Reel Mess

October 8, 2012

“Gnomeo and Juliet” (2011)

Arguably Gnomeo and Juliet was the most unrated and surprising movie of 2011. This cartoon from Touchstone pictures has an all star cast of voices including James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), and Patrick Stewart (William Shakespeare), and is just the right type of humor. Understated, well timed, and completely random. Along the same lines, almost if not the entire score is made up of repurposed Elton John songs, which adds undeniable charm to this crazy little movie.

There are plenty of the obligatory Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare related jokes as well as a fair amount of physical/kid humor. The story is Romeo and Juliet with a lawn gnome flair (and as it is a kids movie, they keep the killing to a minimum), and there is rumor of a Sherlock Holmes-ian sequel.

Overall, the movie is bright and random and fun.

4 stars out of 5 for a talking Will Shakespeare statue that hopes they both die in the end.




October 7, 2012

“The Little Mermaid” (1989)

Thus begins what I have decided to call “Operation DVD cull”. I have decided, since I no longer have any space on any of my multitude of DVD shelves, to watch every dvd I own in the order they are currently shelved. If I want to skip any of them then I have to get rid of that dvd. Naturally it is necessary to blog along the way. Also, ideally, these are all movies I enjoy, so it will give me an excuse to write about movies I like instead of just complaining about those that I don’t.

“The Little Mermaid” is unquestionably a classic among my contemporaries. While Ariel does not present the most independent or intelligent leading ladies Disney could dream up, she does have her own particular charm. Most girls can relate to “falling in love” with a guy they’ve just met or glimpsed across the room. Plus, Prince Eric does turn out to be rather sweet and likable.

The Little Mermaid also features one of the best Disney villains, Ursula the Sea Witch. She has witchy powers, two adorable eels friends, and a garden of damned souls. Basically, she just wants to stick it to King Triton, and is evil for the sake of being evil.

The music is also undoubtably classic, if you hang in the right circles. There are very few Disney songs that can compare to Under The Sea, Kiss the Girl, and Poor Unfortunate Souls.

Three thumbs up for nostalgia, and because feminist types like to rip it apart because Ariel essentially sells her soul for a man. Details details.


August 5, 2012

“Magic Mike” (2012)

I went into “Magic Mike” with very low expectations. And I’d love to say that I’m a big Soderbergh fan, but really, we all know why I bought the ticket:


But I can say, with very little pause, that “Magic Mike” was quite possibly the worst movie I have seen this year, and quite possibly ever. Which is saying a lot, because seeing bad movies and feeling superior is what I do best.

The worst part is that this could have been a decent, dare I say, good movie. Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Here’s what could have been done to salvage this movie:

-Scrap the dialogue.

-Scrap the girl, Brooke (Cody Horn) and her brother, Adam (Alex Pettyfer): recast if roles are kept. The scenes between these two are so bad, they are physically painful to watch. Cody Horn is probably a lovely person, but this movie is not her best work (I sincerely hope).

-Rewrite script: was there a script? Was dialogue written and reread beforehand? Or did the actors just ad lib on set? Reid Carolin I’m looking at you.

-rewrite to: striper strips for some sort of misguided desire for female acceptance, use dialogue with Joann etc to show that his only relationships with woman are for his body, have the business thing a subplot for the personal storyline, with it building, some sort of definite goal he can achieve (a certain $$ amount, or some sort of investments maybe? Something more concrete than a credit score) (or if going the credit score route discuss why his credit score is so low in the first place). Either move Adam’s character to the forefront and have his struggles in some way relate to Mike’s, or scrap him all together. Have climax of the film be his break through with girl that all his other relationships with women are superficial but he’s ready to have a meaningful relationship.

-Have Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) be a woman, or have his betrayal be with someone other than Adam’s character. I like Matthew McConaughey. I even like Matthew McConaughey in this movie. But his character, or rather all the characters in this movie, is a device. Either use him well as a device, or make him an actual character.

-Have someone who has actually spoken to another human being ever in their life write the dialogue. Good actors can deliver bad dialogue and make it believable. Bad actors delivering bad dialogue makes for scenes so painful to sit through the audience wishes for an aneurysm to end their suffering.

-Use two-shots during conversations, for the love of god, not everything has to be a single (it makes it feel insincere and forced) (or, if you’re going to do singles because you’re trying to express Mike’s isolation or whatever, put the camera closer to his eyeline).

-Either make the drugs a thing, a big thing, or get rid of them. Commit to it, or don’t do it.

-Cut at least 2 minutes out of every single scene.

-Get rid of the title cards with the months on them, for the love of all that is holy and good could they think of no other way to demonstrate the passage of time? A tv news report, a month business report from one of his business guys, a trip to a bank every month, a calendar… those are off the top of my head at nearly 1 am. Why… why why would anyone use title cards saying “JUNE” on them.

-Have a score, even if it’s just some light emotional crap. Something instead of the room tone going on for the three hundred reaction shots of Brooke making the exact same face.

-Have Brooke and Mike hook up earlier, give a reason for the tension. Then it makes her valuing him as a person instead of just a piece of meat more important.

-Circular logic, but either hire actors who can carry a scene, or at least don’t put two actors who can’t carry a scene in a scene together.

-Don’t ever have siblings refer to each other as “brother” and “sister”, don’t have them do it fourteen hundred times in the course of a 2 hour movie. We got it the first time, the very first time, when Adam said, in the truck “I live with my sister”.

-The dialogue hanging over into the next scene works sometimes, but interestingly enough, never at all in this movie. Not once.


Even with really low expectations, this movie still manages to disappoint. I wanted to enjoy some eye candy, but instead ended up gauging my eyes out over the terrible acting and god awful dialogue.

E+ I just made up that grade up. The plus is for Channing Tatum’s smokin’ body.

March 4, 2012

“The Lorax” (2012)

The Lorax opens in a town called Thneedville, a completely plastic, and happy that way, city surrounded completely by a large wall and void of trees, plants and animals of any sort. Here we meet Ted (Zac Efron), a young man who is head over heels for Audrey (Taylor Swift), his neighbor who wants only one thing, a tree. Ted sets off to find a tree, thanks to the some what obscure advice from his grandma (Betty White). Unfortunately, the corporate, power hungry villain (mandatory in all non-Disney movies), Mr. O’hare (Rob Riggle) has eyes throughout the city, and discovers Ted is off to find the one thing that can offer what he sells (air, no joke) for free. Ted meets Once-ler (Ed Helms), who tells him the story of what happened to the trees and about the Lorax (Danny DeVito)

This is a fun movie. There are quite a few jokes that are hilarious to any age, some that will appeal only to people with a certain quirky sense of humor, and a good amount aimed at the kids (it is a cartoon after all). It is a good discussion guide for why we need to avoid littering, be mindful about use and care of the earth and resources, and why greed is bad. It’s interesting to note that the book was written in 1971, so while there is a lot of focus on being “green” these days, it is obviously not a new concept (just one we can’t seem to grasp fully).

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if the issues I have with the movie are from the book or if they were added to make a full length movie out of a children’s book. Greed is a great thing to villianize, and it’s a vice that people try pretty hard to justify. And I guess the film needed conflict after Ted finds the Once-ler. But we have Once-ler, who destroyed all the trees out of greed, then we have the corporate, money hungry, power hungry, O’Hare who wants to keep the trees destroyed. Not once does anyone say to him “The trees are gone because of people like you” or anything like that. It’s just like “Okay, another greedy man.” We get it, greed = bad. Greed hurts everyone. Can we have a different motive? Is greed the only reason people do bad things? No. Is it something that children struggle with? Yes, so I do understand that it will be a common theme in children’s movies. Another thing that isn’t addressed in the movie is that no one, besides the Lorax, tries to stop Once-ler from cutting down all the trees. He cuts down every single tree, and no one says anything.

A companion of mine found it disturbing that Ted seems so much younger than Audrey, saying she looks fourteen and he seems seven. I disagree. I imagined the age difference to be less dramatic, maybe three years, or so. Also it’s very realistic that a young boy would have a crush on a girl much older than himself, and there is no indication that she feels the same way about him in the least. Additionally, Ted is voiced by Zac Efron who looks like this:

Exhibit A

Aside from the minor “Haven’t I seen this villain before?”, this is a charming film with plenty of humor. It’s no “Over The Hedge” or “Ratatouille” but it is enjoyable.

Two thumbs up for Ted falling into the gorge instead of sailing across it on his bike.

February 21, 2012

“This Means War” (2012)

The recipe for a good movie is simple. You take a good story, with interesting characters, and you hire competent people to make the story come to life. It’s astounding how very few movies get both these pieces right. Perhaps I expect too much. Perhaps my expectations for a fun movie are too high. Or maybe I’m not particular enough when selecting my movies. Whatever the case may be, I had to see “This Means War” twice to reconcile how bad it was despite how much I wanted to like it. I did really want to like it.

FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are CIA agents, apparently not the best of the best, who get “grounded” in the second scene. Tuck starts thinking about how he’d like to get himself a nice girl and settle down. So despite all evidence that this would never happen in real life, he tries online dating. Immediately, he is connected with Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). They have an extremely short first date, then she meets FDR around the corner in a video store (because this is 1998). She is a complete bitch to FDR, who for some reason finds that attractive. He then stalks her at work, and practically harasses her into agreeing to see him.. Meanwhile she goes on a second date with Tuck, who by what the audience sees of their dates, is an attractive, sweet, British guy. So Lauren meets FDR at a club where he is a complete slimeball. But then he saves her from an embarrassing encounter with her ex, so suddenly she’s willing to give him the time of day. FDR and Tuck soon discover that they’re dating the same woman and turn it into a competition, which at it’s best involves manipulating Lauren into thinking that they are also interested in her interests. There is a weak subplot woven in about an angry Russian bent on revenge and it all comes to a head when FDR and Tuck’s friendship falls apart, Lauren is finally able to make a choice between them but ends up leaving both in a burning restaurant, and then angry Russian shows up looking for blood.

I like Chris Pine. I like Tom Hardy. I enjoy movies with good looking men. And with the exception of some lines that seemed like they were written by someone who has never been on a date in their life, the acting was not the problem with this film (okay, there are other exceptions too, but we’ll get to those in a bit).

Exhibit A

There should never be a single frame of a hollywood movie out of focus unless it is a stylistic choice made by the filmmakers. And yet, in this film there is a shot that is out of focus. Worse yet it is used multiple times in the scene. How does this happen on a professional set? How did the AC screw up, the operator not notice, the scriptsup and director not notice (if they had video tap which they pretty likely did)? Then in the editing room, the editor chose that out of focus shot to put into the film? Was… that the best take? Was that the ONLY take? Was the film behind budget so they had time for one take of this one set up, and it was out of focus, but they got it so they had to move on. Or they were behind budget so they didn’t use camera assistants, and the operator was trying to focus and op (which on a static shot would not be that hard, but okay). Focus the camera! Hello hollywood! If I wanted to see a movie out of focus I’d download it illegally from the internet, I wouldn’t pay $8 to see it in a theater (I was willing to blame the projector, until I saw the reverse shots of the woman he was talking to were in focus).

Exhibit B

Continuity is another area where hollywood films should be fairly on top of things. Everyone loves to find mistakes in movies, where the milk van drives through the background of a period piece or where a hobbit is wearing shoes, and there’s a certain amount that audiences can forgive. But in “This Means War” it’s like they didn’t even try. Continuity is all over the map. Things appear and disappear all over the place.

To add another nail in this technical sloppiness coffin, the audio is out of sync with the actors lips consistently through this movie. Word on IMDB is that they edited some of the dialogue to get the film from an R rating to a PG13. So they just cut wide, rerecorded the dialogue and hoped no one was looking that close. Awesome. You know what would happen in any other profession if you did that? It was to the point that it seemed like at least once every scene someone’s lips did not match what the audio was saying.

My apologies to Angela Bassett but she was only in this movie for maybe a total of five minutes and a toaster would have been more convinces in her role. She was like a robot who has heard a lot about how humans “mean bosses” behave.

Then the writing at times. Oh the writing. Too many chefs not enough indians (as the not at all politically correct phrase states)? With three writers credited, it’s not entirely clear who should shoulder the blame for this script, but there were parts that had certain audience members wondering if maybe they were drinking antifreeze while writing the script. Strange things are never explained. Why is there a character named FDR, that seems like it could use a 30 second dialogue exchange. Why is there a glass bottom pool on FDR’s roof? Why is one of the signs FDR’s character has changed is that he watches “Titanic”? Why is there a bullet proof Tahoe… in existence… at all? Why does everything they shoot at explode? Why does Tuck take her to a trapeze? Why is Lauren not at all upset to learn the two guys she’s been dating are CIA agents? She is not phased at all. Not in the least. That is something that would give me pause. Especially after being kidnapped by vengeful Russians.

Memo to screenwriters: scary bad guys kill people, they don’t drive them around and make empty threats.

To add insult to injury, Lauren has a friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler) who is so obnoxious through the course of the movie, it’s tempting to jump into the screen and hit her in the face. Why is the new “in” thing in movies for normal people to have unbearably obnoxious friends? Her character is over the top and Chelsea tries really hard to be funny. But she falls so pathetically short, she’s comparable to the kid on the bus making fart noises in high school. No one thinks you’re funny, honey, you’re just weird and disgusting and immature. If I went to the movies for the rest of my life without hearing anymore penis jokes, I would die happy. You know what isn’t funny? Penis jokes. You know what I’ve had enough of in all movies, but especially “comedies”? Penis jokes. Grow up. You’re not ten anymore.

Furthermore, there was more chemistry between FDR and Tuck than there was between either of the guys and Lauren. To be fair to Reese Witherspoon, her character was a cardboard cut out of a woman. Why would either of these guys want to date her? They never discuss anything of any substance, she’s a cliche (really with the puppy and the kids? and the paintings?). She’s pretty and she’s smilie and why not! She doesn’t care we lie to her and stalk her and are pretty all around creepy. Also, why would you, if you had an attractive, sweet, earnest, obviously successful, British interested in you, why would you waste your time with the slime ball? You wouldn’t because you’re a, by all accounts, semi-intelligent woman. I saw this movie because of Chris Pine and even I would have chose Tuck over FDR.

This film, like so many on the market these days, is formula. A fill in the blanks, no thinking required, “oh it’s different because it’s a SPY rom com”, film. Which is fine. There is a time and a place for formula. Just do it right. Have it in focus, make the characters interesting, explain weird things like naming a character after a US president’s initials. Within the first few scenes any audience member who has ever seen a movie can tell you what’s going to happen. It’s obvious that Tuck will go back to his wife and kid, it’s clear that Lauren will end up with FDR, even though I was hoping she’d dump them both when she found out they’d been lying to her, but apparently she can overlook that easier than any real woman would. You know that the Russian is going to show up and put Lauren in danger, and you know that she will come between FDR and Tuck.

Contrary to what this blog might imply, I don’t have a problem with “bad” movies, if they’re fun. If I’m enjoying the chase or the hunt or something. This movie was not, for me, fun. It was difficult for me to reconcile how much I love Chris Pine with how much I was not liking this movie. I thought maybe if I saw it again I’d like it better. It didn’t work. I liked it even less the second time around. I could go on for another 1500 words of things I didn’t like about this movie, but I think we all just need to cut our losses. The only thing I can say for this movie is that it’s better than “One for the Money” because at least this one had Chris Pine and Tom Hardy to look at.

D: skip it and watch “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” if you want a hot, spy/action movie, or “Unstoppable” if you’re just watching for Chris Pine.

February 11, 2012

“A Dangerous Method” (2011)

Based on a play based on a book, “A Dangerous Method” (2011) examines the development of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) with the, for lack of a better word, assistance of Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightley).

While a tad slow and oddly paced (several time jumps that while explained with text were not very well visually ushered), the film is fantastically interesting because of the relationship between the characters and the very griping performances of the actors.

Kiera Knightley channels with Winona Ryder ala “Girl Interrupted” (1999) a few times, but it is easily over looked thanks to Michael Fassbender’s understated portrayal of Jung.

Where I felt “The Descendants” failed “A Dangerous Method” excelled; similarly a character drama, “A Dangerous Method” does not focus on what happens, but relies on the audience to be interested and invested in the relationships between the characters and how those relationships are effected by each other and the lives of the characters. Particularly interesting is the introduction of Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) into the mix and the chaos he creates in the lives of Jung and Freud, even though he’s only in the film for maybe fifteen minutes.

The film is enjoyable, if slow, and the performances are rather steller, but it would be out of character for me to not have a few grumbles.

No one’s accent in the film was flawless. Accents are hard, we get that, but come on. It surprisingly didn’t pull me out of the movie too many times, I think because I knew going in that no one was using the accent they actually have, so perhaps it was expected that there would be slips.

Also, a few scenes into the film I found myself thinking “this is very ‘stage play’esq” and chided myself for the thought because if a play can pull it off, and hold your attention, then a movie should be able to do the same thing. However. I realize now that this is a complete lie. With a play there is a relationship between the actors and the audience. The performance feeds off of the audience. A film doesn’t get that luxury, but it gets the benefit of being able to direct the audience’s attention to specific nuances, to show them exactly what the filmmakers want them to see, and to allow them to see the entire world. Then I discovered during the end credits that the film is based on a play. I hate it when I discover something about the script through the course of the movie (like the “this is based on a book” revelation). It makes me feel like the filmmakers missed something in the making of the film, that they lost something crucial to film. The blocking and camera movement in this film is what led me to my revelation, and I can imagine why the filmmakers chose to do what they did. I suppose they were trying to keep the emphasis on the performances and the characters, however, a good filmmaker should be able to enhance a great performance with a dynamic camera.

An interesting note, and unfortunately I didn’t notice this until maybe half way through the film so it could be that I’m completely mistaken, but it seems as though Sabina is in white in every scene she’s in with Jung, but when she’s with Freud or going to see Freud she’s in a dark color, brown or dark grey or black. Also when Jung leaves her for the first time she intentionally gets her white dressing gown muddy. It’s probably over analytical to suppose what this what meant to convey to the audience, but I’m sure Jung and Sabina would forgive me. White is traditionally symbolic for purity or virginity, which is interesting since Jung takes Sabina’s virginity, and because Sabina is often discussing purity and how true purity can only come from truly destructive actions. Sabina herself is a destructive force in of herself, but it could be argued that by destroying Jung she allowed him to make notable contributions to the field of psychology in his own right.

Even though I thought the performances were exceptional, I would have liked to have seen someone extremely talented in the role of Jung, someone like Leonardo DiCaprio. And since I’m a visual learner:

Hello Leo


However, I think the film stands well as is and is worth taking a look.

8.5/10 For bad accents and Kiera Knightley needing a sandwich (or 17) .

February 7, 2012

“The Descendants” (2012)

What’d I miss here? “The Descendants” is getting critical acclaim right and left, and is collecting awards like James Cameron ala 1997, and as I sat watching the film I could not for the life of me figure out why.

George Clooney (you may have heard of him) plays Matt King, a lawyer who is the inheritor of millions of dollars and almost an entire hawaiian island. Matt at the start of the film has two daughters and a comatose wife. The audience is introduced to Scottie (Amara Miller), Matt’s younger daughter, as a somewhat moody ten year old as he struggles parent her while his wife is in the hospital, then later Alex (Shailene Woodley) his 17 year old daughter. Caution, the following will contain spoilers.

Matt has one hell of a week: while he’s trying to navigate his way through a business deal involving a dozen or so cousins who all have a stake in the families property inheritance, his wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie) ends up in the hospital in a coma. The doctors inform him that she’s getting worse instead of better and due to a signed contract they will not continue to treat her (the ol’ “if I can’t live on my own, let me die” clause). Then, as if things weren’t rough enough already, when Matt fetches Alex from the boarding school they sent her to in order to rehabilitate her from her drug/alcohol problems, she tells him that his beloved, dying wife was having an affair.

Naturally, Matt sets out to find the man his wife was cheating with, under the rouse of telling him that she’s dying. His search leads him to Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), a married real estate agent who stands to gain a tidy sum from the land deal Matt is the executor of.

In the end, the wife dies (after being yelled at a lot), Matt doesn’t sell the land, the girls come to love their father and Matt gets a better understanding of his daughters.

First of all, it was obvious that this was based on a novel, which is dreadful. It’s fine and dandy to turn books into movies, they’ve been doing it practically since the beginning of film, but there’s something about when you can tell, without knowing, that a movie is based on a book, that is wretched. Also I would like to point out that of the last five movies I’ve seen three of them were based on books. Three. Is anyone writing anything in hollywood anymore? Okay fine, you read the book, thought it would be a great movie. Fantastic. Don’t start the movie with unaccounted for voice over (it’s not like it’s voice over through the credits then we see the people talking, no, it’s just narration), and then not carry it through the entire movie. It just stops, for no reason. Okay, or better yet, let’s give the voice over a rest for awhile. Sit down, write something original, and leave the voice over in the drawer for a couple of years. Then it will be new and refreshing and fun.

In the opening scene, Matt tells us in no uncertain terms that just because he lives in Hawaii doesn’t mean he lives in paradise. Not to beat a dead horse but:


I’m having a hard time relating to living in not Paradise pictured above, while living in:


Detroit. In February. Surely he can see where we’d get confused.

Secondly, while George Clooney’s performance was good, the audience expects nothing less. He’s George Clooney, and on a guess his salary for this film was probably well over ten million dollars. So yeah, he should be good. But there were scenes that I thought could have come right off of the high school gymatorium stage, very wooden, exaggerated performances, that had me wondering if I was seeing the same movie that’s winning these awards. With the exception of Shaileen Woodley, who did an extremely good job, and her character was deep, interesting, and well portrayed.

With apologies to Alexander Payne, I didn’t relate to the film at all. Maybe because I am not a man or a father or a millionaire or married or living on Hawaii. Could be, but it seems unlikely. I find it hard to believe that the filmmakers were planning on only millionaire fathers who live on Hawaii relating to this film. Frankly I didn’t care about Matt, or his problems or his wife, I felt no connection to the character and no interest to develop a connection. After spending two hours with him there’s very little I could tell you: he’s married, has two daughters, is a lawyer though I don’t know what sort of law he practices, he runs at least when he’s stalking cheaters, and he’s Hawaiian.

There are other characters, of course. Brian’s wife, Liz’s parents, Alex’s friend Sid, Scottie’s friend Reina, Liz and Matt’s best friends. But none of them are particularly interesting either and most of them contribute to the high school production feeling of the scenes they’re in.

So, while it’s not a terrible movie, and there are some very fantastic moments, very well done scenes, I hardly think it’s the best picture of the year, or George Clooney’s best movie (Or Alexander Payne’s best for that matter).

2.5/5 stars for getting my hopes up and being a major let down.

February 5, 2012

“Chronicle” (2012)

Chronicle is a film about three high school seniors who stumble upon a mysterious substance in a hole in a field then discover they have acquired telekinetic powers. After seeing the trailer for this movie I thought it was going to be abysmal garbage. The trailer portrays it as a suspenseful bastard child of “The Blair Witch Project” and “X-Men” staring B movie actors. I obviously saw this movie because I love ripping apart bad movies.

But it wasn’t terrible. I wouldn’t even call it bad, per say. It was by no means brilliant, but it was fun, it was different. It’s a super “hero” movie that’s not based on a comic book or a cartoon, but is instead original material. And it was fun to watch and I found the characters very interesting and for the most part very engaging. The CGI was- well- the first word that comes to mind is passable. There were a few scenes where it could have been a little tighter, but over all it didn’t take me out of the story. And actually, I think I prefer “Chronicle” to “Green Lantern” and while I’m not certain, I’m willing to bet that “Green Lantern” had a much larger budget attached.

That being said, there are some issues, of course. Keeping in mind that I did like the movie and thought it was fun (obviously there are spoilers below):

The primary lead character is Andrew (played by Dane Dehaan), who is trying to deal with a dying mother, an abusive, alcoholic father, and not having any friends because he’s an unlikable prick. He obtains a camera and the footage presented to the audience is meant to be from his camera (for probably 90% of the film). Andrew, as you probably know if you’ve seen the trailer, goes a little Helter Skelter with his powers and starts hurting civilians. Andrew, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and high school politician, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), acquire telekinetic powers (the ability to move things with their mind) together when they go into a hole with a big glowing ball (assumably an astroid, though it’s never addressed). The three develop a loose friendship around these powers, practicing their skills and working their “muscle”. Matt, a high school philosopher who happens to be in love with an apparent activist via video blogger, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), tries to establish rules for their new found abilities when it becomes clear that Andrew can’t help hurting people with his. These rules are for conversation only, apparently, because one of the rules is that they won’t use their powers in front of people, then they enter the school talent show.

The film went to too much trouble trying to justify Andrew using his powers for evil instead of good. Humans are naturally hardwired to do what’s going to benefit them and to find the easiest way out of any discomfort, therefore it would likely only take a small personality quirk, for lack of a better word, to take that one step further. Psychopaths and sociopaths rarely have a reason to be the way they are, ie abuse, tragedy, etc. But, okay, the filmmaker didn’t want to make Andrew a certifiably mentally ill killer, okay. But don’t beat us over the head with it, it would have been easier to swallow if one of the issues was to blame, maybe his mom is ill and despite his best efforts he can’t seem to save her, and the rest of the world can’t seem to be bothered to either. The abusive father storyline was way too over the top, so much so that it would have been a far better movie if he didn’t have a father at all. But they chose to have an irrationally angry drunk character that was about as deep as a potted plant. So, the audience is expected to think that Andrew doesn’t care about anyone else because he feels like no one else cares about him, right. We got it after the first scene, we don’t need another four. They obviously wanted to make it clear that Andrew doesn’t have any friends, but there are so many other potential reasons why that could be. He could be shy (as he claims he is), he could be too busy taking care of his mom to cultivate relationships, he could be an incredibly nerdy kid that spends his time building robots out of trash, but instead he’s the least likable fictional character we’ve seen in a long time. He has a few clever lines, and we do feel sorry for him, but that’s really all he’s got going for him. Now I’m sure they don’t want the audience liking him and then being disappointed when he turns into a blood thirsty maniac, but really, it’s not any huge surprise that this kid doesn’t have friends, he’s an asshole.

Then, Andrew after having the shit beat out of him by his dad, kills Steve when he confronts him about it. Suddenly, we have a kid who has allegedly been beat on by this guy for awhile, who has so far only used his power twice to hurt other humans, “accidentally” a complete stranger and then in self defense against his abuser, then he kills his best friend. There isn’t any acceleration of his willingness to hurt. After killing Steve he kills a spider then rips the teeth out of someone at school. One would expect that he would start with the spider then his desire to even the field with his powers would increase, leading up to him killing his friend. But okay, it was an accident, we can set that aside. Plus they needed to get rid of one of the “good” guys, otherwise the other two could just team up on Andrew and take him out.

The relationship between Casey and Matt is pushed pretty hard throughout the film, but it just doesn’t work. It’s unnecessary, and it feels very forced and awkward. The characters have no energy between them, and we’re led to believe that Matt used to be a jerk, and that’s why Casey isn’t interested, but we never actually see him be a jerk, he’s actually rather nice most of the movie.

There are also obvious issues with human flight, the first one coming to mind is how would they breathe at altitude, but again, we can set these aside as a viewer because it’s a fictional movie, not a documentary about human flight, and because it’s a really awesome cool idea (to be able to fly around in the clouds). This suspension of disbelief is easy when, as a viewer, you’re engaged in what the characters are doing and you feel like you’re there as well.

It is extremely distracting for audiences (for me anyway) when actors try to be other actors. It is distracting and frankly annoying. I found that to be the case in this movie with both Andrew and Matt. Dane Dehaan seems to be channeling Leonardo DeCaprio ala “Marvin’s Room”, which has been done. Old news. If I wanted to see Leo in “Marvin’s Room” I would have watched it. This is beyond looks, it has to do with tone and motion and actions and mannerisms. Yes, Leo is a great actor, but you’ll go farther and do better if you set yourself apart instead of blending in. Then Alex Russell, well, imagine if James Franco and Ashton Kutcher had a baby. One could go through and point out characteristics in each screen shot of Alex and say “Ashton” “James” and sort them that way. At least his is a combination of two different people, and at least James Franco is a good actor. But again, instead of being invested in the film, I was thinking “Why is he acting like James Franco?”. Could this have been Josh Trank saying “I imagine a young Leo DeCaprio in this role” then directing Dane Dehaan in such a way to get a performance akin to Marvin’s Room? Absolutely. It doesn’t make it any less annoying though. Why cast actors if you’re not going to let them make their role their own? You could just use a robot, or clips from Marvin’s Room cut together with CGI in between.

Finally, my biggest pet peeve with this movie was the “found footage” aspect. Okay, it’s a tone they were aiming for, they thought it would add to the legitimacy of it, or they thought it was important for Andrew’s character or whatever reason they told themselves and each other, I don’t care, it just opens an entire can of holes for the audience to fall into thinking “Whose camera is this now” or “why is the camera moving now?” or “why would an amateur narcissistic filmmaker put the camera behind him?”. If it’s for character then fine, establish that he has the camera (establish him using it to put distance between himself and others as was explained in DIALOGUE, subtle), show him with the camera, and then move on. Don’t use security cameras, that’s the dumbest idea since someone decided to turn “One For the Money” into a movie. Security cameras are usually set up high, like in a corner of a room or a gas station. Cutting to a shot that is far away from the action automatically pulls the audience out of the action. Which in an action movie is bad. Also, by adding the “found footage” aspect to the film, the filmmakers add, whether intentionally or not, a suspenseful tone, not because found footage is necessarily suspenseful (as anyone who has ever watched someone else’s home movie can testify), but because movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” established and really popularized the style, both of which are suspenseful films. So movie goers expect that other movies using that style will be similar. It didn’t work here. This film had tone confusion, which is largely why the trailer was so bad (try to convey a tone in a 30 second to 3 minute trailer what a movie failed to do in an hour and a half). It couldn’t decide if it was going to be a suspense, an action film, a drama, or a sci-fi flick. Mixing and matching genres can be fun, that’s how we got such awesome genres as dark comedy and horror comedy. This film however felt more like the filmmakers either weren’t sure of the tone they were aiming for, or didn’t communicate to each other what the tone of the film would be. Either way, it wasn’t catastrophic in this film, but moments did bleed in where some tone clarification would have made the film stronger.

The end climax of the film could have been stronger with a little clarification along the way. When it gets to the epic fight scene buses are thrown around, the two characters bust through buildings and fall onto cars, but their injuries don’t seem to be consistent, a bus doesn’t hurt, but falling onto a car does, etc. Also, if in the scene prior, they would have established that Andrew had a psychological break down or a psychotic break, it would explain how his actions are not the most sensical things. For example someone on the message board points out “why doesn’t he just bust open an ATM” when he is robbing people then gas stations to get money to build meds for his mom. And it’s a valid question, and the answer is obviously that it wouldn’t have served the plot, however were the character explained to not have been in his right mind, then making choices that don’t make sense would make sense. As would attacking every person he encounters and killing people for standing in his way.

The performance were for the most part, ignoring the above rant about acting like other actors and excepting a line or two, were pretty decent. I hated the character of Richard (the dad) (played by Michael Kelly), not because he was an abusive alcoholic, but because the character was completely unnecessary, and while I have no proof this was the actual issue, I blame the script because the character was too much for the movie, too much drama, just too much.

While Chronicle will most likely the favorite target for those who like to point out plot holes for awhile, it was fun, and sometimes that’s all you want from a movie.

B for exceeding expectations, but not as much as Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

January 31, 2012

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (2012)

In “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” Thomas Horn (who looks remarkably similar to a young Elijah Wood) plays 9 year old Oskar Schell, a boy who may or may not have Asperger Syndrome, who is struggling to deal with the unexpected death of his father (played by Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attacks. In an effort to make sense of what has happened, Oskar takes it upon himself to find the lock that belongs to a key he finds in his father’s belongings, with the help of his grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), and his estranged, mute grandfather (Max von Sydow). His mother (Sandra Bullock) is battling her own grief as well as now being a single parent of son with Asperger’s.

They should have more aptly named this film “You will cry through 3/4 of this Movie”*. That being said, I thought they handled it well. It didn’t feel emotionally manipulative, it felt very real which made it that more heartbreaking. I confess, I almost walked out of the theater for the first time in my life, because the film was that heart wrenching. I’m glad I didn’t, because while the film is obviously sad, it generates hope through and for the characters.

The performances were very well done, especially that of new comer Thomas Horn. His character is extremely compelling. However, I was a little weary of the voice over after a while. I’ll give them a pass this time, since the film is from Oskar’s point of view. Similarly, Tom Hanks’ character is a perfect dad, which again makes sense from Oskar’s point of view, while Sandra Bullock’s character is under explored until the end of the film. Finally, there are some questions throughout the film that I would have liked to have seen resolved by the end of the film that weren’t; grandpa’s speech and his story, as well as Mr. Black’s safety deposit box contents. Once again, however, through Oskar’s point of view, and as a nine year old, these things would cease to matter once they were no longer part of his story. I have an unnaturally and never ending love for Sandra Bullock, so during the course of the film I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t a more active character. However, as stated above, it makes sense  through Oskar’s point of view and is remedied at the end of the film. Another performance that left me wishing for more screen time was Viola Davis’s “Abby Black”. Viola, it seems, is very talented at demonstrating complicated emotions very subtly which was well deployed in this film.

The event was handled masterfully, first mentioning the date on the answering machine, having Oskar refer to it as “the worst day” throughout the movie, using television news coverage sparingly and carefully placed, and reveling to the audience the series of events that day through Oskar but bit by bit. There was no apparent political motives or slant, which some might be concerned with before watching the film, and there is very little mention of the actual event, more of what Oskar experiences with the loss of his father. It demonstrates the personal tragedies within the larger national tragedy.

One small thing that could be attributed to Oskar’s Asperger’s Syndrome, or possibly his German heritage, but I found the wardrobe choices for Oskar to be very strange. They looked almost 1940-1950s German (I say this knowing nothing about 1940-50’s German fashion), but they struck that sort of tone to me. Which seems odd to me for a boy in 2001.

I also noticed the score, which to me, the score and the wardrobe designs should be something that you don’t notice in the film, they should meld together with the setting and all that to create the world that we, the audience, are looking into. That’s not to say the score was in anyway bad, it just wasn’t congruent with the above mentioned philosophy.

That being said-

4 out of 5 stars. See it if you don’t mind crying for an hour and a half*. Bring tissues.

* Disclaimer: Individual results may vary. I’m a weeper to quote “The Holiday”. I admit it, I teared up a little over the whale trailer before this movie.

January 29, 2012

“Contraband” (2012)

In my book any movie with the potential to have shirtless Mark Wahlberg beating the crap out of someone has the potential to be worth $8.00 and an hour and a half of my time. Plus my companions and I couldn’t agree on any other movie to see this evening.

This, for example

Exhibit A

In “Contraband” (a movie that by all accounts- especially the poster- possesses the potential mentioned above), Marky Mark plays Chris, a husband, father of 2, and a former smuggler (correction, former world class smuggler), is forced to jump back into the game so to speak when his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), fails to deliver on his own smuggling endeavor. Creepy ass Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) threatens to kill Andy, and then Chris’s family if the money isn’t repaid. So Chris enlists the help of his old smuggling buddies Sebastian (Ben Foster) and Danny (Lukas Haas) to help him smuggle in enough goods to cover Andy’s debt.

Yeah. This is a movie you’ve seen before. Probably about a dozen times. And while you’re watching it you’re thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before… only it was better”. Not that there’s anything wrong, per say, with “Contraband”, it’s just not anything interesting or exciting. And Mark Wahlberg only takes his shirt off once.

In one word, this film is mediocre. Mediocre screenplay, mediocre acting, mediocre plot line. A lot of threats are tossed around, but it seems like the only serious danger is from the bad guys slip ups, which makes them much less interesting. The “twists” are predictable if you’ve ever seen any other movie ever made. There is a single woman in the film, Chris’s wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and she is given no character development what so ever. I’m sorry, that’s a mistake, Kate has a friend who shows up now and then (she also has no development, if you were wondering). The performances aren’t bad, but once again, mediocre.

To be fair, no one went into this film looking for brilliance. But I did go in looking for some fun. I wanted Mark Wahlberg to wail on some bad guys and save the day, and that didn’t seem like too much to ask. Sadly the film did not deliver, it was slow and overly long, with too many threats and not enough action. Could have used a few more one liners, and a lot more abs.

Also, while Ben Foster was a fine Sebastian (I wouldn’t mind seeing someone else in that role), I found Lukas Haas a very unsympathetic supporting character, and would have preferred Chris Pine or someone similarly engaging.

Chris Pine

Exhibit B

While a change of cast wouldn’t necessarily made the film less boring, it would have made it more enjoyable to watch.

One aspect of the film that was odd was the focus was off a number of times, which is something you do not see often in hollywood budget films. At times the clarity of the picture was also subpar, overly grainy and frankly gross looking. Now, these could have been planned and if so my apologies to the ACs involved, because then the blame is owed to the director and cinematographer. If it was a tonal choice, it was over done and didn’t aid the film any. It was strange and distracting, and made the film look amateurish.

Suggestion: skip it, watch your favorite action movie in your DVD collection instead (“Gone in 60 Seconds” has a very similar plot, if that suits you, though I’d suggest “Unstoppable” for the fun and run away train excitement).

C- For over use of a shirt in a Mark Walhberg movie and under use of Diego Luna

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