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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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Guard Review

The Guard Review
96 minutes, 2011
Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, drug material, and sexual content

The Guard is a film starring Brenden Gleason and Don Cheadle that was directed by John Michael McDonagh.  It is about a corrupt Irish policeman (Gleason) who teams up with an FBI agent (Cheadle) to solve a murder.  I really do not have a lot to say about this film because there isn't a lot to discuss.  The film suffers from a lack of a build-up to the climax, boring spots, and a serious lack of originality.  However, it does benefit from fantastic performances, good attention to detail, and some great jokes.
First off, the highlight of this film is watching Gleason and Cheadle at work.  These two actors who are completely different work marvelously together and have great chemistry.  Each one of them brings their own unique set of skills to the table, Gleason's charm and knack for comedy and Cheadle's likablity and noble presence.  Gleason, however, is best actor in this film as he is as foul-mouthed as he is strangely likable.  He delivers the jokes with perfect timing and is always up to something bad such as taking acid from a murder victim on the job.  This is where McDonagh's clever details kick in.  In the scene where Gleason takes acid, a little smiley face flashes across the screen as it starts to kick in.  Certain details like that and witty comments are what the film coasts upon and are what make it enjoyable.
However much wit and charm The Guard has, it still lacks originality.  This film is very similar to every other fish-out-of-water or buddy cop movie that has ever been made.  Yes, some have made great original additions to each of these genres, The Guard fails to do so.  Also, the film has some moments where nothing happens.  I do realize that McDonagh was aiming for a low-key, dryly funny film, but it sometimes tries too hard for that and that ends up bogging it down.  Finally, due to the lack of interest in some parts, the main story gets lost in the mix.  This doesn't help especially when the climax comes out of left field.  Due to the lost and slowly-moving story, the climax doesn't come after a build-up which makes the pacing uneven.
Overall, The Guard is a perfectly entertaining film that is nice to see if you want a laugh on a Saturday afternoon.  While I would not highly recommend it to everyone (for the reasons mentioned above, and also the dark sense of humor could be off-putting), it is still a nice way to pass time and watch two amazing actors work off of each other.  If you want a better film with the same sense of humor, watch In Bruges which was directed by John Michael McDonagh's brother, Martin and also stars Brenden Gleason.

-Joshua Handler

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Underrated/Forgotten Films of the Week

Underrated/Forgotten Films of the Week

Shadow of the Vampire- This film details the making of the classic vampire film Nosferatu and the battle fought between its star and director.  This film definitely takes liberties with the facts (you'll see what I mean) and John Malkovich's acting is not great, but that is more than made up for by the creepy atmosphere and Willem Dafoe's Oscar-nominated performance as the Nosferatu star, Max Shrek, the ultimate method actor.  His performance is one of the greatest in cinema history.

Reversal of Fortune- This 1990 film details the real story of Claus von Bulow, a man who was charged with the attempted murder of his wife, and how he uses a lawyer to try to reverse his fortune/sentence.  The film stars Jeremy Irons in a delightfully creepy, Oscar-winning turn as von Bulow, and Glenn Close as his wife.  Reversal of Fortune was nominated for two more Oscars: Best Director (Barbet Schroeder) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Nicholas Kazan).  It is incredibly entertaining and has very wide appeal.