Saturday, February 21, 2015

Movies of 2014, THE WORST MOVIE

            Let me start off by saying: I do not go into movies wanting to hate them.  I wish that all things produced and sold could have something in them for me to take and enjoy, learn from, or be enlightened by.  I like to like things.  I like fun.  And while writing scathing reviews can be fun to write and read, I would much rather be the person who draws attention to something I feel is being overlooked by the general public (like "The Boxtrolls") than to try and tear down something people seem to be heralding as some masterpiece.  That being said... This movie has already won a Golden Globe for "Best Picture".

Worst Movie of the Year 
Yes.  I am being serious.  This thing has a 98% Rotten Tomatoes score.  I hate it. (Poster)
Boyhood                    
            For the life of me I cannot understand the appeal of this thing.  I hesitate to refer to it as a movie.  In an era in which dozens of television shows have run for a decade with casts evolving and each episode presenting a plot with developments and interesting dialogue... What is special about this?

            Hell, forget TV shows, you want to look back at the last decade?  Look at the internet.  You can at any time call up any number of videos of history, news, or even someone's home movies which they freely share.  The world has become a big community posting their family photo albums online for each other to see and empathize with.  So the whole conceit of the movie, that it was filmed in sections over 12 years is meaningless.

            The acting in this is bad.  Just bad.  Ethan Hawke (whom I like as an actor) and Patricia Arquette, are the only people who seem to be trying, and they suck.  Hawke seems to be playing to the back rows which is distracting when he is paired with the kid actors who have no ability at all and are visibly uncomfortable in many scenes.  Patricia by contrast is sleep walking as a sheepish to the point of cowering woman who... gets abused.  The titular boy is so irredeemably dull and mumbling that I actually hated him as a character, though being silent means he can dodge saying the dialogue, which is bizarrely out of touch, as no one seems to talk like a human.  Voids of wit or insight.

            I wonder how much "movie" was left on the cutting room floor.  Because there are scenes in which Hawke spouts the typical know-it-all bullshit that free spirit fuck-wits like his character often spout... But since his character is supposed to be seen as wise by the audience does that mean that they shot scenes with multiple possible insights?

            I imagine you are saying, "Wha?..."  What I mean to say is that Hawke bitches about President Bush.  Now in the present, to the general public, President Bush is seen as a fool who was tricked into invading a country by the military industrial complex, we "know" that.  But they could not have known that at the time they were filming the movie.  So did they film scenes with Hawke's character cheering the invasion?  With Hawke saying that he is worried but hopes that things will be alright?  So that no matter what the ultimate outcome of the Iraq invasion they could have cut the movie together to make him look like the wise father?  The reason I ask is because the movie feels about as artificial and sentiment baiting as it gets and I wonder how much of this was written before hand and how much was weaseled together to give comforting sentiment from the 20/20 hindsight of the audience.

Somewhere in one of these parallel universes, Richard Linklater made a movie about the son of a TEA party activist.  And the effort he went to to make them sympathetic stretched him creatively, and won him no awards.
            Beyond all of that I fell like this could have worked... as a series.  Take each segment that is a year in the life and make it an episode, 12 episodes, each with a story that builds toward the character growing and serving as a snap shot of the time.  Sure you wouldn't get Oscars, you would have to settle for Emmys but the story would have been complete... and an actual story with an arc... rather than: NOTHING.

            I just kept thinking thru the whole thing back to a particular scene in the movie "Adaptation" which gives a brutal criticism of script writing and the necessity of structure and conflict (Watch the video), things "Boyhood" lacks because of its meandering bullshit style over substance Gimmick (there is that word again) of banking on filming a time rather than filming a story.
Overall: 0/10
Worst Movie I have ever seen

            If you felt this movie touched you somehow, please comment.  Please share this with those who are able to explain their opinions.  Because every review I have read emphasizes "the ambition" or "the time capsule nature" of this rather than themes, story, or production which I think of as the key components of a movie rather than what we got.  I welcome someone to tell me I am wrong, but try to avoid the "it was filmed over 12 years" because I know that, and I do not care about that.

            It is strange that 2014 had me find three films that I liked so much that one of them is my favorite film ever now, and another is my favorite super hero movie (of which there are many to choose in a genre I am very found of).  But I also feel that "Boyhood" is the movie I hate the most of any movie I have ever seen (and this is in a year in which I watched 3 movies that I gave 1/10).  I wrote a blog back in May 2011, about the movie I thought was the worst, "Phantasm".  And again that shows how much I have changed as a person.  While I still regard it as crap because by today's standards it looks like it was made in two weeks for 40 dollars with the staff of a failed sitcom and a local Golden Apple diner theater, I "get it" now.  "Phantasm" was about nightmares and dream logic and the loss of control of one's life in the wake of tragedy.  It has themes and weirdness that takes you out of reality and into a story full of... maybe 'imagination' is the best word for it.  It tries.

I am citing this as a positive example of effort.  What?  (Poster)
            "Boyhood" is not really a movie to me.  I used to think one of the worst things a movie could be is stupid, but now... Boring is the worst thing by wide strides.  And "Boyhood" is boring.  It's boring faux profundity is so dense that it bends light and time. When my friends and I watched it I thought we had been watching the god damn thing for 6 days. We wandered thru a desert and nearly died of thirst.


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Friday, February 20, 2015

Movies of 2014, Top Films (3, 2, and 1)

            I originally thought to give each of these there own blog comparing them to other movies I like, but realized that I did not want to give in depth descriptions of each of them, I just preferred people to go watch and enjoy them, which I think most people have in the case of two of them.  So I will just recommend them.  Even going so far as to tell people to buy them.

 #3
This actually has a really good visual to it, the main character split between two worlds.
The Boxtrolls (I am not linking to the trailer because the trailer is rubbish)
            I do not know why this movie specifically spoke to me at the level it did.  I do have some theories though.
            1) It has coherent themes and messages... as the most communist film I have seen in recent memory.  There is a class of tinkerers who lack a voice in the political system being oppressed and labeled as monsters by the villain who is trying to climb a social ladder that shouldn't exist and does nothing to help society.  As I do think a lot of the issues in society come both from a lack of social mobility and a failure to listen to the needs and concerns of the working class this is a good message.
            2) I absolutely love stop motion animation.  This goes back to me talking about Gimmicks in my review of "Birdman".  I fully acknowledge that using 3D puppets and stop motion animation as opposed to CGI is perhaps the more time consuming option and is definitely a style choice.  BUT, THESE ARE PEOPLE MAKING REAL TOYS COME TO LIFE.  My brain marvels at this, and the fluidity of movement in this movie makes it look like people in suits some of the time, and the number of figures on screen all moving at once is dazzling.  This is a gimmick that in theory adds nothing because you could use CGI, but at the same time I appreciate it a lot.  I can't rectify this with my usual stances on things, but I point to this little interview with Quentin Tarantino about the magic of film, the illusion of movement is part of the magic that this movie uses to entice the audience.
            3) The world itself is cool and imaginary without being so outside the norm as to be distracting from the story and characters.  A steam punk city, an economy based around cheese, the whole thing built on the side of a mountain (everybody must have spectacular calf muscles), and a storm sewer filled with gadget loving trolls (pettiest of gripes, these are not Trolls in the strictest crypto-zoological sense, they are goblins, kind of the inverse of the movie "Troll 2" having only goblins on screen, but there they correctly identified them as goblins).
            4) The humor.  While there is a lot of physical comedy and bug eating, much of the humor has to do with word play, puns, and comedy of manners type interaction.  How does the boy raised by monsters fair in a formal setting?  (I got a lot of "Tarzan" vibes off of this story, but trolls instead of apes).  How does the gentry spend the city's money?  (There is one asshole who really needed to die by the end of this movie).  Why is everything named after dairy products?  It is strange but funny.
            Honestly I can see this movie not appealing to many, and its marketing is terrible.  I would never have seen this movie if I had not happened to have a class canceled while they were screening it at the campus theater.  And I imagine few people will seek it out, but please do if you can, I feel it is a very strong film that should be watched.
Overall: 10/10

#2
Fun fact, that opening spoken bit from Eminem's "Rap God" are from a Captain America comic.  (Poster)

            I love Captain America.  Too often today the main character of a story is a high functioning psychopath, autistic, alcoholic, or flawed and damaged in non-specific ways... and that is fine, but it gets to the point where I am tired of seeing flawed protagonists fighting villains who are only marginally more violent or irresponsible than the hero.  Captain America is the inverse of that.
            Captain America is a completely good guy.  He is smart, strong, kind, and is the first to try and offer support to those in need.  He uses his might for right rather than might making right.  His villains are great, twisted extrapolations of the ideals he fought for in the last movie.  Yeah, WWII required a lot of killing before it resolved, but the Nazi's had actually been killing lots of people and invading countries with the intent to kill more.  This movie points out how using insane levels of military superiority to kill people because they fit a profile of someone who might do harm is madness.  "That is not freedom, it's fear."
            It is almost like these themes are super topical and directly speak to the culture we live in.  The militarization of police, the use of drone air superiority... RACIAL PROFILING.  Thank god they got such a great black actor to play the best interpretation of Falcon ever, his presence makes this films team of Secret Avengers (you could have called the movie that) with Cap, Widow, Falcon, Agent Hill, and Nick Fury the most diverse superhero team so far appearing in a Marvel film (discounting the inclusion of Raccoons and Groots).
            Like I said while reviewing "X-Men: Days of Future Past" both films deal with the use of drones to attack remarkable people who could upset those in power, imposing order on a world that resists such impositions.  The stakes are huge in this the villains competent, powerful, and far reaching.  This movie has fantastic scope and intelligence to how it handles its material.  But strangely it also ties into a bad movie I saw some time ago, "GI Joe: Retaliation" a movie which has a criminal terrorist organization seize control of the government, hunting the heroes, all so they can gain control of an orbital weapon.  In "GI Joe" the bad guys are ultimately defeated, but only after 20+ million people were killed by a weapon strike on London.  So I guess it is a good thing Cap was around for this one cause apparently "GI Joe" has proven to be pretty terrible as a franchise.  Gods bless America.
            Strangely (considering I give number rating to things) I tend not to compare movies to one another in my mind.  I don't really like ranking things because different movies are trying for different things.  "Starship Troopers" is a fantastic science fiction movie parodying the military... But it is a terrible western.  "Silence of the Lambs" is an intriguing psychological thriller, but is a terrible romantic comedy.  Unless two movies try to do similar things with similar characters then comparing them is sort of a disservice to those who made them.  Comparing "Batman" to "The Dark Knight" is fair, comparing "Forgetting Sarah Marshal" to "Apocalypse Now" is not fair or logical.  The reason I bring this up is because I do think it is fair to rank the Marvel movies against one another.  Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man are all in the same universe, made by the same studio, and have many of the same themes and tones.  So when I tell you "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is my favorite marvel movie, that information should carry some interesting weight.  I think this movie is the current high mark for subject matter and character dynamics that can be explored in a Marvel film while still doing the doomsday action scene to the T.  I loved this movie.  And as cheesy as this reads, I much like Falcon standing in his kitchen after handing his file to Cap, I feel like I wanted to help.  How could I refuse?  "Captain America needs my help".
            So I guess I am asking you to find a veteran service, free speech defense fund, and (considering he only did in real life what Black Widow did in the movie) re-evaluate Edward Snowden and the role of government in our lives.  Is what is happening around us Freedom?  Or Fear?
Overall: 10/10

My Movie of the Year 
            I can't really describe myself as a fan of Wes Anderson.  Mostly it has to do with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller showing up in his movies and I generally dislike them (they have their moments but mostly... bleh).  But I like his characterization, his blending of styles, the artistry, the weirdness.  Much like "The Boxtrolls" this movie has a strange world filled with characters bordering on being magical.  The humor is smart.  The costuming is cool.  Everything fits together so well that... I don't have any complaints.  None.  Everything about this movie works for me on all levels.
            A long while back I explained that my favorite movie was "Fight Club" (though my brother said that blog was hard to read and very round about to the conclusion).  "Fight Club" is also a movie free of criticism from me.  But I also feel that "Fight Club" appeals to a part of my brain that I am growing away from.  I first encountered the movie when I was 16 and it appealed to a very angry part of my mindset.  "Fuck the man, fuck the machine, fuck the world, I will hit it all in the face until it is unrecognizable..."  But nowadays, while I am still angry about the bad things in the world (including Starbucks) there is a stronger aspect to my personality taking over... My desire to be a part of the best parts of the world.
            Gustav H. (Ray Fiennes) The star of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" stands in direct contrast to Tyler Durden.  Gustav gives speeches to his staff on how to be better at their jobs, and to derive enjoyment from their jobs, to take pride in themselves and who they are.  Tyler gives speeches on why we are nothing, why we are dirt, why we are violent and base, and encourages us to break the system and break from our jobs.  Gustav dresses up and wears perfume.  Tyler doesn't wear a shirt or shoes so as to more effectively grapple people.  Gustav quotes poetry (I actually recognized the first poem he quoted in the movie, the moment I knew I would like the movie).  Tyler splices pornography into family films.
            I definitely have a dark side that makes me want to hit things, that makes me frustrated and angry at the world and the hollowness that is everywhere.... BUT I STILL LIKE STUFF.  I want to live and excel at being a good person who helps his friends and loved ones, and take pride in being the best at what they do and ultimately gets rewarded for it, but still takes real risks for the sake of those around him.  So, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is replacing "Fight Club" as my favorite movie, though like I said before, comparing these two is a study in contrasting styles, tones and themes.  I am not diminishing "Fight Club" it is still great, I am illustrating how I have changed over the years and how my tastes have altered.
Overall: 10/10
Favorite Film Ever

            I really want these movie to win awards.  And out in the world I am sure there are many people discovering things in media for the first time and coming to believe something is their favorite.  Something they love, believe in, something that hits them deep in the mind.  A friend of mine yesterday told me I had made a mistake putting "Interstellar" at number 4.  It should be my number one, and I told him it was a great movie, and for him the best.  But to me it is there.  This is not the sort of thing that should inspire fights, but it should inspire people to explore what they like, why they like it, when, and how, or with who.  The context of the experience is part of the experience.  All are ripples in the pond.
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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movies of 2014, Top Films (6, 5, and 4)

            I was going to do a top 5, with much more elaborate comparisons to good movies of last year, trying to contextualize my tastes and what-have-you... Then I found a 6th movie to put on the list, and I wanted to get these all out before the Oscars... So here is the first half of my top 6 list (6, 5, and 4), one of which is just a link to a much longer review I did months ago.  My best work?  Probably not.  But a quick read.

            I cannot imagine this movie making it onto many "best of" lists.  While it is very well produced, plotted, and has sequences that evoke the right levels of discomfort, it is riddled with clich├ęs, the main character and his kid sidekick especially.  Seriously, does every ex-cop turned unlicensed private eye have to be a recovering alcoholic?  Can't they just be competent without being damaged?
            I really like crime as a genre of fiction and the nature of asking questions, gathering information, the tension of confronting dangerous situations, and the darkness of the consequences of failure.  This movie captures all of those aspects.  It is a good mystery with good characters, and there is a good resolution.
            Some minor complaints, I do not understand the accent that Liam is trying for.  He should have just been an Irish cop in the states, it would have been fine.  They also set the movie in 1999, with the Y2K bug serving as weird background dressing for what is going on.  I am not really complaining about the Y2K thing, but it is an odd choice that boarders on distracting.  I imagine this movie to couple well with my favorite movie of last year "Prisoners" for a gloomy weekend viewing.
Overall: 9/10
 
I really like the quote on this poster, "People are afraid of all the wrong things."  Weirdly profound.
            If you like "No Country for Old Men", "Winter's Bone", and maybe "Mud" this seems like the type of movie for you.  A homeless man whose parents were murdered when he was very young is told by the police that the man who did it is getting released.  Revenge is what follows.
            What sets this apart from others of this type is the vulnerability of the main character.  He is far from being the type of unstoppable badass that defines movies about revenge.  He frequently injures himself while fighting and he can't use a gun for shit.  But he makes up for it by being crafty, setting traps, being elusive, and being fully aware of how completely fucked he is.  There is a good scene in this movie, which is great when set in contrast to "No Country for Old Men".  In "No Country" the psycho hit man has a major leg wound, so he breaks into a pharmacy and treats himself like a badass.  In "Ruin" the main character tries and fails to treat a leg injury and only barely makes it to a hospital before passing out, then later has to escape the hospital while naked.
            This is a dark and violent movie which takes a very pity inspiring protagonist and puts him thru the wringer.  Very good movie.
Overall: 9/10
 
Fun fact: I did not initially want to watch this because I thought it was a low budget independent film about Jesus.
            I already wrote a substantive review of this.  Needless to say it is worth watching and will take you on a journey.  The sense of exploration tempered with hard science, soft science, and sentiment makes me wonder what "Star Trek" would have looked and felt like had Christopher Nolan and company had been in charge of the reboot with this kind of tone and guiding mindset rather than the generic (but fun) action movie vibe that Abrams used.

Overall: 9/10
They are going to release this in IMAX again, because it is awesome.
(Tomorrow I will continue with my 3 favorite movies of the year.)


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Movies 2014, Uncategorized (Some More)

            And of course after writing the last blog which included a large section detailing many movies I had not seen and the reasons why I had not seen them, now I have seen a one of them, and one I had not mentioned.

            If I had known this movie was from the director of "End of Watch" and "Training Day" then I wouldn't have bothered to see it.  His movies are full of bullshit 'be a man' toxic masculinity that I find disgustingly out of place in modern cinema.  The sort of crass sentiment that should be derided but always comes across as lauded in his work.  His bad guys in this and "End of Watch" lack depth or characterization beyond 'Nazi' and 'gangbanger' which would be fine if the movies were trying to be light popcorn fair, but they instead put on airs as being some how "real".  Pretentious is the best way to describe the subject matter.
            Beyond that the movie is poorly made.  It starts with a good cold open as Brad Pitt surprise murders a guy, and we are introduced to the crew... The people we think are going to be the protagonists... They aren't, they are the supporting cast... This is so strange, they just lost a machine gun operator, and the replacement rookie is the main character, he is the one we identify with and follow thru the story, but since we are introduced to these guys first and never knew the now dead previous machine gunner the animosity the tank crew holds toward the new guy comes off as obnoxious.  Here is an idea, why not have us introduced to the original machine gun guy, have him played by a big name actor like Jake Gyllenhal or Matt Damon, feature him prominently in the promotional material, and then kill him off in the opening act, and then introduce the rookie.  The audience will feel the loss of the big actor whom they had assumed would be in the rest of the movie, the shock death will alienate the audience toward the new guy so that we can sympathize with the crew who now have to make due with the rookie.  It is meta-textual.  Then when Brad Pitt forces the rookie to murder a helpless prisoner, in what is certainly a war crime we will see where Pitt is coming from having seen how much worse off they are with a raw rookie on their hands, rather than feeling sickened by Pitt's violent villainous behavior.
            Then there is also the lighting.  I do not know why they felt the need to have this thing look like it was filmed inside Satan's asshole, but it is so dark and lit by flame that I assume it had to be intentional.  The pacing is terrible, at one point the movie stops cold for 20+ minutes so that Pitt and the rookie can have tea and breakfast with a couple women in a captured village (SPOILERS: Even though "Immanent RAPE" is practically written in neon lights over the scene it never happens and mostly it serves to illustrate the differential personas of the various tank men.  However, afterword the women they have tea with are immediately killed by an artillery strike in the cheapest attempt to pull an emotion I have seen in a movie of this type.  Why not just have them play with a dog and then have a Nazi shoot the dog?  YOU KNOW, TO MAKE US FEEL SOMETHING.)
            There is also this odd thing with the bullets.  America's tracer rounds glow a different color than the Nazi's.  One is green the other is red.  So it looks like a battle from "Star Wars".  Was that a real thing?  I can't find info on that, I thought tracer rounds just had magnesium on them that burned white.
            And the last battle.  Unless you are Wolverine or Audie Murphy... This battle is horseshit.  Five guys in a broken tank kill 100+ bad guys who are too stupid to just go around the tank thru the numerous open fields.
            Here is my only two real compliments, I have not seen a movie about tank operations, and the idea of teaching the audience about how tanks worked thru practical demonstrations is interesting, and the fact that the new crew guy was there served as the obvious character to have to explain operations to, but most of it is too 'meh' and 'yeah that makes sense' to be seen as really informative (while I felt the science fiction of "The Final Countdown" was weak, the presentation of naval operation and function was actually pretty informative for its time).  I wish the movie had been more about giving informative to the audience.  The cast was great, Shia LeBeouf and Brad Pitt especially (Though it is odd to think that Pitt is now old enough to portray a character that could have fought in WWI as well).
Overall: 4/10
 
"More Gloom.  Cause it's war.  No battle has ever been fought on a cloudless day.  And besides if we don't use the color scheme to make people feel like shit... well, the story ain't gonna do it for us."
            As a romantic comedy it has by default an incredibly hack plot.  But, you can look past those sorts of things if the other aspects of the production are good.  This one has good production.  The characters are likable and the dialogue is snappy.  I would have preferred a different ending (something less pat and happy) and I think that there are parts of this movie that could have taken a different turn to make it a more memorable and interesting movie, but it is fine for what it does in the context of a hack plot.  I do feel this movie would have benefited from an R rating, allowing the nudity that is featured in the script to be featured on the screen instead of it just being glanced or hinted at, but that is a minor gripe.  I was too hard on this movie while watching it and I imagine that if you enjoy quirky comedies it will appeal to you much more deeply than it did to me.
            I also find it very strange how short Danny Radcliffe is.  I thought he was working with giants, but really he is just itty bitty.  Good enough actor, guess he would have to be with the decade of practice and growing up in the industry, but I guess I can see why he hasn't been in a Marvel movie.  He is a foot shorter than Thor.  I am getting hung up on this and I don't know why.  Maybe because I get tired of people making fun of Tom Cruise who is taller than Radcliffe, and now I am just reacting in the other direction.
            Major contrast to "Fury" in that regard.
Overall: 6/10
 
The international title is "The 'F' Word" which doesn't really make any sense.  Honestly I would have called it 'Fool's Gold' which will only make sense if you watched the movie.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Movies of 2014, Uncategorized

      Welcome to the miscellaneous category of movies that I watched and do not fit into any genre in particular.  There are several movies that I wanted to see, and now that some are on Netflix could have watched with ease, but for whatever reason I just didn’t bother to.  Films that while they look interesting, are popular after a fashion, or are 100x’s more relevant than they should have been, I just feel no drive to watch.  Maybe I am missing out on something that would surprise me (one of my top movies this year I watched on a complete lark when it was free and it blew me away), but I may never know.
      “Frank” is on Netflix, stars one of my favorite actors, and has a quirky premise that is probably very amusing; haven’t seen it.  “The Interview” is one of the most talked about movies because of its relation to a hacking scandal, saber rattling by a third world dictator, and that its digital release was a very interesting impromptu experiment; I do not really want to watch it.  “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has been blasted as one of the worst movies of the year, I am sure I would have had a much more middling reaction, from what I have heard of the thesis of the movie about traditional masculinity vs intellectualism it sounds like a movie that failed in spite of itself.
      “The Monuments Men” looked to be a good and original take on World War II, with commentary on art, and an all-star cast; I actually don’t know why I didn’t see it.  Conversely “Fury” is a very traditional looking take on WWII and I didn’t see that either.  The Fault in Our Stars” is based on a book by John Green, of who I am a fan for his work via Crash Course and Mental_Floss, I would have liked this to be some kind of gateway into his work, but I just didn’t get around to seeing it.  “Nightcrawler” is a movie I still plan to see and will probably do some kind of review in March once I get around to it, though I would have put it into the CRIME category based on what I have seen in the promotional materials.
      I wish I were a professional critic so that I could have been paid to see for free lots of movies and to write about them at time of viewing, but instead I do this run down more as a writing exercise to increase my own proficiency in recognizing what I like and dislike about things so that I can relate them to others.

            This was disappointing.  After the focus that the first movie had with a main character, a clear goal, and a road trip that was a natural outcropping of the plot… This movie was sort of a mess.  While it certainly has its funny elements and many characters get chances to shine with silly moments and sketches… It doesn’t work as a collective whole.  The best part of the movie is when the cast is trimmed down to Walter (the main character from the first movie) and some others going on a mission to save Kermit.  If that had been the whole plot with a ‘b’ plot of Gonzo and Ratso trying to catch Kermit’s impostor, or running the stage show in Kermit’s absence (in that instance there would be no villain) then I think this would have worked really well.  But it is cluttered and that causes an emotional distance from what is happening, the jokes start to fall flat and then… It’s over.
            Maybe I just lack the nostalgia for this property that is needed to love it, because I would be happy to see much of the old cast fade to the background to make room for a new generation of characters.  I have seen enough of the originals and would like to see them pass the baton to some new muppets.  “Muppet Babies” was my gateway drug to this franchise and it had a much smaller cast with a much tighter environment to work humor in.  In the context of a variety show having lots of characters makes sense, but a movie needs to keep things smaller and on target.
Overall: 5/10 
Strangely this poster which just is a group shot of 1/5th of the cast is not that bad.


            This was also disappointing.  I like everyone in this movie, I do not think there is a single actor not pulling their weight, everyone brings something to the table, nobody misses a beat, nobody’s time is wasted and there are a lot of gags that I am still referencing with my roommate months later.  “You can say that again.”
            So why do I find this movie so ‘meh’?  “Tell me about it.”  What was missing?  Why am I just looking back on the parts I liked?  What am I blacking out?  I can’t tell you.  Maybe this thing is actually some kind of masterpiece but I am just having a fit of depression and can’t appreciate the genius.  I doubt it, but how else do I explain that I just did not feel it?
            I wanted to like this movie, but I can’t recommend it.  Just watch the best parts on youtube maybe?
Overall: 5/10
 
Get it?

            (Maybe this should be in the CRIME section).  I thought the first one was fine.  I have issues with comedies based around police because of how little they have to do with police work ("Hot Fuzz" and "Super Troopers" being notable exceptions), hence why I did not bother to see "Let's be Cops" which looked painfully unfunny.
            This one is also fine.  There are lots of good parts and little gags, I laughed loud and hard several times.  The plot and the mystery of it work well and the chemistry between Tatum and Hill is on target and the core the movie rightfully uses as its bedrock.  It has the funniest credit sequence in the history of cinema.  The issue with comedies is judging whether they made you laugh and this one did, but it didn’t make me feel deep and lasting feelings.  It was just a fine little movie to pass the time.  Go ahead and watch it, I am sure many people will get deeper and more lasting enjoyment from this movie than I managed.
Overall: 6/10
 
The Spring Break portion is a very small part of the movie (roughly the last 5th) but is in a lot of the advertising.
            I really liked this movie (I went to see it to kill time, I had accidently locked myself out of my apartment, not much of a story so I will not dwell on it).  The way it subverts the very nature of the “chosen one” hero’s tale narrative structure that is the go to hack script of the modern era elevates it to being something special, and the twist that shows how imagination and creativity with structure and purpose yields fun and enjoyment on a deeper level than merely collecting ever could… That is a message that more people in Hollywood could stand to learn.
            Maybe the best interpretation of Batman ever on film, though the other superheroes get the short shaft in their cameos, I would have liked the joke version of Superman or Abraham Lincoln to have more time, but I guess that Batman is more in need of being made fun than nearly any other character in media.  It is most definitely worth a recommendation, go watch it and enjoy it.
            I do find it strange how many people keep referencing “Everything is Awesome” as some kind of message the movie is putting forth… IT IS NOT.  That song is used as a tool for brainwashing.  It is a tool of evil.  You can enjoy the song, but only ironically, you should recognize it for what it is a parody of hollow entertainment that makes you complacent in your day to day life.
Overall: 8/10
 
Strange thing wrong with this poster: Not enough Lego bricks.
            This movie snuck up on me because I never saw (and still have not seen) Zach Braff's earlier film of "Garden State".
“Wish I was Here” is really touching.  It manages to touch on a lot of modern life (albeit a very millennial, upper middle class, white people problems sort of modern life) with issues of educating kids, religion, the death of a parent, and the overall shit nature of working in an office.
They could have cut a few lingering shots of the desert, or the long driving scenes that are more about showcasing the movie’s music than advancing the plot… but they go out of their way to have gorgeous shots to keep you visually engaged.
The movie has a lot of humor to offset the very heavy conclusion which involves the death of the main character’s father who left a lot of unpacked emotional baggage behind.  It is a good sort of sad.
Overall: 8/10
 
Awful poster.  Should have been one of the long shots of the beautiful landscapes.  Interesting use of the blue/orange color contrast that dominates modern media advertising.
            While this movie is not in my top 5 I understand its appeal and would be happy with it winning an Oscar for best picture (it is one of the 3 movies in that category I have seen... and I am sure that means I have seen more of those movies that a good number of the academy... but whatever).
            Dealing with the creeping realization of one’s own obsolescence and the desperate struggle to establish a professional and creative legacy before finally (literally) bowing out, that is a good topic.  And the casting is great, with the three main characters all being chosen for meta-textual reasons related to their past careers in the superhero genre and their real life reputations in the industry.  Michael Keaton is funny as hell, especially when working with Edward Norton… Really everybody is great, it is almost unfair to point to anyone specifically because I am sure even the minor characters would have consistently delivered on all the material they could be given.
            I would like to take a second to write about GIMMICKS (I will do this again in my top 5, and again when I talk about the worst movie of the year).  I tend to come down on movies that have a Gimmick.  Some silly trick or set of production rules that makes things harder on the actors and crew.  An increase in difficulty that adds an element to the craft of film making that can elevate a movie that would otherwise be a ho-hum entry in history.  “Under the Skin” had nudity and improve acting (including Scarlet Johansen trying to pick up real men hidden camera style).  “Muppets Most Wanted” has the gimmick of celebrity cameos and most of the cast being puppets.  “The Lego Movie” is made to look like the entire film is constructed of Lego. “Birdman” has the appearance of having been filmed in one long continuous take.  The one long take illusion is used to emphasize the fact that the movie is about theater work, that there are no cuts when working on stage.  There is a hidden cut every time the movie goes to complete darkness and there are other hidden cuts whenever there is no one on the screen, but I imagine the typical take on any given scene was 10-20 times the length of a typical take for a modern movie, longer if you take into account the frantic cutting used in modern action movies.  So do I think this gimmick is something that elevates the movie?  Kind of…

For instance, the Kinect was definitely a gimmick that detracted from what it was trying to do.  (image)

            The movie would be fine without the gimmick, it is a solid story with good dialogue, good actors, a good theme, and lots of craft and hard work went into the movie, even with a traditional editing mindset the movie would still be really good, and that is the key in my opinion to making a gimmick work: that the gimmick doesn’t really matter.  It is a flourish that makes a good production better with the added context.  It is a detail that makes those who learn of it say, “Wow, that actually sounds really difficult, I am surprised the movie was so good under those circumstances”.  “Birdman” does that.  Its flourish adds to the production.
Overall: 8/10
I get what they were going for with this.  Except for it being animated/cell shaded.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Movies 2014, "The Signal"

            I already did my science fiction reviews, but managed to watch this one from Redbox and I hated it so much that I am going to give a massive in depth run down of it.  Because much like "Prometheus" it is a movie that sucks in a very interesting way.  Building expertly to a climax that fails completely and leaves you terribly disappointed.  I had high hopes for this movie because the trailer is fantastic.

            (This is all SPOILERS, but it will also tell you why not to watch it.  If you like cryptic bullshit, by all means go see it.  But I would say reading my rundown here and then watching the movie might be even more fulfilling, because you will be able to see my issues with the movie as you go along).
            This might be the most disappointing film I saw all year (and it is the movie I am editing this blog for).  This is yet another movie in the tradition of Damon Lindelof in which striking images, iconography, and intentional obtuseness serve as stand ins for plot and theme.
            What I liked, I actually find that they played to their strengths in a lot of ways, special effects cost money, so most of the mundane sets are intentionally boring and out of date, most of this movie looks like it was filmed in a high school that was out on summer break.  The effects look really good and are only seen often enough to remind you of their existence and relation to the "plot", meaning that they do not wear out their welcome and their appearance still looks cool and mysterious.  I like that the main character is smart, inventive, and not invincible, he seems like a good guy in a hard situation and displays real worry about his friends while also displaying a drive to save them and himself.  Laurence Fishburne is well cast as the cryptic authority figure, a role he has exemplified ever since first encapsulating everything about that character arc type with Cowboy Curtis on "Pee Wee's Playhouse".

"Welcome to the desert of the real," considering how much of the movie takes place in a desert that like is very one the nose.
            Now what I did not like: 1) The "plot".  And I will use quotation marks every time I refer to it as such.  This movie starts with a pair of hackers going on a road trip to take one of them's girlfriend to her new college on the other side of the country, both of the hackers have physical limitations, one has think glasses and is spindly, the main character uses crutches.  This is easily a pitch for a movie
on its own, you could have the characters use hacking skills to steal money, the girlfriend could explain why she is moving away because the main character's condition is worsening and she lacks the emotional strength to be with him... there is a lot of room for interesting stuff without any science fiction entering the picture.  But the real "plot" is that the two hackers are going to make a detour to meet a rival hacker, Nomad that they have been in a dick measuring contest with, really they are hunting down this figure to a remote shack in the desert... Yeah nothing bad could happen here.  For some reason the movie switches to found footage style for this sequence, like something out of "V/H/S", it is a strange choice.  Anyway, they are abducted by aliens.

It happens.  People get abducted.  No reason to be a little pussy about it.
          Now overall the movie has been a little slow, but there is still a lot of exciting things happening.  The mystery and character moments are spaced out enough that the boring parts feel like build up (they aren't) and the twists are just twisty enough to keep you interested.  But then it all starts going to hell.
            The main character wakes up in a lab surrounded by scientists in hazmat gear.  They run tests on him and the strangely low tech aspect of the facility is highlighted, "With all our technology, it is strange that something so crude as a pen still has its place."  (That quote hung with me, but is not on the imdb page.)  Again, good mystery.  But stuff keeps getting introduced, somewhere in the facility there is some kind of monster, which never shown on screen, just claw marks in the walls... and it is never seen in the movie or referenced again... Massive red herring or just a dropped "plot" point?  The Main character hears his friend's voice thru the ventilation system... And then he doesn't, and is told he never did... is he going crazy, are they lying, another dropped "plot" point?  These parts of the movie are never brought up again and lead to nothing.
            Eventually he rescues himself and his girlfriend... Learning that he and the other hacker have had cybernetics bolted onto them.  The both with crutches now has mechanized legs that allow him to Sparta kick people to death.  And the kid with the weak eyes, he must have some kind of Geordi visor right?  No he got cybernetic hands... But is still blind without his glasses?  Was it too much trouble to have his disability match his implant?  (And really having the Visor would have made more sense because he is the one who sees thru the fake surroundings... It is called a metaphor).
            Then we enter the strangest part of the movie, the wandering around interacting with crazy people in a remote desert area.  There is a woman with a Christ fixation, and a violent trucker... Why they are crazy is never explained... Does the main character have some kind of disease from the aliens causing people to go mad, are these people part of some kind of experiment?  It is never answered and later in the movie they are seen ultra-crazy and Laurence Fishburne has to shoot them in the face.... SOMETHING WHICH MAKES NO SENSE WHEN THE ULTIMATE REVELATION ABOUT THE MOVIE IS REVEALED.
            Eventually the main character, the girlfriend, and the other friend all meet up and use a truck to try and escape, having found out that everything they have encountered is just an elaborate fake, a set.  All of the milk containers, cans, and other items are empty.  And the maps they find don't line up to anything.  WHERE ARE THEY?  There is also a mysterious series of numbers (Hello Damon Lindelof's "LOST") but at the very least the numbers are explained... 41:2:3:5 which all add up to 51.  They are in area 51.  Which would have been cute if this movie were made in 1980, but since Area 51 has been mostly declassified as a research station for experimental aircraft, and pictures of it exist online the movie just seems silly and out of touch, like a shittier episode of the "X-Files" (another series which kept throwing shit out to the audience and offering awful explanations).

Including the writers, who clearly had no idea where this was going.
            Thru out all this we keep flashing back to the main character being a runner and coming to a rushing river he can't cross, or times he fell in the mud.  I was expecting these scenes to pay off somehow, that he would come to a metaphorical river, or he would fall down and have to get up... But it doesn't pay off, and it is never talked about either.  He runs with the new cyber legs at super speed, but at no point is it explained what the flashbacks were about.  And then the movie's cinematography gets obnoxious, with slow motion of EVERYTHING.  Explosions, gun fights, characters making realizations, it makes the movie's most exciting science fiction action sequences into boring slogs as things are slowed to the point of stopping.  And the best friend with cyber arms is killed fighting waves of faceless and nameless soldiers.  Another problem with this movie, aside from Fishburne, no soldier or scientist talk to the characters... at all.  Maybe it is supposed to make them seem more hostile but really it just seems annoying.
            Finally there is a confrontation with Fishburne, whose name in this movie is DAMON, which when read backward is NOMAD!  MY GOD!  It's now all going to make sense....

Nope.  Still doesn't make any sense.
            Nothing is explained.  ONLY MORE QUESTIONS.  I do not want everything fed to me, I can make up my own explanations for things.  I am smart and have read a lot of genre fiction.  If you give me clues I can put things together... But this movie just keeps twisting things to the point of it not making sense.  The girlfriend is captured, we never learn if or what cyber augmentations she got... another dead end plot point.  and with an army of soldiers and scientists telling him to surrender the main character charges up his legs like "Dragon Ball Z" and runs to a bridge to escape... He then crashes thru an invisible wall... the whole thing was a "Truman show like dome... and that is not all, IT IS ON A SPACE STATION ORBITING AN ALIEN WORLD.  And: FISHBURNE IS AN ANDROID.  What does this mean?  What are we supposed to take away from this?  What is happening?  No clue.  The movie ends without telling you what anything is or the why.  Is it a zoo?  Is this the future?  Where are they?  Did the people earlier go nuts or were they just androids too?  And if they were androids, why shoot them to turn them off?  Was the girlfriend experimented on?  What about that monster in the lab?  Why did the lab have such out of date technology?  What was up with the flashbacks to the running?  Why were they lured to the desert?  Was it for their hacking abilities?  You could never stop asking questions.

Contrary to the clean appearance, this film is a god damn mess.  Am I alone in thinking this image implies time travel?  I thought maybe this movie was going to be a grown up and dark version of "Flight of the Navigator".  Go watch "Flight of the Navigator".



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movies 2014, Science Fiction

            There were only 4 science fiction movies that I wanted to see but failed to make it to the theater for.  "The Signal", it looks ominous and I imagine has some horror elements to it, I was intrigued but did not see it playing anywhere; "Hunger Games, Mockingjay pt1" I was disappointed in the first movie, I loved the second movie, and... I think it was silly to break this into two movies I will eventually get around to seeing it; "The Zero Theorem" I cannot say that I like Terry Gilliam's presentation of material (having only really enjoyed "12 Monkeys") but I like that he is a creative force in the industry and this is probably an interesting film that looks amazing; and then there is "Lucy" which I mostly avoided because of the "we only use 10% of our brains" myth that is the core of the movie, that falsehood needs to die and I am sure that I am being a dick about something... I will just have to mentally edit the movie to "her mind is mutating to use 10x the energy of a typical human"... Not much better but whatever.

Godzilla (Lies of a Trailer)                                                         
            I already wrote a lengthy review of this that was rather rambling and mostly complained about how derivative it was of "Man of Steel" of all things.  I disliked it immensely.  You can be boring but smart, or dumb but exciting, but you can't be boring and dumb.
Overall: 3/10
 
Marketed with Legendary skill.
            The biggest problem this movie has is that it is called "Robocop" inviting comparison to a classic science fiction movie from the 80's which holds up today from both a scripting and social commentary angle.  This movie in many ways is a microcosm of modern Hollywood, let's take a concept from years ago that because of its uniqueness is fondly remembered, then we will sand off and paint over that uniqueness, making things all black, soulless, and designed by corporate committee.  If I thought that was the intentional subtext of the movie I would call this movie a work of meta-textual genius... I have no faith in the creators to assume that was their goal.
            What did I like?  I really liked the scene in which they show him how little of his body remains, it is sad and strange.  I like aspects of the corporate design process (again meta-textual commentary).  I like a good portion of the investigative technology, in which he becomes a walking talking crime database that can hunt down and crush crime quickly and with results.
            What did I dislike, the stupid ending of "love conquers all", I dislike the general stupidity of Michael Keaton's character toward the end as thru most of the movie he is seen as a crass businessman, but you can see where he is coming from and how his actions make a lot of sense in the world, but then for no reason he turns into Norman Osborne for no reason taunting the hero and threatening innocent people, stupid ending that taints the character.  There is a lack of world building, everything is very bland, there is no violent gang war, no new super drug ("Dredd" had Slow-Mo, which was amazing), there is no formidable bad guy aside from the nameless ED-209 (which in the original movie were a joke, and in this movie they are played straight).
            Honestly if you have the inclination just watch the 80's movie it is quite good.  So I will give this one two ratings, 5/10 if you like the original, and a 6/10 if you just want a generic soulless hack science fiction film.
Overall: 5/10 (6/10)
 
I find this poster poorly made because of the poorly rendered image of his mouth, like they edited it on in photoshop.  That and it is a really boring picture, most of them are like this.
Edge of Tomorrow                                        
            I liked this movie so much I went out and read the book.  And I want everyone to know beyond a shadow of a doubt: THE MOVIE IS BETTER.  All the book has going for it is the premise of space invasion and time loop, great premise, but the characters are dull, and due to translation issues I am certain all the humor and wit has been sucked out.  To show how translation errors are probably at work, the original title of the book directly translated to English from Japanese is, "All you need is Kill", and if that is not ENGRISH then I do not know what is.  Though the "Edge of Tomorrow" title is pretty meaningless too, and it should have been called "Live, Die, Repeat" like it is now on DVD... I am wasting time on this comparison.
            Once again I find Tom Cruise to be a great actor surrounded by great actors who make a premise that should be bonkers seem down to earth and accessible.  Emily Blunt is properly tough, Bill Paxton is salty, and Cruise is funny.  That all being said this is another science fiction movie (the other being "Oblivion") in which Cruise is miscast in the role and too much of the script exists just to justify his age, compelling a 50 year old borderline civilian press monkey into being on the front lines during an invasion is stupid, and symptomatic of other stupid decisions made down the line, as apparently all the competent military leaders in the world are all dead and we are left with General Brigham, played by Brendan Gleeson; who when confronted with proof of time travel being used by the aliens to gain an advantage in the war he ignores the implications and pushes forward with a suicidal plan.  I do not know, the movie has bad leadership so that the can do spirit of the troops can be shown as the true key to victory... Maybe.
            Something notable I did not like: The design of the aliens.  What were they thinking?  A chaotic mass of tentacles and claws that is in constant movement, I have no idea what I am looking at half the time, they move so fast and are so confusing that I find them annoying rather than threatening or cool.  Maybe I was spoiled by the Tripods in "War of the Worlds", those things are menacing, mysterious, and I know what the hell I am looking at.  Or the Xenomorph in "Alien".  Of the Bugs from "Starship Troopers".  This movie tried too hard on the designs and it is just a mess.  By contrast the battle armor used is strangely awesome, and seems to resemble current proto-types in real life, but with less polish.
            So overall the cast is great, the premise intriguing, the plot is a little contrived (there is a full blown plot hole at a key moment in the movie), and the monsters are stupid looking.  The goods outweigh the bad.
Overall: 7/10
 
I am strangely okay with this poster.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes                                   
            My issues with this movie begin and end with one character, some nearly nameless jerk who is prejudiced against the Apes because the plague that caused the fall of humanity was dubbed "The Ape Flu".  That is the stupidest reason I have ever heard of for disliking something, that is like being racist against black people because a member of your family was attacked by Africanized bees, or disliking Egyptians because you know someone who caught West Nile Virus.  The characters transparent stupidity is so out of place compared to the logical and well thought out motivations of the main villain and the heroes that he actually harms the movie with his presence.
This guy.  I don't blame the actor, the character's reasoning is the issue, it makes no sense.
            Aside from that one major failing the movie is fantastic.  Fantastic characters with political dynamics, character interactions, a unique sci-fi premise extended logically so as to create a world that feels real because of how it looks and how the characters live within it.  If the shitty character had not been in there, or just had a logical reason for his hostility then I would have ranked this movie even higher.  As is it is a fun movie with a lot of daring plot developments.  Maybe the last confrontation is a little trite?  Maybe some characters become too tunnel visioned?  Maybe.  But the movie works.
Overall: 8/10
 
This is an awesome poster.
            This is the sort of instant classic that flew under most people's radars and should be receiving more attention and praise.  As an action movie it is gorgeous, with dynamic action in a cool environment.  As political satire it is laser focused.  Dialogue is clear, concise, and does not explain too much or leave out important context, allowing the full picture of what is happening to become clear as the movie progresses.
            The movie I most want to compare this to is "Elysium" which I felt had more problems.  And these two movies are similar in a lot of ways.  Mostly in that "Elysium" has the same message of the unwashed masses being cruelly neglected by some powerful overseers.  I thought that "Elysium" had poorer villains, the environment was not as cool, the cast seemed weaker, and the dialogue is weaker.  I also prefer the bleaker and more unpleasant ending of "Snowpiercer" to the very pat to the point of naive ending of "Elysium".  While the two are both have similar messages and even similar plot points, "Snowpiecer" is just a higher quality film that does the subject matter more justice.

Overall: 8/10
This link, is an article mostly about the changing economics of film distribution and is flat wrong about most of it, using concepts such as the cost of printing reels (which with digital projectors and networked computers is an issue that no longer exists) as justification for why theater releases are not as viable anymore.  Though the irony of a movie about a populist uprising on a vehicle that exists to break thru the frozen waste being the breakout of the old economic model would be ironic.