Monday, August 29, 2011

Sidewalk Film Festival 2011

I have always drug my feet when it comes to updating this blog. In fact, outside of a couple of random post early on, my presence on this blog has been non-existent. My brother Christian has however kept this blog filled with posts on his thoughts and feelings on film of today.

He does however, tend to shy away from Documentary and Indie film. As mentioned in his last post, he is a lover of old Hollywood, heart warming plots, and happy endings. Nothing wrong with that, but I tend to like the grittier,violent, controversial, and all around more bleak films. The more sex, drugs, and rock n' roll the better.

With that said, I want to share my experiences of the Sidewalk Film Festival that transpired this weekend. This was the 13th year of Sidewalk, and my 6th year to attend. This festival has only gotten better in the years that I have attended and participated in it. Some of my favorite Indie films of the last several years I saw at Sidewalk. Living in Birmingham , AL, can be very disconcerting for a film fan who isn't just interested in the standard thoroughfare of Hollywood money makers that populate our major chain theaters. Sidewalk provides a gateway to a world that is typically only accessible through Netflix, putting you months behind the film community and hopelessly out of touch.

The only bad thing about Sidewalk is trying to cram as many films into a short two day period as possible. For me, that means cutting out most of the narrative films and focusing on documentary, which Sidewalk consistently serves up some of the most poignant and well made non fiction films that I have seen.

Before I get started talking about the Documentaries, I will start with the opening night film, The Innkeepers. Directed by Ti West, the film focuses on two employees of the Yankee Peddler Inn during its final nights of business. Pat Healey plays Luke, a paranormal enthusiast and amateur web designer who firmly believes that the hotel is haunted and works to compile all of his evidence in between trolling the internet and viewing porn. His co-worker Clair, played by Sarah Paxton, shares Luke's determination to document definitive proof that their place of employment is possessed. The film develops much of the same way as most haunted house films, but the cast could easily have been pulled from a Joe Swanberg movie: directionless twenty somethings, working a dead end job, and evoking what it means to be stuck in small town America. Luckily the dialogue is delivered without the jaded acting style that defines the mumblecore genre. In fact, the one thing I feel the film is a champion of is its ability to not succumb to being a cliche genre film. At its core, The Innkeepers is a haunted thriller, peppered with comedic moments and character drama that is more commonly seen in European films. Paxton evokes the indie charm of Zooey Deschanel with the comedic timing of Amy Poehlor, and Healey could easily fit into one of Edgar Wright's scripts along side the likes of Simon Pegg. Thrillers and horror are hard genres to do at a festival, and especially hard to put as an opening night film, but The Inkeepers was a fine start to the festival.

Holy Rollers, directed by Bryan Storkel was the first documentary film I saw, and was an excellent start to Saturday. I will not go to in-depth in this post, because I intend on a more in-depth analysis later this week. The film follows a Black Jack team that comprises of only Christians. The immediate contradiction is, "How can Christians justify gambling?" The founders of the team believe that this question is answered in their desire to take money from casinos, who would otherwise use the money for, "evil things." The participants in the film in turn use the money to support their ministries. Regardless of the noble intention, many contradictions arise throughout that paint a different portrait of the team. As I will discuss in my forthcoming post, the film presents two strong metaphors that I noticed concerning the nature of God in the new church movement and humans desire to create community. Storkel is a self-proclaimed Christian who did a great job of being as unbiased as possible. Holy Rollers is still looking for wider distribution and is definitely worth checking out.

You've Been Trumped was by far my favorite film of the festival and director Anthony Baxter is definitely someone whose career I will watch diligently. First, if you don't already hate Donald Trump enough, then this film will put you over the tipping point. Baxtor chronicles the struggle of the residents in Abersheen, Scotland, as they desperately cling to their homes that are threatened by Donlad Trump's quest to build a billion dollar golf course. Trump's relentless bullying of the residents of Abersheen is despicable and Baxter's tenacity to represent them is nothing short of heroic. Faced with limited access and a larger than life nemesis in Trump, Baxter uses all of the best run and gun camera techniques and utilizes all the best that new digital filmmaking has to offer, including giving one of his participants a camera of her own. I had the pleasure of talking with Baxter that night after his film had played, and was able to pick the directors brain about his thoughts and feelings on his personal feelings towards Trump and documentary filmmaking which was a real treat. The film also is treated to the gorgeous music of Jonsi, which provide s perfect music bed for the beautiful shots of the Scottish coast.

Dragonslayer was my least favorite film of the festival this year. This portrait documentary follows professional skateboarder Josh "Skreech" Sandoval in his small SoCal suburb, getting kicked out of empty pools, falling in love, and taking his his son (from a failed relationship) on trips to the zoo. What made Dragonslayer so lack luster was that this character has already been done in film, both narrative and documentary, and done so much better. The gutter punk aesthetic has grown stale and Sandoval becomes another face in the crowd of slacker documentary subjects. The one redeeming quality of the film is that a lot of the footage is simply pretty to look at. If you are looking for a slacker film that is more entertaining, I recommend the mockumentary Fubar.

The biggest surprise for me at the festival was the bio Documentary on race car driver Ayrton Senna, titled Senna. Comprised of only archive footage, Senna is a heart pounding portrait of one man's life and career, which is as complex and entertaining as any narrative film. Racing teammate Alain Prost is the perfect antagonist to Senna as he rises to super stardom in the racing world, and the thick backdrop of racing politics draws the viewer in up till the final moments of the film. I am not a fan of sports films, but Senna transcends that generalization.

Where Soldiers Come From is an intimate portrait of young men from Northern Missouri as they embark on their journey in the United States Army reserve. The group have been friends since childhood with strikingly unique personalities. When the group travels to Afghanistan to help disarm IED's, they are changed men. Interestingly these changes are strikingly different based on who they were before going to war. While no one in their group is seriously wounded or killed they still have been transformed after their 9 month deployment. From severe concussions to skewed views of Middle Easterners, the men have a very difficult time readjusting to their old lives. The film itself does not stand out in the plethora of post 9/11 war films, however it is a well made one and shows a very personal side of the Americans fighting in the Middle East. The only thing I think that could have made the film better would have been a larger sampling of people from different areas of the country and different Socio-economic backgrounds. However it is clear that the film is committed to just these boys' story.

The final film I saw was Septien, by Micheal Tully. The filmmaker was present for the screening and offered no set up for the dark southern tale of the return of a prodigal brother (played by Tully), and the aftermath of his return. Frightening, bizarre, and funny at times, Septien manages to ride no higher than absurdest storytelling with limited subtext. Much like the film Rubber, which I recently viewed, Septien left me with an empty stomach when I really wanted a 7 course meal. Both films have some enjoyable "Lynchian" moments, but suffer from the inability to take these far out scenes and storytelling any further.

Besides the films, Sidewalk did and excellent job at hosting the filmmakers, Guests, and VIP, to excellent After Parties. Especially noteworthy was the Good People Brewing Company Party, with loads of free Microbrew's and was an excellent chance to meet the filmmakers and get further insight into their films. Sidewalk will continue on into its next year and is definitely a festival to check out for something different.

A Day at Sidewalk and a Dissection of the Average American Film Festival

So I spent half of my Saturday at Birmingham's Sidewalk Film Festival, seeing as how my documentary from last semester, Nihon-Jin (The Japanese People), was playing. The day was pretty straight forward. I woke up, went to the fest with my special filmmaker's badge allowing me full access to anything and everything at the fest, but oddly enough, I did not really make much use of it, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My movie's screening was at 10:30 in the AM. The audience reception was good, maybe a ballpark of fifty to seventy people there. People laughed at the right moments, and you could definitely feel the tension in the room as the doc got into its more serious paces. Afterwards, there was a short Q & A, which about twenty audience members stayed for, and I think it was here where I had the most fun at Sidewalk. Getting to answer people's questions about filmmaking, and talk to them about the making of process, was a real treat, and it was one of those few moments where I actually felt like a legit filmmaker.

After the screening, I ducked in to see an animated film called Mia and the Migoo, simply feeling I needed to see something since I could get into anything with my badge. Problem is, this was the only movie that even remotely interested me, and it was a C+ in quality. I mean, the animation was hit and miss, some shots were more detailed than others, leading to an inconsistent visual style, and the story was really the tale of two movies. The first half was dull and disjointed, where as the second half was magical and almost on the level of a Miyazaki movie. When it gets right down to it, though, I just do not like these small town festivals like this, and this mirrors almost all of the other major fests in the US.

Now, while there are a few fests like Telluride, SSXW, and New York, that often show more mainstream, awards baiting movies, majority of these fests are filled with independent films that feature stories that just do not appeal to me. Hot button issues are typically big topics at these fests, such as: homosexuality, environmentalism, and religion. Not to mention, the movies at these fests tend to also fall into that indie movie genre of movies that are so quirky, uber-gritty, and realistic they can be considered art. But how can it be entertaining? That's what I care more about. Entertainment.

I'm just an old fashioned movie goer. I love the sheen of Old Hollywood, I miss it and long for it. I mean, most action movies that forsake brilliantly staged action sequences for shaky camera and quick editing gimmicks, just fail to create any excitement in me. I think this is why majority of these types of fests don't appeal to me, because I do not see myself as an artist, but as an entertainer. When it gets right down to it, these fests are for those who think of themselves as artists and not blokes like me whose great dream is to make studio produced blockbusters.

Regardless, this is a route that I must try and take if I want to get some sort of a name out there as a filmmaker. Hopefully I can just continue making the movies I love to make and just hope that folks at places like Sundance or Sidewalk will accept them and like them enough to attract some distributors. Anyways, that was Sidewalk for this year. Waka, waka!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Top 10: DC Comics' Characters

The DC Universe completely reboots come August 31st, with Justice League #1 ushering in a total of 52 New Number One Issues! DC is hoping to reinvigorate their line of comics by taking many of their heroes back to the beginning, changing a few things about their stories, while keeping certain things the same. The events of the past few years, like Bruce Wayne's death still happened, same goes with Superman's death, but Superman and Lois are not going to be married anymore come the reboot in September (which I'm not sure how I feel about, but we'll see). Whether or not this massive, Universe wide reboot does the trick for some of DC's more struggling books, I don't know, but as a comic book fan this is one of the more intriguing things I've ever experienced, and a portion of me is excited, so I decided to do this list of my 10 Favorite Characters in DC Comics. From villains, to supporting players, all the way to the heroes themselves, these are my favorites. As it is, there is a ton of favoritism from my favorite books here, with Batman heavily represented here, same for Superman, but hey, I'm a fanboy. Without any further ado, let's go:

10. Ra's Al Ghul
The Demon's Head as he is known, Ra's Al Ghul is what Bruce Wayne would become if he ever completely fell into the abyss. Ra's is a smart detective, like Batman, who believes in saving the world from criminality and evil, however what makes Ra's a villain is that his methods are more extreme than Batman. Ra's leads his clan of ninja assassins (The League of Shadows) to perform acts of eco-terrorism, feeling that the only way to combat evil is just to start humanity back over from scratch. This is what makes Ra's so dangerous and one of Batman's finer enemies. He's as as smart as Bruce, as good of a fighter, and did I mention that he cannot die as long as he takes a dip in a Lazarus Pit (a rejuvenation chamber), making Ra's immortal.

9. Kyle Rayner
Hal Jordan is the most celebrated Green Lantern, but Kyle Rayner is my personal favorite, partly because Kyle was the Green Lantern in the comics as I grew up, but also because of his character's selflessness and compassion. An artist, who uses the purity of himself to create immaculate constructs that are pure extensions of his imagination, Kyle got the last Green Lantern power ring in the universe, and when he first took up the mantle of Green Lantern, the Corps. was no more (destroyed by Parallax). Unlike the GLs of the past, Kyle was not traversing space and time, he was simply dealing with crime and villainy on Earth. Kyle was a more stripped down take on Green Lantern when he first entered the comics, which also makes him the most humanized take still to date. While he eventually joins the Corps. when Hal Jordan returns and rebuilds Oa, there is still a soft spot for Kyle Rayner, as you can see in such event comics like "Rebirth" and "Blackest Night," and it's the simplicity and straight forward nature of his character that I love so much.

8. Lex Luthor
Clark Kent's best friend he ever knew became his ultimate enemy. That is what makes Lex Luthor the most emotionally complex villain in the DC Universe. Lex is not a mad man, not a psychopath in the sense of the Joker, he is a slick businessman with a brotherly hatred of Superman, always wanting to prove to everyone that he is better than the favored Son of Metropolis. What makes the battles between Lex and Superman so engaging, is knowing that the two both came from Smallville, were best friends, and now mortal enemies, taking their battles from simple brawls and mind games to an elevated form of tragedy.

7. Dick Grayson
Dick Grayson is by far one of the best characters DC has to offer. As he grew from the Boy Wonder to the Teen Wonder, readers saw how, even though he shared similar origins to Bruce, he had a more positive outlook on life. Dick is not afraid to hope, and that is what makes him such a dynamic character. When he became an adult, he stepped out from Bruce's shadow and became Nightwing, but Dick still maintained the similarities to Batman, hiding in the shadows to fight crime, but cracking jokes like Spider-man. Then, when Bruce Wayne died, Dick took on the cape and cowl and became Batman himself, presenting a Batman that was not Nightwing nor Bruce's Batman, but a Batman his own. The thing is, Dick is not brooding, he doesn't fight crime because he needs to avenge his parent's murders, like Bruce, Dicks fights crime because he thinks it is the right thing to do. This is why I think it is an utter shame Dick is being demoted come September from Batman back to Nightwing. While I will still read, these past two years with Dick in the cape and cowl has been some of the best Batman stories I've ever read, and I will miss it.

6. Lois Lane
If you think Lois Lane is simply Superman's gal pal, stop reading this now and pick up a good Superman comic to learn otherwise. Lois is an integral character to the overall fabric of Superman. She is not just the Damsel in Distress, but the anchor for Superman's humanity. Lois believes in Superman, she doesn't simply romanticize him and change her mind when Superman fails, no, Lois deep down believes in Superman's pursuit of Truth, Justice, and the American Way (after all, that is what Lois pursues as a reporter). I think it is this idea that makes Lois so endearing.

5. Commissioner James Gordon
Commissioner Gordon is the one character aside from Bruce Wayne himself that has appeared in Batman comics since Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. The one good cop in a city of slimy, double crossing coppers. Commissioner Gordon is Batman's loyal confidant on the Gotham City Police Force, often having to meet with Batman in secret and look the other way at Batman's acts. Not only this, but Gordon is a character who is as richly textured as any regular American guy. He is not perfect at his job, or at being a family man. He often botches cases, he cheats on his wife, and even ignores his son for nearly half of his life as his son lives in Chicago with his mom. Even through all of his personal struggles, Gordon is a model of how the good man must continue to always try and bounce back and rectify past mistakes, while still believing in the good of humanity. Add on top of that, the surrogate father connection that Bruce feels with Gordon, and you have one heck of a character.

4. Alfred Pennyworth
Anyone who knows anything about Batman, know a little something about his faithful butler, Alfred. Alfred is Bruce Wayne's trusted assistant. Bruce doesn't see Alfred as a servant, but a member of his family, like an Uncle or surrogate father (similar to Gordon), seeing as how Alfred essentially raised Bruce. Alfred is that guiding light for Bruce, whenever things get too dark, Alfred must always bring Bruce back from the edge. This is what makes Alfred so special, not to mention the fact that Alfred can also be a pretty cool man of action himself, having ties to British secret service and other such great exploits in his past before he became the Wayne family butler. There is no Batman without Alfred.

3. The Joker
Alias unknown, there is no official origin story for the Joker, which is why I think he is the best comic book villain of all-time. It's that mystique of the character: Who is he? Where does he come from? What is underneath that make-up? This is what drives us readers to continue reading tales of one of the most sadistically enjoyable psychopaths to read. The Joker, written through a clever blend of creepiness and dark humor, is one of the few characters in the history of storytelling that can make you laugh while squirming in your seat. A true feat of the imagination, the Joker deserves his slot as Batman's archnemesis.

2. Bruce Wayne
Parents gun downed before his child eyes, Bruce made a vow on his parent's grave to avenge their murders. The billionaire traveled the world, becoming the World's Greatest Detective, and a master of nearly every form of martial arts, to become the source of his own fear, Batman, stalking the cowardly and superstitious lot known as criminals. What more does one need to know. Bruce is always haunted by the guilt of his past, a character who often focuses so much on what needs to be done, that he forgoes his own identity to fully become the Batman. Even still, Bruce is a man that loves and cares deeply, as is seen in his constant desire to grow his own family. Alfred, Dick, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Bruce has crafted a family of adopted sons and daughters (one biological) and a surrogate father. Bruce is a passionate man who believes in doing what's right, even if that means breaking the law to do so, and that is what makes him so engaging as a character. Now if anyone can figure out how a man like this and Superman are best friends, you get a cookie?

1. Clark Kent
The ultimate American immigrant. Rocketed to Earth from the impending destruction of his home planet of Krypton, Clark was raised by Kansas farmers, instilled with Midwestern values, and grew up to protect humanity as Superman, the Man of Steel. Superman is strong, fast, and nigh invulnerable, but it's the character beneath all of that brawn that makes Clark Kent so engaging. He is a pure hearted man who believes in fighting for what's right, in his case: Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Even so, Clark Kent also feels alienated on Earth, away from his true people. Superman is an ideal of what every person should be and could be. He is the American ideal. What we wish America was like. He is not a poster board figure for America, but rather the symbol as to the greatness that humanity can reach and aspire to, which is why so many people still, to this day, immigrate to the United States. If everyone was a little more like Clark Kent, the world would be a better place, but then again, there would be no need for superheroes if we were all that fantastic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Review: "The Help"

While there have been many movies made detailing the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, The Help's director and adapter of Kathryn Stockett's novel, Tate Taylor, manages to let the movie be something different than just a movie about the plights of African Americans in the 1960s. The Help is an ensemble story, following the multi-layered cast of some of the finer actresses currently working in the industry and their own brushes with the help of black housemaids in upper class Jackson, Mississippi. Where The Help distances itself away from the pack of similar tales, is that the movie isn't simply preaching a history lesson of tolerance, in fact it's left to our imaginations whether or not the white racist women in this movie will ever change, but the tale succeeds because it wears its heart on its sleeve and is not afraid to be both funny and oozing with sentimental emotion at each turn. The thing is, there is no moment where the white people's hearts are changed, as is seen in stuff like Remember the Titans, but rather The Help just lets the events unfold and speak for themselves. We watch these black housemaids struggle with their own emotions, caring for the white children they are nannies for, but detesting their mothers who talk down to them and wont let them use the indoor toilet on a rainy day. The Help just is, like an old fashioned Hollywood movie, there are not many frills or whistles in the direction, it is straight forward storytelling that does very little manipulation or fantasy creation to try and paint a more beautiful picture, but rather it is beautiful because of the chemistry between the flawless ensemble cast (with particular accolades to Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote). While the movie runs long, it will keep the viewer watching till the end to see where these characters will end up.

I give The Help an A!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Summer Movie Awards - 2011!

With the release of the final major Summer movie a week or so ago, I think it's time to dust off my annual Summer Movie Awards!

There is a difference between the movie awards I do at the end of the year and the awards I do at the end of each Summer movie season. Summer movies are designed to be simple stories that wear their hearts on their sleeves, they usually rely on very little subtlety, and are showcases for the technical prowess of the industry's greatest behind the scenes craftsmen. Not only that, these Summer movies deliver heroes that we root for, villains that we love to hate, and the lovable love interests that anchor our heroes. In essence, these awards are not to honor performances of the actors like the Oscars, nor is it about honoring the Cinematography or Directing or Writing. It is simply honoring movies that delivered the Summer movie criteria (detailed above) with so much propulsive clarity, that this is their own moment to shine, since very few Summer movies often show up in year end lists.

As a whole, this was not the best Summer of moviegoing, while not as weak as last Summer, it by no means holds up to 2009 or 2008. Regardless, 2011 deserves to be valued on its own merits, so let the Summer Movie Awards - 2011 Edition, begin!

Coolest Moment of the Summer
- Cerebro Montage from X-Men: First Class
Summer Blockbusters have always been known for the moments. Those moments that make you wanna cry, those moments that keep one on the edge of their seat, and the moments that are just so awesome they send shivers down your spine, and those moments I like to deem, cool. There were many cool moments from this Summer, from the first words spoken by an ape, to the highly impressive sequence with the replicating gold in Harry Potter, but the one that wins out above all is the montage in X-Men when Professor X first uses Cerebro, the machine that boosts his brain power and allows him to reach every mutant in the world. The scene was expertly handled; tense, not knowing whether or not the machine would fry Xavier's mind, then it works and we watch as Professor X and Magneto recruit young mutants for their team (including the spectacular Hugh Jackman cameo). This scene just perfectly showcases the ensemble nature of the movie, as well as the energy and mise en scene which is deeply rooted in 1960's pop culture.
(Runners-Up: Magneto's Frankenstein Monster from X-Men: First Class, Gringotts Vault from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, Caesar Speaks from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Sub Lift from X-Men: First Class)

Best Action Sequence of the Summer - Room of Requirement Burns from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
Here's to all of the edge of your seat moments of thrills and chills for this Summer. As with every Summer, almost every movie, even the comedies, have to have an action sequence; it just seems to be a requirement of Summer moviemaking. But the action sequence that rose above the rest was when the Room of Requirement goes up in cursed flames, as Harry and his friends have to escape the neverending blaze. The sequence hit all of the right marks you want in a good action sequence. Thrills. Close calls. The humorous anecdote from the funny guy (Ron). And the hero being heroic (in this case, saving snot nosed Malfoy's life).
(Runners-Up: Ape Uprising on Golden Gate from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Kruger Chase from Captain America: The First Avenger, Cuban Missile Crisis from X-Men: First Class, and Train Wreck from Super 8)

Most Emotional Moment of the Summer - The Walk into the Forest from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
There is something to this moment that no other movie could quite rival from this Summer. Summer Blockbusters are known not just as spectacle extravaganzas, but also as movies that touch us in ways that often realistic dramas can't. This moment where Harry literally walks to his death, accompanied by the ghosts of his mom, dad, godfather, and great mentor, is just one of those moments where it is hard to keep it together. While this movie had a great many moments that were highly emotional as an audience member who grew up with these stories, this one stands out above the rest. When Harry asks the obvious question in regards to death, "Does it hurt?" Gary Oldman's heartfelt reply will elicit emotion from nearly any audience member.
(Runners-Up: Magneto and Professor X Fight on the Beach from X-Men: First Class, Nineteen Years Later from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, Neville's Speech from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, and Captain America Crashes the Plane from Captain America: The First Avenger)

Best Hero of the Summer - Harry Potter from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
In a Summer with countless superheroes, I go with the teenage wizard for the Best Hero, but you cannot get a character more heroic or selfless than Harry Potter. Harry is a character that puts everyone else in the Wizarding World before him. He willingly walks to his death at the hands of Lord Voldemort, just so his friends and everyone else fighting for the good can survive. Not only that, Harry is also a marvelous man of action. He is never content with simply being a strategist, he wants to be on the front lines and kick some wizard butt, too, which makes him all the more awesome.
(Runners-Up: Captain America from Captain America: The First Avenger, Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Magneto from X-Men: First Class, and Sam Witwicky from Transformers: Dark of the Moon)

Best Villain of the Summer - Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
Same case as above, there were many good villains from this Summer, but one was truly great. When a villain actually rises to the levels of creepiness that we tend to associate with absolute evil, you know the villain is one to remember. Lord Voldemort is Harry Potter's mortal enemy, evil incarnate, and what we see in this final Harry Potter movie is a shattered man desperate to not face mortality at all costs. However, when Lord Voldemort decides to get reckless, the results are nothing short of catastrophic for the good guys, as Voldemort will kill anyone who stands in his way between his killing Harry Potter, even his own soldiers, which makes Voldemort the great antithesis to Harry's selflessness.
(Runners-Up: Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class, Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, Azazel from X-Men: First Class, and Loki from Thor)

Best Love Interest of the Summer - Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger
In all honesty, this was a Summer with few genuine love interests, but even if there were more to choose from, Peggy Carter might still stand above the rest. What makes Peggy Carter the great love interest for Captain America is that she is an old fashioned girl who believes in waiting for the right man. Moralistic and compassionate, but also a tough soldier who would rather fight to uphold her beliefs than be the damsel in distress and wait for the hero to save her. The type of strong female character that is sadly missing in most movies nowadays.
(Runner-Up: Mystique from X-Men: First Class and Carly from Transformers: Dark of the Moon)

Biggest Surprise of the Summer - X-Men: First Class
There really was only one movie that caught me off guard this Summer in the positive way (as there were many movies I was anticipating that didn't fully deliver, see below for more). This latest installment in the X-Men franchise took us back to the beginning of everything, back to the start of the odd relationship between Xavier and Magneto. I'll be honest, even after seeing the trailers, I was not sold on this movie. The third X-Men movie and Wolverine were both such big disappointments it was hard to muster any sort of excitement for First Class, and boy was I glad that I was proved wrong, with this being a great entry point for any filmgoer to meet the X-Men for the first time, or meet them again.
(Runner-Up: None)

Biggest Disappointment of the Summer - Super 8
Now, on the flip side, there are those movies that I was actually anticipating a great deal, and they just failed to captivate me in the way I wanted them to. While there were some other disappointments that I actually gave lower scores to, J.J. Abrams' Super 8 seemed to have all of the ingredients in place to make a great movie adventure. Alas, it was not meant to be, with the movie meant to be an homage to the Steven Spielberg movies of the '80s, and coming across simply as that, an homage, and not a movie that could stand proudly alongside with those quality Spielberg works like E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I still love J.J., but this was not his best movie.
(Runners-Up: Thor and Green Lantern)

Most Emotional Movie of the Summer - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
I pretty much gave this one away earlier. With this being the final installment in the series, it was pretty much a given that it was gonna be the end of something beloved, and whenever you end something that is this loved by so many people, such as myself, it will be an emotional roller coaster ride. Luckily the movie fired on all cylinders and delivered in all of the emotional areas that the book did as well, and even added a few of its own, such as Neville Longbottom's stirring speech before he chops off Voldemort's pet snake's head.
(Runners-Up: X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Most Entertaining Movie of the Summer - X-Men: First Class
As far as fun at the movies go, there was no other movie that flew by as quickly as this movie did. Director Matthew Vaughn laced the movie with hip 1960's pop culture aesthetic, and in so doing created a movie that felt younger, hipper, and more energetic, than any of the other X-Men movies. Not to mention, the action was expertly crafted, the character relationships were charming and lovable with new surprises around each turn that even shocked this X-Men fan at times. Just a wonderful movie of awe, wonder, and discovery, which is why we see these kinds of movies to begin with, right?
(Runners-Up: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Captain America: The First Avenger)

Most Technically Rewarding Movie of the Summer - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
To be honest, I am fed up with overuse of CGI, so it's funny that I loved the motion capture CG apes in Planet of the Apes. Maybe it's because motion capture technology has come so far, or its because WETA digital has surpassed ILM as the top effects' house in the world, I don't know. Whatever it is, when the CG work can actually cross that plasticky exterior and connect emotionally with an audience, that's when you know the effects worked, as it did here.
(Runner-Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, X-Men: First Class, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)

Best All Around Movie of Summer 2011 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II
C'mon, did you really think myself being such a diehard Harry Potter fan would not honor the final installment as the Best Movie of the Summer? Let's be honest, this movie just had the best of everything all in one brew. It was emotional. Highly entertaining. Technically well crafted. Just a good movie on all fronts that never failed to deliver the moments as I mentioned earlier. Cause as it is, it has become easy for a movie to simply follow the formula to create an enjoyable Summer Blockbuster, but if the cast and crew can create memorable moments that accentuate that formula, that's when you know the movie is a special movie, such as this grand farewell to Harry Potter.
(Runners-Up: X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Final Words: I give Summer 2011 a C!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Reviews: "Cowboys & Aliens" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

There are certain movies where the title gives them away, and Cowboys & Aliens is one such movie. A cowboy with no name, and actually no memory, arrives in the small Western town of Absolution, which is the theme of the entire movie. The cowboy, played by Daniel Craig, obviously has a dark past, one that he wants to be absolved of, though it is tough to be absolved for one's sins when demons (a.k.a. aliens) attack the small Western town and abduct the town's inhabitants. Cowboys & Aliens is an odd sort of mash up of two clashing genres (Sci-Fi and Western), but it actually works to create fun action set pieces, and the credibility comes in the fact that the aliens are never called aliens but are often referred to as demons (of course, us from the 21st Century know what they are). The movie co-stars Harrison Ford as a gruff old rancher, not all that likable, and ultimately a forgettable character, and that really sums up the whole movie. Like Daniel Craig's character, this is a very gruff, straight forward movie that just doesn't have anything fresh or intriguing enough about it to make it memorable. While we have seen these Western and Sci-Fi tropes played again
and again, there is a cheap thrill that comes in seeing these things come together in the entertaining action sequences shot by director Jon Favreau, but the thrill doesn't linger.

I give Cowboys & Aliens a B-!


Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes can almost be seen as an ad protesting experimentation on animals, apes in particular. Scientists use apes to test experimental drugs, one drug in particular to try and cure Alzheimer's. We watch as certain apes develop higher brain functioning, rivaling that of humans, this is how we meet our story's hero, Caesar. We go from the sadness of seeing Caesar's mother dying trying to protect him from the scientists, to Caesar growing up as actor James Franco's surrogate son, but when Caesar tries to protect his family by attacking another human, Caesar is taken away to an ape sanctuary. Throughout all of this, we feel Caesar's joy as he first climbs a Redwood tree, and we feel his anger and sadness when he is left in a cage by his surrogate father, lending emotional plausibility to Caesar becoming embittered and rising to lead the apes in a revolt against the humans, rioting across San Francisco. What is more impressive is that not a single real ape was in this movie. All of the apes were portrayed by actors in motion capture suits, with their ape exteriors being added on in post production via CGI. The effects work is expertly woven into the story by WETA digital, and there are moments within the movie that even a seasoned eye can barely tell the difference between CGI trickery and a real ape on Animal Planet. This is just a pure spectacle that only a blockbuster can deliver. Tight storytelling, high emotion, and marvelous action, wrapped up into a wonderfully written, solidly directed, immaculate technical showcase.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes an A!