Tag Archives: 2011

Way late review: The Hunter

I’m happy I finally gave The Hunter a try via Netflix streaming. Having been on my instant queue for a while, I almost put it off to the point where it ended up in my “sure, I’ll watch that someday (which means I’ll always find something else to watch)” list.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a mysterious company to track down the last Tasmanian Tiger on the planet, kill it, and bring back DNA samples. His housing arrangement while on his mission includes a widower and her two young children in the middle of the Tasmania wilderness. Mystery surrounds every one of Martin’s moves. He poses as a scientist studying Tasmanian Devils, which makes the local loggers immediately hate him and the environmentalists suspicious of his motives. His mission is simple yet complicated not only by the locals who see him as a threat but also by the widower and her two kids. Mom is so depressed and drugged she sleeps non-stop, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The girl is spunky and her younger brother is silent. Martin resists getting involved as much as he can but finally succumbs to a family sorely missing the adult male, a role Martin fills simply by being present.

Making a terrible looking film shot in the majestic landscapes of Tasmania is probably near impossible. Regardless, director Daniel Nettheim still deserves credit for making the most of the gorgeous scenery as our protagonist tracks his prey. Martin sets out on a number of hunts throughout the surrounding area and each one is filled with less than thrilling action. He sets various traps, tracks his progress, and then cleans up after himself. While not exciting, the scenes are nearly mesmerizing with the calm, professional Martin tracking the elusive animal. During most of the hunting the tension is built knowing there are those who don’t want him there and the fact that Martin seems like a man with a heart but still goes about this mercenary mission of hunting the last of a species for monetary gain. Just enough happens during these journeys to make the suspense grow while not overwhelming the story with melodrama.

There are loose ends which never get tied up in a satisfying manner. The height of the mystery driving the thriller isn’t as clear as it probably should have been nor are the motives of at least one character. As a result, the story feels overly ambitious for what should likely be a story focused on Martin and his inner conflict.

Maybe all the pieces don’t add up in a completely satisfying manner, but that doesn’t stop the beauty of The Hunter from resonating. Willem Dafoe carries the quiet thriller on his back with a performance which is as much about the smallest moments, the slightest of facial expressions in the midst of a mysterious hunt for the most unlikely animal to be called a tiger.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Take This Waltz

Some films hit instantly – good or bad. Then there are the oddball films which refuse to give in to my scene by scene judgements. Just when I think I have it all figured out, written off as a so-so film desperately trying to be something more, Take This Waltz makes me take it all back. And it’s not because of a sudden turn in the final act, but in piecing together moments which make a greater whole.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are a twenty-something married couple. They love each other and show affection for one another but something is missing, at least for Margot. Lou is either too naive or in too much denial to see his wife’s unhappiness. She hugs and kisses yet she mopes around as though life is her ball and chain. Making matters more complicated, the young work from home wife meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) during a business trip and the two hit it off in a slightly awkward yet hard to miss manner. While riding home from the airport Margot tells Daniel she is married and he confesses that is too bad as he walks to his home – across the street.

The dilemma is clear. Temptation sits not in another country, state, city, or neighborhood. No, temptation for Margot is one street crossing away. While she quietly laments her loss of love for her husband, her curiosity of what might be with the handsome neighbor who charms her in every way gets the best of her. In fairness, Daniel doesn’t make things any easier. He makes sure he is around whenever Margot steps foot outside and vice versa. The two talk and flirt with one another to the point where Daniel puts the pressure on thick and direct by describing just what he wants to do with Margot. She resists, at least for a while.

In most films the story is clear. Follow your heart. You fall in love, you fall out of love. Take This Waltz would appear to fall into this trap. The dialogue between Daniel and Margot is at times insufferably cutesy. The disciplined husband whose focus is getting his chicken cookbook out the door more than much else is portrayed as a bit of a yutz as a result. Everything is setup for the typical sabotage of a syrupy tale of love lost then found elsewhere, but something deeper is at the core of the telling of the story. The portrayal of the everyday life of a still young married couple provides a realistic glimpse.

Strong performances across the board lead Take This Waltz through troubled relationship waters. Visual metaphors abound and don’t completely sink in until the credits roll. What seems like an initially forgettable small romantic dramedy turns into something greater with the slightest of twists and the direct blow delivered by an alcoholic sister-in-law whose caved into the allure after a year long remission. Wisdom comes from the strangest of places.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: War Horse


The true gritty World War I tale of a horse who takes on Germany and saves the day. War Horse is like Saving Private Ryan mixed with Platoon, except with a horse saving the day. OK, maybe not. Maybe it’s an overtly sentimental tale of a horse who magically makes it through WWI while impacting the lives of those on both sides of the first world war.

Steven Spielberg is a filmmaking genius not without his faults. One of those faults is his tendency to turn the sentimental faucet on full blast even though it may drown the audience. Then again, the story this time around probably justifies the treatment. Saying War Horse is too sentimental is like saying Forrest Gump was too unrealistic. Both are fairy tales and they revolve around main characters who we may find hard to believe in their setting and impact but that’s part of what makes fairy tales what they are. Of course, Forrest Gump had Tom Hanks and War Horse has a ummm…Joey, the horse, as its leading “man”.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is an English teen whose former war hero dad foolishly bids too much and wins the auction for a thoroughbred horse. The family needs a work horse and dad brings home a racing horse. Dad may have been slightly influenced by the alcohol continually filling his bloodstream and his desire to stick it to his landlord who he was bidding against. From there a familiar story is told where Albert and Joey bond and the impossible happens. Then the war breaks out and Albert’s dad is forced to put Joey up for sale. Despite Albert’s pleas, Joey is sold to an English officer who is heading out to the battlefield. End first act, end Joey, enter War Horse, a horse who endures the worst and keeps clip clopping along.

The cinematography and sweeping soundtrack is what drives War Horse. The story is entertaining enough but the unique shots of war and the sights around it are amazing. The scene of the infantry of men on their horses racing through the tall grass in a sneak attack on their enemies is unlike any I’ve seen before. The colors and look of the film overall is different than Spielberg’s films of the past. They are brighter and more vibrant even though the setting couldn’t be more dreary. Joey races across the battlefield at night and the camera follows the frantic pace from a unique perspective which wouldn’t make sense in a traditional war film centered on the human characters.

Those who complain War Horse is nothing but sentimental drip seem to miss the fact that this is not a tale about war, the people in it, the people impacted by it. It’s about a horse and his incredible journey through a war torn land. Those looking for the second coming of Saving Private Ryan need to look elsewhere. War Horse is a fairy tale driven by beautiful sights and triumphant sounds, and sometimes that’s enough to make a really good film.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Damsels in Distress


Whit Stillman makes movies you either love or hate. His fascination with telling stories about yuppies tends to have that reaction. I generally enjoy his films. They portray characters and a world very few do. Twelve years later, Stillman makes a new film Damsels in Distress, and while the characters speak the instantly identifiable Stillman dialogue, something has changed. Something funny. Pure satire in a world unlike those the director has created in past films.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) and her two friends, Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), at Seven Oaks college are out to save the world. OK, maybe not the world, but definitely their boorish male counterparts and those deemed suicidal risks. Violet immediately targets Lily (Analeigh Tipton) as a new student in need of intervention. Lily isn’t a freshman as Violet guessed. She’s a sophomore transfer. She, unlike Violet’s entourage, doesn’t completely buy into the mission the trio is on. When the new foursome walks around the campus together for the first time the original trio nearly pass out from the supposed stench produced by a group of guys who walk by. Rose looks as though she may regurgitate her last meal. Lily is perplexed. Violet explains that Rose is especially sensitive to odors and the boys from a certain house are particularly odorous. In pity, Violet condescendingly sees it as her duty to reform these boys. No handsome and winsome young men for these young ladies. They’ll take the dufus who has yet learned his primary colors, thank you very much. And they’ll do this all in the name of saving a lower class; pulling them up from the depths to the heights of at least middling acceptably. The exaggerated attitude and actions pokes fun at both liberals doing more harm than good while they save the poor they wouldn’t want near their precious suburban homes or Evangelical Christians who have a disdain for the heathens they attempt to clean up and save from a life of sin.

There is little to no narrative holding Damsels together. Lily’s first year at Seven Oaks is filled with odds and ends. She provides a dose of reality in most scenes lacking everything but reality. Yet even Lily isn’t completely exempt from serving as a prop in Whitman’s satirical take on life at one of the oddest colleges in cinema history. She finds the wrong guys. Instead of dumb brutes she dates men of higher intellect who are anything but honorable. One is an eight year student posing as a successful young professional while another is an international student whose religion supposedly holds to a sexual “purity” that is anything but.

The suicide prevention center Violet heads up gives donuts to those in need of help. Don’t dare take a donut if you are not a candidate though. Donuts are for suicidal risks only. Violet promised the company providing the donuts that all the donations would go to those needing them, not those simply out to get a free pastry. Things get stranger. The preferred method of therapy is dancing. In fact, it’s the only thing resembling therapy of any sort. All other displays of help are in the form of interrogating potential “patients”, ensuring they are worthy of free doughnuts and dance sessions. If this sounds ridiculous and silly, it is. It is also very funny, as long as you don’t completely hate the characters and the world they inhibit. The arrogant, obnoxious girls and the dumb boys they seek to refine require buy-in or else Damsels will feel like a slog.

Debbie: You think I’m going to kill myself and make you look bad?
Violet: I’m worried that you’ll kill yourself and make yourself look bad.

Title cards split up the movie into sections not unlike a silent film or an episode of Frasier. The technique mostly works until the end when the movie overruns its optimal time and the title cards serve as reminders that the credits should be rolling. All good things must come to an end, some should come a little earlier than others.

Whit Stillman makes a welcome return after nearly a dozen years since his last film. Damsels in Distress is a witty comedy with commentary on a variety of topics but never heavy handed. The laughs come along with a satirical backdrop and characters to match. Not everyone’s cup of tea but possibly a surprise for those who haven’t enjoyed Stillman’s past films. Damsels was a pleasant surprise for me.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Artist


Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 Academy Awards best picture, The Artist. Spoiler alert. It won’t make my top 20 movies of 2011. I hesitated watching last year’s best picture for a while because the premise wasn’t all that appealing. I finally decided the time had come. I didn’t view it with drudgery nor with anticipation of seeing the best film of 2011. Enough time had passed since it was released that I felt like I was coming at it fresh. And without further ado, my review.

It's built on a gimmick.

George Valentin and Uggie

But not all gimmicks are created equal.

Movies based on gimmicks

It's full of fun and whimsy.

Bérénice Bejo holding herself

Except when it's not.

Jean Dujardin freaking out

The story is simple. Too simple for a 100 minute movie.

Dr. Seuss ABC, another simple story like The Artist

Kudos for trying something different.

Kudos to The Artist for trying something different.

Still a gimmick. (Like this review)

Wink. Wink. Even the actors know The Artist is built on a gimmick. A modern silent film.

 ★★★☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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