Rating with Ears

Jul 10

Films of 2014, #99: Disgrace (Jacobs, 2008)

This adaptation of JM Coetzee’s prize winning novel takes all the shock, horror and mixed emotions of the novel and places them perfectly into film. English professor David Laurie (John Malkovich) has a sexual relationship with one of his students. This ends up getting out of hand quickly, when the student tells one of her friends and Laurie ends up receiving threats. The school board discovers his escapades and ends up firing him. There’s a great scene where Malkovich is in front of the board and he displays his cockiness and better-than attitude that Malkovich does so well. He’s perfectly dry in his delivery and he’s a great fit for this character.

The script’s dryness is exactly like the novel and once the Laurie moves off to post apartheid South Africa, the movie takes a turn with Laurie living with his daughter and her friend Petrus. Halfway through Disgrace a horrible event happens to the main characters, it’s just as shocking as the book and I won’t give anything away. The choices that Laurie and his daughter have to make in the second half are tough and ambiguous, but it makes for a very powerful second half. Malkovich gives one of his best performances and it’s rare to see a film that perfectly does everything the novel did.

Rating: 9 out of 10. 

Jul 09

Films of 2014, #98: The Flowers of War (Yimou, 2011)


In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded China’s capitol city, Nanjing. This even became known as The Nanking massacre or The Rape of Nanking, and The Flowers of War takes these events and turns them into a very moving and powerful epic. Director Zhang Yimou shows growth with his follow up to 2005’s martial arts film, Hero. This is a horrifying event, and this is the first film to deal with these events.

The Flowers of War starts with Christian Bale’s character stuck in the middle of the massacre, trying to get to a Catholic church in order to bury the priest of the church. He reaches the church, along with the a group of young girls and some prostitutes who jumped the wall to get safety in the church.

Bale’s character is a drunk who’s nothing but a mortician, and doesn’t have any interest in saving anyone but himself. When the prostitutes come to the church for shelter, he’s more than happy. But, of course, he has a change of heart as the story goes along and ends up caring for everyone in the church and showing courage and sacrifice later in the film. Bale is just fine here, and he’s also giving a great performance. But, just like in Roger Ebert’s review I can’t help but notice how the film focuses on a white man saving the Chinese people.

Yimou does a shockingly great job here, allowing the film to take it’s time and naturally progress and move where it needs to. At over two hours long, it’s an epic that stands out in today’s cinema. There’s so many beautiful scenes and lighting that fit with the story and while there’s a few issues with the cliche story and Christian Bale’s character going from a drunk to heroic figure, there’s so many things that go right for The Flowers of War from the beautiful direction, to the great job by all the supporting actors and compelling story.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Jul 06

Films of 2014, #97: Black Orpheus (Camus, 1959)

The winner of Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1959, this retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice does a good job at the story. But what makes Black Orpheus stand out is the music by Antonia Carlos Jobin and Luiz Bonfa. It’s a beautiful film that comes to life by showing a massive amount of colors and stunning costumes that pop in the environment. It’s not a great movie, but it’s worth watching for all the music.

Rating: 7 out of 10. 

Jul 01

Films of 2014, #96: Polyester (Waters, 1981)

John Waters has been known to put out some very ridiculous and raunchy films over the years, and Polyester is quite ridiculous, but it’s never as funny as it tries to be. The films use of “Odorama”, where audiences were given scratch and sniff cards with numbers on them and smell the correct number when it popped up on the screen. Polyester stars Divine as a woman who’s husband runs a porno theater and her house now has protesters outside because of her husband’s profession. Meanwhile, her daughter is an over sexual teenager and her son breaks random people’s feet. It’s insane and stupid and trashy, and everything that’s to be expected from a John Waters’ film. The use of “Odorama” was lost on me, as I didn’t have a card, so all the moments where Divine was walking around smelling things just didn’t work.

Rating: 2 out of 10.

Jun 30

Films of 2014, #95: Love Liza (Louisa, 2002)

Winston Joel (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is dealing with the recent suicide of his wife and discovers a sealed letter that she wrote to him shortly before her death. Winston takes an interest in model planes and an odd fascination with gasoline. I’m not sure if Love Liza is supposed to funny or horribly tragic. It’s trying to fit into both, and not working in either. Hoffman gives a good performance, but it’s not captivating enough to hold interest though the entire movie. A movie that seems too long at only 90 minutes. Kathy Bates shows up from time to time and she the one thing that really works well. Although Hoffman’s character is meant to be awkward, it’s too much and makes for a uncomfortable movie that never fits.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Jun 28

Films of 2014, #94: Jersey Boys (Eastwood, 2014)

This Tony Award winning musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is the old person hit of the summer. Director Clint Eastwood shows his age with this crusty film that is sure to appeal to everyone in his age demographic. Although, for everyone else, Jersey Boys is going to bore over it’s two plus hours. There’s no reason for this to carry on over two hours, while the story of The Four Seasons is quite interesting at times, there’s not enough material to justify it’s runtime. Although it did move quite quickly and got better towards the second half once more songs came into play, things got very awkward towards the end with a huge number showing up and replicating the stage musical exactly.

Eastwood hasn’t disappointed like this in years, with a very clear and clean direction, there’s never a single moment or surprise or artistry. We see the group start up and get big, all with the help of the local mob! While that sounds interesting on the surface, it never adds up to much. It should have provided the story some drama, but it never takes off. Of course, you can’t exactly change the facts, but if your story doesn’t have much, maybe bending the truth would have helped.

Maybe on the stage having the characters step out and address the audience made sense, but on film it’s cheap and distracting. Really distracting. It’s confusing at times, and there’s a very confounding moment towards the end that almost made me laugh. There’s been plenty of film that break the fourth wall, but it’s always awkward here.

Jersey Boys comes across as an damned loved child of Dreamgirls and Goodfellas that slogs along and never gains the right amount of momentum to hold interest. The songs are great, but none of these songs sound better than when The Four Seasons originally recorded them. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” is the worst offender here with blaring horns and all subtlety removed. Also, why the hell does Valli sing “My Eyes Adore You” to his daughter? Creepy. This isn’t a fun movie, it’s not an interesting one either. Eastwood should have taken some liberties with the musical, instead we get a film that isn’t appealing and falls apart when songs aren’t playing.

Rating: 4 out of 10. 

Jun 27

Films of 2014, #93: Joe (Green, 2013)

Nicolas Cage continues to be the most advanced actor in Hollywood with his best performance in years as an ex-convict who’s trying to turn his shit around and be a decent person. Our title character works in the woods of Texas, cutting down trees. The first 30 minutes focuses on this, and with cinematographer, Tim Orr, it’s a stunning view that brings Badlands to mind. While there’s been plenty of film about southern landscapes and people working day to day just to make it, Joe stands out.

Nicolas Cage hits all the right notes with every scene, and hopefully this will lead to Cage making more solid films. Tye Sheridan, from Mud, shows that he’s one of the best young actors out there with a role that gives him even more to do than Mud. Yes, there’s plenty of films about running from your past, forgiveness, and sacrifice but Joe works with strong actors, and some great direction from first time director, David Gordon Green.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Jun 26

Films of 2014, #92: Insidious (Wan, 2010)

Director James Wan would later direct a much superior horror film, The Conjuring, and while Insidious doesn’t have the scares of his later film, it’s still worth watching. The story of a couple who move into a house and one of their children ends up falling into a coma. There’s plenty of crazy things happening with their new house, so they move to another house, but stuff keep happening. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne give some really good performances that help keep the movie going at times. And while Insidious does deliver some good moments (there was one specifically that really got me), it still slags at times. The mystery surrounding the horrors that come upon this family does end up loosing it’s scare when more is revealed in the second half. The ending is great, and while it might be a “surprise” ending, it’s a shocking one that leaves room the sequel.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Jun 25

Films of 2014, #91: Morning (Oyser, 2013)

Morning (2010) Poster

Jeanne Tripplehorn and Leland Oyser star as a couple who are dealing with the recent accidental death of their young son. Morning never does what it should, and maybe part of the point is that people do odd things when they mourn, but it those actions are enough to puzzle an audience instead of providing a sympathetic picture. There’s also some supporting work from Elliot Gould and Laura Linney, but it’s very pointless. There’s plenty of other pictures that give a more moving portrait of mourning than Morning.

Rating: 4 out of 10. 

Jun 21

Films of 2014, #90: Would You Rather (Levy, 2012)

The story of a woman who’s brother has leukemia, and gets introduced to a billionaire who offers her a chance to win enough money to get her brother’s treatment. All she has to do is show up at this man’s house and have dinner with some people and play along. Things go downhill the second people arrive as it becomes obvious that the dinner has turned into something more sinister and gross as the people at the party are forced to do horrible things to either themselves or other people. The film is great mix of The Most Dangerous Game, Battle Royale and Saw. While there’s some really bad moments here and there, especially the ending, it’s worth watching to see really nice performances from everyone involved.

Rating: 6 out of 10.