Five quick reviews is back (and on time for once) I’m actually going to review March releases in March. (I know! I’m stunned as well)
This month I review one animated, one science fiction, one thriller, one action and one drama. So there is something for everyone. I also add the last of the Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij, Mike Cahill movies that I could find. For a total of six reviews. That’s the five I promised plus one more (we’ll just call that last one a gift with purchase)
To the reviews…
Frozen (Walt Disney Studios)
Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Written by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris Based on The Snow Queen
by Hans Christian Andersen
Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad & Santino Fontana
Frozen is an animated feature with fantastic music. Let It Go was the song of 2013 sung by the wick-ed-ly talented… Idina Menzel.
I love musicals. Especially when they have a good story and great music. Frozen has decent enough animation. But the music is so freaking good they could have done it with stick figures and it would have been alright with me..
I’m not a fan of musicals where music stops the story, musicals that break into song to just repeat the emotion of the scene. After the song I want the characters to be in a different emotional place than before the song began. The songs in Frozen definitely move the plot. And, like I said, they are amazing.
The story is very anti-Disney. The women aren’t waiting for princes to save them. There are no cartoonishly bad, bad guys and sickly sweet good guys. The characters are more complicated than all that. At the center is the relationship between two sisters. The tragedy that separates them and the mysterious powers that keep them apart. It is a good story and would make a good movie without the music. But add the music and it is a great movie with a message for those in fear or in pain; “Let it go.”
Rent it (Then try not to sing in the shower)
Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn Based on Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci & Donald Sutherland
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second installment in the Hunger Games series. Some say Catching Fire is an even better movie than the first Hunger Games. I liked the first one better because it introduces a world and its characters and its politics. I have never read the books. But the economic themes, the economic inequality represented in the story, in my opinion, mirrors those of the real world.
In our world, Districts 12 & 13 are dirt poor and starving. Fighting each other for scraps of resources in order to survive. In our world, District 1 is encased in gold and platinum just like in the movie, but our capital citizens are not prisoners. They come and go as they choose. And all the other districts are not threatening rebellion. They are too busy fighting among themselves for what little resources they are allowed. Too busy worshipping the obscenely wealthy like gods. Holding aloft a work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit that doesn’t exist in their gold-plated reality.
“They’re just better with their money.”
No they are just better at taking yours.
And it is the outer districts, in our world, that are pacified through mindless entertainment while the capital city is afraid of being thrown to the wasteland.
But in The Hunger Games the author puts this inequality into neat little boxes. Shaded gradually from dark to light. From well-fed to starving. District by district. I love the execution but in our world districts 4 through 9 barely exist. The first one is still my favorite.
But having said that, Catching Fire is a brilliant sequel as thrilling as the first. Jennifer Lawrence (not my favorite actress but close to becoming my favorite person) is amazing as always. And Catching fire introduces a revolution that is long over-due. (In reality and in The Hunger Games) It’s looking more and more like bloody conflict is the only path (In reality and in The Hunger Games).
But of course, it takes loads of money to make a movie. Especially a blockbuster with special effects and high-priced talent. So I predict that no matter how rebellious an uprising it is in the books, they sanitize it and water it down to a nice yeah-but-it-was-calmer-the-way-it-was conclusion. Who wants war? No one wants war, right? Well, sometimes war is necessary. Sometimes it is the only way to get a society back on a progressive path and wrestle control away from those who will not abdicate if asked nicely.
Oh yeah and it was a good movie too with a great cast. Great effects. Cool action and a message to the revolution; “Let it Fly.”
Rent it. (There are no kids killing each other in this one. Just adults killing each other)
The Counselor (20th Century Fox)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Starring Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz & Brad Pitt
The Counselor is a violent, disturbing and mildly interesting film about the Mexican-American drug trade. It is, at its core, a cautionary tale that begins with a strangely intimate sex scene and gets more and more absurd from there. But the story is bad and the dialogue is god-awful because Cormac McCarthy is too much in love with the sound of his own voice. All of the characters speak in this horribly narrative cadence that sounds awkward. And the cast is incredible. Four of my favorite actors… and also Cameron Diaz.
With Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz, you can’t go this wrong. But Cameron Diaz is asked to carry the lion’s share and she can’t pull it off.
The Counselor would probably make a great book but it makes a bad movie. Ridley Scott is not to blame. The fault lies with Cormac McCarthy and his need for every character to be a dime store philosopher. Each one telling stories that sound like jokes or urban legends to a main character who has nothing to offer and no stories of his own.
It is a bad movie with an amazing cast and directed by one of my favorite directors. But it needed a Quentin Tarantino or a Steven Soderbergh type to stylistically lighten the mood and make the overwrought dialogue not seem so annoyingly superficial.
Ridley Scott does what he does. He gives you the story… unflinchingly, beautifully. He gets great performances out of everyone and gets the best he can out of Cameron (She gives her best performance to date). But it just wasn’t enough. The script as written, presented without visually creative embellishment, is garbage.
The Counselor should be better than it is because of the sheer amount of talent behind it but these great people could not save it from Cormac and from Cameron.
Skip it. (It is violent. It is disturbing. It is interesting. But also, it is a total waste of time)
Next some action…
Homefront (Open Road Films)
Directed by Gary Fleder
Written by Sylvester Stallone Based on Homefront by Chuck Logan
Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth & Rachelle Lefevre
It is hard to talk about Homefront seriously. It is really dumb but the fights are cool. Jason Statham is still kicking ass. And the story is decent. It just has some incredibly dumb leaps of logic in the story. Homefront is not Sylvester Stallone’s best writing.
James Franco is good as always. He plays creepy and intelligent like nobody’s business. It’s just that Homefront is so full of clichés and so soft with its subject and I expected more. More fear. More psychological terror. Homefront is tame. After a while I fully expected Jason Statham to only shoot the bad guys in the leg.
I often call movies dumb on my blog but then don’t explain what I mean. Mostly because I don’t want to spoil them. I shouldn’t care because they’re bad movies but still do because you might want to see them anyway. But here are two dumb things in Homefront:
1) James Franco breaks into Jason Statham house. Jason was a deep cover officer who broke up a biker, meth ring and then resigned. In his house are boxes and boxes with all of his DEA files (what?). Franco picks the one that has all of Jason Statham’s undercover info in it because that is so plausible. The poor guy moves to a new house, leaving his old life behind but takes all of his secret police files (because they belong to him), including one that identifies him as an undercover with pictures of how he looks now.
2) While they are establishing James Franco as a badass, he kneecaps this meth tweaker with a shillelagh swung from way behind his back full force downward… TWICE!! Both knees. And then he starts talking to the guy and his two friends (this is my town blah blah blah). Then he tells them to run away. He tells the guy, the one who he just busted his knees, to get up and run. No help or anything. That’s just impossi- oh no there he goes scampering away like Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens. Must have been a foam bat.
However, if you ignore lapses in logic and the strange editing technique they use, of inter-cutting shots from the next scene over the current scene while it’s still playing – even if some of the same characters are in that scene – (one time was cool but after the fifth time I was tired of it) and also all the clichés. If you ignore all that, you get some cool fight scenes with Jason Statham. Jason, who still kicks ass.
Homefront is a good story but a bad script. Poorly directed and edited. Toned down to an almost made-for-TV level of violence. But the fight choreography is good and the acting is decent. (Except for Winona Ryder, who seemed unnecessary and out of place).
Skip it (Unless you’re a huge Jason Statham fan like me but really it’s dumb and it’s tame)
Next a little drama…
Kill Your Darlings (Sony Pictures Classics)
Directed by John Krokidas
Written by John Krokidas & Austin Bunn
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Elizabeth Olsen
Kill Your Darlings is another film about some of my personal literary heroes: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. It is about their time at Columbia University. These guys lived it, so the story is as powerful as it is true.
The cast of Kill Your Darlings is good (but not great) and the director tries too hard to be artsy and trippy to match the drug use, running the film backwards and making stylistic choices that take away from the story, while Daniel Radcliffe, the young Allen Ginsberg, proves that he has become a very good actor and is only getting better.
At the heart of this film there is a dance with the varying sexualities of the three writers and of their friends. The story surrounds the relationship problems of two of their mutual friends, Lucien Carr and David Kammerer, the stigma and illegality of homosexuality in the era, and the tragedy that changes the course of all five of their lives.
I love the era. I love the music. I love the clothes. At one point during a heist scene the director chooses contemporary music instead of period music and it is yet another bad choice. Even though he uses the great TV On The Radio song; Wolf Like Me, it is unwelcome and jarring. Dude! Use the music from the period and nothing else.
I love these guys, these poets, these writers, these adventurers, because they were working without a net. Life as art. Art as life. Inspiring millions of like-minded travellers to come. Kill Your Darlings shows our heroes at the beginning of their well-storied lives, toward the end of the second world war. A bunch of young rapscallions.
I have romanticized these guys, these beats. In books and in some of my favorite films like Howl, Kerouac or On the Road. It’s good for me to, on occasion, watch a biography or adaptation of their work and get inspired again by these pioneers. If I could have just one-third of each of their spirits, their hearts, their talents, their fearlessness, I would be one-third of the way toward being “The me that I see when I see me in dreams.”
Rent it. (I will be adding it to my collection)
Sound of My Voice (2011, Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Directed by Zal Batmanglij
Written by Zal Batmanglij & Brit Marling
Starring Brit Marling, Christopher Denham & Nicole Vicius
With 2011’s Sound of My Voice, Brit Marling and friends have left me with my mouth agape and nothing to say yet again. I love the feel of their films, and the depth of the emotional weave that they create. I’ve enjoyed them all and Sound of Your Voice is no exception.
It is the story of a couple who infiltrate a time travel cult. A group that worships a woman who claims to be from the future. A crazy lady who was found living on the street naked doing drugs, doing drugs with the homeless. So they make her their leader.
I love these filmmakers’ work because they don’t always answer the questions they pose. Not directly. They allow you to answer them yourself… or not. That’s my favorite kind of mystery. Solved but still unsolved. It is the best you can hope for on life’s big questions, and these guys; Brit Marling, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij, live there.
I like their work because there is nothing easy about what they do. I’ve truly enjoyed exploring the films of theirs that I could find: Another Earth (Directed by Mike Cahill), The East (Directed by Zal Batmanglij), Sound of My Voice (Batmanglij) and the upcoming I, Origins (Cahill). When I saw Another Earth, it changed the way I looked at the world (truly) and I liked that, so I had to see everything else. And each one has been a wonderful story that left me in a semi-meditative state. So what was the message I got from Sound of My Voice? “Every cult needs a secret handshake.”
Rent it (Ultra-low budget, great story, well-directed, well-written)
So to recap…
There were three movies about the one woman who will save us all: Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Sound of My Voice. All of them great. All of them recommended.
And there were three movies about the evils of illegal drugs; making them, selling them and doing them: The Counselor, Homefront and Kill Your Darlings. None of them as good as they should have been.
…and that’s all I wrote.
See you guys later.