Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Carnage," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (take 2), and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Carnage - 2011 was not a particularly strong year for comedy so thankfully one of the last great movies to be released in it turned out to be pure comic gold. Black gold really.
The Cowans, Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) are visiting the New York City apartment of the Longstreets, Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly). These couples are not however, old friends. A few days earlier their children had gotten into an argument which led to Zachary Cowan hitting Ethan Longstreet in the face with a tree branch, costing Ethan two teeth. The intention is to discuss the situation as civil adults and decide how best to move forward for the sake of their kids. Things do not go as planned.
Directed by Roman Polanski (who co-wrote the screenplay with Yasmina Reza who wrote the original play), "Carnage" spends all of its 79 minutes in the Longstreet home (with a moment or two out in the hallway). It examines the systematic breakdown of civility and how these four seemingly intelligent and evolved adults devolve into behavior more childish than that of their own children. Reza and Polanski examine all of this in the funniest way imaginable.
All four performances are stellar and it's wonderful fun to watch the shifts in mood and alliance. Two characters at each others throats one moment bond the next at the drop of a hat. Reilly and Waltz are particularly funny, Reilly as the character who seems to change the most over the course of the film, while Waltz's Alan seems to have been the most honest from the beginning.
"Carnage" is sharp as a razor and often howlingly funny. It's one of the best films of the year and sadly the most overlooked, critically and commercially. 9/10.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - I don't know if I've ever written two separate reviews of a movie before but with this film I felt it necessary.
This British spy film set during the height of the Cold War follows the brilliant ice cold intelligence veteran George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and his search for a mole in MI-6. In my initial review I declared that while I liked the film it was, "incredibly difficult to follow" and "a little too subtle even for me." The movie stuck with me for a couple of weeks though and I was convinced if I saw it again that I'd have an easier time following it and I hoped that by extension I would come to love it.
As it happened I understood for the most part how all of the pieces fit this time around but I came to love the film for reasons other than that. The world the film (directed by Tomas Alfredson of "Let the Right One In") places you in is incredibly absorbing. Being set in 1974 allows us to see a fascinating time in the intelligence community. The old guard who has been at the forefront of the Cold War since it began (including Smiley and John Hurt's Control) is being pushed aside by younger officers who think they know better (played by Toby Jones, Ciarin Hinds, and Colin Firth), causing an internal pettiness that only further muddies the already murky waters.
With a career best performance by Oldman, "Tinker" also has an excellent supporting cast. Firth, Hurt, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong are all pitch perfect. Alfredson's direction and the screenplay by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor make the Cold War spy game come alive and the challenge of following the film ultimately makes it more rewarding. I look forward to watching it a third time and understanding even more.
I can't quite put the stamp of perfection on it but such as it is, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is very high on my list of the best films of 2011. 9/10.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - If you saw Guy Ritchie's first "Sherlock Holmes" in 2009 then you know what to expect from this sequel which re-teams Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his dear friend, Dr. Watson (Jude Law).
When Watson's honeymoon is rudely interrupted by Holmes's nemesis, Professor Moriarty ("Mad Men's" Jared Harris), Watson reluctantly agrees to join Holmes on one final case. There's more plot than this but why bother trying to explain it? Ritchie's "Holmes" movies are about fun and he delivers it well this time. While not as fresh as its predecessor, it doesn't suffer from the "kitchen sink" syndrome that so many action oriented sequels suffer from. Yes, there are a lot of frenetic action set pieces here but none more than in the first movie. Noomi Rapace (the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Stephen Fry as Sherlock's brother Mycroft add to the fun as well.
It's not award winning stuff but it's quite entertaining and that's all I wanted. 7/10.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

A fourth "Mission: Impossible?" Seriously? The first three movies (directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams respectively) were all fairly entertaining with some nice sequences but I wouldn't deem any of them as actually being...good. For this newest entry, "Incredibles" and Ratatouille" director Brad Bird was given the reigns for his first live-action film. With a massive budget and arguably Paramount's biggest current franchise on the line, it was a gamble to be sure. So how well did it pay off?
As in the previous films, IMF agent Ethan Hunt has chosen to accept a mission that one might describe as being...exceedingly difficult. His new team consists of Jane (Paula Patton) and former tech geek turned field agent Benji (Simon Pegg). While performing this mission at the Kremlin the building is bombed, Hunt and his fellow team members barely escaping with their lives. Russia sees this as an uprovoked act of war perpetrated by the IMF. With the team on the run they gain another member, an analyst named William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) whose past and motives are called into question.
There's not much point into getting into the details of the plot or just why the U.S. and Russia are on the brink of war in 2011. The script by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum doesn't always make sense and with the wrong director the movie could have easily gone off the rails. Bird however, handles the material beautifully. He shoots big action sequences shot with IMAX cameras with such confidence and flair that you'd think he'd been doing it all his filmmaking life.
The sequences, particularly one shot at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, are an absolute blast to watch whether you're just a regular Joe or a film buff. The execution is impeccable which allows us to accept most of the incredibly far fetched moments along the way. The film's sense of humor is strong as well. Most movies of this nature throw out several ham fisted attempts at comedy but Bird's comic sensibilities are strong and having Simon Pegg in such a large role certainly doesn't hurt.
There's not much else to say about "M:I - GP" other than it's just a whole lot of fun and it's the first movie of the series I would actually officially declare as good.
I have a final comment though about the movie's final scene. Without getting too spoilery I'll just say that it takes place in Seattle. There's no action here to speak of. It features characters sitting at a table and talking, wrapping things up. It was clear from the slightly out of focus buildings in the background that once again Vancouver, B.C. was playing the role of Seattle. So Paramount and Tom Cruise were welcome in Moscow, Dubai, and Mumbai to film incredible action sequences involving dangerous stunts and large explosions but for a scene involving drinking some coffee at a table... Seattle just wasn't having it. I really hope that everyone responsible running the film industry out of Seattle sees this movie and is horribly embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. It's absolutely pathetic. 7.5/10.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Six Quick and Dirty Movie Reviews

I've gone to six movies in the past few weeks as a part of the annual awards season crunch. There are 52 weeks in a year but the film industry decides that at least 75 percent of the best movies produced in it need to come out within three weeks of one another, leaving those of us who love movies playing an endless game of catch up. So here's a quick look at what I have seen of late.

Hugo - Due to its abysmal trailer I had no intention of seeing this, despite its being directed by Martin Scorsese. But its reception was so overwhelmingly positive that I finally decided to check it out. It is actually very good and like "The Artist," is a loving ode to the pioneers of cinema. Asa Butterfield ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") is terrific in the title role as is Chloe Moretz ("Kick-Ass") as his new friend. You have to hand it to Moretz especially. Somewhere along the line a producer must have told her, "Yes, we understand you're American and you'll be playing a French girl but we need you to perfect a British accent so that you'll fit in with the rest of the cast."
Ben Kingsley provides the film's real heart and soul though. As George Melies, possibly the most important innovator of film's infancy, Kingsley shows that when he's got good material to work with he's one of the best there is. I'm glad to see him in something not directed by Uwe Boll.
I cannot for the life of me however, understand the purpose of Sacha Baron Cohen's presence as the train station's security guard. The character seems to exist solely to give Hugo a reason to be scared in the station. The trouble with this is that Hugo is already an orphan living in a train station. A buffoonish and borderline cartoonish security guard isn't exactly scary when you're already faced with that. The amount of screen time devoted to him also causes the movie to drag for several minutes at a time.
Despite Cohen's misguided antics, "Hugo" is a mostly magical film and one that I sincerely hope will get kids excited about watching movies made long before "Star Wars." 8.5/10.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - A few days before finally seeing the original Swedish film for the first time I saw David Fincher's American remake. As much as I loathe Hollywood's need to remake everything, especially movies that are less than five years old, I suspected Fincher was the man who could make this worthwhile. He does.
This film has a much more palpable sense of atmosphere and more effectively creates tension (and I don't think I'm saying that just because I saw it first). That said, for me it really is a toss up between the two films. Daniel Craig is equal to Michael Nyqvist as one of the story's two main protagonists. As the titular character, I'd have to give the edge to Noomi Rapace in the original. Her Lisbeth Salander was cold and almost nihilistic. Rooney Mara's is an explosion of rage. While it is a take on the character that makes perfect sense, I thought Rapace's take was more interesting.
Without getting too detailed I'll simply say that there are elements that I prefer in each movie. Little differences that add up to two very good films that seem to complement one another rather than being competitors. I'm sure there are film buffs who will get into bitter arguments over which movie is better but it's just a waste of time. 8.5/10.

War Horse - Despite getting off to a slow start, Steven Spielberg's tale of a horse's journey through the First World War is ultimately a beautiful and powerful film. Joey was never meant to be a plow horse but he becomes one due to a poor English family's desperation and the love of his young owner Albert (Jeremy Irvine). However, when the war breaks out Albert's father sells Joey to the British Army leading to an incredible and often terrifying four years for the horse who ends up on both sides.
It is a unique film in that it really is the horse's story. The people he touches are of varying ages and walks of life throughout western Europe and they come and go easily but not without making an impression. It features an outstanding international cast (all the Brits are played by Brits, the French by Frenchman, and the Germans by Germans) and God bless Spielberg for shunning CG. There is almost none of it and what little there is was employed solely for the safety of the horses.
Just hang in there for the first twenty minutes or so and you'll be rewarded with a great moviegoing experience. Make a point of seeing it on the big screen. 8.5/10.

The Adventures of Tintin - As for Spielberg's other film in theaters now, I am far less enthusiastic. My problem is not with the motion capture animation. There's no creepy uncanny valley effect here, the problem is, surprisingly, with the storytelling. Considering that Spielberg directed, Peter Jackson produced, and Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz") co-wrote it astounds me how they could have created so little tension. There was real potential here and some nice moments but there's never a real reason to care.
The story concerns Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) and his efforts to assist Captain Haddock's (Andy Serkis) treasure quest. Their adversary is Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who while definitely a bad guy (he has no aversion to murdering) is nothing more than a competitor in a race that has no real consequences. If he gets there first he just gets there first. End of story. Looking just at Spielberg's own canon you take "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as an example. We don't become involved with that film because we just want Indy to get the Ark. He doesn't want to get it, he needs to get it, because the Nazis getting it first...would be bad. (Of course they do end up getting it and it doesn't work out so well for them in the end but I digress.)
Maybe the race is enough for some viewers or for those who grew up loving the comics (I've never read them), but for me "Tintin" is largely a failure due to its complete lack of consequences. "Winnie the Pooh" and to a lesser extent, "Arthur Christmas" aside, 2011 was a deeply disappointing year for animation. 5/10.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - This Cold War British spy thriller directed by Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") is wonderfully stylish and boasts maybe the best assembly of actors put into a single film in 2011. It is also incredibly difficult to follow. I'm perfectly willing to accept that the movie is just smarter than I am but I felt more clarity along the way would have made this film more enjoyable and rewarding. It's a little too subtle even for me.
Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a thoughtful, brilliant veteran of British Intelligence who is forced out by younger colleagues (chiefly played by Toby Jones, Ciarin Hinds, and Colin Firth). However, once it is learned there may be a Soviet spy in their midst, Smiley is coaxed back into action by a former superior.
Quiet and unhurried, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is an intellectual thriller rather than a fast paced one. There are excellent performances all around, particularly from Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock," "War Horse"), Tom Hardy ("Inception"), and Mark Strong ("Kick-Ass"). We are also treated to a rather surreal Cold War Christmas party. I just wish that the film hadn't been too clever for its own good. 7.5/10.

The Iron Lady - I had my doubts about this biopic about controversial British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For one I suspected the film industry's liberal bent would equal outright villification of Thatcher rather than creating an honest and balanced portrait and for another, as great as Meryl Streep is, something about the trailers led me to believe she was laying it all on a little thick here. It turned out that neither was an issue. It's actually a very sympathetic and largely positive portrayal of the first female PM in British history and Streep gives a typically Streepian performance, though I wouldn't hand her an Oscar for it.
The trouble with this film written by Abi Morgan ("The Hour") and directed by Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") is its indecisiveness. The filmmakers couldn't make up their minds about what "The Iron Lady" should be. 1 hour and 45 minutes, much of it dedicated to the present, where Thatcher is suffering from dementia, is hardly enough to cover her entire life. Yet that is what they attempt to do. This really should have been a mini-series or a film focused purely on a single period of her life. For instance, a 1 hour 45 minute film purely about Thatcher and the Falklands could have been riveting and actually more revealing than what we get here.
In the end "The Iron Lady" feels like an overview. We don't really truly get to see what effect her 11 years in office had on Britain and the world for good or ill and we only really get a cursory examination of the woman herself. It's worth seeing for those interested but it is disappointing. And there just isn't enough of Richard E. Grant. Tip of the cap to Jim Broadbent though, as her husband Dennis. He's fantastic here. 6/10.

Finally, I can't say enough about "The Artist," which has expanded to more theaters as of this week. I urge anyone who really loves movies to put it at the top of their must see list.