The Avengers (5/12/12)

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The Avengers is the culmination of several Marvel Comics movies from the past several years, bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and more together on the big screen.

I think at this point every movie blog I follow has had coverage of The Avengers in some form so this may be a partial retread for most of you.

If you have seen either Iron Man film (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), or to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers, but Edward Norton in the original film), then you are likely aware of some of the setup for The Avengers. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is essentially a heavily funded black ops organization, has recruited some of Earth’s mightiest heroes to locate the Tesseract, an all-powerful cube stolen by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother. The team first has to come together, then has to defeat Loki, who has used the Tesseract to call upon the Chitauri, an alien race that wishes to destroy humanity.

The main draw to The Avengers is the fact that Joss Whedon both wrote and directed it. Whedon is beloved in the nerd community for helming the ill-fated sci-fi drama Firefly as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Whedon makes the action tight and the script fun, there is obvious love for the material here. I have two fairly big issues with the film on a whole. First, the run time, which clocks in at just under 2 1/2 hours. There is a lot of material packed into that time frame, which leads me to my second gripe…The pacing of the first half of the film. For awhile there I had completely forgotten about the Tesseract and the Chitauri threat because the plot was idling around the Avengers internal conflicts. It’s necessary to the story, but could have really been trimmed of some fat.

Once the second half picks up the film grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. The nerd in me wanted more as soon as it was over but once the thrill of the theatrical experience wore off I was less enthused about the film. That’s not to say it’s bad, I guess all the hype about how great it is propped me up for a bit of disappointment. However, The Avengers is proof that Marvel Comics films can still be a lot of fun without needing to take a dark edge like Nolan’s Batman films to be good or successful. I will say that I look forward to the inevitable Avengers sequel very much.

I give it 4 many faces of Hulk out of 5.

(In case you are wondering, 1) Avengers 2) Incredible Hulk 3) Hulk 4) Incredible Hulk (TV series))

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The Wolf Man [1941] (5/11/12)

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The Wolf Man was one of the great early Universal monster movies that not only helped define the horror genre, but became timeless works of cinema.

The Wolf Man is actually the second film in the series, the first being The Werewolf of London, but it was the first successful film for the series and has essentially written most what we think about werewolves to this day. Oddly enough, one thing that is not depicted in the movie (it would be defined the sequel) was the act of the werewolf appearing only during the full moon.

In The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), travels home to Wales to meet with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), after the death of his brother. He buys a walking stick with the silver head of a wolf on it, and the shopkeeper tells the legend of the man who turns to a wolf. Later, Larry saves a woman being attacked by a werewolf but is bitten in the process. He soon learns the secrets of werewolves as he becomes one himself.

There is a certain mystique and allure of these old monster movies. While I thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 remake of The Wolf Man with Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, there simply was not the same magical experience while viewing it. The 1941 original Wolf Man is an absolute delight, even in spite of some the less than stellar dialogue. I’m all for remaking films from this era as long as it gains interest in the originals. If you haven’t seen the original Wolf Man yet, it’s a classic that should be seen by all.

I give it 5 wolf’s head walking sticks out of 5.

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Cashback (5/11/12)

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Cashback is a stylish indie film out of the UK whose main character cleverly uses the mechanic of stopping time to view the world around him.

Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) is a college student that breaks up with his girlfriend and as a result loses the ability to sleep. He uses his new found time to catch up on some things, draw, and eventually gets a part time job at a supermarket for the night shift. He eventually imagines he can freeze time and begins to manipulate the situations and patrons for his amusement. The female patrons are of particular interest, as Ben poses them and draws them as his own living art subjects. Ben eventually falls for a coworker and the two begin to get acquainted as Ben’s insomnia begins to falter.

It would be easy to call Cashback explicit or perverted, but while there is a lot of nudity, most of it isn’t there for deviancy. I was quite taken with the style that Cashback is shot, narrated and performed. The plot begins to drag a bit near the middle, but considering the film originally started as an 18 minute short that became a full length 102 minute feature, I can be forgiving of that.

Cashback would be easy to recommend to a younger audience, males especially, since they will be most receptive to the material but it would be interesting to have multiple perspectives of the film from varying demographics. Cashback is a good, unique film and while I enjoyed watching it I’m unsure if I would want to watch this again in its entirety. I hope to see more films from the writer/director Sean Ellis in the future, though. I think there is a tremendous promise in his style of filmmaking.

I give it 4 martial arts masters out of 5.

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A Trip to the Moon (5/9/12)

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A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) by the film pioneer Georges Méliès is likely his most famous work, and given a large new audience in the film Hugo.

Historically, the films of Méliès are hugely important to cinema. A Trip to the Moon is regarded as the first science-fiction film, in fact. Méliès was originally a magician who was charmed by film and decided to bridge his two talents into many (531 between 1896 and 1913, according to Wikipedia) films. To call him anything other than a genius would be wrong.

A Trip to the Moon itself is about a group of astronomers that launch a rocket to the moon. After landing in the eye of the man on the moon, they disembark. Soon the group is attacked by aliens. After a struggle, the group leaves the moon and travels back to Earth where they are celebrated. Don’t take my highly abbreviated version, please watch the film yourself if you haven’t already.

It’s worth noting that I watched a recently restored fully hand-tinted color version on Blu-Ray with a soundtrack by Air. While the film has been pieced together from several sources for maximum posterity, it is a bit rough in spots but still a remarkable achievement and a wonder to watch. It is also accompanied by a documentary about the film and the process, which I will write about separately sometime soon. With films like Hugo, technology like Blu-Ray, and the wonders of the Internet, I’m so pleased films like A Trip to the Moon are getting revisited.

I give this 5 man on the moon‘s out of 5.

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (5/5/12)

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is an interesting documentary that covers the comedian/talk show host’s tour after being fired from the Tonight Show.

For the course of approximately seven months, Conan O’Brien took over as the host of the famed Tonight Show on NBC. Jay Leno, the previous host, was pushed into an earlier time slot on a failed premise. As ratings tanked, Conan was asked to push the Tonight Show further into the night. After refusing to do so, he was fired and Jay Leno was given his old job back. After losing his job and receiving a handsome payout and a few months of free time, Conan O’Brien took himself on tour with a musical comedy act. This documentary covers that tour in its entirety and bookends with his Tonight Show gig ending and his show on TBS starting.

While known as a funny guy, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is often times not funny, showing a bit of the darker side of the man. To be fair, he works non-stop for months and pushes himself well past the limits of what could be considered “sane”. It’s an intimate look into Conan himself, as well as his staff, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was meant for Conan fans only, all others need not apply.

As a teenager, I would watch Conan during his Late Night spot and I am a huge Simpsons fan as well. I consider myself to be a fan of Conan and his work but this documentary just didn’t jibe with me. I enjoyed watching it and I laughed a few times but I was left disappointed. A lot of it is Conan complaining about something or other, which, while interesting documentary work, wasn’t very entertaining to me.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is still something I would recommend to anyone that has watched Conan, followed the Tonight Show debacle, or someone just looking for a documentary to watch. For those of you unfamiliar with Conan, it would be a tough sell. It’s not as funny as I hoped, but the content may not be intended to be riotous, despite the taglines on the cover art.

I give it 3 Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’s out of 5.

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Melancholia (5/5/12)

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Melancholia is a film by polarizing filmmaker Lars Von Trier about two sisters and their relationship as a planet hurtles toward Earth.

The film opens with several super slow motion shots of some of the events to come, including the planet, Melancholia, from space. The movie then begins with the incredibly lavish wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) who acts, for lack of a better word, strangely. She notices a red star in the sky and her sister’s husband (Kiefer Sutherland) says it’s Antares. The next day the star is missing from the sky. The second half of the film focuses on the other sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and how the family deals with Melancholia, each in vastly different ways.

I am pleased that I was able to give a brief summary of Melancholia without giving much away in terms of the plot. If you have seen Von Trier’s last film, Antichrist, you may be aware at how obtuse and plodding his films can be and Melancholia is a bit more structured, but still esoteric. Now, this is not a bad film. In fact, it’s a visually stunning film for the most part. Where Melancholia (and Antichrist before it) fail, is in some of the character design. While I was never completely miffed by some of their actions, there were times when I had a hard time believing them.

The underlying message of Melancholia, if you can call it that, is depression. Justine is obviously depressed, almost comatose in the second half, and her central character is not one I identified with. I enjoyed watching Melancholia, but I would have a hard time recommending it. Melancholia has some very beautiful and interesting scenes and when it ended my mind lingered on it, but I would doubtfully ever watch it again.

I give it 3 lightning fingers out of 5.

PS – My wife and I watched this during the Supermoon for a little added “oomph”

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Midnight in Paris (5/2/12)

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Midnight in Paris is one of the few Woody Allen films where he remains behind the camera and lets an actor (in this case Owen Wilson) take the main role.

In the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter writing his first novel who has traveled to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), for a vacation with her parents. Gil is truly the odd man out, even with Inez’s friends. One night after a party, Gil is walking alone when an “antique” limousine approaches and the occupants welcome him inside. He discovers he has traveled back to the 1920s, an era he had previously wished to have been a part of.

For the most part, Midnight in Paris works fairly well. It captures some of the most romantic ideas about Paris culture throughout the past 100 or so years and if nothing else, solidifies our love affair with the city. Although it’s a bit of an atypical Allen film, it works. I found the people in Gil’s present-day life to be insufferable, it made me grit my teeth at times. In fact, they made me lose some interest in the film.

When Gil is in the 1920s meeting celebrities of the time, Midnight in Paris becomes a wonderment, but for the most part, the present-day sequences just grated me. Perhaps it would be more tolerable on a second viewing. I should also point out that Owen Wilson bugs me in most films, but I think he fits in quite well with Allen’s persona and sense of humor. He’s part Wilson and part Allen, not quite taking his role to the levels of an impersonation of Allen, but dialing it back enough so that it’s uniquely him.

I am far from an expert on Woody Allen films, but of the handful I have seen, I would rank Midnight in Paris somewhere in the middle. It almost seems like the Woody Allen film for people that don’t care for Woody Allen films, so take that as you will.

I give it 3 I really wish Nick Offerman played Ernest Hemingways out of 5.

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April Movies Round-Up

I have been putting off writing the April summary simply because I watched a ton of movies last month…

  1. Young Adult
  2. The Gate
  3. The Long Goodbye
  4. The Ballad of Jack and Rose
  5. Hunger Games
  6. Gladiator
  7. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  8. These Amazing Shadows
  9. Repo Man
  10. The Thing [1982]
  11. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
  12. Peeping Tom
  13. Days of Heaven
  14. Memento
  15. Wings of Desire
  16. Shame
  17. Attack the Block
  18. The Thin Blue Line
  19. Ace in the Hole
  20. I’m Still Here
  21. Into the Abyss
  22. Real Steel
  23. Dog Day Afternoon
  24. Cabin in the Woods
  25. Slugs
  26. Joe Vs. the Volcano
  27. Phunny Business: A Black Comedy
  28. Big Fan
  29. Kinyarwanda
  30. Casablanca
  31. On Borrowed Time
  32. Wild and Weird
  33. A Separation
  34. Higher Ground
  35. Patang
  36. Take Shelter
  37. Citizen Kane
  38. Paris, Texas

Phew!

Other than the awesome adventure that was Ebertfest, I also passed the 100 movie milestone with Kinyarwanda. That officially puts me 1/3 of the way to my goal for 2012 to watch 300 movies. So I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule now. This month also saw my first 1 star review of the year (Slugs).

April Statistics:

Movies watched / Days in the Month = 38/30 = ~127%
My Average Movie Rating = ~4.079 out of 5 (8.158/10)
Average IMDB rating = ~6.8
Average Rotten Tomatoes rating = ~72%
First time viewings = 28

Method of watching:

  • Blu-Ray = 5
  • DVD = 4
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 3
  • Netflix Instant Watch = 12
  • Theater = 14
Year to Date Statistics:

Movies watched / Days elapsed = 109/120 = ~91%
My average movie rating = ~3.92 out of 5
Movies remaining vs. Days remaining = 191 vs. 246
Percentage complete = 109/300 = ~36%

Method of watching:

  • Amazon Instant = 1
  • Blu-Ray = 29
  • DVD = 16
  • Netflix (DVD rental) = 12
  • Netflix Instant = 35
  • Theater = 15
  • TV / TiVO = 1

Thanks for reading!

Paris, Texas (4/30/12)

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Paris, Texas is a beautiful film from Wim Wenders about a man looking to make his life complete.

From the start, Paris, Texas is a slow building film about realistic characters living their lives. Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), a seemingly mute amnesiac, is wandering the desert and ends up at a roadside doctor. The doctor finds his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who travels from L.A. to get Travis. We learn that Travis’ son has been living with Walt and his wife, who adopted him when Travis and his wife disappeared one day. The film follows Travis on his journey to find Paris, Texas and reconnect with his son.

The last Wim Wenders film I wrote about (Wings of Desire) was a beautiful film, both visually and audibly, but to me, Paris, Texas is a more touching, personal film. For the first hour, you may be wondering what could possibly happen in the film and how it could even end, but the final sequence is so moving that when the film ends you will still be reeling from what you just witnessed. For me, it’s a film that stays with you long after the end credits begin rolling.

As a huge fan of Criterion Collection releases, Paris, Texas is one of the best sets available. Aside from being a fantastic movie, the special features are plentiful and the sound and picture of the Blu-Ray is spectacular. While the film is not for everyone, those willing to have a slow paced character film will likely be touched and I think it may jump to some favorites lists. The first time I watched this, the ending was sort of interrupted and while I was still quite impressed with the film, a second viewing was necessary and an absolute joy to get to watch again. I look forward to my third time viewing Paris, Texas.

I give it 5 wandering Travis’ out of 5.

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Casablanca (4/26/12)

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Behind Citizen Kane, Casablanca is seen by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

First off, if you haven’t seen Casablanca already, shame on you. It’s a must-see film. Casablanca is one of those films that seems entirely effortless. The actors deliver their lines flawlessly and the script itself lends cinematic history with more memorable lines than any other film. When someone says “here’s lookin’ at you, kid” you know that Humphrey Bogart said it in Casablanca. To see Casablanca is always a treat, but to see it on the big screen was absolutely amazing.

The plot of Casablanca centers around Rick (Bogart) who owns an aptly named club, Rick’s Café Américan. Casablanca is a sort of refuge city since it is still controlled by France, not Germany, with many people leaving to the US from there. Soon Rick comes face to face with an ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and her fugitive husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). As Rick and Ilsa reconnect over their lost love, tensions rise around Laszlo between a French and Nazi officer (Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt, respectively).

As for the restoration, also available on Blu-Ray, it is remarkably well done. For the 70th anniversary of the film, the picture is crisp and the sound is clear. To see this, we actually skipped out on one of the films from Ebertfest, but it was well worth it. I was concerned that Casablanca would not have held up as well as I remembered, but my fears were assuaged within minutes. While very specific to a period in time, Casablanca is timeless.

There is not much I can say about Casablanca that hasn’t been said 1000 times over in the past 70 years. It’s a film that rewards multiple viewings but never gets tiresome.

I give it 5 “As Time Goes By“s out of 5.

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