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Pete and Elliot looking at the evening sky_zpsuk7od7he.jpg

The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.

The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.

I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.

SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE, THOUGH.

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The cosmic imagery in this movie is as good and as grounded as any yet done.

Interstellar is a film I probably shouldn’t be reviewing yet. Being three hours long and a Nolan film, there’s a lot to unpack here. Maybe not as much as some had hoped, and certainly it doesn’t feel insurmountable now that I think on it, but definitely a lot all the same. People are already talking about how divisive and love-hate this movie is. I kind of get that. At the same time, I think it’s being overstated and collapsed into how much interest and baggage there is around Christopher Nolan himself. Interstellar is a very highly anticipated film and it’s difficult to imagine how it could have lived up to the general ephemera of expectation, let alone the more wary and critical attention of a person who goes into it with thoroughly managed expectations. In case it’s unclear, that’s me.

As mixed a bag (of mixed messages, haha!) as Interstellar is, it still deserves the utmost discussion and consideration. It’s the themes and execution of which that deserve all the attention and that, admirably, are causing most of the hullabaloo. Though Interstellar features more pure cinematic joy than most movies stacked on top of each other, meaning Nolan is really competing with himself and the ghost of Kubrick as always, it is also his least accomplished “original” (as in, not tied to Batman) film on various levels. There is a strange (narrative and technical) bumpiness to this movie that made me feel many times that I was watching something unpolished, something not fully bathed in the precise and cautious attention that made Inception Nolan’s singular masterpiece. Interstellar cannot hope to unseat Inception but when it’s on, it’s so fucking on that it’s uncomfortable to focus on the flaws and mixed messages that sort of undermine the full effect of the movie. But that’s how she goes, and a film that has interesting flaws is often just as interesting, if not more so, to review than one that goes off without a hitch or just falls flat on its face. However, it’s hard to stop thinking about how frustrating this movie’s mixed messages are once you’ve started down that path.

I will also say, before I really get into this, that my specific problems with Interstellar don’t really fall into the same overall lanes as most of the criticism I’ve been reading. If I had to sum it up I’d say this is a movie that falls short of the potential heights it frequently reaches. It’s a film where many sequences and moments transcend some of the nagging consistency issues that plague too much of it. It’s a film that ends somewhat disappointingly not because the message or manner are spoiled, but because the ending feels like it shies away from itself, afraid of being one of those misunderstood movies with an ending that overstays its welcome. And that really defines this movie. Interstellar is at odds with itself, frequently showing us something and then saying something else, bringing up ideas and themes and then abandoning them into a kind of half-explored stew.

But it’s still better than Prometheus. They should put that on the back of the bluray.

Spoilers aren’t impossible, they’re necessary.

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While a great archer, part of Katniss’s essential appeal as a character is that she is fallible: she is accurate, but she does miss. And there are consequences.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read more than the first 10 or so pages of The Hunger Games, the opening volume of Suzanne Collins’ incredibly popular trilogy. What I did read, I liked, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish before seeing the movie so I opted to let Gary Ross’s (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) version be my first foray into the universe of Panem, the Capitol, and Katniss Everdeen. Ross is not a guy I’d have expected to jump into a vaguely post-apocalyptic but acutely dystopian story about a 16 year old girl killing kids on television but everybody’s full of surprises, I guess. The good news is that, in spite of his somewhat pedestrian prior stuff, Ross completely pulls The Hunger Games off. It’s a great movie, not only because it’s science fiction of a bonkers type we don’t see much anymore, but because it has themes that simply work, often because they are more sophisticated and character-heavy than average.

By the way, some uninformed types keep claiming Collins’ ripped off Battle Royale,  a Japanese book (better known for its film adaptation, coincidentally) that has similar subject matter. I have read that book and seen the movie 3 or 4 times. I can vouch for that The Hunger Games, while an echo of certain parts, is no rip-off. I’ll get into my reasoning at the end of this review.

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