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The Master (2012) Review

16 10 2012

Copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ 1/2

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with this: When P.T. Anderson is “on,” he’s on fire; when he’s “off,” he has missed the mark by a mile. As much as I wanted this film to fall under the former half of my opinion on his career, it sadly, fell under the latter.

The Master is loosely (can I really even say that?) based on L. Ron Hubbard and his cult-like religion of scientology. Rather than saying the word “scientology”, we get “the cause”; rather than “auditing”, we get “processing”, and so on. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a repertoire actor in P.T.’s films by this point, plays the part of Lancaster Dodd (i.e. L. Ron Hubbard), a self-professed philosopher, doctor, writer, raconteur, etc. He has a group of followers who abide closely to his ideals and processes, which include breaking yourself from your past lives through the method of “processing”, and other pseudo-psychological means. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is an ex-seaman, having served in the Navy during World War II, who not only harbors a good deal of agression, but also has an unhealthy drinking problem and some mental instability. By chance, Quell stows away on a yacht that Dodd is borrowing for his daughter’s (Ambyr Childers) wedding, and the two strike an odd friendship, ultimately leading to Quell becoming one of Dodd’s most devout followers. The remainder of the film follows each of these bizarre personalities as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.

There are elements of this film that work, but for the most part, this is a large, disjointed mess. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, and, yes, Joaquin Phoenix gives a wonderful performance (despite the fact that I hated his character with a passion). But, all in all, this film is all over the place. It’s just one big, pretentious, boring mess, and it hurts when I see someone as talented as P.T. Anderson put out such a horrid film as this. This guy gave us Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood for Christ’s sake! However, he’s also given us Punch-Drunk Love, which for me, was a big turd. One point of note that is a great high point for this film, however, that must get due mention, is Amy Adam’s knockout performance as Dodd’s fourth wife, Peggy. She definitely deserves a nod from the Academy for this one, and I’ll honestly be very surprised if she doesn’t.

Bottom line: don’t go see this film. Save yourself the time, the money and, most of all, the disappointment of seeing a respected director create such a terrible mess of a film.

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A Separation (2011) Review

24 09 2012

Copyright 2011 Hopskotch Films

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finally got around to seeing this film recently and, if you haven’t seen this one yet, stop what you are doing right now, go to the local redbox, and rent this tonight.  Seriously, it’s the best film of last year, and I don’t mind saying that in the first sentence of my review, which says a lot.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this now Academy Award-winning film, stars well-known Irania actress Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi as couple Simin and Nader.  Together, they have a adolescent daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  They reside in Nader’s father’s apartment, who is essentially an invalid due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  When Nader refuses to leave their native country and his father, Simin demands a separation, to which he readily agrees.  With Simin leaving the household, Nader hires a sitter for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  However, after having to clean up an accident his father has on her first day, she tells Nader she can no longer do the job; the drive is too far, and she has religious concerns over touching his father to clean him up if he soils himself.  She, however, recommends her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is out of work and deeply indebted to creditors.  The following day, when Hdjat can’t make it to the house due to a court appearance, Razieh, who is pregnant, returns with her young daughter to do the work.  However, she leaves his father unattended during the day for personal reasons.  When Nader comes home to find his father tied to a bed and nearly at a point of death, he blows up at Razieh when she returns.  The scuffle includes a slight physical interaction on his part; she, subsequently, miscarries her child.  It’s left to the court and the families to decide whether Nader is responsible.

This film, made on a minuscule budget compared to even independent American films, is a powerhouse dramatic effort.  The acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and most of all, wonderfully dramatic story, come together to create an engaging, passionate and engrossing film that will go down in history as a classic.  It’s once in a blue moon that you get to view a film that is as truly cinematic as this, and its always a special occasion that will be savored in an your mind long after it’s running time is over.

It’s films like this that renew my hope in cinema whenever the general Hollywood “fodder” has be down about the industry.  I can only hope that I can be a part of a film as special as this one day.





3 Women (1977) Review

31 08 2012

Copyright 1977 Lion’s Gate Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I go onto Netflix and add weird things to my queue fairly regularly.  Usually, by the time these films actually arrive at my doorstep, I have forgotten when or why I put them on there to begin with.  Such was the case with this movie, but luckily, it turned out to be one of those oddball picks I mysteriously chose that actually turned out pretty interesting.  Within the first few minutes of the film, I saw the title card for director Robert Altman fade up, which allayed a multitude of my concerns.  For the next two hours, I was strangely intrigued.

The movie stars Shelly Duvall (good subject for a Whatever Became of… book – I’m looking at you Mr. Lamparski!) as Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux, and Sissy Spacek as Mildred “Pinkie” Rose.  Pinkie comes from Texas to work at a convalescence home in California where Millie, also originally from Texas, has been working for some time.  The strange, almost child-like waif, Pinkie, is immediately drawn to the outspoken and vivacious Millie, who seems more a legend in her on mind than reality would prove true.  As the film progresses, the two move in together as roommates; their landlords are a married couple, Willie (Janice Rule) and Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier).  Willie is a quiet, gypsy-esque mural painter, and Edgar is a former stunt double for country/western film stars.  The couple also own a bar/shooting ranger/dirtbike track that the two heroines regularly frequent.  The strange relationship between the three women becomes more intertwined as a series of bizarre events take place towards the latter half of the film.  That about sums it up, and no I didn’t really leave anything out.

This is a very stream of conscious film; in fact, it was conceived through a series of dreams that Robert Altman had over the course of several weeks.  Supposedly, the film was also shot largely without a script, and with Altman making many last minute scene and story changes on the fly.  Yet, somehow, this antithesis of what a mainstream movie should be and look like, holds your attention the entire two hour running time.  It’s almost more of a visual essay, a plotless saga, than a normal movie; however, all the same, it’s not quite that either, as there is a story there beneath the layers.  Coupled with wonderful performances all around, and hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, this movie is actually really worth any self-professed cinephile’s time.  It’s very unique, and something that you almost certainly wouldn’t have a chance to see on the screen today with the “safe bets” modern Hollywood likes to take.

Bottom line: If you aren’t afraid to take a chance on a film that will challenge commonly held story and viewing moors, then I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking movie by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman.





The Great Buck Howard (2008) Review

20 08 2012

Copyright 2008 Playtone Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

So, I was turned on to this movie by a post Roger Ebert made on his Facebook wall recommending it, and giving it a very admirable 3 1/2 star (out of four) review.  Being that it was nearing the end of its run on Netflix (it goes off Instant Watch tomorrow!), and considering that mine and Ebert’s taste in cinema actually coincide quite a bit, I planned on watching the movie last night.  However, before we pressed play, Maddie and I noticed that it was not rated very well on Netflix, and considered a second option for the evening.  Exhausting our choices, we came full circle back to this film and decided that, if we didn’t like it, we could always turn it off.  Now, I give you all this back story, as it will all come around eerily full circle by the end of this post.

The movie itself is an independent comedy that stars John Malkovich as washed up mentalist, Buck Howard (a character based on real life Amazing Kreskin).  Troy Grable (Colin Hanks), a recent law school drop out (that hits close to home!), is at a crossroads in life and decides he wants to become a writer.  Being that writing doesn’t produce much in terms of actual cash asset, he takes a job as the road manager for the “Great Buck Howard.”  Howard, once a television personality who was in high demand and appeared on Johnny Carson over 60 times in the 1970s, is now reduced primarily to touring the country with his act, a mixture of song, comedy and mostly mental illusions, in small town theaters across the United States.  As Howard plans his return to glory, Grable scrambles to keep up with the demands of the  still diva-esque celebrity.  Along the way, he strikes a romance with PR rep Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) who is trying to help boost media attention for Howard’s new illusion that will bring him back to the limelight.

The direction and writing by Sean McGinly are solid, but what shines the most is the subject matter and the performances by Malkovich and Colin Hanks.  Their chemistry and Malkovich’s perfect display of the Amazing Kreskin’s mannerisms really helps keep this movie interesting and unique.

Having never heard of the Amazing Kreskin before, we of course watched several videos on Youtube of the real man following the movie.  Needless to say, he is an interesting character and his act does have a distinct element of wonder to it.  For the the fun of it, we decided to look up and see Kreskin’s tour schedule.  Oddly enough, the only two dates he is playing in North Carolin are this Friday and Saturday.  With the coincidence so high, that we almost didn’t watch this movie, finally watched it and liked it, happened to look on his tour schedule, and just so happen to see the real Amazing Kreskin is in NC two dates out of the year, and those being this week, we booked tickets.  We’ll be seeing him on Saturday evening in Shelby, N.C.; however, I got to admit, he’s kind of already impressed me if coincidence has any connection.





Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) Review

4 08 2012

Copyright 2012 Whyaduck Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (for Allen fans)

Most of you that know me personally, know that Woody Allen ranks as one of my all-time favorite filmmakers.  The first Allen film I ever saw was Purple Rose of Cairo soon after it came out on cable in the late 1980s, and from then on I was a fan.  I think the neurotic behavior that is evident in my own personality is infinitely relatable to his humor and films.  As I got older, I began watching more of his backlog and loyally viewing his new films each year at the theatre; yes, both the good ones and the bad ones.  I would estimate that I’ve seen 90% of his repertoire, including some of the early films that he just acted in and movies like Scenes from a Mall that he didn’t write or direct, but appeared in.  Over a long vacation to the northwest in 2000, I read the Eric Lax biography, and I have skimmed through several others from time to time since.  So, when this expansive documentary on his life and career came out last year by director Robert Weide, it immediately fell on my radar.

The film covers literally every facet of Allen’s life and has interviews with actors, friends, family, collaborators, parents, almost any willing participant they could find to comment on Allen’s work and life.  Furthermore, there are many segments of interviews that were shot with Allen himself, including his taking the crew on a tour of the neighborhood he grew up in in Brooklyn.  At well over 3 hours, we see Allen’s life from a boy in Brooklyn to comedy writer to acclaimed filmmaker evolve.  Outside of the amazing interviews, there is a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage from his films, rare photos and other interesting audio and video segments that help tell his story.  Nearly all of his films are featured, and though this film doesn’t tarnish Allen in any way, they didn’t omit a section regarding the scandal between he and Mia Farrow in the 1990s.

If you are a Woody Allen fan, this is a must see.  If not, it may not be your cup of tea.  Whether you love him or hate him though, it’s undeniable that his posterity and longevity as a filmmaker are quite an achievement, and along the way, he has given us more than a fair share of brilliant films in the canon of American Cinema.  Furthermore, few auteurs from any era can claim an ability to make us laugh, as well as engage in deep dramatic content.  Just think, Allen gave us Banannas as well as Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors.





Casanova (2005) Review

21 06 2012

Copyright 2005 BBC

★ ★ ★

OK, so I’ll be honest from the get go.  The only reason I watched this was because it had two of my favorite actors in it: Peter O’ Toole and David Tennant (10th Doctor!).  Furthermore, it was written and produced by Russell T. Davies, who was the head writer and show starter for the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who.  Davies and Tennant’s working relationship actually began on this picture.

I’m sure most people are at least generally aware of who Giacomo Casanova was, if for nothing more than the fact that his name is a common term for lotharios the world over.  Well, this movie is a loose adaptation of his life, pulling many overall generalized points from the history books, but embellishing them extensively for entertainment purposes.  The narrative switches back and forth between old Casanova (Peter O’ Toole), who now serves as a librarian for an Italian nobleman, and young Casanova (David Tennant) as he makes his way in the world.  A lonely chambermaid makes fast friends with the older Casanova, who has just finished writing his life’s tale.  During her innocent stays in his chambers, he recounts the many adventures and loves found and lost during his lifetime, with a primary focus on one elusive woman: Henriette (Rose Byrne).  Through the back and forth of the narrative, the life of Casanova is presented in only a way Russell T. Davies could come up with (i.e. extravagantly and at many times flamboyantly).

The “series” encompasses two one and a half hour segments, so it’s not really a movie, but not quite a mini-series.  I really enjoyed the first segment and thought there were some very entertaining scenes, but the second installation was a bit of a let down and I found myself growing bored by the end.  The fun of this film only seems to last so long, though the performances by O’ Toole and Tennant are a treat to watch.  However, I may err on the side of caution here because I am biased, so I would even hesitate to give too much credit in that regard.

In short, a fun and exciting television “mini-series” that starts strong, but fizzles out some towards the end.  If you are a Tennant or O’ Toole fan, I think you would have a greater chance of enjoying this sometimes disjointed flick, but even those who are not may find some interest here.





Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Review

4 06 2012

Copyright 1972 Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors.  I absolutely adore his style, wittiness and straightforwardness in his prose, and like many others, the novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” was my introduction to him.  With the novel being held to such high regard for me personally, I was a bit nervous going into this film.  However, though slow to begin, the movie was actually quite well done.

Directed by George Roy Hill, this film sat nicely between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and his phenomenally huge success with The Sting the following year.  Michael Sacks stars as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes, famously, unstuck in time.  Like the novel, the narrative of Billy’s life jumps back and forth through his timeline with heavy emphasis on his time in Germany during World War II.  Vonnegut, himself a POW during World War II in Dresden when it was bombed, tells his autobiographical tale of the feelings he encountered and the time there vicariously through the fictitious Pilgrim.  Through Pilgrim’s turmoil during the war, his average subsequent life and, ultimately bizarre encounters in the world of Tralfamadore, we see the portrait of a man who was forever changed by the moments he experienced during the brief part of his life he lived as a soldier.

Sacks, who went on to be a top executive in the financial sector with such companies as Morgan Stanley after leaving his acting career in the mid 1980s, does a reputable job in the lead role.  His nuances playing the older Pilgrim were quite well timed in contrast to the young Pilgrim, this being especially impressive considering that Sacks was only 24-years-old at the time of filming.  George Roy Hill as a director has never wooed me to any speakable degree, but he is a solid director, and for that I laud his talents more than someone who tries to thrill you with each and every shot like Terrence Malick.  A director’s job is to select the shots and direct the actors to performances that best suit the story; Roy Hill seems to pass this test with flying colors in each and every one of the films of his I have seen.  Some of the best magic is that which tricks, but doesn’t overwhelm the eye.  The cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek was very pleasant.  Tinged with the grittiness of early 1970s experiments in faster film stock, the naturalness and softness of the light were provocative of this era, one of my favorites in the evolution of the motion picture.

If you loved the book, you will like the movie.  As far as adaptations go, it’s probably one of the better ones.  If you’ve never read the book and plan on never doing so, then well, shame on you, but you’ll probably like the movie too.








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