Moonrise Kingdom (7/4/12) & (11/14/12)

Movie One Hundred Fifty Five and Two Hundred Sixty One

Set in New England in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two young lovers that don’t fit in with others and decide to run away together as the rest of the island sets out in search of them.

At the khaki scout camp, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), they discover a scout has escaped. The scout is young Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and we learn that he has run away from camp to be with his love, a young girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Suzy lives on the island with her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and younger brothers but doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Suzy and Sam had met several years prior and had remained in touch via letter. After the two run away, the entire khaki scout camp, the Bishops, policeman (Bruce Willis), and other set out to rescue the young lovers.

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the most stylistic movies I’ve ever seen, even more than Wes Anderson’s other films. The color palette is heavy on yellows and browns but everything still feels campy and awesome. I have long found Anderson’s work to be a bit hit or miss, and Moonrise Kingdom is easily the film I think where his unique brand shines the brightest. The quirky characters, the motifs, the sets, the props, the color palates, the score…Everything works wonderfully here and creates a film so full of wonder and amazement.

Both child leads are non-actors starring in their first feature, which is incredibly impressive given their performances. They both give deadpan deliveries, which in the case of Sam Shakusky, I thought gave Moonrise Kingdom most of its laughs. The entire cast is wonderful. Who in their right mind could complain about a film with Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis together?

If you have any preconceived notions of what a Wes Anderson film entails, Moonrise Kingdom will not change your mind, but it’s almost as if Anderson has taken his style and cranked it to the maximum and the end results work better than most of his other films. The whimsy here is something that few other movies could ever hope of portraying. Not only is Moonrise Kingdom my favorite Anderson film to date, but it is my favorite film of 2012 thus far. Try to watch it without a smile plastered on your face the entire time.

I give it 5 seriously amazing soundtracks out of 5.

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Ted (7/1/12)

Movie One Hundred Fifty Three

Ted is a film about a boy that whose wish comes true that his stuffed teddy bear was his real friend…Even 25 years later.

One Christmas morning, young John Bennett opens up an adorable teddy bear as a gift and later wishes that Teddy was real so the two could be best friends. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds his wish came true, much to the horror of his parents. News of Ted sets the media world on fire, but he soon finds himself out of the limelight and Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) are still best friends. John’s girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), has come to grips with John and Ted’s friendship, but finds her own patience dwindling as John must learn to grow up.

It’s hard to write a plot synopsis about Ted without it sounding like a Hallmark channel special, but perhaps that is some of the magic behind the absolutely crass humor found in Ted. MacFarlane, best known for his animated TV series Family Guy, has been able to stretch his comedic legs and offer his unique sense of style and humor for a live-action full-length feature. For the most part, Ted works on a movie level and a comedic one.

I will be the first to admit that when I first heard about Ted I cringed and rolled my eyes thinking that it looked like a steaming pile. I figured that it would end up being a 90 minute Family Guy episode totally devoid of humor but tries really hard to nail it. While the film is unabashedly stupid, it uses that stupidity in a smart way. The style of humor isn’t for everyone, but it’s safe to say that you can set your notions of what to expect based on MacFarlane’s TV series aside. Ted is its own unique entity and is impressively funny and charming.

Two things that I didn’t think worked in Ted were the antagonists. Joel McHale plays Lori’s sexually harassing boss who continually tries to ask her out and the other is Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy guy that tries to steal/kidnap Ted. It’s hard to imagine the film without both antagonists, but in addition to the antagonistic breakdown of Lori and John’s relationship, it’s almost too much.

When I find a comedy worthwhile enough to see in the theater, I’m usually hugely impressed at the time but when I see it again on DVD I scratch my head and wonder why I thought the film was so funny. The verdict from future me is still out, but for now, I will say that Ted was a huge surprise that had my face hurting from laughter.

I give it 4 Flash Gordons out of 5.

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The Big Lebowski (6/29/12) & (8/31/12)

Movie One Hundred Fifty and Two Hundred

After Jeffrey Lebowski AKA The Dude is mistaken for millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski and has a rug urinated on, The Dude seeks restitution and finds himself in the middle of a convoluted tale involving nihilists, kidnappers, bowlers, marmots, and pornographers in The Big Lebowski.

It would be almost impossible to fully break down the plot of The Lebowski in my typical one paragraph space since it has more twists and turns  than any other movie I can think of, but I’ll try.

One evening The Dude (Jeff Bridges), a care-free, middle-aged burnout, comes home and is confronted by two thugs looking for money. One of them urinates on The Dude’s rug. The Dude, real name Jeffrey Lebowski, finds out there is a rich Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) also in town. The Dude visits Jeffrey Lebowski for a new rug where he meets the assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid). Soon after, Bunny has been kidnapped and Lebowski asks for the help of The Dude, who in turn enlists his bowling buddies Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) to assist. From there, things start to get weird.

I think that’s a serviceable plot set-up. For my movie number 150 (my half-way point for my goal of 300) I wanted to do something special and I knew it had to be Big Lebowski. Why, you may ask? Well, when my wife and I got a dog a little over four years ago, we decided to name him Lebowski. Here he is sleeping in our car:

Lebowski

Anyway, back to The Big Lebowski. While the Coen brothers are known for their twisting plots and odd sense of humor, no other films have their brand perfected. All of the characters are memorable and nearly all of them are quotable. Some have said Casablanca has more quotable lines than any other film, but I would argue that The Big Lebowski tops it. Though it does use some more “colorful” language for many of the best lines.

If you haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, I would recommend it in an instant but with a caveat: be prepared to watch it again. I can almost promise that the plot will leave you wondering what the hell you just watched, even if you enjoyed it. Even after at least a dozen viewings I still laugh out loud but I now fully understand what is happening in the plot. The Big Lebowski is an absolute joy to watch and I’m proud to have it mark my half-way point for the year.

I give it 5 “Mark it zero!”s out of 5.*

[Update]

Movie Two Hundred

I had the grand fortune to see a midnight showing of The Big Lebowski again on the big screen and it also happened to coincide with being movie two hundred for me! I don’t have much to add beyond my original review other than watching a favorite movie in a theater is such a joy. Seeing great films like this in a classic theater with a live organist (!) was truly amazing and it makes me want to own my own theater so more people can share the experience.

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Prometheus (6/10/12) &(10/26/12)

Movie One Hundred Forty Two and Two Hundred and Forty One

Thinking they have found a link to the creation of mankind, a team led by two scientists goes off in search of life in Prometheus.

*I will try to be spoiler free but be warned*

When a team of scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of orbs in the same pattern across thousands of years and several continents. Thinking this is not a coincidence, they set out to the star system that matches the glyphs on a trip to meet our Engineers funded by Weyland Corporation (Weyland played by Guy Pearce). Aboard the ship, dubbed Prometheus, we meet the crew including android David (Michael Fassbender). The team investigates a set of ruins and comes face to face with the remains of the Engineers and discover life.

By now, everyone who has seen Prometheus is firmly entrenched in their opinion of the film, whether they loved it or were disappointed. After coming out of the theater on opening weekend I was unsure how I felt about Prometheus. There were parts I loved, there were parts I thought were a bit silly, but one thing was certain: I had a million questions. Perhaps that is the film’s biggest flaw, one that can be attributed to writer Damon Lindelof. While I certainly didn’t expect answers to the creation of man, I did expect *something*.

I think perhaps some of the disappointment was because Prometheus is a precursor to the Alien series and people wanted that origin story. What we got ended up being the precursor to life as we know it so I think it makes sense for a film not to give us all the answers we seek and I can appreciate that it would create more questions for us in the process. Having said that, I do hope Prometheus is its own series of films because otherwise it will have left me entirely unfulfilled. Regardless of funky plotlines, the special effects are simply amazing. The world created here is much different than Alien but it feels familiar enough.

If I had to criticize Prometheus for just one thing it would be the characters. While the actors themselves are all splendid, especially Rapace, the supporting cast is stereotypical or just barely there. I never got a chance to care for any of them (except Shaw) almost to the point of frustration that the film tries to make us care. Perhaps Lindelof needs the runway of a TV series to really take flight and get his ideas across?

As a standalone film, Prometheus struggles to be a classic. It has moments of awesomeness and it also has sci-fi pitfalls and mediocrity. When viewed along the lines as an Alien prequel, it struggles as well but for different reasons. This is not a film like Alien, it is much different. I struggled coming up with a rating for Prometheus because the more I thought about it, and I thought about it a LOT, the more I waffled on it. At times I would give it a 3/5 and other times, even hours later, I would say it’s a 5/5 movie.

In the end, I give it 4 crying Davids out of 5.

[Update]

I watched Prometheus again on blu-ray and was blown away by the presentation. As far as blu-rays go, it’s one of the nicest ones ever produced from what I’ve seen. I have yet to go through all the special features, but the few I watched were very eye-opening so I look forward to seeing what else is in store. After a second viewing, I am less inclined to believe that Prometheus has any glaring plot holes; yes, there are parts with all too convenient writing, and other parts are quite nebulous but that is fiction, people.

Prometheus should not be a movie that explains everything, especially when the point is the creation of life itself. Too much explanation would make for a fumbling movie and Prometheus deftly skirts these issues at times and if it seems like it is tackling something head-on, it drops off just short of giving everything away.Obviously many folks saw this as poor writing and I can certainly see how it’s frustrating to expect answers and not get them. I see it as a puzzle and the movie lays out most of the edge pieces for us but leaves many pieces with the face side down for us to flip over ourselves, or at least theorize what piece goes where.

I appreciated Prometheus much more after a second viewing and I urge the people that doubted it to view it again. The 3D blu-ray package is worth buying for the special features alone, even if you don’t own a 3D player/TV because there is a full disc in this version not found on the regular blu-ray set. Will the special features answer everything? Not likely – but as I said, they shouldn’t answer everything.

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The Avengers (5/12/12)

AvengersMovie One Hundred Sixteen

The Avengers is the culmination of several Marvel Comics movies from the past several years, bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and more together on the big screen.

I think at this point every movie blog I follow has had coverage of The Avengers in some form so this may be a partial retread for most of you.

If you have seen either Iron Man film (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), or to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers, but Edward Norton in the original film), then you are likely aware of some of the setup for The Avengers. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is essentially a heavily funded black ops organization, has recruited some of Earth’s mightiest heroes to locate the Tesseract, an all-powerful cube stolen by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother. The team first has to come together, then has to defeat Loki, who has used the Tesseract to call upon the Chitauri, an alien race that wishes to destroy humanity.

The main draw to The Avengers is the fact that Joss Whedon both wrote and directed it. Whedon is beloved in the nerd community for helming the ill-fated sci-fi drama Firefly as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Whedon makes the action tight and the script fun, there is obvious love for the material here. I have two fairly big issues with the film on a whole. First, the run time, which clocks in at just under 2 1/2 hours. There is a lot of material packed into that time frame, which leads me to my second gripe…The pacing of the first half of the film. For awhile there I had completely forgotten about the Tesseract and the Chitauri threat because the plot was idling around the Avengers internal conflicts. It’s necessary to the story, but could have really been trimmed of some fat.

Once the second half picks up the film grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. The nerd in me wanted more as soon as it was over but once the thrill of the theatrical experience wore off I was less enthused about the film. That’s not to say it’s bad, I guess all the hype about how great it is propped me up for a bit of disappointment. However, The Avengers is proof that Marvel Comics films can still be a lot of fun without needing to take a dark edge like Nolan’s Batman films to be good or successful. I will say that I look forward to the inevitable Avengers sequel very much.

I give it 4 many faces of Hulk out of 5.

(In case you are wondering, 1) Avengers 2) Incredible Hulk 3) Hulk 4) Incredible Hulk (TV series))

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Casablanca (4/26/12)

CasablancaMovie One Hundred One

Behind Citizen Kane, Casablanca is seen by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

First off, if you haven’t seen Casablanca already, shame on you. It’s a must-see film. Casablanca is one of those films that seems entirely effortless. The actors deliver their lines flawlessly and the script itself lends cinematic history with more memorable lines than any other film. When someone says “here’s lookin’ at you, kid” you know that Humphrey Bogart said it in Casablanca. To see Casablanca is always a treat, but to see it on the big screen was absolutely amazing.

The plot of Casablanca centers around Rick (Bogart) who owns an aptly named club, Rick’s Café Américan. Casablanca is a sort of refuge city since it is still controlled by France, not Germany, with many people leaving to the US from there. Soon Rick comes face to face with an ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and her fugitive husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). As Rick and Ilsa reconnect over their lost love, tensions rise around Laszlo between a French and Nazi officer (Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt, respectively).

As for the restoration, also available on Blu-Ray, it is remarkably well done. For the 70th anniversary of the film, the picture is crisp and the sound is clear. To see this, we actually skipped out on one of the films from Ebertfest, but it was well worth it. I was concerned that Casablanca would not have held up as well as I remembered, but my fears were assuaged within minutes. While very specific to a period in time, Casablanca is timeless.

There is not much I can say about Casablanca that hasn’t been said 1000 times over in the past 70 years. It’s a film that rewards multiple viewings but never gets tiresome.

I give it 5 “As Time Goes By“s out of 5.

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Cabin in the Woods (4/24/12)

Cabin in the WoodsMovie Ninety Five

Cabin in the Woods is fantastic film and fresh take on a somewhat stagnating genre.

It is almost impossible to write anything worthwhile about Cabin in the Woods without spoiling the plot. I say this because I’ve been wrestling in my head about how to actually write this post, make you want to see the film (if you haven’t already) but keep the element of surprise in the hands of the film itself. I haven’t come up with a good way to do that.

The best way to enjoy Cabin in the Woods is to just watch it. Watch it without knowing a single thing about the plot. Go in thinking that you’re going to see some teenagers at a cabin (in the woods) and they are going to get killed. Even with all the hype surrounding this one I managed to stay away from any spoilers and I was so very thankful for it.

Cabin in the Woods has been compared to movies like Scream, in that it takes a new take on the horror genre but I think that comparison isn’t fair to Cabin in the Woods. At its core, it is a horror movie but it’s also not. My wife wouldn’t go see this one with me because she detests horror movies but this is the anti-horror-movie horror movie. There are few scary elements and buckets of gore, but the film itself denies convention.

I hope I danced around it enough for people that haven’t seen it and said enough of it for people that have. I will say this again, see Cabin in the Woods for yourself and try to go in with a clean slate. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I give it 4 “teens” in a cabin…in the woods out of 5.

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Ebertfest Day Five – Citizen Kane

Citizen KaneIf you enjoy watching movies even a little bit, then Citizen Kane is required viewing as far as I’m concerned. I would hope that everyone in attendance for the last viewing of Ebertfest had seen the film at least once because we viewed the film with Roger Ebert’s commentary playing over.

Citizen Kane is known as the best movie ever made and I will not debate this (mostly because I agree) but I will say that even after seeing the film at least half a dozen times, Roger Ebert’s commentary blew my mind the first time I listened to it. It is an incredibly detailed commentary of the film and unless you are experienced in critical film analysis it will probably blow your mind.

Ideally, we would have watched the film in its entirety and then immediately watched the commentary because Roger’s track is so packed that I don’t think a single line of film dialogue makes its way in. Regardless of this, the commentary is so enlightening that you don’t need a deep knowledge of the film to appreciate it. In fact, during the Q&A session, Roger sent up a note that he apologized for the woman in the lobby demanding her money back for someone talking over the film the whole time, apparently she didn’t get the memo.

If you own Citizen Kane, and you should, I would urge you to check out this commentary on your own. If you have four hours to spare sometime, watch the movie then stretch, get a drink, and put on the commentary. I did this as soon as the 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray came out and was blown away then too.

As a way to close out Ebertfest, I cannot even imagine anything more perfect. To hear Roger’s voice again was emotional for me, and when Chaz Ebert came back on stage, she was in tears. Luckily Roger recorded commentary tracks like this before he lost his voice in 2006 because they are incredible. To bring his voice back to the Virginia Theater for Ebertfest was fantastic.

As for Citizen Kane…

I give it 5 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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Ebertfest Day Four – Take Shelter

Take ShelterTake Shelter is a film I waited to see once I knew it would be at Ebertfest and I’m so glad my first experience with it was on the big screen. We were joined by writer/director, Jeff Nichols, and actor, Michael Shannon for easily my favorite Q&A session of the entire festival.

Take Shelter is a hard film to describe. In presenting the film, Jeff Nichols said that it is very much a snapshot of the state of the United States economically which took me by surprise at first. After watching it, I very much agree.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and their young, deaf daughter live in a blue collar town in Ohio. Curtis works at a quarry, or something like that, and Samantha sells pillows at flea markets to make ends meet. The film begins with Curtis having a dream where there is a storm rolling in and the rain is thick, like motor oil. His dreams get more and more bizarre, and he takes them as being prophetic. We soon learn that his family has a history of mental illness, so we are left wondering what is really happening.

With the mindset of America’s economic turmoil over the last 5 years, it’s very easy to connect some dots to certain things in the film. Even without having that seed planted, you can easily side with Curtis as he worries about the future. While Curtis’ dreams are extreme, they are easy to relate to in most ways.

During the dream sequences, the entire theater of 1600 people was holding their breath. After reality picked back up there was always an audible sigh because the dreams are incredibly tense, verging on a horror movie. In fact, Jeff Nichols would go on to say that The Shining was one of Take Shelter’s main influences. I cannot recommend this movie enough and it likely rewards multiple viewings. In fact, as soon as the lights came up, I got on my phone and ordered a copy of the Blu-Ray on Amazon.

As for the Q&A session, it’s very hard to do justice in describing it. Jeff Nichols is new to directing, but I truly believe he is the next Christopher/Jonathan Nolan wrapped into one. He has huge potential, and I am going to be tracking down his first film, Shotgun Stories, very soon. Michael Shannon, who is one of my favorite actors currently working, was surprisingly profound and funny. If there is one Q&A session that you stream, please let it be this one (the link is below), but be warned there will be spoilers if you haven’t seen the film yet.

After the Q&A session, we stuck around to try and meet Michael Shannon…and we did! Please ignore my half-smile (I’m on the left) and Julian’s look like he just woke up. I guess we were both so excited that we couldn’t control our facial expressions.

Us with Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon is a very nice guy considering there were about two dozen of us following him around trying to get pictures with him and the poor guy was just trying to leave…But I regret nothing.

As for Take Shelter

I give it 5 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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Ebertfest Day Four – Patang

PatangPatang, which means “kite” in Hindi, I believe,  is possibly the most divisive film shown during Ebertfest this year. It’s an Indian film, made by a young Chicagoan named Prashant Bhargava, that has dazzling visuals but left many people (at least that I overheard) say “what was the point?”.

When Patang first started rolling the projection framing was totally wrong, like the picture had been zoomed. After about 5 minutes of movie, where the subtitles were cut off completely, Prashant came back on stage briefly, rapped for us (literally), then explained that the film was shot in a unique aspect ratio, 2:1, so he understood the issues. We then restarted the movie, to everyone’s delight.

Aside from the aspect ratio, Patang is visually stunning film. It is wildly colorful and is broken up by unique handheld sections which are from the point of view of one of the main characters. The plot itself is where other festival goers seemed to lose interest. A rich man and his daughter come back to their home town of Ahmedabad for the traditional kite festival where there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of kites being flown. As the film unravels we learn more about the family and some of their struggles. There are several messages hidden in the film, but I do not wish to spoil it.

I can see why people would be quick to write Patang off, but that is not fair to the material. The story of family is strong here and there is a fresh new filmmaking voice in Prashant. It may not have a tightly focused narrative and it doesn’t wrap everything in a bow at the end, but that is life. We are viewing this family’s life for only a few days out of the year, we are not meant to know everything that has happened or will happen to them, it’s a snapshot in time.

The use of non-actors really helps sell Patang, too. The characters are all believable and while I’ve never traveled to India, I would be surprised to find a more realistic portrayal. If nothing else, Patang is a unique film and that is what small festivals like Ebertfest are for. Even those that left the theater nonplussed by it have seen a film that few others have seen, and very few will likely even get the chance to see.

Unfortunately, I did not stick around for the Q&A session, which apparently had a stage full of people. If you’re interested, it is available for streaming in the links below. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the pronunciation is similar to puh-tah-ng.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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