Playing Catch-Up With 6 Quickie Reviews: The Big Game, The Connection, Graduation Day, McFarland USA, Taken 3, and War Room


Here are 6 more reviews of 6 other films that I watched this year.  Why six?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers, that’s why.

The Big Game (dir by Jalmari Helander)

In The Big Game, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States and you would think that fact alone would make this film an instant classic.  Unfortunately, this film never really takes advantage of the inherent coolness of Samuel L. Jackson playing the leader of the free world.  When Air Force One is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness of Finland, President Jackson has to rely on a young hunter (Onni Tommila) from a group of CIA agents disguised as terrorists.  Tommila does a pretty good job and the scenery looks great but at no point does Samuel L. Jackson says, “Check out this executive action, motherfucker,” and that’s a huge missed opportunity.  As for the rest of the film, it takes itself a bit too seriously and if you can’t figure out the big twist from the minute the movie starts, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.

The Connection (dir by Cedric Jiminez)

Taking place over the 1970s, the French crime thriller tells the largely true story of the efforts of a French judge (played by Jean Dujardin) to take down a ruthless gangster (Gilles Lellouche) who is the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in the world.  The Connection run for a bit too long but, ultimately, it’s a stylish thriller that does a very good job of creating a world where literally no one can be trusted.  Dujardin, best known here in the States for his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, does a great job playing an honest man who is nearly driven to the point of insanity by the corruption all around him.

Graduation Day (dir by Chris Stokes)

Hey, it’s another found footage horror film!  Bleh!  Now, I should admit that this horror film — which is NOT a remake of that classic 1980s slasher — does have a fairly clever twist towards the end, that goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the inconsistencies that, up until that point, had pretty much dominated the film.  But, even with that in mind and admitting that Unfriended and Devil’s Due worked wonders with the concept, it’s still hard to feel any enthusiasm about yet another found footage horror film.

McFarland USA (dir by Niki Caro)

McFarland USA is an extremely predictable but likable movie.  Kevin Costner plays a former football coach who, while teaching at a mostly Latino high school, organizes a cross country team that goes on to win the state championship.  It’s based on a true story and, at the end of the film, all of the real people appear alongside the actors who played them.  There’s nothing about this film that will surprise you but it’s still fairly well-done.  Even Kevin Costner, who usually gets on my last nerve, gives a good performance.

Taken 3 (dir by Olivier Megaton)

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back and he’s killing even more people!  Fortunately, they’re all bad people but you really do have to wonder what type of dreams Bryan has whenever he goes to sleep.  In Taken 3, Bryan’s wife (Famke Janssen) has been murdered and Bryan has been framed.  He has to solve the case and kill the bad guys while staying one step ahead of the police (represented by a bored-looking Forest Whitaker).  Neeson does all of his usual Taken stuff — the intense phone conversation, the steely glare, and all the rest — but at this point, it has literally been parodied to death.  If you’re into watching Liam Neeson kill ugly people, Taken 3 will provide you with adequate entertainment but, for the most part, it’s but a shadow of the first Taken.

War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)

I saw the War Room in Oklahoma.  It was being shown as part of a double feature with The Martian, of all things!  Anyway, this film is about an upper middle class family that hits rock bottom but they’re saved by the power of prayer!  Lots and lots of prayer!  Seriously, this film almost qualifies as “prayer porn.”  Anyway, the film was badly acted, badly written, incredibly heavy-handed, and ran on way too long but, on the plus side, it did eventually end.

Trailer: The Connection


They played this trailer at the Alamo Drafthouse shortly before the start of Ex Machina.  It appears to be a French version of The French Connection.  Who knows?  It might be good.  At the very least, it’s a reminder for American audiences that Jean Dujardin is capable of playing someone other than a silent film star.

Film Review: The Monuments Men (dir by George Clooney)


Remember when The Monuments Men was everyone’s pick for the best film of 2013?

It may be hard to remember now, especially now that the film has actually been released and dismissed by most critics.  But, during the summer of 2013, all of the people at Goldderby and AwardsDaily were convinced that The Monuments Men would be a major player at the Oscars.  Sure, the thinking went — 12 Years A Slave and August: Osage County would be major contenders but the surest bet for a win was The Monuments Men.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to laugh but, at the time, the logic behind this assumption seemed sound.

After all, The Monuments Men not only tells a true story but it also takes place during the only good war, World War II.  It’s directed by George Clooney, who is the epitome of a star..  The film features supporting performances from Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and John Goodman.  The film also has a valuable message about the importance of culture and how tyrants always try to control and suppress the imagination.

So, who can really blame all the usual suspects for deciding, without having actually seen the movie, that The Monuments Men would be great?  Even when the film’s release date was moved from December of 2013 to February of 2014, it was assumed that it was only being moved because 12 Years A Slave was such a great film that no movie — not even The Monuments Men — could hope to compete with it for the title of best film of 2013.

The Monuments Men?” they all said, “It’ll be the best film of 2014…”

And then, finally, The Monuments Men was released and we all got a chance to see it and…

Well, it turns out The Monuments Men was not quite what everyone was expecting.  It’s not quite bad but, at the same time, it’s also not quite good.  Instead, it simply is.

To its credit, The Monuments Men attempts to tells a worthy story.  During the final days of World War II, Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) leads a seven-man team of art historians who are tasked with both recovering art stolen by the Nazis and keeping allied soldiers from accidentally destroying Europe’s culture while trying to save it.  Stokes and his team find themselves forced to deal with both soldiers who resent being told what they can and can not blow up and with a competing team of Russians who are eager to take as much art as they can back to Moscow.

The film makes a very relevent point about both the importance of art and why it must be preserved and protected for future generations.  As the proud recipient of a degree in art history, I really wanted to like The Monuments Men.  Especially considering what our President recently had to say about those of us who majored in art history, this is a film that I wanted to see succeed.

Unfortunately, The Monuments Men does not succeed.  It’s an almost painfully old-fashioned film, one that features every single wartime film cliché imaginable and which never manages to be as interesting as the story its trying to tell.  We like the monuments men because they’re played by actors like Bill Murray and John Goodman but we never get to know any of them as individuals and, as a result, their story falls flat.

A lot of the blame has to rest with the director.  As I watched The Monuments Men, I found myself thinking about the other films that George Clooney has directed.  Confessions of A Dangerous Mind is memorable largely for Sam Rockwell’s lead performance but, otherwise, the film tries way too hard to be wacky.  Good Night and Good Luck is sincere but rather simplistic.  Leatherheads is a comedy that’s not that funny.  And finally, there’s The Ides of March, a film which thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.  I think, when it comes to George Clooney, there’s a tendency to be so blinded by his charisma that we tend to assume that he can do anything, including direct.  However, if one can manage to ignore Clooney the star while considering Clooney the filmmaker, it becomes obvious that he’s actually a rather unimaginative director whose good intentions often times disguise the fact that he’s not much of a story teller.

That, ultimately, is the main problem with The Monuments Men.  The film is full of effective scenes and charismatic actors but they never quite gel to form a compelling narrative.  At one point in the film, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban are sent to one part of Europe while Goodman and Dujardin are sent to another.  We get a handful scenes featuring each team.  Murray and Balaban bond with a scared German.  Dujardin and Goodman deal with a teenage sniper.  Suddenly, in the next scene, Clooney drives up to an army camp in a jeep and there’s Murray, Balaban, Goodman, and Dujardin all standing outside a tent, waiting for him.  How did they all get back together?  Where is the camp located?  Did either team accomplish what they were sent out to do?  The film never tells us.

(Meanwhile, the less said about a lengthy subplot featuring a lot of awkward interaction between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett the better.)

As I said before, it’s not that The Monuments Men is a bad film.  It’s just such a disappointing one.

Dance Scenes That I Love: Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in The Artist


artist

I love this scene from the 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist because, to me, it perfectly captures both the wonder of film and the beauty of dance.  If watching Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo dance doesn’t make you happy, then there is no hope for you.

Trailer: The Monuments Men (Official)


The Monuments Men

The race for Awards Season film releases has begun to heat up with trailers for American Hustle and The Butler already showing some major front-runners for the major awards at the end of the year.

We now have another trailer release for a film that looks to join in on all the end of the year awards scramble. It’s the latest film from George Clooney (doing a trifect as writer, director and actor) which sports an impressive ensemble cast that includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban.

The Monuments Men is based on the true story of archivers, museum directors, art restorers turned soldiers tasked with saving the cultural and fine arts treasures stolen by Hitler’s Nazi forces during World War II. As the war begins to turn again the Nazi’s this group of unconventional soldiers must prevent these treasures from being destroyed as part of Hitler’s “scorched earth” policy when it comes to the cultures he has deemed unworthy.

The film itself is adapted from the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. There’s a camp out there who doesn’t look at Clooney’s work as anything but OScar-bait whenever they come around every other year, but there’s no denying that the man can direct and act. The question now is whether The Monuments Men will finally give Clooney that final push into getting his first Best Director Oscar.

The Monuments Men is set for a December 18, 2013 release date.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards


Last night, I watched the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards.  I also got on twitter and made a lot of snarky comments.  People seemed to enjoy it and for that reason, I say, “Yay!”

Why Was I Watching It?

Because I am an awards show junkie!  Seriously, those glue sniffers on Intervention don’t have anything on me when it comes to craving the excess, glamour, and foolishness of a big, silly Hollywood awards show!  Add to that, this is still a fairly wide open Oscar season and the Golden Globes are, as they always say on E!, a “precursor to the Oscars.”  Winning a Golden Globe usually guarantees at least an Oscar nomination.  Plus — Ricky Gervais was back to host and like a lot of people last night, I spent the minutes before the ceremony asking myself, “What ever will he say!?” in feverish anticipation.

What Was It About?

For the past 69 years, the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have thrown a big banquet in January and given out a lot of awards to various TV and movie stars.  Nobody’s really sure who the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are and, to be honest, the Golden Globes always have a slightly unsavory air to them.  There’s always more than a few nominations that mostly seem to be designed to get famous people to show up at the ceremony,  Last year, they nominated the Tourist, this year they nominated The Ides of March.  Anyway, the Golden Globes are distinguished by the Oscars by the fact that they serve alcohol during the show and, in the past, someone’s always ended up giving a drunken acceptance speech or launching into an incoherent political rant and, for the past few weeks, we’ve been told that with Ricky Gervais returning to host the 69th annual banquet, anything could happen and probably would!  Yay!

What Worked

Last night, I mentioned on twitter that if nothing interesting happened on the Globes or if Ricky somehow failed to deliver the expected amount of snark then I would devote this section of my review to talking about my boobs. 

With that in mind, what can I say except that they’re a little big and heavy and they pretty much ended my dreams of being a ballerina but I like my boobs, or as I call them Pride and Joy.  They go great with every outfit I own and I’m pretty sure that they’re also the reason why I’ve never had to pay a speeding ticket.  Plus, they allowed me to say stuff like, “I should be Ms. Golden Globes!” while I was watching the show last night…

Actually, I’m being a little bit unfair to the Golden Globes (the awards ceremony, not my boobs).  The tribute to Morgan Freeman was well-done and was probably the high point of the ceremony but then again, how can you go wrong with Morgan Freeman?  Seriously, when I’m on the verge of doing something silly (like using a review of the Golden Globes to show off my boobs) , I imagine Morgan Freeman saying, “Now, do you really think that’s a good idea?”

Fashion-wise, I saw a lot of red dresses last night and that made me happy because I look really good in red.

Among the winners, Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor for Beginners), Jean Dujardin (Best Actor In A Comedy Motion Picture for The Artist), Martin Scorsese (Best Director for Hugo), and Claire Danes (Best Actress In A Dramatic TV Show for Homeland) all gave good and classy acceptance speeches that made me feel good to be alive.  And Uggie the dog was so adorable up there on stage when The Artist won Best Motion Picture Comedy.  Actually, speaking of The Artist, it was kinda nice to see so many French people accepting awards last night.  (Oh, stop it!  I love France!)

I enjoyed it when Madonna won for best song because she was so shocked that she forgot to speak in her fake accent. 

On an admittedly petty note, Rooney Mara did not win Best Actress for David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and that amused me greatly because I knew that all the little AwardsDaily Fincherites were torn about how to whine about Mara losing with coming across as if they were criticizing Meryl Streep for winning.

What Did Not Work

So, let’s start with the main problem.  Last night’s Golden Globes ceremony was so respectable and predictable and slow that it might as well have just been the Oscars.  Ricky Gervais started out the ceremony by telling us that he had signed an agreement to not make any offensive or outrageous statements and then he did just that.  What’s especially annoying is that Ricky didn’t seem to be neutering himself as an act of protest or anything of the sort.  Instead, he just came across like he was too smug and sure-of-himself to realize that he was bombing.  It was as if he just expected his reputation to convince us that he was being funny and outrageous without actually being funny and outrageous.  Last year, Ricky Gervais skewered Hollywood phonies.  This year, Ricky Gervais was a Hollywood phony.  I sat there waiting for him to say just one thing that could potentially end his career and he refused to do it.

But Ricky wasn’t alone.  Seriously, where were the drunk winners launching into incoherent politically themed rants.  I mean, it’s an election year for God’s sake.  People on twitter were using the occasion to make all sorts of silly and naive political statements but the actual celebrities — the people who we depend on to act like a bunch of dumbasses — just sat there in this sort of placid anxiety like they were waiting for someone to show up for an intervention.

BLEH!

The majority of the night’s acceptance speeches were neither good nor bad.  They were just boring.  Listen, Meryl Streep is a great actress and I have no problem with her being recognized and awarded for her talent but oh my God, I nearly fell asleep trying to listen to her.  Now, if Meryl (or any other winner) had gotten up on stage and started slurring her words or making dirty jokes or something like that, it would have made for great television.  (Though I do have to give Meryl some credit for being the only winner to get bleeped.) 

The Descendants won Best Motion Picture Drama but seriously, it’s hard for me to accept that this well-made but essentially unchallenging and rather forgettable film is now the Oscar front-runner.  Seriously.  Much as with every other award it has won, The Descendants felt like something of a compromise choice and, considering that Scorsese won best director, it’s hard to gauge just how much momentum the Descendants is going to get from this victory. 

Oh!  And another thing that sucked — how did George Clooney win a Golden Globe for essentially playing the same character he always plays while Michael Fassbender’s brilliant work in Shame was ignored?  What type of game is that?

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

To quote Joan Crawford, “I’ll show you a pair of Golden Globes!”

Lessons Learned

This is shaping up to be one of the worst Oscar seasons in recent history.  Seriously, if just one deserving film or performance wins in February, I will be amazed.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Artist (dir. by Michel Hazanavicius)


I was concerned before I saw Michel Hazanavicius’s critically acclaimed, silent film The Artist.  This is the film that’s currently being touted as an Oscar front runner and has been acclaimed by critics the world over.  Whenever I see this type of acclaim, I usually end up disappointed in the actual film because hype that positive is very difficult to live up to.  (Case in point: The Descendants.)  However, having seen The Artist, I can now say that this is the rare film that actually is almost as good as the critics say it is.

Starting out in a highly stylized Hollywood in the 1920s, The Artist introduces us to silent film star George Valentin (played Jean Dujardin who shows the same charm and style that he used to ironic effect in the director’s previous OSS 117 films).  Valentin is the biggest star in the world and he is cheerfully dismissive of the idea of “talking” film.  However, once the age of the talkies begins, Valentin finds his star on the descent while his protegé, former extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), becomes a star in talking films.  Defiantly, Valentin continues to make silent films but is there anybody around still willing to watch them?  Obviously, the storyline of The Artist is a familiar one but the film is more about how Hazanavicius tells this story than the story itself.  The Artist is ultimately a triumph in pure and exuberant style.

At first, I have to admit that I was a little bit dubious about The Artist being a silent film.  It sounded rather ominously like a gimmick and I was worried that The Artist would turn out to be one of those films that I felt obligated to enjoy as opposed to actually enjoying.  Having seen the film, I can say that it is indeed a gimmick but it’s that rare gimmick that actually works extremely and genuinely well.  Director Hazanavicius both pays homage to the conventions of silent cinema while also contrasting them against the harsher reality of loneliness and depression. 

Much like the best of the old silent actors, both Dujardin and Bejo have amazingly expressive faces and they can say as much with their eyes as they could say with dialogue.  Familiar character actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Malcolm McDowell are also perfectly cast and used throughout the film’s narrative.  Ultimately, however, the film is really stolen by Uggie, who plays Dujardin’s little dog and is just about the most talented canine I’ve ever seen on-screen.  Seriously, he was adorable (and I say this as someone who is terrified of dogs both big and small) and he gets a chance to shine in a compelling sequence where he desperately tries to save his master from a fire.  Seriously, Uggie gives such a great performance that I was surprised to discover that he wasn’t actually Andy Serkis under heavy CGI.

Technically, of course, The Artist isn’t really a silent film.  It has a very rich and expressive musical score and there are two scenes in which Hazanavicius allows a few sound effects to be heard.  Only towards the end of the film do we get to hear anybody speak and its truly jarring in the best way possible.  If nothing else, The Artist makes us realize how much we take for granted the blaring soundtracks of most films.  We’re so used to hearing things that we’ve forgotten how to listen.  Luckily, The Artist is here to remind us.