Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Ethan Wasdovitch

Some movies really just play it safe.  “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is one of those movies, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of taking a concept that could have had much more striking thematic contrast and various emotional peaks, this movie plays out modestly and is simple at the core to make it a much more easy going film experience.  When crowd pleaser films like this are released, it is hard to really criticize them for the amount of romanticism and glossing over of real life experiences.  So unless you’re expecting some sort of strong, character driven drama with some great laugh out lout moments, you’ll probably end up enjoying “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” as much as I did.
The plot here is simple: a group of various elderly folks living in the UK head to a hotel in India for various reasons, some more serious than others (medical or personal reasons).  This film is the chronicle of their experiences in India and we get to see these old folks grow and change quite a bit as the movie goes along.  There is also a subplot of the hotel itself which is facing economic and cultural hardships as the young owner (Dev Patel) struggles to keep the place alive.  The acting here is quite excellent, although no performances really stick out (Bill Nighy being the best).  All of these actors are seasoned veterans so it is not surprising that it is a real pleasure to watch them interact.  The only performance I thought was distracting was Dev Patel (whose call to fame is the highly over-awarded “Slumdog Millionaire”).  His bit is acting like he’s hopped up on caffeine in every scene.  He runs around flailing his arms and spewing overly idealistic nonsense that may be inspiring, but never really amounts to anything.  I feel as if the elderly characters are rolling their eyes at him in every scene.
I wish that this film took a bit more time examining these westerner’s interactions with the local Indian culture.  There is a bit of culture shock, particularly with Bill Nighy’s wife, who is afraid to even leave her room, and also Maggie Smith’s character, who begins the film as a spiteful racist and is forced to learn tolerance as she interacts with the Indians.  That is the biggest flaw with this entire picture, it doesn’t strive to do anything other than put a smile on your face.  None of the characters go through anything that feels like it would be a genuinely life altering experience (except perhaps Tom Wilkinson’s character).  However, the fact that many of them are very old suggests that they do not have the time to wait for something to happen so they are doing what they can with the time they have left.  Me, being a youngster, couldn’t relate to a lot of these concepts and feel as if this movie doesn’t take any risks or do anything to really get me to feel for the characters or understand why this experience in India is such a big deal.  Only Tom Wilkinson’s character has any real weight. 
Having said all of that, this movie is not hard to watch and is filled with humor.  As previously stated, watching these actors work together is a treat and there are many moments where you will laugh or even just smile because of the fun situations.  Most of the humor arises when there are cultural mix ups between the western individuals and Indian culture.  There is an undoubtable amount of heart to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and many people won’t be able to help feeling emotional during certain moments.  Overall, this is a heartwarming and humor-filled film that will most likely appeal to an older audience.  Either way, I recommend seeing this movie especially when you’re in the mood for something a bit more lightweight.


Monday, December 3, 2012

The Kid comes back with.....

A top ten list of all time.  And I know what you're thinking.  Greg disappears from the blogging world for 3 months and thinks we want to hear what his favorite films are?
Yes.  That's exactly what I think.  So without further ado....

10.  For Love of the Game

-Most people would leave this game off of their list.  Hell, most people wouldn't even consider it a great film.  But, truth be told, there was only one movie in the 1990s where every father brought their son and then had to hold back to the torrential tears that followed afterwards.  This was that movie.  It stays in the mind for everything from a week to a month to a decade.  This is a film for a man with two loves: a woman and a game.  He knows the game is perfect for him.  He knows he needs a woman.  So at the top of his game, after he shows the game one more time that he loves it and can play it until the day he dies, he leaves the game for the woman.  A masterpiece of baseball films.  A beauty amongst families.  A passionate onslaught that would bring a man of any generation to his knees or want to dig up his old mitt and find his dad for one last game of catch (Field of Dreams anyone?) There is a love of something so inanimate, so meaningless, but so powerfully real that it epitomizes what baseball truly means to anyone that knows about the sport.

9.  Toy Story 3

-I love this film for one scene.  It's a scene that has the childhood of every person in my generation behind it. A scene so powerful that I argue that it has been crafted to be that way since the series' inception.  That scene is in the garbage dump.  When all the characters look at each other and stop fighting their inevitable doom and hold hands.  To think that a series as treasured, as great, as family friendly even, as Toy Story even fiddled with the idea of all of their characters perishing in one fell swoop...  Powerful.  Sweat beads on every person in the theatre powerful.  But to capture the nuances of emotion on the animated characters faces as they hold hands and accept their doom one by one as each other's best friends...  yeah.  Brilliant.  Powerful.  And I hope they had this scene rolling out since the first film.

8.  Sin City

My first introduction to the gritty world of everything grindhouse.  And I have not looked back yet.  Plus Jessica Alba is smoking hot.  Between the cinematic gore, ultra violence, and whistling coolness in it all, it allows the viewer to realize that villains can be good guys, so when they turn, get out of the way.  These boys are the equivalent of a freight train.  Plus when Marv gets electrocuted, that's just super awesome.  This concept has been overdone so many times since its creation; the gritty comic book laced weirdness roped around heroes and Elijah Wood all cannibal style; that to properly state where it landed, I do have say that I have a soft spot for really really ridiculously violent films.  While this isn't a bad thing, it certainly isn't a good thing.  I consider it a neutral subject that my father and grandfather handed down to me through generations. My grandfather will remember that he introduced my to my number 1.  But here I am getting ahead of myself...

7.  Southland Tales

Most people wouldn't agree with this.  However, I am not most people.  Allow to explain.  This film truly captures my concept of "Weirdly awesome" in films.  It takes an idea and morphs it, and never waits for the viewer to catch up.  Simply put, if you can't follow me, then don't try.  That's this film in a nutshell.  It's funny, cool, features Seann William Scott in a near Oscar worthy performance, and features Dwayne Johnson before anybody knew he could do anything besides wrestle.  I won't ruin anything about this film, because its transcendental nature is probably too much for a blurb in someone's top 10 list.  But suffice to say it follows a meditation of "If you could shake your own hand and watch the world burn, would you?"  I know I would. But only because I would want to know what my hand felt like.  And what it's like to speak to myself.  Even if it's myself from three days in the future.  Dig it.

6.  Inception

Beautiful, Brilliant, and more importantly, missed for the Oscars.  This film should have cleaned up at the Oscars.  From Gordon Levitt's superb performance to Leo's passioned, enraged, suicidal craziness, to Nolan's brilliant portrayal of how this quirky goofy concept that sounds like the religion of Eckankar (check it out if you don't know it) to the meaning of the end of the film wherein nothing really truly matters.  The final message of the film depicts a greater understanding of the idea that you need to be happy where you are.  Nothing else matters.  I like to think that he made it out of limbo.  But truly, the film was not about "getting out" nor was it about "saving the day."  It was about a man's growth into accepting his surroundings for what they are.  He grew to accept that, as you can see from the first scene where he is fully willing to blow his brains out if he wasn't in reality to the end where he simply walks away from it all.  Not a worry in the world.  Not a care.  This film allowed me to love life again and embrace it as I could, if only because each individual interaction with any individual person could be a changing point in their lives.  I digress.  This film was masterful.  However, I moved it to 6 on my list because the next couple films are assuredly too much to handle.    More to come shortly.

Any questions, comments, disagreements, feel free to comment.

The Dude Abides

This week...

There will be a number of reviews ready for publishing this week!

I, personally, will be reviewing "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (which I finally saw last night) and after Wednesday "The Collection" (a sequel to the fairly unknown, unpopular horror film "The Collector").  More reviews from our critics may be on their way as well, so make sure you check for any updates that may be posted!

Also, I am going to give my two cents on this year's Oscar race so far!  It's an exciting year for the Academy Awards!  


Friday, November 30, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Ethan Wasdovitch

Well, I’ve been waiting to see this movie for a very long time (ever since Brad Pitt’s performance was built up as Oscar-worthy during its premiere at Cannes).  I’m actually kind of surprised that it was given a wide release, and after seeing the film I am even more surprised given the artistic sensibilities at the film’s core.  The most important thing to know going into "Killing Them Softly" is that it is not the action-packed, suave film that trailers playing on television make it out to be.  Directed by Andrew Dominik (who also directed the slowly paced but brilliant western "The Assassination Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" which also starred Brad Pitt), "Killing Them Softly" focuses less on the amount of action (and yes, there is action) and more on the quality of the action and the overall themes that it is attempting to explore.  So don’t be surprised if wide audiences don’t embrace this movie because it is certainly not for everybody.
The story is simple enough: a crime syndicate is interrupted by a couple of dim-witted criminals who are looking to make a quick buck by robbing an underground gambling game and as a result a cleaner (Brad Pitt) is sent in to fix the mess and get the organization running again.  That central plot plays out beautifully, but at times drags along as a result of the other aim of the film, which is a much more broad message about the nature of American economics and politics.  For the most part, the film succeeds in juggling all of these elements, with some scenes being much more effective than others (especially the final moments, which easily steal the show).  Still, it is easy to read some of the more analogous elements of "Killing Them Softly" as overbearing and forced.
The acting in this movie is another high point.  Brad Pitt is incredible in his role (as expected) and the other standout performances are Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn as the two criminals who perform the robbery that sets the plot in motion.  These two guys are absolutely vile and are the very definition of “scumbags”.  James Gandolfini is also excellent, but unfortunately his scenes go on for too long and had me guessing what the point of some of his dialogue was.  For the most part, the actors keep the film rolling along while Dominik adds some very interesting flare to give the film a distinct style.  Many scenes experiment with slow-motion and perspective to make it feel much more surreal.  These parts of the film may turn off many people who are looking for a more straight forward action-thriller.  
"Killing Them Softly" easily earns its R rating by being packed with profanity and extreme violence.  None of it ever feels excessive but rather adds to the realism of the film and gets you to really despise the right characters.  It is important to be aware that the violence in "Killing Them Softly" aims for realism and succeeds.  The violence is relentless and visceral, I can almost guarantee that you will cringe during every violent moment.  Proficient sound-editing adds to the impact of the violence, and I believe this film may even win Oscars for its sound effects and editing.  Not for the faint of heart.
Overall, "Killing Them Softly" succeeds.  The subtly of its political messages is certainly inconsistent and may be far too obvious for many, but the raw intensity and suspense of the plot mostly covers up any heavy-handedness.  Brad Pitt and the entire supporting cast give winning performances and director Andrew Dominik adds plenty of style to give "Killing Them Softly" a unique feeling.  Unfortunately it drags in parts and many will find the entire film flat out boring despite extremely realistic violence and big name actors.  This is a unique film that will either improve or be diminished upon repeated views.  Only time will tell.

Oh, and this movie is extremely cynical.  Don’t expect an uplifting picture by any means.  If you’re not optimistic about the current state of American politics, this movie will add to your pessimism.



I'll be going to see Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" tomorrow and posting a review shortly afterwards!

I was a huge fan of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and can't wait to see Brad Pitt in action again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best of 2012 (so far)

Ethan Wasdovitch

So I decided to put a few lists together with the movie season coming to a close and the Oscars just a few months away.  I thought I’d give my top 5 films of the year (so far), a few others that will probably end up on my top 10 list, and a few films I was disappointed with.  I also added a short list of films that I was pleasantly surprised with, even though they won’t be on my top 10 list.


1.  Cloud Atlas

  • Here is a film I was expecting to be disappointed with.  The mostly positive and yet slightly sub-par reviews kept me away from it, but a few people urged me to see it and wow, I was blown away.  The scope of this film is almost impossible to explain and the element of storytelling is shockingly potent.  I was expecting a much more metaphysical and abstract film, but it is presented with surprising ease and is never once difficult to follow (unless you go to the bathroom for even five minutes).  Easily the most ambitious and awe-inspiring piece I’ve seen in a very long time.  Still, the polarizing reviews will most likely be reflected on audiences as more people are exposed to this film.
2.  the Master
  • Far less polarizing than Cloud Atlas, and yet much more difficult to digest.  The Master is unlike any movie I have ever seen and plays out like a fever dream.  The plot is simple enough and the unsettling atmosphere is heightened by some of the best acting in recent memory (Joaquin Phoenix’s performance outshines any I have perhaps ever seen).  Even if you don’t follow or even enjoy the story of the Master, it is hard not to admire such a bold and stark film.  Not as instantly hard-hitting as director Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, but I have found it impossible to forget.
3.  the Cabin in the Woods
  • This was the first movie that blew me away in 2012.  I am a hard core horror fan and rarely do big-budget, big-name modern horror movies make such an impact.  Honestly, this feels like a game changer within the genre.  My review pretty much says everything about it that can be said without ruining the movie, but this is a hilarious and shocking movie (in ways that I didn’t expect).
4.  Argo
  • Absolutely proficient and incredibly intense, Argo will make just about every film lover’s list of best of 2012.  Ben Affleck once again proves he is a force behind the camera (and in front of it for a change) with this razor sharp political drama.  For a movie with so little action (as described in the traditional sense), Argo seems a lot more heart pounding than you would expect.  A must see on every level, unless you’re looking for something a bit more cutting edge.
5.  Prometheus
  • Well here is the movie that many people will detest appearing on a best of list.  I was waiting for well over a year for this film to come out and just before its release the less than stellar reviews had me bummed out.  When I saw it at midnight in 3D, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.  Having seen it almost 10 times since its release on blu-ray, this incredible science fiction/horror film still packs a punch despite some very interesting editing choices by director Ridley Scott (some of the deleted scenes should have been left in the movie).  The world of Prometheus is detailed and immersive all while painting an intriguing picture about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe.  Michael Fassbender gives one of my favorite performances of 2012 as well.

Also Up There... (possible top 10 contenders)
Moonrise Kingdom
Killer Joe
Beasts of the Southern Wild
the Avengers

the Hunger Games
the Raid: Redemption
the Five Year Engagement
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
the Tall Man
the Amazing Spiderman

Silent House
  • I enjoy found footage films but this one was a huge letdown.  The “one giant shot” aspect was really cool but did not do much overall to improve the cliche and predictable plot.  Elizabeth Olsen is disappointing after her great turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Dark Shadows
  • Tim Burton needs to stop and think about his career.  Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite movies but this was another turn in the wrong direction.  Its a silly adaptation of a silly show.  Also, I’m sick of Tim Burton slapping pale makeup on Johnny Depp and having him act weird.  It doesn’t work.
the Dark Knight Rises
  • Now before anybody gets out their pitchforks let me explain why I consider this a disappointment.  My final grade for this film is an 8/10, which is a very good score.  Overall this is an excellent movie that is a satisfying conclusion, but as a whole it is nowhere close to being in the league of the first two of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.  I found it overlong and underdeveloped.  It could have been split into two films, and both halves could have been developed so much more (especially with Marion Cotillard’s character and even Tom Hardy as Bane) to make it seem complete.  There are too many plot-holes to let slip by involving silly things that could have been explained had the filmmakers been more fearless (like Batman’s return to Gotham near the end of the film and his miraculous recovery from a fatal would).  So like I said, this is a great film with amazing action, great acting, and an epic scope.  Still, I wanted a lot more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Reviewed by Ethan Wasdovitch

It is almost impossible to comprehend that Ben Affleck is the man responsible for this film (let alone the equally impressive films The Town and Gone Baby Gone).  Affleck has gone from a nearly-laughable product of Hollywood (remember Gigli?) to one of the best directors working today.  In short, Argo is probably his best film yet and is a step in the right direction that proves that Affleck can tackle a genre outside of crime thrillers.  While not a revelation or a masterpiece, Argo is awfully close to both.
Based on an incredible and inspiring true series of events, Argo tells the story of six Americans who avoided being captured in Iran in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini’s new reign over the country caused a dangerous backlash against Western ideology (particularly American culture).  Tony Mendez (played with astonishing finesse by Affleck himself) devises an idea to get the six hiding hostages out of Iran before they are found and possibly publicly executed.  His plot involves creating a fake film production that will trick Iranian officials into believing the six hostages are part of a Canadian film crew in order to safely escort them out of the country.  This rather complicated story is presented very clearly and is never once confusing.  Many who have a lack of knowledge on the historical event itself should have no problem following the story.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the cast.  Ben Affleck has an uncanny ability to assemble a very strong cast that aids in the pacing and aesthetics of the movie.  Other standouts in the film are Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman (Arkin providing some of the best lines in the film.  “Argo fuck yourself!”).  It should be noted that Argo, despite its dead-serious material, is surprisingly funny and easy to watch.  Dialogue is snappy and humorous, and the actors are talented enough to make everything believable.  This is no small feat, and Argo’s two hour runtime feels more like an hour as a result.
The last hour of Argo is undoubtably the main reason to see the film.  Edited with incredible suspense and passion, the final part of the movie will have you grasping your armrest and holding your breath in anticipation.  A true emotional bond is created, especially pertaining to the six American hostages.  You don’t want them to get caught, and you will wince whenever they have a close encounter with the forces that are working against them.  I was actually quite surprised with the amount of emotion in this movie, especially towards the end.  Without giving anything away, it is safe to say that many will be moved to tears by the time Argo comes to a close.
Having said all of that, Argo has a set of problems that set it back slightly.  The only major complaint I have about this movie is that Affleck has not yet created his own visual flair as a director.  In many ways, Argo is simply another superbly crafted political drama with many exciting moments and boatloads of excellent acting.  However, Affleck has yet to make a film that “feels” like a Ben Affleck film.  This is a minor criticism and this being his third film, I’m sure he can do nothing but develop as a director.  A gripe that some people will inevitably have with Argo is the lack of action in the traditional sense.  This is not a shoot-em-up, running through the allies thriller.  Argo is very dialogue heavy and thick with constant disagreements and discourse.  The action, however, is the the words.  It’s impossible to say that Argo is not exciting, because (as previously stated) this film has some of the most intense moments in recent memory.  I fear that many people (having seen the exciting trailer) are expecting more face-offs with bad guys and bullet dodging.  You won’t find any of that in Argo.  What you’ll find instead is a very intelligent and emotional thriller that is driven by dialogue and smart framing.
While director Ben Affleck has yet to discover his visual tag as a director, he has made another great movie.  Argo is his best work yet (as a director and an actor) and will definitely please history buffs and fans of political thrillers.  Hell, even general audiences should have no problem loving this movie.  Argo is not a revelatory motion picture, but it is a highly commendable one.  An impeccable cast, razor sharp script, and glowing emotional resonance makes Argo one of the best films of 2012 so far.  Expect to see this one nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, and don’t be surprised if Argo takes home the award for best picture of the year.