Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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March to and from the Oscars

Tonight I have for you an eclectic mix of Oscar contenders, '80s classics, and a ridiculous Bela Lugosi film.

Despicable Me: What happens when a supervillain with hundreds of Minions takes in three orphan girls to help him with his latest evil scheme? Adorableness ensues, that's what! Despicable Me is unsure whether it wants to be a movie about an evil man whose heart is warmed by children or a movie about an aging supervillain trying to stay relevant among the new guard, and it places far more focus on the former, which is where it succeeds. I didn't find the movie very funny, but it was generally pretty amusing, thanks to the kids and the Minions. Out of the two supervillain cartoons of 2010, I thought Megamind was better, funnier, and more interesting, but Despicable Me is fairly entertaining as well. B/B+

Machete: In a world where fake movie trailers are turned into movies, Danny Trejo decapitates three dudes with one swipe. This is Machete, baby! It's a movie that says, "You know what would make the immigration debate more interesting? Priests with guns!" Machete goes around slicing people up and having sex with all the ladies. That's what happens when you fuck with the wrong Mexican! This movie is gloriously over-the-top, full of violence and boobs, but it maintains enough of a semblance of a real movie to confuse you into wondering how serious it's supposed to be. The plot's actually much more complicated than it ought to be, but it's not really difficult to follow. There are bad guys. Machete kills them. A lot. Then he gets the girl. Cue announcer guy! B+

The Town: Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner rob a bank, taking Rebecca Hall hostage, but then Affleck decides to go and fall in love with her or whatever. Meanwhile, Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver are on his tail. Also, Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper. Hell of a cast, this movie. There's good tension in the scenes between Affleck and Hall because of the DRAMATIC IRONY and all, and Affleck and Hamm have a fun cat-and-mouse thing going on. And there's a stark contrast between Affleck's bank robber with a heart of gold and Renner's bank robber without a heart. The action scenes are great. But it feels like the individual pieces aren't developed enough, which makes sense given that Affleck cut the movie in half from four hours. Maybe an epic Scorsese-length film would have worked better. This one is still good, though. B/B+

Devil: Otherwise known as "That movie whose trailer made everyone burst into laughter when they saw M. Night Shayamalan's name." Yet, I was curious about this high-concept thriller: five people get into an elevator, but one of them is THE DEVIL! Who is it? The security guard? That one dude who's in stuff? The old lady? The chick who looks like Caroline Dhavernas but is NOT Caroline Dhavernas, who is barely in the movie at all and has no purpose whatsoever? That dude from Traveler? The "scares" basically come from turning out the lights and screaming a lot, and nothing really makes any sense. The detective and security guards trying to figure out who the people are and what's going on make the story mildly interesting, but otherwise, the whole movie is like an overlong Outer Limits episode. B

Salt: Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent...and then one day she's accused of being a Russian spy. Now she's on the run! Also, her husband must be in danger, and she must save him! Angelina Jolie runs around being TOTALLY BADASS. Every time you think she can't get more badass, she proves you wrong. Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor are after her, but they're in suits and can't really jump on trucks and shit. If you like spy thrillers with exciting chases and plot twists, you'll dig this movie. It's solid. But the theatrical cut, at least, feels like only half a movie with its maddening Let's Hope for a Sequel ending. I kind of want to dock it for that, but because the rest of the movie is so strong (seriously, Salt is full of badassery), I'll let it slide. Because, hey, we got AGENT SMASH WILLIAMS. B+

Animal Kingdom: After his mother dies, an Australian boy goes to live with his grandmother and his three criminal uncles, who, as criminals do, run into some trouble with the police. People die, people get arrested, there's a detective, things happen, I don't know. The protagonist is so incredibly dull I couldn't care about him at all, and I also did not care whether the uncles got caught or not. Hell, I was rooting for the detective, because he was Guy Pearce. Maybe you have to not be really tired when watching this movie, because its understated tone bored me, although I kind of respected it at the same time. The only reason I watched this movie was Jacki Weaver's acclaimed performance, and I didn't really see what all the hooplah was about. She's not bad or anything, but it wasn't A REVELATION or whatever. B

Red: When secret agents get old, they become Retired: Extremely Dangerous. And sometimes, they need to be taken care of. Everyone's trying to kill Bruce Willis, so he enlists the help of his old friends—Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren—to find out what the hell is going on. Along for the ride is Mary Louise-Parker, a pension company operator he's adorably fallen in phone-love with, and in pursuit is Karl Urban. Also, there's Richard Dreyfuss, James Remar, Brian Cox, and Ernest Borgnine. Everyone is in this movie! And, lo, it is a lot of fun, and there are some truly ridiculous scenes (not enough, honestly), and the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's not really the point. It's a solid movie in which Helen Mirren shoots a machine gun. B+

Buried: Ryan Reynolds wakes up bound and gagged inside a coffin...and it gets worse from there. This movie, which takes place entirely inside a coffin, gives new meaning to the term "claustrophobic thriller." It's basically ninety minutes of oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit nail-biting suspense as he frantically tries to get out with the use of a cell phone whose battery life steadily decreases. Why isn't his wife picking up? Will his employer help him? Will the government save him? What will he have to do to get out of there? How do you deal with the knowledge that you're going to die? When do you give up hope? It's a high-concept movie executed very well, and I give the director and Ryan Reynolds mad props. B+/A-

Winter's Bone: Did Debra Granik just make the first Ozark noir? Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl who takes care of her mom, brother, and sister, must find her meth-cooking father before his court date or face losing her house. A good story needs a character who wants something, and we know what Ree wants. To track down her dad, she has to ask for help from various family members, most of whom are extremely uncooperative, her dad not being the most popular man in town. Things get a little dicey, but Ree doesn't give up. This is a quiet movie with a mood set by its setting, anchored by Jennifer Lawrence's performance. John Hawkes is also fabulous as Ree's frightening uncle, Teardrop. Also: Patty the Daytime Hooker! B+/A-

Top Gun: Yes, I had never seen Top Gun. So many jokes in Hot Shots! make a lot more sense now. Hotshot pilot Tom Cruise is hot for teacher Kelly McGillis at Top Gun Flight Academy or whatever, and he has to try to be more awesome than Val Kilmer or something, even though we never see Val Kilmer do anything remotely awesome. The jet fighting scenes are pretty impressive since, well, it looks like they actually filmed real planes doing things instead of doing it all on computers. The romance is supercheesy. "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away" are played fifty-three times. There's hardly ever any real danger. And, yet, it's still a pretty solid movie/template for its genre. B/B+

Catfish: Yaniv Schulman is a New York photographer. One day, he receives a painting of one of his photographs done by Abby, an eight-year-old girl in Michigan. They become pen pals of a sort, and he gets to know her mom and their friends on Facebook. Then he starts falling for her older sister, Megan. His brother and roommate have been filming this whole Abby saga because they think it'd make a good documentary. They decide to go pay Megan a surprise visit. Spoiler warning: people lie on the Internet. Dun dun DUN! Although the movie was marketed as a thriller, implying that the filmmakers would end up kidnapped and tortured by cannibals or something, it's nothing like that. The truth is not that startling, but how it's handled and presented is. It's an unexpectedly thought-provoking look at how we relate to people both online and in real life (and I liked the cute touches of plotting their journey and destinations on Google Maps that showed how blurred the line between the Internet and reality has already become). It can be uncomfortable to watch at times, but it's an interesting little documentary. B/B+

Paranormal Activity 2: I thought the first movie had a slow build and was creepy and intense at times. The second movie has an even slower build and is creepy and intense at fewer times, but it has Sprague Grayden! Whereas the first movie focuses on a couple, Katie and Micah, this one—a prequel—focuses on Katie's sister and her family, which includes a teenage stepdaughter and her baby son. So you get a different dynamic, and even though nothing scary happens for a long time, I appreciated the time taken to get to know these people who are about to be terrorized. This sort of movie either works for you, or it doesn't, really. Personally, my favorite thing about the movie is the way it connects to the first one. If you liked the first one, this one isn't as good, but it's worth watching. B/B+

The Devil Bat: Remember when Missy bought this movie at Borderlands last year? Of course you don't. Well, she did, and we finally got together to watch it, and she made devil bat whoopie pies. Bela Lugosi plays a "kindly village doctor" who takes his revenge on the cosmetics company who got rich off his concoction by developing a special aftershave that attracts the gigantic bats that he creates with electricity and glandular...something or other. It's totally ridiculous, but it's Bela Lugosi! The bats are hilariously fake, and they reuse the same insert shots of real bats over and over. A Chicago reporter comes down to investigate with his photographer, "One-Shot" McGuire, and they hit on French maids and damsels in distress while they solve the case. It's an immensely entertaining movie, as obviously bad as it is. B-/B

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Nicolas Cage is Balthazar, Merlin's apprentice, who takes on Jay Baruchel to be his own apprentice because he is the Prime Merlinian, whatever the fuck that means, and together, they must destroy Alfred Molina and Morgana Le Fay. In New York City. Meanwhile, Jay macks on the girl he had a crush on in fourth grade. There's nothing particularly new or original about this magical romp, but you didn't expect there to be, right? It has a good sense of humor (I like Nicolas Cage again!), and there's lots of fun magic, plus bonus SCIENCE! This movie has more Tesla coils than The Prestige. Overall, a perfectly enjoyable and entertaining flick if you like Jay Baruchel, magic, and Jay Baruchel using magic. B+

Never Let Me Go: Although I did not love the book, I was still mildly interested in the movie because of the director (Mark Romanek) and the cast (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield). As in the book, we follow the Kathy/Tommy/Ruth trio, but with limited time, the focus is much more on the love triangle aspect rather than the friendship. We also spend much less time at Hailsham since, of course, we want more time with the grown-up actors, who are quite good and made me care about the characters much more than I did when reading the book. It's a quiet, simple movie with the necessary subtle sci-fi touches here and there, and while it feels somewhat empty and reaching for meaning and beauty at times (the score especially tries very hard), it did manage to evoke a modicum of emotion here and there, which the book didn't really do. B/B+

Lethal Weapon: I always thought this was a comedy, but it turns out that it's a solid buddy-copy eighties action movie with the requisite jokes here and there. Mel Gibson is a suicidal lethal weapon, and Danny Glover is too old for this shit. They fight crime! What is there to say about this movie, really? It's a template, after all. An odd-couple cop duo investigates what seems to be a simple crime and become embroiled in something much larger; meanwhile, they bond and one or both of them learn an Important Lesson. And they kill a whole lot of people in the process. It's fun, it's action-packed, it's funny, what more do you want? B+

Vantage Point: In this neat, twisty thriller, we watch the shooting of the POTUS and surrounding events from several different perspectives, continuously rewinding to see the same events from a new, you know, vantage point. Some things are what they seem, but some aren't! It's got a nice cast: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana, among others. And because it's so focused on unraveling this one shooting, it never gets boring because people are running and things are exploding and cars are chasing and aaaaah. The rewinding does start to feel a bit tedious and gimmicky after a while, especially because each rewind starts at some new WTF moment, but then the plot itself gets convoluted enough to distract you. No, there's not much in the way of characterization, and no, there's really no deeper meaning to anything going on, but it's an action-packed thrill ride with narrative hijinks, so I dug it. B+

Trainspotting: I watched this movie when I was a kid, but, like Fargo, it went over my head and I didn't see the big deal. Now, older and wise, I can appreciate Danny Boyle's kinetic tale of Ewan McGregor's struggle to kick his heroin addiction while surrounded by his fuck-up mates. And, appropriately enough, it takes place in Edinburgh and London (although it was mostly filmed in Glasgow). At first, I didn't really see why I should care about Renton or his mates, but the actors make their characters sympathetic and likable even though they basically do nothing but shoot up and contribute nothing to the world. The film moves at a brisk pace as Renton quits and relapses and quits and relapses and quits and relapses, but you do actually start to root for him as you see that, just maybe, he has real potential. Mostly, though, I am really loving Danny Boyle as a director. He has a lot of fun with the surreal drug trips, and he sprinkles in the occasional Beatles reference. B+

Layer Cake: Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass, and the upcoming X-Men: First Class) made his directorial debut with this stylish British crime drama in the vein of the Guy Ritchie movies he produced (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch). A pre-Bond Daniel Craig plays an unnamed drug dealer who's planning to retire when, wouldn't you know it, his boss wants him to pull One Last Job. A couple, actually. One's a curious missing persons case and the other's a massive drug deal. Of course, things go pear-shaped very quickly, and there are lots of twists and turns and betrayals and murders by the end of it. It gets a little hard to follow, especially because of the thick accents, but it's not too convoluted. The first ten minutes are particularly fantastic, and although Vaughn doesn't maintain that same level of energy throughout, he frequently ties scenes together visually as the narrative pieces itself together through side-stories and flashbacks. B+

Rachel Getting Married: After crushing madly on Anne Hathaway during the Oscars, I wanted to check out her Oscar-nominated turn as Kym, a drug addict out of rehab to see her sister, the titular Rachel, getting married. She is expectedly fantastic and very un-Anne Hathaway-like, but, unexpectedly, the movie does not hang entirely on her performance and is simply splendid filmmaking all around. There is something effortless about the way it's shot, how it captures the hustle and bustle of wedding preparation, the awkward moments at a rehearsal dinner, the tension of familial guilt, and the joy of holy matrimony. Kym wants her sister's love, but her sister doesn't want her to steal attention away from her on her special day. Kym wants her father's love, but her father is still affected by the incident that put her in rehab in the first place. Kym wants her mother's love, but her mother seems to have checked out. We get to know her family by watching them, not by being told about them. The movie draws you in, and once it has you, you don't actually want it to end, despite how painful and uncomfortable it may make you at times, because it's so true and honest and just lets the characters be themselves and do what they need to do. All of this, plus all the music in the movie is played live. A-

If it isn't clear by now, most movies start at a B+ and go up or down from there. What, I'm generous.
Tags: making the grade, movies, real life friends
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