Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

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Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni and Jake Johnson

One review I read compared Safety Not Guaranteed to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  How they made that leap is beyond me.  Colin Trevorrow’s indie dramedy, about three journalists who decide to chase down and write a story about the author of a personal ad who is seeking a partner with whom to time travel, is quirky but has nothing close to the depth of Eternal Sunshine.  The comparison, however, basically summed up what I didn’t like about it: I just didn’t feel the “sweet, oddball sadness” that permeated the latter.   Here, I liked the characters and I understood their pain and dissatisfaction but it didn’t reach me.  There was something uncomfortable about it which might have been the point but it didn’t help to make this movie memorable despite its unique, and true (the movie is based on a real personal ad) premise.  That said, there is something enjoyable about the movie where the dialogue, story and editing move it forward with charm and grace.  It is not overambitious and without comparisons stands well enough on its own.

What I liked:  The eccentricity of each character feels natural and never forced.  The relationships are rushed but sincere and the rugged style merely enhances the finale.  There is something true about these characters and their lives.  The casting is flawless, especially Mark Duplass as the time traveller dealing with his loneliness better than the rest.

What I didn’t like: I really can’t pinpoint it.  The movie, in its way, is beautiful but I felt Trevorrow kept his characters at a distance from his audience, as if the movie ends just as we were beginning to understand these individuals.

My rating: I’d have these characters over for dinner.

IMDB: 7.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

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Django Unchained (2012)

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Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington

Oscar Nominations: Cinematography, Sound Editing, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Screenplay (written for the screen), Motion Picture.

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is a characteristically violent Spaghetti Western about a slave freed by a bounty hunter and their ensuing partnership to kill and find freedom.  The film is also, characteristically, too long, riveting and hilarious.  I think Django is best summed up by Leonard Maltin who wrote: “If you had pulled me out of the theater one hour into Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I would have raved. The first portion of the movie is utterly exuberant, full of life and the love of moviemaking,” and Tom Long who wrote that “Christoph Waltz alone is worth the price of admission.”

What I liked: Christoph Waltz is exceptional as the bounty hunter with a flare for dramatic and overstated language that provides 90% of the movie’s humour.  Jamie Foxx is perfectly understated as Django, who quietly evolves and provides the moral center of the film.  Typical of Tarantino there are some fine cameos and the score is a character unto itself.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays the villain with his unrelenting dedication and while he’s too recognizable to instill fear, he is still captivating.  It is also a testament to Tarantino that the outrageous violence served both the film’s humour and the severity of its subject.

What I didn’t like: I imagine fans of Samuel L. Jackson’s participation in Tarantino films will enjoy his overdramatic character.  I, on the other hand, found him anachronistic and undeveloped which pulled me out of the story.  There is also a significant change in tone when Waltz is not on camera which disappointed.  Tighter editing might have trimmed this film to perfection.  Finally, can we all recognize that Tarantino is a brilliant filmmaker but significantly less talented as an actor?

My rating: Let award season begin.

IMDB: 8.8

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Sherlock (2010 – )

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Created by:  Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Loo Brealey, Mark Gatiss and Andrew Scott.

Even though I’m fully aware of the inflated ratings television shows receive on IMDB, I bought into the Sherlock hype and tracked down a copy of season 1.  I’m happy to report that the BBC’s modernized eponymous mini-series deserves its 9.2.  I’m also happy to report that fans of Elementary (like myself) can enjoy Sherlock easily without making comparisons to its predecessor;  aside from the framework, modern day adventures of Sherlock and Watson, the shows are quite different.  Where the American version is character driven, the BBC version is centered on solving crime.  In fact, one of the few criticisms I read about the British show mentioned the lack of character development.   I’m not convinced these characters lack depth only that there’s a subtlety to the character revelations and they are not the shows main focus.

What I like: The writing, acting and direction are excellent.  Sadly, there are only three episodes per season but each is 1h 30min of challenges, crimes, banter, wonder and humour.  Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as the master logician with no social graces and Martin Freeman is the consistently empathetic Watson.  When the two come together and laugh it adds a nice touch of character and humanity to warm the audience to the often stark episodes.

What I don’t like:  The show is created to raise its audience’s intelligence so it’s disappointing to find Watson often bumbling to catch up when even we understand what’s going on.

My rating: Buy it.  This show has no time to waste on commercials.

IMDB: 9.2

Metacritic: 85%

Airs: BBC & PBS

Elementary (2012- )

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Created by: Robert Doherty
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill

If the US networks have run out of ideas, I’m happy to see that they’ve turned to the Brits for ‘inspiration’.  Elementary is another American remake of a British series (see Shameless).  In this case, however, the British series, about a present-day Sherlock Holmes, trumps the American version with a 9.2 rating on IMDB.  Like Shameless, I have yet to see the British version so, again, I am happy to judge this show based on its own merit, at least for the time being.

The American Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller as a modern Sherlock, fresh out of rehab and solving crimes with his uncanny nose for logic and observation.  Watson, played by Lucy Liu, is a hired sober companion, whose job it is to keep Sherlock clean and sober.  The relationship works and is the foundation of the show.  The crimes are interesting but nothing exceptionally new or intriguing.  Rather it is how the crimes are solved that makes this show charming.

What I like: Miller’s Sherlock is modern, disturbed, eccentric, obsessive and awkward with just enough neurosis to make him appealing and entertaining.  Liu is cleverly unobtrusive as Sherlock’s sounding board.  It’s nice to see Aidan Quinn still acting even if he and Detective Bell are constantly made to look stupid.  I like that the characters are more important than the crimes and that each episode doesn’t waste 20 minutes on lab testing…

What I don’t like: The clues that Sherlock picks up on are oftentimes a little too convenient but as I mentioned, it’s the characters that make the show interesting so I’ll let it slide.

My rating: Good old-fashioned crime solving with a hint of addiction.

IMDB: 7.4

Metacritic: 73%

Airs: Thursdays at 10pm on CBS 

Devil (2010)

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Director: John Erick Dowdle
Written by: Brian Nelson (screenplay), M. Night Shyamalan (story)
Starring: Chris Messina, Caroline Dhavernas, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Geoffrey Arend and Jacob Vargas

One scathing review of M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil referred to the movie as a “chiller”.  I like that.  I think it aptly describes what I saw.  I am not one for horror and gore but I like a bite-your-nails experience and, despite the glossed-over storytelling, the movie made me yell at the screen, which means I was involved.  If you like horrors, this isn’t for you.  It is, at best, a suspense thriller about four people who are tortured in a stuck elevator.  It is frustrating, creepy, entertaining and fiendish without the explicit gore of so many movies.  It will make you jump but it won’t stay with you.

What I liked:  I was entertained enough that I didn’t try to figure out what was going on.  The suspense was successful enough to make me frustrated and antsy.  The ambiance was creepy enough to provide an eerie feeling throughout and I gasped and jumped in the right places.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything beneath the surface.  No character depth, no depth of story. Everything is explained explicitly.

My rating: Feel free to turn off your thinking cap.

IMDB: 6.3

Rotten Tomatoes: 51%