Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review

To say that Cloud Atlas is a triumph of cinema would be an understatement.  I have never seen a film quite like it and I probably never will again.  Based upon the book of the same name, Atlas weaves together six separate narratives into one relatively cohesive film, dealing with issues such as freedom, love, and happiness.  I experienced such a wide array of emotions that few films are able to evoke within their run-times.  You can go from joy to sorrow to anger in the matter of just a few scenes; the type of tonal balance that is found within Atlas is incredibly difficult to pull off - and the directing trio of Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer pull it off with aplomb.

It is incredibly difficult to find a good starting point to discuss my thoughts and feelings regarding Cloud Atlas.  There is just utterly so much going on over the course of the film that I would say its damn near impossible to remember everything.  And that's okay.  The point of the film isn't to remember each character's name or every little detail - it's the themes at play that are the center of the film.  Atlas has many things to say, but perhaps the strongest idea at play is that of upsetting the status quo.  The six timelines all deal with this idea in one shape or another; in 1849 its about helping a stowaway slave earn his freedom; in 1936 about a homosexual composer dealing with societal views while finishing his masterwork; and in 2144 about escaping a life of pseudo-slavery and exposing the truth to the world.  It is beyond fascinating to see each timeline unfold in their own unique way, all while managing to share similar arcs to one another; the directing trio masterfully blend each timeline so that we're bouncing from one to another, one scene at a time, within a matter of minutes.  Climax moments are melded together to keep the energy and pacing alive; rather than just experience one intense scene or moment, we bounce between multiple events that may be occurring hundreds, if not thousands of years apart, that share similar themes or events.  Dialogue spoken by a character in one story will beautifully complement the on-goings in another.

I just cannot applaud the directors enough for how well Atlas turned out.  With all the moving parts involved it could've easily devolved into a rancid mess of a film.  Instead, the film is surprisingly comprehensible and gets just about everything right.  Yes, the beginning of the film is a bit jarring, considering the time-hopping that is in play, but what is brilliant is that there comes a moment, one that I can't quite pinpoint, at which everything just starts making sense.  I was able to distinguish the varying timelines and their respective characters from one another.  And that's even with the entirety of the main cast putting in up to six different performances each.  Yes, the acting chops on display here are just out of this world.  I never thought I'd see Hugo Weaving play an authoritative woman, but I can wholeheartedly say that  I did and it was amazing.  The directing trio were not afraid to ask their cast to change their gender or ethnicity for characters this film; in one timeline Halle Berry plays a white Jewish woman, and in another a Korean man; Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Jame D'Arcy all play Korean men in another; while other actors (Jim Broadbent, Tom Hanks, and Hugh Grant) are utterly unrecognizable in the fantastic makeup and accents in which they are hidden.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg.  Cloud Atlas is so incredibly layered with depth that my mind can barely comprehend it all and produce coherent thoughts about it.  Everything just works on every level.  Without even delving into the deeper meanings, the film at its basest level is a visual powerhouse; to say that Atlas is gorgeous would be understatement.  In every timeline the world just feels tangible and incredibly real, whether we're dealing with 1936 London or a post-apocalyptic Earth hundreds of years in the future.  It's no surprise that Neo-Seoul of 2144 is the most visually stunning, considering the impressive future-tech on display (seriously, can we please have holographic displays for watching TV - that you can swipe away - now rather than waiting 100 years??), but each timeline has its own distinct visual tone that helps you distinguish one from the other.

As is quite obvious, I absolutely loved Cloud Atlas; it utterly and completely blew me away from beginning to end.  There are a plethora of verbs to describe me during the film: enthralled, engaged, mesmerized, angered, overjoyed, saddened.  Only very special films can make one feel so much in such a short amount of time.  There are only two minor gripes that I had with the film: the 1849 storyline was a bit one-note for me, and some of the elderly makeup in other eras was iffy at times.  Other than that I really have nothing to complain about.

I understand that this film is not for everyone; I can foresee it being very confusing and difficult to follow for some.  Fortunately that wasn't a problem in the slightest for me.  Atlas is one of the very best films of the year, and will most certainly wind up very near the top of my list (if not in the first spot).  I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Cloud Atlas is a true cinematic masterpiece that simply must be seen.

The Bearded Bullet.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 Review

Horror movies are not my thing.  I don't like to be scared.  My predilection towards open-mindedness of the various cinematic genres is the impetus for seeing such works.  Of all the horror franchises that I've been exposed to over the years, none have grabbed me (yes, pun intended) as much as the Paranormal Activity saga.  If you've been living under a rock for the last few years, the Paranormal films are found-footage horror/suspense films about a family and the demon that follows them throughout several decades.  While this latest entry into the franchise does some interesting things, it ultimately falls short of the fantastic Paranormal Activity 3.  A quick warning - I'll keep the spoilery bits for the second half of my review - many of the issues I had arose from the content, not execution of the film.

Paranormal Activity 4 is scary.  Maybe not as scary as its predecessors, but still incredibly tense.  The formula is the same as the previous entries; weird stuff starts happening and a member of the family (who no one else really believes) starts documenting the behavior.  Where PA4 differs is in the characters; the film revolves around a new family to the series - a couple with their two kids, Wyatt and Alice.  Their female neighbor is rushed to the hospital one night and her son, Robbie, is sent to live with our protagonists while she recuperates.  Cue scary stuff (that maybe isn't quite as scary as in the previous films).

If you've seen the other films you know what you're getting into.  That said, PA4 does do some interesting things to keep it fresh; the first film featured hand-held cameras on tripods; PA2 predominantly used home-security camera; PA3 used video cassette camcorders on oscillating fans etc; this entry uses built-in webcams on various laptops around the house to capture the strange events.  It makes sense and is a pretty clever way to capture footage all the time.  Granted, handheld camcorders are still used throughout the whole film, but when bad stuff starts happening after 3am we switch to the laptop views.  A Microsoft Kinect (as seen in the trailers) is used quite effectively (if not potentially inaccurately).

Where I mainly take umbrage with PA4 is the narrative.  The acting is terrific (and believably realistic as ever), pacing and tension as gripping as the previous entries, and the use of found-footage engaging and believable.  However, the story just doesn't live up to what I wanted.  I'll save my main complaints for the spoiler section, but the base-level questions that needed to be answered just weren't.  I was left with many more questions than answers.  PA4 does nothing to advance the mythology of this family and their pact with the demon, Toby.  It's really just a shame that certain basic ideas and facts just weren't explored or dealt with.  I understand the constraints of a film of this nature, but there were certainly ways in which my issues could've been addressed.

If you don't want to be spoiled, I suggest you stop here.  If you've seen the previous films and dug em then go see Paranormal Activity 4.  You may be slightly disappointed, but its still a fantastically gripping, tension-riddled horror film.

***Full spoiler warning for the entire Paranormal Activity saga is in effect***

My absolute main beef with PA4 are the characters of Robbie and Wyatt.  Robbie lives across the street from our protagonists with his mom, Katie.  For those of you keeping track at home, Katie was the woman from the first film who was possessed and killed her boyfriend, Micah.  In PA2, she kills her brother-in-law and her sister (after the demon Toby was exercised from their house just days prior) and kidnaps their son, Hunter.  It would seem as though Katie and Hunter relocated to Nevada after the events of 2 (the previous films all took place in California).  When we meet Robbie he's creepy as hell (probably due to the fact that he's bros with Toby).  He strikes up a friendship with "Wyatt," the youngest child of the new family.

It would make complete and obvious sense for "Robbie" to be Hunter, right?  Well wrong.  It turns out that "Wyatt" is actually Hunter; Robbie tells him that his "old family wants him back" - we also see him talking to Toby, insisting that his name isn't Hunter.  It is an oft-mentioned plot point that Wyatt/Hunter is adopted.  If Katie kidnapped Hunter because Toby wanted the first-born male child of the family, why would she give him up for adoption?  It makes no sense.  What would've made complete sense was for Robbie to be Hunter.  It just makes no sense that Katie would give him up for adoption.  She's clearly possessed by Toby during this film, meaning that the adoption bit would be because its what Toby wanted.  Then why would he want that?

In the middle of the film, our two leads, Alice and Alex, begin to research the triangle/circle symbol from PA3.  They discover a three-step process that involves a "preternatural" child; I honestly don't remember all three steps, but sacrificing a virgin was in there somewhere.  If Toby needed a virgin to sacrifice for some ritual with Hunter, why wouldn't they just go to a house with a virgin, kill everyone else, and then sacrifice him/her?  Why let a nice family adopt Hunter, then move in across the street from them, send a creepy kid to live with them, begin f'ing with them, and then ultimately kill them all (including the virgin)?  It just doesn't make sense to me.

Who is Robbie and why is he with Katie?  Only five years have passed between the events in the first and second films to the fourth.  Katie couldn't have conceived and given birth to him in that time; Robbie is around 9 or 10 years old.  The final five minutes of the film are somewhat confusing and frustrating as well; while incredibly (in)tense and terrifying, the final moments left me with virtually no questions answered and raising even more.  Our lead, Alice, is attacked by Toby in her house and flees to find her father, who was over at Katie's place looking for his wife and Wyatt/Hunter.  Alice runs across the street and encounters Katie in full-on demon mode (last seen in the final moments of the first film), busting through a door to get to her.  Alice escapes out a window to find her brother, entranced.  She turns around and in the yard are dozens of creepy-looking women, most likely part of the Coven that Katie's family belongs to.  She turns back to see demon-Katie come at the camera.  Cut to black.

Who were all those ladies?  If they're part of the Coven they sure didn't look like the women we saw at the end of PA3 - those were all older women dressed all in black.  Granted, earlier in the film we did see several of these black-wearing Coven ladies at Katie's house, but these ladies didn't look quite the same.  Plus there were dozens of them.  My assumption is that the whole town is a hub of Coven activity.  Maybe I'm completely wrong.  Who knows?!  It's just incredibly frustrating to have such a thing raised at literally the last possible moment with a potential explanation left for the inevitable sequel.  Plenty of films do this sort of thing, but usually they wrap up their own plotlines before introducing a new one for another film.

Before I wrap this up I feel I need to bring up the use of the Microsoft Kinect.  The Kinect is a motion-tracking peripheral that you use in conjunction with an Xbox 360 to play certain motion-controlled games.  The Kinect projects infrared tracking dots onto the environment so as to track movement.  Many times throughout the film, when the lights are off, the tracking dots are displayed and picked up via night-vision on a webcam.  And its pretty damn cool.  The dots allow us to see a child-like demon in several scenes (also, there are now multiple demons?  In one scene, Wyatt/Hunter is talking to Toby while this smaller demon creeps up behind him) and is just fun to watch.  The problem is that (as far as I know) the Kinect only functions when the 360 is on.  This means that this family leaves their Xbox running 24/7.  First off, that's just bad for the console.  Second, 360's auto-shutdown after a certain amount of inactivity.  Unless the Kinect still projects the tracking dots even when the system is off, this is a gross inaccuracy on the filmmaker's part.

The issues that arise from the Wyatt/Hunter situation keep Paranormal Activity 4 from surpassing its fantastic predecessor.  While I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of the film, I still feel that PA4 is lacking just a bit in the actual scare department.  There are maybe two moments that really, truly frightened me.  The rest of the time I was just moderately frightened.  As I said before, if you liked the previous films, then you'll probably enjoy this one on some level - it just doesn't do anything to garner new viewers.

Paranormal Activity 4 is still incredibly thrilling/chilling/intense, even if it doesn't quite live up to the previous films in the franchise.

The Bearded Bullet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ParaNorman Trimmed Review

I am not the world’s biggest animation fan.  That said, I tend to prefer DreamWorks Animation over Fox or Pixar (blasphemy, I know).  How to Train Your Dragon and both Kung Fu Panda films are some of my favorite of their respective years.  Stop-motion animation also intrigues me; I enjoyed Coraline (some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen) and The Fantasic Mr. Fox, not just for their animation style but their witty and smart writing.  Thankfully, ParaNorman falls into that category.

There is only one word to accurately describe ParaNorman – incredible.  From beginning to end, Norman is intelligently written and beautifully animated, mixing fantastic stop-motion with more modern CG effects.  The narrative is paced quite well, blending horror and comedy with aplomb.  I can see smaller children getting very scared by the events of the third act of Norman; it goes to a pretty dark place.  Some of the greater themes on display will most likely be lost on the children that this film is marketed to, but adults will be able to appreciate the narrative arcs incredibly.  Same goes for the dialogue.  Norman isn’t afraid to throw around some sexual innuendo or crude humor that will fly right over the heads of kids.  One of the main character’s sexual orientation is turned on its head with a throwaway line of dialogue – and it’s brilliant.

ParaNorman is just a fantastic film on almost every level.  The dialogue, story, animation, and voice-acting are all top-notch.  If you enjoy animated films that are intelligent and witty, I cannot recommend Norman highly enough.  Just maybe don’t take small children to it.

ParaNorman is an incredibly engaging, beautifully-made horror/comedy that’s just as smart for kids as adults.

The Bearded Bullet

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Seven Psychopaths Review

Seven Psychopaths is a very strange film.  Very, very strange.  It’s a perfect example of misleading marketing.  All of the trailers that I saw billed Psychopaths as a crime-infused comedy about seven crazy people, wrapped up in a dog-kidnapping scheme.  What I actually saw wasn’t anything close to being a comedy.  I mean, there are definitely comedic beats and some pretty funny stuff peppered throughout, but in reality Psychopaths is tonally all over the place, bouncing from some of the aforementioned comedic bits to incredibly dramatic moments that left my brain completely confused as to how I was supposed to feel.

I actually enjoyed Psychopaths for the most part.  What really bothers me are the wild tonal shifts that happen incredibly frequently throughout the film.  I kind of understand why it was marketed as a comedy; I couldn’t imagine a trailer that could encapsulate what the film is really like.  There are some moments in Psychopaths that are heart-wrenchingly sad and not in the least bit comedic.  I was honestly shocked at what depths the film is willing to go to.  Don’t get me wrong – these dramatic moments and storylines are intriguing and kept my attention, but the problem is that a funny line or scene would come right after something that horrified me; I wanted to laugh but felt very awkward doing so.

The actual narrative structure of Psychopaths is by no means conventional.  Yes, the main narrative arc revolves around Sam Rockwell’s Billy, who kidnaps dogs for Christopher Walken’s Hans to return for a reward.  Billy steals mobster Charlie’s (Woody Harrelson) Shih Tzu and all sorts of bloody mayhem ensues.  However, what the film really is about is Colin Farrell’s Marty; he’s a screenwriter who is trying to write a film called “Seven Psychopaths.”  The trailers listed the seven psychopaths of our film as being seven characters involved in the story.  In reality, the “seven psychopaths” of Marty’s film are the actual psychopaths.  Some of the characters in Psychopaths actually end up becoming some the “psychopaths” for Marty’s screenplay.  This aspect wasn’t even hinted at in the marketing; some of the “Psychopaths” labeled in trailers are in the film for fewer than five minutes (Olga Kurylenko is on screen for literally fewer than five minutes).

What I enjoyed most about Seven Psychopaths is the unconventional nature of the narrative.  I was wholeheartedly confused for a large swath of the runtime, as we bounce from character to character, both in the actual film and in Marty’s “Seven Psychopaths.”  After I sifted through the fictional characters and the ones actually populating the film, I was able to slowly appreciate how the story was unfolding in front of me.  By the time we reach the climax of the film (a fantastic stand-off in the desert) I was completely invested in the characters and where the story was headed.  Because of the story-flipping nature of Marty’s interwoven screenplay, the actual events of the finale could be left up to interpretation; you aren’t quite sure what is real and what isn’t.

It’s very difficult to peg what type of moviegoer would enjoy Seven Psychopaths; I supposed if you like very dark, violent dramas with some humor splashed around you may enjoy Psychopaths.  I have a strong feeling that repeat viewings will highly benefit the overall enjoyment level of seeing this film.  There’s so much going on at times and as Christopher Walken’s Hans puts it: “it’s got layers.”  It’s not one of my favorite films of the year, but it sure does have its moments.

Seven Psychopaths is a very odd, tonally uneven film that may leave many quite confused.

The Bearded Bullet.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Taken 2 Review

Taken was one of 2009's surprise hits.  It showed the world that 50-something Liam Neeson could be an action star - and a badass one at that.  Taken was a fast-paced, non-stop thrill ride that just worked on so many levels.  I was, of course, a bit skeptical about the announcement of Taken 2 - I didn't see how the story could evolve to fill another film.  Luckily most of my doubts were assuaged upon seeing the final product; it may not be as great as the original, but its still a fun ride.

Pretty much everything about Taken 2 is entertaining and just plain works.  There are a few issues here and there that overall bring it down just a bit from its predecessor.  The most egregious error will stick out like a sore thumb to anyone watching it: how the action is filmed.  Its just bad.  The shaky-cam on display is almost as bad as Green Zone.  It is nearly impossible to tell what's going on and who's hitting who.  Now, this does get a little better as the film progresses, but the first real fight, in particular, is utterly incomprehensible.  Just hold the camera steady and pull back a bit for a nice wide shot.  I understand that most of the time shaky-cam is used to conceal more violent acts (as is the case with this year's The Hunger Games), but there's gotta be something else to do to bring down the rating to PG-13.

My other issues with the film are just nitpicky.  There is one gaping plot hole, at the end of the second act, that just bothers the hell out of me.  I don't want to spoil anything, but something pretty big goes down and there are no ramifications - we just keep on trucking with nary a thought.  Just a small scene or two of some exposition would've wrapped up that plot thread and made the film feel that much more complete.

With all of that negative business out of the way I can get down to what really matters: Liam Neeson continues to be a complete and utter badass.  If you enjoyed the carnage he wreaked on the human-trafficking goons of the first film, then you'll most likely be pleased by the goings-on of Taken 2.  The narrative is an incredibly natural progression of the original: the fathers/brothers/uncles of the men killed at the hands of Bryan Mills are out for vengeance against him and his family.  Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace return as Lenore and Kim, respectively.  This time, Bryan and Lenore are the ones who are taken (as can be seen in the trailers), with Kim having to aid them in their escape.

The plot is engaging, fast-paced, and just plain fun.  Despite some shaky logic, how Kim aids Bryan during his taken-ness is nothing short of awesome.  Yeah, the basic premise is incredibly similar to the original, but honestly, what would any of us expect?  In a movie called Taken 2 I would very much expect people to get taken.  They did, and I thought it was awesome.  Seeing Liam back on screen demolishing hordes of bad guys was just great to watch.  The score/soundtrack was also quite good.  Two songs from the Drive soundtrack popped up, namely "Night Call" and "Tick of the Clock."  Its no secret that I loved Drive, as it was my favorite film of last year; needless to say I was more than happy to see them pop up in Taken 2.

With all of that said, Taken 2 just lacks something that made the original so entertaining and special.  Most of the ingredients are still there: great story, some great action sequences (when you can actually see what's going on), characters you care about, and Liam Neeson killing tons of dudes.  I can't really put my finger on what was missing, but I would still highly recommend the film to anyone who dug the original.  If you didn't like Taken, then there's literally nothing about its sequel that will make you change your mind.

Taken 2 is a fantastic sequel that just doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.

The Bearded Bullet.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Solomon Kane Review

I've been waiting for Solomon Kane to come to the 'States for awhile now; it was done and distributed internationally way back in 2009.  It would've been pretty disappointing if it were terrible, considering the three-year wait.  Luckily, Kane is incredibly enjoyable and very entertaining, but isn't without some pretty big flaws.

Kane's story is one we've all seen before; a sinning killer eventually gives up his evil ways and attempts to take a holy and righteous path to redemption.  The difference with Kane is the time period; rather than being set during the Middle Ages (a la Kingdom of Heaven, Black Death, or Season of the Witch), this film is set in 16th century England, with Kane having served as a solider of the King during wars against Spain.  It is in a Spanish castle, searching for treasure, where Kane encounters an envoy of the Devil himself.  His soul is destined for Hell but he isn't quite yet ready to descend.  This event sets him on his holy path to avoid killing and to attempt to redeem his soul.

The beginning of the film is pretty weak, some with horrendous visual effects on display (granted, these were circa 2008), and janky storytelling.  The finale of the film is exactly the same; a CG boss-fight that is pretty bad and very video-gaming reminiscent.  What is worth the price of admission is the fantastic middle section.  Kane befriends a Puritan family who meet a not-so-nice ending, forcing Kane to pick up a sword again, this time fighting for honor and vengeance against the minions of the Devil.  I don't want to spoil much, but there are some great twists (that may be seen from a mile away) that make this already-fantastic narrative that much better.  There are some well-choreographed fight sequences that rival bigger-budgeted films of this nature.

The performances are pretty solid, with James Purefoy putting in a convincing turn as Kane himself.  There is one scene in particular, that may end up as one of my favorite of the year, that involves crucifixion that has Purefoy acting his guts out.  Max von Sydow and Pete Postlethwait have small but memorable roles, as Kane's father and William Crowthorn (of the Puritan family) respectively.

There isn't much more for me to say about Solomon Kane.  If you would cut away the slow beginning and the cringe-worthy finale you would be left with a simply fantastic film.  As an overall package, Kane is still incredibly enjoyable and is recommended to anyone who enjoys supernatural or Crusader-era good vs. evil films.

Solomon Kane is an enjoyable yet flawed supernatural action film.

The Bearded Bullet

Dredd Review

I've never seen Judge Dredd...but I've heard plenty of things about it.  Namely that it's not very good.  In fact, it was a running joke on Scrubs (one of my all-time favorite shows) that JD and Turk loved it so much ("100th viewing!!").  Needless to say I wasn't all that thrilled when I first read about this reboot quite a long time ago.  Then buzz started building from the Comic-Con screenings just a few months ago; there was nary a negative review for it.  Luckily, this is one of the rare cases where the buzz and hype are wholly validated: Dredd is one of, if not the best action film of the year.

Its hard to talk about Dredd and not bring up this year's fantastic The Raid: Redemption.  Both share very, very similar plots.  Both films deal with law-enforcement agents inside a large apartment complex, fighting against a gang out for their blood.  While The Raid transforms from a shoot-em-up to a martial-arts film, Dredd doesn't deviate from the guns-blazing opening of the film that is simply fantastic.  It also takes place in an awesome dystopian future that just boggles my mind.  In the future of Dredd, there is one big ol' city in the "remnant of the old world," Mega City One.  It stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C.  Outside of the city's walls is a nuclear wasteland; anyone living out there either dies of radiation poisoning or becomes a "mutant."

The law enforcers of this city are "Judges;" mobile judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one...and Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of the best.  He's given a rookie Judge for evaluation; Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) barely failed the exams to become a Judge, but her incredible psychic abilities earned her a spot at Dredd's side.  The two respond to a triple homicide in the Peach Tree apartment complex (home to over 75,000 residents), which is actually run by the "Ma-Ma Clan."  Ma-Ma is a brutal drug kingpin and operates the manufacturing center of "slow-mo," a drug that slows your brain down to 1% of normal speed.  Dredd and Anderson are eventually trapped inside the complex and must fight their way through Ma-Ma's thugs in order to survive.

I promise, in the context of the film the narrative is incredibly simple and amazingly so.  I love just about everything about Dredd.  The pacing is just pitch-perfect, jumping between our two judges just slaughtering Ma-Ma's thugs, to Ma-Ma herself and her attempts to dispatch her two enemies.  Dredd does not shy away from blood and gore; there are plenty of gory head-shots and bodies exploding.  Some in slow motion!  See, there are myriad shots and scenes where some characters are high on slow-mo.  As a result, whatever we're seeing on-screen is in slow motion.  It starts to become a little over-used in the first half of the film but goes away during most of the action-heavy sequences in the second half.  Of all the show-stoppingly amazing action sequences, my favorite has to be a slow-mo induced drug-bust with Dredd just destroying a handful of gangbangers.  It.  Is.  Glorious.

The casting in the film is pretty much spot-on.  Karl Urban only has his mouth to work with, as his Judge helmet obscures most of his face.  He pretty much can only grimace.  And boy does he grimace with the best of em.  He's serious, snarky, and funny when he needs to be.  We know literally nothing about him besides his name.  The real emotional core of the film comes to us through Thirlby's Anderson.  Since she doesn't wear a helmet (they disrupt her psychic abilities), we get a face to connect with; her past is troubled and she's immediately relatable - she's just trying to do good in the world.  The two make a fantastic pairing and are just a joy to watch.  Lena Headey's Ma-Ma is pretty much a one-note baddie; she rose to power by killing her pimp and taking over his drug empire.  We get just enough backstory to validate her character's existence and show us that she's a formidable opponent to the Judges.

Dredd is pretty much the perfect action package; a tight, taught story, great characters, and a plethora of blood-soaked, head-shattering shootouts.  Even the score is fantastic, with techno-infused dub-steppy wet beats soaking up the blood and gore during action sequences.  My only real complaint is that I wished the movie were longer.  Its a tightly-wound 90-minute thrillride that I would've completely fine riding for another 30 minutes or more.  I cannot recommend Dredd highly enough.  I would also recommend seeing it in 3D; while nothing revolutionary, the slow-mo scenes look breathtaking in 3D.

Dredd is a tightly-would, perfectly-paced, blood-soaked action film that really should be seen.

The Bearded Bullet.

The Master Review

I didn't really enjoy Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.  There, I said it.  I know that I'm "supposed" to like it, and on several levels I did enjoy it.  Namely the performances on display.  Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman put on two of the best performances I've seen all year; however, two performances cannot save an entire film.  Don't get me wrong, The Master may end up being one of the best films of the year and probably rightly so - I just didn't enjoy it all that much.

I felt the same way with last year's The Tree of Life.  I just didn't dig that film at all.  The narrative was existential and meandering, while the cinematography was face-melting and the performances outstanding (what wasn't cut out by Terrance Malick himself, that is).  Essentially the same is true for how I felt about The Master.  The film is just plain gorgeous.  Beautiful, in fact.  The performances are outstanding, with Phoenix and Hoffman on a whole 'nother planet altogether.  Phoenix already has my vote for the Oscar for best male performance.  But I digress.

Something about The Master just didn't click for me.  Perhaps its too smart of a film for me?  I'd like to think not.  I will wholly admit that I was lost and confused for large swathes of the film's quite long two-and-a-half-hour run time.  Large jumps in time take place unexpectedly and without any explanation.  You just have to sit back and accept that it'll eventually become clear.  Its this type of slow-burn storytelling that sometimes I dig, but sometimes I just don't.  Maybe I'm just crazy, but I don't really feel like much was accomplished in the narrative.  I can't help but ask myself, "what was the point?"

Phoenix's Freddie is a troubled man; an alcoholic, sex-crazed, pseudo-lunatic that Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd takes under his tutelage, so-to-speak.  Dodd is preaching a new religion to the masses, know as "The Cause."  The film essentially is about the attempts of Dodd to "cure" Freddie of his insanity; we follow Dodd and his disciples around the country, with Freddie in tow, seeing Lancaster give speeches to believers and be ridiculed by the uninitiated.  Freddie can't seem to control himself, and becomes incredibly violent toward anyone who dismisses Dodd and his teachings.  While this is just a snapshot of the two men's lives, I can't help but feel that the ending is incomplete; it left me unfulfilled and wanting a bit more.  And don't ask me what I would've preferred because I honestly can't tell you.

I'm just having a bit of an issue with what the point of the film was.  Without spoiling much, is Anderson trying to say that people can't change?  Freddie doesn't see much change or improvement despite Dodd's strong attempts.  Perhaps there isn't a message at all.  Maybe Freddie was just a messed-up World War Two navy vet who had issues stemming from childhood (his mother was institutionalized in an insane asylum and his father was a drunk).  Films that spark debate and discussion are almost always a good thing, and I'm certain that as more people see The Master, more thoughtful insights and ideas will come to light.  Maybe they'll even help me change my mind.

I fully recognize that The Master is an incredibly well-made film, with some show-stopping performances, but I just feel like something was missing and I can't put my finger on it.  I would say that maybe I need to watch it again, but with such a long run-time, its truly a commitment to sit down and devote your time to it.  The Master is certainly not for everyone, but for some it will be this year's best film.  And it probably should be.  I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I had hoped.

The Master is an incredible cinematic work that left me cold in the end.

The Bearded Bullet.