Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Breakdown: Favorite Documentaries

I don’t usually watch documentaries. Like too much of the movie going public, I prefer to watch entertainment than educational material. But to those who give documentaries a chance, it can become addicting. After last night’s HUGE upset in the Best Documentary Feature category at the Academy Awards, I felt I needed to jump in and give my favorite documentaries.

1. Grizzly Man– Not just my all-time favorite documentary, but a great movie . It follows Timothy Treadwell as he spends 13 consecutive Summers in the Alaskan Tundra with grizzly bears. At times majestic and others more dramatic. Werner Herzog brilliantly gets the story across. I saw this movie completely out of the blue on a day off from work. Very worth it.

2. Jesus Camp– I’ve talked about this film before on my list of scariest movies I’ve ever seen (http://wp.me/pB6Do-J). Christian Evangelicals that were borderline brainwashing kids. Once the Westboro Baptist Church took over the role of most misguided Christians and the camp from the movie closed, the impact didn’t lessen. A truly haunting film.

3. Super Size Me– It took me a year to eat at a McDonalds again. Morgan Spurlock took the idea of obesity and fast-food by the horns and radically charged the world of an industry just by making this film. I remembered watching an open-heart surgery scene in the film and hearing nothing but people chomping loudly on popcorn. Ironic as it was, the film is a funny and frightening look at what junk food can do to you.

4. Bowling for Columbine– Michael Moore’s politics aside, this documentary that revolved around school violence and the nightmare of Columbine all those years before. Moore made a big statement with his biased-but-passionate storytelling techniques. The Marilyn Manson interview is a rush.

5. Exit Through the Gift Shop– Banksy takes over a well-meaning but meandering documentary about the new revolution of street art, a form of graffiti. Banksy deserved the Oscar is last night for this, but the Academy once again went political instead of rewarding the best in the category. A great piece of art about art in another medium.

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Rubber

There have been movies in the past about inanimate objects that come to life and kill. A killer doll named Chucky gave us 5 (that’s right 5) movies. John Carpenter brought a car named Christine to life. Small Soldiers brought real action figure fights. And who could forget that freaky clown doll from Poltergeist? In the vein of these comes Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber.

Rubber centers on Robert, a tire. Now before you think this is one of those animated movies, hear me out. Robert is a brandless tire that does nothing that a normal tire couldn’t do. Except, he can move on his own…and blow this up with his mind. We follow Robert as he goes on a killing spree. He starts with bottles and ends up killing people.

All the while, a group of about 10 people sit on the outskirts of the town where this mostly takes place. While there, they are free to see the film as it unfolds on the other end of their binoculars. But they aren’t watching just Robert, but they are also watching the sheriff and his men as they attempt to track down and kill Robert.

Every year, I come across a bizarre movie or two that is so outside the Hollywood system and convention that I simply must see it out of insatiable curiosity. Last year, it was the brilliant mindfreak Antichrist. A few years before that was Teeth. I don’t know where I find these movies, but they all deserve a wider audience than what they get.

With Rubber, we get an experimental film that flirts with the label of being avant-garde. Having a movie revolve around a simple tire and putting most of the criticism in the audience that embeds itself in the film, it’s a miracle this isn’t a complete disaster. But somehow, the movie makes it to the finish line mostly intact. The film does wear a bit thin after an hour, but with the brisk runtime of 82 minutes, it isn’t too much of a problem.

The film is a great homage to grind-house films, from recent updates of the genre to the originals. Made for a simple $500,000, it shouldn’t take a lot to get some decent part of the production budget back. This film is absurd intentionally. A form of “film for no reason”, the surrealism turns over on itself and makes the film a convoluted guilty pleasure. With impressive effects (how do they get the tire moving and make the tire look actually alive?!) and filled with buffoonery, Rubber isn’t for everyone. But to those who give it a chance, just might be pleasantly surprised. 3 out of 5 stars

The Repeated Appeal of Will Ferrell

I am one of many kids who grew up with “Saturday Night Live” reruns on Bravo, Comedy Central, E!, among other cable channels. Many of the episodes were older than I was, but I came to love them just the same. Throughout SNL’s vast legacy, it has been a launchpad for many great comedians. Tina Fey, Dennis Miller, Jimmy Fallon, and Amy Poehler have all gone to do film and television, furthering their appeal. Some lesser known cast members have also become mainstays of the comedy lexicon, even if it is only as smaller roles (Chris Kattan, Chris Parnell, Molly Shannon, Horatio Sanz). But of all the SNL alum, few have achieved true superstar (pun not intended) status. The list of true great comedians include the likes of Adam Sandler, Bill Murray, and a certain Will Ferrell.

Ferrell was always a strong supporting piece of his years of SNL, starring in every SNL spinoff movie since he joined the cast. When he left the show about a decade ago, a hole was left in the cast that has yet to be filled (though Kristen Wiig is getting close). He was going to start doing movies exclusively. Never a safe bet coming from TV, he started with Old School, a college frat-pack movie that showed the world Ferrell was here to play. And from there it became a blur.

Old School quickly became a quotable movie with the younger audiences, Frank the Tank was his proclamation. Every since, his movies have been irreverent comedies that, when they succeed, are so damn fun and quotable that the originator has become a bona-fide movie star.

Not all of his films connected, but the ones that did the most will always be remembered: Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Blades of Glory, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and someday The Other Guys will join the ranks.

Of all the aforementioned films, two didn’t get me the first time. Either I was in the wrong mood or my expectations were causing disappointment, but it wasn’t until later that I loved them.

Anchorman was a movie that I didn’t find all that great the first time I saw it. The second time, I started to see the appeal and by the third, fourth, and probably 20th time, I was hooked. This was one of the few movies that I watched repeated the day I bought it. Though his bigger quote moments are well-remembered, I’m always a sucker for the second tier quotes. His translation of San Diego, the deleted scenes of his “glass case of emotion”, and “Milk was a bad choice” are my favorites. I rewatched the film this past year and it holds up surprisingly. It’s also a blast to see a lot of the Apatow gang in minor roles ie. Seth Rogen as a cameraman. Great film

Talladega Nights was a different case. As someone who understands NASCAR and knows the stereotypes all too well, I relished the lampooning of the sport. Shake and Bake took on a whole new meaning after that movie. My only gripe is too little of Amy Adams, but we can’t have everything we want. This was Ferrell cemented his leading man comedy status and John C. Reilly as a comedian as well as an actor.

Blades of Glory may go down as a one-note film to most of the movie industry, but Craig T. Nelson was just one reason I love this movie. I saw it in theaters on a bad day, the second time nursing a hangover from my less responsible drinking days, and in both cases I felt better. “Chaz Michael Michaels IS figure skating. Boom!” Ferrell’s absurd hair and Jon Heder’s awkward performance was a blast.

The Other Guys (my review posted last August) was an absolute blast. After seeing this, I realized that Ferrell does best when he’s working with director Adam McKay, the director behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and this film. With great cameos and Ferrell playing the straight man instead of the manic one really elevates this film. Of all the films I mentioned, this one is where he chooses subtlety and let’s the other actors have a chance for big punchlines. Of all his quotes, the best one from this one is undoubtedly “Gator needs his GAT!”.

Step Brothers was the last film on this list for me to love. The first time I saw it, I forgot it and wrote it off. My sister walking out of it didn’t give me high hopes for a fun film. But this past summer, I rewatched it with some great friends in Tennessee (ALS- you know who you are) and it was impossible not to love. Like my favorite movie of all time, it hits a bit of a speed bump in the third 30 minutes, but it still generates big laughs from me everytime. This movie may one day become one of my all-time favorites, I like watching it that much. This was Ferrell and Reilly’s second collaboration with McKay, and the first R rating for the boys. But the harder rating allows for a less restrained and more profane and goofy film. The boys’ job interviews in the film are my favorite, outside of everyone saying “It’s the f***ing Catalina Wine Mixer!”. I’m in the process of getting my fraternity to make a Catalina Wine Mixer….hopes it works out

For every one of these fun films, Will Ferrell made another film that couldn’t generate the revenue or laughter needed to make bank. Semi-Pro fell apart; apparently Land of the Lost is a stinker, but I’ll wait to judge that one till I see it. Ferrell has made some truly hilarious films and I love watching my favorites over and over again. I don’t care how many times I watch Blades of Glory, I’m always gonna chuckle and spend the next weeks following it quoting my favorite lines all over again.

Spartan

Every cinephile has his favorite screenwriters. For me, David Mamet is up there. A man who makes plays and films, sometimes making the same thing in both mediums. Here, Mamet takes a simple concept and delivers a complex and engaging thriller.

Val Kilmer stars as Scott, a member of an elite task force that cleans up the government’s messes. His new assignment is retrieving the daughter of a high-ranking government official. Quickly, the simplicity is gone as things become more bureaucratic and complicated, forcing him to go beyond conventional means to bring her home.

Filmed in 2004, a good deal before the similar sounding Taken, the film hasn’t lost any of its provocative nature. Where Taken was an action film about the vengeance of a father, Spartan focuses on the controlled hands of those skilled men and women tasked to accomplish extremely difficult missions. What starts as a missing person, ends up with the girl (Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell) in the underground world of human trafficking, leading the government to send Scott far outside of the U.S. and the norms of his chain of command.

The film’s strength is in its writing. Though you still have questions about the characters at the end, the cloak of uncertainty only elevates the action. Is this actually happening or does Scott have so much forethought and commitment that he knows how this trick or that trick will get him what he needs? Val Kilmer is sublime as Scott. He fits the role so well that it’s a shame his star isn’t higher today. Backed by a very strong cast ranging from Ed O’Neill and William H. Macy to Derek Luke and Clark Gregg, the film succeeds on all fronts. Spartan is a brilliant thriller that deserves a larger audience. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Cedar Rapids

Since The Hangover exploded two years back, the three leads have all been popping up in other films. Some were really good (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) and others were not so great (The A-Team). Here, Ed Helms takes a leap into leading man territory with the indie Cedar Rapids. And, for all involved, he lands safely on the other side.

Helms is Tim Lippe, a very naive insurance salesman in Wisconsin who idolizes the star of his branch. When his idol dies, he must pick up the slack and travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a conference in hopes of maintaining the company’s award-winning status. There he meets a small group of veterans of the conference, friending them and learning all about the conference and his company and mentor.

Helms does a great straight man for all the shenanigans going on around him. With Anne Heche, John C. Reilly, and Stephen Root rounding out the cast, the film succeeds even when it looks like it should feel. It does so on the earnestness of Helms and the depth the script brings to these characters. This could have easily been a one-note comedy, but the jokes keep coming.

Despite the film not being filmed in Cedar Rapids due to the tax break in Iowa becoming a nightmare, the film still captures the look and feel of small town life and Iowa to the T. It may not be the actual city, but that’s not a total waste. The film is a fun and hilarious romp about conferences in the vein of fish-out-of-water stories. Definitely recommended for Iowans who enjoy some adult humor. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I Am Number Four

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the time of year when the quality of movies goes down drastically and movies that would otherwise not get a chance attempt to crush weak competition. That’s what happened with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Wild Hogs and Ghost Rider. But where those films found an audience and overcame poor reviews, this film seems to destined to go nowhere (box office yesterday predicts a shallow number this weekend).

I Am Number Four stars Alex Pettyfer, a pretty boy with a strange secret. He is actually an alien sent to survive on Earth after a tragedy on his home planet. But his kind are being hunted by a malevolent race, forcing him and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) to live a nomadic off the grid, a difficulty in today’s plugged-in culture. When the two arrive in Paradise, Ohio, they know it’s only a matter of time before they are found. And so the movie goes.

The film borrows way too much from established franchises, from the tone and feel to the actual backstories. One reviewer (obviously more widely read than I) referenced its similarities to the Twilight films, an audience this film seems to aim for. And the boy’s backstory…Superman anyone?

That aside, this film is a bland and forgettable. The characters are more general caricatures than actual characters. The climax is loud and rushed, leaving the action blurred by all the effects and fancy camerawork (being produced by Michael Bay, that makes a bit of sense). Director D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia) seems to be looking for an easy win with this one. But ultimately, the film fails to establish anything worth revisiting, since a sequel is hinted at the whole film. Strictly for fans of fantasy films with little or no depth. 2 out of 5 stars.

Breakdown- Favorite Accents

Every once in a while, a movie will be filled with dialogue and accents that I can’t stop watching it, regardless of the quality of the film. Though a few actors have accents I love (Tobin Bell for one), this list is my favorite accents the actors had specifically for a film. Or in one case (#5) the accent is emphasized heavily for the character, adding to the character’s voice.

1. Tom Hardy-Bronson– I mentioned earlier my love for the film, but the accent was a caveat I loved the most. His thick accent is filled with rage, and somehow, restraint. Favorite line: “There’s nothing wonky about my childhood.”

2. Daniel Day-Lewis- Gangs of New York– His accent is incredibly New Yorker and very thick…most fascinating when you realize DDL is British. The movie drags on in parts, but I love just listening to him. Favorite line: too many great lines to choose from.

3. Tom Hanks- Ladykillers– The Coen brothers update a dark comedy of a band of criminals posing as a church band. The movie isn’t brilliant, but the wacky southern feel of it, and its cast, make it a movie I love to watch over and over again. Favorite line: “You addressing a man who is quiet. And yet…not quiet.”

4. Heath Ledger- The Dark Knight– Some may call this a cheap addition, but I love the Joker’s lines. The voice followed Ledger a little into his next movie, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but here it is fresh and exciting. He really outdid Nicholson when it came to the best Joker. Favorite line: “Why so serious?! Why so serious?”

5. Ben Kingsley- House of Sand and Fog– The ended to this movie will shake you, but Kingsley does a perfect job of nailing the accent of a middle-eastern military man. His voice is full of pride and fragility. Favorite line: When he delights his wife with the promise of “a new bungalow.”

Breakdown- Best Sequels

This is the list of my top five sequels that were as good or better than the original. In Hollywood’s recent obsession in re-treading any and every original idea to the point of bland filmmaking, here is a list of films that equal or improve on the first film.

1. X2-X-Men United– Bryan Singer wasn’t too pleased with the outcome of the first film, and this clearly shows he got more control on this one.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day– James Cameron doesn’t make small movies. And this one, with the twist of making Arnold the hero instead of the villain, arguably one of the best films of the nineties.

3. Spiderman 2– The first film was a true masterpiece and the third almost ruined the whole franchise, but the second film is just as good as the first, maybe even a slight bit better. Peter Parker’s struggles are more relatable and intense in this film (revenge isn’t always a fun film device).

4. Back to the Future II– Some question this film or the third in the franchise, but this one has always been my favorite. I love the overlapping of the first two films in the last 30 minutes. The space-time continuum is always something I like to see in movies (see Star Trek films)

5. Aliens– again James Cameron takes the second film to heights further than the original. This film garnered an Oscar nom for Sigourney Weaver, it’s that good. Where Alien was a suspenseful film, this is pure action/horror.

 

Bronson

Most people discovered Tom Hardy this past year in the brilliant Inception, but he has been around for a while. He was in the forgotten Star Trek: Nemesis, bit parts in many British films, and Bronson. And with Bronson, Hardy steps out as an actor of pure tenacity.

Hardy plays Michael Peterson, a petty criminal who becomes Britain’s most violent criminal. The film follows Michael Peterson as he transforms into Charles Bronson, his fighting name. He wasn’t raised by poor parenting, but none the less he finds violence becomes a part of him. Searching his name on Wikipedia or Google will yield some of his greatest hits, and they were indeed brilliant in its maniacal grandeur.

Hardy disappears into the role. In this film, he doesn’t just train his voice for the role, but every part of his body responds as it should for the real Bronson. In one particular scene, Bronson threatens a lowly prison worker. His quick hostage dissolves into him stripping naked, rubbing body paint all over himself, and taking on 5 guards in the buff. Despite his obvious disadvantage, he holds his own against the guards longer than expected. This character is pure bad-ass. A character who is so hardcore that it frightens you. And Hardy and director Nicholas Winding Refn expertly convey the lunacy of this real person. A bio pic that’s The Shawshank Redemption crossed with Natural Born Killers. A great film and the arrival of Tom Hardy. Highly recommended for action fans or fans of gritty British crime films. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Station Agent

I don’t know why it took me so long to see this movie. Now that I have, I would love to experience it all over again. Twice recently I’ve finished a movie only to leave it in my Netflix queue for another go around. First Buried, now The Station Agent.

Peter Dinklage stars as Fin, train enthusiast who inherits an unmanned train depot when his friend and employer dies. There he meets an energetic hot-dog/coffee truck salesman named Joe. Joe immediately becomes fascinated with Fin and over time they form an unlikely friendship. Along the way, both men pine for Olivia, a woman who is as lost as they are. Fin looks to live a life of isolation and trains. Joe is lost in a dead-end job as a his father slowly recovers from sickness. Olivia is trying to get over an unhealthy separation from her husband. Together, they become close friends.

Director Thomas McCarthy, who went on to direct the well-nuanced The Visitor, does a brilliant job of allowing silence it’s due. Today’s films are so obsessed with filling every frame with something, but McCarthy crafts a film, which he also wrote, that lets the characters sit so we can feel their helplessness and isolation. A brilliant film that I would probably retroactively put on my Best of the Decade ’00s list (the film was released in 2003).

Yes, Peter Dinklage is a dwarf. You quickly forget that as the film goes on. He  is so powerful that his presence is larger than life. He proves himself as capable or even more so than any modern-day actor. This is his breakthrough role that should have given him an Oscar nomination, but that year was already tight with Jude Law, Sean Penn, and Bill Murray all up for the same award. A brilliant and perfect film. 5 out of 5 stars.

Breakdown: Favorite Trilogies

Thanks to the suggestion of http://analogkid86.wordpress.com, I’m gonna move right along to my favorite trilogies. Though you’ll see the first Breakdown have 10 films listed, all future ones will be based on the rule of five. So here are my favorite trilogies. FYI, these are based on the trilogy as a whole. Every trilogy has a weak point, so this is on the trilogy as one unit.

1. Back to the Future– I grew up watching these movies every year on Thanksgiving on cable. When they came out on Blu-ray, I skipped class (I did my work ahead of time, don’t worry) and just watched them. Favorite of the three: Back to the Future II

2. Romero’s Dead trilogy The third film is weak compared to the first two, but the first two were groundbreaking and amazing films. Favorite of the three: Dawn of the Dead

3. Pirates of the Caribbean– Johnny Depp arrived on the A-list with these films. Each film is epic in its own right, the third is a solid film, albeit not a good as the first. Favorite of the three: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

4. Toy Story– The most consistent trilogy on the list. All three films are strong on their own and are even stronger as a whole. Favorite of the three: Toy Story

5. Lord of the Rings– Grudgingly, this goes on this only because of how unique the films were. The first one is my favorite, but I get exhausted trying to watch the theatrical releases. Forget the extended additions. Great epic films when sagas aren’t made anymore. Favorite of the three: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Breakdown: Favorite Winter Weather Movies

With many parts of the great U.S. of A. being overcome with snow and ice and winter weather, I figured I’d unleash my list of favorite Winter movies. This isn’t films that help you forget the blizzard of destruction, these films make you more worried of the impending frostbite. Enjoy!

1. The Shining– a slow and deliberate horror film that asks the question: What do you do when the person who is supposed to protect you tries to kill you?

2. The Thing– A group of scientists trapped in Antarctica with a shapeshifting monster. I once talked to some scientists who worked in Antarctica who would watch it when the weather got bad. Love it!

3. Wind Chill– Emily Blunt and a guy are trapped in a car on Christmas Eve during a snowstorm. A great B-movie

4. It’s a Wonderful Life– This movie simply must be on the list. A timeless movie that makes you wanna cry and cuddle under a warm blanket

5. Just Friends– Anna Faris and Ryan Reynolds star in a movie about a man trying to distance himself from his dweebish ways to get with his high school crush.

 

**Number 5.5 (I know I cheated but this must be on the list) 30 Days of Night