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A Movie a Day Catch-Up (Part I)

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit lazy on my New Year’s Resolution to watch a movie per day.  Work, friends and family don’t exactly offer several opportunities, but I still try to keep to it and watch as much as I can, which has made for a little over a dozen viewings thus far.  To keep things more spaced out than my 2012 recap, I’ll aim for about five movies per post.  I’ll gradually get more of these to you, so here you go, hopefully the first of many updates.

The Road

This film was torture.  What could’ve (and should’ve) been a poignant, engaging piece turned out to be little more than a dragged out, downright agonizing experience.  If the filmmakers wanted to make us feel as miserable as the characters in the film, then job well done.  Except it felt that awful for all the wrong reasons; a lack of sympathy, awkward and annoying characters, no real story or plot, and numbing boredom.

The Prince of Egypt

Better than much of the material Disney was rolling out around the time, The Prince of Egypt made Dreamworks seem like a serious contender for the next supplier of (near) classic animated features…then we got the Madagascar and Shrek sequels.  Regardless, The Prince of Egypt did exactly what any animated feature should, it told a story while taking full advantage of technology and visuals.  There’s a surprising amount of heart and development to both the story and especially the characters too, much more than what several live action films afford us (see above).

Sideways

As an introvert, I found Sideways a very self-reflective piece.  I swear I saw myself as Paul Giamatti’s character, and it still scares me.  It might be odd to use that word when describing a dramedy, but I think it adds all the more humanity and strength to the film.  Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are a wonderful combination; they’re authentically fleshed out as people who generally don’t get along, but still like and even need each other.  And when you’ve got something as strongly forged as that, the rest of the material essentially writes itself.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Even though The Hobbit is a 2012 release, I didn’t catch it until the new year.  For the longest time I thought I’d just catch the HFR 3D IMAX showing (look at all those caps), if only for the Star Trek Into Darkness prologue.  But the trip and reception didn’t mix well enough for me, so I caught a standard 2D showing.  My thoughts?  It’s good, just not Lord of the Rings good.  What’s odd is that a lot of the things people didn’t like are things that didn’t bother me.  I didn’t mind the opening in the Shire too much, the dwarfs obnoxious behavior aside; Radaghast I honestly found amusing and a decent overall character; and even though the sets are clearly CGI most of the time, it’s still a beauty to look at.  Plus, I kind of think that’s the point, given the book is seen more as a kind of childhood story for some.  The Lord of the Rings is more real and dark, hence the real sets.  My problems do come with the length and an apparent misuse of development, especially given the fact we have to wait for two more parts.  And while it was great to see Smeagol again, I actually found the whole riddles sequence a bit overrated.  Also, none of the main villainous characters really did anything for me.  I still enjoyed the film and would watch it again if I could set aside the time, but it didn’t leave me suspended like The Lord of the Rings did.

Inglourious Basterds

One of my co-workers lent this movie to me, essentially saying that if I loved Django Unchained, I’ll love this.  I still remembered seeing previews for Inglourious Basterds and feeling like it wouldn’t be my cup of tea.  Still, I took and watched it and, to be honest, my early impressions weren’t far off.  So far the Quentin Tarantino movies I’ve seen have been pretty easy for me to pinpoint my opinion on before I even see it.  The only surprises were Pulp Fiction, which I thought I’d hate and wound up loving, and Django which I figured I’d enjoy, but ended up loving the hell out of it.  Inglourious Basterds managed to accomplish what I thought no Tarantino movie could or should: bore me.  Other than the opening with Christoph Waltz and the “sticky situation”, I couldn’t wait for the movie to end.  Even Reservoir Dogs, a film almost devoid of laughs for me, maintained my interest.  This just did absolutely nothing for me.

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Les Miserables (2012) Review

Between The King’s Speech and now Les Miserables, Tom Hooper has already earned the Oscar Bait Director award from yours truly.  His choice of casts are solid, if not quite A-list quality; the sets and costume designs are elegant, realistic and plausible; strong direction is sufficiently provided throughout, if with some inconsistencies; and he’s not afraid to add more meat to the runtime either.  Yet where The King’s Speech offered a simple and familiar yet effective story thanks to investible characters, Les Miserables falls apart at the heft of its own ambitions as an adaptation.

At first, the journey of Jean Valjean (admirably played by Hugh Jackman) feels worthwhile and suggests potential for an impressive story.  By the time we transition from Anne Hathaway’s emotionally searing rendition of Fantine, to the meeting of both Jean and Cosette, we’re ready to join them on a path to something that holds mystery, tension and possible wonder.  Then we literally skip to the second act.

Right when we’re thrust into the French Revolution, Les Miserables buckles under immense pressure that seems to come out of nowhere.  The introduction of Marius and the actual development of Cosette (assumed by Amanda Seyfried), both pivotal characters, are both incredibly short-changed.  In fact, I think I missed any and all opportunity for Seyfried to leave her mark.  What’s more is that these two are supposed to have some sort of a connection, something that feels sudden and almost out of a Shakespearean play.  But even the loosest of Romeo & Juliet adaptations gave their characters time for establishment and some sort of growth.  Half the characters in this rendition of Les Miserables, on the other hand, feel like plot devices leading to a constant, vicious cycle of what could be labeled bait-and-switch.

Even Jean Valjean is shafted amidst scenes of emphasis on our new characters.  Each scene quickly begins to become less of a seamless transition between each other and more a desperate game of Leap Frog in attempt to cover what is too much ground for a feature film.  At 157 minutes, Les Miserables drains both energy and attention from the viewer at most every corner.  Thus we have a huge predicament, which turns into possibly the film’s biggest problem: it’s too long while being completely rushed.  These cracks even show during the film’s opening minutes, with quick camera cuts becoming an odd distraction as Jean Valjean travels about the land of France.

All these shortcomings are unfortunate to the point of being tragic, since effort is very abundant.  The work put into the look of the film is very noticeable, which stems from how deep-seated the very fabric of the story is in its setting.  Although there’s little for almost any of the characters to consistently leave their mark, they give their all.  Jackman is in good acting form, even if his singing voice isn’t the most captivating.  Samantha Barks gives as much heart and emotion to Eponine as possible, given the aforementioned shortcomings.  Really the only person who seems consistently developed and attended to is Russell Crowe as Javert.  He’s the closest thing the movie comes to feeling complete, much less having a properly handled character.  Javert might be the antagonist, but we see his motivations constantly brought into question, making him that much more human and, dare I say, fascinating.  This is what the rest of the film is in desperate need of, but just can’t come to grasp.

Even in the hands of a capable director, Les Miserables seems meant not as a single sitting viewing, but as a deliberate read.  Whether Victor Hugo’s novel jumps and stumbles as much as Hooper’s coerced attempt I have yet to see.  But it’s difficult for me to imagine such an encompassing piece being translated to the big screen without an incredible amount of compromise.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Review

I’d have a difficult time blaming one if, upon watching the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook, they predicted nothing but an archetypal end-of-the-year rom-com.  David O. Russell’s directorial follow-up to 2010’s The Fighter isn’t exactly imposing ground with its still-restrained theater count.  It’s a face smacking shame too, as the movie rises above so many (wider) releases.

As a character-driven force (which I’m a sucker for), it feels more like a study and less a piece with emphasis on story.  Yet much like Flight and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the key players really are the story, who come into their own, be it quick or through a barrage of encumbering roadblocks.

Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano) and Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) are at the forefront of a band of–how do you say–dysfunctionalism.  Bipolar disorder, depression and OCD are simply the initial troubles these people place on a very crowded table, all of which sound so easy to dismiss.  But the film wastes literally no time getting us behind (or into) these people, who are so enthralling that they become oddly relatable.  And so begins a journey both joyously comical and emotionally clenching, not unlike Pat’s own personality.

Mr. Russell keeps the audience on their toes, only letting up when the comedy brings you to slap your legs in breath-seizing laughter.  So much is communicated between words, eye contact and body language that one could forget they’re watching a movie.  Credit must be given to the directing style once again, which is only as colored as it needs to be.  Shots and sequences are bestowed in a way that’s less conventional, but equally fitting (if occasionally distracting).

I hold a particular admiration for Silver Linings Playbook; not just for its characters, chemistry, emotion and realism, but for its accomplishment in audience-to-film connections.  What we have here are characters who feel like people, with issues many of us might have neither full nor just grip on.  And somehow we feel for these characters, as if a part of us is in them.  The small bits add up in a way that’s dangerously effective; the lows get very down while the highs are properly proportionate.  And sometimes, for our benefit as the audience, both arrive simultaneously.  No matter what direction Russell takes us, there’s always something to savor.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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Quote Review: Rock of Ages (2012)

“This place is about to become a sea of sweat, ear-shattering music and puke.”

Here’s a film so shamelessly cheesy that it makes one of those gargantuan pizzas you find in a city like Orlando seem nutritious by comparison.  Never mind leave standards and plausibility at the door, this is the type of movie you enjoy after too many drinks on a Saturday night.  But if you need your 80’s music fix with some sort of a story attached, then step forward!

 
 

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Quoe Review: The Mummy (1999)

“When Ramses destroyed Syria, that was an accident. You are a catastrophe!”

Even as a by-the-numbers action/adventure film, The Mummy manages to pull off a few things that so many other films don’t.  The story, for all intents and purposes, is interesting and completely coherent.  Its characters are quirky, fun and memorable, especially Rachel Weisz and John Hannah.  But best of all: there’s rarely (if ever) a single moment you aren’t entertained to some extent.  The Mummy is just a wonderful popcorn flick with enough substance to help it stand higher than most of its siblings.

Do you enjoy The Mummy?  What do you think of it?

 
 

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Quote Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

“I can tell this is just the beginning.”

The entire cast have terrific chemistry and manage to pull you in so well that any of the film’s problems become discernible.   From the heart-felt drama to the charming and occasionally silly comedy, it’s hard for just about anyone to not enjoy It’s Kind of a Funny Story, regardless of whether it speaks personally to the viewer or not.

 
 

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2012: The Movies You DON’T Want to See

It’s funny that we live in a financially downturned economy when we’ve got movies like Avatar setting box office records.  I suppose it’s merely a reminder that, even when poverty-stricken, people still have the income to feed companies millions for sequels, remakes, spin-offs and adaptations all at once.  What’s amusing about this is that we’re so quick to pay for stuff we already have, often previously presented in a superior way nonetheless.

Be that as it may, with another summer on the horizon we have a splurge of movies coming out which some will be puzzled to decide between.  A few people even go to theaters without a single clue as to what’s showing and ask those in-line “what looks good?”  To that I wonder: We always ask and look at what’s worth spending half a new DVD release to see once, but what about upcoming releases that aren’t even worth watching a trailer for?  Summertime is easy time for film companies to draw in audiences again and again; so to help you know which ones are, without doubt, not worth wasting time or money on, here are some of 2012’s films that you do NOT want to see.

The Lucky One

The dog food totally isn’t a metaphor for Mr. Sparks’ novels.

If there’s any medium you can find several of the same story already done in, it’s books.  Some authors distinguish themselves with actual effort and, dare I say, variety from book to book.  Nicholas Sparks, on the other hand, shows about as much distinction between his books as one french fry from another at McDonald’s.  But wait, this adaptation of The Lucky One has a returning soldier from war; oh Nick, you’re so relevant and resonating with the times!  But wait, it’s another love story…with two leads who, if the trailer is any indication, make Keanu Reeves look melodramatic in the Matrix sequels.  I could find more depth in a teaspoon of water.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting

What?  You think this is fun?

Yes, nothing says fun and comedic gold quite like a film centered around pregnancy and its effects on several people.  If that alone isn’t enough, this movie is based on a pregnancy guide no less; this is how stripped of good ideas Hollywood’s become.  The trailer certainly isn’t doing any favors for this movie either, since it only looks like Grown Ups, Knocked Up, Hall Pass and half a billion other forgettable romantic comedies tossed into a mold-spewing blender.  We have decades upon decades of trite movies like this piled up already, it’d be a better investment to give Doug Walker $10 for each of his 20-minute Nostalgia Critic videos–at they’re entertaining.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

We need to get away from the studios; I hear they’re planning to toss us in Burma next!

Just like Ice Age, the people behind Madagascar seem intent on driving what was an earnest animated film further into forced franchise fodder.  Being a film about animals, kids are bound to beg their parents to go see it like they would for a toy at Wal-Mart.  As far as the films on this list go, Madagascar 3 might be the least deserving of presumptuous dismissal, but that’s like saying a $200 pair of Beats headphones is a better investment than the $300 pair simply because you’re paying less for a still-overpriced item.  Except Madagascar 3 is coming to us in 3D (shocker there!) and even (post-converted) IMAX.  Whoops.

Madea’s Witness Protection

Please, take her away.  I’m here against my will.

Some people simply beat a dead horse.  Tyler Perry, on the other hand, prefers to find a herd of them, decapitate each one rather violently and crush them with cinder blocks until they’ve reached the Earth’s core.  Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh but honestly, who (besides Perry) wants to see this Madea creature keep polluting our theaters and stores?  I’d be more interested in seeing a sequel to White Chicks, not that the Wayans should take that to heart.  We already have over a half dozen films of Madea, which begins to make Michael Bay’s milking of the Transformers name seem innocent by comparison.  All he’d have to do to catch up is spit out two Transformers movies a year and the two can bask together while we collect the AYFKM memes.

Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D

Oh, yes, I totally hate being famous.  Yeah, attention is the LAST thing I want.

You’ve really got to hand it to people like Katy Perry and even Justin Bieber.  They give the world nothing but terrible music and an equally awful film about their pre-puberty struggles.  And yet people actually waste their time and shell out millions upon billions of dollars to hear and watch them.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say everything they provide is insurance so that, when they look more deplorable than their music, they’ll still have more money than any decent, hard-working individual would earn in twenty lifetimes.  I might be getting off topic but that’s essentially all this upcoming Katy Perry feature is shaping up to be.  It’s trying to cater to people by saying “chase your dream,” but if that were so most of us would probably be pimps smoking illegal substances while making Zombieland a reality.  Of course, that might just be wishful thinking, but it’s certainly more promising than the idea of watching this…thing.

Step Up Revolution

Your Project X ain’t got nothin’ on this!

In some ways films are great for seeing things we might fantasize about, but half the time it’s all just exploitation.  Us Americans are easily the fattest and laziest slobs on the planet, yet we only take the hottest of the hot in Hollywood and have even taken to dancing so much that we’re getting a fourth Step Up movie.  These movies are really just gimmicks, which wouldn’t be too bad if we didn’t keep getting a slight twisting of the original seven freaking times.  Film franchises like Saw have suffered from this by overstaying their welcome.  Then there’s a film like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which may have been just another car movie to most, but the reason it actually worked was because the drifting ultimately took a backseat to a little something called the story.  But hey, we’re in a time where people elect to rattle their cars apart with Dubstep, so it shows what I know.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Because red lips are too mainstream.

Given its bad rep, I’d think audiences would have the common sense to avoid the Twilight travesty.  But the unfortunate reality is it continues to be a multi-million-dollar franchise.  I leave it to you to answer me this: What does Twilight offer to make me care?  Perhaps there’s something about being torn between a pale pedophile with a sparkling chest and a crazily buffed up boy with no real acting emotion that speaks to the younger female demographic.  But heck, even as a guy who likes to quench his testosterone with a theatrical viewing of something like The Expendables, I can find entertainment in a “girly movie.”  I’ve at least somewhat enjoyed cliche dumps like Along Came Polly, 13 Going on 30 and How Do You Know.  Yet Twilight continues to astound me and I have to ask why so many people keep going to see these movies?  I suppose if there’s anyone the recently released teaser might interest it would be rednecks, what with Bella eying an innocent deer in the woods, but that’s just a small, tingling suspicion…I hope.

How about you?  What films coming out this year do you absolutely refuse to see?  Which ones do you wish people would have the sense to avoid?

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Blog, Film, Movies

 

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