Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson) – Still easily one of the best films of the year despite its early summer release date, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom still manages to dazzle and enthrall with the director’s own special blend of humor and quirk mixed into a genuinely sweet and complex coming of age romance that may very well stand as his best work to date.
In 1965 on opposite ends of the tiny New England isle of New Penzance, a young Khaki Scout and chronic foster child Sam (Jared Gilman) and his pen-pal, a young teenage girl with anger management issues and lawyer parents named Suzy (Kara Hayward), decide to run away from their totalitarian and rigid lives and meet up to form a plan to find a way off the island. While their attraction and bond blossoms, the adults of the island are forced into a frantic search for the missing children. Hopelessly insecure Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) rallies his young charges to form a search party to assist local police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) in the search, with Suzy’s equally hardnosed and aloof parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) never more than a few steps behind. As the search intensifies and the on-again-off-again game of cat and mouse between Sam and Sharp continues, the officer begins to suspect that maybe being placed in another foster home when this is all done would be the worst thing possible for the young man.
Anderson’s films have rarely felt this personal. All of his efforts have immaculate design and structure, but the youthful age of the leads adds a lot of emotion to a film filled with adults that act continually like overgrown adolescents. The cast features all around excellent performances, but the one person to keep in mind here come Oscar time has to be Willis, who gives the best performance in an underrated (if at times uneven) career as the world weary island lifer who sees a lot of himself in young Sam.
While it’s not all that surprising that the talented Mr. Anderson would make a great film, the emotional resonance of the story and its warmth and humour stick in the mind long after the film’s thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Much like cramming as many great memories as possible into the waning days of summer, looking back on this film brings a smile to the face and the feeling that you want to revisit it all over again as soon as it ends. Thankfully, the film comes out at the beginning of the summer, meaning you can carry the warmth and good will of it with you all year long.
The Blu-ray seems a lit like a placeholder release since given Anderson’s past track record there’s probably a Criterion release in the works somewhere down the line. There’s no commentary track or much in the way of featurettes; mostly just some EPK stuff and online videos that are already easily available. There’s also no difference between the US release from Universal and the Canadian release from eOne, so there’s no need to choose one over the other. But at least the picture quality –which perfectly captures the film’s 16mm grainy qualities and the look of a faded postcard – and the sound mix are up to Criterion standards, making this one a worthy buy and one with definite rewatchability over the next few years.
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Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott) – Few blockbusters shuffle into theaters with the immense expectations that faced Prometheus. As the return to both sci-fi and (in theory at least) the Alien franchise by beloved genre icon director Ridley Scott, fanboys were been foaming at the mouth over trailers and viral videos for months with the studio promising brilliance. Then it came out and was definitely no masterpiece, offering impressive spectacle and a script with infinitely more questions than answers. It was probably our fault for expecting too much, but surely Scott and co. could have done better than this. Admittedly, there are strong moments throughout, but the script by Lost writer Damon Lindelof that is just as confused and unsatisfying as that series turned out to be. Given the project’s unfilled ambitions and ties to a genuine genre masterpiece, it can’t help but seem to fall a little short. Ah well, at least it’s a special effects blockbuster that suffers from being too ambitious rather than lacking artistic aspirations of any kind (don’t forget that the Total Recall remake was also a thing that happened last summer).
The film was Scott’s attempt to craft one of those “what does it all mean” space epics along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a taste of Alien-style horror/sci-fi for good measure. The good news is that he nailed all of the horror set pieces (in particular, that emergency C-section scene is a nauseous blast) and creates an incredible, lived-in sci-fi world. The bad news is that the existential themes he seems so excited by are never fully explored and the film never ties into the Alien series in a satisfying way (which really should have been the two main focuses of this thing). Even worse, it’s clear while watching the movie that at one point none of those threads were left dangling. The whole mess builds towards an obvious conclusion where the weird morphing monsters turn into an Alien to make a pessimistic point about the futility of questioning the origin of existence (or something like that, who knows?). Then instead of providing a climax, Scott gives us a cliffhanger to shrewdly set up an apparent trilogy. It’s an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion made even worse by lazy screenwriting, terrible dialogue, and the cast of underdeveloped characters it takes to get there.
There’s no getting around the fact that Prometheus is a deeply flawed movie, but to dismiss it as total crap as so many critics and spurned fanboys have is a mistake. Even though the film never provides the answers that it tantalizingly promises, this was at least a blockbuster with some intriguing ideas mixed into entertainment. If nothing else, Scott creates some consistently stunning imagery and at least gets one fascinating character out of Michael Fassbender’s embittered android (the actor gets the best single sequence in the film, using the ship as his personal playground during the two years in which his human shipmates are locked in cryogenic sleep chambers). That doesn’t completely make up for all the irritating stoner scientists, pointless sex scenes, and frankly Charlize Theron’s entire character, but it helps.
Prometheus amusingly arrives on Blu-ray with a marketing campaign hinging on offering the answers that the movie frustratingly can’t provide. That doesn’t mean an Extended Cut is included though, despite those being Scott’s specialty. There are 40 minutes of deleted scenes and while many are useless minutes in there (including references to Christmas for some reason), some of the cut material is quite interesting. Particularly, several scenes with the engineers help clear a few things up. The extended opening scene features additional engineers to make that sacrifice far more obvious and later on an extended conversation between Leyland and the engineer makes it clear that he was killed for playing god rather than the engineer just being like super angry, man. There’s also an interesting change to the scene when a mutant crewmember attacks the ship. Initially he was supposed to look much more like an alien xenomorph as part of the mutation process. Doesn’t make much more sense than the final version, but at least it’s another reference to Alien which the film was certainly lacking. As expected from any Ridley Scott joint, the transfer on the Blu-ray is absolutely extraordinary and one of the best looking discs on the market. The 3D edition also features a 3.5 hour making-of doc which I’m sure is fantastic, but sadly had no access to. If you’re one of those 2D-only folks like myself, all you’ll get is one of Ridley Scott’s usual detailed commentary tracks which is fantastic (don’t expect any of those “answers” though). Amusingly there’s also a commentary track with the two writers who were recorded separately and seem dismissive of each other’s work, which explains quite a bit about their combined screenplay not making much sense.
Completely divorced of all the expectations and the unfulfilled ties to Alien hanging over every frame of Prometheus, it’s not a bad movie. It looks great, has some incredible effects, a few decent performances, and some incredible sci-fi sets n’ effects. Unfortunately, the many flaws with the script are impossible to ignore. Perhaps all of the dangling threads will be tantalizingly expanded on in a sequel, but there’s an equal chance that the flick pissed off so much of its core audience that there simply won’t be enough demand to justify part 2. We’ll have to wait and see. Prometheus falls into a weird space. It’s a movie too good to be completely dismissed, but also far from the masterpiece we were promised. However, before writing off the flick, don’t forget how dire things got the Alien franchise before Scott returned. If the choice is between Alien Vs. Predator 2: This Time In A Hardware Store and Prometheus…well, that isn’t much of a choice at all, now is it? At least they tried. (Phil Brown)
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That’s My Boy (2012, Sean Anders) – Well, Adam Sandler has returned with a movie that’s idiotic, disgusting, and offensive. For him, that’s actually a major improvement and That’s My Boy is probably his funniest movie in years. It’s reminiscent of the early gross out comedy albums he made back before becoming a movie star and the comedian actually seems like he’s putting in an effort for the first time in a while. The thing is far from a masterpiece or even close to the comedies that made his name in the 90s, but at least it’s not family friendly dreck like Grown Ups.
Nope, this movie opens with a heroic tale of statutory rape that manages to get more offensive from there. Sandler stars as a guy who knocked up one of his junior high teachers, became a brief trash culture celebrity, and ruined the boy’s life while his teen-tapping mom was in prison. Flash forward 28-years and now Sandler is a burn out who faces prison time if he can’t pay off the IRS to the tune of $50,000. He manages to talk a garbage celebrity TV show into forking over the cash if they can film a prison family reunion and sets out to find his son and trick him into joining. Of course, his boy (Andy Samberg) hasn’t spoken to him in a decade and is about to be married. So Sandler crashes the party for some debauchery and an inevitable round of father/son bonding.
It’s all pretty simple Sandler comedy stuff, the difference is that the movie is an extremely hard R reveling in nudity and bodily fluids. Getting all dirty seems to have actually sparked some comedic energy in Sandler that he hasn’t shown in ages. It’s one of his performances defined entirely by a goofy voice (in this case a hearty Boston accent), but there’s an anarchistic free-for-all feel that is closer to Sandler’s earliest movies than say Click and is a welcome surprise. Sure, Nick Swardson makes an unwanted appearance, the plot is paint-by-numbers, it’s overlong, and all the female characters are either evil or sex objects, but that sort of thing is a given in one of Sandler’s Happy Madison productions at this point.
The Blu-ray actually looks fantastic, which is odd for a Happy Madison production. With digital cinematography specialist Brandon Trost (Crank 2, Rob Zombie’s latest features) behind the camera the movie actually has something approximating a visual style and benefits from HD. It’s a good thing the transfer is nice, but the special features add very little to the disc. There are a handful of funny deleted scenes, some pointless outtakes, 7 minutes of the cast yelling “Wazzup” (sadly true) and a featurettes about the strip clubs and cameos that add nothing. So…yeah, there’s not much on the disc worth watching. However, the good news is that the movie is actually funny and takes risks in a way that the Sandler hasn’t bothered to attempt since the 80s. Granted those risks were taken for what ultimately a dumb comedy with no redeeming values beyond shock laughs. Yet, given how far Sandler has lowered the bar in recent years, at least that’s something. (Phil Brown)
Red Lights (2012, Rodrigo Cortes) – It’s apparent from the pre-title sequence of Rodrigo Cortes’ latest film Red Lights that the story line will undoubtedly be building towards some sort of grand twist ending. While that opening scene and much of what follows is totally passable and at times downright entertaining thanks to Cortes’ ability to create a spooky atmosphere and some well honed performances, once the actual twist comes, it’s so incoherent that it derails the film entirely, staining everything that came before it.
Margaret Matheson (Signourney Weaver) and Thomas Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are a pair of university based mythbusters specializing in debunking fraudulent psychics. Buckley, whose detecting abilities are starting to surpass those of his older boss, has deeply personal reasons for taking on this particular job, and to make a splash he wants to expose one of the world’s most renowned and flamboyant purveyors of ESP. The blind Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) has never been proven to be a fraud despite a somewhat suspect disappearance in the 70s and 80s following the sudden death of his biggest critic at the time. Buckley ignores his boss warnings to stay away from the headache Silver would cause him, and he presses on with the help of one of a students-slash-love interest (Elizabeth Olsen) when things start to get out of his control.
Cortes (Buried) does a fine job in terms of increasing up the tension of his story through spooky, off kilter camera angles and appropriately darkened mood lighting. Everything looks and moves about as well as it should for the most part, which makes it even more of a shame that as a writer, Cortes ultimately ends up shooting his own movie in the foot. He’s a very technically proficient filmmaker, but the script could have used another draft to work out all its problems.
As a team, Weaver and Murphy work incredibly well together. Their dynamic isn’t just one of a teacher and student, but a surrogate mother and son. Their banter feels unforced and their working relationship is professionally staged. As their main foil, DeNiro seems energized by the material, once again putting in good work in a mediocre movie, which could be a welcome sign of recovery for an actor that was in danger of lapsing very easily into parody. Also nice is Toby Jones, as a skittish rival university researcher that’s better funded than Margaret and Thomas, but who wants to prove everything about psychic phenomena to be true.
It’s hard to talk about the film’s stellar nosedive without spoiling it entirely, but it can be more easily explained than the ways that people can make tables levitate and how spoons can be bent from afar. There are actually two huge twists, one that happens at the midway point of the film that works wonderfully and the one that closes everything out that reeks of desperation. It’s an ending that’s telegraphed somewhat obviously if the audience has been paying attention, but the actual dynamics and motivations behind the finale are never made clear. They make absolutely zero sense, and not in the ambiguous sort of way that suggests that the very phenomena they were investigating should be real. It negates pretty much everything that came before it and renders the rest of the film around it as useless because going by this twist, nothing that came before it could have ever happened. It kills the film’s own sense of internal logic and for a film that was previously on a smarter track, it’s completely inexcusable.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds passable, but it’s clear not a lot of effort went into making the film look any better than its original exhibition, and there’s one lone and very brief featurette as a special feature, which is a shame, since from talking to Cortes about the film (see our interview with him and Murphy here) he definitely seems like he has a lot to say about the film that could have been better served with a commentary track.
Crooked Arrows (2012, Steve Rash) – There has to be some sort of curse associated with playing Superman. There isn’t an actor yet whose career has survived flying around in those particular tights. I guess once you’re Superman, it’s tough for audiences or even filmmakers to see you as an average person again. That’s fair enough, but you’ve got to feel sorry for Brandon Routh. Since Superman Returns was so…well…awful, he didn’t even really get the benefits of being Superman. No sequels or spin-offs for him, no few years of fame, no ironic cameos. He just went straight into the post-Superman struggles. The guy isn’t even a bad actor, but in the six short years since playing the iconic role he’s already found himself being forced to star in an inspirational lacrosse movie. Not even Emilio Estevez dipped that low so quickly, and sadly Crooked Arrows is just as bad as it sounds. But at least now Routh doesn’t have to worry about his movies getting worse.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Routh stars as a wayward son who was once the pride of his tribe as a high school lacrosse superstar who played for the stuffy private schools who scoff at his community. He blew the big game, ditched the sport, ignored his native heritage, and is now a money-loving big shot who trivializes his own people by helping run a cheesy Indian casino (complete with racist costumes that he happily wears). Then through some wacky screenwriting contrivances he’s forced to return home and coach the local lacrosse team. If he can turn the last place squad into champions, he’ll earn back the respect of his family and have the right to turn their land into a casino. Here’s the catch (well, catches), Routh’s beautiful high school sweetheart is now a teacher who he wants back, the kids are secretly incredible talents in need of a leader, and Routh just might love his culture and sport more than money after all. See where this is going? You’re right and can now officially fill in the rest of the blanks in the plot.
This is your typical underdog children’s sports tale with a jerky coach who becomes a hero. In theory, I suppose the filmmakers thought that focusing on lacrosse and a Native American community might spice things up, but in reality it just fills in the setting and subject blanks in the screenplay. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better in dozens of earlier films, only now with slightly worse acting and misplaced spirituality. Routh at least doesn’t embarrass himself in the lead role, which you can’t say about the rest of the cast and crew. It’s just a shame that Crooked Arrows represents the best of the screenplays he’s been offered lately. Hopefully someone will give this guy a break, especially with a new Superman movie on the way to help erase those painful memories.
Crooked Arrows has officially arrived on Blu-ray because…well, why not? The technical presentation is about as strong as you’d expect for a low budget lacrosse movie. It sure is competent and looks like a movie. On the special features front, there’s a commentary from a handful of actors (no Routh) along with a handful of featurettes about the movie, the sport, and native culture that at least suggests everyone had a good time making the movie, if nothing else. Now, I shouldn’t be too hard on Crooked Arrows, it’s not one of the worst films ever made. Crappy sports flicks like this are released with frightening regularity and this one is only getting a little extra attention because it stars Superman. I suppose if The Mighty Ducks is still your favorite movie, you could very well get a kick out of Crooked Arrows. However, just be prepared for a movie that won’t even live up to the standards of D2. Nope, this movie is D3 territory and that’s not a pretty place to be. (Phil Brown)
The Firm – The Complete Series (2012, Various) – It was given kind of a rough hand that it couldn’t shake, but the (obviously) Canadian shot television offshoot of the best selling John Grisham novel and the 1993 Sydney Pollack adaptation might have been better served with a different marketing and branding strategy right out of the gate. For all this John Lucas starring series has in common with the source material, it’s decidedly more in line with standard TV legal procedurals than anything else. Maybe that’s what caused people not to tune in leading to this being the only season before it was finally axed. Those high expectations can be deathly, but the show itself is fairly decent.
Taking over from Tom Cruise in the role of former mob lawyer/snitch Mitch McDeere, Lucas somewhat inexplicably plays the same character ten years after the ending of the book and film, finally coming out of witness protection to get back into the law game. He’s still with his wife (Molly Parker), and he now has a 10 year old daughter (Natasha Calis). The main plot of the would be first season involves Mitch investigating and researching a murder with mob ties, and naturally someone related to one of the men he originally put behind bars eventually begins looking for revenge.
It’s clear that Grisham had a lot of input right off the bat since the first several episodes are very tightly constructed and feel like a Grisham book, but eventually the show simply devolves into a bit more of a simple time passer as the story progresses. Lucas does a great job in the lead, but the real stars of the show here are Callum Keith Rennie as Mitch’s brother and chief investigator with a shady background and Juliette Lewis as his brother’s slightly off girlfriend.
It would have been nice to see what the ultimate end game of the series would have played out to be, since the show is gripping at least in terms of plotting from episode to episode, but much like many remakes and reboots there’s an unshakable feeling of sameness to everything here. It’s fun if you’re a huge Grisham fan (who still hasn’t had anything this good put out under his name in quite some time) or if you just like legal procedurals, but sadly this feels a bit like a dangling plug in search of an outlet.
The six DVD set features all 22 episodes and some pretty basic behind the scenes and cast and crew interviews.
Surviving Progress (Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, 2012) – In ancient societies debts used to be wiped out from time to time to keep countries from collapsing. The Roman Empire didn’t take to kindly to that concept and pillaged countries for refusing to pay up. Eventually their own debts came back to bite them and we all know what happened to that culture (you know, the fall and what not). These days corporations have allowed debts to spiral out of control for the sake of profits and now we all essentially live a life with debts that will never disappear, paying interest that barely makes a dent. It’s a problem spiralling out of control and not the only international disaster coming towards us in slow motion thanks to capitalism. Natural resources are finite and dwindling. Pollution is killing the planet. The middle class is slowly disappearing. Yet humanity continues to grow and multiply as problems pile up with solutions not exactly popping up in equal measure.
That’s the subject of Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks’ documentary Surviving Progress. Many of the issues have been tackled before, but not all in one place. It’s essentially a mixtape of all the future doom n’ gloom theories and facts that have been compiled over the last decade and the cumulative impact of hearing it all at once it’s devastating. That’s not to say that the movie plays like a dry lecture from a depressed professor. Far from it, the filmmakers crafted a film with entertainment value to match its insights and intelligence. Interviews with experts like David Suzuki, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, and others combine with cleverly selected images and a pulsing soundtrack to make the information flow through the audience with the drive of a paranoid thriller. It’s a fascinating summary of vital information that deserves to play to the widest possible audience, executed with style and ease. Even though the thesis can essentially be boiled down to “we’re fucked,” there is a sense of hope in Roy/Crooks’ film, suggesting that the same human ingenuity that drove us head first into this mess could get us out. The key now is simply to make people listen and take action.
The film arrives on DVD in a pleasing package. The technical presentation is about as strong as possible for a low budget digital feature filled with stock footage. It also plays well on a large screen as the movie is filled with far more interesting imagery than the usual talking heads. On the special features front, there’s an introduction from executive producer Martin Scorsese from a New York screening, extended interviews with a handful of experts, a portrait gallery with commentary explaining the background of all the main players, and a roundtable from the Montreal Documentary Festival featuring the primary filmmakers. It’s not a massive swell of extras, but fills in the background details of the film nicely. Ultimately, if you’re going to get this DVD it’s for the main feature anyways. You might pull the disc out of your player in a state of sobering depression, but it’s worth it and there’s always alcohol to ease the pain. (Phil Brown)