Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Catching up with 2011: The Ides of March

If it weren't for Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March would feel more like a great episode of television than a movie one really needs to go out of their way to see. Gosling is, as everyone knows by now, one of the best young actors working today (alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon I'm hard-pressed to find three better young actors working right now), and he really saves this movie from being pretty, "meh." Don't get me wrong, though, Clooney (who stars, directs, and co-writes) is more than adept at making this kind of cerebral, political thriller. Loosely based on the Howard Dean campaign of 2004, The Ides of March fits neatly into the type of film Clooney the director seems drawn to: movies about men of high intelligence and energy (and are somewhat idealistic) who have their worlds close in on them until they reach their breaking point. It's not that The Ides of March is ineffective or even bad; it's just that in the end, it's wholly forgettable. The film doesn't tell the viewer something they don't already know about the soul-crushing endeavor of working on a campaign (and politics in kind of reminded me of Charlie Wilson's War in this respect), but it is filled with great performances (the aforementioned Gosling, of course) from the likes of Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Max Minghella. It won't make any end-of-the-year lists, but it's certainly worth your 100 minutes when it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Catching up with 2011: 50/50

A disappointing movie for sure, 50/50 is only works on occasion and suffers, like most Seth Rogen vehicles, from a horrible small-minded view of women. The thing of it is, 50/50 – aside from being based on Rogen’s friend and screenwriter Will Reiser – shouldn’t have even been seen as a Seth Rogen movie (he’s barely in it), but here we are. It’s too bad because Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a damn fine performance that often steers clear of the dreaded “actor playing someone afflicted with cancer” clich├ęs. I can’t say I can put myself in the shoes of the characters as the cancer plot didn’t really move me from a personal experience side of things. This left me focusing more on the lesser elements of the film – the elements that director Jonathan Levine seemed incapable of directing a different way – those moments that were so groan-inducing because they felt like they needed to be in a completely different Rogen vehicle, not one that tries to deal with the subject of cancer. Rogen’s character is so hateful in this movie. Not for a second does 50/50 take into consideration how someone having cancer affects those close to that person (it’s too tame and narrow-minded of a movie to think outside of its limitation), so when Levitt’s girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) has conflicting emotions about being with her boyfriend who has cancer she’s labeled as a whore or a slut or even worse by Rogen’s character. I think the film wants us to side with the “bro” Rogen, but all it did was make me hate his character even more. His character was so ugly and distracting that whenever he popped up on screen, I tuned out. The scene that epitomizes this is when Rogen’s character catches Levitt’s girlfriend kissing another guy, and he yells at her as she tried to explain to Levitt that he caught her and that he has hated her forever and that now he has the evidence that she is a bad person; yet, he’s the one who comes off as a bad person…a horrible person, really, and if it weren’t for Howard acting the hell out of the scene, it would just sit there as a really nasty moment in otherwise forgettable movie.

The movie loses its teeth by the end, anyhow, so I don’t think even a good performance from Rogen (who immediately goes into Rogen mode when we first see him with lines like, “You smell like you fucked the cast of The View” when commenting on the way Levitt smells) would have saved it. I didn’t even bother writing down the characters names, and I don’t even feel like doing a Google search for them; I haven’t even gotten into how shitty romantic subplot in this movie is and how horribly stilted a performance the always coma-inducing Anna Kendrick gives (not that’s she’s given much a character to begin with). That’s how little I care about this movie. What a waste.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Catching up with 2011: Super

If James Gunn’s (who made the pretty good Slither) Super had maintained the same tone as its opening five minutes, then the film would have been something. Sadly, however, Super is a hodgepodge of tones that never work. Its best elements – a great supporting performance by Kevin Bacon* as a slimy strip club owner being chief among them – seem like they belong in another movie. Rainn Wilson is fine as sadsack Frank who has a vision from God to tell crime to, “Shut up!” Wilson is a talented actor that always has a way of making the most outrageous things humorous because he keeps them grounded in a semblance of reality. Of course, this is evident in a lot of Dwight Schrute’s behavior on “The Office,” but in Super, there just isn’t any kind of thread that connects the darkly absurd elements together. Consider the scene where Frank dons a fake beard to get information for his first outing as The Crimson Bolt (the superhero he thinks God wants him to be)…this seems like something that is wholly Dwight Schrute and not the character Frank in this film. One of the main problems with the film – aside from the varying tones that never click – is Ellen Page. Here, Gunn seems to think that – much like the bizarrely graphic violence – having Page over enunciate her profanity (as if to show that she’s the anti-Juno or something) is somehow funny. I’m not averse to profanity, it can often make a scene funnier, but I hate it when filmmakers think that characters swearing, especially crassly and in front of kids or having characters go against type by swearing a lot, is just funny because it somehow it is “edgy” (look, there’s a reason why Kenny Powers works as a character on “Eastbound & Down” and the fact that he swears so much isn’t part of the reason).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Catching up with 2011: Our Idiot Brother

The first of many reviews where I attempt to get caught up with this year's movies. 

If I were in charge of handing out year-end awards for 2011, Paul Rudd would get Best Actor. Like an episode of “Parks and Recreation,” Our Idiot Brother is, to say it very plainly, a warm film that just plain made me feel good while I was watching it. Paul Rudd is the main reason why as Our Idiot Brother made me smile throughout its wonderfully brisk 90 minute running time thanks to the performance of the year. Here’s a Sundance film that seemed, based on the posters and ad campaign, as if it were going to illicit the usual “meh” response I think of whenever one of these types of movies comes out (the Little Miss Sunshine complex). However, despite first-time director Jesse Peretz being a little ho-hum with how safe he directs, always making sure that the film feels very Sundance-y, he wisely allows his cast to take control of the movie to create one of the warmest movies I’ve seen in a long time; there isn’t a cynical bone its body. It’s so nice in this era of nastiness that permeates from every recent comedy that a film can just exist and observe its characters without a hint of irony or mean-spiritedness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2011

I’ve always preferred to keep my love of music within the margins of the industry. Even with something as marginalized (read: not mainstream) as the “indie scene,” I still prefer to find the niches within the niche. Sure, I could peruse the pages of and try to find whatever is the new cool thing to listen (I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work for me), but I’ve always enjoyed how organic music fandom can be, and when the love for a particular album and discovering an artist is a genuine thing, well, there’s nothing more exhilarating than that. I think more than any other medium music lends itself to this kind of enthusiasm; a type of fandom that is all at once exhilarating but rather daunting, too. The reason I think it’s a daunting is because I prefer to listen to music rather than lyrics, so I’ll have to sit with an album for months sometimes before I even form an opinion. It’s why I’m always reluctant to crawl out of my little nook, remove the earbuds of familiarity, and try something new. I like what I’ve always liked. I will stick with a band because it’s familiar or because I have a strong history tied to it. I will also seek other bands that tend to tour with the bands I like. It’s all very homogeneous, but it works for me. It’s why I was so grateful to be a part of Ed Howard’s music club this year; it opened my eyes to a variety of genres that I normally wouldn’t have tried (Jazz and Reggae specifically).

So, this year I really challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone, throw off the shackles of familiarity, and really try to branch out and try new music. What I found was a lot of my tastes zeroing in on the indie genre – I suppose my tastes, having always existed in the margins of mainstream music, would naturally steer themselves there – and I was surprised to find some non-post-hardcore/noise/guitar driven bands that I really liked.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oh, hey, readers...

Yes, my blogging habits recently have been about as maddening as trying to decipher Tommy Wiseau's dialogue, but I vow to change that soon. I'll have a post up soon on my favorite albums of the year. This is also the time of the year (now that I'm on winter break) where I don't have to worry about work, and I begin my annual immersion into catching up with all of the 2011 movies that I missed. I'll be posting some reviews shortly.