Friday, March 30, 2012

Movie Review: "Mirror, Mirror"

Mirror, Mirror is a tongue-in-cheek revision of the Snow White fairy tale, where everything is comedic and absurd, where the evil Queen is a vain Julia Roberts, and the seven dwarves are bandits who pose as giants on tall stilts.  It's a silly swashbuckler with very little depth to its characters, not to mention the fact that all of the jokes feel as if they came out of the preschool playbook.  However, as with any film directed by Tarsem Singh, it is pretty to look at.

I give Mirror, Mirror an F

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What does the success of "The Hunger Games" mean for Hollywood?

The first four months of the year are typically not viewed as great movie-going months, therefore the studios constantly release films in these few months that they funded but are not satisfied with, so they just wanna sweep these movies under the rug till Summer rolls around and their real product emerges. It tends to happen every year, and it's how we got Eddie Murphy's A Thousand Words this year. However, recent years have shown an uptick in box office numbers in the first four months of the year, to where now, with the success of movies like Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, The Vow, and The Hunger Games, can studios really write these months off as a dumping ground for less than stellar movies?

I for one love movies, and to be honest, there have been many years where I didn't see my first movie in theaters till May of that year, because there was nothing out till Summer that was above a sub-par quality. Looking back over movie history, there have been a few early year successes, such as The Silence of the Lambs or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but beyond the occasional genre movie that surprises and the kids' movies that tend to surface near spring break, there was nothing that most people felt that they had to see in theaters. However, in recent years there seems to have been an uptick in larger scale movies released in the first four months of the year. While people like Disney and other animation companies try to use these first four months as a breeding ground for spring break box office (i.e. The Lorax or Horton Hears a Who), and the other studios releasing a glut of romance movies around Valentine's Day (i.e. The Vow), it seems Hollywood is starting to take the first four months of the year more seriously.

Just last year, Fast Five did bang up business at the box office in April, a traditionally dead month, similar to a few years before when Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland did so well in March. The thing is, it used to be unheard of for movies with such large budgets to be released outside of Summer, but now the studios are releasing movies like John Carter and The Hunger Games in March rather than in the heat of the Summer, and after The Hunger Games' $155 million opening weekend gross (third best of all-time, by the way) capping off what has been one of the best first three months at the box office in probably my lifetime, things will certainly change in the future.

Never has a movie released in March been as successful as The Hunger Games. The movie is pulling in box office numbers that have only ever been seen during the Summer or Holiday movie season in Nov. and Dec. Though, as mentioned, this type of success seems to have been building up for years. It all sort of started with the month of March becoming such a hot ticket for studios to release kids' movies. Then there has been the success in recent years of mid-budget action flicks like Taken, like the hits from this year: The Grey and Safe House. Not to mention, these months have become a hot breeding ground for horror films and niche movies, like the found footage superhero movie Chronicle, which clearly went for that high school demographic and succeeded.

What I feel is happening is that the studios accidentally realized that people don't just want to see movies in the Summer or the Holidays, they'd like to have something to go and do on weekend nights every week of the year. The thing is, even if certain movies released this year haven't appealed to me, the studios seem to be striking a chord with the casual moviegoing audience right now and know what type of movies are trending. For instance, with the exceptions of Safe House with Denzel Washington and The Vow with Chaning Tatum and Rachel McAdams, none of the major movies at the box office this year were star vehicles. Chronicle had no names in it, nor did Act of Valor or even The Hunger Games. While the stars of The Hunger Games have done other work, and have been recognized critically for it, like Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar nod for Winter's Bone, she has never been the star of a large studio produced motion picture, having only played a supporting part in X-Men: First Class before her leading role as Katniss in The Hunger Games. Perhaps audiences are tired of stars, but there and again I think it is simply that audiences want to be entertained and these movies are doing that.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, I personally feel that the studios will finally find validation that these early months are worth the release of top tier productions and not just filler. They're going to want to deliver more Hunger Games and less A Thousand Words. They've realized that they can release large scale movies in these early months and not just find critical success doing it, but huge money as well. Maybe I am being optimistic, but the way Hollywood works, is if one type of movie comes out and does bang up business at the box office, then in the following years the studios will release a movie in the same genre in the same timeframe to try and recreate the former's success. While The Hunger Games is a phenomenon that has been growing in popularity for years now, just next year the first film adaptation of the sci-fi kid's classic, Ender's Game will be hitting theaters at a similar point in March next year.

As a fan of movies, I only see this as a good thing. I want to see good movies year round, I want to see big Hollywood blockbusters not just in the Summer, but in January, February, March, and April, as well (heck, even September and October). The Summer and Holiday months are typically so bloated anyways with big scale productions, perhaps if the studios stagger the release of big movies better, like releasing a blockbuster in mid-March rather than in Summer, like they did with The Hunger Games, then these pricey epics maybe wont be lost in the shuffle and less flops will be on their hands because audiences no longer have to pick and choose which $200 million movie they want to see on a given weekend. Right now, The Hunger Games is really the only good choice if you're going to the theater, which is why it made $155 million.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: "The Hunger Games"

With The Hunger Games, audiences are treated to a dystopic sci-fi adventure that is suspenseful from the first frame to the last. A simple story of a fight to the death between twenty-four kids between the ages of 12 and 18 may seem like a gory blood fest, but the story never glorifies the violence and is more about survival rather than killing. Director Gary Ross keeps the story with heroine Katniss Everdeen through a clever use of close ups and out of focus background, rather than often revealing what is transpiring all around her. This is not an entertainment, and it is not intended as such, but rather as a harrowing journey of wills that ask the audience members to often wonder how would they respond if they were forced to kill to live. Sadly, certain character motivations are occasionally forsaken to keep the story driving forward, and so there is often a confusion as to why a character makes the choices that they do because the hows and whys of relationships are often skimped on. Overall, though, The Hunger Games is a well made sci-fi thriller that features larger than life situations with genuine suspense that does not let up, and really expands and visualizes the world of the novels by Suzanne Collins in a satisfying way that makes The Hunger Games worth watching for the thrills and thought it provokes.

I give The Hunger Games a B+!

SECOND VIEWING UPDATE:  While I still understand what I thought the first time I saw the film, I was fortunate enough to see the film a second time through new eyes.  Sometimes the first time you watch a film based on a book, all you can think about are the slight changes that they make in making this adaptation, and this is not reviewing the movie, but rather expecting the book verbatim and that is not how films are made.  That is what happened to me the first time out.  The movie chose to simplify the complex romance and made it more straightforward as to Katniss's feelings toward Peeta rather than complicating them as it is in the book.  I was able to understand this a second time through, and it actually makes for a better movie than if they had left it all up to ambiguity, because the book benefited from being told inside Katniss' head, but you can't do that on film.  Ultimately, I loved it the second go around, and I am sure that this grade will stand.  I was wrong in my initial assessment, and I am sorry for that.

I amend my score to an A+!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hidden Gem: "Flipped"

Making only $1.2 million at the box office and scarcely no one has even heard of this movie, this definitely qualifies Flipped for being a Hidden Gem, a forgotten movie that deserves a second chance by audiences. The movie was directed by Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally to name a few), released in 2010 and quickly found its way to DVD after a very brief theatrical run. I for one never even heard of the movie until I saw it on the store shelf in a DVD section and thought it sounded intriguing. Upon watching the movie, I discovered an emotion-filled movie that I'm so smitten with, that if I had seen this back in 2010, I would have named it my favorite movie of that year.

Flipped tells the story of two eighth graders -- boy, Bryce, and girl, Julie -- in early 1960's suburban America, and how the two discover first love and possibly that first kiss. It is not as cheesy as it sounds, but is rather a story that resonates with the viewer no matter when they were born, because it speaks to an experience that most people who went through middle school have gone through. That first crush, that first attraction to a boy or girl, that is what Flipped executes so well in both a humorous and painful way.

The story uses Bryce and Julie as dual protagonists, with one scene of the story narrated by Bryce and told from his point-of-view, and then the very next scene we see the same things transpire, but from Julie's point-of-view, with her narrating. This works to draw the viewers into the mindsets of each individual character and understand more as to why they don't act on their love, and how the changes in their feelings for one another occur throughout the movie. It also makes the pain all that more heartbreaking when things do not go the way we want them to, and it is reminiscent of when such things seemed so out of reach when you were that age as well. However, what Reiner does so cleverly with Flipped is that the story isn't simply about love, it's about growing up.

Flipped is a coming-of-age story, having your eyes opened up to what is actually important in life and what isn't. Learning that your parents are in fact flawed and human, learning that the world is not as genuinely good as you wish it was, and understanding that life will always be complicated by conflicting emotions. In so many ways, this is what makes this movie feel so timeless. It's almost a minimalist movie from Reiner, where the setting is not as important as the characters and their emotions. Sure, with the movie being set in the 1960s, just before JFK was assassinated, it creates this innocent nostalgia of a time long gone, but this story could have just as easily been told in 2012 America and would have been the same movie. The themes are still relevant and important to the human experience. That is why I think Flipped is an important movie. It's also entertaining, original, often times heartbreaking, other times funny, and other times truly beautiful. A spectacular cinematic experience that must be seen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Movie Review: "John Carter"

I really wanted to like John Carter, but unfortunately that was not the case.  The titular character, John Carter, is a veteran of the American Civil War, but he lost his way after the deaths of his wife and child.  One day in the Wild West, he's pursued by Indians.  He hides out in a cave which magically transports him to Mars, where he now has Superman-like powers and is being heralded as its savior.  Everything about John Carter just feels old hat.  Sure, films like Avatar and Star Wars were partially inspired by the original Edgar Rice Burroughs' books, but the fact of the matter is, science fiction and fantasy have just grown in sophistication since Burroughs initially wrote these tales in the early 1900s.  It's very hard to suspend disbelief in the idea that you could fall asleep in a cave on Earth and wake up on Mars.  As well, unlike many other sci-fi films that came after it, we're introduced to three different alien cultures that contend with our attention span, each with convoluted, hard to understand customs, not to mention all of them having an affinity for big words that seem to have little founding in the English language.  What films like Star Wars did, is they took our everyday customs and transported them in a dressed up setting, to where, while we were on another world experiencing fantasy, we believed it because the emotions being shown were not far from those that we might experience in our own lives in trying situations.  However, even with all this, the special effects are quite good, as is the music by Michael Giacchino, but the rest of the film is not.  Featuring a stilted performance from Taylor Kitsch as Carter, and many attempts at humor and romance that just fall flat, this is just a huge misfire from Disney.

I give John Carter an F

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Concerned College Student

During my time studying film in college, there seems to be this overwhelming idea from professors and other film students that if you want to make movies you obviously want to make "artsy" movies. If you desire to make, or simply even like Hollywood made blockbusters, there is always the question as to why? If I say I love an arthouse movie, I am never questioned, but saying that I love a Steven Spielberg movie, I am blasted as to why I do. It's a frustration that I have run into, and what it all really boils down to is individual tastes.

I love macaroni and cheese, it's probably my favorite food dish in the world, and 99.9% of the time no one asks me why I love macaroni and cheese. Most people understand that I simply like the taste of it, and there is no further need to explain why. If I love Star Wars or Harry Potter and not, "fill in the blank art film," it doesn't mean that I have poor tastes, it just means I have different tastes.

Here's the thing, arthouse movies tend to leave me cold, they are more cerebral than emotional. The feelings that they create are in the mind, not in the heart, and that is not what I am interested in. The fact is, when I see a movie, I do not decide whether or not I like it based upon how original it is, or how thought provoking it is, but on how the movie made me feel. My feelings on movies are always a gut response, I either love it or I don't. If I don't feel a certain way in my gut, then the movie just isn't for me. I've tried loving movies that I didn't feel anything for, and the thing I've found is that I can appreciate such movies, but I don't ever love, or even like them.

I have one professor, who feels that if you make Hollywood blockbusters you are selling out as a movie maker. What if I love Hollywood blockbusters? Is that selling out? No, because that is my taste in movies. It's not his tastes, it's mine, and the fact of the matter is, I want to make movies that people feel.