Archive for July, 2009

There’s something about this trailer that doesn’t sit perfectly well with me. While the art direction looks well done, I just can’t get immersed into the world Wes Anderson has created. The dialogue seems pretty funny too, but the very noticeable voice acting keeps me at a distance.

My high expectations for this movie have been lowered a bit, but I’m in no way denouncing the movie without having seen anything close to the final product. Now we just wait and see.


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The Coen Brothers have been making excellent movies for 25 years, and I don’t think they’re going to stop anytime soon. Thanks to their ear for dialogue and heart for morbidly comical tales, they’ve become some of the most unique and consistent directors of our time.

This trailer is brilliant. It easily expresses the frustration that comes with the banality and unfairness of life by setting the entire preview to the beat of a man’s head being struck against a wall. Uncomfortably captivated, I have complete faith in them and whatever they’re doing.

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Kathryn Bigelow’s myopic treatment of the Iraq War in The Hurt Locker produces lacerating suspense that not only gives us our Summer fix of action but also develops an intimate study of interesting characters. The movie’s impartial stance on the war keeps it from being preachy even in the tiniest bit; it stays grounded in intense closeness that makes the title as haunting as it is true.

Jeremy Renner plays Sgt. William James, the reckless leader of a bomb squad. We follow him and his 2 companions, Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) around mission after mission after mission. The first few jobs provide a precise sense of emergency that obviously comes with the job of defusing bombs. Yet, we eventually become desensetized to the danger, loosening our grip on the arm rests. Why? Because we know the situation will be taken care of by these three men.

However, just as soon as we get comfortable, we learn that it’s simply a facade of invincibility because, yes, they can fail. And it’s in the the most painful and abrupt ways. I can only guess that this is a valid essence of what it’s like to be in war and if so, my hat goess off to Miss Bigelow for executing it perfectly.

Unfortunately, it is only in these action sequences that we naturally learn about our characters. Dialogue outside their missions just recapitulates insights we’ve already been shown. Yes, Sgt. James is a crazy man. There’s no need to say it out loud. Most of the compulsory conversations that take place make the impact of the characters’ actions in each bomb defusion sequence less powerful.

What makes it tolerable though is the fine acting done by every player. Clear depictions of animosity and comradery make the characters’ sanity as shaky as the near-death situation they’re always in.

It’s difficult for this movie to keep the steam rolling for 2 plus hours. The first hour drives at such high speed, that it’s nearly impossible for the rest of the film to keep up. There’s a lull of about 25 minutes that I couldn’t latch onto. This could be due to the lack of briefing as to what their mission specifically was, thus making me care less about what was happening on screen, or to the handycam approach, which worked incredibly well for most of the picture but  sometimes made the action incomprehensible.

The only reason these problems stand out is because the film is so damn good. Any aspect that isn’t exhibited as well as the rest of the movie will be noticable. Otherwise, director Kathryn Bigelow has surely created one of the best movies of the year. It is presumably the first film to come out of the gate as probable Oscar competition. Does it fit the ballot? It’s still way too early to tell, but it’s safe to say that The Hurt Locker is great.

9 out of 10

Side note: This review doesn’t contain my uncertainty with the movie’s theme that war is a drug. I understand both sides to the argument but can’t quite figure out where I stand. I didn’t want to talk about that in this review because it would go on and on and on without any resolution. I plan on writing a reflection on it very soon though. If you have any thoughts on the war=drug theme, please leave a comment.

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Moon’s refusal to step into the routine of hollywoodized dramatization gives it an artistic stride that tramples other films in its nearly dying genre. It never placates its highly conceptual statements in order to be more marketable, but it is in this boldness that makes Moon one of the most daring movies of the year.

Unfortunately, this movie might not be for everyone. Slow moving at times, cold, no space battles, only two to three characters, the “twist” is revealed in the first 45 minutes. Yet, these components are all pencil marks in director Duncan Jones’ beautiful illustration of the ennui and crisis that comes with solitude.

Moon is about Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an employee of Lunar Industries, who’s based on the moon to extract Helium 3, the source of energy for Earth. He’s required to stay there for three years, and with only two weeks left, he falls victim to a personal crisis after discovering his own dying body in the moon’s outskirts.

Although most of the film is captured in just a few claustraphobic set pieces, the vastness of space is entirely present. We do see beautiful instances of that vacuum of darkness between Moon and Earth, but the sensation of this emptiness comes from the aforementioned tactics employed by Duncan Jones. Slow, still cinematography. Paletts of greys, whites, and blacks. Even the importance of humans down on Earth, whom the audience only sees through broadcast, makes a deep connection for our protaganist, Sam.

The feeling of isolation should also be credited to Sam Rockwell’s brilliant dual performance. As distancing as the movie might appear (mostly because it displays internal conflicts), the audience still latches onto him. The concept of loneliness and identity is completely universal, and his struggles are genuine.

As the movie progresses, we get introduced to the film’s questions on humanity and its relationship with technology. The cerebral exploration of Moon nicely provokes a level of conversation that other sci-fi films of this year aren’t even trying to do. While some of the movie’s thoughts and questions are beyond my level of intellectual capacity, they at least allow me to ask more questions and engage in more conversations, with the goal of exploring the depths of both outer and inner space. This, I believe, is Moon’s primary objective. To make us think about our significance as humans in a technologically evolving world, and to make us question the meaning of our own roles in life.

I think I wanted more out of such a bold film. It feels a bit restricted at times by its fairly low budget of $5 million. Yet, the fact that such an inventive movie was made under such modest conditions proves that Duncan Jones has a very promising future.

What makes Moon great for one person can make another person hate it. Its unyielding, untraditional attributes make it stand on its own unique feet. I personally find the film’s thirst for original science fiction very valuable to the world of cinema, but I can’t say I absolutely loved the film. It is however undeniable that Moon is a strong debut from Duncan Jones.

7.5 out of 10

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With its nonlinear structure and perfect blend of bright and dour moments, 500 Days of Summer produces a kaleidoscope of a film that reflects a sense of life not many romantic comedies can attain these days. Unapologetic in manner, this film combines the surrealism of Annie Hall and High Fidelity with the realism of The Graduate to create a story about Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) over the course of 500 days.

The hook of this film is that their relationship isn’t told in chronological order. We’re first shown day 488, then day 1, then day 135, then day 12, and in the middle somewhere is a devestating break up. The film exhibits the cycle of a relationship. The blossoming, the wilting, and everything in between. The hopscotching narrative first comes off as a bit gimmicky, but the movie’s second act proves that this presentation is essential and genuine.

When we’re met with heartbreak in real life, we of course dwell in the past, but never do we think about it as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, our memories come scrambled to form a hodgepodge of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and this is what 500 Days of Summer encapsulates perfectly.

The relationship between an idealistic boy, Tom, chasing and dealing with an aloof girl, Summer, has been done on many occasions. Yet, the heartfelt chemistry, done so by the brilliant acting, laconic yet insightful dialogue, and the perfect timing of each scene, comes as a welcome guest.  The film is quirky by nature, but the characters keep the story from becoming boisterous. Tom’s closest friends are all hilarious without carrying a flamboyancy many indie dramadies tend to imbue on their lesser characters. The comedy comes in the modest yet witty writing and the creative directing of Marc Webb.

As Tom’s perspective becomes our own, we get on his side. We see Tom finally crack the wall behind which Summer hides, and we’re joyful. We see her bring it back up, and we get angered. Summer’s actions are what drive not only Tom’s emotions but ours as well. Her enigmatic nature is what captivates us, but her cold shoulder throws our hearts into disarray. Unfortunately, there’s an imbalance to the character that is Summer. While it was the intention of the writers to make a standoffish individual, it can be quite laborious to watch on screen.  Yet, we’re still miraculously enamored by Zooey Deschanel’s beautiful charm. Her character’s lack of depth is an element that the film hopes to achieve with its anti romantic comedy texture, but it’s certainly a kick in the balls.

What the film sometimes lacks is the story of Tom as a singular being. We eventually see a recuperated self (before getting crushed yet again), but we’re never given any detail as to why he’s suddenly fine. Of course, time is a possible culprit, but the lack of insight into such an important detail is disappointing.

500 Days of Summer has an enjoyable and fitting soundtrack. The third act, however, tends to rely too much on the music to emote, which is a contrast to the beginning of the film’s more splendid, less fluffy use of song (and even dance).

The ending shows the cyclic nature of love, but its hokeyness keeps me from truly loving it. The last few minutes also juggles several themes, and while some work, some don’t. Some are cleverly done, but others  are spoonfed to us by a narrator.

My nitpicking doesn’t take away from the fact that 500 Days of Summer is one of my favorite movies of 2009 so far. Its gracefulness has a lot to say about love and how expectations can or cannot meet reality. Romantic comedies seem to come off as cliche these days, but 500 Days of Summer strives to be something different, and it succeeds. Of course, it has its own barrel of cliches (scenes we’ve seen before in other movies, a much younger sister used as his shrink), but its attempt at originality is wonderfully executed and appreciated. How this movie has affected me as a human being is proof that art is necessary for existence.

9 out of 10

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Heck yes!

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