Argo

I could try to devise a witty opening sentence, but why be coy? Argo is one of the best films of the year and another gold star in Ben Affleck’s directorial career. After a lackluster summer and a dry spell during early fall, moviegoers were starving for a good film. No, cross that. An excellent film. Argo is that film.

Since most of the suspense is brimming in the last thirty minutes of the movie, some may feel Argo is fine for the first hour, but it starts getting good until the last scenes. Which is wrong, of course. Argo is one of those movies that every time you watch it, the better it gets. Small clues left in the beginning of the movie and quick-witted dialogue not only pumps up the pace in the first half of the movie, but serve to reinforce the dramatic and riveting thrill in the other half.

So let’s see: suspenseful, intelligent, fun…how much more can this film pack in? Well, Argo is greedy – in a good way. Smartly adapting Iranian drama is not enough; Argo attempts to give insightful observations- not overly analyze – the ethics of the movie business (or lack of, that is). But it’s so well hidden in hilarious lines, we’re so busy having fun that we forget actually learned something.

Everyone does an excellent job here, from the smallest (but most powerful) roles to Affleck’s calm and suave performance. What else can I say? Argo is an excellently crafted film, one that shouldn’t be missed.

Film Fight! Fall Releases Edition

I know we are all excited about the slew of great fall releases coming out soon. But which one’s will stand the battle of Film Fight?

Round #1: Movies About Recent History

Is it Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama-Drama?

or

Ben Affleck’s Take on Iranian History in the 70’s?

Round #2: Big Epics Based On Novels

The Wachowski’s Film That Has Halle Berry as a White Chick?

or

Ang Lee’s Tiger Romance?

Round #3: POTUS’

Spielberg’s Lincoln?

or

Bill Murray as a President No One Cares About?

Round #4: French Films

The Film We’re Supposed To Cry At?

or

Starring the Girl Who’s Practically in Everything Now?

Round #5: Random Choice

Well…Both of Them Star Famous Black Guys.

Flight

or

Django Unchained?

 

Leave your picks in the comments below!

Looper and Donnie Darko: A Mini Review and a Mini-Mini Review

What an apt name for a film. It’s complicated, but not confusing. Involving, but not exactly thrilling. It definitely sends your brain in loops, but not because the it’s hard to understand, but by the end of the movie, one has to ask: how does a film that began so wonderful end so horribly?

To not waste my time or yours, I’ll diverge from detailing every little aspect of the plot. (If you want to meet a time-travel expert who know how to dissect Looper’s twisty storyline, see here.) Basically, Young Joe (JGL) is trying to kill Old Joe (Bruce Willis), and Old Joe is running away and trying to murder a kid who eventually grows up and becomes a terrorist who murders his wife of the future. This kid happens to live on a farm with Sara (Emily Blunt), a farm Young Joe happens to stumble upon.

Yeah. It’s not what I expected either.

By the first-half of the movie, everything is fresh. Fascinating concept, fast pacing, and fun dialogue, especially between Old Joe and Young Joe. But after this stage conversation is finished (oddly the only one of the two times they even see each other), the films slows down dramatically. It doesn’t even seem like the same movie anymore. Sub-plots of telekinesis and tired inclusions of inherently bad kids who use their superpowers for evil makes the film seem forced. Old Joe avenging for his wife? Contrived. Even Bruce Willis is criminally under-used in this movie.

Once the ending comes, with Levitt in voice-over every tying every loose string in one nice little package, one just wants to roll their eyes.

☆☆☆

Donnie Darko
Funnily, this film reminded me of many movies I’ve seen recently: Magnolia, American
Beauty, even Looper. Yet, even though I didn’t understand this movie fully, I absolutely loved it. Forget the witty dialogue and the excellent acting – the storyline juggles a number of diverging storylines and handles them beautifully. Time travel? Schizophrenia?  Religion? School politics? This film has it all – and does it all wonderfully.

☆☆☆☆ and 1/2 Stars

*********************************************************************

For October’s Book Vs. Film selection, I’ll review the short story and film, Minority Report. Look for the reviews this week! (Thank you to Stephanie for the suggestion!)

The Master and the End of the Paul Thomas Anderson Marathon

One of the best benchmarks for reviewing a film is seeing how well it stands up days after the initial viewing. Thoughts become focused and precise, where the fog of hype and bartering fades away (“Well, they did do that bad, but at least…“) and true feelings towards the film surface. I try to employ this with mostly every movie I watch. This is the reason why, day by day, I continually lose respect for The Master and PTA’s films in general. Throughout this marathon, I’ve watched the films of PTA and though I’ve enjoyed them, there was always something missing. Something that’s scratched at my brain for some time now, but after The Master, I realized what was lacking in Anderson’s films: meaning.

In The Master, we are greeted by Freddie Quell, a wrecked leftover from WW2 who possessed some serious mental issues, some fostered by disastrous exposure to brutal killings, some created by the puzzling grooves of his mind. He’s unpredictable and has a ravenous sexual appetite. When we are first introduced to Freddie in the opening sequence, including a scene of him humping a sand lady he’s fashioned on the beach, one can’t help but wonder: is this nurture of his nature?

Therefore, it’s even more interesting to see a cult leader, Lancaster Dodd take on Freddie, somewhat as a pet project. (P.S. This film is not only about Scientology. The themes in The Master can apply to any religious or educational hub). We’re promised to see an intricate examination of the human psyche as people are massaged into dangerous and cultish thoughts, but the result is much different.

Before I give my spill, I would like to at least explain The Master isn’t terrible, at least not in terms outside storytelling. Everyone here is absolutely brilliant and absolutely convincing in their roles; certain scenes would be vapid if PTA didn’t employ old regulars such as Philip Seymour Hoffman or Joaquin Phoenix. Though Amy Adams seems like a flat character (silent yet strong type woman is fastly becoming a caricature in film), these actors take on an interesting script and give dazzling performances.

That’s where it stops for The Master and most of PTA’s films: mere interestingness.

Now, unlike Magnolia, some of the questions left over from The Master actually please the viewer and stretches their imagination. Why does Freddie join Dodd’s religion? A lost soul looking for the answers to his questions? Why does Freddie defend him, sometimes physically? Does he join the Cause because it’s “cool” and something new? Why does Dodd take Freddie on? The mere booze he provides? Pet project? However, as the movie progresses, these fascinating questions evolve into major irritations. There are no hints and no points to the movie.

Additionally, what is the point of this film? Be careful who you trust in? When in doubt, add a sex scene? What meaning do the numerous sexual references have? Does The Master have any meaning? An often recurring pop-up in PTA’s films is that there is no meaning. Everything is merely interesting, never insightful. The Master never fully impacts because Anderson mixes characters with lazy story lines (not so much in construction of the script, but applying innate ideas to a film with substance). PTA has a talent for devising interesting and complicated characters in dramatic plots, but again, they stop there. Enigmatic people who convey no truth about life. Substance in films don’t equal sunshine and rainbows (American Beauty is controversial, yet it had substance and a point to it: how beautiful life is, yet how fleeting beauty is in one’s life, especially one stunted with droning complacency). An well-executed movie lets the moviegoer think for themselves and devise their own reasonable dissection of the film, enabling an emotional and mental connection. There is no such thing with PTA or The Master.

I’ve been patient with Anderson’s films, re-watching movies and trying to analyze those
movies where a point can be found. Yet, nothing. It’s like being promised a present but having confetti thrown in your face: it’s pretty and colorful (interesting), but what’s the meaning?

Therefore, therein is the most damaging element in PTA’s films. It is so bad that I will have to decline to watch Hard Eight for this marathon. The Master has all the right ingredients: wonderful leads, an engaging plot (if Anderson focused on cultism and not Freddie’s decaying life, would The Master have been rescued?) and beautiful cinematography. Except one is left out: purpose.

☆☆

Magnolia

This post is a part of the Paul Thomas Anderson Marathon on RandomFilmBuff, a week dedicated to the films of PTA, all leading up to the release of his new film, The Master. 

When one watches Magnolia, they automatically gain the feeling that the film they are 
watching is smarter than themselves. It’s a type of Nolan-esque film with a complex plot and multi-layered characters, a movie that desires to leave you scratching your head, but hungry to watch it again. Unfortunately, Magnolia only accomplishes the former.

Ensemble films are a tough venue to master. Counterparts such as Babel and Crash soar in a genre where so many have fallen and failed. Magnolia doesn’t completely fall flat, but one can’t help but wonder, ‘What the heck?’ Magnolia isn’t bad because it’s not easily understandable on the first viewing (I watched it twice to give it a fair shake), it’s okay because PTA chooses all these characters and what point is he trying to prove? The fragility of life? The power of love? A cool chance to throw in a school boy’s fantasy of rambling debauchery? I’m open to ideas.* Yes, the various cameos of the numbers 8 and 2 and the inclusions of the magnolia flower in well-hidden scenes is interesting, the biblical allusions typical, but what significance does all of it have? For a movie so centered on the way our lives are balanced upon chance (a conclusion that seems very far-fetched with a movie like this), Anderson’s Magnolia is a bad gamble.

Magnolia seems to follow some invisible notion of brilliance. Every actor is excellent (I’m looking at you Tom Cruise), and almost every word is hard to take one’s eyes off of. So we have the two variables, performance + appealment. What’s the equation?

☆☆

*And tell me what the frogs meant, please.

Punch-Drunk Love

This post is a part of the Paul Thomas Anderson Marathon on RandomFilmBuff, a week dedicated to the films of PTA, all leading up to the release of his new film, The Master. 

Punch-Drunk Love is a very special film. It would be insulting to call it sweet, quirky, or just romantic – even if that’s what it is. Anderson uses a number of cinematic elements to craft an intriguing picture of loneliness: the overwhelming sense of blue in every frame, supermarkets and households that only offer endless monotony and the cool chill of isolation, an oddly lovable guy who revels in a dangerous cycle of seclusion and rage so much he tries to find company in a phone sex line. It has the ingredients for an excellent film, and it is nothing short of great, but one can only wonder, “what if..?”

Barry (Adam Sandler) is crazy. Not Norman Bates crazy or anything, but he’s got some serious issues for sure. Lonely would be an understatement to describe his life. Even in a room packed with people, Barry is always alone. He experiences rashes of anger; it boils beneath his red-hot skin when provoked, and explodes whenever it desires to. But, Barry is not all crazy. He’s a pretty sweet guy. A sweet, nice guy who falls in love with Lena.

Punch-Drunk Love seems like it missed the mark, though. Where it did score: hilarious comedic moments, solid performances, and a charming script, it soars. But it’s as if Anderson began penning a screenplay that would be the study of the life of a lonely man in a lonely world, a great psychological and emotional experience. But does PTA take the easy way out? Don’t get me wrong, this love story is nothing short of fantastic: the music and writing is instantly distinctive and the cinematography so strong that if one paused the movie in any place, the frame would be a work of art. It dares the audience to resist its charms. But what if Punch-Drunk Love was a more serious venture into the mind of an ordinary, but not-so ordinary man? Would Punch-Drunk Love be better?

But, for what it is, Punch-Drunk Love is not to be dismissed. Loneliness may be powerful and fuel horrible side-effects such as vicious rage, but love is just as powerful, of which Paul Thomas Anderson truly shows. Punch-Drunk Love gets the job done clean and smooth, leaving a smile on the audience’s face.

☆☆☆ and 1/2 Stars

Paul Thomas Anderson Marathon!

This week, starting on Wednesday (an odd day, I know), RandomFilmBuff will be hosting an marathon dedicated to one of the most illustrious writer/directors in the world of film: Paul Thomas Anderson. For every day of the week, I’ll be watching a PTA film and posting a review for you all to enjoy.

Here’s the Schedule:

Tuesday: Punch-Drunk-Love

Thursday: Magnolia

Friday: There Will Be Blood

Saturday: Hard Eight

Sunday: The Master

************************************************************************

For this month’s Book Vs. Film, I’ll be taking requests! Recommend a short story or a novel that has a film adaptation I can review for this September. (No erotica, please). Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

The Words

Before Film: Doubtful. Worried. A bad film or a misunderstood movie? No – be optimistic. It has good actors. No, wait – it has Dennis Quaid. What was his last good movie? Return to skepticism.

Beginning: Intrigued. Nice cinematography. Sweet and romantic. Uh oh…is that a cliche on the horizon? Nope, phew.

Middle: Terrific acting. Beautiful storyline. Grateful. Relieved.

End: Touching message, complex morals. Yes – a misunderstood film.

Credits: Fantastic.

☆☆☆☆

Film Fight!

Quick! Choose One Out of the Groups of Two!

Seven

Vs

Zodiac

******************************************************************************

Revolutionary Road

Vs.

American Beauty

**************************************************************************

The Road 

Vs.

Children of Men

****************************************************************************

Forrest Gump

Vs.

I Am Sam

***********************************************************************

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Vs.

I Am Sam

****************************************************************************

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish)

Vs.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (American)

*********************************************************************

The Fighter 

Vs.

Warrior

************************************************************************

Bridesmaids

Vs.

The Hangover

***********************************************************************

Rushmore

Vs.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Movie Update

Hello film buffs! I’ve been working away at my Movie Bucket List, and it’s been a wonderful journey so far. I’ve watched some great films and some not so great films…Here’s what I’ve been watching:

Drive – Let’s get one thing straight: Nicholas Winding Refn truly knows how to style a movie. This film is oozing with a distinctive visual quality that is unparalled in any movie I have seen this year. But its glossy façade and attractive frontman can’t mask the lacking plot this movie provides. Stunning cinematography but disappointing storyline.

The Road – Here’s another cheer to visuals. John Hillcoat does an impeccable job creating the crumbling apocalyptic world the two main leads, Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-Mcphee (who both turn in impressive performances) have to live in. But it was missing a certain something it was so close to reaching. The typical happy ending was very irritating too.

Adaptation – Who would know that a movie surrounding its own writer would be fascinating and hilarious? Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is highly original and 100% relatable, especially for authors who watch this honest exposition on the struggles of writing. It’s also Nicolas Cage’s best acting in years.

Psycho – Okay, I’m going to say it: this iconic film was a masterpiece for the 60’s, not today. Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable, but I don’t understand all the hype. Hopefully Vertigo or Rear Window will be better.

The Prestige – Well, Nolan strikes again. It’s the smartest thriller in a long time. Twists you couldn’t have guessed in a million years, a towering script (shout out for brother Jonathan Nolan), and excellent acting from every character involved, this movie is a magic trick in itself. Liked it better than Memento even.

Kid with the Bike – If you want to be sorely disappointed and highly frustrated, please watch this.

The Pianist – It does what it sets out to do: simply relate the touching and inspiring story of Władysław Szpilman, played excellently by Adrien Brody. It was also smart of Polanski to not inject sentimentality into the film, being impressively objective towards this tender subject, knowing it’s natural for the audience to already “side” with the Jews, for lack of better words. A beautiful film for a easy Sunday.

What Have You Been Watching? Any particular gems to see or disappointing duds the film community needs to avoid? Alert us in the comments below. 🙂