Being my favorite season (Oscar season) and my least favorite season (Winter), I've been watching a lot of movies lately. So many movies in fact, that I haven't taken the time to give most of them a full review like they deserve. As an olive branch of sorts, I'm going to try and compile a gaggle of mini-reviews here for films I've watched since Christmas.
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade
A documentary about record-holding videogamers of the 1980's and the fame and rivalries that resulted. Featuring a few of the subjects from The King of Kong, most notably Billy Mitchell, it trades a bit of suspense for camaraderie compared to the King of Kong but has the same great character development and fascinating stories. It's a little sad to see how far some of these guys have fallen from grace, but it really encapsulated the phenomenon that were Arcade Games in the early 80s. If you had fast thumbs and a roll of quarters, you were a God. That's the American dream right there.
A tender, tough film from James Gray, sprinkled with enough hopeful scenes to keep you optimistic. Joaquin Phoenix plays a sensitive, obsessive man living with his parents in NYC. Despite his glaring flaws, a beautiful family friend expresses interest in him but he has eyes for the troubled Gwyneth Paltrow. Frustrating but beautiful, Gray and the actors do a tremendous job expressing the deep longing in all of the characters (especially Phoenix and Paltrow) as they try to outwill their own defects and the defects of others. Really great.
Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans
I am by NO means a Nicholas Cage fan, but I love it when he completely crawls into a part. Like Adaptation and Bringing Out The Dead, he plays by his own rules here, and his manic eyes and his wobbly gait express how unhinged he is better than I can. Herzog has a fantastic eye for color, and a curiosity with wildlife, but he should be proudest of the performance he has coaxed out of Cage here. After being injured on duty, Cage's character Terrence becomes addicted to painkillers while still on the force, entrusted with tracking down a homicidal drug dealer while self-medicating to keep himself sane. Make no mistake about it, he does some depraved things here, but he's on so many drugs and his heart is in the right place, so I hesitate to label him evil. If Oscars were measured in time spent grappling with a film, Cage and Herzog would have it locked up.
Visually arresting and conceptually interesting, this steampunk inspired story by Shane Acker is a feature-length version of his award-winning short film of the same name. Telling the story of a post-apocalyptic world where only terrifying machines and a band of "stitchpunks" remain, the film follows the stitchpunks as they try to save one of their own. The voice-work is great and attention to detail is phenomenal here, but I struggled to follow/care about the narrative and there were too many "Are they really dead?" and "Phew that was close....LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!" moments for characters I wasn't invested in. With a better script, I think Acker could do something great.
In his newest film Mike Judge (Office Space) tries to out-Apatow Judd Apatow, introducing a quirky cast of characters (Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig, the awesome JK Simmons) to harass Jason Bateman's Joel Reynold's, owner of a flavor-extract company. After a series of events at the company, Joel hires Cindy (Mila Kunis) as a new temp, not knowing she is a con-artist. A big fan of all of these actors, Judge lacks the humanity of Apatow for this sort of redemptive film and it shows. The funny scenes here are quite funny (though mean-spirited), but Judge loses his grip on some of the more dramatic material, and most of it feels awkward. All-in-all a disappointment.
Come back tomorrow for reviews of:
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Up In The Air
The Invention of Lying