Tag Archives: film reviews

The Babadook (2014)

15 Jan

We are all familiar with the scenario: a young boy with an overactive imagination becomes terrified of the monster underneath his bed, and rushes to his mother for a therapeutic bedtime story. But what if this imaginary monster actually becomes real? This is the set up for a new Australian horror flick premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival entitled The Babadook. Our protagonist, Sam, is terrified of monsters. So terrified he is loosing sleep, causing trouble in class, and creating his own sinister weaponry out of household objects as a means of defense. It’s enough to drive his widowed mother, Amelia, into a frantic state of paranoia. As tensions between the two escalate, a new presence called the Babadook makes it’s way into the household which questions the sanity of everyone involved. The film cleverly embraces and deconstructs typical horror film conventions in order to create something new. Though it is hilariously playful and entertaining, it’s also a terrifying psychological thrill in the same vein as films like Black Swan or Rosemary’s Baby. Essie Davis is great as Amelia, but newcomer Noah Wiseman gives an incredibly memorable child acting performance. If you are a horror fan looking for something new, look no further than The Babadook. Just be prepared to have nightmares afterward, and remember to leave the kiddos at home for this one.

Rating: 7/10

Similar to: Black Swan, Rosemary’s Baby, The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones (2009), The Warriors (1979), Thirst (2009), Lolita (1962)

20 Feb

I’m going to try and update this thing more regularly, even if it’s just a quickie review of something I have seen recently.

I’m also going to try and talk about classics as well as some of the newer stuff I get my hands on.

What I have been enjoying this past week:

The Loved Ones (2009)

– Holy smokes. what a twisted movie. It is not everyday you see a teen horror film that is so chilling, disgusting and fun.  After seeing last year’s Snowtown, I know for certainty that when it comes to the disturbing and macabre, Australians do it best. While it has it’s cliche’ moments and becomes a bit predictable, there are enough twists and WTF moments to make this stand out among others of the genre.

Similar to: Hostel,The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Snowtown

Rating: 6/10 

The Warriors (1979) 

– I finally got around to seeing this cult classic and, while it is a bit slow at first, The Warriors was an overly entertaining and satisfying movie. The stylized story about gangs in a post-modern NYC goes places I wasn’t expecting and the ending was fantastic. Also a huge fan of the film’s score and wonderful costumes.

Similar to: A Clockwork Orange, Brick, 

Rating: 7/10

Thirst (2009) 

I absolutely loved this movie.  Park Chan-wook is no doubt one of the best directors working today, and he demonstrates his knowledge and passion for filmmaking perfectly in Thirst.  The story revolves around a priest-turned-vampire who is desperately trying to tame his appetite for bloodshed while at the same time helping a family in need. The film is incredibly unpredictable and beautifully shot. If the thought of blood grosses you out, you are better off avoiding this entirely, but if you have a thirst for the dark and disturbing – of if your tired of seeing the same old vampire movie – give this one a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Similar to: Let The Right One In,  Oldboy,

Rating: 8/10 

Lolita (1962) 

Finally managed to see Stanley Kubrick‘s iconic romance story about a man who falls for his landlord’s daughter.  Lolita is a superbly-writted drama and overall great film (but with a mastermind like Kubrick, what can you expect?).  The performances felt real and the characters are complex and interesting. Though it clocks in at over 2 hours the film never drags and you become immersed in the riske’ relationship between our protagonists.  I couldn’t help but thinking the entire time “how did they get away with filming this in 1962?”

Simmilar to: Eyes Wide Shut,  The Apartment, The Graduate 

Rating: 9/10 

so thats that. Any recommendations you have let me know! 🙂

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) 

Gangster Squad (2013)

8 Jan

Gangster Squad is to films noir what The Avegners was to superhero flicks.

It is loud, explosive, fast paced and just good ol’ crime-fighting fun. Sure, it’s not the most intellectual piece of cinema, nor the most dramatic. But Gangster Squad gets it ferocity from it’s fast-paced, episodic action sequences, and a slew of great performances.

The casting here is remarkable and the drama is cleverly paced with welcome bouts of comedic timing. Sean Penn, as the ruthless crime leader Cohen, is at the top of his game. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great together and Josh Brolin makes a whole-hearted likable good-guy (for once).

Added to the film’s style is a pitch-pefect retro look and beautiful Matrix-esc action scenes. The story is catered to meet modern audiences, but is still reminiscent of great films noir and gives heaping doses of thrills and emotion.  This film packs a violent punch and though not genre-defining, Gangster Squad is one of the best crime films I have seen in a long time.

rating 7/10 

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Amelie (2001)

30 Nov

Amelie tells the story of a French twenty-something year-old girl.  She fantasizes about many things including dipping her hands into a bag of grain and cracking fresh creme’ brûlée’ with a spoon. Trapped somewhere between a naive childhood fantasy and the impending responsibility of adulthood, Amelie’s life takes a turn when she (though rather unknowingly) falls in love.

Amelie, as a film, is a montage of sorts about the small pleasures of life. Like watching a laughing baby or a litter of puppies, the film is an enchanting delight that is easy to get immersed into.  There is something universally charming about Amelie, both her character and the world in which she lives.  The colorful characters and remarkable production design give the film an animated vibrance that was unlike anything I have ever seen.

Some say this is a romance film done in the style of Woody Allen, others will point to the dark comedies reminiscent of Wes Anderson, or John Hughes.

I liked this film best for it’s wonderful use of music, story, cinematography and performances which really leave a lasting impression.  Technically, Amelie is flawless, but it’s the emotions and vibrance of the film which make it a mesmerizing and overall enchanting piece of cinema.  One of my all time favorite French films.

rating 10/10 

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 

 

End of Watch (2012)

2 Oct

Adding to the already monstrous pile of found footage films, End of Watch gives us an inside look of the infamous Los Angeles Police Department.  Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are two L.A.P.D. partners who get involved with a conspiring drug cartel.

Gyllenhaal and Pena are both great together on-screen and they each drive the film with humor and sincere emotion. You really become attached to these two leads and the film cleverly shows us what is going on in their lives, both on and off the streets.

Though the shaky-cam was extremely annoying at first, you get adjusted to it after a while and instead focus on the film’s story.

And for a found-footage film, End of Watch has an extremely good story. David Ayer, who is no stranger to crime movies (he also wrote Training Day and The Fast And The Furious), directs the action and performances with perfection.  I wasn’t expecting too much from  End of Watch, but it really blew me away with it’s emotion and many clever plot twists.

End of Watch is far from perfect (the horribly over-used shaky cam is one of the obvious flaws), but the film is very well done and I was much more emotional than I thought I would be when the film finished.

Which is always a good sign.

rating  7/10

Looper (2012)

28 Sep

Looper is the best Nolan-esc movie that Christopher Nolan didn’t direct.

In case you are unfamiliar with its premise let me fill you in:  the year is 2044.  Time travel enables criminal organizations to send people back into the past for a hit-man- a looper – to take care of.  The film revolves around one particular looper named Joe who is unexpectedly faced with an older version of himself.  The older Joe avoids being killed by the younger version and begins his own plan of manipulating the past in order to create a better outcome for the future.

Looper is great; the two leads in this film (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis), are at the top of their game.  A lot of people have been complaining about the make-up used to portray Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger Bruce Willis, but I thought the artists did a spectacular job.

Supporting actors Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, and Paul Dano each do a wonderful job and contribute to the plot significantly in their own separate ways.

This film is an entertaining ride from start finish with one of the most original plots I have seen recently.    It opens up with an assassination scene and never slows down from there. While it does rely on some typical action-movie cliches, Looper never allows the action to get in the way of its storytelling, and remains an unpredictable joy throughout.

Looper even has a dash or two of good humor. The film’s greatest strength is that it always is unpredictable, but never unrealistic or over-the-top like your typical action blockbuster (that is, if you can accept the idea of time-travel and multiple universes as realistic).  Of course with a film like this, you are inevitably going to have your nit-picking science geeks who will try and tear down the film’s ending with logic.  The film does slow down a bit during it’s second half, and goes from focusing on it’s logic to it’s morals, but this never stops Looper from being an interesting, and at times, puzzling movie.

My only regret with this movie is that it left me wishing for a time machine of my own.  That way I could travel back 24 hours in time and enjoy this introspective mind-bender all over again.

rating 8/10 

Dark Shadows (2012)

27 Sep

Dark Shadows is a bit of an embarrassment. In the film, Johnny Depp takes on another role where he is cursed with the gift of immortal life.  I have always wondered what it would be like to never die, and about halfway into this film, I knew what that feeling must be.

I was staring at the screen thinking to myself “oh please just kill me now”, but nope – I was forced to live on and see one embarrassing scene after the next.

What was Tim Burton thinking when he did this film? He knows how to put a story together, but lately it is as if Tim Burton has become the new M. Night Shyamalan – a director who favors style and visuals over story content.

With Dark Shadows, all you really get is a collection of stale jokes that are not very funny.

It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, It’s not thought provoking, it’s not scary, it’s not really anything worth watching; Dark Shadows is just 2 hours of blah. Sure, there are a few entertaining parts, but they become overshadowed by the preposterous story events that don’t make any sense at all.  The film tries to make some sort of story about a family in financial trouble who need a bit of a hand from (cue vampire) “an old family friend.”  But even this  excuse for a story becomes tainted by tasteless jokes and a nostalgia for the 70’s.

The story is so very badly written; there are too many random events that happen with no overall theme to connect them. During the last twenty minutes you find out the young girl was really a werewolf for example, but it has nothing to do with anything. It was as if halfway through through filming someone pitched the idea to put a werewolf into a film about a vampires as a joke and Tim Burton said “eh why not!!?? it’s just a movie to please the kids anyway right?? lets make one of the main characters a werewolf -who cares if it will make sense?! people are going to pay money to see this anyway because of the Deppster right???”

 

Next time I will have allot more empathy when I see that a character has been cursed to live forever – especially if they are working on a future Tim Burton movie.

Rating 3/10

The Master (2012)

27 Sep

P.T. Anderson‘s latest drama The Master, hit theaters nationwide this past weekend.  After receiving numerous awards at this years Toronto Film Festival, the film is now being discussed as an obvious contender for next years  Best Picture oscar.  When I found out it would be starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the Best Leading Actor winner, and Oscar nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, I was thrilled.  Being in the hands of a director with such great skills that P.T. Anderson has, there was no way this film could go wrong. Right?

Well, lets put is this way: The Master is Anderson’s least accessible film thus far, and is definitely not for everyone.  I’m not even sure who this film is for.

The Master starts out with us getting acquainted with Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell. Freddie enjoys women and booze among many other things, but has never really adjusted to civilian life post WWII.  Ever since I saw the wonderful Walk The Line, I knew Phoenix could act, but WOW- he gives one jaw-dropping performance here.   Hoffman’s role is also very good as the cult leader of a group known as “The Cause”.  What exactly The Cause is, the movie never really says.  Instead it focuses on the relationship between these two men as they draw intimately close to one another.

Not only is the acting some of the best I have ever seen, but this film looks absolutely beautiful. Anderson got the production design spot on and the cinematography is pristine.  Every shot is stunning and framed in such a way it reminded me of some of Kubrick’s films.  Which means I would have been completely satisfied just watching this on mute with no subtitles.

But then we come to the most important aspect of any film: its story. I won’t say The Master has a bad story – because it doesn’t – but it is extremely illogical and perplexing.  There is not nearly enough explanation to what is happening on-screen, nonetheless why things are happening.  The entire thing feels more like a dreamy memory of a film rather than a cohesive one, with only bits and pieces standing out on the surface.  I felt like there was so much left out that I didn’t get, but whats even worse, there was so much that was unnecessarily added.

The Master could have been such a great film if only its story wasn’t swallowed up by its actors and visuals.

I think this is one of those films that is better appreciated the second time around, but at a dragging 137 minutes, I’m not sure I want to see this again – at least not any time soon.

 

rating 7/10