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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 na├»ve 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