Sean K. Cureton

Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews: 2012’ Category

Tarantino at his Very Best

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on January 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm

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Django Unchained
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
4 out of 4 stars

Django Unchained, the new film from acclaimed cult filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, is the most vividly imagined, expertly performed, and gratuitously violent film to come out this past year. It is also, undoubtedly, one of the very best films of the entire year, and a new gold standard from which to judge Tarantino’s existing and future film oeuvre. Where Tarantino’s last film was at times too ambitiously controversial for its own good, Django Unchained takes the same basic fantasy revenge concept from Inglourious Basterds and refashions it to suit the history of the American slave trade in a way that is over the top while maintaining an aura of authenticity, or at least as much authenticity as such a film can muster without toppling itself over.

Tarantino’s new film follows the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a newly freed slave brought into an unorthodox contracted relationship with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former dentist turned bounty hunter who is in search of Django in order to correctly identify two slave owners with bounties on their heads. Eventually, Schultz and Django become true friends, and Schultz agrees to help Django free his enslaved wife, Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) from an exceptionally despicable character named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). In the mean time, all sorts of gory, bloody violence ensues, all leading up to the final sequence of the film in which Django marches away triumphantly with his wife, leaving a long bloody trail of mutilated bodies in his wake.

At first sight, it would seem as though the kind of hyperactive violence that Tarantino employs in this film is tasteless and utterly immoral, taking no account of any sense of decency and discretion for the real and dark American history from which Tarantino was inspired. On closer reflection and examination, however, one finds the stylization of the violence within the film so hyperbolic that it becomes unreal, an illusory dream world of violent retribution within which one can’t take anything too seriously. Upon such reflection, one can come away from the film not affronted by the film’s violence, but in awe of its fantastic imagery and fantasy, creating a world that one should not confuse with the real world, but a funhouse world of Tarantino’s cinematic artistry.

Django Unchained might just be the best film to date from Quentin Tarantino. Starting from the opening title sequence, which uses big, bold red lettering, inducing a nostalgia for the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns after which this film was inspired and shaped, the viewer can tell just how important a film Django is going to be in terms of Tarantino’s status as a true auteur, and the film that follows is nothing short of an instant classic. Christoph Waltz, last seen most memorably in Tarantino’s aforementioned Inglourious Basterds, provides comedic panache and brilliance in his role as Schultz, DiCaprio turns in one of his most challenging roles to date as the evil Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson’s turn as the conniving Uncle Tom character Stephen might be the most jarring performance of the entire year. Django Unchained deserves all the accolades it already has and will continue to receive, and is certainly worthy of the best picture nomination it has already received. Tarantino’s Django Unchained is the best film that Tarantino has made since Pulp Fiction in 1994, and will hopefully be regarded with as much respect and reverence with which Fiction is already regarded within Tarantino’s career as a truly exceptional auteur.


Apatow’s First and Only Truly Bad Film

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm

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This is 40
Directed by Judd Apatow
2 out of 4 stars

This is 40, the fourth film written and directed by Judd Apatow, is a sequel to Apatow’s 2007 film Knocked Up in the same way that Get Him to the Greek in 2010 was a sequel to Jason Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008. Namely, each subsequent film borrowed part of the supporting cast from its respective initial film in order to make a film about that said part of the supporting cast. Unfortunately, as was the case with Get Him to the Greek, which proved just how tiresome Russell Brand’s sense of humor can be, Apatow’s This is 40 fails to measure up to its brilliant predecessor, turning the characters Pete and Debbie from comic foils to comic failures.

Set around the respective 40th birthdays of the two title characters, Pete and Debbie played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, This is 40 tells the story of this couple’s trials and tribulations as a married couple with kids dealing with a mid-life crisis. In addition to the tension created by their age, Pete and Debbie are also beset by financial difficulties, a worrisome daughter, and two difficult fathers who are either too clingy (Pete’s dad, played by Albert Brooks) or too closed off (Debbie’s dad, played by John Lithgow). Ultimately, Pete and Debbie come out of the film alright, or at least as alright as they can be given the fact that there is no indication that they will ever stop fighting or being downright mean and irresponsible towards anyone that they don’t live or work with, which is just what makes this film so flawed and hard to watch.

Where Apatow’s prior films have been about crude and immature adults, those films have also maintained a grain of respect for other people and a certain genuine sweetness in those films’ main characters and protagonists. In Knocked Up, Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone is a pot addled man child with no means of even comprehending how to take care of a child, yet he is also genuinely sweeter than his stooge roommates, and comes out of the film ready and willing to take care of his new wife and child. In 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, vulgar adult humor abounds throughout the film, and most of the supporting characters are immoral and immature. Yet Steve Carell as the protagonist is kind and tenderhearted, and provides for the film’s moral center that allows for the vulgar humor to become a subtle satire of male licentiousness rather than being simply tasteless and sophomoric.

In This is 40, however, Pete and Debbie belittle others for laughs from the audience, whine seemingly about not much at all, and come off as mean and unworthy of the audience’s attention or sympathy. In particular, there is a scene in the film where Debbie berates and emotionally tortures a young boy because he insulted Debbie’s daughter online. This sequence is meant to be funny, with Mann displaying her ability to riff and improvise off of the script, yet it comes off as simply cruel and plays off of one’s worst impulses. Worse yet, the boy’s mother, who Pete then insults in a possibly worse manner than his wife insulted the mother’s child, is ignored in her pleas with the school’s principal while Pete and Debbie lie through their teeth and smirk malevolently.

Screenwriter and former creative partner of Judd Apatow, Mike White, recently made a public comment on Apatow’s more recent work, remarking on how Apatow’s films have come to be about the bullies where they were previously about the bullied. Such a statement seems apt when considering Apatow’s new film, which derives much of its humor from cruelty and bullying, and offers no character with which one can identify or sympathize with. This is not to say, however, that all of the film’s scenes don’t work or are mean-spirited unanimously. On the contrary, a lot of the film is laugh-out-loud funny, with the same kind of cultural sensibility and awareness that has come to define Apatow’s films over the past decade. In fact, if Apatow had possibly edited the film a little further, with the possible addition of a few more scenes and the reordering of existing ones, This is 40 might have been a completely different film, a film that would have been more genuine and kinder, like the films that Apatow certainly has in him, and was probably trying to replicate in this film. Unfortunately though, This is 40 was not subjected to any further editing, and as it stands, it is the weakest film in Apatow’s film oeuvre by far, for more reasons than one.

Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy off to a Good but Beleaguered Start

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
3 out of 4 stars

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film in a planned trilogy to be released over the next three years based on the classic and beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit. Under the careful direction of Peter Jackson, this trilogy, which is the prequel to Jackson’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings trilogy, is off to an unexpectedly good start. While separating Tolkien’s rather short novel into three feature length films is admittedly a bad idea, Jackson’s knowledge and love of Tolkien’s work and his prior experience and hand in creating a cinematic Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy about ten years ago brings a lot of promise to this new Tolkien trilogy. While a lot of the film could have been cut, and the overall pacing can tend to be slow and meandering, Jackson’s new film still holds true to the spirit of Tolkien’s novel, making An Unexpected Journey just as wonderful a beginning as The Fellowship of the Ring was in 2001.

This first film in The Hobbit trilogy covers the first six chapters of the original novel, which totals to just about 100 pages of narrative. Obviously, 100 pages is not a lot of material to cover, and the plot in that 100 pages only gets to about 3 or 4 major plot points, including the popular “Riddles in the Dark” chapter with Gollum. In order to add more action to this first film, Jackson has added a whole side plot to The Hobbit, consisting of a history of the dwarves wherein the story of a war between the dwarves and an army of orcs lead by a chief orc with a grudge against Thorin, the default leader of the dwarves in the film’s narrative, is told. From a purely analytical stand point, this dwarf/orc sub-plot is completely unnecessary, and only serves to complicate and muddle Tolkien’s originally flawless narrative, not to mention the fact that this subplot serves to lengthen the film to a staggering length of 169 minutes. However, from a fan’s stand point, Jackson’s ability to tell cinematic stories about Middle Earth is just so mesmerizing and magical that one is able to forgive the indulgences of the dwarf/orc side-plot, not to mention the film’s other created side-plots, and ultimately enjoy all of them for their respective strengths and abilities to entertain.

Luckily, An Unexpected Journey is not chiefly concerned with its side-plots, but ultimately focuses on Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves journey to reclaim the stolen dwarves’ treasure from the dragon Smaug. However, as this film only covers the first 100 pages of Tolkien’s novel, Bilbo’s journey only progresses to the point after Bilbo’s escape from Gollum and his ultimate acceptance as a member of the dwarves’ party of burglars and thieves. While this short segment from the larger narrative concerning Bilbo’s journey works as a means of highlighting Bilbo’s journey to an acceptance of the film trilogy’s larger journey, it is also regrettably absent of any true progression in plot, and another source of the film’s indulgent slowness of pace. Nevertheless, this aspect of Jackson’s new trilogy can also be enjoyed from a fan’s stand point, who will no doubt be so completely immersed in Jackson’s cinema imagery and magic that they will not be in the least bit bored, although they should be and probably are aware of such a problem.

Peter Jackson’s first film in the planned Hobbit trilogy is good, and will be sure to delight and over joy fanatics of The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the Tolkien faithful. However, due to the film’s tedious length and over indulgence in created side-plots and larger narrative-arcs, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is ultimately not nearly as perfect as any of the Lord of the Rings films, and doesn’t hold much promise for anyone not already in love with the Tolkien universe created in Jackson’s initial trilogy situated in Middle-Earth. While this reviewer loved this film and is eagerly anticipating the next two installments in the trilogy, it would be remiss to let such a bias make up for the myriad shortcomings in the set up of this new Tolkien trilogy.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

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Directed by Steven Spielberg
3 out of 4 stars

Based on the book Team of Rivals by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln explores Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, as an eccentric character played with amazing attention and accuracy by the great English actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Supported by one of the strongest casts imaginable for a period drama/history picture, including the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and James Spader just to name a few, Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln as both the historic icon that he has been made into as well as the conflicted individual that the film’s narrative introduces him to be is nothing short of brilliant.

Spielberg’s film follows Lincoln at an interesting point in his life, namely the period of time at the very end of the Civil War when Lincoln sought to establish the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. Much of the film’s action is thus based on scenes of heated debate and conversation among Lincoln and his advisors, pro-abolitionists and their rivals, as well as the various members of the U.S. House of Representatives while in session over the passing of said amendment. It is admirable that a film with so much talking, and talking overstuffed with political jargon at that, is made to be so entertaining and downright funny. Instead of strictly focusing on the historic nature of the film, which is still attended to in great detail as one can see from simply noting the impeccable attention paid to the costumes in this film, Spielberg’s film is written by screenwriter Tony Kushner in a way that gets at just what made the various players odd, grotesque, funny, and just plain human.

Daniel Day-Lewis, as mentioned before, is in top form as the American president, speaking in the historically accurate high-pitched voice that had been noted upon before the film was even released to a wide audience. However, it is sometimes hard to focus on Lewis when there are so many other wonderful performers sharing screen time with Lewis. Most notably, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones are awe inspiring in their roles as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens, providing two of the best supporting actor performances of the entire year. If it weren’t for such wonderful performances from the supporting players in this film, Lewis’ performance might have been even more stunning, albeit weakened in not having any other performers for Lewis to react in relation to.

However, there is one major concern that mars this film’s lofty intentions, which is Steven Spielberg’s direction. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any direction at all. It feels as though the entire film were an exercise in acting among some of the best actors alive, with Spielberg simply filming the said actors interpretations of the characters in Kushner’s admirable script. And yet, if Spielberg weren’t the director, maybe the film wouldn’t hold together as well, as, after all, Spielberg knows how to make comfortable Hollywood films, even if comfortable has come to be equated with sappy and mediocre in recent years in Spielberg’s case. Nevertheless, Spielberg did a fine enough job directing this film, even if someone else might have given it a more distinctive aesthetic touch.

Daniel Day-Lewis may very well be nominated for best actor this year and win it. Hell, the picture might sweep this year based on all the factors involved. Yet it needs to be said that Spielberg’s film is not the best film to be released this year, although it may be the most comfortable for a wide audience and the Academy of Motion Pictures come time for the Oscars early next year. Nevertheless, at least this film adaptation of Lincoln didn’t feature any vampires.

One of the Best Bond Films of all Time

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on November 27, 2012 at 12:11 am

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Directed by Sam Mendes
3 ½ out of 4 stars

Skyfall, the 23rd film in the James Bond franchise and the third film in which Daniel Craig plays the infamous MI6 agent, is one of the best Bond films of all time. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Skyfall takes the James Bond character, previously humanized and brilliantly recreated in the 2006 film Casino Royale, and puts him into a film that draws on the history of the Bond film franchise while allowing for enough modern innovation to the character and universe to keep the film fresh and invigorating. Where Pierce Brosnan drove audiences to apathetic disregard in the 1990’s and almost killed the franchise, Craig is once again in top form, proving that 007 is not dead yet.

Mendes’ film provides a further personal history to Bond’s character that had been largely unexplored in prior screen adaptations of Ian Fleming’s spy series. Building on the origin story set up so brilliantly in director Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, Skyfall continues to paint a picture of why James Bond is so cold, ruthless, and misogynistic; a picture, furthermore, which lends the Daniel Craig Bond much of its resonance and originality. While Sean Connery is without a doubt the gold standard in terms of thinking about what James Bond looks, acts, and feels like, the Bond character that is portrayed by Daniel Craig in this film garners more sympathy from its audience, as Craig’s Bond is revealed in much greater depth than Connery’s Bond, or for that matter Fleming’s Bond. Watching an emotionally wounded and developmentally complicated Bond is much more interesting than watching a Bond who is cold and calculating for the sake of being cold and calculating, even if both Bonds are equally cool looking from the outside.

Skyfall is also one of the most thrilling and fun Bond films to come out in a long time. Watching Bond chase down the film’s villain through the London subway is reminiscent of Connery chasing Shaw in 1963’s From Russia with Love, and every fight and car chase subtlety refers to the fights and car chases that have come before in the film franchise. Skyfall’s script is tight and moves forward smoothly without a hitch, righting the wrongs done by the last Bond film installment, Quantum of Solace, which was overloaded, confused, and forgettable.

The 23rd Bond film also boasts a Bond villain that might just be the best Bond villain of all time, played with relish by Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Portrayed as the precursor to Bond within the ranks of MI6, Bardem’s Silva presents the audience with much of the film’s thematic questions and concerns, largely centering on whether or not Bond is justified in following orders from MI6 and his boss M, played once again by Judi Dench. By the film’s end, one will be forced to consider whether or not Goldfinger’s classic attempt on the life of Bond has been upped in this film by Silva’s deadly homoerotic flirtation with Bond, which pushes the barriers of just how close a villain has ever gotten to Bond before.

Sam Mendes’ new Bond film might be the new standard for the Bond franchise. While drawing on what made Casino Royale so rejuvenating to the Bond character, Skyfall delivers the first installment in the Daniel Craig Bond film series that feels akin to a classic James Bond film. While time alone will tell whether or not Skyfall will ever be truly considered among the ranks of the best Sean Connery Bond films, it can be said without a doubt that Skyfall is one of the best films of the year, and a worthy successor to 2006’s Casino Royale.

Hoffman and Phoenix Turn in the Two Best Performances of the Year

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on October 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm

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The Master
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
3 ½ out of 4 stars

Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master, is an intensely moving portrait of the nature of being human as seen through the lens of insanity, both in a literal and an abstract sense. Philip Seymour Hoffman is in top form as the enigmatic “cult” leader Lancaster Dodd, a man whose charisma wins him supporters and detractors, polarizing both characters within the film as well as viewers of the film. While The Master could be considered an especially challenging film, it is more importantly one of the most original and immersive films to come out this year.

Anderson’s new film opens with Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, stationed on a beach towards the end of the Second World War, hacking open a coconut with a large machete. Freddie can be seen as the hero of the film, albeit an unlikeable one. Freddie is a deranged, late stage alcoholic, who thinks only of sex and where he will procure his next drink. The contrast that is thus made between Freddie and Lancaster Dodd is one of bestiality and the domesticated man. Freddie’s simian-like activity at the opening of the film thus turns Freddie into a beast, and this semblance is maintained throughout based on Freddie’s increasingly violent, lustful, and unrestrained behavior and actions towards others and towards himself.

Standing in as the antithesis to Freddie’s animal madness, Hoffman’s portrayal of Lancaster Dodd is civilized, literate, and thoughtful. Dodd’s aims of “processing” people in order to reach a new level of intellectual and individual enlightenment in mankind is enthralling in its rhetoric, but ultimately empty of any actual meaning or verifiable proof. Over the course of the film, Dodd is concerned with two things: publishing his second book and curing Freddie. Unfortunately for Dodd, both of these goals fail by the end of the film, with his book becoming the center of intense criticism, from both within his own circle of followers as well as from the outside world, and with Freddie being deemed incurable in the eyes of Dodd’s most recent young bride, played with menacing relish by Amy Adams. By the end of the film, Dodd’s status as “The Master” has been almost completely stripped from him, both in his failing to cure Freddie as well as in his subservience to the wishes of his young wife, possibly the film’s true “master.”

The easiest way to delve into an analysis of what the film is about and what it is trying to say about its subject would be to make the obvious statement that Lancaster Dodd is meant to stand in for L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Following this fairly literal reading of the film, Anderson could be largely concerned with the master/servant relationship, and how individuals involved in such a relationship need to be respectively controlling and controlled in order to form order within their own lives and respective worldviews. However, this surface-reading explanation of the film’s plot only reveals so much of what the film might be trying to say to its audience, and it certainly doesn’t begin to touch upon why Anderson’s direction makes this film quiet possibly the best picture of the year. Anderson has shown himself in the past to be one of the most careful filmmakers alive, meaning that while his films may condemn the actions of his characters, Anderson does not condemn the characters themselves.

When I left the theatre to go home and began to dissect what I had just seen, someone mentioned to me that they sympathized with Freddie the most over any of the other characters. Anderson would probably agree with this reading, which is exactly why this film can still be so invigorating and rejuvenating even if its characters are outwardly grotesque and its narrative possibly nihilistic.

Henry Selick’s Studio Laika Proves to be a Worthy Adversary for Pixar

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on September 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

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Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The year 2012 has been unusually barren of any genuinely interesting animated feature films. While it was nice to see another movie produced by Studio Ghibli (The Secret World of Arrietty), and even though Pixar is a powerhouse when it comes to churning out family movies featuring computer generated characters that seem to be designed specifically to please (as was certainly the case with this summer’s Brave), both of these major animation studios seemed to underwhelm their already established and devoted audiences rather than exceeding and breaking the expectations of their respective fan bases. Arrietty was rather bland and only mimicked the talents of Studio Ghibli’s creative mastermind Hayao Miyazaki. Comparatively, Pixar’s Brave was interesting enough in its promise of a mythic fantasy setting, yet it’s characters seemed so clichéd and its feminist agenda was so painfully blatant that this reviewer decided not to go and see it at all. It is therefore unexpected and surprising to find that the late summer release of ParaNorman, distributed and produced by director Henry Selick’s (Coraline) animation studio Laika, is a brilliant and intensely moving animated film which seems to take a lot of inspiration and aesthetic pointers from Selick himself.

ParaNorman takes place in a small town that is haunted by a witch’s curse, which must be stopped every year by the one person living in the town with the ability to see and converse with the dead. Of course this individual is Norman, whose name makes up part of the film’s title, and much of the film consists of Norman coming to terms with his power, discovering the consequences of wielding said power, and dealing with being different from those around him.

At first glance, ParaNorman seems like a predictable film that has already been done dozens of times before. Who hasn’t already seen a children’s film about a protagonist being labeled as different from his peers, and then having to deal with this alien status or else risk being alone for the rest of their lives? I think I could name at least ten right off the top of my head if I were to take the time to do so, but none of the films that I would be able to mention would be able to compare to ParaNorman in anyway, since directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell have delivered a film that is so heartfelt and understated in its admittedly clichéd message that their film ends up being one of the best animated feature films to come out in years.

Possibly what makes ParaNorman so brilliant is the basic character models that the film uses, which are immediately recognizable as anyone’s grandmother, father, older sister, or school yard bully. While some stop motion films’ character models can seem almost obscene or disturbing at times (as was the case in certain points within Coraline), ParaNorman’s character models seem to be right on point, and exaggerate the features of a person that render them immediately recognizable to an audience. Of particular note, seeing only the father’s obtuse stomach at one point in the film was hysterical and all too familiar, and the flabby arms of the school drama teacher seemed believable rather than pointlessly grotesque.

Beyond the characters that inhabit the world of ParaNorman, the small town setting also lends credence and honesty to the film’s moral lesson on how to deal with being odd and strange when compared to one’s peers. The town in the film is understood to be a historic, colonial village, first settled and established by the Puritans. Thus, being different from others leads the film into other areas of social criticism, such as examining the underlying prejudices of small town living and the willful ignorance that comes from such prejudices. To discover such a heavy and complicated moral lesson being taught so brilliantly within a children’s animated feature is fantastic, and only strengthens one’s initial fondness for this cinematic wonder.

It is obvious that directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell have learned a lot over the years from working under other directors of animated films, most notably Henry Selick, whose distinctive aesthetic vision and artistry is mirrored almost exactly in this film’s look, tone, and feel. Henry Selick’s animation studio Laika also seems to be ready to produce more great films without the direction of its founder. If more directors of animated features would take the time to work under other directors for a substantial amount of time, as Butler and Fell certainly seem to have done, maybe there would be more children’s fare that could be as mature and innately loveable as this one.

If You Can Stand all the Gratuitous Sex Jokes, there’s a Political Satire Somewhere

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on August 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm

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The Campaign
Directed by Jay Roach
1 out of 4 stars

Jay Roach’s new comedy The Campaign had a lot going for it that could have resulted in a fun and funny comedy. Bringing Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis together was a good idea, as each of them draw a large audience on their own and have more or less become two of the most successful and popular comedians in movies over the past few years. Additionally, Jay Roach has proved himself to be a veteran of producing Hollywood blockbuster comedies, from the Austin Powers series to the Meet the Parents movies. Unfortunately, The Campaign is a top-heavy, vulgar, self-indulgent political comedy that never quiet becomes the kind of satire that it disguises itself as at times.

As has been the case increasingly throughout the past few years for any movie or TV show with any involvement from Will Ferrell and his writing partner Adam McKay, this film seems to be hurt by Ferrell’s involvement. Frequently throughout the film, sketches and scenes involving Ferrell’s character, political candidate Cam Brady, devolve into improvised one-liners and comedic bits which are more often than not crass, misogynistic sex romps, which only serve to prove the point that Ferrell is really not great at improv, despite the surprising fact that he has built most of his career upon this type of performance. Although Ferrell’s writing partner and frequent collaborator Adam McKay contributed to this film only as one of six producers, his vapid and needlessly offending comedic touch is unmistakably present in the film’s more trying sequences.

In addition to Ferrell’s hard-to-watch and hard-to-love brand of comedy, the film is also bogged down by a cast that is unbelievably unfunny and bland, despite the fact that the cast is also a sampling of some of the best comedic performers alive. It’s painful to watch Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow in their roles as the Motch brothers, two millionaire types who fund political candidates in order to promote the outsourcing of American jobs to China, turning in two of the worst performances of their careers without delivering even one genuine laugh. It’s equally strange watching Jason Sudeikis, a recent SNL alum and strong comedic show runner, underutilized as a straight laced campaign manager whose function seems to be anything but delivering any laughs for the film, which is unbelievable when considering how great Sudeikis can be as a side character in comedies, providing great little jokes that add but never detract from a film’s main focus.

The only thing that makes this film even the least bit entertaining and bearable is Zach Galifianakis’s performance as political candidate Marty Huggins, an odd-ball character to say the least who is also the most entertaining and funny character within the entire film. Watching Galifianakis perform next to Ferrell is like comparing a well-renowned pianist to an eight year old boy just learning to play the guitar. While Ferrell constantly struggles to find things to do and say to make a given sketch work, Galifiankais is contrastingly calm and comfortable, lending his character more warmth and humor when compared to Ferrell’s brass, loud, obnoxious, and over-bearing character. It’s not so much that Galifianakis is so good that he is able to save this film, but more that his natural abilities as a comedic performer lend anything he does at least some drawing power, even if it is within an otherwise lack-luster production as this one.

Jay Roach’s new comedy The Campaign is disappointingly bad. It is rarely funny, and when it is, the humor is often only capable of arousing a tepid guffaw or a light chuckle. Galifianakis is entertaining, but it’s just too bad, albeit predictable, that Ferrell couldn’t match his co-star’s abilities and sensibilities, which makes Roach’s film so odd and uncomfortable to watch or laugh at.

The Bourne Legacy: Movie Review

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on August 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm

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The Bourne Legacy
Directed by Tony Gilroy
2 out of 4 stars

Tony Gilroy’s new film The Bourne Legacy is the fourth in the Bourne film franchise based on the novels by Robert Ludlum, a series that began in 2002 with The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon as the titular character and protagonist Jason Bourne. With the release of this new film in the series, Jason Bourne has been left behind, with actor Jeremy Renner taking over for Damon as the new protagonist Aaron Cross, a single man among thousands of other people in the film’s narrative who have been initiated into the program that started with Jason Bourne in the 2002 film. While replacing Damon with Renner was certainly an interesting idea, and one that could have worked wonders for the franchise given Renner’s fantastic abilities as a leading man, The Bourne Legacy falls flat with lengthy sequences of dialogue that do little to explain what is going on with the plot and elaborate action sequences that seem orchestrated specifically to distract one’s attention from the otherwise lackluster attempt at story telling.

The Bourne Legacy interestingly enough does not begin with the hero. It begins with actors Edward Norton and Stacy Keach, providing two of the most superfluous and vacant performances of each of their respective careers, as two higher ups in the Bourne program speaking clandestinely about issues regarding Jason, Aaron, and the entire program which gives ordinary citizens advanced fighting capabilities that border on the super-natural. It’s too bad that these types of scenes are nearly incomprehensible, tediously boring, and comprise nearly the whole first half of the film. After about an hour into the film one almost feels like leaving the theatre, if it were not for the brief sequences of Renner in the wilderness meeting another initiate of the Bourne program, and subsequently getting into a one on one fighting match with an especially feral wolf, summoning up images that one might find in a Jack London novel.

As the film progresses, Aaron Cross gets into one dizzying action sequence after another, all in an attempt to procure some drugs that the Bourne program has had him on for an undisclosed amount of time prior to the beginning of the film. While the action sequences within the film are shot beautifully, with each frame seamlessly taking the viewer through each blow, shot, and hit that Aaron takes without confusing or losing the viewer, the fact that these sequences are linked to characters that the viewer doesn’t really care about only serves to highlight the poor writing job that Gilroy provided for this film’s script. Aaron Cross could have been an interesting and emotionally intriguing new protagonist for the series, and casting Jeremy Renner seemed like a no brainer. Unfortunately though, Cross comes across as bland and emotionally uninvolved with either himself, his equally and surprisingly unappealing co-star Rachel Wiesz, or, more importantly, the audience. The fact that the viewer doesn’t really care or understand where Cross is coming from as an individual mars this film’s ability to be an adequate sequel or spin-off for the first three films.

Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy is fun in a you-have-a-few-hours-to-kill-and-it’s-the-only-thing-on-TV kind of way, but once you actually sit down to watch the film you come away from the experience more confused and dazed then thrilled and satisfied. The original film in the Bourne film franchise was entertaining and set up its protagonist so that you wanted to know what happened to him and anticipated future films about his story. With The Bourne Legacy, however, you can’t get over the feeling that you’ve seen the same movie before and it was better the first time. I’d be interested to see where Gilroy wants to take the franchise next, but I can’t say I will be as interested in seeing the next film in the series as I was in seeing this one.

The Dark Knight Rises is the Perfect Conclusion to Nolan’s Vision of Batman

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on July 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
4 out of 4 stars

The Dark Knight Rises might be the most satisfying and greatest summer blockbuster to have ever been released to a mainstream movie going audience. This film, which concludes what has come to be called “The Dark Knight Trilogy” by director and writer Christopher Nolan, has given anyone with the least bit of affection for film the best film adaptation of the DC comic-book character Batman to ever grace the silver screen. The absolutely refined sense of action coupled with realistic character development and sentimentality that the viewer has come to expect from this series after both Batman Begins (2005) and the Oscar nominated sequel The Dark Knight (2008) is present this time around in spades, and the conclusion that Nolan offers his fans with this final installment goes beyond being simply expected, and becomes revelatory and epic like almost nothing else that has come out over the past two decades.

The film picks up right where its brilliant predecessor left off, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in exile after taking the fall for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s (Aaron Eckhart) criminal actions, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) trying to maintain peace and order in a now Batman-less Gotham. Ultimately, the peace doesn’t last as soon as this film’s villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), shows up to finish the work that wasn’t completed by Ra’s Al Ghul/Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) in the first installment, and Bruce Wayne must become Batman again in order to save Gotham from complete destruction and chaos.

What makes this film so wonderful is the way in which the tone that has been set up by its two predecessors is maintained right from the start of this final installment, which provides for a real sense of continuity within the Batman universe that Nolan has created. Also, the surprises, twists, and turns that the plot takes are always shocking and satisfying rather than forced and cloying which has been the case in certain concluding films in past comic book trilogies (see Brett Ratner’s X-men: The Last Stand, 2006, or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, 2007).

Nolan’s conclusion also provides a number of new characters that only add to the complexity and diversity of the film’s universe and already established cast of characters, rather than divert attention away from characters that we have already grown to love. Of particular note, Nolan’s interesting and creative recreation of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is fun and unexpected when she very well might have been boring and derivative of previous incarnations had she been written by someone of lesser talent. Also, Nolan’s character written for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Blake, is surprisingly deep and becomes a bigger force for good in Gotham than Batman or Gordon by the film’s end.

Most importantly though, Tom Hardy’s menacing performance as Bane is effectively frightening and oddly fine-tuned to modern fears of international terrorism and governmental corruption. While Hardy is certainly no replacement for Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in the last film, his portrayal of Bane takes the comic-book character to a level of character development and realization that has never been seen before in any incarnation of this character’s past. The way in which Bane is able to break Batman in a cage fight style is enormously memorable, and different in terms of the rather physically deficient villains that Batman has faced previously in this film series.

Bottom line, there is not one thing that could have made the The Dark Knight Rises better as a film or more satisfying as a conclusion to “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” Christopher Nolan has provided a conclusion to his groundbreaking comic book series that leaves viewers both wanting more and completely content with what has already been done. One almost wishes Nolan would make another movie that has to do only with Levitt’s character, but enough is enough, and as it stands, “The Dark Knight Trilogy” is perfect.

In regards to the Aurora shooting that occured at a midnight screening of this film, I would like to express my own feelings of grief and intense emotional disturbance at what happened on Friday morning, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, CO. I love going to movie theatres. I think it is one of the few remaining communal sources of personal expression that is still engaged in by a wide audience. The idea that someone would turn a place of wonder, life-imbuing energy, and joy into an execution ground is deeply unsettling to me. I can only hope that justice will be served, the surviviors will be healed, and that the dead will be remembered forever by those closest to them.