billy Elliot” back in 2000. Equally impressive were the performances of the two younger siblings played by Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. McGregor gives one his best performances as a father who refuses to give up looking for his wife and son. I was overwhelmed by how much I became invested in the reunion of this family torn apart. There are certainly moments of well-earned tears.

“The Impossible” is simply a stunning and remarkable film. It’s so much more than a disaster film; it’s really an intimate drama about family and reconnection; and more specifically a touching story about a mother and a son who refuse to quit. It’s inspirational without ever once feeling manipulative or melodramatic. This is not a Lifetime movie. This is a thrilling and moving piece of pure cinema; the sights, the sounds are extraordinary. It’s expertly crafted and gorgeously shot. Bayona’s superb directorial flourishes are outstanding, including some truly gripping and terrifying footage. You’ll be wondering for ages how on earth he and cinematographer Óscar Faura were able to capture it. Take for instance Maria’s literally first person account of being swept away by the wave. It’s something no person would ever want or hope to experience, but with this film you will. This is a truly rewarding and breathtaking film. I was swept away by it and you will be too.  GRADE: A

Friday, January 04, 2013

Face/Off: Leatherface Returns Yet Again in “Texas Chainsaw 3D”



Let it be said that “Texas Chainsaw 3D” doesn’t really have much of a reason to exist and it’s just a stupid horror movie that’s been rightfully dumped in the beginning of the lame January movie slate. Having said that true horror fans will find something to like here as it delivers some goods in that department. Those who liked last year’s insult-to-horror-fans “Cabin in the Woods,” including many horror genre fan self-haters, might want to steer clear of this new take on the Leatherface legend. Actually working as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s iconic 1975 cult slasher flick, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” takes place right after the events of the original film, ignoring the many silly sequels and the Michael Bay-produced flashy remake and prequel.

After a promising start featuring footage from the original film (now in 3D!) the film picks up directly after that film ends. Sally was the lone survivor of the massacre and a horde of rednecks decide to show up at the Sawyer household and burn it to the ground. Unfortunately the one family member they most wanted to kill (Leatherface, although never actually referred to as such) is the one who survived. Also, a baby survived and was adopted by some locals. Flash-forward to the present day in which Heather, (Alexandra Daddario) who appears to be in her twenties but should technically be in her forties if she was a baby in the early 1970s, but let’s ignore that plot hole, finds out she’s be adopted and has actually inherited a Texas house left to her by a grandmother. She decides to check it out with some cannon fodder, err, friends, and low and behold, the chainsaw-wielding maniac has been living in the basement.

Now all of this stuff is pretty standard really and familiar if you’ve seen this films before. A bunch of young people pack into a van, drive through Texas, pick up a hitchhiker, and get killed off one by one. Yes those familiar elements are there but what’s most interesting about “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is its surprising third act. It’s features a development which I found more admirable that actually likable. Most people will probably balk at the idea, but it’s certainly something I haven’t seen before and I respect the screenwriters and the director for trying it out.

Director John Luessenhop has made a way less flashy modern Chainsaw film which is admirable. He fills the film with obvious nods to the original film. Notice that dead armadillo? Or that low angle shot of that chick’s bright red short shorts? What about that startling sequence with the ice box? Fans of the original will even delight in spotting original stars Gunner Hansen and Marilyn Burns in small cameos. The quartet of young actors are fairly forgettable, but Daddario makes a decently heroic Final Girl. Shaun Sipos plays the mysterious hitchhiker the group picks up and he’s the spitting image of a young “Thelma & Louise” era Brad Pitt, charm and all. Luessenhop doesn’t kill of his cast very quickly and actually focuses on suspense at some points including an intense moment involving a van that won’t start and a metal gate. He also doesn’t linger on the gore like the remakes, although there’s plenty of squishy red stuff. This is definitely more slasher and less torture porn. And there are fun 3D moments but it’s not as gimmicky as some 3D horror films.

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” isn’t a movie worth recommending to most people except die hard horror buffs. It’s pretty stupid actually but it’s briskly paced and I can’t help but admire the direction it goes in. I’m not sure it’s totally successful but for a film that doesn’t need to exist to try so hard to pay tribute to the original film and try something relatively new I couldn’t help taking one more excursion to Leatherface’s dingy lair. GRADE: B