Jan 18, 2013

Guess that movie

Runaway space shuttle piloted back to earth by Marty McFly's mom and Indiana Jones' gal.

(sampled from my Twitter feed - peek if you must)

Facebook post on Happy Feet

I put this on Facebook a few days ago. You have it to thank for reigniting my urge to write about film.

"Happy Feet" equals one if the most bizarre/surreal film experiences I've ever endured. I'm still processing some of the darker elements. The creepiness factor was enhanced by Elijah Wood's voice and the overweight penguin being slowly suffocated by plastic pop can rings. Also, RIP Brittany Murphy. More disturbing is the fact that there is a sequel which I will one day be expected to watch. What new way will I be made to feel terrible that I am an evil fish-stealing environment-raping human? At least I'm not an evil killer whale, evil sea lion or evil mangy seagull (no actual idea what kind of birds those were). Those bad guys actually try to eat the penguins rather than just taking all their food and putting them in soul-sucking zoos.

Overall rating: weird family dynamic with the penguin dad admitting to having dropped the egg Mumbo; creepy themes; the penguins in Madagascar are way funnier; all the emperor penguins except Mumbo (and especially the Irish-accented elderly leader) looked like scary beady eyed hybrids of penguin bodies and hook nose mardi gras masks; still made me cry at the end because of that darn Beatles song over the humans-altering-their-earth-pillaging-ways montage. Unsettling. There are some horror movies that have left me feeling more settled than "Happy Feet."

Jan 17, 2013

The Hobbit: An Expected Disaster

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as all are aware, is installment one of three that will attempt to capitalize on the fame and fortune of its predecessor Lord of the Rings. The events of the LOTR trilogy occur after the events of the Hobbit, so right off the bat we're in "prequel trying to live up to the legacy" territory. The story, (for any who have not read the book, which is splendid) centers around a hobbit in Middle Earth and has all the adventure one would expect from the story out of which every single other fantasy novel ever written was born, including The Lord of the Rings (which when you think about it is another longer book where a large group of unlikely friends walks a long distance to do something at a mountain). Bilbo sets off on a journey, largely against his nature and better judgment, with a wizard, too many dwarves (sic that's they way Tolkien spells it in the book) to care about and the king dwarf Thorin. They have a beef with a dragon called Smaug who stole all their treasure and their kingdom under the mountain. Film the first ends with the company viewing this mountain far in the distance but closer than when they started walking.

Casting Martin Freeman was a stroke of genius as his acting style lends itself to hobbitishness. According to my sister and fellow Tolkien lover, I have unfortunately become too jaded to enjoy Peter Jackson's films anymore. I am too aware of his methods, too steeped in LOTR bonus features.

There were winning moments, but they were largely cancelled out by prolonged action sequences (how else are they going to make this story stretch into three LONG movies?), cheesy attempts at comedy and way too much Radagast the brown. I also found the overt references to psychedelic mushrooms irritating, especially when other audience members did the "420 laugh" in response and right on oh-so-predictable cue. This film aims to be epic in scope only to take the audience out of the action with a lame wink wink, more than once. The villains were too numerous and too silly (even for Tolkien), and the action sequences became too like one another. At least twice a large group of dwarves enters a battle from off camera to save an ally; at least twice a line of dwarves wields an overlarge object in a sweeping movement to knock an oncoming line of enemies off a precipice; at least twice Gandalf miraculously appears moments before many good guys will be mutilated and eaten by bad guys (which in fairness happens in the book but is slightly better explained than it was on film).

To sum it up: over-the-top. As an avid fan I am disappointed that I have no desire to see it again and no desire to obsess over the director's cut (somehow they will make this movie even longer?!) and bonus features (I really don't care how this movie was made). I would watch Martin Freeman outtakes for hours on end.

Jan 25, 2012

The worst movies I've ever seen...Off the top of my head

This is just a brief list.  I'm sure there are other stinkers that were too boring to be remembered, even as awful. I'd love to see some of your lists in the comments.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back - almost didn't make the cut because I had so much fun watching it with the particular friends I was with at the time. As I recall, the younger guy convinces Stella to pursue her dream of becoming a carpenter in the end, and that was the least far fetched aspect of this too-long movie.

Double Jeopardy - OMG; Tommy Lee Jones, why? WHY?!

U-571 - somehow the makers of U-571 thought that a star-studded cast and dramatic overuse of underwater explosions would compensate for the lack of story or interest in the plot.

Troy - we've seen  it time and again; money and special effects do not make for a compelling drama. The filmmakers of Troy tried to get in front of that particular problem by interspersing the action with seemingly endless conversations between different combinations of characters about how war sucks because someone's kids are always getting killed or it rips up families or something that we are supposed to care about because the characters in the movie are imploring us to care.

Geronimo - In fairness, I saw this when I was 13, and it might actually be a good movie, but I remember it being long and boring and mostly set in a desert. Anyone who has seen this movie more recently, feel free to put me in my place.

Equilibrium - Premise, oh please.

Mission Impossible 2 - Large portions ripped off (shot for shot) from Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious; that is NOT homage, it is theft.

Jurassic Park 3 - I would like to find one person on planet earth who actually legitimately liked this movie. Was this before William H. Macy was cool? Or was it after the second wave of Indy coolness? I do have fine memories of seeing this one with good friends too. Not enough to redeem it, though.

I have more. Maybe yours will jog my memory. Cheers to anyone who is still out there reading after such a break.

Feb 10, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Why not?

I break another lengthy hiatus for a film that was unexpectedly entertaining. Perhaps my expectations were so low that anything above dismal would do. I have a vague memory of unanimously bad reviews following the release of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was released around the same time as The Last Airbender, and I wonder if it absorbed some residual negativity since it sort of fills the same genre niche. The trailer highlighted some of the cheesier aspects of the film, as I recall. Couple that with my distrust of Nicholas Cage's role choices, and one might understand my prejudgment. I am glad, on some level, that I gave it a shot, but Nicholas Cage was pretty awful.

So, a brief synopsis: A ten year old wanders into an ancient magician's antique shop, allows Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), the owner and proprietor, to give him a weird little dragon figurine which becomes a hideously nerdy ring upon touching his skin. This is the sign Balthazar has been waiting for for 700 years. Dave (Jay Baruchel) is the Prime Merlinian, the heir of Merlin's great power. Of course, being ten, he manages to release from a magical holding cell Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar's wicked rival. Balthazar must imprison himself with Horvath for ten years in a Chinese urn in order to allow Dave's narrow escape. When Balthazar returns, he hunts down Dave and begins to teach him magic so he can stop the rise of the most evil sorceress of all time. What connects Dave and Balthazar, despite their differences and often hostility towards one another, is that they are where they are because they loved someone. Balthazar cares about saving the world, but he is also motivated by a desire to save his love. Dave came to the magic shop chasing a  love note carried on the breeze and was reunited with this childhood crush shortly before his reintroduction to Balthazar after ten years away from both of them.

I was drawn in by Jay Baruchel's strange charm, which may have something to do with the way he sometimes sounds like a young Christian Slater. The jokes were hackneyed, but in an expected and Disney-ish way, and I can't really say they were that bad. I enjoyed the homage to the old Fantasia. Maybe it went a little too far when one of Dave's enchanted mops rammed him in the butt repeatedly while he tried to get his would-be girlfriend to leave lest she discover his magically moving mops just behind the door.

I was not expecting the story to offer such a plausible and sensible explanation for the existence of magic. Balthazar tells Dave, as he acquaints him with the basics that he, Dave, is good at science because he is a magician and magic is simply science controlled by a magician's thoughts at the molecular level. This really works for the movie. It wasn't necessary to provide a reason for magic to be possible, but they did it and well.

Here's the bad part: Horvath finds Dave and wants to kill or capture him. Horvath has been clearly established, up to this point, as a serious badass. The kind of magic that is possible should allow Horvath to magically pin Dave to the wall and crush his windpipe (a la Darth Vader), but Horvath instead allows Dave to run out of the apartment, chased by wolves Horvath conjured from a wall calendar in Dave's apartment . The wolves do run down our hero and nearly kill him, but I have to ask the bad guy, "why risk his escape if you are a sorcerer?" Dave doesn't know any magic yet. He's alone and defenseless. A burglar could have done a better job.

Lame and totally unbelievable escapes aside, this was not a terrible movie. There were some decent visual effects and fun concepts, such as a high speed car chase in which the good guys become imprisoned on the opposite side of a mirror and must race to a reflective surface to get out again while the bad guys (on the right side of reality) smash all the windows and mirrors in Times Square to prevent their escape. The film certainly wasn't great, but the actors each did their part lifting the bad writing to its best potential. There was at least a cohesive plot, which was much more than I anticipated. If you have nothing better to do on a rainy day, and you need to entertain some 13 year olds, this would be the prefect thing to watch.

Here's your BONUS (see David Copperfield link below) for sticking with it to the end: Another nuisance came in the character of quasi-evil sorcerer Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), a punk-ish version of David Copperfield (so adorable in this picture). The character was annoying and fairly useless to the plot.

Oct 7, 2010

Wall Street: no, not the new one

I recently had the fortune to rent Wall Street using the highly sophisticated Amazon.com media rental apparatus. This was in preparation to see the sequel the next evening, which I never got around to doing somehow.

Wall Street opens in a Manhattan high-rise office where fast-talking Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is starting his day as a small-time stock-broker. He cold calls possible clients, he jokes with co-workers, and at the end of a long day, he meets up with his blue collar dad (Martin Sheen) at a bar in one of the Burroughs to borrow money for rent. He explains that the glamor believed to be inherent in his chosen profession has not quite visited him yet. This go-getter soon finagles a meeting with famous investment banker Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). With inside information about his father's small airline operation, he wins an opportunity to invest for Gekko. They quickly become entangled in more illegal activity until it finally becomes obvious to Bud that his relationship with Gekko is corrosive to all his other connections, including and most clearly, his once warm rapport with his father. Sprinkled throughout with awesome 80s hairdos and an apartment-decorating montage that makes Daryl Hannah's involvement almost worthwhile, here is a movie that cannot fail to entertain, for the most part.

It is a shame, since the rest of the movie was really pretty good, that I keep obsessing about the train wreck that was Daryl Hannah's portrayal of Darien Taylor, an almost useless character, made completely so by her abysmal acting. The conversation I keep having with my hubby goes a little something like this:

ME: How is it possible for someone to play a part as poorly as Daryl Hannah did in Wall Street?
HUBBY: I know! She looks like a dude, especially in the checker-pattern blazer with the hulking shoulder pads.
ME: I think they over-dubbed each and every one of her lines, and badly.
HUBBY: She must have been sleeping with Oliver Stone, but I have to wonder why a prominent director would choose to sleep with a woman who looks so much like a dude. He could get anyone back then, right?
ME: Maybe he had a thing for really fluffy, yet somehow wispy, blonde hair in the 80s.

This topic of conversation keeps coming up. Her blank stare was devoid of emotion. Her monotone drone jolted me out of the action. In Short Circuit, Johnny 5 played his part with more inflection.

Put Daryl Hannah aside and you have a decent film about greed and how it can sully personal relationships. I enjoyed the straightforward plot line. The characters were somewhat 2 dimensional at times, but there were other moments when Sheen and Douglas really hit the mark. Most of the things I can think of to criticize are cosmetic (some of them quite literally) and made the film fun to heckle aloud, so I cannot complain too much. Douglas' make-up artist should have been fired on day one of shooting for the red lipstick and blue eyeliner he/she seemed to think did not make him look like a clown. Sean Young (that fixture of 80s supporting roles) appeared in only two scenes, wearing the most ridiculous and at the same time intriguing giant silver earrings. Another eye-catching bit of retro: a small kitchen appliance which automatically shapes rice for nigiri sushi, because it really takes a lot more time to do it by hand.

I know there is more significant relevance to be found in this film's content (especially as set in this period), but I just can't get excited about focusing on Wall Street corruption. [SMALL SPOILER ALERT] I didn't even care that much about the bad guys getting theirs. That is to say, I didn't feel that sense of vindictive pleasure at Gekko's demise as I felt when the Warden in The Shawshank Redemption opened the Bible only to find the space in which Andy Dufresne had been hiding his rock hammer.

Unrelated note: according to imdb.com, Martin Sheen considers himself a liberal democrat, but opposes abortion and euthanasia rights. If true, his bio is worth reading.

Unrelated note #2: looking up Daryl Hannah's imdb page reminds me how much I cannot get over how weird plastic surgery makes people look. Daryl Hannah should not look like Hannah Montana. I just need her to have a few more wrinkles to be plausible. Whatever procedure older actors get that makes their eyes all squinty (ala Steve Martin in It's Complicated) is quite unsettling.

And since I have opinions about almost everything: I really dislike imdb.com's new format. I am opposed to drastic style changes in familiar/popular websites. I have known what to expect and how to find information quickly on imdb ever since I studied film in college, and now look at it. All the film titles are super far away from their release dates, and the layout is sloppy. Why?

Aug 20, 2010

Vacation is over, and I saw...

I didn't actually see any movies while away on vacation, except the final 15 minutes of Rocky III. Wow are there some good "Mystery Science Theater" moments there, most of them wardrobe-related. Also, Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa frolicking, (bared midriffs and really short shorts, slow-motion style) in the surf after a good training session on the beach, was a highlight.

The fun thing about this movie (the end of it at least) is this: it manages to be entertaining amid the over-the-top silliness. I'm sure that had mostly to do with the glowing company with whom I saw it. We came to the conclusion that Mr. T (Clubber Lang) is really bad to the bone, since he took about 60 direct blows to the face in round one and didn't even bother to block.

On a totally unrelated, personal note: I got to tour the only facility in the world that makes pinball machines.

Jul 28, 2010

film term of the day: Cross-cutting

Cross-cutting: An editing technique in which two seemingly unrelated scenes are inter-cut forcing the audience to associate the two

Example: The Godfather
The most famous example of cross-cutting occurs when Michael Corleone stands up at his nephew's baptism. While he is vowing to renounce Satan all the rival mafia bosses are getting offed, we presume, under Michael Corleone's orders. These two scenes are interwoven, contrasting Michael's supposed religious devotion with his ruthless killing of several men (and one mistress).

Cross-cutting can create a sense of tension, can mislead the audience into believing that events that are occurring simultaneously are related when they actually are not, and can relate seemingly disparate events.

Jul 27, 2010

Underrated: The Game vs. 12 Angry Men

When I think of The Game I usually forget that it was directed by David Fincher. If this movie is underrated, it might have something to do with its being nestled right in between the two most notable Fincher films, Se7en and Fight Club. Maybe it doesn't quite qualify as 'underrated.' Many people like this movie a great deal. However, I take issue with its mere 7.7 rating on imdb. Consider this nuttiness: 12 Angry Men (the actual most boring movie ever made) makes it into the top ten of the 250 list with its score of 8.8. 12 Angry Men was based on a play (usually a bad thing). The action takes place entirely in one room and involves twelve male (go figure) jurors discussing the probability that the defendant is guilty. Not only is there very little action, there is very little moving at all. I suppose at the time it was a good racial commentary and the acting was considered amazing, but mightn't To Kill A Mocking Bird (a respectable #54) be said to fulfill these criteria even more effectively, whilst also entertaining us? I just can't see how anyone watching 12 Angry Men by today's standards can rank this movie higher than the other 241 movies (others of which annoy me too) on the imdb top 250.

I am not trying to contend that The Game deserves the number 9 (as of this writing) slot in 12 Angry Men's place, but I do think it deserves our consideration.

Fincher does the thing he does best: convinces us to trust the narrative and then yanks us up side down by the ankles. Even though we are repeatedly betrayed, we go along and believe we are in control. To a certain extent, I see this movie as a commentary on the power the storyteller holds over the viewer/listener. Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a controlled, shrewd, business man. He is the master of his own destiny, for we learn, despite some really dark stuff in his childhood, he has made a name for himself and excelled at his profession. His routines begin to topple when, at his troubled brother's (Sean Penn) urging, he enlists in a "game" designed for bored rich people to mess with their lives and shake things up. Soon, he has no idea which parts of his life are "the game" and which are under his control. Some freaky stuff happens, he meets a nice girl, he has a shower in his office (so we know he's doing all right - that part always cracked me up), some other crap happens with his brother, and the lines between reality and fiction are blurred. Until the final moment, it is impossible for Nicholas to bring the situation back under his grasp. He is helplessly along for the ride, even though he tries to stop and get out many times, just as the viewer is at the mercy of the storyteller.

Another thing I really like: even though it is dark and suspenseful, there is a justifiable happy ending. It is tried and true way for a storyteller to leave the audience feeling satisfied after spending an hour and a half messing with their brains, and in this film it is done well. 

Good acting, good story, some tense moments with a nice payoff at the end. If nothing else, it is entertaining, and that's more than 12 Angry Men can brag.

Jul 23, 2010

film term of the day: Script Supervisor

Script Supervisor: person on a film crew who maintains continuity from shot to shot and records the progress of daily shooting

Catching continuity errors in movies is part of the fun of movie-appreciation, especially if the story loses your interest for a minute or two. If you've noticed a glass half empty in one shot and in the next it is all the way full, your eyes are sharper than those of the script supervisor who should have consulted their notes and insisted on draining that glass to the proper mark before cameras rolled. And you thought the filmmakers were making a subtle comment on the power perception plays in the forming of our optimistic or pessimistic attitudes.

Continuity errors occur when a shot taken at one time during production is edited together with a shot taken at a different time (maybe weeks or months from the time the original shot was taken) in which something on screen fails to match the original shot.

Next time you are watching a sub par film, play along by watching for some of these generic examples:
1. length of cigarette changes randomly
2. items of clothing missing or appearing
3. placement of actors or objects in background is inconsistent

Extreme Example: Troll 2 (This one is for my friends Sarah and Jayson who just had their 4th baby and who introduced me to this fine film.) There is a scene in Troll 2 where the dad and the mom are having a conversation. When the camera is on the mom, the dad's shirt is open (I think). When the camera is on the dad, his shirt is buttoned all the way. As this film was incredibly low-budget, I am guessing that they just didn't have a script supervisor, but it would be that person's fault if they had.

Note: continuity errors are a product of simple human oversight and can crop up in the classiest of films. They are, however, more likely to occur (or be noticed) in bad movies.

I'd love to hear some of your favorite examples.