Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cultish Personalities - Willamette Week

As you might have heard, The Master is the film Scientology maybe, sort of doesn’t want you to see. But based on some of Joaquin Phoenix’s acting choices, director Paul Thomas Anderson must’ve told him he’d be appearing as a psychologically tortured live-action Popeye. Playing a sailorman and World War II vet just released back to civilian life and left to deal with a sex addiction, rage issues and a slate of other psychic wounds, Phoenix keeps one eye in a perpetual squint and slurs out the side of a curled mouth. He doesn’t eat much spinach but slams back plenty of homemade hooch, mixing together whatever happens to be lying around at the time, including paint thinner. 

He’s a bit of a loose cannon, whose explosions contain all the sense of a silverback gorilla’s reaction to getting kneed in the testicles. In one scene of especially unhinged physicality, Phoenix is shoved into a prison cell, where he smacks his head against a bunk bed, gnashes at the mattress and destroys a porcelain toilet, all with his hands cuffed behind his back. 

It’s an astounding performance in a confounding movie. The Master makes deliberate allusions to L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi pseudo-religion, but that’s not what it’s actually about. It’s a picture that’s nearly impenetrable on first viewing. But few directors’ films are as worthy of their challenges as Anderson’s. With The Master, Anderson creates a mind trap that pulls tighter the more you try to solve it. It’s a film you’ll feel the need to watch again immediately out of sheer obligation.

For the movie’s first 30 minutes or so, we’re alone with Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. It’s an uncomfortable half-hour. In that time, he mimes intercourse with a female-shaped sand sculpture, then masturbates into the ocean; undergoes a Rorschach test in which he reports seeing only genitalia; and attempts to choke a customer at his postwar job as a mall photographer. Although claustrophobic in their intimacy, these early scenes don’t help us understand Quell any better, but then, we’re dealing with a character who doesn’t understand himself. Instead, Anderson frames Phoenix in tight close-ups, gazing upon his creased features. That’s where the real exposition is: in the face of a man whose insecurities and lack of self-awareness have caused him to fold in on himself. 

Stowing away on a boat, Quell eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a pink-hued huckster selling salvation through “the Cause,” a self-help movement based in a variation of repressed-memory therapy, suggesting followers can revisit past lives going back trillions of years. It’s here that Anderson drops in bits of Hubbard’s biography. But as Quell and Dodd become increasingly intertwined, the Scientology allegories fade into the background, and the movie becomes, like Anderson’s work stretching back to Boogie Nights, a portrait of American masculinity under duress. The true nature of their relationship stays ambiguous, and Dodd, for all his palpable charisma, is just as unreadable as Quell. His ego is overstuffed enough for him to subtitle a book “A Gift to Homo-sapiens,” but Hoffman imbues Dodd with enough unspoken doubt that it’s never clear just how much of his own bullshit he is actually buying.

Anderson is fascinated by these two unknowable characters, to the point of eschewing traditional narrative just to focus in on them. Abetted by grandiose 65 mm cinematography and a crazy-making score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, The Master is an ambitious enigma that never figures itself out, and that’s precisely what makes it one of the year’s best films. 

Critic’s Grade: A

SEE IT: The Master is rated R. It opens Friday at Lloyd Center, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Bridgeport, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower.

"HOLLOW" (Movie Review) - FANGORIA

As found footage settles itself in as the new raison d’être of indie genre filmmakers, we start to see it mold and blend with time-honored tradition (the anthology, the ghost story, etc). In HOLLOW (available now on VOD from Tribeca Film), director Michael Axelgaard brings the aesthetic to the historic English countryside where it gains rich, somber atmosphere in the process.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a horror fan unacquainted with two couples in a jeep. The weekend getaway will never die, but Axelgaard and writer Matthew Holt manage to make the familiar work (and not just because of the accents) by successfully setting a tone, even before the more explicitly horror narrative comes into play. Firstly, Emma (Emily Plumtree) has organized the weekend alongside fiancé Scott (Matt Stokoe), best friend James (Sam Stockman) and his new flame Lynne (Jessica Ellerby) around clearing out her late grandfather’s home in Suffolk. Coupled with the perpetual overcast of rural England, the gloom of death already hangs in the air. Secondly, the four are post-grads and as James’ previous relationship with Emma is revealed, as is his refusal to let go, a melancholy sense of moving on from the days of weekend getaways and tolerating awkward social circle drama is palpable.


James, damaged and timid, is the cameraman for much of HOLLOW, which does a fairly brilliant job at the now obligatory “why are we still shooting.” The film uses his own warped outlook, as well as the fact that the camera’s light only works when recording to justify, and coupled with the strong character work on display, it’s more than enough.  In fact, much of HOLLOW’s strengths come from its lead foursome. Of course, there’s a heaping of help from the all-natural production value of Suffolk and the surrounding legends of a thousand year-old tree and the suicidal lovers it continues to attract, but when the film attempts overt scares, it stumbles, achieving the standard in shaky running. The true unsettling nature lies in watching Emma, James, Scott and Lynne intersect and interact, coming face-to-face with their expectations for themselves and each other, and the fallouts from where they differ.

Axelgaard wisely stays away from relying on frequent jolts. Knowing the effect of sudden shriek drifts quickly, the director instead finds the tragic nature of both the possible supernatural threat and the group’s relations. This is ultimately what keeps HOLLOW both an eerie experience and a lingering presence after the fact.



Reviews - Movie Reviews

Movie review: How to Survive a Plague - Huffington Post

Both gripping and wrenching - not to mention thrilling - David France's documentary, How to Survive a Plague, opening Friday (9/21/12) in limited release, recalls a slice of recent history that is in danger of being lost.

There is more than a generation that's been born since the start of the AIDS epidemic in 1981 - many of whom have no idea the struggle that AIDS activists went through to get the government and the drug companies to take their life-and-death struggle with the urgency that the patients were feeling it. France's film examines a specific strand of that narrative: the efforts by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and its offshoot, TAG (Treatment Action Group), to get the FDA and the National Institutes of Health to speed up the process by which drugs were tested and approved for the treatment of HIV and AIDS.

The story France tells is compelling, focusing on a small but self-educated group of civilians who put the government's feet to the fire through protests and direct political action. Starting with the FDA (and signs that said, in essence, "You're killing us") and moving into global political protest and action, ACT UP was essential in forcing the various drug conglomerates to think differently, to act more speedily and to move these treatments into the public arena to help save lives.

Covering the decade from 1986-97, when the so-called "cocktail" was discovered to halt the progress of HIV, France's film brings together archival footage from TV - but, more important, from the collections of the activists themselves, who had begn to document their work with the newly affordable home-video camcorder. France sorted through thousands of hours of VHS and other formats of footage to come up with what is a stunning document of a period.

The cameras are there for each meeting, each action, each protest and speech. He chronicles the impact on some government scientists, who became advocates for the group's cause.

This review continues on my website.

Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: Fine

MOVIE REVIEW: Nothing redeeming in ‘RE: Retribution’ - The Weekender

For those who haven’t been keeping track, “Resident Evil: Retribution” marks the fifth entry in the inexplicably popular “Resident Evil” franchise.

Yes. The fifth entry.

You would think that the series’ fanbase would have graduated from junior high, thrown away all of their silk-screened “Dragonball Z” shirts and moved on years ago, but you would be wrong. Instead they continue to embrace a film series that somehow manages to be action-packed yet incredibly dull.

The sight of an Eastern European woman in quasi-bondage gear kicking a chainsaw wielding zombie in the face should be provoking a lot more reactions than mild depression and overwhelming drowsiness.

Hinting at the boredom that lies waiting just ahead, “Resident Evil: Retribution” opens with an overlong sequence in which series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) talks directly to the camera and slowly walks us through the tortured mythology of the last four “Resident Evil” movies.

This is so long-winded and excruciating you get the feeling that it would have taken far less time to just run the last four “Resident Evil” movies back to back instead.

From there we learn that the sinister Umbrella Corporation is keeping her prisoner within a massive underwater facility where zombie outbreaks were staged within model cities that resemble Tokyo, Moscow, and a generic suburban neighborhood. As Alice attempts to escape, she’s pursued by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), a one time ally who’s now transformed into a ruthless assassin â€" (sigh) you know what? Who cares? Besides, does anyone watch these movies for their surprisingly complicated plots?

Here’s what “Resident Evil: Retribution” is really about: a group of people who mumble out exposition in an unwavering monotone and occasionally perform backflips in slow motion. Now repeat this for the next 90 or so minutes and you have something that vaguely resembles a movie.

It takes a special kind of hack to botch a “can’t miss” premise and Paul W.S. Anderson is that hack. Throughout his long directing career, Anderson has carefully drained the fun out of potential trash classics like “Alien vs. Predator” and forever damned them to an eternity spent in the DVD bargain bin at Wal-Mart.

“Resident Evil: Retribution” could’ve been pure electrifying garbage but, much like the rest of his films, it’s a humorless slog.

You would think a guy who primarily specializes in the action genre would realize that when you make these kinds of films you have to raise the stakes or gradually heighten the action in some way. But in this movie all of the action sequences share a bland uniformity and every interminable fight scene is indistinguishable from the last.

Occasionally, Anderson will stumble upon an interesting idea (some of the characters have good and bad clones) or a striking image (such as Michelle Rodriguez oozing bullets out of her index finger) but he immediately glosses over it in favor of more footage of spent bullet casings slowly traveling through the air.

Talentless and unimaginative, Anderson seems to live in a world were 1999 never ended and “The Matrix” is still very relevant.

Granted, being that “Resident Evil: Retribution” is the second to last entry in a mediocre franchise, nobody was expecting all that much. But then nobody was expecting it to be this bad either.

About the only positive thing that could be said about “Resident Evil: Retribution” is that Jovovich looks good in bangs. And that’s not easy to do.

Rating: W

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Movie Review: 'Trouble with the Curve' - Florida Today

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Movie Review: “Resident Evil: Retribution” - Royal Purple News

For “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth time is not the charm. Wait, that cliché is supposed to apply to third movies. Well, the third time wasn’t the charm for this series either, but here we are anyway â€" five movies into a story that didn’t deserve one sequel, let alone four.

But, money makes the world go round and with the new jacked up prices for 3D, it’s almost guaranteed that these films are going to keep making bank.

How many “Saw” films were there? Seven? Yeah, I don’t see an end in sight to this franchise unless Milla Jovovich gets bored with the role.

It’s really the only thing Jovovich stars in anymore, aside from supporting roles in other terrible movies like the recent “The Three Musketeers” reboot. So do you think she’ll just give this up? Me neither.

Anyway, let’s dive into this “movie.” It sucks. I could just end my review right now, but there are so many bad things I want to talk about, ney, need to talk about. It’ll make me feel better to get them off my chest.

The film isn’t “The Devil Inside” or “Silent House” horrible, but it’s darn close. The plot is dumb and overly complicated for a series based on killing zombies. The pace is all over the place, with the action and slower scenes having seemingly been mixed together by throwing all the film against a wall and seeing what stuck. I’d really like to know how the editor of this movie has a job working on a big budget film, or any film for that matter.

This leads into one of the two worst things about “Resident Evil: Retribution.” Minor spoiler alert, but the time frame of the movie is supposed to encompass about two hours. There is a countdown clock that several of the characters check multiple times.

That’s all fine and dandy if you can pace the countdown well and make the audience really feel like there is a sense of urgency for the actions the characters go through. However, that’s not the case here.

I never felt like the main characters were ever in danger of not beating the clock, leaving the suspense to a minimum. Time would skip forward when the characters had a break from fighting hordes of undead, but it would also drag on forever when they were actually fighting.

When they have only 10 minutes left, I swear it took about 45 minutes to play out. I kept thinking to myself, “Shouldn’t the thing have gone off by now?” Instead, they still had time to run around, continue shooting at enemies and go look for a missing girl, all in the span of what was supposed to be 10 minutes.

Then, there was the dialogue and the acting, and wow, was it awful. And by awful, I mean truly awful. I’ve never seen such horribly written dialogue.

What makes it worse is how it was delivered. It’s riddled with slow, unnecessary, drawn-out pauses, and clichéd “Go get ‘em” statements.

It was a chore to sit through, and, eventually, I just started laughing out loud in the theater when another exchange between two characters took place. If I had taken a drink every time I heard some bad guy utter “Give up!” followed by a “No, we won’t give up!” response or something stupid like that, I’d have had a blood alcohol content of at least three times the legal limit.

I went into this movie with low expectations, but they weren’t low enough. Things were made even more disappointing seeing as how I actually kind of liked the previous Resident Evil film, “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” I thought maybe they’d actually gotten the series back on track.

Instead, they decided to go the other way and got rid of everything that worked well in the last movie. I can only imagine the conversation the producers and director had.

“Hey, remember how nice of a job we did moving the story along and using our supporting characters well in that last movie? Well, for this one, let’s instead dump those good actors, add a few new bad ones playing characters that the fans of the video game series will like and completely stall the plot so we can make more of these films.” “That is an awesome idea boss.”

Was there anything good in this movie? Well it’s always cool to see people killing zombies, and Jovovich is hot and half naked as usual, but otherwise not really. If you do decide to go see this, do yourself a favor and don’t waste the extra five bucks on the 3D version. Remember, you’re already wasting upwards of ten bucks just to see the thing in 2D.

1 out of 5 stars.

Movie review: 'Magic Mike' - Ames247

By Nick Hamden
Ames247 staff writer

Movies about male strippers aren’t common in the world for whatever reason. Women strippers? Sure. But men? Nah. Which is shocking, given the large (cult) success of the last male stripping movie that I saw, “The Full Monty.” So why not “Magic Mike“? Only like a 14-year difference or so. That is an incredibly small amount of male stripper movies.

But how about also deciding to make this movie pseudo-biographical? Yes. Apparently it is inspired and slightly based off of Channing Tatum‘s early life, when he was a male exotic dancer. Well, that just makes it heartfelt, I guess.

The middle of Tampa is a dangerous part of town. Sexy-dangerous.

A male strip club, where women go to absolutely nuts over men practically getting naked and dancing, is lead by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a now slightly older showman who never strips himself. He brings on energy and a good time to any lady who has the cash. The club’s biggest act is Mike (Tatum), now 30 years and still showing off his strong dance moves. Other dancers include Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello).

While working on a construction gig, Mike runs into Adam (Alex Pettyfer), just a 19-year-old kid, who is pretty down on his luck. After a few encounters, Mike has him stop by to help run props for the dancers, and due to an accident, he is thrown onto the stage to strip without any real training. Well it works out, kind of, so he joins the club full time. Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), however, does not approve. Mike would totally pursue her, you know, if she wasn’t so stuck up, didn’t already have a boyfriend, and if he didn’t already have a weird thing going on with Joanna (Olivia Munn). Either way, Adam is introduced to the stripper lifestyle and gets pretty deep, pretty fast. Mike himself, however, would rather stop stripping eventually and work with his hands building custom furniture. But money is tight for Mike, and he can’t get a loan to start his own business.

Surprisingly enough, the movie wasn’t completely terrible. Was there lots of eye candy for the females? Sure. But the dance moves/performances were mostly well done, with some big exceptions. They even had some funny moments. The biggest problems really came from a technical stand point.

I found the transition between scenes to be pretty bad. It opens to the McConaughey “do not touch” monologue from the trailer, but then goes to a black title screen with “JUNE” on it. Alright. Now it is June. I guess the first scene wasn’t June, and now it is? Or we are in a flash back? No, they just arbitrarily decided to tell you the current month that way.

But besides that, scenes would end a little bit too long after the joke or just at other awkward moments and never flowed naturally. The filmmakers also tried to do a lot of “long shots” for conversation scenes, which were hit and miss. Most of the time they were a miss if they involved Cody Horn, who I felt was awful in this movie. I guess her character was supposed to have a disapproving look 100 percent of the time on her face, but holy crap was it annoying.

Finally, Kevin Nash. He played the bigger male stripper, but whenever there was a group dance scene, I couldn’t pay attention to the sweet break dancing, because every time he was on camera he looked out of place. Dancing like a robot, not doing much at all. They could have easily gotten a big guy who can actually jump, no idea why they went with him.

I’d say the plot wasn’t the best, but the (mostly) well choreographed dance scenes earn it a watch.

2 out of 4.