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Sep 25, 2013

Quick Takes: Killing Them Softly, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted & Snow White and the Huntsman


Killing Them Softly (2012)

Cast:

           Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Slaine, Vincent Curatola, Max Casella and Trevor Long

Director:

                   Andrew Dominik

Review:

                 Killing Them Softly is the latest movie from director of the wonderful "The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford". It is based on the 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins. Killing Them Softly was one of the in-competition movies at Cannes last year. There are many fans of this film that consider it overlooked and while the critical reception was generally good, I was personally letdown. Before watching this movie, I wasn't expecting it to be only a violent crime movie with lots of shootouts. Having read the responses and reviews, I knew it was going to be the exact opposite of that. Still, reading about something cannot really tell you everything until you experience it for yourself. This is nevertheless an ambitious work, Dominik taking the essence of the novel and making it contemporary is something I appreciate for the effort alone. Now Killing Them Softly is a neo-noir crime film and it takes place in an unnamed part of New Orleans, though it somehow gives quite a Boston set crime film vibe. The main character that is Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is a hitman that we meet once there is a big job for him. Markie Trattman (Liotta) looks after his famous criminal poker ring. He orchestrates an inside job by paying two men to rob his poker room. Though he latter confesses to various mob figures of his involvement. The year is 2008, America is in the midst of the financial crisis, economy is down. A man named Johnny "Squirrel" Amato (Curatola) plans to rob Markie's next game knowing that the mafia will obviously blame Markie himself for that. To perform the robbery, he enlists Frankie (McNairy), someone he have known and Russell (Mendelsohn), a heroin addict. Driver (Jenkins) talks to Cogan who knows that Markie wasn't involved in this latest robbery but believes that he should be killed to restore the confidence among the 'circle'.

                 That is basically the plot, very simple and nothing much complicated. The characters in this movie are not double faced, some of them act out of desperation but generally, they are the same. To see the affects of financial crisis on the mobsters is a new perspective of course. My problem with this film was that the overtly political commentary is literally just commentary. Characters seems to be giving speeches one after the other. I like bluntness and edginess in films but that is not what it was here. Killing Them Softly stumbles there, it becomes tedious and a drag to watch. The characters just goes on and on, they talk as if a documentary is being made on their life. It is only that superbly done ending that the 'talk' feels in its righteous place. For once it seems they have got it right, but that is where the movie ends. Killing Them Softly utilizes the use of slow-motion sequences for action, violence etc in a stunning way with cool music to go with it. The bleakness is for the most part provided by the cinematography, good work there. Very Tarantino and Ritchie inspired instances which is when the movie feels alive. The performances are good for the most part. Brad Pitt is yet again the best thing about it. He never goes for being cool or anything as his character is cold but to-the-point shooter who takes no shit. Also good turns by actors like Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins and above all, James Gandolfini in yet another showstopping appearance. This movie features guilty pleasure scenes with Ray Liotta's character, I mean the way he is beaten over and over again is strangely amusing. Even the mobs can be passive, they are also in the hands of the 'system' and macho is all about looks which doesn't cut it at the end of the day. The America shown here is depraved, everyone at the mercy of bigger forces and you have to find a way for yourself to survive. Killing Them Softly is visceral and dark movie but it looses its impact once it tries too hard to come off as genius commentary on politics, America and capitalism. Some parts have punches, others have not and overall its not cohesive.

Grade: C




Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012)

Voice Cast:

                       Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Frances McDormand, Martin Short, Chris Miller, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Paz Vega, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights, Frank Welker, Conrad Vernon, Vinnie Jones, Steve Jones, Nick Fletcher, Eric Darnell, Danny Jacobs and Daniel O'Connor

Directors:

                     Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon

Review:

                 I have never been a big fan of Dreamworks Animation's Madagascar series but I pretty much prefer it over the "Ice Age series". What should be noted here is that with each movie, this series gets better and better slowly. A rare thing that sequels are outdoing the originals. This third movie in the 3D animated series is the most fun, colorful, funniest and purely enjoyable one they have had so far. Personally for me, the only thing I have took away from Madagascar movies is the voice performances of the main cast. Those animals are always fun and at the same time, they long for their 'home' wherever may that be. In Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted as evident in the title, the zoo animals are all off to Europe to cause some serious troubles. Alex the lion wants really bad to go back to New York City. He comes up with a plan for them all to go to Monte Carlo and ask the penguins to fly them back to their city. Once there, the animals causes a blunder at the casino and the captain of Monaco's animal control, Chantel Dubois is called. A chase around the city and the animals are still able to board the plane and fly off. But problems arises and the plane crashes into a suburban rail yard. The zoo animals finds themselves on a circus train where they pretend to be circus animals themselves after learning the fact that this circus tour may go all the way to New York. The zoo animals, can they survive the circus or will they end up causing more troubles for themselves and for their new friends? Will they make it to the city? The movie is all about that, combining several adventures, funny and action moments with some heart to give silly but enjoyable entertainment for kids as well as provide a good enough time for the adults as well. The animation effects in this movie are better than their previous ones by a mile. I loved their attention to the details here and all the colors and textures. They go through a journey across countries and different landscapes including Africa, Monte Carlo, Alps, London, New York etc.

                 The voice performances of the regulars, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith as the main set of zoo animals like always, is good. Chris Rock's Marty the zebra is always the scene stealer. New additions like Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Frances McDormand and Martin Short did a very good job as well. Chastain's Gia the jaguar becomes a love interest for Alex the lion. Their moments together are really sweet. Cranston's Vitaly the tiger is a bitter and angry character who had his glory and fame taken away during an act gone wrong. But arguably, the most fun thing about Europe's Most Wanted is McDormand's insane and over the top Chantel Dubois. Her arrogance, evilness and undying-unbreakable dedication to catch those animals puts her up in such unbelievable situations. She can tear down the walls just by running into them and she never gives up. There are several chase scenes and relentless running around with her bumping and bouncing and jumping around that is a riot to watch. As I mentioned, Madagascar 3 is filled with dazzling moments of color and energy. The jazzy, neon-saturated high-flying trapeze act that is set to the equally energetic Katy Perry song towards the end of the movie is the most memorable moment. Almost trippy and just purely enjoyable and something I wasn't expecting at all. I think it was written quite well, with enough smartness and genuine emotions which engages everyone. The dialogues are wittier. There are perhaps a few moments in the second act that feels repetitive and slightly dragged but they don't matter much. Helped by a big cast, several characters with their own sets of laughable and touching characteristics as well as good effects and colorful visuals, this is an animated movie that doesn't really disappoints.

Grade: B-




Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Cast:

           Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Raffey Cassidy, Izzy Meikle-Small, Sam Claflin, Xavier Atkins, Lily Cole, Sam Spruell, Elliot Reeve, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Johnny Harris, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson, Vincent Regan, Noah Huntley, Liberty Ross, Christopher Obi, Rachael Stirling, Hattie Gotobed, Greg Hicks, Peter Ferdinando and Anastasia Hille

Director:

                   Rupert Sanders

Review:

                 This is one of the many Snow White movies we were made to watch in these 2 years and no doubt, this one is the worst. I don't know why I watched this movie, maybe for Theron or the fact that it is Snow White? This movie seems to be inspired more by Game of Thrones than the Brothers Grimm tale. It never really accomplishes what it really pretends to and that is to present an apt, darker version of the story which is how it has always been and not the cute Disney version of every tale we have been watching from our childhood. Making everything look dark and bleak wont help your movie but your dedication and talent will. Tarsem Singh, whom I never truly liked, still made a watchable version of Snow White. Very cheeky and silly but fully embraces its nature with some good visuals. Here however, everything is bland and boring here just like Stewart's facial expressions. Anyways, Snow White and the Huntsman begins with the back story about Snow's parents. Queen Elanor wishes for her daughter who should be white, red and brave. She dies after giving birth to Snow and King Magnus marries Ravenna whom he rescued from the Dark Army. She is beautiful but actually a sorceress so she kills the King one day and takes control of the Kingdom Tabor. Snow White is also locked in the north tower. Ravenna hates men of power because they use women and then throws them away as she once was ravaged by a King and his men. Ravenna is all for women empowerment yet she herself drains the youth out of beautiful women so that she can remain young. Talk about double standards! Condition of the Kingdom worsens as years passes and Snow is now of age and very beautiful. The Magic Mirror informs Ravenna that Snow is destined to destroy her unless she consumes her heart and become immortal. In the attempt, Snow runs away from Ravenna's brother, Finn to the Dark Forest.

                 The movie goes on with Ravenna's attempt to capture Snow with the help of a drunk and widowed huntsman, Eric who has survived that forest where Ravenna has no power. A sort of a love triangle suddenly begins, we meet the dwarfs, melodramatic attempts, visual effects and a passionate delivery of speech. There are some stories and tales that no matter how many times or in whichever ways are told, they always have a unique charm to them. That is not my problem here, I don't mind 'dark' but this movie is too damn uneven and lazy in its attempt to really recreate the magic. Stewart's performance is below average, not the right choice. Theron overdoes it at times but she perfectly fits in her role, not a problem. The dwarfs played by notable British actors never seems connected with Snow, they feel like another addition in the movie but not involved in it. The feminist overtones, women empowerment thing isn't off-putting here. Flawed motivations but you can see why someone like Ravenna will come to something like this. The visual effects are one of the best things about it frankly. It was nominated in that category as well as costume design at the Oscars which it deserved. I liked the dark and stark visuals with moments of stunning instances like that fairy world. The castles and everything else quite well done. But this is the problem of many such movies where they will rather try to create a spectacular world but will avoid the attempt to fill it with people and characters with life of their own. Rather than to blow up things and kill thousands of extras, the first thing there should be is to give the characters enough characteristic and significance so that they feel like people who are suppose to connect with us hence they can have an impact. Cartoonish, dumb or lazy characters who are just evil or plainly boring are not a delight to watch. And to make up for the much needed drama by adding a love triangle isn't the best choice. Not passionate enough, long and boring, problems with the script and not well executed.

Grade: D+