Moneyball (3/24/12)

MoneyballMovie Sixty Two

Moneyball is a movie I had little to no interest in upon hearing about it and I put off watching it. After the Academy Awards I felt like I might be missing out if I don’t watch it and I would have been right.

Moneyball is a film about baseball but it’s not what I would really consider a sports movie. When I think of sports movies I think of movies like Remember the Titans where the formula is: root for the underdog and even if they don’t win they are better because of it. Moneyball is not that film.

I didn’t realize the film is based on true events, or rather I didn’t realize the story in the film actually happened. I thought it was a totally fictionalized story based on the Oakland A’s baseball team rather than a fictionalized reality.

The plot of the film centers around Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who is the general manager for the Oakland A’s, a team with one of the smallest budgets in Major League Baseball. He travels to the Cleveland Indians where he meets young Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who instantly impresses him with his take on managing baseball teams. They use a statistical formula to completely alter the way they get players and ruffle the feathers of all the old-timers along the way.

In case you don’t know the history behind Moneyball, I won’t spoil the details but I will say that it makes for a very interesting film. Deep understanding of the sport of baseball is not required as the mechanics are largely not touched on. As long as you know what first base is you should be able to grasp the majority of what’s being said.

As far as the Academy Awards are concerned, I’m not sure if Moneyball really deserves all the accolades. Yes, it’s a very good movie but I wasn’t blown away by anything. If you are on the fence about seeing Moneyball, I will say “give it a shot”. The worst you can do is waste two hours of your time but if you’re like me you will be very entertained.

I give it Sabermetrics out of 5.

Continue reading

Troll Hunter (3/23/12)

Troll HunterMovie Sixty One

Troll Hunter, at first glance, seems like just another “found footage” movie made popular by movies like Blair Witch Project. Fortunately, Troll Hunter is one of the few films to pull the genre off well.

The plot of Troll Hunter is most likely exactly what you think it is. A group of college students are filming about some strange bear attacks and then start following a man unknown by the other bear hunters. Turns out the strange ‘bear hunter’ is none other than a troll hunter! I know, it sounds stupid, but the suspension of disbelief is key. The characters don’t believe in trolls, they laugh at the idea of them. There is some believability built into the story that somehow makes the troll mythology more believable than say, ghosts.

The other key piece to what makes Troll Hunter work is the special effects. We are not teased with action that happens off-screen, we meet the trolls quite early on and then proceed to meet several other variety of troll. In addition to being out in the open, the special effects are quite impressive.

Troll Hunter is a really fun ride. If you are a fan of the found footage movies, I promise you will love it. If you are skeptical about the genre, or have been burned by crappy movies, I would give Troll Hunter a try. Also, if the Maelstrom ride at Epcot in Disney World was one of your favorite rides (it was mine growing up) then you should be pleased. There isn’t nearly as much shakycam footage as others and the characters are even more likable than I expected. Still, while it doesn’t break much new ground it’s fun. In the end, isn’t that the most important thing about watching films?

I give it 4 troll cgi out of 5.

Continue reading

Moon (3/23/12) & Whistle (3/23/12)

MoonMovie Sixty

Moon was one of my favorites from 2009. Sam Rockwell is one of the most under appreciated actors of our time and Moon is also a severely overlooked sci-fi gem.

The premise of Moon is farming resources from the surface of the moon. We meet Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) in a deserted space station. We learn he is all alone with the responsibility to run the station and oversee the harvesters. We also meet the brains of the space station, Gerty 3000 (Kevin Spacey). Anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey will automatically distrust Gerty, and Spacey has the perfect  soothing voice with something sinister underneath. Sam goes out in a rover and crashes. He wakes up and then goes out to check on a malfunctioning harvester, only to save himself from the crash.

I won’t further spoil any of the plot, but at this point in the film you should remain on the edge of your seat. There is little action to speak of, but the isolation and tension is perfectly captured. Sam Rockwell is such a beast of an actor, and this movie is an amazing testament to that.

Moon is a film I would wholly recommend, and not just to sci-fi fans. The film deals with moral decisions, isolation, abandonment and several other issues that everyone will identify with beyond the sci-fi setting. One fun fact about the movie: the writer/director, Duncan Jones, is the son of David Bowie. Yes, that David Bowie.

I give it 5 smiling Gertys out of 5.

Movie Sixty and a Half

Whistle is a short film that is a special feature on the Blu-Ray (possibly also the DVD) of Moon that was also written and directed by Duncan Jones. Thematically, it shares many things with Moon, but the execution isn’t nearly as taut and mature. It is about a man who uses a special satellite weapon to assassinate people and how he deals with the moral dilemmas surrounding this line of work. As a short film, it works quite well but some things were obviously sacrificed in order to keep it from getting too long. If you own/rent Moon, I would definitely recommend also checking out Whistle.

I give it 3 futuristic assassinations out of 5.

Continue reading

Iron Man 2 (3/23/12)

Iron Man 2Movie Fifty Nine

Iron Man 2 could easily be shrugged off as ‘just another superhero movie’ but it’s actually quite fun to watch. Surprisingly so, even.

The film picks up immediately where the first film left off, Tony Stark (perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr.) is feeling the backlash from the press conference where he declares himself to be Iron Man. The government wants his technology, but he is unwilling to just hand it over to them. A rival weapons technology company head, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants the tech as well. All of this while Russian rival, Ivan Venko (Mickey Rourke), has a bone to pick with Stark. Without knowing too much about Iron Man’s comic lineage, I found the plot easy to understand even if I didn’t get all the sly winks that Marvel likes throwing into these films.

The action in Iron Man 2 is great and the special effects are superb. The acting is actually mostly pretty good, though at first some of the casting seemed odd to me. Mickey Rourke seemed to speak with a weird mix of New York and Russian accents and Scarlett Johansson’s performance is largely lifeless. Luckily, RDJ steals the show and is a joy to watch.

With the upcoming Avengers film I have been trying to catch up with Marvel’s superhero films. While I enjoyed Captain America, I enjoyed this film more. After seeing Sam Rockwell in action, I decided to watch something of his immediately after watching Iron Man 2 (more on that later) and I wouldn’t mind reading a few comics as well.

I give it 4 Howard Stark is on Mad Men out of 5.

Continue reading

Letter Never Sent (3/22/12)

Letter Never SentMovie Fifty Eight

Letter Never Sent is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and I had never even heard of it before Criterion announced it for release. It is a semi-lost gem of Russian filmmaking that I am still thinking about.

The film follows four Russian geologists who get dumped in Siberia to find diamonds for the government. As they spend more time together we learn more about their relationships with each other. The titular letter is something I won’t spoil. Immediately following their discovery they become trapped by an enormous fire and have to survive to get the information back to Moscow. The plot is fairly simple but the interaction between the geologists is incredibly realistic and touching. In fact, the entire thing is extremely realistic.

The fire is almost its own character. Before the geologists become trapped there is a raging fire superimposed over them. The camera work is also practically its own character. The shots are either close or distant and at times it almost seems like a documentary. The acting is so flawless it seems like everything was done in one single take and the actors are really trying to survive the Siberian wilderness. Letter Never Sent is unrelenting as a tale of survival.

Writing about Letter Never Sent truly makes me want to watch the film again and also find more films by the director and cinematographer, Mikhail Kalatozov and Sergei Urusevsky, respectively. Although the film is from the early 60s there is really no Russian propaganda to speak of, other than the devotion of these four geologists to their homeland.

I give it 5 surviving geologists out of 5.

Continue reading

Red Riding: 1974 (3/20/12)

Red Riding 1974Movie Fifty Seven

The Red Riding Trilogy starts off in 1974 and loosely follows a fictionalized take on real murder cases. I had been interested in watching this for quite some time but was left mostly unimpressed.

Red Riding 1974 follows a reporter, Eddie Dunford (played by Andrew Garfield)  looking for information about missing young girls. As Dunford keeps digging, corruption and other crimes are uncovered and Dunford becomes a target. That is a highly simplified version of the plot, but I found the details hard to follow. There are lots of supporting characters and the timeline of events seemed sketchy to me, I had a hard time understanding exactly what was happening most of the film. I’m not sure if this is a fault on my part or on the film’s.

Originally a UK Channel 4 miniseries, the Red Riding Trilogy has a different director for each film and each film was shot using different techniques. 1974 was shot on 16mm and directed by Julian Jarrod. 1980 was shot on 35mm and directed by James Marsh. Lastly, 1983 was shot digitally and directed by Anand Tucker. The idea was to give each film a truly unique feel, both visually and professionally, while still maintaining an overarching story. I look forward to finishing the trilogy to see what comes of things.

Red Riding 1974 features terrific acting and I was especially impressed with Andrew Garfield. The overall look and feel of the mid 70s is captured quite well. I had a bit of a hard time understanding some of the dialogue but I’m not sure if that’s due to accents, mumbling, lack of Netflix Instant Watch subtitles, or just my own brain. Overall, I would hesitantly recommend watching Red Riding 1974, if only because the trilogy is supposed to be quite good on a whole. If I really like 1980 and 1983 I may go back and watch this again to catch anything I may have missed.

I give it 3 Garfield mutton chops out of 5.

Continue reading

Persona (3/19/12)

PersonaMovie Fifty Six

Persona is film by Ingmar Bergman that was strongly recommended to me. It is an intimate minimalistic film that is also quite powerful.

The film opens with footage of a camera projector and seemingly random images but the plot centers around two women, Alma and Elisabet, played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman respectively. Alma is a nurse under the care of Elisabet, who has become mute despite no seemingly medical reason for this. Since Elisabet is mute, Alma talks throughout nearly the entire movie and the more she speaks the more she divulges. The lines between the two women begin to blur as the film progresses.

Both women give great performances though they have completely different roles. Andersson’s performance is especially touching. As with other Bergman films, the cinematography and sets are simple but beautiful. Also like other Bergman films, it most likely requires several viewings to fully understand. I know I had to wait to even write this short review due to my not being sure I could write about what happened with any detail. I’m still not sure I could say exactly what happened in the film but I enjoyed it immensely.

In writing about Persona I am inclined to watch it again. Not only because it is a great film but also because I know it has many secrets left to divulge. This is not a film I would recommend to everybody, it is a slow but deliberate film that deals primarily between the relationship of two women.

I give it 4 boys watching faces out of 5.

Continue reading

The Skin I Live In (3/19/12)

Movie Fifty FiveThe Skin I Live In

I saw The Skin I Live In with very little background as to the story since I knew that would ruin some of the intended effect. I’m very glad the plot wasn’t spoiled and when it was over I was finally able to breath and say “wow”.

I will not go into details about the plot but I will say the film begins with a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) researching a new skin with a patient (Elena Anaya). The plot is a bit like a painting. We see the beautiful finished product first, but then get to see the artist masterfully put each piece together. The plot unravels bit by bit and things make start making sense all the way to conclusion.

Watching Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya on screen is an absolute treat. Both actors give outstanding performances, Anaya especially. Banderas’ inconsistent film career had me a bit worried at first, but he does a remarkable job in the role. Director Pedro Almodóvar’s work is fairly new to me, but after watching The Skin I Live In I will be watching more. The score intensifies and descends perfectly, creating a tension that rarely ceases and the cinematography is a wonder. It truly is a hauntingly beautiful film.

While The Skin I Live In is certainly not for everyone, those willing to get a bit grossed out may love the film as much as I did. Spanish cinema does not seem to receive very much attention, but films such as this should really push the boundaries.

I give it 5 body suits out of 5.

Continue reading

Valhalla Rising (3/17/12)

Valhalla RisingMovie Fifty Four

I really struggled to like Valhalla Rising and, truth be told, there is a lot to like. However, the idea seems to be far stronger than the execution.

Valhalla Rising is from Nicolas Winding Refn, director of a favorite of mine, Drive. I had high hopes for the film as a result, but the similarities between them are few. They both share strong, silent, unnamed protagonists and feature very little dialog in general but have strong driving soundtracks. The colors are vivid and the surrounding landscapes feel very alive. Oh, and they are both also intensely violent at times.

One key difference in Valhalla Rising are the ‘acid flashback’ scenes which are fairly numerous. This caused some confusion for me as far as the narrative is concerned as well.

The plot follows a prisoner (Mads Mikkelsen) than is very adept at fighting and killing and he is forced into this for sport. He breaks away from his captors and kills them all except for a young boy, whom he befriends. Together the two travel and meet up with a group of Christians. They then travel…Somewhere…But end up in a dense fog and believe to be cursed. They arrive in an unknown land that ends up being North America.

Apparently the idea for the film is based around a viking runestone Refn saw while in Delaware and frankly, that makes for an excellent idea for a movie. Valhalla Rising simply doesn’t deliver on that premise. It’s confusing, jumbled, trippy (not in a good way), and fairly directionless. Still, I didn’t hate it, I was just left disappointed.

I give it 3 viking acid trips out of 5.

Continue reading

Prairie Love (3/17/12) & Family Portrait (3/17/12)

Prairie LoveMovie Fifty Three

Prairie Love is a very odd, very subdued film. Though it takes place in North Dakota, it is nothing like Fargo.

The plot of Prairie Love is about a guy that seems to live in his car. We first see him pulling a frozen dead deer towards his car. As he’s driving he finds a guy that is practically frozen solid but apparently alive. He brings him into the car and thaws him out. While waiting for him to thaw, he goes through the frozen man’s belongings and finds love letters to a female prison inmate. The men are both obviously lonely in the frozen tundra of North Dakota, but the first man decides to do away with the now thawed frozen man and pretend to be him for the female inmate’s affections.

The entire film is extremely slow paced and there are long stretches of silence. There are lots of subtle funny moments and I did chuckle a few times, but the pacing is frustrating. I would either be laughing or falling asleep.

One thing I’d like to mention is Film Movement, where I got Prairie Love from. I found out about the site through Groupon, oddly enough, but the basic premise is they send these independent movies out before their actual release. It’s a neat way for me to stay on top of some movies that I would otherwise have no access to and I recommend checking it out.

I give it 3 awkward nude scenes (sfw) out of 5.

Movie Fifty Three and a Half

Also included on the Prairie Love disc was a short animated film called A Family Portrait.

A Family Portrait is about a family getting their portrait taken but their expressions change based on the conflicts they are enduring. The animation reminded me very much of Ralph Steadman’s work. I quite admire short films since they have to tell an entire story in such a small space, but I enjoyed watching A Family Portrait.

I give it 3 ‘say tofu’s out of 5.

Continue reading