Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 57 -Martha Marcy May Marlene

My friends always talk about how much they hate the ending of The Mist.  I never saw it with them in the theater, but when they decided to get their hate on again, we all gathered together and watched the black and white version of it.  I, personally, had very little anger towards the ending, and I think with just a little time lapse, it would have been perfect.  But after seeing Martha Marcy May Marlene, I think I may have felt a little of what they did after they saw The Mist.
This film, while it was never going to be a classic (at least to me), was interesting enough.  Elizabeth Olsen (who, up until the Academy Award nominations, was getting all sorts of acclaim) plays the title character.  And the story revolves around her as she escapes from a cult and reconnects with her sister who she hasn't seen in two years.  That all happens in the first few minutes.  The rest of the movie spends its time going back and forth between her time with the cult (and how it's as bad as you think it would be) and her time with her sister and her sister's husband (played by Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy, respectively).  And those two are woefully underprepared to deal with the shattered psyche of Martha.
The movie instills a real sense of dread  throughout, and the constant back and forth between then and now keeps you on edge.  As we get closer and closer to the reason that Martha has had enough and leaves (deservedly so), you start to get more concerned with her current safety.  All of this starts to come together to bring us to what should be a startling ending... or not.
In what is the worst move ever, the ending craps out on us.  Without giving much else away, the movie decides to take a road that made me both angry and frustrated.  While I may have not thought the film was a masterpiece, I was involved in the characters and I wanted to see what was going to happen.  But the ending made me completely apathetic to the whole experience I had just seen.  Solid acting, an interesting color palette, and a nice sense of mood are all wasted.  As disappointing as Tintin was, this might have topped that because this was better for so much longer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 54 - Super


"Shut up, crime!"
With that declaration, Rainn Wilson's Crimson Bolt uses a wrench to knock some sense into evildoers.  This is really, if not a great movie, at least a very interesting one, and I liked it a lot.  James Gunn (of Tromeo and Juliet and Slither fame) has created a film that shows us what it would look like if an average joe dressed up as a superhero and tried to fight crime.  It would be boring, it would be violent, and it would be a little insane.
Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Page, Michael Rooker, and Nathan Fillion star in this.  If that pedigree doesn't get you to at least look at the film, then I don't know what to tell you.  Rainn plays Frank, a guy who just happens to be married to Liv Tyler's Sarah.  When your first thought is, "Yeah, right," it's a valid point.  Especially when she leaves him for Kevin Bacon's Jacques.  But we get a well-placed flashback that helps to explain a lot of the characters' decisions.  And when Sarah leaves Frank, something inside him snaps.  He has a vision (man, that's one wacky vision), and with some help from Nathan Fillion's Holy Avenger, Frank decides to become a superhero and get his wife back.  Chaos ensues.
Of course, every superhero needs a sidekick, and the Crimson Bolt is no exception.  His accomplice in do-gooding is Ellen Page's Libby aka Boltie.  What makes her stand out so well is that fact that she's on a crazy train.  From mild-mannered comic book store clerk, to full-blown superhero sidekick, Libby has some real mental issues to overcome, and Frank is so not the man to help with that (because of his own mental issues and all).
And it all climaxes in some incredibly brutal violence.
Make no mistake, this is a violent film.  But what's unnerving about it is that it runs the whole gamut, from cartoonish to very, very real.  And it constantly keeps you, as a viewer on your toes, because in one minute, you might be laughing at the fact that The Crimson Bolt just dropped a cinderblock on somebody's head, but the next minute, somebody else's legs just got crushed by a speeding car.   While the movie is out to shock, it's also trying to at least have a go at giving you something to think about.
There's an awful lot of religous imagery, too.  And most of the more serious scenes are given their full do (with The Holy Avenger stuff obviously played for laughs).  But Frank's crisis of faith is a strong theme in the film ("Doesn't the bible say violence is wrong?" he questions after bludgeoning someone).  It's contrasted nicely with Libby's gung ho attitude, and how she wants to just lay down some beatings, irregardless of criminality.
This is a film that's not for everyone, but you understand why the actors got involved in it.  Ellen Page plays completely against type, and her Boltie is a thing of insane wonder (and yes, I realize I may have overused the word "insane" but what are ya gonna do?).  Kevin Bacon's wife-stealing Jacques is the perfect foil to Rainn Wilson's Frank (who completely sheds his Dwight Schrute persona).
Being a real-life superhero may not be for everyone, but for the few that are called, here's a great primer on what to do, and what not to do. And just know that as a weapon, a pipe wrench will do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 50 -Tintin

My exposure to Tintin, the Belgian reporter/hero, first started when I was in the third grade.  There was a kid's digest magazine that serialized The Secret of the Unicorn, and I read that story a lot.  And I knew there was more, because that story ends on a cliffhanger, and the class had the first part of Red Rackham's Treasure (the sequel).  After many (many) trips to the library, and a bunch of other Tintin books being read, I was finally able to see how the story played out.
I grew up reading comic books, and Tintin was no different, except for the fact that I immediately loved the stories.  Whether it was the excitement, the danger, the humor or the art (or all of it together), I read (and reread) the stories.  I have my obvious favorites (Tintin in America, The Black Island, Tintin in Tibet), but topping the list was (and always will be) The Secret of the Unicorn.  So, imagine my joy when I found out Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were going to be making a movie adaptation of one of my favorite books.  If anyone could bring the action and excitement from these stories to life, it would be these two.
And last week I saw The Adventures of Tintin.

And it might be the most disappointing film I've seen in the last ten years.  I'd like to say that my expectations were too high, and no film could've lived up to them, but I can't believe it.  The plot cribs from two Tintin books - The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, and, tragically, it doesn't even take the best stuff from them.
The main plot of the film is that Tintin (with no real introduction to speak of) finds a model ship, buys it, and then finds out that there's a number of other people who want it.  Apparently there's a message about a secret treasure hidden inside the ship.  After being kidnapped, Tintin awakes on a ship, meets Captain Haddock and the two of them team up to beat the bad guys to said treasure.  Oh, and Haddock is basically a (semi) functioning alcoholic, who's booziness both helps and hinders them on their journey.
It's frustrating watching the film, because there's no dynacism or real coherence to the story.  I mean, from the very first scene, when Tintin buys the model ship, he's offered insane amounts of money for it, and he turns it down.  Is he a collector?  Is he waiting for a better offer?  No.  He just keeps it, because that's what the story demands of him.  At least in the comics, he doesn't want to sell it, because his friend, Captain Haddock, would love it.  Well, he hasn't even met the captain yet in the film.
Then there's the action... which is pretty non-existent.  All the positive reviews I've read for the film talk about comparing it to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I don't see the comparison at all.  There's two really great set pieces - one involving a pirate attack on the Unicorn, and the other involving a chase with all the characters going after the parchments.  They're exciting scenes, but the pirate attack involves a sequence that, visually, is interesting, but makes no sense in any sort of universe.  It takes you completely out of the film.
Tintin has always been a cipher in the comic books, but as you read them, you never mind that lack of characterization, because he's such a force of nature, that you get more involved in the adventure than in his character.  But the film has such lags in the action that you spend so much time wondering what Tintin actually does.  The movie (and the books) say he's a reporter, but what's the story he's after?  Is it simply buried treasure?  At least a couple of the characters have a revenge/history thing going on.  And then there's Captain Haddock, who's such a jerk in the film.  Here's a character that we're supposed to find funny and compelling, yet throughout the film, he hinders Tintin at every turn, because he's always drunk.  Here was the perfect opportunity for the film to deviate from the comics, and make Haddock a stronger and more likable character, and I think they made him even more unapproachable.
Whenever a film is based off a book I've read, I try to separate the two of them, and I think I did that with Tintin, regardless of how much I've compared the two.  I wanted to see a film that brought me back to being eight years old.  I wanted a film that had high adventure and non-stop excitement.  This was not that film.
Should it have been done as all live action, or all animation, as opposed to the motion capture?  Possibly, but I don't think the film's flaws would have been masked by a change in filming style.  It's not a bad film, but it commits the worst offense by being boring.  I think everyone (the filmmakers, the audience) would have been better served if they had just Sin City'd it and filmed directly from the comics.
I can only hope Peter Jackson's adaptation in a few years is better.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 41 - Taken (again)

  •  One of my early reviews, placed here because I just rewatched Taken.  Enjoy.

    The Critic Wannabe (reviews Taken)

    1:41 AM
    Day 914
    Supermom = Tilda Swinton's Margaret Hall from The Deep End
    Superkid = Harry Eden's Paul from Pure
    And now we have Superdad = Liam Neeson's Bryan Hill in Taken.
    If you've seen the trailer (a really great one), then you know this is about a dad who goes after the guys who (randomly) kidnap his daughter while she's in France on a vacation.  That's what we call a bad move, fellas.
    Liam is a machine.  He's all sweet and lovey-dovey at the beginning, even if he's trying to get used to being "retired" so he can be closer to his daughter (literally and figuratively).  But she's his life right now, so when she's kidnapped, all the skills that our government gave him to keep our country safe - they're going to be used in France on many, many bad men.
    Rambo, last year, did something very well - and that was make the bad guys so reprehensible that you were cheering their deaths.  They were bad men.  This film uses the same tactics, and, by golly, it worked for me here, too.  When Kim (played by the apparently ageless Maggie Grace) is kidnapped, the movie decides to never stop for a moment.  All that character-building stuff at the beginning?  That was just to lull you into a sense of complacency.  Because from that moment on, Liam Neeson is a killing machine, focused only on the task at hand - rescuing his daughter in the little window of time that he's allotted.
    This is not a man who negotiates deals with bad guys for information.  This is a man who will kill everyone in the room, leaving one person left to tell him the next location where he can repeat the process.  He risks his life for his daughter.  If he can't find her (by the end of the movie), then his own life means nothing.  He shoots, stabs, and pummels anyone in his way, never losing focus that his daughter's rescue needs to be the end result.
    I refuse to nitpick at a movie that had me shouting at the screen "YEAH!" a number of times.  It's entertainment, pure and simple.  And the fact that it was directed by the same guy who did District B13 (Pierre Morel) only makes me more satisfied.
    The trailer is the movie without giving the movie away and Liam Neeson IS Superdad.
    ***1/2 (I'm feeling generous because I'm still exhilirated.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 39 - Podcasts

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm involved in The Aftershow Podcast.  It's a Podcast that my friend Adam started where we would record the conversation we have after seeing a film.  And it could be either in a theater or after watching a DVD.  A no holds barred discussion about the movie we had just seen.  It's pretty spoiler-ific, because sometimes you see a film and the ending is so good or so frustrating that you have to break it down right then and there.  But there's a core group of four of us (Adam, James, Mike and myself) that interact, and try to be the smartest people in the room.  Obviously, we love when more people show up (the more the merrier), but some people have lives.  I don't, so this works well for me.  I really have a grand time doing this, and I have no idea who listens to us, but I like giving it as much publicity as I can, because having people hear you talk is almost as good as seeing your name in print.  So this is my first plug of the night.

My second plug of the night is for my cousin Jim's podcast that he does for VH1.  His most recent one was for the most current Twilight film as he interviewed Christina Perri (who is a Twilight fan) about her love of the films (and books), and her song off the new soundtrack.  However, that's only the first part of the Podcast.  In the second half Jim interviews me about my views on the films.  Needless to say I am not the biggest fan.  But I had a really fun time doing the interview (even if I sound terrible - I was in the midst of being sick for 2 straight months).  So here's the link to that.  My stuff starts arounf the 16 minute mark.

Soon, I will vent about the Tintin film.  Just not tonight.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 36 - Intolerance, Fringe and Downton Abbey

D.W. Griffith's Intolerance wasn't merely one of the best silent films I've ever seen, but simply one of the best films I've seen.  There's four stories - from Jesus and the Pharisees, to the fall of Babylon, to the French Revolution, to the present - and they all work their way to an insane crescendo of a race-against-time ending.  The common theme is all about man's intolerance to man.  And while all the stories may just have that tenuous thread, the stories themselves are incredibly strong.
And if this all seems too heavy, know that the film, besides being exciting, is funny, sarcastic, and filled with one of the most tremendous battle sequences ever put to film.  Beheadings, stabbings, burning oil, catapaults... it has all of that.  And it's anchored by Constance Talmadge's performance as the Mountain Girl, who is so independent and joyous that you understand why Griffith changed her fate in a re-issue of the film.
When I saw the film last night it was accompanied by a live piano performance, and I was initially skeptical that it might overpower the film, or even be underwhelming.  But Joseph Rubin hit every note on the button, and really gave extra life to an already remarkable film.  ****
Then this afternoon, I started Season 3 of Fringe.  Bouncing back and forth between universes, this season is (so far) filled with moments that had me (again) gripping the sides of my chair (figuratively).  I think I love the fact that the Emmys continually bypass this show in all the acting categories.  I mean, everyone who watches the show knows that besides creating characters that are believable in the most fantastic of situations, these actors create characters that are playing characters who are playing characters, and doing it so well that we're never lost or confused.  And, really, who thought Joshua Jackson would've been one of the breakout actors from Dawson's Creek?
Finally, tonight started Season Two of Downton Abbey.  Season One was the moment when I realized I turned into my parents.  I still remember going to bed on Sunday nights listening to the strains of the Masterpiece Theater theme music, and hating it.  But last year I gave Downton Abbey a chance, primarily because Jullian Fellowes created it, and he's the same guy who wrote the wonderful Gosford Park.  And it was fantastic!  The whole Upstairs/Downstairs theme was done with such compelling characters and storylines that tonight's season two opener brought me back into this universe so compellingly and it both made me happy and sad with one incredible turn.  I am so invested in these characters that even their smallest problems are giving me heart palpitations.  And now, since World War I is going on, besides social faux pas, I have to be worried as to whether some of these characters might die.  It's freaking me out, and I love it.  This first two hour premiere was near-perfection.  These British shows have too few episodes for a season.  I want more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 32 - Hugo


Martin Scorsese has been making some great films these last few years, and Hugo is no exception.  The story of a young orphan who lives among the clock towers of a train station in 1920's (or 30's) Paris, hooks up with a cute orphan girl, a cantankerous old man, an automaton that needs repairs and a station guard who wants to send him to an orphanage might be too scattered for any other director, but Scorsese manages to have all that plus include an ode to his own love of films and make the film in 3D.  And it's great.
I recently wrote about how I want to feel something when I watch a movie, and I've gotta say, that this film moved me in spades.  From the shots of us following young Hugo around the catacombs of the train station to the heights of the clock towers, the camera manages to, because of the 3D, make us feel that we're both there, and create a sense of fantasy.  I've got to imagine that the movie looks just as magical in 2D, but the immersive nature of 3D makes this journey all the more enjoyable.
The first half of the film sets up the characters and begins the mystery of the automaton.  Even the supporting cast has full stories that I found compelling.  Maybe because I'm such a softy, but the different love stories that the film follows are all wonderful.  From the couples that have to overcome minor difficulties, to those that have a love that lasts forever, the film gives them equal weight, without being overstated.
But the real love that's on display here, is a love of both books and films.  Hugo bonded with his father over movies, and Isabelle (with another great performance by Chloe Grace Moretz) has found that books are her gateway into adventure.  When the two of them combine, a slice of magic happens.  Hugo is able to show her the magic of films, and without books, the central mystery of the film might never have been solved.
Besides the two children (who are completely convincing), the movie also boasts of one of Ben Kingsley's finest performances as Papa Georges.  From his steely-eyed glare, to the thawing of his heart to the sadness of his past, he inhabits the character perfectly.  Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector is a suitable adversary for Hugo, and when you find out his story, you completely understand why he is the way he is.  And Christopher Lee as a bookstore owner?  That's a win all day long.
But, really, the main reason the film works as well as it does is the whole idea that history is important.  The characters get an education on the early days of cinema, and for many of the moviegoers, it's their education as well.  And it's fascinating.  There are wonderful recreations of the actual filming of these early films.  The joy these characters have for this time is infectious.  And none of this is heavy-handed, because the reactions the characters echo the reactions we're experiencing.
It really is an amazing film, and unlike some of the other reviews I've read, I actually like the first half of the film more than the second half.  But as a whole it's still one of my favorites of the year.  And the music is a standout as well.  There really is no reason not to see this film if you like movies.  It might love them even more than you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 29 - What happens when you get older...

After seeing The Muppets a few weeks ago, my friends got it in their heads to watch Meet the Feebles as a movie chaser.  The first (and only) time I saw it was at the Cleveland Cinematheque around 1996.  But I found a copy on DVD for about $5-$8.  And apparently it's been sitting in my collection for just the day to watch it with another group of people.
When I saw the film, I was just a couple years out of college, and, while I realized it was an extreme film it didn't really bother me.  I've always said that seeing the double feature of Robocop and Monty Pythons Meaning of Life when I was a senior in high school was when I got broken.  After those two films I felt I could take on the world.
And then in college, I went even crazier.  Evil Dead 1 & 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1, 2 & 3, a couple of the Hellraisers, a couple John Waters films, Sweet Movie (which I do not recommend), and John Woo's The Killer were just some of the movies that I saw.  But I don't want to make out that I was a complete heathen in college.  I was just looking to have a visceral experience, and these films gave that to me.  I never got really scared from some of these horror films simply because I grew up reading about how they made them, and watching every making-of special on TV that came on.
And it wasn't just movies - I read a lot of weird stuff, too.  Bret Easton Ellis made his first appearance on my radar in college.  And then there were the incredibly well-drawn but very strange (to put it mildly) Glenn Danzig comic books.
And here's the thing.  When you first read or see any of this stuff, you have a reaction.  Some people get a charge out of extreme films, some people see one and they're done, and others, like myself, pick and choose.  John Waters is a good example for me.  I appreciate his films.  Female Trouble and Polyester were worth watching.  Serial Mom was one of my favorite films of 1994 (like top 3).  But I wasn't happy until I saw Pink Flamingos.  And I got to see it on the big screen.  Once was enough.  But at least I can say that I saw it.  It's almost a badge of honor.
All of this occurred in the 90's.  And years later when I went back to revisit some of these things, I wondered what I was thinking.  Have I matured?  Was it a phase?  Am I satisfied with my life enough now that I don't need to watch anything as extreme anymore?  The Human Centipede was calling out my name until I saw the South Park episode, and that seemed to have sated me.  (And South Park's extremism is still something that I seem to have not outgrown).
When I rewatched Meet the Feebles, I was struck by how violent, gross and wrong it was.  I remember that it was crazy, but I didn't remember how crazy.  It's an innovative film, with some great songs, but it's so not what I sit at home and watch anymore.  And I don't know if my tastes have changed or if my mind isn't ready for this type of experience anymore.  All I can think of is that as I get older maybe I'm getting more lame.  But I might be okay with that.  Or maybe I need to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 again.