A aeronautical engineer dreams of building the perfect plane.
Slow and… MoreA aeronautical engineer dreams of building the perfect plane.
Slow and meandering, this film's central conflict is more technical than human, more a matter of engineering, an aspect into which the audience has no reference, than universal. While there are some sections in which we get fine interpersonal conflicts, the majority of the film involves Jiro conversing with his dream characters, and there's little to stand in the way of the love plot, thus little source for conflict.
Many critics have written about the film's beauty, and I can't see what they're referring to. Many times I thought that the film didn't take advantage of all the creative liberties that animation could allow.
Overall, when characters' central conflicts relate to their jobs, the audience must be able to participate in the suspense, and that's not the case with The Wind Rises.
P.L. Travers protects her novel Mary Poppins from what she perceives… MoreP.L. Travers protects her novel Mary Poppins from what she perceives as the fluffy work of Walt Disney.
Emma Thompson is at the top of her game once again as the imperious but damaged author of Mary Poppins. While the film is heavy-handed with its insistent flashbacks and over-wrought pop psychology, Thompson's performance grounds the central conflict. Her severe manner turn an artistic battle into an exploration of the clash between serious British arts and letters and the flash of American movies. This is Thompson's film, and Tom Hanks with a mustache passes through.
The story's dramatic question is whether the film version of Mary Poppins and its producer will understand P.L. Travers's authorial intent, and I wish the film had been more direct about Disney's failure in this regard. It's clear from the Mary Poppins clips we see at the end that the final product doesn't live up to Travers's hopes, but Travers's cathartic crying doesn't recognize the film's failure but is rather a purging of damage. So are we supposed to leave the theater thinking that she achieved her goal even if the film isn't all she dreamed it could be? It's an ironic ending, to be sure, but one that's also doused with uncertainty about director John Lee Hancock's own authorial intent.
Overall, Emma Thompson is the reason to see this film, as she is with most of her work.
A daughter returns home to find her father presumed dead, her mother's… MoreA daughter returns home to find her father presumed dead, her mother's pill addiction worsening, and various other secrets, agendas, and lies.
I think that people familiar with the play have a different reaction than those who have only seen the film. I read the play and noticed cuts to the script that bleed like a flood, and the characters' interaction seems "smushed," not organic. But that doesn't mean that August: Osage County is a bad film. In fact, it's genuinely compelling. Meryl Streep is once again remarkable, inhabiting Violet unselfconsciously, and her act two monologue is so raw and emotional that I almost sided with her character -- almost. Julia Roberts is fiercely fabulous as well, delivering a powerhouse fuck you to Streep's domineering screen presence. I like it when I get to watch two actors challenge the other, especially established talents like Streep and Roberts. Scenes with those two almost reminded me of Paul Dano and Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood; as good as Day-Lewis was in that film, Dano made him better. The supporting performances are highlighted by Chris Cooper whose "be nice" monologue seemed out-of-place, but it wasn't due to his delivery.
Overall, this is an acting master class, but the script suffers because it underestimates its audience's patience.
Four soldiers go on a mission in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this film… MoreFour soldiers go on a mission in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this film is bookended by pure propaganda. The first and last scenes might as well be a recruiting tool for the U.S. Armed Forces, deploying cliches about "pushing yourself" and "duty for country." The actual film is mostly compelling. The third act switches gears, taking the Afghans more seriously as characters than the first two acts, and the film takes on a moral complexity that is missing from the rest of the film.
All the performances are adequate, and the four principals are believable as soldiers.
Overall, this might be a four-star film without the propaganda
A rodeo playboy contracts AIDS and joins with a transgender afflicted… MoreA rodeo playboy contracts AIDS and joins with a transgender afflicted accomplice to smuggle drugs from Mexico.
To my ear, "Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey" sounds as offensive as "Academy Award Winner Nicholas Cage," but there's no doubt that McConaughey deserves the accolades he's receiving for this performance. He's often unrecognizable except as Ron Woodruff, and "my husband, my king" surely does "go and get it." It's the type of performance that proves he's better than all the other shit he insults us with. Jared Leto is equally good, disappearing into Rayon, but the film doesn't give use enough backstory or development to help us understand why Rayon is as he is. Leto nonetheless infuses the role with compassion and humanity balanced with equal measures of self-destruction.
Super Reviewer Alice Shen is right when she says that the "last third dragged along with no purpose save to tie up loose ends." But there's enough in the first two acts that keeps the film mostly compelling and appropriately heart-rending.
Overall, I might be cheering for Chiwetel Ejiofor, but I'll probably be betting on McConaughey.
A queen and her sister are estranged by the former's power to shoot… MoreA queen and her sister are estranged by the former's power to shoot ice out her hands.
It is as though Disney listened to all the complaints I and others like me have been leveling against it since its inception. Gender equality and powerless female characters abound in Disney's oeuvre, but Frozen marks a departure from their normal cliches, and the result is an inoffensive and entertaining film. Disney still has a way to go in racial equality, and it may be said that Elsa is unduly sexualized (though one cannot raise invectives at every animated character's hip sashay), but this film is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
I found the Snowman's appearance unnecessary and distracting from the plot, but everything else -- the relationship of Anna and Elsa, Anna's attempt at a storybook love affair, Anna's adventures with the dashing Hans -- is compelling and fun. If not for the clout of U2's song, I'd say "Let It Go" is a lock for Best Song, and the film is the clear front-runner for Best Animated Feature.
Overall, I went into the theater looking to hate this film, but I could find very little reason to.
An FBI agent engages two con artists in an entrapment scheme involving… MoreAn FBI agent engages two con artists in an entrapment scheme involving politicians and mobsters.
Going into American Hustle without knowing that it's the favorite to win Best Picture is impossible, and as I watched it, I waited for the moment when the film would rise to a substantive height, something beyond a coolly orchestrated con flick a la The Grifters or even the more shallow Matchstick Men, but I waited in vain. There's nothing uniquely American about the hustle or the characters, and there's nothing profound embedded in the film's plot. It's a fun caper film with good performances by the whole cast -- good, not great, not soaring, not Academy-Award-worthy. It's an enjoyable diversion, a fun time at the movies. In a word, it's overrated. The ending is predictable, the scenes are enjoyable, and the acting is solid.
But overall, this is a fine film but nothing more.
A divorcee falls in love with an artificially intelligent operating… MoreA divorcee falls in love with an artificially intelligent operating system.
Probably the most emotionless emotional film I've seen, Her is full of characters talking about their feelings, psychoanalyzing themselves ad nauseum, and while I can see a film like this working, it only works when the characters' dialogue reaches universality. There's no doubt that writer/director Spike Jonze is reaching for universal human expressions, but for me, it didn't quite get there. Lines like "I'm afraid that everything I've ever felt is all I'm going to be able to feel" ring true, but "The past is just a story you tell yourself" don't. I admit that this a subjective criticism.
One of the critic's comments on the film's trailer is "Jonze makes films that change the way you look at the world." This is true about Her but only intellectually. It doesn't have the raw emotional power that Where the Wild Things Are did, even though I think it tries to.
And can we talk about the heavy-handed mise en scene? The spaceship paused in crashing to earth, the over-sized telephone in Amy's room - everything about the set design screams, "Technological determinism is real!" like a posterboard hung about a doomsayer in Times Square. The set design isn't bad, but mise en scene works best when it works subconsciously. As soon as one notices set design, it's over-reached its bounds.
Joaquin Phoenix and all the actors are at top form. Phoenix's performance is heartfelt, sensitive, and occasionally quite funny, and Amy Adams's frumpiness contrasts with her sassy American Hustle character.
Overall, this is an interesting film, filled with some creeptastic moments, but it's not all it wants to be.
A sixties folk singer attempts to achieve success amid his sundry… MoreA sixties folk singer attempts to achieve success amid his sundry personal problems.
While it's a character study, most character studies work when the characters strive toward a definite goal. Llewyn certainly has problems -- the pregnancy, his lack of true success, the separation from his former singing partner, his adversarial sister, the escaping cat, which is the only relationship that humanizes him -- but there isn't a clear drive for professional success and recognition that pushes the plot forward. Instead these difficulties merely turn him into an asshole, but not a compelling or interesting one. And why would Jean fuck him in the first place? Sure, her relationship with Jim doesn't seem to be remarkably strong, but her relationship with Llewyn is even more strained, and it's hard to imagine a time when it wasn't.
Oscar Isaac gives an excellent performance with a great singing voice, and Carey Mulligan has a death-stare that rivals Daniel Day-Lewis's, but these are strong performances in a drowning plot.
Overall, the Coens are phenomenal filmmakers, but this one does not carry a tune.
Stockbroker, salesman, and scam artist, Jordan Belfort engages in all… MoreStockbroker, salesman, and scam artist, Jordan Belfort engages in all forms of bad behavior.
There has been a lot of talk about whether Martin Scorsese is satirizing or glorifying the hedonistic exploits of his protagonist, and while I have other objections to this film - its story doesn't really start until about two hours into its running time and Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is largely one-noted mania - my primary objection to the film centers on this question, satire or no. Just as Stanley Kubrick doesn't support bombing the world into oblivion and Jonathan Swift doesn't want the English to eat Irish babies, it's conceivable that Scorsese can make Wolf of Wall Street without promoting Belfort's lifestyle, and articles and reviews about this film bring up these points. But I haven't seen the article that references the definition of satire. Yes, the genre often relies upon exaggeration and extremity to humorously ridicule an opponent's point of view, but Juvenalian satire also includes a refutation. In Swift's "Modest Proposal," he lists a host of reasonable options for solving the problem of Irish poverty in the middle of his convincing option of eating and wearing babies. The closest thing to a refutation in Wolf of Wall Street is the Kyle Chandler character, Agent Denham, but look what happens to Denham. During one scene Belfort says (paraphrasing), "My life is awesome: I'm going to fuck beautiful women, take a mountain of drugs, and make a million dollars per week. Your life sucks: you're going to ride the subway home from work." And what do we see at the end of the film? Denham riding the subway looking miserable. There is no convincing refutation, and that's not a small problem. The refutation is the satirist's wink to the audience. It says, "Don't think I'm serious about this bullshit. I don't really want you to eat babies." Without that wink, the satire loses necessary clarity.
Scorsese is an excellent filmmaker, so let's compare Wolf of Wall Street to another Scorsese crime film and see why one succeeds and the other fails. In Goodfellas we see multiple murders, drug deals, and similar extreme bad behavior. But there are two key differences between Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas. The most important is the victims. The murdered are fellow gangsters, people whom the audience has little sympathy for and whose looks, when they appear on screen, are often similar to the culprits. The one exception is the kid Nicky kills in the bar, but even he doesn't garner much sympathy. The victims in Wolf of Wall Street are never seen in the film, but we know them from news reports and our daily lives, 2008 fresh in our cultural memory. The victims are working class men and women hoping to get an edge or capital investors driven by the same greed as Belfort. The first group commands our sympathy, and as a result, it's easier to watch the Goodfellas fight their own than watch Belfort bankrupt our neighbors. Second, (it's been a while since I've seen Goodfellas, so forgive me if I'm wrong on this) Henry Hill never kills anyone. He deals drugs. He's complicit in murder. But we don't see him pull the trigger. Jordan Belfort's trigger-pulling is the highlight of the film. His crimes are front and center. So while Goodfellas doesn't let us see its protagonist at his worst, Wolf of Wall Street has nothing but the worst highlighted as Scorsese centers on Belfort's exploits.
I think a film like this could work. I imagine a film directed by Steven Soderberg, a director whose films like Traffic and Syriana are not afraid to involve multiple characters' storylines coalescing into a systemic indictment. In Soderberg's Wolf of Wall Street Belfort gets his dwarf-throwing, Quaalude-munching orgies, but meanwhile a Belfort victim loses his home, wife, job, and livelihood. A film like that would have the refutation and would be able to display the bacchanalian excess that Scorsese's film delights in.