Glengarry Glen Ross (9/9/12)

Glengarry Glen RossMovie Two Hundred Eight

In Glengarry Glen Ross, a team of four struggling real estate salesmen are battling for their jobs.

A small firm brings in a young, talented salesman named Blake (Alec Baldwin) to motivate a small group of four real estate salesmen, informing them that only the top two would remain. In addition to keeping their jobs, the winner will receive a new Cadillac and access to better sales leads. The salesmen are Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), Dave Moss (Ed Harris), George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), and Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), led by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). As the deadline draws nearer, the men all have their own increasingly desperate tactics to getting sales from their current leads and eventually someone steals the famed Glengarry leads.

Originally written as a play by famed playwright David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross is committed to film and executed similar to a stage set. Most of the film takes place in the small office and each actor has a very unique personality that would lend itself well to the stage. However, even though the origin of the film is the stage, it doesn’t hold the film back in any way. The characters and dialogue are what matter here and each actor simply does a fantastic job in their respective roles.

Speaking of the actors in Glengarry Glen Ross, I think this is some of the finest work Lemmon and Baldwin have ever done, Lemmon especially. That isn’t to say that Arkin, Harris, Pacino, and Spacey slouch, quite the opposite. It wasn’t until 30 Rock that Alec Baldwin found a role that defined his career more, in my opinion. As for Lemmon, it is a bit harder to pinpoint a favorite role in his storied career, but when The Simpsons create a recurring character around Lemmon as Levene, I would say that is an indicator of success.

While Glengarry Glen Ross lacks action, it does provide a fair bit of tension between the characters. You root for them but also kind of loathe them for their slimy tactics to get the sale. The art of salesmanship is still quite strong and the material here holds up surprisingly well. As a character study, few films do so much with so little on screen which really makes the dialogue shine. Glengarry Glen Ross is far from flashy but character dramas may not come much better.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the title means, both Glengarry and Glen Ross are real estate developments being sold in the film.

I give it 4 “always be closing”s out of 5.

Continue reading

Piranha [2010] (9/4/12)

Piranha 3-DMovie Two Hundred Six

Piranha has, what else, piranhas attacking a lake during spring break.

A fisherman (played by Richard Dreyfuss in a glaring Jaws homage) on Lake Victoria is disturbed by an earthquake that unleashes whirlpool and a prehistoric relative of the piranha who promptly tear him to shreds. Spring break on the lake is ramping up as the piranha continue to eat everyone they can. Throw in a parody of Girls Gone Wild and as much T&A as possible, oh and some scientists…I mean, who else is going to stop these piranhas?! So it’s up to the sheriff (Elizabeth Shue) and seismology expert (Adam Scott) to save the day. *note: the plot synopsis on Wikipedia is WAY too long for a movie like this*

I’m not above movies like Piranha (aka Piranha 3D, apparently), but I also kind of hate that movies like this exist and people pay money to see them. Poor Richard Dreyfuss, who looks terrible by the way, does he need a paycheck that badly? It’s not that I hated the film, I was expecting stupid and Piranha certainly delivers stupid but it also delivers nudity, violence, and even a few laughs. It’s a dumb movie that knows it’s a dumb movie and has a bit of fun but it’s also pointless. I’ll also say that I was shocked that no extras were killed during the massacre in the finale. I was really expecting a spring breaker to fall and kill themselves or get run over by a boat or something.

Reasons to see Piranha:

  1. You like seeing nudity and don’t realize the Internet exists
  2. You like horrible CGI fish
  3. You like CGI penises (IN 3D!!!)  being eaten by fish
  4. You like cameos from Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd
  5. You want to see every actor in a film totally phoning it in
  6. You like spring break on falsified lakes
  7. You’ve always wondered just how annoying Jerry O’Connell can be
  8. You like saying “piranha”

Yeah, that’s about all I can come up with.

I give it 2 mangled leg effects (warning, kind of graphic) out of 5.

Continue reading

The Hunter [2011] (9/4/12)

Movie Two Hundred Five

The HunterA mercenary is hired by a company to hunt a species believed to be extinct for its genetics in The Hunter.

Martin David (Willem Dafoe), a loner mercenary, is hired by biotech company Red Leaf to travel to Tasmania to hunt the Tasmanian Tiger, an animal thought to be extinct but recently sighted. David is tasked with hunting the animal and bringing back organ and tissue samples for genetic research and cloning the animal. When David arrives under the guise of a researcher, he stays with a mother, Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Conner) and her children Sass and Bike (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock). Lucy’s husband, an environmentalist, has been missing and it’s unclear if the hostility from local loggers or some other force is to blame. As David continues his hunt for the Tiger, he unravels the secrets of the Armstrong family, the local strife between loggers and environmentalists as well as Red Leaf.

I have long been fascinated by cryptozoology so when I heard this movie deals with the Tasmanian Tiger I knew I had to see it. From this standpoint, the film met my expectations. The archive footage and special effects really made me enjoy The Hunter, even despite it’s narrative flaws. If you, like me, were mostly interested in watching the film from a crytpozoologic standpoint, you will likely get a kick out of The Hunter.

Much of The Hunter has very little dialogue and focuses on David carefully hunting. His demeanor is changed by the Armstrong children but I thought much of the interaction with the family seemed kind of tacked on and even rushed at points. Yeah, the kids are cute and all but would a few weeks (I think that was the timeline for the film) really change the ingrained loner mercenary to a caring family man? Ehh, I’m not so sure. I understand this was all necessary for the confrontations between David and the locals but there was almost too much reliance on the film’s plot for my liking.

Dafoe gives one hell of a performance here, considering he is onscreen for nearly the entire film. I’m not sure many other actors could have pulled off the quiet yet resolved mood that Dafoe delivers here. Almost more remarkable are the actors playing the Armstrong children, both of whom I really enjoyed their performances in The Hunter and I think have great acting careers ahead of them if they pursue it.

I haven’t seen many Australian films but if The Hunter is any indication, there is a lot of promise from the country and director David Nettheim. While the basis of the film was not totally compelling for me, the technical aspects were all very impressive. Had a name like Willem Dafoe not been attached The Hunter may not have gotten as much attention but the film does an admirable job telling its story.

I give it 3 Tasmanian Tiger archive footage out of 5.

Continue reading

Special When Lit (9/3/12)

Special When LitMovie Two Hundred Four

Special When Lit is a documentary that showcases the forgotten world of pinball.

The basis of Special When Lit is to highlight the fact that during the 50s and 60s, the pinball industry made more money than Hollywood movies but now pinball is on its deathbed. Highlighting the history, the rise and fall, and the people that love, play, and collect pinball machines. Much of the history is given by collectors and fans of the machines through a series of interviews. The film ends with a modern-day pinball tournament.

I watched two quirky documentaries (the first was Make Believe) in one day and so by the time I made it to Special When Lit my attention span was waning. As a lifelong fan of pinball, I was really looking forward to what Special When Lit would bring to the table and was left with mixed feelings. The history of pinball I found fascinating. The people that collect the machines and have literally filled their houses with them were intriguing. There is one guy who literally has parts of pinball machines that don’t exist anywhere anymore. Much of Special When Lit that isn’t a history lesson by the fans is a love letter from the fans.

Therein also lies part of the problem I had with Special When Lit; It turns out the people that are still really into pinball are kind of weird and there were times when I thought the documentary was almost poking fun at their hobby (or hobby turned obsession). This is always part of the problem with showcasing the outliers of society, there is a fine line between giving them your attention and poking fun at them, even if unintentionally. By the end of the documentary, during the tournament, I thought much of the focus from pinball had been lost and the people who still cling to pinball were in the spotlight. Not the we are outwardly laughing at these people but there is a sense of that coming across in the way they are portrayed.

If I could rate Special When Lit in two parts, I would. The beginning of the film I loved, with the rich history of pinball and hearing about its glory days. The latter half of the film kind of just unwinds and focuses too much on people in a way that I simply didn’t find very interesting. Maybe I was just getting burned out on documentaries, but I still wanted more from the film. Pinball fans should still check Special When Lit, it will make you want to travel to the nearest arcade to play.

I give it 3 Twilight Zone pinball machines (my favorite one) out of 5.

Continue reading

Make Believe (9/3/12)

Make BelieveMovie Two Hundred Three

Make Believe follows six teens competing for the title of Teen World Champion in magic.

Six teenagers from around the world are preparing to showcase their talents in Las Vegas for a magic competition for the title of Teen World Champion. The teens are: Siphewe Fangase and Nkumbuzo Nkonyana from Africa, Hiroki Hara from Japan, Derek McKee from Colorado, Bill Koch from Chicago, and Krystyn Lambert from Los Angeles. The teens are all very different aside from their strong passion for magic and this documentary follows their preparations for Las Vegas all the way through the competition.

Make Believe is about as quirky a subject for a documentary that I have ever seen and the film certainly has heart. While it would be easy to put these kids up as weirdos or nerds or whatever, Make Believe really gives them a showcase for their passion and talent. However, that’s not to say the film is entirely kind to them throughout the entire runtime, but it is never mean. While I don’t care at all about magic (though I do enjoy watching it, I guess) I was rooting for the teens during the award ceremony.

The biggest problem I have with Make Believe is that I don’t know who the film is for. As a documentary it doesn’t give too much insight into the field of stage magicians but I think the view of magic is also overly simplified for real fans of magic. The concept is compelling and the documentary is fun to watch but on a whole I was fluctuating between feeling bad for these kids and rooting for them.

Regardless of my fluctuating mood during Make Believe, I ended up enjoying it with the hopes that these kids get out a little bit more. There’s something to be said when you can be considered to be one of the best at something, but how many magicians can the normal person list off the top of their head? Maybe I’m just being cynical, but being a magician is not exactly a lauded profession for all but very few and the years of alienation needed to practice magic doesn’t seem like it will pay off. That really isn’t a knock against Make Believe itself, but it’s something I couldn’t shake during my viewing of the film.

I give it 3 Lance Burton with four of the teen competitors out of 5.

Continue reading

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (8/25/12)

Jiro Dreams of SushiMovie One Hundred Ninety Seven

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about the life and career of Jiro Ono, sushi chef extraordinaire.

Jiro Ono is a man that has become possibly the greatest sushi chef living today. At over 80 years old and with no sign of retiring, he owns and runs the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, along with his oldest son, Yoshikazu. His other son, Takashi, runs a more relaxed, literal mirror image of the restaurant. Meals start at over $300 when converted, and the waiting list is over a month long. The film takes us through what drives Jiro’s constant self-improvement and also explores the inner-workings of the restaurant and what makes it so special.

Sushi is easily one of my favorite foods so I have been patiently waiting for a chance to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi in hopes of whetting my appetite. Thankfully, this little film is on Netflix Instant Watch and I was able to scarf down this delectable documentary. I had a hard time swallowing the fact that this man could be so good that he could charge so much for the privilege to eat his food, although after watching it I’m still choking on it. OK, I think that’s all the eating puns for this review (maybe).

Jiro’s personal struggle is very touching and the insight the film gives to him and his family is really what makes the film worth watching. Yes, the sushi they make is truly perfect, but without taste-o-vision, who cares? Jiro Dreams of Sushi did make me wish I could have the pleasure of dining in the restaurant, though. I also gained a great appreciation for *good* sushi. One of the points made by one of their fish suppliers is that since sushi is everywhere these days, the good fish population is dwindling. It’s not a point the film dwells on, but it really got me thinking.

While I enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I was left hungry for more (sorry). I’m not sure what the film could have covered that would have sated me, and I enjoyed everything I watched, but I still thought it needed something to give it a little push. I would still recommend it to sushi fans and non-sushi fans alike, though. The film is really about Jiro in his quest to perfect sushi rather than the sushi itself.

I give it 4 perfect tuna sushis out of 5.

Continue reading

Goon (8/12/12)

GoonMovie One Hundred Eighty Nine

In Goon, a nightclub bouncer becomes a hockey star by fighting his way into the sport.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is the nicest bouncer around, apologizing to a man who he was being “bounced” from the bar as Doug was hitting him in the face. His hockey-loving friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel), takes him to a hockey game and when one of the players makes his way into the stands to fight Pat, Doug steps in to fight and becomes the star attraction. Doug is offered to play for a local team acting as a bouncer for the players on the ice and has to learn to skate. Doug is then promoted to a better team to guard their star player and becomes the target for veteran hockey thug, and Doug’s personal hero, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Goon is the perfect example of “don’t call it a sports movie”. Yes, the film centers around hockey, but all you really need to know about hockey is that they skate on the ice, they shoot a puck into the net to score, and occasionally they fight. Goon is really about a somewhat dimwitted guy trying to find himself and he stumbles upon something he’s good at and tries to make his parents proud. I will concede that the film follows a familiar pattern that many sports movies have laid out, but at least Goon is different.

Seann William Scott is an actor that may turn some people off of Goon before even watching it, but Scott is very subdued and actually does a good job as Doug. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jay Baruchel, who is a constant shrieking of douchebaggery every second he is on screen. I kind of just cringed and hope he would pass. Still, Scott’s humor was subdued and effective here, I laughed more than a few times but I wouldn’t quite call Goon a comedy, but it is comedic.

While Goon may not be a classic film, it sets out to tell a story and it does so effectively and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I found a lot to like, and was always a bit surprised whenever I would read positive press, but now I can fully see why and Goon deserves it. If you have been put off by Goon being a sports movie, it’s not, and if you were put off by Seann William Scott, don’t be.

I give it 4 penalty boxes out of 5.

Continue reading

Slaughterhouse-Five (8/11/12)

Slaughterhouse-FiveMovie One Hundred Eighty Eight

Slaughterhouse-Five is the story of a man who serves in World War II and then is abducted by aliens and becomes “unstuck” in time, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is a soldier during World War II and survives the fire bombings in Dresden. After the war, he marries Valencia (Sharon Gans) and becomes a successful eye doctor. Sometime later, he is abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore and kept in an exhibit with a beautiful celebrity, Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine). The Tralfamadorians do not have the same concept of time that we do, and Billy learns to time travel through his entire life at any point. Due to this, the film jumps back and forth between events in Billy’s life after World War II.

Recently, I finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and firmly decided to see the film version. As far as book adaptations go, Slaughterhouse-Five is very fair to the source material in many ways, but the small touches are lost. Sometimes the small touches go a long way, for instance, every time someone dies in the novel, Billy remarks “so it goes”. That line isn’t spoken once in the film, despite numerous mentions in the novel. As a result, the film, if viewed as its own entity, does not have the charm or identity the novel has.

I was surprised at how well Slaughterhouse-Five translated to the screen, I was having a hard time picturing how a film where time travel is so frequent could be anything but a confusing mess, but the cuts in the film between periods are well thought out. I never had any question as to when Billy was or even where he was, but that could be attributed to my knowledge of the plot from the novel. The actors playing the characters were all as I imagined them and they all perform quite well.

Standing on its own, I would have a hard time recommending the film version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Conversely, I would easily (and wholeheartedly) recommend the novel version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Both are strange and satirical, but the film is simply missing that intangible *something* that makes the novel so special. If you’re a fan of the novel already, I think you’ll still enjoy Slaughterhouse-Five as much as I did, though.

I give it 4 Tralfamadorian exhibits out of 5.

Continue reading

Shadows and Fog (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Seven

In Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, there is a serial strangler on the loose and a bookkeeper gets caught up in the town’s madness.

A vigilante mob on the search for a strangler wakes up Kleinman (Woody Allen) to help them track the killer down. Outside of town, a group of circus performers is staying. Irmy (Mia Farrow), a sword-swallower,  and Paul (John Malkovich), a clown, are having a dispute which causes Irmy to travel into town for a place to stay. She finds herself in a brothel, and after receiving $700 from a young patron (John Cusack), she is arrested. Kleinman is also at the police station and as the two are leaving, they become close to avoid any danger from the strangler still on the loose.

Woody Allen pays homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog and apparently it was a huge miss with audiences and many critics. I found myself quite taken with Shadows and Fog, partly because of the star studded cast but also because of the natural comedy from having Woody Allen in a noir-like setting. On the surface, this is not a typical Woody Allen film but it’s definitely a Woody Allen film, it’s just in a different wrapper.

When I first heard of Shadows and Fog, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined a serious film where Allen completely steps out of his comfort zone and does something totally unexpected. This isn’t the case, however, despite having a dark feel, having Allen injected into the film’s world significantly changes the tone. This is what makes Shadows and Fog so confusing. It’s clearly an homage to films like M, but Allen keeps you laughing more than worrying. I understand why Shadows and Fog was one of Gene Siskel’s picks for worst of the year, but I also found myself enjoying it.

As one of Allen’s most expensive pictures, Shadows and Fog was a huge flop at the box office and it seems to be fairly unknown from what I can tell. I’m not sure who the target audience should be for a film like this and I’m finding it difficult to even recommend it outright. I will say that I enjoyed watching Shadows and Fog because I was keen to try something new from Woody Allen.

I give it 4 Third Man tributes out of 5.

Continue reading

Thief (7/13/12)

Movie One Hundred Sixty Five

Thief is about an ex-con and expert jewel thief that decides to pull a few more heists in order to start a new life.

Frank (James Caan) is a professional safe-cracker that robs cash and/or diamonds and sells them. After his fence is killed, Frank and his partner in crime, Barry (Jim Belushi), are led to a Chicago outfit boss, Leo (Robert Prosky). Leo wants Frank to do a few jobs for him and Frank reluctantly agrees so he can start a new life with a waitress, Jessie (Tuesday Weld) he has been dating. After the big score, Frank wants out but Leo has other plans.

Many people know Michael Mann for his awesome work in Heat, but Thief does some elements of the heist movie just as well, if not better. Frank and Barry are characters easy to understand and relate to, even if we know that it will be hard for things to go right for them. Even if it’s a story we think we’ve seen before, as a whole it is an entertaining one.

I’m not sure if it’s my undying love for the film Drive, but I found many similarities between the films. The opening sequence of Drive has to be an homage to the beginning of Thief, there is no way it’s coincidental. Both Frank and Driver both are cool, calculating, and vengeful, though Frank is much more outspoken. Even the title font and soundtracks are similar. If anyone was disappointed by what Drive wasn’t, then Thief may be the film they are looking for.

There are portions of Thief were the plot seems to lose a bit of its footing and the pacing suffers but then things pick right back up. When Frank is trying to make a life with Jessie I found myself tuning out a bit and waiting for the next scene. I understand we need to know Frank’s motives for going against his instincts and teaming with the mafia, but their relationship still didn’t seem real to me even after all the time spent doting on them. Drive builds a better relationship in less time and with hardly any dialogue.

Thief has been a bit lost in time but it’s a great noir/heist film and outside the Godfather, some of James Caan’s better work. In spite of a few stumbling areas, Thief delivers on every expectation of the genre and perhaps even more.

I give it 4 Thief’s opening sequences out of 5.

Continue reading