“North Face” review

Although I haven’t seen all too many German films from the last 10 years, every one that I’ve seen has thoroughly impressed me. “The Lives of Others” and “Downfall”, They just have really impressed me with their vision and with their scope. Enter the newest import from Germany, “North Face”. “North Face” came out in 2008 in its original country, and is finally getting a limited release here state-side.

Set in 1936 Germany,”North Face” is the (mostly) true story of two childhood friends, Andi and Toni whom have been avid mountain climbers all their lives. The duo hear of one mountain in the Alps that has not been ascended by man, and naturally decide to attempt and climb it. Coincidentally, their child-hood friend Luise is a photojournalist, whom is assigned to cover the story of the two climbing the mountain.

The director, Phillip Stolzl, handles the scenes on the mountain masterfully. The last hour of the film is pretty much just the two protagonists ascending the mountain, and this part of the film is very suspenseful. It’s not really spoilers if I tell you Andi and Toni die by the film’s end (The movie is based on a true story), but somehow the director manages to maintain suspense. However, when it comes to interactions between the characters, Stolzl somewhat falters. We never get a real sense of why precisely the two main characters are so close, we never get a sense as to why they have such a deep bond. Because of this, some of the film’s more emotionally “heavy” moments can come off flat. This is probably the biggest flaw of the film. Also, the film’s love interest, Luise, is an uninteresting, dull character who has far too much screen-time. I know this likely sounds radical but I wish they cut her character out of the film altogether, she added very, very little.

From a technical standpoint, the film is rather exquisite. The cinematography is nothing short of gorgeous. The 1930’s setting is captured with pretty great detail. And despite the shallow characterizations, Benno Furrman and Florian Lukas as Andi and Toni are quite excellent. They often capture a genuine sense of fear that solely adds to the film’s quality.

Overall, “North Face” may have some pretty major issues with the characterizations, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a very interesting, entertaining film. The final hour manages to be suspenseful (a minor miracle given that I knew the ending walking into the theater) and the acting is quite good.

3

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‘Date Night’ review

“Date Night” unites two of television’s funniest actors: Tina Fey and Steve Carrell. The stars of “30 Rock” and “The Office”, respectively, star together for the first time in this film and I must say it exceeded my expectations. The trailers looked like an unfunny version of Scorsese’s “After Hours” and although there are definitely moments where its clearly out of ideas, “Date Night” is a mostly hilarious testament to how funny its two leads are. There are moments in this film that approach hysterical, and others that are clearly out of ideas. Regardless, the quantity of the funny moments definitely outweigh that of the unfunny ones, resulting in a very entertaining (if forgettable) movie.

Carrell and Fey play a married couple, Phil, whose spark in their marriage has been replaced with endless errands and work. One night they decide to venture to an upscale New York restaurant. However once there, two goons mistake Phil and Claire for another couple that have stolen from them, and chase them throughout the city. As the night progresses, the people chasing the couple become more dangerous, the happenings become increasingly bizarre, and they receive help from a constantly shirtless detective played by Mark Wahlberg (playing something of a parody of his underwear-model image).

The director, Shawn Levy essentially makes low-brow yet successful comedies for a living (Case in point: “Night at the Museum”, “Cheaper by the Dozen”, “The Pink Panther”), the majority of which I don’t particularly care for. But here in “Date Night” he succeeds, by not relying on visual effects for humor but by relying on the humor in his cast, by relying on his characters to be funny. There is however, one portion of the film that feels completely out-of-place and superfluous: A sequence in a strip club, where the clearly out-of-place Carell and Fey must perform (for comedic effort). Although it somewhat makes sense in context of the plot, it just feels unnecessarily crude, if admittedly not mean-spirited. One thing that surprised me about this film: Some moments are actually quite sweet. The best moments of the film capture why the main characters love each other, and although it puts the two through ludicrous situations the relationship between them is quite realistically and sometimes poignantly portrayed.

“Date Night” is a perfectly funny, perfectly accessible, and perfectly enjoyable comedy. It stands head and shoulders above the majority of other PG-13 Hollywood comedies and I squarely attest that to its two lead actors. 3 stars out of 4.

‘Clash of the Titans’ review

I never particularly liked sword-and-sandals movies. Films like “Gladiator” and “Troy” just aren’t my kind of thing: The violence is rampant, the dialogue is blunt, and the characters are often dull and uninteresting. Louis Leterrier’s latest offering, “Clash of the Titans”, fits squarely into this particular category. I walked in with an open mind, ready to experience dumb fun. But “Clash of the Titans” is so drowned in action and masculinity that it has something of a numbing effect.

The plot never really matters in films like these and especially in this one: The filmmakers display a blatant disregard for logic and coherence, shilling anything that makes sense for the thrill of a “Wow, cool!” moment. Unfortunately, they also put very little effort into those “Wow, cool!” moments, which results in a movie that you can tell the filmmakers had very little fun making. As a result, we get a film that makes no sense, that is no fun, and that doesn’t even have any action sequences compelling or creative enough to make up for those fatal first two flaws.

The film opens in a world where the gods depend on humans’ love for them for energy and motivation, yet the humans insist they wield enough power to be essentially gods themselves. Essentially, the rest of the movie is the gods putting the humans in their place, and one man named Perseus whose demi-god status may save the human race.

Sam Worthington, the guy who has starred in “Terminator Salvation” and “Avatar” plays the main character Perseus, but plays him as an uninteresting person whose sole purpose seems to be slaughtering and fighting. The film even finds a way to waste two amazing actors: Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, whom both appeared in “Schindler’s List” together, play gods turned against each other, and it’s completely obvious they starred in this film for the money: They’re both horrible. Hidden beneath manes of facial hair, they each turn in wooden performances that are only forgiven by me due to their brevity.

The visual effects in the film are somewhat…uninteresting. Skillful, yes, yet there is no real “wow” factor that films such as “Avatar” wield. The action too is really un-imaginative and maudlin. And one somewhat trivial thing that really bugged me about the film: The dialogue is horrible, yes, but the script is written by Lawrence Kasdan! To those whom don’t know (I imagine none of you immediately do) this guy wrote “Empire Strikes Back” and “The Big Chill”: What is he doing writing crap like this?

The bottom line is that “Clash of the Titans” is a horrible film. The dialogue sucks, the action is boring, and it’s painfully obvious that no one making this film really cared if it was a good product they were making.