Troll Hunter (3/23/12)

Troll HunterMovie Sixty One

Troll Hunter, at first glance, seems like just another “found footage” movie made popular by movies like Blair Witch Project. Fortunately, Troll Hunter is one of the few films to pull the genre off well.

The plot of Troll Hunter is most likely exactly what you think it is. A group of college students are filming about some strange bear attacks and then start following a man unknown by the other bear hunters. Turns out the strange ‘bear hunter’ is none other than a troll hunter! I know, it sounds stupid, but the suspension of disbelief is key. The characters don’t believe in trolls, they laugh at the idea of them. There is some believability built into the story that somehow makes the troll mythology more believable than say, ghosts.

The other key piece to what makes Troll Hunter work is the special effects. We are not teased with action that happens off-screen, we meet the trolls quite early on and then proceed to meet several other variety of troll. In addition to being out in the open, the special effects are quite impressive.

Troll Hunter is a really fun ride. If you are a fan of the found footage movies, I promise you will love it. If you are skeptical about the genre, or have been burned by crappy movies, I would give Troll Hunter a try. Also, if the Maelstrom ride at Epcot in Disney World was one of your favorite rides (it was mine growing up) then you should be pleased. There isn’t nearly as much shakycam footage as others and the characters are even more likable than I expected. Still, while it doesn’t break much new ground it’s fun. In the end, isn’t that the most important thing about watching films?

I give it 4 troll cgi out of 5.

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Moon (3/23/12) & Whistle (3/23/12)

MoonMovie Sixty

Moon was one of my favorites from 2009. Sam Rockwell is one of the most under appreciated actors of our time and Moon is also a severely overlooked sci-fi gem.

The premise of Moon is farming resources from the surface of the moon. We meet Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) in a deserted space station. We learn he is all alone with the responsibility to run the station and oversee the harvesters. We also meet the brains of the space station, Gerty 3000 (Kevin Spacey). Anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey will automatically distrust Gerty, and Spacey has the perfect  soothing voice with something sinister underneath. Sam goes out in a rover and crashes. He wakes up and then goes out to check on a malfunctioning harvester, only to save himself from the crash.

I won’t further spoil any of the plot, but at this point in the film you should remain on the edge of your seat. There is little action to speak of, but the isolation and tension is perfectly captured. Sam Rockwell is such a beast of an actor, and this movie is an amazing testament to that.

Moon is a film I would wholly recommend, and not just to sci-fi fans. The film deals with moral decisions, isolation, abandonment and several other issues that everyone will identify with beyond the sci-fi setting. One fun fact about the movie: the writer/director, Duncan Jones, is the son of David Bowie. Yes, that David Bowie.

I give it 5 smiling Gertys out of 5.

Movie Sixty and a Half

Whistle is a short film that is a special feature on the Blu-Ray (possibly also the DVD) of Moon that was also written and directed by Duncan Jones. Thematically, it shares many things with Moon, but the execution isn’t nearly as taut and mature. It is about a man who uses a special satellite weapon to assassinate people and how he deals with the moral dilemmas surrounding this line of work. As a short film, it works quite well but some things were obviously sacrificed in order to keep it from getting too long. If you own/rent Moon, I would definitely recommend also checking out Whistle.

I give it 3 futuristic assassinations out of 5.

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Iron Man 2 (3/23/12)

Iron Man 2Movie Fifty Nine

Iron Man 2 could easily be shrugged off as ‘just another superhero movie’ but it’s actually quite fun to watch. Surprisingly so, even.

The film picks up immediately where the first film left off, Tony Stark (perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr.) is feeling the backlash from the press conference where he declares himself to be Iron Man. The government wants his technology, but he is unwilling to just hand it over to them. A rival weapons technology company head, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants the tech as well. All of this while Russian rival, Ivan Venko (Mickey Rourke), has a bone to pick with Stark. Without knowing too much about Iron Man’s comic lineage, I found the plot easy to understand even if I didn’t get all the sly winks that Marvel likes throwing into these films.

The action in Iron Man 2 is great and the special effects are superb. The acting is actually mostly pretty good, though at first some of the casting seemed odd to me. Mickey Rourke seemed to speak with a weird mix of New York and Russian accents and Scarlett Johansson’s performance is largely lifeless. Luckily, RDJ steals the show and is a joy to watch.

With the upcoming Avengers film I have been trying to catch up with Marvel’s superhero films. While I enjoyed Captain America, I enjoyed this film more. After seeing Sam Rockwell in action, I decided to watch something of his immediately after watching Iron Man 2 (more on that later) and I wouldn’t mind reading a few comics as well.

I give it 4 Howard Stark is on Mad Men out of 5.

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Letter Never Sent (3/22/12)

Letter Never SentMovie Fifty Eight

Letter Never Sent is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and I had never even heard of it before Criterion announced it for release. It is a semi-lost gem of Russian filmmaking that I am still thinking about.

The film follows four Russian geologists who get dumped in Siberia to find diamonds for the government. As they spend more time together we learn more about their relationships with each other. The titular letter is something I won’t spoil. Immediately following their discovery they become trapped by an enormous fire and have to survive to get the information back to Moscow. The plot is fairly simple but the interaction between the geologists is incredibly realistic and touching. In fact, the entire thing is extremely realistic.

The fire is almost its own character. Before the geologists become trapped there is a raging fire superimposed over them. The camera work is also practically its own character. The shots are either close or distant and at times it almost seems like a documentary. The acting is so flawless it seems like everything was done in one single take and the actors are really trying to survive the Siberian wilderness. Letter Never Sent is unrelenting as a tale of survival.

Writing about Letter Never Sent truly makes me want to watch the film again and also find more films by the director and cinematographer, Mikhail Kalatozov and Sergei Urusevsky, respectively. Although the film is from the early 60s there is really no Russian propaganda to speak of, other than the devotion of these four geologists to their homeland.

I give it 5 surviving geologists out of 5.

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Red Riding: 1974 (3/20/12)

Red Riding 1974Movie Fifty Seven

The Red Riding Trilogy starts off in 1974 and loosely follows a fictionalized take on real murder cases. I had been interested in watching this for quite some time but was left mostly unimpressed.

Red Riding 1974 follows a reporter, Eddie Dunford (played by Andrew Garfield)  looking for information about missing young girls. As Dunford keeps digging, corruption and other crimes are uncovered and Dunford becomes a target. That is a highly simplified version of the plot, but I found the details hard to follow. There are lots of supporting characters and the timeline of events seemed sketchy to me, I had a hard time understanding exactly what was happening most of the film. I’m not sure if this is a fault on my part or on the film’s.

Originally a UK Channel 4 miniseries, the Red Riding Trilogy has a different director for each film and each film was shot using different techniques. 1974 was shot on 16mm and directed by Julian Jarrod. 1980 was shot on 35mm and directed by James Marsh. Lastly, 1983 was shot digitally and directed by Anand Tucker. The idea was to give each film a truly unique feel, both visually and professionally, while still maintaining an overarching story. I look forward to finishing the trilogy to see what comes of things.

Red Riding 1974 features terrific acting and I was especially impressed with Andrew Garfield. The overall look and feel of the mid 70s is captured quite well. I had a bit of a hard time understanding some of the dialogue but I’m not sure if that’s due to accents, mumbling, lack of Netflix Instant Watch subtitles, or just my own brain. Overall, I would hesitantly recommend watching Red Riding 1974, if only because the trilogy is supposed to be quite good on a whole. If I really like 1980 and 1983 I may go back and watch this again to catch anything I may have missed.

I give it 3 Garfield mutton chops out of 5.

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Persona (3/19/12)

PersonaMovie Fifty Six

Persona is film by Ingmar Bergman that was strongly recommended to me. It is an intimate minimalistic film that is also quite powerful.

The film opens with footage of a camera projector and seemingly random images but the plot centers around two women, Alma and Elisabet, played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman respectively. Alma is a nurse under the care of Elisabet, who has become mute despite no seemingly medical reason for this. Since Elisabet is mute, Alma talks throughout nearly the entire movie and the more she speaks the more she divulges. The lines between the two women begin to blur as the film progresses.

Both women give great performances though they have completely different roles. Andersson’s performance is especially touching. As with other Bergman films, the cinematography and sets are simple but beautiful. Also like other Bergman films, it most likely requires several viewings to fully understand. I know I had to wait to even write this short review due to my not being sure I could write about what happened with any detail. I’m still not sure I could say exactly what happened in the film but I enjoyed it immensely.

In writing about Persona I am inclined to watch it again. Not only because it is a great film but also because I know it has many secrets left to divulge. This is not a film I would recommend to everybody, it is a slow but deliberate film that deals primarily between the relationship of two women.

I give it 4 boys watching faces out of 5.

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Ebertfest 2012 Announcements!

Roger Ebert’s Blog – With the Ebertfest announcement

Allow me to give a brief history lesson to set up this post…

I am from the greater Chicagoland area and have been a movie lover for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my family would watch Siskel and Ebert At the Movies religiously. My father wouldn’t see a movie without hearing the opinions of both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. I have literally grown up with Roger Ebert as the film critic and I’ve enjoyed reading his work my entire life.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ebertfest, here is the official site, here is the Wikipedia page. It pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a film festival helmed by Mr. Ebert. It is held near the University of Illinois campus and unlike other film festivals where submissions are welcome, Ebertfest choices are handpicked.

I am incredibly excited to get to be going this year and a good friend of mine is flying up from North Carolina to share the experience. It’s my first time going, but hopefully not my last.

Now, onto the film choices…

  • Kind Hearts and Coronets – Not only is this a great movie, but Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) picked it and will be the host for the night. Alec Guiness is simply amazing in this.
  • Big Fan – Another great movie, starring Patton Oswalt as a rabid NY Jets fan. Obviously Oswalt will join for this
  • Joe Versus the Volcano – An seemingly odd choice but one of Ebert’s favorites. I’m always up for classic Tom Hanks movies.
  • Phunny Business: A Black Comedy – Totally unaware of this documentary but it is about an all black night club and the owner. The owner of the club, Raymond Lambert, will be joining us.
  • The Truth About Beauty and Blogs – Short film, hadn’t heard of it before but it looks like it will tie into Phunny Business. Joined by Kelichi Ezie, the comedienne and filmmaker. Joined by the writer-director, actors and some crew.
  • Kinyarwanda – I have heard many things about this and if it’s as heart-wrenching as it sounds it will be mesmerizing.
  • TerriHey, I blogged about this! Star Jacob Wysocki and director, Azazal Jacobs, will join.
  • On Borrowed Time – A documentary about the past two years of Paul Cox’s life after getting a life-saving kidney transplant. Should be a fascinating watch. Cox and Nate Kohn will join.
  • A short film collection accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra including Georges Méliès’ Trip to the Moon, which you may recognize from Hugo. Alloy Orchestra members will join the discussion.
  • A Separation – This Iranian film (and Oscar winner!) is something I regret not having already seen so I greatly look forward to it. Director, Asghar Farhadi, is hoping to join.
  • Special effects techniques from the wizards that worked on The Tree of Life.
  • Higher Ground – Not the stoner comedy that its name makes it out to be, this is a film about how religion shapes a woman’s life. Screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs will join.
  • Patang – I don’t believe I had heard of this film before. The director’s father was one of Ebert’s old film students. Director Prashant Bhargava will join along with his father and assorted cast and crew.
  • Take Shelter – A movie that has ranked very high on my ‘to-watch’ list and I couldn’t be more excited that Michael Shannon will be there along with director, Jeff Nichols. So very excited for this one.
  • Citizen Kane – Not only is this one of the best movies ever, but Ebert recorded a commentary track for the DVD release some years ago and that will be playing along with the movie. It is a fantastic commentary to go along with an incredible film.

More details can obviously found in the source link at the top of this post but I must say again…I am EXTREMELY excited for this. I will be posting from the event, so expect more to come!