Compilation Post: Films I’ve seen and haven’t reviewed yet…

I know…I know.  I am falling behind.  Between being extra busy at work and illness, my movie watching and posting have suffered.  So, I decided the best way to catch-up is to create a compilation post with only a short review for each, that way I can get back on track.

Here we go:

Killer Joe 

Wow!  This is exactly what the poster states…twisted. The lowdown? The label of Southern Gothic is perfect.  Playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts has a dark sense of humor and a great talent of capturing the absurd while grounding it.  Director William Friedkin still has it (even a 77 years of age) and can create a tight, well paced story.  Matthew McConaughey is having an incredible year and he knocks this performance out of the park.  The cast is first-rate and all deliver strong performances. I have a strong constitution and yet, there were some awkward, disturbing moments where I truly found myself asking, “Should I be laughing or seriously disgusted?”  I believe it is supposed to be a little of both.

End of Watch

I could watch two hours of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles just shooting the breeze, ragging on each other and doing some good.  That in itself was entertaining, thought-provoking and heartfelt.  The chemistry of Gyllenhaal and Pena is electric!  The problem I had with End of Watch is that it tried to be a much bigger movie than it needed to be.  They incorporated drug cartels and criminal agendas that were unnecessary when the story of these LAPD partners was interesting already.  And I was disappointed in the ending–the tonal shift was distracting for me and made me feel cheated after, what was an emotional finale.  Still worth the time to check out.

The Master

I liked it.  It is not my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film, but I appreciated what he was doing with this narrative.  And the acting is phenomenal!  Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are at the top of the craft here.  PTA seems to bring out the best in his actors and The Master follows suit.  The pace is still and steady, which allows the characters to evolve organically   The themes that permeated were that of father and son, as well as master to pupil or as I felt master to dog.  I could not help but see correlations between Hoffman’s Master and Phoenix’s student and that between a dog and his master.  Everything…physical actions (playing in the yard) and in tone (verbal reprimands).  For some reason I could not shake that analogy.  Oh well.  So, if you go–be ready for a beautifully crafted film that takes its time and showcases some of the top talent in Hollywood today.

Frankenweenie

YAY!!  Tim Burton is back!!  And in fine form.  Frankenweenie is exactly what I hoped it would be…the return of Burton’s quirky style and heartfelt storytelling.  The fact that it is in fantastic Stop-Action only heightens my satisfaction and enjoyment of the wonderfully told story.  It’s truly lovely.  A tale of love and individuality that will stand the test of time.  Classic, yet unique.  Awesome.  Nice to have you back, Mr. Burton.  I hope you stay for a while.

Butter

Butter?!  I had never heard of this film.  Really.  So, when I came across it I was curious.  It had some people I enjoy, so why not check it out.  I am so glad I did!  What a nice surprise.  A film centered around Butter sculpting sounds weird and funny and that is what you get.  A very human story that just happens to be surrounded by oddities–from characters to circumstances–and yet, it works.  It is funny and heartwarming, even if at times it can be silly and over the top.  Overall, not a bad movie to stumble upon.

Friends With Kids

You guys know I like my Rom-Com realistic–right?  Well, I do.  And Friends with Kids is very realistic and I enjoyed it.  Written/Directed and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, she smartly creates a world where you believe all these characters and the environment they are in.  (It also helps that she surrounds herself with some strong talent.)  Except for a typical “a-ha” moment towards the end, I enjoyed this story and found myself rooting for a “happy ever after”, which of course, was always the way it was going to end.  Duh!

Hotel Transylvania

Oh, Adam Sandler!  Even animated you seem to be stuck in kitschy territory.  Sigh.  This is a safe, VERY kid friendly animated film.  It is not awful.  But, it is not brilliant.  It lingers in the “meh” of mediocrity.  Not dumb enough to be garbage, but never clever enough to be called good.  I chuckled a few times–mostly at the zombies (cute gags) and Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi rocks!), but overall was under impressed.

Dredd 3-D

A futuristic police officer in armour and a helmet that covers all but his mouth stands on the corner of a building roof with a gun in his hand as large tower blocks burn behind him. Above the man reads a tagline "Judgment is Coming".

HILARIOUS!  I laughed a lot in this version of the Dredd universe.  Now, I do not believe that was the intention..but it was funny!  Comical villains (with bad teeth, that had to be on display all the time)–comical one-liners (shakes head dramatically and then…”Yeah.”)–and lame action (not funny -_-).  There was potential for badassery, but it was lost when they allowed the slow-mo sequences to lasts forever. So, if you wanna have a fun time and laugh at some incredibly bad, expense cinema–get together with some of your favorite peeps (like I did) and have a blast.  Otherwise…skip it.

Arbitrage

I heard some buzz about Arbitrage and thought I was in for a first-rate financial thriller (if there is such a category).  Well, what I ended up with was a recycled narrative that has been done (better) before.  Rich man.  Mishandling of large sums of money.  Death of a mistress.  Lies.  Cover-ups.  More lies.  Family drama.  Even more lies.  Stop me if you heard this before.  Nothing elevates this very familiar story to the next level.  Performances?  Okay.  Plot?  Old.  I ended up disinterested and bored.  You might feel differently–because it seems to have others praising it.  Guess it wasn’t for me.

WHEW! That’s it!

I plan to give Argo its own post–because it’s really good! 🙂  And I will be writing up Cloud Atlas, which was amazing!  Until then…

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Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction–Bernie proves it!

Wow! It is hard to understand at times what people do, say and believe. Bernie is a true story. And although it is told from a black comedy angle, the events and reactions are real. Director Richard Linklater has even interviewed the real citizens of Carthage (east Texas town this takes place in) and woven it into the narrative or should I say dramatization.  Gossip, speculations and craziness ensues.

Adapted from a 1998 article in Texas Monthly, titled “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas.” written by Skip Hollandsworth (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater), this tale reads like pure fiction.  A fiction full of all sorts of drama, deception and murder.  I did not know too much going in except for what I just stated and (as you know by now) I will not spoil it for you–discovering what happens is part of the experience while watching this film.

The cast is small and spot on. I like Jack Black. Yes, I know he can be over the top at times but I love it when he gets it right. And he gets Bernie right. Black’s charisma and exuberance are the perfect fit for this man and yet, it never feels like a caricature. It feels natural and easy.  Matthew McConaughey continues his supporting role awesomeness. He is a pure treat in this film–his expressions alone are worth it.  And last, but not least, the incomparable Shirley MacLaine.  She is amazing.  No one else could have portrayed this character so perfectly.

Linklater purposefully creates a small, intimate movie and in turn, it makes you feel like you’re part of this community. It is incredible how powerful perception can be and how strong personal convictions can taint your reality. A very interesting, thought-provoking tale that is well structured and told. Sometimes, I still can’t believe it’s not made up.

Again, wow.

Magic Mike suffers from a lack of focus and too much bare ass.

Yes. There is such a thing as too much bare ass. Although the 200 screaming women in my sold out screening would loudly disagree. Wow!  If anything, I can say that Magic Mike was a unique movie watching experience.  A very interactive experience.

First of all, I should let you know that I do not care for the male strip club environment.  Why would sexy, naked men dancing provocatively not appeal to me?  Well, usually after about a half an hour of laughing at the unbelievable, out of control reactions of the normally subdued women–I get bored. I tire of the constant bombardment of bare ass. I need substance. Sexy to me is mental. Humor. Intelligence. Those qualities turns me on more than gyrating hips.

So, it is easy for me to correlate Magic Mike with a strip club adventure.  It is fun at times.  Outrageous sometimes.  But, overall lacking substance.  And yes…I did get bored.

This is strike 3 for me towards director Steven Soderbergh.  A huge fan of many of his earlier films, these last 3 have not impressed me.  Contagion disappointed (I had high hopes).  Haywire had bad ass fighting and that is about it.  And now Magic Mike.

My biggest problem is that there are two separate stories being told.  And I blame writer Reid Carolin more than Soderbergh.  One is this funny, lighthearted  look at the behind scenes antics of male strippers with an intelligent, level-headed dancer taking on a protegé.  The other is a depressing, over-long look at the dark, seedy side of the stripper world–full of sex, drugs and appropriately enhanced dance music and it follows an old stripper trying to find himself.

There is nothing wrong with either story–except that the way it’s presented, you end up with an upbeat first half (with a energetic audience) and a sad, awkward second half (with an obviously deflated audience).  While my daughter and I wanted more story–I would dare assume 198 other women wanted more ass!  I think many of them did not sign up for an actual plot driven narrative. 😉

There are some bright spots.  The brightest is Channing Tatum.  I know!  This is the second film I’ve liked him in–and not because of his looks–but because he is growing as an actor and he truly delivers here.  Charming, funny, tortured and remorseful–he is able to infuse his character with all this and more.  And did I mention he can DANCE?!  Yes. We all know it, but he is showing off in this one.  😀  This script is based on some Tatum’s life experiences as a 19-year-old stripper and you can tell he is comfortable and familiar in this arena.

Second bright spot?  Matthew McConaughey.  I usually describe his movies as “shirt on or shirt off” films and this is a new addition because although his shirt is definitely off–McConaughey delivers a “shirt on” performance. Comical and sinister. He will make you laugh and he will intimidate you.  It is a fine portrayal of what I dubbed a “stripper pimp”.  Oh, how I wish his character had been developed and explored more.

Everyone else blends with the background–even said protege Alex Pettyfer, the other dancers and love interest Cody Horn.  Tatum and Horn have some natural chemistry (and they share my favorite moments in the film and some of the best dialogue) but the focus on their relationship is so sparse, that I did not feel anything for their eventual romance.

As you can see, I did not hate Magic Mike but I did not love it either.  It offers a certain level of entertainment, yet for me fails to achieve real depth.  I was watching the clock and ready to exit during the last 30 minutes.  Just like a real strip club, I was eventually bored and uninterested by the end.