Next to Normal: When are we OK with weird movies?

By looking at the title of this post and choosing to read on, you are, at the very least, open to the idea of a weird movie.  This is an important step, I think.  “Weird” is an abstract concept, one that for the purposes of this post means where what you’re seeing collides with your perception of reality.  Think of the final minutes of 2001: A Spacey Odyssey or, more recently, the beginning and the end of The Tree of Life.

What makes us associate the weirdness with those examples more than, say, traditional Hollywood comedy?  Comedy is rooted in expectation.  When a situation defies our expectation of what we think should happen, we laugh.  You don’t expect Brad Pitt to bite the bullet in Burn After Reading so quickly and brutally, so when he does it comes off as comical, but him walking on a beach with other lost souls in Tree of Life is just out there.

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Debt

The Debt
Directed by: John Madden
Written by: Matthew Vaughen, Jane Goldmen, & Peter Straughan (adapted screenplay) Assaf Bernstein & Ido Rosenblum (original screenplay)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas

Basic themes of guilt and revenge last a lifetime in The Debt.  It deliberately doesn’t want to be that movie that lets its characters move from one body to the next and forget their brutality.  Nobody is let off the hook; no matter how justified their actions seem in the beginning, at the end your feelings for all of them will likely be mixed.

There are few causes more justified than tracking down an escaped Nazi so they can be put on trial for their crimes.  This is the goal of three young Mossad agents, Rachel (Jessica Chastain), Stephen (Marton Csokas) and David (Sam Worthington), sent to track down an evil Nazi doctor (Jesper Christensen) who performed cruel experiments on prisoners during the war.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Source Code

Source Code
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Ben Ripley (screenplay)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, and Jeffrey Wright

Duncan Jones made noticeable ripples in the independent film landscape back in 2009 with Moon.  The main source of its appeal was that it was a low budget sci-fi film with idealism burning at its core instead of special effects and an actor (Sam Rockwell) that brought enough gravity to make you care.

When a filmmaker makes a splash on the indie scene they are sometimes rewarded with a mainstream money-maker.  Take a look at Marc Webb, the director of another 2009 indie film, (500) Days of Summer, who is now at the helm of the Spiderman reboot. Jones landed a less lucrative big budget enterprise, but one with a unique vision that is suited to his taste.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Scream 4

Scream 4
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamsen (screenplay)
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, and David Arquette

Scream 4 makes you wonder what other veteran directors would do if they were offered the chance to comment on the modern state of their respective genres.  How would Alfred Hitchcock approach Hanna?  How would Billy Wilder tackle Your Highness?

Sadly, instead of real filmmakers taking a stab at the confines of their own genres, we get films like the Scary Movie franchise, which set out to mock, scored a few laughs in the first few films, and then became a mockery.  The state of modern movies is just that: movies unintentionally mocking their genres, so much so that it may be hard for many in a modern audience to realize Scream 4 is doing it intentionally.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Hanna

Hanna
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Seth Lochhead & David Farr (screenplay)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, and Olivia Williams

Looking at a DNA report that concludes the subject is “Abnormal,” is probably the last thing a teenager needs to see.  Though when said teenager has just finished disposing a handful of government agents like life were on the “Easy” setting, it may be the least of her worries.  But Hanna (Saorise Ronan) still looks slightly wounded when looking at that piece of paper.  It’s one of the few moments director Joe Wright stops to smell the emotion in this thrilling exercise in kinetic action.

Hanna begins in the arctic wilderness, where her father (Eric Bana) has kept and trained her since he went rogue from the CIA.  She was bred for tactical assassinations, something he infuses with his own agenda.  Hanna is tasked with taking down Marissa (Cate Blanchett) the woman he claims has killed her mother.  Wright never lingers in loss or death in this film, putting Hanna in constant motion throughout.  It is a vision of what last year’s Kick-Ass would’ve looked like had the subject been only focused on Hit-Girl and her father.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Zack Snyder & Steve Shibuya (screenplay)
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, and Vanessa Hudgens

Remakes and graphic novel adaptations are Zack Snyder’s MO.  Lately though, with last year’s Legend of the Guardians and now Sucker Punch, he’s decided to take his over-stylized style off of the comic book page and map out novels or original material into his own wild odyssey.

Sucker Punch has Snyder’s name all over it from the get-go.  It begins with a violent slow-motion sequence of a young girl (Emily Browning) accidentally shooting her sister when she was aiming for her wicked stepfather and then being brought to a mental hospital where she will await her lobotomy.

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer
Directed by: Brad Furman
Written by: John Romano (screenplay), Michael Connelly (book)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, and William H. Macy

Matthew McConaughey is one of the most knocked around actors working in the modern Hollywood studio system.  He’s so derided by critics that people forget that he can actually act.  So here he is in The Lincoln Lawyer, putting on a shirt and a serious face and earning back some street cred.

Directed by Brad Furman with a keen sense of what thrills and what doesn’t, The Lincoln Lawyer is a court procedural that stresses politics outside the courtroom as much as in them.  It’s a movie with a story to tell (one originated by Michael Connelly), one that isn’t watered down to the basics or drowned out by explosions.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Rango

Rango
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: John Logan (screenplay)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy

Go ahead, label Rango an animated vehicle for Johnny Depp driven by his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski.   You wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be guilty of oversimplifying one of the most outlandish and downright weird animated movies to cross mainstream audiences in a long time.

It seems almost mandatory at this point to acknowledge that Rango is indeed not a product of Pixar.  However, it doesn’t come from Dreamworks either, but rather Nickelodeon.  To this end, the bizarre twists and somewhat more mature material seem more at home.  So too does Depp, voicing The Chameleon With No Name who later assumes the identity Rango when he stumbles into an Old West Town.

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by: George Nolfi
Written by: George Nolfi (screenplay), Philip K. Dick (short story)
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie

Let’s get it out of the way early: this is the first good studio release of 2011.  Right out of the movie purgatory that is January and February is The Adjustment Bureau, a science fiction movie grounded in the real world, playing by its own bogus rules.  It’s got the blood of The Matrix rushing through it as well as the eerie atmosphere of a Roman Polanski film.

Another thing this movie has are two excellent star turns from its lead actors, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as David and Elise.  As they flee God and his army of Mad Men-esque guardian angels (headed by none other than that show’s John Slattery), their blooming romance is totally palpable.  Their chemistry together is the movie’s biggest selling point and also one of it’s key strengths.

Continue reading

Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

Continue reading