Search Film Reviews

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