Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

The Raid: Redemption

2012 indonesia. Director: Gareth Evans. Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy.

Imagine, if you will, the heart-pounding action of the very best of John Woo. Combine said action with the quickness, brutality, and sheer awe inspiring talents of Tony Jaa. Take, perhaps, Woo’s Hard Boiled, replacing the gunfights with knives, and the cast with several martial artists that may well give the aforementioned Jaa a run for his money. From this, trim the fat (e.g. story), and extend the final forty minutes into a 101-minute orgy of visceral and incredibly well-choreographed violence and bloodshed. That is The Raid: Redemption in a nutshell. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the works of Messrs, Woo and Jaa … well … you’re missing out, and you need to rectify that immediately. No need to even read the rest of this post – get to it.

Red Dawn

1984 USA. Director: John Milius. Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe.

If it weren’t for the acting and some really horrible dialogue, this film might still hold pretty well as a history flashback on the American perception of The Soviet Union in the 80’s.

The propaganda never really struck me much as a kid – always just liked watching kids blow shit up real good. But the world that is set-up with the opening credits and then carried on throughout the movie is pretty terrifying and realistic in many ways.

But yeah, the kids are awful awful awful.

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Review: Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph-Gordon Levitt
Runtime: 164 min.

“Theatricality and deception can be powerful agents.”

With those words of wisdom began not only the journey of the Batman, but Christopher Nolan’s remarkably meticulous and grandiose tale of the denizens of Gotham City. For all of the ferocity and determination of Bruce Wayne, and the pomp and circumstance of the Joker, and the dedication of James Gordon, and the loyalty of Alfred Pennyworth, it is the humanism of Gotham that drives the entirety of the series.

And it is Dark Knight Rises that offers a catharsis for those people, and for those that would test their mettle.

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Countdown to The Dark Knight Rises: Rank ’em [Christopher Nolan]

Everyone involved with the third row got together this week and looked back at Christopher Nolan’s career to coincide with the release of likely the biggest movie of 2012, The Dark Knight Rises. Throughout the week, we’ve had (and will have) some pretty in-depth and thoughtful pieces surrounding Nolan’s films and Batman in particular. Of course the most facile of these tasks was left to me: gather everyone’s ranking of Nolan’s seven films from favorite to least favorite and then aggregate/score them into one “definitive” list.

Christopher Nolan

It wasn’t even close. Pretty much all of us agree that Insomnia and Following are Nolan’s weakest two films whilst memento. and Inception are his two best films; though some extreme love can be found for The Prestige sprinkled throughout. Meanwhile his Batman movies come smack dab in the middle. I’ve never seen so many people come together on a director as exciting as Christopher Nolan and we all come down almost exactly the same way.

So here is the mathematical certainty that are Nolan’s films ranked from weakest to strongest (check the bottom of the post for our individual ranked lists):

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Shinsedai Cinema Festival: Ringing In Their Ears

Title: Ringing In Their Ears
Director: Yu Irie
Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Kurumi Morishita, Uji Kiyotaka, Yui Miura, Tatsuya Sakamoto, Mikihito Tsurugi, Toru Nomaguchi, Keisuke Horibe
Running time: 89 min.


There are countless clichés and adages that revolve around music – ‘the power of rock ‘n’ roll,’ ‘music saves lives,’ ‘I listened to them before it was cool,’ and so on and so forth. While these statements are likely to cause you to roll your eyes, it must be said that there is at least a smidgen of truth in there. It seems that there is nary a person that does not have some connection with music, be it as a distraction, a muse, requisite background noise, or a form of hope, and all of this distilled through ear buds.

Ringing In Their Ears is a film that offers a glimpse into the relationship between music and not only those who listen to it, but those who create it, as well.

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Review: Magic Mike

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn
Runtime: 110 min.

One of the more ubiquitous critiques utilized in analyzing a performance is that the actor was merely ‘playing himself.’ This criticism – or insult, really – has been levied at actors of all shapes and sizes, ranging from Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg to Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Whether this is a matter of a typecasting, talent, or some other intangible is oftentimes irrelevant, as what impacts box office numbers (that is, wanting to see a character that one has seen and loved before) does not often jibe with what the critic hopes to see (an actor evolving before our very eyes). How this is differentiated from the praise associated with an actor for performing ably in ‘the role he was born to play’ is something of a non sequitur.

At the heart of these semantics and ramblings is Magic Mike. Or, rather, Channing Tatum playing himself in the most literal sense of the term, to astonishing results.

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Review: Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Runtime: 124 min.

There exists a perception that religion and science are in a perpetual state of war. One cannot maintain faith in the scriptures of their respective dogma while acknowledging the strengths found in the Big Bang theory … at least, insofar as those that seek some sort of ubiquitous truth are concerned. To those that seek the answers to those questions that have been pondered for as long as history itself – where did we come from? why are we here? – it is essentially inconceivable (if not offensive) that there may not be a single truth, or that the truth may be in stark contrast to the beliefs that one holds dear. Questions, to some, are not meant to be open-ended. To others, considering such issues is a paramount aspect of life, as a mind is a precious thing to waste.

The ability to appeal to the viewer’s philosophical foundations, in the most intrinsically beautiful sense of the bounds of the human mind, and subsequently challenge them is the defining characteristic of Prometheus.

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Countdown to Prometheus: The Legacy of Alien

The Alien franchise is unusual for several reasons. It started with a highly successful, even visionary, film from an almost unknown director (Ridley Scott’s The Duellists had been a modest success in England, but it was Alien that boosted him to international fame). Seven years later came a sequel from a different director, set in the same universe but with a decidedly different tone and approach. Both Alien and Aliens are excellent films in their own right, and James Cameron (in only his third feature film) managed to build his own unique niche which expanded the original mythology, rather than simply trying to clone the first film.

It would be six more years before the third film in the series followed, and Alien3 was again the work of a newcomer director. David Fincher had only directed music videos up to the time he was hired to carry on the Alien franchise, and thanks to script issues and studio interference, it was not a great experience. Thankfully, Fincher has gone on to ever-greater things, but as you’ll see in our write-up, perhaps the third entry is undeservedly maligned. Still, despite lukewarm reception from fans and critics, Alien3 was successful enough for a fourth film to be made five years later, the also-coolly-received Alien: Resurrection, helmed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his only American film to date. Four films, made over a span of almost twenty years, all directed by different people, each of whom happened to be relative newcomers to Hollywood. We repeat: this franchise is unusual.

Despite the popular lack of enthusiasm for the last two films in the franchise (and we’re not even getting into the crossover Alien vs. Predator films), Alien has left its mark on the cinematic landscape for all time, combining a fantastically original visual design with a genre-mashing sci-fi/horror (and in Aliens, sci-fi/horror/action) story that set a lasting tone for science fiction which has persisted to the present day. In visual terms, the pristine and sterile spaceships of 2001: A Space Odyssey are gone. In their place is a rough-and-tumble spacecraft and a species of sentient (?) aliens bent on destruction and their own procreation, dripping with sexualized imagery. The themes in Alien run deep, hitting us with our most primal fears. And it’s not unremarkable that the hero of all this is a woman – the quintessential Final Girl who didn’t ask to be brought into all this, but has the smarts, the willpower, and (eventually) the skills to withstand all that gets thrown at her – not just by the aliens, but by the patriarchal society that continually tries to refuse her voice. Ellen Ripley remains an iconic figure, but an icon who is deeply and viscerally human, one of the greatest gifts that the many legacies of Alien have left us.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

The Graduate

1967 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross.

When it comes to classics of American cinema, I usually find myself as something of a sheep – I tend to adore the majority of the classics, oftentimes chalking my opinions up to the consensus existing for a reason. That is not to say that I have not disliked any classic, but rather that I am more willing to overlook the faults and embrace the sense and mood of the halcyon days. With The Graduate, however, I was decidedly underwhelmed, and mostly disappointed. It is essentially a two-part film, half brilliant, half pathetic. The relationship between Ben (Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft) is wonderfully executed, with their almost palpable shared desire and intimacy. Their interactions – in particular, their reactions to each other’s ebbs and flows within the scope of the affair – are not only believable, but almost voyeuristically so. And, in general, the filmmaking is quite good. However, as the story ventures into the relationship between Ben and Elaine (Ross), the film loses itself in a haze of poor pacing and inexplicable character actions. The crux of the film, at least for me, is this unexpected romance between Ben and Elaine … a romance that is never really explained or explored, finding itself out of place. As a result, I am left with a wholly unsatisfactory climax and conclusion, left wanting for the promise birthed by what came before.

Netflix Instant

The Turin Horse

2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.

Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

The Proposition

2005 Australia. Director: John Hillcoat. Starring: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, John Hurt, Emily Watson.

Without venturing into the realm of gushing hyperbole, I am uncertain that I would be capable of providing my thoughts on The Proposition. At its very core, it is a story of utilizing the ends to justify the means – kill a monster (your elder brother, purveyor of atrocities), save a saint (your younger brother, tragically along for the ride), so to speak. In this version of the tale, however, nothing is black and white, with dulcet tones of gray (a)morality seeping through every frame – the viewer is fully capable of empathy for the protagonist, but there is no semblance of a cliché ‘rooting interest.’ The acting, particularly from Winstone, Pearce, Watson, and the always impressive Hurt, is top-notch, and painfully believable. The score and cinematography are brilliant, drawing you into the well-crafted environs without hesitation. And yes, I am painting with broad strokes, with the hope that those who have not yet seen The Proposition will do so immediately, and experience the film without bias or stilted expectations … beyond my own admiration.

Mission to Mars

2000 USA. Director: Brian DePalma. Starring: Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen.

Made a deal with Andrew that if I rewatched Mission to Mars he would rewatch Red Planet. Clearly, I got the short end of the stick. I have grown to like a handful of DePalma’s films, and know all too well how inconsistent he is with the quality he puts out. I remember loathing this film when I saw it in the cinema; now, over a decade later, I am merely seething. The film does a decent job of depicting Mars, more so than Red Planet, and it pleasures in the afterglow of Kubrick’s 2001 with all of the play inside the spaceship. The script, however, is insufferable, eye-rolling on repeat insufferable. The difference between this and Red Planet is Red Planet never forgets it is a b-movie, and while some of its dialogue is equally bad it is contained within a film that is shorter and lighter, it feels like a dumb escapist movie whereas Mission to Mars feels like it is trying to teach you something about humanity. The final revelation of what is on Mars and what it means is all celestial and self-important and misses the mark so entirely it is laughable. Also, I will take Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss over Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins (and Jerry O’Connell!) any day. Don Cheadle, what the fuck are you doing in this movie?! It hurts to watch him try his hardest to make the dialogue work, if there was ever proof of his talents it is how hard he tries to make something out of nothing in this script.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

The Iron Giant

1999 US. Director: Brad Bird. Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston.

It seems as if many view The Iron Giant as a precursor, of sorts, to the (allegedly) greater things to come from Brad Bird and Pixar as a whole. There is a grain of truth embedded in there, as Pixar has yet to have a true ‘miss’ (though I have not yet seen Cars 2) and two-dimensional animation has sadly become a relic, of sorts. Rest easy, as this is not going to become some half-assed or preachy bit of nostalgia … at least no more so than it already is. Rather, I feel that The Iron Giant has unfortunately been lumped with the somewhat underwhelming middle ground between ‘classic animation’ and the Pixar juggernaut … and yet The Iron Giant is, in my mind, the very best that the animated medium has yet to offer. The animation is crisp and beautiful, the characters are fleshed-out, believable, and lovable, and Michael Kamen’s score is simply stunning. Moreover, I am not sure that any recent film has crafted a greater portrait of 1950s sensibilities, particularly insofar as the Cold War is concerned. Would it be blasphemy to suggest, if not outright state, that this is a better version of E.T.? Perhaps … but it’s true.

Netflix Instant (USA)


1979 USA. Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt.

A masterpiece of genre splicing in sci-fi and horror… for the art house. What makes Alien stand the test of time is it’s unwillingness to try and look futuristic and cool; rather it spends it time worrying about how the film looks, not what it should look like based on the time setting. It also works like a good Hitchcock thriller in its tension building. And dammit, did this thing win any awards for its sound design? Because it damn well should have walked home with a win for every nomination it received in this respect. Watching the Blu-ray of the theatrical cut really does seem like watching the movie anew. For the first time, my eyes were finally open to the gorgeous, artfulness of every conceivable detail.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

There Will Be Blood

2007 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dylan Freasier, Ciaran Hinds.

A beautiful looking but otherwise empty movie experience that has nothing much to say about anything, and this, irrespective of the glowing praise by the likes of Tarantino. Everything goes down just as one would expect, without much of a fight, just aimlessly going through the motions of belittling Church and Commerce, and guess what, money doesn’t buy you happiness. I am a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson but frankly the two stars I am giving this have more to do with Johnny Greenwood’s killer score and Daniel Day-Lewis’ grizzled performance. Everything else is as plain as the desert landscape this story is set against. Scholarly papers have been written about the choice use of camp in the final scene, to me it still just feels like a movie desperate to do something, anything to seem special.

A Separation

2011 Iran. Director: Asghar Farhadi. Starring: Leila Hatami, Kimia Hosseini, Merila Zarei.

Ego. Shame. Fear. Guilt. All are underscored here insofar as problems can spiral out of control when people push each other to the limit. Even moreso, A Separation shows the true ineffectualness of any bureaucratic legal body to sort out problems that are best suited to dramatization. Thus, we are armed with the God’s Eye view, and A SEPARATION appeals to logic, empathy, and yes, judgement. It’s the Iranian version of THE SWEET HEREAFTER, in its own way, and damn if that isn’t a compliment of the highest order. I had a plethora of reactions to the film and all of them, I believe, were earned. That is to say: the film doesn’t ‘cheat’ (sorry for opening a can of worms) by going all Lars Von Trier with its plot points. And that ending is perfect.

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