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: 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…

Must-Sees: July 2011

Sometimes we see movies that we wish that we could tell the whole world about.  Well, these are five such films that I think are all gems.  I suggest that you make it a point to see these by the end of the month since they are all completely worth your time.  Picnic at Hanging Rock and Black Narcissus are available for instant streaming on Netflix and Buried is probably offered in your local Redbox.

La Jetee (1962)

La Jetee or The Pier is said to be the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s time-traveling sci-fi, 12 Monkeys.  It is a heart-pounding short film of about thirty minutes that will only show the core of its brilliance in the final seconds.  The rest of the movie incorporates sound effects in a frightening, fantastic way.  Those who love classic sci-fi and/or great surprise endings will enjoy Chris Marker’s masterpiece to the full.  La Jetee is a must-see for every film enthusiast.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

What appears on the surface as another chick flick about a girls boarding school soon becomes a rather ominous thriller.  So ominous that it establishes a rare, supernatural feeling that is hard to come by even in many sci-fi and horror films.  Weir and company have created something beautiful with scenic photography and seductive elegance.  Its innocence is marvelously disturbed by haunting danger.  The music is also a large part in the experience, building suspense and expressing the desires of its characters.  Hanging Rock is just too delightfully eerie to miss out on.

Buried (2010)

If Alfred Hitchcock was alive today, this is the type of films he’d be making.  It’s thrilling and intense, full of eye-opening suspense, and while boasting an incredible amount of varying camera angles.  The whole picture takes place underground in the coffin in which an innocent truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) is buried with nothing more than a phone and a lighter.  Reynolds is excellent in this darkly claustrophobic thriller.  Though it is contained in a very limited space, this film is intriguing and never boring for one second.

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus is a picture of enchanting beauty and innocence disrupted by evil temptations.  It’s the story of five nuns struggling to keep their vows in the midst of servitude in the Himalayan mountains.  Excellent filmmaking is combined with director Michael Powell’s masterful cast.  Scenic beauty is captured in one of the most intoxicating ways in the history of film.  Deborah Kerr is superb in this colorful classic.

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

I would argue that this film contains Richard Dreyfuss’ finest performance to date.  His character is an inspired musician who fills his free time with composing… until he becomes the new music teacher at the local high school.  This one might be most special to me because my mother is also a high school music teacher.  Nonetheless, Mr. Holland’s Opus blends humor, great acting, and an unforgettably touching finale to create wonderful entertainment.

Film Review: Hereafter (2010)

One of the most striking things about Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is that it seems defiant to fit into a specific genre.  With its opening tsunami sequence could come expectations of a disaster flick.  Then we see the sparkling romance of a French couple.  Over and over, we are introduced to new characters and worlds that differ greatly.

Hereafter borders the genres of drama, thriller, sci-fi, and romance, yet it never settles into one of them.  It is not a disaster film.  Even though the first hour seems sluggish, the second half is very rewarding.  There is a great deal of romantic chemistry between Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, though their relationship never reaches any visible conclusion.

All the performers are very good, especially Damon, playing a reluctant psychic trying to find his purpose in life.  Against what one might expect, he is not fully given the spotlight.  Eastwood gives equal screen time to French actress, Cecile De France, here acting as a French T.V. journalist.

In the end, writer Peter Morgan leaves the audience with a bitter longing.  I won’t ruin the conclusion, it is a sweeping and enchanting finale, but it remains one that does not answer all the questions.  A two hour and ten minute movie should be resolved a little more.  But this also adds to Hereafter‘s uniqueness.  It remains realistic by the way people come and go and opportunities appear and dissolve.  The addition of psychics makes such a movie even more unpredictable.

Rating: 4/5

Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

The screenplay for Sylvain Chomet’s wistful second feature was written by the legendary French film comedian, Jacques Tati, in 1956.  Tati composed amusing comedies such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, filled them with gags, and avoided inserting dialogue.  His comedic methods resembled those of the silent film greats, Chaplin and Keaton, and he was more pleasant than funny.

Tati intended for The Illusionist to be live action, but the tall Frenchman died in 1983 without making any more steps toward starting the project.  Nearly 30 years later, director Chomet has developed an animated film from Tati’s script.  I doubt very much that the result is what the comedian himself had in mind while writing it, yet The Illusionist still has all the richness and charm of a Tati film made in the ’50s.  There is minimal dialogue, there is a clumsy, lovable main character, and best of all, he greatly resembles Tati.

Sadly though, this film could fail to satisfy most audiences looking for something as story-driven as a Pixar film.  It comes off shy and unimportant, but one of its strengths lies in the masterful animation.  The story is not one of intrigue, nonetheless, the movie is totally atmospheric.  It does not use the bright, flashy colors of Pixar’s features, resorting to a darker variety that creates a more mature feel.  Both characters and settings are detailed and attractive, and the best moments are those when we see city lights from high above.  Because of the great artwork and score, I regret that I missed out on seeing The Illusionist in theaters.

There is so much visual and emotional mastery just in the short time of one hour and twenty minutes that I feel that I didn’t soak it all up.  Nevertheless, it left me with too somber of a mood to make me want to watch it a second time.  Perhaps if the end would feature the Illusionist finding his rightful place in society while the wonderfully jazzy theme plays in the background.  Maybe then would it feel completely satisfying.  Instead, Tati insists on reminding viewers that he is dead.  He will bring no more laughs.  He tells us that we must enjoy what life we have before it is taken away.  With that final entry, Tati’s life’s work at last seems fully complete.

Rating: 3.5/5

Film Review: Another Year (2010)

Mike Leigh’s Another Year contains one of the best performances of 2010.  The actresses’ name is Lesley Manville and she portrays a single, middle-aged woman saddened by her loneliness and aging beauty.  Manville’s work helps create the perfect supporting character for a film full of different kinds of people.

The primary focus of Leigh’s character study is a long-married couple trying to spread the happiness in their life to those around them.  This includes both friends and relatives that are going through all sorts of troubles.  As the film continues, it becomes clearer that there is not a specific story being told.  Instead, we are guided, season by season, through an entire year in the life of the couple.

But for covering a whole year’s time, Another Year never moves urgently.  It is patient and relaxed, fueled by an excellent group of performances and a very good script.  What separates the film from every other drama is that it uses characters that could be people that we know, and events that have probably happened to us.  This helps ensure that we get to know those on the screen quickly.  After all, most of the characters are ones we can relate to.

As time goes by, we are not learning about them, but rather about what is happening to them.  This makes Another Year an easy film to connect to.  It is rich, realistic, slow-paced, but worth-while.  When there isn’t an intriguing conversation occurring (and there usually is), one can always soak up the emotions of the marvelous cast.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Though these are the famous words of a much different film, they are very representative of this one.  The King’s Speech tells a fascinating true story of a newly crowned king who is still living out the results of his childhood.  With a quick temper and a constant stammer, King George VI is taken to the unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

George, at first reluctant, is eventually shown that Logue can help cure his problem.  The king’s stammer is the tragic result of a repressed childhood, one of fear and hesitance.  We find that he has been mocked because of the now-inescapable habit, and in turn, that he masquerades a cold, quiet, stubborn personality because this is the only way that he has been treated.

Logue’s persistence and loyalty soon transforms their relationship into an extremely touching friendship.  The Oscar-worthy performances of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter help ensure that we are moved.  The cinematography is also well-captured, putting characters to one side or slightly off-center of the screen.

There are a few lines that are very quotable, but nevertheless, the entire script is excellent.  The film’s mixture of comedy and bittersweet emotion make it a truly triumphant crowd-pleaser.  Its appearance as a period piece does not confine it to certain elements that some shy away from.  This is 2010’s Best Picture winner and few seem to disagree with the academy’s choice (for once).  The King’s Speech is a film anyone can love, for its acting, camerawork, dialogue, story, humor, and emotion are all pitch-perfect.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

A married couple is alone in their home with their young son when a large group of policemen break into their living room.  Before they even know what happened, the wife is arrested for murder.  Three years later, the wife is still in prison and has made an attempt at suicide.

Meanwhile, the boy, who now attends elementary school, is growing without the care of his mother.  The father believes that his wife is innocent, and he manages to continue life with very few opportunities to see her.  But when he learns that his spouse is being transferred to a distant prison facility, the troubled community college teacher decides that he can no longer see his wife suffer.

Interviewing an escaped convict (played by Liam Neeson), watching YouTube videos to learn to pick locks, and purchasing forged passports, he prepares in every possible way for the chance to free her.  But what if his wife did murder as she was accused of? The powerful part of The Next Three Days is that the man doesn’t know that his wife is innocent, but instead, he relies on who he knows she is; and he knows without a doubt that the woman he married isn’t a murderer.

There are precious moments in this wonderful action thriller when we are shown, thanks to great performances, the complicated emotions of the characters and the motives behind their actions.  What we seem to uncover is that these people are very much like us.  And for this reason, the audience cares about John Brennan and his family.

Our attachment to the Brennan family makes each plot twist and moment of suspense more dramatic than the average action film.  This makes the film entertaining and moving, but it is usually pointed out by the movie’s critics that the story is too unbelievable.  I too doubt that such events could take place, however, I found the realistic characters to be enough to balance any absurdity.

The Next Three Days is not action-packed, but there is great suspense. It seems to last forever, but it proves to be completely worth it.  I honestly did not expect such a seemingly average thriller to be so memorable.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: Unstoppable (2010)

It is no secret that Tony Scott’s directorial efforts over the last few years, The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and Deja Vu (2006), have been major critical flops.  Though, I personally enjoyed both, my opinion was not commonly shared.  Both of those films, and this one as well, star Denzel Washington, perhaps one of the most likable talents in Hollywood today.  The Scott-Washington duo began with 2004’s Man on Fire and has created the three other films since.

Joining Washington is one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming action stars, Chris Pine.  Though Pine has appeared in about ten movies so far, he became widely recognized in 2009 for his excellent portrayal of the young Jame T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.  The two stars make a great team here as a pair of trainmen while also delivering satisfying individual performances.

Washington in particular, is an actor that I have tremendous respect for.  Though he has appeared in a considerable amount of action pictures in the last decade, he is not ever pictured as one limited to that field.  He meets every role he plays, even those that don’t require much effort, with what seems to be sincere determination.  For this reason, most of his films seem to be lit up with his own enthusiasm.

Unstoppable however, does not, such as films like John Q. and Pelham 123, depend solely on the performances of its stars.  They are instead assisted here by an antsy, electrifying score, extremely stylistic editing (resembling Pelham and Deja Vu in that aspect), and nail-biting action.  I advise the reader to watch the trailer; what you see in those three minutes is exactly what you can expect to enjoy during the actual viewing.

Washington and Pine (as train engineer and conductor) try to stop an unmanned train dubbed ‘unstoppable’ by the movie’s title.  To some, this will seem like an inferior knock-off of 1994’s Speed (starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Dennis Hopper).  The films are similar, and Speed, no doubt, is superior, but that doesn’t stop Unstoppable from becoming an entertaining venture.

Rating: 3.5/5