Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Reviews

Yet again it's been way too long since I reviewed some movies. Here's a bunch.

Ides of March - In 2005 George Clooney directed, co-wrote and starred in a small political film with a great cast, Good Night, and Good Luck. With Ides of March he does the same thing. Clooney plays a Clinton-like governor running in a primary for president. Philip Seymour Hoffman is his campaign chair and Paul Giamatti the campaign chair of his main competitor. Ryan Gosling is his idealistic media consultant and the movie plots his political disillusionment. It's talky but there's good scenery chewing and pairing Hoffman against Giamatti is inspired (I guess Clooney can hire anyone he wants). In the end the plot was predictable and the trailer showed most of it. I enjoyed it (a lot) but somehow expected more.

Moneyball - is based on the book by Michael Lewis about how the Oakland A's managed to rebuild a successful baseball team after losing three star players and having a very limited budget. I hadn't read the book, but I am now. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former player who never lived up to his promise and became the general manager of the A's. Jonah Hill is the wiz-kid statistician who finds players that most scouts overlook. They test a theory that on-base-percentage is the most important statistic and that players who take a lot of pitches (and tire out opposing pitchers) and generate a lot of walks, will lead to more runs and wins. It's not a traditional sports film but it does fit into the genre. Pitt and Hill are quite good and I found the story very engaging. In an era of 10 nominations for Best Picture, at this point, Moneyball will probably get one.

50/50 - tries to find the humor in cancer and it almost succeeds. It's based on the experiences of the writer Will Reiser who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his twenties. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the lead and Seth Rogen is his best friend. It was pleasant and respectful enough but I found it a bit shallow. His girlfriend breaks up with him but the film hints she was going to do so anyway and while it pays some lip service to how difficult it is for her, it's very one-sided in the treatment. I suspect Reiser is still bitter. His doctors are universally bad, from the inhuman oncologist to the inexperienced (and incompetent) counselor. It's trying to be a comedy but it skips over all the difficulties of treatment. He vomits once, gets high a lot, and there's no mention of how he manages his job or deals with the crazy system of health insurance. But fine, it's trying to be a comedy about how people manage. He goes on dates, makes new friends while getting chemo, gets a dog and avoids his mother. I'm a sucker for scenes where friends (really) talk about (really) dying so I did shed a tear or two, but I found Gordon-Levitt's character to be really one-dimensional, he was all about the cancer. Rogen was his typical character and they give him depth with one object found in his house. I saw it with a group of peole and a good number really liked it, but I wish it tried a little harder.

The Guard - is a small Irish film starring Brendan Gleeson as a small town cop and Don Cheadle as an FBI agent sent to investigate drug traffickers. Gleeson is abrasive, racist, and otherwise flawed. Cheadle is straight laced and out of his element. So a standard buddy cop film, but it's not quite that. It is quite fun and at times quite funny.

Contagion - is a thriller by Steven Soderbergh about a worldwide pandemic and the efforts of the CDC to contain it. It's unusual because of its storytelling style. It's an ensemble cast and while we see a few patients (most notably Matt Damon's family), we mostly see scientists trying to find a cure and track the cause of the outbreak. We also follow an alarmist conspiracy minded blogger. It's almost dragnet like in its just the facts kind of approach. There isn't much character development and there are some bizarre plot points. An investigator gets kidnapped and then that storyline is dropped until there's an unlikely denouement. The outbreak happens over the better part of a year and it seems like a lot of society collapses. I was very curious as to how people and economies were surviving or functioning and nothing covered that. Science does pretty well in this film though several characters have some significant flaws. They aren't there to provide any character arcs, they just make the people more human. But I found it very odd what Soderbergh choose to include in this story and what he choose to leave out.

Killer Elite - is an action thriller with Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. It got mixed reviews with most of the complaints being that it was too complicated. It sounded right up my alley and it basically was. It reminded me of another Statham film, The Bank Job. It's set in the 80s and based on a supposedly true story. When his mentor, De Niro is kidnapped by a sheik, mercenary Statham is compelled to kill several SAS members who killed the sheik's son. However, Owen works for a secret organization of ex-SAS members and tries to protect them from Statham and his crew. There are a lot of people and it is a bit confusing at times, but there are real characters here with lots of shades of grey and realistic action filmed well. This is a solid thriller.

Point Blank - is a French crime thriller. A male nurse get caught up with a hitman when he witnesses the attempted murder of one of his patients. There are a few fun chase sequences but the story gets sillier as it goes along. Still, it's fun (and short) and unlike a lot of films, it's based in the real world.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil - is a really fun horror comedy. It's the standard story of obnoxious college students being killed by crazy redneck hillbillies in the mountains, except it's told from the point of view of the hillbillies and they aren't trying to kill them. They're just two friends who bought a fixer-up vacation cabin in the woods and rescue a drowning victim. It is bloody as it works it's way through all the cliches, but it's also very funny. Alan Tudyk, and Tyler Labine both make Tucker and Dale (respectively) quite sympathetic.

Trollhunter - I finally saw this IFFBoston film. This is a Norwegian film shot as a documentary in the Blair Witch style. A group of filmmakers come across a government employed trollhunter. Yup, trolls wander around Norway and a government conspiracy keeps the news from the general public. I thought it started out slow but enjoyed the reveals in the end.

Better This World - is about the trial of Bradley Crowder and David McKay who were arrested as domestic terrorists planning to bomb the 2008 RNC. They were caught because of the work of FBI informant Brandon Darby but the film makes a case that Darby really incited their actions. There's a lot here about how the system of using informants and the high stakes the criminal justice system puts on the word terrorism is perhaps leading to some very unjust decisions.

The Interruptors - is a documentary by the director of Hoop Dreams (perhaps the best documentary of all time). It follows members of CeaseFire, who are mostly ex-cons and volunteer in Chicago trying to prevent violence among gangs. They don't try to talk people out of gangs or otherwise address societal problems, they try to intercede right at the point where one person makes a decision to hit, stab or shot another and get them not to. It follows three interruptors as they work with various people. A lot of the stories are compelling and some of the resolutions at the end are quite surprising. A lot of times I wondered how the filmmakers managed to get the shots and be in the places they were. It's not Hoop Dreams, but it's a great film.

The Tillman Story - is a documentary from last year about the army's cover up of the death of Pat Tillman. It's a powerful story and the earnestness of his friends and family compared to cowardliness of those protecting the coverup is disturbing.

The A-Team -I watched the original TV series as a kid and caught this on cable as I had no need to see it in the theater. It was better than I thought but too long with too many missions. Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper were reasonably good and there was a lot of over-the-topness.

The Karate Kid - this was the remake from last year staring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It's fine though it's a bit too long. There's no need to make this though I doubt kids today would watch the almost 30 year-old original.

United 93 - I rewatched this on 9/11 and think it's great. You know what's going to happen and you're on the edge of your seat the whole time and are brought to tears. It's not at all sensational and it just tries to present the facts as best we know them. Greengrass succeeds in making you feel like you're there with a not too shaky handheld camera. A lot of the people in the control rooms are playing themselves, so it's hard to refute the authenticity. It's really a great film.


Shea said...

Just saw "we need to talk about kevin" last night, it's based on the fairly disturbing book and is out in the UK now but comes out in the States in January. Be real interested in your review of this flick, whether or not you read the book first.

Howard said...

Added it to the watchlist