Thursday, June 28, 2012

Love is in the Air: Three tales of love-stricken misfits

Moonrise Kingdom:

For anyone who knows the work of Wes Anderson, they either embrace his quirky weirdness or they dismiss it as self-indulgent and one-note.  I've always been the one who "doesn't get it," but Moonrise Kingdom, though it follows through on all of the same cliches and trademarks that we've come to expect from his past works, I think is his best yet.  Set in the 1960's, the story follows two love-stricken youths: one, a renegade boy scout with a coon-skin hat, the other a girl with depression who carries around a pair of binoculars and a cat.  The unlikely duo, played by first-time actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, cause a stir among the adults of a small island community by running off together.  Surrounded by high profile acting talent like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel - and not to mention the overbearing direction from Anderson - these kids have a lot riding on them to pull off this offbeat love story.

I did come out of this film really digging it, especially from a filmmaking standpoint.  Anderson is not afraid of trying new things with camera movement, resulting in some of the most visually interesting scenes you're likely to see in theaters this year.  As Edward Norton, playing an against-type scoutmaster, walks across his post at Camp Ivanhoe, the camera smoothly tracks by all sorts of intricately detailed, quirky set pieces and the complicated moves look effortless.  I also loved the soundtrack, which brilliantly implements classical music into its score (and this one cool French song by Francoise Hardy).  Each frame of this film is interesting to look at, much like a painting, and I would more readily compare this is to work of art (painting, etc.) than to a straightforward narrative film.

While I do think there are many eye-rollingly "Anderson" moments, especially in the kids' dialogue, on a sheer visual and aural level I was captivated.  It's not too often we see a movie this unique, and even as a usual detractor of Anderson's work, for some reason Moonrise Kingdom won me over.  I do think the script could've been tweaked, with the kids especially; the words coming out of their mouths seemed unnatural and awkward.  Luckily Moonrise Kingdom is a visual wunderkind despite some so-so dialogue; in the end its pitfalls are overshadowed by its inventiveness.

Rating: B

Safety Not Guaranteed:

Starring Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, first-time director Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed, similarly to Moonrise Kingdom, is an unlikely love story between two misunderstood characters.  The story follows three journalists on a semi-vacation, who are following up on a strange ad placed in the newspaper for a time-travel partner, stating : "Must bring own weapons. Safety not guaranteed."  The supposed nutcase who wrote the ad is played by Mark Duplass, and it's Plaza's job to get close enough to him to snag the "deets" for a good story.  But lo and behold, she starts falling for him.

What makes Safety Not Guaranteed work so well, despite its eye-rolling premise, is its cast; Aubrey Plaza, though she still is the same deadpan archetype we've seen in her other work, has a lot more layers than is typical of her.  I completely bought into her slowly falling for this guy, even if she may think something may be a little "off."  The film has that "indie" feeling and is another one of those not-really-a-comedy, not-really-a-drama type deals, but somewhere in the middle.  It keeps you guessing until the very end whether or not the guy is totally crazy or not, but unlike a film like The Sound of My Voice, the answer is actually revealed and nothing is left ambiguous (and while I like me some ambiguity in my entertainment, i.e. Prometheus, Lost, I'm glad they went this route).

I'd love to see what Trevorrow will do next; this is a very solid first picture and is everything a little flick like this should be.  It has great acting, a solid script, characters with real feelings and emotions, and a little bit of suspense.  Plus the poster has those little leaves on it, which means it must be good.

Rating: B

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World:

From the writer of Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistSeeking a Friend for the End of the World is Lorene Scafaria's directorial debut.  It starts off with news of, you guessed it, the world coming to an end, with about a month's time before...checkmate.  As soon as the news hits, Dodge's wife leaves him (Dodge played by Steve Carell), and by leaving him, I mean she just up and runs out of his car.  In the wake of the oncoming apocalypse, most people have resorted to hard partying, while Carell has to spend his end days sulking over lost love.  Just as all hope seemed lost, a Converse-wearing twenty-something (Keira Knightley) ends up crying near his fire escape, and he lets her in.  The two form a bond and set out on a journey to say one last goodbye to their parents, on the way falling in love.

What could have made for a very interesting play on the end-of-the-world genre basically turns into a very boring road-trip movie.  Unlike that in Safety Not Guaranteed, I just couldn't buy into the relationship between Carell and Knightley at all.  They have very little chemistry together and their age difference is noticeable and a little creepy.  Both actors, who have shown amazing work in previous films, were at their lowest here.  It's a shame considering the potential of the material, and all the comedic talent showcased in a series of cameos (including Patton Oswalt and Rob Corddry).  It may be a stretch, but I was hoping this would have been the comedic answer to Melancholia, but instead it's just a typical romance flick with the end of the world sort of thrown in in the background.

Rating: C-

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pixar's Brave: Missing the Target

I don't ruin much, but if you don't want certain aspects of Brave spoiled for you, read this review after you've seen the film.

Before Brave, Pixar had mostly been a boy's club.  With 12 feature films under their belt and not one of them featuring a leading lady, it was only a matter of time before we saw a female main character from the world-reknowned animation studio.  Originally set to be titled 'The Bear and The Bow,' the production was first announced in 2008 with Brenda Chapman attached as director (Pixar's first female director).  This would be a less "cartoony," dark fairy tale without talking toys or cars - in their place a fiery haired and hearted heroine wielding a bow and arrow, set in an ancient and mystical Scotland.  On paper it sounds so great, but after what appeared to be a bumpy production including a director change to Mark Andrews and some "creative differences" behind the scenes, Brave ended up a disappointing mess.

Like past Pixar films, you can't complain about it on a technical level.  The animation is state-of-the-art and Merida's heap of curly red hair is visually striking.  The setting of a Gaelic Scotland is also well established, if similar to other recent animated films (How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled).  I also thought the score by Patrick Doyle, featuring many authentic Scottish instruments and sounds, was one of the best aspects of the film.  But when you start looking at this movie from a story perspective, the area that Pixar normally knows better than anyone, it just doesn't add up.

At first the plot is what you've seen a million times before: a young princess, Merida, is unhappy about her mother forcing her to choose one of three husbands in an arranged marriage. Wanting to make her own decisions about her life, she runs off into the woods all upset after a scuffle with her mother.  This is where the movie starts to show some promise: Merida then follows these magical blue will o' the wisps to a small cottage inhabited by a small witch, a funny talking crow, and hundreds of intricately crafted wood carvings of bears (all of which are never seen again, unfortunately). Merida requests for the witch to make her a spell that will convince her mom to change her mind about the marriage.  The witch gives her a spell in the form of a cake, telling Merida it will surely "change her fate." After an empty apology Merida then gives the treat to her mother - the results are unexpected and I won't spoil it, but there is some serious left-turn action going on in the plot after that.

Brave is just too mediocre for Pixar.  Although it had a perfect set-up, it never really went anywhere groundbreaking with it.  I was practically in tears watching Up, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3, but the emotional moments in Brave just didn't hit their mark.  Pixar is generally known for their grand-scale adventures, and the setting of an enchanted Scotland would have made for some great action set pieces, but this is probably Pixar's "smallest" film yet (and let's face it bears are not quite as exciting as say dragons or dinosaurs).  The world didn't seem as rich or filled with the same fun details as a Monster's Inc. or even A Bug's Life; besides the character designs and the landscapes the film actually looked kind of bland to me.  Again, I won't spoil what happens to the mother, but I think it's safe to say that the main idea is having a strong mother-and-daughter theme, but the film never bothers to delve deep into its surface-level morals.  It's not a complete disaster, but it's so slight, unmemorable, and cringeworthingly unfunny (I know that's not a word) that Brave is only marginally better than Cars and Cars 2, located right near the bottom of Pixar's proverbial barrel.

Rating: C

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus Review (Cue scary whirring sound)

Ridley Scott is an old man.  At the fragile age of 74, he's been enjoying the benefits of AARP for 24 years now, longer than I've been alive.  So I was a little skeptical of Prometheus to say the least.  The guy hasn't touched the Alien franchise since the original in 1979, and with his previous flick being the widely panned Robin Hood, things were starting to look a little grim.  We've all seen what can happen when a director returns to what made him famous after he ages and accrues a bigger budget (...The Phantom Menace...), but Prometheus turned out to be a spectacular film with breathtaking visuals, a good amount of suspense, frightening monsters, and cool ball things that map out a cave (trust me, they're cool).

Prometheus is a sort of spiritual prequel to the Alien series. While we get to see some of the stuff that was left unexplained in Alien, ultimately it doesn't have a whole lot to do with the other films.  In this movie, a crew of specialists is sent by Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pierce in god awful old man make up) to a distant moon named LV-223.  Led by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, perhaps best known for playing Lisbeth Salander from the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and her partner Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the team is essentially trying to determine the answer to the heavy-handed question mankind has always asked itself, either while gazing at the stars or watching an episode of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman: 'where did we come from?'

Right off the bat, this film just looks gorgeous.  I highly doubt we're going to see a better looking sci-fi film this year.  Especially after having an Alien movie marathon, with Alien: Resurrection being the freshest in my memory banks, this is everything you could hope for.  The production design of the actual ship, Prometheus, is just right, and all the stuff on the planet and inside the alien structure is very atmospheric and will knock your socks off.  Plus the creatures are original creations, which is great because you'll have no idea what to expect going in, heightening the probability of you shitting your pants in fear.

The cast is remarkable as well, with the stand-out performance being Michael Fassbender's scene-stealing role as David, the Lawrence of Arabia-watching android.  Despite being a robot, he brings the most humanity to the film. His character knows he is superior to the humans on board the ship, yet he still yearns for their respect - it's a very interesting performance much different than the androids of previous Alien movies.  Noomi Rapace, our "Ripley" this time around, also holds a strong presence, but isn't as sympathetic as Sigourney Weaver's character, if simply because Ripley was just a blue collar worker forced into her situation - a lot more sympathetic than a researcher who kind of already knew the risks involved.

This will likely be one of the most controversial movies of the summer. This journey to find the origin of man balances science and religion in a smart way, and tries to define exactly why humans are so hell-bent on finding the answers to the universe, even when attaining that knowledge may prove dangerous. Written by Damon Lindelof, the head writer of Lost, this script has his fingerprints all over it. Full of symbolism and seeming "dead ends" in the plot, it is sure to spark just as many arguments as the Lost finale. He dares to leave questions unanswered, with only hints and nods as to how the puzzle fits together by the end (here is a great blog post explaining some of the more cryptic parts of the film).  Whether or not there is one solid "plan" or not (or a will-be sequel to explain more), I think the after-movie conversations and the journey itself are rewarding enough that it doesn't matter.  Sure there were things in here that weren't perfect (such as Guy Pierce's terrible old man makeup, and some spoilerific details involving the aliens that I won't go into), but I was captivated by this movie from beginning to end; I hope that future sci-fi movies take notice and dare to be this challenging on their audience.

Rating: A-

Whirring sound.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Got a New Title

Hey all 2 readers, I've been wanting to change the name of my blog for a while now, and I think 'Talking the Talkies' sounds pretty snazzy (a lot better than simply 'Reviews of Movies').  So tell me what you think, should I stick with this or do I really need to reconsider my blog-titling responsibilities?

If this blog entry has proved to be too boring for you, here's a picture of Iron Batman:

Monday, June 4, 2012

MiB3 & Snow White and the Huntsman

The original Men in Black is one of my all-time favorite summer action flicks; I remember fondly rewatching my old, worn out VHS copy of the movie and the merchandise including Burger King toys, the video games, and the animated series being prevalent.  I was super-excited for Men in Black 2 and even remember having a poster for it on my wall before seeing the movie.  At that ripe age (fourth-ish grade), I still enjoyed the movie despite its flaws, which I would acquiesce later in life.  But at this point in time, the brief moment that Men in Black 3 was the first movie to dethrone The Avengers at the box office, I am more grown, more knowledgable, and ever-ready for the shitpile that would be this third installment nobody asked for.

I have to say, I was expecting this to be abysmally bad, but it turned out merely kind of crappy, superseding any and all expectations I had beforehand.  This film really puts Will Smith in the forefront, as it is J's job to travel back in time and stop an evil alien from killing his partner, K, in the past henceforth causing a chain reaction harbinging the end of the world (oh fuck).  The present-time bookends of the film star our favorite jagged-faced old guy, Tommy Lee Jones, but the majority of the film takes place in the 60's, where the part of Young K is played by Josh Brolin, who does a pretty spot-on impression of Mr. Jones.  I really wish this movie had gone farther with the 60's thing (besides just putting in goofy clothes and Andy Warhol).  Imagine if this was Mad Men with aliens.  And while the "primitive" past technology idea was a good idea, it was not even used properly.  At one point there will be say an ancient version of the neuralizer, but the next second they're driving around motorbikes that look like they exist in our future.  There are so many holes and illogicalities it could take me all day.

The shining star of this film is special effects LEGEND Rick Baker, who designed all the creatures in this movie.  The main baddie, named Boris the Animal, is played surprisingly well by Jermaine Clement (of The Flight of the Conchords); I thought he was pretty cool, he had some kind of spider thing that came out of his hand and shot poisonous spikes at people - can't go wrong with that.  But besides the effects, the charm our lead actors bring into their roles (save for Tommy Lee Jones who looks like he wants to kill himself), and the ending scene that actually somehow becomes touching despite all logic being thrown out the window, this is yet another not-even-close sequel to one of my favorite flicks.

Rating: C

Snow White is possibly one of the most famous fairy tales around, and it is what catapulted Disney into what it is today.  Nearly 80 years later and Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still a beloved classic, so how could a modern-day gritty revamp of the tale possibly go wrong?  Kristen Stewart.  That's how.  Yes, the expressionless actress from the Twilight movies was picked as a character responsible for leading men into battle and being a strong film presence to carry a summer action blockbuster.  It's too bad this obvious money-grab by studios was implemented, because this film looks like it had the potential to be amazing.

I loved many aspects of this film; the effects were as dazzling as the trailer quotes would have you believe, and I loved the overall grittiness of it - reminded me a lot of Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  I also thought the camerawork was very well handled, and for the most part nothing "felt" like a green-screen (although it's obvious it was used because of the nature of the movie, it still felt very grounded in "reality").

But that's about where the compliments end.  Besides Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor) playing the Huntsman, and the dwarfs, strangely unseen from the trailer, the two main characters both seemed dreadfully out of place.  One of the main reasons I wanted to see this movie was to see Charlize Theron's portrayal of the Evil Queen (if you saw her in Monster you know she can bring a lot of layers to despicable characters), but here she seemed too over-the-top.  Her eyes are bulging out and when she is screaming to her underlings to bring her Snow White, it's almost comical when I doubt it should be.  And then there's Stewart.  Good god.  I've never seen the Twilight films, but between this and Water for Elephants, I think anything that those young foolish vampires touch turns to crap.  Do I even need to explain?  She has that one, stupid face the whole movie.  It's so distracting; the film reaches its climax, the music is sweeping, and an epic battle is happening all around, and she still has that dumb look.

Snow White and the Huntsman has style and flair, and general audiences who enjoy mediocre fare that feels like other films (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), will probably enjoy it.  I can't say that Stewart's bad acting comes as any surprise, but because she is prevalent throughout most of the movie, it ruined the fun for me.

Rating: C+
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...