Monday, November 29, 2010

Goodbye, Kersh...

Movie director Irvin Kersner recently passed away at the age of 87. Kershner was best known as the director of the fifth episode in the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back. Aside from his dabblings in the galaxy far, far, away, Kersh (as he was known to his friends) was at one time one of the finest genre directors in the industry. Through films like: Eyes of Laura Mars, James Bond flick Never Say Never Again, Robocop 2, and of course, The Empire Strikes Back, Kersh branded these typical genre efforts with a sense of class, sophistication, and smarts that most other genre films lacked; making genre adventures and thrillers that, much like the films of Alfred Hitchcock, could be taken seriously.

As cheesy as it sounds, I don't know if I'd be the same person I am if it wasn't for Irvin Kershner. I never knew the man personally, but I knew his work. The Star Wars films, in particular The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite movie of all-time, by the way), is what made me want to pursue film as a career, and as a filmmaker, I am still aspiring to Kersh's work within that film. I've argued this before, but there is no other movie in the history of the movies that is so well directed; the performances from the actors are spot on, each and every shot has meaning and looks just as remarkable as the next, and the pacing of the storytelling is picture perfect. What The Empire Strikes Back is to me, is not a movie that I envy, but a movie that I aspire to. The movie is so perfect in every way, I can only hope to someday make a movie that I can consider to be on the same level with Empire, and that is all thanks to Kersh, a movie legend who will greatly be missed. May the Force be with him...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Movie Review: "Tangled"

Tangled is another animated motion picture in a long line of Disney movies trying to recapture their past glories without really stepping out to reclaim the animation field. We all know the story of Rapunzel, how she's locked away in a tower and such, but Disney gives it their trademark fairy tale twist (and I almost thought that they'd run out of fairy tales). Rapunzel was long ago kidnapped from her King and Queen parents by a wicked woman who wanted to use Rapunzel's hair to stay young. Of course, this is a musical, with music from Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid), so it makes sense that whenever Rapunzel sings a certain song, her hair has the ability to heal or make one youthful once more, but if Rapunzel's hair is ever cut, she will lose that power forever. Thus her abductee of a mother locks Rapunzel up in a tower all her life till the paths of Rapunzel and the country's most notorious thief, Flynn Rider, cross and romance ensues as, with Flynn as her guide, Rapunzel finally leaves her tower.

Tangled does feel Disney throughout, but it just feels as if we've seen this same Disney movie at least ten times by now, which I think goes against its goal. Tangled desired to be an update on the age old Disney princess-fairy tale formula, and I don't know if it worked entirely. The animators seemed to focus more so on action and adventure and more slapstick-like comedy than ever before, coating it in glossy CG-animation that just made me pine for the good ol' hand drawn days again. The music was not as memorable, nor as enjoyable as that of previous Menken/Disney collaborations; while the songs were solid, there was never that tune that you just couldn't get out of your head like "A Whole New World" or "Beauty and the Beast". Regardless, Tangled still managed to be a movie that is entertaining and funny throughout, in a large part due to their fresh takes on the stock Disney characters of the Princess and Prince Charming.

Rapunzel was a very different kind of Disney Princess than we're accustomed to seeing, less sure of herself and more of an innocent child who can't make up her mind between her dreams or her loyalty to her abductee of a mother. Her beau is Flynn, the kind of swashbuckling Prince Charming that the old Disney movies lacked, a thief with a soul and charisma behind those good looks. Unfortunately, the weakest character was the villainess of Rapunzel's adoptive mother, whose character never seems to fully commit to her villainy, starting out as merely a person possessed by greed and not fully transitioning into a force of evil. I feel much more could have been done with her character in playing with the idea that she only pretends to like Rapunzel and doesn't actually love her, which was hinted at a lot through the character's facial expressions. I will say, the silent animal characters of Maximus the Horse and Pascal the Chameleon make up for any shortcomings with laughs, these two characters having benefitted the most from this more slapstick-Emperor's New Groove-style approach.

So what can I say, Tangled maybe tries too hard to be a blast from the past and it never really comes into its own. There are many great ideas played around with here, and this really is the most entertained I have been by a Disney animation since Tarzan, but Disney tries to hold onto the past too much here and doesn't let the past go to try and usher in a new era of Disney animation. So what if Tangled feels so familiar that I can pretty much predict what will happen? There is a reason the Disney formula from the '80s and '90s worked, and there's a reason it worked way back in the '20s with Snow White. It's heartwarming, and the big duet between Rapunzel and Flynn on the lake surrounded by glowing lanterns is Disney magic, no matter how you feel about the rest of the movie's execution.

I give Tangled a C+!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Future: 3D vs. Imax

It's sort of silly to boil things down to a simple boxing-like set-up, but that's what this matter truly is. Ask just about any studio executive out in Hollywood, they will tell you that 3D is the future of movies, and while that may be true fifty years from now, at this current moment in time, it is not there yet, but what is, is Imax. Imax is the current future of movies, and the studios seem so obsessed with 3D that they aren't noticing the fantastic opportunities they have before them.

I'll be honest, I've never seen a movie in 3D that I liked. While Avatar was supposedly top-tier 3D, I've gotta say I liked the movie five times more when I saw it in 2D. Why would I intentionally want to hamper my viewing experience by wearing shaded glasses that darken the image on the screen, mute the colors, and ultimately build a wall in between me and the movie? 3D movies are supposed to make the moviegoing experience more immersive, but they fail to do just that. While the concept of 3D is great for an amusement park ride, it's only a gimmick that cannot do anything but hurt the images. And as for all of this crap about movies finally being in 3D, I think you could argue that movies have always been in 3D. A 2D movie is composed so that there is a depth of field between the separate actors and the objects onscreen. This depth of field already makes what is 3D in real life, 3D onscreen. Sure, it's not jumping out at you, but if that's what you want, go to Disney World. If you really want to know the future of the movies, it is Imax.

Imax technology has been around for decades now, but it is just now getting more popular in the mainstream movie market. We've all probably heard of Imax, or possibly even seen a movie on an Imax screen, but Imax is so much more than just a movie screen two times too big. There has never been a mainstream movie made shot entirely in the Imax format (70 mm film, where as all normal feature length films are shot on 35 mm). The bigger film stock does more than just make the image two times bigger, but it makes the image clearer, gives more clarity to what you are seeing, and makes the already discussed depth of field more noticeable.

While many 35 mm films are blown up to 70 mm to be released on the Imax screen, there is a difference between simply blowing up the print to actually shooting on the stock. An example was The Dark Knight, where 20 minutes of that movie was actually shot on Imax film stock, 70 mm. Even when watching the movie on standard-def DVD, there is a clear difference in terms of image quality between the 35 mm film scenes and the 70 mm film scenes. Imagine an entire movie shot on the format? Now, imagine watching that movie on a 53 foot tall screen with added clarity to the image quality? Immersion.

I think it's safe to assume that most people nowadays have seen one of those 45 minute or so educational films shot entirely on Imax. A good example is the Imax ed. film, Everest. Watching that movie on an Imax screen is so immersive, it's beautiful. Every camera move on that gigantic screen sweeps you away over the icy slopes. Every action is precisely seen on the climb up the icy cliffs. Or whenever a person is in the foreground, there is clear separation between him and the snowy background, and that is 3D, in which you didn't need glasses to experience; it's immersion through the legitimate Imax experience of watching a 70 mm film. While this technology is ready for use at the filmmaker's fingertips, it does have its drawbacks.

As mentioned, Imax has been around for years, and it is only just now becoming somewhat affordable, but even still, it is a highly expensive format to shoot on, and the tiniest mistake costs millions to fix. As well, the cameras used are too bulky for your average moviemaking equipment, meaning special rigs must be used to shoot with the camera. Not to mention, the noise of the Imax film running through the camera is so loud, it has been reported by many filmmakers shooting on Imax, that it is hard to capture dialogue with so much ambient noise. With that all said, the end result is five times more worth it than that of 3D.

I feel that those in the movie industry should focus all of their time and efforts on refining the Imax moviemaking process, rather than pushing for 3D, which is not ready for the mainstream, yet. If they could just make Imax cameras that were quieter, a little bit smaller, and more cost effective, perhaps an entire feature will be shot in the format rather than just part of one. An Imax ticket costs about as much as a 3D ticket, so it's not like the studios will lose money; not to mention, movie screens have to be adapted anyways if they're to show 3D movies, so why not go all out and make the screen an Imax screen (if you have the space)?

Regardless, I do think that there is a future in 3D moviemaking technology, but not now. They need to continue refining the process, for starters, by making a 3D movie that isn't dimly lit or has muted colors when viewed through the prism of the glasses, but that's just it, the glasses must be lost. Until a 3D movie is made that doesn't need the glasses in order to see the stuff flying towards your face, then 3D will not become a mainstay of moviemaking. Unfortunately, I feel that day is a long ways off. For now, Imax is the future.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1"

In some ways it is always tough as a filmmaker to watch the Harry Potter movies when they first come out. As a writer/director and avid fan of the books, I already have preconceived notions in regards as to how I would film certain scenes, as to how I would write certain scenes, and as to what I would cut or accentuate to make the story a cinematic reality. I didn't get to direct this movie (which that would have been a dream come true), but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1 is a cinematically satisfying experience on its own terms.

The filmmakers completely dispensed with the pleasantries here. Much how they tackled the Half-Blood Prince, they do nothing to clue the viewer into this world or reintroduce you to these characters or even the storyline that was set up at the end of the previous movie. Deathly Hallows-Part 1 picks up right where Half-Blood Prince ended, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, going off on their own, in search of the seven Horcruxes, which hold pieces of Voldemort's soul; if these Horcruxes are destroyed, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named can finally be killed, but what are these mysterious Deathly Hallows that our trio stumble across on their journey?

If you aren't a fan of Harry Potter by now, this movie is not the kind of stand alone adventure that will make you one. As mentioned, none of the characters, nor even the magical objects such as the Marauder's Map or the Locket are reintroduced to the viewer, even certain things such as as the broken mirror shard that Harry carries around with him (which was only in the book and not in the previous movies) is never explained to the audience. The filmmakers knew that the best way to free themselves to tell this story was to assume that the audience seeing these movies have already seen all six previous films and have read all seven of the books. While this may be a detriment to those who have't read the books or to your casual moviegoer, as a fan it was increasingly liberating. A.) You do not feel like you were being retaught things that you already know, and B.) It allowed the story to consistently be moving forward and not have to retread facts of the past to make this an easier movie for those unfamiliar with this story to understand.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates proved to be an effective duo yet again, being able to fill so many tiny details into this movie for the Harry Potter faithful, and ultimately made the richness of the books transcend into the realms of the movies. In particular, Yates has surprised me once more. He has grown so much as a filmmaker since Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows-Part 1 looks as if it was directed by a consummate professional at the top of his craft. Yates was able to convey so much texture with so little. Very often dialogue was never used to explain certain feelings or emotions to the audience, and it was up to Yates to manipulate your feelings through the shots, and this is where he was most splendid; such as when Ron becomes jealous of Harry and Hermione's friendship, or when Harry sees the story about Dumbledore in the newspaper. And the trio of the actor's give probably their most affecting performances yet, in particular Emma Watson, who has way more emotional scenes to chew on than either Daniel Radcliffe or Rupert Grint. This movie is put entirely on the trio's shoulders (with the colorful cast of supporting characters only in to throw in their token lines of dialogue) and I was thoroughly impressed with their talent and ability.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1 is a standard adventure movie taken on the road, away from Hogwarts. In some ways it reminded me of The Fellowship of the Ring and the perils those characters met on the road throughout that movie, and much like that movie, this is only the set-up for the story in which we all want to see (a.k.a. Part 2). Ultimately, this is one of the most beautifully photographed Harry Potter movies, thanks to Eduardo Serra's DP work, and David Yates directs some of the action sequences with so much pizazz, in particular the scenes in the Ministry and when Harry and Hagrid fly through the air on a motorcycle chased by Death Eaters. So what if non-fans of Harry Potter wont understand this movie? If you haven't read these books or seen the other movies by now, then to be completely candid, why are you seeing this movie anyways?

I give Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 1 an A+!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Transformative Call to Adventure

Adventures have been staples of storytelling for as long as stories have been exchanged between man, and adventure stories within the cinema are a dime a dozen, but a simple genre that started off merely as Saturday matinee cheese has become the studios bread and butter. How did the adventure movie become what it is today?

The other night I was watching the 1960 adpatation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, made by George Pal, and what I was struck by with that movie was how low budget of an affair it was. While it was one of the biggest moneymakers of its respective year, the costumes and sets were laughable (about on par with the original Star Trek television series), and this got me thinking about the genre we now know as adventure. It's interesting that back then, while adventure movies were financially successful, the studios put less money in them, whereas nowadays, the entire backbone of the studios strategy is to put all of their money into adventure movies and less in every other kind of movie produced. While adventure movies of yesteryear and adventure movies of today are still the prime source of revenue for the studios, budgets and respectability have morphed over the years.

Back in the early days of cinema, adventure movies were simple swashbucklers starring the likes of Errol Flynn; they were movies meant to attract the children for the Saturday matinee. The sets were often flimsy, the costumes laughable, and yet people continued to show up to see them. Cinemagoers seemed to enthrall to the exploits of tongue and cheek adventure, but what made many of these early adventure movies different than what they are today is that the people making them didn't take them seriously. The performances were over the top, and less money was put into these movies than the bloated star-driven epics of the Golden Age of Hollywood. As time progressed, it seemed that everyone was simply laughing at these movies and just simply saw them as cheap thrills.

Then, in 1977 along came Star Wars and totally reshaped the whole idea of the adventure movie. Star Wars was one of the first in a line of adventure movies that would go on to include: Superman: The Movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and eventually movies like The Dark Knight or Avatar. What Star Wars did, and many of these transformative adventure movies of the late 70s and early 80s, is they were big budgeted affairs from the studios. A higher sheen of quality was applied to this once throwaway genre. More respectable actors were being attracted to the roles (i.e. Marlon Brando in Superman), more respectable directors (i.e., Irivn Kershner and The Empire Strikes Back), and more respectable writers (i.e., Lawrence Kasdan and Raiders of the Lost Ark). What this did is it made critics and moviegoers alike start to think of advneture movies as more than just cheap thrills and laughable acting, costumes, and sets, but they began to see these movies as serious and respectable pieces of cinema.

Think about it, Star Wars is still being studied by purveyors of Greek mythology, religion, and Shakespearean dynamics. The adventure movie is no longer seen as throwaway trash, but as something that has some more heft to it. While, yes there are many an adventure movie nowadays that do not apply that heft, there are just as many "dramas" that miss the mark entirely as well. I mean, just think, in the past few years we have gotten adventure movies like: The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2, and Avatar, alongside a great many others, that all arguably have great philosophical and emotional depths to their storytelling. An adventure movie even finally won an Oscar (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)!

I don't know where the adventure movie is to go from here. Me personally, I would like to see the few critics still out there of this genre that refuse to consider these movies as works of art, change their minds on this genre and accept it. They don't have to like it, but don't deride the genre simply because a movie about a guy who dresses up as a bat or a teen who happens to be a wizard is just a touch too much fantasy for them. Perhaps a few more Oscar-winning adventure movies may change the thoughts of the few naysayers still out there, regardless, great adventures like Peter Pan or The Iliad are still staples of classic literature and considered art, so why not The Dark Knight or Star Wars? Just a simple question.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Movie Review: "Unstoppable"

What do you do when a train carrying hazardous materials mistakenly rockets out of the train yard towards a highly populated area where it is sure to derail at its speed? Call in Denzel Washington and Captain Kirk, a.k.a. actor Chris Pine. That is the movie Unstoppable, a story inspired by true events.

We watch as actor Ethan Suplee gets inside train 777 simply to move it, but when he jumps out of the cab to switch tracks, the throttle shifts out of position and the train rockets out of the train yard at 70 mph. Much of the first half of the movie follows the train's progress, rather than our eventual working class heroes, Washington and Pine. Washington plays a veteran train engineer who has been fired to make room for the new, younger guys like Pine, and he only has three weeks left at the railroad company. Director Tony Scott really plays with this dynamic in Pine being the conductor above Washington on the train in which they just happen to be driving towards number 777. This is a very current issue that is being seen right now, and it's nice to see the incompetence of the young upstarts, and the skill and knowledge of the vets, letting us know that these old dogs have still got some bite left in 'em and we shouldn't write 'em off. Of course, our heroes eventually decide to chase down the train and stop it from derailing, and it it here that it is most apparent that this is a movie all about the journey and entertainment, so I wasn't prepared for the emotional heft of the second half of the story.

In the first half, Washington and Pine's screen time is minimal, and very little character development occurs other than what we see from their first meeting, young gun meeting vet, but once they decide to chase down the train, their relationship grows and we actually get an emotional component to this story. Director Tony Scott takes a very minimalist approach to this movie, he only follows train 777 and its progress, and we don't really follow our heroes till they're in the cross-hairs of the train. In some ways I would have liked to have seen more character development in the first 45 minutes between Washington and Pine, but then that would have stopped this unstoppable story and would have lost much of the story's intensity. This is a thrill ride through and through; while it is formulaic, it is also entertaining and emotionally rewarding.

I give Unstoppable an A!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Critical Opinion?

When do you get to the point that critical opinion no longer matters? I am intentionally trying to stay away from reviews, or even clips from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part I. This is an extremely new practice for me, cause typically with movies I really wanna see I scour the internet and find every morsel of footage I can see, every review left unread, until by the time I sit into the theater I already know what to expect and there is no surprise. I've decided to try and avoid these things as best as possible with these final two Harry Potter movies, and even still I have seen a few reviews. Most of the reviews are typically, "Blah, blah, uneven pacing, yada, yada, yada..." the same stuff that critics have been saying about the Harry Potter movies since the very beginning, and I'd actually venture to say, that by this point in the series tenure, critical opinion no longer matters.

Critics who have been reviewing these movies since the very first, if they didn't like that one, they're not gonna like any one that comes after it because it is a continuing story where the tone, character relationships, and same type of story structure are repeated movie after movie. Regardless as to what critics say, fans will see this movie. Regardless as to what they say, many fans will enjoy this movie. And regardless to what the say, just about as many fans will whine about any minor changes the movie made to the source material, and the fans will feud for decades to come. The critics opinion does not sway anyone here, much like it doesn't with Star Wars, and I think it's pretty safe to say that the Harry Potter movies are no longer trying to gain new viewers but simply be a service to fans, and that's how it should be.

Starting with the last Harry Potter movie, The Half-Blood Prince, I noticed that the filmmakers no longer were burdening themselves to try and clue the viewers into this world and reintroduce them to their characters, they just took off, to where if you had not seen the previous five movies, well you were out of luck. They spent so much time with the 4th and 5th movies trying to make them more commercial in appeal, and the end result wasn't so much Harry Potter, but Deathly Hallows-Part I seems to be following Half-Blood Prince's logic, and I'm fine with that. At least the filmmakers and studio seem to understand, if you aren't already a fan of the boy wizard, then this movie wont change your thoughts, and that is also why I think the movie was split into two parts, to do full service to the 750 page tome. I by no means want to see such a literal translation that I'd just rather read the book (like the 2nd movie, Chamber of Secrets), but I wanna see it realized cinematically in a way that fully does justice to the source material, but allows these movies to come into their own and be their own stand alone materials of time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Overrated

For every classic that lives up to the hype, there always seem to be the spoiler, that classic movie that no matter how many times you watch it you can not get into them. This has been a topic that I've been thinking on a lot recently, and I've decided to just list off what I believe to be the 5 most overrated classics of all-time. Obviously, not everyone will agree with me, but it is here that I must be honest and fess up. But before diving into what I don't like, I'll just list off a brief list of classics I adore:

Star Wars, E.T., Rear Window, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Bonnie and Clyde, American Grafitti, The 400 Blows, 8 1/2, Singin' in the Rain, Seven Samurai, Casablanca, and a great many more. Now, on to the Overrated:

5. The Graduate - This movie may have been significant in its day, but there are way more movies from this same period that are more significant and are better movies; Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider to name a few. Sure, this movie gave Dustin Hoffman his big break, and that should be enough, but when the subject matter is A.) this awkward, and B.) this oddly paced, not to mention, C.) the characters motivations bounce around like a ping-pong ball, it's hard to enjoy it. My opinion, if you wanna check out a fantastic movie from director Mike Nichols, watch Regarding Henry in one of Harrison Ford's finest moments as an actor.

4. Vertigo - To even list an Alfred Hitchcock movie on this list pains me, but in this case it had to be done. Vertigo is the most hyped of all of Hitch's movies; so many people tell you that if you like his other work you'll like Vertigo, but unfortunately that isn't the case for me. I love Rear Window, Notorious, North by Northwest, but Vertigo just does not succeed for me. The story is very much interested in being a sort of deconstruction of Hitchock's usual thrillers, and when he starts trying to explain the supernatural elements of the story with a Sherlock Holmes styled deduction, I am completely lost. What can I say? Hitch is one of my favorite directors of all-time, but Vertigo just isn't one of his best works in my opinion.

3. The Third Man - This film noir involving Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten was misleading from the very first frame. The movie wants to be a deconstruction of the genre while refining it at the same time, and it does not work. The movie lacks any real suspense or mystery, and seems to be more interested in just stringing us along on this wild goose chase searching for the mysterious "Third Man" and giving us nothing but deflated excitement in the end. For a better film noir that serves as a deconstruction of the genre, while refining it, give Akira Kurosawa's classics Stray Dog or Drunken Angel a shot.

2. Blow-Up - Much like The Third Man, this is a movie that I don't like for similar reasons. Where's the suspense? There's a mystery, he wants to uncover this murder he thinks he's caught in a photograph, but when the Beatnik acts so non-chalant about it, if he doesn't care, why should I care? Yeah, I know, this movie needs to be seen as a capsule of its time, of the Hippy-Beatnik culture, free love, and how things like murder aren't important in the grand scheme of things, but its a movie that its message does not jive with me. And so what? I feel like I saw a 90 minute movie that pretended to have a story but really didn't, and I have to say, I think that was the intent. If you like that sort of stuff, then it might be worth checking out for you, but not for me.

1. Breathless - The Granddaddy of them all, cited as one of the most influential movies of all-time, and you know what, I don't like it. Jean Luc Godard's movie is a story, much like Blow-Up and The Third Man, that nothing really seems to happen throughout the course of the story. Are we supposed to care for these characters who think they're so cool, that they're beyond the rest of us? As for the almighty jump cut, I have seen it utilized in many movies where it works to great psychological and thematic effect, but this does not seem to happen here. The jump cuts are erratic, do not add to the story, and seem to me more of a mistake than an artistic choice made by the director. If you want to see the best of the New Wave, watch The 400 Blows from Francois Truffaut, a finer director in my opinion.

So there you have it, now that I've probably ticked off at least 99.99% of the readership. Have at it, say what you think of what I got right, and what you think I got horribly wrong in the comments section below.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Movie Review: "Due Date"

In Due Date, Robert Downey, Jr., and Zach Galifianakis play the typical odd couple in this vulgarized take on the road trip movie. Galifianakis' character accidentally lands Downey onto the no-fly list, and Downey's wife is going to have a C-section in five days, so the two must travel cross country together to get Downey home for his baby's birth. Fairly standard scenario, Downey is the straight man, and Galifianakis is the guy who no matter what he does, his crazy antics will always wreak havoc upon Downey in one way or another, and these gags just feel tried and done before. For example, Downey has an African American friend in Jamie Foxx, and of course they play the usual gag where Downey walks into the delivery room and sees an African American baby on the table to only find out that he went to the wrong room, and this sort of sums up how the whole movie is. It is a movie that seems more interested in these kind of one note gags than any hint of a real story with emotional heft. While a few of the gags are funny, most of them, like the above mentioned gag, are been there, laughed at that before. While these gags can still make you laugh, how many times can we laugh at the same thing, and when it's surrounded by a standard, cliche story that is light on any real consequence or conflict, you wind up with Due Date.

I give Due Date an F!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When is it too much?

Oscar winner Danny Boyle's new film, 127 Hours, tells the story of mountain climber Aron Ralston whose arm gets pinned beneath a boulder and he must chop off his own arm in order to scale a 65 foot wall and get rescued. It opened this weekend in limited release and expands wide Nov. 19th, and I am dying to see it, but recently the movie has fallen to controversy, not because of what we usually find controversial, but from violence. Early buzz from screenings at Telluride, Toronto, and now press screenings, have been that the scene where Ralston (played by James Franco) chops off his arm, has caused vomiting and even fainting in screenings. The scene is told to be highly graphic; probably the most graphic moment is when Ralston cuts through the nerve in his arm! Many have complained about this scene upon seeing the movie, and this begs the question: When is it too much for an audience to handle a certain scene in a movie?

Obviously everyone has different tolerance levels on this sort of subject matter, and while I was young, I remember a similar backlash in the late '90s when Saving Private Ryan came out; many in the press and the media citing the D-Day scene as too gory and realistic for their liking, but jump about 12 years ahead, Saving Private Ryan is considered a classic and one of the best of its genre. Studio Fox Searchlight asked director Danny Boyle if he wanted to cut or trim the sequence down in 127 Hours, but Boyle politely declined. For that, I applaud Boyle to sticking to his guns. If you want someone to feel the pain that Ralston went through, you must make that 20 minute sequence as real as possible. While scenes of excessive gore may bother some, there are others that it wont, and to compromise that realism can make the difference between a classic and that movie that was just okay.

To have a universal cap on violence, or even stuff like nudity, can often hamper the goal of a movie. The MPAA enforces such things with their rating system, and they tell you up front, if a movie is rated R, it cites the reasons why. If a movie is rated NC-17, it tells you why. If they say a movie has grisly violence, and you get squeamish at such things, then it's probably best not to see this particular movie. Same as if you don't want to see a naked person on screen. Every nation in the world has a similar rating system, and they inform the viewer so that the viewer can make the decision as to whether or not to see said movie. As it is, 127 Hours is rated R for violence, so one should definitely heed with caution before seeing the movie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Movie Review: "It's Kind of a Funny Story"

High School's tough, so Craig tries a psych ward. Craig is a 16-year-old kid who seemingly has everything in the world going for him, good family and friends and good grades, but Craig is suicidal and doesn't understand why, so he checks himself into a psychiatric ward to try and cure himself without his high school friends knowing that he's been committed. As is per movies such as this, Craig discovers himself over his five day stay at the psych ward, making friends and helping change their lives whilst also discovering love, but unlike many other movies, it works so organically within this story that it is believable.

The opening scene shows Craig getting up on the edge of a suspension bridge, about to jump, then he is stopped by his parents, who are only stopping Craig because they want to know what to do with the expensive bike in which they bought him, if he commits suicide. Of course, this was all a dream, but it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It's Kind of a Funny Story laces the typically untouchable subjects of the human psyche that make people squirm and it makes you not just laugh about it, but understand it in the way in which we need to understand in order to cure our psychological problems.

Craig learns self-empowerment, that he actually has something going for him in life, and that the unhappiness he was exhibiting was because he was not living the life he wanted. This is demonstrated in some spectacular sequences, including one where the entire cast of the movie sings Queen's "Under Pressure" as if in an '80s glam rock music video, or an animated sequence that careens through cartoony city streets showing the unlocking of Craig's artistic abilities. And actually, the movie takes itself seriously. These sequences all take place in Craig's mind, as do many other sequences in the movie. Craig's voice-overs coupled with his imagination transpire through dream sequences as to what he's thinking at the moment, what all his friends at school are thinking, or any other thing that may transpire in a teenage boy's mind. It is through these dream sequences and almost Ferris Bueller-like asides from Craig that make this movie the rich and emotional experience that it is.

While It's Kind of a Funny Story is technically a comedy, any comedy that comes within the story only comes through the characters simply being the characters and not through Hollywood contrivances of plot and story. The acting is spot on, never really a sour note with Keir Gilchrist as Craig or Ema Roberts as his love, Noel. Possibly the most surprising performance is that of comedian Zach Galifianakis, who delivers a fine dramatic performance as psych ward patient and Craig's best friend, Bobby, and while Galifianakis is given plenty of moments to make you laugh, the through line of his character's desire to be with his daughter but not being able to overcome his depression is quite possibly the most moving aspect of this piece of cinema.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is what I'd imagine the result would be if John Hughes decided to make a movie about a suicidal teen, supplement his usual High School aesthetic and applying it to a psychiatric ward, that in all actuality has way more intriguing options for interesting characters than an ordinary high school. While the movie is coated by the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson) with an overt indy, hipster aesthetic, much like last year's (500) Days of Summer it does not deter from the sheer enjoyment and impact that you get upon watching this heartwarming movie.

I give It's Kind of a Funny Story an A!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Review: "The Legend of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'Hoole"

The Legend of the Guardians is a kid's adventure movie that has plenty of action, but never soars. The movie is the story of a young owl named Sorin who dreams of someday becoming one of the mythical Guardians of Ga'Hoole (the owl protectors for all owl kingdom), but when Sorin and his brother are kidnapped by the evil owl clan, The Pure Ones, who vow to take over all of owldom, Sorin must fly out to discover the ancient Guardians in order to save owls the world over. It's a straightforward story utilizing Joseph Cambell's "Hero's Journey," but unlike Star Wars, the potential is never reached. Director Zack Snyder does a marvelous job with the action sequences, and the whole movie is one of the most visually striking pieces of cinema this year, but the story is just too simple. The story is sort of like it's still stuck in outline form, following bulletpoints rather than it feeling as if the story has a natural ebb-and-flow. Snyder never takes the time to drink in the fantastical imagery spun by his animators, and the same goes for the characters. Time is never taken to explore these wonderful characters in greater detail, where as these characters probably leapt off the page in the novel by Kathryn Lasky, and had that time been taken it could have added some much needed emotional connection. It's simple to say, had there been more meat to this than just the bare bones 90 minutes, but alas, this is a movie that could have soared up into the clouds, but settles to fall flat.

I give The Legend of the Guardians an F!