110- John Carter [5.5]

John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter, who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of another planet.

John Carter is not nearly as bad a movie as the press would let you believe it is. I wish Taylor Kitsch had more charisma (he was very good on Friday Night Lights) to carry this adaptation of Burroughs story, and I’m fairly bummed that we’ll likely never get to see a sequel. By the end of John Carter, I was genuinely interested in what was going to happen next. Time will tell if the CGI that is rampant throughout the film will hold up, but I doubt the general’s audience will.

109- Beginners [9.0]

Imaginatively explores the hilarity, confusion, and surprises of love through the evolving consciousness of Oliver. Oliver meets the irreverent and unpredictable Anna only months after his father Hal has passed away. This new love floods Oliver with memories of his father who – following 44 years of marriage – came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full, energized, and wonderfully tumultuous gay life.

What a beautiful, moving film. Beginners is an ode to many things– second chances, grand realizations, and finding true love. Sounds awfully cliche, doesn’t it? Director Mike Mills infuses his screenplay with such wonderful little moments that you can’t help but be bottled up by the stories of all that are involved. Beginners is occasionally cute, but not on a false indie film way; rather, the sweetness of discovering or uncovering a crucial part of one’s life is portrayed in a whimsical, if not occasionally frustrating light. I feel as if this film may be unfortunately pigeonholed as a “cancer film” or a a “gay film”, and while those are parts of Beginners, it’d be deceitful to make it that simple. Beginners is a movie worth celebrating because it touches on moments so universal and makes it all feel very truthful at the same time.

108- Take Shelter [7.5]

Curtis LaForche lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha and six-year-old daughter Hannah, who is deaf. Money is tight, and navigating Hannah’s healthcare and special needs education is a constant struggle. Despite that, Curtis and Samantha are very much in love and their family is a happy one. Then Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an encroaching, apocalyptic storm.

One’s exposure to depression, be it how it has effected someone they know or themselves, likely will play heavy into their emotional attachment to Take Shelter. The end of days looms heavy over the entire film, with a fairly simple parallel of Curtis’ (Michael Shannon, in my favorite performance of his thus far) crippling fears of life to the apocalypse. Though Take Shelter tackles these big ideas, it does so in a non-bloated fashion, thanks largely in part to the heavy focus on Curtis and his family; moreover, the whole thing feels rather minor despite the large scope.

For what I imagine is a rather small budget film, some of the awful CGI is forgivable. What I could have done without is the excessive amount of dream sequences, as the pattern became successively more easy to figure out, thus causing a loss of intensity that the earlier sequences had. All is forgiven for the crushing sequence in the storm shelter. Though one could argue the crescendo of Curtis losing it came a scene or two prior, Michael Shannon has a vulnerability so raw in the shelter that I can’t remember a finer performed scene in years. (Also, keep an eye on the lighting of that scene, which was really something special.)

Large parts of Take Shelter might not work for some. There were certainly elements I could’ve done without, but between the powerhouse performance given by Michael Shannon (with tremendous support by Jessica Chastain) and the execution of the third act, I’d certainly recommend giving Take Shelter a viewing.

107- Moneyball [6.0]

Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s and the guy who assembles the team, has an epiphany: all of baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane will have to outsmart the richer clubs.

As a longtime baseball fan, there are a lot of elements of Moneyball that I enjoyed. For one, the statistical breakdowns of how a victorious season can come about based on a certain combination of players is intriguing (and judging by the Red Sox eventually employing Beane’s methods, possibly factual). I also enjoyed that the film delved into the emotional heart of the game. Yes, at the end of the day it is just a game, but for some, there’s a heavy investment into the sport.

My real issue with Moneyball is just how damn pedestrian the whole affair is. The closest thing to an antagonist is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Art Howe, but even then, the audience may very well side with Howe’s logic and calm demeanor. Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, and it was a pleasure seeing him not chew the scenery even once in a movie. If anything, his low key attitude was almost more frightening than the explosive side of Hoffman’s range. I was also surprised by how good a subdued Jonah Hill can be. There’s a texture to his performance that I didn’t think he was otherwise capable of.

The strangest thing about Moneyball is something I can’t necessarily hold against the filmmakers: being based on a true story, we’re viewing a semi-factual account of events from way back to…ten years ago. Perhaps there’s not enough time between then and now to have the weight of the story sink in (though the A’s winning 20 consecutive games is still remarkable). Maybe in a few years I’ll revisit Moneyball and think higher of it.

106- Grandma Lo-Fi [8.0]

At the tender age of 70 she started recording and releasing her own music straight from the living room. 7 years later she had 59 albums to her name with more than 600 songs – an eccentric myriad of catchy compositions mixing in her pets, found toys, kitchen percussions and Casio keyboards.

Grandma Lo-Fi is an inspiring, if not occasionally sad view of a woman who found her passion at a later age. Sigrídur Níelsdóttir’s was a rather funny old lady who had a knack for lo-fi recording. Her joy of finding interesting sounds that replicated things such as birds chirping or airplanes flying by is rather infectious. I was amazed that in a truncated period of time, she seemed to have gone through a variety of music phases (whereas most make those progressions over the course of years). Her fear of playing live is fairly tragic, as it impeded her from continuing on with her music career. The obvious thing to take away from Grandma Lo-Fi is that it’s never too late to find the thing you love, but I was more taken aback at the thought of being potentially more creative than I am now when I’m a shriveled, old man.

(I wrestled with posting vs. not posting a review as Grandma Lo-Fi is only 62 minutes long, but between all the different definitions of what makes a feature film and the fact that I can do whatever I want with this blog, I decided to go for it.)

105- Parents [6.5]

In this bizarre and very black comedy set in 1950s suburbia, Michael Laemle comes to suspect that his conventional parents have a little secret which they have kept from him.

Parents shares some commonalities with the Spielberg Anberlin films of the 1980s, but takes the view of how a child looks at his or her parents to a very dark place. Director Bob Balaban occasionally hits the audience over the head with operatic horror flourishes, but Parents is still memorable and disturbing.

Though it takes place in ’50s suburbia, Parents could’ve worked in virtually any decade. Some of the ironies and disparities between the concept of idyllic suburbia and the realities of the lives within those cookie cutter homes is front and center, but I don’t think the film needs to be viewed as a period piece in order for that concept to work. In fact, if any movie that I’ve seen in recent memory is ripe for a remake, it’d likely be this. Parents hasn’t aged particularly well, and though that’s not enough precedent to revisit the material, it’s still something I’d like to see someone take another stab at.

104- Monsieur N. [5.0]

A historical mystery thriller about Napoleon. Sir Hudson Lowe is assigned to guard Napoleon while the latter is in exile in Saint Helena. A local girl, Betsy, has a crush on the exiled leader. This, along with the fact that keeping Napoleon on the island is costing the British a great sum of money, leads Lowe to consider drastic action.

I’ve been tremendously fascinated by Napoleon Bonaparte for almost six years now. I’ve read countless biographies and even put together a silly little concept album based on the historical figure. I couldn’t recommend Monsieur N. to a casual viewer, as I think there are too many factors that prevent it from being interesting to anyone but those heavily drawn into the Napoleon legend. There are many details and references that would have went over my head had I not done research prior to seeing the movie. With about twenty minutes to go, Monsieur N. becomes a laughable mystery movie when there’s seemingly no material left to cover. I’m still trying to find an awesome Napoleon movie and would love a good recommendation.