Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bling Ring

     Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, this new film is based on real events and is Ms. Coppola's most "mainstream" film yet.
       The plot is based on an article in Vanity Fair magazine about a band of California teens that robbed the home of various celebrities. I can't decide what was worse, the stupidity of these kids or the stupidity of the celebrities that left doors open with little security. Yes, Paris Hilton, I'm talking about you. There is little motivation for the break-ins other than boredom and a desire for designer clothes, shoes and jewelry without buying it. Cash and drugs are a bonus.
        Katie Chang is the ringleader, Rebecca and her "gang" consists of Emma Watson as Nikki, Israel Broussard as Marc, and Taissa Farmiga as Sam. Ms. Chang plays Rebecca as a bored sociopath and she is scary good in the part. Ms. Watson's Nikki is an airhead who can't buy a clue and Ms. Watson is terrific against type, shattering her previous image from the Harry Potter films. Mr. Broussard garners sympathy as Marc, the boy looking to fit in and enjoying his new found status even as it leads him down a self destructive path. Ms. Farmiga gets off easy with not much to do except go along for the ride.
         It's straight forward storytelling with flourishes of Ms. Coppola's signature style. There are long tracking shots, scenes with little dialog  that still move the story and one wonderful long shot of a robbery taking place in a glass house lit up against the L.A. night. The cinematography is terrific and the musical choices on the soundtrack work perfectly. 
          The film is a sad commentary on life as a disaffected youth in Los Angeles. You know these kids will eventually be caught  because they are sloppy amateurs. They flaunt their escapades on Facebook and brag to their friends. All the parents in the film are portrayed as either divorced, uncaring, or clueless themselves. It's a story that has to be seen to be believed.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Conjuring

        I've waited many years for a horror film to scare me again the way "Poltergeist" or "The Omen" did back in the pre-digital days. Finally the wait is over. I can happily say that "The Conjuring" produces real goosebumps and plenty of "jump" moments. The film genuinely scares.

        Based on an actual case from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren (true life ghost hunters), the film is about the Perron Family and the spirits that haunted their home in the early seventies. How much of the film is actually true doesn't really matter. What does however, is that it makes good on its promises to give you the chills on a hot summer night.

        The Warrens are played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. They are both excellent and one can easily see a franchise developed of films from their case studies. This film even starts with some scary moments from an earlier case that spills over into the current story in a very creepy way. The Perrons are played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston. Its great to see Ms. Taylor back in film and well cast in a very demanding role. As the mother of five daughters living in a haunted house, she is a major focus of the plot and most of the thrills and chills involve her character. Mr. Livingston does a good job as the caring husband trying to protect his family.

          Besides the strong acting, so much credit must be given to director James Wan. Having directed the original "Saw" and "Insidious", Mr. Wan knows a thing or two about scary movies. Here, he goes "old school" and scares without the "torture porn" or gory bloodletting of so many films today that pass for "horror". His lightning, pacing, music choices, and editing all contribute to the success of the film. 

         "The Conjuring" owes an obvious nod to "Poltergeist" with a little "Exorcist" thrown in for good measure. Mr. Wan has one misstep with "The Birds" scene which was unnecessary and seemed forced. Everything else works however and if you are a fan of scary movies, "The Conjuring" will definitely not disappoint. I also have to give credit to whomever edited the trailer as they don't give away everything and save plenty of shocks for the film.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fill the Void

 A story of quiet beauty that takes place in a community of Orthodox Israeli Hasidim. Written and directed by Rama Burstein, a rookie filmmaker and Orthodox Jewish women herself, "Fill the Void" tells the story of Shira, an 18 year old girl facing a difficult decision when her older sister dies in childbirth.

     It is a fascinating look into a world bound by it's own laws and traditions but involving a situation that could be found in any close community that honors family and tradition.  Difficult choices have to be made. Blessings must be given and life changing decisions are at stake.

     The cinematography draws the viewer in with tight, close shots of the actors. Hadas Yaron plays Shira and she is a natural wonder. Her widowed brother-in-law is played by Yiftach Klein and their scenes together are gentle yet powerful under the surface.

      The editing is a little sloppy at times but can be forgiven by the strength and honesty of the film. Everything feels so real you'll forget you're watching actors speaking scripted words. If you are looking for something different from the usual summer fare, immerse yourself in this universal story of the ties that bind.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Way, Way Back

 This new comedy/drama is a critics darling. It's entertaining and enjoyable but not quite deserving of all the accolades it's received.

  It's a coming of age film filled with stereotypical characters and plot situations you've seen a thousand times. What saves it from failing is the wonderful cast working their hardest to deliver the story and entertain the audience. The film stars Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb.

  Allison Janney is very funny as the boozy sister of Mr. Carrell's character who lives next door to his summer beach house. Mr. Carrell is excellent against type as the bully boyfriend of Ms. Collette. Mr. Corddry and Ms. Peet are Mr. Carrell's close friends and Liam James is the featured character, Duncan, Ms. Collette's brooding teenager who hates her boyfriend.

  The story plays out in a beach town with one attraction, a water park run by Sam Rockwell with help from Maya Rudolph. Mr. Rockwell's character, Owen helps Duncan come into his own over the course of the summer. While Mr. Rockwell is the comic centerpiece of the film, he tries too hard to be quirky and funny. It's his least natural performance.

  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote and directed the film together. They also have secondary comedic roles. The film is a nice effort, sunny and breezy like a day at the beach. But like a summer fling, it's soon forgotten and you're ready to move on.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

World War Z

The new thriller from director Marc Forster stars Brad Pitt as a former U.N. troubleshooter forced back into action to solve the zombie apocalpyse. The film opens on Mr. Pitt and his co-star, Mireille Enos as they prepare breakfast for their two daughters. It isn't long before they are stuck in traffic and then their world changes forever.

We learn very quickly that there is a zombie worldwide infestation and no one is safe. Mr. Pitt is called on to locate the source of the plague to help find answers on how to eradicate it. The film moves through various countries and stressful situations as the zombie population continues to grow. Ms. Enos, so good on the AMC show "The Killing" is forced into the sterotypic "wife left behind" role with very little to do except worry about Mr. Pitt.

Mr. Pitt is a very charismatic actor and fun to watch in this film. There are plenty of exciting sequences and those who are expecting zombies like the ones on "The Walking Dead" will be very surprised. Granted there are some dead (no pun intended) spots as well but after the alleged multiple ending rewrites, it looks like they got it right

The special effects are pretty seamless and the rest of the cast take their roles very seriously which helps to keep the tension high. While the film can be suspenseful, I never found it particularly scary, nor is it particularly gory. "The Walking Dead is far more liberal with blood and guts.

The film is playing both in 2-D and 3-D. I don't think paying extra for 3-D will make much of a difference. I saw it in 2-D and found it a perfectly acceptable viewing experience.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Man of Steel

Superman gets another reboot in this new darker version, directed by Zack Snyder. Mr. Synder strives for the gravitas of "The Dark Knight" but never quite gets there and loses all the warmth and humor that came through in the Christopher Reeves version.

Russel Crowe makes a fine Jor-El, the biological father of Ka-El (Superman). He even gets to flex his muscles in an early fight sequence. His subsequent appearances grow heavy though and even Michael Shannon as evil General Zod gets fed up with him. Superman is played by Henry Cavill and he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Reeves. What he lacks however, is any of the humor Mr. Reeves slipped into the role.

Amy Adams co-stars as Lois Lane and Lawrence Fishbourne plays Perry White. For this version, there is very little "Daily Planet" interaction and they've skipped over Jimmy Olsen completely. The version of Lois Lane here is more action hero than reporter in distress and the romance between her and Superman is almost an afterthought. The best acting in the film belongs to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, Superman's adopted parents. They contribute real feelings and emotions in their scenes, told mostly in flashback.

The action sequences are basically repeated fights between Superman and Zod and they become tiresome. By the time they battle it out in Metropolis, half the city is destroyed and yet a character proclaims "he saved us", but does anyone look around and say "at what cost?".

 I saw the film in IMAX 3-D and I don't recommend it. The sound is deafening, especially when buildings start coming down and any action sequence gets blurry the faster it moves on screen.

This Man of Steal stole my twenty one dollars. Maybe The Dark Knight can get it back for me.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

White House Down

First Hollywood gave us "Olympus has Fallen" (and couldn't get up) and now thinking, a bigger director and more bankable stars, lets do it again and this time it will work. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. This is the biggest White House disaster since Gerald Ford (ok that was a cheap shot but you get my point).

The fim stars Channing Tatum as a wannabe secret service agent and Jamie Foxx as the President of The United States. When the "bad guys" storm the White House (pretty easily I might add), Mr. Tatum springs into action protecting the President along with his "too adorable and smart for her own good", daughter. An early plot point convieniently puts them both inside the White House at the time it's invaded

Mr. Tatum has his legion of fans and is growing into a fine action hero but here he is just doing his impression of Bruce Willis in "Die Hard". Mr. Foxx, while a credible actor, here plays a very uncredible President. Maggie Gyllenhaal has the female lead but her character is poorly written (as are most of the characters). Jason Clarke, fresh off "Zero Dark thirty", plays the heavy in a very stereotypic role. The one actor worth watching is the always reliable JamesWoods, who plays an important part in the film. Nice to have you back, Mr. Woods. Watching you chew up the scenery was my favorite part of the film.

The film is directd by this century's Irwin Allen, Roland Emmerich who has a great track record for high concept disaster films. Here he falls as flat as his actors with poor effects and wooden acting. He even has a character name check his best effort just to remind the audience how exciting he can be (unfortunately not here).

"White House Down", regardless of the administration, doesn't get my vote.

This Is The End

Written and directed by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, this is a very funny but uneven comedy about the end of the world. The film stars a who's who of todays's top comic actors basically playing exaggerated versions of themselves.

Besides Mr. Rogan, the film stars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Barruchel with featured cameos from Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd and Aziz Ansari. Even Rhianna has a cameo.

What passs for a story takes place at a party thrown by Mr. Franco. Once the heavens open up and the devil appears on earth, most of the characters disappear from the story one way or another, leaving the six principal stars to fend for themselves, barracaded inside Mr. Franco's home. Its a comic tale of survival among vain actors. Much of the humor is sophmoric, which is what you'd expect from this group.

When the jokes work, the film is hysterical but there are too many dead moments to sustain the laughs. It's probably a lot funnier if you see it in an altered state of mind but even sober, there are enough laughs to enjoy it.