Sunday, May 25, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut review

I'm just going to get this out of the way right now, this is not the kind of movie you want to watch with your mother. Stanley Kubrick is a universally renowned cinematic genius. Practically everyone acknowledges that the guy is seriously good at making movies. Whether it's Barry Lyndon or Full Metal Jacket, his movies are always expertly crafted and very interesting. I count him as one of the best directors ever. He's made some of my all-time favorite films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. The one film of his that really seems to polarize people is his last, Eyes Wide Shut. Whenever I'd talk to people who had seen this movie, they'd scoff and exclaim how it's a "bad" film and that Kubrick was off his rocker when he made it. I just recently watched Eyes Wide Shut and I can honestly say it is in no way his worst film. Nor is it a "bad" film. I can see why people wouldn't like it though. It's about a New York doctor named Bill Harford (Tom Cruise). He lives a comfortable and happy existence with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) and young daughter (Madison Eginton). One night, Alice reveals to Bill that she once almost had an affair. She tells him that she was willing to give away everything, her family and job included, just to sleep with this man. Understandably shaken by all this, Bill goes off into the streets of NYC on a surreal journey of sex, exploring the deepest depths of the human soul. Sorry about the long synopsis, but I feel it's necessary to really understand what I'm talking about with this movie. So, as I was saying, I can understand why people didn't like Eyes Wide Shut. It's filled with some very uncomfortable scenes involving very uncomfortable, uh, physical acts of love. This can be a bit unnerving. Believe me, I was quite unnerved. At times it almost seemed like Stanley Kubrick was trying to make the audience as uncomfortable and scared as possible. There's one scene involving a very strange masquerade party that will probably be forever engraved in my mind. Although that's not entirely a bad thing. Kubrick is trying to make us really look at this movie and ask, "What exactly is right?". Is Cruise's protagonist a good person? Does he have morals? I'm not entirely sure. This film is really delving into the human mind and ultimately asking "What makes us tick?". People who have an immediate negative knee-jerk reaction to this movie obviously need to think about it more before making a final opinion. Right after I watched this movie, I didn't have an opinion. I still needed to digest it all. After some time, I've decided Eyes Wide Shut is a few hairs short of a great movie. It's incredibly well directed and well made. Kubrick's direction is as sharp as ever. He seems to be especially attracted to tracking shots of characters here, and it works very well. The guy always is doing interesting things with the camera. Few directors are as technically creative as Stanley Kubrick. He never really focuses on his actors in most of his films. He directs his actors spectacularly here. He lingers on the hurt confusion that envelops Tom Cruise's face. The look of jealousy and lust on Nicole Kidman. Eyes Wide Shut is a delicate machine. Kept well oiled and with all parts correctly working, it does it'd job wonderfully. If one little piece fell out of place, the movie would fall to shambles. Luckily, that is not the case. Many people give Tom Cruise a lot of crap for his personal life. Because of this, his acting is often overlooked. He's given some terrific performances in films like Born on the Fourth of July and Tropic Thunder. His performance here is no exception. His character, Dr. Bill Harford, is confused and scared. Things are going incredibly badly for him, and he's not even sure what's real anymore. Cruise's performance is subtle, and that's why it works so well. Nicole Kidman does a good job as well, playing equal parts jealous wife and loving and caring partner. This movie reminded me a lot of Martin Scorsese's 1985 film After Hours. It's a night-long odyssey into the dirty trenches of a hellish New York City. The difference being the protagonist in After Hours, played by Griffin Dunne, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cruise's character is deliberately plunging himself into this nightmare. That makes it almost all the more interesting, and all the more surreal. Eyes Wide Shut is the kind of film that will certainly get better with repeat viewings. I haven't even completely figured it out yet, but I know there's more to it that I didn't even pick up on yet. This isn't Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, but I can tell it's exactly the movie he wanted to make. This is the vision as Kubrick imagined it. And that itself is enough to admire. Happy Viewing. If you haven't done so already, please follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at Thanks!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Crimes and Misdemeanors

If The Coen Brothers and Woody Allen joined consciences and then made a movie, that movie would be Crimes and Misdemeanors. And I mean that in the best way possible. Woody Allen is the king of comedy in my mind. There scenes in his 1977 film, Annie Hall, that make me laugh harder than practically anything else. I love his brand of cynical New York humor. It really clicks with me. What I particularly like, is when he acts in his own movies. No one delivers his dialogue better than himself. His role in Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the funniest and more brilliant comic performances I may have ever seen. I really do love his comedies. It's his dramatic stuff that I'm not such a fan of. I was incredibly disappointed with his newest movie, Blue Jasmine. It felt very stuffy and seemed to take itself a little too seriously. Although many people love it, I was more than let down with his 2005 film, Match Point. Although I'd be willing to rewatch it and see what I think now. I was a little worried about Crimes and Misdemeanors. It was supposed to be slightly more dramatic than his earlier stuff. Woody's drama work has never wowed me, so I was very cautious when going into this movie. I shouldn't have been. Crimes and Misdemeanors blends taught drama and side splitting comedy like few films I've ever seen. It works so well on so many different levels. Allen knows exactly what he wants to say, and boy, does he say it well. It's about a successful ophthalmologist, Dr.Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), who is having an affair with an unstable women named Dolores (Anjelica Huston). Things with Dolores are going south for him, and she is starting to threaten his own life and marriage, so Judah must do something drastic. And do it fast. Meanwhile, a struggling documentary filmmaker, Clifford Stern (Woody Allen), has fallen in love with another women (Mia Farrow). In a nutshell, Crimes and Misdemeanors is about infidelity (a reoccurring theme in Allen's movies), morality, and the human condition. But Allen deals with these films in a joking and wonderful manner, never taking himself too seriously. That's what makes this film work so well. It reminded me of a Coen Brothers film in the sense that it develops a near perfect balance between a comedy flick and a dark crime thriller. Similar to something like Fargo, Barton Fink, or Blood Simple. There are moments, for example, when Clifford Stern makes a documentary on Alan Alda's character. A phony television producer, Lester. The film put's Lester in a negative light. This angers him so much he fires Clifford. You see him later walking in a park with Mia Farrow saying "What was he so angry for? You'd no one had ever compared him to Mussolini before." It's a very funny scene. But it's paired with murder, adultery, suicide, and serious philosophical questions. In the hands of a more inept director and writer, this would turn into an uneven mess. With Woody Allen in charge, it becomes a something truly great. Martin Landau's plight seems dark and even claustrophobic. The plight of Woody Allen's character is like something out of a Woody Allen movie. Who knew they'd go together so well? Crimes and Misdemeanors asks "Who is right in this situation?" "Who is the hero?" "Is anyone to be trusted?" The answer to those questions? Well, I'll let you watch the movie.  Overall, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a fantastic outing by the neurotic master of comedic infidelity, Woody Allen. Great acting, a sharp screenplay, and terrific direction make this a modern classic. I'm sure it's one for everyone will enjoy. Me? I'm just looking forward to when I can watch this again. Remember! You can follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at Happy Viewing.        

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Under The Skin review

If Eraserhead-era David Lynch time traveled to today and directed a movie about aliens, I imagine it would look somewhat like Under The Skin. Except it probably wouldn't be as good as the actual movie is.
In old cheesy sci-fi flicks, and even in some more recent movies, aliens are always humanoid. They may have purple skin or weird space suits, but they always resemble humans to a fault. Whether in appearance, language, or technology, it seems science fiction writers can't get away from humanity when creating an alien race. Under The Skin doesn't have this problem. The extraterrestrial in Under The Skin takes the form of a Scarlett Johansson-looking Scot, but underneath it's something completely different. Something alien to our world. With thoughts, needs, and desires completely different than that of any human. I think it's the fact that this movie addresses how strange and alien actually aliens would be that makes it so interesting. It also addresses how strange and alien our world and culture would look to an outsider. Director Jonathan Glazer and his leading lady, Scarlett Johansson, portray these factors with the utmost skill and strangeness. Under The Skin is technically about an alien on Earth taking men and harvesting them for some unknown purpose. But that's not really important. The film is really about fear, confusion, and humanity itself. Big themes, I know. But this movie isn't afraid of big themes. What it really embraces are the big questions. The main protagonist here, Scarlett Johansson's alien character, spends a decent chunk of the film driving around Scotland to pick up men and then bring them back to her apartment where they're never seen again. When she first meets a guy, she always asks if he's alone. Whether he has a family, if he's traveling with anyone, does he have any friends. She wants to take people that won't cause a ruckus if they drop off the face of the Earth one day. She asks if they're alone. In life maybe they are, but not in the universe. When the movie starts out, Johansson has all the power. These men she finds are practically drooling at her to the point where they die, blinded by her hypnotic beauty. As the film progresses, she starts to lose this power. You can see her character scared and confused by people and Earth in general. At one point she trips in the street and passers-by rush to help her, the look of confusion is incredibly telling of her character. Scarlett Johansson barely speaks at all in the movie, but she deserves an Oscar simply for the way she communicates through her face. Whether she's utterly emotionless, or horribly frightened and confused, Johansson gives a marvelous performance. This may sound ridiculous, but I think it's the most honest portrayal of an alien that's ever been captured on film. Aliens probably wouldn't be all-knowing and confident. They're like snakes: dangerous, but more scared of us than we are of them. Things we take for granted like eating and even just regular human interaction become odd and even scary to an alien. Johansson embodies this horrified confusion so, so well The person involved with this movie I have to applaud most is writer and director Jonathan Glazer. His direction here is breathtaking. Every shot is clear and beautiful, haunting and meaningful. The imagery here is flawless. Just the shots of the Scottish countryside are awe-inspiring. The way he holds the seemingly meaningless shots like a hand tapping to music or an ant crawling, make those shots seem as important as the entire movie. And in some ways, they are. Glazer uses single shots to paint an entire picture and deliver so much emotion and information. He doesn't need dialogue. The last scene has been burned into my mind since I watched this last night, and that's saying something about the power of cinema. Many people have deemed this film as Kubrickian. I'm a huge Stanley Kubrick fan myself, but I don't really see a connection. I think people were trying to connect this and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is understandable but wrong. They're two great films, but two completely different films. The only thing Kubrick-esque about Under The Skin is it's pacing. In most of his movies like Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick has this very slow, yet very riveting and deliberate pacing. Glazer uses a similar technique here. When watching this, I was in between deeply enthralled and utterly bored. And I mean that in the best possible way. Nothing is really happening, yet it feels like something profound and horrific will happen soon. I literally was on the edge of my seat most of the movie. If anything, Under The Skin is completely original. I have never seen a movie, technically and narrative-wise, like Under The Skin. It's completely it's own. One more thing. This film is an all around sensory experience, and I highly recommend you see it in the theater while you can. It's not just visuals. The soundtrack is incredibly eerie and it's use of sound in general is spectacular. Overall it's a very well-made movie. It marries it's sounds and images in such an amazing way, that it all permeates your soul. That sounds very pretentious and a little ridiculous but it's 100% true. In a world of reboots and The Amazing Spider Man 2, maybe that's just what we need. This film is in no way for everyone. Some may find it too weird. Some may find it boring. I found it riveting, original, and even a little prophetic. I believe that's enough to deem this a great movie. Or at least one we should be thinking and talking about. I give Under The Skin 4.8 out of 5 stars. Now stop reading my review and go see the movie! Remember to follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at          

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Barton Fink review

Barton Fink is sort of the long-lost soul child to Adaptation. Yeah, that seems about right.
For a writer, the worst antagonist, enemy, and foe to do battle with is the blank page. Vast, blank, and intimidating. All those ideas that once bustled and inhabited the busy streets of your conscious mind have long since deserted you. And now you must face the dreaded blank page. The Coen Brother's 1991 film, Barton Fink, is kind of about the fearful blank-page battle. But it's also about so much more. The movie is about a somewhat successful playwright from Brooklyn in 1941, the titular character, Barton Fink (John Turturro). Barton is hired by a big shot producer (Michael Lerner) to write a write a wrestling picture over in Hollywood, despite having never worked on a movie before in his life. He's put up in a shoddy hotel with a nosy but kind neighbor named Charlie (John Goodman), who's "damned interested" in what Barton has to say. When Fink tries to write, he finds he's all blocked up. And that, is when the trouble really begins. I'm a little bit of a huge Coen Brothers fan. I even consider The Big Lebowski and Fargo to be two of my all-time favorite movies. So, it's no surprise to me how much I liked Barton Fink. I've loved practically every thing I've seen by The Coen's, but recently their style has changed ever so slightly. I really liked Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, and A Serious Man but they were all departures from the Coen's of Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Burn After Reading was the only one of their newer works to come close to the feel of their older stuff. Their newer films are really good, just different. Barton Fink feels very much like a movie made by Joel and Ethan Coen. I mean that as a sincere compliment. It's stamped with their trademark sharp dialogue (one scene involving private investigators was so funny and well written I practically burst out of my chair laughing) and strange characters, with their usual cool and inventive camera work. It's textbook Coen, yet at the same time it's one of the more original things they've ever done. It feels so much like them, but it's also very fresh and very new. Not that they are ever really stale and old. What I'm saying, is this is so very much a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, but it's not predictable and repetitive of their other works. Barton Fink is a very strange and surreal movie. The ending in particular is up for interpretation. I could go on for hours debating if it's a metaphor for Barton's inner mind or is it a metaphor for hell or what certain things mean, but what would be the point? It's a portrait of a writer, a funny cynical look at Hollywood, and a good old fashioned murder story all wrapped into one. It's like The Coen Brothers got together with Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder and made this movie. And the results are fantastic. In the film, Fink wants to write something from the depths of his soul that will change the way we watch movies and theater. He wants to create a whole new kind of theater for the common man, all while pleasing the critics. The big shot Hollywood producers want him to write a crowd-pleaser filled with all action sequences. The film of Barton Fink isn't exactly either of those, but it is a nice mixture of both. The entire movie is filled with great things. From the whip-smart screenplay to the highly impressive direction. The performances are top-notch too. John Turturro plays Barton Fink quite well and Michael Lerner is hilariously good as the over-the-top movie producer. It's John Goodman who really steals show. He plays a (seemingly) insignificant character by the name of Charlie Meadows, a traveling insurance salesman with stories to tell. Goodman is terrific in his roles and always fun to watch. He's no different here. In fact, I can count his performance in Barton Fink as one of his all-time best. He's that damn good! Michael Lerner was the only actor here who got an Oscar nod, but I think Goodman truly deserved it. Barton Fink is an undisputedly weird movie. It's surrealism and character study wrapped up in a slow burning murder mystery. In no way is it for everyone. The beginning starts off slow, but once it get's going, boy does it go. I really loved Barton Fink. It's not my favorite outing from the Coen's, but it's one I surely won't forget. Because not only is it entertaining and interesting, but it's a really personal film from them and that's partially what makes it so good. If anything, Barton Fink portrays the dreaded battle with the blank page very, very well.
If you haven't already you can follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at Happy Viewing everyone!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review

I still find it hilarious that Marc Webb directed this movie. Webb. Like spider web. Or spider webb.
Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man movies were pretty great. The first and second are superhero movie "classics". The third film was a messy and unintentionally funny disaster. Luckily, the producers had sense enough to reboot and drag the series out of the deep and awful hole it had been put in by Spider-Man 3. The Amazing Spider-Man was made. While not fantastic, it was still a very good and entertaining Spidey flick that I thoroughly enjoyed and kind of loved. Then comes the inevitable sequel. Sequels are (almost) never better, or as good, as they're predecessor. The only examples I can think of are in The Dark Knight trilogy, the Lord of the Rings series, and Sergio Leone's Dollars films. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, like most sequels, doesn't measure up to it's original movie. In fact, it really isn't a good movie at all. It's loaded with issues. Yet, I still really, really enjoyed it. It's an incredibly fun movie, but it's not a good movie. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) doing Peter Parker-esque stuff and saving NYC and his girlfriend from super powered baddies and he's also having trouble coping with his dead dad and stuff, etc. Yeah, the plot sounds very cliche of a superhero movie and way too similar to every other damn Spider-Man flick we've had pretty much ever. It felt a lot like a Spider-Man film, One reason I liked the last movie so much was because, despite the fact it was telling the same origin story, it felt like a new Spider-Man movie. Marc Webb was doing his own thing. This sequel feels too much like what Webb, and Sam Raimi, have already done. It seemed like the same overstuffed plot from Spider-Man 3 mixed with the feel and style of The Amazing Spider-Man. Even so, I felt myself smiling and enjoying the whole movie through and through. Andrew Garfield has something to do with that. His titular performance is great. The guy delivers his lines and jokes with a confident suaveness that Peter Parker should have. It's practically impossible not to like the guy. Imagine the funny brashness of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark with less cynicism except as a teenager. That's his performance, and he makes it totally his own. Marc Webb is great at directing him, and actually great at directing in general. Webb did the terrific 500 Days of Summer and the last Spider-Man movie. He did very solid jobs with both. I can say the same about this movie. The romantic scenes, the web-slinging city scenes; overall he does an awesome job. He directs the entire movie with such a slick and assured vibe that you can't help but have fun. But at an over two hour running time, the cracks and many imperfections start to show through. Webb and Garfield teamed up make for a terrifically entertaining film. The acting and direction isn't the problem, it's everything else. Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan play the main villains, and they're both pretty terrible. Next to Garfield's wonder self-assured performance they look like amateurs. Foxx overplays the nerdy aspect of his character too much and when he finally becomes a bad guy, he doesn't know what to do. DeHaan had a decent role in the movie Chronicle. Unfortunately, he's just repeated that same performance in every movie he's been in after. The kid's being typecast as the angry young man. He did it in Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines,and now this. I'm getting tired of watching him sneer and yell while he looks really tired. Although DeHaan didn't do a great job, it wasn't all his fault. The original Spider-Man films were great because they focused on one villain while highlighting Peter Parker's human side. The extra super villain played by Dane DeHaan is unnecessary and irritating. He just feels shoehorned in for the sake of being shoehorned in. Jamie Foxx, while not great, was enough. We had too many subplots already for another villain. It seems like the movie's over and then DeHaan's Green Goblin character shows up and does crap that the movie didn't need! The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a great piece of commercial filmmaking in that it gets it's job done in a slick and entertaining way that most people will enjoy. It's bad filmmaking in the general sense that it's fairly unoriginal, a bit bloated, and it's characters are hard to connect with. I will admit, I kind of had a blast with the movie. It's fun, it's enjoyable, but it's not good. Is it bad necessarily? No. But it's a little disappointing. The film is a good Saturday afternoon time killer, but it's not something I'm going to really remember. So go see it, but don't expect much. I give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 3.2 out of 5 stars. Remember you can follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at Happy Viewing!