Movie Mini-Reviews: Assault on Precinct 13, Senna, Magic Trip, The Help

Another batch of mini-reviews to wrap up the month of January:

Assault on Precinct 13 [1976, Carpenter]
Assault on Precinct 13 [1976, Carpenter]
I did a mini-John Carpenter marathon this month, and Assault on Precinct 13 was my favorite of the group. This gritty 70s action movie is indebted equally to westerns and Night of the Living Dead. While the story is pencil thin, the battle that pits the understaffed precinct against a seemingly endless supply of gangsters is a blast to watch. With no one else to turn to, Lt. Bishop (Austin Stoker) forms an unlikely partnership with convicted killer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) as they are boarded up inside the precinct. A shocking moment during the first quarter of the movie quickly showed that this was going to be a no holds barred affair. This movie is worthy of its cult following, and it is one of Carpenter’s best. 9/10

Senna [2010, Kapadia]
Senna [2010, Kapadia]
Moving documentary about an F1 racer who I knew little about before watching. Ayrton Senna is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, and he remains a hero to his native Brazil. His life was cut tragically short after crashing during a 1994 race. The documentary, which is masterfully pieced together, shows his rise to the top of the racing world. By the end, I was holding back tears even though I knew the outcome. Although I wish more details would have been provided about his life outside of racing, this is still a great documentary, and it is one that is accessible to non-racing fans as well. 8/10

Magic Trip [2011, Ellwood & Gibney]
Magic Trip [2011, Ellwood & Gibney]
I have always found both the Beat Generation and the 1960s counterculture scene to be fascinating, so this little-known documentary caught my eye. Magic Trip is essentially a collection of found footage of author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his group of Merry Pranksters on their acid-fueled road trip across the country. There are some amazing clips shown in this feature, including an audio recording of Kesey’s U.S. Government-performed acid experiment, but the documentary definitely has a “home movie” feel to it. There is also the burden of some terrible voiceover narration from some of the original Pranksters, particularly one woman who talks in an irritatingly dramatic raspy whisper. If you have any interest in the era, this is worth seeing, warts and all. 7/10

The Help [2011, Taylor]
The Help [2011, Taylor]
The very definition of Oscar bait. The Help is well made, but everything is dumbed down for the audience. If you ever get confused as to what’s going on, don’t fret because it will be explained by one of the characters immediately. Speaking of the characters, every single one of them is a stereotype of some sort. Many of the top names (especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) do an excellent job with the weak material, and they keep this from being a total waste of time. Do I even need to mention that white people save the day? Not a bad film, just a frustrating one. 6/10

Movie Mini-Reviews: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slacker, Sin Nombre, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I didn’t get a chance to do full reviews of these movies, but I wanted to share my thoughts in “mini-review” form. My movie watching has been all over the place this month, but this particular batch is a pretty good one.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969, Hill]
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969, Hill]
This Newman/Redford collaboration rides heavily on their impeccable chemistry, with pleasing results. One of the original “buddy” movies, this follows the famous outlaws on the run to Bolivia after a train robbery goes wrong. Cheesy montages aside, this still holds up well today mainly due to the witty banter from the main characters. The legendary freeze-frame closing shot is a perfect cap to a fun ride. 8/10

Slacker [1991, Linklater]
Slacker [1991, Linklater]
The ultimate movie about nothing. Set in early 90s Austin, Texas, Slacker is presented as a series of vignettes and does not follow one character for more than a few minutes before moving onto someone else. Essentially a cast of local musicians and burnouts, the characters talk about anything and everything but have a penchant for the weird. The movie’s most famous scene shows a girl excitedly trying to sell a Madonna pap smear. Another follows around a conspiracy nutjob who rants and raves about aliens and trips to the moon. This is very much a love it or hate it type film, and I fall in the former category. 9/10

Sin Nombre [2009, Fukunaga]
Sin Nombre [2009, Fukunaga]
A young man goes on the run from a Central American gang that is looking to retaliate for the death of one of its leaders. Director Cary Fukunaga spent two years researching this film by staying with real gang members in order to make this as authentic as possible. At times, the movie does indeed feel like a documentary, with the end result being a very moving experience. The story is a familiar one, and is predictable as a result, but this is a very well-made movie that deserves a bigger audience. 8/10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes [2011, Wyatt]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes [2011, Wyatt]
A summer blockbuster that turned out better than anyone could have imagined. James Franco and Andy Serkis (as Caesar, a chimpanzee) are great in their roles, particularly Serkis, who has been the recipient of multiple petitions to get him recognized during this awards season. More character depth for some of the supporting cast (particularly John Lithgow as Franco’s Alzheimer’s-suffering father) would have been nice, but the CGI is top-notch and the characters are easy to like. A strong reboot of the typically lackluster Apes franchise. 8/10

What do you guys think? Have you seen any of these movies?

Quick & Dirty #8 – The Gold Rush, The Lincoln Lawyer, Tangled, Unknown

I haven’t had as much time to crank out full reviews lately, so now is a good time for a new Quick & Dirty. Here are some quick thoughts on a handful of recent movies I have seen.

The Gold Rush [1925]
The Gold Rush [1925]
After watching City Lights as part of my ongoing Movie Project, I grew even more interested in digging into Charlie Chaplin’s catalog. I found The Gold Rush on Netflix Instant, and really enjoyed this story of the Tramp searching for gold in Alaska. There were some truly memorable scenes, such as the Tramp eating his own shoe and, of course, the dancing potato scene. Not as good as City Lights, but still a lot of fun. 8/10

The Lincoln Lawyer [2011]
The Lincoln Lawyer [2011]
Man, it sure is good to see Matthew McConaughey in a respectable role again! He is on top of his game here, again delivering a brilliant performance as a sleazy lawyer. McConaughey is aided by a strong supporting cast that includes the likes of Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy and Bryan Cranston. The story isn’t groundbreaking, but it is smart and enthralling enough to maintain interest. Legal thrillers don’t seem to come around too often, but hopefully The Lincoln Lawyer’s success will lead to more quality films in the genre. 8/10

Tangled [2010]
Tangled [2010]
I got roped into seeing this thanks to my ever-loving girlfriend. I wasn’t expecting to care much for it since Disney films/musicals aren’t really my thing, but I was pleasantly surprised with Tangled. Some of the musical numbers were a bit trite, but the movie looked sharp and had mostly enjoyable characters. Plus the lead male wasn’t an insufferable douche, so that was good. Not one of the better Disney movies I have seen, but still decent enough. 6/10

Unknown [2011]
Unknown [2011]
If you can ignore some gaping plot holes and find a way to tolerate January Jones’ atrocious acting, Unknown isn’t half bad. As a thriller, it succeeded in keeping me on the edge of my seat, and it’s hard not to like Liam Neeson’s performance in the lead role. It’s not exactly a memorable film, but there are worse ways to spend two hours. 6/10