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.

Stalker

1979 USSR. Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. Starring: Alisa Freyndlikh, Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn.

Stalker asks the big questions by asking why we ask the big questions. A film this dry and humourless (but ultimately, quite hilarious) could only be made in Russia. It bleakly proposes that art, science and religion are all male dodges to responsibilities at home, which I guess questions the very nature of why the film itself exists. I’d say this is ripe for a SCTV or Monty Python parody, but I guess, The Meaning of Life kinda covers some of the bases. Ultimately, it’s doom and gloom (pre-Chernobyl in the same way Fight Club is pre-9/11) premise says to me, “It’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of the fuckin’ day.” (Apologies to Tony Burgess, and Pontypool for that…)
-KURT

Intolerable Cruelty

2003 USA. Director: Coen Brothers. Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Some would classify Intolerable Cruelty as a minor Coen Brothers work and I suppose that actually would be accurate. But as often stated, lesser Coen Brothers is better than 90% of the shit out there. And this movie is solid solid solid. Even with all the cliche tropes of conventional movie making (slow claps, fingers on the lips, etc.) the Coens somehow manage to make it their own and everything in here is goofy fun with pure magic backing it up. George Clooney recently gave the “performance of a lifetime” in The Descendants, but damn if his turns in Coen films aren’t right on the heels of that performance. He knows exactly how to ham it up for the camera and he is outright hilarious here. All of the side characters are of almost equal charm and hilarity – gotta love Billy-Bob as the paper-eating oil man. The story feels predictable but mysterious at the same time and every moment feels fresh and new – even though you’ve seen it before. The Coens have stuck with the same DP and set decorator since Miller’s Crossing, and even though this one is a bit brighter and glossier than their other works, these attributes of the movie stand tall. In short, fantastic Friday night date movie that everyone should love. If you don’t love it, we’re divorced.
– ANDREW

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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.

Here

2011 US. Director: Braden King. Starring: Ben Foster, Lubna Azabal, Peter Coyote.

A longer review is forthcoming, but I felt it prudent to scribble down a few thoughts as I will likely re-watch Here prior to providing more fleshed-out thoughts. At this juncture, however, I am uncertain that I saw a superior film from the 2011 calendar year. Foster and Azabal were jointly and severally fantastic, displaying beautifully believable chemistry whilst maintaining their independent characters and characteristics (and without stumbling into the cliché). The cinematography and editing were reminiscent of a Malick or Herzog film, both in terms of fluidity and beauty, with King and cinematographer Lol Crawley conveying landscapes and scenery through both elemental and humanized means. The lack of discussion to-date (as well as the lack of a proper release) is equal parts maddening and saddening, and I’m very hopeful that Here begins to generate some buzz.
-DOMENIC

Haywire

2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.

For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. Carano’s MMA background shows; every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it works, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter (her rawness actually works to her advantage), and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.
-JANDY

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Review: Norwegian Wood

Director: Anh Hung Tran
Screenplay: Anh Hung Tran
Producer: Shinji Ogawa
Starring: Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara
Runtime: 133 min.

I find myself in an almost existential funk as a result of watching Norwegian Wood. It is almost as if the cast and crew sought to craft a film that would satisfy all of my aesthetic whims (through both my eyes and ears), while simultaneously grating against the very fabric of my analytical mind. In most reviews, I would save the following zinger for the end, hoping to glean a (hopefully genuine) smirk from each and every reader – that does not seem appropriate here, as the following ramblings will likely steer you away long before you reach my conclusions. That being said, there’s one rather simple term with which I may describe this film with startling accuracy:

Beautiful disaster.

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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.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

2000 China. Director: Ang Lee. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Pei-pei Cheng.

I was pretty pleasantly surprised at how amazingly well this films holds up after almost 12 years; both in its wire work and it’s visual prowess. The storytelling is as simple as it is classic. Watching with English dubs makes it feel even more like a classic Kung-Fu movie but with the beautiful look only a hefty budget can provide. The choreography is still a marvel and loads of fun. Top notch Chinese actors help make this classic tale light years more impressive than a corny Kung-fu film of the late 60’s/70’s. Though it drags a bit in the middle, this comes by highly recommended by yours truly.
– Andrew

Netflix Instant (CANADA)

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

2010 US. Director: Eli Craig. Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a worthy successor to the superlative Shaun of the Dead, ably bridging the divide between horror and comedy without sacrificing quality. While this is certainly more dependent upon slapstick and shock value than its British predecessor, it did not sacrifice any characterization or charm in doing so – and I certainly found myself attached to the characters within the first act. Labine and Tudyk play off of each other wonderfully, and their bantering, quirks, and mannerisms solicited more laughs than the over-the-top violence and mayhem (which is truly impressive). Also of note, the cinematography and audio editing are very impressive, and the attention to detail is top-notch.
– DOMENIC

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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.

Buried

2010 USA/Spain/Frane. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
– JANDY

Netflix Instant (USA)

Gattaca

1997 USA. Director: Andrew Niccol. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman.

While Gattaca did not fly quite as far under the radar as The Man from Earth or Dark City, I cannot help but feel that it remains incredibly underseen and underappreciated. It is generally regarded as a strong film, to be sure, yet I would argue that it is among the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Nimbly toeing the line between the bleak and hectic Blade Runner and the philosophically draining The Man from Earth, Niccol’s universe not only feels realistic – it feels possible … if not probable. The physical presentation of the world is bleak, yes, but it is also vibrant and alive, crafting a future that is advanced, but not so advanced so as to be a distraction. This, of course, ignores the tremendous turns of Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, whose relationship is organic and beautiful. Uma Thurman is undoubtedly the weak link in the chain, but that may be as much a product of her underutilization, if not a side effect of the brilliance of most everything else.
– DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (CANADA)

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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.

Point Blank

2011 France. Director: Fred Cavayé. Starring: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya.

The immediate comparison when talking about Point Blank is to Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One. Both are high-paced French language thrillers about the search for truth and motivated by love for a wife. That comparison is certainly apt. And while Point Blank is a decidedly less memorable and weighty piece than Tell No One (I still think that’s one of the best mystery thrillers of the last few years, foreign language or otherwise), I still very much enjoyed Point Blank mainly for its taut pace that barely stops for breath throughout its pleasingly brisk 80 minute runtime.
-ROSS

Cold Souls

2009 USA, France. Director: Sophie Barthes. Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Lauren Ambrose.

This was a big disappointment for me. It has a great, unique premise in which people extract and store their own souls, with Paul Giamatti playing a version of himself, an actor struggling to play a part because he feels his soul is weighing him down. It is going for the same sort of quirky but realistic feel of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich (all written by Charlie Kaufman) but doesn’t come together in an entirely satisfying way as those movies do. I wanted a lot more from it instead of just hints and snippets of brilliance here and there. I still enjoyed it for its existential ideas and great cast (Giamatti is particularly good) but I felt it didn’t fulfill its potential.
-ROSS

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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.

Manic

2001 US. Director: Jordan Melamed. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle.

Shot in a pseudo-cinéma vérité style, Manic, at its most basic level, details the experiences of young adults in a mental health facility. It does not preach an agenda, at least not obnoxiously so, instead relying on an intimate connection between the viewer and its very talented group of actors. A very raw film, both in style and substance, this was the film that first showcased Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s considerable talents. His subtle facial tics and expressive body language are both endearing and heartbreaking throughout, and his character is far more nuanced than one would suspect for such an underseen (and underappreciated) film. I would also argue that, despite the fine performances of Zooey Deschanel (who hasn’t quite returned to the heights reached in this film) and always impressive Don Cheadle, Gordon-Levitt also demonstrated his ability to carry a film, stealing most every scene with relative ease. With his popularity skyrocketing due to (500) Days of Summer, Inception, and 50/50, I found it quite worthwhile to revisit what may still be his most impressive turn.
-DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (US)

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Review: The Turin Horse

Director: Béla Tarr
Screenplay: Béla Tarr, László Krasznahorkai
Producer: Gábor Téni
Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos
Runtime: 146 min.

A disclaimer of sorts is necessary for this review.

The Turin Horse is not a film for the casual moviegoer; cinemaphiles should not view the film with the company of a casual moviegoer, as said moviegoer is likely to obnoxiously grumble about “pretentiousness” and utilize “art house” as if it were a heinous insult; it should not be viewed by those with a proclivity for anxiety or depressive existentialism (unless they enjoy that sort of thing). The author and Row Three are not liable for any negative experiences that may befall those who choose to ignore the aforementioned criteria.

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Review: Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols
Producer: Sophia Lin, Tyler Davidson
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham
Runtime: 120 min.
MPAA: R

Where is the line between fear and paranoia? Is the former objective, and the latter subjective? Is it a matter of perspective? Certainty or uncertainty? Or is the quest for the justification of either inane?

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Review: A Dangerous Method

Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Runtime: 99 min.
MPAA: R

Cronenberg and psychoanalysis seem like a match made in heaven – few directors have probed the depths of the bizarre and cerebral as frequently or successfully as Cronenberg. While films like Videodrome and A History of Violence are generally known for their visceral brutality, such a view should not hold up beyond a perfunctory glance. Cronenberg’s films are quite dependent upon the neuroses and motivations of their characters, as well as the mindset of the viewer. Sure, there is quite a bit of shock value to be had … but the human mind and its hopes, wants, needs, and desires are consistently at the forefront of Cronenberg’s works.

At face value, A Dangerous Method is the perfect storm of subject matter and director; and this, without even considering the wonderful casting.

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Extended Thoughts: Drive

I often find myself at a loss for words when trying to encapsulate my thoughts on a film. This is true with films that I love, films that I hate, and most everything in between. Truly, my appreciation for cinema as an art runs so deep that I cannot help but feel as if I have done a disservice if I do not spend ample time digesting what I have just seen before regurgitating something onto the page. That more so than anything else explains my meandering thoughts that constitute my reviews. Such is not the case with Drive, as I departed from the theater with one word on my mind:

Perfect.

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