Film, What We Watched

What We Watched: 08/08/14

I Declare War

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I don’t have a lot to say about I Declare War, a lower-budget Canadian alternative to The Hunger Games, other than that it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. The film’s central premise, of kids playing “war” with sticks that gradually turn into real weapons by way of their imaginations, intrigued me, even if it did make me a little nervous; I’m not one who typically enjoys seeing kids blow each other up. However, I Declare War doesn’t actually make that big of a deal about the fact that its child soldiers use real weapons, or even really give much of an introduction into the game itself. While the film serves as a nice showcase for some unknown child actors, most of the kids wear the affected swagger of middle school theater students, and a little pointless thematic fluff about the dangers of bullying doesn’t do much for the film’s overall weakness. It all makes for a very intriguing plot summary, but unfortunately, its one to which I Declare War doesn’t seem all that dedicated. – Nathan Smith

In Praise of Love

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The idea that anything French master Jean-Luc Godard made post-1970 isn’t worth watching is a narrative that seems to get kicked around a lot, but if you at all doubt Godard’s more recent work, I’d direct you to his 2001 film In Praise of Love. While Godard’s later films doesn’t typically look at all like his earlier ones, they still have that quintessential Godard quality: difficult to comprehend, yet totally entrancing. Although it contains enough Holocaust conspiracy to fit in with most of Godard’s late period work, it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, as the director manipulates digital video through color correction in a way few had done at the time or truly explored since. Beneath In Praise of Love‘s gorgeous visuals are a bevy of ideas on a variety of topics, but as with all of Godard’s films, these points all naturally lead their way back to the cinema (He did once say that “everything [was] cinema,” after all). You may not agree with Godard’s opinions or even begin to understand them, but you can’t argue that this film isn’t a treat to look at. Godard might not be my favorite filmmaker, but he’s exerted more influence over how I view films than almost any other. – Nathan Smith

Leaving Las Vegas

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I feel like Leaving Las Vegas is one of those movies that you never hear a negative word about and that intermittently gets called “great” – usually it’s one of the top examples of Nicolas Cage’s “serious” acting (quotes because I’m pretty sure he takes all of his roles seriously) along with Adaptation and Wild at Heart – but that nobody ever really talks about watching. There might be a reason for that: aside from Cage’s incredible performance (and a pretty good one from Elizabeth Shue), Leaving Las Vegas is an extremely weak movie, tackily stylized and featuring a played-up secondary plot thread that ends early and abruptly. Worst of all, as the film finally starts to pick up in its back half after a sluggish but watchable enough first hour, a tasteless and completely unnecessary rape scene decimates most of what the Leaving Las Vegas had going for it – not that there was much to begin with. – Jack Evans

Pierrot Le Fou

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Pierrot Le Fou, the first part of my Godard double feature last week, comes from a much earlier time in Godard’s career. Although his 1965 pseudo-gangster movie with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina (which in some ways set the tone and look for 1967’s Weekend) might seem more formal than much of his later work, it still touches on many of the same cinema-obsessed themes. Although it offers quite a bit to think about, of Godard’s 1960s films, Pierrot Le Fou might also be one of my favorites to look at. He plays with color an enormous amount, and the film’s closing scene, which features Belmondo in bold blueface, strikes and compels the viewer in every sense of the words. We might think of him as an uptight neophile, but Pierrot Le Fou actually proves Godard’s affinity for formalist filmmaking- even if he does color often color outside the lines. – Nathan Smith

Sleepy Hollow

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I haven’t seen Sleepy Hollow since I was seven, and at the time, it was the most horrifying film I had ever seen. I didn’t understand the story; what intrigued and frightened me were the visuals and acting. This week I decided to give it another viewing, now knowing the famous tale written by Washington Irving. As most of Tim Burton’s films usually do, Sleepy Hollow’s plot falls flat around the third act. However, I expected that; I’ve always regarded Burton as a better artist than storyteller. The dark, bizarre atmosphere of the town of Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding “Western Woods” is a continuation of Burton’s visual style that can only be complemented by the pale face of Johnny Depp. He plays an intelligent and awkward Constable Ichabod Crane in an ever-so-Johnny Depp manner: bumbling, yet technical. Sleepy Hollow didn’t scare me as much as the last time I watched it but it did live up to my expectations for Burton. I do wish the Hessian Horseman (Christopher Walken) had more to say than just yelling, though. – Ethan Copeland

Taxi Driver

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A quick glance at Robert De Niro’s career over the past decade and a half isn’t so much anything as it is a bummer: his filmography wouldn’t be too hard to mistake for that of an aging, middling character actor, and it could be easy to forget that the man is regarded as one of the finest actors of the 20th century. Lucky for us, we have time capsules in the form of those things called “movies,” dating back to a simpler era when De Niro was just a really good actor. Taxi Driver could well be Exhibit A, featuring an astounding lead performance that makes Scorsese’s (otherwise still pretty impressive) study of masculinity and male psychology deserving of its four decades of praise. – Jack Evans

Wreck-It Ralph

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At a time when “video-game movie” is a damning tag (outside of films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Edge of Tomorrow, which reference or borrow video game elements but aren’t based on or about games), I think it’s pretty safe to say that Wreck-It Ralph is something of an anomaly: it’s a good video-game movie. Sure, the video-game element of Wreck-It Ralph isn’t much more than a setting and plot devices, and behind that it’s a fairly typical 21st century animated motion picture, but what’s really impressive is just how well it utilizes video-games as said setting and plot devices. The vibrant, diverse animation and attention to detail make Wreck-It Ralph’s world an easy one to get sucked into, and its lived-in feel is what elevates it beyond a typical, cutesy movie for kids. – Jack Evans

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