Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Life after Sandy

As a New Yorker who grew up in New Jersey, there's no doubt my heart feels a little bit heavier this weekend. I hope we're able to recover as soon as possible.

Kenoncinema will hopefully be in full swing in the next week or two. A lot of good movies coming out in November and December. Until then, time to get shit together during these trying times.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo: If it didn't actually happen, it would be the laughingstock of cinema

....But it did happen and Argo turns out to be one of the best movies of the year. Once again showcasing Ben Affleck's talents as a director. He doesn't have a flashy directorial style but his style also isn't as reserved as fellow actor/director George Clooney. But what both men have in common is their innate tendency to be able to craft relentlessly entertaining and interesting films. Argo, though, easily tops anything George Clooney has directed and is easily Ben Affleck's best movie. He already showcased a certain aura of confidence with The Town, but his treatment and accurate, respectful portrayal of history in Argo is what makes the film tower ahead of his previous film. More than that, he's still able to build on what he started with The Town: the escalating tensity, the smoothly cut yet fast-paced editing in both the beginning and end of the film... Ben Affleck manages to get just about everything right.

It starts in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Militants take over the US Embassy and hold 52 Americans hostage, but six other Americans manage to escape and hide in the Canadian embassy. US Central Intelligence along with the State Department are fumbling, trying to come up with ways to get those six Americans out of there. That's where Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes in.

Tony ultimately comes up with a plan that's so elaborate and far-fetched and nobody in either the CIA or State Department are particularly thrilled about it, but nevertheless, he gets the go ahead. The plan is to pretend to be a fake film production company making a fake film, scouting locations in Iran. The film is called "Argo." To make it feel as real as possible, Mendez must fly over to Los Angeles and with the help of friend John Chambers (John Goodman), he's able to find a producer (Alan Arkin) to help come up with storyboards, find a script, and take out a full page ad in Variety for this fake film. They're going to pretend the six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy are members of the film crew, and are Canadian.

It's a ridiculous idea, of course, and when they manage to pull this operation off, they keep this information classified for 18 years. Watching Tony Mendez fly into Iran and get these Americans out of Iran whilst pretending to be a film crew is immensely thrilling to watch, but at the same time, you're sitting there shaking your head because all of it is so hard to believe... but it happened. Dammit, it happened.

Ben Affleck made a wise choice in a number of different areas here. First, with the cast, he loads this film with talent in front of the screen: Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler... to name a few. He also picks a great DoP in Rodrigo Prieto who has, so far, worked on all of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's films. With his help, Ben Affleck is able to create a very authentic "you are there" look which is also helped with the excellent late '70s era costume and production design. As they show during the credits, many of the shots and images in the film are taken right from photographs of the scene in Tehran, Iran back in 1979/80.

In numerous ways, Argo is a fantastic film. Finely crafted, always intense, and ultimately, it's a crowd-pleaser. Ben Affleck makes no attempt to hide his affinity for the look and craft of the best '70s films that were made in America. Add to that a great crew and a solid cast firing on all cylinders and, indeed, you have yourself one of the best films of the year. Who would've thought we would look at Ben Affleck to be among one of our finest American filmmakers. Argo winds up being his finest achievement so far.

Grade: A

Les Miserables featurette

Well at first I was only interested in Les Miserables because I knew it could be a big hit with the Oscars, but this featurette really turned things up a notch as far as my interest is concerned. It'll be interesting to see how this film plays out with the actors singing live. Watch the featurette and you'll probably be more interested too.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Edgar Wright's new film gets a poster and a release date.

[from theplaylist]

So The World's End will be coming out on October 25th, 2013 and it has an awesome new poster to coincide with that great news. Edgar Wright is one of the most talented young filmmakers out there and after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it's great to see Pegg and Frost joining up with Wright one more time. Really excited about this one.

Flight trailer

I didn't catch this when the trailer came out a few months ago but I saw the trailer before watching Seven Psychopaths and this could be a really good drama. First live action film from Robert Zemeckis since Cast Away. Let's hope he and Denzel have made a great film.

Gangster Squad new trailer

Comes out in January now. Let's hope WB didn't screw up this film too much.

Zero Dark Thirty full trailer

Now that's a trailer. Definitely excited about this film now.

Seven Psychopaths stuffs a little too much into two hours, but it's well-written and funny throughout

Much like Rian Johnson injected some life into the sci-fi time travel subgenre, Martin McDonagh has done the same with the violent crime/black comedy type film that you'd find in abundance in the mid-late '90s. It's not perfect and in many ways, it is a step down from McDonagh's debut film "In Bruges" which was brilliant, but there is a lingering charm and cheekiness to the film makes you want to keep watching throughout its running time, even if it throws a lot at you.

Yes, Seven Psychopaths is definitely a smart film. It's well-written, has great dialogue, each actor plays an interesting character but there's a lot going on here and sometimes it gets perhaps too jumbled. In the first half, everything actually goes by pretty smoothly as we're introduced to all these wonderful characters. There's Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter with a drinking problem, who's struggling to get his latest script off the ground which is also titled "Seven Psychopaths." While he tries to come up with seven different psychopaths to help his movie get going, his friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) also wants to help out and tries to give him ideas, although Marty isn't really too thrilled about his involvement.

Billy is an actor who's recently gotten involved with the dognapping business. It's pretty genius: kidnap someone's dog, the owner puts out a reward for the missing dog, then return dog and get reward. Perfect right? Hans (Christopher Walken) spearheads the dognapping business and it seems to be going fine until they wind up stealing a dog from an owner who also happens to be a bit of a psychopath (Woody Harrelson).

I wanted this film to be great as I was watching it because it all unfolds so smoothly and it's really funny in the first half. The characters are wildly entertaining and watching this ensemble cast work together is just a delight, especially when you got quirky oddballs such as Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton in the mix. But the film gets a little too wrapped up into its meta-universe by the second half and when it becomes all about "finishing Marty's movie," it just got too self-referential to be fun for me. 

Still though, Seven Psychopaths is definitely worth the watch and it's easy to tell that Martin McDonagh is a talented writer/director. He's got an assured, unassuming style and with In Bruges and this movie, he's established himself as an interesting filmmaker to watch in the coming years. It's not that Psychopaths felt like a lesser movie, it just felt like a movie that tried to do too much but McDonagh's so talented that its shortcomings can be more-or-less forgiven.  

So, to sum it up, I'd definitely would give Seven Psychopaths a whirl if you were halfway interested, you may be pleasantly surprised if your expectations are measured. And if you enjoyed this film and haven't seen In Bruges, do yourself a favor and rent that movie ASAP.

Grade: B

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What do we look for in movies anyway?

I like Liam Neeson and it makes me happy to see him become a box office star as he enters his sixties. But, as Taken 2 tops the box office with an almost $50 million weekend, it does makes me wonder about what people look for in the films they go to see.

With a good movie that gets praise, it seems that when your average moviegoer comes around to it, the film will have to do backflips and handstands in order to make a positive impression. But, when it's a sequel to a familiar franchise that takes absolutely zero risks in style or substance, the standards seem to be different.  Looper seems to be doing ok business in the box office but certainly a film with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the leads can do a bit better. I found Looper to be original, daring, and a fun movie to watch. Many audience members liked the film, but when I see criticisms, I often see words "overrated" or "overhyped." thrown in there. As if a well-reviewed movie can't just be good or liked by a lot of people.

It seems like people try harder to defy critics than let the movie speak for themselves. I, for one, don't give a rat's ass about rottentomatoes or metacritic. I'll look at them as reference points when awards season comes around, but other than that, I don't let that guide my movie watching. I do have a bias though. I tend to flock to movies that have interesting directors attached to them, that's what draws me as a film watcher. Not everyone goes that route, in fact, many couldn't care less who directs anything. That's weird to me though. I look at great directors the same way I look at great bands. Why wouldn't you care who sings your favorite song? It just seems illogical to me. You like a good movie for a reason, why not seek out movies made by the same people involved?

I feel that, for myself, the difference of opinion between me and a well-respected friend or family member is becoming a bit too noticeable for me. It gets to a point where I'm afraid to even discuss "The Master" with someone I know no matter how much I love that film and regardless of whether or not that film has many things worth discussing. I don't care if someone dislikes films that I like, but I often find myself unable to have a well-rounded discussion about this or that film. It always seems to devolve to the point where it's no longer worth discussion.

Fact of the matter is that too many people just don't give a shit. More often than not, people just want turn their brain off when they watch a movie. For me, that used to be fine every once in awhile, but does it really have to be that way all the time?

Part of the problem is me, I know that. For some reason, I seem to respond positively to films that I can sense will wind up being divisive. I loved The Master, Drive, and The Tree of Life... films that the majority of critics like too, but there's a huge disconnect between critics and audiences with those films. Heck, The Tree of Life has a paltry 6.9 rating on imdb for crying out loud. People really dislike that movie. I really loved that movie. Is there something wrong with me? Or with them? Or does anything have to be wrong with anybody? I don't know, but I feel like there used to be a time when the discrepancy between what was good and what people thought was good wasn't so damn different.

A great film used to just be a great film. Sure, some might not like it, but at least people used to have a worthy explanation of some sort. Difference of opinion is always welcome, but I often find myself scratching my head and asking "why" when I hear some dissenters of my favorite movies of recent time.

Anyway, I don't mean to come across as pretentious or as an asshole with this post, I'm just getting frustrated. It really seems like fewer people are interested in seeing original movies anymore and are instead flocking to more sequels, blockbusters, etc. 2011 was already a bad sign and 2010 is looking more and more like an anomaly. Argo, Lincoln, Django Unchained... more original movies, but will they gain any traction with the general movie going audience? God I hope so, I don't wanna live in a world where people ignore Tarantino and Spielberg in favor of films with an already established audience that took hundreds of millions of dollars to make. More than ever, this is an issue that's becoming important to me. Why can't we embrace movies that are different? Bold, rambunctious? Films that test people's patience. Why can't we embrace variety? Why does it all have to be done the same way or have the same movie title but with a "2" or "3" next to it? I'm running out of answers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Looper, a long-awaited review

I was supposed to do a write-up for Looper before I went on vacation last week but that didn't pan out. Now I just want to write it and move on to the October movies. So, excuse me while I mostly avoid going into the plot, besides I'd rather keep it a surprise for those who haven't seen it yet.

Looper is the type of original sci-fi fare that we just don't get enough of nowadays. I think back to Source Code to find a sci-fi movie by a young hot-shot director that felt like a refreshing change-of-pace for the genre. Well, Looper surpasses that. Rian Johnson, whose previous films "Brick" and "Brothers Bloom" showcased the filmmaker as a hot new talent. They're both clever, well-made films but perhaps a little bit too clever for their own good. What was refreshing about those films and Looper is how they encompass their own little worlds and the characters speak a language that feels new to us but real to the world they live in.

The moment, for me, when Rian Johnson solidified his status as a great filmmaker was during a montage in Looper where we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Joe gradually age into his older self (played by Bruce Willis). The subtle attention to detail and confident, assured style is what really impressed me about the sequence of events. But what's most thrilling about Looper is how it never shies from having an emotional core. The stakes in the movie are high and you actually care about what happens to these characters. Again, Rian Johnson adds a lot of little clever twists and character quirks but unlike his first two films, he makes it work completely.

It's as if Johnson hit his stride while writing the film and never let up and when Bruce Willis finally picks up a gun and starts wreaking havoc on people, it's awesome to watch. That's another thing: there isn't a bunch of action in Looper but when there is, it's totally worth watching. This is Bruce Willis at his best, Joseph Gordon-Levitt at his best, and thankfully we get a lot of solid performances from Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt.

As what can always happen with time travel movies, sometimes the logic isn't always as sound as it can be and Rian Johnson can be guilty of throwing a few too many details at us. Overall though, Looper is a fun genre film that works on so many levels and officially it puts Rian Johnson on the map. If Looper is any indication, we could be getting a lot of great films from this guy.

Grade: A-