Friday, October 28, 2011

The Rum Diary Review

Greetings, Internet!  Last night I had the chance to check out Johnny Depp's latest film, The Rum Diary.  I would like to start off by saying that I am unfamiliar with the work of Hunter S. Thompson, nor have I seen any other films that are based upon his work.  That being said, I thought TRD was...interesting, with hints of brilliance and moments of pure hilarity, capped off by an unsatisfying finale.

The biggest props have to go to the two main leads: Depp and Michael Rispoli.  Two great actors putting in two great performances.  The likability and mystery of these two characters help to ground the film and allow the audience to get in their corner.  Depp's character, Kemp, is offered a job at an ailing newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960.  The territory is portrayed as a mix of the wealthy minority and the poor majority.  Echoing today's political sentiments, the wealthy individuals (including the always-great Aaron Eckhart) are portrayed as money-grubbing profiteers looking to exploit the land for what they can, then move on.  Depp begins writing horoscopes and pieces on the booming bowling alley craze sweeping the area, but soon ends up in Eckhart's camp, tasked with spinning a commercial take-over of a nearby uninhabited island.  There's a lot going on in the film..and you have no idea what to expect next (one of my favorite aspects).

Puerto Rico is a mystery not only to most of us, but to Depp's Kemp as well.  We get to experience the exotic land through his eyes and witness the debauchery and partying lifestyles of the time.  One of the film's best scenes involves an unknown narcotic..dispensed through eye drops.  Its very memorable and quite funny.  The Rum Diary is probably one of the funniest films of the year, perhaps (un)intentionally.  Giovanni Ribisi is amazing as a Nazi-loving, always-drunk, ex-coworker and sometimes-roommate of Depp and Rispoli.  He steals the show with his drunken ramblings that lead to some memorable moments and quotes.

While I was, for the most part, entertained throughout, the film dragged quite a bit in the middle portion; not much was happening plot-wise and scenes seemed to languish for eternity.  Several times throughout the film I was tempted to check the time to see how much was left.  This two-hour film seemed much longer.  My other big complaint was the lack of a resolution(s).  Several story lines were built up throughout the film, with them all seemingly leading nowhere.  The film ends, in my opinion, abruptly with some pre-credit text explaining future events.  The events that were built up, specifically in the end of the second act, lead to absolutely nothing..and left me wanting more.  I understand that this film is most likely staying true to the source material, but I can't help but feel the anti-climactic nature of the final moments leave me wanting.

Despite my complaints I enjoyed The Rum Diary.  Seeing Johnny Depp without makeup, for once, was quite a treat.  If you are a fan of Depp, or enjoy pseudo-dramadies than I recommend you check it out.  If probably will be bored.

The Rum Diary was pretty good.

Bullet out.

In Time Review

If you have the time to see In Time, you should see In Time.  If you don't have the time to see In Time, then you won't be missing your time.  The number of times I said "time" right there is a representative exaggeration of the amount of times the characters say "time" in In Time. I can't stop.

Anyway, In Time exists in a distant future (I think?) where currency is time, not money.  Everyone has a green, glowing clock on their left arm letting them and the world know how much time they have left to live.  Everyone ages till they turn 25, then the clock starts.  Everyone is born with a year to live, while most people in the ghetto live day-to-day.  That's probably the most effective part of this world and the film itself.  The idea of waking up, knowing that you only have hours or minutes to live is quite unsettling.  You could say that its a cop-out, but In Time uses this premise quite frequently to boost tension within a scene.  Things get all the more serious when you see that there's only seconds left on the clock.  In this future, you can give time and take time by grabbing another person's right forearm.  Here's my beef with that - there are many instances in the film of someone taking time from another..and the second party does nothing to stop it.  You can just walk up to someone sleeping, put your arm underneath theirs and take their time, all the way to death.  Seems like society would break down pretty quickly..don't get me wrong, there is plenty of crime and criminals running around heisting time from people, but its just seems too easy to take someone's time.  We don't go around giving our money to people on a daily basis.  There is such an interesting world here, but the logic unfortunately doesn't fully hold up under scrutiny, and isn't really explored.

I thought the performances were alright.  I quite liked Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.  And who doesn't like Cillian Murphy??  The script itself is what's lacking, though.  A few too many "time" jokes were peppered throughout the early dialogue: "Hey, play some poker with us"  "No thanks, I don't have the TIME to play poker any more."  It gets quite annoying after a does Alex Pettyfer.  I haven't shared my opinions on this guy yet, but I cannot stand him in anything he's done.  He's an annoying asshole in this film and doesn't change my unfavorable opinion of the guy.

Despite all the negatives I've brought up I enjoyed In Time.  The concept and world are pretty interesting; a lot of tech is pseudo-retro.  Cars look straight out of the early 90s, but hum with future-tech.  There are "time zones" to keep the rich separated from the poor.  With all of this there is quite a heavy underlying tone and message; the government helps to keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  Those living in the ghetto live day-to-day, with death in the streets, while the rich live lavishly with hundreds, if not thousands of years on their clocks.  The message is pretty heavy-handed but didn't necessarily detract from my enjoyment.  I think most of us have grown accustomed to a bit of political preaching in modern films.  Overall, I was able to overlook most of the glaring flaws and plot holes (how did JT and Amanda get back to the ghetto after he kidnapped her?) and had fun with this movie.

In Time is kinda cool.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 Review

Greetings Internet!

I feel that I must begin this discussion with a smidge of background info.  I am not generally a fan of horror films (I don't like to be scared), although I will still see them.  Just like the Asian Scottsman in that Starburst commercial, its a bit contradictory.  I saw both previous Paranormal films in theater at midnight screenings, with a packed audience.  I feel that this trilogy is best seen amongst a group of people.  While frankly terrified by both previous films (again, I'm a sissy), I feel that Paranormal Activity 3 is the scariest, and quite possibly the best film in the trilogy.

I'm going to try to not spoil much for any of you who haven't seen the first two films.  PA3 is a prequel set in 1988.  We get to see the sisters from the first two films as small children, living with their mother and her boyfriend.  Being set in 1988 meant that video surveillance equipment and/or a plethora of easily-accessible video equipment would be tough to come by.  How the film handles this is fairly believable (the boyfriend is a wedding videographer).  The build up is pretty much following the path laid out by the first two films, with footage toggling between daytime and nighttime.  This is not necessarily new territory being tread here; much like the recent The Thing prequel, PA3 borrows heavily from the first two films in terms of set-up.

Where PA3 differs is in the quality of the scares.  I'm not afraid to admit that I was absolutely terrified throughout the film.  My eyes were constantly darting across every frame trying to find something moving or making noises.  The way the story is told is quite compelling and good use is made of the two girls.  The quality of the physical effects is quite impressive; there were plenty of shots and scares that left me not only terrified but also questioning "how'd he do dat?"

In terms of story PA3 does a fairly decent job at leading into the two previous films.  Some questions were answered while others were raised.  Again, I don't really wish to spoil anything for any of the trilogy.  Ultimately these films aren't, at the their core, story-or-character-driven.  You see the Paranormal films to be scared.  I will say that the family in this film is quite likable; I really didn't want any negative to befall them.  While the male character in each preceding film was, let's face it, quite douchy, Dennis (the boyfriend) is quite charming and easy to get behind.

As you can probably tell I'm a fan of Paranormal Activity 3.  I recommend it for those of you who enjoy being scared, or were simply fans of the first two films.  If you didn't like those there really isn't much here to change your mind.

Paranormal Activity 3 is terrifyingly rad.

The Bearded Bullet afraid to sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retro Review: se7en

I have finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch David Fincher's 1995 film, se7en.  Needless to say I absolutely loved this film.

I feel that there is very much to be enjoyed - that said, if you don't enjoy psychological thrillers with a healthy does of gore and twisted murders then this isn't the film for you.  Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are a joy to watch.  Their dynamic is highly compelling and at times what you've seen before...but there is just something special to how Freeman sees the world and how his work and life in New York had jaded him over the years.  We get a small glimpse into that during the excellent diner scene with the gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow.

To say that this film is stylized is quite an understatement.  Every scene is just dripping with character and oozing grime.  I felt dirty after watching this film.  In part due to the gruesome crime scenes depicted throughout the film - again, each very stylized with a specific purpose (per the killer's overarching plan).  If you're even more behind the times than I am I won't spoil who the killer is..but it was quite a fantastic performance to say the least.

This is one of the most tense and intense films I've ever seen.  Very few films make me physically react in my seat the way that this film's climax did (127 Hours and Drive are two recent examples that come to mind).  I feel that this is one of the best aspects of se7en.  Fincher draws you in with spectacular characters, a gripping story, and an enthralling setting, that by the end I couldn't wait to see how the pieces of the puzzles fit together.

If you enjoy stylish, neo-noire crime dramas, I highly recommend se7en.

se7en is unequivocally radtastic.

Bearded Bullet out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Thing (2011) Review

Whaaaaat up Internets?

The Bearded Bullet is here to review The Thing, which is a prequel to....The Thing.  The title unfortunately mimics (see what I did there...) the un-originality of the plot.  But really, how could a prequel that takes place days before the original film be that much different?  The answer lies in the middle.  The Thing faithfully sets up events that transpire in the OG Thing, while delivering a somewhat-satisfying story.

I'll try not to get too spoilery (for those who haven't seen the original), but the new Thing follows the Norwegian team that discovered and unfortunately unearthed the "thing" that ultimately ends up terrorizing them and eventually the American team in the original.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character is a paleontologist brought to the dig site to help excavate the frozen specimen.  The plot of the film unfolds pretty much how you would expect it to; "thing" thaws, terrorizes the team, paranoia is had by all, a test is developed to check for aliens, "thing" kills lots of people.  Despite the somewhat predictability I had a blast with the new Thing.  I enjoyed the characters and especially the set-ups for what comes in the original film.  Being able to spot things that Kurt Russel will find in just days made me cheer in my seat.  Fan service is definitely paid during the credits of the ends exactly where you think it will.  And I was completely okay with it.

I feel that I must make mention of the music and the visual effects in this new Thing.  The original Thing used the same tonal notes over and over again to add and build tension within a scene; the prequel also uses music to enhance a scene (as most horror films do these days), but perhaps not quite as effectively as the original.  The visual effects, for me, were not on par with the original's.  1982's The Thing featured absolutely incredible practical effects for the chest-busting, tentacle throwing, head-splitting aliens - and it stills holds up today.  The 2011 Thing uses pretty much all CG for the alien action.  Its pretty decent, but can't compare to the rawness of practical effects.  Why does Guillermo del Toro (and Ridley Scott with Prometheus) tend to use as many practical effects as possible?  Because they look fantastic and are more believable than digital effects (in most cases).  Much like the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, specifically the Freddy-coming-through-the-wall scene, the original film's practical effects add a level of intensity and believability to a film about a 100,000-year-old alien.

While The Thing may not break tradition or really try anything new, I can say that if you are a fan of the original The Thing, I recommend you check this out.  The story is actually still enjoyable, as are the new characters the viewer is introduced to.  I had a lot of fun with this movie.

The Thing (2011) is pretty cool.

Bearded Bullet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Real Steel Review

Hello again, Internet!

Real Steel has...real heart.  One wouldn't necessarily think that after hearing the premise:  In the future (around 2027) human boxers have been replaced by human-controlled (via a touch-screen controller) robot boxers.  The original story was written in 1956, called "Steel" and involved a similar premise.  This incarnation, however, wraps the robot boxing around themes of family, abandonment, and ultimately redemption...which is what makes this movie great.  The Transformers series offers giant, complex robots fighting one another with human counterparts standing by the wayside (of which the audience ultimately my care little about).  Real Steel too offers large (1,000+ lbs.) robots fighting one another, but there is an emotional core to the film that allows the audience to relate to the characters and experience their emotions along with them.

Grounded at the center of the film is the relationship between father (an always-great Hugh Jackman) and son (Dakota Goyo).  Abandoned by his father at birth, Dakota's Max has to learn to live with a father he has never met and isn't ready or willing to take care of him.  Max comes along for the ride and is thrown into the down-and-dirty world of underground robot boxing.  Their on-screen relationship develops, changes, and grows over the course of the film, to the point where you are really cheering in their corner by the end.  Evangeline Lilly (Lost's Kate) does a good job as Jackman's on-again-off-again girlfriend and landlord.  She's able to talk to and interact with Max in a way that Jackman's character can't and doesn't know how.

I was really quite impressed with the digital and practical effects used in Real Steel.  All of the robots we see on screen were actually built and were partially animatronic; if a robot was walking or fighting performance-capture (the same used in Avatar) was used to track the robot movements.  Everything else was practical.  There really is very little difference between practical and digital effects; the robots seem very real, and very powerful.  One can feel the intensity and strength of the mechanized punches being thrown; metal flies, fires break out, limbs are torn off.  There is a different type of brutality on display here, one that couldn't be seen in such fighting-centric films as The Fighter and Warrior.  In this future world, crowds want spectacle and utter destruction.  Robots allow for that to happen.

Real Steel is ultimately a feel-good, family story that happens to revolve around sweet robots fighting one another.  I really don't have much negative to say about Real Steel - just go check it out!

Real Steel is rad.


Drive Review

Greetings Internet!  The Bearded Bullet is back with a review for what I consider to be the best film of the year so far: Drive.

Nicholas Winding Refn's (Valhalla Rising, Bronson, The Pusher trilogy) latest directorial debut is a fine piece of art; if you are looking for a fast-paced action thrill ride you'll have to look elsewhere (perhaps this year's excellent Fast Five?).  The simplest distillation of the plot is such: Ryan Gosling's Driver (his name is never given) is a stunt-driver by day and getaway-driver by night.  He gets involved with some pretty ruthless individuals over a heist-gone-wrong.  That's the basic plot, but there is much more to this film than just a heist.

Most commonly emotion, feelings, and thoughts are expressed through dialogue, and of course, through an actor's portrayal of said feelings.  Refn slows down the film to focus on the non-dialogue; long scenes and takes of the main characters (Gosling and Carey Mulligan) staring/looking at one another/ into the distance.  I really appreciated these scenes in a summer dominated by bombastic action films.  Long pauses and silences give you time to think, and more importantly, figure out what the characters are feeling or going through, rather than being told.  Gosling's Driver is one of my favorite characters to have been on screen in a long time.  He doesn't say much, but when he speaks there is purpose to what he says.  Same go for his actions.  He is quiet and serene until the situation demands for him to act, and act he does.  Judging by the way the Driver dresses, talks, and acts, it would seem that he consciously decided to personify the type of action star he is standing-in for during his day job.  The dialogue he delivers before each heist reinforces this sort of, persona, that he has taken on.  It almost seems as though he is acting in his real life.

Paired brilliantly with the slow, purposeful dialogue is insane, intense, thrilling action sequences (of which, I say, I wish there were more of).  Refn shows a mastery at staging and executing action set-pieces where the audience can clearly see what's happening.  If you don't particularly enjoy or are offended by extreme violence, Drive is not for you.  That said, the film as a whole is absolutely fantastic.  The editing, cinematography (amazing shots from within Gosling's car), acting, story, and importantly the soundtrack/score was incredible.  1980s-style synth-pop tracks are peppered throughout the film - if you pay attention to the lyrics the songs fit perfectly.

Drive is a plodding, methodical drama with splashes of intense violence and amazing action.  Fantastic performances and an amazing soundtrack put Drive above all other films (so far) in 2011.

Drive is unequivocally, immensely, Radtastic.

The Bearded Bullet drives off into the sunset...