Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch



I enjoyed Sucker Punch.  It’s hard to hate a movie that was so proud of it’s own ridiculousness.
Sucker Punch reveled in it’s own stupidity.  The entire movie was an experiment to see how much awesomeness the filmmakers could fit into one movie.  The answer, as it turns out, is a lot, provided you don’t worry about it making sense or anything.
The movie was about a team of hot chicks fighting their way out of an insane asylum, using their imaginations.  That means that in these girls’ minds they aren’t fighting guards and security personnel.  They’re fighting dragons, and ten feet tall samurais, and a trainful of robots.  And they’re doing it all with nothing but an armory full of assault rifles and the skimpiest clothes they can find.
Now you see what I mean.  This movie knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it had a blast getting there.  And for that I respect it.
Their wasn’t a whole lot of acting going on here, but I did enjoy Oscar Isaac’s suitably despicable performance as the man in charge of the asylum.  I did notice the movies obvious attempts to “un-Disneyfi” Vanessa Hudgens by giving her the worst swear words and having her do the most sexual moves.  These moments felt awkward and forced.
Sucker Punch did wear out it’s welcome by the third act.  The final dream action sequence on the train felt tired and repetitive.   After the movie returned to reality, it made the mistake of trying to be clever and explain everything that had happened.  This was not the Sucker Punch that I had come to know and love.
Overall, it was a fun ride.  Unlike Battle Los Angeles, another recent mindless action film, Sucker Punch realized that it was mindless action and pushed that to the limit in an original and undeniably cool way.
And if you’re wondering, the Scene Where I Decided I Liked the Movie was definitely the mayor’s entrance.  You’ll know why when you see it.

3/5

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul



Paul was a funny, if uneven, road trip alien buddy comedy.  It had several laugh out loud moments, and a great cast of comedic actors.  It seemed to drag at some parts, and some of the jokes fizzled, but overall it was one of the more enjoyable comedies to come to theaters lately.
Paul starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but unfortunately, it was not the third entry in the “blood and ice cream” trilogy, as it did not have the ingenious Edgar Wright as director.  Instead, Gregg Mottola, of Superbad fame, was behind the camera.  
My favorite part of Paul was the insane amount of sci-fi movie references it packed into every moment.  It was interesting listening to different parts of the audience laugh at different lines, depending on which reference they got and which they didn’t.  Every scene was chock full of lines and images from various sci-fi classics, ranging from E.T. to Star Wars.  I believe that the more you know your sci-fi movies, the more you will enjoy Paul.
For those people out there who’ve never seen a sci-fi film, you still may like Paul for it’s many physical gags and one-liners.  Seth Rogen is very funny as Paul the alien, although sometimes it is noticeable that he wasn’t actually on location reading lines with the rest of the crew.  This is rare, but it took me out of the spontaneous, chemistry built comedy world the cast had built up.
The numerous cameos and guest spots are very funny, and do their part to keep you engaged.  I won’t spoil any of these, as they are funnier when they are surprises.
Despite the laugh out loud moments and loving references, Paul never quite finds it’s footing.  The pace seems uneven, and some of the buildup for scenes plays out into nothing.  Paul never quite reaches the heights of the brilliant Shaun of the Dead, but it is an admirable salute to nerd driven pop culture junkies everywhere.

3/5

Rango

            
            Rango was one of the most entertaining, interesting, and adult “children” films I have seen in a while.  The animation was grotesquely beautiful, and the story was completely engrossing.  I’d quickly recommend it to anyone of any age.
            While Rango was not a laugh riot, it did keep me chuckling most of the way through, especially with it’s humorous throwaway lines.  The focus in Rango was not on jokes, but on the story, and for that I am grateful.  I cared more about Rango and his friends more than I have cared about some live action characters in recent movies.  Things became especially intense when Rattlesnake Jake was introduced.  I felt a palpable danger every time he was on the screen.  This is in large part due to Bill Nighy’s terrific voice work.
            Like Paul, the other movie I saw this weekend, Rango rejoiced in referencing other films.  This was especially impressive as most of the references would fly over most children’s heads.  The adults in the audience however were treated with lines and images reminiscent of films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Chinatown, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, and many others.  These Easter Eggs provided extra entertainment in an already enjoyable film.
            The animation in Rango was incredible.  Every texture looked so realistic I couldn’t believe I was watching something produced from a computer.  The majority of the characters were hideously beautiful, like illustrations from a Shel Silverstein book.  I became excited every time a new character was introduced just so I could marvel at their grotesqueness. 
            One of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that little kid movies have to be dumb.  Little kids aren’t idiots.  They can like good movies just as much as adults can. It irritates the hell out of me when movies pander to the audience in hopes of entertaining the children.  Fortunately, Rango respected the audience enough to present them with an intelligent, involved, and humorous story.

4/5

Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

            
            Battle: Los Angeles has the prestigious honor of being the worst movie I’ve reviewed on this blog so far.  It might even be in the running for worst movie I’ve seen in theaters.  And I saw Bruno.
            A red flag was first sent up when I realized character’s names were being superimposed over them as they were introduced.  That’s never a good sign.  Next came a scene where the main character, played by Aaron Eckhart, meets an army official in his office.  The scene was so clumsily written it might as well have had a red flashing sign saying “EXPOSITION” appear over the screen as the two talked.  The scene sounded as if a high school student in a screenplay writing class wrote it.  It awkwardly attempted to introduce the characters and their back-stories before revealing that- Gasp!  The main character has a vague, mysterious trauma in his past military life he’d like to forget?  Where have I seen this before?  Oh yes.  In every war movie ever made by anyone ever.
            This was also the scene where the God-awful shaky cam became evident.  I don’t usually mind shaky cams when they are being used for a purpose, like if the movie is pretending to be a documentary, or if it’s a “found footage” type of film.   But this film is neither.  It has a shaky cam simply because someone thought it would look cool.  The worst part is that the shaky cam doesn’t just appear in action sequences.  It happens in supposedly calm scenes where two characters are just chatting.  And coming from a guy who has been around cameras before, simply filming handheld makes things plenty shaky on it’s own.  Despite what the filmmakers of this movie think, you don’t need to furiously thrash your arm around to get the desired effect.
            It was about at this point (approximately 5 minutes in) that I began praying for the end of the movie to come.  Unfortunately I had to sit through action scene after action scene, where the camera shook so badly I couldn’t even tell who was good and who was an alien. 
            This film also ran the gamut of war movie clich├ęs, from the General getting shell shocked and having the audio drop out as his crew mates yell at him voicelessly, to the required “Go on without me!” /“I’m not leaving you!” exchange between two officers.  And if you’re wondering, yes, this scene did end with the wounded soldier grabbing a note and whispering “Give this to my wife.”  I thought Tropic Thunder put an end to this shit.
            The suspense sequences became so predictable I found myself giving a 100% accurate play-by-play in my head during one of the first alien raids.  It went like this:
Movie:  Soldiers hear rustling from behind car.
Me:  Cue dog.
Movie:  Dog runs out.
Me:  Cue all the soldiers dropping their guard and greeting the cute dog.
Movie: “It’s just a dog!  Look, his name is Glenn.  Who names dogs these days?  Laughter laughter laughter.”
Me: Cue explosion.
Movie: Explosion.
            And so on and so forth.
            Now, before I end this review, I must put in a footnote.  The three friends I saw this with enjoyed it.  They said it was fairly entertaining, and they didn’t even notice the things that drove me crazy.  So obviously there are differing opinions on this movie.  If you have a desire to see Battle: Los Angeles, please don’t let this review stop you.  I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

.5/5
            

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Monsters

           
           Monsters was a good film made awesome by the fact that it was filmed and edited by some guy on his Macbook for around 45 cents.
            Is it wrong to appreciate a movie more knowing the conditions it was filmed under?  Does it make for biased reviewing?  Probably, yeah, but I don’t care.
            What was so intriguing about Monsters, and what made it stand out apart from the plethora of other alien movies out there, was the focus it put on the relationship of the two main characters.  At times Monsters really felt like a romantic drama more than a monster flick.  This probably sounds horrible to some people, but honestly, what’s the point of a monster movie if you don’t care about the people the monster is trying to eat?  The audience has to identify with and care about the people in these types of movies for any suspense to be built up.  Monsters details the relationship of it's two main characters meticulously, and it pays off in the end.
            The scares do eventually come in Monsters, but they are more built on suspenseful scenes than sudden loud noises.  In fact, the scariest scene, in my opinion, didn’t contain a single monster in it.  With the proper background information, give me an abandoned town and an old lady pushing a cart, and I’m on the edge of my seat.
            If I had one complaint about Monsters, it was that they really beat the audience over the head with the “monsters=illegal immigrants” analogy in some scenes.  This didn’t happen frequently enough to detract from my enjoyment of the movie however.
The CGI in Monsters are obviously not up to par with the animation of some major blockbusters, but this is to be expected knowing that it was basically created on the directors laptop.   Despite this handicap, Monsters proved itself far superior to the majority of these blockbusters.  The director, Gareth Edwards showed that you don’t need jaw-dropping animation to create jaw-dropping scenes.  All you need is a good script, believable characters, and proper suspenseful buildup.  And a kickass intro/outro doesn’t hurt either.                                                                                                                                                    

3.5/5

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winter's Bone

            
            Winter’s Bone was a subtly written, powerful, and devastating film.  It also happened to contain perfect examples of many of the concepts and standards that I judge movies by, so this review will be as good a time as any to introduce these terms and ideas.
            The film contained two remarkable performances by Jennifer Lawrence, who played the strong, desperate Ree, and John Hawkes, who gave an intense, unpredictable, and beautifully layered performance as her uncle Teardrop.
            The writing was superb.  Debra Granik’s screenplay is extremely subtle.  It never spells anything out, instead revealing the minimal amount of dialogue or action, and letting the viewer put the pieces together from there.  This is especially clear in the final scene.
            One thing I always appreciate in movies is a “real moment”.  This is just a moment in a movie that feels completely honest, like it could happen in real life.   This can either be a single line that a character says, or it can be an entire scene.  This sounds easy, but these moments are surprisingly rare, even in great movies.  The most obvious “real moment” in Winter’s Bone for me was the scene where Ree talks with the Army Recruiter at her school.  This entire scene just struck me as completely true, like a conversation I might have overheard in the lunchroom of my high school.  The fact that this scene felt so real made Ree’s desperation in it even more tragic.
            Another concept I look for when judging a movie is “The Scene Where I Decided I Liked the Movie”.  This one is pretty self explanatory, and you’d be surprised to see how easy these scenes are to identify in most movies.  For Winter’s Bone, the S.W.I.D.I.L.M came for me during the tender and emotional scene where the family looks through their father’s photo album.  This scene comes late in the film, but it wonderfully reveals the fact that Ree and her family truly did love their father, who had been seen as a mostly shameful and unpleasant character up until that point.  The scene sheds an entirely new light on the whole film.  I loved it.
            I’d also like to point out how wonderfully this film created different levels.  I hate it when a movie stays on one level for the entire film, whether that level is sad, funny, scary, or suspenseful.  Realistic movies need variation, because life has variation.  No one is always happy, and no one is always sad.  There are different emotions, and when a movie ignores this, it loses any connection it might have made with the audience.  Thankfully Winter’s Bone chose not to be completely depressing and somber all the way through.  It obviously had a very dark, oppressive overall tone, but scenes like the bluegrass band playing for their mother’s birthday, and the beautiful photo album scene gave layers to an already brilliant movie, and made it that much more believable.
             
4/5