Elf (12/17/12)

ElfMovie Two Hundred Eighty Six

Elf is the story of a child being adopted by elves in the North Pole and returning to New York City as an adult to find his real father.

After a baby crawls into Santa Claus’s (Ed Asner) bag and brought back to the North Pole, Santa and his elves have no choice but to raise him. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) raises Buddy (Will Ferrell) as his own, but when Buddy towers over all the other elves and isn’t quite the toy-making genius they all are, he starts to suspect something isn’t right. Papa Elf tells buddy that his real father is Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and lives in New York City, so Buddy decides to go and live with his biological father  and spreads holiday cheer to everyone around him.

Yeah, I’m going to be that guy that is still reviewing Christmas movies after Christmas is over, sorry.

Elf is one of the handful of films in my regular holiday rotation but unlike Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story, it’s a film that I generally only watch once a year. I love  Elf almost as much as those movies but I think the lack of nostalgia for me makes Elf a great movie to watch but once a year is enough to satiate me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I will always consider Buddy the Elf to be Will Ferrell’s greatest role. The naive but pure-hearted Buddy is a great character and Ferrell is perfect for it. Elf is a movie that could have easily been crude and loud, but Ferrell keeps it in check and knocks it out of the park. The supporting cast is great too with Zooey Deschanel, Peter Dinklage, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Amy Sedaris, Artie Lange, Jon Favreau (also the director of Elf), etc. While I’m on the subject, why doesn’t James Caan get better work now? He’s great.

Where my two aforementioned favorite Christmas movies both have a sometimes cynical take of the holidays and focus on the follies, Elf focuses on Christmas spirit and believing in miracles. The childlike sense of wonder the film exudes makes you really want to believe in Santa and this really sets it apart. It’s not quite a movie for kids, but it’s definitely a movie for the whole family. There’s the perfect balance of humor for all ages here and throw in all the holiday stuff and Elf is just an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 “my finger has a heartbeat”s out of 5.

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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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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.

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