Monday, October 29, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

                I suppose this is my fault. I don't watch movie trailers. I don't do research about movies ahead of time. I just see a poster and a title and go, hey that could be good. My infallible system has unfortunately failed me.
                The movie isn't completely bad. The effects are visually appealing and much of the movie unfolds like a classic 80’s fantasy film. Like Willow or Labyrinth. Like comfort food, there was something familiar and inviting about the film at first that makes you want to sit through it. Then Kristen Stewart happens.
                Now normally I pay almost no attention to actors. I don't care about their reputations. I don’t know most of their names. They are just the character for the film and that is that. The internet has a never ending list of people making fun of how she has no emotion in her acting; how her expression is constantly the same.  As I never really paid much attention to her in the past, I just chalked this up to the internet bitching because the internet finds it funny to make fun of people. After watching her performance in this film however, I cannot agree with that opinion any stronger than I do now.  She is a stoic statue through the entire movie. Ignoring that, her character in general is not a very proactive one. Of course, traditionally Snow White is just the princess who gets rescued by the prince, but it was clear that they were trying to portray her as a more active protagonist.  Instead, she does essentially nothing for the entire movie but let her followers protect her. That is until near the end of the movie. She gives a rather uninspiring inspirational speech and suddenly she has an army of men following her to assault a castle. Never mind the fact that she has no combat or leadership experience. Hell, she has only been locked in a room for half of her life. Most of the people have no idea who she is except possibly by reputation as the king’s daughter who was locked up by the evil queen. She is basically no one. Not to sound sexist, but men would have a hard time being led by ANY woman. This one has shown no trait AT ALL to suggest she would be worth following but everyone charges off to battle with her anyway. I suppose she does say she can actually kill the queen, but there is no reason to believe her.
                Snow White’s completely useless role is perfectly balanced by the queen and the huntsman. Both have strong, clear motivations for what they are doing. They are even more clearly fleshed out as a characters than Snow White. The queen in particular was quite good. It’s almost like the writers wanted the queen to be the real protagonist, but then realized at the end, “oh yeah, she is supposed to die.” It’s a total waste of a good villain. Honestly, throughout the movie I found myself feeling more sympathetic to her than Snow White. Even her fall at the end resembled that of a tragic hero more than your average villain. It was like she could be redeemed but just didn't know how.
                Then there are the dwarves. I am pretty sure they were added to the movie just because Snow White is supposed to meet dwarves. They totally feel like an afterthought. I think maybe 2 of them are ever mentioned by name. None of which are the standard Disney dwarf names. Still, despite their tiny role (no pun intended), they are still more compelling than Snow White was.
                To sum up, there are lots of pretty effects (though that is kind of standard these days, so it doesn't really add up for much), a great villain and lots of promise, but the whole movie is ruined by Kristen Stewart. I am being kind by giving it 2 out of 5 because the queen deserves better than a 1. Watch a better movie than this one.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Avengers

            Few movies were as heavily anticipated as The Avengers, and there must be a million billion reviews for it but none of them are my review. With movies as hyped as this, emotions are high and it is hard for some people to be unbiased. Many people will hate or love this movie before they even step in the theater. Those people are stupid
            Still, as action movies go, this one was a delight. It had just the right combination of plot advancement, comedic timing and action to hold your attention and keep it in a little happy zone for the duration of the film. It was fairly predictable (Heroes gather together to fight a bad guy. They initially hate each other but overcome their dislike of each other to eventually overthrow the bad guy). You won’t be overly surprised by anything in this movie. The Hulk smashes. Ironman philanders. Captain America leads. Thor acts like an alien. Still, the interactions are amusing enough that it is somewhat forgivable. Many are the scenes where you just can’t help but laugh out loud and it definitely has the unique sarcastic touch of Joss Whedon. As much as I would like to describe each moment in vivid detail, I feel it would do a disservice to the movie if you did not just see them first hand.
            The biggest drawback of the movie comes from the fact that you have to watch about 10 different other movies to fully understand what is going on in this one. While most fans and I have watched all of those movies, I feel that all films should be able to stand alone without the need to research other books, movies or comics to understand what is happening. Someone who has never heard of the Avengers (like your average non-American person) should be able to watch it without having a million questions about who everyone is and why they do what they do. That is not to say that sequels should not be connected in any way, but I feel like they should at least fill in the necessary information required to understand the film within the duration of the film. Something as simple as having a meeting where one of the SHIELD agents describes the organization, then introduces the characters and their powers or origins to each other would suffice. A little explanatory intro like they do in the Resident Evil movies would also be great.
            For most people who go into the movie having seen all of the other movies and probably armed with a little comic book background as well, this drawback is fairly moot. And even with the thousands of questions one might have, the film is still quite enjoyable. I would give this movie a 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie Roundup

So I've run into a weird issue where I am seeing so many movies that I don't have time to write about them.  This just isn't true but it sounds like a really gnarly excuse doesn't it?  Yes?  No?  Well fine.  I have some archived stuff but I am saving that for NaNoWriMo which is something I am excited about and you should be too. 

Today I've decided to do a movie round up over the course of one week I saw 5 movies and I saw 4 of them in the same day because, well after you see two movies in the theater it is hard not to go see a third.  I mean the popcorn becomes free after the first bucket and the soda starts to become free and you just get into that mood.  So over the course of one day we saw Hotel Transivania, End of Watch, Sinister, and 7 Psychopaths.  Then a couple of days later we was The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Now all I need to do is see Argo and Silent Hill and I'll be caught up.  This is what living without regrets looks like.

Hotel Transylvania is a fun little movie.  I'll admit it.  I wasn't wild about seeing it.  The young vampire girl is adorable and the guy is, well the guy is normally the sort of person who I shout "cool!" at then walk away.  It also stars the voice of Adam Sandler who is a person the world would be genuinely better off without.  Yet despite these two massive piles of misgivings I genuinely loved the movie.  I loved the zombies that made up the bulk of the hotel staff and the reason for Dracula building the hotel in the first place is oddly touching.  The animation wasn't Pixar but it did go a long way to making the movie playful.  It isn't best movie and it isn't even the best children's movie that I've seen this year but that is only because I REALLY loved the Lorax.  It is reccomended.

End of Watch is an intense viewing experience.  Its funny because we all saw Sinister right afterwards and I gotta say of the two movies End of Watch shook me up a hell of a lot more than Sinister did.  For a movie about a couple of street cops doing street things that movie was stressful as hell.  When you watch an action movie in general you are watching a character who is a near invincible super badass running around doing badass things.  Bruce Willis doing anything in any Die Hard?  Yeah sure why not?  Judge Dredd?  Got it super cop in super armor killing waves of bad guys.  The Raid?  Same situation as Dredd minus the armor.  Oh god that guy had a very "results based" fighting style in that movie.  However, in End of Watch you weren't watching super cops.  They were better than your average cops but they weren't super.  The movie would alternate between showing their life on the beat and then their personal lives.  The movie would go back and forth between the two creating this jarring contrast that felt impossible to deal with.  Furthermore the movie didn't follow any sort of standard plot structure.  I LOVE MOVIES THAT DO THIS.  When they got a call you didn't know what was going to happen.  You generally knew it was going to be bad though and as the movie went on you didn't really know where it was going or how it would end.  Now this is a found footage movie.  If I hadn't seen Chronicle this would be the best found footage movie I'd ever seen.  It is a solid movie that left me stressed out and happy.

Sinister happened.  I liked Sinister quite a bit and coming from me that is a pretty big dead because I am ten times harder on horror movies than I am any other genera.  I love horror/scary movies but they are often times SO BAD like The Lady in Black.  Anyway Sinister is good.  It doesn't rely on jump scares to be interesting and it has quite a few scenes that are just genuienly well done.  The movie has one of the most compelling openings I've ever seen and I'd say its worth the price of admission.  My biggest problem with the movie is that the main character father guy is by far the least interesting person in the movie.  He is also the least sympathetic.  At one point I leaned over to my friend and shouted, "whatever happens to this guy I no longer feel bad about it".  Okay I didn't shout but you get the point.  The father's character, a true crime writer, did a good job of making the plot go forwards.  He connected together all the other previous murders but his discoveries didn't really do anything to enhance the movie any.  He was just kinda there.  All the scary parts happened as he walked through the house and watched ultra creepy 8mm films.  I mean anyone could of done this so while it couldn't really be screwed up he also didn't really add anything.

I am out of lunch time.  Which is fine because 7 Psychopaths is easy.  GO SEE IT.  I love this movie forever.  If you haven't seen In Bruges see that too.  Then watch Layer Cake cause you should.  Okay bye. 

Resident Evil Retribution

            If you are planning to watch this movie, most likely you have seen all of the others, much like myself. You are emotionally invested in this franchise and will watch it no matter what anyone says about it. Welcome to the club.
            This installment of the movie franchise, based on the games of the same name, stars everyone’s favorite beauty, Alice. As is required in her contract, there is an obligatory mostly nude scene of her wearing a sheet of paper. It is clear that this scene, which is in EVERY Resident Evil movie, is something of a fan favorite. In fact, the entire film felt like they took fan favorites from all of the other movies and mixed them together into an incoherent mess of action and zombies.
            I was somewhat excited to see the introduction of Ada Wong (who those familiar with the game will recognize). The actress who played her did very well, and she truly looked the part. That is why it was extremely disappointing to see her relegated to the role of “damsel in distress” for much of the movie. In the games, she is an unstoppable badass. In this movie, she is a badass until she is stopped. Quite early on I might add. I felt it was a bit of a disservice to her character.
            Other characters that fans of the games may recognize were also included, such as Leon, Burt and Jill Valentine. While it was nice to see them in there, it also helped fuel the feeling that this movie was just a hash of things that fans liked without much consistency or real thought about the plot itself. The plot was quite rubbish, not that you expect much surprise out of a zombie movie. Still, it really felt like the writers were either getting lazy, or just running out of reasons for Alice to keep fighting zombies.
            That is not to say that the movie was not entertaining. The film is packed with never ending action scenes which are a delight to watch unfold, even if they do not particularly challenge the viewer. If such can be said of this kind of movie, there is almost too much action going on, with almost no breaks for silly things like plot development.
            Overall, while this movie is far from perfect, fans of the movie or game franchise or just the zombie genre in general will probably be at least entertained for the duration of the film. It is essentially movie junk food. You know it isn't good for you but you watch it anyway because it makes you feel good. Despite the lazy writing and obvious fan service, I will probably be just as excited to watch the next installment as I have been for the last 20 or so. I give it a somewhat generous 3 out of 5. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Madoka Magica! Magical girl mayhem!

            Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one heck of a mouthful for a movie name. Also known as Magical Girl Madoka of the Magus, this movie is a retelling of the series of the same name. It actually consists of two animated films which were released here in Japan one week apart from each other because studios like money.
            If you have seen the series, there will be almost nothing new for you in this film. That is somewhat disappointing, especially considering that they expect you to sit through two halves of a movie to see what has already been released. Still, for someone who does not have the will or patience to watch the actual series, it can be an enjoyable cliff’s notes version.
            The plot centers around an ancient feud between Magical Girls who seek to protect the peace and innocent, and Witches who seek to destroy whatever they please. On the surface, it can seem like a fairly innocent children’s animation, similar to Sailor Moon. In fact, many parents came to the theater with their children in tow expecting such a film. Many of those same parents left in an indignant huff when they realized that this was not a children’s movie (thank Japan for a lack of movie rating system).
            In reality, these movies are quite dark and twisted, with a fairly complex plot (at least complex for children) and fight scenes that seem to have been pulled out of the tortured nightmares of an insane mind. Punches are not pulled. Heroes die in horrible ways. Violence happens.
            While this film is far from as bloody as some anime out there, it is not something you want to take your 5 year old to. (Well, -I- did, but my 5 year old is a little bit crazier than most). But even taking the actual fighting aside, the plot itself is very dark.
            Girls with the potential to become Magical Girls are approached by a mysterious cat-like creature named Kyubey. It offers to grant them a wish in exchange for becoming Magical Girls. Kyubey, while sweet and innocent in appearance, has all the empathy for his Magical Girls as a farmer has over his cattle. The girls, who must now battle the witches, find that they are now stuck in a job they can never leave. Their souls are trapped within a gem which slowly grows ever more corrupted. The process can be reversed only by killing witches and stealing their Grief Seeds which provided the witches with their powers. This ensures that the Magical Girls must spend the rest of their lives hunting these witches or die. Being a fan of dark stories about deals with the devil, I found the plot highly satisfying, especially as it comes full circle. I will hold my tongue to avoid spoilers.
            Now I touched on the fight scenes before, but I feel they need special note. When the Magical Girls fight a Witch, they are brought into an alternate dimension based on the powers of the witch they are fighting against. The things inside range from cute to disturbing (usually a combination) and any hope of rules are thrown out the window. It is like Alice in Wonderland if Alice were fighting the Red Queen with a musket while the red queen attempted to strangle her with thousands of clotheslines covered in sailor’s uniforms. Each fight is a glimpse into the mad mind of the witch involved and is beautifully done.
            This movie is not a comedy. It is dark and gritty with a facade of cute. It takes the normally child friendly “Magical Girl” genre and turns it into a delightful nightmare. Overall I would say it does what it does very well without any sort of apologies. There is a sort of confusing music video in the middle that really was unnecessary overall, but it is brief enough to be mostly forgivable. I would give this film (well these films) a 4.5 out of 5. Go watch it you fool!

Kamikaze Girls

            I have had Kamikaze Girls (or “Shimotsuma Monogatari” as it is called in Japan) sitting on my “watch me” list for a long time. It generally takes me forever to watch or read anything that is recommended by a friend because I generally don’t trust the taste of other people. I mean, we live in a world where “Gungnam Style” is at the height of popularity. Who can blame me for distrusting the tastes of the masses? I finally put down my prejudices and popped in this Japanese film. I was fairly pleased with the resulting time spent watching it.
The plot focuses around a selfish, inverted gothic lolita girl named Momoko who eventually becomes friends with a rude, tomboyish girl in a motorcycle gang named Ichigo. The unlikely pairing leads to the types of hijinks one would expect out of a movie about an unlikely pair becoming friends. The result is touching and often comical adventure through rural Japan.
The biggest downfall of the movie is also its driving point. The two main characters are so completely different from each other that it is hard to believe that they would become friends. In fact, it is somewhat hard to believe they would have any interaction with each other at all. Still, if you can at least suspend disbelief on that, their chemistry is playful and amusing to watch.
If you are looking for a sweet, slice of life film, this one will leave you fairly satisfied. While it is not a perfect film, it is certainly one worth watching. 

I give it a 4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Master

I've sat down to write stuff about The Master three times now.  I've failed each and every time.  It just wasn't good enough.  It felt like I was failing the movie, and in so doing I am failing myself.  The Master is a movie that begs to be written about.  It is a movie that wants us to look at it, to search about its dark corridors and hidden mysteries.  It invites us in and gives us a taste of a sadness that is profound as time itself.  It is a movie that is trillions of years in the making and was first attempted in cave paintings and then in the creation of philosphy so that we may have the words and concepts nessisary to write about it.  Or maybe not but it is a nice thought none the less.

I want to write big sweeping things about The Master but alas at this junction I can not.  Mostly because I've only seen it once and partially because it is something that needs to sit and simmer.  I think it is the best work PT Anderson has ever done.  Though I'll admit it right now I enjoy watching Magnolia more.  Call it a personal weakness.  At any rate The Master is a big heavy movie that it hard to get a grip on.  So instead of trying yet again and failing I thought I'd point out some handholds.

There are some questions worth raising such as who is "The Master"?.  Towards the start of the movie it is Hoffman.  I didn't think that was true at first but I see it now.  When Hoffman's character is first introduced on the boat he is undisputably The Master.  People stop and listen to him, whereever he goes atensions are fixated specifically on him, and then there is the matter of him taking in the strange stowaway(Phoenix) without so much of a murmur of protest from anyone else.  Then as the movie progresses we see that control start to erode.  Slowly but surely Hoffman goes from a man of speeches, wild deeds, dancing, wrestling, laughture, and he becomes more and more withdrawn.  It is subtle.  I missed it at first, and at second, and only now and I seeing the shift from Hoffman being the center of attentions to someone at the periphery.  Phoenix's strange exit is the final straw, and when he reenters Hoffman is so far out of reach that they are forced apart from one another by the sheer inexorable will of the others.  Why did Hoffman allow this?  Is it because he is unable to stand up to his family or more specifically his wife?  Is it because, as his wife says at the start of the movie, "On land there are to many things pulling his atension every which way?".   Is it because the people who are close to him wish to take his message and use it for themselves.  That last point I think is probably closest to the truth.

Then there is the ending sequence.  PT Anderson is a man who loves endings be it the catacysm of There Will Be Blood, the reunification of the strange family like unit in Boogie Nights, or the monologue in Magnolia, Anderson is the absolute master of the ending squence.  The Master is no exception.  then ending sequence is so pregnant with meaning that I could type for pages and pages doing analysis and I still wouldn't get it all.  It ties the movie together and it contains so much information that it is difficult to talk about it in any normal way.  I know because I've tried but things just end up so connected together that it is hard to get a hold on it.  Every time I try I find I need to talk about three other scenes in order for it all to make sense. 

The very last thing I'd like to address is the way Hoffman would talk about how all conflicts go on through multiple lives and transcend time themselves.  It sounds insane when he says it.  It is a little insane and yet when I look back on Tree of Life and The Fountain, or I look with anticipation towards the trailers for Cloud Atlas I wonder just how insane is it?  There seems to be a current running through our media that likes to connect together all of human experience through all time and maybe, within the context of the movie of course, it is worth taking some of his ideas seriously and we can see where it leads us.

It would make for an interesting project that I hope to tackle once I've seen and digested Cloud Atlas.  Till then I dunno there are other things to see now aren't there?

Not Very Taken with Taken 2

Clever titles are snazzy.  So I saw Taken 2 on Sunday night with a theater full of other people and when it was over I was left with a sense of vague disappointment.  The movie is a nice slick, well shot, action movie that is enjoyable.  It took me awhile to figure out what bothered me so much about it and then it hit me.  The movie lacks the sort of facinating morality that the first one had.

I found Taken to be engrossing.  I still do.  I've seen it a couple of times now and it draws me in just like a well written Punisher comic or Constantine.  Right from the get go Neisson says, "Look I am not your average dad.  Just let her go.  Grab someone else.  Go on your way or else."  That right there was this awful chilling scene for me.    This is a guy who didn't care about the larger problems of the world.  He didn't care that he was about to subject some other father to the same fate his daughter is about to suffer.  He didn't care that the other father wouldn't have the skills or resources to get his daughter back.  The only thing he cared about was his daughter.  Right now.  Throughout the movie he maintains the same focus.  He doesn't mount a crusade to get these people wiped off of the face of the earth.  He doesn't do anything to dismantle their organization.  He makes no real move to beat the bad guys.  He just kills everyone in his way until he gets his daughter back safe in his arms. 

This isn't the first time an action movie uses this sort of plot.  Loved ones get Kidnapped all the time.  See Mission Impossible 3, True Lies, and Die Hard.  However, the main character usually manages to take out the entire organization in the process of getting his loved one back.  In Taken that doesn't happen.  So we have to watch Taken 2. 

The problem with Taken 2 is that it doesn't really play with the morality idea enough.  It starts to.  The movie opens up with a mass funeral for all the people he killed in the last movie.  You see crying mothers, grand mothers, children, et cetera it is a highly effective scene.  It is the way the movie opens and it establishes a firm desire for why the main villian decides to embark on what is literally the worst idea ever, "Let's kidnap the guy who just killed all these people".  Yeah I dunno I'd leave that one man alone.  In fact I would just grab some random white guy, cut out his tounge, present him as the mass killer, kill him go get tea. I mean seriously why?  But hey grieving father.  In many ways we get this interesting role reversal.  We have a father trying to avenge his son, instead of a father trying to rescue his daughter.  Taken 2 starts with this premise but it doesn't really do anything interesting with it which is sad.

I mean the movie had plenty of oppertunity to do so.  Like when both Niesson and his ex-wife are kidnapped together and there were things they could of done.  Like tell his ex-wife about all the people he's killed and tortured.  There could be a few moments where the main villain could of called Niesson out on the fact that he has done literally nothing to dissmantle the slave trading organization.  I mean after he got his daughter back safely he could of worked with people to try and take them out and he didn't.  It didn't need much but a couple of nudges to show that some of Niesson's actions weren't exactly the most heroic would of gone a long way towards making this movie something more than your average action movie.  It wouldn't of been hard but they stuck to a formula and as a result we get something not quite bad, but not quite good either.