Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Commentary

"Serving Dish, Serving Dish, on the wall.  Who's the fairest of them all?"  That pretty much sums up the movie.  They take a really good idea and just fail miserably with it.  The idea of having a romantic fairy tale turned into a dark action movie was one I could really get on board with.  But the writing and acting are so bad in this one that nothing could really save it.  There are numerous decisions that were made that are very baffling.  For example, why is the mirror a large brass serving dish?  Why are all of the dwarves cockney?  Why does the dark forest cause you to trip balls?  Why is Ravenna's brother an unholy DNA cross between Paul Bettany from the Da Vinci Code and an early 90s Emo Phillips?  Why involve the clergy at any level in a magical land?  Why keep Snow White alive in the first place?  Why is the apple a mammal?  Why?  Why?  Why?

Did I mention that the acting is really bad?  I long for the days when Charlize Theron just acted and didn't try too hard.  That's when she was actually believable.  Now, between this and Prometheus, she thinks every scene is a potential Oscar clip and she goes too far over the top.  And it isn't just her.  Everybody seems to have taken their cues from her and tried way too hard.  When you combine that with some very, very bad writing (did we really need another "Bill Pullman from Independence Day" inspirational speech?) you get something that's actually painful to watch in spots.

OK, I've got that out of my system.  There are two good things about this movie.  The effects are excellent.  Everything looked real right down to the computer generated fairies.  It's difficult to get that much makeup and CGI to look good consistently.  And the aged makeup effects were very lifelike (unlike Prometheus).  Second, Chris Hemsworth did a decent job.  I never expect too much from the latest comic book action beefcake but he's actually a decent actor.  Lets hope Theron didn't wear off on him.

Don't see it.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sneakers Commentary

This really was one of the last heist movies from the late 80s/early 90s to fit the old mold.  Now, those types of movies rely more on edgy dialogue, characters that emit "cool" and comic relief.  When Steph and I were looking through Netflix and saw this, she said it looked kind of like Ocean's Eleven.  And, to a certain extent, it is.  It involves a group of criminal specialists trying to steal something.  But Sneakers really relies a lot on the strength of actors like Sidney Poitier, Dan Akroyd and Robert Redford to be bigger than their roles.  Ocean's Eleven relied on actor strength too but the focus was largely on the character.

That's not to say that Sneakers doesn't work.  It does.  It's got a decent plot even if it does get a bit confusing along the way.  The entire heist is carried out in a tight, strong and humorous manner which is really a must for movies like this.  The writing seems a bit weak in spots but, for the most part, the actors are able to make it work.  After all, Redford, Akroyd, Poitier and River Phoenix are all superior at their craft.

The drawback to the movie is the length.  The build up to the actual heist takes too long to develop and that's where a lot of the confusion starts to develop.  By the time they get to the actual meat of the plot, the viewers will likely be a bit too confused as to why anyone is doing what they're doing.  Had they cut down on a lot of that, it could have been a tighter movie.  I think this is the third time I've seen it and I think the same thing every time.

Given that it's available on demand and is on TV an awful lot, I say see it.  There's enough of a good heist movie there to make it worth your while.  Just know that it didn't age as well as it could have given the direction that heist movies have gone in recent years.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Death at a Funeral Commentary

Only the British can really take something so sombre as a funeral and make you laugh your head off.  Right from the very beginning of this film, the comedy is pretty constant.  But it doesn't stay at one level.  What makes Death at a Funeral so good is that the comedy builds at a steady pace so by the end of the 90 minutes, you're laughing at anything and everything.  And that's the point.  There's really only one moment in this film that you're supposed to reflect and feel anything heartfelt.  And it does a good job of that too.  By that time, you are ready to take a break from the laughing anyways.

As an ensemble comedy, it doesn't rely on any one or two actors to provide most of the laughs by working against straight men and women.  So there's less of a chance that it's going to fall apart like a bad Adam Sandler movie (Sandler does some good stuff too but when he's off, the whole thing stinks). But, on the flip side, there has to be a delicate balance and chemistry throughout the ensemble to pull it off well.  Frank Oz did a fantastic job of having these actors work together and keep the comic timing at a perfect pace.  And the music is used brilliantly to keep the escalating humour going.

The viewer almost feels like the whole group is a real family and friends unit that has known each other for decades.  Going through the list of actors on IMDB, I can't think of any that would be a weak link in the cast.  Right from the main actors like Matthew MacFadyen and Alan Tudyk to the minor ones like Thomas Wheatley who plays the Reverend, the acting is more than solid all the way around.

Finally, the jokes, theme and overall feel of the movie are so typically British that I'm having a hard time imagining how they would do a remake of this in the manner that they did three years later.  I have yet to watch the Chris Rock/Martin Lawrence one because I feel that they are doing an injustice to the original by feeling they need to Americanize it.  I don't really mind Rock or Lawrence comedies so it could be OK.  But the first one is so good that there is really no need to do that.  But, eventually, curiosity will get the better of me and I'll watch it just to compare.  I see it's on Netflix so I won't have to pay anything.  I just hope I can stay objective given my snobbish affinity for the original.

Definitely see it.  You may want to buy it because you'll want to see it again.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Prometheus Commentary

For a movie that beats you over the head with exposition, it sure leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  Prometheus has a confusing opening sequence that is never really explained and takes a long time to really explain anything else.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing if questions are answered along the way.  However, the only questions that are addressed are the ones where the answer is blatantly obvious to the viewer.  Anything else is left hanging and I can only hope that much of that will get addressed in a sequel.  Overall, however, this made the movie disappointing.  We all knew going in that it was basically an Alien prequel (no matter how much the lead up tried to convince you that it wasn’t, it is.) and I’m fine with that.  But there were very few questions about origins in the Alien movies and subsequent sequels have really made a prequel irrelevant.  Now, if you take the Prometheus story and, given the ending which I won’t divulge, take it in its own direction, you could branch off into a stand alone franchise.  The problem is that I don’t think anyone would really care.

The problem with Prometheus is that they did an absolutely terrible job of making me care about what happened to any of the characters.  The only motivation that was clearly established was that of the two scientists, Holloway and Shaw.  But the attempt at a human interest story between the two was half assed and unnecessary given the potential of the overall plot.  All of the other characters were just sort of there without any real relationship established with the audience.  The character of David was done particularly poorly.  A lot of the hype surrounded him as this amalgamation of other AI characters from movies that was basically going to change how we looked at cinematic androids.  Instead, they made him very inconsistent.  He’s supposed to not understand emotion but is clearly happy and angry at points in the film.  (Oddly enough, it’s the most emotion I’ve seen from Michael Fassbender. … Not a fan of his work at all.)  If I missed the mark on that it’s because the film makers didn’t explain that while they were beating me over the head with the obvious stuff.  Rather than stick to the basics of humans and aliens, they decided to give it an existential angle regarding the origins of man and religious beliefs and … zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  I could go on with things like Charlize Theron’s phoned in performance but I think you get the idea.  The only character I ever cared about was Idris Elba’s Janek.  It could be that I just like Elba’s work overall.  But that seemed to be a character that I could relate to.

The good in this movie is the effects.  I have absolutely no complaints about any of them.  The animatronics and CGI were some of the best I have ever seen (especially David later in the film).  The sound is fantastic, hair-raising and builds tension well.  There was some music used that I thought was derivative of Star Trek but it did suit the current mood so I’m willing to let that slide.  The use of 3D was very judicious in that it didn’t throw too much at you and actually enhanced the experience; worth the $3.  Visually and auditorily (I don’t think that’s a word but anyways), Prometheus is a treat.  The only drawback was Guy Pearce’s makeup as an old man.  They never seem to get old-people makeup right in movies.  I think it has something to do with the fact that we know what old people look like so we are less likely to accept an artist rendering like this.  But this was particularly bad.  It was almost as if they were trying to turn him into some sort of albino reptile.

I’m not upset that I watched it.  But I am disappointed.  This is one of those movies where part of me wants to say see it for the effects and sound experience.  But part of me wants to stop you from going through the character and plot frustrations that I experienced.  On toss ups like this, I usually say see it so you can judge for yourself.  So see it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Men in Black 3 Commentary

Ah, the third movie in a series.  If it isn’t a planned trilogy, this is usually a big disappointment (X-Men III, Rocky III, Godfather III etc.  Although I liked two of those movies – Godfather III is horrible - they are considered disappointing).  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this one.  I think the main reason Men in Black 3 is as good as it is is due to them waiting ten years to make it.  That gives the film makers time to develop a more creative and unique story rather than just relying on the same old recycled material that led to their success in the first place.  It also allows the viewers to sort of forget what happened in the others and makes it newer to us.  Finally, it allows for a new crop of viewers to emerge who may not have seen the older ones.  In any case, for the most part, MIB3 seemed pretty fresh.  There were some hold over jokes and gags from the previous films but that is expected and unavoidable because it is a sequel after all.  I did think there was a little too much of “things you see every day are actually alien” but that’s the franchise for you.

Another reason that MIB3 is decent is due to the acting.  Josh Brolin is absolutely fantastic as the young K.  He nails the mannerisms of Tommy Lee Jones’ older K perfectly and mimics Jones’ voice to the point that you would swear it is dubbed.  (I watched an interview with Brolin regarding this and they swear it isn’t.  When you hear Brolin’s normal voice you can see how he can mimic Jones without too much of a stretch.)  Second, Will Smith is very decent in this role.  He starts out like he’s going to do nothing but the tired “aw, hell naw!” acting that he has made famous.  But he combines some of that with the emotion that we saw in The Pursuit of Happyness and I, Legend to make a very balanced character out of J.  (As an aside, Fresh Prince of Bel Air fans will almost instinctively want to say “mind your business, that’s all.  Just mind your business” when they hear him say, “Back up!  Back up!” at one point.  I know I did.)  Finally, Michael Stuhlbarg was fantastic as Griffin.  You almost believed that he could see every possible future and contingency.  It was a surreal experience every time he was on screen.  There was one performance that stuck out as particularly bad though.  Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal was absolutely painful to watch.  It was wooden and inconsistent and I was very disappointed in an otherwise decent actor.

You cannot review an MIB movie without talking about effects and makeup.  Overall, they were just average.  Brolin’s makeup was very well done to make him look like a young Jones.  However, Jones’ makeup (in what I assume was an effort to make him look like an older Brolin) was very pancakey and made him look like a cartoon character and it was distracting.  But they had to do something.  Have you seen Jones lately?  The alien effects were odd.  They seemed both real and cartoony at the same time.  While there was no obvious green screening, etc. they did look a little out of place.  But overall, I’d say they were good enough for the theme and tone of the movie.

Overall, see it.  It starts slow and like it’s going to be just a rehash of old jokes but it becomes better than that.  There’s just one nagging problem with the movie regarding the time travel that I found annoying.  If you don’t want any spoilers (although it’s minor), stop reading.  But I need to mention it for my own sanity.

At one point, they look like they’re going to address why J remembers K but nobody else does after Boris goes back in time to kill K.  Then, they just drop it completely and give none.  Then they come back briefly and drop it again.  It’s almost as if they wanted to address it but couldn’t think of a resolution for it.  This is pretty major in a time travel story and has to be addressed.  Otherwise it’s just annoying.  If it was addressed and I missed it, it was too confusing or subtle to be effective because I was looking for it the whole time after J feels “the disturbance” in his apartment.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Pope's Toilet Commentary

In the same vein as movies like the Full Monty comes The Pope's Toilet.  It's about the 1988 visit of Pope John Paul II to a small Uruguayan village.  The residents of the village see it as a potential goldmine as they expect thousands from miles around to come hear the pope speak.  One resident, a local smuggler named Beto, decides to build a toilet and charge for it's use.  The movie focuses on beto and, to a lesser extent, his fellow smugglers turned entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, unlike the Full Monty and other similar movies, the Pope's Toilet fails to deliver on what a premise like that needs: laughs.  Just the title alone indicates that it is a bit of a preposterous story that needs to have some element of humour and lightheartedness.  Instead, it delves too much into the conflict relationships that Beto has in his life and his personal struggle for a better life with his family.  The dark tone of the film overshadows the meagre attempts at humour and tends to slow the movie down significantly.

There are some good points to the film.  First, with a premise like building a toilet for the Pope's visit, it actually seemed very realistic.  The setting of rural Uruguay combined with actors that seemed like real people and some very nice lighting and camera work was done very well to give it a sense of authenticity.  The poverty of the village was not too extreme but the viewer can also tell that everyone is struggling to make it in their world.  Ultimately, though, it just didn't work.  In order to be good, these "zany scheme" movies need to be comedies and use that humour to vent the otherwise depressing situation the characters are in.  If they don't it becomes a too depressing experience for the audience.  The poster says "alternately heartbreaking and hilarious."  Sadly, it didn't alternate enough.

Don't see it.