Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 In Review



Just stopping in to express my feelings on some of this year's releases.

1. Tyrannosaur:
The directorial debut of Brit-actor Paddy Considine stars Peter Mullen as a man consumed with rage who ends up getting involved in the domestic trials of a local shop-owner. The shop-owner, played by Olivia Colman, is terrorized initially by Mullen, but we come to see that her treatment at the hands of her husband (Eddie Marsan) is much worse.

I'm a fan of Considine and the creative circles he runs with - most notably Shane Meadows - and while this film seems to borrow somewhat from the DNA of those films - it's still rough around the edges and rife with cliches. The emotional performances of both Mullen and Colman have received a lot of press, but that emotion sometimes disguises mediocrity. Mullen, another actor of whom I am a big fan, is just fine, but I wouldn't call it his finest performances. Marsan, on the other hand, is chilling in his role as abusive husband, outshining the entire cast. There's a lot of good here and Considine shows promise behind the camera, but here's hoping there's still some room for improvement.

B-
 
2. Attack the Block:

Another Brit film, this one by Joe Cornish (a veteran of British television) follows the adventure that ensues after an alien crash lands in a London project (the Block) and is subsequently beaten to death by a bunch of teenage thugs. Unfortunately for them, their victim was an extraterrestrial of the smaller variety and the resulting invasion of the big boys is a bit too much to handle. 


I couldn't be any more effusive in my praise of this film. There's hardly an aspect of it that I didn't find excellent. There seems to be a lingering nostalgia for young-ensemble adventure and sci-fi films of old as evidenced by 2011 titles like Super 8 and Paul - Block is the only movie this year that comes so close to that spirit, while also treading ground all its own. The film is fun and often funny, but it does not neuter the antagonists - the aliens and the rough neighborhood itself - of their threat. People, or more specifically teenage children, die often and brutally at the hands of these villains and their deaths are met with the appropriate sense of tragedy.

The ensemble of young actors are all quite good and Nick Frost is a pretty entertaining, but not distracting addition to the cast. Block's score is one of the best I've heard all year, offering something unique and booming that fits the action like a glove. The aliens and the idea behind their appearance takes a minute to get used to, but it's novel and they look great for how much they're shown. The ending was also one of the most satisfying and flat-out cool conclusions to a film that I've seen in recent years. Some part of me wants to know where else this story could go and there's certainly room for a sequel, but another part thinks the film should just be left alone in it's near perfection. Easily one of the year's best.

A

3. Martha Marcy May Marlene:

I feel like this film isn't getting enough credit in the recent awards season and that's a shame, because, like the above, it's also one of the year's best. I went in to the film expecting a stellar performance from newcomer Elizabeth Olsen (as was the hype at the time), but what I got was much more. In it, the title character runs away from a peculiar commune/cult environment and ends up with her estranged sister and brother-in-law. As the film progresses, we begin to see more of what her life in seclusion was like and how the experience has damaged her.

Olsen is great in the lead role, but so too is John Hawkes in the supporting role of cult leader. I think, when depicting situations like this, films too often stumble due to an inclination toward hyperbole. Cults and the people in them are batshit crazy and they do scary things - is what we usually see (I'm looking at you Red State) - but first-time feature director Sean Durkin uses expert editing to paint a much more subtle picture that, over time, becomes infinitely more disturbing with each added detail.

We don't see Hawkes dashing babies against rocks, but a dialogue with a new recruit about how the girls at the commune impregnated by their leader only give birth to boys gave me chills when I processed it. When blood is eventually spilled by the groups members, it comes as something even more shocking because they're not outwardly mad men and women, they're just a little off the norm, but maybe that's all it takes.

A-

4. Knuckle:

This doc covers the very interesting and intense world of Traveler Bare-Knuckle Boxing contests (what they call Fair Fights). It would have been a lot easier for a director to exploit these people and their insane actions for cheap shock and awe, but where Ian Palmer succeeds is in exposing the shame of it all.

Knuckle follows several different family-clans in the UK as they settle old scores by the ancient laws of combat. Their family pride seems heightened by the various feuds they find themselves in and their boldness is multiplied by their overt Celtic machismo. One of the film's central figures, James Quinn McDonagh - a Fair Fights legend - laments the fighting, but over time is repeatedly drawn back to them for one reason or another. There's hope that some sort of peace can eventually be reached, but the reciprocal nature of violence is a hard one to shake off one the stone gets rolling.

A

5. Bellflower:

Another interesting title coming from a first-time feature director. It takes a bit of time to get going and the viewer has to get used to the douchbaggery of the protagonist and his best friend, but in the film's latter half you'll find payoff.


Essentially, the film's main character, played by director Evan Glodell, builds Mad Max-inspired weaponry with his best bud in-between getting wasted and never working a job. He falls in love, but that, sadly, doesn't last and a resulting car accident/brain trauma renders him somewhat unhinged. Violence and devastation ensure, but in the end, due to the film's slight lean toward the experimental, we are left to wonder what exactly we just witnessed - alternate timelines of reality? Dreams? Hallucinations? It's left up to our interpretation. Glodell shows some potential as a filmmaker and storyteller and while his performance isn't anything mind-blowing, he possesses enough charisma for more work in front of the camera.

B

6. The Skin I Live In:


I'm not what you would call a student of Almodovar's films, but I quite liked this one. It's a bit twisted and European-eccentric, but I also found it to be surprisingly broad in its appeal and accessibility. The plot involves a scientist (Antonio Banderas), whose wife was burned in a terrible car-accident, trying to create a super-resistant skin via human testing. The story jumps around a bit chronologically and we come to see how the tragedy has affected his family - most notably his young daughter. To give away much more would ruin the film's various twists and turns, so I'll leave it at that.

The Skin has the DNA of many genres and that's what I liked so much about it. There's the revenge side, the Frankenstein/mad-scientist side, the psycho-sexual-political side, the prisoner/torture side (though it's much more subtle than the American variety) and the family drama aspect. I love the journey this film took me on and I was left uniquely satisfied by every direction it chose to take. It's not a perfect film, losing momentum when the flashback begins, but it's pretty darn good. Though there is still much of 2011's crop still to see, this one currently sits fairly comfortably in my yearly top-ten.

A-

7. Into the Abyss:

Werner Herzog's latest documentary about capital punishment is certainly worth seeing. It's not my favorite of his recent docs, but it gave me a lot to think about and whether you agree with what he's putting out there or not, that's at least a small victory. I have some very complicated feelings on the subject that I won't get into, but the story of the film had me confront those various feelings head on.

Despite what anyone says about Herzog being an impartial narrator, that's simply not the case with Abyss. He states very openly that he does not agree or believe in the use of the death penalty - specifically stating that he does not believe humans should be executed. The topics he chooses to cover, while unique and obscure (in classic Herzogian fashion), are clearly meant to address the inhumanity of the practice. However, one has to applaud the director for covering the case that he does - one that is particularly brutal and featuring two highly unsympathetic sociopaths. Cases of persons a lot less deserving of the death penalty would have been simpler propaganda for Herzog's position, but he chose something that would muddy the waters a bit more, which makes his film a helluva lot more interesting.

The film's score is repetitious, but I really thought it worked. Some of the film's segments were a bit long-winded and obnoxious, but, on the overall, it was a solid film.

B

8. The Adventures of Tintin:

Of the 8 films Steven Spielberg has made since 2000, I've seen 7 (still have War Horse), but I can safely say when looking at these crop of films that he's lost it. Sure, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can are decent, but I can't say that I care for much else - Tintin included. I'm not hating on the director; he's been behind the camera for some of my favorite (and greatest all-time) films. I just think that, in this day and age of filmmaking magic and technology, he can't focus, eschewing the heart of his stories for bells and whistles.

His latest suffers gravely from this. Yeah, Tintin is great on a technical level. The 3D is great (saying a lot because I hate 3D) and the animation is great (also saying a lot because I hate motion capture/human animation), but that's where the greatness ends. The plot's action picks up right off the bat, which might sound appealing, but the film also forgets to develop any characters. I remember the character somewhat from high school French class, but not enough to feel some background/character building wasn't necessary. All we get in that department is repeated doses of general archetypes. Tintin is plucky and resourceful - watch what he does! Haddock is a drunk, he loves liquor! The bad guy has a sinister face and doesn't like the loveable drunk on a personal level, what a jerk!

Most of the film consists of elaborate chase scenes - brought to you by modern movie magic. These things are well and good in moderation, but here it's just one troublesome calamity after another with no time in the middle to breathe and develop a reason to care about the fact that these things are happening. Tintin looks like something that would be chalk full of heart, but it's actually completely devoid of it, which is a shame because I wanted to like it a lot more. I don't want to unduly blame Spielberg, but I have a hard time believing the end-product was anything close to what the film's three, heavy-hitter screenwriters envisioned. I see Steven Moffat as something of a storytelling genius and Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish are talented filmmakers in their own right. I can't imagine they wasted so much time one mindless-action-filler.

C+

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:

My Tintin review should serve as a pretty good clue as to how I feel about Sherlock Holmes 2. The film is devoid of any heart, instead relying on gimmicks, overlong action and some of the least humorous comedy banter I've ever heard. However, I'd have to say that I dislike this film a good measure more than Tintin. I hate practically everything about it, which even I found shocking since I rather enjoyed the original. Considering there are so many aspects I disliked about Holmes, I figured I might as well just list them:

- There isn't a goddamn mystery! Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries, right? Here, he's just engaged in fisticuffs with Moriarty and his henchmen over and over again. Sure, we're not exactly sure what Moriarty is up to, but we know it's bad and that he's the bad guy. Nothing comes as a surprise, nothing's a revelation.

- Holmes' deductive skills are reduced to a combat trick and his trademark eccentricities seem to have merely given Ritchie liscense to create a Jack Sparrow-wannabe, who revels in kooky disguises and pickpocketing.

- Moriarty sucks! There's so much build-up to the character in the first film and he's also Holmes' most feared adversary in literature, but here he's completely wasted. I thought it was a coup when they cast Jared Harris in the role, but he plays it boring. Despite the fact that he's already depicted as a wealthy man, his primary motives are monetary gain - hardly the mark of a sadistic, genius villain. He wants to be a war profiteer, so what? His marksman of a #2 is infinitely more interesting.

- The schtick is unbearable! Sherlock Holmes is an asshole to Watson and his constant posing punctuated by "witty' comments (the above-mentioned Jack Sparrowing) is incessant. I know he was like this a bit in the first film, but here he never seems to be taking anything serious ever. He's constantly pandering to the audience and it made me sick. If I hear another person use the term "bromance" to describe the pair in the film, I'll strangle somebody. Do I sound like a contrarion if I say that maybe I don't like Robert Downey Jr. anymore?

- Cut it out with the slo-mo! It's not necessary to use any cheap trick so often, but slo-mo is particularly tiresome.

I hope they never make this series a trilogy. There's only need for one Sherlock Holmes and today, that man's name is Benedict Cumberbatch. Funny name, I know, but he's seriously fantastic, as is almost everything about BBC's "Sherlock" (series 2 begins in January)

This film gets a D.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 In Review

I've gotten behind a bit on my reviews, so I thought I might just do a few quick reviews for some of the 2011 films I've seen recently.



El Velador:

A solid documentary from this year's Milwaukee Film Fest. This semi-experimental documentary doesn't tell much of a conventional story. It instead follows the coming and goings of the night watchman (El Velador) at a Mexican cemetary - pairing these images with audio from heinous news stories chronicling cartel violence. In it we witness the brutal daily reality of our neighbors to the south that often seems to be swept under the rug. One of the year's best documentaries.

A -

Coriolanus

Another entry from this year's Milwaukee Film Fest - I give this Shakespearean-update a lot of credit for its ambition. Set in a war-torn modern Rome, director Ralph Fiennes presents a well-formed and visually interesting translation of the Bard. Fiennes is also spectacular in his performance as the titular character, which is doubly-impressive considering that Shakespearean dialogue can reap havok on even the most seasoned of actors. Vanessa Redgrave is solid in her role as Coriolanus' mother as is James Nesbitt in his supporting role, but everyone somewhat lacks a command of the language.


This film might be too much of a true adaptation to really make its mark, however. The final act seems stunted, but that's probably just because the film is following the play so closely. I was so memorized by Fiennes' performance that I wanted to see more of him, but his involvement in the plot seems to fall off right when it hits its peak. Subtle changes might have been just enough to really make this impressive. Still a decent film, however.

B+

Paul:

The trailers for this film made it look horrendous. I'm a fan of the Pegg/Frost duo and even more a fan of director Greg Mottola, so I was disappointed in what was being advertised to me. However, after finally catching Paul on dvd, I had to eat my words. Sure, Seth Rogan is slightly irritating as the voice of the alien, but he's also funny on occasion. There's so much heart-felt nostalgia here as well that it becomes really hard to dislike. Though they are much different in tone, I saw a lot of similarities to Abrams' Super 8, but found Paul to be the much better tribute to Amblin-era sci-fi.

B

Red State:

I caught this film on the Netflix instant-queue recently and I must say - it's not Kevin Smith's worst film. Some of it is lame, childish and nonsensical (three friends wind up in the hands of militant Jesus-freaks because they are lured by the prospect of a four-way with Melissa Leo??!), but it's interesting enough when it counts, occasionally funny and highly unpredictable.

However, My primary issue with the film is in the treatment of the religious fanatics. I know from following Smith's Twitter account that he has a real problem with their real-life counterparts - Fred Phelps and his lot. Why then is there a need to up the volume so much on these characters? They're such caricatures of the real thing that it's hard to take them seriously and the film comes off as a condemnation of no-one because of it. A much more interesting film by a much more clever filmmaker might have been about how these people are in real-life and it would have been a lot scarier for it.

C+


Melancholia:

Lars von Trier's latest won't be getting a wide-release until later this year, but you can catch it On Demand through various outlets. Was it worth the $10 I spent on it? Probably not. Melancholia is an OK film on the overall, but had the potential to be much more. It has some beautiful imagery and uses the impending apocalypse appropriately to say something about depression and the place of women in a male-dominated world, but ultimately falls flat.

The major issue is that the film is just too damn long - 135 minutes split into two parts. The first half focusing on Justine's (Dunst) wedding is interminable, feeling drawn out with seemingly little purpose. By the time I got to part two about Justine's sister Claire (Gainsbourg), I had a hard time caring about what was going on, which is a shame considering it's definitely the more interesting half of the film. I believe Melancholia could have been a tighter, more affecting film with a runtime under 100 minutes. It's not that I don't like longer films- quite the contrary in fact - it's just that so much of the film feels like wasted time.

Another issue I have - not necessarily with the film itself - is how much attention Kirsten Dunst is getting for her performance. It's OK, sure, she's an OK actress. But when Charlotte Gainsbourg (and pretty much everyone else in the cast) is acting circles around her, it's hard to see what exactly was so memorable about her time on screen.

B-



Now Playing - Take Shelter


Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols' sophomore feature, is one of the year's best films. (His debut, Shotgun Stories, also features Michael Shannon in the lead and is likewise also fantastic.) Take Shelter possesses a heavy atmosphere, leading us through Curtis' (Shannon) delusions, paranoia and compulsions about a potential and impending apocalyptic event.

Clues along the way point towards him being schizophrenic (his mother was diagnosed when she was around his age), however, the real strength of the film is that it provides no easy answers. Yes, Curtis is having hallucinations, but many of his symptoms, such as his vivid, frequent nightmares don't necessarily mesh with the mental illness hypothesis.

The film ultimately ends up at a grand conclusion that also provides few definitive answers. Our protagonist is obviously unreliable, so being able to decipher truth from events happening to him is difficult, if not impossible, so we are left somewhat in his shoes - not knowing what is reality and what is delusion.

Shannon delivers a powerful performance. He's known for taking on peculiar roles, such as his part in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire", but he never goes overboard like he does there. Despite Curtis' difficulties, Shannon is able to play them with reserved horror and frustration, before his major, chilling blowup in the third act. Not considering him highly for a Best Actor Oscar here would be a crime.

Shea Whigham, also of "Boardwalk Empire" fame, gives a solid supporting performance as Curtis' friend and co-worker. Also of note is Jessica Chastain, who plays Curtis' concerned, yet supporting wife. Chastain's has really become quite a sought-after actress of late, but until Take Shelter I never  really got a sense of her abilities. She's shot beautifully in Tree of Life and there's evidence of a good actress there, but the performance is minimal. I saw her in Coriolanus, but she doesn't have the best command of Shakespeare to make for a good showing. Take Shelter sold me on her - I wouldn't protest if she garnered some sort of nomination here.

The score is also solid. It's unique, eerie, persistent and matched the film perfectly, really driving home the semi-classic-horror aspects. In some ways, Take Shelter reminding me of Peter Weir's The Last Wave. I think that when I read the description of the film some years ago before viewing it, Take Shelter is, in a lot of ways, similar to the film I'd imagined The Last Wave would be. That's not a knock against it - it's still a great film - but something more akin to Take Shelter is what I really wanted. Now I have it and I'm satisfied.

A


Saturday, October 29, 2011

This is Halloween: Directors #2

I already got John Carpenter out of the way and, for my money, he's the most important of the elite horror directors. However, there's a couple more who do the genre justice (or did at least).

George Romero: 

As much as I hate his more recent films (post Land of the Dead) and the stupid zombie-fad we're stuck in, Romero deserves to be mentioned amongst the higher echelon of horror directors for what he's accomplished in the past.

I feel as though I hardly need to mention Dawn of the Dead because pretty much everyone accepts it as the zombie film. Night of the Living Dead was a good start, but Dawn is just phenomenal. It's creepy, it's intelligent and it gets better with every viewing.

I'm also fairly partial to Day of the Dead, which seems to have picked up a bit more respect since its release. The zombies here are less the focal point than the unsettling human drama playing out between the survivors. If Dawn is a depiction of mid-apocalypse, then Day is the first true post-apocalyptic film in Romero's series. Remnants of the human race are trapped underground, coming into conflict with each other more than the undead. I get the sense when I'm watching it that the actors haven't slept in days and it makes for a very tense, engaging film.

As much as I enjoy these two zombie flicks, I wouldn't have felt Romero worthy of this list if they were his only accomplishments. What really elevates Romero for me is his 1976 take on the vampire - Martin.

  The film tells the story of a young man who believes himself to be an ancient vampire. Romero presents a very good "is he or isn't he?" narrative,offering evidence for both possibilities - the alternative being that he's just crazy. Either way, he still stalks and subdues victims and ultimately drinks there blood. Martin is a tragic and twisted antagonist and his story, set against the backdrop of a failing industrial town in Pennsylvania, results in one of the better vampire films ever made. (Lofty as that praise might seem, 99% of movies about vampires, werewolves, zombies and miscellaneous ghouls are downright terrible).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is Halloween: Directors #1

With Halloween so close, I wanted to take a look at my favorite horror directors. The men (sorry, but are there any great female horror directors?) who've given so much to the genre that's given so much to pop-culture Halloween.



1. John Carpenter:

Carpenter gets first billing for a number of reasons. a) He directed the best slasher-horror film, featuring the best horror franchise antagonist of all time, on a relatively tight budget. b) He directed what I would call the greatest horror film of all time The Thing. c) he's done some decent stuff along the way.

I realize that I've made some pretty bold claims, but I stick by them. Halloween is the best slasher of all time. It's legit scary. Its theme, which has become such a big part of the holiday itself, makes it even creepier still. Michael Myers is a far more respectable villain than other franchisers like Freddy or Jason. Frankly, neither of those characters were ever featured in a film half so good as the original Halloween.

The great things about him are numerous. His introduction - yeah, the one with the dead-eyed kid in the clown costume brandishing a butcher's knife - is excellent. Just going off the 1st film - we don't have a clue what drives this maniac. He doesn't talk, he's slow and calculated, rarely getting over-excited, he's unstoppable by conventional means though, by all accounts, he's very much a human being (and how about that Shatner mask!?). And he's got Dr. Loomis to boot, who works as something of a hype-man, constantly talking about what a bad mutherfucker Michael is and why we should all be very afraid.



Carpenter severed his directorial involvement with the franchise after the first film and despite the many opportunities there have been to capitalize on what he delivered, none have come even close. He reportedly wanted to do a sequel focusing on the aftermath in Haddonfield, but it was not to be, which is unfortunate because that sounds like a great film.

As for The Thing - it IS the best horror-film ever made. The visual effects used in the movie are astounding for the early-80's. It's gross and horrifying what the titular Thang can do to you, but that's not the focus of the film's terror. Instead, it derives its edge-of-your-seat tension from the paranoia and distrust among the players. The blood-in-a-petri-dish scene is just such a classic, but then again, so are a lot of scenes.



The Thing also features a great cast, including Kurt Russell at his best, Wilford Brimley (also at his best) and Keith David who aint bad. Great theme to this as well and a pretty fantastic conclusion.

Oh, and since I want to cover three horror films per director I feature - why not praise The Fog a little. I've heard some pretty nasty things about the remake, which is too bad because people shouldn't be turned away from the original because of it. The film already has a hard enough time with a slightly silly plot featuring ghost-pirates (pirate ghosts? well, maybe they're just fishermen).


Anyway, The Fog is a moody, slower-paced horror that excels at giving a sense of impending doom. There's nothing perverse or visceral about the vengeful ghosts that inhabit the fog; it's old-terror, classic-terror of American seafaring legend. 


There's a lot more good to Carpenter's filmography, horror and not. Unfortunately, his career hit a pretty sharp decline in the 90's and he's yet to recover. Personally, I'd love to see one more success before he finally calls it quits, though we could already consider it a career well-spent. I don't know why directors like Carpenter fall off like they do. Sometimes auteurs refuse to change with the times and it becomes their undoing, but looking at Carpenter's recent works I think perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe Carpenter was never meant to change, or maybe he's just had his day. Either way, he's still the director I'm drawn to most this time of year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retro Trailers: The Three Musketeers (1993)

They've got this new Musketeers film coming out and frankly, it looks like garbage. In fact, it looks like less than garbage - like even bad for Paul W.S. Anderson. Which got me thinking about the Three Musketeers of my childhood; that's right - Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Charlier Sheen..and uh, Chris O'Donnell (that's four, so what?). I can't speak to this film's quality since I've long-since lost my VHS copy, however, I do remember enjoying the shit out of it when I was a kid. My level of interest in this movie was so high at that time that I can't imagine it being unbearable today.

As far as I remember: Sheen and Platt were a lot of fun in their side-musketeer roles and Sutherland was a badass leader. O'Donnell's character represented pure goodness while the villainous Tim Curry and Michael Wincott stank of corruption. It's a simple film with a lot of fun swashbuckling and, oh yeah, the powerful ballad by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting (!) "All For One". I bet that one could still get me juiced.

This new film just makes me feel sad and empty. Here's a fan-made trailer for the 90's film. It makes it out to be a little less silly than it really is, but I just can't find an official trailer on Youtube. Follow this link if you really want to see the original.



And, even better, here's the music video for "All For One":

Friday, October 14, 2011

This Is Halloween

Well, it's getting to be about that time. Halloween is already getting pushed aside by retailers in favor of X-Mas decorations, but there should still be at least two weeks of jack o'lanterns, black cats and spooky ghouls, dammit!

Admittedly, I've never been that into horror films, but I appreciate their importance to this holiday season. Everywhere you'll find scary movie marathons and allusions to Jason, Freddy, and Michael as well as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman.

I wanted to just do some sort of horror movie top-10, but I couldn't narrow the list down and, in the end, I felt that was less inventive and didn't quite cover my feelings on the genre. Therefore, I will try to come up with numerous horror topics to discuss over the coming weeks. First up - quintessential horror directors. Who will make my cut? I bet you can guess. Until then, watch something gory.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MKE Film Fest Reviews: We Need To Talk About Kevin



I was lucky enough to catch the sole screening of Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin a couple weeks back at the Milwaukee Film Festival. I'd read the Lionel Shriver novel a few years back, so I was definitely interested in seeing how it would translate to the big screen. However, enough time had elapsed that I wasn't concerned too much about how that would affect my view of the film.

Kevin is a good film; definitely unique with some great performances, but also not without its flaws. I saw three, in particular. First, is that the film's opening half-hour or so is intensely jumpy in a chronological sense. The film, which shows a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling in the aftermath of a Columbine-esque act committed by her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), shifts to various points in his development, from conception to young-adulthood. This continues throughout the film, but the plot becomes considerably more linear as it progresses. The opening act the film hurt my head though and I was left frustrated by the lack of dialogue or interaction between anyone during this time. Had I known that this wasn't going to be the style of the entire film, I might have been less annoyed, but hindsight is 20/20.

Issue two is in the depiction of the titular Kevin. Ezra Miller gives a solid, creepy performance as the character in his teenage years (as do the two child actors who play him at other points). However, at times it goes a little overboard, making him out to be preternaturally wicked - like Damian or Michael Myers. This is slightly divergent from the book, where Kevin's idiosyncrasies were a notch more subtle. And even when he's being particularly bad in the book, we are still supposed to recognize that the mother, Eva, is an unreliable narrator, who projects her feelings about Kevin post-incident onto her memories of him as a child. There's no real sense of that here in the film.

Kevin is just an evil psychopath, which I suppose works in its own right if you think of it in an It's Alive sort of way; Eva was never too psyched about having a kid - ergo her child is a monster. However, to me, this makes the film a little more melodramatic than I'd hoped from Ramsay.

Issue #3 is with the soundtrack - simply that I don't think a lot of the musical cues work that well. There are both hits and misses, one hit being this warbled older song that I still cannot track down the name of that's used a couple times throughout the film, but misses certainly outnumber the hits.

Apart from these issues, Kevin is pretty good. Swinton's performance has received a lot of buzz, and rightly so, but she's almost always excellent, so this came as no surprise. As I mentioned, Miller is pretty good and so is John C. Reilly in his relatively subdued role as dad.

The film looks great throughout. It also gives the audience just a taste of what Kevin has done from the get-go, so everyone thinks they already know the extent of it, but also have no idea. My heart jumped with panic a little watching firemen cutting through bike locks on the high school's gym doors - this shot leaves audiences to wonder "what will they find inside?". These snippets elicit some pretty heavy tension throughout most of the film and the ghastly reveals near the end make due on the promises that those tensions suggest.

Though my issues with the film have framed this review, they now seem only minor-to-moderate infractions and I applaud the movie for winning me over despite them. I'd definitely be interested in catching another screening some time in the near future.

B+

Monday, October 10, 2011

Great Expectations: A Plea For Consumer Responsibility

A news story surfaced today about a Michigan woman suing the distributors of the film Drive and the theatre at which she viewed it because of misleading advertising. I found this annoying because, for one, I think Drive is one of the better films made in this century, and two, I don't really remember the trailers being terribly misleading. Perhaps some of the TV spots presented Drive as a bit more of an car-chase film than it was, but that's typical in film marketing these days. She also claimed that the film was racist against the Jewish people and encouraged violence against them, which simply isn't true in the least bit.

My critical opinion of Drive and their marketing tactics notwithstanding, this woman is still 100% wrong. Films have used way more misleading trailers than FilmDistrict did in the case of Drive. This can be annoying, but trailers aren't the only resource we have to figure out which films we want to see.

This idiot is claiming that Drive pulled the bait-and-switch, marketing a film similar to that of The Fast and the Furious series, which I find to be somewhat untrue, but either way - why would you want to go so another film like the neverending Fast and Furious films. You're just clamoring for more stunts and chases? Have you never wanted more from a film. And say they did completely mislead you via their marketing? Say they really tried to dupe you by false advertisement - it's still your responsibility as a consumer and a movie-goer to be more educated.

There are countless websites and online resources that will give you a clear picture of every major film out there. Rotten Tomatoes offers critical and consumer reviews. IMDB features much the same and even greater info about the film. On IMDB, you can also research the filmographies of directors and writers with the click of a button. It's no excuse for anyone to say, "I don't know who Nicolas Winding Refn is, so I had no idea Drive wouldn't be standard Hollywood fare". Do your research, don't go into a film without knowing who directed it and what they're capable of.

In the case of Drive, it's adapted from a goddamn book, so even reading a synopsis of that should have given opponents of the film pause before seeing it.

I feel like Drive has fallen victim - albeit to a much lesser extent - to the same curse of ignorance and stupidity that The Tree of Life did earlier this year. I remember a bunch of giggling girls staring up at the Oriental Theatre's marquee this summer saying, "oh, that's that Brad Pitt movie! I really want to come see that!". Brad Pitt is an actor who appears in the film, much in the same way Ryan Gosling stars in Drive, but neither man directed those films. And with just a few exceptions, both men also tend to pick more unique roles and films to take on anyway. Just because they're handsome, popular, leading men doesn't mean they're going to pander to the populous.

Multitudes of people around the country asked for refunds to The Tree of Life, claiming it was boring or nonsensical, but I bet a lot of those people don't have a clue who Terrence Malick is or what type of work he's done previously. That's their fault. Not the theatre's. Not the distributor's. And certainly not Terrence Malick's.

Film-goers need to be cognizant of/realistic about their level of taste as well. You can't come out of a film like Drive of The Tree of Life crying foul if you're an uncultured person. I'm not trying to be an elitist prick here, but there are obviously different classes of film-viewers, with greatly varying levels of film literacy. It's like someone who doesn't read books throwing down "War and Peace" and saying "this was stupid! It makes no sense! I'm bored!". That's your fault, you shouldn't have picked it up in the first place, or if you did, you should have the perspective to say, "this wasn't for me" because that's fine, not everything is for everyone.

I'm not saying that you have to be smart to like films like the above-mentioned (but it helps), or that if you're film-savvy you will automatically like them, it's just that you have to be more vigilant in choosing the media you ultimately engage with. You can't hate on Drive because you're not patient enough to sit through it or can't appreciate it like a higher-functioning human being can. Just don't see it.

Nobody anywhere should ever be allowed a refund for a movie ticket on the grounds that they didn't like it. I see films I don't like all the time and that's as much a part of being a film-goer as seeing films you love. TS, buyer beware.

And as for claims of being duped by advertising - take that as a sign encouraging greater vigilance. You were "fooled" into seeing a film that wasn't at all like Fast and Furious (oh fucking no!). Too bad, do your research next time, lady. The trailers don't need to change, you do.