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Wonder Woman Review

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m actually a fan of the DC Extended Universe thus far. The movies have been kinda crappy but I really appreciate how willing they are to hand over a film to someone and allow them to fail. I mean, they let Zack Snyder make an R-Rated, 3 hour, Batman movie so it’s definitely in my interest to see what other filmmakers do with that kind of leeway.

So far, though, none of the movies have lived up to it. Suicide Squad is damn near unwatchable and Man of Steel is pretty but rather dull. The one outlier is Batman vs. Superman. I absolutely love that film for some reason. I just think it’s got some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen though, true, there’s not enough Batman on Superman action.

That was so far, this is now. With Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. and DC finally made a movie that wasn’t an outright clunker. The action sequences are well choreographed, the script is well written. It’s an entertaining origin story–which is incredibly tough now that we get origin stories every year (the latest being Dr. Strange).

The characters presented actually mattered and they played up the whole fish-out-of-water scenario that the fact that Diana was completely invulnerable didn’t cross my mind. She still seemed to susceptible to bad things happening to her even though she shows time and again that she can destroy the shit out of anything.

It’s also not as dark as the other films in this universe. There are quite a few laughs and there isn’t this weird gray laying over everything like a dour cloud. Instead, there’s a lot of bright reds and blues–owing a lot of that to the costume design which always found a way to make her pop into the foreground of every scene she’s in.

My hope is that this is a course correction for the studio and not a one-off really good movie from the people behind the DC films. It seems like it’ll be getting better now that Joss Whedon is stepping into the fold.

 

Super Troopers

Given their recent track record, I’d say that the guys behind Broken Lizard really went all out for their first major film.

Their subsequent movie, Club Dread, was awful. Not funny and not well written.

Beerfest was alright. It has a lot of solid laughs, but it often falls prey to itself—though, admittedly, it’s probably hard to make a hour and a half long film consisting of beer jokes.

But Super Troopers, their inaugural effort, definitely wins them my vote of confidence. They use the whole “cop film” spoof idea and then run the car into a sea of non-sequiturs and oddities.

See, instead of it just being a typical cop spoof, or a cop comedy, it makes good attempts at combining the two. There are some pretty good fight scenes and it makes clear early on who the bad guys are.

The only problem, however, is the middle of the film. It lags at points around the hour mark because the plot gets too heavy for their comedy. The jokes become sparse because they have to explicate some things to keep the movie afloat, and that makes it feel almost convoluted until everything subtextual is resolved. Then, it’s back to good clean drunk-cop-jokes.

Granted, this is a problem that many comedies face—the fact of the matter is that many styles of comedy cannot hold up against a heavy plot.

Take for example 2007’s Superbad. I remember reading glowing reviews saying how funny it was in the beginning and end, but, through the middle, it sagged. Sagged, essentially, between the two times that Jonah Hill gets hit by a car. Everything is scattered about and the jokes become haphazardous as they attempt to stay funny in the midst of some plot conflicts.

That might even be the toughest part about comedy: keeping everything afloat with having one element—especially one as basic as plot—keep the other element from faltering.

I think this is why so many dark comedies sustain through such moments in a film. If you look at any of Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach’s works, which are darkly comic, they’re able to withstand the points where, inevitably, plot ties get heavier and heavier. It’s probably because the starkness and straight-forwardness of the humor is what keeps it afloat.

Anyway, back to Super Troopers. Aside from the prototypical comic lag through the middle parts, this movie really hits on some key notes of funny with me. The jokes are spot on with my sense of “what the fuck” humor, and many of the gags are delivered with such a straight face that you have to laugh.

This movie is just plain weird-funny.

Punch Drunk Love

So if you haven’t heard the story yet, Adam Sandler has made a movie that proves he has a soul.

I think.

See, in Punch Drunk Love he doesn’t play the infantile man-child suffering from Arrested Development. Instead, such social and mental handicaps are forced upon him by his suffocating sisters—of which he has seven.

However, one of them does introduce him to a woman played by Emily Watson who is attracted to his childish, medication-necessary, antics (one running joke is about him throwing a hammer through a glass door as a child). She, strangely, is completely drawn into this world because, as I’m willing to purport, she sees the great and caring guy underneath.

That element of the film—the element of “holy shit, a woman is actually falling in love with this guy?”—is played out in a manner that doesn’t allow it to fall prey to the formula of having a turning point scene that sticks out blatantly. In Billy Madison, it was when he sticks up for a kid who pissed his pants. In Big Daddy, it was having a child show up at his door.

The other element that makes Paul Thomas Anderson’s film well done is that it’s not a high concept film (like Billy Madison’s “dumb guy goes back to school” or Big Daddy’s aforementioned random child appearing). It’s a simple film. Boy meets girl type of film done in such a different way that it makes it feel different from any other romance story I’ve seen.

One thing that I noticed in this movie that is done very well is the use of silence. It, mixed with the cacophonous soundtrack, add to the emotion of the scene. Such boredom and such dread sometimes mix with these two elements.

And what definitely adds to the silence and soundtrack is the cinematography which utilizes excellent, long, tracking shots up towards and away from subjects and objects either innocuous or belligerent. The only time that the camera movement stops is when Sandler’s life stops and isn’t as chaotic as everything around it. P.T. Anderson does a good job of marrying the images and the sound to give the effect necessary to pull off this movie in such a way that it keeps it from being like every other Adam Sandler film.

There’s also a nice little sub-plot involving Philip Seymour Hoffman and one of his call-girls, but that whole thing is so ridiculous that I leave to your viewing to experience all that excitement.

Step Brothers

So I’m not a member of the media so this review is automatically late.

I’m not complaining, just saying.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play infantile 40 year olds in this comedy that revolves around their potential coming of age.

It’s the same type of story you’ve seen before–infantile mid-30’s40’s man has to grow up to deal with some sort of situation. Look at Billy Madison or Big Daddy or most any other Adam Sandler film.

But instead of this being about one infantile 40 year old, it’s about two. And they both think they’re better than the other.

They’re step brothers because their divorced parents just got married to each other so they’re living together and forced to share a room.

That’s the plot. Does it sound funny? It could, if you feel like this type of thing isn’t outplayed or just sheerly annoying. I enjoy Billy Madison because of the characters around him–his crazy father, his squirrelly archenemy, his friends.

This movie, however, just plain didn’t work for me. I like John C. Reilly but I prefer him in more seriouspathetic roles. Same with Will Ferrell–he has the ability to be a comic with a soul. We saw shades of this in some of his more seriousdarkly comic turns in other films.

But this film and director Adam McKay’s other efforts with Ferrell (Anchorman and Talladega Nights) seem a bit too farcical and overdone. It’s surprising that they’re developed out of the Apatow clan (Seth Rogen even makes a cameo) because it’s not the same style of comedy from their other, more heartfelt, efforts.

Overall I guess it was okay. There were a few good laughs that I won’t spoil for you but unless you like 40 year old males acting like 15 year old mid-pubescent boys, this movie won’t be enjoyable for you.

There Will Be Blood

I could have sworn I reviewed this movie. I guess not.

If you don’t remember what this film is about, let me refresh your memory: Morally Ambiguous Oilman vs. Morally Ambiguous Prophet (The Fight of the Fucking Century only on PPV [after Girls Gone Wild: First Timers])

It might even be better that I haven’t written about this film because, unlike some of my reviews (Blood Simple, Magnolia, Platoon, Boondock Saints), I’m writing after multiple viewings. Therefore, it’s bound to be less reactionary and more reflective or analytical.

I first saw this film when it was in the limited stage of its platform release. I was packed into a theater in Pasadena because I really wanted to see Paul Dano tear the motherfucking roof off. I really liked him in Little Miss Sunshine and the scenes we see of him in the trailers are awesome in its most absolute sense.

If you remember the show Carnivale that used to be on HBO, he reminds me a bit of Brother Justin who was a preacher that turned out to be very evil inside. And that’s what I see in Dano’s character Eli Sunday. A lot of facade and a whole lot more of evil and greed.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to see this film because of Paul Dano and not Daniel Day-Lewis. Hell, I’ve never even seen Gangs of New York (Scorsese is tough for me).

What I got from Paul Thomas Anderson’s directing and writing was a film built more upon facial expressions and subtlety than upon dialog. A film that it takes multiple viewings to finally understand some things. It’s like a bizarro David Lynch film like Lost Highway or Mulholland Dr. (Inland Empire has no meaning. It’s three hours of existential crises that make Samuel Beckett jealous) except instead of the twists being within the plot, they’re within the face. There are many things that could’ve been said but, instead, Anderson chose for them to be expressed.

Which is the pacing complaint arises. When there’s no dialog and just two people looking at each other on screen, most people are bound to get bored–especially upon first take. But these “boring” moments are where the film excels. The cold stares of Day-Lewis and the conniving or sniveling, desperate, looks of Dano speak louder than any word could have. Anderson acknowledges the adagecliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and, in a movie where things are composed of 24 pictures per second, why fucking bother with words sometimes? You can’t cram 24,000 words into a second of film–but you can at the same time if you take to the adage as Anderson has.

This film excels at speaking depths while silently rolling towards its anti-climax. It is a character study taken to its highest level. It nearly throws plot by the wayside in favor of showing, slowly or quickly, just what Day-Lewis is doing at each and every second. The movie’s pace slows enough for us to take in every single piece of the character. It’s so beautiful, and it’s only upon multiple viewings do you realize such a thing.

Another aspect of this film that really excels is the scoring by Jonny Greenwood. He swirls and moves his pieces like a horror film so as to accent the tension in each scene he’s needed. (Fun Fact, by the way: The movie is 158 minutes while the score is only about 50 minutes) Some of his pieces sound like an orchestra simply tuning up before the big show–and it works because that’s exactly what this movie has. A lot of tuning before a small piece.

And you haven’t listened to his piece “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” you really should (I found a link where you can stream it in Real Audio, which is kind of a shitty format, but it’s a good piece of music that deserves a listen). And listen to Radiohead, he’s pretty good at guitar too.

Wall-E

I first saw this film the Sunday of its opening weekend. There was something “full shine and full of sparkle” that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The next night, I saw it again. My head was filled and crammed with bits and notes of words that I was going to write down.

But, still, after seeing it twice, I didn’t feel like I had the correct perception about the film–that what I felt about it was succinct.

I finally saw it a third time this afternoon and I think I’ve figured out why I love this film geared towards children about an easily synergized robot.

It’s not the silent humor that takes over the first half of the film, even though it’s spot-on hilarious.

It’s not this song that starts the film and is a piece of music that is used as a motif along with another song from Hello Dolly. It’s not the fact that this song, and the portion used, is one that I find absolutely hilarious.

It’s the work that Roger Deakins did when he came in as a cinematographic consultant. See, unlike most CGI animated films, the guys at Pixar brought in the Director of Photography for most Coen Bros. films post-Sonnenfeld (Barton Fink, The Man who Wasn’t There and No Country for Old Men to name a couple) as well as the beautiful Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that came out last year.

I’m about to wax technical, so you can skip this part if you want. What his work does is give the movie a sense of photo-realism. When you pay close attention to the depth of field and the focus on certain shots compared to similar shots in, say, the torturous trailer for Bolt that seems to play before every goddam movie I see, you see that every shot is meticulous angled and setup to look as if a camera filmed it and not someone at a computer playing with numbers and pictures and wireframes.

A prime example of the beauty brought to this film is a scene that was in the final trailer where Wall-E is getting chased by a bunch of carts in a broken down Buy N Large store. And I want you to observe a little quirk about this scene that I found absolutely wonderful: at one point during the shot, the camera falls out of focus as it tries to zoom and correct itself within the shot.

Now, you could say, “Why the hell would they want to fuck up a shot by blurring a portion of it?” Well, I have the answer: See, when you’re doing a tracking shot, especially one from such a distance, you’re going to have to refocus as the object leaves the field of focus. And you just might fuck it up. We’ve seen this in countless live-action films.

And it’s a little piece of extra effort put into this film that I found absolutely fantastic. Shit, this whole movie is fantastic. I was laughing the whole way through, I was in awe of the visions that they were putting on celluloid.

But it was my dad who made the most succinct comment. That is that the movie is about computers taking over for what humans do (Leon Trout from Galapagos would blame our stupid big brains for such a thing) and yet it’s a film done on computers showing how far they’ve come in such a field as animation. Obviously, this is something that Pixar has acknowledged and is probably the reason why they’re dipping into the live-action well of films in the future.

This film, unlike the Dark Knight, I can safely say that you should see. If you haven’t, drop everything and go to the cinema. Right fucking now. Cut work early, gather up your spawn, and take them to see this jawdropping and hilarious film.

the strangers

So after I found out that the local theater has $4 matinees (if you live in Rancho Cucamonga, go to the Terra Vista 6. It’s there you’ll find cheap-ass tickets that haven’t gone up in price for five years) and I figured I’d go see the one movie that looked appealing.

It was the Strangers which looked creepy enough. I have yet to see Haneke’s Funny Games (either version)–it’s in the queue on Nutflix but I haven’t gotten it yet–and apparently this movie is similar to it sans the lesson-teaching by the antagonists.

So basically the movie is about a couple who returns to a vacation home in some sparsely populated area after going to a party where the woman (Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay) was proposed to by the guy (Scott Speedman as James Hoyt)… And said no.

So they’re already mad at each other. And Kristen’s out of smokes so her madness will probably be fueled by nicotine withdrawals.

The madness begins when, at 4:05am, a girl bangs on the door frantically if Tamara is home. Tamara doesn’t even live there. And then the fun begins. James goes out to get Kristen more smokes and Kristen is immediately getting scared by the faces in the window and the banging and all this creepy shit outside.

But I really don’t think that any sort of description of this film will do it justice. My words aren’t filled with tension and fear. Swear to god, this movie was one of the scariest films I’ve seen in awhile because it’s so psychological. The cinematography is done with a lot of hand held shots from voyeuristic angles that make you wonder if it’s simply the camera or one the three antagonists.

Through the movies runtime, it doesn’t let up. Even when the sun comes up near the end, you aren’t allowed to sit it out. You’re caught up in this game where you wonder if they actually want to hurt the people or just play a prank on them.

Spoilers below.

They want to hurt them. And that, I think, was the boldest part of the film–the ending doesn’t show the escape we want to see. Instead, it shows Kristen and James tied up and stabbed to almost death and death. Yea, Liv Tyler doesn’t die for, probably, the sake of a sequel that won’t be as fun because they’ll have that whole stereotypical angle of the crazy person who’s been through it before and is calling for more action from the police and all that shit. I can just see it now… Especially since the terrorizers, who were basically sociopathic high school sophomores, say “It’ll be easier next time” as they drive away.

So it’s definitely interesting and it’s definitely scary–those are the two things that you look for in a horror film. And I’m glad it’s not one of those post-RingGrudge supernatural Japanese adaptations because I never really liked those. I liked this, though.