Sunday, March 29, 2015

Top 15 Films of 2014

Well, hello. I haven’t posted anything (save for some sporadic entries on Letterboxd) in over a year and a half. My last review here was inexplicably featured on RogerEbert.com thanks to the incomparable Matt Zoller Seitz. That was as encouraging as possible… and yet I couldn’t seem to find the time or energy to continue writing about film or TV in the midst of my day job, family obligations, etc.

To mix metaphors, this Top 15 list is dipping a toe back in the pool to get some cobwebs off. A slightly embellished list, these blurbs are by no means what I might have written had I been diligent; it was apparent in composing this that I need to write immediately after seeing a film.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pacific Rim



The pitch of Pacific Rim is of a future war against giant monsters (“Kaiju”), fought by giant robots (“Jaegers”). It’s an idea quickly grasped by any demographic, whether in the toy aisle or on social media. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has perhaps the simplest and grandest pitch of blockbusters: fantastical titans hitting each other. Yet with co-writer Travis Beacham and a staggering technical crew, he takes what is a fundamentally juvenile concept and delivers an exciting spectacle with enough heroic drama to motivate and justify its effects onslaught. This is not to set expectations for a rich character study, but the conceit of the Jaeger program allows for some development, including techniques that might go unnoticed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mama


The PG-13 domestic horror film Mama is a strong feature debut for director Andrés Muschietti: the pacing, tone, and performances are all handled exceptionally well, and the film certainly delivers the uneasy anticipation and scares that the genre promises. In addition, the lead characters are not merely fodder for the monstrous title character; Muschietti co-wrote the script with his sister Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross, and they work against convention in this dark fairy tale almost immediately.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gangster Squad


The new film Gangster Squad should have worked, given its premise and its surface qualities. The cast is great: Sean Penn as Los Angeles mob leader Mickey Cohen; Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, and Giovanni Ribisi as the police who attempt to take him down by any means necessary; Emma Stone and Mireille Enos as concerned love interests of two of the sergeants. Director Ruben Fleischer helmed the inventive and entertaining Zombieland, and he might have done wonders with a big budget recreation of 1949 L.A. with mobsters and rogue police. Instead, the film feels hollow and ugly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eric Van Uffelen's Top Films of 2012

Last year offered some of the best cinema experiences I've ever had. Look for a piece on Bay Area theaters and festivals soon. I'll spare you a preamble about the state of cinema in 2012, although I did notice that many of the films listed below prominently featured dichotomies of strong ideologies. I'd like to make a special mention of A Separation, which won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It was released in San Francisco in late January, after my 2011 list was published, but it's a perfect film that tells a very moving story with such nuance and intelligence, capturing the complexities of the families portrayed as well as the cultural, religious, and legal realities inherent to the story. It would have ranked third on my list, behind only The Tree of Life and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Since these types of lists are so arbitrary, I decided to include a dozen titles.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Taken 2

Which of the three is most effective?



The deadening frustration in watching Taken 2 shares it blame with the filmmakers and the audience. In most instances, a moviegoer should hope to be entertained in a comparatively intelligent manner, but he or she should also not have high expectations for a cash-grab sequel of a flawed, grimy B-movie. Taken at least delivered Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a mean wrecking machine of a security consultant, in a series of outlandish set pieces that were viscerally exciting, though severely lacking intellectually and highly questionable in their international and gender politics. If you haven’t seen its weekly television airings, it’s about Mills violently taking down the Albanian sex trafficker thugs that kidnapped his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) during her Paris vacation with her friend. The plot for the sequel – spoilers – is that Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get taken by relatives of those traffickers at the start of an impromptu family vacation in Istanbul. Though this is an eye-roll of a conceit, suspension of disbelief should be granted for nearly any movie, until it fails to present anything in a tonally consistent and logical manner.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Looper

 
Writer-director Rian Johnson’s Looper is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in recent memory, and more than delivered upon both its genre premise and what I hoped would be its thematic approach. It’s daring and measured, both playing to and subverting expectations of its audience. I avoided every piece of marketing for the film before seeing it: I knew it concerned time-traveling hitmen, and that its two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, played the same character, but that was it. The news that Johnson was directing this type of picture was enough of a draw for me, so that I didn’t feel the need to convince myself further, and risk spoiling the experience.