2012 log (6)

(1 Jun) C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005, Jean-Marc Vallée) [ review ] 85

(9 Jun) Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012, John Shepphird) 32
[ There’s this whole subgenre of cheapie made-for-TV B-movie knockoffs of “Jaws” involving various species of killer fish or reptiles. The latest is this shark slasher flick that, as its title implies, doubles as a spoof of MTV’s already self-parodic reality TV show about spectacularly moronic, trashy and obnoxious guidos who, in this version, must fend against a pack of laughably unconvincing CGI sharks during the 4th of July weekend. Oh, and former *NSYNC member Joey Fatone cameos – as himself! It’s all very silly, but it’s too entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good way to dismiss entirely. ]

(11 Jun) Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson) 85 
[     The year is 1965. A “troubled girl” (Kara Hayward) and a nerdy orphan boy (Jared Gilman) run away together in the wilderness. Chasing them are the girl’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the boy’s Khaki Scout master (Edward Norton), a local cop (Bruce Willis) and Social Services (Tilda Swinton). That’s about the gist of Wes Anderson’s second collaboration with co-writer Roman Coppola (following the underrated The Darjeeling Limited), but as is always the case with Anderson’s movies, the plot is just the framework for an endless series quirky, witty, trippy traits and touches, starting with all these Scouts who take themselves way too seriously and recklessly toy with violence and danger…  Then of course there is the hazy, 60s-movie quality of the cinematography, the impeccable shot composition and perfectly timed camera movements,  the meticulous, dense art direction, the typically great soundtrack (the use of Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de l’amour during the underwear dance/gawky teen make-out scene being the most priceless music cue), not to mention the wonderfully arch dialogue and all those priceless non sequiturs (“I’ll be out back. I’m gonna find a tree to chop down.”). The only slight drawback, for me, is how the two young leads (both first-timers) seem to be having trouble with line delivery. They look the part and their characters remain adorable nonetheless, but they’re just not that great as actors, not yet anyway, especially compared to the incredible adult cast, which also includes Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel. Still, Moonrise Kingdon remains a major treat, packing big laughs and building up to an unexpectedly touching resolution. ]

(15 Jun) Rock of Ages  (2012, Adam Shankman) 38 
[     Adam Shankman may be a good choreographer but man, is he a bad director! It’s pretty amazing how he manages to make a jukebox musical about the 1987 L.A. rock scene feel so flat, then he doesn’t seem to have any sense of what story he’s trying to tell, the pacing is off, the tone is all over the place (from campy to sappy to pseudo-trashy, in no consistent way)… Still, I got a kick out of all the cheesy 80s hair metal and power ballads (Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison, Foreigner, etc.), even though some of it has been put to better use by “Glee” (Journey anyone?) and some of the performances are entertaining, if uneven, including those by Tom Cruise as a cross between Bret Michaels and Axl Rose, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the owner and manager of a legendary rock club, Paul Giamatti as a sleazy manager and Malin Akerman as a reporter for Rolling Stone. Oh, and the monkey is awesome! Not faring so well are Catherine Zeta-Jones as the self-righteous, hypocritical Mayor’s wife and Mary J. Blige as a strip joint owner, mostly because their characters feel superfluous. And then there are the two young leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, who are okay I guess, but not nearly charismatic enough to make up for how trite everything surrounding their characters is. Your mileage may vary, etc.  ]

(21 Jun) Chronicle   (2012, Josh Trank) 74 
[ I missed this when it played in theatres in February, and I’m glad I caught up with it. Obviously I love superheroes; found footage movies, not so much, but I was impressed with how cleverly this particular film used this technique. Found footage is most often used for horror because it supposedly makes it feel more real, so I guess it makes sense to apply that to a sci-fi concept which is meant to instill a sense of what-if? wonder. Writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank, both first timers as far as features go, seem to have an innate comprehension of comic book storytelling, following the codes of the genre while also subtly subverting them, not unlike M. Night Shyamalan did in Unbreakable. Chronicle starts out like a high school movie, as Andrew (Dane DeHaan) gets his hands on a camera and starts documenting his everyday life, at home with his abusive alcoholic of a father and bedridden mother, and at school where he either gets bullied or rejected. Then one night when he’s brought to a party by his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), the two of them and popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble upon what seems like a meteorite that has carved a crater into the ground. This encounter gives them super powers, kinda like the Fantastic Four except they didn’t have to go into space for this to happen. Then they start fucking around with their newfound telekinetic abilities, until they more or less realize that with great power comes great responsibility, Spider-Man style… And then it goes to some dark, twisted places… While not revolutionary or anything, both the screenplay and direction of Chronicle display ample resourcefulness and inventiveness, and the use of quasi-seamless special FX is especially impressive. I also dig how it takes its time setting up the characters and showing them learning to use their powers, before building up to the big crazy climactic battle. ]

(27 Jun) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, Marc Webb) 52
[ I’m sure every review will touch upon this, including the positive ones but really, why would they reboot the “Spider-Man” franchise barely 10 years into it? Because they expect to make tons of money with this new version, of course, but wouldn’t just recasting and making another Spidey adventure work? Do we really have to go through the whole origin story again? The first time around, I enjoyed how the filmmakers took their time before putting Peter Parker in the suit, but during this second go-around, it bugged me (pun unintended). I found act one (and most of two) rather dull, with a lot of it the beats being the same as in the original flick, but not as good, and whatever little twists and changes being made generally feeling wrong. Like, suddenly, Peter Parker, while still a science whiz who gets bullied, isn’t that much of a geek anymore, but a brooding skateboarding rebel. Andrew Garfield’s cool in the role – maybe too cool. To me, Tobey Maguire’s endearing dorkiness fitted the character much better. Emma Stone, on the other end, is perfectly lovable and goofy-fun as Gwen Stacy (didn’t care for Denis Leary as her police captain father, though). As for Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben , they’re okay I guess, but they’re hardly as touching as Rosemary Harris and the late great Cliff Robertson. One seemingly big difference is that they don’t go into the whole Norman and Harry Osborn thing, though much of the plot does revolve around Oscorp, where Peter Parker’s father used to work and which now employs Gwen Stacy, as well as Dr. Curt Connors, who eventually turns into the Lizard… i.e. another scientist turned psychotic super-villain after injecting himself with an experimental serum. He even hears voices like the Green Goblin! So again, been there, done that for the most part, except that Rhys Ifans is nowhere near as deliciously creepy as Willem Dafoe and that the Lizard looks rather ridiculous. So even when we finally get to the big super confrontations, they feel a bit off. Technically, a lot of the action is awesome, even though director Marc Webb is no Sam Raimi and the film as a whole isn’t that comic-booky, whatever that means. I could go into some other nitpicks, like how the plot relies on all these coincidences or the annoyingly amount of times Spidey unmasks himself (way to keep a secret identity, Webhead!)… But the main thing that bothered me was the rehash thing. Still: Emma Stone, man. ]

(29 Jun) Magic Mike (2012, Steven Soderbergh) 80
[ When I went to see Magic Mike on opening night, in a theatre full of groups of giddy ladies with just a few gentlemen sprinkled throughout, I was probably not only the sole straight male spectator in there, but also most likely one of the only ones who was there not to see hot guys work it, but to see director Steven Soderbergh continue his streak of great filmmaking. I must sound like a broken record by now, but I just can’t get over how prolific and versatile the man is. There’s really no one else like him, at least as far as contemporary American directors go. Following two astonishing genre movies – 2011’s sci-fi/horror/disaster thriller Contagion and this January’s badass action flick Haywire – we find him seemingly going back to doing a lower-budget, character-driven film. Then again, even though it has Soderbergh’s cinematographer alter ego Peter Andrews interestingly playing around with filters and oddball angles while editor Mary Ann Bernard (another Soderbergh alias) gives the film a somewhat atypical stop-and-start rhythm, Magic Mike is actually one of the most entertaining movies he’s ever made, further blurring the line between indie and Hollywood, auteur and commercial. It’s not Ocean’s Eleven-slick, but it’s certainly not a Godardesque experiment à la The Girlfriend Experience. And unlike that peculiarly sexless Sasha Grey-as-an-escort film, Soderbergh’s male strippers joint delivers the goods, skin-wise! I’m not gay, but I still have to admit that the stars of the film are incredibly cut and, for the most part, they certainly know how to move. Channing Tatum, whose own experiences as a stripper back when he was an 18-year-old in Tampa, Florida, is particularly impressive. He was the star of the first Step Up after all, so imagine that, but with him taking his clothes off! More importantly, Tatum oozes with easygoing charm as the title character of Magic Mike, getting a lot of laughs and also making us care for his character. In a way, it reminded me of Mark Wahlberg’s performance in Boogie Nights, and Soderbergh’s film in general reminds a bit of that early Paul Thomas Anderson directorial effort, in the way the first half conveys the excitement of the sex-industry lifestyle (“Women, money and a good time,” as Mike puts it) and the second shows the darker side of this world. Now, Magic Mike never gets all that dark and right up to the wonderful final scene, it remains a really enjoyable romp, notably thanks to the unforced quality of the flirtatious relationship Mike has with Cody Horn, who plays the no-nonsense sister of his protégé (Alex Pettyfer). The camaraderie between the strippers is also tons of fun, the whole ensemble (Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodríguez, Joe Manganiello, etc.) grooving nicely together, on and off the stage. And then there’s Matthew McConaughey, who almost steals the film as Dallas, the owner/MC of the strip club, with his “all right, all right, all right” Texas drawl and Frank T.J. Mackey-style predatory machismo. At the risk of losing my comic book geek credentials, Magic Mike is so much more satisfying than The Amazing Spider-Man (Emma Stone notwithstanding) it’s not even funny. ]

(30 Jun) The Wedding Planner  (2001, Adam Shankman) 21 
[ Okay, this is junk, even by crappy Hollywood rom-com standards. Contrived, unconvincing, unfunny, boring, full of clichés and nonsense, ugly-looking, badly edited… Worst of all, stars Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez don’t even have chemistry! Still, this is a rather painless, harmless watch but… Blech. ]

May / July