Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quick Reviews

I haven't been keeping up with writing reviews for recent films I've seen. But I'm determined to get back to form starting with SOURCE CODE. Instead of sweeping those features under the rug, I've written some mini-reviews for the lot of them. Anyway, here they are.


I like these films. I made the mistake of watching the first one at night, in bed, in the dark and it thoroughly freaked me out. I wasn't blown away by the acting or the story or anything, but if it frightens me - it must be an effective horror film.

Pt. 2 offers a lot of the same type of scares, but adds a new element in security cam footage, which is superfluous at times, but truly terrifying at others. However, I will say that it creates a somewhat unavoidable plot-hole: Why, if creepy things were happening to you frequently, wouldn't you check the security footage right away?

Anyway, the film follows a similar pace to the original - minor scares are followed by successively greater scares, punctuated by extreme ghostery (demonry whatever). Again, the acting is fairly poor, but I like what Pt. 2 offers in the way of a story by tying the two films together. Instead of being one of those completely unnecessary sequels/prequels, this film supports the creation of a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY mythos. Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 are like two parts of a whole film. This film also offers a different, yet equally enjoyable twist ending. Oh, and one last thing, if you're latin, a baby or a dog, you might be able to see paranormal entities.

Grade: B


This film opened at last year's Cannes to relatively mixed reviews. Why that is, is something I really can't fathom. I loved BIUTIFUL. It's easily my favorite Inarritu film, which says a lot considering this is the man who made AMORES PERROS. Bardem is outstanding as a dying father and career criminal.

The film is poetic and meditative about life and death in an understated way that most films dealing with the subject fail to achieve (no matter how hard they try). In place of melodrama and sentimentality is Bardem's quiet sadness and solitary anticipation of death.

At nearly 3 hours, BIUTIFUL is not for the faint of heart, but it is rewarding for anyone willing to become involved in the story. I would not characterize the film as slow, but I give fair warning that it might take 20 minutes or so to let the world of the movie wash over you. Great stuff.

Grade: A


I really wanted to like this, but didn't care for it. It's beautifully animated, but severely lacking in a story or any meaningful character development. The young girl character is thoroughly annoying (so is the Charlie Brown way of dialogue that the film employs) and the Illusionist of the title is needlessly morose. The ending also made me want to kill myself.

Grade: C-


RANGO is for children and film buffs. Children will enjoy its silly characters and whizbang action, while film buffs will dig the persistent nods to classics and the many Western genre conventions.

The plot is essentially ripped straight out of CHINATOWN, minus the incest. Ned Beatty's Mayor is a nod to John Huston and Rango even takes a number of beatings and punishment in a similar fashion to Nicholson's Gittes. The film is also commendable for its gritty, ugly and strangely beautiful animation. An abstract dream sequence near the opening of the film is especially enjoyable. The charms of the film, however, are a bit dulled by long, labored chase sequences and some peculiar humor that I'm not sure anyone would enjoy.

Grade: B


BLACK DEATH is a new film by Christopher Smith (SEVERENCE) that takes place in the English Dark Ages. Essentially, it tells the tale of a band of knightly witch-hunters destined for a cursed village who take on a troubled monk as their guide.

BLACK DEATH has its strong points, including its bleak aesthetic and the powerful presence of Sean Bean as head witch-hunter. However, the film lacks proper story development and a sense of dread worthy of its lengthy (albeit enjoyable) build-up. Eddie Redmayne puts in a solid effort as the troubled monk and his unexpected turn in the epilogue was pretty well performed.

You can view BLACK DEATH on In-Demand for $9.99 (the special preview price) or something like that, but I guess it's not worth that steep of a price. Either wait for it to come down a bit or for Netflix, but definitely catch it if you've got some time and inclination.

Grade: B-


I don't really see a lot of comedies in theaters. Most of them aren't good and represent what I'd consider to be lowest common denominator entertainment. CEDAR RAPIDS is pretty over-the-top and offensive, but it made me laugh and I believe it has more to offer than your standard comedy.

This film doesn't rely on a lot of drawn-out gags, but instead offers what I'd classify as organic raunchy humor. I don't necessarily think that my being from the midwest gives me a better insight into these people; I'm just of the opinion that people in this line of work (insurance) might truly act like this when at conventions (maybe they don't do crack, but who knows?).

And for all it's offensiveness, CEDAR RAPIDS has heart. It's not mean-spirited, in fact it could almost be considered a "feel-good" film. One can definitely draw parallels between the movie itself and John C. Reilly's Dean Ziegler character. He's loud, foul and a bit of a clown, but there's something inherently good about him.

Grade: B+

ORPAILLEUR (The Golden Forest) -

I'm not going to say a lot about this film because I'm weary of reviewing. Only that I had the good fortune to see this film at UWM's French-Language Film Fest. The film, from French-Guyana, is beautifully shot, tense, exciting and solidly executed. If it ever comes to Netflix, I'd highly suggest it.

Grade: A-

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