Tag Archive | 9.5

111- Cabin in the Woods [9.0]

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen. If you think you know this story, think again.

Scream has been regarded as a film that both changed the horror genre while acknowledging all of its pitfalls. To some extent, I disagree. Scream stopped horror right in its track, causing a reactionary wave of filmmakers who decided that meta and self-awareness was akin to intelligent cinema. Cabin in the Woods, on the other hand, is a challenge to filmmakers to do something new with horror. It also has to be really damn entertaining. Featuring one of the better third acts I’ve seen in a while, Cabin in the Woods is one of the most refreshing films in quite some time, genres be damned.


100- Shame [9.5]

Brandon is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control.

Remember the film that gave you pause for one reason or another? That scene that caused you to stop in a theater or at home and acknowledge: this is why I watch cinema. There were an abundance of times throughout Shame where I paused to think of both the immediate impact it was taking on me, and the likely long-term effect as well. Almost thirteen months ago, I set out to gain a better of understanding of what individual components make for a cinematic opus that can be talked about for decades to come. I considered the hyperbole that comes with reviewing such films, and how it can cause a reader of my reviews to come in to a film with loaded expectations. It’s with that in mind that I claim that it may damn near be a coincidence, but my hundredth film viewed since 1/1/11 is very well my favorite thus far.

There is nothing remotely sexy about Shame; rather, sex is treated as a disease in the respect that director Steve McQueen is not making a judgement, but instead, displaying the ugliness of this particular potential addiction. McQueen operates most poignantly under two parameters: filming an extensive uncut sequence (as in the record breaking sequence in his directorial debut Hunger) and shooting a long scene without dialogue. The opening dialogue free scene of Shame is an examination of the nature of what a shared glance can entail, and it’s the perfect intersection of material and action for McQueen to film. Though not necessarily a complex scene, the audience is given a tremendous amount of visual information.

The morose score in Shame undercuts the implied sadness of the sexual acts depicted throughout. Composer Harry Escott chooses not to overemphasize Brendan’s (Michael Fassbender) plight in a melancholy fashion, but instead accent the lack of joy in the protagonist’s actions. Fassbender’s sickening determination, as well as his understated morbid sexual obsession, is one of the finer acting performances in quite some time. McQueen gives him a tremendous amount to work with, as Shame doesn’t stay in one finite tonality. There are moments of humor in which (aside from Fassbender’s handsomeness) Brendan’s charm is intoxicating to the female opposite of him, but there are also scenes where his fixation is an incredibly ugly and abusive animal.

James Badge Dale as David, Brendan’s sleazy boss, shows more range than I knew he was capable of during his stint in Rubicon. Though a reveal of his character’s background felt like a superfluous detail and misstep, I was pleased to see the opposite side of what Brendan could be. David has virtually the same intentions of Brendan, and yet his execution is seemingly a world away. The viewer is left with the perspective that Brendan is less sleazy since we follow him throughout, yet how do we truly feel about his addiction? It’s portrayed in a complex, often sad way, and still we can see this tortured person as a shallow man.

There’s a tremendous intimacy to Sissy’s (Carey Mulligan) performance of “New York, New York” in a jazz club, though it correlates with Brendan’s unhappiness and detachment to emotion in a chilling way. The arrangement of the song, with its chromatic scales and minor key chord changes from the original version, is almost off putting at first. Like most successful elements of Shame, it threw me for a loop as to what my expectations were when the scene started out. Sissy isn’t just a caricature of depression and craziness in the same way that Brendan is not simply just a sex addict– these are layered people brought so vividly alive by the outstanding performances by Fassbender and Mulligan.

There is a pivotal scene between Brendan and a secretary at his company that exposes the grand difference between pure sex and lovemaking. It is very important to make that distinction, as it is the separation of what informs Brendan’s addiction and what causes him to repel. Prior to that, McQueen shoots one long, uninterrupted sequence at a restaurant. The manner in which Brendan and the secretary’s conversation shifts is almost frighteningly real, and also a thorough examination of the difference in expectations and desires that can exist between two people. Though both characters may want the same thing, the way in which they arrive to their readiness of that conclusion is utterly fascinating. Details such as this (and Brendan’s workday not being complete without the sugar rush of a Red Bull) are part of what make the film so enjoyable.

It’s worth noting that Shame may not have been nearly the monster that it is without Michael Fassbender’s performance. Time and again, he has proven himself as one of this generation’s premier actors. The man is an embodiment of the delicate line between complete subtlety and outwardly expressing a lot of emotion with very little dialogue.

One of the rules I put on this site is that I have the right to revisit a review and change a score or edit as I see fit. It is my sincere hope that I don’t return to Shame and find a need to withdraw one of my strong opinions. Perhaps instead I will find more things to appreciate past my initial viewing and it will truly enter the upper echelon of my film viewing experience.

99- The General [9.5]

Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves his train engine, The General, almost as much as he loves Annabelle Lee. When the opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, Johnny tries to enlist — and he is deemed too useful as an engineer to be a soldier. All Johnny knows is that he’s been rejected, and Annabelle, thinking him a coward, turns her back on him.

There are stunts in The General that blew me away for a movie that is approximately eighty-five years old; moreover, I was taken aback by just how damn funny the whole thing was. There are an abundance of legends in the silent era, but Buster Keaton may be my favorite. His stone face reactions are in stark contrast to the explosions and absurdities around him, causing a hilarious disparity. The General isn’t just an exercise in nostalgic pleasure, but rather, a masterpiece of humor that has stood the test of time.

71- My Dinner with Andre [9.5]

Gregory, a theater director from New York, is the more talkative of the pair. He relates to Shawn his tales of dropping out, traveling around the world, and experiencing the variety of ways people live, such as a monk who could balance his entire weight on his fingertips. Shawn listens avidly, but questions the value of Gregory’s seeming abandonment of the pragmatic aspects of life.

My Dinner with Andre reminds me a lot of Waking Life, one of my favorite movies. Both include an extensive amount of analytical discussion about different facets of life. Both are hard films to recommend to most, Andre perhaps moreso (Waking Life benefits from rotoscoping based on live action in a variety of locations whereas Andre simply cuts back and forth between two characters in one setting). I have heard many complaints of people being bored with Waking Life, and I can see the same thing happening here.

I was endlessly enthralled with My Dinner with Andre. In fact, I wish it didn’t end. Initially I spent a good portion of the movie just trying to figure out which side of sanity Andre was sitting on. I then considered the thin line between brilliance and madness and, with that in mind, came to a better understanding of what the film was touching on as a whole. To delve deeply into the nature of being a person in society can lead to great discovery that may not in turn be true to the experience as a whole. You find yourself rationalizing grand truths that don’t actually correlate to all the frustrating and paradoxical experiences you go through, but rather, explain them in a vacuum.

And there I go rambling. After watching those two men have dinner and discuss life, I feel like I may just ramble on a little more often now.

65- Drive [9.5]

A Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene, a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard.

After viewing Nicolas Winding Refn’s outstanding last film Bronson, I was anxious to see more of the director’s work. His visual style, often heightened by his excellent soundtrack, choices make Refn a filmmaker to watch out for. I’m happy to say that Drive is another example of why he may be one of the more unique directors working today.

Drive says a lot despite the sparse amounts of dialogue, largely anchored by the standout performances of leads Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. The saying goes “eyes are the window to the soul”, and be it Gosling as Driver looking through his rear view mirror or Mulligan viewing unspeakable horror, both actors do so much with just their eyes. Oscar Isaac is worth a mention as well. His scene in the hallway with Gosling is surprisingly one of the more memorable for me.

Refn seems aware of the cliches of the genre, but what makes Drive standout is the execution of the directing, editing and acting. No matter how many times a story is told, it’s the manner in which it is told that will determine whether the film will stand the test of time. In that regard, Refn’s visual flourishes matched by the largely electronic soundtrack make for one of the more compelling films I’ve seen this year. Though Drive almost proceeds at a languid pace, it felt as if it was over in no time.

There were some elements I wish were further explored. Christina Hendrick’s role was largely underwritten, and her acting took me out of her scenes. Also, the storyline involving Bryan Cranston’s character from the first act gets largely ignored until a brief mention towards the end. Regardless, Drive is a film I’m very much looking forward to seeing again. It also makes me wish I was a badass driver.

60- Tree of Life [9.5]

The impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father.

I will not recommend people to see Tree of Life. That is not to say that I believe it’s unworthy of being seen–quite the opposite, actually. As I left the theater, speechless and unable to make complete sense of what I had just seen, I knew one thing with certainty: Tree of Life is a film that will stick with me for a long, long time.

In doing this site, one of the rules I adhere to in reviewing movies I’d just seen for the first time is to write and assign a rating without the influence of reading others thoughts. I’m going to break that rule now (and hopefully just this once time), as even though I was sure of wanting to give the film a 9.5 after watching it, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get across what I wanted to say about Tree of Life. I still feel that way (cue “stumped” pun). Thankfully, there are a lot of very talented reviewers on the internet who have summed up my thoughts much better than I could have stated them.

Please beware of some very minor spoilers below:

  • David Ehrlich of Movies.com:

    Tree of Life is not a movie that anyone else can understand for you.

    And yet, a number of the more conflicted responses I’ve read suggest that some viewers are unwilling to understand the movie for themselves. I don’t mean that to sound quite as condescending as it reads, but rather to draw attention to the idea that the film’s myth and mass may have convinced otherwise astute audiences to second-guess their reactions. Of course subsequent viewings will yield greater or revised understanding and a more exacting appreciation for the smaller sinews of Malick’s opus, but my Twitter feed — that infallible fount of information — has been absolutely overrun with anachronistically humble sentiments like “I’m not really sure what it’s about” or “It was beautiful, but I’m going to have see it again before I weigh in.” This from people who routinely unloose opinions with all the caution of Harold Camping predicting the weather.

    Perhaps some viewers fear that their reaction might seem reductive in the face of such a mammoth work, or maybe the shifts in the movie’s somewhat non-linear narrative are so seismic that people are struggling to reconcile the film’s deceptively different movements into a coherent symphonic whole. Of course you’re free to see that as a fault of the film and not its audience, but I’m of the mind that Tree of Life isn’t a riddle to be solved so much as it’s an article of empirical faith that writes beyond the margins.

  • Devin Faraci of Badass Digest:

    Tree of Life is surely one of the most gorgeous movies ever made; every shot in the film is sheer beauty, and almost every moment contains something simply wonderful to look at. Not only is the film a joy to look at, a solid two hours out of its two and a half hour runtime is astonishing, a work of sublime filmmaking narrative.

    But it’s that other half hour or so that continues to trouble me, and seems to be the hardest bit to unravel. It takes the form of narrative bookends, with Sean Penn as the grown up version of the boy who is the center of the rest of the film, and I kind of don’t really understand what it’s saying. If there are any bits of the film that feel ‘pretentious,’ it’s these bits, which include surreal scenes of Penn wandering in a desert, chasing after his younger self and Penn on a beach, hugging all the people from his youth, including young versions of his mother and father.

  • Nordling of Aintitcool:

    Audiences who engage with Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life may find that it will be impossible to watch without bringing their own personal history, their emotional baggage, their own family experiences with them to the film. The film’s considerable power comes from Malick’s ability to go to a universal place and yet still make the film seem very personal and relevant to each individual who sees it. It is possible to view the film empirically. Just from the one viewing that I had, I feel it is a masterwork, but it resonates with me with such force that I find myself unable to think about the film without it being filtered by my own life experiences. I do not think I will be the only one who feels that way about this film.

    Tree of Life is absolutely not for everyone. It’s quiet, contemplative, and it rewards patience and understanding. Many moviegoers will flat out hate it – they will hate Malick’s refusal to tell his story with a conventional narrative; they will hate Malick’s flights-of-fancy that will come off to some as incredibly indulgent; they will hate the fact that Malick devotes most of the film to a portrait of a family in small-town 1950s Texas and think that it is not a subject deserving of so much time and attention. The criticisms put against this film – it’s indulgent, pretentious, too long – could be valid for a moviegoer unused to working with a film the way Malick requires. The film is as full and as long as Malick needs it to be; critics of the length remind me of Amadeus’s Mozart asking which notes he should take out of his opera. He has a journey in mind, and he will not skip any step, because as so many have said before, the point isn’t about where you arrive but how you got there. But Malick tells this story the only way he can, and how audiences respond to it is very much what the movie is about, as opposed to any kind of linear narrative path.

    So there you go. It’s very well possible that I may go on and change my mind completely about how much the film meant to me and what I make of it. There were times where it completely frustrated me. At other times, I was holding back tears. Regardless of the spectrum of emotions the film ran me through, I do not believe I will ever see a movie like Tree of Life again.

  • 51- The Great Dictator [9.5]

    The story of the period between two world wars–an interim during which insanity cut loose, liberty took a nose dive, and humanity was kicked around somewhat.

    Over the course of the last six decades, the concept of physical comedy has de-evolved into gross gags that don’t require much imagination. One needs only to look back at Charlie Chaplin to see how physical comedy can be done successfully without having to offend for the sake of laugh.

    The Great Dictator is more than just a showcase of Chaplin’s comedic talents– it is at turns a dramatic, romantic and political satire film. The frequent tonal shifts may turn some off, but I was pleased with how cohesive the whole movie felt. Gluing together everything are Chaplin’s two performances as Adenoid Hynkel and the Jewish Barber. Besides being a daring film to make in 1940, The Great Dictator stands as a great achievement in cinema that I take to be the highlight of Chaplin’s career.