June 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Oliver Stone – W. (2008)

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Oliver Stone continues his tradition of trend of biopics by looking at the life of our 43rd President, George W. Bush.  Josh Brolin leads another star-packed ensemble portraying the life and moral decision making of the younger Bush.VictoryKyle Commentary BannerW. isn't a bad movie, but it is a strangely tame one. While it does have moments of intense criticism, they're presented in a goofy and obvious way. Stone wants to criticize the Bush administration, but can't seem to come up with many new ways to do it, and he ends up giving us a movie that tells us things we already know but with most of the bite removed.

The tone is a problem for me here because most of the time it seems verging on outright satire — not political satire with well-placed barbs hidden in the dialogue and interactions, but more broad, as if Stone didn't want us to view the world of the film realistically. Brolin's performance contributes to this throughout, as he plays Bush as essentially a clueless man-child one step away from Will Farrel's take on Saturday Night Live.

It's not that the exaggeration is out of place, but it's also not new or surprising, and this level of silliness prevents him from saying anything truly interesting. If he were to go one step further with it and make this a view of the Bush-era presidency that played up all the common notions of the man and his administration to farcical levels, it may have been more entertaining. If he had reigned it in a bit to attempt to offer a more complex view of Bush's presidency, his underlying criticisms would hit harder and speak deeply to how basic human faults can have far-reaching ramifications. Again, while I don't think this is a bad movie, Stone can't have both.

What does work in a kind of endearing way about W. is Stone's tendency to portray Bush as a man out of his depth who often doesn't even realize the political schemes being constructed around him. He seems to have sympathy for the former president, showing him as a man incapable of living up to his father's enormous expectations and continuously making the wrong choices in a lifelong effort of appeasement. The argument that extends from this is that Bush was a pawn of a corrupt political system, with colleagues of his father using him to enact their own will and plans while he scrambled just to keep up.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

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Happy partnersAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerI don't mind a bit of pathos when it comes to my comedies.  In this world of post-Apatow comedies it seems like everyone is trying to reach the same emotional heights and laughs that Planes, Trains and Automobiles did over twenty-five years ago.  But I'm starting to miss comedies that just try to make me laugh.  I don't want this through a series of absurd and grotesquely escalating scenarios (I was tired of The Hangover before it even ended) but just the simple joy of talented people trying to make me laugh.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, to its credit, remembers the inherent warmth that comes from making people laugh.  Unfortunately, it finally hits this stride with barely twenty minutes to go.  Until then it's an uneven bag that's telling several different stories at once without finding the time to show any one as the dominant emotional thread or telling many good jokes in the process.


Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

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PerfectionAndrew LIKE BannerThis is the Joss Whedon I have missed for so long.  The Whedon who knows how to set a stage so perfectly for a duel of wits before physicality enters the frame.  It makes perfect sense that his return to form would be a palette cleanser between his big budget productions.  Similarly, that he returns to his own sparkling tongue by adapting the words of Shakespeare, the one true peerless wordsmith of dialogue, gives Whedon's frame a vitality that is all at once familiar and excitingly new.

Whedon gathered a large portion of his most frequent collaborators to bring Much Ado About Nothing to the screen in his own way.  The chief performers of Beatrice and Benedick are played by Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof.  For those familiar with both past works by Shakespeare and the roles Acker and Denisof have played in the past the fact that they are in a romance that is destined to succeed is a hilarious counterpoint to their doomed romance on the small screen.  But their comfort with each other, both in dueling barbs and lines dripping with saccharine, will be such a joy to those discovering the two for the first time.

Beatrice and Benedick, once lovers, find themselves in the midst of a plot of love found and soon to be foiled.  He is the companion of Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), recently returned from quelling an attempted uprising by his brother Don John (Sean Maher).  They stop at the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg), father of the beautiful Hero (Jillian Morgese), and uncle to Beatrice.  Pedro's young lackey, Claudio (Fran Kranz), has taken to Hero quite badly and pledges to marry her as soon as time will allow.  In the meantime, sensing that the hostility between Beatrice and Benedick still yields some attraction, Pedro and his men as well as Hero and her attendant conspire to get the two back together.  Independent of all this, Don John has decided to grasp what little power he can by tearing Hero and Claudio apart through treachery of his own kind.


Monsters University (2013)

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Soon to be best of friendsRyan // LIKE BannerI really enjoyed Monsters University.  Honestly, I did.  I say this up front because most of this review might sound negative but the movie is a lot of fun and it is one of those films that you will enjoy if you are a child, child at heart or a parent.  I would wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone thinking about seeing it because I know you will have a good time.

With that done, I do have to say I was a bit disappointed in the movie and still question its existence, something I have done since I originally heard about it being developed.  The reason for this being that I LOVED the original Monsters Inc. and I think it ended both beautifully and perfectly.  The first time I saw the ending to the original film it brought a tear to my eye because it was sweet and I couldn’t think of a better way to end the story.  The whole story was wonderfully written and imaginative too with the great question for a story of what if the monsters under your bed were more scared of you.


Oliver Stone: World Trade Center (2006)

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Oliver Stone seems an unlikely choice to tell the first mainstream drama about 9/11, but here he is with World Trade Center.  This is the story of two officers trapped in the rubble of the tower (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena), the efforts of those outside to rescue them (Michael Shannon and Stephen Dorff) and their families attempts to stay hopeful (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal).All together nowAndrewCommentaryBannerI don’t envy the task that was laid before Oliver Stone with World Trade Center.  Our media environment has sped up the rate in which we can deal with tragedy or triumph through entertainment.  But the wounds from 9/11 were still very raw and had changed our overall national worldview in such a drastic way that the insanity we delved into afterward.

Stone is not suited to make most of the film we see here.  He was hired to make a stirring tale that serves as a tribute to the survivors and the rescuers who were lost and recovered as a result of 9/11.  That means that Stone has to delve into hopeful emotions and, honestly, he is not capable of that as a creator.  The many flashback and exposition scenes that Cage, Pena, Bello, and Gyllenhaal reek of a schmaltzy Americana that feels unnatural in the context of the film, let alone Stone’s overly colorful renditions of these moments.

The moment’s where Stone’s strengths shine through cycle between painfully awkward and effective.  The awkwardness is never more clear than in any scene involving Michael Shannon.  His talent for intensity and paranoia is perfect for Stone, but not so perfect for the saintly Marine that he is intended to be.  Shannon’s performance is like asking the original Terminator to get a cat out of the tree.  He’s focused to the point that his selfless actions take on an uncomfortable edge and the eventual rescue feels less of a triumph because of that.

Stone’s predilection toward nightmares is better suited to the moments where Cage and Pena are desperately trying to keep themselves invested in their own lives.  The twisted mess of concrete and steel recalls a man-made jungle that is not too far removed from the hell of Platoon.  A moment that could have been cheesy, and I think you found it this way, was when the perfectly formed fireballs threatened to incinerate the two desperate men.  I loved the visual because it shows that, on some level, Stone is presenting this story as a man-made disaster.

Those moments of effectiveness don’t make up for the other shortcomings.  All we need is to look to Stone’s past and see how his involvement in this film was a mistake.  He has had no use for heroes, especially where war is concerned, and I have to wonder who he thought the hero really is in this film and what purpose they served.  At the basest level of plot the five men we open the story with accomplish nothing aside from getting killed and then rescued.  Their rescuers are people like Shannon who growls at his coworkers that “We’re at war and no one realizes it.”  A much more difficult film could have been made from all these same components, but that would have required a level of courage and willingness to stare down professional suicide that no one here had in mind.