July 2011

Four Lions

A film that takes the power out of both the Jihadists and terror-peddling fear-mongers.


It has been said that to understand a thing, one needs to be able to make fun of it. That is absolutely the premise behind Chris Morris' Four Lions, one of the most critically-acclaimed and highest grossing movies internationally last summer. It didn't create as massive a splash with American audiences that it did overseas, no doubt because we find it difficult, even ten years later, to see the humor in jihadist terrorism. However, it's precisely that fact that makes it so absolutely necessary for us to be able to treat the topic lightly. This of Four Lions as a kind of contemporary Dr. Strangelove. "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jihadist."

Trailer: Restless (2011)

I get a little peeved when directors who should know better borrow so heavily from classic films as to push past the point of homage. There will never be another Harold and Maude, and to sneak its original setup into a doe-eyed indie flick seems a little cheap. Especially for Gus Van Sant. For shame.

That being said, the trailer for Restless actually got me intrigued. Maybe it's because the leads are so darn cute. They exude chemistry just from what's in the trailer, which suggests a really quite natural performance from each of the whippersnappers. The dying girl and lost boy combo has been done a little often--I'd wager I can tell you exactly what the latter takes away from his whole ordeal--but they do make a handsome couple, I'll admit. Plus, there's an imaginary friend hanging about. Movies don't do enough with imaginary friends. And he actually looks like an interesting fellow. 

But I can't get over the Harold and Maude steal. Watch the trailer and tell me the lead's not a dead (ahem) ringer for Harold and his bleary ennui. The setup and the follow-through appear almost identical, except maybe we've got a bit more of a heads-up as to the finish this time around if we can surmise the whole plot from the trailer. At least Van Sant will lend a certain charm to what seems like a derivative piece of screenwriting. 



A Disney celebration of horse and hair


In 1937, Walt Disney changed the world with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Seven-three years and fifty animated films later, Walt Disney Animation Studios presents Tangled, a re-telling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale "Rapunzel". Much was made of Tangled being the 50th Disney animated film, and while it is very Disney - happily ever after endings and all - it is also a celebration of Walt Disney's vision of entertainment and storytelling.



Tom Hanks is lovable and talented

But you already knew that!


I will see any movie Tom Hanks touches.  He is so versatile, talented, unassumingly good looking, makes me think he would be a really good dad, is America’s sweetheart, blah, blah, blah.  It’s on every American’s birth certificate that they have to love Tom Hanks.  But I won’t see his new film Larry Crowne even though it stars Hanks and America’s other sweetheart, Julia Roberts.  Even that star power couldn’t save the film. It has only grossed $21.9 million dollars worldwide since its July 1st premiere.  Sorry, Tom.  Despite this very uncommon mis-step, let’s remember why we love Tom Hanks with a trip through memory lane of his movie roles and producing gigs.  


A particularly beautiful movie


I first became aware of Danny Boyle's 2007 Sunshine via the breathtaking soundtrack composed for the movie by John Murphy and the band Underworld. (Credit where due, I first heard the soundtrack courtesy this brilliant video.) One thing led to another, and I found myself on the Wikipedia article for Sunshine, a little known film with a big cast, big production, big special effects and a big story.


In 2050, the sun is dying out, leaving the world in perpetual darkness and winter. The Icarus spacecraft was sent from Earth to detonate a stellar bomb in the sun, in theory reigniting the star and bringing light and warmth back to our planet. For unknown reasons, the mission failed, and seven years later, the Icarus II, under the command of Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) leaves Earth to accomplish the task of its predecessor.


Needless to say, it's not that easy.

Review: The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick's ambitious film The Tree of Life has been at the center of an interesting (and some may say disturbing) discussion about the cinema-going public. At a number of theaters both big and small around the country, there have been reports of walk-outs during this film getting a disproportionate amount of media attention. Now, it's not that people don't walk out of every movie that hits theaters. From the biggest blockbusters to the broadest comedies and most revered dramas, there's no such thing as a movie that everyone loves or everyone gets. So why are Tree of Life walk-outs newsworthy? Because it's a supremely challenging and non-traditional film. As with other famous walk-out movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, people are fleeing the theater for Tree of Life because it's a writ-large art film without a straight narrative. It takes patience and attentiveness, and it never tells the audience how to feel. And while some aspects of Tree of Life strain against the uncompromising poetics throughout the 139-minute run time, the result is a movie of unparalleled beauty and earned profundity.

Netflix Price Hikes May Topple Movie-Rental Giant

Why new a la carte pricing on webstreamed rentals could hurt its marketshare.


Netflix was a godsend when it came out. Blockbuster was tail-spinning and other movie rental stores had already crashed and burned. Online movie rentals were still pretty new, and never had anything current besides. Forget On Demand, it cost more to see a movie On Demand than it would have a month prior to see it in the theater. With the appearance of Netflix, suddenly we had movies at our fingertips, point and click, wait two days, keep it as long as you want, no late fees...aahhh.

     Well that was then and this is now. Now you can get a fairly new film for $1 out of a Redbox, Blockbuster finally got its ass in gear and joined the online market, and Netflix has been attempting to innovate to stay on top. First it was webstreaming videos, and they even added it for free. A perk of doing business with them. Good move. Last year, after signing a deal to get on Xbox 360, customers could opt out of by-mail DVDs and just go webstream (Instant Play) for a smaller rate. Also a good move. Now, Netflix has sent out an email telling all By-mail users that they will no longer get webstream as a perk, but will have to pay a (fairly high) premium to keep it. For 1-disc by-mail you currently pay $9.99 a month and get streaming free. With the changes, customers that want to keep streaming and their 1-disc by-mail will have to pay $15.95 a month, and the worst part about it is that there are no additional services. You're just paying more for what you're already getting. Bad move.

"2001: A Space Odyssey"

Kubrick and Clarke go far, far beyond the infinite



Recently, I read Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, completely ignorant of the story itself (besides some HAL misquotations). Similarly, when it came to watch Stanley Kubrick's version of the story, I went into the movie clean. I don't think I've seen so much as a clip, or a single scene, of the movie. How this is, I'm not sure. Maybe the bubble I live in is stronger than I think it is.


Amigo (2011) Trailer

I wonder if kids seeing films like Amigo these days go, "hey, it's just like Avatar except the people aren't blue." Because we haven't had one in a while, here's an upcoming movie about a white dude who ends up befriending the indigenous people he's supposed to be doing battle with. Hollywood never seems to tire of the white savior trope. At least Chris Cooper's hanging out here, even if he does have to spout some cheesy lines. I honestly can't tell if this movie will be good from the trailer because to me it looks exactly like every other historical drama like it. Amigo will be out this August. It'll probably be an inspirational sort of deal, if you're into that. 


Four Great Platonic Love Stories

Why movies don't always need to play the sexy game


As movie fans, we seem to be all about the romantic love. The majority of films that are released feature at least some kind of heterosexual coupling, even if the relationship arises under unusual circumstances. Many of the female roles in film serve as the romantic interest to the male lead. We just seem to love the "will they, won't they" game and the dramatic tension it creates. But then there are the filmmakers who aim to achieve something different in the relationships between their characters. When you take the sexual stakes out of a relationship, you can allow a real human connection to be seen: a connection from which each character learns and grows. As a watcher of movies, these are the love stories I'm most interested in; the ones that don't depend on the question of "winning" the girl, but that actually portray two humans connecting in a meaningful way. 

Cars 2 is Pretty Blah

If you’re excited about seeing Cars 2 (and your kid probably is, due to the extremely heavy marketing of the film on everything from food to insurance commercials), you might want to just wait it out and see this one on video. If you just need a way to pass a hot afternoon and want to do it in a theater, fine—just don’t get your hopes up. You might want to head to the bounce house or something instead.

The movie is pretty much irrelevant to the first film. Gone are the poignant messages about friendship, pride in hard work, and respecting other people (I mean cars); instead, there are a bunch of toilet humor jokes, a really thin, predictable plot that you figure out within a few minutes into the film, plenty of gratuitous violence, and, as with any other Pixar film, a complete downplay on female characters. In short, it was a big disappointment—especially for a Pixar movie.