The Last King of Scotland

When a leader commands as much conviction in his voice as Forest Whitaker does as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” you don’t ask why the man thinks or acts the way he does; you just go along with the ride.

Director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Peter Morgan are more than happy to take us on this historical journey through 1970s Uganda, when Ugandan President and army general Idi Amin ruled the country with an iron fist. We see the events unfold through the eyes of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a stifled young man from Scotland looking to escape into the world and do some good.

It does seem to be a trend in historical biopics like these to view the most interesting character, in this case, Amin, from the outside and not as the protagonist. And although we get a richly complex character in Amin, the main story is about a boy who was once sheltered at home and was then ironically sheltered in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Continue reading “The Last King of Scotland”

The New World

Even children know the story of Pocahontas. Her story does not need to be retold, and in fact it is slightly historically inaccurate. But there is still beauty in the story, and leave it to Terrence Malick to evoke the natural wonder contained within the British’s encounter with the “naturals” in “The New World.”

To make the Pocahontas tale a story for adults, Malick embeds in the film a message about the way we communicate when presented with something new. John Smith (Colin Farrell) begins the film as a stoic and silent convict in the crew to settle the colony of Jamestown. Upon arriving in the new world, it is expected of him to rebuild his reputation and communicate to the crew he is worthy of accepting the responsibility of exploring when presented with new circumstances. Continue reading “The New World”

Iron Man 2

If “Entourage” were a superhero movie, it would be this one. “Iron Man 2” loves knowing that it has a cocky, self-centered character everyone loves and an actor that is not only convincing at playing it but whom everyone loves even more. It hypes up the pretty boy lifestyle to the point of being silly and on the verge of absurdity.

If everyone loved the original “Iron Man” because the Tony Stark secret identity was not a cookie cutter hero, dweeb or lone wolf, then reasonably no one should be amused by Robert Downey Jr.’s now extreme version of a cookie cutter narcissist. But maybe like many episodes of “Entourage,” it’s hard not to be amused. I found it odd how little Stark was impressed by his own ability to discover and create a brand new element in the short time frame of one montage. I wondered why he didn’t blink at the thought of drinking coffee in a diner with an eye patch wearing Samuel L. Jackson as he sat in full Iron Man uniform. I can’t say any of it was out of character, and I can’t say it was an inappropriate direction in terms of entertainment value. Continue reading “Iron Man 2”

Thor

As if superhero movies weren’t overblown enough, here’s the bombastically overacted and extravagant “Thor,” starring none other than the Norse God of Thunder. If you thought Robert Downey Jr.’s ego was big as Iron Man, wait until you see the one on the hulking and indestructible alien that helms this movie.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the prince of a sparkling land in another area of the cosmos called Asgard. For eons, they’ve protected the galaxy and maintained order, leading the Scandinavian humans back in ancient times to revere them as deities. Now the throne must pass from the King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to Thor, but when he tries to wage war on their sworn enemies, the frost giants, he is rightly banished to Earth.

Allow me to describe Asgard, a shimmering, God-like planet of rainbow colors blessed with the features of a glistening waterfall spilling endlessly into the depths of space, floating rock staircases, a golden portal capable of summoning lightning storms and an enormous palace of bronze pipes that would put whatever the Royal wedding cost to shame. The existence of this place and the CGI that depict it are self serving, looking good only as an excuse to look extravagant, because the people that live and act on it are the same cocky, privileged, one-dimensional characters we would find on Earth. They even ride horses.

Yet nothing that happens on Asgard has any bearing to what happens on Earth, and I had no reason to care about the spectacular mayhem that could ensue there. “Thor” wastes more time on this fantasy world and its mythology than I care to count. Continue reading “Thor”

Fast Five

Over the last few summers, there have been too many absurd superhero and sci-fi fantasies that take themselves way too seriously and not enough real world heist and car chase movies that don’t in the slightest.

“Fast Five” will crash through that void at top speeds.

Long has the “Fast and the Furious” franchise been the butt of everyone’s jokes, not even being good enough to pass as trash. The street racing and high speed drifting on souped-up nitro engines got old fast (and furious), and while here there are still more slick cars than you can shake a dip stick at, Director Justin Lin has traded in much of that for a silly but riotous and well calculated heist thriller. Continue reading “Fast Five”

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Why has Wes Anderson not been making movies like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” his entire career? This charmingly stop motion animated kids movie is as perfectly in Anderson’s style as any film he’s ever made, and his colorful and peculiar quirks fit in beautifully with Roald Dahl’s lovingly crafted story. Continue reading “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

The Darjeeling Limited

I find it almost pointless to attempt to describe and review “The Darjeeling Limited” because the best way to describe any element of the film would be by saying it is a Wes Anderson movie. What does it look like? It looks like Wes Anderson shot it. Is it funny? That would depend on whether you thought Wes Anderson movies were funny. What’s it about? I have no idea.

Does it sound like I don’t like this movie? Film criticism is about describing the reaction you personally had as a viewer and about how you changed upon coming out of it. I can sadly report however that I had little to no reaction to it. The seemingly pointless irreverence of the film is well made, quirky and atmospheric, but it bounced off me as though there were nothing to gain from the experience.

It tells the story of three oddball brothers who come together for the first time in a year since their father’s funeral to ride the Darjeeling Limited train and explore India for an enlightening experience. Continue reading “The Darjeeling Limited”

The Conspirator

Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” poses questions of American values in a time of uncertainty for our country. It conveniently even applies to the recent death of Osama bin Laden, pondering if an unprecedented villain is entitled to his human rights. But could the reiteration of those values appear any more trite than they are here?

Through some extensive and deep research by his screenwriter James Solomon, Redford re-enacts the time following President Lincoln’s assassination through the eyes of Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a captain for the Union Army in the Civil War and now a lawyer working for the Southern senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). His job is to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a keeper of a boarding house charged with sheltering, aiding and conspiring in the murder of President Lincoln with John Wilkes Booth.

Aiken is nearly certain of her guilt, as is the rest of the country looking for answers and revenge, but Johnson convinces him that the Constitution entitles her to the same fair trial as anyone else, and the trial made up of a jury of Northern war officers and a biased Attorney General is not it.

This becomes more than clear as it does in almost all courtroom dramas. A judge is always bitter and unfair, the prosecutor is always ruthless and smarmy, the surprise witnesses are always unpredictable bombshells and the pitiful client will always sit silently and stoically until the climactic moment when an outburst in the courtroom threatens to place them in contempt.

I grew tired of “The Conspirator’s” drawn out portrayal of yet another courtroom drama with hints of conflicting American values not so subtly poking their heads into the proceedings. Continue reading “The Conspirator”

Helvetica

Graphic designers talk about typefaces the way I talk about film.

To them, a typeface has a rich history, it expresses feelings and emotions, and it symbolizes simplicity, cleanliness, modernization and even conformity.

So I learned in the documentary “Helvetica,” a film that definitively proves there is a documentary for anyone, about anything.

This is a film that explores the origins and the significance of the font Helvetica, the most ubiquitous font used in ads, signage and computers for the last 50 years. Continue reading “Helvetica”

Kick-Ass

I’m going to try reviewing “Kick-Ass” as a movie and not one that inspires and calls out to fanboys. I have no need to insult the audience that finds it amusing, nor do I have to criticize Director Matthew Vaughn or it’s original author Mark Millar for imagining it. I initially carried a lot of unnecessary baggage regarding the morality of the film, but morals are the least of the film’s problems.

Admittedly, I did find it uncomfortable to see a preteen girl utter lines of loving affection to her father with the same inflection of glowing innocence as a collection of four-letter words before she proceeded to chop off legs, nail baddies in the head and get pummeled to a bloody pulp by a middle-aged man.

But, I didn’t enjoy these moments that others find so cathartic and hilarious not because I’m a prude, but because a majority of the scenes are strictly serious, played for drama and rooted in a mindset of reality. This is not comic violence; it’s just violence. Continue reading “Kick-Ass”