Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Artist Review

The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Released in 2011

If you knew nothing of The Artist and sat down in a theater as it started, it would take a good five to ten minutes until you realized it was a silent film. The classic, Powerpoint-goes-analog titles might tip you off, but the protagonist, movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), relies on his body to speak. He watches his newest film from behind the theater’s screen, where on the other side a packed house of suited men and bourgeois women sit, gasping and laughing as if on cue. Valentin enjoys watching himself and his ability to yield such physical emotions from his audience. When the film ends, he jumps onto stage to bask in the applause. His female costar fumes in the wings as he delays her entrance by first recognizing the film’s animal actor, his multitalented Jack Russell Terrier. He throws his arms in the air, makes sweeping bows and even tap-dances under the spotlight, all with that winning smile that says not a word.

We can tell this man is obviously full of himself, for one, but also that his talent, voice and, alas, image lie in his overwhelming, eloquent physicality. Only when Valentin negotiates with the jowly, cigar-chomping studio executive (a magnetic John Goodman) does he talk with any sort of regularity, the dialogue of which we see through interpolated text cards. The people love him, and he scoffs at the prototypical demoes of “talkies,” a noisy bazaar that would surely ruin the spirit of cinema. His alluring protege, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who personifies the American Dream that looks, dedication and even better looks will take you anywhere, catapults overnight to stardom by committing to the new technology. The talkies take over Hollywood in only a few bustling years starting when The Artist does, in 1927, and, with Black Tuesday and the subsequent Depression slamming the country simultaneously, George Valentin falls on hard times. 

Director Michel Hazanavicius stays true to his goal and delivers - and through the Weinsteins, actually distributes - an actual silent film in our ever loud 2011. Iris and wipe edits and a swinging score by Ludovic Bource are what we see and hear. Thankfully Hazanavicius acknowledges his contemporary audience by playing with silent film conventions, adding sound or tricking us with intertitles that may have more than one meaning. 

Watching a silent film, in a theater (truly the only way it can be experienced) reveals small but crucial differences. For instance, only at the most defined moments do sound films ever drop to complete silence. We usually feel quite awkward when the coughs of the audience or yells from the exterior hallway’s Icee-fueled children echo during those excruciating seconds. Bource’s score pulses underneath for nearly the entire runtime, but it is not a heartbeat, and there are little moments of aural blankness that may frustrate modern audiences. If anything, these seconds just emphasize the eminence of images.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo fill these images with pleasing features and irrefutable likability that will win over all movie lovers accepting of a little change. Dujardin channels silent film icon Douglas Fairbanks as a swashbuckling, thinly mustachioed gentleman with the screeching echoes of fawning fans derived from his namesake, Rudolph Valentino. Bejo’s Peppy Miller boasts elegance and spunk, and both of these actors work tremendous chemistry with one another, as it is their relationship that propels the film. Well, those two and that miraculous dog.

The Artist soars when it stays closest to the ground, in the smallest of moments. The delicate relationship between Peppy and George grows during the multiple takes, all spliced together, when he must dance with her for just a moment but fails to keep his composure after they both drift out of character and into each other’s arms and minds. Or when George sees an attractive set of dancing legs under a curtain and mimics her moves until their barrier disappears and they recognize one another again. This comic foreplay champions the silent film format, and the two rise above any need for the stilted flirtation that Judd Apatow’s crew has brutally bludgeoned us now for five years running. 

The film has such a good heart, and when it tries to prove to us otherwise it almost loses its wings. Hazanavicius milks the melodrama with bipolar sobriety to disrupt the pacing and overarching mood, message. For just another victim to the Great Depression, George should cherish the fame he held compared to the lonely starvation that 99% of artists suffer on the street. Because while George may be immensely likable, what with that grin of gold, he remains self-absorbed and reluctant to change until the most extreme circumstances brought by those he shunned. Not necessarily a role model, but a model at least for the power of fortuitous friendship, whether from his loyal dog, butler (James Cromwell) or Peppy. 

This year’s Hugo studied the same era, as well as similar themes like lost fame and unrecognized talent, from the opposite end, with sound, color, CGI and digital 3D. Scorsese knew his subject, French film pioneer Georges Méliès, well and could relate. Michel Hazanavicius here does not make such profound connections, yet nor does he ever fall back on unremembered nostalgia. He has his own story to tell, crafted for an audience in the 21st century. It is Jean Dujardin, though, who connects with his character, and thus the audience, so completely that you may just sift through your brain wondering what old films you saw with tortured star George Valentin. They were black and white and without sound, but alit with a smile fused from the stars. 

Final Verdict:
3.5 Stars Out of 5

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by David Fincher
Released in 2011

David Fincher’s films center not around story but a mood. An off, hopeless, gnarly mood that about represents where Travis Bickle’s head would be in the 21st century. There are no clean bathrooms in these movies. Longtime collaborator, cinematographer Jeff Cronenwoth, captures the visual aesthetic of this bleakness with jet-black color saturation and disturbing digital clarity. The two could frame a mid-July, Florida sun and make you doubt its warmth. On the other side lies the audio, where sound editors and mixers - led by Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten, respectively - sometimes muddle the dialogue yet crank up the ambience to build suspense. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored The Social Network and return here for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to embarrass all directors who did not approach these two sooner. They channel paranoia and betrayal through this draining din that may as well resonate from the recesses of a aluminum honeycomb, with atonal keyboard strokes over it all. 

I say all this to commend both Fincher and these individual artists who collaborate every time to realize these troubled visions. But I also want to emphasize that all these people are not here to tell a story as much as develop this mood and strip raw its meditators’ humanity, or complete lack thereof. The story they tell here has been told twice before, with Stieg Larsson’s original novel and the 2009 Swedish film adaptation hits already. They all return, Fincher leading it all, for more than an American touchup. 

Larsson’s original story remains mesmerizing and incredibly gripping, no doubt. I had not experienced the story in any complete form yet so the Steven Zaillian-adapted plot provided its own wonder (thus, this review has no prior bias, e.g. my laziness brings objectivity). If Agatha Christie wrote for the heroin chic era and admired the BTK Killer over Professor Moriarty, the resulting potboiler would end up close to this.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been hired by a retired mogul, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his daughter almost 40 years ago. Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, is good at his job, but not great, shown by his loss in a high-profile libel case against a businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerström. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), however, is great and nearly supernatural in her computer hacking abilities (not unlike last year’s Fincher subject, Mark Zuckerberg), if brought back down to earth by some severe social problems (ditto the Zuck). The two join - through some awkward serendipity, of course - to pin down who they believe is a serial killer of women, one of Se7en-level brutality.

Lisbeth directs all of her attention to the case on the premise alone, for sexual violence is tied to her own past. If her bisexuality did not already set her apart, her black leather jackets, grotesque piercings and aversion to words certainly do. Her new legal guardian exchanges sadistic rape for the money she needs, and the revenge she takes is almost so sick we feel bad for the scum. Almost. An early scene where a thug swipes her laptop in a train station, only for her to viciously fight back, throws the weak woman stereotype out of the window. Not the crazy woman one, though, for she unleashes a primal roar in the goon’s face that the sound editors wisely masked with ambient train squeals. This freight train will flatten you.

Blomkvist occupies the other side of the coin. It is precisely his slaving to manners that nearly kills him, as he comes face to face with the bad guy yet will not decline a drink in his isolated, dark house. “It's funny that people have a greater fear of offending others than the fear of pain,” the villain sneers, a critique of the genre’s tropes that lead to the audience screaming at the screen, “Don’t go in there!!” 

Daniel Craig as Blomkvist signals a shift in character, one not in control of the situation though more eager than ever to be so. For once, Craig appears weaker than both his enemy and accomplice, and he handles the demotion in stride. The dark palette to the shots even makes that chest that once drove Internet message boards wild only above average. 

Though that role does not scream Oscar in any way, Mara’s Lisbeth Salander does through silence. But we all saw her in the opening sequence of The Social Network as Zuckerberg’s offended girlfriend, and she was so flustered and innocent there. What happened between then and now? The contrast makes her transformation that much more impressive. For such a pretty, delicate-looking girl, her nude scenes bare a rugged, beaten and very sexed though not necessarily sexy canvas. The strange relationship she develops with Blomkvist uncovers real feelings, with hard stares of affection rather than contempt. In a day where stars only grace magazine covers with an army of Photoshop airbrushers, it takes dare and real talent to own a role so punk and unglamorous and find a wounded heart beneath it all. 

Christopher Plummer deserves recognition this year, for he won accolades in Beginners and proves again to show talent, or dash, have no boundary. First of all, look at the man (to your right), and tell me you would want to look any other way at 82 years young. Bravo, sir. But nonetheless, he continues to expose his underrated talents that should soon not go Oscar-less. Actors cry all the time in the movies, but only the best can make you believe it. His character breaks down in one, quick shot with such a rush of feeling that it reminded me acting can not only shock but swoon, even amongst such venomous company. 

That Plummer’s reaction was cut so abruptly contributed to the shot’s punch, letting the emotion exit the screen and finish in the viewer’s imagination. Film editing, the “invisible art” as it is justly called, can go through the motions or turn a decent film exceptional. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall achieve the latter, cutting a movie that runs a troublesome 158 minutes into a breeze without filler. They throw in those graphic match cuts - i.e. someone closes a window; cut to someone closing a door - but the mastery barrels forward in any of the montages. Investigative work flies by as both Lisbeth and Mikael shuffle through old newspapers and find clues in zoomed photos while Trent and Atticus’ score builds and falls. They work apart from each other as per Lisbeth’s isolated demeanor yet, in two sequences, one of them falls into mortal peril while the other puts together the pieces to save them. Their dependency on each other never finds words but the cross-cutting of images, even when they are a train ride apart, ties that bond. 

I now recall an earlier 2011 film, The Green Hornet, directed by Michel Gondry. The film was mediocre at best, but featured this cool sequence where the camera followed an assassin only for the screen to split in two and follow two new assassins simultaneously, and then four, eight and so on. The montage provided fleeting fun, but aside unmemorable scenes on either side it stood out as rather outstanding in this otherwise forgettable movie. Gondry and Fincher share a similar lineage, as two of the three famous 90s music video directors who later hit it big in Hollywood (the third being Spike Jonze). 

Fincher does not use these “showstoppers.” Instead, he creates a seamless stream of image, sound and music where every piece, at every frame, holds purpose, but conviction only when viewed alongside its appendages. A scene of Mikael nestling with a cat feels as critical to his character as when someone strangles him with a plastic bag over his head. Take a second and picture that latter image. It is as disturbing as you cannot dare to imagine. For while Fincher cannot ultimately escape the pulp that is Larsson’s text, the often ludicrous story keeps us afloat among such unremitting brutality. Otherwise, we might just sink into that starless, unsmiling mood.

Final Verdict:
4.5 Stars Out of 5

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Review

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird
Released in 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol blasts through all the clog and tedium of the ailing action movie genre with enough dare and bombast to get the blood flowing once again.  This ride is so wild you may overlook the faults at the foundation. I would say I am willing to give it the benefit of my doubt.

Brad Bird’s live-action directorial debut (he was behind The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) finds real thrills in real places, sometimes really high places like Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) scales seven stories of window panes, some 140 floors into the sky, with only these adhesive gloves that, of course, are reliably unreliable. Cinematographer Robert Elswit mortifies the acrophobes in the audience with a slow, peering shot over Hunt’s head as he gazes down to see the aphid cars and Monopoly houses captured with IMAX cameras. Bird admires the power of these cameras, noting how, when Hunt presses his hand against the pane, “you actually see the glass warp slightly because of the pressure of his hand.” You see it alright, and ask your gut too because you can feel it. 

Ethan Hunt and his team of deadly, attractive agents - played by qualifiers Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner - are teasing physics in Dubai to find some launch codes that could result in nuclear war. It is the Cold War paranoia cow Hollywood has been milking since long before Dr. Strangelove. The “Ghost Protocol” in the title refers to the government’s official disavowal of IMF (the romantic “Impossible Missions Force”), leaving its agents in the dark and branded as terrorists if caught. 

Why all of this happened points back to the film’s early sequence where the team infiltrates the Kremlin to lift a dangerous scrap of intel. A gadget that would make Q proud - a screen that hides the agents by simulating a hallway’s length through detecting an onlooker’s visual focal length - is one piece of this suave heist, an operation that goes astray when the bad guy sets off a bomb simultaneously and pins the disaster on the Americans. Villain and motive established in one, loud bang. 

All of these action scenes - from Hunt’s prison escape at the tune of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” to the final standoff in a shuffling parking garage - transcend their gimmicky concepts with Bird behind the camera. Recall The Incredibles and the fight in the lava pit between Mr. Incredible and the globular Omnidroid. It was swift, thrilling and even funny when you didn’t expect. Anticipate a similar style here, like when Agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway, forever enshrined as Lost’s “Sawyer”) cuts through a train station crowd to casually inject a target with tranquilizer, sit him down on a bench and push his hat over his eyes. Now this shady courier is no more than a bum. The film opens with Hanaway jumping from a roof, spinning around in mid-air and popping off just two bullets into his two pursuers leaning over the edge. He breaks his fall with a instantly-inflatable mattress, worn like a backpack.

Suspension of disbelief is obviously required. Tom Cruise, who does nearly all of his own stunts (or so says the press release), smacks his head into so many car roofs, window beams and other uncushioned surfaces that the story could morph into the ending of Million Dollar Baby. But the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going, running and falling and running once more. While James Bond may be a debonair gentleman with an edge, Ethan Hunt is a bullet train barreling towards some foreign notion of peace. There is little development in his character, or in any of them for that matter. Each “set piece,” as the critics love to call it, is so front-loaded with its own individual risks and objectives that the overall stakes are lost in the pulsing mass of it all. The madness reaches a point where these scenarios could be shuffled and the story’s sense, or lack thereof, would be about intact.

Tom Cruise and company pick up the pieces from Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec’s weak script to bring life to characters that clearly defy it. Benji, played by Simon Pegg, who filled a similar role of “geek-in-action” as Scotty in 2009’s Star Trek, laughs off Hunt’s orders in disbelief: “Ha! I thought you said the Kremlin.” Pegg provides comic relief in a genre that has lost it (Cowboys & Aliens and Battle: LA, Exhibits A and B). Cruise tackles this role with the full body commitment of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. There is a startling physicality to every movement, even as he swipes across files on a flashy touchscreen that lets the visual effects team show off for a moment. Ethan Hunt may not have the depth of humor or feeling of, say, Indy, but Cruise lights him up and makes it impossible to look away.

The action is so inspired, the pacing so slick and the thrills so visceral (your stomach drops as Hunt slips, your heart races as he sprints down the exterior of Burj Khalifa) that this film reaches an uncanny valley of greatness held back by its own story’s clichés and incoherence. I do not work in the movie business, but I find no sense in piling the finest directors, movie stars, editors and cinematographers onto a script that obviously needs improvement. I speak only out of affection, for I feel this movie could have been a modern action classic. What we have instead is only an IMAX spectacle of brilliant action and undying spirit framed as popcorn art by one of our country’s greatest living directors. Poor us.

Final Verdict:
3.5 Stars Out of 5

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hugo Review

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Released in 2011

I always ramble on in my reviews about how Movie A loves the art of film (Super 8) and how Movie B stands as an all-out assault to the craft (Transformers 3). Somehow I even managed to testify how The Muppets comments on the nuances of filmmaking. This college freshman is just hopped up on too many film history courses to realize that not everyone makes movies with that meta-theory, this-next-one-goes-out-to-André-Bazin approach. Relax. But now one of the greatest storytellers in film history as well as its most vocal advocate has gifted us Hugo. Those gushing instincts are rushing back. Martin Scorsese did not just want to make this film; he needed to.

Marty, who has dedicated his career to stories about mobsters, psychopaths and mobster-psychopaths, loosens the knuckles for once to write this loveletter to cinema. Hugo can be labeled “family-friendly” but it speaks strongest to those who have a history with the movies. The darker color palette, 2-plus hour length and deliberately slow pacing may bore kids raised on flashy visuals and simple narrative substance. 

With that said, Robert Richardson’s cinematography and the visual effects department’s work stun from the opening shots where busy clock cogs transition seamlessly into an aerial view of an equally busy Paris. The set design of the train station, where Hugo lives, glorifies the era while still uncovering its grime. Scorsese, who loves tracking shots a la Goodfellas, coasts the camera across train platforms and through steam pipes with precision and purpose. The 3D lends a dimension to help us appreciate it all. Instead of the typical Eraserhead approach equating new technology to a loss of humanity, these beautiful strokes of bustling industry praise the wonder of human progress. The celluloid reel itself was a new step in progressive ingenuity.

Georges Méliès, visionary behind the ubiquitous 1902 classic A Trip to the Moon, explored film’s potential when it was still shunned as a passing novelty. Méliès, the man, lives in the world of this movie. But first he must be found, and orphan Hugo Cabret toils to reunite the spirit of the artist with the current pessimistic shell left of the man. The years between the end of Méliès’ career, brought by World War I, and the early 1930s setting of the film have not been kind. His films are, to his knowledge, all extinct in physical form and memory, and even historians write him off as dead. He has grown bitter with the world and shuts himself and his family off from his former profession and eternal passion. With the help of Méliès’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), Hugo tries to reach the neglected director to show him that his work has not been forgotten.

The movie spends time detailing the biography of Méliès, but its heart lies in young Hugo. More so than any other protagonist in the Scorsese canon, Hugo reflects the man behind the camera. Social outcasts as children, they find solace at the movies. There is a great scene where Hugo takes Isabelle, who has never seen a movie before, to the theatre. Safety Last!, inspiration for the film’s poster and clock tower scene, is screening and Isabelle finds the suspense of a man nearly falling from a building rapturous. You can imagine this scenario as Marty’s perfect date. After the death of his father, Hugo goes to extreme lengths to fix the mysterious automaton connected to film history. Even Hugo’s dreams are shot and cut with the omnipotent visuals of a silent movie. Despite the pressures of his largest budget and targeted demographic, Scorsese answers only to his heart. 

Asa Butterfield hits the pathos that a role of such Oliver Twist lows and highs demands. Chloë Moretz swore obscenities in Kick-Ass, but she speaks with a more dignified maturity here. Both of these young actors have potential to crossover to successful careers as they are already catering to adults more their own peers. The rest of the cast list contains some big names that should be left unseen until the end credits roll. Look for a little romance between two Harry Potter actors, one in a distinct change of form. I will mention Sacha Baron Cohen, agent provocateur in Borat and Brüno, who plays the grouchy station inspector eager to send any stray children to the orphanage. His service in the Great War, where he sustained a crippled leg, has left him cold and lonely over the years, but a lovely flower saleswoman reignites that dormant tenderness. His character is played for laughs in his bumbling chase sequences - where Marty’s soaring camera captures crowd-pleasing physical gags with rare grace -  but he surpasses this caricature to become, like most of these characters, a real person. 

The Inspector and Méliès both lost their way with their loss of innocence, so it takes an innocent soul like Hugo to put them back on track. Brian Selznick’s acclaimed novel, the basis for John Logan’s screenplay, insists humans are inherently good and great art will never die. A heartwarming notion, if a little idealistic. Scorsese’s spin advocates for the preservation of film, something he has long championed. Almost all of Méliès’ reels were melted down to plastic for the heels of women’s shoes, and he thought no one would care. Only by a streak of good luck pursued by Hugo’s goodwill were the remaining works found. 

This is not how things happened in real life. The story of Georges Méliès is largely factual, but the boy Hugo is a manifestation of a very creative mind. No, Marty is not urging you to drop your pursuits and become a lab rat at The Criterion Collection. He wants you to appreciate the significance of art’s most vulnerable medium, and not just its aesthetic value. Only film can bring dreams to life, in one place, where children and elders can watch together and await the adventure ahead or nod at the superimposition of image with their own past. This truth reaches all ages and all years, from film’s invention to this day. And with more kids like Hugo - perhaps even those watching this film - the future will be safe, too. Children are the future, after all, even in the past. 

Final Verdict: 
4.5 Stars out of 5

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Muppets Review

The Muppets
Directed by James Bobin
Released in 2011

There is a classic scene in the French film Amélie where the protagonist sits in a movie theater and says her favorite thing is to “look back and watch people’s faces in the dark.” The camera pans to the side and reveals faces of content, captured by the screen and lost in its world. It is great commentary on the power of cinema, but it is also the same image you would find at a screening of The Muppets. Grins stick from start to finish in this ode to happiness. This is a film that reveres the spectacle of classic Hollywood, when a physical set or stirring musical number needed no excuse. 

“Life’s a Happy Song,” penned by Flight of the Concords half Bret McKenzie, opens the film and signals the return of those elaborate music breakdowns against a proud soundstage. Gary (Jason Segel) and his Muppet brother Walter sing about the joys of life by rhyming “life’s a leg of lamb” and “with someone there to lend a hand.” The opening number alone features cameos from Feist to Mickey Rooney. The game of celebrity I Spy that has served as a constant in all Muppet features resumes in a shower of green. A partial list of guest stars includes Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Dave Grohl and even James Carville for good measure. James Bobin, the director, and writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller stuffed so many guest spots in here that they had to leave some on the cutting room floor. Those they axed? Only Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais and Lady Gaga. Big money flowing through this one.

Even Chris Cooper, one of our era’s greatest supporting actors, fills in for the one-dimensional villain with a paycheck likely dwarfing his award-winning work in American Beauty and Adaptation. Cooper knows this character does not call out for recognition in Oscar season, so he steps back and has fun with this meta-caricature as he directs his goons to “maniacal laugh” when the sinister music they all hear starts. He plays the subtly-named Tex Richman who plans on tearing down the classic Muppet Theatre to dig for oil. (Why do I see oil wells smack in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard not sliding with the world's most powerful liberals?). Of course, it is only up to Walter and his new friends - Kermit, Mrs. Piggy and all, though the inexplicable absence of Rizzo upsets my 90s Muppet film diet - to put on one more show to raise enough money to save the place. A little suspension of disbelief is required for a film that insists a felt frog maintains a Beverley Hills mansion all by himself. 

Therein lies the wonder of the Muppets, as it refuses to shun the ridiculousness of its premise and instead wield it as its greatest strength. Why waste time with establishing shots and introductions when you recruit the whole Muppet gang with an American montage? That’s right, call it a montage, don’t fear its name; it has been shamelessly pummeled to death by those who hold it close as their stock narrative technique. Why travel by car when it takes ten seconds by map? And everyone knows you can only clean a filthy room when 80s workout music pumps on the soundtrack. The film does not just parody but champions the cliches of the medium, which is needed more now than ever as 3D action flops and flashy comedies try to pass off their formulaic dreck as inspired (looking at you, Immortals and The Hangover Part II). This labor of love from Jason Segel and Stoller embraces the art of film, its own beloved namesake, and you, goddammit. The Muppets speaks with love and laughter, somehow balancing innocence and self-aware reflexivity to cut through maudlin artifice and believably arrive on a happy note. And with the way things are going right now, don’t you just need a hug?

Final Verdict:
4 Stars out of 5

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Descendants Review

The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne
Released in 2011

If movies provide the ultimate escape, the success of writer-director Alexander Payne raises some questions. His films depict the frustrations of life through a witty, but unapologetically honest lens. Election admitted that the selfish prevail over the selfless. The two men in Sideways sipped fine, aged wine while their own aging lives descended to mediocrity. Payne’s latest film, The Descendants, ends on a note of optimism, but the hilly way there is littered with uncomfortable situations and harsh truths that carry loss, anger and ignorance. We have all lived in one of these scenes, whether as victim, aggressor or bystander. Perhaps the deserved distinction of this film and all of Payne’s works lies in how he captures moments we all know and feel, and without adorning the script with fake eloquence or resorting to caricature, sympathizes with both sides and reconciles them.

George Clooney has worked towards the role of Matt King in The Descendants for his entire career, but his arrival no less defies the suave bachelor archetype synonymous with his name. Clooney is a dad, and one with little confidence on how to raise his children or himself. The roles he played beforehand certainly offered no fathering tips. Passive and blind to his family’s needs, Matt must adapt his detached mentality to deal with a twofold crisis in his family. For one, a large parcel of virgin land on the Hawaii island of Kaua’i faces settlement. Calls of support from family real estate brokers and outcry from island natives clash. The product of random acts of dissemination, Matt has the final say if the land of his ancestors, dating back to Hawaiian royalty, will sell for a large sum. His comatose wife, thrown from a motorboat during a race, presents more pressing issues. Not only does the injury throw his wife’s fate into question and himself into the parenting spotlight, but other sources leak to him that she was not faithful. 

The curious question as to how any woman would cheat on George Clooney withstanding, Alexander Payne uncovers the rawest of feeling in realistic situations, just like us. In a breakout performance that may open doors for Oscar, Shailene Woodley, as daughter Alex, sobs in a pool, and the camera follows her under water as she unleashes a primal scream. Alex’s boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) tags along as the family visits Matt’s in-laws to discuss serious matters, and he laughs in disbelief at the painful dementia of the grandmother. You just want to punch the kid; Robert Forster, playing the dad, kindly provides the knockout.

Heavy the film hits, it still aims for comedy. Like his dramatic scenes, Payne mines for laughs in the most banal of circumstances. Payne finds the way people run funny, as seen when Paul Giamatti shuffles down a hill in Sideways and here when Matt awkwardly sprints through a neighborhood. Matt’s youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller), the last remnant of (rapidly fading) innocence in the family, interjects with out-of-place comebacks and dirty words beyond her comprehension. Scottie turns depressed from her family’s troubles, and instead of offering words of comfort, her teachers and peers’ parents scold Matt for not containing his daughter’s pain. They say she scares their own children. When ignorance passes as wisdom, sometimes laughing at the fool is the only option. Ask Michael Scott from The Office.

These quirks and flaws of character either change or prove endearing as a method to cope. Sid’s initial idiocy may just be his bewildered tact after his own substantial loss. Alex’s verbal fistfights with her whole family slacken as she directs her rhetoric to those who have wronged her loved ones. And Matt, all bottled-up and ready to explode, lets loose at last on just about everyone, including his unconscious wife. He feels a catharsis in expressing how he actually feels, but evolves to control this outlet by leading an open life with the important people he has left. He takes ownership of what he never had, similar to his dilemma regarding the land entrusted upon him, the land of the family he appreciates but does not know. 

If there is any place for some soul-searching, Hawaii is it. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael keeps the camera at eye level, capturing beautiful scenery with beautiful shots that immerse but do not canonize. These characters have lived here all their life, and love it they do, it is not a vacation vista but home, imperfect as any. Urban strips of Honolulu, while a far cry from South Central, are not tour brochure-material, grounding the land of paradise with locations that could be anywhere. In one of the many, nonintrusive voiceovers, Matt asks the rest of the world if they think “our cancer is any less fatal?” Pain knows no boundaries, in gorgeous places and to gorgeous people.

This film lacks a certain drive in the beginning, and takes a few plot points to start to congeal into the film I admire. It is nothing I can exactly place my finger on, but the dialogue picks up its wit and the actors truly explore their roles once they are given space to breathe. The slow setup puts the pieces in place, and only then can the artists on and off-screen form the melancholic portrait. It’s curious how this film escalates in form and precision alongside the characters as they mature from imperfect souls to as close to perfect as they have ever been. Both the film and the characters, one in the same, hit their peak right before the credits roll, and you wonder if — and really, really hope — they will continue to improve, even after we have stopped watching. 

Final Verdict:
4 Stars out of 5

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Mill and the Cross Review

The Mill and the Cross
Directed by Lech Majewski
Released in 2011

The unlikeliest of outlets introduce classic art to the world today. Spongebob acquainted the pajamaed youth with Nosferatu. A football spectator holds up a sign “John 3:16” and Google breaks with queries. The work of 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder received a revival of sorts with the success of the indie folk band Fleet Foxes and their eponymous debut album, which featured Brueghel’s chaotic Netherlandish Proverbs as its cover. Contemporary exposure to antiquated art through these casual mentions and jabs resurrects what may have been forgotten and makes it, dare I say it, fashionable. This all operates on the surface level, however, and cannot be substituted for modern analysis. The Mill and The Cross elevates the conversation and literally steps inside Brueghel the Elder’s work for a beautiful, haunting, and very perplexing study of a genius. 

That being said, this film sides more on the side of art appreciation than evaluation. Tracking Brueghel’s process on one of his masterpieces, The Procession to Calvary, the film takes a minimalist approach. Director Lech Majewski tosses potent images onto the screen and lets them speak for themselves. The camera views its many actors from a distance, not unlike the broad, noisy works of Brueghel. Beloved cineaste techniques like deep focus give the audience the choice of where to pay attention. This detached style evokes the artist’s own and stirs awe in the vast amount of details Brueghel pained over on his vast canvas. It eschews didactics as a result - not a poor choice - but manages to focus more on the aesthetic brilliance of Brueghel’s work rather than its broader implications. 

Or perhaps it does. The film lacks a typical narrative, so no value can be gleaned from the plot or character progression. Brueghel the Elder was affectionally known as “Peasant Brueghel” for his attention and glorification of his own social strata, and the filmmakers know this. There is little to no dialogue for periods as long as 25 minutes at a time. These durations, which are not a bore but more a hypnotic curiosity, depict the mundane, cruel and even goofy lives of the peasant through beautiful lens. It is not unfair to say that the beginning, which follows many families slowly waking up and starting their day, moves lethargically and tests the patience. Stay with it. 

The pure beauty of these scenes, captured by cinematographers Adam Sikora and Majewski himself, speaks on a more intimate level, in a way justifying the film’s aesthetic priorities. The opening scene, in which Brueghel - played by the immensely talented Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner and, yes, Hobo with a Shotgun - walks through a tableau of his painting with his patron (Michael York), stuns. Brueghel approaches a woman, frozen in place, to adjust the train of her dress. There is no apparent motive for this action, but he feels it necessary and continues to tweak the trivial as he sees fit. Brueghel cared about the smallest of details even when his range presented so many. There are two scenes where the action halts like this, stepping back to appreciate the meticulous craft of the artist. They stand as the most impressive, searing into the memory, and support Majewski’s distant study of Brueghel, raising questions to his art but not providing answers. No one has them, after all. 

Christian imagery serves as the director’s language of sorts; don’t forget the subject of the film is a painting called The Procession to Calvary. Scenes of shocking brutality appear suddenly and disturb more for the apathetic viewpoint the camera takes than the actual violence. It is not that a man being whipped dozens of times pours buckets of blood, but that the heinous act is really not a big deal. This reflects the minuscule presence of Jesus himself in the painting, easily glossed over on a casual glance. Strong visual metaphors will resonate personally with those who have a passion for art history or Christianity.

The windmill towering above the subjects of the painting, and inspiring half of the film’s title, finds its way into many shots. Whether Brueghel studies a valley of peasants below or a woman mourns the loss of her son in her own home, the windmill stares across fields, through windows and under arches. Brueghel comments that instead of showing God staring from the heavens, in his painting he wants a mortal - the miller, framed with such commanding, vertical shots reminiscent of the religious drama Black Narcissus - perched atop his windmill to be the all-seeing eye. The characters cannot hide from judgment, just as the film cannot escape Brueghel’s own influence. 

Lech Majewski tackles this subject through little more than visuals, moving portraits. Taking on a genius at his own game will not end well. In that sense, The Mill and the Cross does not analyze art but praises the artist’s dreams and the admirer’s dedicated struggles to decode them. Brueghel’s painting comes alive and Majewski invites us to marvel at the detail and heart an artist infused on a scene so sad.

Final Verdict:
4 Stars out of 5

This review was originally written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location via this link.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Beach Boys' The Smile Sessions Review

The Smile Sessions
Artist: The Beach Boys
Released in 2011 (Recorded 1966-67)

I am not sure what the act and art of writing can achieve - my young mind has seen much yet so little to conclude: “a lot” - but to communicate the perfection of “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys is out of its grasp. Yes, the lyrics are as central to its wonder as any other detail. The language is so simple and honest, with its pledge to love’s vitality only that much stronger by surviving past that questionable opening line, “I may not always love you....” But those surging horns and harpsichords, that abrupt transition to the bridge resolving into wordless chants of euphoria, the layered calls to god that might as well repeat forever ... every element equals the other to an effect that can only be expressed through song. That I contradict myself to attempt to describe it just underlines my fawning admiration. At the time, “God Only Knows” was praised for its unique arrangements. It speaks today for the value between those lines. The Smile Sessions, recorded 45 years ago but properly released just this month, bears both sides of praise. 

The struggles leading to this day are legendary, for Smile was the album that never was. When The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, their American counterparts, or more accurately bandleader Brian Wilson, summoned all their might to top them. Pet Sounds was the result, and in the opinion of many, including yours truly, they succeeded. Well, in response landed Sgt. Pepper, which threw plans for their followup Smile, at least to Wilson, in chaos. Wilson’s mental collapse - he believed his music was responsible for a number of local fires - cancelled the ambitious project. In 2004, Wilson finally completed the album as a solo act, though about 40 years past his prime. But now the remaining Beach Boys have agreed to release what they did record all those years ago, mixing and mastering the tracks after the fact, but the long lost work is here.

The Smile Sessions may not contain Wilson’s exact, original vision, but it is the closest anyone will ever hear. “A teenage symphony to God,” Brian calls it, with adolescence and faith as the two dominating themes. “Our Prayer” opens, an a cappela hymn rift with beautiful harmonies and a divine presence. A far cry from the “Fun, Fun, Fun” days of the past. 

That is not to say Smile lacks those innocent, fresh-faced ditties, for they are here and many. The difference is in perspective, a much more somber tone and experimental approach. The titles are blatant and playful: “Wind Chimes” contains more shifts in instrumentation than the simplistic name would suggest, and “Vega-Tables” sounds like The Beatles’ “Piggies” on acid --- or I guess even more acid (McCartney apparently chomps celery into a mic here for the sound effects; wouldn’t surprise me if he was tripping). Tracks like “Child Is Father of the Man” though, with lyrics simply repeating the title over and over and ominous trumpets setting a rather frightening atmosphere, suggest Wilson and writing partner Van Dyke Parks have reached a new, serious appreciation for the youth they have passed. The scariest rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” I have ever heard attests to this. Many young bands dedicate an album to looking back at what they have left behind. Perhaps it is due to the liberal LSD use, but never has a tribute to youth sounded so solemn and, even, desired. Wilson was battling some demons of his own at the time. 

While many of these tracks never saw a proper release until now, when the studios saw single potential, they released the best of the bunch independently. Thankfully, this release contains extended, rare versions of even these hits. “Heroes and Villains” still churns like a baroque candy assembly line, but with an added verse endorsing good ol’ inebriation. The original single now feels rushed - and with too few drunken verses - compared to the flow of this version. “Good Vibrations” closes the album, and its avant-garde style sounds at home amongst such odd company.

“Surf’s Up” stands tall as the best song on Smile, and among the greatest of the band’s entire catalog. Written in one night on the piano Wilson situated on a sandbox, “Surf’s Up” moves freely from one sound to the next, grand pauses here and there to best even the madness of “Good Vibrations.” How serene the song is really, with Brian’s beautiful falsetto - admirable but lacking in his 2004 effort - peaking on the equally gorgeous but ambiguous line “Columnated ruins domino.” Decoding all the images of Van Dyke’s aesthetic lyrics takes the insight of a Heraclitus scholar, and even then you’re throwing darts at a dictionary. Enjoy the song like a natural wonder, grateful to witness and bask in the grandeur beyond your cognizance. As Wilson swoons, “I heard the word/wonderful thing/a children’s song” (I believe we have struck a theme!), and descends into a fading “na na na” spiral, even he fails to find words for its beauty. 

You will never be this happy.
You can will purchase The Smile Sessions in two main formats. The first is a two CD collection that contains all of the above and much more. The other option is an exhaustive five CD collection, complete with an additional two LPs and 7 inch singles, each. The latter befits its high asking price with a unique look into the creative progress of The Beach Boys’ most notorious effort. Hear Brian Wilson cut into the harmonies of Mike Love when his line was off, or ask his fellow Boys, “Do you feel the acid yet?” before kicking into song. The later tracks are rough, stopping irregularly for Brian to instruct or improvise. It makes for an atypical listening experience, but shows the creativity, and struggles, of Brian Wilson uncensored, uncut. When choosing between the two different versions, though, ask yourself if you need a full CD of “Good Vibrations” demoes. If not (I don’t know where even I stand), go for the basic edition. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes tracks even for the average consumer. 

There reaches a point in every music lover’s career when the surprises and hidden gems hit less and less. Little ground is left to cover. How pleasing, then, to hear a bonafide classic for the first time in 2011. The direct sincerity of Smile’s lyrics may be lost in our postmodern and ironic outlooks on the past, present and future. Be humble; The Smile Sessions presents songs dripping with equal cheer and melancholy. Wilson and Van Dyke’s compositions progress untraditionally even for a modern day Sigur Rós and Flaming Lips fan. But it is that awe, that inner essence behind the bar lines that resonates to this day, still defying words. The mythical Troy you heard from blogs, books and bards does exist, and it is downloadable through iTunes.

Final Verdict:
5 Stars out of 5

This review was originally written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location via this link

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas Review

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Released in 2011

I guess I am just not yet in the Christmas spirit. Mere days after Halloween arrives the latest, and likely last, chapter in the adventures of our favorite New Jersey potheads, now draped in holly and a shameless gimmick. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas aims to instill some good-hearted holiday cheer while simultaneously upping the raunch factor. The 3D, smack in the title, is overused and shallow in its implementation, but, at the very least, has fun with the three dollar ticket surcharge. This clash of goals results in an uneven film that takes the easy way out at the end, though there are some fleeting festivities on the way there. 

The film opens, of all things, with Kumar nut-tapping a mall Santa and buying  reefer from him- in that order. Santa (a regrettably short cameo from Patton Oswalt) and Kumar (Kal Penn) promptly light up with a yuletide pipe in slow motion as the pot smoke from their mouths wafts into the audience and glistens in 3D, all over glorious church bells and sweeping choral surges. Cut to title. It’s overproduced, excessive and still delivering the laughs. 

It takes too long to reach those highs (don’t even...) again, for Harold and Kumar have grown apart. Harold (John Cho) married his love Maria (Paula Garcés) since the picture-perfect ending of the last film and left his pot habit and Kumar on the curb. Kumar found a new tool of a friend in Adrian (CollegeHumor’s Amir Blumenfeld), while Harold did not fare better with white collar punching bag Todd (Thomas Lennon). A magical blunt appears and reunites the two estranged buds, and the festivities truly commence. 

Placing the two protagonists in random, dangerous situations and settings is a hallmark of the series. These are the dudes who crashed into George W. Bush’s ranch and blazed with ‘ol Dubya back in Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Or the guys who reached White Castle by hang glider and cheetah. This constant game of escalating, self-applied lunacy still runs the proceedings, but the stakes are not set as high as they have been, nor are any of the precarious circumstances as outlandish or impressive. A bloodthirsty Ukranian mobster - played by Elias Koteas, likely filling in for the notable absence of Chris Meloni who stole scenes in the previous films as Freakshow and the Grand Wizard of the KKK - serves as the catalyst for much of the mayhem. His Eastern European background and complementary violent behavior are traits used to death in the last decade; the character is generic and goes nowhere. Another questionable character is the WaffleBot, a Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque robot that can deliver a stunning haymaker or incapacitating shot of boiling syrup to an enemy’s face ... and cook up a mean batch of waffles. It is a plot device that is decidedly unfunny and yet another example of the robot deus ex machina also seen in this year’s Horrible Bosses

But perhaps I am too tough on this film. It is, after all, a Harold & Kumar movie, and stupidity and hilarity go hand in hand. Neil Patrick Harris no longer sneaks in for a clandestine cameo but is centered prominently on the poster, a full asset to the feature. That being said, he only appears in one scene, but an elaborately staged production it is. A Rockettes style Christmas dance with Harold and Kumar decked in nutcracker garb, this sequence stands in stark contrast to the everyday surroundings of the first film. NPH plays on his own gay image by suggesting that he is actually straight and uses his assumed sexuality to get creepily close to unsuspecting girls. It is borderline homophobic and certainly offensive, but it would not be a Harold & Kumar film without such blatant, unapologetic cheek. 

Such casual bigotry, racism and otherwise culturally insensitive jabs carry the film when other devices fail. Rosenberg and Goldstein, the latter now (incompletely) converted to Catholicism, serve as the Jewish stereotypes with which writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg clearly have fun lampooning their people.  An encounter with two Christmas tree salesmen masquerading as hoodlums functions as humorous racial commentary, a staple of sorts in the series. Danny Trejo, Machete badass now tucked in a festive sweater that cannot hide that scarred mug, drops offhand remarks at Harold’s Korean heritage as Maria’s protective father. Pedophiliac priests, promiscuous nuns, female rapists, a bloody Santa, a sexually incompetent Jesus Christ, giant clay penises and feces-flinging Wall Street protestors (timely!) are all thrown into the mix. Add in the running gag that involves exposing every drug in existence to a baby, to the point where it is literally bouncing off the walls, and you have about the whole spectrum of vulgarity covered. 

Saying all that, it still saddens me to label this film as a disappointment. The few clever moments of situational comedy work in isolation. The predictable, sappy ties to the story do not. The 3D, so unabashedly unironic, so artistically trivial, stands in the middle. Yes, a beer pong ball hurtling towards the audience, or a flaming Christmas tree thrown out a window, all milked in lethargic slow motion and glossed over with a CGI finish, are enticing, playful visuals. 3D-ing every swift movement or action, however, just for the eye candy of it, cheapens and leans towards artificiality. With the inherent draining of colors 3D glasses provide, the viewing experience grows dull and fake; the gimmick fades. 

At the heart of this movie, behind the visual dressing and uninspired setpieces, lies a good heart. It is a story of reconciling friendship and loving family. How counterproductive, then, that throughout the whole duration I wondered whether this would be more enjoyable whilst high. The rather vocal roars of guys in front of me spoke to this silent understanding. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas will likely close the series, for John Cho is nearing 40 and Kal Penn has graduated to the White House, onto fairly serious matters (there is a rather glaring, but necessary, joke at his tenure here). Once this movie hits DVD and cable, stripped of 3D, richer in color, the last Harold & Kumar, just like the first, will survive through repeated viewings by giggling, very happy stoners.

Final Verdict:
2.5 Stars out of 5

This review was originally written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location via this link. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Thing Review

The Thing
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Released in 2011

Hollywood’s current state can be summed up with the 2011 version of The Thing:  it is a remake, of a remake, of a film, based on a novella, about a replicating ... thing. The recycling program in the movie industry that prefers to shun inspiration for silver screen adaptations of such winning comic books as Jonah Hex has made a remake of a remake, folks. Technically, it is a prequel. Reused scenarios and exact shot compositions speak otherwise. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s (this recent flood of Northern European directors tests even the eloquent) modern take on the horror staple borrows so liberally from John Carpenter’s 1982 classic that there are bound to be moments of near-greatness. Not only is the genesis of these segments lifted, however, but the entire film lacks the sparse, humanistic touch that made the original remake (did I just say that?) the gritty masterpiece it is to this day. 

The source material, traced via carbon dating to John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, remains one of the strongest in the horror canon.  Part of its continued appeal lies in its setting, at an isolated scientific base located in Antarctica. Chances are you or I will never set foot anywhere near the ice continent, so a film focusing on a group of scientists holed up in a base there provides an odd source of exoticism. The inclusion of a highly advanced alien lifeform only compounds such interest. Frozen in a million-year-old block of ice, this thing is uncovered from its gigantic spaceship and brought back to the base, where it obviously wakes up from its long sleep to wreak havoc (if Terminator 2 taught us anything, it is that cold = stubbornly alive and hot = dead as dead). By that measure, the humans wield flamethrowers to torch the beast, or, more accurately, the many disposable humans it infects. 

A bloody witch hunt ensues, with the monster revealing its tentacled, shrieking self reliably for maximum gore and minimum wonder. Carpenter’s film utilized models, puppets, and animatronics that shocked and nauseated because they were undoubtedly on the same plane, there on the same soundstage. The CGI sheen of this film robs much of the realism for more elaborate, and in turn less believable, Thing-flailing, impaling, and face-morphing effects. There is a sequence where flamethrowers roast a series of Things that cascade from one person to the next. Such liberal violence, and on-screen depictions of it, desensitizes the audience to a point where it simply becomes an action movie. 

An action movie loaded with cheap scares, that is. Van Heijningen exploits the jump scare to its last cliched leap. You likely will be able to predetermine the exact moment the bogeyman appears through the submergence of ambient sound and the familiar cadence that follows. The terror of the film exists moment by moment and does not pervade, live in the atmosphere. No dread constricts the narrow, monotonous hallways;  the psychological trickery Carpenter played by never assuring anyone as safe is absent. The windy Antarctic wasteland surrounding them does not look cold enough. And the journey into the flying saucer comes across as just unnecessary. The design of the ship’s interior combines Cowboys & Aliens’ generic hallways, video game Prey’s organic, fleshy walls and an inexplicable fountain of pixels into one anachronistic, needless sin of feng shui. 

Van Heijningen (the director if you’re losing track) can be blamed for the superficial scares, but screenwriter Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5 ... this is making sense now) attempts to mend the gap by emulating the 80s version to a fault. Scenes that copy from its inspiration build suspense effectively for they have done so before. When Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) organizes a test to determine who’s human and impostor, anxiety indeed grows. There is something much less badass, however, with shining a flashlight into someone’s teeth to check for fillings (the alien cannot replicate inorganic matter, blah blah blah) than jabbing a flaming rod into a dish of each person’s blood only for the infected one to literally scream when touched. Last time I checked, dental checks do not belong in any horror film not called Marathon Man

R.J. MacReady is a name any horror buff will recall. Kurt Russell’s legendary beard in the 1982 version may be responsible, but the film built a strong protagonist who thwarted the menace with ability and genuine frustration. The characters this time around lack any distinguishing qualities. In fact, I do not even recall their names. Lost’s Mr. Eko - that is what I called him - played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is tragically underused. The script feeds Eric Christian Olsen’s character such needed lines as, “It’s inside,” after an exterior window breaks off-screen. Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Scott Pilgrim exceeds the laughable standards now set for females in horror films, but she is no Ripley either. Eric Heisserer’s jumpy script can be held accountable, which raises the question as to why a better writer was not chosen.

I step back and ponder why they made this Thing. John Carpenter updated Howard Hawk’s 50s Marxist allegory for modern audiences 30 years ago. What else needed to be said? It does not offer a modern take on the worn story aside from updated computer effects. I enjoyed some of it, yes, particularly the end credits sequence that, rather heavy-handedly, tied this prequel’s story to Carpenter’s universe. It roused the few Thing fans there were in the audience. Universal is learning the tough way that this franchise is not a money earner. That both the 1982 and new films share in common. The former was released just two weeks after E.T., and no one wanted to see an alien that they thought loved Reeses Pieces feast on human flesh. Which reminds me: E.T. ... we’re due for an update on that cash cow by now aren’t we?

Final Verdict: 
2 Stars out of 5

This review was originally written for The Cornell Daily Sun and can be viewed at its original location via this link.