Film Review: The Parking Lot Movie (2010)

 

I am not a violent man, but I did once swing a lead pipe at someone.”

So says Tyler Magill, a former parking lot attendant, who is interviewed in Meghan Eckman’s Parking Lot Movie.  Magill’s explanation for this action is that his victim refused to pay the 40 cent parking fee.  But this isn’t just Magill’s way of handling these situations, it embodies the attitudes of all his other fellow attendants.  Some of which are college students, some are mid-thirties and have been doing it for at least ten years.  But they all agree that the job is plenty of fun.

They acknowledge the poor reputation of their title, they say they are being paid to do almost nothing, and they exalt the activity as one of the most worth-while things they will ever do.  But with their enthusiasm and bitter disgust for the lot’s winy customers, comes a dry sense of humor that encompasses the whole film.  The way the parking lot is defined by the attendants’ funny rituals and sarcastic words reminds me of one of my favorite television shows, The Office.

But while The Office gets its hilarity from constant exaggeration, The Parking Lot, being a documentary, consists of cruel sincerity.  Throughout the film, we are shown the duties, habits, pastimes, and philosophies of the employees.  By the end, you will feel like you have actually met them, which is something hardly any Hollywood movies have achieved.

Its only significant flaw lies in the very beginning, and that is that it fails to intrigue the audience enough to watch the picture all the way through.  But none-the-less, there aren’t many slow bits once it picks up.  After all, it is only an hour and fifteen minutes and ends up being a funny, entertaining film that is well worth the time.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: Amadeus (1984)

More any other genre, classical music is best at expressing certain feelings.  For this reason, movies that use it can be especially captivating.  However, that is only part of the reason that I found Amadeus to be an astonishing film.  There are chilling undertones of jealousy and murder which make it both fascinating and thrilling.  Though many films have attempted to achieve this exact same feel, this is the first that has accomplished it so elegantly.

Most everyone has heard of Mozart.  He was a child prodigy and wrote heavenly music, but he died a young father and husband.  Mozart would never find that one of his colleagues, fellow composer Antonio Salieri, had once planned to murder him out of envy.  Salieri, vividly portrayed by F. Murray Abraham, could not bear the extreme jealousy that filled him when he discovered Mozart’s talents.  But Salieri was determined to be glorified as a great composer. So he convinced Mozart to compose a Requiem that he could steal and call his own after murdering him.  The theme of Amadeus is not the death of Mozart but instead what drove Salieri to murder. It was too much for him, knowing that he was completely incapable of what Mozart did so effortlessly.

Mozart’s work is the perfect soundtrack for this biographical film which also features a great group of performances, a superb script, and exquisite sets and costumes.  Amadeus is a film that stands high above all other period dramas, it is beautiful, unforgettable, and one of the few movies that can honestly be called a timeless masterpiece.  Not even in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has director Milos Forman gotten so close to perfection.

Rating: 5/5

Film Review: Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton is the ‘fixer’ for a New York law firm engaged in a class-action law suit, when one of the firm’s legendary attorneys uncovers evidence that they are on the “wrong side.”  Clayton, brought to life by one of today’s finest actors, George Clooney, is cool and intelligent, but thanks to Clooney, a softer side is subtly revealed.  Accompanying him are actors Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and the late Sydney Pollack.  Wilkinson is the attorney who loses his job and eventually, his life, after making a vital discovery; it is an Oscar-worthy performance.  Swinton (also known as the White Witch in the Narnia movies) actually did win an Oscar for her bit as a lawyer opposing the actions of Wilkinson.

Clooney’s poise makes for the best performance in the bunch, but Michael Clayton boasts more than good acting.  Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut is pulse-pounding and above all, impressive as a first-rate paranoia thriller.  The striking score, the abundance of blue and gray, and the building suspense create a wonderfully ominous tone.  It is this tone that makes the whole picture stand out among other thrillers.  Sharp dialogue is common here, as well as a truck-load of details.  Every member of the audience who wants to get his/her money’s worth out of this film will have to pay attention.  While the movie is pitch-perfect, it moves rapidly and it can be easy to fall behind.  Keep up and you’ll be happy that you were along for the ride.

Michael Clayton never really had a chance of winning Best Picture at the 2007 Oscars, especially over two masterpieces as incredible as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.  Nonetheless, it was nominated because it was well-made, and should not be missed.  It will always be a favorite to those who love movies that require them to think and be fully alert.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: There Will Be Blood (2007)

I see the worst in people.  I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.  I’ve built my hatreds up over the years, little by little…”

These are the words of Daniel Plainview.  He arrived at the small California community of Little Boston in 1907 in search of somewhere to drill for oil.  Accompanying him is his son, H.W., whom he keeps by his side constantly.  Each day, he brings H.W. along to show him the ways of his trade.  Not only is he a slick businessman, but he is also an ambitious one, and everything seems to be going right for him until disaster strikes during drilling one day.  This event is the breaking point for Plainview, who then finds it near impossible to keep his temper concealed.  It is only then that we see the man as he really is.

In a vivid Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Day-Lewis embodies the character of Plainview.  On the opposite side is Paul Dano depicting the foolish pastor who the oil man claims as his enemy.  Both are great performances, but they are not all that captivates those who enter into this film.  The expansive desert setting, the chilling musical score, and the wonderful direction evoke just the right feelings from the audience.  Even though it can be received as entertainment, it is also a great work of art.  If it had not been pitted against the Coen’s No Country for Old Men in 2007’s Best Picture race, there is no doubt in my mind that it could have nabbed the award.

Even without a statuette, There Will Be Blood is an instant classic.  Most filmmakers might have been tempted to make a conventional Hollywood drama or action thriller when given the source material of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!.  I am certainly glad that director Anderson made it the way he did.  His atmospheric epic seems to have taken some lessons in characterization from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s dark, grimy The Wages of Fear.  When considering this, it is no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

Rating: 5/5

Film Review: Spellbound (1945)

What happens when a paranoid amnesiac replaces an esteemed psychologist as the head of a mental hospital?  This is the question from which the drama of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound flows.  The film, released in 1945, was one of the first pictures in Hollywood to depict the process of psychoanalysis and it has since been an influence in the creation of such movies as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Memento, and maybe even Hitchcock’s own masterpiece, Psycho.  Despite inspiring some well-known titles, Spellbound has not become fully recognized as a great film.  This is undoubtedly due to the fact that it is not one.  Its major weakness is that it tries to keep hold of the audience’s attention too long while refusing to deliver but one tiny bit of information at a time.  Not only can this make the actors look silly (despite turning in excellent performances), but it also wears down the effectiveness of Hitchcock’s signature moments of suspense.  This was the only problem that I ran into during the entire experience and if it could have been avoided, then I believe that the film might have been as good as the director’s Notorious, which was made the very next year.

The things that are worth seeing in Spellbound are, thankfully, rewarding enough that we do end up without any moments to recall with fondness.  The most memorable of these scenes is a short dream sequence imagined by the legendary surrealist, Salvador Dali.  The addition of Dali into the film’s creative team was not only a wise move for commercial reasons, but it also provided a glimpse of a collaboration between two great artists.  Another notable scene occurs towards the end of the picture when the audience is put behind the gun of a killer.  We are then surprised to briefly see a burst of bright red as a shot is fired.  There are other moments when Hitchcock’s genius appears undeniably present, but there are many scenes that do not contain anything of the such.  Those that are not interested in the director’s talents may instead be entertained in seeing those of the movie’s leading stars.  Ingrid Bergman displays complete versatility here, convincingly playing an emotionless asylum psychiatrist who falls in love with her most intriguing patient.  The other great performance is that of a young Gregory Peck in the difficult role of a paranoid amnesiac.

Hitchcock’s storyline here does stand as one of the more unique plots to be used in his career, and it is not one that his fans should miss out on.  Though I doubt that it will become your favorite movie by the Master of Suspense, I can say that it is a nice vacation from the many adventures that he has brought us involving espionage.  This is good, solid entertainment that contains some scattered moments that Hitch fans will love, but it would not be until a decade later that he would make his greatest masterpieces.

Rating: 4/5

Criterion Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Prior to promoting his classic film, City Lights, during 1931 and 1932, Charles Chaplin arrived back in America with intentions of implanting important social and political themes into his next feature. He long contemplated the subject of this new picture and eventually chose to focus on the rise of the machine. Watching this film today, one can clearly see that Chaplin was against these large machines that were beginning to be used in factories, and he demonstrates his point by making his own Little Tramp one of the many men to be replaced by such machinery. Joining him, is actress Paulette Goddard playing a memorable companion to the Tramp, while also beginning both a professional and personal relationship with Chaplin that eventually ended in divorce after bad experiences together on the set of The Great Dictator (1940).

Modern Times is such a delight, especially when considered among the many unfunny comedies that Hollywood produces today. Not only are we entertained by the appearance, antics, and actions of Chaplin’s Tramp, we are also captivated by a heart-warming romance. This little film, running under an hour and a half, contains so many scenes that are incredibly easy to recall that it makes it near impossible to not love it. In the beginning, Chaplin performs a hilarious string of gags within a factory set made up of giant gears, levers, and assembly lines. As we make our way further into the story which he has written, we find ourselves immersed in something stunning. The genius of Chaplin shines through his masterful work here. His Tramp is funny, innocent, likable, and goofy, making for the ideal protagonist of such a simple plot. That is what made the star into a legend. In fact, so popular is the image of the Tramp, that many people believe that the mustache, bowler hat, and cane were all part of Chaplin’s regular everyday attire.

For those of us who have seen his masterpieces, laughed at his gags, and been moved by his stories, Chaplin is more than the little man with the funny walk. He is the father of cinematic comedy and the face of all silent films. And yet there is a question that I have attempted to answer on a number of occasions: Is Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton the greater silent comedian? Before watching Modern Times, I probably would have told you that Keaton was my favorite. After watching Modern Times, I can say that I have no earthly idea. The pleasant smile of Chaplin is certainly more inviting when compared to the stone-cold, determined countenance of Keaton, yet Buster’s films are every bit as funny and we do actually end up caring about him. This question may have to be solved at a later date, but rather, the purpose of this review was to ensure any skeptical reader that Charlie Chaplin should not be written off by modern audiences just because he made silent films. Most all his movies are as good as this one, and a few might actually be better. I would encourage anyone reading this to at least give him a try. Watch Modern Times and see if it is not as good as I have said it is.

Rating: 5/5

Criterion Review:

The Criterion Collection gathers great films, whether foreign silent gems or forgotten modern masterpieces, and restores them to high quality sound and visuals. They distribute them on DVDs, which most always have an awesome cover design, and include behind the scenes featurettes, interviews, commentary, and booklets containing essays by film critics and historians. These can be hard to find and especially for a good price, but I luckily found my copy of Modern Times during a sale at a Barnes and Nobles. After watching the film and all the bonus features (and reading the essays), I can honestly say that the purchase would have been worth it at the regular price. The restored print is incredible, in fact, I giggled with delight at the sight of the first shot. The few words that are said (or sung) are clear, and the additional footage is fascinating. Also, there is a short film starring Chaplin which showcases his rollerskating abilities, a silent movie documenting a journalist’s yacht vacation with Chaplin, and many other various joys. For anyone who loves Modern Times, Charles Chaplin, or just film itself, this particular two-disc collection is a must.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Most all superhero movies aim at leaving the audience with anticipation of a sequel or some sort of reappearance of that hero. This is especially true for those made by Marvel Studios. One of next summer’s biggest motion picture events will be Marvel’s The Avengers, and it is what films such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America have been created to lead up to. The idea is that all the supers will join together to form one invincible team. Each of the above mentioned movies have concluded with plans for this one final major event. Yet Captain America is the first of all of these to seem to be just as concerned with carrying out the plot of this individual film as joining it with the other pictures.

Yes, it ends in obvious efforts to bring the Captain into the big picture, but with its closing line will come many interesting conversations among fellow viewers. It is a line that reveals the heart and inner desires of its hero beyond what Marvel has ever shown us before. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Marvel has made the best superhero flicks around and this is one of their best. The problem that many may run into while viewing it however, is that it can be strikingly absurd at times. But you can solve that problem before you even enter the theater. Just simply go into the movie acknowledging that, while Chris Evan’s head doesn’t appear right on that scrawny, little body, it is fiction, and the point of the skinniness is to display the character’s humble beginnings. Just let The First Avenger do its thing, and you can have plenty of fun.

Like the best of Marvel’s efforts, Captain America is not all action. Though you will experience some great gunfights and exciting chases, there is humor to be found in the words of most every character in the film. Those of Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Chester Phillips prove to be very memorable. And then there are several qualities resembling Raiders of the Lost Ark, most obviously the Captain’s leather jacket and the evils of a Nazi villain. Strong performances are given by Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix) as Red Skull and Hayley Atwell (Bess Foster in The Duchess) as the avenger’s love interest.

And now to answer the question you’ve all been dying to ask: Was Chris Evans a good choice for the title role? The answer will vary from viewer to viewer. Those dedicated to the image of the original Captain from the comic books might not be totally satisfied. Yet if you are among the crowd who has never read or seen anything involving Captain America until now (me), the image of this iconic character displayed here shouldn’t bother you one bit.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: Cars 2 (2011)

Six times out of the last eight years, Pixar has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and each year, it was well-deserved.  One of those two films that failed to bring home the prize was 2006’s CarsCars was my pick to win that year, and I still believe that it should have been awarded a statuette.  So in this year filled with numerous sequels, Cars 2 was one of the few that I established to be of any importance.

After viewing Lasseter’s latest effort, I wonder why he has suddenly changed the way he makes movies.  Just last year, his colleague, Lee Unkrich, showed the world how to create a brilliant follow-up to a beloved film in Toy Story 3.  Unkrich’s strategy was not a hard one: add a few new characters, keep all the old ones, and stir up all the love we have for the franchise by putting our favorite toys in danger.  The result was very touching and his new characters turned out to be very entertaining.

But what Lasseter has done with Cars 2 is expand everything but the emotions of his characters.  He juggles two stories at once, one a routine grand prix adventure featuring Lightning McQueen and the other an action-packed spy mission focusing solely on Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater.  Never has a Pixar film felt so complicated.  On the bright side, Cars 2 is so fast-paced that most children will never be bored.  However, for those with longer attention spans, the whole thing seems a bit rushed.  The action is fun, the animation is good, yet I have come to expect more from the Pixar crew than what I was given here.

Note: Pixar will not win their usual award this year.  Instead, I expect Rango or Kung Fu Panda 2 to steal the show.

Rating: 3.5/5

What’s your prediction for the Best Animated Feature winner?

Film Review: 127 Hours (2010)

 

James Franco stars in one of 2010’s best movies as Aron Ralston, a free-spirited adventurer who treks into the canyons of Utah.  But on the way, he falls into a rocky crevice in which a heavy boulder pins down his arm.  In this expedition, he has come alone and foolishly, he did not tell anyone where he was headed.

After days of struggling, he is on the brink of death; and he will do anything to stay alive.  There is one notorious scene in which Aron is forced to do the unthinkable, and this has been the cause for many to avoid the movie altogether.  But there is much more to 127 Hours than meets the eye.

Ralston brought along his video camera for the ride.  While documenting his five days of captivity, he begins to reflect on what he should have done differently.  He regrets choosing not to return his mom’s calls.  He recalls his love for his girlfriend.  He cannot believe how his entire life has been doomed to end this way from the very beginning.

Franco, nominated for an Oscar,  is superbly convincing and emotionally engaging, and he is well-directed by Danny Boyle.  The film is also filled with a wonderful soundtrack that can both inspire and energize.  The cinematography and editing could indeed be the best part, it emphasizes bright color and occasionally shows three pictures at once.  127 Hours is one of my top five movies to come out of 2010 because it is well-executed, inspirational, and entertaining.

Rating: 4.5/5

Did you enjoy this as much I did?  Please comment and let me know…