REVIEW: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August (screenplay), Tim Burton & Leonard Ripps (story)
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder and Martin Short

Frankenweenie is Tim Burton’s second bad movie of 2012, a tragically misguided comedy that is marketed at children but may have trouble finding an audience outside of Burton’s die-hards.  As its title suggests, it is that infamous story of creating life out of body parts, with man’s best friend replacing discarded human remains.

Various parts of other old horror movies creep their way into Frankenweenie’s black-and-white stop-motion world, though the lightheartedly morbid humor and Burton’s stock character types mark it as his.  The emo avatar standing in for him this time is young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), a curious scientist-in-the-making whose dog Sparky is hit by a car after retrieving the home run ball in the game Victor’s dad (Martin Short) made him play.

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REVIEW: Arbitrage

Arbitrage
Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
Written by: Nicholas Jarecki (screenplay)
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Brit Marling

Richard Gere gives a phenomenally sly performance in Nicholas Jarecki’s equally sneaky Arbitrage, although when it’s all said and done the movie is content with simply being slick and clever.  It weaves a tale of deception and excess out of the generically named New York billionaire Robert Miller (Gere) and his various personal and financial misdealings.

By far the story’s biggest asset is its willingness to leave Miller’s social circle and directly confront issues of class and race.  Jarecki lingers on the wealthy lifestyle a little too often, but the man at the center of his movie is never a hero.  The bulk of the entertainment comes from watching Gere bring such a manipulative man to vivid life, and though it doesn’t really leave much to think about when the credits roll, it is certainly an engaging and relevant story to tell.

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REVIEW: The Master

The Master
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Laura Dern

The latest film from mythic American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson is an ambitious, beautiful mess.  With 2007’s There Will Be Blood, he announced himself as one of the greatest working directors, altering and unhinging the film community much in the same way that that movie’s protagonist alters and unhinges himself and the landscape.

The Master is both a historical continuation and thematic sibling to that film, which concluded in 1927.  Anderson skips over The Great Depression and World War II, and picks up at the dawn of the 1950s, in a glamorous age of excess and social repression.  Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a disturbed Naval veteran, does not belong to this era.  He is too overtly sexualized and too much of an alcoholic to fit in with the tidy, polished department store where he works briefly as a portrait photographer at the beginning of the movie.

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REVIEW: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Rae (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (book)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson

The biggest asset The Hunger Games has in both the book and the movie is its insistence on making you think about war as a meaningless, almost ritualistic sacrifice of a country’s youth.  As many are likely aware by now, it is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a gritty young woman raised in the poverty of a dystopian future.

She is chosen along with a young male tribute (Josh Hutcherson) to represent her district, District 12, in the country’s annual Hunger Games “celebration.”  This consists of 22 other tweens and teens being thrown into an arena and fighting to the death.  The winner returns a war hero, a champion lauded with spoils and congratulated for being turned from child to murderous shell.

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REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Paul Torday (novel)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as interesting as a movie about fishing could possibly be, which is a back-handed compliment but also a true one.  It is the story of the wealthy Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked) and his desire to bring salmon to his native part of Yemen.  This is absurd to the scientist Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who is approached by the sheik’s consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) as well as pressured by the British government, to make this vision come true.

There are many technical and ecological obstacles that stand in the way of the sheik’s plan, none of which are made very hazardous or interesting.  This is because the main point of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not that there are two likeable people trying to overcome outrageous odds, but rather that they and the sheik must meet in the ideological and cultural middle to do so.  Alfred is obviously very logic based, though he’s stuck doing a task for a man who is relying heavily on faith and destiny.  Since that man has substantial funds, Harriet is happy to play the middlewoman between them.

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REVIEW: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Directed by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass
Written by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass (screenplay)
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer

Home is not a place.  It is a state of mind; that feeling of comfort, security and belonging.  For many, clinging to an idea of home is one of the driving forces of their day-to-day lives.  In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the Duplass Brothers examine this notion with a light touch and a heavy injection of fate.

If home occupies the film’s title, destiny is its true focus.  The three main characters- brothers Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms) and their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon)- are all clumsily shoved into each other with narrative push.  This would be completely amateurish if it weren’t for the focus on fate at the movie’s core.  The movie takes Jeff’s point of view even when he’s not there, pushing his bizarre world view into a reality that isn’t quite made for it.

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REVIEW: Haywire

Haywire
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs (screenplay)
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas

Like a virus that won’t go away, Mallory (Gina Carano) jumps around the globe, slowing down or killing anything that gets in her path.  That is largely where the narrative similarities between her story and the one from director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, end though.

Haywire is curious when placed with the rest of his catalog in that it focuses on a single individual but also contains a large ensemble cast.  Usually his films are one (Erin Brockovich) or the other (Traffic).  At the center of this semi-departure is MMA fighter Gina Carano, who Soderbergh saw fighting on TV and decided to build a movie around.  Carano’s ferociously physical performance as Mallory is by far the movie’s greatest asset.  Soderbergh films most of the action sequences in confined areas, letting her utilize the environment in astonishing and brutal ways.

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