Monday, September 30, 2013

Blue Caprice (***1/2)

Produced and Directed by Alexandre Moors


Blue Caprice is a movie that documents real, true mental instability. Much like the movies Zodiac and In Cold Blood, it covers a true story of a killer who's motive is not money or jealousy the way we like to think of violent crime. Instead, these killers are motivated by blood lust, seemingly aroused by the chaos created by killing random, innocent people. It may be the single most chilling aspect of the world we live in, that people like this actually do exist, and Blue Caprice is one of the finest films to ever showcase this kind of person. It's inspired by Washington D.C. sniper killings in 2002, and reveals a compelling story behind the seemingly mindless murders that terrified the Northeast for weeks. Directed by Alexandre Moors, his first feature, Blue Caprice holds two of the most perfectly orchestrated performances of 2013 and one of the most blood-curdling tales of murder you can see in a movie theater right now.

Rush (***)

Directed by Ron Howard


The world of Formula 1 racing is one of constant danger with every race presenting a twenty-percent chance of a racer dying - as we're told by one of the characters early in this film. It's one of those sports (boxing being another) that makes you scratch your head at the kind of person who'd be willing to take part in such an activity. And that's why it's such a juicy setting for a movie, presenting a varied carousel of complex characters, each with their own version of a death wish. Ron Howard's latest film, Rush, takes a peak at two of the most skilled drivers in Formula 1's history, and two of the sport's most calculated and brave. The film is propped up by its two superb lead performances, with each actor, in their own way, displaying a meticulous obsession with winning - one man willing do anything it takes to win, and the other knowing exactly what it takes and putting his formulas to use.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prisoners (**1/2)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve


The themes of Prisoners have been done countless times before, but that doesn't mean that an interesting film cannot be made from them. It seems in American cinemas there is nothing more terrifying then the abduction of innocent, American children (Prisoners avoids a rather hefty land mine by making the two abducted children both white and black). It's the ploy usually made by most horror films: the biggest threat you can make is the threat to the American middle-class family. But Prisoners isn't a horror film in its most formulaic sense, though it does use the same tactics to play upon audience emotions and expectations. No, instead Prisoners is played as a straight-forward, uber-serious drama, and while the film is filled with true suspense and a clever eye for the kinds of red herrings that make a movie mystery intriguing instead of obvious, its hard not to feel like Prisoners chose the least interesting way to tell this story, seeming to put more faith in its performances than its screenplay. I'm not sure the gamble pays off.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In A World... (***)

Written and Directed by Lake Bell


Feels like Lake Bell has been around for a very long time. She's been given a million chances to catch fire with movie audiences. It just hasn't happened. It's a lot similar to what keeps happening with Will Arnett in his various television projects, Bell is so charming and talented that Hollywood suits just figured that if they put her in enough projects, eventually the audiences will catch on. But the problem is that these same Hollywood suits put her in subpar films including the flat unfunny, Jason Biggs/Eva Longoria rom-com Over Her Dead Body and the over-serious family morality tale Pride and Glory. Even if these movies actually were good, none of them were ones that could give Lake Bell the opportunity to shine as brightly as In A World... does. All Bell had to do to get that opportunity was write and direct the film herself.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Salinger (**)

Directed by Shane Salerno


Most of what makes J.D. Salinger one of the most celebrated writers of the Twentieth Century is his uncanny ability to translate the mental trauma of his own life and reflect it into his characters in such a way that it became so identifiable to the reader. Most teenagers who get around to reading The Catcher in the Rye feel in a lot of ways like they're reading about themselves. There's an intense, brewing anxiety, a fear of growing up and straight terror of the responsibilities of adulthood rippling throughout its pages. Yes, that is what makes Salinger so beloved... for the most part. But there is also the mystery of Salinger, a famed Howard Hughes-like recluse who would lock himself into a small bunker outside of his secluded home in Cornish, New Hampshire for weeks at a time, possibly writing but definitely not communicating with the outside world. Salinger, the new documentary from Shane Salerno, seeks to solve some of that mystery, with mixed results.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Grandmaster (**)

Directed by Wong Kar Wai


When someone as good as Wong Kar Wai doesn't make a movie for six years, his latest movie is going to be an event, which The Grandmaster is. Six years is a good enough amount of time for audiences to forget that his previous film, 2007's My Blueberry Nights, wasn't very watchable cinematically or thematically. It's also long enough to make you want to like a movie more than you'd want to. Wong has always been meditative, stylishly long-winded, but The Grandmaster just felt flat-out long to me at times. It's story too often seems influenced by tired Western biopics, while still trying to grasp onto Eastern history. But in his first action film since Ashes of Time, this is definitely Wong's best martial arts film, helped greatly by master stunt coordinator Yuen Woo-ping (Drunken Master and, in America, the Kill Bill films). The result is a beautifully crafted film with a wobbly storyline, the scales falling widely on each end with colossal thuds as one trumps the other.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Drinking Buddies (***)

Written and Directed by Joe Swanberg


Alas, the days of Mumblecore seem numbered. So long ago seem the days of The Puffy Chair and Funny Ha Ha, when wannabe actors like Mark Duplass and Andrew Bujalski were taking matters into their own hands, writing and directing their own scripts and producing charming films on the ultra cheap (and made to look ultra cheap as well). These days, the Duplass brothers are making movies with Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly, and Greta Gerwig - the reigning Mumblecore actress queen - is now headlining the widely released Frances Ha. Joe Swanberg is perhaps the most prolific of the Mumblecore movement, usually making about 2-3 features a year since 2008's Hannah Takes The Stairs (staring Gerwig). Swanberg's latest film, Drinking Buddies, is his first with a major movie star - Olivia Wilde - and the first to have a cast of predominantly name actors, following the trend set by his other brothers in this, the most bedhead-y form of cinema.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Short Term 12 (****)

Written and Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton


There's something so simple about how beautiful Short Term 12 is. It doesn't beg for your approval or squeeze pity out of you with its frank subject matter. It expresses itself effortlessly with a drum-tight screenplay and a wonderfully eclectic collection of performances. Set in an unfamiliar setting unknown to American cinema, its story feels wholly original, but its voice confident and vision totally clear, able to find the sweetness within the troubled lives it displays. It's a textbook independent film, but it isn't filled with the same pompous intellectual superiority that so many low-budget, character driven movies can have. It's equal parts sad and funny, occasionally at the same time. Lead by an impeccable stand-out performance from Brie Larson, Short Term 12 stands alongside The Act of Killing as not only my favorite movies of the summer but also of the entire year.