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Friday, December 23, 2011

Bellflower Review

Bellflower Review
2011, 106 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug use

Bellflower is the debut (and hopefully the last) film of writer/director/actor/co-producer Evan Glodell and is absolutely the worst film I have ever seen.  It follows the relationship between Woodrow (Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Woodrow’s obsession with post-apocalyptic flamethrowers and cars.  This is going to be a very short review, as I don’t want to waste any more time thinking about this complete piece of garbage. 

I don’t even know where to begin with this movie’s problems.  The first I’ll start with is the story, which is pointless.  The relationship aspect of the film is very annoying as the only things the two lovers seem to say is “yeah, dude” and “rad.”   It never develops and nothing interesting happens.  The first chunk is boring enough.  Then comes the second part which is violent, disturbing, unpleasant, and nonsensical.  I literally could not follow the second part as it jumped in time and was told through a haze. 

The writing is so bad that I am confident that I could have written a better movie.  As mentioned above, the characters speak in a “yeah, dude” manner which gets old quickly.  The characters are too naïve and all they seem to do is lay around, have sex, get high, and drink.  Don’t they have to work?  What a mess!

Then comes the acting which is absolutely atrocious throughout, especially in the last half hour.  I won’t even elaborate more.

What I will say is that the look of the film is quite unique as Glodell built his own camera and lends the film a warm-colored grit.

Overall, Bellflower is a mess.  Don’t see it.  You will be a better person for following my advice.

-Joshua Handler

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review
2011, 158 minutes
Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

David Fincher’s American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the top 5 or 10 films I have seen all year.  It follows a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who joins up with the troubled, bisexual computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander to solve a 40-year-old mystery.  This is the second film adaptation of Steig Larsson’s best-selling novel of the same name and is the one to see.  The first adaptation by Niels Arden Oplev was a very successful and very popular film that I did not care for.  Though the performances were excellent, the film had little style and was like a SparkNotes version of the book.  It cut many crucial/interesting portions of the book and simply skimmed through the story.  It also had no character development, which led me to have no emotional attachment to the characters.  Fincher’s film fixes all of these problems.

The standout aspect of this adaptation is the acting.  Everyone is fantastic, but Rooney Mara’s performance is the breakout performance of the year.  She embodies Salander with a frighteningly innocent look.  Underneath the surface is a history of issues.  Mara’s interpretation of Salander is very different from Noomi Rapace’s (from the Swedish original).  Rapace played Salander with a frightening edge and brutality, whereas Mara plays her coolly and helplessly. The character of Salander is fascinating and with Mara playing her, it is the perfect combination. 

Steven Zallian’s (Schindler’s List, Moneyball) screenplay is also very good as he keeps the story told in the book intact, but makes the pace quicker (the first chunk of the book was very slow), and makes the story neater which suits the material well.  Though the film is very dark and bleak, he inserts some humor, which lightens the mood.  The focus of this film is on the characters which suits the material very well as the characters are much more interesting than the murder mystery (the mystery is still gripping).  The book’s focus was on the mystery, and that is another area where the Swedish film went wrong.  The characters, especially Salander, are so interesting that I could watch them in at least another couple of movies.

David Fincher is a one-of-a-kind director.  After such masterpieces as Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network, he has crafted another and put his own stamp on the material.  His movies, especially Se7en and Fight Club probe the dark parts of cities and human nature, exposing the unsavory activities.  They all have a professional and polished look to them, while still keeping a certain level of grit.  In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he gives the Swedish landscape a beautiful, yet haunting atmosphere.  One area where he completely succeeds is that all of the settings look exactly as I imagined them. 

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' (The Social Network) score is unique as always providing an electric feel. This one deserves an Oscar.  

Many have complained that this version of the film did not need to be made and that if it was, the brutal sexual violence would be sanitized for American audiences.  The good news is that this film absolutely has a reason to exist and is not sanitized.  In fact, it is even more graphic and disturbing than the already graphic Swedish version.  I can handle just about anything and have seen my fair share of disturbing and controversial material, but one horrifying scene in this film is so raw that I could barely watch it.  But, I couldn’t look away.  This version, as I mentioned, is more character-focused, not plot-focused.  Also, this is NOT a remake of the Swedish version. 

Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a must-see movie, but NO ONE under 17 or 18 should be viewing this.  It irks me that I can bring a five-year-old to this, but I cannot bring a five-year-old to Shame.  I would much rather let a young kid see a graphic sex scene than a brutal rape scene.  How this movie ever got an R-rating is beyond me.  If you can handle this material, are a fan of the book, or really like a character-driven mystery, see this movie.  Now let’s see what David Fincher puts out next.

-Joshua Handler

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Young Adult Review

Young Adult Review
2011, 94 minutes
Rated R for language and some sexual content 

Young Adult is the new film from director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno) and writer Diablo Cody (Junothat stars Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, and Patrick Wilson. Theron plays Mavis Gary, the type of beautiful, but rude girl that you dreamed of but hated in high school.  Now she is a divorced, alcoholic, 37-year-old young adult book writer who cannot get over her high school years and returns to get home town to win back her high school sweetheart. To say that this movie is vicious is an understatement. It is relentless, sharp, nasty, rude, and ridiculously funny. The situations Mavis gets herself into in the movie were at times so uncomfortable that people in the theatre were gasping. I could barely watch but couldn't rip my eyes away. 

Though Young Adult sounds like just another movie with an unlikable character, it is not largely due to the fact that most can probably relate to it in some way or another (everyone knows a "Mavis") and that it carries a powerful message with it: you won't stay popular forever, so get over yourself and grow up because life will catch up faster than you think.  

Charlize Theron is flat-out wicked in this movie as she never feels any less than completely believable.  She exudes the nastiness that only a select few could show.  Her comic timing is also perfect.  I was laughing especially hard when, in one scene, Mavis is at a friend's house and randomly picks up a glue bottle and sniffs it.  Little moments such as this really add to Theron's performance and enrich it. In the end, I actually felt bad for Mavis, even though she was the meanest and most narcissistic lead character of the year.

Patton Oswalt is also fantastic as Matt, the guy in high school that used to be geeky...and still is.  In this movie, he befriends Mavis at the bar.  He is grounded in reality and is a very gentle, likable person and he perfectly counterbalances Mavis.  Oswalt's natural likablity and charm playing Matt should hopefully be enough to earn him an Oscar nomination. 

The attention to detail is another great aspect of Young Adult.  This is largely due to Reitman's solid direction and Cody's genius script.  For example, in one scene, the camera focuses on the dumpy-looking clothes Mavis has in her closet.  Seeing these coupled with the mess in her apartment, the viewer learns a lot about the character of Mavis.  Little pop-culture references such as, when Mavis is talking to someone about what has changed in her home town, "I heard a Chipotle opened there" make the movie amusing.  Also, Reitman's depiction of small Midwest towns is dead-on.  Everything from the plain clothing to the little family-run bars where everyone knows each other is included in his films and adds to the real feel of his movies.

Overall, Young Adult is a must-see due to Oscar-calibur performances, script, and direction.  This will not be a crowd-pleaser because of the dark and nasty nature of it, but for those that want to see this, go!  

-Joshua Handler

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shame Review

2011, 101 minutes
Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content

Shame is the challenging and provocative new piece from director Steve McQueen who earned praise for his film Hunger which like Shame, starred Michael Fassbender.  Fassbender, who has proved this year to be one of the most versatile and fascinating up-and-coming actors, gives another Oscar-worthy performance in this film.  This year, Fassbender has starred in X-Men: First Class as Magneto, the excellent Jane Eyre as Mr. Rochester, and A Dangerous Method as Carl Jung.  I have seen all but A Dangerous Method (which I hear is quite good) and Fassbender is flawless in all of them.  In Shame, Fassbender plays a very different character in a very different way.  He plays Brandon, a New Yorker who is a sex addict.  Morning, noon, and night, he is looking at porn, taking trips to the bathroom to satisfy his "needs" during work, and picking up women at bars or hiring prostitutes.  His apartment is full of porn and a woman on a sex webcam (shown when his sister looks at his computer screen) knows Brandon.  One day, Brandon's troubled sister, Sissy (a phenomenal Carey Mulligan), shows up and lives with him.  During her stay, both of their lives start to deconstruct. 

Though everything in this film is fantastic, Fassbender is the highlight.  He plays Brandon in a very similar way to Javier Bardem in last year's Biutiful.  Fassbender uses his face to show everything that is going on within him.  In the film, Brandon says little and has no passion for the sex he engages in.  Fassbender shows this with a blank stare.  In one of the most interesting moments of the film, Brandon, walks his office intern Marianne (after a date) to the subway.  The two fall silent; a perfect moment for a kiss.  Instead, she stares at him waiting.  He just looks blankly.  His only attempt at a real, meaningful relationship fails due to his inability to connect with a woman outside of sex.  In another haunting scene, Sissy is singing an incredibly sad and slow rendition of "New York, New York" at a nightclub.  Brandon and his boss are there and Brandon sheds a single tear listening to her.  Due to the lack of backstory, one wonders, what happened to the two siblings before we see them.  In this scene, Fassbender says nothing.  He just stares at her and looks pained.  This performance is one to look for come Oscar time and is also one that certainly took confidence and guts to take on (there are many full-frontal nude scenes).

Carey Mulligan, in another electrifying performance, plays Sissy.  She also has a nude scene and plays the part of Sissy so naturally and so at ease that it looks effortless.  Few actresses would be willing to do what she does in this movie.  She, like Fassbender, says very little and actually is not on screen for a large amount of time, but when she is on, she is marvelous.  She shows everything through her face and speaks volumes.  Do not be surprised if she too is nominated for an Oscar come January.

Steve McQueen's direction and script (he co-wrote it with Abi Morgan) is brilliant in this film.  He keeps the shots stationary and his editor has relatively few edits in between scenes.  He keeps the film lit with either very cold blue and grey lighting or very warm brown and red lighting.  The pacing of the film's first half is very off-putting as some scenes tend to drag on forever.  However, this seems to be intentional as the film's pace follows Brandon's life.  Without a constant supply of sex due to Sissy's presence, Brandon's life seems to slow down as does the movie's pace.  However, in the second half, Brandon's desperation grows and his sexual episodes become more and more frequent, as does the pace of the film.  McQueen's direction is a true work of artistry at its most challenging and ambitious.  His and Morgan's script is also very smart as it is honest and realistic.  Everything comes full circle in the ingenious final scene.

A burning question many of you may have is whether the sex scenes that earned this film an NC-17 rating are necessary.  They absolutely are because they add to the grittiness and the honesty that this film portrays.  Not since 2007's Lust, Caution have I seen such strategically placed and smartly-done sex scenes.  In each film, the sex adds character development.  If you have not seen Lust, Caution, definitely see it.  However, I will warn you, the sex in this film is the most graphic simulated sex that I have ever seen.  So, if you are bothered by this (you should not be with this film as it is not used for exploitation), think twice before seeing it.  This is one of few NC-17-rated films that I can safely say absolutely deserved it.  After all, this is an adult-oriented film that no one under 17 or 18 should be viewing anyway.

Overall, Shame is a great piece of cinema and one of the year's best films.  Please see this, but know what you are about to see before you see it.  And, do not make the mistake of seeing this with your parents or bringing a date to this.  You will regret it.

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Week With Marilyn Review

My Week With Marilyn Review
2011, 99 minutes
Rated R for some language

My Week With Marilyn is the new film starring the always-incredible two-time Oscar-nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain).  It focuses on a young man, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne in a fantastic performance), who starts to work for Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh who will be a sure-fire Oscar nominee) on a new film starring Olivier and Marilyn Monroe (Williams who will absolutely be an Oscar nominee too).  

Story-wise, this film is conventional, but the acting more than makes up for it.  Though Redmayne, Branagh and cast are universally excellent, this is Williams' movie.  She may not look absolutely identical to Monroe (though she does look pretty close), but she nails everything else.  Monroe's light, suggestive walk and airy voice are all brought to light by Williams.  However, Williams' performance goes beyond the basic features of Monroe.  She really gets into the many sides of Monroe.  In this film, she explores the self-doubt that hung over Monroe's life and career.  Williams is like a keyhole allowing us to look into the dark recesses of the icon that she embodies.  Then, Williams effortlessly shows us the fun-loving, free-spirited, sexy side of Marilyn, the one that we all saw in the movies.  In one scene, she and Clark are touring Windsor palace and they are met by much of the staff at the bottom of the stairs.  Reveling in this, Marilyn asks Colin, "Should I be Marilyn?"  This shows that the Marilyn we saw in the movies was definitely not the real Marilyn.  After asking this, she waltzes down the stairs and acts like a star.  In another scene, she and Clark are frolicking through the woods and Marilyn skips around and flirts.  In this scene especially, I forgot that I was watching an actor.  Williams felt right as Monroe and is completely unrecognizable.  In short, she is sensational. 

Overall, My Week With Marilyn is a must-see film if only for Williams.  Williams is working her way up to be one of the greatest living actresses with two Oscar nominations in five years.  This is a great piece of entertainment that you will relish and enjoy.  No, it is not a deep piece of cinema, but it is light, fun, and offers great insight into one of the most attractive and intriguing icons of the 20th century.

-Joshua Handler

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Top 107 Films of All Time (Unranked)

Apocalypse Now Annie Hall Casablanca The Godfather Citizen Kane Psycho Rear Window The Grapes of Wrath Brazil Toy Story Who Framed Roger Rabbit? McCabe & Mrs. Miller The Wild Bunch Straw Dogs Sunset Boulevard The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Star Wars The Wizard of Oz The Incredibles Tootsie Double Indemnity Raiders of the Lost Ark Chinatown All About Eve One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest It's a Wonderful Life Schindler's List Gone With the Wind Bringing Up Baby Kind Hearts and Coronets Letters From Iwo Jima GoodFellas Lawrence of Arabia The Hurt Locker Ratatouille Network Babel Amarcord Nowhere in Africa Ninotchka Cinema Paradiso Wages of Fear Notorious (1946) Charade Bonnie and Clyde Amelie The English Patient Dog Day Afternoon Hannah and Her Sisters The Sound of Music Forrest Gump The Bridge on the River Kwai Notes on a Scandal In the Heat of the Night All the President's Men As Good as It Gets Jaws The Social Network Amadeus The Dark Knight Aliens Pulp Fiction 12 Angry Men North By Northwest The Lives of Others The Pianist Fargo A Streetcar Named Desire Rosemary's Baby Roman Holiday Enchanted April In America Seven Beauties    Talk to Her All About My Mother Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind The Shawshank Redemption After Hours Memento The Killing Father of the Bride (1950) 2046 Requiem for a Dream Y Tu Mama Tambien Blue Velvet Amores Perros Modern Times The Last Picture Show American Beauty The King's Speech Sophie's Choice Midnight Cowboy A Clockwork Orange Taxi Driver Incendies The Usual Suspects Titanic The Artist Groundhog Day A Single Man Punch-Drunk Love A History of Violence Boogie Nights Little Children Rachel Getting Married

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Like Crazy Review

Like Crazy Review
2011, 89 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language

        Like Crazy is this year's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner and it completely deserves it.  It follows two people, one British, Anna (Felicity Jones), and the other, American, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) as they fall in love.  But, eventually, Anna's student visa expires and she has to return to London.  So, the two try to make their long distance relationship work.
        This film works on so many levels due to so many factors, the main being the acting.  Felicity Jones, winner of the Special Jury Prize for Best Actress, is on her way to becoming a big star.  As Anna, she shows depth and raw power.  She, as did every other actor, mostly improvised her role.  Improvisation is an incredibly hard form of acting to master, but she does it here beautifully.  Anton Yelchin as her lover Jacob is also excellent as he and Jones have chemistry to rival the Hollywood greats.  The love between them is smoldering and real.  None of it ever feels forced or corny.
        Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar-nominee for last year's Sundance sensation Winter's Bone, also plays the role of Jacob's girlfriend, Sam, while Anna is away.  She adds a sweetness and warmth not usually exuded by supporting/minor characters in films.  Lawrence has an excellent career ahead of her as she will be in the 2012 film adaptation of The Hunger Games.
        Director Drake Doremus does an excellent job here as he directs his already phenomenally talented actors and coaxes natural performances out of them.  The story that he sets up here is completely believable; most will be able to relate in some way or another.  The pain and love felt by Jacob and Anna is beautifully rendered here.  In this film, it is the small moments that matter, such as a whispered conversation under the covers, or just one look of loneliness or joy.  This is most prominent in the final scene (I will not tell you what it is), where one touch and resulting facial expression convey the power of memories of time gone by.  This scene is also very similar to one in this movie's companion, Blue Valentine.
        In addition to all of the pros of this movie, the camerawork is mostly hand-held (not the nausea-inducing kind, though) adding another dimension of reality to the film.
        In terms of cons, I can't really say there are any.
        Overall, Like Crazy is a beautiful film of the ups and downs of love, a movie we have all seen before, but observed so meticulously and acted so well, that it makes this story and film feel fresh and new again.  I cannot wait to see what comes of these actors and director.  They deserve all of the accolades and  attention they can get.

-Joshua Handler

Watch with Blue Valentine and Annie Hall

Take Shelter Review

Take Shelter Review
2011, 120 minutes
Rated R for some language

Take Shelter is Jeff Nichol's second feature film and is brilliant.  I know I've said this about the past couple of films I've reviewed, but these films are the best out there.  I try to only go to see the best.  Life is too short and money is too scarce to see all of the junk.  Anyway, Take Shelter is amazing mainly due to its original story and Michael Shannon's mind-blowing performance.  He carries much of the film's weight himself.  Take Shelter focuses on Curtis LaForche and his increasingly frightening and intense visions of apocalyptic storms.  The question is: is Curtis a modern prophet or a paranoid schizophrenic?
Michael Shannon turns in a performance that only few could achieve.  He keeps the audience on the edge of their seats the whole time and provides an extra dose of power and emotion to an already exciting film. He completely convinces the audience that he is LaForche and keeps us guessing about whether he is or isn't crazy the whole time.  If he does not get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, something's wrong.

Jeff Nichol's screenplay is excellent as it raises compelling points about Curtis that mirror our whole culture.  It asks whether the people we think are crazy really are or if we are the crazy ones.  This question culminates into an intense climax that makes way for one of the most brilliant finales of the year.  The dialogue that Nichols gives his actors is completely realistic and the situations he places them in are perfect.  The pacing Nichols gives to this film is also perfect because it is not too fast and not too slow.  It just moves at its own pace and lets the audience savor the genius. Take Shelter is only Nichol's second film and I just saw that he has two more lined up, Mud and Native.  He is another exciting talent to watch for and I look forward to his next films.

Overall, Take Shelter is another American masterpiece.  It is powerfully acted, very suspenseful, satisfying, and has a very unique message for the times.  If this under seen film is playing in a theatre near you, you must see it.  I've had few moviegoing experiences this year that rival the raw power of Take Shelter.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene Review

Martha Marcy May Marlene Review
2011, 120 minutes
Rated for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity, and language

Martha Marcy May Marlene marks the start of two careers of the most exciting talents to come along in a while, Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen.  The film follows Martha (Olsen) as she escapes from a cult and goes to live with her sister.  During this stay, Martha becomes increasingly paranoid and has frequent flashbacks to her time with the cult, led by Patrick (Oscar nominee John Hawkes of Winter's Bone).  Every aspect of this film is absolutely brilliant, the most brilliant being the acting.  Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) is electrifying in the lead role.  I hung on her every word, expression, and move.  Most good actresses can play a paranoid person, but it takes a really good one to hold their audience on every word and it takes an even better one to do it without much dialogue.  In Martha Marcy, Olsen is given long shots to stare at the camera and bare her character's soul to the viewer.  In one of the opening scenes when Martha calls her sister to tell her that she needs her to pick her up, Martha is so scared that the cult will come after her that she can barely speak.  The look of pure dread and terror on Olsen's face speaks more volumes than any dialogue could ever portray.  
Hawkes is once again phenomenal as the manipulative leader of the cult that Martha belongs to.  His character, Patrick, is quiet, smooth, calculating, and vicious.  In a certain climactic scene, these all come together in one frightening and unnerving moment.  If I were to spoil this one, it would be tragic.  Hawkes beautifully fleshes out his character and has a commanding screen presence.  Though his character in Winter's Bone is similar in many ways to Patrick, the two are just different enough to make each fascinating.
Jody Lee Lipes' cinematography of this film is the perfect match to Olsen and Hawkes as it is foggy, soft, and quiet.  It does not have the hyper-realistic and sharp quality of that of The Social Network or The Artist.  The dream-like air of calmness is deceiving because under that dreaminess is violence and paranoia.  The tranquility of the film's look makes the scenes of violence that much more shocking.  Also, the takes are long and focus on the actor's faces emphasizing their emotions and slowing the pace to allow the audience to savor the film.
Sean Durkin, making his feature film directorial debut with this film is an exciting talent to watch for as he also wrote the film.  The dialogue and situations rarely fell less than real and feel like the work of a master.
Overall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a piece of masterful filmmaking from true artists to watch out for, especially Olsen.  Please go see this film, no matter what.  If you do not see it now, you will be missing a truly great film that will surely be recognized come Oscar time.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Artist (Advanced Screening) Review

The Artist (Advanced Screening) Review
2011, 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture

The Artist is the new film by director Michel Hazanavicius that stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, and John Goodman.  It will be released at the end of November or beginning of December.  I cannot tell you how much I loved this film.  It touched me like no other has this entire year.  At the screening of this film that I went to, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, reveling in the wonders of Hazanavicius' film.  I can only name a few times when this has happened to me, one being when I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at an outdoor venue on a big screen with a live orchestra.  Films such as these are so original and ambitious in their composition and scope that they cannot help but inspire awe.  The Lord of the Rings films were so fantastic due to their visuals, acting, scope, action, etc.  The Artist is so unique and ambitious because it is a modern-day film in black and white and is SILENT.  This term normally turns people off as it did my dad whom I saw this film with.  The movie began with a titles sequence, shaky background and all and then launched into a beautifully executed sequence in which George Valentin (the astounding Dujardin) attends his own movie premiere and shows off on stage.  This sequence is so ingeniously done as Dujardin steals the show.  He is an actor that has worked with director Hazanavicius on the OSS 117 films before this and is a natural at silent film acting.  From the moment that he pops out from behind the curtain and does his act, I immediately fell in love with his character.  He maintains his character throughout and electrifies.  Bérénice Bejo is also phenomenal as Peppy Miller, a woman whose career George launches and falls in love with.  She puts on a refined, classy, and believable performance and is an absolute pleasure to watch.  She and Dujardin have perfect chemistry and are both bound for larger careers and hopefully Oscar nods.  
Hazanavicius' script is the best I've seen all year because what he shows is that a film does not need many words, and there aren't many, to make a beautiful and powerful point.  He uses his exquisite camerawork and visuals to tell a marvelous story.  He does not rely on sight gags to make the movie funny.  Obviously there are some, but the ones that exist are hilarious and clever.  Much of the humor is provided by Dujardin and Bejo as they simply do their act.  Hazanavicius' directorial skills are impressive also as he knows where to place the camera and which angle to take at every moment.  He employs camera techniques from classic silent films and demonstrates them here with a striking accuracy.  His black and white cinematography, though, is not grainy as it would have been in a real 1920s or 1930s silent film.  It is a hyper stylized black and white that looks crisp and clean and lends a modern  feel to the film.  
Overall, I cannot rave about this film enough.  This is by far the year's best film and if it does not win Oscars, it will be one of their biggest snubs.  This is a special film that everyone can see and relate to.  You will fall in love with this especially if you are a film buff.  Please see this when it opens at the end of November.  The day it opens will be an absolute day to save in your calendars as seeing this will be a touching, beautiful, humorous, and life-affirming experience.

Please Leave Comments Below.

-Joshua Handler

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reviews Coming Soon This Week

Reviews Coming Soon This Week:

Take Shelter (Friday or Saturday)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Friday or Saturday)
The Mill and the Cross (Saturday)

Which ones have you seen or do you want to see?

Paranormal Activity 3 Review

Paranormal Activity 3 Review
2011, 84 minutes
Rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use

Paranormal Activity 3 is the latest film in the Paranormal Activity franchise and it is terrible.  I do not understand the 72% approval rating on  The original in this series was absolutely brilliant using simple sound and visual effects on a shoestring budget to make one of the most terrifying films ever made.  And they should have left it at that.  The latest Paranormal Activity offers up a lot of suspense, but no payoff.  Each "scare" is a rip-off of the original or a cheap or fake scare such as when the babysitter pops in front of the camera as a joke and to keep the jumps coming.  That does not cut it. There were not enough paranormal scares or interesting ones to keep the interest level up.  Also, some of the scares came so obviously that eventually I wanted the movie to be over.  Yes, I hiding in my seat due to the suspense, but the payoff just was not enough.  When is Hollywood going to learn that they need to let good ideas rest?  With the money that this movie is producing, they won't learn any time soon.  
On a positive note, some of the twists and scares were so dumb that many audience members started laughing.  Once they started, I started.  Towards the ridiculous ending, there are some lines and images that are so unintentionally hilarious that I laughed out loud.
Bottom line, I'm glad I used a gift card on this piece of trash.  Those 84 minutes could not have been over sooner.  I thought Horrible Bosses was the year's new low, but this just took it lower.  I really loved the directors Joost and Schulman's previous film Catfish (it was included in my top 10 of 2010), but they really blew it here.  Who knows?  You may like it.  But for me, this was one big cheap scarefest without one ounce of originality in it.  I normally do not see films that are this bad, hence the lack of scathing reviews posted on here, but I had to write about this one due to the hype surrounding it.
Leave comments below if you saw this and let me know what you thought of the movie.

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Skin I Live In Review

The Skin I Live In Review
2011, 117 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use, and language

      What happens when you mix rape, murder, obsession, drugs, sex, nudity, cruelty, and a mad scientist?  The Skin I Live In.  The Skin I Live In is the new film from director Pedro Almodóvar starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya.  It follows Dr. Robert Legard, a scientist whose wife was burned in an accident and because of that, he keeps a woman, Vera (Anaya), as his prisoner/patient to test making an indestructible skin for her.  And that's all I'm going to tell you.  This new film by Almodóvar is completely different and very similar to his previous films.  It is different in the respect that it is cold, calculating, and horrifying.  It has no ravishing romance as points out.  But, this is not necessarily a bad thing as it is a bizarre and fascinating film with twists and turns.  
      In terms of the story, it is twisted, violent, disturbing, and weird; all in a good way.  The first half was interesting for me as I had no clue where it was going.  With Almodóvar's last film, Broken Embraces, he hooked me in from the start with references to his previous films, bright colors, and a compelling romance.  This one took me a bit to get into, as it was completely different in what did not seem to be a good way.  But the film kept running, until it finally exploded with a twist that turned the film into something powerful and meaningful.  The first part was completely made up for as it, too, took on another dimension.  From then on, the story was compelling and kept me fascinated up until the end.  
The story is propelled further by Alberto Iglesias' ravishing score that pulses with electric guitar chords and mystery.  This score further solidifies him in my eyes as the best living film composer.  He has scored Almodóvar's films for the past 15 years, and will most likely continue this.  I anxiously anticipate his next scores.  I normally do not look forward to film scores to be released, but I cannot wait another day for this one.
      Now for the acting.  Banderas reunited with Almodóvar for the first time in 21 years for this film and is incredible.  He plays Legard with a cold coolness that makes you feel little sympathy for him.  Through Banderas' chilling performance, one can see into the black heart of Dr. Legard and all of his complexities which, if discussed detail, would ruin the movie.  Anaya is captivating as Vera.  She hits all of the right notes in this film.  She is sexy, cold, loving, and vengeful all within scenes of one another.  Anaya was recently in Fred Cavayé's excellent Point Blank and I am excited to see what she does next.
      The production design is also fantastic, as it always is in an Almodóvar film.  In this particular film, the primary colors are cold and dark: blue, black, and grey primarily.  But, that is not to say that Almodóvar's signature red does not show anywhere.  It does in many forms including blood.
Overall, The Skin I Live In is another triumph for the world's greatest living director.  Having followed Almodóvar's films for years, it is exciting to see that with age, he has not lost his incredible talent.  Though The Skin I Live In is not the best work he has done to date, it is still an impressive and thought-provoking look at the layers beneath the visible human skin.
Just a warning: The Skin I Live In is incredibly disturbing with no less than two rape scenes, very strong language, disturbing violence, and themes that will definitely turn some off.  If you can handle this material, go see this.  If not, stay away.  Far away.  

-Joshua Handler

View with: Bad Education and Talk to Her

The Ides of March Review

The Ides of March Review
2011, 99 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language

The Ides of March is George Clooney's new film about a political campaign manager who finds out about the dirty side of politics.  Not only did Clooney act in Ides, but he directed and co-wrote it too.  I don't have a lot to say about it because there is not a whole lot to say about it.  First off, the acting was stellar.  The cast includes the likes of Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Jeffrey Wright, and Max Minghella.  Gosling, once again, turns out an outstanding performance as the political campaign manager.  He is completely believable, as he looks comfortable in his role.  Clooney and the rest are great as always.  Giamatti is especially excellent as the Republican candidate's number two man.
But, great as the acting is, the story is uneven.  The beginning set-up is boring and slow, with no interesting content whatsoever.  Then, the whole middle portion is juicy and compelling with plot twists abound.  But, then the film ends with no punch like it should.  Great political thrillers such as All the President's Men pack a punch at the end.  Understated, but powerful.  The problem with this film is that it is not powerful, has no original message, and just doesn't take all of its plot threads and twists and tie them together.
A nice aspect of this movie, though, is the cinematography which is crisp, cool, and assured.  Also, the incredibly versatile composer Alexandre Desplat (The King's Speech, A Prophet, Fantastic Mr. Fox).
Overall, The Ides of March is a waste of a cast, but not entirely a waste of time.  It is a good, not great piece of entertainment that will likely be a hit if you see it.  But, I will say this: with the amount of talent involved, this film should have been more.

-Joshua Handler

The Descendants Review (Advanced Screening)

The Descendants Review 
2011, 115 minutes
Rated R for language including sexual references

      The Descendants is Alexander Payne's new film after a seven year hiatus from filmmaking.  Payne, director of the smash hit Oscar-winner Sideways, is known for making realistic, human dramedies.  Now this may seem cliché of independent filmmakers, which much of the time works against them, but Payne really knows how to get the right tone, reaction from his audience, and the right performances out of his actors.  And this film is no exception.  The Descendants follows a Hawaiian land baron, Matt King (George Clooney), when his wife falls into a coma and he is left to care for his two kids (played by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodly in a performance bound for an Oscar nomination).  The film hits the right tone between comedy and drama.  There are moments where you will laugh out loud and there are others where you will have tears in your eyes.  Both happened to me.
Much as I would love to elaborate on the emotions (I will later), I cannot write one more minute because I must address Clooney's performance.  This is flat-out the best work Clooney has ever done and if he does not get nominated for the Best Actor Oscar come Oscar time, I will be speechless.  In most of his films, Clooney is suave, cool, and charming.  In The Descendants he lays it all off to the side and lets raw emotions take over.  As King faces the difficult situations that any person does when they are faced with a situation such as this, he has his ups and downs.  Clooney understates his performance in many parts when King is down which benefits him greatly.  If King were too suave, he wouldn't be believable.   When hard times hit, Clooney shows it.  When happy hits, you know.  Riding the emotional ups and downs of his character,  Clooney always hits the right tone and even adds in some of his signature humor.  This is the best work he has done yet and I cannot stress how many awards he deserves for this.
      Alexander Payne, the co-writer and director of this film, should have no trouble garnering Oscar nominations for his directing and screenplay.  His work here is solid, tight, and gorgeous.  Infusing a very generic baseline story with humor and pathos, he leaves the viewer feeling for his characters and wanting to spend more time with them.  The best part of the film are the emotions that are delicately placed into the film.  Some scenes, especially one towards the end (you'll know what I'm talking about if you see it), are beyond moving and beautiful.  They will have you in tears.  Payne is on his way to becoming one of the great directors.  If he keeps up at the pace that he's going, he should be remembered in history.  
      Overall, The Descendants is a beautiful film, both in terms of visuals and story.  This is a must-see for all moviegoers and a definite Oscar contender.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did upon its late-November release.  Please post comments below when you see this.

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Melancholia Review

Melancholia Review
2011, 130 minutes
Rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content, and language

Melancholia is Danish provocateur Lars von Trier's (Antichrist, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) new film starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland.  After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the quality of the film was overshadowed by its some comments that director von Trier made at a press conference (look that up on YouTube) which is really too bad because this film is stunning.  Melancholia follows a depressed bride's (Dunst) wedding and her family dysfunction.  It also follows a planet that is looming eerily close to crashing into the earth.  Dunst, in a career-restarting performance, won this year's Best Actress Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  After her wooden work in the Spider-Man films, she has redeemed herself here.  As Justine, the bride, she says very little.  But, looking at her, I was able to understand her emotions.  In the opening shot of the film, she stares directly into the camera with a pained look in her face as birds fall from the sky as the world ends.  Through that one shot in super slow-motion, the sadness is evident as well as I could see that she had resigned herself to her fate (this becomes more evident in the second half of the film).  Through scenes such as this and many others, I became more and more aware of Justine's feelings and felt a connection to her.  Watching her in pain pained me.  
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Cannes Best Actress winner for von Trier's previous film Antichrist (do not see this excellent film if you cannot handle its subject matter), gives yet another amazing performance as Claire, Justine's sister, who is happily married with a husband (Sutherland) and son.  A shown in the opening sequence, she has a very different outlook on the looming apocalypse.  She wants to try to escape her fate and will not accept it.  Gainsbourg shows this not as much through her face, but more through her words.  Her nervous and pained speaking manner demonstrate her underlying nervousness about the apocalypse.  Bottom line, she is marvelous.
Aside from the acting, the story of depression is very realistic and is broken up into two parts: one part following Justine, the other, Claire.  Both stories intertwine and connect and are both fascinating as each character is well-developed and interesting.  Von Trier writes for women like no one else.  The Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar [Volver, Talk to Her, The Skin I Live In (to be reviewed next week)] is the only other to match him.  Also, the subplot about the planet, Melancholia, about to crash into the earth is a metaphor for depression, adding depth to an already dense film.
The visuals in the film are the year's best, hands down.  Every special effect looks real and the images von Trier creates are gorgeous.  One could put a frame around them and hang them.  The opening selection of slow-motion images is the best part of any film I've seen all year.  From Dunst flowing down a stream of deep greens and blues to an animated painting burning up, these images each have symbolic meaning and are the highlight of the film.  I will not say anymore about the opening so as not to ruin the surprise.  Von Trier's camerawork and visuals are also very impressive in the dramatic scenes as many are done in his signature hand-held Dogme 95 style which adds to the gritty realism of the film.
Another side comment about von Trier's genius is that unlike other apocalypse films á la 2012, he never goes into how the rest of the world reacts.  By doing this, he would have lost some narrative focus and character development/focus.  His characters are in their own world, it seems, and by not showing the rest of the world, he focuses in on his characters more.  A brilliant choice.
Overall, as one of my friends put it, this is the most humane depiction of the apocalypse that has ever been made.  Never feeling too long, rushed, or false, Melancholia is a truly original vision from one of the world's greatest directors.  From the opening, all the way to the close, he keeps the viewer with Justine and Claire.  A quick warning, though.  If you are expecting the disaster film of the year or cannot sit through a conversation-fueled drama, do not see this film.  If you enjoy art house filmmaking, this is truly it at its finest.  Melancholia is a modern masterpiece.

-Joshua Handler

View with Antichrist and Dogville.

Friday, October 7, 2011

50/50 Review

50/50 Review
2011, 99 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some drug use

50/50, plain and simple, is a miracle.  This is a film about a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who finds out he has cancer and his friend (Seth Rogan) and him try to get him through it.  Coming into the film, I was expecting a nice and heartwarming film that was worth the time, but nothing special.  Wow was I wrong about that.  What I got was the best film of the year so far.  Yes, I have said that multiple times, but that shows the high caliber of the fall 2011 film selection.  Drive and Tabloid had that distinction two weeks ago, but hey, a better film came along.  No, 50/50 does not have the excellent and inventive score and cinematography that Drive had, nor does it have the incredibly unusual true story that Tabloid did, but it does have more humor, realism, and most importantly heart than Drive ever had, and that is why the film won me over.  From the opening scenes where I was introduced to Levitt's mild-mannered character, Adam, and his foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, womanizing friend, Kyle, I immediately felt a connection with them and liked them.  Their normality is their charm and appeal.  This and the film's honesty are most likely due to the fact that the screenwriter, Will Reiser, based this film off of his own experiences.
Reiser's screenplay never overplays the emotions that follow cancer and it never cracks the wrong/inappropriate joke at the wrong time.  Yes, the film is raunchy, but it is raunchy in moderation, in contrast to this summer's absolutely awful Horrible Bosses. Reiser also does a great job developing all of the main characters fully, but that is not all.  He goes farther by developing the character of Adam's mom (a fascinating and heartbreaking subplot in the film), girlfriend, and therapist.  These rich and flawed characters add to the film's quirkiness and believability.  Also, Reiser's daringness to go into some deeply emotional scenes (some of the audience members at my showing were audibly crying, and I will admit I was getting teary also) adds that extra level to the story.  I hope this screenplay scores an Oscar nomination because most other films dealing with this subject and taking a comedic approach would not have been able to balance comedy and drama this masterfully.
Along with the excellent screenplay comes some wonderful performances especially from the versatile Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, (500) Days of Summer).  He plays Adam with such skill that I forgot that I was watching an actor.  He moves effortlessly from some awkward male-bonding scenes to serious emotional scenes.  I don't think this will score him an Oscar nomination, but he sure deserves to be considered.  Rogan and Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) are the film's two main co-stars who do a great job, but neither role seems like a stretch for either one of them.  Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston also turn in some memorable performances.
Overall, 50/50 is a must-see film.  Though heart-wrenching, the wonderful sense of humor (I laughed aloud many times, a rare occurrence) and characters make this one worthwhile.  Do not let the difficult theme of cancer stop you from seeing this.  This film is a small gem that demonstrates with a little money, a great script, and some talented actors, you can make a masterpiece.

-Joshua Handler

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reviews Coming Soon

The Ides of March

Moneyball Review

Moneyball Review
2011, 133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some strong language

Moneyball is the first film in six years from director Bennett Miller (Oscar-nominated director of the outstanding 2005 film, Capote), and it is one hell of a return.  This film stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as two men who revolutionize baseball and save a failing team by breaking the two down into a mathematical equation and the success they achieve from it.  Moneyball works for so many reasons, first and foremost being Brad Pitt in one of the best performances of his career.  Pitt, an actor who has played many various and assorted characters ranging from a mental hospital patient to a spy married to another spy to Jesse James.  In every role he plays, he brings a certain charm and energy into the role which makes him extremely likable.  His charismatic air and ease in role always makes me curious as to how he will pull off his next role.  Of the actors in Hollywood that flood the tabloids, Pitt is the best.  And Moneyball is no exception to his fascinating career.   Working from an excellent script from Oscar-winners Steven Zallian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Pitt delivers the rapid-fire banter effortlessly.  As Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager, Pitt fleshes him out to make him a real person.  In one scene you see him trading players breathlessly over the phone, and in another, you see him listening to his daughter play music for him with a loving and caring look in his eyes.  In short, there are few male lead performances this year that can match Pitt's.  The only one that was more impressive was Dominic Cooper's in The Devil's Double.  
Great as Pitt was, Jonah Hill holds his own quite well playing Beane's assistant who creates the formulas that Beane uses to pick players most likely to succeed on his team.  The best moments in the film occur when he is conversing with Pitt, with the two throwing witticisms back and forth.  Hill, like Pitt, has a natural ease in this film and is an absolute pleasure to watch.  
Sorkin and Zallian's script is flat-out electrifying.  They do not focus on the game of baseball as much as the behind-the-scenes work which is a breath of fresh air considering that every other sports film focuses on the "inspirational true story" that has everyone on their feet clapping by the end.  As mentioned before, the dialogue that these two brilliant writers give their actors is ingenious and keeps the laughs coming.  They do not overplay the situations, giving the film a low-key feel.  The back-and-forth exchanges between Pitt and Hill are similar to the one between Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara at the beginning of The Social Network.  With words thrown back and forth like tennis volleys, the viewer is on the edge of their seat every step of the way trying to keep up with the pace.  In one word, brilliant.
Though the acting and script were phenomenal, I did have one slight problem: the pacing.  Though the final forty minutes were some of the best that I've seen this entire year, there is a chunk in the first part that moves a little too slowly.  However, do not let me discourage you from seeing the movie with that criticism.  If you do not see it because of reading that, you are making a grave mistake.
In total, Moneyball is one of the year's best films so far.  If you go see the film for nothing but Pitt, that will be enough.  He's that good.  If you see this film, you will be delighted to find a witty, fun, and enlightening film to take your teens/sports fans to that will have you talking long after the credits roll.

-Joshua Handler

Friday, September 16, 2011

Drive Review

Drive Review
2011, 100 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language, and some nudity

Starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, Drive is, simply put, a work of cinematic art.  It is also the best picture of the year so far along with Tabloid.  What do these two films have in common?  They are both indie films.  And Drive shows what a great director and cast can do with the action genre indie-style.  Everything from the lighting, music (from Cliff Martinez, a name to look out for as he also did Contagion's music which was very different and original), and the camerawork is near perfect.  Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Cannes Best Director Winner) does a great job finding the right approach with the material.  He goes for a minimalistic style, which fits the material and Gosling's performance like a glove. 
Ryan Gosling, in another fantastic performance, plays The Driver to minimal and maximum effect.  He says (and everyone else for that matter) very few words, but the viewer knows what is going on inside him due to his facial expressions.  When conversing with Irene (Mulligan), a woman with whom he has fallen in love with, he does not say much, but we can see the love and happiness (two emotions rarely shown by The Driver in this film) flowing through him as a little smile appears on his face. 
Gosling, an actor who has shown his range of talent in films such as Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Blue Valentine (my #2 favorite film of 2010), demonstrates that he can still do more than already shown with The Driver.  I’m quite glad to see that he is catching on with audiences as he has had at least three film releases this year (Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March, and Drive).
Refn, a director known for his violent arthouse films, Valhalla Rising and Bronson proves that he is a director to watch out for.  In this film, he goes for lighting that evokes the softness of classic Hollywood noir and the colors of modern-day L.A.  He films everything with grace.  The action scenes, many of which are in slow motion, are extraordinarily shot and have enormous tension built up before exploding. 
Cliff Martinez’s score has a very electric feel to it along with a string of ‘80s europop songs.  These songs give the film a very European feel which suits the sleekness of the film wonderfully.  His original compositions are very simple, but convey the mood and rising tension of each scene.  They are electric and alive and greatly add to the film as a whole.
Drive’s action scenes, though few, are insanely intense due to the fact that they are very naturalistic (no blasting music, gunshots, or explosions).  One never knows when someone will be killed or seriously maimed.  Something could happen out of nowhere.  These scenes (as mentioned before) are mostly in slow motion, an effect that if overused (as in Watchmen) can become melodramatic, but if used right, as in this film can add to the overall effect.  One gets to savor the action and gets to really feel and see the savagery and violence being shown.  Though brutal, Drive’s violence feels natural as it just happens as a part of the story and no big deal is made.  The slow motion adds to the naturalistic effect as you see everything unfold as in a ballet.  One gunshot here, another there gracefully and slowly hitting the target, and then it is over.  Michael Bay needs to take a hint from Refn.
Overall, Drive is a masterpiece of modern cinema, but be warned, this film is not going to be for everyone as it essentially an arthouse film and does not have a lot of action or dialogue (as mentioned before).  It is also the most violent film (aside from The Devil's Double) that I have seen that has come out in 2011.  If you are up for a film such as this, by all means, go see it!

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Point Blank Review

Point Blank Review
2011, 84 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language

Point Blank is a French action-thriller directed by Fred Cavayé and is 84 minutes of pure action.  Now, many films go wrong by making the film all about the action and not about the characters, but this lean, mean film is stronger and better than just about every action movie that has come out in past few months because it balances the story, characters, and action.  Point Blank is about an innocent man who goes on a hunt for his wife's kidnappers and uncovers secrets and conspiracies.  The premise for the film is pretty generic, but everything else completely makes up for it; the strongest of these being the fantastic acting by Gilles Lellouche, Elana Anaya, and Roschdy Zem.  
These three actors do a phenomenal job at making their characters come alive and not leaving them to be generic, one-dimensional characters.  They fill their roles with emotion.  Lellouche and Anaya play a couple in the film and have completely believable chemistry.  They look like ordinary people and look like friendly, normal, relatable people that you would find on the street.  In the film when they are in peril, we root for them every step of the way.  Towards the end of the film, there is an especially tense scene in which I was on the edge of my seat gripping the armrest in the theater.  This scene involved one of the main characters and seeing them in peril made me uncomfortable because I liked them so much.
The action in this film was nothing to laugh off either as it was well-filmed and appropriate as in it happened at the right time.  Action is a hard thing to film nowadays as movies keep becoming more and more generic as they try to be more and more elaborate.  In this film, the action filming is nothing special, but that is why it works.  The director didn't try too hard.  He doesn't go for the Michael Bay-all-out-action style, he uses no "shaky camera" style, and he keeps the camera in a place where the audience can discern what is going on.  This simplicity made the action thrilling.
Overall, Point Blank is one hell of an action movie that kept me interested and entertained.  Go see this if you can find it at one of your local theaters.  You won't be disappointed.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top 5 Films of the Summer-Joshua Handler

5. X-Men: First Class- What could have been yet another superhero reboot/origins story turned out to be a well-made, acted, and written production that is the best superhero film since The Dark Knight.  Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass) directed this film which could be a reason why it succeeded.  His films are always original with a twisted sense of humor.  His originality shows here as he creates a very original and entertaining origins story out of a half-dead franchise that wasn't great to start out with.  He creates a retro feel that really suits the film well.  The real standout of this film is Michael Fassbender as Magneto.  He puts emotion into Magneto making you feel for him and he creates a three-dimensional character.  You really feel for him.  Overall, see this film.  It is funny, action-packed, and truly delightful.

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes- Like X-Men: First Class, ROTPOTA is another excellent reboot/origins story.  The most fascinating part about it is that it has very little action and a lot of story which is something many films nowadays lack.  Andy Serkis gives an amazing performance as Caesar, the lead ape.  This film was extremely entertaining and has some great action paired with a good story.

3. The Devil's Double- Many people probably have not heard of or seen The Devil's Double, but it is one of the most fascinating (although not completely true to history) films of the summer.  It tells the story of Latif Yahia, a man forced to be the bodyguard of Sadaam Hussein's sadistic eldest son, Uday.  The movie has a fairly conventional narrative and a few missteps towards the end, but that is completely made up for by lead actor Dominic Cooper who gives an astonishing double performance as both Latif and Uday.  Cooper, best known for his roles in Mamma Mia! and the stage production of The History Boys shows that he has the talent to be a leading man and star.  He plays Latif, a mild-mannered man next to Uday, a vile murdering rapist and for a while in the film I forgot that I was watching one actor, not two.  Overall, see this film because of Cooper and for the fact that it is quite entertaining.  But, be warned, it is one of the most sadistic and graphically violent films I've seen in theaters in quite some time.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2- What can I say?  This film is truly marvelous.  From the excellent cast who really show their acting chops to the production design, this film is a hands-down winner.  I won't say much more, so just see it if you haven't.  It is masterful.

1. Tabloid- Errol Morris' (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line) new documentary about Joyce McKinney and her scandal in the 1970's is truly astonishing.  It be the least well-known film on this list, but it is certainly the best.  It is told entirely through interviews which may sound boring, but isn't.  Not seeing much but faces makes your imagination work which makes the story even more outrageous than it already is.  I don't want to tell you too much so as not to give it away, but I can tell you that my mouth was on the floor by the time the 85-ish minutes were up.  I had to reattach my jaw after the lights went up.  I couldn't believe what I had just heard/seen.  This film does not have anything deep to say like many documentaries do, but it doesn't need to.  This film shows that documentaries don't have to have a message or be boring.  It shows that you can have fun while watching them.  SEE THIS FILM!!!  It is my current favorite of 2011.

Top 5 Summer Movies of 2011

                       By Max Sandler

                       5. Horrible Bosses
                          By far the biggest surprise of the summer, Horrible Bosses was everything a comedy should be: funny, well written, and thoughtfully casted. The movie surrounds three friends who each work for the most obnoxious and antagonistic people you will ever meet (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell). When their bosses begin to significantly ruin their lives, they decide to work together to kill them. The movie is such a riot because it makes sure that the characters themselves are just as funny and memorable as the plot. Each boss is obnoxious in their own special way. When I laughed at these characters, I laughed at each one for a different reason. I haven’t seen a comedy with this many funny, memorable characters since “Billy Madison”. Spacy, Aniston, and Farrell steal the show due to their ability to portray characters with very distinctive personalities.
                          4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
                          The film itself is the best of the Potter movies. The plot is simplified: Harry must kill Voldemort before Voldemort kills him. It’s a straight forward “good verses evil” story, and the film is better off because of it. Also, some of the characters, particularly Voldemort, are more three dimensional in the new installment. In the third act, Voldemort starts to act insane when he realizes that Harry might defeat him. Therefore he’s not as confident as he was in the previous films. Yet this makes him more unpredictable and scarier. Overall, it was a great way to end a great series, even if the last scene was ridiculous (the adults look like teenagers dressing up as adults; believe me, it’s silly).
                          When the credits began to roll for Harry Potter, I realized that the cast of the film series has been beyond dedicated to the franchise for over a decade. With the exception of Dumbledore, the entire main cast has stayed the same for every film. Our generation has grown up with these characters. This is a cinematic achievement that will hopefully be recognized in the years to come.
                          3. Captain America: The First Avenger
                          This movie is great because it’s campy. It’s campy because the script feels like it was taken straight out of a comic book: the antagonist is the epitome of evil and the protagonist is the epitome of good; the main character falls in love; it’s beyond patriotic; and it’s a basic “good verses evil” story (no more and no less). The film is as cliché as it gets, and that’s the way a comic book movie should be. While I like movies like the Dark Knight for creating their own vision of a superhero, I love movies that are faithful to the feel of the original superhero while adapting them to modern film. Although Captain America has lines like, “I don’t like bullies”, the action scenes are the quality you would expect from a 2011 summer blockbuster. Even if you’re not a comic-book movie fan, check this one out.
                          2. The Help
                          The Help is an extremely moving story about a young Caucasian girl (Emma Stone) who interviews African-American housekeepers about their experiences working in white family homes in the 1960’s. The performances are what will make this movie memorable. Octavia Spencer blew me away with her outstanding performance in her portrayal of a strong and determined person. She should be nominated for an academy award. Bryce Dallas Howard also does a great job playing the meanest housewife you’ll ever meet. All of the characters are so engaging, this is sure to be one of those movies you wish would never end.
                          1. Fright Night
            Although I’m not a fan of horror movie remakes, I have to make an exception with Fright Night. Based off the 1985 original, Fright Night breathes new air into the classic. The film is based around a teen that lives in the suburbs of Las Vegas. One by one, his childhood friends begin to go missing. He eventually discovers that his next-door neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and that he is responsible for all of the missing people in the town. The rest of the movie is a battle to stay alive and to kill the vampire. What makes this stand out from other vampire movies is that all of the traditional vampire “rules” apply in Fright Night. Jerry can’t come into a house unless he’s invited, and holy water and sunlight can potentially kill him. The movie also succeeds to make fun of Twilight, which was pretty funny. But the best part about Fright Night was Colin Farrell’s performance. I never imagined him playing a vampire; yet he fit the part perfectly. He was confident and did an amazing job of making sure no one discovered he was a vampire. But he also acted very hungry. I know it sounds weird, but he looked at other people as if their blood were equivalent to a slice of pizza; and that’s how a vampire should act.