Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Armed With A Stick."

CARNAGE (2011)
Roman Polanski. Christoph Waltz. Jodie Foster. Kate Winslet. John C. Reilly. Sounds great, right? And then you see the plot. Two sets of parents meet to discuss their two sons who have gotten into a fight. Question mark? It's an eighty minute parent conference. It shouldn't be as much fun as it is. But between the great writing and the stellar acting, it's hard not to look away from what, in any other situation, would be a snooze-fest. 

To be honest, since I do love Roman Polanski, I had hoped the script would be a little better than it was. Which isn't to say that it was bad. It was a well done script. But there were bits and pieces--mainly, the fact that it relied too much occasionally on the men vs. women dynamic and a little-too-hard-to-watch vomit scene (there's cringy-but-epic hard to watch, then there's I-need-to-go-home-and-splash-holy-water-on-my-eyes hard to watch. This was the latter). But to be fair, Polanski had a hard act to follow with the likes of similar small-group-of-people-stuck-together movies like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and it's been a while since anyone's been bold enough to take something like that on. 

Still, the main draw of this movie was the acting. Hands down. I've always been a big Christoph Waltz fan, and he definitely delivers as the aloof business man who can't get off his cellphone. His wife is played by Kate Winslet and with her quiet intensity, they make a fantastic power couple. Jodie Foster also gives a brilliant, emotional, hysterical performance, and if I have any complaint about her it's that she didn't get enough time playing off Christoph Waltz as they were both the strongest players in the film. John C. Reilly, ever underrated, appears to be something of the "odd man out" at first glance, but he holds his own and gives a solid performance. All in all, it's a great movie simply to watch fantastic actors play off each other, and it's an easy 80 minutes so it never overstays its welcome. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Good, The Bad, And The Disappointing.

Here's the thing: I'm okay with bad movies. Really, I am. If a movie is bad, but understands that it is bad, even better. I can't tell you how many times I've watched Deep Blue Sea (1999) and thoroughly enjoyed it. What I can't stand is a disappointing movie. A movie that has a lot of potential, but tries too hard to be greater than it is. Dream House unfortunately fell under the disappointing category. The plot was promising. A man named Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) moves into a house with a dark and bloody history with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and kids. Maybe it's a story that's been told before, but it's one that, for the most part, has a good history of always delivering a satisfying tale.

The actors themselves are all very talented and they make of the script what they can, but you can only breath so much life into something that refuses to live. I understand that the case could be made that half of the movie takes place in Will Atenton's fantasy land and therefore you can make the argument that his fantasy is stilted and flat. Except for the one simple fact that Will is supposed to be a successful writer, and therefore he should be able to dream up some better dialog. Still, the film limps along--wounded, but still pushing through, mainly by way of the excellent chemistry between Craig, Weisz, and Watts. It's not until the third act that it really falls flat on its face, pulling in unnecessary characters, trying to make things fit where they don't belong, and generally mucking up the entire structure of the story. In the end, the film's biggest issue is that it simply tries too hard: on one hand, we have a movie about a man gone mad with grief, on the other hand, we have a whodunit helmed by an unreliable narrator. It was Fight Club (1999) and Taken (2008) with just a splash of The Shining (1980). It couldn't chose between being a dark psychological thriller or a campy horror movie, and instead fell somewhere in the dead-end grey area between "a feel good" film and a "good feel bad" film.

My only advice to someone who wants to see this film? Don't watch the trailer. It gives away a twist that might have bumped the movie up a star for me if I hadn't been waiting for it to come around. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

And You Thought Godzilla Was Scary?

A confession: the first time I saw this movie, I hated it. I didn't want to see it again. Ever. I couldn't understand why there was such a big fuss around the movie. It was slow, long, and boring. But a couple years later, I was strapped to a chair and forced to watch it against my will. Then again, a couple years after that. And finally, after the what must be the third or fourth time seeing it, I'm actually starting to get it. Lost In Translation follows the brief and fleeting quasi-romance of a washed out actor (Bill Murray) and a recent college graduate (Scarlett Johansson), as they both struggle to keep their heads above water in the electric culture shock of Tokyo, Japan. 

The script itself is pretty good and Bill Murray works it well, his comic timing folds in perfectly with the easy, straight-face humor. The characters themselves are nice, dynamic, and human, but I still find myself not able to actually like any of them, with the except of maybe Anna Faris' character who was just too dim-witted to understand her own ridiculousness. Still, despite the faults of this movie, I have to give credit where credit it due--the directing is phenomenal. Sofia Coppola won the Oscar for best directing on this one, and it was well deserved (edit: Sofia Coppola should have won the Oscar for best directing on this one. There I go, thinking the Oscars have a sense of justice again). This movie is a lesson in atmosphere, in camera angles, in tone. Every second you watch it, you feel like you're in Tokyo, you feel the claustrophobia, the headaches, the culture shock. The real strength of this movie also happens to be the one thing that keeps me away from it; it's over ninety minutes of visual jet lag. And so, yes, I have to commend the artistry and the precision that it took Sofia Coppola to keep that vibrant intensity for the entirety of the movie. Truly a lesson in the craft of directing. Now excuse me while I lay down and take a melatonin. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

With Great Power, Comes Youtube.

It's an age old question: if you were a superhero, would you use your powers for good or evil? Some of us like to imagine ourselves saving children from burning buildings. Others like to imagine what it would be like to get back at the old lady downstairs who knocks her broom handle through their floors.  Chronicle takes the question to a literal level by testing it on three high school boys--the class president, the intellectual tool, and the downtrodden loner. They stumble upon something unknown and absorb superhuman powers, but the true test, as always, is learning to control these powers. The entire movie is "chronicled" via various different videocameras, which is an interesting devise for a movie like this even if it distracts from the actually content on screen from time to time. The plot runs through the familiar teen-movie themes of bullying and disconnecting from those around you, but the actors manage to pull it off to at least make the familiar ride enjoyable the second time around.  

Is it a tired and old morality play about the consequences of too much power? Of course it is. But if it ain't broke, why fix it, right? So maybe the message was a little heavy-handed, and maybe it was all something we've seen before a thousand and one times. Still, I went it knowing exactly what I was getting into, and on its own standards, the movie delivered everything I expected from it. I got into the characters, felt for their plights, and all at a good pace. Predictable and cliché at times, but a solid and just plain fun film, which is more than most mainstream movies seem to be able to brag about these days.