Tag Archives: Film Reviews

Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

Bad News Bears

Rating: B-/ While the title of this film is The Bad News Bears, it could also easily be called How Not to Coach a Little League Team: The Movie. Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthieu) is a alcoholic loser and professional swimming pool cleaner who’s made a total mess of his life. Hoping to make a little money on the side, he signs up to coach a team of foul-mouthed misfit kids, with no intention whatsoever of being a good role model. Continue reading Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

Movie Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

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Rating: A-/ Jurassic Park is an unmitigated delight , a big, riotous, cheesy blockbuster that nonetheless has an element of believability that Jurassic World lacked . Among all the creature-feature action and dinosaur carnage is a surprisingly careful attention to characters and relationships which along with the for-it’s-time astonishing special effects makes the film a bona fide crowdpleaser.The dinosaurs are, of course, the main attraction, but the characters are also well-developed for this kind of movie, and as far as films about dinosaurs in modern settings go Jurassic Park is only about 1/10 as stupid as you might expect. Continue reading Movie Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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    Rating: C/ Puppylove opens with two 14-year-old kids preparing to have sex. The awkwardness and authenticity of this scene made me think the movie itself was going to be more realistic than it was. But no, the ick factor of this film goes way above and beyond a realistic amount and into a level of ridiculousness. Let me explain. The girl in the movie, Diane (Selene Rigot) is a young teen and looks barely old enough to be weaned off Barbie dolls. She also seems to be in love with her ineffectual father (Vincent Perez) (Freud would be proud.) At the beginning, we see the girl, Diane, befriend Julia (Audrey Bastien,) the remarkably self-possessed nymphet daughter of overbearing intellectual parents who is all too aware of her effect on men. Continue reading Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

Movie Review: Little Children (2006)

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Rating: B+/ So, is the movie called Little Children because the sex offender played by Jackie Earle Haley has a thing for little children or because all the adult characters in the movie act like little children, self-obsessed and bickering? The jury’s still out on that. While the main plotline concerning extramarital affairs and upper-class ennui in an affluent suburban neighborhood is dark and distressing enough, I found the subplot following a child abuser and exhibitionist moving into his mothers’ house after being released from prison (the superior thread by far) absolutely harrowing. Did this movie really make me feel compassion for a guy who gets his kicks flashing his weenie at little kids? What does that say about the film’s aptitude for puzzling moral ambiguity? Moreover, what does it say about me? Continue reading Movie Review: Little Children (2006)

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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Rating- B+/ Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns. I occasionally like to watch one with my dad, but they’re not typically my favorite genre, or my second favorite genre, for that matter. That said, the premise for Bone Tomahawk immediately caught my interest. A western? Pfft. With hill-dwelling cannibals? Huh. With cannibals and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. now you have my attention. I just had to watch it.

My level of interest was increased exponentially by the presence of Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor I’ve loved and admired since my early teen years, when I saw him in Burn After Reading and The Visitor. But really, like any other of the ubiquitous American character actors that blend into small roles in big movies every year, I’d seen him so many times before that. And let me tell you, this movie started out with a bang.

Rather than being a straight-out slow burn, Bone Tomahawk starts out cuckoo and then slows down around the middle to reflect on it’s themes and characters, then becomes balls-out sadistic in it’s final act. Some people think the 2/3 part drags, but I would not be among them. How can a movie drag with such a great cast of actors and characters. If you want to flat-out categorize this as a horror-western, then Bone Tomahawk has something 99.9% of contemporary horror movies lack- it makes you give a damn about it’s protagonists. Which is something in this day and age as rare as Aztec Gold.

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the cool-as-a-cucumber man of the law in a tiny town in the old West ironically dubbed ‘Bright Hope,’ this moniker being ironic because three people have just been abducted from Bright Hope by feral hill people who also happen to be inbred cannibals.  Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is the happily married man and former cowboy whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by the psychos.

This comes at a particularly bad time for him (not that there’s any particularly good time to have your wife kidnapped by cannibals) because Arthur has recently broken his leg falling off a roof and must decide whether to go after her in his current condition or stand by impotently while the love of his life gets eaten by hill people. Except for Arthur, there’s no deciding about it. He’s going, man.

Arthur and Hunt are accompanied by Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), an racially biased flirt and Chicory (Richard Jenkins,) a chatty eccentric and Hunt’s right hand man despite his rapidly advancing age. Together they have no idea what they’re getting into, and personalities clash when Brooder’s abrasive nature, lack of compassion, and casual racism butts up against the others’ surprisingly Liberal values. Added to the explosive mix is Arthur’s hotheadedness when it comes to saving his wife his way and his powerlessness when dealing with his broken leg. Not to mention how fast the posses’ horses get stolen by Mexican bandits. How could this situation go wrong? Add conflict, injury, and homicidal cannibal nutcases and stir well. Let simmer.

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Bone Tomahawk is an exceptionally well-written and well-thought out horror movie that happens to have a few scenes that rival the fucking Human Centipede in gore factor. And I’m not talking the surprisingly tame Human Centipede I. I’m talking Human Centipede II, with Martin tearing out peoples’ tendons, baby. Except this movie offers more in the dialogue department than the THC movies. Not that that would be hard.

The conversations the characters have in their blooddrenched journey is fairly idiosyncratic, a little Tarantino-esque, but with a verve of it’s own. Subjects such as flea circuses and reading in the bath might seem a little random and out of context until you realize no, they make more sense than you originally suspected. Slowly, the pieces of the narrative start to fall into place, the good, the gory, and the weird.

And boy, is this movie gory. There was one death in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) that had me squirming in my seat. And I am not a prude. Depending on your threshold for really bloody movies, this might have you cheering or running in the other direction. The violence is really raw and sadistic, definitely not for everybody, or even most people for that matter. But it’s not all about the gore here. The filmmaker, a first-time director named S. Craig Zahler, has more tricks up his sleeve than just wanton brutality.

Although the characters’ lack of true shock and horror at the events unfolding rapidly in front of them seems kind of unlikely given the circumstances (they seem disturbingly calm after having someone disemboweled in front of them, not a likely reaction for anyone who isn’t a hardcore psychopath,) this movie is for anyone who’s wanted to see the Western genre done a little differently, but with a deft hand in terms of dialogue and character development.

The miracle of Bone Tomahawk is that it utterly keeps your attention and your investment in it’s characters alive for it’s 2+ hour runtime. That’s no mean feat for a first-time director who allegedly was told my many people prior to filming that this movie couldn’t be done. Maybe they should have spent more time making their own movies and less time arguing that Zahler couldn’t see this project to completion. But as Taylor Swift wisely said, the haters gonna hate, and this film is evidence of their failure to sway the dream of a potential-packed filmmaker with a bright future.

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The Kindergarten Teacher (2014)

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Yoav Pollack (Avi Shnaidman,) an adorably precocious kindergartner who is also a brilliant wordsmith, captures the attention of his unstable teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) who becomes dangerously obsessed with with maintaining the continuation of his poetic talent in this unsettling Israeli drama. The majority of the film follows Nira as she becomes increasingly disenchanted with the ordinary people surrounding her and pushes her little Mozart to succeed in the poetry world and maintain his creative chutzpah. Obviously you can’t push a child that young to reach artistic greatness without eventually breaking him, and Nira’s all-consuming obsession with young Yoav will have eventual and long-lasting ramifications.

Of course, the boy’s talent is never about him or his happiness as much as it is about Nira and her failure to make anything meaningful of her life. Like an ugly mother who enters her attractive daughter in a beauty competition, Yira is simply living vicariously through her bright-eyed young student. And while she avoids having sex with her husband (Lior Raz,) Nira disturbingly finds some kind of outlet in bathing the young boy (in a supremely creepy scene, although none of the child actor’s sensitive parts are shown.) Yoav’s father (Yehezkel Lazarov) could care less about his son’s burgeoning talent, but the icily determined Nira is determined not to let it fester.

Sarit Larry’s spectacularly unlikable protagonist strikes me as an incredibly cold creature, preoccupied with putting up a veneer of warmth. At this she does a tremendous job, vacillating between deeply damaged and deeply disturbing in the smallest but most tremendously telling ways. Larry has some of the most coldly striking eyes I’ve ever seen, and even when she smiles, it doesn’t seem to reach those eyes as much as startlingly contrast them. The boy is adorable and shows a kind of genuineness on screen, his character displaying a kind of Asperger’s-like oddness in his behavior and precocious examination of his narrow world.

Despite the compelling nature of the premise and the impressive display of acting talents, I felt this movie tended to drag a little too much. It’s two hours long and nothing really seems to happen until the last twenty minutes. The characters also seem pretty unlikable with the exception of the young boy. Although The Kindergarten Teacher is well-filmed, with extraordinary tracking shots and close-ups and well-acted, I had difficulty getting sucked in by the story it had to tell. it didn’t help that I had no sympathy for Nira, an ice queen unconcerned by exploiting her student’s talent and sacrificing his happiness for what she thinks he should do with his life.

Also, no matter how precocious Yoav is, the sheer sophistication of his poems seem very unlikely. I came across a theory online that Yoav was blessed with an eidetic memory and merely recited the poems his uncle (Dan Toren) had written, and that actually sounds more plausible to me than the surface explanation (that the kid was a flat-out wunderkind.) The Kindergarten Teacher is a well-made movie that ultimately leaves you a little cold, without the confidence in its clinical iciness that made Michael Haneke’s films so effective. It’s definitely worth watching, but I don’t expect it’ll make you want to add it to your collection immediately after. Technically outstanding, but not much fun, and not entirely memorable due to your lack of concern or interest it’s characters.

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Two Days, One Night (2014)

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You know how some movies feel so real it’s like you’re watching a documentary? Well, this is one of those films. It’s not for everybody, because it’s sllooww, and by slow I mean straight-up kitchen sink realism with virtually no frills. But what I really like about Two Days, One Night is how close it hit to home for me. I grew up with a sporadically depressed mother with very low self-esteem and I started suffering from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was five, and was put on medication for clinical depression in my early teens.

This movie understands the effects of depression on people suffering from the illness as well as their loved ones. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, an often infuriating but utterly plausible character. Sandra has just been fired from her job at the factory and prepares to sink back into the abyss of depression, taking long afternoon naps and gobbling Xanax like a hardcore druggie.

Sandra is depressed because without her job to sustain her, she will have have nothing to distract her from hopeless sadness and she will be on the dole, but mostly because the majority of her co-workers voted against her in favor of a substantial raise. Shortly after her lay-off, it comes to light that the foreman at the factory, Jean-Marc (Oliver Gourmet,) most likely intimidated the other workers into screwing Sandra over. Now, she has two days to convince the employees to give up their raise so she can return to her job at the company.

Sandra has a devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and two beautiful kids (Pili Groine and Simon Caudry, ) but she is deeply unhappy and endlessly self-defeating. She also undermines her husband’s support at every turn. Even  more concerning than her depression and suicidality is her casual abuse of prescription medication. Both her misuse of drugs and her unhappiness is the proverbial elephant in the room. We can tell immediately something is not right in this household, her husband Manu comes home from work and runs upstairs when she doesn’t immediately respond to his shouted greetings as if her half-expects to find her hanging from the ceiling.

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Marion Cotillard owns this role. She superbly portrays the exhaustion and resignation of being clinically depressed, when everything, well… sucks, and nothing is good enough or fulfilling enough to make you laugh or even smile. The plot of this film is absurdly simple. but Cotillard and every other performance across the board makes it feel incredibly real. Sandra will piss you the fuck off half the time (even, or maybe even especially, if you see some of yourself in her) but you can feel her anguish like a flame burning the back of your hand.

Withholding spoilers, I was really surprised and pleased at how this movie ended. It’s not a conclusion you see coming but when the credits roll you realize it was the perfect way to wrap up the film. Thinking back on the plight of Sandra’s co-workers, I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone gave me that ultimatum on whether to keep a kind but slightly ineffectual co-worker on the team or earn a substantial raise. I would like to think I would pull through for Sandra, but then again who knows?

It wasn’t like these people were living in exorbitant wealth. They had kids to put through college, rooms to paint and renovate, bills to pay and food to put on the table. It’s hard to judge them, but at the same time, it’s hard not to, especially when you see how vulnerable Sandra is and how much she needs to keep her job. That’s the great thing about this movie; it doesn’t judge. The majority of these people aren’t sneering, bullying fat cats sitting on top of a massive fortune; they’re struggling to get by and support their blue collar families. In fact, they’re hardly mean at all, with the the marked exception of an older co-worker’s teenaged son, who’s a piece of work, and Jean-Marc, who’s just a total dick. But that’s realistic too. Not every one can be convivial and nice, just like not everybody is the equivalent of the high school bully who pantses you during gym.

Although this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of rewatch value in my opinion, it’s definitely worth watching once if you like kitchen sink realism and nuanced drama. Some people might be frustrated with the lack of empowerment of Cotillard’s character, but not every woman can be a superheroine. Sometimes, it’s enough just to survive. Again, Two Days, One Night is not a movie for everyone, but Cotillard’s performance is a genuine revelation, and even significant among the barrage of great performances we’ve seen lately, and are likely to see again.

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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of boxing. At all. I don’t judge people who like it, but there you are. I just don’t see the appeal in big, sweaty, greased-up guys knocking the piss out of each other, having their remaining teeth flying every which way, and probably acquiring long-lasting brain damage at age thirty. Entertaining? Hell no. Erotic? No, it’s not that either.

So with boxing movies, and by extension all sports movies (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) I need a sort of human interest story to really capture my attention. Well, I can tell you if you’re looking for human drama, pathos, and an extra helping of tragedy,  Clint Eastwood Academy Award-winning film has that and more. There’s guilt, grief, denial, friendship, and major moral dilemmas. I mean big fucking moral dilemmas. The kind that keep you up at night.

Frankie Dunn (Actor/Director Eastwood) is a bit of a cranky old man and well-regarded boxing trainer who doesn’t train girls– period. This moral position doesn’t seem very well thought out- it’s less a legitimate position than a lunk-headed duh... I mean, girls wanting to box. Who’d have thunk it? Next they’ll be asking for equal pay and equal rights in all things.

So, being the kind of crank he is, he turns aspiring boxerette Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) away like a puppy in the rain. “There’s plenty of people who will train girls,” he says. But Maggie’s determined. She’s come from a trash family (when we later meet her selfish and spectacularly ungrateful mother (Margo Martindale) and sister (Riki Lindhome,) we see where she’s from, and why she wants to get out) and she believes that being trained by Frankie Dunn (who seems to have quite a reputation in the boxing world, despite slumming it in a tiny fighting hall) is the best way to get her where she’s going.

Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) is just the janitor, but he’s inwardly wise and worldly in that quintessential Morgan Freeman (with a smooth as butter voice over and that great voice) and quietly observes the drama between Frankie and Maggie, occasionally sharing a barbed repartee with Frankie and giving him a gentle push in the right direction. Frankie’s heart is rendered stony with personal tragedy, including a long-time estrangement from his own daughter. Will he give Maggie the well-deserved training and fatherly input she needs?

One thing you can say about this movie is it does good by not saddling Maggie with an  unnecessary love interest, rightfully focusing on the paternal relationship between she and Eastwood. The two have good (platonic) chemistry as they somewhat predictably bond, but tragedy lurks just around the corner. I often felt Morgan Freeman was a bit too much of a catalyst to the events rather than a character in his own right.

The thing is, for the first thirty minutes or so I was planning to bitch that the development of the relationships in “Million Dollar Baby” were too trite and predictable (i.e. grumpy old trainer professes his hatred for girls’ boxing, grumpy old trainer is suckered in by girl boxer’s irrepressible enthusiasm, etc.) But then I realized that while these odd couple stories are not the most original premises in the world, they work. They’re compelling. Where would we be without the gruesome twosome in “Up,” or “Men in Black,” or to name a less known title, “Treacle Jr.” (one of my personal favorites?)

If you bawled out every movie that featured a progressing bond by two people who have nothing in common, you’d have no movies left. Which is why I figure, we need our well-worn story lines. To some extent. Because something can be derivative and original at the same time. Well, the acting here certainly can’t be faulted. Outstanding performances all around. Hilary Swank proved her merit as a thespian in “Boys Don’t Cry,” playing trans man Brandon Teena, and once again with tomboyish pluck she shows us why she’s one of the best in the business.

Clint Eastwood is wonderful- he possibly gives an even better performance in this than he does in “Gran Torino,” a top-notch movie in it’s own right. He’s not just a gun-toting Republican tough guy with dozens of Westerns to his name- he shows real range and finesse as a troubled old man who tries to build barriers around his heart and refuses to let himself care about anybody. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He plays a role we’ve come to expect from Freeman- wise and pensive, with sage advice for the other characters, and he does a fine job.

I didn’t cry at the end because someone had already spoiled the twist for me, but it might have really gotten to me had I not gone in knowing more or less how things were going to go down. I think the characters came off as a little one-note while watching it under a critical eye (Maggie in particular seeming a little too perfect at times,) but overall “Million Dollar Baby” is just a good, emotional, wonderfully acted drama about allowing yourself to legitimately give a shit about someone again- albeit with tear jerking results.

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