Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises"

Directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Marion Cotillard - Rated PG-13

"When Gotham is...ashes, then you have my permission to die."

There has already been way too much online controversy concerning The Dark Knight Rises (hereafter just Rises) after the first few negative reviews came out.  I don’t want to get into a whole film criticism in an internet age debate, but I will say that having a different opinion is not a big deal.  It makes no sense for people to freak out about a bad review, especially if they haven’t seen the movie yet.  When I heard about a handful of negative reviews, I had a little impulse to get defensive as well because I am a Batman fan.  I didn’t freak out and write a threatening letter or anything, but I did start to think, “What a bunch of crap! They just want to be different.”  Maybe that actually is true (there are certainly people out there who only want to be contrary to get a reaction), but odds are there are people who honestly won’t like Rises. 
I bring all of the critic backlash stuff up because Rises is destined to be a victim of hype and that is certainly why “fans” are defending a film they haven’t seen.  I also think that some critics (or people like me, who are not “professional” critics) will be negative because their lofty expectations were not met.  That is an unfortunate way to judge a film (and I am guilty of doing it from time to time).  The Dark Knight did not face this same fate because people were pleased with Batman Begins but did not freak out about it.  Heath Ledger as the Joker got people hyped up for the film and most people were blown away.  That’s a hard act to follow and it’s easy for someone to be disappointed if the exact same type of film is made for the sequel.  I am not one of those people.  I loved the newest Batman film and I think director Christopher Nolan has delivered an amazing endpoint to a great trilogy.
Rises is closure in the best sense of the word.  Batman Begins was all about Gotham City and whether or not it deserved to be saved.  Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) lives only to save his city.  In The Dark Knight that idea seemed to be focused more on the people rather than the city itself.  Batman wasn’t trying to save the physical city; he was trying to save the soul of the city.  In Rises, the city itself is up for grabs.  In fact, nearly everything is up in the air in this film.  All of the buildup has led to this giant film about the fate of a troubled city.
Gotham has never felt more real.  There has always been a personality to Gotham City in these films, but it’s been a growing process.  Gotham just feels like more of a character in this film than the others.  That is immensely important since the whole point of the film is whether or not the city survives.
Of course, the main reason to watch the film is to see the people fighting for the city, and there are a lot of them.  There’s the usual crew of Batman, Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).  Added to the lot are young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and veteran officer Foley (Matthew Modine).  Then there’s Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who plays both sides to her advantage.  And finally, there’s Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked mercenary who wants to destroy Gotham and make Batman suffer immeasurably. 
Sounds like a busy film, right?  It is.  In fact, when I first heard about the extended cast I started to worry if this film would make the same mistakes that so many sequels do: overstuffing to try and please everyone.  I was surprised by how well it all tied together.  Sure, some might complain that some characters do not get enough attention (Batman, for instance, feels nearly like a supporting player rather than the hero), but I thought the film was perfectly balanced.  In fact, the lack of focus on one individual adds to the point of the film: Batman is not meant to be an unmasked hero, but a persona that anyone can step into to do good.  Who said the Dark Knight had to be Batman or Bruce Wayne, anyway? 
This brings me to why this trilogy has been so special in the first place: themes.  Sure, themes can be applied to all films, but there’s something about Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that always makes me think a bit more than other superhero films like, say, The Avengers.  Perhaps it’s Batman’s constant preaching about what Gotham needs, but I always find myself thinking about what it means to be “good” in society and when, or if, it is ever okay to lie a little to protect a lot.  No matter, these films have a self-importance to them that doesn’t come across as pretentious but rather makes everything happening onscreen that much more compelling.
Thankfully, what’s happening onscreen is also pretty awesome.  Nolan has always been able to bring the goods when it comes to cinematic set pieces and he keeps it going with Rises.  I don’t want to go into specifics, but what impressed me the most was the transformation of Gotham.  Aside from that, just know that you get to see every dollar that was spent on this movie.
The characters of the Batman world have always been the real appeal, though.  No offense to Mr. Wayne, but as a character, both he and Batman have grown a bit less interesting with age.  This went unnoticed in The Dark Knight because everyone loved the villain so much.  But is Bane an interesting enough villain to keep things fresh?  I say yes.  The mask and the physicality of Tom Hardy make Bane an imposing villain already, but the boldness of his actions and his words make him interesting.  I still like the Joker more, but Bane is right up there with him.  As for the whole voice controversy, I did have trouble understanding him here and there and the sound of the voice is kind of jarring at first because it seems too loud, but I got used to it and, after a second viewing, really liked it. 
The other big addition that had everyone talking was Catwoman.  (To be clear, she is never really called Catwoman, but it’s easier to refer to her that way.)  I have never been a fan of the character so I was very skeptical about her inclusion, but I was dead wrong.  This is mainly thanks to Hathaway’s performance (and her physicality doesn’t hurt, either).  She does a great job of playing the victim, then quickly reverting back to her natural survivalist state.  She definitely livened up the screen when Bane was away. 
Gordon-Levitt was a bit of a shot in the arm for the franchise, as well.  He seemed like a pointless addition when I heard about it months ago, but once again, I was wrong.  His do-gooder cop works well with Oldman as he keeps things moving in the film when they would otherwise come to a crawl.
The rest of the actors do their usual fine job as their characters haven’t changed very much.  I will point out that Bale was a bit better this time as Batman.  His growling has been toned down a bit and didn’t sound as ridiculous as it did in The Dark Knight.  I also liked his portrayal of Bruce Wayne as a broken man.  This may be the best performance he has given in the trilogy.  
The Dark Knight Rises simply delivered everything I wanted in a final chapter to my favorite superhero franchise.  This is not a perfect film or anything, though.  But I’ll ask what I always ask: is there such a thing as a “perfect” film?  Many have written articles about the faults of the film and, to be honest, I agree with a few of them.  But I did not really notice any problems while I watched it.  I just loved it because I am a dorky fanboy and if I get to see Bane and Batman throw down, I can ignore some logic problems with the story.  And I write this having seen the film a second time and still not having major issues with it.  So this makes Rises one of the best films of the year for me and a more enjoyable film than The Avengers.  But the larger question remains: does it live up to the hype?  In other words, is this better than The Dark Knight?  Well, time will tell on that one.  But why even separate the films?  The first time I watched Rises was as part of a marathon screening of all three films (I mentioned I was a dork, right?), and it felt like one long story with a couple of intermissions.  So is it better?  I don’t know.  I do know that it is part of the greatest comic book storyline of all time and a fitting end to a great trilogy.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I think I ended up absolutely loving this film because I realized how engrossed I was in it.  I've read where people were spotting the twist that Miranda Tate was actually Talia al Ghul very early on but it was completely lost on me.  This is ridiculous because I'm normally focused on predicting the ending or the twist of a film and this one is pretty easy to spot, especially when you pay attention and you know who Talia is before watching the film (and I was aware of the character before the film came out).  Even after seeing the child escape the Pit I didn't put it together.  I wondered how the child escaping could be Bane since it didn't have a mask on, but I was so into the movie that I didn't realize that it had to have been someone else.  When a movie gets me like that, then it's good enough for me.

I also liked where this leaves the franchise.  I was recently extremely disappointed with the decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise so quickly and I was already bracing myself for the Batman reboot sure to come in less than a decade.  But since Blake was left the keys to the castle, so to speak, the films could continue on with him as Batman.  Nolan is done, but at least the films can go on without rebooting it and giving yet another origin story.  Of course, they'll probably completely reboot it anyway.

Bane and Batman duking it out was great.  I loved their first encounter and it was awesome to see Bane "break" Batman. 

There was a Joker in this movie.  Matthew Modine was Joker in Full Metal Jacket.  Does that count?

The happy ending was a little cheesy, but I'm okay with it.  Doesn't Bruce Wayne deserve a little happiness?  Initially, I wanted Batman to die, but I can accept a fake death.

It was great to see the Scarecrow back in action as a judge.  I really wish he had gotten more screen time throughout the trilogy. 

It was refreshing for the mob bosses to be out of the picture.  It made this seem more realistic (even though this is arguably the least realistic film in the series what with the whole Escape from Gotham scenario).  Let's face it: Batman facing off against mobsters seems a bit anachronistic. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Directed by Oliver Stone, written by Stone, Don Winslow, and Shane Salerno, starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, and Benicio Del Toro - Rated R

Oliver Stone is back, even if he never really left...

Oliver Stone has gone missing in the eyes of many film fanatics.  His latest work, such as Alexander, World Trade Center, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, has failed to impress many fans of his earlier, amazing work.  As a fan of Stone, I tend to give him a break.  I thought the final director’s cut of Alexander was great (even if it is over four hours long), and W. felt very much like a return to his old style, though he never went all the way with it.  (To clarify, “all the way” means making a movie in the vein of Natural Born Killers, which is one of my favorite Stone films.)  I was less enthused with his film about the 9/11 attacks, which was well-made, but too plain for me and I couldn’t find much to like about his Wall Street sequel.  With Savages, though, Stone has made a film that deserves to be talked about along with Killers, U Turn, and Any Given Sunday, among others.
Perhaps it’s the plot of “Savages” that brought out the best in Stone.  Based on the very stylistic novel of the same name by Don Winslow, Savages is about drugs, corruption, love, and violence.  This is Oliver Stone territory.  The story follows Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two masterful California marijuana farmers who attract the attention of the Mexican drug cartels once their business starts to boom.  Ben is a peace-loving charitable type, while Chon is a hardened ex-Navy SEAL who is willing to do anything for the people he loves; which is where O (Blake Lively) comes into play.  O, short for Ophelia, is the mutual girlfriend of Ben and Chon.  Theirs isn’t so much a love triangle as it is an extended relationship.  There is no rivalry or anything like that to clog the story up.  O propels the story because she is kidnapped by the cartel and Ben and Chon must rescue her. 
That’s enough story spoiling for you, but the story is more complicated than it might seem as there are a lot of characters and things move very quickly despite the 131 minute running time.  What’s important is that the three leads feel like real characters and their relationship seems plausible even though it is certainly different.  The three leads are likable and they are the glue of the film.  Actually wanting the main characters to get what they want is a key issue too many films fail at these days but Savages gets the job done.
It’s a good thing the leads are likable because the supporting players all try their best to steal the show.  First is Salma Hayek as the leader of a cartel.  Hayek has played tough, no-nonsense roles before, but never too great effect.  (I have just never really bought her as a tough lady.)  In Savages, however, she does much better.  Maybe it was how the character was written, with her cold-hearted threats and whatnot.  Whatever it was, it worked and I almost wanted things to work out for her, even though she is one of the “villains” of the film.
Maybe it’s Hayek’s right hand man, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), who makes her character work.  Lado is easily the most despicable character in the film, but Del Toro brings a strange likability to Lado.  He is detestably likable, if that’s possible.  Del Toro just has a way of speaking and griming up the screen that makes you want to see more of him.  He helps Hayek’s performance by being so malicious.  If she is able to stand up to him and even discipline a guy like Lado, who could even think to cross her?
The last supporting role worth mentioning is John Travolta as Dennis, a corrupt DEA agent.  Travolta isn’t breaking new ground here or anything.  He’s played plenty of slimy, double-crossing characters.  It’s just so much fun to watch him do his thing.
This is still an Oliver Stone movie, though, and it’s fairly obvious that he directed this.  He uses a lot of different film stock (or he digitally altered a lot of scenes to appear that way), the music factors in multiple times and does a great job of setting up the mood, and the camera kind meanders wherever in his frenetic, but not too chaotic, style.  And while Stone has never been labeled an action director, Savages has plenty of great action beats that don’t skimp on the blood.  This film doesn’t have the fingerprint that “Killers” has, but it’s certainly more of a Stone film than, say, World Trade Center.
Savages is arguably a return to form for Stone (I write “arguably” because I don’t think he ever really lost it or anything).  But this is still not an upper tier Stone film.  I really enjoyed and will eventually buy this film, but compared to the director’s other classics, this one doesn’t crack the top five.  That’s a very hard top five to crack, though.  If there is one thing that really keeps Savages out of the upper echelon, it is the ending.  I can’t go into it here (check the spoilers section below), but the ending of this film is questionable at best.  It certainly raises a debate and at the moment, I lean towards the negative on it, mainly because I found it to be deceiving and unjustified.  Aside from that potentially major issue, Savages is one of the better films to come out this year. 
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Okay, that ridiculous rewind ending.  As a fan of the book, I was quite shocked when they showed the book ending, only to rewind and give some overly happy ending.  I really couldn't believe after I saw that Winslow was a screenwriter.  Some have mentioned that Stone did this to get political with the corrupt DEA and all that stuff and I guess that's slightly understandable, but I didn't think it fit with the rest of the film.  It really took me out of the entire experience.  I liked the treatment of the DEA agent in the novel much better, with his suicide when he realizes how much he has messed up.  But Stone had to keep him alive just so he could say, "Look at your corrupt government!"  I know Stone is political, but enough statements about corrupt governments can be, and are, made within the regular plot.  I only slightly forgive it because I didn't mind seeing the three leads survive, because I liked them.  But it seemed better for them to die together at the end rather than go to Indonesia and shop at the farmer's market.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man"

Directed by Marc Webb, written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans - Rated PG-13

The pointlessness of this film (much like the pointlessness of Bruce Banner's dad as a villain in Hulk) is just too much for me.

When I first heard about the reboot of Spider-Man, I reacted the same way many fans did: I wondered what the point was.  After all, it had only been ten years since the superhero franchise had started and it had been a mere five years since the last entry in that trilogy.  Why on earth would they need to tell this origin story again?  As the hype built and footage was released, I started to lighten up.  After all, the Batman franchise had rebooted eight years after the last entry.  Maybe this Spider-Man (with the vastly different title, The Amazing Spider-Man) would try to reinvent the hero and tell new stories in a different style.  As it turns out, my initial fears were legitimate.  The Amazing Spider-Man is extremely similar to the Tobey Maguire-Sam Raimi film in terms of plot and action.  It truly felt like a less fun remake rather than a daring reimagining. 

Is it really fair to judge a movie based on whatever form of a “re-“ it is?  I suppose not, but how can you ignore how pointless it all is?  Sure, people were upset with the third Spider-Man film, but did they need to start over and tell the exact same origin story?  I’ll try to judge this film on its own merits as much as possible, but this film kind of has to be judged in comparison to the original. 

Origin stories in general are a little boring, especially when you already know what’s going to happen.  Look at the popular consensus of the latest Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man films.  The first films are well-received because they are necessary.  Even though most people know the backgrounds of these decades-old heroes, we accept that they must be introduced.  The second film in all of these franchises has been regarded as the best because we can just enjoy the character and not have to deal with that first hour of the character figuring things out.  The point of all this is that Spider-Man didn’t need to be introduced again.  It hasn’t been that long so people could probably handle the idea of Peter Parker already being Spider-Man. 

The Amazing Spider-Man hints at telling a new story only to devolve into identical territory.  We get glimpses of Peter Parker’s parents, but it’s a missed opportunity.  Instead of delving into the mystery of his parents, we see Peter in high school…again, taking pictures…again, getting bullied…again, and…well, everything you saw ten years ago…again.  Why?

The Amazing Spider-Man would also have you believe that this is a different, darker Peter Parker.  Nothing against Andrew Garfield; he makes for a fine Spider-Man, but the character isn’t written differently.  Sure, the tone of this film is a bit darker, but it’s not a major shift.  Peter still has moments of depression, anger, and happiness.  If anything, I thought Peter was a bit quicker to get over death in this version, which is odd. 

Okay, so the story and the tone are not different enough, then what about the action?  Once again, the small changes simply don’t warrant the existence of this film.  Sam Raimi did a fine job of filming Spidey as he swung throughout New York City.  Director Marc Webb dabbled with some first person point of view sequences for this film.  But even though an early trailer contained a full first person sequence, the final film only used bits and pieces.  Perhaps that was because the early footage was awful and looked like a subpar videogame rather than a big budget film. 

All of the above complaining is not to say that this is terrible movie, though.  Just a pointless one.  The acting is fine, though no one really stands out.  The film has some intense sequences and a few laughs, including the best Stan Lee cameo yet.  Honestly, if this film had been released back in 2002, I probably would have really liked it.  But compared to the film that did come out in ’02, it is definitely the lesser effort. 

This film pales in comparison to the original for many reasons.  First, the villain.  It’s all well and good to bring out the Lizard in the first film, especially since he was only hinted at in the previous films, but there’s a reason he was never truly introduced: he looks goofy…and he’s downright ridiculous when he talks.  The Lizard might work in the comic books, but he’s just too cartoonish for film. 

Next, the romance.  I kind of bought the chemistry between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but it is paper thin.  They basically get together in this film because they are both awkward around each other and just have a “feeling.”  That seemed lazy to me while the Peter and Mary Jane relationship in the original had a bit more meat to it.
Finally, the tone.  This film wants to be the darker, more realistic of the two franchises, but it just ends up being messy.  Peter goes from funny to depressed to vengeful to righteous in about ten minutes.  At least the original knew what it wanted to be and it was all the more fun because of it.

You may read this and completely disagree with me.  Maybe I am wrong and people really wanted a new Spider-Man.  If that’s the case, enjoy it while I just put in my Maguire-Raimi Spider-Man DVD.  I think quite a few of you will agree with me, though.  I would tell you to avoid this obvious studio cash grab, but it doesn’t matter.  The film has already made plenty of money (including some from me).  Maybe you can find solace in the fact that you’re not alone in disliking this film.  Or better yet, you actually did skip it and I’ve just confirmed your fear that this movie would be pointless.  I hope that’s the case, then at least I can feel some satisfaction from having sat through this unfortunate movie.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Just to ease up a bit, this movie isn't bad, it's just so unnecessary.  I was glad to see that they didn't attempt to bring a new Jameson, since J. K. Simmons was so great in that role.

I also liked that they went with the web pellets rather than making it a weird bodily secretion.

And finally, this movie does look better, but only because it's ten years later, not because the filmmakers were more skilled.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Directed by Seth MacFarlane, written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, starring Macfarlane, Mark Wahlberg, and Mila Kunis - Rated R

Flash!  Ahhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhh!

Seth MacFarlane has been dominating the animation world on TV for quite some time with shows like “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” but he has not made an effort to cross over into live action very often.  With “Ted,” MacFarlane makes his feature film debut as an actor (though he stays off screen by donning a motion capture suit to play Ted), writer, producer, and director.  And it turns out that MacFarlane’s humor translates quite well to cinema.

Of course, as with all comedies, I can’t just tell you flat out that this is a funny movie.  Some people will find this movie offensive, crude, and downright stupid.  Some people (e.g., me) will laugh at almost every weird, crazy minute of this film.  I would say that if you enjoy “Family Guy” and all those shows, then you’ll like this.  And if you don’t like those shows, then you’ll probably hate Ted.  This is very clearly a movie made by the same people.  One other warning: you probably shouldn’t let your kids watch this.  Even though it is about a talking teddy bear, it is a still an R-rated comedy and it gets pretty raunchy relatively early in the film. 

Ted works for multiple reasons.  First, the R-rating allows MacFarlane, and fellow writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, to go places they can’t go on TV.  Secondly, the constant pop culture referencing style of “Family Guy” is just plain funny.  Some may scoff at the “easy” humor of a show or movie that bases its laughs on other works, and maybe they are right.  But you know what?  I was laughing.  And that’s all a comedy has to do for me.

The pop culture stuff can be a blessing and a curse, however.  While most of the jokes are broad and the gags are funny no matter what you know, some of them may go over your head.  For instance, 80s cult classic Flash Gordon is referenced constantly.  I have actually never seen that movie so even though I still laughed at the absurdity of some of the jokes, I didn’t get to enjoy them as much as someone who had seen that film.  And Flash Gordon is certainly not the only reference made in this film.  The more pop culture trivia you know the better.  

There’s no point in getting into other jokes since it will just spoil them, so the other major factor needs to be addressed: the CG.  Normally in a comedy you don’t have to worry about special effects very much, but Ted is different since the main character is a walking, talking teddy bear.  The CG is great.  It’s easy to accept Ted as an actual onscreen character.  The performances helped with this quite a bit, as well.  MacFarlane is funny enough with his Peter Griffin voice (which is actually referenced, as well), but more importantly, he made a point to wear a motion capture suit and perform with the other actors.  That assuredly helped out the other actors, but they still had to convincingly interact with the toy bear and they did a fine job.

As far as comedic performances go, the cast is strong as well.  Mark Wahlberg is proving to be well suited for comedy and this role seemed even more tailored to his comedic sensibilities than his previous comedy, The Other Guys.  “Family Guy” alum Mila Kunis is fine, also, playing the girlfriend, but getting a bit more to do than you might expect.  The rest of the cast is peppered with some familiar faces and a number of very odd and funny cameos. 

Overall, Ted is one of the funnier comedies to come out this year, though time will tell if it’s the “funniest” (as the ads would lead you to believe).  It certainly ranks in my top three comedies so far along with 21 Jump Street and Wanderlust.  Hopefully Seth MacFarlane will keep going after this success and produce more and more quality comedies. 
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Okay, just wanted to mention some of my favorite parts down here.

The Ryan Reynolds cameo was so odd and hilarious.  His piercing stare cracked me up.

The Sam Jones cameo was great as well, even though I have never seen Flash Gordon.  That party scene in general is amazing.  Loved the conversation about the Italian restaurant they plan to open.

Giovanni Ribisi and his kid were pretty creepy/funny, but Ribisi's dancing to "I Think We're Alone Now" stole the show.  So weird and great.

There are a ton of moments I found hilarious, but I just want to point out one more: Tom Skerritt.  It makes almost no sense, but I thought it was the funniest part of the film.  The payoff of Matt Walsh kidnapping Skerritt's daughter to force him to hang out is so ridiculous how can you not laugh?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom"

Directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman - Rated PG-13

"I love you, but you have no idea what you are talking about."
This review might be pointless.  I’m not doubting my critical skills (I’ll leave that to you, the reader), but reviewing Wes Anderson films in the traditional sense just doesn’t make much…well, sense.  Here’s the thing: If you like Anderson’s previous work then you should at the very least watch Moonrise Kingdom; if you hate his movies, then definitely skip it.  He has certainly not changed his style.  So this review is pointless if you don’t like his films.  If you are like me and you very much enjoy the majority of his work, then keep reading; I might have some thoughts that interest or anger you.

I am not the biggest Wes Anderson fan out there, but the films of his that I do enjoy, I enjoy immensely.  My favorite films, in no particular order, are Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.  That list alone might get an argument started with cinephiles because of a title or two that’s included and one or two that is left off.  The important thing is that I am a fan of Anderson’s style, both the visuals and the dialogue.  It’s just sometimes the story doesn’t work for me or it seems a bit pointless.  The point of all this is that I am happy to say that Moonrise Kingdom can be added to my favorites list. 

Moonrise Kingdom has the style you’ve come to expect from Anderson in that it is set in 1965 (nearly all of his films look like they are set in the 60s, but this one actually is).  The production design and soundtrack are great as usual, so no need to delve into details, other than to point out that it is funny to see a few of the actors dressed as boy scouts.  It’s all very quirky and amusing, and I am being sincere.  I’m usually one to say that the aesthetics of Anderson’s work are just there for the sake of quirk, but in this case it is more about homage.  Apparently this film is influenced by the Jean-Luc Godard film Pierrot le Fou.  I must admit ignorance when it comes to Godard’s films, but I am definitely going to check out a few now, if only so that I can appreciate this film a bit more.  It’s obviously not required viewing, though, since I enjoyed it very much and I didn’t know about the influence until after I had seen Moonrise Kingdom. 

Having an influence isn’t what made the style completely worth it for me, though.  The story and the characters are touching and humorous, and that is what makes some of Anderson’s films great.  (I need to clarify that this film was co-written by Roman Coppola, so Anderson didn’t do all of this on his own.)  Moonrise Kingdom is essentially a love story about two young people who don’t fit in.  Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan with “emotional” problems who wants to escape from his khaki scout troop and run away with Suzy (Kara Hayward), a “troubled” girl who wants to escape from her family.  They travel all over a New England island, engaging in amusing conversation and awkward first love.  It’s all very sincere and you really want things to work out for them.

Nearly everyone else in the film tries to keep the two apart.  This group consists of the heavy hitters of the cast like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Edward Norton.  These actors, along with Jason Schwartzman, are the faces you’ll see in all of the promotional material for the film, but they are supporting players.  They all do a fine job and it’s really just about personal preference when it comes to picking favorites.  Simply the idea of Bruce Willis appearing in a Wes Anderson film is funny to me, so he was definitely my favorite, especially since he gives a heartfelt performance that we haven’t seen in a long time. Norton and Schwartzman were a close second and third because of their sincerity.  Norton is channeling his gee-whiz performance from the under-seen Death to Smoochy to great effect and Schwartzman seems to be picking up right where Rushmore left off with equal success. 

The whole khaki scout aspect of the movie was great.  I thought it was funny how the scouts were basically run like a military organization.  An impressive tracking shot revealing the workings of the camp near the beginning of the film fits in perfectly within the Anderson canon.  The scout stuff also lends to plenty of interesting visuals (my personal favorite was the tree house that was far too high). 

Visually speaking, this is one of Anderson’s most beautiful films.  All of the outdoors scenes allowed him to try something new as far as setting is concerned and he shot in some great locations.  On top of that, a storm near the end of the film (this isn’t a spoiler since the narrator lets the audience know about right from the start) created some great moments as well.

Moonrise Kingdom isn’t anything new for Anderson, but that isn’t such a bad thing.  What’s wrong with a guy knowing what his style is and sticking with it?  If you don’t like his style, don’t watch his films.  Simple as that.  If you are a fan of it, then definitely check this one out.  You might not count it among your favorites but it is very unlikely that you’ll be disappointed by the film because it is about as Wes Anderson as Wes Anderson can get.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Since he wasn't in any previews or in the opening credits, I'm guessing Harvey Keitel's appearance is meant to be a surprise.  I just wanted to point out how funny it was to see him pop up in this film, only to promptly blown up.

I really like the title of the film and thought it fit in perfectly with the tone of the film.  The actual Moonrise Kingdom was a very beautiful spot in the film as well, and there's something to be said about the fact that it has disappeared after the storm. 

Another very Anderson aspect to the film: The kids seem to know exactly what they want, while the adults are the truly lost characters who need to change and grow by the end of the film. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Magic Mike"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Reid Carolin, starring, Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey - Rated R

If you only watch one Channing Tatum movie that appears to be aimed exclusively at women, make it this one.

First off, let me state than I am a man and I watched Magic Mike.  Not only did I watch it, I wanted to watch it.  I did go see it with my girlfriend, but she didn’t drag me to it or anything.  In fact, I asked her if she wanted to see it.  This was a film directed by Steven Soderbergh, after all, and he tends to make interesting films.  As I sat in the theater on opening night, I started to doubt my choice.  The theater was filled with very talkative, excited women and maybe three or four fellow men.  There were cheers when the lights went out, and when Channing Tatum’s naked rear end is revealed in the first few minutes, the crowd erupted with glee.  I definitely felt out of place.  I started to wonder if Magic Mike was truly meant for women and women only.  As I continued to watch I realized that all the women on Facebook and the men shaking their heads when they saw the previews were wrong: Magic Mike is not a movie for women, it’s simply a good movie. 

Note to women: This review is mainly an appeal to guys to give this movie a chance.  I know most women definitely want to see this and from what I can tell, they have really enjoyed it.  So don’t look to me if you’re not sure if you want to see it or not.  Ask some of your female friends, because I’m sure their opinion means a lot more than mine on this one.

Magic Mike is a movie about male strippers and that is why men refuse to watch it and women insist on going in droves.  But this isn’t just a nonstop stripping performance.  Sure, there are plenty of scenes with mostly nude dudes (a couple too many in my opinion and about a hundred too few in a woman’s opinion), but there is still a story, and an entertaining one at that. 

The story itself is a bit on the plain side, once you get past the male stripper aspect of it.  Channing Tatum plays the titular Mike, an ambitious entrepreneur who is only stripping to bankroll something a bit more normal.  He comes across Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a young man drifting aimlessly through life.  Mike introduces Adam to the world of male stripping and things get a bit more complicated after that.  Not to give anything away, but Magic Mike contains all the usual elements of a mentor-protégé film.  There are good times, drugs, serious moments, highs, lows, etc.  The important thing to know is that the film never delves too far into melodrama because it really is a movie about having a good time.

Women will definitely have a better time with this than most men.  But once again, men should not avoid this.  Hear me out.  The stripping/dancing scenes may be intended for women, but not exclusively.  I wasn’t going to look away or hide my eyes for fear of losing my heterosexuality, so I did watch all the scenes and I found myself laughing quite consistently.  I found the dancing to be ridiculous to the point of hilarity.  It’s not bad dancing (trust me, I know I can’t move like that), it’s good, which makes it funny.  Maybe women find it sensual or something, but I found it hilarious…and impressive.  As much as I hate to admit it, Tatum can dance to the point that it is the equivalent of an action scene in a regular summer movie.

Something else I hate to admit, I’m really enjoying Tatum’s work lately.  He was hilarious in 21 Jump Street and he pretty much carries this film.  He doesn’t have to do much in the way of heavy lifting, but he’s still the anchor of the film.  Alex Pettyfer does okay as an aimless kid and transitions well into brashness.   The supporting cast is serviceable, but Matthew McConaughey is the only true standout.  As the emcee of the strip club, I believe he has found the role he was born to play.  It seems natural to hear him drawl out his catch phrase (“All right, all right, all right”) and he even looks at home playing the bongos on stage.  He coaches the strippers with a hilarious intensity and he’s capable of being realistically slimy when things don’t go his way.  He definitely had a lot of fun with this role.

The actors were never the reason I wanted to see this, though.  It was because it was a Soderbergh film.  To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed because it was kind of plainly directed.  Sure, you get the lighting and coloring of a Soderbergh film and a documentary feel to it, but I found it a bit lacking in style.  Thankfully, the humor makes up for it.

Overall, Magic Mike is an enjoyable, funny film that both men and women can enjoy.  Still disagree and think this is a chick flick?  All I can say is watch it and find out.  I will leave you with this, though.  I was dragged to see another Channing Tatum movie earlier this year: The Vow.  I left that film with almost no opinion of it (I didn’t even write a review) because I could tell that it was not meant for me.  I walked out of the theater after Magic Mike and I definitely had an opinion and that was, “That was a fun movie…even if I did have to see a few butts.” 

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS, I guess?)

Kevin Nash's appearance was a funny surprise.  It was even funnier when he attempted to dance.  That man cannot move.  He was funny, though.

I wasn't entirely clear what the deal was with Olivia Munn near the end.  If that was her fiance at the end then he was way too cool with Tatum showing up like that.  I guess the odds are that he was not her fiance, but just her date or something.  I did like the whole point of her character, though.  She was there to make Tatum feel like so many tossed away women.  She keeps lying about how she is going to call him and once she finds something lasting, she ditches him altogether.