Submarine (11/5/12)

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Submarine is about a teenage boy growing up and learning to deal with keeping a girlfriend and also keeping his parents marriage together.

Fifteen year old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is trying to win the attention of a girl he has a crush on named Jordana (Yasmin Paige). He joins in bullying a girl thinking it will get him closer to Jordana, and later the two meet up beneath the train tracks and Jordana takes pictures of them kissing to get back at her ex. The plan backfires for Oliver and he gets beaten up, but Jordana and he begin dating afterward. In addition to his own sex life, Oliver is concerned with the sex life of his parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) and fears that a new neighbor (Paddy Considine), a new age guru who happens to be an old boyfriend of Oliver’s mother, will cause a rift between his mother and father.

Submarine is a film that I wanted to love before knowing much about it. I’m a sucker for indie movies and I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories and I thought the combination of the two with a healthy dose of UK style and wit would make this a winner. Unfortunately, while Submarine hits lots of high notes, I found myself bored more than entertained. That’s not to say that Submarine is a bad film, it’s not even close to bad, it’s just uninteresting. Or perhaps it’s just the type of film that has been made too many times to stay fresh.

Oliver is a fantastic character and I think Craig Roberts does a fantastic job carrying the movie. Where the movie began to lose me was in the supporting cast of characters. I never cared about Oliver’s parents and I couldn’t stand Jordana at all. When Jordana has trouble at home and her mother is ill, I didn’t care and I’m not sure where the disconnect was. I think in trying to be quirky, and funny, and different, the wrong aspects of the characters (excluding Oliver) were highlighted. Although I did finally get a chance to see Paddy Considine in front of the camera, instead of behind from Tyrannosaur.  I related to Oliver, being a nerdy kid that wants to fit in and goes to see movies that other people don’t care about – don’t worry, I do care about The Passion of Joan of Arc. He has a big heart but he’s also a scared kid that doesn’t know how to handle things. I get that. The rest just felt disconnected to him in some way.

First time filmmaker Richard Ayoade does an admirable job bringing Submarine to life and had a less likable actor been cast as Oliver, the whole thing might have sunk (submarine pun intended). Even at 97 minutes, Submarine started to feel long about halfway through and I was kind of glad it ended. When the film started, I loved it but my enthusiasm slowly waned as time passed. After the credits began rolling I was happy that I took the time to see Submarine, but I wouldn’t want to see it again.

I give it 3 totally sweet airbrushed vans out of 5.

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Primal Fear (10/13/12)

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After an altar boy is accused of murder, a defense attorney struggles with winning the case and finding the truth in Primal Fear.

Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a hotshot Chicago defense attorney that will do anything to be in the public eye and also to get his high-paying clients acquitted. Vail sees that an altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) has been accused of brutally killing an archbishop and is on the run from police. Vail decides to take up Stampler’s case pro-bono, knowing the publicity will be worth it. Aaron, a soft spoken southern boy seems completely incapable of murder and says he had nothing to do with the archbishop’s killing, despite being found covered in his blood. He is adamant that there was a third man in the room with them that committed the crime. After interviews with a psychologist (Frances McDormand), it’s discovered that Aaron has a second personality named Roy and that Roy is who really killed the archbishop. It’s up to Vail to win the case and also find out what is really going on with Aaron/Roy.

The reason for my wanting to watch Primal Fear again came about from browsing the Internet for memorable endings to films. Primal Fear happens to be on a number of these lists and with good reason. I remembered the ending but had forgotten most of the actual plot leading up to that point and decided to rewatch this gripping thriller.

Primal Fear is the movie that brought us the enormous talent of Edward Norton front and center, it was his first major acting gig. As far as I’m concerned, Norton blows the role out of the water. He does such a tremendous job, basically shifting between two completely opposing characters, sometimes in the same scene and doesn’t miss a beat. It seems like Norton doesn’t get much praise but he’s one of the best actors in the business in my mind. I’ve always been lukewarm about Gere (though I do love me some Mothman Prophecies), but he didn’t bug me too much. Laura Linney, who plays the prosecuting attorney, is fantastic as always.

The biggest drive that Primal Fear has, however, is the story. At times it gets a bit bogged down by the legal side of things as well as some of Vail’s narcissism, but for the most part there is a driving force towards the end of the trail and the truth behind the case. It’s a film that keeps you guessing until the very end and the payoff is worth every minute. Even knowing the ending of Primal Fear doesn’t spoil the experience but it does make the slow parts of the film seem slower. If you haven’t seen Primal Fear yet and miraculously haven’t ran afoul of spoilers, check it out.

I give it 4 slackjawed Edward Nortons out of 5.

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Oslo, August 31 (10/13/12)

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In Oslo, August 31, Anders is a recovering drug addict that takes leave from a treatment facility and heads home where his recovery is tested.

Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) has been living in a treatment facility for drug addiction rehabilitation. On August 31st, he is given day leave for a job interview. Before the interview, he stops by his old friend, Thomas’ (Hans Olav Brenner) house. He also meets with his sister’s girlfriend, Rebecca (Ingrid Olava) and learns that his sister is frightened of him and blames him for their parents sale of their house. During the job interview, Anders lashes out when pressed about his past and storms out. He wanders around Oslo and eventually runs into old acquaintances and old habits.

Oslo, August 31 is a striking film on several levels but perhaps the most striking to me is that it so closely resembles a documentary at times. Visually, Oslo, August 31 is stunning and the film gives an incredibly intimate look into the life of Anders, but we still don’t know much about him outside of his drug addiction. As the film progresses, we learn bits and pieces about his past through conversations with people he grew up with and we learn about his personality in the way that he carries himself. We also learn about his struggle with drugs and alcohol and see that his self-image is shredded so far gone that his addiction has replaced most of what makes Anders himself. We don’t know Anders outside what happens on that day and yet we learn so much.

Throughout Oslo, August 31, I was wondering where exactly the film was headed and why and when the credits began to roll I immediately wanted to start the film over and fill in the pieces and small nuances I may have missed. I refrained from doing this, largely due to the time that would eat up, but also because I felt it would have destroyed some of the magic behind a film where nothing really happens in terms of plot, but there is still so much going on, whether it be unspoken or assumed.

While it’s not a film I would outright recommend to everyone, Oslo, August 31 was very profound to me. I really adore a well crafted, character-driven film and Oslo, August 31 is a film that seemingly does everything right. Much like Umberto D., I never thought the camera was trying to gain sympathy in a manipulative fashion, which really pushes the intensity of the actors through. I wish more films were made these days that felt they could focus on just a character and still be captivating. Many indie movies try this but fail to be very interesting other than a quirk of the character or rely too much on humor. Oslo, August 31 is a very touching, human story of a young man and doesn’t try to be anything else.

I give it 4 swimming in the Frognerbadet out of 5.

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Chillerama (10/6/12)

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When a drive-in is closing, the owner decides to show several “lost films” in Chillerama.

Chillerama consists of several films within a film, with an arching narrative between films. A drive-in run by Cecil B. Kaufman (Richard Riehle) is closing and he decides to show several films that have never been seen before. Before the movies begin, a man digs up his wife’s corpse to defile, and she comes to life and turns him into a sex zombie…or something. The movies within the movie are Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, and Diary of Anne Frankenstein.

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Shotgun Stories (10/5/12)

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In Shotgun Stories, a feud erupts between two groups of half-brothers after the death of their father.

Son Hayes (Michael Shannon) is getting dressed and we see the pockmarked scars of a shotgun blast on his back. He goes to meet his younger brothers, Boy and Kid (Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs), who are living outside in a van and a tent, respectively. Son invites them to move inside since Son’s wife, Annie (Glenda Pannell), has left him due to his gambling. One night, the boys’ mother stops by informing them that their estranged father has passed away. The boys visit the funeral, where we see that their father had another family, a family that seems to hold him in high esteem. When Son speaks at the funeral and belittles his late father, the other Hayes boys take offense and a lifelong feud between the two sets of siblings boils over.

Shotgun Stories is the debut film by Jeff Nichols, whose sophomore release, Take Shelter, was one of the best movies of 2011, in my opinion. Shotgun Stories has a similar feeling to it, and also has Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors. Where Take Shelter had a throbbing sense of despair and tension to it, Shotgun Stories is more of a dull ache. Take Shelter has the events unfolding at a rapid pace, much like Curtis’ break from reality, whereas Shotgun Stories introduces things slowly and with care, since much of the pain of the characters is long gone and scarred over, both physically and metaphorically. There is still a distinct level of tension to Shotgun Stories, it’s just a much slower, more deliberate build.

That slow build is something that I could see putting some folks off of Shotgun Stories so I have a difficult time recommending it to anyone. Jeff Nichols creates a great slice of Arkansas culture here, but the movie seems to crawl along in places if you aren’t looking at character development. The three main Hayes boys the film follows, Son, Boy, and Kid, all have their own things going on throughout the movie, most of which we only get cursory glances at instead of having them fleshed out. I know this sort of narrative doesn’t jibe well with everyone, but fans of indie cinema should know about what to expect out of Shotgun Stories and should appreciate the intricacies built below the surface.

If there’s one positive takeaway for Shotgun Stories (there are many, but if I could just pick one), it is Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon make a fantastic pair. While I love watching Shannon on-screen, his performances in Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter are some of my favorites of his. The actor/director team also have a new film coming out soon entitled Mud that I’m greatly looking forward to. As for Shotgun Stories, it may not be a film I revisit again anytime soon but it has certainly stayed with me long after the credits have rolled and I consider that a hallmark of a good movie.

I give it 4 I didn’t mention there is a character named ‘Shampoo’ out of 5.

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Waxwork (9/25/12)

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A group of college students happen upon a wax museum were the exhibits are more than they seem in Waxwork.

When a waxwork is opened near a small college town, several students decide to visit it one night after being invited by a mysterious old man who quickly disappears. Once inside the waxwork, the students split up and find that if they enter the displays of the waxwork, they become part of the scene being depicted. After fighting dracula and a werewolf, the two teens escape the displays but their two friends go missing and become part of the displays they entered. As the disappearances continue, the town begins to catch on that something strange is happening at the waxwork.

I put on Waxwork one afternoon when I wanted to watch something and turn my brain off. It turns out, Waxwork was pretty good for that as it is a silly horror movie, but the fun comes because it doesn’t take itself seriously. The premise is simple and has just the right amount of cheese to it that makes it fun. It’s not a great movie but it’s a fun one and it actually almost makes a neat precursor to Cabin in the Woods.

All told, the acting is probably what you would expect from a horror movie from the 80s – that is to say it’s terrible. The special effects fare a little better but I think part of the point of the effects was to make it seem stilted like an actual wax museum exhibit, so I’ll give it a pass. Somehow I missed this one when I used to religiously watch horror movies and I’m glad that I was finally able to see it, but I wish I had more film peers to compare it to.

There isn’t much I have to say about Waxwork other than it surprised me. I was expecting a dumb horror movie and Waxwork provided a lot of the fun of a good, dumb horror movie, but in a (mostly) smart way. Fans of the horror genre have likely already seen this one but if you haven’t and want a better than average 80s horror movie, Waxwork is worth your time.

I give it 3 wicked waxwork werewolves out of 5.

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Bill Cunningham New York (9/25/12)

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Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about an iconic New York Times fashion photographer.

Bill Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades and is most well known for his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” fashion photography columns. We follow Bill as he rides his bicycle around New York city taking photographs of fashion trends that he finds interesting. Most of the fashion Bill photographs is strange, colorful, and unique but he says himself that he takes pictures of things he likes. Living a modest life outside his work, Bill is the man to please for many of New York’s high society and yet he is merely doing what he enjoys.

Bill Cunningham New York is one of those documentaries that is about very little but manages to entertain for the entire length of the film. Bill is a unique man that has literally been doing the same things since the 1960s. He doesn’t claim to be a force in fashion and yet the people that are fashionistas clamor to be featured in his columns.

While I couldn’t care less about fashion or fashion trends, it really takes a backseat to Bill himself in Bill Cunningham New York. We follow Bill as he will be evicted from his tiny, filing cabinet filled apartment in Carnegie Hall. We see him riding his bicycle around town. We learn that he was once a hat maker and we even see clips of him from the 60s or 70s doing exactly what he is doing now. In fact, Bill even uses a 35mm film camera in this digital age. Above all though, is Bill’s extreme dedication to his work. One could say that his job has consumed him, but that doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment since it seems to be one thing that he enjoys more than anything else in the world.

Documentaries about quirky individuals ride a very fine line between showcasing their subject and poking fun at them and Bill Cunningham New York treats Bill with a great amount of respect while not omitting his quirks or flaws. As a man set in his ways, you will likely be charmed by Bill as the fashion setters of New York City have been. BIll Cunningham New York will likely endear you to Bill by the end.

I give it 4 Bill Cunninghams (doesn’t he look a bit like Clint Eastwood?) out of 5.

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