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Antboy

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If you come at this thinking of it as a cross between Chronicle and Kick-Ass for the under-10 set, you’ll love it for what it is: silly, comic-book, fantasy fun. Brilliant, no. It really is a kids film. And, sadly for that reason it is also dubbed rather than offering an original language soundtrack. But as a diversion and, especially if you have a youngster around to share it with, it was entertaining.

However, what is most interesting about the film for the adults in the audience is how grounded the story is in our own world. There is a great deal of reference… mostly to Hellboy and similar heroes as a basis for the kids to work from. It keeps it all very anchored, even as it goes to the absurd extremes.

The young cast are all untried, but serve their purpose well. Every kid who’s ever been ignored or bullied in school will understand them. And what kid doesn’t think they are ignored or bullied? Only Bro (Nymphomaniac) has serious credits, and he wades into the villain role with gusto for this piece. And, yepper, there is  sequel just about to release if this one whets your appetite or if you become a fan of Andersen’s books upon which it was based. Even kids super-hero films are franchises these days.

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Bad Words

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For a lot of good laughs, and not a small amount of heart, this is a great film to throw in (though definitely a hard PG-13). I imagine it will even rewatch well, and I intend to find out down the road. As a director, Bateman’s (Arrested Development) got a good new path ahead of him and an eye for wickedly funny scripts like this first, evil little confection from Dodge.

Bateman is also one of those incredible actors that can make the nastiest insults work without making you cringe (overmuch, anyway). His bite always has heart; it is a characteristic that has been evident in his work since he was a young kid (It’s Your Move).

Opposite Bateman, Chand (Warner and Serkis‘ new Mowgli coming in 2016) delivers a great performance in a breakout role. Hahn (Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Janney (Trust Me), and Hall flesh out the rest of the plot and world nicely if all just a tad broadly.

Bad Words is Bateman’s first time directing a feature film, but you’d never know it from the quality of the movie. His years in front of the camera and directing TV episodes prepped him well to deliver this very darkly comic tale of … well, that would be telling. While there are few real surprises in the film, there are some nice themes and turns that are worth experiencing without having them spoiled before you go into them.

Curl up with someone whose humor is just a tad twisted and pop this in for a fun night. I’m assuming you have a twisted sense of humor on your own or you’d not likely be reading this blog.

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Dark Forces

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Also known by its Australian title, Harlequin, this is a bit dated and more than a little earnest, but as a dark suspense film it holds up better than I would have expected. Directed by Wincer, its secret is that it stays somewhat non-committal on what is good and what is evil. Not that good and bad things don’t occur, but even with some direct social commentary, the final balance is not easily either.

Led by Powell, Hemmings, Duncan, and Crawford there is a great deal of teeth gnashing and drama, but it all manages to stay contained enough to not get ridiculous. The story starts out straight forward and then evolves right up to the final frames. While it seems simple, it is really far from that and will leave you feeling just a tad discomforted. Much like the much more recent, and much better, Borgman, the horror is allowed to just be and it is up to you to interpret it in many ways. I almost wish it had gone more in that direction, but still it is an impressive suspense/horror film of a bygone era. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but then it doesn’t take humanity too seriously from the feel of it.

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Muppets Most Wanted

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I had high hopes for this sequel after the mighty return of these fabulous felt friends. But the magic that was in the first film just wasn’t quite there. Though it was conscious of its roots, and had a few great moments, it was generally just a Muppet adventure. And it wasn’t even that great an adventure.

Perhaps what through this film off even more is that it purportedly picks up seconds after the end of the previous film. I expected something more like that than I got. I will say that the lyrics this round, and the musical numbers, were generally more entertaining and, much like the most recent Dhoom, often built into the plot.  But the audience was aimed a bit younger than the last film. That shift made it lost a lot of the adult appeal.

Overall, it was a mildly diverting entertainment with some great cameos and human talent mixed in. But I found myself only paying half-attention through much of it as it just didn’t grab and hold me through story or spectacle. Frankly, it just didn’t have the same heart that the previous movie managed.

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Words and Pictures

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How could I resist a romance with the art of words and pictures at its very core? Watching each of these characters struggle with their art and their personal limitations as they come to grips with passing the torch and reconnecting with other people is at once both poignant and moving. Suffice to say, this is not an easy romance for either of them. It is a story full of honesty and inevitabilities. The movie accepts human frailty even as it presents uber-human drives. But this is all just subtext to the the relationships.

Overall, there are very conscious references to Dead Poets Society, and less conscious to The History Boys, Taps, and many other high-school tales with hero teachers. Words never devolves fully into any of these, and even, in some ways, is commenting on their particular brand of drama. In this case, the kids are mostly in the background, though they drive the story. It makes for an odd focus, given the main character drives, but it manages to work. It really is a story about the adults.

What really helps the movie rise is the incredible acting talents of Binoche and Owen as the leads. They are each solid in their own right and have a fun chemistry. Their initial meeting is a great bit of direction and helps set both the tone and understanding of what, otherwise, may appear as melodrama or forced character evolution. Binoche, also, actually painted all the canvases attributed to her character, which only raises my opinion of her. Helping them along are a solid batch of character actors, Davison, Brenneman, Kidder, and Tracy to name a few.

Even with all this positive, there is potential in this piece that is never quite achieved. The result is very watchable, but not memorable. The ultimate miss that diminishes the whole is the final few minutes of the film. The climax is acceptable and makes its point, but manages to be unsatisfying despite the lead-up. That alone doesn’t really take the movie from its shelf of peers. The real clincher is the coda, the final 30 seconds, that is directed so poorly to my eye that it felt hollow. I’m not quite sure how Schepisi (Roxanne) hit such a wrong note after guiding the rest of the film so well, but it definitely clunked as utterly forced and untrue.

As a nice evening to curl up with someone, as long as you aren’t looking for pure romantic fluff, this is worth seeing for many of its moments, if not its whole. It probably won’t end up in your go-to list as a person or couple, but it isn’t a waste of time by any stretch. And if you’re a fan of Binoche or Owen, it is worth seeing just for their efforts alone.

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Borgman

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Evil-as-action-film has been the mainstay for a while now. I’m not sure when it really started, but the Resident Evil series certainly made it a staple and Cabin in the Woods lampooned it all while still making it part of the genre beautifully. But there was a time before that when fighting evil was a more cerebral and quiet event, even if often bloody and terrifying. From Turn of the Screw to The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, there are many examples of taught, terrifying tales of good versus evil.

Borgman is more a throwback to these quietly intense scares. It goes for a more natural, creepy, disturbing approach. Warmerdam wrote and directed this as, mostly, a family drama, not unlike Rosemary’s Baby, but without even some of the more intense moments of dread that Levin and Polanski put into that story. Events just “are,” there is little or no commentary or judgments on the actions or outcomes from those in the film. In fact, that is a great part of the chill that suffuses the experience.

Jan Bijvoet (Broken Circle Breakdown) embraces his lead role with quiet intensity. He drifts into the lives of others and begins his work. He is supported by a great and talented cast, few who will be familiar to US audiences. Without all of the cast committing to the realism of the piece, it would have fallen completely flat.

The design of the film, in service to that approach, is also interesting. It is both clean-lined and sumptuous, warm yet sharp-edged. The movie has very little scoring, though there are many subtle pieces of sound f/x and soundtrack aspects to provide mood and information. It attempts in every way to feel natural despite the events unfolding in front of you. It begins and ends without much comment.

Borgman is one of the more haunting and chilling films of the genre I’ve seen in a while. It hangs on you like a miasma when it is done; you won’t be able to just walk away and forget it like so many other horror films that provide catharsis. It just isn’t intended to let it be that easy… and that is part of the point.


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Rosemary’s Baby (1968 and 2014)

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In prep for the television remake, I took an evening to rewatch the original Polanski (The Fearless Vampire Killers, Carnage) adaptation of Levin’s disturbing novel. The original movie is definitely a child of its times. This, in fact, is what makes it ripe for an update.

The 1968 movie, as delivered, relies heavily on the social dynamic of women in a very male-dominated society. Rosemary allows herself to be duped, not by kindness and subterfuge, but by timidness and the belief that male authority figures (primarily her husband and doctor) are always right. The single moment she has to escape from her thinking, fostered by her stronger, more liberated friends, puts the balance of the situation back in the hands of another man to help or not, rather than her helping herself. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t tell you the resolution.

At the time, it was a creepy and darkly unexpected film. Today it is more an exercise in horror by way of seeing society at the time and watching in frustration as the interplay occurs. Not exactly the core of the suspense/horror as Polanski wrote it. At least, I don’t think it was, though it is clearly acknowledged during the moment with her friends. But it just doesn’t work today on almost any level.

[TV version review coming… post to be updated]

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Dhoom 3

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I had only turned on this most recent of the Dhoom series to check out the opening heist for the heck of it and then move on. Imagine my surprise when, unlike the previous movies, this started off rather differently. In fact, it sucked me and kept me around happily for the three hours of the film.

So what improved? The humor is toned down and the musical numbers, by a neat plot trick, are almost entirely within the story rather than weirdly interrupting the flow for the heck of it. And those few times it isn’t directly part of the action and veers into fantasy, it works just fine. I have the same concerns of any musical–I prefer it all to grow directly from the action naturally. And yet, I’ve enjoyed the spectacle of Bollywood and Hollywood craziness more than once, so it isn’t an absolute. But in an action film, breaking that flow really harms the energy for me. Acharya, who also wrote Dhoom 2, taking over the directing and writing this round definitely had a positive impact on the outcome.

Like the previous Dhoom, the real hero of this story, or at least who you care about, is the thief, not the cops. In fact, the returning lead officer is such a schmuck in attitude and effort I kept hearing his character name not as Dixit but as DipSh*t. He really was grating.

On the other hand, Khan (3 Idiots), as the thief, walks away with this film both in focus and ability. He delivered a fun, complex, and affecting performance that is hard to dislike. And I can only imagine the amount of training he went through for the role. I never thought I’d go back to this series after the last… it was OK, but I never expected this leap in quality. It may not have all the splash of the last film in action sequences, but it never felt boring. You may also have noticed I’ve tagged this as an adaptation. Should you watch it, you’ll understand why, but to mention what they adapted would spoil far too much of the story.

Go check out this highest grossing Bollywood of all time. It was popular outside of India for a reason and only cements my appreciation for Khan as a performer.

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Draft Day

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Rather than watch the NFL season opener last night, I chose to watch this film. Given that it starts with the Seahawks, it seemed both appropriate and, honestly, more interesting to me. So, yes, up front, I am not a football fan which makes it all the more impressive that I found the story both intriguing and involving.

In some ways, the pace and approach of the dialogue reminded me of Sorkin’s West Wing . Sorkin was infamous for being able to make even the most boring aspects of the White House, for instance, picking a postage stamp or the census, exciting. This first feature script by Rothman and Joseph shows real promise.

The script itself, unlike a Sorkin script, could not have stood on its own. It was brought to life by Costner (3 Days to Kill) and Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) who carry the bulk of the story.  They created interesting, intelligent characters and handled their relationship deftly. Langella (Robot and Frank) was probably the next solid bit of effort, followed by less convincing Leary (Amazing Spider-Man) and Burstyn (The Fountain).

While I’m not a football fan, I am a Reitman-clan fan, which is why I gave this film a chance. I admit that I prefer Jason (Labor Day) these days over his father, Ivan (Evolution), who directed this piece. But both still bring their wry sensibility and honesty to their projects. Reitman, the younger, just tends to write his own, better scripts. Ivan captured the energy and stakes of the day wonderfully both in action and visually on-screen through the use of a lot of split screen techniques. He turned what is a a completely cerebral event into a moments on the field.

There is no one reason this film works. And there are several reasons why it isn’t brilliant; primarily that it tries too hard to pull on heart-strings. But the overall effect is actually satisfying and, for those of us who know nothing of the business, probably edifying. But most importantly, it is entertaining.

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Oculus

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There is a lot of good suspense and some well thought out details to Oculus. In fact, my hopes were well raised by the opening 20 minutes. It starts strong and explains itself well. These are not a pair of naive idiots stepping into a house never having seen a ghost story before. I liked that.

But even with the clever story-telling and great casting of the older and younger selves of the characters, director/co-writer Flanagan and co-writer Howard allowed the story to devolve to where we expect rather than to  keep challenging our expectations. A shame as they were very good at building both connection and tension with the main characters and told the story in an interesting way.

In the main role, Gillan (Doctor Who) really showed she could take on a new character and drop her accent.  While Thwaites (Maleficent) is enjoying his own similar career breakout. But the movie itself only allowed them some minor moments to shine. Amusingly, their younger selves, Basso and Ryan are both significantly more storied in their resumes than either of the adults and carry a good part of the movie.

This isn’t a horrible film, but it missed its chance to be something special. As standard fare, it serves up the meal you expect.