Saturday, September 3, 2011


Spirited director Werner Herzog's last film, the 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, opened in five theaters in the country a few months ago and had the highest per-screen average ($25,500) of any movie that weekend. It is his most successful documentary, more so than probably his most well known non-fiction film, 2005's Grizzly Man.

Continuing his penchant for exploring darker and less- subjects, the man who once ate his own shoe (seriously), Herzog has completed his most recent film Into the Abyss, which tells of the events and people surrounding and involved in a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas. One interview is held with one of the men convicted of the crime, who was then executed 8 days after his one on one with the director.

According to Deadline New York, Sundance Selects, an indie distribution company, has picked up the film one week ahead of it's Toronto International Film Festival debut. No word yet on a North American release date, but expect to the see the film hit a few theaters by the beginning of next year, and expand in the Spring.

I originally thought the subject matter - which sounds like it would be covered on MSNBC's weekend trash-fest Lockup - seemed a little tedious for a man of Herzog's taste. But then I checked out these three clips from Indiewire and changed my mind. It looks like the man who once got shot with an air rifle during an interview (seriously) is approaching this subject with the same intense wonder he has shown in all of his previous documentaries.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


2011 marks the first year since 2007 that Joel and Ethan Coen don't have a film being released, but that doesn't mean they haven't been hard at work on their next project. Rumor had it months ago that the two greatest living filmmakers (or so says I) were working on a film revolving around the '60's New York folk music scene. Now, according to Variety, it appears that rumor has been confirmed, and the new film will be titled Inside Llewyn Davis.

Details on the plot are scarce, but Badass Digest has a nice write-up on who the film may have been influenced by (not based on - the screenplay is an original work by the brothers). If you've never heard of Dave Van Ronk (I hadn't before today), head on over there and read about a man you'll probably be hearing more about in the next year or so.

StudioCanal will co-finance the movie, and Scott Rudin, who has worked with the Coens on True Grit and No Country for Old Men) will produce. No word yet on when Inside Llewyn Davis will be released, or even a start date, but my guess is we'll be seeing a trailer for the film around this time next year. I'm getting giddy about it already.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I never thought I'd say this, but I'm awfully tired of Johnny Depp. When he's not acting in a tired, bloated franchise or an odd remake, he's turning in incredibly boring performances in dreck like The Tourist and disappointments like Public Enemies. It's been a long while since I've been interested in anything Depp has done (I find myself watching Ed Wood, a movie almost two decades old, when I need to remind myself of why I love the man's work to begin with), and I was starting to think that all he has left in him is an overdone Keith Richards impersonation.

Today sees the release of the trailer for The Rum Diary, a film so long in development I had forgotten about it. Production on the project began in March of 2009 and wrapped in the summer of that year. I remember seeing the first official still from the movie not too long after that. To be honest, the last time I thought about The Rum Diary, I was sure it was going disappear into oblivion or worse - go straight to DVD.

Anyway, in this pseudo follow-up to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Depp again plays Paul Kemp, another Hunter S. Thompson alter-ego. I'm steering clear of any plot details, simply because I want to walk into the movie fresh (as fresh as possible after watching a two minute trailer), but from the looks of it you'll be seeing Depp drinking and then getting it on with Amber Heard. Ah, the life of a gonzo journalist. You can find the synopsis over at ETonline, but watch the trailer embed below. Entertainment Tonight's video player forces you to take a survey about orange juice before you can watch the footage. Ugh.

The Rum Diary opens October 28. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Directed by Steven Quale

Starring Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher

I'm a Final Destination virgin. There, I said it. While I'm familiar enough with the franchise to know that it's really nothing more than a series of Rube Goldberg set-ups designed to showcase increasingly crowd-pleasing character deaths, I've never actually seen one of these films from beginning to end. It's not that I'm opposed to them, it's just that I imagined myself above such simple concepts. And, even though I'm a big fan of the Friday the 13th series, watching a film series that features vapid teens succumbing to their ends in various ways just seemed...oh f*** it. I got snobby on myself.

Anyway, turns out Final Destination 5 is the second time this summer I've found myself having a great time walking into a film with four prequels, none of which I have seen. Between this and Fast Five, I'm going to have to stop taking going to the movies so seriously. Because a movie like Final Destination 5 doesn't want you to take it seriously.

That's not to say it doesn't want you to take the experience of it seriously. Director Steven Quale co-directed Aliens of the Deep (the shot-in-3D-weird-effing-sea-creatures documentary), with THE James Cameron, and was second unit director on Avatar (directed by THE James Cameron), the most successful movie (3D or otherwise) of all time. The man is damn determined to make sure you recognize that making an audience squirm, gag, hoot, holler, and laugh at the same scene requires effort, and to do it in more than two dimensions requires the proper use of cameras designed to shoot in three. He's damned determined to make sure you recognize this but, the question is, does he, and, more importantly, does it work? The answer is: yes. And...yes.

FD5 begins as Sam Lawton (the blank faced thespian Nicholas D'Agosto) has a premonition while on a corporate team-building retreat for a local factory. The premonition involves a bridge collapsing into nothingness as the bus he and his friends were on follows suit. Armed with this sudden foresight, Sam proceeds to rescue a who's-who of stock horror characters from the bus - his innocent girlfriend  (Emma Bell), the sexy narcissist (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), the Black Guy (Arlen Escarpeta), the big-boned perv (P.J. Byrne), his best friend (Miles Fisher), his best friend's girl (Ellen Wrote), and the "obviously influenced by The Office" boss (David Koechner, in a very funny but short-shafted role).

 For the most part, 5nal Destination couldn't care less about its characters. At least at first. Quale does an admirable job of setting up the "sure to die" cursory cast - you know at least the fat guy and vixen are going to get it soon in the film, simply because they're the worst people in the world - and spends a little bit of time with Sam the Hero and his Princess - the former of who is a part-time chef with a chance at an apprenticeship at a restaurant in Paris, the latter of who is the love of his life, and someone he wants to move to The City of Love With. It's all perfunctory, and generally not very interesting. Then the set pieces happen.

Beginning with the elaborate bridge collapse (which, by the way, the film never tops), Final Destination 5 stages some truly impressive exercises in the macabre. Planning on getting LASIK surgery? Consult your optometrist before this movie. Gymnast? Skip FD5. Acupuncture curious? Stick with massages from your inexperienced girlfriend. Quale excels at creating some truly uncomfortable  sequences. A scene where a gymnast dances her feet around an unnoticed pointy-side-up screw on a balance beam is a nicely edited few minutes of cringe-inducing tension, which climaxes in the film's grisliest death. The pattern is repeated a few times throughout the film, and in this way FD5 is no different than your typical Halloween-esque slasher film. Instead of waiting for the masked killer to jump out of the shadows to give someone a machete facial, we're watching to see how the machinations of the invisible hand of death result in the same outcome.

Since death is not seen in the film (but certainly felt), the screenwriters throw a little twist into the proceedings. After all, a series of complicated and gruesome set-pieces is fun, but not a film. In Final Destination 5, it turns our fatally doomed characters can exchange their lives for others. If they kill another person, giving death their debt, they're allowed to live. This leads to a moral quandary explored by the screenwriters with all the depth of a kiddie pool, but it's an interesting change of pace nonetheless, especially when actor Miles Fisher - who looks like Tom Cruise's body grew all the way up to nose, then the top half of his face decided to become Jason Schwartzman - gets to stretch his acting range from A to B. Fisher's not a good actor (none of these people really are, actually), but he attempts some scenery chewing towards the end of the film, which is surprisingly fun to watch.

Overall, Final Destination 5 is a harmless, but well-crafted fright-fest that will succeed with late-night audiences. If the previous entries are this much fun to watch, I may just go from Final Destination virgin to Final Destination slut faster than I can take my pants off.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Takashi Miike

Starring Koji Yakusho, Goro Inagaki, Takayuki Yamada

I realize that "damn near perfect" is in no way an acceptable, scholarly assessment when it comes to film criticism, but it's hard to think of any other way to describe Takashi Miike's samurai epic 13 Assassins. Some films just hit every note they strive to hit impeccably, and while there may be the occasional out-of-tune instrument or an odd tempo, the movement as a whole is a strong, splendid, and arresting piece of work that doesn't appear to have any flaws. The notes hold the hole thing together.

13 Assassins
begins as the age of the samurai is ending, in late 19th century Japan. It contains a simple story, and one with no murky moral area. The villainous Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) rules over his land with clearly defined craziness. He rapes the women at will, kills whole families indiscriminately, and, in the film's most disturbing scene, has cut all of the limbs off of a peasant woman and kept her as his slave, only to toss her out on the road when he finished with her. As the half-brother of a local Shogun, Naritsugu treats his servants and people sadistically, like a spoiled child of Hades. Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), a low-ranking local official, recognizes the evil inherent in Lord Naritsugu, and plots the insane man's death so that it may be at the hands of one of twelve chosen samurai. The film chronicles the recruitment of these samurai during its hour or so, and then spends the rest of the film displaying one of the longest, bloodiest, best-choreographed action sequences you're ever going to see.

More on that action sequence later. First, most of the samurai chosen to complete this quest are glossed over by the screenwriters and Miike, and are characterized either by a specific talent they're asked to use during the battle with Naritsugu's army (one is an expert swordsman, two are explosives experts) or a personality trait they exhibit (one samurai joins the group in order to seek redemption for a life of gambling and womanizing). The last assassin to join the group, Kiga Koyota, is a hunter caught up in a woodland trap. While unconnected to the events, Koyota agrees to follow the men into battle. The fact that most of these characters aren't well defined isn't necessarily a criticism of the film, just an observation. The screenplay makes sure they're more than just interchangeable faces, but doesn't spend time making sure we feel as deeply for each one of them.

The one we feel the deepest for is their leader, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), who gets the most screentime. As a samurai past his prime, it is understood that this will most likely be his last quest, and while Naritsugu is his primary target, Shinzaemon has an opposite number in the form of his former friend, and current right hand of Lord Naritsugu, Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura). While Shinzaemon fights for the good of the people Naritsugu oppresses, Hanbei is loyal only to the Shogun, and vows to protect his master until the very end.

It is this theme of fighting for what one believes in that is explored in a myriad of ways throughout 13 Assassins. It's a theme as old as storytelling itself, but the film never feels like it's treading over well worn ground. The movie is old fashioned in that it delineates clearly between good and evil, and good guys have only one goal: to take down the bad guy. The heroes are righteous, the villains odious. Miike aims to distinctly portray Naritsugu as an abomination, so that the plight of the men hired to assassinate him becomes purely virtuous. It is this simple representation of right versus wrong, good versus evil, honor versus loyalty that makes 13 Assassinsa a breeze to follow, allowing Miike to impress with a brisk pace, gorgeous cinematography, and well-choreographed fight scenes, and lets the cast have fun acting acting out the two sides. Goro Inagaki is the biggest pleasure in the film, performance wise. Naritsugu is a villain for the ages, and Inagaki inspires hatred in not only the characters, but also the audience. The movie is spent wanting to see this monster dispatched, but enjoying every menacing moment he's on screen.

Takashi Miike is known for a few things, the least of which is his prolific body of work. His filmography runs the gamut - everything from Westers (Sukiyaki Western Django) to teen horror movies (One Missed Call) to surrealist domestic comedy (Visitor Q) to a horror musical (Happiness of the Katakuris). With each genre, Miike has displayed a penchant for the bizarre, and a compulsion to portray the odd and grotesque in boundary pushing ways (see his 1999 horror film Audition). With 13 Assassins, however, Miike is more restrained, and the movie is all the better for it. While the director doesn't completely eschew everything odd from the film (Koyota may or may not be an immortal demon; the limbless girl is shot in agonizing detail), 13 Assassins is by far his most accessible and entertaining film.

Most of that entertainment comes from the last forty or so minutes of the movie. I promised myself I wouldn't just fill this paragraph with hyperbole, but I'll be darned if 13 Assassins doesn't have one of the best extended action climaxes I've ever seen in a film. When Lord Naritsugu arrives in a town renovated by the samurai to be one giant booby trap, the film escalates into a gigantic fight between our heroes, who number a baker's dozen, and two-hundred of Naritsugu's men. As each of the assassins has spirit enough to fight until the end, they shed much blood through a slice of the sword, buildings rigged to explode, spiked barricades, and flaming bulls (yes, this movie has flaming bulls). Throughout the battle scene, Miike keeps control of the action with well shot choreography, establishing geography, and makings sure the momentum is kept by giving out heroes different things to do. It's amazing work, and there isn't one American action director who couldn't learn a thing or two by watching the scene.

Overall, 13 Assassins is an overly impressive, technically marvelous, yet simple piece of work. It's Takashi Miike's best film so far, and stands alongside the best samurai films (Seven Samurai included) of all time. It's damn near perfect.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Greetings all! Mark here. This week we have a special guest blogger Erin G, who has done us a favor and reviewed the Chris Evans starring Captain America: The First Avenger for us! Her thoughts are below. Enjoy!

Captain America: The First Avenger

The last piece needed before we can get to The Avengers.
The superhero story many have been waiting for, begins with the hero to be, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), trying to enlist in the army for about the fifth time. Although his large array of medical problems has prevented him from being one of the chosen every time. Finally, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) discovers Rogers and drafts him into the army to be the subject of his experiment. The experiment that will make him Captain America.

 Negative things:
Cheesy to the max. A few of the lines were almost painful to sit through. When asked why he hasn’t danced with a woman, a puny Steve Rogers replies, “I’m just waiting for the right partner.” Which is later repeated by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) after Captain America’s first rescue mission. One or two of these moments is to be expected. However they are frequent throughout the movie. Enough to make any writer grit their teeth against an outburst.

The cheese would also be more edible if the action promised by the previews hadn’t started an hour and ten minutes into the movie. When it finally did start it was amazing (more on that later) but there wasn’t enough. No giant battles that lasted for the appropriate amount of time, just snippets of Rogers throwing his shield and what not. Even the ending battle scene between, villain Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving and the hero was short lived.

Positive flipside:
The action was amazing! There wasn’t nearly enough and it started way too late, but it was very enjoyable. The shield throwing was seriously cool and the fight scenes though brief had everyone hoping it would last so we could actually enjoy some more of the movie. It was almost as though they wanted the film to be more character driven so they didn’t want to overdue do the action. If they had cut out some of the corny blah and put a little more action in its place they could have had a delightful blend of character/action at the wheel.


Character death! Woohoo! It was a rare moment of non cheese, but there is one heart wrenching moment when Captain America’s best friend, James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan), falls to his death. You think Steve is going to reach out and grab hold of him just in time, but no.

It isn’t something one cheers for but it’s something one, in a morbid fashion, hopes for. An audience isn’t there to be cheery through an entire movie. They want to be moved. Character deaths tend to be just the ticket in moving an audience to feel. Perhaps the writers were trying to balance all of their corny lines with one good kick to the stomach. It didn’t work but it was still a good low for the Captain.

**End Spoilers**

In most movies one can expect a character to change once they gain power. With the power comes the giant pride, and then after that comes the fall. In the fall they realize how they must use their power for good, and from this the hero is shaped. Not with Captain America. In a pleasant twist of the normal arc, Steve Rogers remains the same guy once he is powered up. He goes on a stint of putting on shows for children (where he earns his famous moniker), but it’s only because he’s following the orders of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones).

In the end the character is a brave man who only worries about fighting for what he believes in rather than dwelling on his own abilities to actually do the fighting.

Acting negatives and postives:

The cast in general was alright. With the exception of Tommy Lee Jones who outshined everyone by far. The moments Tommy got the screen were definitely the best moments acting wise.
Evans’ performance as the title character was good enough. The only thing to be mentioned is the beginning with the CGI body. Really weird. I suppose the restrictions put on an actor through that process could have an effect on the role but since I’ve never experienced that I’m only guessing. He did much better once they put him back to his normal body type.

Red Skull was not hate-able. Dislikable but no one was gripping their seat in anticipation of his death. Hugo Weaving was believable he just didn’t deliver a performance worthy of audience hatred. That’s really all that can be said.

Dominic Cooper is another lukewarm actor. He was no Tony Stark, which is what the audience was expecting. While it was neat to see the founder of Stark Industries, it could be very difficult to bring someone to play Robert Downey Jr.’s father. He’s an amazing actor who plays a really fun role. One would need to at least match his energy in order to play his ‘elder’. Cooper fell just short.

Going on the T.E.F.S. rating I’d give this film E and a quarter. It droned on too long before getting to the action. While the action was sweet there just wasn’t enough of it to earn the film an F. Then there was the cast made up of actors who didn’t suck but didn’t make me want to see them again.
They should have had Joss Whedon write and direct all of the marvel movies. Captain America  wouldn’t have gone this way, and Spiderman and The Hulk wouldn’t have needed reboots. At least there’s next summer to look forward to!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


reviewed by Mark Pezzula

Directed by David Yates

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

It doesn't matter if you're a fan of Harry Potter or not; with the final book in one of the most successful series of novels in literary history, J.K. Rowling unarguably nailed the ending of her story, which was first published fourteen years ago. While far from perfect, Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was pretty much everything a fan could ask for and then some. Despite a middle that drags like an ogre's belly, the seventh and last book of the series tied up loose ends, provided a satisfying conclusion for its characters, and dealt with themes of death and resurrection, redemption, loyalty, friendship, and forgiveness in a thoughtful and entertaining manner. The only question left after fans finished the book feeling fulfilled was this: would the last film in a series of movies just as successful as the books they followed stick its landing in the same way?

The answer is: yes, it does. With reservations, and a caveat that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 does NOT work as a stand-alone film, the final cinematic journey of Potter and pals provides folks who have followed this saga for the last ten years with a finale that makes one's commitment to the series feel worth the time and money put into it. While the film stumbles a bit when its toes first hit the landing pad, by the time the balls of its feet touch down all the shakiness has left its legs.

But first: the aforementioned caveat. The Harry Potter films haven't worked as stand alone pieces of cinema since at least The Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the series. That's when director David Yates came on board and was hired to finish what Chris Columbus started and Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell continued. Those coming in blind to Phoenix and each film thereafter would find the story almost impossible to follow. By that time you were either committed as a fan or not.

It may seem obvious that the second part in this two part film feel like a simple continuation of its predecessor - after all, The Lord of the Rings trilogy recently proved that audiences could handle a continuous story told over three films. But those movies each had three distinct acts, and while you can't watch one without feeling the effects of the others, each film supports itself. Deathly Hallows Part 2 has no beginning. In fact, I don't even know if it has a middle either. After starting off with literally the last scene of Part 1, Part 2 simply continues where the last one left off. At least The Two Towers and Return of the King feature opening scenes reminding the audience of the stakes and, at the same time, allow the viewer to find their footing in the story. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 simply begins like we never stopped watching the one before it. It's disorienting, and the first twenty minutes of the film struggles with an awkward pace. Once it finds its rhythm, though, and the audience gets their bearings, the film becomes engaging, thrilling, and moving, despite its lack of plot.

What little plot there is involves Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) searching for the remaining Horcruxes - trinkets or objects villain Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has injected pieces of his soul into. While the three of them journey into the heart of Hogwarts to find these objects, the rest of the school and the adults who run it are tasked with protecting their beloved institution from Voldemort and the Death Eaters - minions of the Dark Lord sworn to find Potter so their master can kill him.

By the very nature of being a Part 2, Deathly Hallows 2/2 is all pay-off. We witness what comes of Ron and Hermione's passive/aggressive flirting, what became of Dumbledore, and what was really going on with Professor Severus Snape. While the middle films in this series dealt with the hardships any normal student would go through (unrequited love, vicious rumors, stern authority figures), there's none of that here. The stakes are as high as they ever have been, and the lives of thousands of students are on the line. There are no school dances to argue over dates at. Harry doesn't struggle with an increasingly large ego. The only obstacle Harry faces in Deathly Hallows Part 2 is death. The death of his friends, his loved ones, and ultimately of himself.

It's thematically dark stuff, and director Yates ensures a sense of dread and finiteness hangs over the proceedings at all times. The first shot of the film (after the recap of Part 1's last scene) is of a tombstone, and there are some horrific moments of violence in the film (some against characters we have grown to care about).

As much death as there is in the film, Yates shoots most of it as it occurs in the background, or in the periphery of the frame. The battle of Hogwarts (which looks quite gorgeous from a technical standpoint, by the way) takes place around the journey of our three main characters, and they attempt to finish what they've started as they run through pockets of violence that claim the lives of their friends and family. In an odd choice, Yates doesn't dwell on the big deaths, sometimes showing  only glimpses of the bodies of fairly major characters. Where other directors would opt to squeeze tears from every fatality, Yates understands that the audience understands that these characters have paid the ultimate price to not only protect their friend, but to fight a cancerous evil. Their deaths are unwelcome, but honorable.

The effects of these deaths are felt in the performances of the three leads, who have never been better in the series. Daniel Radcliffe began these movies delivering stilted, unconvincing lines and has finished them as a legitimately great actor. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint don't get to do as much in Part 2 as they do in 1, but they still deliver great supporting work, with Grint ending up as the most improved performer over the past ten years.

As many issues as there are with the splitting of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts (I still believe it was unnecessary), there's no doubt that the past six months have seen a satisfying conclusion to what is the other great cinematic achievement of the last twenty years (the other, of course, being the Rings trilogy). It's a marvel that Warner Brothers was able to keep the same actors around for all eight of these films, recruited solid directors to helm them, and to make sure that, just as the books did, the films grow up with the audience. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 might not be a stand-alone film worthy of revisits by itself, but as a capper to this film series, it works like gangbusters. 

Monday, July 4, 2011


Directed by Michael Bay

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand

Let's get the positive out of the way first: the third Transformers film features the most spectacular destruction of an American city (with the most spectacular special effects) ever captured on film. The final hour of Dark of the Moon features awe-inspiring set-pieces and Industrial Light and Magic's most impressive CGI work in quite some time. Possibly ever. That being said, despite the scope of the catastrophe; despite the movie's unrelenting final reel; despite the fact that every single dollar spent on the film can be accounted for on-screen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon completely and utterly fails as an action movie on almost every level. It's not a career low for director Michael Bay (that would be it's ugly, mean-spirited, racist, misogynistic predecessor - Revenge of the Fallen, a movie that angered me so much after watching it I felt homicidal), but it's proof that just because the guy knows how to blow stuff up impressively doesn't mean he knows how to compose a great action scene. (Or no longer knows. His run from Bad Boys to Armageddon is actually quite good).

The ridiculous plot (or whatever it's called - it's really just a series of story points filmed to get to the money shots) begins as the film tells us that the real reason 'Murica went to the moon in 1969 was because an alien ship crash landed on it years previously. This ship contained some planet saving technology needed by the Autobots (the good guys, for the layman out there) to ensure a win against the Decepticons (the bad guys) in a long-engaged war.

Fast-forward to present day, where Summer's most annoying hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is out of college and trying to pimp himself out to various companies in the real world. He needs a job, but no one seems willing to hire him. No one seems willing to believe he's saved the world (two previous times!) either, even though he received a medal from the POTUS and was called on by the US government in the previous film to help them out. If it's one thing this movie features, it's a stupid human race. How do people not recognize Sam Witwicky? None of the characters (even his new girlfriend!) really believe he kept a race of alien robots from destroying the world - TWICE! - and in fact they mostly look down on him. I understand starting the character off at his lowest point, but it's an illogical thing to do considering the events of the last two films, which featured alien robot vs. alien robot action that was only prevented by the actions of Witwicky. .

Anyway, he ends up getting a job at some company run by John Malkovich (the first in a series of unfunny and unnecessary cameos, although Malkovich's is certainly the least offensive one from a lack-of-laughs per minute standpoint) and it's there that screw it. All you need to know is that at some point, Witwicky is recruited by the government again because...well...I don't know. He's known about the robots for the past four years in another movie and its sequel, I guess.

I know I know. "It's an action movie, the plot isn't supposed to make sense. And besides, we're not supposed to care about it anyway!", you're thinking. Stop it. You're not that stupid. Michael Bay thinks you're that stupid, but you're not. All movies need to have a plot that makes sense in some way or another. Even action movies. And talented directors (James Cameron, anyone?) know how to weave a great story in with great action. Michael Bay has consistently proven (with at least three films in a row, now) that he's either lost the ability to do so or he just doesn't care any more. Slick spectacle that costs 200 million dollars has replaced genuine filmmaking, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitive proof of that. It's the nadir (at least I hope it is) of Summer blockbusters.

Not only does not one minute of story work in the film, but there's also a plethora of unfunny, relentlessly ham-handed cameos in the film. Normally hilarious (in small doses) Ken Jeong shows up for an eye-stabbingly awful ten minutes, playing a coworker of Witwicky's who is in on this whole "alien takeover of Earth" thing the Decepticons are planning. If you think a small Asian man yelling "Deep Wang! Deep Wang!" at Shia LeBeouf while pulling his pants down is gut-bustingly hilarious, then this movie is for you. John Turturro returns as a bat-crap insane conspiracy theorist featured in an incredibly stupid one-on-one with Bill O'Reilly. Also back are Sam's mom and dad, played by Julie White and Kevin Dunn respectively, and while White doesn't have anything nearly as asinine to do as tripping on pot brownies like the last film, they're still the world's most annoying movie parents, and not in a "wow it's funny because it's true" way. If I had Sam Witwicky's parents, I would kill myself. And Alan Tudyk turns up for some reason as a gay German cyber-hacker of sorts. Again, not funny. Michael Bay knows how to blow stuff up. He does not know comedy.

Speaking of blowing stuff up - as previously mentioned, this film blows more stuff up and blows it up better than any film I think I've ever seen. Except it doesn't matter. The amazing pyrotechnics, the jaw-droppingly gargantuan size of the climactic battle, and the latest and greatest computer generated imagery don't mean one darn thing. Besides Bay not giving a crap about his characters (and, by extension, us not giving a crap either), he simply no longer cares about shooting a logical, geographically understandable action scene. Characters start in one place to confront an obstacle or a foe, overcome it, end up in another place, wash, rinse, repeat. There's no reason for why and how these characters do what they do - or at least no logical reason, anyway - they just do it, and in the process Bay throws some indiscernible group of robots at them to fire advanced weaponry at. Most of the time it's impossible to tell who's fighting who or why they're fighting. Bay fills the screen with lots of explosions and metal and screaming people, but that's it. It's mind-numbing, and it's all the complete antithesis of what makes a great action movie. Sure there are a few moments of absolute brilliance (a tower collapse uses both practical, Inception-like set work and some fantastic CG, and a sky-diving scene featuring base jumpers flying around the city is genuinely thrilling), but these moments are context-free and can't fully be enjoyed because they don't engage in being anything other than technically impressive.

During the last hour of Dark of the Moon I kept thinking back to James Cameron's Avatar, a film that also features state-of-the-art technology to depict a massive battle scene. Cameron, first and foremost, makes sure we care about the characters involved. However, he also makes sure to delineate sides - instead of robots who all have an excessive amount of unnecessary features (making them all look the same), we have the Na'vi, with their primitive weaponry and battle tactics, and the humans, whose machinery is practical and not overwhelming to the eye. Characters have motivations and reasons, we know where they are geographically and why they're there, and the action beats compliment the story. None of that is true in this film.

I could go on and on about how annoying Shia LeBeouf is in this film (but to be fair, he does play quite an unlikeable character) or how empty Rosie Huntington-Whitely is as Sam's girlfriend Carly (any Maxim Hometown Hottie has more depth in one glossy photo than Bay gives Carly in the entire running time of the film), but I've already wasted too much space on this film already. Folks, these Transformers movies aren't good. They're soulless, poorly constructed, downright stupid pieces of entertainment. You're better than them. You deserve better than them. No seriously, you do. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCraken

There is more emotional honesty about adolescence in ten minutes of Terrence Malick's new film The Tree of Life than in the entirety of JJ Abrams' most recent supposed nostalgia piece Super 8. While they are two wildly different movies, both explore the mysteries of adolescence and coming of age. Abrams film strives hard to appeal to the inner child in us all, but in the end fails (although just barely) because his young characters are only truly relatable to those of us who are in love with the art and magic of filmmaking. While this is great - and certainly recognizable (cool, the kids like to make movies and there's a Dawn of the Dead poster on the wall!) - to the movie geek in the audience, it's this specificity that keeps the experiences Super 8's cast from truly connecting on a larger and more meaningful level. The few times the film is successful in this regard, it's mainly due to the performances of the two lead actors more than the work of the screenplay or direction.

Malick's film succeeds where Abrams's doesn't because it's simply more earnest in it's endeavor. While Super 8 at times caters to a certain audience, making sure the kids are always doing something some folks in the audience may identify with, The Tree of Life is more concerned with relating universal childhood experiences and responses . While the former film does an admirable job of attempting that, only the latter truly evokes recognizable feelings and emotions.

The Tree of Life doesn't tell a straight narrative story rather than give glimpses of moments in time, usually with very little (or no) dialogue. It's standard Malick - he's been making films that operate this way since Days of Heaven, although never to this extreme. After a quick introduction to the family documented in the film (headed by patriarch Mr. O'Brien - played by Brad Pitt and his wife (Jessica Chastain)), the film suddenly begins to display a series of visually breathtaking images showing the beginning of life in the universe, from the big bang to the extinction of the dinosaurs. After this twenty minute segue, we see the birth of Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien's first son Jack. The film then spends it's main portion following the life of young Jack (a wonderful Hunter McCraken), focusing mainly on his transition into puberty. Jack butts heads with his stern but loving father, and falls in love with his doting mother. He fights with his two younger brothers, he plays with his friends. He learns the finality of life after witnessing his first death, and the cruelty of God after his father loses his job. He becomes rebellious and feels a first twinge of regret. Witnessing these times in Jack's life, we come to realize that the creation of the universe that we saw before is every bit as dramatic and wonderful as the birth and first dozen or so years of one's life. This comes into focus even more as the film jumps ahead to show older Jack (Sean Penn) a man reflecting on those years and coming to terms with how much they shaped who he is.

Throughout the film, Malick shoots with a handheld camera, capturing every confused flick of Jack's eyebrow, every frustrated twitch of the mouth. Many times, the film seems to wander int a scene where something is about to happen, then cuts out. Very rarely does Malick stop to explain something or give a few minutes for the narrative to move forward in any recognizable way. It can be a frustrating experience for some viewers (the film jumps around chronologically as well), but it's Malick's statement (a perhaps obvious one) that adolescence (and life, to be completely honest) is recalled only in fragments. It's the details in the periphery of the experiences one seems to recall more than the experience itself. It's a color, a shape, a movement, a look on someone's face. Malick is is more concerned with creating moods and textures, evoking feelings, and loosely tying together themes than he is of giving a traditional throughline to the film.

If there's one reason to see The Tree of Life it's this: it's arguably the most visually breathtaking film I've ever seen. The effects detailing the big bang and beginnings of life on Earth are spectacular and gorgeous, and while the CG dinosaurs aren't quite rendered to perfection, the micro-photography (showing the division of cells and the fetus of some early Archean-era creature) is stellar, and combined with the grandiose celestial imagery of the legendary Douglas Trumbell (who also worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey - a film that I believe is very much a companion piece to The Tree of Life) makes for a jaw-dropping experience. If anything, The Tree of Life is a showcase for old-school special effects and proof that imagery created by computers is no match for the power of tangible, in camera effects work.

As magnificent as it is, though, The Tree of Life, perhaps because of it's unconventionality and ambitiousness, is not without its faults. The scenes with Penn - cut into the film mostly as book-ends - stick out in particular. I believe I understand their meaning, as previously mentioned, however, old Jack is given nothing to do but stumble around his office building dazed. And when he's not stumbling around his office dazed, he's wandering through the desert just as dazed. Penn is given even less dialogue than the other actors, and I don't think Malick ties these portions of the film in successfully with the hour and a half or so in between.

Minor quibbles aside, I don't think there will be another film this year filled with so many questions about life but ultimately joyous about being able to live it. The Tree of Life is an amazing emotional experience for those willing to endure it's sometimes ponderous pace and meandering narrative. It's demanding, yes, but fulfilling and (although I hate to use the word) profound. One might be sick of Malick and his penchant for whispers and long takes of nature, but never has an existential film like this felt so warm and inviting.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Directed by David Michod

Starring James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver

In both his narrative (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) and documentary (Grizzly Man) features revolving around nature, Werner Herzog presents the axiom that nature is cold, cruel, and incapable of emotion. As animals aren't sentient, they care not about such things as empathy and compassion, they only seek to perpetuate the survival of their species. Broken down even further, every family in each species seeks simply to fight for the survival of the clan. Outsiders are shunned, and if a member of the clan is wronged or a life in the clan ended, the head will do everything in his or her power to protect the rest.

Taking this general rule of wildlife on planet Earth and applying it to a family of Aussie thieves, first time feature filmmaker David Michod has crafted Animal Kingdom, one of the best crime dramas in recent memory, and a film that's incredibly intense, tight, and emotionally involving. There are parts of Animal Kingdom that will be very recognizable to anyone who has seen any of the many hundreds of crime-family centered films of the past few decades, but the whole of the movie adds up to something not quite seen before.

After his mother overdoses on heroin, stoic teenager Joshua (James Frecheville) contacts the only family he knows of: his grandmother Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver). It's been years since grandson and gram have seen each other, but she welcomes him into a side of the family he barely knows with a aspartame smile and open arms ready to pull him in and suffocate him, should he get out of line. Arriving at her house, Josh is reintroduced to his uncles, all criminals specializing in stealing things with weapons: Barry (Joel Edgerton) is the logical, strong-willed glue that keeps the brothers in line; Darren (Luke Ford) is the sensitive, unsure one; Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) is the trigger-happy loose canon; finally, there's Andrew (Ben Mendolsohn), the semi-psychotic - scratch that - fully psychotic older brother, on the run from Melbourne's Armed Robbery police squad.

It's these early scenes in which Animal Kingdom seems poised to be just another by the numbers crime film. With the introduction of Craig - a character who does such cliched things as light up a cigarette in a non-smoking diner just to piss off the wait staff - I assumed I'd be able to predict every single beat the movie was going to hit. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The main action in Animal Kingdom kicks off when the aforementioned Armed Robbery squad, tired of failing to capture the wanted Andrew and suffering from budget cuts to the department, take matters into their own hands and decide to break up the family by taking out one of its members. This has the desired effect, as the remaining members of the Cody family exact revenge on the police force, and end up in the arms of the law with only Joshua standing between them and years behind prison bars.

Michod has chosen to shoot Animal Kingdom with that oft-used gritty, hand-held look. However, Animal Kingdom doesn't have the documentary feel of, say the recent Gomorrah. Instead, Michod and his cinematographer, Adam Arkapaw, have lit the film classically, giving it a very cinematic feel. Michod has made the right choice by not shooting the film as in-your-face and cinema-verite as others may have. Animal Kingdom knows it's a fictional drama, and one that intends to turn screws and tighten your chest with each passing minute.

And that it does, very, very well. Michod executes the film with a precision not usually seen in first time feature-film directors. By tweaking our expectations with every other scene, Michod ensures that we become fully involved in the drama taking place throughout Animal Kingdom. Sure there are recognizable and familiar aspects to almost every minute of the film, but the director has such a sure-handed way of playing with these aspects that we're never quite sure what's going to happen, and by the time we realize Josh's life is really in complete and utter danger, we feel just as scared as he does.

Of course, Michod gets quite a bit of help making sure things stay unpredictable with a stellar cast. Josh is, at his core, an annoyingly non-verbal weakling. He's the kind of kid you wish would become either enraged to the point of ridiculousness about something or completely over-joyed with it, no matter what it was, instead of just standing there, shoulders hunched, mute. As ingratiating as it would be to spend time with this person in real life, though, James Frecheville's performance is interesting to watch as the movie unfolds. Josh internalizes his emotions, and Frecheville is surprisingly good at showing his character's changes in little ways through facial expressions and eye movements.

Joel Edgerton as well gives quite a great performance as Barry. We're told that Barry is a bad-ass but never actually see it - that's okay, though, because Edgerton makes us believe it's so. There's an intensity behind his eyes and a confidence in his strut that exudes authority. But he's also warm and surprisingly kind. A man's man if there ever was one, Barry is the father you don't want to disappoint - not because he would knock you out with one left hook to the face (although he could), but because he would shame you with one look and a few admonishing words. Edgerton will be seen in the upcoming Warrior

Impressing the most, though, are Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendohlson. Weaver was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress award at this year's Academy Awards, and by all means she deserved it (the nomination, if not the award). Quite possibly the most dangerous person in the film, Janine comes across as the grandma you wish you had one moment, and the person you least want to be related to the next. And the attitude is changed with only a slight change of voice and a raise of an eyebrow. She's super-sweet and completely and utterly venomous.

Mendohlson almost single-handedly walks away with the film. At first coming across as slightly neurotic and shifty, Andrew evolves into a complete and total psycho by the end of the film. Not the kind of psycho that runs around stabbing nude girls in the shower, but the kind of guy who sends chills up your spine with just a look. It's a performance that makes a viewer antsy whenever the character is onscreen. Creepy and shockingly intense, Mendelsohn presents Andrew as an un-empathetic lunatic. It's great work.

I had a few issues with the way Animal Kingdom handles its third act - for all the complaining I do about films that need to be shorter, this one could benefit by actually being fifteen to twenty minutes longer. Some more time with Guy Pearce as a police detective would have been nice, and the film feels as if it's rushing towards the end just to end at a certain point in the film.

That nitpick aside, Animal Kingdom is a wonderful, engaging movie. Intense to the point of being cathartic (when the film ends it feels as if a load is being lifted off of your chest), it's a great first feature-length film from a very promising director.

NOTE: The trailer below is the only time Air Supply will ever be cool Ever.

Monday, May 23, 2011


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Jee-woon Kim

Starring Min-sik Choi, Byung-hun Lee

Contrary to the laws or society is built on - that justice should be carried out by those with the authority to do so and that revenge exacted by those directly affected by a criminal's actions is frowned upon - we live in a culture that believes in the "eye for an eye" adage more than we think we do. Ask any parent what they would do should their child be molested by someone and they would most likely tell you they want unspeakable things to happen to the perpetrator. Ask a husband what they would do should their pregnant wife be chopped into bits by the most reprehensible human being imaginable and he would most likely go one for hours about the numerous and sickeningly creative ways to pay the monster back.

Believing in "eye for an eye" and actually practicing it are, obviously, two different things. Most folks, when pressed, wouldn't be able to personally act in a vengeful manner, no matter how disgusting the crime. We would like to think all criminals (and especially the heinous ones) are Evil and, therefore, impervious to pain and suffering. Criminals, though, (even the heinous ones) are, in fact, human, and most folks don't tend to like to see other humans suffer, even if that other human has committed crimes that would keep Henry Lee Lucas up at night.

I Saw the Devil, directed by Jee-Woon Kim, takes on the subject of vengeance and displays, with stunningly violent clarity, that revenge is a dish best not served at all. And when it is served, says the film, it's a meal that poisons not only those who serve and consume it, but those who aren't even in the restaurant.

Min-sik Choi (the Korean Daniel Day Lewis) is Kyung-chul, a serial killer who has no M.O. other than making sure his victims are dead. "Cold blooded" is a kind term for Kyung-chul, whose empathy gap is wider than the Grand Canyon, and who treats even people trying to help him with contempt and hatred. As the film opens, we find Kyung-chul viciously beating and murdering a young woman stranded on the side of a snowy Korean road. Believing he's gotten away with it scot-free, Kyung goes back to his day job - driving around school children.

Meanwhile, Kim Soo-hyeon (played by Byung hun-Lee) is the husband of the young murdered woman, and he has vowed to his dead wife that the killer will feel the same pain she has. Using his contacts in a secret agency (the name and purpose of which is left unclear - it's obvious, though, Kim Soo-hyeon is a pretty bad ass trained assassin), he hunts down Kyung-chul to begin a game of cat and mouse with the deviant. Becoming just as sadistic as the killer, Kim tortures Kyung-chul only to let him go, capturing him again and again, torturing and releasing every time.

If I Saw the Devil sounds violent and disturbing, that is because it is. Director Jee-woon Kim lets the camera linger on head-beatings, a cheek piercing, an Achille's heel slicing, stabbings, and other vicious acts. But this isn't a Hostel or another American "torture-porn" film, where the audience roots for the main characters to be killed in all sorts of fun and creative ways. I Saw the Devil pushes the audience to actively want the mayhem to stop. As gorgeously shot and well choreographed as the movie is (and it is indeed beautiful, with tense set-pieces that bring to mind De Palma, Hitchcock, and Tarantino), it's not a *fun* movie to watch in the least. Imagine if the intensity of the Mr. Blonde/cop-torture scene in Reservoir Dogs lasted two and a half hours, and you'd have a good idea of what it feels like to watch I Saw the Devil.

As fun as it isn't, there are many reason to see this film, in addition to the practically perfect direction and cinematography. The two lead performances being at the top of the list. I referred to Min-sik Choi as the Korean Daniel Day Lewis before, and that's not hyperbole. Most American audience know Choi from the film Oldboy, in which he played the lead character Oh Dae-su, a drunk, loser of a man seeking revenge after being kidnapped and locked in a room for fifteen years. His work as Kyung-chul is iconic. With slicked back hair and a slight pudge, Kyung-chul brings to mind Robert De Niro's portrayal of Max Cady in Cape Fear, although without the ability to be halfway charming. Kyung is completely and utterly socially inept. Every single person he comes into contact with understands immediately that this person is off, perhaps even dangerous. Choi plays Kyung-chul as if he's the most evil person to have ever lived, and he does it while still managing to make us feel slightly sorry for him during the most brutal scenes. It's great work.

Not to be outdone, Byung-hun Lee is magnificent as the shattered husband. Kim Soo-hyeon is always on the verge of emotionally breaking down for the first third of the film, and director Jee-woon wisely lets his actor's face stay in front of the camera for long stretches of time to convey just how broken this man has become. It's a powerful performance, and one that gives the film a deeply emotional and moving layer that was quite unexpected.

The other star of the flick is the director himself. The film veers from terror, to deep heartbreak, so shocking violence, to dark comedy, then pinballs between all of these throughout its excessive running time. While never forgetting that the subject matter is deeply serious, Jee-woon always remembers that film needs to entertain as well, and he keeps remarkably accomplished control over all of the emotional beats the film hits. The film is stylish, to be sure, but the director balances the in-your-face wow moments with old-fashioned tension building. (A stabbing scene in a taxi cab, for instance, ends with a wildly stylized spinning camera, but builds up to the shot with careful editing, designed to up intensity.)

For a film that deals with such violence, depravity, and serious subject matter, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed I Saw the Devil. It's a taxing film, and one that left me completely drained after I viewed it. It's a film that whole-heartedly supports structured justice, and one that frowns upon individual retribution. Nothing good comes of Kim Soo-hyeon's revenge. I Saw the Devil is ultimately a sad and distressing film, but it's one that will force you to look at where you stand on vengeance, and may (nay, SHOULD) change your mind about it.

Monday, May 2, 2011


review by Gina Muscato

Starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, John Krasinski

Directed by Luke Greenfield

How do you choose between the love of your life and your best friend since childhood?

In the movie, Something Borrowed, unhappily single Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) is faced with this dilemma after she drinks too much at her 30th birthday party and winds up in bed with Dex (Colin Egglesfield), her crush from law school who just happens to be engaged to her BFF Darcy (Kate Hudson).

Although Rachel feels guilty and initially commits to putting the one-night affair behind her, she discovers that she has genuine feelings for Dex. In fact, he just could be the love of her life. As Darcy’s wedding nears, Rachel is caught between loyalties to her best friend and to her heart. A consummate good girl and generous friend, Rachel has always allowed Darcy to “win” … but should she let her win Dex too?

Meanwhile, Ethan (John Krasinski), Rachel's constant confidante, is busy evading the advances of Darcy's love-struck friend Claire (Ashley Williams), particularly during the group’s weekend escape to the Hamptons. The trips also provide chances for the charming Marcus (Steve Howey) to lust after Rachel -- as well as any and every other women he fancies.

The movie is based on the chick lit novel, of the same title, by author Emily Giffin. Without the benefit of having read the book, I don’t know if there are glaring differences between the two, though there usually are one or two. Whether the differences are beneficial or detrimental to the movie, you’ll have to be the judge.

Either way, this story is supposed to make audiences think about right and wrong, and how the lines between the two can be blurry. But during the course of the movie, we find out that Darcy herself has made some serious mistakes in her own relationship with Dex. Therefore, the lines aren’t as blurry as you might think – or as intended.

The movie’s main flaw is that it’s too long. I found myself irritated that Rachel, and even Dex for that matter, lacked the chutzpa to make a decision about the relationship. It seemed as if a resolution would never come. Finally it did, but not before making the audience restless and the film too long. 

Goodwin is very well cast in the role of the hard-working Rachel, who is often in the shadow of flashy, sometimes selfish Darcy. The usually-solid Hudson played Darcy well enough, though her performance was mired by having to portray such a plastic character. Darcy was always drunk and completely self-absorbed – so much so that you really wonder why Dex hadn’t left her long ago.
Krasinski is perfectly cast as Ethan, who provides some much-needed comic relief, particular during one of the movie’s funniest scenes, in which the characters play badminton on the beach and reveal secrets with every point scored. Williams also provides some comedy as Claire, though her over-the-top personality was almost too much, nearly making her more annoying than funny.

Bottom line: Wait for this movie on Netflix or Movies on Demand. It’s not worth the $10 to see it (thankfully, I had free screening passes). And under no circumstance should boyfriends or husbands be forced to watch it with you. This one is for girls’ night only.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Awesome guests you won't want to miss!

The Everything Film Show has some really fabulous guests planned for its listeners in the weeks ahead. Just look who will be swinging by to chat with the crew!

  • 4/21 - Producer, actor, and director Michael Gleissner will be joining the show to discuss his new film "Deep Gold 3D", which will have been released just a couple days prior in Los Angeles, with expansion to other select theaters the day just after the show. He is also a partner with Bigfoot Studios and oversees operations of the International Academy of Film and Television, which he founded.

  • 4/28 - Writer, director, and producer Eduardo Sanchez joins the show for the 100th episode celebration! Most of us got to learn of his talent through "The Blair Witch Project." Tune in to learn what future dark visions he has in store...

  • 5/05 - Matthew J. Evans is a fresh-faced actor who will appear alongside celebrities in the Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, and Jason Segel-fronted film "Bad Teacher" coming out this June. He is also is an award-winning filmmaker whose short film “Poetic Justice Project” debuted just days ago at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

  • 5/12 - You've most recently seen the following actress in the hit television series "Smallville," but there is nothing small about the prospects for award-winning actor Allison Mack. Acting since she was four and having racked up hundreds of television episodes and other projects, there is no telling where the future will take her.

As you probably know, The Everything Film Show airs live every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PST/10:30 p.m. EST. We hope that you will join us!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett

Review by Mark Pezzula

Ladies and gentlemen, director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) has thrown down the gauntlet. He's set the bar. High. "Make a better movie than this," he's saying. By "this" he means his new film, Hanna. And with Hanna he has indeed made the best film so far of this, admittedly, young year. As fresh as this year is, however, I'm confident when I proclaim that Hanna will be greatly remembered by 2011's end. A lusciously photographed chase movie, Hanna is more than an arty-European take on the Bourne franchise. It's a feral fairy-tale that marries primal action with technological movie wizardry to create a propulsive and singular cinematic experience.

When Hanna opens, we're in the bleak tundra of Finland, where a little girl kills and guts a deer before engaging in a bout of fisticuffs with a bearded man we come to find is her father. Her father has been training her, if not be as deadly with her hands as she is with a pistol, to survive in the most unforgiving conditions using a combination of honed intellect, razor sharp wit, and expertly-trained martial-arts skills. This is Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and Erik (Eric Bana). And they have been living this way almost since Hanna was born.

"I'm ready", Hanna says one day, and by the next she's flipping a switch her father tells her will bring a woman named Marissa, who wants nothing but to kill Hanna, to their isolated cabin, and won't stop until that happens. With the switch flipped, Erik leaves Hanna to her own devices against Marissa and her minions (really CIA and international operatives), with the plan being that Hanna will meet her father in Berlin, Germany.

That's the basic gist of Hanna, which is carried by a very simple premise. Girl trained to be deadly is let loose in society and attempts to reconnect with her father while being chased by equally (well, maybe not) deadly international undercover agents . It's a paltry plot, and one that is buffered with a fuzzy back-story regarding Marissa's (Cate Blanchett) relationship to Erik and his daughter, but it's a plot that relies on the tropes of fairy-tales and legends as opposed to the rigid structure of the modern movie narrative. Hanna is the young innocent girl lost in the forest, and Marissa is the Wretched Witch of the West, bent on claiming the innocent girl for herself.

That Hanna isn't structurally sound from a screenwriting perspective and is, in fact, hazy regarding the reasons Marissa is so intent on finding Hanna is, I believe, deliberate. Wright has filled his film with overt fairy-tale imagery. Fairy-tales are meant to be interpreted and re-interpreted by different generations and cultures. Whether this was the original intent of the writers or not is unclear. Perhaps it's simply that Wright left much of Seth Lochhead and David Farr's script on the cutting room floor. Whichever explanation, though, takes nothing away from the exhilarating experience of Hanna.

Stylized to an extreme, Wright has crafted a Bourne film filtered through the lens of European expressionism. Utilizing the same fight choreographer as Paul Greengrass used for the last two Bourne films, Wright wisely minimizes the use of the exhausted shaky-cam aesthetic and instead finds a balance between that and fluidly shot fight sequences/chases. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Wright has invented a new kind of action movie, but Hanna certainly strives to be different in a genre replete with boring, stale set-pieces (see: Battle: Los Angeles. A film with a billion more bullets than Hanna, but not 1/100th of this film's intense excitement). And with the film set to a score by The Chemical Brothers, Hanna's set-pieces are primed and visceral, alive and breathtaking.

The film, though, is certainly not wall to wall action. Wright wisely let's Hanna breathe (maybe a little too much so), but keeps the lulls in violence every bit as alive and fresh as gun play. This is especially true when Hanna is tagging along with a young British girl named Sophie and her family through Morocco. After an encounter with the girl (Jessica Barden in an almost scene stealing performance) in what would probably be a one-and-done scene in an American film, Hanna is accepted into their family and spends much of the film experiencing things normal girls Hanna's age would experience - close friendship, boys, familial bickering. It's not brand new ground Wright is treading cinematically here, but it feels genuine, especially given Alwin Kuchler's cinematography and Ronan's work as the guarded but infinitely curious (but not wide-eyed) Hanna.

It's a performance, by the way, that should garner awards attention come ten months from now. It's rare where I see a role so totally owned that I cannot imagine it belonging to anyone else. Hanna is such a role for Saoirse Ronan. I simply cannot think of another young actress able to project the icy glance of a trained killer one moment and then the curiosity of an innocent child the next. Ronan is so good that she out-acts seasoned actors Blanchett and Bana. While both are very, very good in their respective roles, neither come close to the heights Ronan reaches here.

The other stand-out performance in the film is given by Tom Hollander, probably most recognizable in the states for his recurring role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Here he plays a quirky, transgender loving interrogator hired by Marissa to find Hanna. Dressed in a track suit with a blonde parted mop constantly flopping in his face, Hollander's character Isaac appears quite benign at first. As soon as he begins to whistle a nursery-rhyme-esque melody, however, he becomes a sinister presence throughout the film. It's a weird yet memorable character, and Hollander's portrayal is practically iconic.

Despite being a tad unpolished narratively, Hanna ends up being an insanely satisfying cinematic experience. It offers more than just mindless action and popcorn thrills. It's a beautifully intense and (if you look hard enough) layered film. In an system hemorrhaging unoriginal remakes, reboots, retries, retakes, sequels, and adaptations into the market, Hanna is a like a canister full of nitrous oxide into your lungs.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Starring Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

I don't know how many people realize it, but right now is a great time to be a fan of science-fiction films. Director Neill Blomkamp made hardcore sci-fi geeks, the casual movie goer, critics, AND Academy Award members sit-up straight and take notice with his 2009 film District 9. Likewise, filmmaker Duncan Jones had a lot of success (although on a much smaller scale) with the film Moon, one of the best genre films of the last decade. Now, the creator, writer, director, and visual effects artist Gareth Edwards joins the ranks of these two virtuosos, and positions himself as one of the most exciting new filmmakers to come along in quite sometime, as his film Monsters demonstrates him to be quite a talent. 

Despite the film's marketing as a full-scale alien invasion film, Monsters is actually quite small and, dare I say it, more of a drama. That's not to say that Godzilla fans won't get their gigantic beast fix, but, on a budget of less than one million dollars (and without the clout of Oscar winning director Peter Jackson behind it, like District 9 had), Monsters is forced to focus more on its characters than on the creatures promised by its title. Although its marketing positions it as an epic creature film, it's actually quite small, and, I believe, all the better for it.

Monsters begins six years after an alien invasion, when the alien creatures are part of every day life for the people who live on the Mexican-American border. While the area (known as the "Infected Zone") has been destroyed by battles with the gigantic, HP Lovecraft inspired beings, it's still sparsely populated, and run by outlaws and gangs who make their money by transporting people across the border, from Mexico into America.

Two of these people being transported are Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer for an unnamed American magazine, and Samantha (Whitney Able). Andrew has been sent to Mexico on an assignment to get footage for said magazine, only to end up playing babysitter when Sam's father (also Andrew's boss) asks him to accompany his daughter (who was injured in Mexico) back to America. Soon, Andrew and Sam are trying to barter with corrupt Mexican officials who won't allow them to travel without dispensing major cash, getting drunk on tequila together right outside the Infected Zone, and falling in love with each other while trying not to get eaten by invaders from another world.

Despite a terrifically shot and heart-pounding opening scene, Monsters spends a lot of time observing Andrew and Sam slowly becoming enamored with each other. Andrew initially turns down his boss's instructions to get Sam back to the border safely and then, for reasons unexplained by the movie (I can only guess it's because, well, Sam's smokin' hot), changes his mind. He's hostile towards her at first (she is, after all, getting in his way of taking a photo of either a live creature or a dead child), and she towards him (he is, pretty much, a prick). But, as they say, danger has a way of tightening the strings of attraction, and danger permeates the world in which these two characters exist.

It's a world that, in spite of it's low budget, director Gareth Edwards builds with care and attention to detail. From news reports of creature sightings on a television in the background of a scene, to kids playing with gas masks, to signs and graffiti marking danger zones, Monsters takes atmosphere and setting very seriously, and not once will you not believe that this story is taking place in a world changed by disastrous events in much the same way it was by 9/11. Filmed documentary style, Edwards knows how to fill a frame with interesting compositions, and much of the film is very beautifully shot, even when taking in disturbing subject matter. The look of the film is comparable to an indie art-house film, and while it may seem strange to mix "art-house" with "science-fiction", Edwards makes it work for pretty much the entire film.

What doesn't work for the entire film, unfortunately (unfortunately, but not so much so that it damns the film completely), is the screenplay. Characters make odd decisions that don't quite make sense, even in context, and it appears whole scenes that may explain character motivation are missing. For instance - at one point Andrew is on the phone speaking with his son, which he hides from Sam (who, at this point in the movie, he just wants to have a hot night in the sack with). A few scenes later, however, they're having a conversation about his son as if Andrew's been candid about the situation for the whole film. I'm not sure if this was an oversight during the writing of the script or if, during the editing process, a scene was excised that would explain that jump in the narrative, but either way it makes for a disjointed and perplexing experience.

Also disjointed are the performances by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. She fares much better than he does throughout the entire film, but her job as Sam is still uneven and, at times, just plain terrible. Scoot, while able to perpetrate a douchebag with a camera, struggles to keep his performance from seeming like anything other than an audition. The chemistry between the two leads is actually quite good, and there are times where they both nail emotional beats, however there are certainly much stronger actors out there who could have improved this aspect of the film immensely.

The CG effects in Monsters, for the most part, are wonderful. They are, of course, aided by the fact that the creatures only expose themselves at night, and therefore any flaws in the F/X can be covered up by shading easily. That is in no way a knock to the visual effects work done by Mr. Edwards, however. Apparently created with his home computer using consumer-grade Adobe software, the shots involving the aliens look mostly stunning, and the creature design is visually intriguing. The only shaky effects work comes towards the very end, when it's obvious that a large-scare effects house (such as WETA) wasn't involved in the making of the film. That's a nit-picky complaint, though, for a film so ambitiously created and executed on such a small scale.

Speaking of the ending - I'll avoid spoilers, but I was mighty impressed with how Monsters handles it's climax and resolution. It sets up a battle between monsters and military - and then takes a completely different turn into territory I don't think any alien film has ever gone to. I was surprised at the direction the film goes in, and pleasantly at that.

Monsters may disappoint those hardcore sci-fi fans looking for wall to wall battles and creature action. However, those looking for an ambitious, interesting, well paced, and superbly shot art-film that takes place inside the plot of a B-movie, look no further.

Monday, February 28, 2011


The 83rd Academy Awards have come and gone. As young starlets party into the night, generating sensational TMZ footage for tomorrow, I take this time to reflect. ABC extended their contract so that they will have exclusive broadcasting rights through the year 2014. Did they make a mistake? There is little to describe this night as anything other than ho-hum. Fashionistas will be gushing for weeks over the designs worn to the red carpet, but there was nothing in the way of shocking like the infamous swan dress, or even stunning like Sandra Bullock's shimmering gown last year with its mile long slit. The awards were doled out in a mind numbingly predictable way. The biggest surprise of the night for me was short animated film Day & Night being beat out by The Lost Thing. Now, true, the awards are meant to honor the best- but where's the upset? The drama? The scandal? For a room full of entertainers, tonight was disturbingly dull. The only moment that is worth mentioning is Melissa Leo's unthinking F-Bomb (the first in Oscar history) for which she immediately apologized back stage. So who were we given to package this snooze fest in a swallowable pill?

The hosts. By all accounts this should have worked. Anne Hathaway and James Franco are young, hip, talented actors both with theatrical backgrounds. Why didn't it work? In the past, the show has shined with unexpected quips from its comedic hosts. Tonight, any funny jabs were scripted and lost their bite before they even passed through those glossy pink lips. The glossy pink lips of James Franco of course, who appeared in a Marilyn Monroe inspired pink dress. Yep, I think the quarterback at my highschool pulled the same prank at Homecoming 6 years ago. The saddest thing is, I wanted to like them. Everyone wanted to like them. They're likeable people, cute and sweet enough to be Mouseketeers. Unfortunately the same can be said about the majority of presenters and winners. The hosts, not from a valient act of trying, failed to fill the stage. Though still America's sweethearts, this pair will not be asked to host again.

Overall, I think Hollywood needs to rethink their Awards Show. Pull the stick out of Oscar's butt and liven things up a bit. Put on a show! Actors are the most emotional people on the face of the planet, but you've never seen stony faced apathy until you see reaction shots after a winner is announced. Sure, you can honor a job well done, but unless you're in the mood to actually entertain us, don't bother televising.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The nominees for Best Picture are:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
What a difference a few months and some hardcore Oscar campaigning makes. Back in October it seemed even moot to have an Academy Awards ceremony this year. "Why pretend there's a competition when The Social Network is going to LITERALLY win every single category?", went the prevailing thought. Not only was a movie that featured Facebook as its backdrop good, it was really, really, REALLY good. Perhaps the shock of this spun the Oscar talk for the film out of control, or perhaps people realized that it's simply not possible for one film to sweep the entire Academy Awards. Most likely it was a combination of those reasons and, also, the realization that 2010 actually produced a lot of really great films and, while The Social Network is one of them, it does face some pretty stiff competition.
The stiffest, of course, being the much ballyhooed and really British The King's Speech. Four months ago an Oscar upset would have been Tom Hooper's story of a stammering son of sovereign toppling David Fincher's tale of a twisted tough-tongued twerp. It appears, now, that the upset would be opposite.
Not as much of an upset, however, should any of the other eight films in the running for the Academy's most prestigious award come away with the honor. There is little chance of that happening, I think, for the following reasons:
Toy Story 3 is automatically out of the running, as it has the greatest chance of seizing the Best Animated Feature Film award and the Academy doesn't take animated films seriously anyway (see: the creation of a Best Animated Feature Film category in the first place).
Inception, while smarter (much smarter) than your average summer blockbuster is still, in the eyes of the Academy, just a summer blockbuster. Had the category only included five nominees (as it did just two years ago and for many years before that), Christopher Nolan's flick wouldn't even have been considered for the award. The Best Picture category was expanded precisely so that films like Inception (movies that play well with mainstream audiences, internet movie geeks, and critics alike) could be included, thereby assigning some credibility to the Academy in the eyes of these folks and also guaranteeing a larger audience than years past.
The Kid's Are All Right is simply too small to pick up the award, as is Winter's Bone. Had The Hurt Locker (an astounding piece of filmmaking, but one approximately ten people saw) not won last year, both of these films would have had a better chance (however slight).
The Fighter, while inspiring, is too formulaic, and not nearly as inspiring (or British) as The King's Speech is  while 127 Hours may be too unconventional for the Academy to handle (and who knows how many Academy members didn't see the whole film because they passed out during "that" scene).
The two films that have the best chance of sneaking up behind TKS and TSN only to push them both aside and proclaim the award as their own are Black Swan and True Grit. Swan just killed at The Independent Spirit awards, and although it's perhaps a tad too grotesque (and has roots in the horror genre, a genre the Academy almost always ignores) for the voting folks it's still very highly regarded by both critics and audiences. True Grit garnered an astonishing ten nominations, and people seem to be enamored with the Coen brothers' classy and tight retelling of Charles Portis's novel.
All that being said, I believe The King's Speech is going to own the 83rd Academy Awards. I'll offer director Tom Hooper and everyone involved in the production a congratulations in advance, and if I'm wrong, well, congratulations David Fincher and the cast/crew of The Social Network.