March 28, 2013

The Master (2012)

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

I'm not even sure where to start on this movie. I almost didn't finish it. I've sat all the way through every single bad movie I've ever watched in my entire life, but this one, I almost didn't make it through. Honestly, if several (yes, several!) people hadn't raved to me about how excellent it was, I probably would have given up. But instead, I kept waiting for it to turn around and become, at the very least, a mediocre movie. So I waited... and I waited... and I waited...

The problem was, every time I would start to nod off, or make up my mind that I was finally throwing in the towel, characters would start shouting or something mildly interesting would happen, keeping me baited for something. Then I would wait... and I would wait... and I would wait...

Remember how I talked about Amour being utterly unenjoyable to watch? It's like that here, but without my leaving with a sense of purpose for having watched it. With Amour, it may have been horrible to sit through, but I've often thought about its message since then and it's a movie that deeply affected me. This movie had none of that aftermath - just the horribly boring-to-watch part. This is why people hate the Oscars - all three lead actors were nominated for their roles. It's not to say they didn't do excellent work (except Amy Adams, who was fine, but has like 10 lines in the movie), but shouldn't the quality and/or entertainment value of the movie count for something? I know Hollywood likes to think of itself as really deep and appreciative of probing, psychological dramas, but it was just plain misleading to bill it as one of the best movies of 2012.

Final word: Did you ever read the play Waiting For Godot

March 23, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Emma Watson, Logan Lerman (aka Percy Jackson), and to a lesser extent: Paul Rudd, Kate Walsh, and Dylan McDermott

On its face, this movie might seem to be just another movie about a lonely teen with a crush (Can't Hardly Wait, A Walk to Remember, Can't Buy Me Love, shall I go on?). But this isn't your average bubblegum movie with a Top 40 soundtrack. For one thing, the music in this movie is awesome. The characters in the movie are actually sort of obnoxious hipsters who can't stop talking about their love of "good music" (wtf does that mean anyway??), but the music they play throughout the movie is actually good, so I guess they have a reason to act so superior. Oh, except when they've never heard David Bowie's song Heroes before (Uh, Moulin Rouge anyone?). For supposed music fans, I find it difficult to believe they've never heard this song. That's like being an art snob and not knowing all the works of Warhol or something.

The slightly disjointed part of the movie is the fact that all the characters are supposed to be in high school. Of course, we should all be used to teenagers acting like 25 year-olds on screen with shows like Gossip Girl, but I have to admit there were times when I had to smack my head like, really?? For instance, there is a Christmas party/gift exchange in which the gifts are nicer and more expensive than gifts I buy now, as an adult. Maybe I'm just cheap, but I have a hard time believing that seventeen year-olds buy suits for each others.

Also bugging? Emma Watson. I love her, of course, like any good Harry Potter fan, but this haircut and her American accent do her no favors here.

So the movie isn't perfect. And I realize from the number of criticisms I listed, it seems like it has a lot of flaws. But it is both funny and sad at the same time, which is always difficult to pull off. And I found it easy to relate to the characters, which makes you invested in what happens to them.

The best part of the movie, though, is how it all comes together in the end. It's very cleverly written to allude to a number of problems underneath the surface without actually telling you what they are, so when you finally figure it out, you feel so proud of yourself. An "aha" moment of sorts. It's the little things in life, people.

Final word: If you can stand movies about teen angst, this one is a must-see.

March 19, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro

I was really late to the party on this movie - I know it. I remember initially mocking it when I saw the previews because I couldn't possibly imagine pairing the chick from The Hunger Games with Bradley Cooper. But I've got to say, it worked. Between the dark eye make-up, sullen facial expressions, and sarcasm, I felt like she was a real adult (which is ironic, really, since I'm pretty sure every teenage girl embodies those exact three characteristics). Anyway, she was pretty good. Still not Oscar Best Actress good, but good enough to forget how disappointing The Hunger Games was. (That feeling, sadly, will dissipate when Catching Fire is released later this year and will probably continue its downward trend through the ill-conceived notion of four movies. Damn you, Harry Potter, for starting that trend!)

Bradley Cooper, on the other hand... I never thought I'd see him as an Oscar contender (not that Wedding Crashers and The Hangover weren't quality movies), but Hollywood really loves people who can act crazy. And he does an excellent job of it - I really felt like he was a ticking time bomb in the movie, ready to freak out at any moment. (Then again, I've known quite a few people like this in real life, so maybe it's not that hard to portray.)

I realize that I am partial to both romantic comedies and movies with depressing topics, so that probably accounts for my total infatuation with this movie. Even after all the Oscar hype, I still managed to be impressed by how much I enjoyed the movie. It had everything that encompasses a good movie - a real plot, characters than can make you experience a range of emotions, and a little something different than keeps it from becoming completely formulaic. This movie is quirky and endearing in the way that Juno was (that unfortunately allowed Diablo Cody to continue writing movies), but for a slightly older demographic. It also has the added benefit of not starring Michael Cera (how many movies must we be subjected to that cast him as a geeky, awkward teenager?).

This is the type of movie that has you actually rooting for the characters. Maybe it's the surrounding sports theme, but at times, I felt as inspired as the Notre Dame crowd cheering for Rudy to make it into the game (ok, maybe not quite). I find myself frequently hoping certain characters would die, so I'll take my wanting everyone to survive is a sign. And it was nice to watch a movie where you genuinely like the main characters (ahem, Denzel, ahem, Flight). 

Final word: I liked it even more than Argo.

p.s. Jennifer Lawrence's body looks amazing in this movie - it actually made me feel a little bad for sitting down, eating candy throughout the movie instead of working out or something.

March 14, 2013

End of Watch (2012)

Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera

There aren't a lot of new ideas out there circulating in the cop/crime genre - drugs, money, and guns can sum up pretty much every single movie involving cops. Throw in the occasional dirty cop or gang violence and presto! You have an action movie. So I commend this movie on coming up with the concept of shooting the entire movie documentary-style. But I hate - let me repeat, HATE - the bullsh*t Blair Witch camerawork in which almost the entire movie is filmed. It's shaky and you spend much more time looking up Jake Gyllenhaal's nose than you would ever want.

Speaking of Jake Gyllenhaal, I've never understood why women drooled over him. He's from the same gene pool as sad, saggy-faced Maggie Gyllenhaal. I mean, he's not terrible looking, but a shaved head does not suit him. At all. Did he learn nothing from Jarhead? Just labeling his character a military guy doesn't automatically make him more attractive. Especially if they don't even show him in the uniform...

And speaking of unattractive people... this chick from Magic Mike is in this movie. It's only worth mentioning because I'm happy to see her find a role that fits her (aka not a romantic interest). Let's hope this doesn't signal a rise in movie appearances from her.

The rest of the movie, not taken up by uncomfortably close-ups of Jake Gyllenhaal, trying to mentally figure out why America Ferrera looks so familiar (you probably watched Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and are too embarrassed to admit it), and completely unwatchable parts because you feel like you are experiencing life as a Parkinson's patient, is like an exercise in film editing. The interactions between the cops and the people of LA are mildly entertaining, but reads more like an extended episode of TLC's Police Women of Dallas. In fact, it takes a full 50 minutes for the main plot line of the movie to even really get started.

My favorite part of the movie was the 20 minutes near the end when it turned into an actual movie. And by actual movie, I mean a Hollywood-style action movie with real camera work and something that resembled a script. But that's the problem - just when I was starting to feel some respect for the attempt at a documentary-style movie, it turned into a regular Hollywood movie (which of course, makes the documentary filming portion look like a crappy high school project). It felt like the movie copped out by adding in this small section - it should have just stuck with the camera work that only gave bad angles to make it feel more authentic instead of selling out to make the ending actually watchable.

Final word: The best part of this movie was its soundtrack.

March 9, 2013

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, et al 
(aka that kid from Slumdog Millionaire and pretty much every famous old British actor except Helen Miren)

Do you ever find yourself drawn to British movies because afterward, you talk to yourself in a British accent? No? Well, even so, I think everyone can agree that the Brits make mostly entertaining stuff (notable exceptions include The NannyMonty Python, and anything Mr. Bean-related). I mean, how many shows of theirs have we copied? The Office, X Factor, America's Got Talent, Trading Spaces, What Not to Wear, Undercover Boss, etc. (Notice I didn't say we only copy quality programming.) The point is, we as Americans just love the British. It's as if we never tried to break away from them and start our own country 150+ years ago.

But in all seriousness, the Brits really know how to appreciate their actors. Here in America, we transition actors from starring leads in romantic comedies to the parents of new romantic leads at the first sign of a wrinkle or a gray hair. Or, even if we do decide not to relegate our older actors to tiny roles as grandparents in crappy kids movies, it ends up being a movie filled with jokes about being old (see: Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give, which no one will be able to convince me was NOT a super lame movie). Call the Brits "anti-ageists."

So back to the movie - it's good. Quite good, actually. I don't usually let big award nominations affect my opinion about movies, but when it got nominated for several Golden Globes, it reminded me that this was, in fact, a good movie and one worth reviewing. I had seen it previously and failed to put into words why I liked it. It has a certain... je ne sais quois... charm? Yes, that's it - the movie is charming.

I realize that this doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement of the movie, but honestly, when was the last time you watched a movie that was genuinely charming? I'm pretty sure this movie was billed as charming, except when I watched it on HBO last week I wanted to poke my own eyes out just to make the misery end.

My main qualm? It has nothing to do with the movie itself - it's the Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for Maggie Smith. There's nothing wrong with her performance, per se, it just doesn't seem to be that difficult to act like a cranky, racist old lady. Is her performance so groundbreaking that consider it to be one of the best of the year? Isn't this character awfully similar to the Dowager Countess she plays on Downton Abbey? Then again, Clint Eastwood continues to get critical acclaim for the exact same thing. Maybe this is just a form of gender equality.

Final word: Makes me like old people just a little bit more.

March 2, 2013

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas

Movie awards shows serve three main purposes, as far as I can tell:
  1. To promote the movie industry itself, by making people (like me) feel the inexplicable need to watch all the nominated and/or winning movies.
  2. To rake in lots of money - by having people go watch more movies (see #1) and by all the ad revenue from each of the 3 hour-long shows.
  3. To acknowledge good performances by actors.
And yes, I believe those motives rank in that exact order. That being said, sometimes it is helpful to avid movie-watchers such as myself. For instance, the Golden Globes introduced me to this otherwise unknown movie with a somewhat off-putting title.

The movie is really cute. I almost feel badly describing it as such because I feel like good romantic comedy-type movies always get described as "cute" or "charming", whereas dramas get more sophisticated adjectives attached to them like "riveting" or "creative" or whatever. Maybe that's why dramas tend to win at the Oscars.

So the movie - it's about a scientist trying to introduce salmon into the Yemen River, which is a completely odd premise for a movie. Ewan McGregor does a wonderful job as the socially awkward scientist (and really, what scientist isn't socially awkward?) and it's almost surprising how not weird it is to see he and Emily Blunt paired together. Then again, I am biased because I absolutely adore Ewan McGregor and after seeing Emily Blunt in The Five Year Engagement, pretty much any co-star would be an improvement on Jason Segel.

Final word: Unexpected, in a good way.