Netflix Movie of the Week #6: Lars and the Real Girl

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Originally a film I wrote off under the impression it would be a crude, and likely bad, comedy due to its premise, Lars and the Real Girl is far from it, but instead is a touching and generally sweet film about a reclusive and strange, or perhaps eccentric, man and his fake girlfriend.  Extremely well-acted and written, Lars and the Real Girl manages to capitalize on a premise that could have created a terrible film in less capable hands.  Emotional, quirky and above all heartwarming, Lars and the Real Girl is an example of an excellent feel-good movie if there ever was one, and this week’s choice for Netflix Movie of the Week.

Staring Ryan Gosling in a vastly different role than fans have seen before, Lars and the Real Girl depicts the life of Lars, an extremely shy shut-in living in the garage of his brother’s house.  Unexpectedly, Lars purchases a Real Doll, a sex doll made to look like an actual woman, but instead of buying her for that purpose, Lars views the doll, Bianca, as his girlfriend.  He is seemingly unaware of the fact that she is a doll, as he pushes her around town in a wheelchair, has conversations with her, and is unwilling to accept the fact she is not real, leading people in town to speculate on his mental well-being   While I cannot emphasize enough how this movie succeeds with this premise, it is easy to see my hesitation about watching this film as it could have easily turned to a vulgar and cheap comedy based around a sex doll.

Oddly enough, this was the movie that made me recognize Ryan Gosling’s talents as an actor.  While I had seen other films he had been in, I felt he was often typecasted as the typical good-looking male lead. However, he does such a wonderful job in this film convincing the audience that he is a weird, awkward, and shy individual, while creating a very believable relationship with an inanimate object that I would be remiss not to admire his acting chops.  It would be hard for me to imagine another actor in this role after seeing the film.

Even if the premise is not enough to compel you to watch this film, I would recommend you give it a chance.  It is somewhat of a cult favorite with the indie movie going crowd and is that way for a reason, because it is good.  If nothing else, the movie is worth a watch to see Ryan Gosling trying something new in his acting career, and doing it with an excellent moustache.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

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Netflix Movie of the Week #1: Primer

While Netflix has a wide variety of fantastic films, sadly many films on the site are often hidden from users who are not actively searching for that film.  The point of this new weekly posting is to suggest interesting and great movies that are available for streaming on Netflix that many readers would not ordinarily be exposed to.  With that in mind, the first Netflix movie of the week is the sci-fi thriller Primer.

Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2004, Primer is the debut film from writer/actor/director Shane Carruth.  Primer is a mind bending film about two engineers who inadvertently create a machine that allows them to travel back in time. Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) use their new machine in order to make money on stock trades from the previous day. However, as they go deeper into experimenting with the mechanics of time travel, their relationship becomes strained as the two have different ideas on how to use the technology.

There are essentially two aspects of this film that make it so incredible.  First, it succeeds as a solid sci-fi film even though it was made for a virtually non-existent budget. In addition, the level of detail that went into the script and plot of this movie is astounding, as all the time travel makes sense without pandering to the audience in any way. The film is very heady and sometimes a difficult movie to keep up with as it is often hard to keep up with just how smart the film is.  Anyone who says they completely understand Primer after just one viewing is simply lying.

Even though the film can be challenging to keep up with, this should not be a deterrent.  It is a nice change of pace from many films that spoon feed you the plot twists to ensure that no one will ever be confused at the end of the movie. While the film is not incomprehensible, it is something that will take a little googling afterwards if you hope to fully appreciate the intellectual depth of the movie.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Amour Review

Winner of the Palme d’Ore and Nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s Amour is more than deserving of all the praise that is being lavished upon it.  Rarely do I leave a movie feeling as emotionally devastated as I did after my viewing of Amour.  Deliberate, uncompromising, and brutally realistic, in my eyes this film is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece, as well as one of the most poignant films about mortality in recent memory, or perhaps ever.

Amour is about Georges and Anne, a two retired music teachers who spend their time appreciating the literature, music and life. However, when Anne’s health begins to deteriorate, the film shifts more towards and meditation on life and death as Georges is put into the role as full time caretaker for his ailing wife.  While the plot itself may not sound riveting, the execution of this film is superb, as the film full articulates its themes and ideas within the narrative.  Amour is full of beautiful yet minimalistic cinematography, as well as absolutely some of the best acting performances of the year from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who is nominated for Best Actress for her role in the film.

This film in many ways feels more like a play than a movie. By that I mean the narrative feels very intimate, as there are really only two main characters and a very small number of side characters. Even with the small scope of the film, Amour manages to do what few films can, offer something so powerful that the message of the movie transcends its small scope and offers something much more universal, a story that nearly everyone will have to directly or indirectly experience in their life time.  This makes Amour is particularly notable in this area because of the strong effect the message has on its viewers.

Haneke’s true genius in Amour is not the film itself, but rather the emotions he is able to evoke in the audience.  His use of sound within the movie is deeply unsettling, as the film has no score where brief piano scenes are nearly the only instances of music in the film.  As a result, much of the film is ominously quiet, and all instances of sound feel very deliberate and impactful.

Amour is by no means a movie for everyone; it is a difficult film as well as a very depressing one, as it makes the view contemplate the true and ugly nature of human mortality.  That being said, the fact that a movie had this kind of impact should speak to the merit of this film, it is an absolutely incredible movie from and emotional narrative standpoint, and a movie that was clearly made by a capable director.  Though I fear it may set unrealistic expectations for the film, I can comfortably say that Amour was the best film I have seen all year.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Identity Thief Review

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The unspoken, modern day conception of the American Dream is to make vast amounts of money very quickly without actually expending effort. Deny it all you want, ye champions of rugged individualism and pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps Objectivists, but that won’t make it any less true. It is precisely in this context that Identity Thief may resonate with many viewers, as con-artist Denise lives the high life on other people’s dime. Factor in the larger-than-life personality of actress Melissa McCarthy and the stage was set for a genuinely funny story to unfold. Unfortunately, the genuinely funny story never actually happens.

Seth Gordon, responsible for several documentaries and a few feature films including Horrible Bosses, helms the production while determinedly ignoring the fact that documentaries are his only actual strength. Jason Bateman reprises his role as interchangeably generic white male du jour while Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) provides most of the comedic substance as his natural foil. Now, Bateman is by no means a bad actor, but can you honestly recall a role in which he’s really distinguished himself? Yeah, neither can I, which, upon reflection, is probably more a testament to his choice in roles as opposed to his ability as an actor.

Concerning the comedy, Gordon, who, along with writers Jerry Eeten and Craig Mazin, have conspired to create a script lacking in both wit and coherence and which never misses an opportunity to shoehorn in some bizarrely out of place pseudo-emotional scene which keeps the tone bouncing around like a yo-yo. What ever happened to wit? What happened to the Big Lebowski’s and Annie Hall’s of the world? Look, we get that Melissa McCarthy is a big woman, and sure, under the proper circumstances, that can be funny. Slapstick, after all, has its place; but when you base the vast majority of your comedic arsenal of visual gags and jabs at the admittedly unwieldy size of the woman, you might have a problem. What is sometimes hugely beneficial in moderation soon becomes trite and banal when overused, as is the case here.

In addition, the inclusion of a painfully arbitrary subplot involving a bounty hunter and a couple of mob hit-men (which eventually resolves itself without any input whatsoever on the part of the protagonists) does no credit to the film’s already weak plot. The aforementioned emotional scenes, likewise, only serve to confuse as Denise (McCarthy) suddenly breaks down on multiple occasions, right in the middle of generally ill-fated, nonsensical comedic pursuits, to pine for the family that she never had. I can appreciate the desire to add a more human element where none is usually found, but it’s so difficult to care about Denise as a person because she’s portrayed, not as an actual human, but as a versatile punching bag with an uncanny sense of comedic timing.

And that’s all there is to it. Not much substance thematically, comedically or visually. Seth Gordon should stick to directing documentaries, and, with luck, McCarthy will stand out in the upcoming Sandra Bullock film, The Heat. I would, however, like to remind my readers that I have been known to verbally crucify otherwise decent comedies for failing to cater to my admittedly brilliant (i.e pretentious) sense of humor. That said, you may enjoy Identity Thief if you have, in the past, been known to enjoy goofy comedies and the occasional Adam Sandler flick. Still, you could find many, more enjoyable lighthearted comedies, elsewhere.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Warm Bodies Review

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I’m quite sure that I’m going soft in my old age, as I’ve noticed myself liking a lot more movies recently. Perhaps “liking” isn’t quite the right word; “tolerating” is probably more accurate. Case in point: Warm Bodies. I walked into the theater the other day practically staggering in under the weight of my own preconceived notions, expecting Warm Bodies to be nothing more than a mildly amusing two hour time sink. The actual affair, however, was more than surprising.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, Warm Bodies is a book-to-film adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. Not having read the book and thus being unable to comment of the faithfulness of the adaptation, the film, in the end, is an adaptation of an adaptation of a masterpiece. I’ll explain shortly.

Staring Teresa Palmer and X-Men: First Class mutant Nicholas Hoult, performances seem to be less than grounded and slightly over the top, which is understandable and even welcome considering the ludicrous subject. Many of the gags rely upon the fact that reluctant zombie ‘R’ (Hoult) is unable to speak for most of the film. John Malcovich of all people makes an appearance as well as the hardened pseudo-military leader of the human resistance and does an admirable and convincing job of reminding me way too much of my father. Like I mentioned earlier, many aspects of this film were tolerable, and by no means bad, though it was all just kind of there, with no special effort made to venture beyond the superficial and shallow.

The major focus in this ‘paranormal romantic zombie comedy’ is the relationship between human survivor Julia (Palmer) and ‘R’ after an unexpected romantic attraction shocks R’s heart into motion again, slowly starting his transformation back into a functioning human. Unlike Vampire Hunter (which I am still determined to make an example of) Warm Bodies is so self aware of its own tropes and cliches and appreciates the absurdity of the situation that it endeavors to establish a fun, cartoonish tone and just run with it. What’s more surprising, the ploy generally succeeds both in both its comedic and romantic pursuits.

I had the added benefit of seeing the film with a large group of theater kids. Disregarding the fact that I was intermittently talked at throughout the entire damn production, I was also enlightened in regard to the subtleties of the plot. After the movie,  they told me that Warm Bodies is essentially Romeo and Juliet with zombies. Now, being only vaguely familiar with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, they assured me that it indeed was so. Two warring families: Check. Two lovers named R and Julia: Check. Perry instead of Paris, Marcus instead of Mercutio; yeah, you’re getting it. The film went so far as to playfully recreate he famed balcony scene from the stage production, but it was only later that I understood the more marked similarities.

If nothing else, Warm Bodies certainly earns favor for bringing such an original and fresh spin to a story that we’ve all heard one million times over. In addition, the last film I was that was so playfully aware of its own flaws was Dead Snow (2009) and in both instances, the self parody was a successful comedic device. Warm Bodies will not shock you, nor will you probably remember it next year, but it is an amusing, cute take on an age old classic. For all it’s flaws, it’s something new, and for that, I commend it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Andrew’s Most Disappointing Films of 2012

In the midst of all the top ten lists that are coming out, I wanted to take some time to write about the films that I found most disappointing this year. Bear in mind these are not the worst films of the year by any means, but rather films that failed to meet my expectations, or movies that others loved but I didn’t care for.

Skyfall

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The newest addition to the James Bond franchise, Skyfall was heralded as the “movie to reinvent the franchise.”  Needless to say, for me personally, it failed to live up to the hype.  While not a bad film, Skyfall played as a solid big-budget action movie, but never achieved any real level of excellence.  In addition, the peak climactic moment of this film was a huge letdown and a fairly ridiculous way to resolve the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Hunger Games

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Although I was very excited for this movie, due in no small part to Jennifer Lawrence, I really cannot see why people thought this movie was so darn great.  It was an action movie with pretty weak action scenes, a love story which was never fleshed out and was merely a poorly executed plot device and many moments that were included only to try and cheaply evoke sympathy in the audience.  And that’s not even mentioning the acting, which in general was pretty awful.  Except for Jennifer Lawrence, she is great.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Moonrise Kingdom

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Now this one may be a little bit controversial because so many people loved this movie, but it really just did not click with me. I actually ended up seeing this movie twice, thinking that I missed something in my first viewing that would have made me fall in love with this film, but sadly I still don’t see the appeal. There were a lot of individual things I did like about the film; I thought it was well acted and certainly funny at parts, but I still would call this one of my least favorite Wes Anderson movies.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Take this Waltz

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Not only one of my biggest disappointments but by far the worst movie I have seen this year.  This movie thinks of itself as a deep and authentic look at a marriage that is put under duress when the wife (Michelle Williams) meets another man.  This movie, which garnered fairly good critical ratings upon its release, plays on all worst elements of indie film making. It was a movie drowning in obnoxious colors, pointless nudity and ridiculous and unbelievable characters, with the exception of Seth Rogan, who seemed to be the only remotely sane person in the film.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5