Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch 8/10

Sucker Punch (PG-13) 2011
Reviewer's Tilt (9)
Action-109 minutes

Sucker Punch tells the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning). After a series of unfortunate events leaves both her mother and sister dead, Baby Doll’s depraved father sends her away to an insane asylum. Baby Doll copes with her incarceration by creating her own reality and plotting her escape. Fellow inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Jamie Chung) become Baby Doll's fellow mercenaries in adventures ranging from a steampunk World War II, to a medieval world of fire-breathing dragons and asylum guards (headed by Oscar Isaac) transform into a smarmy Rat Pack of abusive sadists. As Baby Doll’s “escape” becomes more imminent, the line between fantasy and reality blurs.

Much like its main character, Sucker Punch creates its own reality, heralding in a new genre of movie, a kind of adrenochromatic reverie. The film not so much pushes the boundaries of visual stimulation, as uses its stunning visuals to convey a continuous and satisfying flow of cerebral stimulation. The dialogue is sparse, the acting intentionally overwrought and the story is one we have seen before. What distinguishes Sucker Punch is not its pedestrian parts, but the three-dimensional emotional excitement the sum of those parts convey.

The manifest aspects of the film, the deeply troubled woman creating an escapist alternate reality, the burgeoning camaraderie of her hardened fellow inmates and the cliched evil of the caretakers, conceal a latent, but ultimately powerful, beauty. Sucker Punch’s gratuitous action, carnage and sexuality function merely as cables, uploading emotion directly to our Limbic systems. From wrath, to gluttony, to greed, to sloth, to pride, to lust, to envy, and, ultimately, to pleasure, the film does not miss a bit.

To view Sucker Punch as a superficial, gratuitous extravagance misses its underlying beauty. Zach Snyder’s stunning visuals and pastiche of homages to directors ranging from Victor Fleming to Quentin Tarantino, rewards the receptive viewer with a strangely addictive series of emotions. Had Snyder been content to create a typical big-budget action movie, Sucker Punch would not leave one with such a strong desire for another fix. The desire stems not from the story, or from a need to make sense of the somewhat cryptic ending, but from the rush of intense feelings Zack Snyder’s new genre brings to the big screen and to his richly rewarded audience.

Friday, February 11, 2011

(500) Days of Summer 8/10

(500) Days of Summer (PG-13) 2009
Reviewer's Tilt (3)
Romance-95 minutes
Special DVD Features worth a look – Deleted and Extended Scenes
Contains forced trailers.

500 Days of Summer bends the romance movie genre, jumping around between 500 days in the lives of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Tom writes romantic clichés for greeting cards and Summer takes a job as Tom’s boss’ assistant. While Tom is instantly smitten, he realizes Summer’s beauty, charm and general ZooeyDeschanelosity places her well out of his league.

During a night out with co-workers, Summer discovers Tom is attracted to her. The next day at work, Summer initiates a physical relationship with Tom. She makes it clear they are not boyfriend and girlfriend, but Tom believes they are more than merely friends with benefits. The film boasts much wit and whimsy in its story-telling, as well a spectacularly placed dance number. The real beauty of this film however, rests with its confidence to step beyond the template of a typical Hollywood romance and explore the harsh reality of a one-sided love affair.

One can never know love until one knows unrequited love. Unrequited love embodies a permanence and grandeur that becomes more romanticized over time. The good parts take on a stylized beauty, while the bad parts merely fade from memory. One forgets the subtle, intentional distancing, and only remembers how it made the heart grow fonder. This film is a testament to the collapse of a one-sided romance, one that is both riveting and heartwrenching.

The film is not without flaws. Rather than avoid clichés altogether, director Marc Webb merely pushes them all into the last three minutes. To invest so much in Tom’s journey means understanding the pain and the scar. Webb’s fairy floss after the park bench scene tries to sate this pain, but merely marginalizes the journey. If you can avoid watching the final scene, 500 Days of Summer offers a unique insight into a side of love rarely treated with such honesty and reverence.

Format: Color, Widescreen Anamorphic, Closed captioned.
Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.1).
Extras: Deleted and Extended Scenes. Commentary by Director Marc Webb, Writer Michael Webber, Co-Writer Scott Newstator and Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My Life So Far 7/10

My Life So Far (PG-13) 1999

Period Comedy-93min

Special DVD Features worth a look- None

This semi-autobiographical tale of one summer in the life of Denis Forman has much to offer. Robert Norman gives an entertaining and engrossing performance as Fraiser Pettgrove, a 10 year old coming of age in Argyll, Scottland in the late 20’s. As if wearing a kilt weren't enough trauma for a young boy to endure, Faiser has to deal with a wealthy uncle (Malcolm McDowell), a sexy aunt (Irene Jacob), a frustrated father (Colin Firth) and a strict gamma (Rosemary Harris). The film artfully compares life in a Scottish Manor, with the life of a child. Both involve idyllic memories and incomparable freedoms, woven with a matriarchal austerity, which, while always loving, at times feels regimented and capricious. Like a child, those in the manors knew their warm, comfortable lives, would one day change, as they were forced from their warm haven, into the harshness of self-supporting adulthood. Scenes such as Frasier’s ten-year old interpretations of the lusty books lurking in the attic are warm, heartfelt and very funny. The acting is impressive and the backdrops gorgeous. The story, however, while tender and funny in parts, asks many questions, and provides few answers. While this may be reflective of most memorable events in our own lives, the skill of the true storyteller lies in his or her ability to offer us at least some glimpse of the truths life has to offer.

Format: Color, Widescreen Anamorphic, Closed captioned.

Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.1).

Extras: Film recommendations.

Reindeer Games 4/10

Reindeer Games (R) 2000

Reviewer’s Tilt (8)


Special DVD Features worth a look- None

Reindeer Games involves a gang of gunrunners forcing an ex-con to help them with a casino heist. Director John Frankenheimer fills the film with action and tension, Gary Sinise plays the gang leader with rugged style, and Charlize Theron infuses the sweet-smiled love interest with a wry malevolence. A bad script, however, undercuts these valiant efforts, leaving little of value in its wake. Ben Affleck plays the ex-con, coming off a six-year stint in the “big house” looking and acting like a cocky frat boy. It would seem to me that that coping that kind of attitude in prison would get you a starring role as some bad man’s boyfriend, but I could be wrong. This flaw, however, is just one of many in the ridiculous script. The action scenes are great, but are constantly interrupted for a Batman/Joker style explanation of why everyone did what they did, and why they are about to do what they are about to do. In one scene, Affleck’s character “hotwires” a hotel door in seconds, leaving no trace of tampering. The script explains this feat as merely a minor extrapolation of his automobile hotwiring prowess. Whether or not such a maneuver is even possible, let alone capable of being accomplished with such aplomb, by someone who has never tried it, this scene, and many like it, distracts you for several minutes as you contemplate their implausibility. The film contains many such minor flaws, and numerous major ones. To explain the major flaws, however, would give too much away. Just do not anticipate the conclusion wrapping up all of the loose ends, or even providing the story with a plausible explanation. If you can check reason at the door, Frankenheimer’s action sequences are entertaining. Otherwise, this film has little to offer.

Format: Color, Widescreen Anamorphic, Fullscreen pan and scan, Closed captioned.

Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, “Making of” featurette, trailer.

A Clockwork Orange 9/10

A Clockwork Orange (R) 1971

Reviewer’s Tilt (10)


Special DVD Features worth a look- None

A real horrorshow this one is, really toys with your gulliver. (Note: Before viewing this masterwork, you may wish to refer to the Nadsat Glossary of Russian-derived terms. A Clockwork Orange examines the ugly inner workings of a deeply disturbed mind (Malcolm McDowell) and his ultra violent gang. Set sometime in the future, the film’s only drawback is the set, which gives off an eerily early seventies vibe. Obviously few would argue the benefits of nihilism, but this movie uses nihilism to question whether societies efforts to condition its citizens are feasible, or even desirable. A Clockwork Orange examines the societal drive toward conformity and the complex question of whether society should sacrifice freewill to eliminate violence, an issue even more relevant today than in 1971. Be prepared, dear reader, as this film includes much violence, not the least of which are a phallic slaying and a rape set to “Singing in the Rain.” It is disturbing to see how films such as Pulp Fiction and Saving Private Ryan have made the violent scenes in A Clockwork Orange much less revolting than their original design. This is too bad, since to miss the satire in the violence is to miss the metaphor of the story as society. Watch the movie and then read Anthony Burgess's novel of the same name for two different takes on this very engaging theme. Finally, do not miss a young David Prowse (Darth Vader) as the bicep bulging therapist.

Format: Color, Widescreen, Closed-Captioned.

Sound: (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)

Extras: Production notes, trailer.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Host 8/10

This Host has Seoul
Host, Korea’s biggest blockbuster, will shock you – but not like you think. After only 13 minutes, writer/director Bong Joon-ho throws us a screen-wide money shot of the monster capturing a young girl. Rag-tag protagonists then utilize equal parts Wizard of Oz and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, navigating Seoul’s sewers toward an inevitable showdown with a surprisingly cute tadpole T-Rex of a villain. In between, we laugh at a funeral, empathize with child noodle love, and thank our stars we wore brown pants. It is these, between the carnage moments, that cement Host’s place in movie-making history.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Abyss 8/10

The Abyss (PG-13) 1989
Reviewer’s Tilt (7)
Special DVD Features worth a look-Extra Footage Version

Before Titanic, James Cameron wrote and directed a little film called the Abyss. When a nuclear submarine gets lost in one of the deepest parts of the ocean, it is up to an oil rig crew and their deep sea equipment to get it back. Bud (Ed Harris) and Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), are recently divorced oilrig specialists, hiding from one another the small spark left in their relationship. Although somewhat overlong, and provided with a disappointing conclusion, The Abyss is one of the most visually stunning movies ever produced.

It is rare for any special effects to hold up for over a decade, but these effects clearly do. Instead of guns and carnage, Cameron uses these special effects to paint an artistic calmness across the screen. The special effects prove to be stars themselves, moving the story forward in a way no real actor ever could. Scenes such as the mercurial water creature amaze, explain and entertain more than any of the movie’s dialogue, and images such as the liquid-breathing mouse are truly worth a thousand words, eliminating much of the geek-speak that would otherwise be required to explain the technology.

Winning an Oscar for best special effects, the beauty of The Abyss lies in the journey, rather than the destination. The spectacular visuals and winning score are enough, in and of themselves, to make this a successful film, worthy of multiple viewings. Avoid getting hung up on the destination, and just enjoy this stellar trip.

Format: Color, Widescreen, Closed captioned.
Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.1), (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), THX-Mastered Audio
Extras: Featurette: Under pressure: Making The Abyss, Biographies, Script, Original Treatment, Storyboards, Photos, Mission Components, The Abyss In-Depth, new version of film with 28 minutes of added footage, pop-up caption version of film, trailer.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Titus 8/10

Titus (R) 1999
Reviewer’s Tilt (8)
Special DVD Features worth a look-Director Commentary

Imagine Shakespeare on acid, directing Hannibal Lector in an MTV version of Sweeney Todd. This will give you some idea of what Titus is all about. In this breakneck from the Bard, Shakespeare possesses his pitiful cast of characters with crazed revenge. Through their bloodlust, they cannot see the destruction their vengeance wreaks on their own families and broken souls. In the opening scene, Roman General Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has returned from defeating the Goths, with their Queen, Tamora, (Jessica Lange), her three sons, and a Moor (Harry Lennix). Over the Queen’s protests, Titus orders the grisly execution of her eldest son.

With Emperor Caesar recently deceased, Rome elects the war hero Titus as its next Emperor. Instead of accepting the title however, Titus abdicates the throne to dead Caesar’s eldest son Saturninus (Alan Cumming). When Saturninus selects Tamora as his bride, Tamora plots her vengeance on Titus and his family. This is where the fun really begins. Be prepared, however, this is atypical Shakespearean fare. Like Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo & Juliet, Titus contains much surrealism and many modern touches, most of which are great additions to the story. I mean, what could be better than Hannibal Lector as a bloodthirsty general, Goths with guns and a dead ringer for Pee-Wee Herman as the Roman Emperor? While most of these artistic flourishes work, some, like the opening scene, do not.

Casting disapproval on the violence subjected upon today’s youth, the opening scene should, like Titus itself, be over the top, highlighting the violence in the video games, gangs, movies and domestic disputes many children experience everyday. Ketchup on toy robots simply does not convey the requisite feeling. Fortunately, such minor flaws are few and far between. Hopkins, Lange, Lennix and Cumming are mesmerizing. If you like Shakespeare, the quality and complexity of this material will keep you entertained across multiple viewings.

Format: Color, Widescreen Anamorphic, Closed captioned.
Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.1), (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
Extras: Director commentary, minor commentary by Hopkins and Lennix, director interview, Making of featurette, costumes, trailer.

Brett Trout

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 8/10

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (R) 1994
Reviewer’s Tilt (4)
Special DVD Features worth a look-None

This movie will make you laugh, make you cry and make you wish you were a ping-pong ball. Well maybe not laugh and cry, but trust me on the ping-pong ball. This film showcases tough guys Terence Stamp (Wilson in The Limey) Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix) and Guy Pearce (Detective Lieutenant Exley in L.A. Confidential) as a transsexual and two transvestites traveling across the Australian Outback. The three are secluded to perform a cabaret show at a secluded casino if their big pink bus can make the trip. Flamboyant dress and cliché dialogue, which would otherwise destroy a lesser movie, bring this movie to life. The costumes won this picture and Oscar and the impeccable acting puts feeling behind the hackneyed script.

Although the movie is a comedy, and is replete with unfair stereotypes, the actors convey an underlying angst that sets this movie apart from lesser attempts. More than a film about age, gender, transgender or homosexuality, this film is about the difference between who we are, and who we appear to be. Do not spend too so time looking for this film’s deeper meaning, however, that you miss the subtle humor. Finally, you must view the film in Widescreen format to avoid missing half of the action.

Format: Color, Widescreen, Pan and Scan, Closed captioned.
Sound: (Dolby Digital 5.0), French (Dolby Digital 5.0)
Extras: Trailer.

Brett Trout