Article By: Dan Clark
Welcome to the first installment of Review Round Up. In this series I will give my quick takes on a number of different films. I will primarily focus on films that are currently streaming or available for rent on home media. My hope is to highlight a variety of different genres and perhaps even a classic film or two. Hopefully this can help those stuck at home looking for something to watch. There’s so much to sift through so let this blog make your life a tad bit easier.
Directed By: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
Written By: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, and Irene Mecchi
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson
Quick Review: Since Toy Story was released Pixar has changed the world of animation and cinema. Nearly every film they created was met with critical praise and financial success. That changed last year when they had their first big misstep with Cars 2. They have responded this year with Brave, a film unlike anything they have done before. This is not a story about toys, cars, or monsters but a young girl trying to make her life her own. Set in Scotland during the Middle Ages the film tells the story of Merida, a princess who wants nothing to do with royalty. Merida clashes with her mother constantly as she attempts to make Merida into a lady. She is determine to go against her mother’s wishes and design her own fate, but soon discovers her ambitious desires come at a cost. While Brave is certainly a step up from Cars 2 it never reaches the levels we have come to expect with Pixar. Visually the film is masterful with is stunning landscapes and gloomy atmospheres. At times I found myself lost in the rendering of Merida’s boisterous red hair. Unfortunately those visuals are mashed with a story that is absent of any type of emotional context. Pixar has been a master at creating films you become completely invested in. Brave’s story is fine it just doesn’t come anywhere close to that level. Part of the problem is it’s one we’ve seen countless times before. I was also let down with the humor of the movie. Another staple with Pixar is their ability to write smart comedy that appeals to all audiences. Here the comedy is sophomoric relying mostly on visual gags and crudeness. Usually when watching a Pixar film you don’t feel like you are watching a kids movie, but that sentiment is clear with this. Brave is very much a victim of past success. It’s that straight A student coming home with a B- on their report card.
Directed By: Bess Kargman
Starring: Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela Deprince and Jules Jarvis Fogarty
Quick Review: Some may wonder why I would be interested in watching a documentary on ballet dancing, especially when I have the rhythmic abilities of a broken rotary fan. That is a legitimate question that deserves an answer. Personally I feel a big purpose of movies is having an opportunity to expose ourselves to things we would otherwise never experience. Plus a sign of a good filmmaker is the ability to take an isolating subject and present it in an interesting way. First Position succeeds at accomplishing just that. It follows a variety of dancers that are getting prepared for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world. Dancers from the ages of 9 to 19 look to use the Grand Pix to launch their careers as ballet dancers. Director Bess Kargman covered a diverse cross section of contestants to give us a better idea of the different people that dedicate their lives to ballet. We saw a preteen boy still trying to maintain his childhood while devoting much of his life to ballet. A teenage girl, who was adopted from Africa as a child, tries to defy the odds once gain. There was a tremendous amount of human drama as Kargam showed us just how important this one event is. A lifetime of work is dependent upon one small performance. Giving us a peak into these characters lives made the climax as tension filled as any movie I have seen this year. While I still have no idea what the difference between a plie’ and a frappe’ is. (I think they are types of coffee) I can still appreciate the talent that was on display. However I do wish the film provided more insight into the dancer’s lives outside of ballet. This way we can better understand who they really are. Also it doesn’t show the downfalls of what happens to those that don’t make. That would have given this film a lot more substance.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov
Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), Seth Grahame-Smith (novel)
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper
Quick Review: After watching Lincoln I felt inclined to finally sit down and check this out. My expectations were low as the trailer seemed suspect and I have heard the outpouring of negative reviews. I was ready, willing, and able to witness one of the worst movies of the year. In the end what I saw certainty wasn’t very good, but I wouldn’t place it in a worst movies list. Timur Bekmambetov is a director I’m indifferent towards. While I enjoyed Wanted the rest of his filmography has left me cold. In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter his direction is self indulgent as ever. Every action beat is set to eleven jamming in as much slow motion, speed ramping, and CGI as possible. The best way to imagine his direction is to picture Zack Snyder but not as subdued. I’m surprised the Gettysburg Address didn’t include a zoom in to Lincoln’s mouth as he pronounced, “Four Score”, then a quick camera rotation to a slow crawl as “Seeeeveeeennnn Yeeeaarrrs” sluggishly escapes from his jowls. It was a huge missed opportunity. In all seriousness I did enjoy the concept of throwing this grim fantasy tale into the middle of a historical drama, and it has peeked my interest to pick up the book. Some of the action was even enjoyable; having the best use of a silver tipped ax I have ever seen. What really stopped it from being a success was the inconsistent way the material was treated. At times reality was completely removed and ridiculousness took over. Other times it acted like a serious film full of real issues. When your movie is called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seriousness should go out the window. Eventually the action does get tiresome, and I began wishing for an end. I was just shock it took me as long as it did to get to that point.
Directed By: James McTeigue
Written By: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve and Luke Evans
Quick Review: The Raven is an amalgamation of many things that are wrong with today’s Hollywood system. It’s an obvious attempt to rehash another franchise by slightly adjusting a few parts. Actors were chosen by name only as nearly everyone in this film was miscast. Lastly, it assumes you will care about the characters simply because you recognized the names of the people involved. It was apparent they were attempting to do with Edgar Allen Poe what Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. did with the Sherlock Holmes franchise. However, James McTeigue isn’t as talented of a director as Ritchie and while John Cusack is quality actor he is not as charismatic as Downey. Nearly everything in this film fails on extreme levels. The only parts that worked at all were the scenes that used famous works of Edgar Allan Poe to stage gruesome death scenes. They were the one part of the film that was well-crafted enough to create any sort of the tension. Mystery was running through the town of Baltimore as someone was using the methods in Poe’s books to kill a countless amount of people. Having nowhere else to turn they requested Poe’s help in hopes of stopping this crazed maniac. The cast included some talented actors, but none of them showed up to participate. Maybe they knew what they were in so they didn’t bother giving an effort. When Brendan Gleeson has no presence on screen I know something is wrong. Boring is the one cardinal sin you need to avoid. This movie committed that sin time and time again. The mystery wasn’t very intriguing, and the resolution was even a bigger let down. Personally I despise hating on a film like this, but when someone gives me a recycled product and calls it new I instantly become annoyed.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Directed By: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written By: Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Ercan Kesal
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan and Taner Birsel
Quick Review: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia has been garnering a lot of praise since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. After finally being able to sit down and watch it I too can throw my support behind this Turkish crime drama. Be warned the film runs over two and half hours and you feel every minute. The plotting is snail like and the story is basic, though somehow it remains thoroughly engaging. It follows police officers as they search for a missing body. The murderer has already confessed, but he doesn’t remember where he buried the body as it all happened when he was in a drunken stupor. Slowly they search this barrenness landscape to discover where he left his victim. This plot would usually just be one small part of an overall story. Knowing that you would assume that it doesn’t have much to say and not much happens. In one aspect it is true that not much happens, but if you pay attention you will discover it has a lot to say. It examines the power of truth, and how quickly we are willing to accept a truth we agree with. Even when lives are in the balance what is easy often wins out over what is hard. When it slowly revels the true horrors that occurred it makes us question; when is withholding truth the proper choice to make? Encrusted on top these philosophical quandaries are great performances and beautiful cinematography. Even the most basic filmmaker can make a picture esc landscape look gorgeous. Here desolate scenery is transformed into this eye catching contrast of light and darkness. Never would I have assumed cars traveling down a road could ever grab my attention like this. This film will reward you tremendously if you allow it. Challenging for sure, but greatness often is.