Posts about Movie Reviews

Film Review: “Divergent”

Photo Credit: Lionsgate
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Oh brother. Or should I say, ‘Oh Sister!’? Remember when being a teenager meant being embarrassed by your own bodily changes, acne scars and the very existence of your parents? Those days are, apparently, a thing of the past.

Like Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises, Divergent takes typical teenage angst and tries to apply the challenges of adulthood to adolescent minds and bodies. Inevitably, it devolves into a survival test – nothing kills quite like a moonlit vampire or a badass heroine in fiery leather – but you have to buy into the premise before we are ever going to believe that society’s future existence hinges on the doings and goings of a teenager. This, Divergent gets terribly, horribly wrong.

The movie fails, in short, because it takes itself (and the very concept of futuristic dystopia) faaaaaaaaaar to seriously. The entire film is a quilt of grey, brown and murky blues meant to invoke the seriousness of a post-apocalyptic future and thereby inveigh the heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) with existential gravitas. Nope, nope and nope again.

I have not (and will not) read the young adult novels upon which the film is based. It all seems rather perfunctory and predictable if the film is anything to go by. But here’s what you need to know: Beatrice (or ‘Tris’) is a seemingly ordinary teenager in a world where human beings are divided into factions according to abilities and ‘virtues’ (aside: why is the future always depicted as some sort of hyperbolically class conscious caste system? If anything, the world seems to be getting smaller and monolithic, not the other way around). Tris, of course, discovers that she doesn’t fit into any one group and is therefore a ‘divergent’. She also, of course, discovers a nefarious plot by the evil leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet, doing her best to channel Hillary Clinton and any number of cable news hosts) to destroy the Divergents.

And so the heroine is set on her quest to save herself, the other Divergents, and indeed all of humanity. The film works as dystopian fantasy – what it lacks (sorely) is any sense of humor, romance or levity in the onslaught of a relentlessly downbeat tone. And that is what kills it in the end. It’s serious to the point of dull. And so the question remains: will the target audience of teens notice?

They certainly didn’t seem to balk at the mid-numbingly dull agony that was Twilight.

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Film Review: “Muppets Most Wanted”

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
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I will admit right up front that I was never a huge fan of the Muppets movies. They are entertaining, to be sure, and often charming, but as narratives they seem to be little more than a pastiche of well-written shorts that have little to do with one another. It works because they characters are so bright and brilliant … but the narratives are rarely better than the 6 minute bits on Sesame Street.

This latest Muppets movie tries to fix that, though with decidedly mixed results. We get to meet Kermit’s evil lookalike Constantine, who, with a skeevy manager played by Rickey Gervais, tries to usurp all things Kermit and sully his good, green name, get Kermit sent to the gulag and rob a few museums in the meantime. It’s all very cartoony, and seems promising at first.

But when all the Muppets band together to bring the real Kermit back, the movie descends into a lot of celebrity cameo chaos: there are so many celebrities popping up to say a line a piece that at one point I kind of wished Tina Fey or Rickey Gervais or Ty Burrell (or any of the main human leads) would say ENOUGH! Go back to the set of your CBS sitcom and let us save Kermit in peace.

This will probably delight the little ones more than the adults. So, “eh”.

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Film Review: “Nymphomaniac: Part1″

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures
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Ho ho! How does one even begin to review a film like Nymphomaniac? So much has been said and revealed about the film that watching it is (kinda like bad sex) more than a bit anti-climactic. You keep waiting for something big to happen. And it never does.

What does happen is a lot of sex – but the movie is more about why certain kinds of people have sex than just voyeuristically staged shots of them engaged in coitus. It’s lurid, yes, but it’s also slightly fascinating. Unfortunately, so little is left to the imagination that you have to just kind of sit there the whole time and try to stop looking away from all the many,many,many,many shots of flaccid penises and sweaty vaginas. After a while, you start to think of the characters in terms of their genitals, rather than their faces, personalities or dialogue. If this is artistic or groundbreaking…then shouldn’t all porn be superior to Citizen Kane? I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

Which brings us to the plot. There is very little in terms of what you might call plot. We get mostly backstories which serve as raison d’être for why perverts act like perverts (I mean ‘pervert’ with as little judgment as possible). The performances are relegated to mostly actors simulating sex, though after a while it grows tiresome, and you kind of wish the movie would tread a more familiar path.

If we just wanted to see fornication, we could’ve just watched porn.

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Film Review: “Enemy”

Photo Credit: A24 Films

I have a very very very strong feeling that Enemy is going to polarize audiences like few films have done before. It will either be heralded as a work of hitherto unrealized genius … or it will be pummeled as self-indulgent exercise in the romanticizing of mental disorders. Either way, pack your senses, because this one has them reeling all over the place.

The movie starts when a stuffy (young) college professor named Adam appears as hapless as hapless can possibly be: he drones, he moans (softly) and doesn’t seem to notice that his girlfriend is way, waaaaaay out of his league. One night, he pops in a video tape of some terrible movie and spots a minor character played by a man who looks exactly like him –d own to the very last detail. At last: the spark is lit within!

So Adam tracks down this doppelganger, who turns out to be a has been actor named Anthony. Adam and Anthony become enmeshed in each other’s lives, and it seems somewhat promising until Anthony begins to make demands on Adam . . . like letting him sleep with his wife. Suddenly, it’s An Indecent Proposal.

Without giving away too much, I will say that when the movie works, it soars – thanks almost entirely to Jake Gyllenhaal’s masterfully finessed performance as both Adam and Anthony. When it tries to out-Lynch David Lynch, it gets bogged down by its own ambition. Whether or not it succeeds in the end, I’ll let others decide. Regardless, definitely one of the most thought-provoking and anti-formula movies to come out in a long, long time.

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Film Review: “Need For Speed”

Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures
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I will never, ever (repeat: ever!) understand why anyone who makes movies chooses to make feature films based on video games. It was enough of a stretch taking a ride at Disneyland and making it into the intermittently enjoyable Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. But now we have to sit through young men racing cars at a bazillion miles per hour … because it looks fun? Um, ok…

And that basically is what Need For Speed boils down to. There’s so little in terms of plot, character or development that it may as well have been a ride at a theme park. Come to think of it, that would make more sense, given its only purpose is to make the audience love fast cars.

Aaron Paul, fresh off the artistic nirvana that was Breaking Bad, falls to peril as a former race car driver who gets framed for manslaughter. When he gets out of jail, he must avenge his framer . . . which means he must drive a lot of cars at obscenely high speeds throughout the land.

For anyone who enjoys cars (for whom this film is obviously made), it will provide ample sex appeal. For everyone else, it’s enough to make you yearn for your childhood tricycle.


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Film Review: “Bad Words”

Photo Credit: Focus Features
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It’s probably not much of a surprise that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut is a foul-mouthed comedy. After years of playing the forced-to-be-nice nice guy in both film and television, he must have a lot of pent up rage (think season 2 of Arrested Development). What is surprising is that he set it in a spelling bee. And then let his child co-star steal the show.
The result, is, mahvelous.

What you need to know about the premise is relatively straightforward: Bateman plays a guy named Guy (seriously) who has spent the better part of his adulthood lamenting the loss of a spelling bee championship in his youth. He finds a loophole in the competition rules that lets him reenter the bee as an adult. Based on this description alone, you might think it would have been a natural starring vehicle for Adam Sandler.

Thankfully, Sandler has nothing to do with this comic gem that follows Guy and his young spelling bee competitor Chaitanya Chopra (played to comic heights by newcomer Rohan Chand) as he tries to save the kid from becoming a hardened version of his younger self – kind of like what happened to Guy.

Albeit somewhat formulaic, the movie is full of laughs (thanks to Bateman’s trademark acerbic wit, turned to MAX here) and more curses than The Wolf of Wall Street. Definitely worth seeing.


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Film Review: “Veronica Mars”

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
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I will admit that I was never a big fan of the television show Veronica Mars. I can only recall seeing an episode (and a half) before deciding there were other things I’d rather watch (like Da Ali G Show).

So imagine my surprise when I find myself at a screening for the new Veronica Mars movie and I’m genuinely entertained by it. To be sure, it’s not exactly great cinema (it’s not going to be mentioned in the same breath as 12 Years A Slave – ever) but it isn’t trying to be. It’s just trying to take the story of the super sleuth to a new level and in a way that fans of the show will enjoy. On both accounts, it succeeds.

The film’s premise centers on the murder of one of Mars’s old high school classmates named Carrie who became a big pop star before getting whacked. Mars – who has moved on to working at a law firm after graduating law school and moving to Manhattan to be with a guy – finds herself pulled back into the business of secrets in this latest case. It takes her back to her home town where secrets get spilled – and so does blood.

In all, an enjoyable (if not overly ambitious) little Kickstarter of a movie. And let’s be honest: after Frozen, Kristen Bell is the biggest star on the planet.


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Film Review: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight
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Even though it’s rated ‘R’, I think every kid should see Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. (Okay, every kid over the age of 10, given that a few of the characters meet grisly ends, albeit offscreen).

And that’s because the movie does two things that most “adult” movies don’t – it shows a decidedly adult tale from a child’s point of view, and it also demonstrates what happens to childish adults in times of war. It’s quirky, it’s quixotic, it’s quintessential Wes Anderson. Which means it goes all over the place and nowhere at the same time. In short, it’s marvelous.

If you haven’t seen the superb trailers yet (shame on you!) then you won’t know that the movie is set in a hotel in Budapest (duh) in the period between the two World Wars of the last century. The main premise is about a lobby boy named Zero Moustafa (the unreal find that is Tony Revolori) and a disarmingly charismatic concierge named Gustave (Ralph Fiennes in top form). Together, these two don’t just run the Grand Budapest Hotel – they are its brain and central nervous system, conspiring with and against all of the hotel’s guests, which include a clan of nobles played by Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Willem Defoe.

The movie upholds many of Anderson’s trademarks – the characters are batty and adorable, one-note and yet totally fleshed out – and it also treads into new territory for the moviemaker: it’s decidedly political, especially in terms of its characterization of Communism as not only a viable political idea but as a full-fledged character in the film.

I suspect many will find the film odd, off and frustrating, while an equal number will deem it a perfectly suitable trip down the rabbit hole and into the mind of a man-boy. I side with the latter.

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