To say that Oculus is a better-than-average scary movie is to acknowledge the tragically lowered expectations of the genre itself. Oculus is reasonably well acted, it manages some creepy moments, and writer/director Mike Flanagan generates some real energy by finding fairly original things to do with the film's structure. Shouldn't that be enough to recommend it? What more could we possibly ask of a haunted house movie?
Well, of course, there is a lot more we might ask, and that something more is the difference between an enjoyable-but-disposable experience and an actual movie. Oculus shows some promise, but ultimately it's satisfied with being simply competent. You can almost feel the creators saying, "It's just a scary movie." Continue reading
Captain America's first film—the underrated Captain America: The First Avenger—took place almost entirely during the WWII era that spawned the character, and had a refreshingly idealistic, gee-whiz feel that was entirely appropriate. Now, Captain America: The Winter Soldier—directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, and loosely based on a popular comic run written by Ed Brubaker—finds the revived Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) navigating the murkier waters of what America has become in the 21st century.
The Book of Darren, Chapters 1-34
1 And so it came to pass, in the two thousandth and fourteenth year, that Darren Aronofksy turned his eyes towards the Powers That Be.
2 Powers, spake he, Give to me monies totaling twenty-five and one hundred thousand thousands, and I shall deliver unto You the story of Noah. Continue reading
About halfway through the new dystopian science fiction film Divergent, the heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley), is given a test in which she must face her greatest fears through a series of induced hallucinations. The problem is, Tris is special, and so—unlike the others taking the test—she breezes through the challenges because she knows they're not real. Like a lucid dreamer, the nightmares have no power over her, and she is able to dismiss them with a casual, contemptuous ease. (Faced with drowning in a tank of water, for example, she is able to simply tap lightly on the glass and shatter—literally and metaphorically—the fourth wall.) If Tris wants to pass the test and avoid attention, she is advised, she must at least pretend she finds these ridiculous situations believable, and react accordingly. Continue reading
My first reaction to Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas's big-screen sequel to his 2004-2007 TV series, is simply to be glad that it exists. I was a fan of the Veronica Mars TV show: much as its older cousin Buffy the Vampire Slayer had interpreted the hells of the teen-age years through horror tropes, Veronica Mars saw them through the lens of film noir, making its eponymous heroine a tougher, sassier, more cynical Nancy Drew for the 21st century. If Veronica Mars never quite navigated the halls of its high school setting with quite the emotional resonance of better shows like Buffy and Freaks and Geeks, it was still a witty, addictively entertaining program, anchored reliably by a star-making performance from Kristen Bell.
Alas, critical adoration and the devotion of a ferocious fan base never quite translated into actual ratings, and Veronica Mars was cancelled after its third season. Now, thanks to an unprecedentedly successful Kickstarter campaign, the bitch is back, nearly 10 years after she first appeared. Veronica Mars, the movie, is currently playing in select theaters, and via same-day video-on-demand release. Continue reading
2014 Oscar Picks and Predictions
As the annual Academy Award bacchanalia approaches, all of us who run pop culture websites are more or less contractually obligated to share our predictions and preferences. Frankly, I think we might as well also be obligated to put our money where our mouths are, and throw twenty bucks into a common pool, with the winning blog taking the pot. (I myself, it should be noted, would never, ever win.) Continue reading
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, boy and girl run around while SHIT BLOWS UP AROUND THEM. Continue reading
Back in October, George Clooney announced that his new film, The Monuments Men, would not be ready by its original December, awards-bait release date, and would need to be pushed back until early 2014. Naturally—as Clooney's film was an apparent prestige picture with an all-star cast—the industry media was abuzz with the question of how this surprising change would affect the highly competitive 2013 Oscar race.
Now, that question has been answered unequivocally: the change had no impact on the awards race, because The Monuments Men wasn't going to win any anyway. However, as is so often true in life, the answer to that question just raises an additional, more perplexing question:
How the hell do you take a cast this good, and a premise this promising, and make a movie this bad? Continue reading
As I said when I reviewed The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Animation, watching a feature-length anthology of unrelated shorts can be a disorienting experience: the stylistic and tonal shifts can deliver a nasty case of cinematic whiplash. And what was true of the animated shorts is doubly true of The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action, which—this year—run the gamut from harmlessly amusing trifles t0 horrifying, rape-and-violence-filled war stories. (A note for parents: while the theatrical presentation of the animated films is safe for all ages, the live-action package is very adult fare.)
I can't claim to be an expert in the medium—I've only been watching the shorts for a few years now, since they became more widely available in theaters and via streaming services—but I have to say that (with a couple of exceptions) this year's batch does not, overall, strike me as a strong one. With at least two of the films, I have to believe there were better and more interesting options available for the coveted Oscar slots. Of the other three, one is a powerful but highly problematic piece of filmmaking; one is a charming and heartstring tugging success; and the third—worth the price of admission by itself—is an unqualified triumph. Continue reading
For those of us who have filled out Oscar predictions most of our lives—whether casually or obsessively—the Short Film categories used to be a perennial black hole of guesswork: unless you were a frequenter of the festival circuit, it simply wasn't easy to see most of the nominees. In recent years, however, that has mercifully changed. Shorts HD and Magnolia have packaged the films in all three major short categories into four feature-length anthologies—one for Animation, one for Live-Action, and two programs for the Documentary Shorts—that are now playing in select theaters around the country. (For those who don't happen to live near one of these theaters, a few of the shorts are available online now, and the rest will be available online and through video-on-demand services starting Feb. 25th, a week before the Oscar ceremony.) Continue reading
Ah, January: that special time when theaters offer the would-be movie-viewer a choice between the last prestige pictures of the old year and the first bottom-dwelling crapfests of the new. I usually spend my January catching up with the former, but I also feel obligated to make room for one or two of the latter, if only in the hope that an under-appreciated gem might be found by sifting through the clinkers and clunkers left each year on the great cinematic dumping ground.
In 2014, alas, this desperate quest remains unfulfilled so far. However, if you are looking for a perfect example of the product available in the Annual Hollywood Turd-Harvest, look no further than Stuart Beattie's mindless, humorless, mind-numbingly pointless I, Frankenstein. Continue reading
As Paolo Sorrentino's exuberant, intoxicating new film begins, its protagonist, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), is turning 65. "Happy birthday, Jep!" his admirers and well-wishers call out. "Happy birthday, Rome!" It is an early clue to what will quickly become clear: that The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) is a film about a man and a city, both coming to terms with the glorious potential of their pasts, the disappointing realities of their presents, and the uncertain promises of their futures. Embodied in Servillo's charming, indelibly wise performance, Jep is Rome, and Rome is Jep: as we follow his lackadaisical journey in search of elusive meaning, it becomes impossible to imagine one without the other.
After a year in which I slacked off a bit on my film reviews, my New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to see and write about at least one new film every week. On the plus side, I'm hoping this discipline will force me to give more films a chance (and help me avoid the three-films-a-day binge I inevitably end up doing in November and December to try and catch up). On the minus side, of course—and particularly in these fallow winter months, when the choices are few—it will mean committing to writing about a number of films I otherwise might not even choose to see.
I confess that Lone Survivor—the new film from director Peter Berg—falls on the minus side of that equation for me. I'm as big a fan of war movies as it is probably possible for a lefty, liberal, bookish, pacifistically-minded pussy to be, but Lone Survivor fails to satisfy. It's not that it's a bad war movie; it's just that it's barely a movie at all. Continue reading
or (more accurately) My Favorite Films of 2013
Twenty-thirteen is being widely trumpeted as perhaps the greatest twelve months of movies since 1939, the year in which we saw the release of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and a number of other classics.
Frankly, I'm not willing to go that far. (I actually think that 2012 might have been stronger.) But I will admit that I had very little trouble putting together a full complement of films for my obligatory year-end list this year. One glance at the awards and nominations lists so far makes it clear that the overall quality of films in 2013 was far above average. The pack is usually composed of one or two great films, a few good films, and some over-hyped dreck, but this year is different. I didn't adore every movie that's getting attention this awards season, but there were so many decent films that not even the Golden Globes managed to nominate anything too embarrassing. Continue reading
Though I'm as likely as anyone to state my opinions as if they were quantifiable facts, there is of course no such thing as a truly objective film review. All film critics—whether self-appointed internet hacks like myself, or duly anointed professionals—are really just film-watchers who are willing to sit down and share their subjective film-watching experience with other people. This is not to say that all critics are created equal—as in all things, intellect, education, experience, diligence, and innate talent count for a lot—but it's always a personal process, not a universal science. Continue reading
"Falling in love is a crazy thing to do," we are reminded halfway through the extraordinary new film Her. "It's kind of like a form of socially-accepted insanity." And certainly the premise of Her—in which the protagonist, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), falls in love with his computer's operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)—sounds suitably insane on paper. However, as he did in the equally high-concept Being John Malkovich, writer-director Spike Jonze grounds this inventive, off-kilter world with authentic, well-rounded characters, and uses a preposterous sci-fi premise to explore recognizable human experiences in new and revelatory ways. The miracle of Her is how quickly, and how touchingly, it becomes not a story about a man falling in love with a machine, but about the universal experience of falling in love. Smart, wise, and emotionally rich, Her turns out to be one of the most believably touching romances of the 21st century so far, and easily one of the best pictures of the year. Continue reading
The peculiar qualities and charms of any particular movie by Joel and Ethan Coen are hard to articulate, and generalizing about the brothers' catalog as a whole is more difficult still. If I were to attempt to list some common threads in their extraordinary and extraordinarily varied body of work—and, rest assured, I'm not going to seriously attempt it here—I suspect there are a few themes and tropes that would suggest themselves. An attraction to shambling, shaggy-dog narratives? A skewed, stylized aesthetic and humor? An affectionate sympathy for flawed human beings, and particularly for the moments when those flaws lead them into confrontation with spiraling consequences, and colliding codes, and the sometimes surreal machinations of fate? Continue reading
Warning: Contains mild spoilers, though nothing more than you get in the trailers and commercials.
Gary Ross's The Hunger Games—the first in a tetralogy of films adapting Suzanne Collins' trilogy of young-adult novels—was one of my favorite movies of 2012. Anchored by a strong, fully-realized performance from Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games treated the frequent absurdities and illogics of its world seriously, investing what might have been a silly sci-fi franchise with a sense of realism and genuine emotional stakes. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 22
Continuing with our 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of the 1974
Merchant and Ivory Tobe Hooper film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven't already seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first.
Yes, yes, I'm well aware of the fact that All Saint's Day has come and gone, and that somehow I only managed to post a couple of entries in our 2013 Halloween Movie Marathon. Real life interfered, and I apologize for that. Continue reading
12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen's extraordinary, essential new film, begins in the middle. The choice is something of an aberration, for McQueen proves throughout the rest of the movie that he knows better than to add any narrative or directorial flourishes to a powerful true story that requires neither. This prologue lasts only a few minutes, after which we flash back to where the story properly begins, with Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his wife and children in New York, and enjoying a successful career as a respected violinist. From there, McQueen will follow Solomon, in linear fashion and with harrowing realism, through his kidnapping, his being sold into slavery, and all 12 years of his decent into Hell.
So why begin with this strange flash-forward, which shows us Solomon already enslaved? The clue, I think, lies in this prologue's final scenes, in which we see Solomon huddling in secrecy, attempting to fashion the necessary implements to write a plea for help. We see him carve a crude pen from a piece of wood. We see him trying to fashion ink from the juice of blackberries. We see him, finally, attempt to put words on the one piece of paper he has, only to watch the letters bleed and pool and disperse into nothingness. The makeshift ink won't hold; the words won't stay; the story he needs to tell cannot be told. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 21
Continuing with our 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven't already seen The Wicker Man, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 20
Yes, it's that time of year again, the season of tricks and treats, of candied apples and toilet-papered trees, of costumes both scary and skanky. Here at The Unaffiliated Critic we celebrate All Saint's Day in accordance with tradition, with the same time-honored rites and sacred rituals our people have been practicing since the year of our founding, way back in 2011.
We make my girlfriend, N., watch scary movies. Welcome to The Unenthusiastic Critic's 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Watching a big-budget, CGI-heavy adventure movie becomes a completely different experience when there is an actual artist at the helm. The visionary director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men) proved that when he showed us that a Harry Potter movie could actually be good (with 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and he proves it again now with Gravity, a narratively simple but visually stunning tale of two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded in the vast emptiness of space. Continue reading
As I explained in the first part of this three-part series, I am currently cataloging all the films I've seen so far in 2013 that I never got around to properly reviewing. Part One covered my least favorite movies of the year so far, the films I can't possible recommend to anyone. The forthcoming Part Three—by far the shortest list—will cover my favorite films, the ones I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.
And here, in Part Two, we find ourselves in the middle ground. It's no surprise that this is the most crowded of my arbitrary categories, for the most common reasons for me to not write about a movie are that: 1) I haven't made up my mind about it yet; or 2) I don't have strong feelings about it one way or the other. ("Eh, it was alright" is not the kind of opinion likely to inspire me as a writer, and "I don't know what to make of this movie" is not the sort of argument likely to satisfy you as a reader.)
So, without further ado or disclaimer, here are 12 films released in 2013 that I found to be worthy failures, near-misses, mixed bags, or utterly mystifying. Continue reading
As I would be the first to admit—if several of my helpful friends and followers hadn't already pointed it out repeatedly—I have fallen woefully behind on my movie reviews in 2013. My tentative plan is always to watch and review at least one movie a week, but here—in the 39th week of the year—I find I have reviewed a grand total of nine motion pictures since January 1 (not counting classic films reviewed alone or with my partner, The Unenthusiastic Critic.)
Looking back over the year, however, I was surprised to discover that my movie watching was more or less on-pace: I've seen around 35 new movies in those 39 weeks—I just haven't reviewed them. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic #19
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. Today, we present the conclusion to our look at David O. Selznick's Oscar-winning production of Gone with the Wind (1939). You can read Part One, covering the first half of this extremely long movie, here.
The Unenthusiastic Critic #19
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. (For a fuller explanation of this particular form of relationship suicide, read the introduction to the series here.)
In this edition, we sit down for N.'s first viewing of ten-time Oscar-winner Gone with the Wind. This is (to my girlfriend's horror) the longest movie we've ever done, and (to my own horror) the longest article in the series so far. For your sake as much as mine, I'm splitting this post into two parts. Look for Part Two to follow soon.
A confession: I have a hard time reviewing Woody Allen movies.
As much as any filmmaker working today—and perhaps as much as any filmmaker who has ever worked—Allen feels like family. I've never met him, of course, and don't expect I ever will, but what director could be more familiar? Beginning with 1966's What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Allen has written and directed 43 feature-length films, at a pace just shy of one a year. I haven't seen every one of Allen's movies, and I haven't liked every one that I have seen, but at this point there is no director whose signature is so easily distinguishable, and no cinema experience more instantly recognizable than sitting in a dark theater as those credits appear, in white-on-black, over some old jazz standard. By this point, even the members of Allen's production team, listed in that trusty Windsor font, feel somehow like old friends. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Some movies positively reek of studio interference, but with others the cloud of artistic compromise wafts more gently. The Wolverine, the new film from director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), feels at first like a breath of fresh air in this disappointing summer season: with a slower pace, a smaller scale, and a more intimate focus than most comparable superhero franchise films, The Wolverine succeeds for a surprising portion of its running time in making us hope that someone has actually been allowed to make a serious movie from these pulpy comic book ingredients. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Expectations are tricky things. Based on the premise and trailers, I went into Pacific Rim expecting it to be little more than a live-action cartoon and toy-commercial in which giant robots and giant monsters punched each other in their respective faces for two hours. The x-factor here, however, was director Guillermo del Toro, the genuinely visionary filmmaker who brought real warmth and wit to the Hellboy franchise, and who created one of the first truly great movies of the 21st century in 2006's haunting Pan's Labyrinth. So the marketing for Pacific Rim told me that I should expect to be disappointed, while the evidence of del Toro's past work led me to hope that there would be more going on here than met the eye. It was with these mixed preconceptions—half-dread, half-excitement—that I ventured down to my local IMAX to don my 3D glasses and experience Pacific Rim.
And what I experienced was a live-action cartoon and toy commercial in which giant robots and giant monsters punched each other in their respective faces for two hours. Continue reading
Most of the pre-release discussion and buzz around Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing has focused not on what it is, but on the hows and whys of the thing. There has been a strangely amused fascination with Whedon's decision to follow The Avengers—a mega-franchise movie with a nine-figure budget and a ten-figure take—with a no-budget, black-and-white adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lightest plays. After all, coming off one of the most successful blockbusters in history, this man could do anything, and work with anyone, for all the money: instead, he chooses to act like a film student, and spend 12 slapdash days shooting an indie-spirited little movie at his own home with his TV actor friends. He's pretending he's still little people! How charming! How quirky! How eccentric!
How absurd. Yes, Much Ado about Nothing was filmed quickly and cheaply—and among friends—in what was supposed to be Whedon's vacation during post-production on The Avengers. But to treat Much Ado as a palate-cleansing vanity project is to do the film a great disservice, for it is much, much better than that. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low: I've not spoiled any surprises, but this post can't completely avoid hinting at the general nature of certain surprises. If you want to go in completely free of expectations, best to see the film first.
J. J. Abram's Star Trek Into Darkness presents me with a critical dilemma, because I both thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a terrible misfire. In contemplating the root of this conundrum, a famous line of criticism kept running through my mind. Widely (though perhaps apocryphally) attributed to Samuel Johnson, and loosely adapted for my own purposes, it goes something like this: This movie is both good and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: I'm going to assume you've read The Great Gatsby. If you haven't, I suppose there's an outside chance you might enjoy this movie, so you should go watch it without bothering with my review.
I'm on record stating that, when it comes to adapting great novels to the screen, faithfulness to the text is an overrated quality. Greatness in any medium is, almost by definition, impossible to translate to any other medium, and so a slavish film adaptation of a classic novel is likely to be a dull and dire thing. One of my favorite movies of 2012 was Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, which took considerable creative liberties with Leo Tolstoy's epic and delivered a lush, sensual feast with visual delight, whimsy, and real emotional power. No doubt there were people who said that Wright not only failed to tell the story of Anna Karenina, but also completely missed the point of it—and perhaps he did. (I don't think so, but the argument could be made.) The thing is, I didn't care: if I wanted to read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, I was free to do that at my leisure. This was Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, and I loved it.
So why do I hate Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby so very, very much? Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
The challenge of superhero movies—and of superheroes in general, actually—is to balance the human elements with the super-human. This is especially important for retaining the interest of fans who may be past the age of puberty, but we underestimate children if we think they don't prefer to have believable, relatable characters behind the masks, beneath the capes, inside the armor. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. (For a fuller explanation of this particular form of relationship suicide, read the introduction to the series here.) In this edition, N. and I sit down for her first viewing of Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner.
As always, these posts are completely spoiler-filled, so if you’re the other person on the planet who has never seen Blade Runner, proceed with caution. Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema #5
This is the fifth entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at one of the greatest performances of all-time, in a film that revolutionized the art of acting on-screen: Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Continue reading
Last year I explained (at some length) why I still love the Oscars, even though they are pretentious, predictable, overlong, and frequently delusional in ways that make me want to kill myself. This year, I'm going to skip the preamble and get right to the wrong-minded opinions and prognostications: my choices for what films will win, what films should win, and what films must not, in the name of all that is holy, be allowed to win at the 85th Academy Awards. (The actual order of the presentations is a big secret—why, I have no idea—so I've taken an educated guess.)
Oscar Night is this Sunday, February 24th. My invitation seems to have been lost in the mail, so I'll be live-tweeting the Red Carpet and ceremony from home, alongside my partner N., The Unenthusiastic Critic (whose interest will flag noticeably after the focus turns from pretty dresses to awards). Follow me on Twitter to get all the despair, snark, curses, and detailed explanations about why host Seth Macfarlane is bad for humanity.
And now, the envelopes please… Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
Steven Soderbergh has announced his intention to retire, claiming Side Effects will be his last film. I don't buy it for a moment—in Hollywood, after all, that sort of announcement usually turns out to herald a break of six to 18 months—but, for the sake of argument, let's pretend we believe him. If this slick, competent, painfully derivative thriller does indeed turn out to be Soderbergh's swan song, it will be the sadly appropriate capstone to a career that promised so much brilliance, and delivered so little originality. Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema #4
This is the fourth entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at one of the most visually influential films of all time, Fritz Lang's seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis.
This post will be a little shorter and considerably less thorough than previous entries in this series, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is practical: I'm running a little behind this week, and need to make up some ground if I want this to remain a weekly series, and not a bi-weekly, or monthly, or whenever-the-hell-I-get-around-to-it series.
The second reason is less practical, and more a matter of preference: I kind of think Metropolis is a terrible movie. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
As far as Hollywood is concerned, we're in the dog days of winter—which is to say that, during the first couple of months of the year, Hollywood studios dump their dogs unceremoniously off at the multiplexes and hope they never find their way home. If someone catches them doing it—“Hey, is this your dog of a movie?”—the studios are likely to slink away shamefully and deny ownership. If someone within their own organizations asks whatever happened to a certain movie, executives probably tell them that that particular movie went off to live on a farm where it can run around free and play with other doggies: it's probably much happier there, so don't worry about it, and don't ask any questions. Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema #3
This is the third entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at a film about revolution that sparked a revolution in film: Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 epic Battleship Potemkin.
And it is here, in only the third week of my self-directed coursework, that I fully grasp the hubris of my plan, and resign myself to what should have been a self-evident truth: that there is no way in hell I can—in the stolen hours of a single week—possibly hope to do justice to any one of these films. Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema #2
This is the second entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. (For a fuller explanation of this project, read the first entry in the series.)
This week, I take a long look at the movie that—for better or worse—started cinema's love affair with vampires: F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema #1
This is the first entry in a new series I'm calling "Independent Study in World Cinema," in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. For a full explanation of this self-imposed syllabus, read on.
If you'd asked me six weeks ago, I'd have told you 2012 was a mediocre year for movies. This is, of course, partially the fault of the studios—which save all of their best movies for the last few weeks of the year, so they can be fresh in the minds of award-voters (and idiots like me who write "Best of the Year" lists)—but it's mostly my own fault. In my secret identity I have the kind of job that gets really busy when things like presidential elections happen, and so for much of the year I had to let a lot of really good stuff pass me by, unviewed and unreviewed. (If you're wondering why there are so many films on this list that I didn't even bother to review when they came out: that's why.) In the past six weeks I've gone on a binge of make-up movie-watching, catching up with as many goodies as I could. I haven't seen everything, but I've now seen over 80 films from 2012, and at this point I'm prepared to say it was a very good year indeed. Continue reading
Last year I didn't attempt to do a year-end round-up of performances. Ranking any artistic achievement is always an arbitrary exercise of questionable worth, and I find comparing the apples and oranges of various films difficult enough; comparing individual performances is like comparing apples and accordions, or aardvarks and oranges, or something equally nonsensical. Continue reading
I don't do a "Worst Movies of the Year" list, mostly because I do everything in my power, throughout the year, to avoid seeing the worst movies. I tend to give a wide berth to any film, for example, in which Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, or Tyler Perry play single or multiple roles, in drag or out of drag; I avoid any film in which Nicholas Cage plays a super-hero, John Cusack plays Edgar Allen Poe, or 3D piranhas consume DD breasts. (If you're curious, I'd say the worst movies I saw all year were—in no particular order—John Carter, Hyde Park on Hudson, Hitchcock, To Rome with Love, and The Hobbit, though sheer disappointment and contempt for pretension make me want to throw Prometheus in there as well.)
So my annual delivery of year-end bile is reserved for films that—in my humble opinion—other critics and award-bestowers are valuing far beyond their worth. They are not, necessarily, bad films; some of them may even be good films. (There is nothing here as bad as, say, The Descendants or The Help, both of which made my list in 2011—and then, of course, went on to win Oscars.) These are films, however, that deserve to be brought down a peg or two, and I'm just the unlicensed internet hack to do it. Continue reading
In my review of Django Unchained, I mostly take the position that the movie doesn't really work as a movie, and that therefore the cultural debate taking place around it lends it a significance it doesn't really deserve. I still think this, but the review felt incomplete somehow. So I'm bringing in The Unenthusiastic Critic.
Spoiler Level: Low
Since so much controversy has sprung up around the new Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, I want to be absolutely clear about where I'm coming from on this. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: I'm reviewing an adaptation of a 30-year-old musical based on a 150-year-old book. Nonetheless, I'll do what I can.
Les Misérables, the new film version of the highly successful stage musical, is nearly three hours long.
It feels longer.
Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, on which the musical was based, is about 1,400 pages long.
The film feels longer.
The story covered by Les Misérables takes place over a period of roughly 17 years.
The experience of watching it all play out feels—you guessed it—even longer still.
Mere weeks ago, I dreamed a dream in which The Hobbit would be the most unendurable Hell I would face in a movie theater this year, but director Tom Hooper's overly literal, excessively bombastic, painfully tone-deaf film has killed that dream—along with three hours of my life, my love of musicals, and a good portion of my will to live.
There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather, and there are films—like Les Misérables—we simply cannot endure. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Nothing you don't get from the trailer.
It's estimated that a quarter of a million people lost their lives when, on December 26, 2004, an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a massive tsunami that impacted 14 countries. Indonesia was the hardest hit—with upwards of 160,000 deaths—but thousands also died in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other nations. Millions of people across South Asia—many already living in abject poverty—lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, lost access to food and clean drinking water; hundreds of thousands more would face death from resulting infectious diseases. Measured in lives lost, it was one of the 10 most devastating earthquakes ever recorded, and the deadliest tsunami in history.
And so—forgive me for being blunt—why do I give a fuck about one family of wealthy European tourists who survived? Continue reading