Be forewarned Thor groupies and fanboys, you may not like what I’m about to say. There’s always been one fundamental flaw to Marvel’s version of the Norse God of Thunder, whether in films or the comic books: He never does anything interesting.
While I find the Norse mythology interesting, and Chris Hemsworth is a genius choice for the character, his stories just don’t do anything to excite me. There’s a certain Shakespearean intrigue that lends itself to the proceedings that made bringing Kenneth Branagh in as director on the first film a logical choice. And don’t take this the wrong way, I enjoyed Thor well enough. But the story lines available for this Avenger are just ho-hum stuff.
In this inevitable sequel, Thor has to make some amends to his main squeeze, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), for being absent for the past two years. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), fresh from his apprehension at the end of The Avengers, is locked up in the dungeons. Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), doesn’t quite get his son’s fascination with an Earth woman. Oh, and there’s this convergence of planets that happens every 5,000 years that’s set to bring back the reign of dark elves hell bent on destroying the universe. Guess who’s going to figure out a way to stop it?
As per my opening statements, I found the actual plot developments to be of little consequence. This is the kind of story I invented as a child playing with action figures or Lego. However, just as he did in Thor, it’s Hiddleston that steals the show. Every scene with Loki is a bright spot, and lifts the rather mundane surroundings in an almost magical fashion. This is made most evident after a long spell of Loki being absent from the movie, as he pops back up and instantly raises the energy level — right when the pacing needed a boost in the arm.
Taking over in the director’s chair is Alan Taylor. His experience directing a number of Game of Thrones episodes obviously came in handy and the look and feel of the movie is consistent with previous films in the recent string of Marvel dominance. That still didn’t make the runtime feel any shorter, as the 112 minutes feels a tad longer, but every element of the production was well executed. The costumers, the sets, the effects, and the make-up designs are all top notch.
Thankfully, the script does make sure to inject a number of light moments, mostly with Loki. Overall, it’s fairly entertaining though if I had to pick a big budget action film right now, I’d go with Ender’s Game over this. But who am I kidding? This is a Marvel movie, everyone will probably go and see it.
One last obligatory note. To no surprise, there are some extra scenes in the credits, both midway through and at the end. So as with every other Marvel movie, don’t be so quick to get to your car once the main story has run its course.
Upon a bit of introspection and doing some mental math in regards to how many times I watch it each holiday season, I’d have to say Love, Actually might be my favorite Christmas movie. So … Umm … There’s that. Take it for what you will. I even make sure each year to watch both the feature film and then watch it again with the commentary track (Hugh Grant jokes about Colin Firth the entire time, it’s hilarious).
Why does any of that blathering matter? Well, because Love, Actually comes from the same writer/director as the newly released About Time … about which this actually is a review for. Hmm , I’m not getting grammar points for that last sentence. Moving on, Richard Curtis is the man behind both films and my instinct to seek this movie out, despite its obvious chick flick DNA, was rewarded with it becoming one of my favorite movies of 2013.
Without giving away too much, or at least no more than the trailers have already done so, the film is a bit of science fiction mixed in with an a coming-of-age romantic tale. Once they turn 21, the gentlemen in the Lake family all have the peculiar ability to travel back in time; to correct any grave errors, relive cherished memories, attempt to mold their lives as they want them to be. This sets the framework for the main character of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), who just really wants a girlfriend. He eventually sets his sights on Mary (Rachel McAdams) and the rest unfolds through trial and error.
What elevates the film from a simple romantic sci-fi comedy into something more is Curtis’ ability to develop each of the people in Tim’s life. Most importantly, there’s his family. His strong connection with Dad (Bill Nighy), Mom (Lindsay Duncan) and his sister (Lydia Wilson) prove to be the driving force of his personality. Then there are Tim’s friends from work and even a playwright in London that joins the mix in particularly hilarious fashion. And of course, there’s the love interest in Mary. All of them highlight different facets of Tim and Gleeson carries the performance off beautifully.
This is particularly important because no matter how good the ensemble is (and they are excellent), the movie simply would be crushed under its sentimentality without the remarkably relatable, sincere, and vulnerable Gleeson tying it all together. To no great surprise, the scenes between Tim and his Dad are the big standouts and the group as a whole exhibits some of the best chemistry on film this year.
In short, About Time is a movie that may not be on people’s radar because they think it’s just another sappy romance, or maybe the combination of time travel and McAdams evokes not so fond memories of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Rest assured, this is not either of those things. Yes, there’s some gooeyness to the proceedings but Curtis cuts it with clever dialogue, dry British wit, and excellent performances that keep the saccharine levels at bay. This is a feel-good movie that doesn’t shy away from some of the tougher moments of life, which serves as a reminder that one cannot truly experience joy without knowing sadness as you need the comparison to put either in context.
This is easily the best date movie of 2013 and I say that without sarcasm or any negative connotation. The film is relatable to just about anyone and the quality of its production, from top to bottom, will make it worth the ticket price. When it comes to movies I’ll be recommending people see this year, About Time heads right near the top of the list as it takes no hemming and hawing regarding the type of demographic that should enjoy it. It should please anyone except the most anti-romantic … and you know who you are.
A lot of buzz has been generated over 12 Years a Slave. Considering the director and subject material, that’s not too surprising. For those who think in terms of year-end consideration, factoring in slavery, the actors, and Steve McQueen’s track record, this is built for the awards season. The real question is whether or not the film ends up being more than just Oscar bait.
Having thought about this for nearly a week since I saw a screening, I’m not quite sure. While I appreciate that this is based on a true story and its a remarkable and heartbreaking one, they’re just seems to be too much calculation in the way that this is being released. I wish I could put it into words a little bit better but it just feels like a film people are meant to hold in high regard but it left me feeling a little cold and cynical.
There’s no doubt that the tale of Solomon Northup is one that leaves a stain on the notion that deep down inside people are inherently good. However, telling a story about the ills and wrongs of slavery isn’t presenting anything new to the discourse. Perhaps it’s because I’m a critic and I see so many films every year but too often I see the motivation behind the scenes rather than the passion for the subject matter itself. That’s not to say I don’t think the filmmakers here aren’t passionate about presenting this story, there’s just something so almost formulaic to the way in which the story is presented that its hard for me to see beyond that cynicism.
One thing audiences should bear in mind is that this is a graphic film at times. Some of the beating and whipping of Solomon and other slaves won’t be easy for some people to sit through. The converse of that lies in the slow pacing of the movie. While the story spans 12 years, I found myself wondering if I had spent that long in my seat. The third quarter of the movie seems somewhat redundant as by that point, the plight of Solomon is well enough understood that dragging it out doesn’t seem to add enough to the overall experience to warrant the extra time. What makes it understandable is this being based on a true story, and removing these elements would be an omission of events.
That being said, the central performances are quite excellent. Of course it all starts with Ejiofor. He’s been on a short list of actors whose involvement instantly grabs my attention and he doesn’t disappoint here. Where he truly embodies the character are in the unspoken moments when the inner battle between his innate gentle nature and his desire to survive at any cost collide.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender play the primary two slave owners. Cumberbatch seemingly is the more human of the two but in being so much more aware of how wrong the practice of slavery is, it creates the question whether or not the unbridled rage and ignorance of Fassbender is truly the more sympathetic of the two. It’s in these characters where the spotlight on morality, or the lack thereof, shines the brightest.
One of the most noticeable production elements that consistently broke my connection to the story was the score. While I liked some of the loud and contrasting segments there was a central theme that played at nearly all the obvious emotional moments. The music itself was pretty but it felt like the movie telling the audience what a good moment it was for them to use their Kleenex. If there had been more to the theme, and it was varied in key or rhythm, it likely would have been more effective and less distracting.
The other factor that I just could never wrap my brain around was the inclusion of Brad Pitt. While I was aware from the opening credits his production company had a hand in the movie, when his bearded mug shows up on screen, I almost completely forgot I was in the slavery-era South. I’ve always liked him as an actor but putting him in front of the camera tested my suspension of disbelief mightily.
Coming to terms with the overall result is tricky. Had this been a fictional representation of the era, I’d find no way to see past the attempt to curry favor with those who hand out statuettes every year. However, this is based on a true story and so it isn’t quite fair to knock some elements of the plot progression as much as I instinctively want to do. I also know that I’m in a very small circle of people not effusively heaping praise upon the movie so take that for what you will.
The movie is well made and the overwhelming majority of the actors give fine performances. If you were looking forward to seeing the film, I would be hard pressed to stop you. 12 Years a Slave does almost everything right but it failed to draw me fully into its grasp. Unfortunately, that’s one of the most important aspects for me when I watch a film and while I can appreciate the quality of the work, it just missed the mark for me personally.
As a fan of the Jackass movies, the idea of taking Johnny Knoxville’s character of Irving Zisman and creating an entire movie around him piqued my curiosity. It also raised a bit of a red flag because part of what makes watching these guys so entertaining is that the comedy comes in quick bursts and if there ever is a lag or something a bit too gross for one’s taste, something different is coming in just another minute.
What people should know ahead of time about Bad Grandpa is that rather than being simply a series of pranks, there’s a loose story tying it all together. Zisman has recently lost his wife. His daughter is headed to jail and needs Grandpa to take her son (Jackson Nicoll) to live with the deadbeat baby daddy. The road trip provides them with a chance to bond … and create havoc as well of course.
Despite the framework of the movie, the core sensibilities of what makes Jackass fun are still there. Each stop along the way is met with Grandpa and young Billy doing something completely outrageous and hilarious while real and unsuspecting people end up their comedic casualties. Of course, some of that humor lands squarely on the other side of appropriateness but if you can’t handle that, you were never a Jackass fan.
Knoxville and Nicoll share a decent chemistry and it’s evident the veteran prankster enjoyed having a partner in crime that allowed a lot of leeway for how much he could get away with in relation to the average person. Nicoll must have has a blast being allowed to do practically anything he wanted and seemed rather fearless, even when obviously taking direction from someone else.
Saying much more would be pointless. You either enjoy Knoxville and his crew’s shenanigans or you don’t. I happen to find great joy in their tomfoolery and so this was a welcome hour and a half of laughs. I also enjoy the words “shenanigans” and “tomfoolery” so writing this review served two purposes. And if you do pop into the theater to see Bad Grandpa, don’t get up when the movie ends, there’s a ton of behind the scenes footage that run over the credits.
The image of Carrie standing onstage, drenched in blood and quivering with rage, is an iconic one. With that image a part of public consciousness, it is impossible to see Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Carrie without comparing it to the original.
Carrie (2013) stays true to the source material, both from the original movie and Stephen King’s first published novel. Teenage Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the only child of a fanatically religious mother and is a shy, awkward girl. Her mom (Julianne Moore) has kept her sheltered (there’s passing reference to her having been home schooled until the school district intervened) and Carrie knows very little about her burgeoning telekinetic powers and even less about her impending womanhood. She learns about the latter in a disturbing fashion at school, which culminates in her peers pelting her with feminine products and chanting slurs at her. In an effort to modernize the story, this awful incident is promptly recorded on someone’s iPhone and uploaded to YouTube.
Her kind gym teacher (Judy Greer) attempts to comfort Carrie and punish her tormentors. She assigns all the mean girls to gym detention (flashback to my own high school nightmares); a punishment most girls accept, particularly sweet teen queen Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), who feels terrible about her own cruelty. Her partner in crime, antagonist Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), rebels against a week’s worth of sprints and stadium runs and gets banned from the prom as a result. She plots an even more terrible revenge against Carrie and, I’ll give you a hint, it involves pig blood. You probably know where the story goes from here.
Carrie (2013) ought to be even more poignant today than it was in the 1970s, what with the rise of bullying, cyber-bullying and resulting teenage suicides. The scene of Carrie, tormented in the school shower, is indeed powerful and sad, but the film seems to shy away from making her truly a teen under attack until the climactic scene at the prom. Yeah, she gets a bunch of tampons thrown in her face and yeah, she gets humiliated online, but all in all, the other kids seem okay with Carrie. She might not be popular, but she doesn’t seem to be all together hated either.
Chloë Grace Moretz is probably too conventionally pretty to make a truly effective Carrie. Sure, her hair is her face and her clothes are frumpy, but I doubt severely that no one in that school noticed there’s a girl as pretty as a model underneath all the angsty shoe-gazing. There are scenes of other students laughing at her, sure, but there are also scenes where her classmates are offering her helpful advice in the library. I assume it’s because they noticed that Carrie is actually pretty hot.
Sue Snell is supposed to be the audience’s link to the story, the remorseful girl who does something mean and wants to make amends (as we all assume we would if we did something nasty to an innocent peer), but her role is watered down and tentative in Peirce’s version. Sue sends Carrie to prom with her boyfriend, but we don’t see her befriending Carrie in any other fashion. Her characterization is bland and she is greatly outshone by her wicked counterpart, Chris.
Julianne Moore is probably the stand out performer in the cast, forgoing the maniacal holy-roller from the previous feature film and creating instead, a more nuanced character. Moore’s Mrs. White is still deeply religious, but also a proponent of self-harm and prone to making the wrong decision for what she thinks is the right reasons. She warps Carrie’s sense of self and keeps her isolated and weird, while still expressing genuine love and care for the girl.
The original Carrie ended up garnering several award nominations (particularly Academy Award nominations for the lead actresses). I doubt severely that this version will do likewise. Modern film techniques are unable to enhance the creepiness of Carrie’s rampage and the whole film just seems like a prettier version of the original. All in all, Carrie (2013) is a decent film, but an unnecessary remake. There are plenty of horror films (Stephen King films in particular) that are begging for a remake. Why try to redo an already good thing?
I could probably go on and on about Runner Runner. However, I’m attempting to waste less and less time writing about bad movies so this may be one of my shortest reviews ever.
In this stinker, Justin Timberlake is a smart guy who ends up working for a online gambling mogul (Ben Affleck) who’s avoiding the law by holding up shop in Costa Rica. From a script perspective, there’s a functionally useless beautiful woman (Gemma Arterton) and a barely useless gambling addict father (John Heard). Also essentially useless is the script itself. It’s so full of holes that had the film been called Water Water, there wouldn’t be a drop to drink for anyone.
Problems in the script are especially sad to discover when the screenwriters wrote another film about gambling called Rounders. That’s a good film. Runner Runner is essentially the antithesis of good.
The direction doesn’t help matters. While I liked director Brad Furman’s last film well enough (The Lincoln Lawyer), this felt like some poor homage to Michael Mann. And somehow, he made this 91-minute movie feel a good hour longer. I’ve been to graduations that felt shorter.
Runner Runner is a marginally interesting idea executed into an insanely boring result. Aside from a few good one liners Affleck gets to throw out, this makes Reindeer Games look like Good Will Hunting. Fans of either actor are better off watching Timberlake host SNL or enjoying any of Affleck’s excellent turns as a director. If there’s anything people should Run Run from, it’s this film film.
Mankind has long been fascinated with the notion of going into space. There’s an element of uncharted exploration, mixed in with a little bit of thrill seeking, scientific curiosity, and perhaps a dash of wanting to gain a truly unique perspective on this little blue orb we call home. For decades, a select group of men and women have rocketed their way out of the atmosphere and come away with an experience to which few can truly relate.
Now, I know I’ll never be an astronaut. There are far too many certifications involved and I’m a sissy. However, I love the idea of being given the virtual equivalent of such an undertaking and short of an IMAX documentary about the International Space Station or actually blasting off into orbit, director/co-writer Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is the closest I’ll probably get.
I’ll admit to having very little expectations for the story on display. While I like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney just fine, they’re also of such mega-stature that the idea of suspending any of my disbelief seemed like a pipe dream. To some extent, that preconceived notion held up; but I readily admit that this film may be the single most satisfying movie to see in a movie theater all year. I missed Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder so I can’t judge his usual spectacular cinematography with Cuarón’s work here but considering both films have the same actual cinematographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, I have a feeling it’s a bit like choosing between which side of the Kit Kat to eat first. It’s going to be tasty either way (sadly, I’m in no way compensated for that shameless plug).
The movie itself is rather easy to sum up and I’ll do so without revealing any spoilers. Basically, Bullock and Clooney start off the film on a spacewalk, working to repair a component of the Hubble telescope. About five minutes into the repairs, stuff goes horribly, horribly wrong and our two astronauts find themselves drifting in orbit with only the slimmest of hopes to save themselves from either drifting off into space, running out of oxygen, or both. Hah. No spoilers!
What follows is 80-ish more minutes of a struggle to survive and MacGyver their way through the insane amount of literal and figurative obstacles placed in their path. It’s intense and it’s mesmerizing and it’s a pure visual treat. Cuarón manages to weave together a whole slew of CGI wizardry, good performances from what are essentially the only two cast members, and his trademark super long shots, into a masterpiece of eye-candy. The images are stunningly beautiful and terrifying all at once.
Even the 3D works! Yes, I said it. The 3D is worth it. While this may not be the most immersive example of the technology, it does add that extra bit of depth necessary for a movie like this. It also brings the zero gravity objects into play a bit more and rounds out the experience. I would also recommend seeing it in the largest format you possible can (though not at a drive-in, as the sense of being immersed in the story goes out the window when you can see the real world all around you). Sadly, San Diego doesn’t have a true IMAX theater showing non-educational films so I had to make do with one of the larger screens here but it still made a huge impression on my enjoyment of the spectacle Cuarón assembled.
Now, all of that smoke blowing isn’t to say it’s perfect. There are of course some issues with physics and after doing some light Internet research, the distance between the Hubble and the International Space Station makes one segment of the movie pure fiction. However, I can forgive the elements forgone in this area for the sake of the story, and I can even forgive some of the contrived dramatic plot points; as I was riveted by most other elements.
The one big, AND NOISY, element I wish could be changed before this is publicly released is the score, done by Steven Price. There are some nice notes and themes throughout but there’s a re-occurring gathering of cacophonous noise that rises to a crescendo and then cuts out, in the most obvious and trite attempt to remind people that there is no sound in space, as well as artificially increase the tension. It’s bad enough he does this at the opening of the movie but to do it over and over and over and over again was pretty much infuriating and I found myself distracted from the otherwise gripping and engaging film each subsequent time the score decided to go bonkers.
As such, what is visually one of the most breathtaking narrative films I’ve ever seen doesn’t live up to its full potential. However, those visuals are so magnificent that I’ll be sure to head back to the theater for another 3D journey into space with Miss Congeniality and Dr. Ross. There’s no way that the home market can recreate the experience so if you are at all interested in the movie, you simply NEED to see this on as large a screen as you can find and go ahead and shell out a few extra bucks for the 3D. Those who read my reviews often know how rare it is that I’d so strongly recommend the most expensive trip to the movieplex so take that for what you will.
This doesn’t have the narrative complexity of Cuarón’s masterpiece, Children of Men, but it will leave an impression on those who find the same joy as I do in the opportunity films have to transport us to adventures most of us will never have the chance to experience in real life. Between the long shots, the almost claustrophobic but utterly amazing first person views, and the backdrop of Earth spinning below, Gravity quickly takes hold and doesn’t let go. There’s a bad joke in there somewhere … oh wait, found it. Just see the movie, okay?
If there’s one actor right now that is an automatic draw for me as a critic, and as a moviegoer, it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In some ways, I feel a kinship to his remarkable career because it’s been throughout the eight-year span of my own film criticism that he’s just been churning out some of the best stuff around. For a heap of metaphorical ego-stroking, you can check out my reviews for films like Mysterious Skin, The Lookout, (500) Days of Summer, 50/50, and Looper (to name a few); all of which I would put on a top 100 list of the past decade without a second thought.
So once I heard JGL was making Don Jon, his first feature-length film, and wearing nearly every hat (writing, directing, starring, producing, etc., etc.), my inner child felt a Christmas morning-like giddiness. However, this review may not be stacked with the kind of praise I normally mete out when referencing the work of JGL, and it may ramble, but bear with me.
First off, the story is about a young man from Jersey. Jon’s got most of the traits one has come to associate with the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore: an obsession with physical perfection, hair full of product, belief that a night out at the club is merely fishing for ladies (whose beauty must meet his expectation), a cliché Italian family complete with a loudmouth father and a mom playing the martyr just waiting for one of her kids to bear her grandchildren. He isn’t too heavy on the T and L of GTL (Gym – Tan – Laundry) but makes up for it with the love of his car.
He meets a dime (that’s a 10 for those of you skewing more towards the Bo Derek era) played by Scarlett Johansson. She’s resistant at first but the type of woman who will allow her man to feel in control as long as she’s truly the one pulling the strings. Jon falls for the trap but probably could have lived with it all if it weren’t for her disdain for the one element of his life that he holds in regard above almost anything else: his love of pornography.
This is where it gets hard for me to understand who the audience for the movie truly is. For the most part, this is a broad comedy, full of stereotypes and an almost sitcom air to the comedy (though far, far raunchier). However, there’s always the undercurrent of this obsession with porn that simply feels a bit out of place; first played for laughs but later becoming something much more significant and intense.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, we meet Esther (Julianne Moore), a woman with instantly apparent issues and an unlikely relationship forms between her and Jon. This shifts the movie into an entirely new arena and judging by the reaction of the largely college-age screening audience, I don’t think the demographic that the film is marketing itself towards is really going to get it. (They laughed at the funny bits and the dramatic ones too, seemingly without the ability to recognize the difference.)
Yes, there are plenty of comedic moments but to call this a comedy is to miss the point entirely. Gordon-Levitt has gone out on a limb here, in crafting a film about porn addiction and serving it to the mainstream. This is the stuff of arthouse theaters, and I mean that with all due respect. The performances all-around are quite good, with Tony Danza and Glenne Headly stealing nearly every scene they’re in, but it’s Moore that steals the show in the end. It’s not surprising to see her deliver the kind of presence she does but there were plenty of opportunities for this character to be portrayed badly and so I credit her and JGL for avoiding those particular pitfalls.
Still, I have to assign some blame to JGL for the project as a whole. Overall, I liked the movie but it’s just such a shame that a rather bold theme is undercut so viciously by the gross caricatures that inhabit the majority of the movie. Even Brie Larson (who absolutely kills it in Short Term 12 – that’s what everyone should be seeing FYI) is relegated to the role of silent sister … well mostly silent, she turns into Silent Bob uttering only one poetic and show stopping bit of dialogue towards the end. This wasn’t surprising but having been a fan of Kevin Smith films from the get-go, it again felt a bit too simple for what could have been a very different movie.
And perhaps, that’s where I’ll let the rambling come to an end. I’ve distilled my problems with JGL’s effort thusly: Don Jon is not one, but two movies. There’s the comedy about Jersey Italians. And then there’s the independent drama about a young man with a porn addiction who finds solace in an older woman with plenty of emotional baggage to bring to their shared table. Putting them together, you end up sacrificing the success of each idea. I still give JGL credit for all that he’s done here and will be first in line for whatever his next project may be. This however, just seemed to lack the decisiveness to determine what the film was going to be, and as an audience member, I felt stuck in the middle.
The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs took me by surprise. Its trailer looked rather generic and I went into it with very little expectations only to find that it’s actually one of my favorite animated movies in the last five years. Now the sequel has been unleashed, appropriately titled Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and sans subtitle so just saying it doesn’t require a second breath.
Picking up right where the first film ended, our intrepid inventor, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has been given the opportunity to work for the Live Corporation. Think Apple and Google all rolled into one. He’s eventually tasked with helping to stop the device that created the food storms from the previous tale, only now that device is cranking out sentient food that may threaten to overrun the world’s historical landmarks if not kept in check (if you’ve seen the first movie, you get that joke).
In any case, Flint doesn’t go off on his own. His friends and father tag along, with most of the cast of characters returning for more crazy food antics (it’s sad Mr. T didn’t reprise his role but Terry Crews did a good job of filling in). As expected, there’s much quirkiness and randomness that goes on, all leading to the inevitable happy ending one can expect with any kids film. P.S. If you consider that a spoiler, stick to Nick at Nite re-runs (do they still do that? I am not young anymore).
While there was a change in directors for the franchise, they managed to make it all feel like an extension of the original and this is a worthy sequel that is probably my second favorite animated movie of the year (The Croods still holds top honors to this point). If you’ve got kids, this will keep them entertained with its bright colors and wacky food animals. It will also keep you entertained with plenty of humor aimed above the heads of the wee ones you brought in tow.
When it comes to the obligatory 3D, you can take it or leave it. None of it was obtrusive and I was pleased that the vibrant colors on display still came through, even when wearing tinted (and presumably sanitized) lenses. However, there aren’t enough moments that take advantage of the technology so you really won’t be missing anything should you decide to use that extra money you saved on tickets for gummy bears.
Bottom line is that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 will likely join its predecessor on my Blu-ray shelf and hopefully this release will put an end to whatever money is still flowing towards Monsters University. Of all the bad movies this year (and there are many), the sheer gigantitude of the box office for that truly terrible misstep by the good folks at Pixar still has me fuming. Movies cost too much these days to just throw money away. Don’t forget people, you can get air conditioning in malls too … and admission to those is free.
I’ve watched enough movies to know that if I were to accidentally kill someone and discover a sizable stack of cash nearby, the smart thing to do is cover my tracks and leave the money where it lays. Of course, if people actually did that in movies, they’d all be short films and probably lack the tension audiences have come to expect from these tales.
And so, in A Single Shot, Sam Rockwell is our unfortunate protagonist. A simple man, though not necessarily stupid, he’s trying to put his broken marriage back together and after an illegal hunting foray goes terribly wrong, ends up scrambling to put all the pieces together. Who’s money is it? What will they do if/when they find him? Can he use the money to buy the farm (literally) and save his marriage?
Set in a backwoods, rural town, this is sort of like a mashup of Winter’s Bone and Blood Simple. Those are two great films so I expect fans of these noir-ish genre movies might think this is a must see. Well, unfortunately, I have to temper that excitement.
On the plus side, Rockwell disappears into his character; helped by his outward, disheveled appearance – complete with scraggly beard and layers upon layers of flannel. Always an actor I’ve appreciated, he doesn’t disappoint here and it’s a character rarely seen from his repertoire. Rather than the loud, brash, and bombastic dynamo more in line with previous roles, here he plays a man slow to choose his words who is not the kind of guy you invite to a big party … not that he’d go to it either. As events and people close in around him, the desperation Rockwell exhibits is palpable and it’s a very good performance.
The supporting cast is a bit of a mixed bag, however. It ranges from unsurprisingly decent turns from the likes of Jeffrey Wright and Ted Levine to roles either lacking development like that of Jason Isaacs once again playing a bad guy to a completely stereotypical and over-the-top William H. Macy (whom I normally love) as a disabled town lawyer. Sadly, while the screenplay is written by Matthew Jones, the same man who wrote the novel it’s based on, many of these ancillary characters feel just that – superfluous and out of place. There’s likely more connections drawn in the novel but on-screen, even in a film dominated by the less is more theory, cutting back on some of the townsfolk may have been a wiser choice.
Speaking of the film’s sparseness, this definitely isn’t something you want to start watching late at night, or if you’re thinking of taking a nap anytime soon. The pacing is understandably metered to some degree, but another way of looking at it is that it would have been nice to speed it up and get to where we already know we’re going. Having seen enough of this genre, it’s not too hard to see the potential roadblocks and likely conclusions, which is unfortunate. The score doesn’t help things either, often becoming a cacophonous distraction and overplaying its hand.
All that said, A Single Shot hits nearer to the mark than I may have led you to believe. Director David M. Rosenthal did a nice job of immersing us in this backwoods setting and reminded me why I live in a big city. I would have appreciated a brisker pace and a better sense of how the side characters fit into the totality of things but fans of the neo-noir genre will likely appreciate Rockwell’s performance and the convoluted mess he gets himself into.