Archive | December, 2012

PCP Detox: Django Unchained Review

27 Dec

What happens when a German and a slave go on a road trip across the American south in the mid-nineteenth century? You get Quentin Tarantino’s latest with Django Unchained

Marcus Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

18 Dec

Synopsis:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever… Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” …a simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know

What I Liked:

If there’s one thing that Peter Jackson is able to do possibly better than any director before him, it’s capture & navigate the feelings of awe, fear and joy that come from experiencing a fantasy adventure. He showcases the highs & lows of an adventure like a true veteran while still managing to infuse the child-like wonder throughtout every part of the film. No matter how dangerous the journey, he makes you want to embark on that journey with the characters which is something that not many directors have been able to do.

Another thing that Jackson does better than practically every other director is work with scale & cinematography. As expected from by anyone who’s seen a Peter Jackson film at this point, The Hobbit is filled with sprawling landscapes & amazingly detailed structures that seem to be brimming with history and culture. The visuals in this film were downright breathtaking at times and out of everything I’ve seen this year only Skyfall rivals it’s beauty on a cinematic level.

The performances from the ensemble were quite strong all around; especially from Richard Armitage as the prideful & equally vengeful dwarf prince Thorin, Andy Serkis as the tragic & oddly adorable Gollum and the incomparable Ian McKellen as everyone’s favorite grand wizard, Gandalf; but it was Martin Freeman who truly stole the show here. From the moment we see him it becomes obvious that there was no one else that could’ve been Bilbo. He’s a man from small beginnings with a hidden but undeniable thirst for adventure who carries within him the virtues and spirit of The Shire. Though based on appearance alone he’s completely unequipped for an adventure of this magnitude, it’s his humble nature, his big heart & his simple values that make him the perfect man (Hobbit) for the task ahead. He’s one of those rare characters who actually becomes more layered as the story progresses and it’s a real treat to watch him grow.

Howard Shore returns to Middle Earth with long time collaborator Jackson and provides yet another rousing & grandiose score that makes the film feel that much more epic. It’s definitely one of the best film scores of the year.

What I Didn’t Like:

I wasn’t able to see this movie in 48fps format that had people so split but viewing it in 3-D was a bit of a chore in it’s own right. While the 3-D did make the landscapes & other visuals pop, during the action set pieces it became an eyesore as I kept having to adjust my eyes in order to keep up with the fast paced movements. I even had to take the glasses off every now and then because my eyes started hurting.

I wasn’t really a huge fan of the CG orcs. While I understand that it was a cheaper way to go, after using actual actors for the orcs for 3 movies this was kind of an unwelcome change. In fact the only things that I liked about the CG orcs were that they were able to use Wargs and Azog (the orc leader) looked badass.

The fact that Thorin thought that Azog had died after he’d simply cut his arm off baffled me.

There were certain moments in this that simply made no sense, the most glaring of which was the moment where the group was cornered by the orcs as they were dangling off of a toppled tree on a cliff but some how were able to spring into action the moment where Thorin was about to kick the bucket. It’s a nitpick I know but it kind of bothered me.

While this isn’t so much something that bothered me, the movie is quite deliberately paced and spends alot of time setting things up for the sequel which will undoubtedly bother the average moviegoer.

Overall:

In the pantheon of pure fantasy films, I consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy to be the perfect examples of how to get it right. They’re essentially beautifully crafted love letters not only to the source material, but the genre that Jackson so obviously loves. While the first installment of The Hobbit doesn’t quite meet the grand standards of it’s predecessors, it still is able to capture the scale and bewilderment that every great fantasy adventure should making it’s missteps almost seem irrelevant. Some people may fault this movie for being too lighthearted but it’s important to remember that, compared to The Lord of The Rings trilogy that follows it, The Hobbit is a much lighter series. Boasting expected but nonetheless breathtaking cinematography, a truly rousing score, great ensemble acting & a star turn from Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a gleeful first installment to what I’m hoping to be a truly epic trilogy.

Rating: B/B+

Marcus Reviews Silver Linings Playbook

2 Dec

Synopsis:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

What I Liked:

Like all movies (especially comedies) that center around mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook ran the risk of offending a whole community of people if it didn’t handle it properly. If they would’ve underplayed it then it would’ve been chastised for playing it safe and on the flip side if they would’ve hammed it up they would’ve turned it into a parody. Luckily thanks to the capable hands involved in this film they were able to handle this touchy topic both honestly and tastefully while still pulling off natural comedy & genuine comedy. Hats off all around.

This movie is pretty stacked ensemble-wise and for the most part the supporting characters do a great job (Robert Deniro gives on of his better performances in recent memory and Chris Tucker provides a refreshing source of levity without being the least bit obnoxious) but this is Cooper & Lawrence’s movie to carry and carry it they did. It’s not secret now that Jennifer Lawrence is quite possibly the most talented young actress out there right now and her performance in this further supports that claim. When I first heard that she was in this movie alongside Bradley Cooper I was slightly worried due to how young she looks compared to him, but she was very much so a woman here. The way she had to weave in & out of the highs & lows of grief was no easy task and yet she was able to pull it off with relative ease. Bradley Cooper was the true star of this movie though as I have no doubt that his performance in this will earn him a Best Actor nod. Playing a character who deals with bipolar disorder would’ve easily gone array when it came time to display the manic episodes but Cooper’s growth as an actor was deftly showcased as he realistically depicted the ins and outs of this perplexing illness. He would make you laugh out loud one minute (his reactions to things were golden) and then break your heart the next in a way that a lesser actor could’ve only hoped to achieve.

I’d also like to shine a light on Bradley & Jennifer’s natural chemistry and charisma here. From the first moment that their characters laid eyes on one another it was magic and their chemistry was electric from that moment until the credits rolled. Considering the substantial age difference between the two, Bradley is 37 & Jennifer is 22, it’s truly impressive how they make it work without it ever being awkward or creepy.

The comedy in this movie was often times very risky as in several moments it happened in the middle of a manic episode but thanks to the sharp script and the talented actors it always felt oddly natural. I found myself laughing genuinely at moments where I didn’t even think it was appropriate to laugh.

There was a moment in this movie towards the end where I got really worried that the movie was going to go the Hollywood happy ending route and when they didn’t I was genuinely relieved.

What I Didn’t Like:

I don’t know whether it was the actress or the script that I should blame but the mother always ended up feeling like a background character. She really had very little presence whenever she was on screen and it was even more obvious whenever she was in a room full of people. Though then again this may have been intentional…

I could’ve done without some of the side characters if it meant more scenes with Chris Tucker.

Even though they were in Philly, I found the football sub plot to be a bit unneeded.

The pacing of this movie was a bit all over the place at times and it dragged a bit towards the middle.

Overall:

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those rare romantic comedies that isn’t satisfied with being cute chick bait and goes above and beyond to get the most out of it’s story and actors. It’s easily the best romantic comedy to come out this year and thanks to David O. Russell’s sensitive direction, a sharp script, some strong supporting performances and very strong turns from both Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence; I could definitely see this making a run at the Oscars this year. If you need a little feel good in your life then I definitely recommend that get yourself a date and check out Silver Linings Playbook.

Rating: B+

Marcus Reviews Rise of the Guardians

2 Dec

Synopsis:

When the evil spirit Pitch (The Boogeyman) launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians (Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman, The Easter Bunny & the newly appointed Jack Frost) team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.

What I Liked:

This movie is basically The Avengers/The Justice League for the pre-high school generation and it’s awareness of this fact turns out to be it’s greatest strength. The guardians are handled like superheroes; each with their own special powers & individual strengths but, like all superhero team movies, it’s seeing the group interact and fight together that is the true treat.

Visually Dreamworks is usually always playing second fiddle to Pixar & Disney but in the last few years they’ve stepped their game up and this is no exception. From the varied character designs to the surprisingly expansive world to the effects for the powers, Rise is a very attractive movie with an impressive amount of detail put into the visuals.

Plot-wise the movie was pretty by-the-numbers stuff but the overarching themes were pretty interesting. Without giving too much away, once a guardian is chosen they depend on the belief of children to keep them from “disappearing” into nothing more than a myth or an urban legend and I found that to be somewhat fascinating.

While for the most part they don’t have much depth, each of the characters in the movie are engaging in their own way which can be credited to the mostly impressive voice acting. Alec Baldwin showcases an great Russian accent as the hilariously over-the-top Santa Claus (who’s bound to be the kids favorite character), Isla Fisher speaks in double time as the frantic and semi-anal Tooth Fairy, Hugh Jackman goes back to his native accent as the overcompensating Easter Bunny and Jude Law (I kept mistaking for Tom Hiddleston) gets sinister as the very Loki-esque and poorly named Pitch (whenever someone said his name it sounded like they were cursing) aka The Boogeyman. I didn’t mention Sandy aka The Sandman because he didn’t speak a word the entire movie, instead he spoke using gestures and materializing images with his dream sand which was pretty cool and reminded me of The Green Lantern. The human characters were overall forgettable but they ultimately served their purpose.

The movie is briskly paced and while I do wish that they would’ve delved a bit more into the pasts of the Guardians and Pitch, I’m glad that the movie didn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Another way that this movie can be compared to The Avengers is by how high octane and epic that the action set pieces were. There were moments during the fight scenes that I actually got goosebumps from some of the things that I was seeing.

The elves & the yeti that belongs to Santa Claus were outright hilarious. I greatly prefer them to the minions from Despicable Me.

The scoring was nothing special but it was appropriate for the movie.

What I Didn’t Like:

While Jack Frost was pretty interesting and an overall likeable character, I felt like the choice of voice actor was a bit off putting. Even though he’s over a hundred years old, his character model makes him look like a teenager and Chris Pine’s voice sounded a bit too masculine and adult. There were moments where it match but others where it just didn’t sound right. I feel like they would’ve been better off going with a younger guy.

As I noted earlier, the movie goes by pretty quickly and because of this we only really got character development from Jack Frost. Now while I understand that this was basically his movie, I can only hope that there ends up being a sequel because I was left with questions about all of the other characters’ back stories as well as how the “Man on the Moon” thing even works.

Overall:

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again here, in my view the best animated films have something that appeals to both the children and the grown ups in the audience. They have to be able to cater to the kids while still being able to somehow keep the adults engaged and for the most part Rise of The Guardians does just that. While it could’ve used a bit more in the way of character development and there was an odd choice of voice actor, RoTG’s strengths ultimately outweigh its negatives with fun characters, attractive visuals, epic action set pieces and a surprising amount of depth for a movie of this nature. If you’ve already seen Wreck-It-Ralph then I definitely recommend that you grab your siblings, your kids or even some friends and check this one out.

Rating: B

Marcus Reviews Killing Them Softly

2 Dec

Synopsis:

Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

What I Liked:

From the moment that this movie started I knew that I was in for one hell of a ride. Few movies make me feel that way right off the bat but when they do they usually end up being something truly special.

While using a mobster backdrop as the scenery for social commentary is hardly a new concept, the cynical, grim & controversial nature that it’s presented in in Killing Them Softly is what truly forces you to pay attention. Set in the middle of the recession, the stark mood and blatant force of the film feel warranted and even appropriate instead of coming off as heavy handed.

Andrew Dominik does a fantastic job at bringing this seemingly pre-apocalyptic view of America and the dirty characters that inhabit it to life. There’s nothing pretty about this world and Dominik really makes sure that we’re aware of that. He also does a great job at getting the most of the scenes by letting a scene run a bit longer then you’re comfortable with and building very real tension.

The ensemble acting in this is fantastic all around with Scott McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn & the ever impressive, James Gandolfini standing out particularly but ultimately it’s Brad Pitt that steals the entire movie. His character exudes cool but it’s a cool that stems from apathy and lethargy. He’s a man who’s been in the game for so long that he knows the system like the back of his hand and he’s tired of all the bullsh*t. He’s walking, talking cynicism in a leather jacket & aviators with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and you can’t help but be intrigued.

The script, also provided by Andrew Dominik, is a brilliant mix of insanely dark but genuinely hilarious comedy, vulgar profanity and very honest confessions/anecdotes. None of the dialogue feels out of place here and it only adds effect to the movie’s controversial tone.

The cinematography is very raw & unflitered which gives the movie the feel of old procedural cop dramas like Kojak & Columbo and combined with Dominik’s surefooted direction, Killing Me Softly has an interesting mix of the past and the present.

There is no score in this film, instead there are a set of old rock/folk songs that are hilariously placed and totally appropriate.

This movie has the best ending of any movie that I’ve seen all year (and possibly one of the best of all time). There is literally no better way that they could’ve closed a movie of this nature and that scene alone could earn Brad Pitt an Oscar nod.

What I Didn’t Like:

There will inevitably be those that won’t agree but I honestly can’t think of anything that I had a problem with here. In my mind this movie hit all the right notes and was executed perfectly.

Overall:

Killing Them Softly is one of those rare movies that comes along and ends up being so different from everything that came out that year that people can’t help but take notice. It’s raw, edgy, cynical, dark, eye opening and downright hilarious all at the same time. People actually clapped at the end of this. It’s a movie that’s fully aware of the urgency and importance of it’s message and doesn’t hold back once. This movie is the personification of the quotation marks on the term “The American Dream”. I’d be hard pressed to find a movie that was more timely and culturally relevant to come out this year. Stacked with a fantastic ensemble cast, hard hitting social commentary, ballsy direction by Andrew Dominick and quite possibly Brad Pitt’s best turn in years; Killing Me Softly is a film that might not be appreciated by everyone, but one that people will be talking about.

Rating: A