Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

Benji

benji-toon

I’d read a couple months ago when Benji first aired that it got pretty good reviews. In fact, every sports person I saw who commented on it mentioned how much they enjoyed it. I’m of the opinion that when nearly everyone likes a tv show, movie, album, or whatever, you probably should do yourself a favor and check it out.

Benji is the story about Benjamin Wilson – the top ranked high school basketball player from the class of 1985 – who was gunned down a few weeks before the start of his senior basketball season. At 6’8″ with a silky smooth jumper, Benji was nicknamed “Magic Johnson with a jumpshot” by his high school coach.

Much of the sadness shown in Benji is all to familiar with those who have followed the careers of Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Hank Gathers, and others. Benji was more than a sad story about a great player who died and that was the end. His legacy lived on through his mother, who was very impressive in how she handled his tragic death, teammates and players that followed him and wore his number (Nick Anderson, Juwan Howard, and Derrick Rose all wore the #25 for Wilson and #1 player and future Duke recruit Jabari Parker has #25 on his shoes), and the change that came because of his high profile murder (laws about where ambulances brought gunshot victims were directly affected by his death).

It was a sad movie and a movie that certainly could’ve been made better had the directors been able to get an interview with former girlfriend Jetun Rush and/or son Brandon (no doubt they made every attempt). The inclusion of an interview with his killer – Billy Moore – was surprising, but I’m not entirely sure it added a ton to the story. Good to see that he’s seemed to turn his life around, though.

24

01 2013

Django Unchained

django

My wife has never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie. This has been in no small part due to a lack of effort on my part. It’s just, she’s heard… “things.” I’ve tried to get her to watch Pulp Fiction.

Her: “Isn’t that movie pretty violent…”
Me: Yeah…
Her: “What else do we have?”

The same conversation has happened when I tried to watch Inglorious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs. And forget the two Kill Bill movies. And it hasn’t happened once. Over the past (almost) 8 years, it’s probably happened 25 times.

Then, this past weekend, we were watching the Golden Globes and she said “…I’d like to see that Django Unchained.” Knowing I’d seen the movie, she started asking me what it was all about. It was then I kind of understood you can’t explain exactly what it is about Tarantino movies that is so enjoyable to someone who’s never seen a Tarantino movie. It’d be like explaining the color blue to someone who is colorblind.

Based on plot, almost all his movies are simple. Reservoir Dogs is about a botched diamond heist. Pulp Fiction has to do with a bunch of minor crooks and a briefcase. Jackie Brown is about drugs and money. Kill Bill is about the bride who wants revenge on Bill who tried to kill her. Inglorious Basterds is a fictional history tale about trying to kill Hitler. Django Unchained is a fictional history story about slaves killing slave owners.

If you’ve seen any of QTs work before, almost nothing in Django Unchained will surprised you. It’s bloody, it’s witty, and it has a very interesting revenge plot. It’s probably more bloody than a lot of his past work, but less witty dialogue than I’ve become accustomed to.

Jamie Foxx as Django gives a performance that is somewhere between the greatest performance ever and just average. He wasn’t lousy and didn’t ruin the film, but it wasn’t the greatest acting job I’ve ever seen either. Christoph Waltz, on the other hand, delivers another fantastic performance as Dr. King Schultz – a bounty hunter who happens to hate slavery. Leonardo DiCaprio is interesting the in role of the villain (Calvin Candie). My favorite performance outside of Christoph Waltz has to be that of Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel, the elderly head slave for Candie.

Overall, it’s an extremely fun movie to watch. I definitely will be picking it up on Blu Ray the minute it comes out and I’m sure will re-watch it again and again. Tarantino may claim he is going to retire at the age of 60 (in 11 years), but he’s showed that over 20 years after the release of Reservoir Dogs, he’s still absolutely on top of his game. This should come as no surprise, but I highly recommend watching this. Even if you are not a fan of violence and the racial epitaphs that abound aplenty in this movie, I can’t see you watching this movie and not enjoy this at least a little bit.

9.0

out of 10

15

01 2013

Sleepwalk With Me

sleepwalk

Mike Birbiglia is a comedian who happens to be a sleepwalker. In fact, he once fell out of a window while sleepwalking causing himself to require 33 stitches.

Sleepwalk with Me is a semi-autobiographical movie based on his hit one-man show of the same name. Birbiglia stars as Matt – an unknown comic who works as a bartender at a comedy club with aspirations of someday making it big. Abby (Lauren Ambrose) is his longtime girlfriend that he just can’t find himself committing to.

As a comedian, his act is stale until he starts interjecting true (but sometimes painful) stories about his real life relationship with Abby. He starts to have a little success as a comic on the road, however his home life with Abby seems to be deteriorating. To make matters worse, his sleepwalking spells are increasingly putting him into bad situations.

I didn’t dislike Sleepwalk with Me, but I just didn’t connect with the movie like I wanted to. Mike Birbiglia was funny in a way only Birbiglia can be, but I just felt like the movie lacked a little something that could’ve made it a hit. At times, the movie felt like it was hitting some of the same heartstrings as some indie-commercial blockbusters from the past few years such as Garden State and Little Miss Sunshine, but it just seem to come up a little short for me.

6.5

out of 10

09

01 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching-For-Sugarman-poster1

On an episode of the Film Vault podcast a few weeks (months?) ago, Bryan Bishop was raving about Searching for Sugar Man – a documentary about a mysterious musician from the 1970s.

Rodriguez was a Hispanic musician from an unknown location who released two albums that were commercial flops in the early 70s. After minimal success, he was dropped from his label and seemed to vanish into obscurity. He was semi-famous for lighting himself on fire and committing suicide on stage. Or was it pulling out a gun and shooting himself while on stage?

Trying to figure out the story of Rodriguez, a few fans from South Africa started a website to try to find more information about the mysterious man they call Rodriguez. In 1998, the daughter of Rodriguez contacted some of the people that had been searching for him. Their family had utterly no idea that Rodriguez was a huge musical star in South Africa (one person interviewed said he was bigger than Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones).

That’s all the further I’m going to go with the plot simply because I don’t want to spoil anything else for you. If you are a fan of music and/or documentaries, though, I have a hard time believing you won’t find this 86 minute movie well worth your time. The soundtrack – featuring the music from Rodriguez’s two albums from 1970 and 1971 – is really, really good. I was constantly surprised at how good the cinematography looked. Hard for me not to recommend this one…

8.5

out of 10

08

01 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Frame grab from opening fireworks sequence

This past September, the local Whiskey Creek Film Festival was once again playing a half hour from my home in Wadena, MN. For the past five (or so) years, they’ve had a week-long film festival that featured a whole bunch of documentary, indie, foreign, and otherwise obscure really good movies that just don’t get played on the big screen. This year, the feature films included Moonrise Kingdom, To Rome with Love, The Kid with a Bike, Bully, The Intouchables, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Of all of the movies, Beasts of the Southern Wild seemed to get the best overall reviews. However, when my wife and I watched the trailer, it just looked a little bit… strange. Fireworks. A young black girl in her underwear. Aurochs.

We went to Bully instead.

Turned out to be a great decision because Bully was fantastic and will certainly be on my 2012 top 10 list. Beasts of the Southern Wild, on the other hand, was quite possibly the most disappointing of the year. Certainly it was the weirdest movie I’ve seen. And the dullest. Worst ending. Worst story.

I just didn’t connect with this movie. I get what the filmmakers were trying to do. They were trying to be bold, original, and make a statement. They were trying to take a chance similar to that of 2011’s Tree of Life only, for me, it flopped horribly.

That all being said, the movie is well made. The cinematography is simply gorgeous. The performances by the two main characters – neither of whom had acted before this – were pretty impressive. Beasts of a Southern Wild is a really good example – similar to a movie like Eyes Wide Shut – of how a movie can be really well crafted in very capable hands, but will just drag with a poor story.

5.5

out of 10

21

12 2012

Looper

Being that I rarely go to movies in theaters, I do a lot of filtering on what movies I actually see based on the reviews of others. Probably not the greatest tactic if you run a website that, in fact, reviews movies. As you can see by my reviews, though, I manage to avoid a lot of mediocre-to-bad movies. One of the big things I took away from the summer was Prometheus wasn’t as good as everyone hoped it would be, The Dark Knight Rises was good but not as good as The Dark Knight, and Looper was really, really good.

After having seen it, I can agree – Looper, is in fact, really good. The barely recognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Jeff Daniels are all excellently cast as are many of the lesser roles (I wanted more Paul Dano, though!)

The story is interesting. In 2074, time travel is invented and immediately outlawed. It is only being used by organized crime to take out people before they essentially exist. The “loopers” are paid to kill and dispose of people sent back in time. They are paid handsomely, but part of the deal is they are forced to kill the “old” versions of themselves. Meaning once they kill the old version of themselves, they have 30 years to enjoy their riches before they will be killed.

There are some slight logic problems I had with the story. I’m not sure if watching the movie a second time would help solve those problems or if it would compound the problems. My other major beef was all of the optical flares in the movie. Besides Micheal Bay’s Transformers, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie with this many optical flares. Many of them seemed to be post-production, as well, which makes it kind of annoying.

Overall, I’d say Looper was a highly enjoyable movie that will obviously make you think. For a movie that I consider pretty great, the ending was kinda so-so (better than No Country for Old Men or Hoop Dreams, but still mediocre in comparison to the rest of the movie). If you’re a fan of movies, it’s definitely a movie worth checking out on dvd, though.

8.5

out of 10

11

12 2012

Argo

I recall going to see Apollo 13 as a teenager and being excited to come home from the theater and asking my parents what they remember about a story that surely was one of the biggest events of their youth.

They’d never heard of it. I was shocked. How could such a big story be such a non-event to most people? How was this even possible? How many other things are going on every day that we are completely unaware of.

Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo is based on the real life rescue of six hostages from Iran. Tony Mendez (Affleck) is brought in to sneak six hostages out of the country. The story was to pretend the six hostages were six Canadian filmmakers in Iran to scout potential film locations for a fictional sci-fi movie named “Argo.”

The movie is extremely well done. The story is fantastic, the look is authentic, and the dramatic moments were were almost perfect (I’ve got one small beef near the end, but I can’t go into it without spoiling big parts of the movie).

After making the brilliant “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, Ben Affleck has seen his stock rise and fall. He had his fair share of failed movies as well as some high profile failed relationships. It seemed that the tabloid media loved to watch this guy fail the same way they enjoy writing stories about Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan today. However, in 2007, he released the under-the-radar Gone Baby Gone. The masses weren’t expecting much, but it was critically acclaimed. Three years later, he released the ridiculously awesome The Town.

As a director, Affleck is batting a perfect 3-for-3 and has joined the ranks of Tarantino, Nolan, and Scorsese in the category of “must watch” directors. Like Clint Eastwood, Affleck’s directing style seems to be simplistic and a throwback to an older (better?) era of movie making which focused on the story. Unlike Gone Baby Gone and The Town, the characters in this movie actually wind up being almost underdeveloped. I appreciated this approach, though, because further developing the characters would’ve done very little to move forward the plot. In fact, it very easily could’ve been a distraction that caused the flow of the movie to feel almost clunky (see another Affleck movie Pearl Harbor for an example of how trying to develop characters can kill a movie). In a strange way, minor characters – played by big name performances such as John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, and Alan Arkin – are more developed than characters who spend more time on the screen.

Argo is one or two minor missteps from being a brilliant movie. As I mentioned before, there is one really minor scene near the end that I thought was a little overly cinematic, but it isn’t even close to ruining the ending of the movie (a la He Got Game). As someone who catches a lot of movies on dvd, I highly recommend getting out to a theater to check this one out.

9.0

out of 10

23

10 2012

The Artist

The first movie reviewed on Motion Artifacts was “The Dark Knight Rises” (aka “the most anticipated movie of 2012”). Seems fitting that the second movie would be “The Artist,” which was awarded the Academy Award for Best Film of 2012.

Couple quick thoughts…

  • Impressed with how well director Michel Hazanavicius captured the silent film era. From the set design, costumes, look (I loved the 22 frames per second!), sound, title cards, and melodramatic story line they absolutely nailed it. That being said, my main problem with this movie is my main problem I have when someone tells me “Citizen Kane” is the greatest movie ever. It’s really, really good, but the somewhat cheesy nature falls of the story line limits it from being great.

  • Fantastic performances from a great cast. Jean Dujardin gives a terrific performance as aging silent film actor George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo is impossible not to love as upcoming “talkie” star Peppy Miller. John Goodman and James Cromwell both give solid supporting performances, but the star of the show, surprisingly, was Uggie as George Valentin’s dog Jack.

  • The biggest thing I took out of this movie was reminiscing about some of the fantastic silent movies I was introduced to while taking a intro film class in college. I was somewhat forced to watch 10-20 silent movies that I would’ve never seen. At the time, I didn’t really like many of them, but as time has passed, I’ve found that I’ve grown fond of the era. It was a much simpler time and going to the movies was a feel-good experience.

8.0

out of 10

15

08 2012