I wasn't sure where "The Return" was headed for its first hour, and I can't say that I know what the film is fully about because I don't, but it builds to a tense, meaningful finale that strikes a poignant chord. Andrei Zvyagintsev establishes a drab and cold atmosphere that is effectively captured by Mikhail Krichman's exquisite and often beautiful cinematography. It's a quietly haunting tale of courage that can be frustratingly slow at times, but it's well-handled.
"Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D." has all the hallmarks of a Troma film: campy acting, nudity, gleeful violence, an absurd concept and the fact that it looks like it was written, shot and edited together in a matter of a few weeks. Most of what happens is so far-fetched and idiotic that a portion of the film's overall badness can be overlooked if in the right mood, but not forgiven. What you basically have is a pretty ugly-looking load of nonsense that's chaotic, gross, inane and about as technically adept as your average family home video. It isn't terribly hard to endure, but that's about the only good thing that I have to say about it.
I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that 'Prisoners' feels like a David Fincher film, specifically 'Zodiac' and 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.' Maybe that's setting expectations too high, but then again, I'm not sure it is because frankly, in terms of quality, 'Prisoners' falls in somewhere right between the two. An unsettling, suspenseful, absorbing, bleakly-lensed crime drama, 'Prisoners' moves at a thoughtful, almost aggravatingly deliberate pace that keeps the clues and twists coming but doesn't bother to let us in on what's going on until we're more than halfway in. It is a film about moral dilemma; about evil manifesting itself in those who try their best to vanquish it. More often than not, films with such cumbersome thematic material end up coming across as preachy or heavy-handed, but 'Prisoners' doesn't and manages to navigate its labyrinth-like narrative without being crushed under the weight of its subject matter. As well, the performances, the cinematography, the writing, the direction - it's all there and in pristine condition. The two and a half-hour running time is nothing to fear; I left wishing that it would have been twice as long. 'Prisoners' is very much first-rate entertainment, and films like it are the reasons why I love cinema so much.
Many argue that Alan J. Pakula's theatrical treatment of 'Sophie's Choice' was a miscalculation, but I'm not convinced that it was. Of course, the film feels longer than it is, and Pakula's style contributes to this, but he also gives the dialogue scenes an added emotional weight that makes the outcome as powerful as it is. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and (to a certain extent) Peter MacNicol give remarkable performances, and they're the real reason to give the film a watch. My opinions about the directional and photographical choices are mixed, but I was moved by 'Sophie's Choice,' and that's what counts.
I get why Ron Howard chose to direct 'Rush' in the high-octane style that he did, but regardless of the overall 'swiftness' of its subject matter, the film is almost too fast for its own good. I'm not referring to the fast-paced editing (which incorporates a multitude of quick cuts, limiting average shot length down to about two seconds) or the constantly-moving camerawork, but to the film's narrative. No, on a technical level, 'Rush' is astounding and remarkably polished: a 'well-oiled machine,' if you will forgive the cheap metaphor. I've come to accept that I complain about plot and character development a lot, but I have my reasons for doing so, and 'Rush' literally rushes just a little too much through its story, often forsaking character depth in favor of impressive visual work. Of course, I won't say that I wasn't entertained or thrilled because I truly was, but the James Hunt-Niki Lauda rivalry that 'Rush' is based on should have been made into a much more interesting film. It's a crowd-pleaser, yes, but nothing amazing.
'Insidious: Chapter 2' might be an improvement over its predecessor, which really isn't much of a compliment. It's scarier, yes, but most of those scares consist of creaking doors, creepy geriatrics, a piano playing itself, people turning on lights, people looking into mirrors, people looking off-screen in horror and... footage from the previous 'Insidious.' Yes, the moments that scared you from the first film are back for a second time. It's just shameless. But what makes 'Insidious: Chapter 2' surely the better out of the two is that it doesn't fall apart in its second half, and it's very stylishly-made, which is undoubtedly owed to director James Wan. It suffers from weak writing and acting, but overall, it's quite passable. Still, I'd have to say that most suspenseful thing about it was waiting for Patrick Wilson to blurt out 'Heeeeere's Johhhhhny!'
'Don Jon' is brisk, clever, well-made and funny, but also underdeveloped, flashy and, at times, uncomfortable. As a debut, it's a pretty solid effort from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who showcases his adeptness for staging scenes and mustering good performances from his actors, but as a film, it's unremarkable. Most of this 'unremarkable-ness' stems from its ninety minute running time, which cuts a lot of crucial plot development out of the picture. The narrative goes from point A to point B without making any stops to fully elaborate on what's happening, and that just frankly doesn't do it for me. It may work for other people, but not for me. I mean, Mr. Gordon-Levitt, you're a gifted actor and all and you seem to know what you're doing, but 'Don Jon' just isn't your best work. You could have done better. However, you also could have done much, much, much worse.
Ben Wheatley made 'Down Terrace' on a budget of less than ten thousand dollars, and that's without a doubt the most remarkable thing about the film. I always love hearing about filmmakers who produced their debuts on their own dime just because it's inspiring for a person like myself. 'Down Terrace' isn't a great film, and suffers from being tonally uneven and having a sloppy, confusing ending, but its black humor, docu-drama approach and performances all work well with each other, and it definitely foreshadows the greater things to come in Wheatley's career.
'Scarecrow' is one damn strange film. Interesting, yes, but damn strange. It's the kind of film that I tend to instantly love, but I couldn't. There are complications. While I enjoyed its humor, its eccentric antics and the way it meanders without following a strict narrative, there are parts of it that are just plainly unnecessary, and then are parts that are necessary but aren't present. The gist of the story is that two drifters decide to road trip cross-country in hopes of opening a car wash in Philadelphia, which is clearly symbolic for the American Dream. However, their quest is hindered by 'the Man' and things do not end well for the two of them. Sounds a little bit like 'Easy Rider,' I know, but it's a better film. I enjoyed it. I would have enjoyed it more if director Jerry Schatzberg didn't take so many shortcuts in order to reach the conclusion. Gene Hackman is at his fiercest and most somber and Al Pacino is at his funniest, yet also at his saddest. Both have performances that make you much more interested in the film and their characters than you rightfully should be. Also, Vilmos Zsigmond again proves that he's a master of his craft, filling the screen with deep, beautiful colors. (I can't get opening shot out of my mind).
John Candy and Steve Martin are both just superb in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' giving the best performances of their careers. Martin is quietly hilarious as the laconic, straight-laced Neal Page, but it tends to be John Candy who gets most of the credit for being the funniest out of the two. I disagree. Yes, Candy is great as the likable, bumbling oaf Del Griffith, but both performances are equal in their comedic brilliance. One might say that Martin and Candy are what make the film as good as it is, but writer/director John Hughes brings a lot to the table as well. And it's weird because I tend to hate the films of John Hughes, so it comes as surprise to me that I enjoyed 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' as much as I did. Thank God he finally decided to make a film that deals with something other than teen angst.
Borrowing its aesthetics from David Fincher's 'Se7en,' 'Saw' employs a gritty style that I'm kind of glad James Wan abandoned with his recent films. It's not that the shaky cam and quick cuts are annoying, which they kind of are; it's that they pull the audience's attention away from the action. It's a distracting approach, but thankfully it's used sparsely. Other than that, 'Saw' is actually quite an effective horror film that delivers some well-executed thrills. The gore is kept to a minimum, which is a step in the right direction, and the narrative is surprisingly functional, offering an interesting backstory for the morally-determined Jigsaw killer. Surely the acting could have been better, but 'Saw' is serviceable entertainment.
'The Purple Rose of Cairo' is such a cute, short and honest film, and it works because Woody Allen sticks with its concept all the way through, not opting out for the sake of realism. It has such a fantastical charm about it that you'll find it hard not to smile, and Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels are both just so innocent and whimsical in their roles that they make one of the great movie romances. 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' ends on a serious note that might seem depressing at first, but it's actually quite optimistic when you think about it.
'The Man with the Golden Gun' is one of the more ludicrous Bond films, but it gets a bad rap. I mean, it really isn't as dull as everyone makes it out to be. Christopher Lee makes a formidable villain as Francisco Scaramanga, often overshadowing Roger Moore in many of the film's scenes, but not so much that we lose interest in the man with a license to kill. The chase scenes are well-executed, the humor is ripe and it's not as convoluted or as unintelligent as Bond films can get. I enjoyed it.
Robert Altman is the only one who could have directed 'A Prairie Home Companion' and pulled it off, and he did. He's the only that can make people-watching so interesting. The entire cast is in top form, but this is Altman's show. The ensemble cast, the overlapping dialogue, the camera that essentially acts as a third party to all that's going on - it's all quite wonderful to watch.
'Around the World in Eighty Days' is a curious disaster. Its lavish production design, expensive sets and celebrity cameos are used to disguise its shallowness, unevenness and dated British humor, but they don't. Maybe in 1956 they did, but not today. It works in small bits, but not as whole. As a side note, one of the most peculiar things about it is how Cantinflas won the Best Actor - Comedy/Musical award at the Golden Globes while the film itself won the Best Motion Picture - Drama award. No one ever brings that up and it just doesn't make a lick of sense.
'Singin' in the Rain' is another one of those films that you just can't help but enjoy. It's so warm and funny and has such visual splendor and creative energy that you just kind of get sucked into all of the action. Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor are as gifted as comedians as they are song-and-dance men, and Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen provide worthy female support. It's really just a very fun little film.
Ang Lee is a great director. 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' is perhaps one of the most visually original films you'll come across, and this largely due to Ang Lee's craftsman-like capabilities as a filmmaker. The martial arts scenes are masterfully choreographed, the cinematography is beautiful and the score is simple, but it works with the action so well. I don't find myself as interested in the narrative as I am in the aesthetics and performances, but it is still a solemn, grand-looking motion picture.
I get what 'Blowup' is about. What's reality and what isn't? Believe me, I get it. I don't need arthouse folk to get in my face and explain the whole film to me because it's actually very simple. It's not hard to understand. Is it an interesting film? Yeah, I guess so. Is it boring? Yeah, I guess so. The truth is I don't really know how I feel about. There are moments that I like, there are moments I find mind-crushingly dull. It doesn't add up to much, but there's enough strangeness in it to make you feel like you haven't totally wasted your time.
A film so monotonous, so lazy, so underwhelming that it is only mildly tolerable because of its 'all-star' supporting cast, which consists of the likes of Nick Swardson, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Andrew Daly and David Koechner. (Heavy sarcasm implied, hence the quotation marks.) Don't watch it with people you hold in high esteem unless those said people have an appreciation for fart/gay/masturbation jokes and (probably) inflicting both mental and physical pain upon themselves. I mean, seriously, just how bad must one film be in order for an appearance from Nick Swardson to be considered a redeeming quality?