Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Triple-Feature Part I: Wanted

Wanted
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Released June 27, 2008
Seen June 29, 2008

From its very beginning, “Wanted” is a heavily stylized movie which relies heavily on its many wonderfully-executed action sequences, which are not for the squeamish. Fortunately, the plot is even decent and the movie works better than it perhaps should. James McAvoy, putting on a flawless American accent, sounds oddly like Shia LaBoeuf, but it’s not a problem, and it’s cool to see him in this kind of performance after his recent forays into dramatic acting with “The Last King of Scotland” and “Atonement” as well as his comedy success “Starter for 10”. Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman are cast perfectly for their parts as well. The movie has a great sardonic wit that carries through its runtime and really adds to its overall effect. Set to a great soundtrack, the movie proceeds along at an energetic pace. It doesn’t care about adhering to strict conventions or pretending to be believable, and that’s where it truly succeeds. The movie is perfectly summed up by one of Freeman
’s line: “If no one told you that bullets flew straight, and I gave you a gun and told you to hit the target, what would you do?” The answer, of course, is to have someone stand right in front of the target and watch the bullet weave around them. It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but the incredible action scenes and fantastic ending make this popcorn flick more than worth it.

B+

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Film Review: My Blueberry Nights

Note: This is the last in my series of backtracking through the movies I have seen in the past two months and haven’t had time to review. I'll be posting reviews from my triple-feature from a weeks ago soon, and it'll be fresh stuff from then on.

My Blueberry Nights
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Released April 4, 2008
Seen May 5, 2008

For those who don’t know, Wong Kar Wai is a Chinese director whose films are always extremely artistic and colorful, and more than often purposely sparse on plot. I have only seen “In the Mood for Love” out of his work, which is an interesting film in which surprisingly little actually happens, but I appreciate it as a quality film. His latest effort, his first American film, is a different kind of experience. He casts some terrific actors in various colorful locales and follows (I use this word lightly) their journeys. The movie is definitely intoxicating, and it’s quite easy to get sucked in. Once there, however, the movie doesn’t go very far. While lengthy shots that look like a car advertisement are fascinating for a moment, the film feels truly disjointed and aimless. If that’s supposed to be the point, and I believe it is, the elements of the movie aren’t fulfilling enough left as disorganized as they are. It’s definitely a beautiful film, and one which might be just as effective with the sound off, save of course for a fascinating performance from Natalie Portman which almost makes the whole thing worth it. Norah Jones takes on her first acting job here, and the result is intriguing – she’s terrific in all her scenes with Jude Law, but otherwise, she fizzles and it’s not that pretty. If you want to get lost in thought for an hour and a half, this film is a good way to go, but overall it needs just a bit more spark to make it worthwhile.

C+

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Film Review: Iron Man

Note: This continues my series of backtracking through the movies I have seen in the past two months and haven’t had time to review. I’ll be catching up with one more review coming up soon.

Iron Man
Directed by Jon Favreau
Released May 2, 2008
Seen May 6, 2008

It’s hard to make a good comic book movie. Recent attempts have produced rather dim results, like the final installments of the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” trilogies and both “Hulk” movies. I am thrilled to report that “Iron Man” actually does it right. In fact, it’s even better than the good ones, like the first two “X-Men”. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as billionaire Tony Stark, and even though he’s essentially playing himself, he creates a likeable yet cocky character who really is the ultimate superhero. The story, from what I can remember and what I’ve heard, is pretty much faithful to the comics, save for some appropriate modernization of the situation in which Tony Stark creates the Iron Man armor. The film is thoroughly entertaining and action-packed. It’s a dramatic film but it’s infused with so much comedy seamlessly blended in, which works so well partially due to the particular talents of Downey Jr. The movie also includes small shout-outs to fans of the comic (or rather the animated TV show, which I used to make), which make the experience all the more enjoyable. The ensemble cast does its part, and the movie balances out its weaker elements by giving Gwyneth Paltrow a gloriously small amount of lines and by tailoring Jeff Bridges’ character to his penchant for shouting a lot. The effects are superb. And this movie contains probably the best ending I’ve seen in a long time (additionally, be aware that there’s a scene after the credits). In short, go see it! It’s fantastic! I’m already excited about “Iron Man 2”!

A-

Friday, July 11, 2008

Film Review: The Visitor

Note: This continues my series of backtracking through the movies I have seen in the past two months and haven’t had time to review. I’ll be catching up on several more reviews over the next few weeks

The Visitor
Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Released April 18, 2008
Seen May 6, 2008

At this point in the 2008 calendar year, I would have to say that “The Visitor” is probably the most critically-beloved film to make a big enough splash to be widely known (Metacritic ranks it #12 on their list of best-reviewed movies of the year). I’d love to be able to jump on the bandwagon and wholeheartedly agree with the praise heaped upon it, but I wasn’t as impressed as many others. To start off, I’m a huge fan of Richard Jenkins from his stellar work on “Six Feet Under” and in 2005’s “North Country”. He plays his solemn, quiet role here well, though I do enjoy when he has a bit more of a sardonic wit about him. The premise of the film – a college professor visits his New York City apartment to find two illegal immigrants living there – sounds intriguing enough, but I think that the movie allows the premise to speak for itself too much. The script skips the real interesting parts of the developing relationship between Walter and his new friends to focus on the problems that follow instead. For a movie so seemingly uninterested in adhering to standard conventions (especially from Thomas McCarthy, whose previous film was the wonderful “The Station Agent”), it would have been nice if it had spent some time just watching the relationships evolve rather than forcing action and twists and turns on the story. I understand why that’s all relevant, but the movie would have been a far more powerful and moving experience for me had that been emphasized. I didn’t connect or truly sympathize with the characters, but I desperately wanted to. The music in the film is great, however, and it’s cool to see both NYU and Connecticut College take center stage as the locales for this film. It aims to fulfill the true independent film experience, but I’ve been much more impressed with other fare. This is by no means bad, but I would recommend seeing “The Station Agent” instead.

B-