Thursday, April 27, 2017

Selma (2014)

Selma is from the straight forward, inspirational, one man can change the world, suitable for a high school history class school of filmmaking, and it works. It's a little surprising that a mainstream theatrical film about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches had not been made before, but if this story was waiting for the right man to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it found him in the British born David Oyelowo, who respectfully humanizes the legend. The film has a strong supporting cast as well, and takes time to fill its audience in on a few of the lesser known elements and side stories related this famed civil rights milestone. Every once in a while, if done right, a film of this safe inspirational type can be a grand thing. ****

Colossal (2016)

Colossal is one of those films where it would be a lot easer for you to just watch the trailer then for me to try to describe the film's plot to you. In short it is about a woman whose life is a disaster (Anne Hathaway) who returns to her childhood home town to sort things out, only to find that under certain conditions, a giant monster will mimic her movements at a given time and lay waste to Seoul, South Korea. Written and directed by Spaniard Nacho Vigalodno (and apparently that is his real name) Colossal combines fantastical elements, principally campy Kaiju, with a story tackling life failure, resentment, and alcoholism. It also boasts one of the most notable tonal shifts I've ever seen in a film, as well as Jason Sudeikis. It's nice to see a movie where going into it you have no real idea of how it might end, and this movie rejoices in defying convention. The short Canadian film that proceeds it in theaters is very much worth seeing as well. ***

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

My favorite quote from a critic that I've found about Kingdom of Heaven is by David Edelstein from Slate: "An epic about Christian crusaders who happen to be liberal humanists willing to die for the sake of religious tolerance. That's just ... weird." Making a popcorn movie about The Crusades for modern, liberal western audiences, especially less then five years after the events of 9/11, seems a bit of a tough sale. Ridley Scott was up for the challenge however, giving it a variant on The Gladiator treatment,  I was surprised at the extent to which the movie grew on me during viewing. It's not a great movie, its somehow both odd and derivative, and I have a very hard time caring about Orlando Bloom in anything he does. Be that as it may, it was fun, has a great siege sequence near the end, and manages to keep things consistently just barley on the respectable side from being out right campy. Strong supporting cast, including Eva Green in her "Hollywood" debut, the always welcome Jeremy Iron and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Edward Norton hidden behind a mask the whole time. My late brother gave me this movie for Christmas 10 years ago and I put off watching it because I didn't think I'd like it, but the movie won me over. ***

The Peacemaker (1997)

Wanna be Tom Clancy movie has a beautiful White House nuclear expert (Nicole Kidman) and a roguish special forces Colonel (George Clooney, still getting his leading man sea legs) engaging in some lite battle of the sexes banter as they track down stolen Russian warheads. When the secondary villains motivations are reveled at the end, they are more then a little stupid. Funny how the geopolitical situation of two decades ago now seems rather quaint. Watchable on first viewing, but not enough there to make me want to see it again. **1/2

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Your Name (2016)

The Japanese animated film Your Name (that title just comes across as a bad translation) has accomplished what perhaps no other 'body swapping movie' ever has, garnering a 97% fresh ratting on Rotten Tomatoes. That is what convinced me to see the film, and while its good at being what that description implies, about half way through the story veers in an unexpected direction and becomes something much more. The plot concerns a country girl and city boy in Japan who suddenly find themselves switching bodies at random in conjunction with the appearance of a passing comet. Again the movie indulges some of the expected tropes of that genera, one which I believe is more pervasive in Japan then it is in the west, but never feels truly exploitive, indeed it holds back and gives some depth to the proceedings, before adding some fresh and unexpected crinkles. I was impressed with the quality and intelligence of this film, and in fact kind of moved by it. While I'm not generally big into anime, there are certainly a fair number of gems coming out of this world of film making, and Your Name is definitely one of them. ****

In a World... (2013)

I first became aware of actress Lake Bell as a pretty, though seemingly not particularly talented supporting cast member on the first season of one of my favorite shows, Boston Legal. Bell's career would likely have remained a slight one had she not done what Billy Bob Thornton and others had done before her, namely write and direct herself in her own staring vehicle. The result of this effort for Ms. Bell is In a World... a likable comedy about a woman trying to make her way in the overwhelming male dominated world of theatrical trailer narration. Bell plays Carol Solomon, a voice coach and daughter of a famed narrative artist named Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) who ends up in a competition with her father and another rising star in the voiceover world Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) to resurrect the titular catch phrase of the late voiceover legend Don LaFontain, for the trailer of an upcoming Hunger Games -esque film quadrilogy. Though primarily a vehicle for Bell the film has a number of likeable supporting performances from fellow lesser knowns Michaela Watkins, Demetri Martin, Talulah Riley and others. The film certainly paid off for Bell. since its release she has had the female lead roles in middle sized releases like Million  Dollar Arm and No Escape as well as a featured voice role in The Secret Lives of Pets. In a World... is a pleasantly small scale film, even though its about schilling epic movies, and I found myself rather charmed by it. In addition to seeing more of Lake Bell on screen, I would be interested in her doing more work behind the camera as well, I think she shows promise. ***

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Duel (1971)

Director Steven Spielberg's first professionally produced full length feature is based on a short story by Sci-Fi 'man for all seasons' Richard Matheson, and shot as a TV movie vehicle for Dennis Weaver, star of the then popular series McCloud. The film was so well received after its broadcast debut that additional scenes were filmed and it was released theatrically abroad. The plot concerns a middle aged businessman (Weaver) who is mercilessly pursued by the unseen driver of a dirty tanker truck after he cuts him off on an isolated California desert highway. This may be the first movie about road rage, and the persistent menace of the unseen driver well foreshadows the (at first) visually obscured presence of the relentless shark in Spielberg's Jaws, the film that would cement him as far above the TV movie pay grade. Weaver does a good job of anchoring the piece, better then I'd expected actually, he plays the whole situation rather realistically which just makes things all the more tense. For its a director a work of genius in utero. ***1/2