Thursday, June 6, 2013

Now You See Me ... Wish I Hadn't

Now You See Me is a magic heist thriller with an ensemble cast of usually enjoyable and talented actors. Spoiler alert! They're wasted on screen here. Though there are enjoyable scenes and it delivers the required twists and turns at the "right" moments, it never pulls all of its pieces together into a good movie.

The reveals and twists are often quite boringly predictable. There are several scenes where it's revealed to the audience that a scene we saw earlier was actually something different. Pretty standard fare, and when done right it can be fun. You can see something similar in a lot of heist movies, think Ocean's 11 or more recently Trance. You can also see this done better in the magic thriller The Prestige. It even has Michael Caine in it! Come on! Here is one of the biggest problem with Now You See Me: there's nothing more there. Nothing will be uncovered on repeat viewings. There is no mystery and there is no foreshadowing beyond the heavy-handed and awkwardly obvious. Those earlier scenes with a shadowy figure in a hoodie? They are just there so that the figure can be revealed later on. Who pulled all of the magicians together and gave them their instructions? Ugh. Why do the two protagonists kiss? I actually have no idea on that one but I don't think seeing this movie again would help that.

There's nothing wrong with how the movie is shot and it does keep a consistent mood throughout. However, I was bored for a great deal of the movie and not due to a lack of action on screen. There are plenty of sweeping and zooming camera angles to misdirect you from the real magic trick here: stealing your money.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weird Wednesday: A Town Called Panic (2009)

Stop-motion animation is an interesting thing. It's often very time consuming and lends itself well to animated stories that add a certain level of 'realism' since we are essentially watching puppets rather than drawn images. I love films like Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and ParaNorman partly because a great deal of work goes into creating each individual frame. The dedication, care, and love that goes into working with stop-motion adds to the emotional appeal of it. Chicken Run was worked on for four years leading up to its release. A Town Called Panic (2009) was made in under a year with very crude looking characters and animation. I still loved it.

Starting as a television series in 2000, A Town Called Panic (2009) was made as a spin-off film and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 as the first ever stop-motion film to be shown. The show was very crudely animated with episodes lasting about 5 minutes and following the adventures of Cowboy, Indian, and Horse (who look like cheap toy figures) in their small village. The film has the same town and characters while adding some more and increasing the scale and of course the length. The stop-motion look is a mixture of Robot Chicken and Gumby rather than the finely crafted detail of a Wallace and Gromit adventure.

Cowboy and Indian want to get something nice for Horse's birthday so they set out to build him a barbecue. A barbecue needs bricks and what better place to get bricks than the internet, right? They accidentally order 50 million bricks instead of the desired 50 which sets in motion a series of bizarre events full of zany madcap adventure (Fun fact: most madcap is zany). The film plays out a lot like a classic Looney Tunes episode with plenty of slapstick but it's also full of surreal jokes and gags.

Though a french-language film, it's actually co-produced between Belgium, Luxenbourg, and France. Don't worry though, Netflix has subtitles. Much of the story is carried well visually but it does have good voice-acting and killer dialogue. The soundtrack, much like the film, is all over the place with mambo, garage rock, and Phil Spector. At an hour and 15 minutes, it flies by pretty quickly and I wanted more. Good thing there are 20 episodes of the show. Weird and wonderful. Check out the ridiculously epic trailer:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Top Ten Documentaries

Hey, look, it's someone other than Joe writing on this blog! As I said before, Joe will probably post more than my sister and I ever do. What can I say, he's dedicated. Anyway, this weekend my soon to be sister-in-law-in-law (it's a thing) graduated from college!!! Congrats Jasmine! Well, she texted me Sunday to ask for my top ten documentaries, as we have discussed how good documentaries are before and (I'm assuming) she now has some extra time on her hands. Instead of just giving her a list, I decided to blog about it since Joe has been so on top of things.

Please note that these are in no particular order. The link will take you to the trailer for the film.

1. The Imposter
In 1994, Nicholas Barclay disappears from his home. Three years later, he is found halfway across the globe in Spain. Only, this isn't truly the child they were looking for. I found this film fascinating with it's use of interviews and reenactments with the actual people. Also, in a way, this is a story of redemption, but I don't want to give too much away. Watch the film. It's several tortured people all in a bad place.

2. The Invisible War
I've read about military rapes, but I never realized how bad it can be until I watched this film. The number of women that spoke who were raped by a fellow officer and then charged with adultery, when HE was married and HE got away without punishment, made me sick to my stomach. It's a very simple request that is being made by this film: allow trials to happen outside of the military. No one should ever be allowed to get away with rape.

3. Side By Side
The subject of film vs. digital is explored in this documentary. What I love about this is all of the directors and cinematographers that got involved in this project. On the side of digital, you have Lucas and Cameron who will never touch film again. On the side of film, you have Nolan who will probably use film until it's death. And then you have everyone in between. It's a great look at the pros and cons of both works of art and Keanu Reeves should actually just start doing interviews now.

4. Bowling for Columbine
Let me start by saying I hate that trailer. It makes the film look like every other Michael Moore film in existence. He goes into a place, argues with people, is way too confrontational, and people get mad. This movie is not really that. Yes, he does that, yes, he talks about gun control, but the beauty of this movie is how he handles the story of Columbine. This has the best interview with Marilyn Manson I have ever seen, and there are changes that he attempts that are helpful and good ideas. So, not all about gun control...and if you skip the end, it's way less confrontational too, haha.

5. How to Survive a Plague
I found this documentary hauntingly powerful. The use of the footage from that time is fantastic, as well as the interviews that were filmed more recently. It's a great look at the battle that was fought by so many people that helped us get to where we are today with AIDS.

6. This Film is Not Yet Rated
An interesting look at the rating system in America, the film examines why the board is confidential, what the non-existent guidelines are, and why violence is okay but sex in film is not.  I highly recommend it.

7. Searching For Sugarman
This movie tells a great deal about the human spirit. It's such an uplifting tale of a man who made a difference without even knowing it and the moment that he realized what happened. I loved this, and not just because of the look at Detroit that was there. A fantastic film.

8. Girl 27
In the 1930's, a girl who was hired to perform at a party for some studio executives was raped. However, no one talks about it and nothing was done about it. This story was fascinating, and all of the ways in which our system of justice messed up was disturbing. I loved all of it.

9. Deliver Us From Evil
There has been a lot of press over the last few years regarding the Catholic Church and sexual abuse scandals, however none of these have been able to show the truth behind it like this documentary. The priest accused actually speaks and takes responsibility. It's...disturbing...but also very informative.

10. Waiting for Superman
A look at the education system and how it fails young people. This movie does a great job of evaluating all the problems, the unions, the testing, everything. It was fantastic.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Stellar cast with solid performances all around. Glamour and spectacle are really sold to you with this latest screen adaptation of the famous novel. Well, maybe not sold. More like 'flung at' or 'pounded into.' Bright lights and beautiful decorations with sweeping shots, but what's underneath it all? Not much.

I felt as though the movie was continuously screaming at me. This is important! Pay attention to me! Did you catch that symbolism?! How about now?! It seemed like anything and everything was done to keep me engaged. A character is typing on a typewriter while narrating? Too boring. Let's make the type appear on the screen and fade away while we zoom in on his tortured face.

Stop. Just stop.

But it wouldn't stop. Almost two and a half hours for a story that would've taken thirty minutes. Maybe the original story doesn't have this problem or maybe it does but either way, this movie isn't good.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The latest Danny Boyle movie, Trance, is trippy. It's loud both audibly and visually. The pounding music, the bright garish lighting and sets, and the sweeping titled camera angles really made the whole thing feel like a rave. There are a lot of scenes that break the rushing flow of everything and felt like 'drops' in electronic dance music. Maybe I'm giving more credit than is due for the breaks in the flow and it's actually just poor tonal consistency. I'm not sure but I am sure that it was probably a lot of fun making this movie and it shows. If you're looking for an enjoyable twists-and-turns thriller, I recommend Trance.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Le Samouraï

I've been wanting to see Jean Pierre-Melville films for a while now and recently acquired a Criterion edition of Le Samourai. I loved every minute of it.

The first roughly ten minutes have no dialogue and set the mood for the film. A man is lying on a bed in a sparse apartment smoking a cigarette. This text comes on screen: "There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps..." The lone man, Jef Costello is an intensely methodical hitman who only speaks when it's needed and seems to value solitude more than those around him.

During a hit at a nightclub, he meets the gaze of a woman while leaving the room of his victim. He is seen leaving by several witnesses and is pulled in by the police along with countless others matching the description. Due to his method, he has an airtight alibi: he drove to the club in a stolen car, he disposed of the gun afterwards, and he has a woman who is more than willing to testify that he was with her at the time. Witnesses are unsure if he is the person that they've seen and the only woman who clearly saw his face, claims that it wasn't him. Why does she lie for him? Why was he hired for this specific job? Will his cool demeanor hold up to an overzealous police detective who is convinced he is the killer?

I don't want to spoil anything but the story is quite satisfying and trying to understand the characters and their motivations will bring me back to this again. Color (often the lack there of) and shading are used wonderfully in the locations, sets, and clothing throughout. Sound and music are used in a similar way to set the feeling for everything we see. There aren't any camera-tricks or jump-cuts here; lots of individual shots are quite long and work well to pull you into this world. There's no ironic self-aware humor to the noir-style in Le Samourai either. It may not be realistic to believe that 1960s france had men walking about in trench-coats and hats but the setting is believable in much the same way that a dream is believable while you're in it. Ultimately, I think that's what Le Samourai is: a very cool dream.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Psycho II

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that there was a sequel to Psycho, aptly named Psycho II.
I had to see it for several reasons:
 * It isn't necessary at all storywise
 * It couldn't possibly live up to the original Hitchcock film
 * It would probably be laughably terrible

I bought a cheap copy of the DVD on ebay and put it on late at night. I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a Hitchcock film by any means but it is well-made (for the most part) and has an enjoyable plot and feel to it.

Some spoilers ahead so if you are already interested in seeing Psycho II, you should go watch it and come back after. With that out of the way, on to the review. The setup for the movie is also the tagline: "It's 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home." The beginning of the movie establishes that Norman is now cured, deemed fit to leave in the mental institution where he's been since his trial for the murders from the first time around. We return to the now iconic house and hotel. Norman has a job as a cook's helper upon his return but he's mistreated by the townspeople and soon starts receiving notes and calls from 'mother.' Is someone tormenting him or is he just going crazy again?

Anthony Perkins was a treat to watch in this movie and it's hard not to have some sympathy for him. Vera Miles returns as Lila and is set on putting Norman back in the insane asylum. There are some poor lines and wooden dialogue especially in the beginning. However, some revealing dialogue shows the writer's grasp of the underlying themes in the first movie. When Lila is asked about Sam (Marion Crane/s lover) she responds, "My husband is dead." This draws the viewer's attention to the changing protagonist theme from the first film. Other stylistic and thematic similarities include the use of mirrors and birds. Some of these visual moments felt forced to me while others worked quite well. The Hitchcock touch and style were missing which may be why it felt that way. Some of the murders themselves were more like what you'd expect from an 80s horror movie than a Hitchcock classic.

There are plenty of plot twists and "gotcha" moments and for the most part, they work well without derailing the mood of the movie. It's able to maintain a sense of dread and anticipation that, though it doesn't match the first, holds up well internally. The wonderfully crafted soundtrack (by Jerry Goldsmith) does a lot to sustain the mood. I also really enjoyed the cruel irony of Bates trying to stay sane while everyone around him wanted to see him go insane. This extends to the viewer because how is it a 'Psycho' movie if someone isn't dressing up as their mother and stabbing girls in showers?