Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Here's a couple of very short write-ups I've posted on Facebook of 2014 movies I haven't seen while in theaters.

300: Rise of an Empire was really not very good. The scripting is horrendous, and the overcooked nature of the action becomes brutally redundant rather quickly. That being said, I still enjoyed the movie. Eva Green gives a performance reminiscent of Raul Julia in Street Fighter, making her movie better with every line she says. Trouble is her movie isn't as bad as Street Fighter and she's not as good at it as Julia. But she's still awesome. The rest of the cast actually aren't too bad either. -- 45

Finally got around to watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have no qualms about calling this Wes Anderson's best movie, overtaking Moonrise Kingdom. It's a wild, completely engrossing ride helmed by Ralph Fiennes's 5-star performance. Anderson's dialogue flows effortlessly, and his direction is pitch-perfect. -- 93

The Lego Movie was just as good as everybody's saying. No, it's not on-par with the best animation has ever had to offer, but it's child-centric take on 21/22 Jump Street humor is downright intoxicating and hysterical. The voice acting is superb, especially Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, and Will Ferrell. The animation is brilliantly executed for great comedic effect, and the message is perfect in every way. -- 88

A Most Wanted Man

Film adaptations of John le Carré novels are arguably the most engrossing and intelligent spy thrillers around. Carré’s novels have been adapted for the big screen 8 times; the 9th and newest addition, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, is among the finest of the adaptations and further proof of the quality of Carré’s works as inimitable sources of smart, thoughtful movies.

It is a subtle work and an exceedingly thrilling one. Yet the characters rarely, if ever, move at anything faster than a walk, or their cars the speed limit. Not until the finale does a true action sequence occur, and I am hard-pressed to remember the firing of a single weapon.

The movie follows Günther Bachmann, the head of the German’s Hamburg-based anti-terrorism espionage unit. He and his team move to acquire a newly arrived Chechen named Issa Karpov who is perceived as a potential future threat, while simultaneously tracking the activities of Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah.

The movie thrives under Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell’s rich, layered script, which is aided by Claire Simpson’s well-done, seamless editing and Benoit Delhomme’s intermittently interesting, always solid cinematography. His focus shifting, particularly during a scene of two of the characters playing chess, is rather brilliant, and the movie as a whole is gorgeously shot.

The cast is pretty close to uniformly great. In his final leading role, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a powerful performance that rises above any minute limitations the script places upon him. He effortlessly embodies his German character, even though he abandons his nearly unintelligible accent within the first 5 minutes and adopts a completely un-German, though certainly altered, accent. This shift is the only misstep in his otherwise sterling work.

The main supporting cast is rather good. Rachel McAdams, despite an awkward, rocky start, she settles in nicely, and while she never escapes her tendency to give performances that feel oddly empty (a quality that made her best performance to date, Mean Girls, unforgettable), she still fulfills her role admirably.

Robin Wright plays a role somewhat similar to her role on House of Cards, and she plays it quite convincingly. I could have used slightly more of the deviousness she utilizes so well in House of Cards.

Outside of Hoffman, Willem Dafoe gives the best performance in the movie. He rather effectively portrays the porous pompousness of his rich banker as well as his strong desire to right the wrongs of his father.

The cast’s weaknesses come in the smaller, yet pivotal parts. Grigoriy Dobrygin, despite actually being Russian, has an rather unconvincing Russian accent as Issa Karpov, and Homayoun Ershadi’s performance as Dr. Abdullah is nothing special.

The movie’s best quality, even better than Hoffman, is Corbijn’s direction. The Dutchman, who made his name as the music video director and visual creative director for both Depeche Mode and U2, showed his skill at the slow-burn thriller with The American, and his work here cements his abilities as perhaps the foremost director in the genre around today. His every move is masterful and only serves to build the tension that makes the movie so thrilling.

All the unqualified praise I have heaped upon the movie, there is one weakness that also plagued Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There just seems to be something missing. The suspense is there, and so is the high quality of the contributing elements, but it never quite reached the heights it needs to reach masterpiece level.

Overall, it’s a great movie with an interesting dilemma. We all want the world to be a better place, but what’s the best method to achieve that end: Take out your enemies or control them?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie for those who want to see superhero movies taken in a different direction. Instead of taking its superhero-ness seriously, it subverts the tropes of the genre, and the result is, at times, genius.

I say “at times” because it doesn’t always work. The movie takes itself too seriously emotionally speaking, and while this sort of thing can be done well, such as in X-Men: Days of Future Past, most of the serious, emotional scenes fall flat. Only the finale feels real. Much of the blame for this has to fall to James Gunn, the director, for while the script he co-wrote makes both the fun-loving and the serious sections equals, his direction fails to create the uniqueness of place necessary to juxtapose such scenes and still have a separation of tone. As a result, many of the serious scenes, while certainly full of heart, something the film has in abundance, feel unfortunately wrong. Fortunately this is the film’s biggest flaw.

Like many superhero flicks, the movie suffers from a case of exposition disorder. That is, it occasionally strays into sequences during which exposition is thrown out at every turn, causing the casual viewer to tune it out, which is rather unfortunate if a nugget of necessary information is embedded deep within the otherwise esoteric monologue.

Virtually every other aspect of the movie, though, is great. Chris Pratt’s winning performance as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, buoys the movie, and the other performances aren’t half-bad either. Zoe Saldana gives her best to-date, and WWE-fixture Dave Bautista delivers his metaphor-less lines decently, though not fabulously.

Outside of Pratt, though, the voicework of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel is really the standout of the movie’s main cast. Cooper makes Rocket’s every line sparkle, and Vin Diesel exudes every emotion Groot needs with just his three words. Diesel’s devastation over the untimely death of Paul Walker is apparent throughout his heartfelt voicework, and it helps tremendously.

Even the supporting cast, though often underused (especially Glenn Close and John C. Reilly), is rather good. I don’t know why it took so long, but Lee Pace has finally given a good villainous portrayal. It is by no means a deep, multi-faceted portrayal, but at least he seems invested enough in the part to make sure his lines don’t get stuck to his tongue like they did in the second Hobbit movie. Michael Rooker, best known as the eponymous Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and a Merle in The Walking Dead, really carries the supporting cast as Yondu Udonta, the closest thing Quill has to a father. He gives Yondu the depth he needs to make him more than just a jealous thief.

Judging from the comedic success of films this year, it seems the key to getting people to laugh is to make fun of life in general. This is the third movie I’ve watched this year that has succeeded in making me laugh not because it had funny gags, but because it made fun of itself. Meta-humor is engineering a rise, and I, for one, am not complaining. No, the jokes aren’t all perfect, but every member of the cast believes they are doing something new and interesting and important, which makes even the jokes that would otherwise fall flat instead make you smile.

The special effects are gorgeous, and the 3D, though not really utilized all that much, is not distracting, which is not something most 3D movies can boast.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy deserves every cent it makes. It’s strange to think that the superhero movie subgroup could be brought back down to earth by Peter Quill’s ever-temperamental rocket-boots. Though certainly not perfect, Guardians of the Galaxy beats much of the schlock we tend to get this time of year, and it offers a rather interesting deconstruction of the superhero genre.