short film reviews, criticism, and occasional musing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, USA)

You know an action movie is crap when you fall asleep during the climatic fight scene. Seriously, for boasting a mostly kick-ass cast [Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Taylor Kitsch – the less said about, the better – and Ryan Reynolds (though it was apparently too costly to use him in more than one scene)], Wolverine is totally uninspired, and after excessive jaw-clenching and brow-furrowing on Jackman's part, I was rooting for Schreiber’s gleefully nasty (at least someone’s having fun) Victor Creed to take Logan out, and cause some sort of time-space rupture that would nullify all of the X-Men films, and hopefully keep Marvel from making any more of these half-baked prequels.

CIFF 2009 – Mother (2009, South Korean)

Though less of an outright entertainment than The Host, Mother may be Bong Joon-Ho’s most accomplished film to date, focusing on the question of whether or not the truth is always good for us. A middle-aged shopkeeper’s (the amazing Kim Hye-Ja) mentally disabled son is arrested for a bizarre murder, and though the cops and community are convinced he’s guilty, she goes on a crusade to prove his innocence. Despite the dramatic – and somewhat tragic – storyline, Bong doesn’t dispense with his by-now trademark visual humor, some of which ventures into the range of slapstick. It’s a daring choice, as it could deflate the sense of seriousness necessary to the film, but instead the comic registers jarringly, heightening the tension inherent to the whodunit aspects of the film. It's a compulsive watch, cementing Bong's growing reputation as one of the most interesting new international filmmakers.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Whip It (2009, USA)

Whip It isn’t a great movie. In a lot of ways, it isn’t even a terribly good one. It’s utterly predictable, and features pretty shaky direction along with some dubious roller derby action. But despite some of the sketchy assertions director Drew Barrymore has made to the press about her cast, I think it actually kicks a fair amount of ass that this is the project she chose for her directorial debut, and that due to her Hollywood profile, she was able to put some studio money and marketing savvy behind it. Because as cheesy as Whip It can be, at least it’s emotionally honest, and when was the last time you saw an American studio film that celebrates some of the more unconventional dreams that girls have, even if it plays those dreams out in the most conventional of ways?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Extract (2009, USA)

Extract has all the hallmarks of your typical Mike Judge satire, like Office Space and Idiocracy, with one important exception – it’s not remotely funny. The movie is completely flat, with lazy performances and even lazier writing and directing. Even J.K. Simmons can’t evoke a laugh, which is frankly just criminal. And Judge’s late-game cameo is insultingly overdone. It’s a shame that this wasn’t the Judge movie that got dumped into half a dozen theaters with no promotion. It probably would have been best for all involved.

Retribution (2006, Japan)

There’s a lot I liked about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Retribution, but unfortunately, I didn’t find it very creepy or scary. There are a couple of shots that are quite eerie, but for an ostensible J-Horror film, it’s not big on fright. As usual with Kurosawa’s films, it’s more about atmosphere. Also as usual, it feels like Kurosawa is only giving us three-fourths of the story, so that a lot of ends are left dangling. (If you’re the kind of moviegoer who likes everything to be tied up with a neat bow, I would recommend staying away from Kurosawa altogether.) But as Retribution glided to a close, I found that I quite liked how Kurosawa had pulled his threads together, even though the big reveal is fairly obvious from the outset. Also, big points for yet another strong Koji Yakusho performance. The man unravels like nobody’s business.

Zombieland (2009, USA)

Of all the films that feature the gratuitous fun of zombie violence, as opposed to the existential horror of humanity turning upon itself, Zombieland is up there. In part, this is because our heroes, with a few small exceptions, didn’t have much use for humanity in the first place. It’s a lot easier to wail on zombies with impunity when you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t have liked them any better when they were alive. Though Zombieland tends towards the conventional, turning a bit soft as it moves into the final act, it still has the good sense to highlight awesome zombie kills and damn good comic timing, mostly centering on Jesse Eisenberg’s reaction to Woody Harrelson’s good-ol’-boy badass. Whoevery cast them opposite one another was a fucking genius. This is my favorite side of Harrelson – though no one would refute that he can act, he’s at his most entertaining when he sits back and lets the Texas out. And attacks zombies with garden shears.