Bottle Rocket (7/26/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Five

Bottle Rocket follows a trio of friends that plans a series robberies and then goes on the run.

At the start of the film, Anthony (Luke Wilson) is voluntarily staying at a mental hospital for exhaustion. His friend, Dignan (Owen Wilson), plans to break him out of there, not knowing Anthony is there voluntarily. Dignan then tells Anthony about his 75 year plan, which involves a series of robberies and to meet up with Mr. Henry (James Caan). They include their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) on the plan as their driver. The three steal a small sum of money from a bookstore and then go on the lam, staying at a small motel. Anthony ends up falling in love with one of the housekeepers, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). Upon returning home, they meet up with Mr. Henry for another big heist that doesn’t go to plan.

While I realize the description of the film sounds kind of dark and action-packed, this is a Wes Anderson movie. His first full-length film, actually. Fans of his work will recognize many of his signature touches in the soundtrack, the characters, the dialogue, and the editing, but his style has certainly been refined over the years. Whereas Moonrise Kingdom has all of Anderson’s touches pushed to their limits, Bottle Rocket seems very subdued in comparison. Some may consider this a good thing but I personally prefer Anderson’s later work.

The Wilson brothers (the lesser-known Wilson brother, Andrew, also has a small role) are  in their feature debut too and it’s actually refreshing to see them so young. I’m not much of a fan of Owen Wilson, who also co-wrote Bottle Rocket with Anderson, but as Dignan he is likable. The plot meanders a lot but it’s not necessarily a fault so much as its a quirk. I can certainly understand why it would be off-putting to some, but the showcase here is more on the characters and their adventure rather than the adventure itself, that’s just how Anderson’s films are.

Fans of Anderson will no doubt enjoy Bottle Rocket but I would be surprised if it ranks high on the ‘favorite’ lists of many. While it’s not a bad film, Anderson has clearly grown as a writer and a director, even for his sophmore film, Rushmore. If you are new to Wes Anderson’s films, I would recommend starting with another film (personally, Moonrise Kingdom is my favorite) and then work your way through the rest of his catalog. Bottle Rocket is fun and enjoyable but doesn’t always feel deeper than the short film it’s based on.

I give it 3 “why is there tape on your nose?” “exactly!”s out of 5.

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The Grey (7/20/12)

The GreyMovie One Hundred Seventy Three

In The Grey, a group of oil-men fight for their lives in the frozen wilderness after their plane crashes.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works at an Alaskan oil rigging site to protect the team from wolves attacking. One evening, he sends a letter to his wife that he is going to kill himself, but as he attempts suicide his gun doesn’t fire. After the oil-men finish their job, they are heading home via plane when it goes down. Ottway quickly takes charge of the situation and as wolves begin to kill the men for territoriality, the team decides to make the trek to survive.

The Grey is not at all what I expected, even after reading several reviews about it. I think many people (including myself) originally wrote The Grey off as “Taken…With Wolves!” but other than Neeson playing a steely killing machine, The Grey is nothing like Taken. The vast majority of the film is a survival picture. Even the wolves take a backseat to this, though they are a critical part of the survival element.

While I found parts of The Grey entertaining and interesting, a lot of it kind of bored me. I didn’t care one iota about the team of oil-men that survives the crash and the film really wants a few of them to have touching death scenes. One scene in particular, when a man is dying and Ottway tells him that he is dying and soothes him made me feel next to nothing for the dying man because I had no idea who is was. It’s almost as if the entire supporting cast is less ensemble and more Ottway-bolsterers since he is really the one character the film focuses on. The Grey does succeed in making Ottway a neat character, though.

Since most people think the film revolves around the wolves, I will say that the CGI used for the wolves is uneven. At times, it seems like The Grey almost wants to become a horror movie, after all, aren’t most horror movies survival movies? It’s also very strange that all these men that had been living in Alaska seemed unaware wolves even existed. Many of them clamor about how big they are and they seem totally unaware they are territorial animals that can easily kill a man. Also, Ottway is basically Muldoon, the raptor keeper, from Jurassic Park explaining to these fools what wolves are capable of.

I enjoyed watching The Grey, even though I wasn’t as emotionally invested as the film seems to require. There are moments of greatness here, and a revelation near the end made a pretty solid impact, but the survival story and the men doing the surviving falls a bit flat. I realize I may seem a bit harsh on The Grey, but perhaps I was just expecting something more out of it. The parts I did like were actually great, but it gets bogged down by its own story. The Grey is certainly worth a watch but I don’t think it will be film I return to.

I give it 3 much more awesome French posters out of 5.

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The Dark Knight (7/19/12)

The Dark KnightMovie One Hundred Seventy One

The Dark Knight continues Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as Batman faces his nemesis, the Joker.

The Dark Knight begins with an elaborate bank heist orchestrated by the Joker (Heath Ledger). Gotham has a new DA in Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who vows to clean up organized crime along with his assistant DA, Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) decide to trust Dent. The Joker disrupts an organized crime meeting between several factions and essentially controls the city’s underworld. After Dawes and Dent are placed at separate locations with lots of explosives and a timer, Batman saves Dent but he is disfigured. Joker turns Dent against himself he vows revenge for losing Rachel. Batman must now figure out a way to stop Joker and also deal with the newly formed Two-Face while still remaining the hero that Gotham deserves.

It turns out that writing an abbreviated plot outline for The Dark Knight is much harder than I anticipated. A lot of things happen in the film that the 150+ minute run time can attest to. The second part of  Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, many consider The Dark Knight to be the pinnacle of the series. I attribute this largely to his brother, Jonathan, who helped write the script for the film. Everything in this film is there for a reason and a pretty damn smart reason, too. Further diving into the “realistic” world of Batman, The Dark Knight created one of the greatest villains ever on screen in the Joker. The fact that Joker is only a portion of the plot here is remarkable.

When The Dark Knight was released, it contained several scenes that were shot for IMAX screens and this was the first IMAX film I saw that truly blew me away. While it’s always a thrill to see a bigger, louder version of a film in theaters, when something is built specifically for IMAX it shows. Even a lesser film would have been breathtaking if shot like this, but from the very opening shot for the entire film it grabs you and doesn’t let up. As I said about Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is not only an amazing superhero movie, it is simply a great movie.

If Batman Begins put Christopher Nolan on the map for many people, then The Dark Knight solidified his position as a great filmmaker. The Dark Knight is difficult to fault and is something that I could easily recommend to everyone.

I give it 5 “you complete me”s out of 5.

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North By Northwest (7/18/12)

North By NorthwestMovie One Hundred Seventy

North By Northwest tells the tale of a case of mistaken identity leading to a kidnapping by international spies.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for George Kaplan after paging a bellhop who is paging Kaplan. Two thugs take note and force Thornhill to the estate of Lester Townsend by a man impersonating Townsend named Philip Vandamm (James Mason). After questioning and Thornhill’s refusal that he is Kaplan, they fill Thornhill with liquor and send him on his way over a cliff. Instead, Thornhill, who is extremely drunk, drives away and gets picked up by the cops. When no one believes his story, Thornhill decides to track down the real George Kaplan to get to the bottom of things. He soon finds himself on the run after another case of mistaken identity and becomes involved with a young woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him escape capture only to land him in more trouble.

North By Northwest is very much an Alfred Hitchcock film. It has everything we’ve come to expect from the master of suspense and it could easily be argued that North By Northwest is one of his finest films. Cary Grant absolutely shines on screen and can be charming and funny no matter what. The rest of the cast is good, especially Saint, but Grant is undoubtedly the star here.

I actually got the opportunity to see this in theaters, in the same summer series as A Clockwork Orange, and unlike that film, North By Northwest looked and sounded like it had been carefully restored for the big screen. Unfortunately for me (and the rest of the theater) the experience was marred by a group of cackling idiots near the front of the theater that shrieked and bounced up and down during most of the film. Scenes that were not meant to be funny were laughed at and tense scenes were marred by their outbursts. They were clearly enjoying themselves but it was incredibly irritating. If you’re wondering, we didn’t get a manager because they weren’t doing anything wrong, per se, they were just irritating people. As a public service announcement, please remember that a crowded movie theater is not your living room.

Alfred Hitchcock’s films catalog is vast and it would take ages for one to watch all of his films. It would be hard to even just recommend one film of his to watch, let alone several. North By Northwest is a film that should be viewed both because it’s a Hitchcock film and because it’s a beautifully crafted thriller.

I give it 4 missed the bus moments out of 5.

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Forgotten Disney: White Wilderness

Forgotten Disney: White Wilderness.

Movie One Hundred Fifty Eight

Check out my guest review for Disney’s True Life Adventures: White Wilderness over at Forgotten Films as part of his Forgotten Disney guest blogging series. Be sure to follow for more forgotten film coverage.

I had a lot of fun watching this one, actually.

Batman Begins (7/15/12)

Batman BeginsMovie One Hundred Sixty Nine

Batman Begins tells the origin story for Bruce Wayne becoming Gotham City’s caped crusader known as Batman.

As a young boy, while playing with friend Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne falls into a well and is attacked by a swarm of bats. Later, while at the opera with his wealthy, philanthropic parents, Bruce begins to panic when the actors are portraying bats and asks to leave. In the alley behind the opera house, they are mugged and as a result, Bruce’s parents are both murdered. Much later on, in an even further corrupt Gotham, Bruce (now played by Christian Bale) attends the trial of the mugger and plans to shoot him but the mob beats him to it. Rachel (Katie Holmes), the assistant DA, is ashamed of Bruce. In an effort to infiltrate Gotham’s underworld, Bruce travels the world for training and winds up as a disciple of the Ra’s Al Ghul’s (Ken Watanabe) League of Shadows as Ducard’s (Liam Neeson) disciple, beginning his transformation into Batman.

Are you sick of Batman-related posts yet? No? Good.

Batman Begins brought Batman back from movie obscurity after Joel Schumacher’s embarassing outings. Director Christopher Nolan decided to take Batman back to his darker roots and also put him into a world that feels much more realistic than comic book. The end result is a fantastic movie and a terrific reboot of a great franchise. There is little to fault Batman Begins for as the cast, characters, production values, story, script, special effects, and score are all as close to perfection as a film can hope to achieve. Not only is this one of the best comic book adaptations ever, but it’s a terrific film in its own right.

Even the played out aspects of origin stories for super heroes doesn’t apply here. Batman Begins is almost entirely origin story and yet it’s a fresh perspective and interesting from start to finish. The fact that the villains of the film (Falcone, Ducard, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the Scarecrow) are somewhat lesser-known in the Batman universe, Batman Begins doesn’t miss a beat with them either. What could have easily been a mildly entertaining origin story with an obligatory villain attached for the finale is instead  a complete circle for Bruce Wayne as he becomes Batman.

Since I watched Batman Begins (and The Dark Knight) in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, I had already known what to expect for the film but it had been a year or two since I had last seen it and I can safely say that it has held up even better than I anticipated. Great care is taken with the source material and Christian Bale emerged as a fantastic Bruce Wayne/Batman. There’s a reason for all the commotion surrounding Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Batman Begins started it all.

I give it 5 “Does it come in black?”s out of 5.

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High Fidelity (7/15/12)

High FidelityMovie One Hundred Sixty Eight

In High Fidelity, a record store owner details his “top 5 breakups of all time” after the end of his most recent relationship.

Rob Gordon (John Cusack) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), and recounts his previous relationships and, more importantly, breakups leading up to this one. The owner of a small record store in Chicago, Rob’s life revolves around music and top five *whatever* lists. As Rob commiserates with his employees Dick (Todd Louis0) and Barry (Jack Black), he discovers that his lack of commitment to Laura was really the problem and decides to rectify that in the form of the perfect mixtape.

In many ways, High Fidelity is a fairly typical John Cusack movie where he plays a broken-hearted, kind of dopey but lovable guy.  That may sound like a knock against both High Fidelity and John Cusack, but I assure you, it’s meant sincerely. One key difference here is that the film is from 2000, not the 1980s. This means Cusack is a bit older but playing the same roles as before and it works flawlessly. Rob is a guy stuck in his early 20s that laments days gone by. It could almost play as a sequel to an 80s Cusack movie where the lead character gets stuck in a rut after high school and has to get his act together.

Other than Cusack, the rest of the cast really delivers High Fidelity above average. Jack Black, who was still relatively unknown for a supporting role, brings his specific comedy sense to the film and has some of the best scenes in the movie. The biggest draw to High Fidelity may very well be the soundtrack which is diverse and colorful. The music follows the film and a song never feels out of place or forced in for marketing purposes.

High Fidelity is a film that is just a good watch if you enjoy John Cusack’s early work. While I don’t think anything will top Say Anything, High Fidelity ranks high on my list.

I give it 4 Jack Black “dancing”s out of 5.

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