Movies

Midnight in Paris: Rotten Tomatoes gives it 92. I give it a C. i just don’t get why so many reviewers really liked this movie. it was the classic Owen Wilson dopey-guy shtick but without a substantial story line. here and there, there were amusing caricatures of famous literary figures, but the arc uniting them was contrived. overall, the movie was surprisingly preachy (i.e. “the past is always greener”) and unfunny. Rachel McAdams, one of my perennial loves, was utterly wasted.

Super 8: Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 83. I give it a B minus. This was billed as a solid, exciting, and family-oriented movie; but in reality it was nothing special. Outside of the fairly good child acting, the story was too familiar, the special effects were average, and the emotional effect was palpable but faintly so. The overall aesthetic resembled that of E.T., though the film is somewhat darker and more violent; but it’s a Spielberg film that failed to really come off the page.

I Saw the Devil: Rotten gives it an 81. i give it a D. the standards have to be high for a Korean revenge thriller, since it’s the Korean specialty genre. this movie was half as good as “Oldboy”, mainly because it just didn’t go deep enough or extreme enough in any manner. (Spoiler) the bad guy gets guillotined at the end, and frankly it just seems that he got off easy. there’s lots of blood, and a lot of people get killed, which makes the movie’s dull impact both surprising and profoundly disappointing.

13 Assassins: Rotten gives it a 96. i give it a C. this is yet another dark foreign film that all the critics fell in love with for no good reason. its focal point is a 30-minute prolonged battle scene at the end, with lots of hacking, spattering blood, and agony, but it’s hard to impress a fairly experienced moviegoing generation like our own with gratuitous violence, and ultimately i was bored. body count was the fad fifteen years ago with HK movies like “The Killer”; now we want our violence stylized and character-developing (i.e. “Kill Bill”). 13 Assassins felt like a Universal Studios live show: lots of smoke and fireworks, but pretty dumb overall.

Win Win: Rotten gives it 96. I give it a B. a B is generous, in my opinion. this was another independent film with a powerfully emotive preview that really failed to deliver the goods. Giamatti is a great (not merely good) actor, but the script failed to let him loose in a role that could have defined his career. what could have been an extraordinary movie about frustrated ambition and the American dream instead ended up being a comedic sketch with a nice wrap at the end.

Black Swan: Rotten gives it an 88. I give it an E. E in this case stands not for excellent but for egregiously bad. people laud Aronofsky for his aesthetic fastidiousness and his visionary ambition, but the flip side of his extreme style is blatant melodrama. sometimes this works (i.e. “The Wrestler”), when he has the story under control. other times, it converts his art into farce (i.e. “The Fountain”). “Black Swan” is worse than “The Fountain”; it is driven solely by a fascination with and a fear of the self-mutilating potential of a psychotic central character. as such, it functions as a cheap horror movie, and had it been written as a black comedy it would have worked magnificently with just a few revisions. however, it is supposed to be a thriller, and as it takes itself inordinately seriously in this regard, it succeeds in presenting one gaffe after another. i found myself beside myself with laughter for most of the movie. indeed, the experience was beyond amusing; it was outright contemptible. natalie portman, as always, never fails to impress with her limited range and stilted projection.

The Eclipse: Rotten gives it a 77. I give it an A. Ciaran Hinds and Iben Hjejle take a fairly compelling ghost story about loneliness and make it the setting for extraordinary romantic chemistry. the film absolutely impresses, in its eerie music, its gorgeous cinematography, and its deft delicacy in managing dialogue and silence. it’s nothing short of beautiful—a virtual gem of a movie.

Io Sono Amore (I am Love): Rotten gives it an 80. I give it an A-. Guadagnino, who wrote and directed this film, creates a story that moves inexorably toward tragedy and rediscovery, but the extraordinary thing about this movie is not its trajectory but rather its vivid journey. it is full of lavish details and jarring oddities; though its pace is even, the story glides through plenty of bizarre and yet authentic moments. “I am Love” is inventive, and it’s very controlled despite its plentiful idiosyncrasies. even in its final melodramatic moments (for which i lend the minus to its grade), it is not unreasonably challenging. overall, it’s a fascinating experience.

True Grit: Rotten gives it a 96. I give it a B+. it seems like everyone wants to be a Coen Brothers groupie these days, and it’s not hard to see why. “True Grit” demonstrates some of their classic strengths: delicious, ruminating moments, memorable characterizations, and choice interchanges of provocative dialogue. Steinfeld is awesome, and she holds her own in the midst of a stellar all-star cast. the movie’s one weakness is what often plagues the Coen Brothers in their endeavors: it’s perhaps too cerebral. mattie’s completed mission in the end seems like a trivial footnote on what is otherwise just a comedic journey of three lost souls.

3:10 to Yuma: Rotten gives it an 88. I give it an unqualified A. 3:10 really succeeds on two important levels: storytelling and real drama. it’s not a terribly profound story, nor do its characters boast significant depth. however, in its straightforward and forceful delivery, it is like stage drama at its best: it convinces its audience to care. i believe that 3:10 demonstrates Bale and Crowe in the very best performances of their career, and they tell a simple story of redemption to perfection.

A Prophet: Rotten gives it 97. i give it an A plus. every now and then, the majority opinion is right on, and the consensus did come to the inevitably correct conclusion about “Un Prophete”. it is riveting, intense, and confident throughout. so many of its critical scenes were so perfectly done (i.e. the “prophecy” scene, the final prison yard scene, and the closing scene, among others) that they are worthy to be viewed and reviewed as individual works of art. it’s not an art film, but it is so well executed that one cannot help but look at a film like this as an artist’s culminating masterpiece. i don’t buy DVDs in general, but i own this movie, and i even sat through the director’s scene by scene commentary (delivered in Francais).

500 Days of Summer: Rotten gives it an 81. i give it an A plus. i think that romantic comedy is Hollywood’s little obsession, and it’s something that Americans do and overdo ad nauseum and often badly. but 500 Days is the one romantic comedy that you wait half a decade for. it’s rare, and it’s ground-breaking. 500 Days works because it’s novel approach to the personal narrative makes the protagonist’s sentiments not merely believable but also powerful. one begins the experience laughing at the patently funny aspects of Tom’s tale; one ends the experience by really believing in the worth and goodness of Tom the young man. his eyes create for the viewer a Los Angeles of mystery and beauty, and in the same light, they create a world of frustrated love that is both euphoric and inestimably crushing. 500 Days is a gift to its genre, not unlike “Eternal Sunshine” from five years before.

Let the Right One In: Rotten gives it a 98. i give it an A plus. this is one of my favorite movies of all time, because for me it is the clearest metaphorical description of God’s relationship with mankind. aside from the blatant hyperbole, i have more to add: “Lat den Ratta Komma In” is the very best vampire movie ever made, simply because it depicts the vampire in its most horrible, vulnerable, and fascinating figure. there has never been a cinematic monster like Eli; she haunts and intrigues, against the palpably chilling landscape of Scandinavian winter

Let Me In: Rotten gives it a 90. i give it a D. “Let Me In” was patent plagiarism of the original movie; but moreover, it eliminated certain critical scenes that made the original a poetic feat. on top of being pointless, it failed the vision of the movie that it ripped off. this remake was criminal.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos: Rotten gives it a 91. i give it an A plus. i actually scrolled through every single Rotten review to identify the negative reviews. the majority of these found the political backdrop contrived; the rest of them seemed to be PMS’ing. the most egregiously off-base review was delivered by Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe (April 16, 2010), who shamelessly reduced the film to a gooey romance superimposed on pulp fiction. now, i’m not one to say that handicapped people shouldn’t be movie critics by trade, but i would think that an individual who is blind and cognitively challenged wouldn’t gravitate to a career in movie criticism. because one would have to be both blind and mentally challenged to not recognize the extraordinary depth to which Campanella is able to create interrelationship among his characters, particularly between Esposito and Sandoval and between Ricardo and Isidoro, his wife’s killer. more than a love story, this is about men suffering through years of guilt and rage. it is one of the great stories recently told through cinema, and it succeeds outrageously. Rotten should do better than to suffer fools; this movie was entitled to a perfect score.

Sin Nombre: Rotten gives it an 88. i give it an A. this was Fukunaga’s first feature film, and it’s a tour de force. everyone in L.A. talks about this movie, because it set out to tell the tale of Latino immigration and it does it masterfully. the experience is up close and uncomfortable; the tension is searingly intense; and moments of life and death are portrayed with grim honesty. the journey across Mexico on the fabled “Beast” is as disturbing as it is impressive, and one cannot fail to be powerfully affected by the clarity of Fukunaga’s lens.

Winter’s Bone: Rotten gives it a 94. i give it an A. not one to be heavy-handed or trite, Debra Granik first paints you a picture—cold, cruel Appalachia—and then she gives us singular, strong Ree (played exquisitely by Jennifer Lawrence) to steer us through this forbidding landscape. the trek is foreboding, dark, and outright scary. along the way, we are introduced to characters so raw that they cannot be typed. it’s a movie that tells a story the way it should be told, lean and poignant, with a poise that does not waver as it draws the audience into that murk of man’s deep darkness.

Slumdog Millionaire: Rotten gives it a 94. i give it a B minus. Slumdog Millionaire is classic cultural pornography. it presents poverty-stricken India the way opera presents teenage romance gone rotten—with overwrought sentimentality and a happy bow of a Cinderella ending. as a story, it’s told well enough, the way most fables are, and it caters to the sensibilities of a Western audience that loves to consume the rags-to-riches story. but it is a sad state of things that the ethnodrama has been reduced to reiterations of the same themes (i.e. Khaled Hosseini), as if growing up outside of the West is equivalent to suffering mutilation and depredation. it’s hack; it’s tired; and it’s insulting to the intelligence. that it received such acclaim is a testament to the simpleminded stupidity of the American viewing audience. Slumdog was overrated; it is a slightly above-average romance perhaps worthy of a full tier beneath “Monsoon Wedding”.

The King’s Speech: Rotten gives it a 95. i give it a B plus. i got in some trouble after watching this in the theater, because when my friends asked me what i thought, i responded “it was pretty good”. “pretty good?!” they retorted. “it was amazing!” but it didn’t strike me as amazing. “The King’s Speech” was a good story that was well acted and nicely directed. the characters were compelling but not particularly intriguing. the strongest aspect of this film is the idiosyncratic interaction between Bertie and Lionel; Firth and Rush do capture something interestingly English in their wordplays. no, i wouldn’t watch it again. my standards for historical dramas with happy endings are fairly high, as this genre is replete with other similarly strong and yet unmemorable films.

Animal Kingdom: Rotten gives it a 97. i give it an A minus. here was another movie in which i watched all the special features, including the cast/director Q&A. david michod hit a home-run with this movie, and there can be no doubt about that. the script develops the characters; they barely have to act because the personality is all there. that being said, Ben Mendelsohn’s rendition of “Pope” is vaguely reminiscent of Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. Frecheville’s work as the protagonist is a little stilted at times, but the film is powerful enough to overwhelm the imperfections. one can only imagine that Michod is on the brink of an international hit.

Philadelphia: Rotten gives it a 75. i give it A plus plus plus. read the Rotten Tomato reviews from 1993 on this film, and you’ll see that in many ways, society just was not ready for a strong, straightforward movie about gay men dying of AIDS. contrast this with “Schindler’s List”, which beat “Philadelphia” for Best Picture but is not nearly as loved in hindsight. Philadelphia’s courtroom scenes, its magnificent operatic scene, and its depiction of the steady and profound transformation of Joe Miller will forever be unmatched. i’ve watched the movie more than a dozen times, and it makes me cry every time, not simply because it is powerful but also because it has stood the test of time in its forthright message about homosexuality and HIV. Philadelphia is special because it was true about humanity, about America, and about dying, and there will probably never be another movie like it ever again.