Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Frozen (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about Frozen

1. Kind of based on the fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, this Disney film is a funny, charming throwback to their classic musicals of decades ago.

2. I can already see it being adapted into a Broadway musical.

3. As a technical accomplishment, this movie is a masterpiece.

4. The art direction is perhaps the most gorgeous of the year, and the animation is stunningly realized and detailed. The 3D effects are wonderful.

5. The number “Let it Go” is on my Top 10 movie scenes of the year.

6. It’s a good thing the movie is so much fun to watch, because the story is kind of thin.

7. It’s about a princess that somehow has magical ice powers. She gets upset and accidentally freezes the entire kingdom. Her sister tries to talk her down.

8. Since it is a Disney musical, it is partly about True Love.

9. Thankfully, the movie does make the point that True Love doesn’t spring into your heart out of nowhere. The main character, Anna, keeps getting mocked for wanting to marry the prince she just met. It’s about time we started teaching kids that lesson.

New Year's Evil (USA, 1980)

Nine Things About the Movie New Year’s Evil

1. This little cult film is one of those good “bad” films.

2. It’s about how radio and television’s hottest Los Angeles rock hostess Blaze throws a New Year’s Eve punk rock party and invites callers to vote on the best New Wave rock song.

3. The first caller proposes that the best New Wave song is “We Don’t Need No Education.”

4. The next caller identifies himself as Mr. Evil and tells Blaze that he is going to kill someone each time an American time zone hits midnight.

5. The New Year’s Eve concert is full of fake teenagers in a fake mosh pit to a band called Shadow. They dance like zombies, so I guess that means they are full of fake drugs.

6. Across town, in an insane asylum, the inmates are watching the concert and dancing like they have Down’s Syndrome.

7. My favorite murder in the movie is when Mr. Evil suffocates a gal with a bag of weed.

8. Since the psychopath is only trying to kill one person an hour, it’s not the most suspenseful slasher flick ever made.

9. I think the movie was trying to make a statement that when women work, it effectively emasculates their husbands.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Act of Killing (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about the Movie The Act of Killing

1. Made with the help of Anonymous, this is probably the most psychologically complex documentary I’ve ever seen.

2. In 1960’s Indonesia, there was a failed military coup. As a result, thugs and small-time gangsters were turned into paramilitary death squads. They roamed the country and killed millions of people who were suspected of being “communist”. Anwar Congo was the most feared leader of one these death squads.

3. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer managed to make contact with Anwar, and asked him to recount his memories of that time. As the death squads are openly celebrated as heroes, Anwar eagerly agreed to make this movie.

4. The movie starts out with Anwar and one of his flunkies openly boasting about the ways they tortured and killed people. The stories then turn to actual recreations of some of the murders and massacres.

5. As the movie progresses, we meet other people who were involved with the murders. They all have their own ways of dealing with what they’ve done. They believe that the key to not be haunted by the ghosts of those they murdered is to never feel guilty.

6. In between the recreation of history, we also get a close look at the way Indonesia is run today – the rampant corruption, cynicism, and extortion. People love to explain repeatedly that the word “gangster” means “free man”. We come to understand that the death squads are part of an entire horrific pattern in the country’s psyche. This is normal life to them.

7. As Anwar recreates his “adventures”, he moves from playing himself to playing the victim’s role. Then he wants to act out the nightmares he has. The torture and murder scenes become increasingly elaborate. You can see him progress from self-important psychopath to trembling human being that questions everything he’s done. But he can’t apologize for it.

8. The movie is alternately absurd, nightmarish, horrific, and amusingly surreal. Anwar is sometimes glib (like discussing the best clothing to wear when you kill people), and sometimes regretful (such as when he admits that he usually didn’t close the eyes of the people’s heads once he cut them off).

9. The movie is long, running almost three hours. It’s hard to watch, because of the graphic discussion and re-enacting of torture and murder. It’s bizarre and unexpectedly beautiful. It’s an unprecedented look at the psychology of mass murderers and the effects of trauma on those who cause it.

Blackfish (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about Blackfish

1. Don’t be fooled by the oddly bland title, or the fact that you may not have heard of this film. This is a stunning and heart wrenching documentary - perhaps the best of the year.

2. In 2010, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a whale at the park. The official news story was that Dawn made a mistake by letting her ponytail hang out, and the whale grabbed it and she got pulled under. Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite thought the story sounded suspicious, so she started digging around. The result was this film.

3. While the death of Brancheau is the hook of “Blackfish”, that topic isn’t really dealt with until the end. The movie is much deeper and more comprehensive than that. It’s a compilation of interviews, court testimony, SeaWorld commercials, and home video over several decades.

4. It documents 30 years of SeaWorld’s actions, including accounts of how they capture, treat, and train the orcas, especially one particular killer whale, Tilikum.

5. By contrasting SeaWorld’s public image with what really was going on behind the scenes, this movie reaches far beyond one sad incident and becomes a blistering indictment of SeaWorld itself.

6. SeaWorld is understandably upset at this film, and released a statement saying, in part, “Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading... to promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture…”

7. Interestingly, the filmmakers repeatedly asked SeaWorld to be interviewed for “Blackfish”, and SeaWorld repeatedly declined, only releasing that statement after the film came out. That was probably smart on SeaWorld’s part. I don’t see any way they could successfully defend themselves here.

8. Pixar studios is currently working on “Finding Dory”, a sequel to “Finding Nemo”. When the director of that movie saw “Blackfish”, he rewrote parts of the film, including the ending.

9. If enough people see this movie, it may be able to single-handedly take down SeaWorld.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Spit On Your Grave 2 (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie I Spit On Your Grave 2

1. In 1978, the original, notorious film “I Spit On Your Grave” was released. 
In 2010, a pointless remake was made.

2. In 2013, the director of the pointless remake made this even more pointless “sequel”.
Even as a sequel to a bad movie, this movie sucks.

3. It has nothing to do with either previous version of “I Spit On Your Grave”. It’s just more of the same.

4. It’s about a Missouri girl who moves to New York to become a model. She runs into some sleazy photographers who kidnap her and take her to Bulgaria for some unexplained reason. Then they rape and torture her, and leave her for dead.

5. She survives and lives in the sewers under a church instead of going to the American Embassy which is like a block away. When she’s insane enough, she puts on her crazy face and takes revenge on her captors in the most cruel ways she can think of. Then the movie ends.

6. It doesn’t say anything new. It’s tedious and boring and less creative than the first one. The acting is terrible. Even the gore is kind of stupid.

7. I suspect the script was a reject from “Hostel 4”. Seriously, does everyone in Eastern Europe participate in slavery and sex trafficking?

8. It was released in one movie theater for one week and made $809.

9. For hardcore horror fans that just like to keep up with the various genres, it’s slightly interesting from a filmmaking perspective. But anyone else should just spit on its grave and walk away.

Escape From Tomorrow (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about Escape From Tomorrow

1. This is a weird little surreal comedy psychological thriller that became an instant cult classic. It’s about a family’s vacation at Disney World, and how sinister things begin to happen to the father.

2. Director Randy Moore knew he wouldn't get permission to actually film in Disney World, because Disney would never allow something like this to get made. So Moore did the next best thing - he snuck cameras into Disney World and filmed it anyway.

3. In one interpretation, it’s about how “the happiest place on Earth” triggers a psychosexual breakdown of the dad while he follows a couple of underage girls through the rides.

4. In another interpretation, the dad catches a bizarre form of “cat flu” and hallucinates while he’s dying and the park covers it up.

5. Or maybe it’s about how the dad stumbles onto the fact that the princess characters in the park are high-priced hookers, there is a secret robot base underneath Epcot Center, and his grade-school daughter almost becomes a sex slave.

6. Whichever interpretation you go with, it’s not a positive portrayal of Disney. The film was made in secret guerrilla-style at Disney World without their permission or approval.

7. There are long, rather boring parts of the film. Half of it is basically just the family wandering around the theme park and going on rides.

8. But it does slowly build the paranoia, and there are several surreal and chilling moments that pretty much guarantee you won’t look at Disney the same way ever again. In some ways, this movie is similar to weird daydreams I would have when I was at the park. It's just too happy to be real. Or healthy.

9. Everybody assumed that Disney would sue the hell out of the filmmakers, but the director made sure to never actually violate any copyrights. Disney eventually decided to just keep quiet about it, so that it didn't get any more publicity than it already had.

Inside Llewyn Davis (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about Inside Llewyn Davis

1. Joel and Ethan Coen have been making movies for 30 years. This movie proves they still have the ability to come up with compelling quirky comedies full of even quirkier characters.

2. This movie shows a week in the life of a folk singer, Llewyn Davis, in 1961 New York.It’s based loosely on a real folk singer named Dave Van Ronk.

3. Llewyn is a talended singer-songwriter, but his musical career has just never caught on. He’s trying to decide whether he should keep trying.

4. Llewyn has a rather miserable life. He doesn’t have a place to live, he just couch surfs through the city, staying with whatever friend isn’t currently mad at him.

5. As the movie unfolds, we see that his problems come from a mixture of bad luck and bad decisions. Mostly the latter.

6. While this is a comedy, it’s a melancholy comedy with a kind of dark heart. It’s about coming to the realization that nobody cares about your dreams but you.

7. Justin Timberlake plays a small role as Llewyn’s friend. And Coen staple actor John Goodman deserves Best Supporting Actor of the Year with his portrayal of a cranky jazz musician.

8. Characters sing a lot of folk songs in this movie. I’m not a big fan of folk songs.

9. There’s a subplot about Llewyn’s relationship with a cat. That subplot could be a metaphorical representation of the entire movie.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Leviathan (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie Leviathan

1. This is what you would call an “experimental documentary”.

2. It’s about the fishing industry off the coast of New England in America.

3. There is no narration to explain what’s going on.

4. There is no soundtrack other than the sounds of the fishing boat and the ocean.

5. It was filmed by attaching tiny cameras on parts of the fishing boat and on the fishermen.

6. This movie makes fishing look really intimidating and scary.

7. Instead of being a traditional documentary that explains something, this one makes you feel like you are looking at a strange and alien job, full of people you will never understand.

8. There are lots of shots of dead and dying fish.

9. This is not meant for everyone. But it’s an extraordinary, non-linear way to tell a story. It’s one of the more memorable movies of 2013, and one of the more memorable documentaries I've ever seen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Laurence Anyways (Canada, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie Laurence Anyways

1. This is a bittersweet, whimsical romantic drama about a high school teacher, Laurence, and his girlfriend. When Laurence tells her that he is a woman trapped in a man's body, the couple struggle to figure out what their relationship means.

2. The movie handles the subject of being transgender with an even hand, without getting hysterical or exploitative. 

3. It does a good job of explaining that being transgender isn't the same as being gay.

4. Given the struggles of transgender people for understanding and acceptance, there are scenes of discrimination and pain. We see the fallout with his girlfriend, his family, and his job. 

5. But this isn't a pity party movie. It's strong and sensitive and even joyous, sometimes. And it's a realistic look at the pressures on a relationship when someone switches genders.

6. The movies shows the fluid nature of love and sexuality - and makes you think about what it means when you fall in love with somebody.

7. Visually, the movie sometimes leaves reality and reaches into the fantastic, and becomes a sort of visual poetry. 

8. The movie is three hours long, which is a little too long. It drags some things out longer than necessary.

8. Despite the length of the film, this is a charming tragedy about difficult life circumstances.

47 Ronin (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie 47 Ronin

1. This Keanu Reeves fantasy action movie was misnamed. Instead of “47 Ronin”, it should have been called “47 Things Wrong With This Movie”.

2. Spoiler alert: The biggest problem with the movie is that it's a trick. While it’s supposed to be about 47 renegade warriors on a mission of vengeance, they only appear in like the last 10 minutes.

3. To be fair, it’s not complete crap. It’s visually stylish and has great special effects. But… that’s about it.

4. The 47 Ronin actually did exist in real life. But I don’t think they fought witch dragons or magical swordsmen.

5. This big-budget movie was entrusted to a brand new director, and he is clearly out of his depth. This movie is inconsistent in every way possible. The pacing is terrible. And while it’s interesting visually, the style seems to compete with itself, like two different movies were being made.

6. The whole movie feels like it’s on fast forward. It rushes through the plot, so that you don’t have time to learn or care about the characters. Then it suddenly slows down for some stupid love story or discussion about honor.

7. For a movie about rage, vengeance, and doomed love, there is surprisingly little emotion in the film. It’s fairly cold and one-dimensional. It’s also not all that violent.

8. Sometimes the characters speak Japanese. Sometimes they speak English with a Japanese accent. Sometimes they speak English with a British accent. Keanu Reeves just sounds like Keanu Reeves.

9. The movie was supposed to have been released Christmas 2012. But they kept pushing it back to Christmas 2013 so they could re-do parts of it. That's always a bad sign, and the results are right on the screen. It’s a nice try, but it ends up collapsing under its own weight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie The Wolf of Wall Street

1. This is a raunchy, foul-mouthed tale of American greed based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker convicted of market manipulation.

2. I think this movie contains more drugs, sex, and swearing than all the other movies I saw this year put together. Of course it’s gratuitous – this guy’s whole lifestyle was gratuitous. So it works.

3. This movie is also an acidly funny satire on Wall Street.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan, a money-hungry young man with more ambition than brains.

5. Jordan hires his knucklehead weed dealer friends to start a small semi-legal stockbroker firm. As they get more successful, they get less legal.

6. DiCaprio has always been an excellent actor – but this may be his best performance ever. And Jonah Hill is also great as the douchebag friend.

7. Jordan’s schemes were complicated and hard to understand for us regular folk, but the movie does a good job of dumbing it down – mostly by telling us that all we need to know is that he’s doing really illegal things.

8. The scene where Jordan overdoses on Quaaludes is a minor masterpiece of physical comedy and is one of the single best scenes of the year. I didn’t know DiCaprio had it in him.

9. The movie is three hours long, so, like the stock market, this movie is an investment of your time. But it’s worth it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

American Hustle (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie American Hustle

1. This is a masterful film of American ambition woven into a gorgeous tapestry of 1970’s style, fashion and music.

2. It is about ego, honor, self-improvement, and the necessity to re-invent oneself in order to make it in this dog-eat-dog world.

3. The story centers on Christian Bale, who plays a petty con artist named Irving. The movie starts off by detailing Irving’s criminal career and his reluctant involvement with federal law enforcement.

4. Irving is also having problems at home, which leads him to fall for his partner in crime. While Irving wants to keep his professional and personal lives separate, they inevitably end up on a collision course with each other, and Irving ends up playing for much higher stakes than he ever wanted to.

5. For all the sleaziness of the story and characters, the movie has no nudity or blood. This is storytelling magic that doesn’t rely on sex or violence to keep you interested.

6. This means that people who need sex and violence in their movies will likely be kind of bored.

7. Everything in the movie, from the fashion, to the hairstyles, to the story, to the actor’s performances, are slightly exaggerated, just a little bit larger than life. Not enough to turn into a caricature, but just enough to make everything seem to vibrate. The fact that the actors can actually pull this all off is amazing – the acting is uniformly brilliant, and there are no weak links in the cast.

8. The movie takes the old American concept of being a self-made man and cranking it up a notch. The characters are always looking out for themselves, and soon nobody knows who is on what side… or if there are even any sides at all.

9. This is a movie not only about how we fool each other, but how we lie to ourselves, which is the biggest con of all.

Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico, 2012)

Nine Things About the Movie Post Tenebras Lux

1. This is one of the most abstract films I've seen in a long time.

2. The director, Carlos Reygadas, made this film based partly on things that happened to him in his life. 

3. The movie is really not much more than a random collection of scenes from a man's life in the hills of Mexico, mixed with a contemplation of desire and fantasy.

4.  So we have scenes of a girl wandering in a field, a demon moving into a house, a rugby match, a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, a sex spa, and other disconnected events.

5. Reygadas said he wanted to make a movie where you feel life experiences more than understand them rationally. That's an understatement. Not very many scenes in the movie make much sense or seem to have a point.

6. Reygadas is onto something; there are some individual scenes that are very well done, and fascinating to watch. They touch on such deep life truths that you can only stare in awe.

7. But then there are other scenes that are pretty damn boring.

8. The movie is so "artistic" that it almost implodes. It is filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, like an old-fashioned TV. There is also a distortion effect around the edges of the screen, like you're looking through a window or something.

9. In the end, the only person that can really relate to what's going on is probably the director himself. And he's not explaining anything.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Bling Ring (USA, 2013)

Nine Things about The Bling Ring

1. Directed by Sofia Coppola, this is based on a true story that made the news in 2009 (note: This is not the TV movie by the same name).

2. It’s about a group of disaffected, self-absorbed, privileged kids that rob celebrities’ houses while they are gone.

3. This is a stylish, hip black comedy that was better than I expected. As the kids’ capers escalate, so does the visual style of the film.

4. Paris Hilton was robbed by them multiple times in real life, and she makes a cameo in the film. Parts of the movie were filmed in her house - which is beyond description.

5. Emma Watson gives a great performance as a bitchy, drugged-out brat. She has definitely left Hogwarts behind.

6. This movie is basically about rich people robbing richer people, so it’s really hard to feel sorry for anybody.

7. Coppola doesn’t really take a stand on the morality of what happened. She kind of lets the kids give their own interpretation of what they did. This is an interesting choice, but she also loses the opportunity to really dig into the deeper issues, which is kind of disappointing.

8. You still can pull a few lessons from it, such as the eternal truth that kids are always looking for acceptance, no matter how much money their parents make. Cool is relative.

9. In the end, this is a testament to conspicuous consumption, and the idea that no matter how much you have, it’s never enough.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Prisoners (USA, 2013)

Nine Things About the Movie Prisoners

1. This is a dark psychological thriller about two fathers whose girls are kidnapped.

2. It starts off like one of those typical “I must find my daughter!” films. I was afraid it would be boring.

3. It eventually turns out to be closer to “Silence of the Lambs”. It wasn’t even close to being boring.

4. Hugh Jackman plays one of the fathers and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective. Each of them follows different leads to find the girls, with different results. The audience is left to decide for themselves which man – if either of them – is doing the right thing.

5. I’ve always been a fan of Gyllenhaal, and he is right on point here. He’s intense, layered, and commands the screen every time he’s on.

6. I’ve always been kind of “meh” about Jackman, but he surprised me with this. He has a fiercely raw emotion that makes you believe the lengths to which he’ll go to find his daughter. This is the best, most mature role I’ve ever seen him in.

7. The movie is almost two-and-a-half hours long, which gives plenty of time for the story and characters to marinate and come together. It repeatedly takes turns that I wasn’t expecting.

8. It is well written, not only as a thriller, but as a psychological examination of two complicated men and the demons who drive them.

9. It was originally rated NC-17 for being extremely violent. It was edited down to get an R-rating, but it’s still disturbing.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beyond the Hills (Romania, 2012)

Nine Things about the Movie Beyond the Hills

1. This movie is based loosely on an actual incident that occurred at a Romanian Orthodox Catholic monastery in 2005.

2. It’s a quiet but gutsy tragedy of faith vs. doubt, of hanging on to your convictions past all reasonable boundaries.

3. It’s about a young woman named Alina. She goes to visit her secret ex-girlfriend, Voichita, who has joined a small convent of nuns that has partially broken away from the Orthodox Catholic Church. Alina is hoping to reconnect with Voichita, and is severely disappointed that Voichita has dedicated her life to the convent.

4. Alina is slightly mentally ill, and during her stay at the convent, she begins to break down. The nuns and the priest, who have deliberately broken most ties with modern society (they don’t even have electricity) aren’t sure what’s going on.

5. Full of religious superstition, they interpret Alina’s anger, broken heart and subsequent breakdown to possession by Satan.

6. The momentum and sense of foreboding slowly builds, and the last 45 minutes is a pretty distressing account of an attempted exorcism of Alina.

7. The cinematography and sound of the film are very well done – you really feel like you are in a little isolated corner of the world, tucked away from modern life.

8. The movie reminds us that when superstition clashes with science, nobody wins.

9. Hollywood likes to remake European movies, but I don’t think they have the guts to do this one. It would offend too many people.