Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Grey Commentary

The Grey starts out like it is going to be a very disappointing movie.  Liam Neeson is writing a letter to his woman and having a huge crisis regarding the meaning of life and blah, blah, blah.  However, after watching it I realized that exposition was vital to the rest of the film.  Given where it goes and how the story unfolds, you really needed the aura of absolute despair at the start.

The Grey is not a basic story of survival like Castaway (which is a great film in its own right).  Unlike Castaway, there is an underlying philosophical message to the Grey and it took me a little while to figure out what I think it was.  I'm sure if the film makers were to read this, they would tell me I'm wrong but I see a lot of film as art and interpretation of art is all up to the viewer regardless of what the artist intends.  What I took away is that the Grey uses a story of basic primal survival to show the devolution of man.  Even though man has devolved to an almost animal state, we are still mankind and there is something that makes us different and better than the animals.  Whether or not you believe in a higher power, there is something about man that gives us morality and the will and desire to be better.  The concept of a higher power and character reaction to it is brought up in the film a couple of times and I was actually quite satisfied with the results.  As a religious and spiritual person, I am often disappointed in how this topic is handled in entertainment art.  But in the Grey, I thought it was done fairly well.

So, it starts out really slow and almost too philosophical.  But, once they get that groundwork out of the way, the story picks up and the real thriller starts.  Director Joe Carnahan did an absolutely fantastic job of developing a sense of tension all the way through.  Once the plane crashes, there is not one time where I felt like the characters or I could relax and that they were safe.  Through the use of tense music and wolf sounds, I always felt that there was potential for an attack on the group.  This builds right up to a very dramatic and fantastic final scene.  I won't spoil it.

The setting also lends itself well to the thrilling aspect.  A story of survival could be told almost everywhere.  But to set it in the absolute bleak and dangerous winter yet beautiful scenery of Alaska lends a juxtaposition that is hard to describe.  But I really felt that it added to the tension and watchability of the film (and it must have been absolute hell to film).  The actors also played a significant factor in making a fine thriller.  Liam Neeson is always going to be good and he plays the alpha male of the humans quite well.  But the rest of the cast was very strong and convincing in their roles.  Despair, determination, denial, etc.  It was all done very convincingly.  There's no cheesy line delivery which is a real danger in a movie like this.  Taking it all into account, the result was a film where I found myself sitting still, staring in wonder at the screen with my mouth open.  Normally, I have a hard time sitting still in any setting.  When a thriller can mesmerize me like that, you know it's good.

There are a couple of problems with the movie.  First, they have shotgun shells for a rifle.  That's just laziness.  Second, in a showdown with wolves, there seemed to be a lot of non-wolf related death and injury.  But I guess there's only so much you can do with wolf jumps, wolf tears off body parts, wolf runs away before the audience gets bored.  Any problems like this are minor and far outweighed by the whole film making package.

See it.  It is definitely worth your time and effort.  You do have to be in a bit of a philosophical mood though.  And I'd love to hear anyone's comments as to what message they got from it.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Bourne Identity Commentary

The Bourne Identity is a lot like Jimi Hendrix.  When you watch it ten years later, you see a fantastic action movie but you tend to forget just how groundbreaking and game-changing it was when it was first made.  Prior to 2002, many spy movies were still following the old mould of James Bond where an extraordinary person was put in an extraordinary position with extraordinary results.  Bourne changed all that.  The fact that many spy/action films are following the same pattern (much like musicians almost always listing Hendrix as an influence) is a testament to the way things are going in the action genre.  Even the James Bond movies have rebooted to make the characters and situations more accessible to the viewer.

I will concede that there have been lots of action moves with a regular guy that we can relate to being put in an extraordinary situation.  John McClane in Die Hard is one of these.  But McClane was thrust into an unbelievable situation.  Jason Bourne, while he leads an extraordinary life, is made accessible and relatable through his amnesia.  Through the whole film, the viewer can relate to not only the character but his situations as well.  We will probably never be fully privy to what goes on in the spy world but I imagine that the events could be very similar to what we see in these films.  From start to finish, you feel like most of these things could actually happen.  Granted, falling 5 stories, shooting a guy on the way down and breaking your fall on a corpse is not likely to turn out for you the way it did for Bourne.  But no action movie is going to be 100% realistic.

Bourne comes as close as you can while making it exciting.  The tension mounts right at the start with Bourne being found floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea.  It never lets go and builds to a very tense climax between him and Treadstone at a Paris safe house.  Matt Damon and Franka Potente do a fantastic job of working their way through their mystery and making the viewer feel that they are actually scared as to what they might uncover as well as what is chasing them.

Finally, because it has one and I love them, I need to address the car chase scene.  It is one of the finest I have seen in any movie.  Car chases are great when they involve regular cars in crowded situations.  using a beat up Mini in the narrow Paris streets was fantastic.  The entire gloomy rain atmosphere just adds to it.  The choreography throughout is flawless.  And Bourne's and Kreutz' reaction when it ends in the parking garage is absolutely priceless and one of my favourite movie moments of all time.

This is a fantastic action movie that grabs you and never lets go.  Definitely see it.  You should probably have it in your collection as well.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

No Strings Attached Commentary

In my review of The Switch, I talked about the romantic comedy formula.  That movie followed it very closely and, while it didn't blow me away, it did enough for me to give it a See recommendation.  No Strings Attached tried to follow much the same formula.  There's the rivals for the attention of the lady, the obligatory Jiminy Cricket friends for the protagonist, and the big gestures to finally win over the lady.  But No Strings Attached does it in a slightly different way.  Because the movie is all about two people trying to not fall in love at all, they have to take a slightly different angle on the formula for most of it.  I wouldn't say it worked but I wouldn't say it fell completely flat either.  They really should have either stuck to the formula or broken the mould completely.  There seemed to be a lot of indecision in how they wanted the film to unfold and it never really got going into anything too good.  The best example is that, for two people who see each other three times in 15 years, they hook up pretty quickly and seem to know each other better than they should (Kutcher has Portman's phone number already?).  That and the friends' hooking up with no real warning or exposition jsut seemed too convenient and confusing.

Speaking of Jiminy Cricket characters, there were two main problems with them in this movie.  First, there were too damn many of them.  Ashton Kutcher has two friends who give him advice.  His Dad is rolled into the mix as well.  Natalie Portman has three roommates that all seem to get in the way more than anything else.  Because they all had to share the spotlight, there was never that one "Philip Seymour Hoffman from Along Came Polly" that you could really count on for good comedy and story progression.  The second problem was that they really made a half assed attempt at edgy, crude humour.  There's some talk about lady periods and sex euphemisms that, for some reason, just aren't funny.  When you put them in a movie like American Pie or Forgetting Sarah Marshall which set out to be a bit over the top and goofy, they get a bit more humorous.  But No Strings Attached was trying to do the same thing while trying to make the audience believe this could all actually happen.  It just doesn't work.  You have to go one way or the other and they tried to do too much.

The good thing about this film is the performances.  I've never been overly impressed with Kutcher but I've never been disappointed in him either.  When an actor sets the bar with Kelso from That 70's Show and Jesse from Dude, Where's My Car? it really doesn't ever make me expect too much.  I prefer him in roles like those others because he can be more physical and idiotic.  He plays that very well.  But when Kutcher tries to be more serious and grounded in a comedy, he becomes decent but nothing too noteworthy.  He delivered that here.  Portman, on the other hand, was very, very good.  Her emotions were always top notch and believable.  She really ran the gamut from busy and horny doctor to happy to heartbroken and took the audience along with her.

But Portman was not enough to save the film entirely.  I've said it before.  My criteria for a romantic comedy is 1. Did it make me laugh?  Yes, but not a lot.  I laughed at a few things but rolled my eyes more than anything else.  2.  Did it make me feel good for having watched it?  No.  While I don't regret it, I came away thinking I could have done better.  It's not something to avoid completely and at all costs.  But it isn't something to seek out.  All in all, don't see it.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Midnight in Paris Commentary

It's definitely a quirky Woody Allen movie.  And they found the perfect guy to play the main character.  Owen Wilson does loveable quirky better than anyone in Hollywood.  When you combine that with Allen's off the wall yet strangely grounded style, you get a very enjoyable film.  Allen takes a normal world and makes it abnormal but acceptable to the people in it.  In a way, it is the only thing I didn't care for in the film.  Gil (Wilson) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard) accept the fact that they are jumping back in time to their own perceived golden age of Paris.  That bugged me a bit at first.  In a movie that was meant to be realistic, they would be freaking out for a while.  But this is a Woody Allen movie so it moves to the surreal much more easily.  Instead of having a crisis that Gil would go through to accept his predicament, it is accepted and Gil just moves on and rolls with the punches.  The result is a much faster paced and enjoyable film that doesn't get bogged down in this kind of crisis.

That isn't to say that there is no message to the movie.  I don't really know if Allen often tries to have any kind of moral or lesson for the viewer.  But regardless, when I see a message in a movie (not all of them have anything allegorical or such that hits me), I like to jump on it.  I couldn't care less if it's intended or not.  If Allen meant for it, great.  if not, I will still take it away and heed it.  Midnight in Paris really hit me as a message that we should be happy with where and who we are.  That it is too easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the past and become miserable when we cannot experience it.  So, instead, make where you are your own golden age.  Even in such a complicated world, we can find the things that make it special.  I have to think it was intended simply due to the one bit of dialogue between Adriana and Gil.  Either way, it's a message that I think we can all really take to heart.  I think this is also what made it into the Oscar voting.  This year's Oscars were all about artistic nostalgia and the Academy really skewed everything that way from the get go.  Otherwise, even though it's a great film, I don't think it would have gotten the buzz that it did.

The one thing that really stood out to me on a technical standpoint was Wilson.  As I said, nobody plays loveable quirky like him.  His ability to deliver what I can only describe as distracted dialogue has always been his strength.  And it plays perfectly in such a quirky Woody Allen movie.  He's at his best when he plays a character that is unsatisfied yet strangely optimistic about it.  It's the same type of character he played in the Darjeeling Limited, Bottle Rocket and even Drillbit Taylor to a certain extent.  In Midnight in Paris, he plays it perfectly.  Sadly, I thought his interactions with Cotillard could have been better.  Most of their dialogue fell a bit flat and slowed the movie down a bit too much. I think she was maybe a poor choice.  There was no real on-screen chemistry that I felt and, given their roles, there really needed to be some.

I feel I also need to mention how the historical characters were portrayed.  To a large extent, these would be Allen's interpretation of what they would have been like combined with how the actors were motivated.  For the most part, I thought it was satisfactory.  I was, however, a bit disappointed in how Corey Stoll played Ernest Hemmingway.  There was the brooding and depressed element to the character but it was done as too much of a caricature for my taste.  At one point, in the car, he kind of reminded me of Peter Graves in Airplane asking the little boy if he liked Gladiator movies.  But, considering that it's a lighthearted film, that can be somewhat forgiven.  Another one that I think is worth mentioning is Adrien Brody's portrayal of Salvador Dali.  It was just downright bizarre.  Maybe that is what Dali was like, I don't know.  It was a bit too far left of centre to really fit with the overall comic level of the movie.  But it was only one scene and it was still entertaining even if out of place.

I also need to mention the music.  It was done absolutely perfectly.  You really got the feeling throughout that, even in the present day scenes, you were still almost in the 1920s "golden age."  To me, that really drove home the "live in the present" message that I took away from the film.

Definitely see it.  The drawbacks I mentioned are far outweighed by the use of dialogue, music and romantic Paris sets that just give you a nice inspiring feeling after watching it.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Rudo y Cursi Review

The one thing you really have to keep reminding yourself of while watching this film is that it is not American or even Canadian or British.  It is Mexican and, because of that, there are going to be some things in the film that don't really make a whole lot of sense to an American or Canadian viewer.  If it had been an artsy or dramatic piece, then that gap would have been quite a bit narrower.  However, this is very much a comedy.  And while I'm sure there were things that were supposed to be funny but went over my head, I still found that it was an entertaining and very funny movie.  Some of that, though, could be due to me finding things funny that were not intended to be so.  It's the danger of a cultural difference like that.  I'm going to find some of those differences to be comical.  Add to this that the subtitling seemed to be done by someone from the East End of London and it seemed even more humourous.  Somehow watching a Mexican comedy where the translation of Spanish ends up being words like "wanker" and "mate" just makes it more comical.

The story is a pretty basic one.  Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna play brothers who are very competitive and get discovered as soccer "diamonds in the rough."  They make their way to Mexico City and each make it big.  But they are distracted by different things (a singing career/playboy lifestyle and gambling) and things go awry.  It's the age old "rags to riches and back to rags but I learned a lesson" story.  It is very predictable.  So it's a good thing that they made it a comedy.  You are distracted by the humour and don't get bored because you really know what is going to happen. But they also keep enough of the dark side of the story (Rudo's downward gambling spiral) in it to keep you from getting tired of the brothers calling each other an "asshole."

Being a non-English language film, it is hard to tell if the line delivery was convincing or not.  But I will say that the body language of all of the actors throughout was very convincing.  The body language and look of Diego Luna was especially good.  He is very convincing as a small village guy who is thrust into a big time life and has a difficult time adjusting and leaving his old ways and habits behind.  The same holds true for Bernal.  While he wasn't as convincing as Luna, he was still very strong as a small village guy who gets swept up into fame and fortune and the playboy lifestyle.

Because it's a sports movie, I do have to say something about how the sport is represented on screen.  While they didn't dwell too much on it, I thought they did a fantastic job when they did have to show soccer on the screen.  The final game is especially good.  They focused on the crowd and home viewers a lot without losing too much of the game itself.  In fact, the way they filmed the crowd and had the announcer dialogue really brought out the tension and excitement that can come from a soccer game anywhere in the world.  I felt that they took the brothers' competitive nature and magnified it in that climactic scene.

If you like sports movies, see it.  If you don't like sports movies, still see it.  It doesn't dwell on the sport like Goal but it has enough of a balance to keep everyone interested.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Rampart Review

I can't really explain it.  I really like Woody Harrelson.  Ever since Cheers, I've thought he was a good actor with terrific comic timing.  And maybe that's it.  He needs to be doing comedy.  A good example is Zombieland.  When he does that, he's much better.  In Rampart, Harrelson plays David "Date Rape" Brown;  a corrupt slimeball LA cop who is at the forefront of a police brutality scandal.  What little family life he has is falling apart and his whole existence is spiralling out of control.  The problem is that, when Harrelson plays this type of character, he tends to underperform.  And in Rampart, he forces his lines in a manner that almost seems like he's trying to remind the audience that the film is about him and a possible Oscar bid.  It comes off as very unbelievable.  Because Rampart focuses so much on him, this gets magnified.  The other characters are one-dimensional and exist solely to hasten Brown's downfall.  And that's a shame really because the film features some great actors in Sigourney Weaver, Ned Beatty, Cynthia Nixon, Ben Foster and Robin Wright.  But these actors never get the opportunity to be what they can really be.  The most intriguing was Foster's performance as the handicapped addict, General.  But he only got a couple of scenes.

The acting isn't the only problem with this film.  The story really has no discernable plot.  There's this loosely put together story of the scandal but it jumps around between that, Brown's past transgressions, his family life, his relationship with Wright, etc.  Without a cohesive plot line, it just becomes a series of almost random acts of debauchery and corruption that make no real sense.  Case in point: at one point, Brown goes to some underground sex club for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON!  If there was a reason, I missed it because it was later in the film and I had completely lost interest.  It was a scene that tried to be expository in an artsy way and just derailed an already fragile film.

The production value was pretty decent though.  They made very good use of lighting and locations throughout to make it realistic.  The best one I can think of was the encounter on the beach between Brown and Hartshorn (Beatty).  We normally think of beaches as being almost fantasy and a getaway from life.  But having the industrial factory-like building in the background really kept the viewer grounded in the theme of the movie.  Rampart is really full of these types of shots.  It's a shame though because it isn't enough to outweigh the poor performance from Harrelson, the lack of plot and the unbelievably slow pace to the movie.

Don't see it.  There's so many better gritty cop dramas out there.  Start with Heat and work your way through.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Switch Review

I knew what I was going to get going in.  The Switch is a very predictable romantic comedy that follows the classic formula of the genre to a T.  It has everything.  The shleppy hero who wants the woman: check in Jason Bateman.  The girl who's heart is misguided: check in Jennifer Aniston.  The girl's friend who doesn't really care for the shleppy hero: check in Juliette Lewis.  The Jiminy Cricket character for the shleppy guy: check in Jeff Goldblum.  The guy who the shleppy hero must compete with for the girl's affections: check with who I can only assume is a DNA cross of Matthew McConaughey and Owen Wilson.  The plot of shleppy guy wanting girl, girl wants other guy, shleppy guy does something stupid and almost ruins everything and tries to fix it through a grand gesture: check.

But it's a formula that has worked time and time again.  Yes, it's predictable and there are absolutely no surprises.  But while I was watching, I found myself really enjoying it in spite of always knowing what was going to happen next.  It can't be due to the story or writing.  There is really nothing of that in this movie that sets it apart from any other romantic comedy.  Yes, the idea of switching a sperm sample and then figuring out seven years later that the kid is yours is a bit new.  But the whole "guy learns how to live life from a quirky kid" was done much better in About A Boy.

What makes this movie good boils down to the cast.  Every character in this movie is cast almost perfectly.  Jason Bateman has always been able to play the understated quiet and thoughtful guy dating back to Necessary Roughness.  Jeff Goldblum is always a treat as a guy who is a little left of normal but still very smart and wise (ie. Jurassic Park).  Juliette Lewis plays a bitch pretty well as we've seen in countless other movies.  I'm not overly familiar with a lot of Patrick Wilson's work (outside of the A-Team) but he looked the part to play Bateman's competition and did it very well.  The worst performance though would have to be Jennifer Aniston's.  Let's face it.  She's pretty much a one trick pony that can only play "basic pretty girl with no real depth of character" and when she tries to get out of that, she falls flat (Along Came Polly).  Here, she played the basic girl part competently but there was really nothing special about it.  On the flip side, however, Thomas Robinson as Sebastian was brilliant.  He played the weird, dopey hypochondriac kid perfectly.  At times, I thought he might actually be Jason Bateman's kid.

I realize that's a bit of a mixed bag of a review.  I criticize it for being predictable but I praise it for being entertaining and its acting.  (I can be pretty manic with these reviews, eh?)  So I'll leave it to my criteria for a romantic comedy.  Did it make me laugh and did it make me feel good for having watched it?  Yes on both.  So see it.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Attack the Block Review

It's a Studio Canal production about an alien invasion in London and features Nick Frost.  When I heard about that, I figured I had to see it.  I normally love Studio Canal movies and Frost is one of my favourite actors.  I knew he didn't have a huge role and I'm pretty sure he was only brought on board to bring credibility to the film and that his friend, Edgar Wright was a producer.  Once you get past that, there's really no great depth to the film.  It's another run of the mill alien invasion movie.  Aliens invade and regular people fight them off.

But they do it in an entertaining way.  Like Shaun of the Dead (and most other alien/monster/apocalypse movies), it takes what should be a global phenomenon and focuses it to a localized environment and its inhabitants.  In this case, it is an impoverished apartment block in South London.  One thing I do like is that, instead of just having the film focus on the people as a nuisance to the aliens' bigger goal of domination (like, for example, Independence Day), the aliens are actually focusing on the block's residents as well.  I won't say why because it would spoil it.  But the humans aren't just getting in the way of the aliens like in most movies.  This one is an actual duel and that was a refreshing twist.

It wouldn't be a proper commentary on an alien invasion movie without talking about the effects.  It had a budget of only $13,000,000.  And the effects didn't suffer one bit.  They couldn't focus on gore and alien effects too much but what they did do in the gore department, they did well and realistically.  The alien effects were terrific in their simplicity.  With the exception of the first one, the aliens are nothing more than ape-like mammals with teeth that glow (while they're alive).  The fur did look a bit polyester but I really liked this for two reasons.  First, very rarely, if ever, do you see aliens in the movies that are mammals.  Why can't other primal and aggressive worldy races develop hair too?  Second, in their simplicity, they are terrifying.    They are basically pitch black running carpets with teeth.  There's no over the top tentacles or huge bug eyes.  The whole movie takes place at night and seeing them approach the humans in the background and almost all you can see is the teeth was actually quite chilling.  They took the small budget and really used it to their advantage.

Finally, the acting.  There is nothing special here.  But it's an alien invasion movie so I would have been surprised if there was.  John Boyega is actually annoying in some places.  He just couldn't be convincing as the gang leader.  But the rest of the cast provided a good balance of bravery, fear and comedic dialogue and antics that it's a net positive even if sometimes it seemed that I was laughing at cultural differences in vocabulary more than actual intended jokes.  Michael Ajao and Sammy Williams also deserve a mention as the two younger kids who want to be thugs.  They brought a decent element of comedy to the whole film.  And, if you follow this web log, you will know that I really don't like kids in heroic roles.  But they did it well.

See it.  It doesn't have enough Nick Frost.  But it does have enough entertainment value to make it fun.

Crazy Stupid Love Review

It seems that, lately, Hollywood is trying to break the mold when it comes to romantic comedies.  With Crazy Stupid Love they appear to be following that.  As this movie starts I thought it was going to be a lot like Hitch: Steve Carell gets Ryan Gosling to help him with the ladies and Gosling learns the valuable lessons in the process.  And, in a way, it is a lot like Hitch.  But while that was really the only level of Hitch, Crazy Stupid Love takes that premise and builds on it quite a bit.

Basically, everyone is in love with everyone else.  At least that's what it felt like for a lot of the film.  There are times, especially at the beginning, where you think that it feels like a huge ripoff of Love, Actually.  In the beginning, there seems to be no real reason for some of the characters to be there.  But this isn't really a story where multiple stories are followed and then some of them are loosely brought together (something Love, Actually did to near perfection).  They tried to make it an ensemble romantic comedy and overall, they succeeded.  But I think it would have been more effective if they had focused on Carell's character development or developed the others more.  They leaned towards Carell too much to not go all the way to it.  In Crazy Stupid Love, everything eventually comes around and it is actually all tied up quite nicely.  In fact, there are times when it seems a bit too convenient that things are happening the way they are.  But it's a romantic comedy and I can forgive a lot of that stuff in the genre.

All around, the acting is decent.  Carell went more towards his role in Little Miss Sunshine or Date Night than anything goofy.  And this is when I think he is actually at his best.  The man has some very decent range.  The rest of the cast is nothing to write home about but isn't bad either.  It was pretty much what I would expect from people like Ryan Gosling, John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Bacon and Julianne Moore.  The only one that I thought was really out of place was Marissa Tomei.  She appeared to be trying to steal her scenes and her over the top character didn't fit in with the rest of the understated feel of the movie at all.

Ultimately, I have to judge a romantic comedy on two criteria.  First, did it make me laugh?  It is a comedy after all so it needs to do that.  Second, did it make me feel good at the end?  You want to come away from a romantic comedy feeling glad that you watched it.  The answer on both fronts is "yes."  It wasn't anything to blow me away on either front but it did do both.  See it.  It isn't groundbreaking or cream of the crop by any means but it is a nice diversion.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Drive Review

"OK, so here's what I want to do.  I'm going to make a movie about a professional criminal driver who would really just like to make a fresh start in the tough town of LA.  He meets a girl and tries to do the right thing by her in his own weird and immoral way.  We've seen this type of thing before.  But I'm going to add a twist.  I am going to ensure that the actor I get to play him has always just taken a lot of valium before we start shooting."  I can only imagine that's how the film makers went about pitching this movie to the studios.  I know that Ryan Gosling's character is supposed to be mysterious and quiet and have a past that we can only speculate about.  But there's a difference between calm and collected and almost comatose with lack of emotion.  He went a little too far towards comatose.

The supporting acting wasn't a whole lot better.  I could never believe Bryan Cranston's limp but maybe that's just because all I ever see when he's on screen is Malcolm's dad.  Ron Perlman was a disappointment too.  Normally, he's very good.  But he went too far over the top with most of what he did and it came off as plastic.  Finally, I guess the Simpsons has ruined me because even if I see that it's Albert Brooks on the screen, as soon as he starts talking, all I get in my head is Hank Scorpio offering Homer Simpson some sugar.  But even with my own biases towards the choice of actors, none of their performances really made me believe in the characters.  Cranston just couldn't make me think of a two-bit part time criminal.  Perlman couldn't make me believe he was a mafioso type.  And Brooks did not project the fear and terror that a character like that should.

Often in these reviews I will say that it has a really good story but they just don't tell it right.  Well, in this one, I don't even think they had a very good story.  I know there's a limited number of basic archetypes out there and I don't mind retelling of things with a different angle.  But they really fell flat with their "man with no name as a flawed hero" style of story.  And even though Gosling has a name in it, it really is that story.  Instead of sticking to that, they take it and try to add an element of LA angst that is somewhat akin to Punch Drunk Love or the book "Bright Shiny Morning" by James Frey (a movie and book I would highly recommend to anyone).  It worked those.  It did not work here.  Their melancholic locations, inappropriate use of slow motion and what can only be described as baffling choices in both soundtrack (faux 80s music) and score (often just one monotonous sound or a build up that is supposed to be used when a big change or realization is supposed to happen) and I'm actually quite confused as to what they were trying to do.  There didn't seem to be any emotional changes at all in the movie even though, from what was going on, I could tell that tension was supposed to be building.  But there is not a proper base for the story from the start.  For a long time, they jump from plot point to plot point instead of taking you there with proper exposition.  Without building that base, the viewer is not vested enough in the film to really feel the tension when it is needed.

With everything they tried in this movie, they really failed to deliver.  I could see that they were trying to be a bit experimental and innovative.  But it just didn't work.  Don't see it.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Coriolanus Review

I'll start by saying that I do not like Shakespeare.  I used to be vehemently against everything about Shakespeare and thought it was irrelevant and should not be taught at all.  I have since softened that stance and can now see the literary and historical benefits of studying it.  However, I have yet to be convinced that there are any cinematic benefits to maintaining the Shakespearean language in a screen adaptation of his plays; especially a modernization.  As a reader, I can read and reread a passage as many times as it takes to understand what is being said.  As a film viewer, I get one chance and because it is essentially a different language that uses English words, I become lost in dialogue.  That should not happen in a movie.  Many people argue that to change the language to a more modern version is an insult and travesty and yadda yadda yadda.  This is an argument that I just do not buy.  Take the play and translate it scene for scene and shot for shot.  You do not have to leave out story elements because those are great in Shakespeare's work.  I don't go to the movies to hear a beautiful poem.  I go to see a movie and watch a good story unfold.  Because it is so different from the English we use today, it needs to be translated just like any other language.  This is especially true if you are going to modernize everything else about the film.  It is the same problem they had with Romeo and Juliet.  Don't go halfway.  If you are going to modernize the setting, filming, costumes, etc., you need to modernize the language too.

That is the main problem with this movie.  Unfortunately, the benefits of Coriolanus are not enough to outweigh the fact that the language caused me to zone out a bit and have my mind wander.  But that could also be due in some part to the fact that it moved a lot slower than I originally thought it would.  I came in thinking that this would be much more of a political/action movie and it turns out to be another tale of pride, betrayal and treachery that many of Shakespeare's tragedies are.  In fact, I should have known better because not only is it Shakespeare, it is Ancient Rome and Ancient Rome was basically nothing but pride, betrayal and treachery.  But, because it was a Roman story, I wanted to see it.  I am a huge history buff and Rome is my favourite topic.

Add the fact that it has some terrific actors in Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox and I actually made a point of seeing it.  Fortunately, through all of the actors' body language and inflection, I was able to follow the story all right.  The acting performances were quite good and had the right emotions for the situation all the way around.  With that and very good use of sets and settings in Fiennes' direction, it made it easier to understand what was going on. (I must stop and say I liked Fiennes directing but he did make the mistake of using a shaky camera so that's another strike against the film.)  However, because of the Shakespearean language, I found it very difficult to understand why anything was happening.  Why was Fiennes calm then infuriated?  Why did the crowd want him as Consul and then do a 180 within 30 seconds?  Why did Butler say he understood Fiennes' feelings and then do a 180 himself?  Why? Why? Why?  In an intricate story of pride, betrayal and treachery, the why becomes pretty important.  I think that's why I enjoyed the Tempest much more.  It was pretty much a comedy and I could sit back and laugh.  In fact, I enjoy Shakespeare's comedies more simply because of that.

Sadly, I cannot recommend this film.  Rome is one of my favourite topics and because of that, I wanted so badly to love this movie.  But, when I cannot understand why things are happening, that overshadows all the good things about the film making.  Don't See it.

Hugo Review

The first thing you need to know about this film is that the marketing for it is very deceptive.  All of the marketing efforts and clips from the Academy Awards made it out to be some fantasy where magic would allow for a robotic boy to come alive or something similar.  None of that is true of this movie.  Instead, it becomes a much more plausible story of finding your purpose and getting a second chance.  While there are a lot of elements to the film that are a bit out there and unrealistic, the basics of it stay grounded in reality much more than I had expected them to be.  When I get thrown a curveball like this, I find it a bit more difficult to get into a film and, thus, have a bit more difficulty enjoying it.

That's not to say that I did not enjoy Hugo.  I did.  It was just harder to get into than I thought it would be.  The visuals for this movie are absolutely fantastic and, even if it was not the story I was expecting, it was still a very good and solid tale.  Usually, I do not like movies where the main hero is a child.  They often come across as too brave in the situation for it to be realistic (I call it the Jurassic Park Effect).  However, in Hugo, this is mitigated somewhat.  While he is brave and stands up to Melies somewhat, there is an air of fear about him when it comes to the Station Inspector that makes him seem much more human and realistic.  Overall, he does have to rely on the help of others to fulfill his mission.  When you do that with a child hero, it becomes an easier story to accept.

Acting wise, Hugo is very strong too.  There are very good performances all around.  You expect that from someone like Ben Kingsley or Emily Mortimer or Christopher Lee.  The pleasant surprise was with Sacha Baron Cohen.  I really cannot stand the man and most of what he does offends me; not because of what he does but why it is justified for him and only him to do it.  But I won't get into that.  As the Station Inspector, he performs very well.

So, while this is a very good movie, I don't think it deserved all of the accolades that it got.  Yes, costumes and visual effects were superior to a lot of what's out there.  But I think Academy Award nominations for Picture, Directing and Screenplay were based more on the fact that it deals a lot with movie nostalgia.  If you watched this year's Academy Awards you will have noticed that there was a lot of "back in the day when my dad used to take me to the movies and it was magical."  Well, Hugo is ripe with that theme.  Hollywood, Vaudeville, pre-War Paris, etc.  The Academy has a tendency to really favour films that evoke those emotions.  (I think Scorsese knows this and thought it might be a ticket to another Oscar.  But that's my own speculation.)

But, if you read this web log regularly, you will notice that I often give See recommendations to movies that would never even get considered by the Academy.  This is no exception.  See it.  Even though it may not be what you expect, you should still come away with that warm, happy feeling at the end at that, ultimately, is the point.  One final piece of advice though.  You may not want to make it a "lazy weekend afternoon film" because it moves quite slowly in spots.