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Bullhead (2012) review
02/18/12 at 01:56 PM by EvilButters
Bullhead is the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) a cattle farmer. He along with his business partners inject their cows with steroids and hormones to achieve the results they desire. The problem is the only thing Jacky injects more than his cows is himself as he's got some sort of chemical compound coursing through his veins at all times. Things begin to go south when Jacky makes a deal to distribute his cows to a well-known yet crooked meat trader. A federal agent is killed amongst their negotiations as Jacky is dragged into the investigation and his disturbing past comes bubbling to the surface.

Matthias Schoenaerts' performance is the first thing that will win you over. The reason why he shoots up so frequently along with what he injects himself with has this really breathtaking explanation. Schoenaerts has a short fuse the entire film and you never know when he's going to explode. That's the beauty of his performance. He's so dangerous yet you can't help but feel sympathy for the guy. Schoenaerts is a ferocious powerhouse that chews you up and spits you out like the most devastating hurricane imaginable.

Bullhead features some incredibly impressive cinematography. Belgium has never looked so beautiful. Those shots of the sky and the clouds that populate every inch of it and those lush moments of taking in the countryside speak volumes. Something as simple as grass blowing in the wind is made to look like this grand accomplishment thanks to how the film was shot. It was interesting to see characters that were out of frame become out of focus and or blurred in some way; whether they were approaching somebody in frame or walking away. It was a masterful touch.

The Belgian drama has a unique sense of perspective, as well. The dizzying staircase sequence near the end of the film is the best example. It kind of goes hand in hand with the cinematography though; a brilliant looking film is even better with distinguishing shots. Speaking of unique, the entire film is one of the more original experiences to grace the silver screen in quite some time. Bullhead does draw comparisons to films like Drive and even Bronson, but the mafia and mobster kind of storyline is presented in this rough, grainy, meaty, and intense package that hasn’t been done before. Bronson is actually a really great comparison. Matthias Schoenaerts put on 59 pounds of muscle for Bullhead and Tom Hardy put on 42 pounds of muscle for Bronson. While the two films are almost nothing alike when it comes to their storylines, they're extremely similar at their core.

Bullhead is an extremely intense piece of cinema that includes a fairly bloody and hard hitting elevator sequence that rivals that infamous scene from Drive. With an incredible performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, gorgeous camera work, and a huge injection of originality, Bullhead should not be missed by anyone especially those who are looking for something different when it comes to movies. This comes highly recommended for those who enjoyed Animal Kingdom, A Prophet, Drive, and/or Bronson.

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Tags: Bullhead, review, movies, Houston, crime, drama
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Kill List (2012) review
02/18/12 at 08:19 AM by EvilButters
Jay (Neil Maskell) hasn't worked in eight months and it's taking its toll. His savings are gone, his marriage is falling apart, and he's still beating himself up over his last job that went horribly wrong. That is until his friend Gal (Michael Smiley) visits and pulls him back in. The hit man business is good money for work that isn't too strenuous or so Gal thinks. Jay begins to lose it out on the job by taking matters into his own hands, flipping off the deep end, and basically just losing all control. But with the mysterious way their clients are acting, Jay and Gal begin to believe something more sinister is going on.

Kill List is a bit peculiar, especially if you go into it expecting your typical horror film; it's far from it. It actually begins as a drama, evolves into a thriller, and then finishes its evolution as a horror film in its closing act. It's a bizarre development, really. Not because it feels unnatural or forced or anything, but because it's difficult to get a read on the film. It's extremely unpredictable. The fate of certain characters may seem obvious, but it tends to take a different route getting to those conclusions. Once it jumps into the horror genre is when things get a little more familiar. The ending feels like a combination of The Wicker Man and A Serbian Film. But the way the film progresses may leave you with the feeling of being unsure whether you liked the film or not once it ends.

For a film that didn't even cost $1 million to make, Kill List certainly looks pretty great. The biggest issue seemed to be the sound, but it may have just been the DVD transfer that I received (it was a DVD screener). After trying to watch it on my hi-def television on two separate occasions, I eventually gave up before putting the disc into my computer and watching it with headphones. The camera work isn't overly fantastic, but it gets the job done. A scene that stuck out in my mind is when Jay and Gal get out of the car right before they're about to meet their client for the first time in the film. As they get out of the car and walk toward the camera, there's this perfectly placed rainbow in the shot and you get a glimpse of the entire thing over their car. It's as if it was illustrating the calm before the storm.

As you can imagine, Kill List does get pretty violent. In particular, Jay uses a hammer to such extremities that it would make Oh Dae-su from Oldboy blush. The most memorable scene in the film is actually the restaurant scene with the guitar mostly because of Jay's reaction as the British film also squeaks in a few really memorable one-liners. A man in the restaurant says to Jay, "Sometime's God's love can be hard to swallow," and Jay responds, "Yeah? Not as hard as a dinner plate."

Kill List doesn't really seem to live up to the hype or the quotes featured on its poster, but it's still a worthy watch. The way the film is written is its biggest asset as it's a completely fresh experience until it jumps genres. Kill List is a solid, low budget thriller that features better than expected camera work and heavy blood-splattering, brain matter-filled, face smashing, intestines-sliding-around-on-the-ground violence that only makes the transition into horror a no-brainer.

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Tags: Kill List, review, movies, drama, thriller, horror
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Blu-ray review: Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
02/14/12 at 10:52 AM by EvilButters
Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.

Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.

The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment."

While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.

Despite how fantastic Three Outlaw Samurai looks and sounds, it literally has no special features. This is a bit unusual since nearly every Criterion Collection release I’ve come across is usually loaded with goodies. All that’s included is the theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri. So hopefully you weren’t looking forward to this release for the special features alone.

Three Outlaw Samurai is a black and white film that’s unrated and presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It’s approximately 93 minutes long, has a new English subtitle translation, and features high definition digital restoration. The film is now available on both Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray at most retail outlets and online stores.

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Tags: Three Outlaw Samurai, Blu-ray, Criterion Collection, review, movies, action, drama
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Chronicle (2012) review
02/03/12 at 11:37 AM by EvilButters
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is what you'd call your typical high school loner. Most students peg him as a loser, but he's really just misunderstood. His mom is practically on her death bed, his dad is an abusive drunk, and he has no friends. Nobody is willing to give Andrew a chance and he's too shy to break out of his shell on his own. Even his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is a bit hesitant to hang out with him in public. As Andrew begins to start filming his life at all times, he soon discovers something of another world with Matt and student body president Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Despite each of them developing chronic nosebleeds, they also discover they now have superhuman abilities. Andrew, Matt, and Steve push themselves to the limit and become stronger in the process. But as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility." Friendships will be tested and destruction will become nothing more than an afterthought.

I felt a little weary going into Chronicle. The original trailer was interesting, but the TV spots seemed to show too much. They essentially gave away every key point of the storyline. Not only that, but they gave away too much of the special effects as well. That wouldn't be much of an issue if the effects didn't look so shoddy and cheap. Seeing it on the big screen did help, but they still looked a little hokey in the process.

Chronicle is shot in the documentary-style you've been forced to accept as a regular style of filmmaking ever since The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. The upside is Chronicle doesn't look as amateur as what you may be expecting. There are a few shaky moments, but it's mostly in the beginning before Andrew gets a new camera. Once that happens, everything visual becomes a bit clearer and the perspective becomes a lot more interesting. The "floating camera" perspective is one of the more original aspects to come out of the film. One of the highlights of this perspective is when Andrew first puts the firefighter costume on. That scene in particular is pretty awesome, but is even more exceptional thanks to the intriguing camera work.

Those scenes where Andrew, Matt, and Steve develop their superpowers to their maximum potential are the best in the film. What human being has never dreamt of flying? The way Chronicle pulls that sequence off is incredible. The humor in it isn't too shabby either. It's typical high school drama at times, but it eventually grows on you much like the rest of the film.

Coming back around to the special effects, they plague the film in the second half. It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't such a heavy use of them. More often than not, something computer generated looks out of place or is heavily shaded when it shouldn't be. It's almost as if you can get a glimpse of the original CG model that was used in whatever special effects software they used before it was actually rendered or something. Andrew's view of life is awful as everyone he runs into beats the snot out of him. After viewing the film, you can understand why this was done but most individuals aren't that cruel and it seems a bit much. Chronicle does seem to get better as it progresses, but it drops the ball in its final moments. You can see the opening for a sequel coming from a mile away.

Chronicle is much better than the trailers and TV spots let on. The camera work is fairly dynamic for a documentary-style film, the acting is very good for a generally unknown cast, and it's actually a lot smarter than it lets on. With that said though, its $15 million budget becomes very obvious with its heavy use of special effects and the finale of the film practically ruins everything good the movie has going for it. Chronicle is a pretty fun ride in the long run though. While it may not be totally original on the surface, the journey in the middle is fairly unique. Setting its flaws aside, Chronicle is quite possibly one of the most exciting stories of the birth of a super villain to ever hit the big screen.

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Tags: Chronicle, review, movies, action, drama, sci-fi, superhero, found footage
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The Flowers of War (2012) review
01/19/12 at 02:56 PM by EvilButters
I'm really weird when it comes to war films. I have a fascination with both horror and extremely violent films in general, but tend to mostly not care for films that revolve around war. It's not that they're bad or unwatchable, but none of them have ever really made me think they're worth owning or watching again. Chinese and Japanese war epics seem to be a bit different as I adore films like The Last Samurai, Mongol, and The Warlords. The Flowers of War is in a similar vein as those three films yet is also incredibly different in comparison.

Yimou Zhang is a director that's pretty much made a name for himself as a director with his incredible use of color. Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower are all lush, vibrant, and just visually brilliant. The Flowers of War is almost completely devoid of color. The battlefield is littered with shades of brown and gray until someone is shot and blood sprays into the air or trickles to the ground. The only real use of color comes in the form of the round stained glass window and the elaborate dresses the prostitutes wear. This adds for some incredible and dynamic shots seeing warfare on their doorstep through a multicolored filter and broken glass. Two prostitutes eventually escape with the intent of returning, but there's this amazing one-take sequence of their attempt of coming back to the church and their colorful dresses play a big part. That scene along with a few others was slightly reminiscent of Children of Men.

The evolution of John Miller (Christian Bale) is something wonderful. When he first arrives to the church, he's money hungry, a drunk, and a womanizer. But being around the students at the church and the group of prostitutes brings out the best in him. That sounds awkward, but it makes sense after seeing the film. There are a few wandering shots that show Bale standing or sitting alone in the church. They're fairly brief, but those images stick with you. The Chinese soldier that drops off Pu Sheng and returns one of the student’s shoes is one to keep an eye on, as well. Without spoiling too much, his strategy is nothing short of amazing.

As you can probably imagine, The Flowers of War does touch upon some extremely vicious and barbaric acts that are difficult to watch. It is based on the Rape of Nanking after all. The sequences of violence are necessary, but aren't for those of you with weak stomachs. Children are stabbed and shot while prostitutes are raped and brutally murdered. Then there's all the bloodshed from the war going on. It's pretty intense, but the message the film offers makes it all worth it.

The Flowers of War is almost a war masterpiece, but there are several things that stand in the way of making it just that. The main one being that nearly every female character in the film will irritate the holy hell out of you for the entire two hour and twenty minute duration. Every prostitute but Mo (Ni Ni) has a voice that's the equivalent of scraping fingernails against a chalkboard, but there's a group of them so multiply that by twelve. Not only that, but they make stupid decisions. Risking your life for a cat or strings for your instrument seems kind of fruitless at this point, wouldn't you say? Then there's the group of students at the church that do nothing but cry, be spiteful towards the prostitutes, and hold grudges. Were they imperative to the story? Of course, but their stupid actions will only help you cheer for their deaths at the same time. There are also two musical numbers that feel out of place. Both are great concepts on paper, but they feel clumsy in their execution. And to be honest, I'm just glad the phrase, "No Mo," wasn't uttered at all in the film.

Despite featuring some of the most annoying and idiotic female characters of recent memory, The Flowers of War is an emotional journey with a heartfelt message. As John comes clean about a lie he told Mo earlier on in the film, Mo replies, "Sometimes the truth is the last thing we need to hear." That quote fits so perfectly with the tone of the film. Christian Bale delivers a spectacular performance as watching the evolution of John Miller through the duration of the film is nearly as great as the maneuver they pull off. Often brutal yet frequently beautiful, The Flowers of War is one of the few war films that is not only thoroughly enjoyable but is capable of maturing into one of the most selfless acts imaginable.

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Tags: The Flowers of War, review, drama, history, war, Christian Bale, Yimou Zhang
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Carnage (2011) review
01/17/12 at 10:49 AM by EvilButters
I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Roman Polanski films. Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist are all patiently biding their time in my Netflix queue waiting on me to get around to them and watch them for the first time. The Polanski films I have seen had the potential to be great, but kind of let everything they had going for it slip through the cracks as the film went on. I remember being fascinated by The Ninth Gate, but was extremely disappointed once the ending rolled around. There was also quite a bit of praise being thrown around for The Ghost Writer last year and it just didn't affect me the way any of that praise did for other critics. So while Carnage has gotten many accolades as one of the funniest movies of last year, I took it with a grain of salt. People seem to generally love Polanski and that's fine. His films are genuinely a pleasure to look at as the cinematography is always fantastic, but it certainly seems as though he may not be as great as everyone makes him out to be.

Carnage is basically a 74-minute discussion between two couples whose eleven and twelve year old sons got into a fight. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet's (John C. Reilly) son Ethan was struck in the face with a stick by Zachary, the son of Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz). The parents get together to try and find a way for Zachary and Ethan to talk things out, but everything eventually falls apart and the two couples are eventually at each other's throats.

This was not the hilarious movie it was made out to be. While the other people in the theater seemed to be howling at everything on screen, it mostly just felt slightly snicker worthy at times. John C. Reilly is pretty funny. His views, the things that come out of his mouth, his character, and his performance are probably the closest thing to hilarious Carnage has to offer. "Is cobbler cake or pie?", the flush mechanisms conversation, "You certainly perked up after...", the hamster story, the doodle nickname being ridiculous, and "YOU'RE BLOWING THIS OUT OF PROPORTION!" are all mostly entertaining thanks to John C. Reilly’s over the top performance. Michael Longstreet is probably the closest you'll come to relating to one of the on-screen characters, as well. The film is mostly a competition between four egomaniacal individuals competing for the spotlight though. Christoph Waltz's "god of carnage" speech is pretty amazing as is the "disfigured his schoolmate" conversation, but you want to slap the hell out of Alan Cowan the minute you realize he cherishes his phone more than anything else in the world. Kate Winslet is mostly nauseous and drunk the entire film and you probably won't walk away from this without thinking of Jodie Foster's bulbous, veiny, pulsating neck. Seriously, that thing will probably haunt your dreams the night after seeing this.

Carnage is very short. It feels like it ends as soon as it begins. It's like Cloverfield length. It also has one of the worst endings ever. How many films can you name that stop with a phone call? Nothing is resolved. Everything just stops. Despite a wonderful cast and a few chuckle worthy moments, Carnage mostly falls flat. It comes off as more of a contest between two married couples that become more interested in pointing out the flaws of their marriage rather than the task at hand. Maybe it's because I work in retail and I witness these kinds of conversations on a daily basis, but it just wasn't very entertaining at all. Carnage stumbles on the thin line between being extremely annoying and being mildly amusing.

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Tags: Carnage, review, movies, comedy, drama, Roman Polanski, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly,
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Albert Nobbs (2011) review
12/30/11 at 03:48 PM by EvilButters
Albert Nobbs is the type of film I knew nothing about going in. I hadn't seen trailers or any sort of promotional materials beforehand, but everything can be summed up in one simple sentence: Glenn Close is portraying a man. That's pretty much the entire film in a nutshell. In the early 1900s, Albert Nobbs (Close) disguises herself as a man to be a butler in Dublin at a rather extravagant hotel. She has been hoarding her money like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter and she has some rather elaborate plans for her money; plans that would be a bit more difficult for a woman to pull off. Nobbs is completely content with her facade until she crosses paths with a painter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) and eventually craves more of a normal life because of their encounter. Nobbs is in love with Helen (Mia Wasikowska) some of the hotel help, but Helen is in love with Joe (Aaron Johnson) who dreams of taking Helen back to America. Nobbs must choose to either go all in and go for her dreams or continue living a half-hearted existence.

Glenn Close is obviously the heart and soul of the film. The message the film delivers becomes its main objective, but Close helps hand-deliver that message straight to each and every individual in the audience. Her performance is brilliant. Nobbs is a completely reserved individual who's almost completely devoid of emotion; not because she's incapable of feeling but because it's been a part of her charade for so long that it's kind of become habitual and it's almost as if she's forgotten how to feel. Nobbs spends the majority of the film talking to herself and thinking out loud. She is absolutely driven by this dream of hers. Janet McTeer comes along to kind of add a glimmer of hope to Nobbs and her quest; not to mention more than a little mutual understanding. I hadn't seen Mia Wasikowska in anything other than Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but this was such a departure from that role. Helen is very outspoken, coldhearted, and completely blinded by love. Aaron Johnson took a rather obscure detour from Kick-Ass, as well. Joe wants nothing more than to get to America that when other obstacles present themselves he basically flips out in frustration. He seems more than willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, but also isn't afraid to beat any man or woman that gets in his way either.

With the majority of the story focusing on women in drag trying to find a wife, it's kind of a chore to try and mention anything else positive about the film in comparison because where do you go from there? Most of the film is very charming. Just about anything with Page and Nobbs gives you something to smile about, but the film's awkwardness becomes kind of charming as well. Nobbs eventually comes back around to her natural roots for one scene in the film and while it should be something to celebrate it's obviously very weird and unusual for the characters. It's kind of funny, but Glenn Close has a striking resemblance to Robin Williams in this film. It becomes almost uncanny by the time the film reaches its peak.

As one final note, the set pieces are absolutely fantastic. The atmosphere of the late 19th century is captured to perfection. The film also has some of the most effective use of snow in recent memory. Any scene featuring snow is something you should take note of.

Albert Nobbs is kind of incredible on one hand. The entire cast is filled with nothing but stellar performances, the set pieces are extraordinary, and the story is at the very least rather interesting. Trying to delve further into the film is a bit difficult though. I can guarantee I never would've seen this film if I hadn't been invited to a screening and while I don't regret attending I feel like a film like this isn't the reason why I go to the theater. Maybe it's because it's about women trying to be independent in the late 19th century, but it just isn't my type of movie. It's easy to admire the film's several strong points such as Glenn Close's amazing portrayal of Albert Nobbs and the solid script, but at the end of the day it just doesn't speak to me the way that it should. That doesn't necessarily mean that either side is to blame just that all films can't cater to everyone's tastes all the time; no matter how good or bad they may be.

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Tags: Albert Nobbs, review, drama, Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson
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Hugo (2011) review
12/25/11 at 11:14 AM by EvilButters
Martin Scorsese is a well respected director known for R-rated films usually revolving around crime or gangsters in some capacity. Saying the F-word nearly 300 times in one movie, stabbing someone with a pen, flushing a stash down the toilet, getting whacked, getting blown up, and getting your mind blown to such extremities in the last twenty minutes of a feature that you win an Oscar for it even though somebody already made that movie before; these are the things that come to mind when you think of Scorsese. Scorsese hadn't really worked with children much over his career or at least not to this extent. So that was interesting to keep in mind when Hugo started making the rounds. A family friendly Martin Scorsese film seems so surreal, but is more than a worthy addition to an already overflowing resume full of fantastic cinema.

It takes a while for Hugo to really get going, but it's certainly beautiful in the meantime. The film is a visual spectacle while each frame is an absolute joy to look at. You're taken through the intricate insides of various clocks at a train station; seeing their gears move as the use of steam adds just the right amount of mystery. It's not so much the fact that Hugo is slow because it isn't. There's this veil of mystery that isn't lifted until Hugo (Asa Butterfield) finally caves and tells his story. The various clocks and train station setting keeps you occupied and the long introduction with no dialogue is extremely noteworthy. It's just for nearly half the film, you have all these elements (clocks, the train station, a notebook, an automaton, and Hugo's father) without much of a connection. But it does all come together in extraordinary fashion.

The cast is really superb. Asa Butterfield is so passionate and emotional. Those blue eyes of his tell the story better than words ever could. Chloe Grace Moretz is so optimistic and eager for a chance at an adventure. You can't help but adore the Isabelle character. Sacha Baron Cohen seems to step way out of his element here. The Station Inspector seems like a complete 180 from Bruno or Borat, but his sense of humor is still in his performance. He just happens to have a bit more depth in comparison. Ben Kingsley's Georges Méliès goes through such a transformation in the film though that he's able to display such a wide range of emotion. He plays the broken old man impeccably.

There are times when movies affect you in a way that let you know they are special. For me, it's like I'm suddenly overcome by a wide range of emotions that make me want to laugh, cry, scream at the top of my lungs, and the overwhelming sensation of never wanting that moment or the movie to end. I'm not ashamed to say I felt that a few times during Hugo. James Cameron called Hugo a masterpiece and it's really difficult to argue with that. There isn't a weak point in the cast, the visuals are outstanding, and you find yourself connecting to the story. You're sucked into this world right from the start. Hugo is one of the most beautiful and charming films of the year.

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Tags: Hugo, movie review, review, adventure, drama, family, Martin Scorsese
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War Horse (2011) review
12/23/11 at 03:30 PM by EvilButters
I was one of the people not anticipating War Horse before actually seeing it. I joked before the movie started that if it wasn't a mash up of "Mister Ed" and Saving Private Ryan, then I'd be extremely disappointed. But I was also unfamiliar with the original novel and play, so who was I to judge? The only logical thing was to give it a shot anyway. If you want to be taken seriously as a critic, then you have to try and see as much as you can even if you don't think you're going to enjoy whatever you've just sat down to see. The final result is something visually beautiful that is completely blinded by an overdose of melodrama.

Ages and ages ago when the show was still relevant to people other than white trash and rednecks, there was this episode of "Jerry Springer" where a man came on the show wanting to marry his horse. The horse was on stage with him and the man even kissed it at one point. Not like a peck on the cheek. Heavens no, this was like a full blown sloppy tongue everywhere type of kiss. This was all that came to mind seeing how Albert and his horse Joey were so close in the film. To make matters worse, the very first shot of the film shows Joey being born but before you realize a mother horse is giving birth it kind of looks like two guys giving a horse a red rocket, which immediately brought Cartman training the pony in the Scott Tenorman Must Die episode of "South Park". So a minute and a half into the movie and I'm practically laughing like crazy for all the wrong reasons.

This horse Joey is the star of the film though. We follow him as he is too wild to tame until a boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) steps in, bonds with him, and they accomplish the impossible together. That relationship drives the rest of the film. Joey is eventually trained and begins plowing fields before being sold to a soldier to try and save Albert's family's farm. We then follow Joey's adventures in World War I as he goes owner to owner, serves each side of the war, and is even owned by a young girl and her grandfather at one point. But Albert is convinced him and Joey will be reunited again and will stop at nothing to make that happen.

Do you ever see an actor or actress in a film for the first time and remember that actor or actress as that particular role for the rest of their career? That issue came up a lot in this film. Albert's parents included the guy who went crazy in Session 9 (Peter Mullan) and the woman who groped a tiger in Red Dragon (Emily Watson, bonus points if you also remember her as the woman who was burned alive in Equilibrium). Their landlord was Remus Lupin from Harry Potter (David Thewlis) and the soldier who bought Joey was Loki in Thor (Tom Hiddleston) whose major was the guy assisting Gary Oldman's glasses in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Benedict Cumberbatch). The list is endless. The weird thing though is that none of the performances really outshine any of the others. They're all fairly solid, but none of them really compare to Joey who seems to take on human characteristics at times and is able to say so much with something as little as a look over his shoulder.

War Horse is very much a Steven Spielberg film. It wants and practically begs you to realize this throughout its duration. So much so that it's crammed down your throat on countless occasions. The film looks exceptional. There's beautiful scenery, everything is so rich and green, and the cinematography is pretty breathtaking. Everything else kind of falls by the waste side though. The events depicted in War Horse have to be so dramatic and when it's not it's so corny that it makes you want to barf. The wire cutters scene illustrates this point to perfection. World War I could have ended with something as simple as a conversation over a horse and wire cutters. Who knew? Oh, and apparently every German has a pair of wire cutters on them at all times. That's sure to come in handy, hm? It certainly does seem like you're watching a horse run around aimlessly the majority of the film, as well. "Maybe the horse will explode," I said. "Step on a landmine or something." Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

War Horse does feature a strong cast, an incredible horse, and fantastic cinematography. It unfortunately also shuffles with feeling too long, dripping with melodrama at all times, wrestling with corny dialogue, and being easy to predict from very early on. War Horse is basically a big budget Lifetime movie revolving around a boy and his horse. If you're trying to decide which of the two Steven Spielberg films you should see this year, The Adventures of Tintin is definitely the adventure you should choose to take.

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Tags: War Horse, review, drama, war, Steven Spielberg
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Young Adult (2011) review
12/16/11 at 11:11 AM by EvilButters
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have been kind of hit or miss for me or at least that's what I like to think. I didn't enjoy Juno nearly as much as everyone else seemed to while Jennifer's Body, while not great, may have been better received on my end than what most give it credit for mostly because I have such a soft spot for horror. On the other hand though, Up in the Air was fairly fantastic all around. With that said, the main thing attracting me to Young Adult was the fact that Patton Oswalt had a rather big supporting role. Despite the fact that Charlize Theron has done so many things since and has won an Oscar, films like The Astronaut's Wife and The Devil's Advocate only come to mind whenever she's featured in anything which isn't flattering at all. So there was kind of this sense of dread going into Young Adult, but was it justified? The short answer is no, but it doesn't completely blow you away either.

There was an Entertainment Weekly article a few weeks ago where Theron said she aimed to not only be a mean-spirited individual, but also easily relatable as well. That's the trickiest part with a character like this. Anyone can be cold or act black hearted, but doing that while also displaying qualities that make you feel sorry for them and/or feel like something you went through in your life is something special. Imagining anyone else in this role is practically impossible, as well. The entire premise seems to be built around Theron. She seems to be playing herself or at least a slightly exaggerated version of how she is in real life. That more than likely contributes to the movie working as well as it does.

One of the other great things about the movie is that it's mostly unexpected. Young adult fiction writer Mavis Gary (Theron) currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota but decides to return to her small hometown of Mercury after receiving an email from her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) welcoming his first child into the world. Mavis somehow thinks that her and Buddy are meant to be together and despite Buddy being happily married and having a daughter that he loves dearly, Mavis thinks they can work past that to make things right between them. The outcome of the events is probably pretty predictable, but the relationships in between unfold in a way that you probably don't see coming. I'm mostly referring to Mavis and Matt Freehauf's (Patton Oswalt) friendship as it goes in a direction that feels far too human for such a superficial individual like Mavis. Oswalt also seems to be playing an exaggerated version of himself as well as he makes full use of his geekiness. The Pixies shirt was also a nice touch. But Young Adult is mostly entertaining due to the way it feels genuine despite revolving around somebody who is as harsh and selfish as Mavis Gray is.

Young Adult is very dark and downright bleak at times, but that's one of its most distinguishing traits. You'll more than likely find something to relate to in Mavis Gray whether it was you who was the popular kid in school, are just as depressed as she is, think you may be an alcoholic, or you're a writer, Mavis isn't really in the right frame of mind and maybe that's the most relatable part of her character. Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt share a kind of twisted chemistry that involves some fairly witty dialogue at times, but is mostly them dragging the other one through the mud with their words, which strangely only illustrates how miserable and similar their two characters are. Young Adult is a very fascinating dark comedy that is laugh out loud funny at times due to its cruelness, but shines thanks to its authenticity.

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Tags: Young Adult, comedy, drama, movie review, Houston, Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt
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Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2011) review
12/01/11 at 10:54 AM by EvilButters
I wasn't even aware there was an original Elite Squad until after I had heard about and had access to Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. The Enemy Within has been receiving rave reviews from pretty much everyone who has seen it. This is the type of movie that sucker punches you in the gut and you never see it coming, but all you can do is smile because that rush is unlike anything else you've ever experienced. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within makes full use of the term, "thriller" before turning it upside down and inside out and doing it all over again in a two hour time period.

Some rather interesting camera work is utilized throughout the film. You take notice of it in the very first scene as the camera catches every crack and break in a pane of glass as a car is riddled with bullets. Slow motion is also used in a refreshing kind of way mostly because slow motion has looked the same way since 2006 when Leonidas kicked the messenger into the pit in 300. While this was probably done in a cheaper way since the budget wasn't nearly as big as it was in a film like 300, the fact that it was done differently is what makes it noteworthy. This feels more raw and less polished. The "size of a tangerine" scene is fairly awesome, as well. The scene is frozen at one point, but you see that scene from two different perspectives.

Taken, Man on Fire, and The Man From Nowhere; these are a few of the films the action scenes in Elite Squad: The Enemy Within may remind you of. Those scenes when everything hits the fan are the main reason to see this film, but everything in between is so tense that you find yourself easily getting absorbed into all of the events that are going on. Corruption is fascinating in a very disturbing kind of way. This is Nascimento's (Wagner Moura) story, so he's pretty much your guide through this journey as he's removed from BOPE (the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police) and struggles to survive in Rio, but the way his story ties in with the stories of Matias (André Ramiro) and Fraga (Irandhir Santos) is rather brilliant as they're both involved with Nascimento in more ways than one. The bloody brutality of the film seems to be lurking around every corner even when things may appear calm.

In The Boondock Saints, Paul Smecker (played by Willem Dafoe) yells, "There was a firefight!" during one the most extravagant shootout of the film. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within almost seems to redefine that term. While there isn't a lot of property damage in the film, people get wasted left and right and blood sprays into the air whenever a gun is drawn. People get the hell beaten out of them before being lit on fire and dead bodies are burned as their teeth are pulled to hide their identities. There's a grittiness to Elite Squad: The Enemy Within that many films have barely scratched the surface of.

Remember when you first saw The Empire Strikes Back where you had this fairly awesome movie on your hands that left you with this rather huge cliffhanger ending? Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is similar in that aspect. Elite Squad is obviously going to be at least a trilogy, but it'll be one of those things that will be less of an issue when you don't have a long wait between films. In the meantime though, it feels a little cheap.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a lot like City of God if it was on steroids; there's more action, more intensity, and bigger payoffs. Its biggest flaw is that it doesn't end and is obviously just building toward the next sequel. With an excellent cast and eye-catching cinematography, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a compelling look at the underbelly of society that's a must-see.

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Tags: Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, movie review, crime, drama, thriller, sequel
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My Week with Marilyn (2011) review
11/25/11 at 01:18 AM by EvilButters
As of this writing, I have never seen a film featuring Marilyn Monroe and if this film has any sort of credibility to it than that isn't something that's going to be changing any time soon. My Week with Marilyn is the type of film that generally doesn't really seem all that titillating to me, but considering the amount of building Oscar buzz around Michelle Williams’s performance and Williams’s recent appearance promoting the film on "The Today Show" swerved my decision on the matter and at least piqued my interest. While the film was a bit better than expectations predicted it would be, My Week with Marilyn still doesn't seem very memorable and fails to stand out in comparison to some of the other incredible films that have been released this year.

The music will entrance you right from the start. Michelle Williams seems the most comfortable in Monroe's shoes while she's singing and it just shows. The song and dance numbers feel like they're straight out of the 50s, which is surely a high compliment. The set pieces, cars, and costumes all capture that time period incredibly well, too. The way Williams puts her own spin on such a well-known actress is highly respectable. Eddie Redmayne is completely enamored with not only the film business but Marilyn as well as Colin Clark, Kenneth Branagh spits out more than a few hilarious one-liners as Sir Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench is so calm, kind-hearted, and respectable that you can't help but love her as Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Emma Watson (in her first non-Harry Potter role) is kind of a voice of reason for Colin as Lucy. I was one of the people who didn't think The Tree of Life was all it was cracked up to be, but the film certainly looked spectacular. Certain scenes in My Week with Marilyn were reminiscent to The Tree of Life in how they were shot; in beauty and technique.

I've never been a big fan of blondes and this film doesn't really help the matter. Marilyn was absolutely perfect on-screen, but what was left on the cutting room floor and what took part behind the scenes illustrated the fact that she was a very flawed individual. She was a complete airhead, was full of self-doubt, couldn't stay off pills just to accomplish any sort of daily function, and was basically a complete train wreck. Everyone catering to her and worshipping the ground she walked on just seemed like a joke because of it and mostly came off as annoying, whether it was true or not. A woman sitting next to me at the theater mentioned how she didn't really feel like Michelle Williams portrayed Marilyn Monroe properly; she didn't see Monroe on the screen she just saw Williams. Maybe that's why it felt like something was missing from the film like that extra spark that helps flip that switch inside you to let you know you really love something. While the film was funny at times, charming at others, and downright depressing in between, it never really felt like it hit it out of the park. It was more like a good effort with disappointing results.

My Week with Marilyn is an astounding representation of the late 1950s, is shot beautifully, and features a talented cast that delivers some exceptional performances. This is arguably the best performance of Michelle Williams’s career. The drama eventually gets emotionally powerful, but seems very flirtatious when it comes to the storyline. You’re basically teased the entire film concerning Marilyn's true intentions, mental state, and well-being. The conclusion felt like more of a reach around that stopped before you had the chance to climax and didn't feel fully gratifying. Aside from Williams’s performance, the incredibly lush jazz soundtrack took hold of your senses in ways the movie only dreamt of doing.

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Tags: My Week with Marilyn, movie review, drama, Michelle Williams, Emma Watson
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The Artist (2011) review
11/14/11 at 10:09 PM by EvilButters
The Artist had quite the reputation going for it before it debuted at the Cinema Arts Festival in Houston, Texas. Early reviews were already very positive and many Houston critics were talking about how much they were anticipating getting the chance to see it. I purposely went in blind and only found out just moments before I entered the theater that it was a silent film and was not only shot in but would be presented in the now practically ancient 1.33:1 aspect ratio. A black and white silent feature film made in modern times; what's not to like about that? Truth be told, nothing can really prepare you for how extraordinary The Artist really is.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of silent movies in Hollywood in 1927. Audiences just adore everything George is a part of. Along comes Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who you just know is going to be a huge star some day. George and Peppy work together on one film as George not only takes her under his wing, but an undeniable spark develops between the two. Over the course of the next few years, silent movies fade into obscurity as talking pictures or "talkies" explode onto the scene. George finds himself struggling for not only work, but a purpose to live as Peppy becomes the next big thing overnight.

The Artist is funny and charming right out the gate. Jean Dujardin really plays to the crowd and appears to love nothing more than catering to the people who come to see his films. George's dog Jack might be the biggest form of comic relief in the film. The way he plays dead and covers his head with his paws are always both presented in a way that is fresh and laugh out loud funny each and every time they're utilized. Once Bérénice Bejo enters the picture, the film begins to evolve into a type of romance. It's odd though because to my recollection George and Peppy never kiss. Peppy seems to steal the spotlight in the same way George does as soon as you see her dance for the first time. The laughs are there, the charms are there, The Artist has a firm grip on your heart and your attention and never really lets go.

The film eventually begins to get a bit darker though as silent movies wither away and talking pictures take their spot. George's downward spiral is really fantastic to watch. It's mostly due to not only Dujardin's superb performance, but also the way many of these scenes are filmed. There's a scene where George is sitting down at a mirror table drinking whiskey. You see nothing but George, his reflection, and the alcohol. He pours the booze on the tabletop as the look of disgust becomes more chiseled on his brow. That scene is so beyond amazing. The brilliant music used in the film also just captures the time period perfectly. There's also this dream that George has right before he's let go from his contract where he can't speak, but everything around him has sound. That sequence is really spectacular, as well.

The Artist can get a little dark at times, but for the most part is extremely lighthearted and feel-good at its core. Never have I wanted a movie to end on a happy note so badly in my life. Through the highs and the lows of George Valentin and the depressing outcome of his career along with the heartwarming sensation you get from nearly everything in between, the entire experience just feels so real; so genuine. The Artist is just pure perfection, a masterpiece, and an instant classic.

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Tags: The Artist, movie review, comedy, romance, drama, Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
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Here (2011) review
11/14/11 at 08:19 PM by EvilButters
What initially attracted me to Here was Ben Foster being involved. I remember watching "Flash Forward" when I was in seventh grade and even though I can't remember much about the series, it must've made a long-lasting impression on me because I've followed Foster's acting career fairly closely ever since. But Here was a bit of a gamble since I wasn't familiar with anyone else in the cast (even though Lubna Azabal was also in Coriolanus, which I saw earlier the same evening) and Braden King was a director I was completely unfamiliar with. In the end, Here isn't exactly a film that demands to be seen but is still able to pique your interest at times if you find yourself watching it.

Will Shepard (Foster) is a cartographer who currently finds himself in Armenia. He drives all over the country for his work and eventually crosses paths with a photographer named Gadarine (Azabal). They feel connected to one another right from the start and eventually start travelling together. A relationship of sorts develops and while the two of them thoroughly enjoy the company of one another life steps in to take them in opposite directions. Both Will and Gadarine find themselves at a crossroads and must decide where to go from Here.

Here is full of some absolutely breathtaking scenery. It was actually shot on location in Armenia and the country is almost overly-beautiful. Everything is so lush and green. It's almost overwhelming. You'll also notice the film's prominent use of long shots. Most of them take place in the middle of nowhere, are roaming shots, and usually slowly rotate in a nearly 360 degree angle. It gives you this sense of what's going on in this world around the actors rather than what's just transpiring during their story.

The most intriguing aspect of Here is that every so often it takes a time out from telling Will and Gabadine's story while a narrator steps in (Peter Coyote) and talks over some rather abstract visuals that include shots of nature and city life. The narrated scenes are written really well and it just took me back to the more abstract animated shorts that Chuck Jones did (Now Hear This, The Dot and the Line) back in the sixties. The Tree of Life almost comes to mind, but Here doesn't have half a dozen storylines competing for your attention and doesn't feel nearly as pretentious as The Tree of Life did. Into the Wild is probably the most obvious comparison, but I was left thinking of a Joseph Gordon-Levitt film not many people saw called Uncertainty. The films aren't even all that similar, but both films take something like a character study and make it more important than the actual storyline.

Here is a pretty unique experience. It's not the typical type of film that acts like it demands your attention, but is a journey you won't regret taking when it's over. Conceptual ideas are interjected amongst a blossoming and intimate love story. Everything the story stands for rides on the last few precious moments of the film, which takes something so simple and gives this incredible meaning to it. Here comes off as more of a traveling journal or moving photo album rather than the typical story driven cinematic fare.

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Tags: Here, movie review, adventure, drama, romance, Ben Foster
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Coriolanus (2011) review
11/14/11 at 03:36 PM by EvilButters
Coriolanus was somewhat of a mystery heading into it. As someone who didn't study Shakespeare in school and someone who isn't familiar with the original play, it was difficult to get excited about a film I generally knew nothing about. The thoughts that had crossed my mind were Ralph Fiennes was rarely disappointing, Gerard Butler is talented and can showcase that when he wants to, and the expectations of heavy bloodshed. All of those assumptions turned out to be correct, but Coriolanus is more of a mess rather than a thing of beauty.

You'll notice right away that first person, shaky camera technique that everyone seems to be complaining about not only utilized in the film but fully embraced. It's used the entire film and you can probably already pinpoint its strengths and weaknesses. It does make you feel like you're right there shouting at the top of your lungs and breaking things during the riots and covering your comrades during the war-heavy scenes, but it's difficult to fully distinguish what's transpiring or who hit whom in fist or knife fights. Battle: Los Angeles comes to mind; mostly the scenes of them in the streets since a similar camera technique is used. You can visualize what Fiennes was going for, but it's a curse way more than it is a blessing.

The other thing you need to know is that this is completely set in Shakespearean dialect. It's essentially a Shakespearean play set in modern times. It's interesting on one hand, but you really have to force yourself to concentrate on what's being said the majority of the time and becomes a bit of a pain.

With that said, the film does have its high points. Most of them lie within the bullet-ridden war-heavy scenes and heavy use of violence. It's all very gritty, explosive, and quite bloody. Expect something to talk about whenever a knife is unsheathed or a gun is removed from its holster. There's a headshot early on that practically catches you off-guard and is completely unflinching. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant, as well. He's basically a ticking time bomb from start to finish and he spits his words out as if he hates having to utter them at all. His passion is clearly there though. Gerard Butler is also quite emotionally charged, but is scarcely used; the same can be said about Jessica Chastain. Vanessa Redgrave is featured in a prominent role that's very impassioned and is sure to get her nominated for an Academy Award.

Coriolanus feels like a more adult, slightly improved version of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet. It's unyielding sense of violence is impressive, but its verbose lines of dialogue drags it down. Its frantic cuts are extremely distracting, as well. Despite some strong performances, Coriolanus comes off as unnatural, feels extremely prolonged, and is tediously monotonous.

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Tags: Coriolanus, movie review, Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, drama, thriller
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