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Disconnect (2012)

5 Jan

In a society growing more and more reliant on digital technology,  does such technology fundamentally the way in which we are communicating and connecting with one another? This is the questions Disconnect asks the audience, and through s series of interconnecting stories we see the multiple effects the digital age has created for its users.

Structurally similar to the 2006 Best Picture Award Winner Crash,  Disconnect strings together a series of characters and incidents surrounding the use and abuse of digital media. A lonely housewife flirts with an online stranger.. a highschool boy starts a fake Facebook profile as a joke… someone’s digital identity is stolen, someone’s daughter receives a sexually explicit text… you get the idea.  The film’s message is obvious right from the title screen.

What makes the film work is its use of editing back and forth between the stories to keep the film moving forward at a brisk pace.  Despite an overbearing amount of melodrama, the narrative is engaging, and the film paints an effective portrait of 21st-century life. Things get bugged down during the third act where a predictable finish is delivered to us in a painful slow-motion.  By this time, the audience is so numb from the film shouting in our faces about the evils of the digital world, this final sequence is simply an anti-climatic way of wrapping things up.

Directed by Oscar-nominee Henry-Alex Rubin, the film stars Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, and Alexander Skarsgaard, who all give good-enough performances to make up for some of the less-than-enthusiastic child acting.

Rating: 7/10

Similar to: Crash, Babel, 21 Grams

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Sightseers (2012)

6 Aug

 

Take a couple who are deeply in love but in need of some serious social skills and send the pair on a holiday into the British countryside. The end result is something like what Sightseers portrays but with a dash of good-humored, old-fashioned murder. That’s right, there is a lot of killing in this film.

We are first introduced to our protagonist Tina (played by Alice Lowe), as she mentions to her concerned mother that she is planning on hitting the road with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). The pair seem likeable enough at first; we even see a brilliant scene where Chris confronts a man caught littering on a public heritage site. However, after Chris accidentally runs over a man he seemingly develops a darker side and good amounts of blood and carnage soon follow.  What starts out as a cute little story about new romance and adventure quickly detours into one miserable accident after the next. Sightseers is a perverse, disgusting, off-base, and uncomfortable film featuring a leading pair of actors who define what it means to be morally wrong.

Something about this film just didn’t sit right to me, mostly due to the film’s refusal on deciding what kind of a film it wants to be. We get pieces of a crime thriller, and elements of romantic and dark comedy, but we never get enough of either resulting in what I like to call a “cluster-yuck” of scenarios. One bizarre situation is strung along to the next interspersed with random montages that have no purpose and add no depth to the story.

The end result is something designed to test the audience’s limit for what could be considered “art”. Though it ends on an interesting note, Sightseers left me with a really bad taste in my mouth along with a dedication to avoid psychopathic British tourists. Or at least films about them.

Rating: 4/10

Similar to: Bronson, Natural Born Killers, Gummo,

 

 

Excision (2012)

24 May

Watching Excision is a bit like having a nasty, infected flesh wound.  You want to look away and stop picking at the damn thing, but you just can’t. The wound becomes more and more bloody, offensive and disgusting until finally it creates a lasting scar that stays with you forever.  But somewhere among all the blood and horror is a bit of playful fun – and that is where the movie thrives.

Bordering on John Waters-inspired trash-cinema, (we even get a cameo from the man himself), Excision is part coming-of-age story, part horror/comedy.  We see the story of a mentally disturbed girl who wants to become a famous surgeon, but she is trapped by her conservative mother and skeptical peers.  She is also obsessed with blood, dead bodies and loosing her virginity before her senior year of high school. What ensues when all these elements mix is a nice blend of campy dialogue, disturbing images, and teenage drama, with plenty of WTF moments injected in for good measure.

Stylistically, Excision is one of the coolest films of the year.  The bizarre images and scenarios culminate into an all-out freak-show, but unfortunately, the narrative falls flat after about 30 minutes.  There is no motivating drive for anything we see in Excision; no “rosebud” to keep things moving, and the film simply turns into a random-but-fun assortment of bizarre situations. When we do finally realize what is going on with the story, it is too late and the film ends at its most pivotal and dramatic moment.

Excision still has its interesting points though. The characters are all fun, especially the lead played by AnnaLynne McCord, and you can tell there is some smartness behind all the blood and gore.  Overall the film is best suited to fans of the camp/horror/comedy boat, although there is enough going on to keep most people entertained.

6/10 stars

Similar to: Bronson, Carrie, Teeth

Side Effects (2012)

12 Feb

Side Effects is the new psychological drama directed by legendary auteur Steven Soderbergh.  After covering a wealth of genres and cinematic styles, Soderbergh recently announced his retirement from film saying this would be his last theatrical release.

Thankfully he is leaving on a good note.

Side Effects follows the story of Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), a NYC graphic designer whose husband Martin(Channing Tatum) has just recently came back from serving some jail time associated with insider trading.  Emily becomes increasingly depressed and starts seeing psychologist Dr. Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes her with a new anti-depressant that recently hit the market.

Soderbergh, mostly known for his Ocean’s Trilogy and the best-picture nominated Traffic, has recently excelled with a handful of successful films over the past three years. Haywire, Magic Mike, Contagion, and The Informant are a few that come to mind. Side Effects carefully mixes elements of Soderbergh’s past work (soft lighting, ensemble casting, and  noir-esc feel) with this ever-present feeling of impending doom.  You get the sense that things are going to end badly for the characters – and they do.

Overall, the film is an journey into the psyche of mental illness, depression, drug abuse and human nature – and it takes you places you never could have guessed. It’s unpredictable, suspenseful, thought-provoking and boldly acted; I loved this movie, and could not have asked for a better goodbye gift from such a talented director.

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8/10 stars 

Similar to: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Contagion, The Machinist

Jack Reacher (2012)

24 Jan

Who is Jack Reacher?  Well after about ten minutes into the self-titled film we know this:

Jack Reacher is a war vet who earned all sorts of medals, recognition and military prestige. Jack Reacher is a loner/he has no known family/he is off-the-grid/no one really knows much about him. Jack Reacher is the typical bad-ass character we would expect Tom Cruise to play, and it’s a fairly typical mystery/thriller that we have seen Tom Cruise star in a billion times before.

And you know what? – there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The one and only thing wrong with this movie is how seriously it takes itself.  What was billed as a campy, fun action flick (I was thinking something like Taken, Die Hard or any one of the Mission Impossibles) is really more of a solemn, violent mystery.  Now there is nothing wrong with a sobering, thought-provoking mystery. We have had a good number of great films that fit nicely into this arena lately (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island, and Notes On A Scandal are a few that come to mind).  Jack Reacher tries to align itself with the more serious in nature, but it just becomes so hard to take a film seriously when we hear lines like ” I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot” coming from the protagonist every 10 minutes or so.

Keep in mind that the subject matter for the film (a sniper kills 5 innocent people in a public shooting) is quite dark and the film doesn’t hold much back.  I am actually really surprised this passed as a PG-13 as the violence is brutal and uncomfortably shocking many times throughout the movie.  What’s more uncomfortable though, is that Jack Reacher plays off this violence with smug dialogue and unintentional humor.

Jack Reacher is still a solid, entertaining thriller, but the effort to try and play in both the serious and self-aware camps at the same time was my biggest issue with the movie. Tom Cruise, though playing a character we have already seen, plays it well and proves he is still one of the best-acting action stars around.  The supporting work by Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, and (surprisingly) Werner Herzog all add to the movie and it’s unique tone.   The film is beautifully shot and it has a nice story with a few twists, with a great cast to help bring it to life.

Rating: 7/10 

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Similar to: Hanna (2011), Faster (2010), Haywire (2012) 

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

14 Jan

The last film for me to see during this year’s awards season was Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty. After being a huge fan her previous best-picture winning war film The Hurt Locker, I had high expectations for this new thriller about the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden.

Most of them were fulfilled.

The film starts moments after the horrific events of 9/11 have taken place. The United States are in a state of shock and anger; the term “terrorism” has now established itself with being synonymous with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Jihad.  We are introduced to the film’s protagonist, Maya (played by the lovely Jessica Chastain), a new CIA recruit fresh out of high school who has been assigned to work with the interrogation of Al Qaeda members. Zero Dark Thirty revolves around this character as she tries to put together the complicated puzzle piece that eventually leads the US to Bin Laden.

Chastain plays a complicated and fierce female character who drives most of the plot.  Her performance, along with Bigelow’s understanding of the complicated story material, are what make Zero Dark Thirty a heavyweight contender for this years Best Picture Oscar.

While the film never quite reaches the suspenseful and emotional highs The Hurt Locker does, it is a very well-asembled and uncomfortably realistic film.  Like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is not geared towards the mainstream movie-going American audience of today.  There is nothing romanticized or sugar-coated about her depictions of conflict and torture, and most of the dialogue and high-level political speak will go above and beyond the average viewer’s comprehension (unless, of course you are a hardcore political or history junkie). Bigelow and her team went to great lengths to research and write-in the factual events the film is based off of, and regardless of weather or not the “facts” in the movie happened the way we see them, they still have a very prominent emotional impact on the viewer.

Despite the amount of international controversy a film like this could cause, Zero Dark Thirty stands out among other war films for it’s brutal realism and knock-out performances.  I’m hedging my bets on Chastain for this year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.

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rating 7/10 

Skyfall (2012)

10 Nov

Bond is back and he is better than ever before.  Daniel Craig once again takes on the 007 persona in this latest addition to the James Bond franchise.  Sam Mendes, of American Beauty fame, directed Skyfall and he does a great job commanding both the action and characters in the film.

In Skyfall, a cyberterrorist has been plotting a serious of attacks against Britain’s MI6 headquarters, specifically directed against the organization’s leader, M. Bond, who has been presumed dead, must prepare himself to enter the field again against a new type of terrorist.  It basically boils down to old school training and gunfighting versus  new school gadgetry and computer hacking.

Javier Bardem, mostly known for his spine-chilling performance in 2007’s No Country For Old Men, plays Silva, the film’s villain, and once again he plays his role with perfection.  Seeing Bardem here somehow reaffirmed my thoughts on he deserved his oscar from No Country, as Bardem is an incredibly versatile and adaptable to any role. He never takes the limelight away from the film’s real star, who is this case, is Judi Dench for her portrayal of M.

Her usually-unsympathetic character somehow provides the film’s real emotion, as well as contrasting with Craig’s character as Bond, who is as cool and classy as ever.

The film, though not flawless, is one of the year’s best action movies.  The action sequences are a visual spectacle to witness and somehow maintain their realism while being completely over-the-top.  The opening scene in particular becomes a tumbling rush of energy when Bond takes control of a tractor and begins rolling over cars like they are soda cans, all the while chasing the bad guy on a speeding train of course.

Looking back there are few pacing issues with Skyfall; some scenes go on for a bit too long, or we expect dialogue when there is nothing but silence.  I also had an issue with one of Bond’s new toys, (a gun that can only fire in the hands of 007), but perhaps I’m just being nit-picky. Overall, Skyfall is a great tribute to the old-school Bond films of the past while setting the stage for the new-school Bond films of the future (and I have a funny feeling this won’t be the last time we see Craig as 007).

 

Rating: 7/10