Wanderlust (12/31/12)

WanderlustMovie Three Hundred One

After losing both their jobs and expensive New York City condo, a couple gets Wanderlust and decides to live in a rural commune.

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are buying a very expensive micro-loft in New York City but after Paul loses his job and Linda’s documentary about penguin testicular cancer doesn’t get picked up by HBO, the couple is forced to leave. At first they decide to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), in Atlanta, but on the trip down they stumble on a strange commune in the middle of nowhere. After flipping their car over, they spend the night and are greeted with open arms by the members and their leader, Seth (Justin Theroux). With no prospects back in New York or Georgia, George and Linda decide to stay but the lifestyle takes some adjustment for them.

I will admit that Wanderlust looked pretty awful from the trailers (and the completely awful cover art pictured above) but the film kind of surprised me in that I didn’t completely hate it. Paul Rudd has been one of my favorite comedic actors for some time and I’m usually keen to see whatever movie he’s starring in, with varying degrees of success. Wanderlust is a pretty dismal film, most of the humor falls completely flat, but it’s better than I expected.

For the most part, Wanderlust kind of reminds me a lot of the animated TV show King of the Hill. The humor is kind of the same low-key, easy to miss dry wit that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to single sittings. Much of Wanderlust feels like it was written scene by scene and then pasted together, but it’s not like the comedy genre usually asks much in terms of plot. There is one scene near the end that is completely out of place and goes on far too long, with Rudd talking to himself in a mirror. To be honest, I was embarrassed for the poor guy by the end of that scene.

The other thing that kind of works against Wanderlust is that there are no characters I connected with. We all get restless and want change in our lives, but Rudd and Aniston seem a bit too old to be pulling the kinds of things their characters do. I will say that, as a comedic actress, Aniston always surprises me with her timing. She is better than a lot of people give her credit for. While I would likely never watch Wanderlust again, it’s not the complete mess I was expecting. I laughed at a fair amount of the jokes and the film kept me entertained enough not to turn it off.

I give it 3 “money literally buys nothing” out of 5.

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City of God (12/23/12)

City of GodMovie Two Hundred Ninety Five

The City of God is an autobiographical tale about crime and growing up in the poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

Narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) from the 1960s through the 1980s in the impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood he grew up in. It started with three older boys doing simple stick-ups and then a young kid, maybe around eight, named Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva) gets his start as a hoodlum and his eventual rise to power as one of two of the neighborhood’s most powerful drug lords, changing his moniker to Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino). Somehow Rocket is able to avoid a life of time and pursue photography and tells the interweaving tale of the City of God.

Few movies impress me on both a technical level and also move me emotionally and City of God had me glued to the screen despite some of the horrific imagery. City of God is one of the most unflinchingly violent movies I’ve ever seen and yet very little blood is actually spilled onscreen. The brutality is clear and the story is all the more engrossing because of it.

It’s shocking to me that people actually live in a place like Rio de Janeiro and know nothing but poverty and crime. I suppose that isn’t limited just to Rio de Janiero, but for a city that has the potential to be simply breathtakingly beautiful to be so ugly is fascinating. City of God seems so visceral that it’s easy to forget you are watching a film and not a documentary, not unlike Battle of Algiers or Gomorrah. While the events in City of God are fictionalized to a point, the main players are real, you can look them up. I didn’t know this before watching City of God and it’s pretty amazing that Rocket (well, actually Paulo Lins, who wrote the novel City of God) even survived. I actually thought it may end up being a simple coming-of-age story until the story takes a dark turn.

City of God is a movie that I knew needed to be watched but I don’t think the praise I’ve heard has done the film justice. I was expecting a really great movie and somehow even my lofty expectations were not high enough. City of God is stunning and awe-inspiring but also almost too much to take in. While I loved it, it’s maybe even one of the best films I watched all year, it’s a film that I’m not sure I could watch very often. It’s not exactly depressing, but it’s close to it.

If you are like me and know that you need to see City of God but haven’t yet, I implore you to do it as soon as you get a chance. If you’ve never heard of City of God before now, please take my word for it and go watch it. If more movies like City of God came out around the world, I don’t think Hollywood would be the force it is today.

I give it 5 Rocket’s camera out of 5.

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Safety Not Guaranteed (12/12/12)

Safety Not GuaranteedMovie Two Hundred Seventy Eight

In Safety Not Guaranteed, three reports investigate a classified ad requesting help to go back in time.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is interning at a Seattle magazine and when one of the editors, Jeff (Jake Johnson), finds a strange ad asking for someone to travel back in time with him, he wants to write a story about guy that placed the ad. Darius and Jeff also take along Arnau (Karan Soni), another intern and head off to Ocean View in search for the purported time traveler. They discover that Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) is behind the ad and Darius, bored with her life and hoping there’s a shred of truth to Kenneth’s claim, hopes to go back in time and prevent her mother’s death.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a movie I was expecting to enjoy but not be totally enamored with. Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass are kind of hit or miss with me, but I like Jake Johnson so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cast, or the plot. It’s safe to say that Safety Not Guaranteed blew my expectations away and it impressed the hell out of me. It may even be one of the year’s better films.

Aubrey Plaza is not known for her dramatic acting, in fact, all of the actors are probably better known for comedic roles, but Plaza in particular impresses in Safety Not Guaranteed. There are plenty of funny moments in the film, but the story is actually more personal and touching than it lets on. The setup makes it seem like we are supposed to be pointing and laughing at Kenneth for being weird and believing he can actually travel through time – and I certainly won’t spoil anything – but we quickly stop making fun of Kenneth and he becomes a sympathetic character.

In the end, Safety Not Guaranteed is not about time travel, it’s about not living with regrets. All the characters have some moment of self-discovery that is infinitely more important to the story than whether or not Kenneth actually knows what he is doing regarding his time machine. Existentialism was not something I was expecting to find from a quirky indie dramedy, but damned if it doesn’t do it well. Safety Not Guaranteed surprised me and for that reason, I encourage everyone to see it for themselves, you may be surprised too.

I give it 4 Kenneth’s sweet Datsun out of 5.

*sorry if you got notified of this and then it disappeared, I scheduled it incorrectly*

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (12/9/12)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the WorldMovie Two Hundred Seventy Five

In the final days before an asteroid wipes out the Earth, two neighbors form an unlikely friendship as they are Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

News that the 70-mile-wide asteroid will be colliding with Earth in three weeks comes in and Dodge Peterson’s (Steve Carell) wife leaves him. He goes into work the next day at the insurance company to find that the building is mostly deserted and people are handling the end of the world differently, either depressed or without inhibition and everywhere in between. After trying to kill himself by drinking a window cleaning product called “Windose”, he wakes up with a dog tied to him a note that says “sorry”, so he names the dog Sorry. He meets his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley) and the two form a bond. Dodge tells her that he wants to visit his first love, Olivia, and she wants to visit her family in England and they decide to help each other meet their final wishes.

I have mixed feelings about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but unfortunately they are mostly negative. It’s not that I had a bad time watching the film, at the time I was largely indifferent to it, I just wasn’t charmed by it. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has a myriad of cameos from big stars, and Carell in the lead will likely polarize people from the start. I’m a fan of Carell’s work, both good and bad, and he is totally underutilized here. Dodge is likeable, but so incredibly mundane that I never really cared for him. Keira Knightley also kind of bugs me so that doesn’t help cinch the friendship/romance we’re supposed to be rooting for.

The main problem I have with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is its sense of humor. Most of the humor in the film is dark, sometimes so dark it’s hard to tell if it’s trying to be funny or just making light of a dark situation. End of the world films should have an air of doom to them, after all, but instead of keeping it dark comedy there are some odd bits that seem to have the opposite sense of humor. It’s almost like several people had a hand in writing different scenes of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but not in a good, varied way, but in a way that seems directionless.

That’s kind of a lot of negative criticism to throw at a film I didn’t hate watching, but I feel like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a wasted opportunity for a pretty damn good premise. I feel like a comedian like Louis CK could do so much with the material here and make a fantastic dark comedy with better characters. In fact, now that I’ve said that, I wish Louis CK was in the film instead of Steve Carell because Louis CK makes everything better. Speaking of comedians, Patton Oswalt has a great cameo.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is still a film I would recommend seeing but it would be low on my recommendation list. It’s a film that wants to do so much right and just doesn’t quite hit the high notes it needs to be memorable.

I give it 3 Friendsy’s out of 5.

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Decalogue VII (11/17/12)

Movie Two Hundred Sixty Four

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue VII

Majka (Maja Barelkowska) lives at home with her mother, Ewa (Anna Polony) and her young daughter, Ania/Anika (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk). Since Majka had Ania at such a young age, with an older man, to avoid scandal, the family decided to portray Ewa as Ania’s mother. Even Ania thinks Ewa is her actual mother. Majka wishes to leave the country with Ania but needs her mother’s approval to do so, but she decides to kidnap Ania instead after a school play.

Decalogue VII should have been a great film but something about it simply did not work for me. I don’t know if it was Majka as a character or the actress that played her, but I could not connect at all. It’s a shame too, because the ending of this film is one of the more moving pieces of the series and it fell flat for me. As with the other films of The Decalogue, the moral ambiguity presented here is fascinating, in fact the story is one of the better ones so far. Did Majka really kidnap her daughter or did she have the right to? Will the family ever be able to come back from this? I will admit that Decalogue VII had me thinking but unfortunately watching it was a bit of a chore.

I give it 3 out of 5.

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Decalogue VI (11/17/12)

Movie Two Hundred Sixty Three

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue VI

A young postal worker named Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) has been obsessively spying on an older woman, Magda (Grażyna Szapołowska), living in a building across the way. He devises plots to see her by sending her notices to get her to come to the post office and picks up a milk delivery route as well. Finally, Tomek decides to tell Magda that he has been peeping at her and he loves her, though she has long abandoned the idea of ‘love’.

I didn’t want to give too much away about the plot of Decalogue VI, since the latter half of the film is very interesting. Though Tomek and Magda’s relationship originally struck me as very odd and off-putting, I eventually found myself being a bit more understanding. Though, if someone came up to me and told me they had been stalking me, I’m not sure I would invite them up to my apartment. Still, I think Magda’s motivations are more understandable by the end of the film, though a bit weird, perhaps. The weird dynamic of rooting for a stalker held Decalogue VI back for me, I wanted to sympathize with Tomek but still found Magda more endearing. One thing for sure, Decalogue VI is one of the most unique romantic dramas I’ve ever seen. Decalogue VI was also released in an expanded form, called A Short Film About Love, which I would be curious to see how it compares.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Decalogue V (11/11/12)

Decalogue DekalogMovie Two Hundred Fifty Eight

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue V

We see a young, aspiring lawyer named Piotr (Krzysztof Globisz) is taking the bar exam. Cut to Warsaw where a young man, Jacek (Miroslaw Baka) is wandering around looking for an empty taxi stand. He pulls awful pranks on people as he wanders around, asks for a photo of a young girl to be enlarged, gets a bite to eat while looking at some rope and a large stick in his bag. He finally finds an empty cab on the street and lies to a couple that wishes to share the cab. The cab driver (Jan Tesarz) has spent the morning doing nothing but ogling a young girl and driving off as a joke when people are about to get in his taxi. Jacek tells the driver to drive to a secluded area where he brutally kills him for seemingly no reason. Jacek then ends up facing the death penalty, futilely represented by Piotr.

I had a hard time with Decalogue V even though it is the only film that seems to take a firm stance of what is right and wrong. While neither the cab driver or Jacek are shown to be good people, the lawyer makes his point that all life is sacred and he does not agree with the death penalty, which is obviously Kieslowski’s view as well. It’s not that I disagree, it’s just that the film makes both the killer and the victim completely unlikable making it more difficult to choose a viewpoint. Even though the cab driver is not a good person, his life still has worth as a human being, right? That is the purpose of Decalogue V. This film starts off particularly confusing since it introduces three seemingly unconnected characters, but it soon makes its point apparent but never hits the same marks that past films in the series do.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Decalogue V was extended and remade as the film A Short Film About Killing.

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