A funny story: having completely neglected the preview section on this very blog, I was looking up random movie times for the local movie theater when I saw this interesting title. I subsequently headed over to Rotten Tomatoes, which has it sitting at 94 percent AND has it ranked the best movie of the summer. After watching the film, I casted around in my head to see what other movies I could compare it to, and landed upon Fantastic Mr. Fox—curiously enough, the films share a director. Just goes to show that 1) I need to pay more attention to everything and 2) I still have a keen sense of directorial style.
This film provides a lush, rich landscape for its story, ranging from beaches to forests to cool lighthouse-like houses. Set on a quiet and quaint island off the coast of New England, the film captures the intimate yet isolated feel of life there. Aesthetically speaking, Moonrise Kingdom is gorgeous—that alone would warrant a viewing.
But Anderson and the cast go even further. The story, involving two lovers eloping, is as classic as Romeo and Juliet. Like the two star-crossed lovers, these two main characters are very young—12 years old, in fact. Sam and Susie meet during the cacophony of a local play and immediately connect, deciding to run away together after a long correspondence. But I won’t reveal any more: much of the joy in this film lies in watching the story unfold like a pale, fragile flower. Enchanting, ephemeral, and yes, genuine, this love is powerful in its honest awkwardness. Ah the charms (and horrors) of that first love, just as hormones begin flooding the system—how many of us have blotted those experiences from memory? Anderson shies away from none of it.
For even though these two characters are fundamentally different, in the way all people are different, they indulge in that naïve but wonderful belief that they can find a new life together in the wilderness. Their conversation is pitch-perfect, revealing the deep textures of language that we forget 12-year-olds have the capacity to use. Dreams, desires—why do we rob children of the experiences of life?
Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray—these are big names, but they take on supporting roles, and do it well. Bruce Willis plays against the grain of his usual hard-nosed action hero. Here we see an aging, backwater cop, who can’t seem to get anything right. Anderson does this with all of his older characters—contrary to other films, in which it is the children without agency, in this film the adults must achieve agency in a long and torturous process, while children are able to seize their futures with their own hands.
That sense of agency is central. As I approach real adulthood I can see the ways in which my life is being planned out by my 12-year-old self. The future is locking itself around me: I am not afraid (I trust my 12-year-old self) but I can see how this is a frightening process. How much more so it must be for the 50-year-olds living out their lives because of the decisions they made when they were 20—the adults in the film quietly and inevitably suffer. So do the children—but their suffering can be alleviated by their own bold decisions to wander into a new life, to follow love into a new kingdom.
After watching The Artist it was hard not to smile—I will bet Apple didn’t even notice that she, too was smiling—which is why I feel it necessary to defend this film as more than a well-crafted but ultimately empty homage. First of all, the film is beautifully shot: the black and white takes nothing away from the clarity of the scenes—after a nightmare we see the beads of sweat gathering on George Valentin’s forehead, the wrinkles in his bed sheets. The whole film is sumptuous despite the lack of voices, and I believe nothing of the story was lost because of the format. But more importantly, this film transcends the familiarity of its story to present a story that is as universal as any story can be—there is a reason romances still dominate the reading of many people everywhere.
To get to the meat of my argument, I believe that the strength of this movie lies in that intangible thing we call a heart: this film has a lot of it. Yes, the film is no doubt clever (in an early scene the audience in made comfortable with the format through the device of a film within a film—we watch as the audience laughs and cheers silently and suddenly it doesn’t seem so strange) and yes it is excellently crafted (compact, besides a slightly slow middle to end sequence) but what gives this film its shine is the emotional truth of the story. To illustrate what I think is a major theme in the film, take the relationship between George Valentin and Doris, his wife: words are not needed to express the growing distance between the two. While some might find it laughable that the only ways in which the growing tension is materialized is in indifference by Valentin as he reads the paper and contemptuous doodling by Doris, major psychological studies have suggested that the two best indicators of a failing relationship are stonewalling (a reluctance or refusal to discuss problems) and contempt.
In comparison, Peppy Miller’s refusal to give up on Valentin even as he rebuffs her and falls into disrepair rings true because even though the two characters are not always likeable, they are better together than apart. If you define the characters by their flaws, Valentin is a prideful, foolish, and sometimes careless man. Peppy, on the other hand, is obsessive, vain, and arrogant. But when put together, we see the gentleness of Valentin expressed in his charming smile, the fire and spunk of Peppy as she fights for the man she has never lost sight of, the way the screen warms up when the two are together. These are neither good nor bad people—we sometimes forget that movie stars are just regular people who have been thrust into a life where they are venerated as gods—these are people who love and who cry and who have dreams that sometimes are realized and sometimes fall into nothingness.
The acting is a subtle and expert exploration of this character. Jean Dujardin brings real charm to George Valentin, as well as darkness that melds well with his decline as a star. Bérénice Bejo is so spunky that she had me chuckling throughout the film, though she also skillfully exhibits the symptoms of obsession in Peppy Miller.
In terms of cliché, I think it is important to note that the director studied the silent films of the 1920s to see how it was he was going to build this film. The things we consider clichés are simply the essences of the films of the past—the director has no qualms defining the Artist as a melodrama, and melodramas have their own requirements. It makes about as much sense to decry the elements of melodrama in this film as “clichés” as it does to critique the formal structure of a sonnet as “outdated.”
This film succeeds because it rings true—predictability doesn’t make a story false. Also, I think Apple misinterprets her desire to see the film end happily as obviousness: I fully expected the film to end in tragedy, but really wanted it to be otherwise. Apple has a suspiciousness for endings she calls “cop-out” endings, but not all stories end unhappily. And I think that this is another great strength of the Artist, the ability to give the characters a happy ending, despite how easy it would have been to satisfy our schadenfreude with a descent into hopelessness. The film doesn’t allow the audience to wallow in despair: it says, “Look at this man, fallen and ready to give up, and see that change is never impossible.”
See also Apple’s Review and Kathy’s Review.
The first few shots are filled with weight—the clink of glassware, the slow thud of a hammer—and each shot is still. There is no panning or zooming until Martha Marcy May Marlene wakes up early in the morning and runs through the woods to town. The camera shakes, the ground rises up, and from that moment on there is no peace. This is a film filled with tension that begs to be released—but in the instances in which emotion blooms like dark ink on a page the tension doubles, leaving the viewer in the grips of terror or horror or both. The story is told in layers: the past overlaps with the present in seamless cuts, presenting an image of a woman who was initially discarded and then twisted into something she didn’t want to be, a woman who struggles against everything and everyone in an effort to survive.
Elizabeth Olsen is transcendent—Martha is a deeply damaged woman, but resisting the temptation to characterize damage as weakness, Olsen imbues Martha with the sharp resistance of broken glass—in some scenes we can see rage coil in her small frame, suddenly exploding in a few powerful words. Her sister Lucy, played with finesse by Sarah Paulson, bears much of the brunt of that rage. But she is not blameless. She and her husband, Ted (a very accurate Hugh Dancy) cannot or will not understand the pain carved so desperately on Martha’s face. Sean Durkin, the director, has somehow captured a sense of dualism: because the viewer knows Martha’s story the viewer can understand her actions, but at the same time the viewer knows exactly why Lucy and Ted grow increasingly frustrated with the withdrawn Martha.
The film is quiet, and at times uncomfortably beautiful: shortly after a terribly violent and sexual scene, Patrick—the cult leader whose influence dominates the story—picks up a guitar and plays a haunting and simply pretty song about Martha which sickened me. That someone so warped could produce something so gorgeous—it was perverse, it made all sorts of emotions rise up in me. In another scene, Martha and Lucy speak until Martha bursts into tears. “Lucy,” she calls out as Lucy walks away. Lucy stops. The words that then tumble out of Martha’s mouth are completely devoid of emotion and cuttingly clear. The impact of those words was such that everyone in the theater gasped at the same time.
There are so many themes in this film: sexuality, violence, trust, betrayal, family—it just begs me to write a paper on one or all of them. This film is rich in a way it didn’t have to be: the handling of the topic could easily have fallen into the realm of heavy-handedness. Even the ending, which is one of those non-endings that people hate, has a particular purpose. The tension that continues to build throughout the film could not be easily resolved, tied up neatly and put away. The sudden cut to the credits frees the viewer from the grips of adrenaline and lets the viewer walk out, legs shaking, to ponder the questions raised.
A man, pale faced yet resolute, careful opens his robe, takes a small knife in his hand, methodically feels his stomach, and cuts. At this point we see only his face as it contorts in agony, yet he continues the cut across and, with effort straining the muscles in his neck, pulls the knife out. But his job is not yet finished. We hear his ragged breathing as he finds the middle of the cut, reinserts the blade, and this time cuts upward. Finally, he collapses forward in a pool of blood, as the shot pans to the pristine, white letter in front of him.
This is by far the most shockingly violent film I have seen. Saw, which made me physically ill when I watched it for the first (and only) time, is the only film to come close—and Saw utilized all sorts of cheap tricks to make the violence more shocking than it already was. Saw also glorified violence for violence’s sake: this film on the other hand, is a direct refutation of the violence we have come to celebrate. Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu is the son of the former Shogun, and half-brother to the current one. Nobody can touch him—nobody even dares check his violent and sexual tendencies. Doi Toshitsura, a senior government official, realizes that if Lord Naritsugu ascends to a higher political position, lots of people will die. He therefore tacitly informs Shimada Shinzaemon, an aging and trusted Shogunate samurai, that Lord Naritsugu must die. Shimada collects a team of 13 samurai (really more like 12 samurai plus 1 random forest guy that beats wild bears to death) and together plot the death of one of the most powerful figures in Japan.
To understand what I mean about the denunciation of violence in this film, you have to look at the run time: this movie is two hours long. About half of that is one continuous action scene. That sure as hell doesn’t sound like a denunciation of violence—and yet that is exactly the picture that emerges: you can’t enjoy the action scene. It is so messy, yet so visually appealing, so brutal, yet so captivating, that you feel really damn guilty watching the thing. The whole time Lord Naritsugu is just watching with this gleam in his eye—you know he’s enjoying it, and suddenly you feel a sense of revulsion. It’s such a waste. All these people dying. You want to enjoy the swordsmanship of the characters, the brutal efficiency of their swords, but the beauty fades away the longer you watch. The characters get tired. They get bloody. The swords, once swinging smoothly, now are flailed around. One character loses his sword, so he picks up a rock and beats a man to death with it—that simply isn’t pretty.
As I mentioned already, however, it’s Lord Naritsugu that really embodies everything wrong with this violence that we claim to love, we consumers who dine on WWII movies and the occasional flick like The Expendables. As the battle rages on, as literal heaps of bodies pile around him, he asks with a faint smile if this is what war is like. As his astonished samurai stammer out a yes, his face twists into an expression of rapt attention and he says “Let’s bring back the age of war.”
The other theme here, less relevant, perhaps, to a Western audience, is that of the conflicting ideals of Bushido—justice for the people? Or duty to one’s lord? To go as far as to commit seppuku: probably very few people in America understand that compulsion, the constraints of a society in which honor is valued above life. But there is a sense of waste in this: the ways in which people that otherwise might be allies kill each other for something almost senseless—duty as more than life, more even than any divinity or deity that might exist—something truly frightening.
There are some problems with the film—sometimes one wonders if the action is a little too polished for the message it is carrying, or if the filmmaker wants to force feed the audience the message—at the end there is a little epilogue in which we are rather smugly told that the Shogunate ended some 23 years later, as if the violence depicted in the film would never come again with the Shoguns out of power. Also, the character of Kiga Koyata (apparently he’s a demon or something) is interesting but very very very shallow, even in comparison to the other throw-away characters. Despite all of that, this film still manages to make you think: and any action movie that can do that is worth all the praises I can give it.
Limitless opens into a long tunnel of cars and streets and traffic lights moving as the viewer seems to stand still: it’s a bit like watching logos pass from TV screens, except moving around you as the center stays still. The opening sequence is probably the best description of the movie as a whole: fast-moving and strangely psychedelic—the protagonist literally spends most of the film in a drug induced haze (or rather, a drug induced clarity?).
To put it succinctly, this movie is about one man’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune while using a drug called NZT: NZT somehow improves the interactions of the neurons in the brain, allowing a user to be more aware, remember everything they’ve ever read, make logical connections. The filmmaker even goes as far as to improve color contrast and brightness when a character uses NZT—Limitless is filled with tone choices, bright colors when Edward “Eddie” Morra (Bradley Cooper) pops the pills, neon flashes when he takes too much, and grays and blues when he is off the drug.
Which reminds me. Apparently NZT is dangerous: too much of it and you “lose” time—constantly running forward doing god-knows-what leaving no memory of the incidents behind. Quitting cold turkey induces nausea, weakness, and eventually death, and even recovered addicts have their natural brain function reduced as a result. Much of the movie is a race against time for several characters, the protagonist included, as a certain event makes the supply of NZT quite limited.
The film does a great job of making the main character both fascinating and strangely unlikeable. It may just be me, but when the NZT induced side of Eddie came out I started to miss the pathetic, uninspired Eddie, who is at least honest: there is something sleazy in the easy arrogance of the hopped up Eddie, whose easy charm lands him money and lots of ladies. I kept thinking about a scene in the beginning where Eddie’s girlfriend (Abbie Cornish, Sweat Pea from Suckerpunch!) breaks up with him. Despite his dejection, when Eddie hears that Lindy has landed the job she wanted his face lights up in a warm, genuine smile that made me forgive him for all his weakness. In another scene, when he stumbles upon a murder, Eddie’s first reaction is to cry, not to try to cover his own butt. But the NZT Eddie is simply manipulative—his knowledge seems shallow, and yet people flock around him as if he was someone actually knowledgeable: Carl Van Loon, played by a pitch-perfect Robert De Niro, despicable as he is, is right in that pure genius is simply not enough. Experience counts for something (or did, at some point). To throw in a martial arts metaphor, the genius martial artist might have talent, but the person who has trained for years and years and made progress that way probably has a better grasp of what martial arts is.
As far as the plot goes, there are obvious holes. One issue is how smart already smart people become, and in what ways they become “different” people. Lindy, for example, is convinced that the actions taken while under the influence of NZT are at odds with her own character—Eddie, on the other hand, seems to regard himself as one person whether using or not. I tend to agree with Lindy, especially given the way Bradley Cooper seems to play two completely different characters. Despite the issues, the movie breezes right along—and that in itself is an issue. There isn’t really any thick idea I can sink my teeth into; it seems assumed that everyone would choose to take NZT if they had the chance (Eddie implies as much when he asks the audience in a voice-over, “What would you do?”). Even a little bit of self-doubt would have made this movie a lot more interesting: but at no point in the film, even at the end, does Eddie ever express regret, even for lying or for the deaths that pile around him. It seems that in becoming limitless, Eddie loses his humanity.
This is definitely an interesting and fun film. I just don’t know about the delivery of the idea: like Inception, the idea seems to fall apart on delivery. But hey, not all of us have access to NZT—even filmmakers are simply human.
Lots and lots of movies coming out this month!
The Debt: Sam Worthington (Apple’s favorite), Helen Mirren–split timelines and juicy twists. Looks interesting to me.
Warrior: A MMA version of The Fighter? I am not so sure about this one-I was never a fan of these fighting movies.
Abduction: Taylor Lautner as the lead in an action flick? I’m excited to see this one, even if Apple isn’t, just for the gratuitous half-nakedness that will no doubt ensue.
Shaolin: Jackie Chan! Lots of kungfu! Filmed on location in an actual Shaolin Temple!
Contagion: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, and Jude Law star in this film about a bird flu outbreak.
Moneyball: Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager that used the little money available to craft a winning team.
The best word to describe a movie like Captain America is “vintage.” Captain America literally came into being as a Nazi-fighting superhero in the 1940s, so it’s no surprise that the villain of the film is a Nazi super soldier, albeit one with greater ambition than might be expected. But back to the point: this is a vintage film with vintage characters. The good guy is a good guy. The bad guy is a bad guy. They fight. Mayhem ensues.
This is not to say that the mayhem that ensues is entirely without character of its own. I enjoyed watching the transformation of a patriotic if weak-bodied man into Captain America, especially since that transformation took more than a secret serum. Steve Rogers goes from a nobody with a dream to a dancing monkey to a real American hero, and boy, is it fun to watch. It’s a lot more fun than Thor, for sure. There’s grit to balance the kitsch, a certain subtlety to match the cheesiness. And most importantly for me, there is character. The casting is well done for this: Chris Evans plays a convincing Steve Rogers, Tommy Lee Jones is great as usual as a grizzled Colonel, and Hugo Weaving plays an excellent villain (though the accent was a little eh). The interactions between these three and the love interest Hayley Atwell (played by Peggy Carter) make for fun viewing when the audience isn’t watching Captain America bash some Hydra heads in.
I simply couldn’t take this film seriously. And that was a good thing for the movie, because taken seriously it makes no sense. But taken as it is, a film about a man who grows into something great, a film made to have fun and make people laugh, it is successful enough to warrant seeing. This review is short because there isn’t much to say–watch this film if you like superheroes and if you want to have a little fun.
See also: Apple’s Review (2.5/5)
To say that this is the end of beautiful journey is no jest. I read Harry Potter starting in the 3rd grade, meaning I’ve spent over a decade with this wizard, this wonderful boy, this brave man. It’s been quite the adventure—some cultural commentators have dubbed my generation the “Harry Potter generation,” something I think most of us can understand. So going into this movie there was only one question: will it be enough? Will this movie transport me into the world of Harry Potter for a new adventure one last time? Or will it fail to imbue me with a sense of magic that leaves me breathless and teary-eyed?
The answer to this question was surprising. I felt neither disappointment nor sheer bliss at the end of the film, merely relief. The movie didn’t destroy my love of Harry Potter, but it didn’t elevate it either. This was a good film, a solid ending, and a tribute to the books. I don’t know about those who have only seen the movies, but this film was strangely hollow in comparison to the books—but that is in no way a real criticism. The books, which stand second only to my beloved Lord of the Rings, are so complete it would be impossible for the films to add anything to my sense of satisfaction on turning the page and reading “19 years later.” Speaking of which, the epilogue to this film was rather silly.
This film is all about the last reunion of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. Theirs truly was a match made in heaven, though I imagine that after the amount of time they’ve spent together, they are either best friends or worst enemies. Here, despite the rushed atmosphere of the film, there are moments where you see them together and you can see the bonds they’ve forged. One scene struck me in particular: the three walk together, hand in hand, exchange glances and in those glances you see the weight of the years of filming, of the story, of the pressure of stardom, and you realize that they are content with it, happy with the way it’s ending, happy and sad to move on.
To touch briefly on the story—all the necessitated quotes are there, including Clover’s favorite (“NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”) and one about living and love (you know what I’m talking about) and I caught them, and I appreciated them, but still there were so many little things I missed—and it’s always been that way. For some reason, it bothers me more with Harry Potter than with Lord of the Rings. There is one scene in particular, one that made me cry, which was entirely excluded from the movie and replaced with a scene that provided the same function without any of the emotion.
I guess I liked it, and of course, you have to go watch it if you are a Harry Potter fan, but I can’t say that this ending is one I will always look back too. Unlike the books, which I will read over and over until I die, I can’t say that I’ll come back to this film to revisit my memories of Harry and Hermione and Ron and Hogwarts—I’ll just crack open one of the books, sit down on the couch, and read.
See also: Apple’s Review (4.5/5)
The issue with this installment of the Transformer’s franchise is not, as Clover has insinuated, that it is boring. I personally had a lot of fun watching this flashy, funny, explosive film. The issue is that it’s a film made to be a hit, a film that doesn’t bother making sense, a film that mashes together so many different ideas and styles and explosions that it becomes something akin to a hamburger tossed in a blender: easily digestible but ultimately lacking anything that could be called character.
Truthfully, I need to tell you absolutely nothing about the plot for you to “get” this movie—everything is explained in such excruciating detail that I was simply amused that the film catered so obviously to the casual viewer. My only real experience with the Transformer’s brand was my love of the Beast War series, which I loved. Just to let you know, Beast Wars is pretty well regarded for a Transformer’s series, even though it’s often seen as the black sheep in the family, simply because it tackled interesting themes and was still cool. This movie is severely lacking in the interesting themes department. The villains suck, the good guys rule—there is no dilemma at all. The action scenes are good but not great. The romance scenes are passable. The humor is a safe laugh.
I mean, this movie is fun. But it’s so mindless. Epic? Maybe, but the topic can’t cover for such a messy film. To be fair, this movie is certainly better than the 36% rating on RT might suggest, but it’s just not that good either. It reminds me of Eclipse: I was laughing the whole time, it was too long, and I still managed to have fun. Go see this movie for a bit of mindless fun, but don’t bother putting your thinking caps on: you’ll just be wasting time.
See also: Apple’s Review (4.5/5)
Clover is a jaded, sarcastic, teenage-minded, reviewer when it comes to movies about relationships: if there is a movie that attempts to bring a certain set of relationships to the forefront, Clover cannot help but dismiss it as “sentimental” or “cheesy,” especially if there is no action or whimsy to distract her. I must admit that I too fall into this trap when watching certain movies, but I often find explorations of emotion and human interaction quite fascinating.
You may have heard that this film is about aliens. That is incorrect: while the movie includes alien interactions, the focus of the film is on a group of kids that are starting to grow up. The tragedies are ultimately human tragedies. Joe Lamb, the protagonist of the film, loses his mother in an accident at the steel factory. His father, the lieutenant sheriff of a small town, is left to raise Joe by himself. Their interaction, which is both distant and desperate, is one of the highlights of the film. Likewise, the exploration of each character, no matter how minor, lends a sense of fullness, or richness, to this film. Clover thinks this movie is nothing special. I have to beg to differ: the tangled relationships, the setting, and the plot all mingle into something utterly pleasant. I agree that this is no masterpiece, of the likes of E.T. (which this movie imitates and draws on), but there is some spark in this film that is absent from movies like “X-Men: First Class,” a real sense of character.
I can taste character when I watch a film. Some movies portray people in general as bitter and unloving, a distinctly sour flavor. Others make the world seem like a playground—minor woes, minor foes, and major cuteness: this is sweet, sometimes cloyingly so. But in a movie like “Super 8,” which, for the most part, portrays people as people, produces a flavor that is wonderfully subtle, like almond or coconut, and also amazingly rich: like truffle. These people are real; these relationships are real. I know people exactly like Joe, or like Martin (haha, brownie points for having my name for a character, never mind that that character is a wimp), and every word of their dialogue makes sense. Clover says that she isn’t interested in prepubescent romance, but the truth is that all romance is prepubescent romance plus sexuality. In my opinion, getting a prepubescent relationship right is a lot harder to fake than getting an adult romance right—in movies like “No Strings Attached” you just throw in lots of sex and messy break-up scenes and people will buy it. But everyone knows that innocent and intense feeling of falling in love with someone at that age, and the complications that come with it. To say that this characterization is nothing special is to deny that romance is special at all (and I’m sure Clover would quite easily make that concession). A world without romance is a dull world indeed.
Though the audience is left with a few questions at the end, the ending still satisfies. The viewer leaves the movie sated, if not stuffed, on the well-written, believable relationships. What more can you ask for?
See also: Apple’s Review (3.5/5)