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Mini Reviews (March 2012)

Silent House, Gone, Casa de mi Padre, Wanderlust, The Raid, 21 Jump Street, A Thousand Words, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism

Silent House (March 10/12)

Based on 2010's eponymous Argentinean thriller, Silent House follows Elizabeth Olsen's Sarah as she and her father (Adam Trese's John) attempt to spend a summer afternoon restoring an old house - with the pair's efforts eventually hindered by the presence of one or more palpably sinister figures. Silent House, which unfolds in one long, uninterrupted take, admittedly takes a while to wholeheartedly grab the viewer's interest, as the nature of the film's central stylistic conceit initially does lend it a stagy, almost amateurish feel that proves impossible to overlook. It's a vibe that persists right up until filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau start peppering the narrative with decidedly tense interludes, with the creepiness inherent in such moments heightened by the strength of Olsen's frequently spellbinding performance. There's little doubt, however, that the movie's tenuous momentum takes a serious hit in the progressively uneventful midsection, as Kentis and Lau primarily devote this portion of the film to Sarah's solo investigation of the creepy (and excessively dark) house. It's routine, tedious stuff that grows more and more interminable as time progresses, with the decidedly repetitive nature of Sarah's antics - ie she spends a lot of time cowering and exploring - diminishing the impact of the revelations that come fast and furious in the film's final stretch. It's ultimately impossible to label Silent House as anything more than a failed cinematic experiment, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of Olsen's work and the directors' sporadically stirring visual sensibilities.

out of

Gone (March 12/12)

A frequently disastrous piece of work, Gone follows Amanda Seyfried's Jill as she's forced to relive a traumatic kidnapping after her sister vanishes from their shared home - with Jill's mental problems provoking serious skepticism among several incompetent detectives (ie they believe that both incidents are a product of Jill's imagination). Filmmaker Heitor Dhalia has infused Gone with a consistently (and incongruously) deliberate pace that alienates the viewer right from the get-go, with the less-than-engrossing nature of the central mystery - ie is Jill crazy or not? - perpetuating the movie's decidedly tedious vibe. Seyfried's fine performance is consequently rendered moot, and it's also worth noting that Dhalia manages to squander a fairly impressive supporting cast (which includes, among others, Nick Searcy, Jennifer Carpenter, and Wes Bentley). The pervasively misguided bent of Allison Burnett's screenplay is reflected most keenly in the attitude of the aforementioned cops, as it quickly becomes clear that their skepticism is dictated less by logic and more by the demands of the progressively shaky storyline. The film's hopelessly lifeless atmosphere grows more and more problematic as time passes, with the absolutely interminable climax, in which Seyfried's unsympathetic character drives around a dark forest for what feels like an hour, cementing Gone's place as an aggressively pointless and boring thriller.

out of

Casa de mi Padre (March 14/12)

It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what director Matt Piedmont and scripter Andrew Steele initially set out to accomplish with Casa de mi Padre, as the film, which is ostensibly a parody of Spanish-language melodramas, comes off as a consistently disastrous and aggressively unwatchable cinematic endurance test that's sure to leave casual viewers fuming with rage. The intentionally absurd narrative follows hard-working rancher Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) as he's caught up in a love triangle after his brother (Diego Luna's Raul) returns home with a beautiful fiancée (Genesis Rodriguez) on his arm, with the situation complicated by the increased presence of a feared drug lord known only as The Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Filmmaker Piedmont has infused Casa de mi Padre with an intentionally (and persistently) broad sensibility that's reflected in its myriad of attributes, with the movie's unapologetically over-the-top atmosphere setting a tone of love-it-or-hate-it divisiveness right off the bat. But given that the novelty of the film's execution wears off after about three minutes, it seems likely that even the hardiest of viewers will find themselves wondering just what the point of all this is - with the film's various problems compounded by its pervasive, unconscionable lack of laughs (ie Piedmont, for example, believes that the mere sight of a character smoking two cigarettes at the same time is gut-bustingly hilarious). There's virtually nothing here that works, from Ferrell's obnoxious performance to the unpleasant visuals to the slower-than-molasses storyline, and it's ultimately clear that Casa de mi Padre, which would hardly have worked as a brief Saturday Night Live sketch, stands as the most misguided and flat-out interminable "comedy" to hit theaters in a good long while.

no stars out of

Wanderlust (March 20/12)

Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, Wanderlust follows New York-based couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) as mounting money problems force the pair to move into a sketchy hippie commune - with the film subsequently detailing the wackiness that inevitably ensues as George and Linda rub shoulders with the commune's plethora of off-kilter inhabitants. Despite the decidedly stale nature of its premise, Wanderlust boasts an entertainingly affable opening half hour that admittedly does hold some promise - as the personable work from both Rudd and Aniston is heightened by the inclusion of a few chuckle-worthy jokes and gags. The watchable atmosphere persists right up until George and Linda arrive at that aforementioned commune, after which point Wanderlust slowly but surely morphs into a seriously tedious piece of work - with Wain and Marino's aggressive emphasis on hopelessly stale and hackneyed elements playing an instrumental role in the movie's palpable downfall. The almost astonishing lack of subtlety within the proceedings is reflected most keenly in the one-note portrayal of the commune's various residents, as each and every one of these characters has been infused with eye-rollingly broad attributes that are compounded by the actors' painfully over-the-top work (eg Lauren Ambrose's grating turn as an earthy nutcase who delivers her baby without any assistance). It is, as such, not surprising to note that Wanderlust eventually adopts a fairly interminable and endless sort of feel, which ultimately does cement the movie's place as yet another in an increasingly long line of subpar comedies from producer Judd Apatow.

out of

The Raid (March 22/12)

The Raid follows a team of cops, including Iko Uwais' Rama, as they storm a rundown building occupied by dozens of killers and thugs, with the film, for the most part, detailing the bloodshed that naturally ensues as the cops make their way deeper and deeper into the perilous tenement. It's a strong, almost foolproof premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by filmmaker Gareth Evans, as the writer/director's inability to offer up a single compelling or interesting character immediately prevents the viewer from embracing the simple narrative. (This is despite the fact that the film's central antagonist is promisingly described as a "maniac of feet and fists.") Far more problematic, however, is the movie's complete lack of engrossing action sequences, as Evans has infused such moments with a hopelessly incoherent sensibility - eg shaky camerawork, rapid-fire editing, etc - that proves disastrous. And although it's difficult not to get a kick out of the creativity that's been hard-wired into certain interludes, one can't help but feel that many of the movie's high-octane moments could (and should) have been so much better (ie imagine what a competent filmmaker, a John McTiernan or a Peter Hyams, say, could have accomplished with this material). It's consequently not terribly surprising to note that The Raid grows more and more interminable as time progresses, which ultimately does ensure that the hero's climactic battle with the aforementioned antagonist falls disappointingly flat. The end result is a woefully underwhelming piece of work that stands as further proof that the action genre is dead (or, at the very least, dying), which is certainly a shame given the strength of the initial setup and of Uwais and Yayan Ruhian's innovative fight choreography.

out of

21 Jump Street (March 27/12)

Based on the 1980s television show, 21 Jump Street follows two inept cops (Jonah Hill's Schmidt and Channing Tatum's Jenko) as they're sent undercover into a local high school to find and arrest an up-and-coming drug dealer. There's little doubt that 21 Jump Street gets off to a tremendously promising start, as filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller have infused the proceedings with a briskly-paced and pervasively lighthearted feel that proves impossible to resist. The movie's affable atmosphere is undoubtedly heightened by the efforts of its stars, with Hill and Tatum's easygoing, engaging work mirrored by an eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Chris Parnell, and Nick Offerman. It's only as time progresses that Michael Bacall's decidedly erratic screenplay becomes more and more problematic, as the narrative is increasingly dominated by ineffective, pointless sequences that wreak havoc on the movie's momentum. (And it doesn't help, either, that large chunks of the film have been improvised wholesale by the various actors, which only exacerbates the film's excessively slapdash feel.) The growing emphasis on eye-rollingly sentimental elements (eg Schmidt and Jenko's falling out, the impending revelation that Schmidt and Jenko are cops, etc, etc) diminishes the strength of the film's few genuinely amusing sequences, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that 21 Jump Street fizzles out rather demonstrably in the build up to its overlong and anticlimactic action-oriented finale - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as yet another disappointingly misguided reboot of an '80s property.

out of

A Thousand Words (March 27/12)

Hopelessly underwhelming from start to finish, A Thousand Words follows fast-talking agent Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) as he's forced to reevaluate his life after a mystical tree sprouts up in his backyard. Said tree, it turns out, loses a single leaf with every word spoken (or even written) by Jack, and, according to a New Age figure named Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), Jack will die once the tree is completely bare. It's a rather hokey premise that's employed to pervasively unremarkable effect by director Brian Robbins, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a relentlessly lightweight feel that prevents the viewer from working up any real interest in or sympathy for Jack's situation - with the hands-off atmosphere compounded by an ongoing emphasis on jokes and gags of an unfunny, frequently desperate nature (eg Jack begins sweating profusely as the tree is watered, Jack's wacky assistant begins talking "gangsta" to an important client, etc, etc). The sentimentality that comes to dominate the second half does, as a result, fare somewhat better than one might've expected, as such moments are, comparatively speaking, a mild improvement over the excessive silliness of the movie's opening hour. But the complete and utter lack of subtlety within Steve Koren's screenplay is ultimately nothing short of exasperating, and it's finally impossible to label A Thousand Words as anything more than a hopelessly flat and thoroughly forgettable piece of work.

out of

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (March 28/12)

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism documents the creation and rise to prominence of movie reviews following the birth of cinema more than 100 years ago, with the film covering the various touchstones that have cropped up over the decades and boasting interviews with such notable figures as Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, Elvis Mitchell, and A.O. Scott. It's clear immediately that For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism has been designed to appeal to a very specific demographic, although, to be fair, it's worth noting that director Gerald Peary generally does a nice job of opening the proceedings up to a wider audience - with the frequent inclusion of captivating film clips often compensating for the predominantly static, talking-heads-type atmosphere. Peary's efforts at documenting every important era within the film criticism scene ultimately does ensure that certain sections are either too short or too long (eg the prolonged emphasis on Pauline Kael's reign is surely an apt example of the latter), with Peary's decidedly low-rent aesthetic - eg the score sounds like something one could download for free from the internet - undoubtedly compounding the movie's pervasively erratic feel. And although the film admittedly overstays its welcome to a slight degree, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is, for the most part, an eye-opening primer into the world of movie reviewing that finally, appreciatively gives critics their due.

out of