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The Runaways (2010)
Slow, dull, tedious film. A disappointing effort.
The story (or legend) of the Runaways is fertile ground for screenwriters and filmmakers. It has all the requisite elements that a good, wild, invigorating drama needs -- LA in the late 70's, some of the sleaziest characters the music industry can conjure up, the "boy band" prototype (in this case, "girl band") taking a new tack and opening up new musical territory, disaffected and angry teen girls from the Valley trying to make their mark in the world, young starry-eyed teens gaining a flittering slice of fame and living the alluring rock and roll life.
This film, unfortunately, follows a self-indulgent, ponderous, "explorative" path that focuses less on the invigorating pace and action of the creative, high energy world of rock and roll in the late 70s, and more (far, far more) on the feelings, conflicts, attitudes and sentiments of the principal characters. It doesn't work. In fact, it fails quite badly.
It's a slow, dull, tedious film that reeks of amateur, quasi-artistic production tones. A character tone piece is a tricky thing to tackle as a director and/or writer. It requires astute artistic instinct and sensibility, the ability to develop and promote scene and setting as principal (and interesting) elements that guide the film, mainly the characters, through the expository journey.
This production failed, and what we get are a bunch of miscast young actors forced to overact and drag out both passive and active dramatic elements, ad nauseum. Again, it's tedious and amateurish, and it completely misses the artistic mark, which is to convey the look, feel, excitement and angst of the music industry in that era.
I couldn't wait for the film to finally, mercifully end.
Star Wars (1977)
No film has ever had a greater impact on both the film industry and popular culture
Ah, Star Wars. THE epic film among epic films. An entire multi-billion dollar genre was born the day this film was released.
We can debate the story elements, we can debate the script, we can debate the plot, we can debate the set elements, we can debate the casting. It's not a perfect film by any means in the technical or production sense. But those special effects...those characters...the pure magic of it...all in a galaxy far, far away. It can't be explained, only experienced. And for kids and young people in 1977, there was nothing greater. It was a jaw-dropping experience. There had never been anything like it.
It ran in theaters for over a year, uninterrupted. There were lines out the door for six months to see this film. It was perfectly normal to run into people who had the seen the film 20 or 30 times.
So, what we can't debate is the staggering popularity of this film, and it's profound impact on popular culture and, to some extent, modern society. It's not too bold to say that the light speed advances in digital and computer technology that we take for granted today were accelerated by the intense "high tech" optimism and pursuit of advanced technology that this film inspired, both in terms of its technical special effects and its portrayal of advanced tech devices and platforms that seemed perfectly normal to the characters in the film. Young people saw what was possible, they were floored by it, and they were motivated to make it real, and make it better.
This is the most popular film ever made, and that carries enormous weight. More than enough to offset various shortcomings that critics may find. In all honesty, no other film even comes close to the popularity and impact of Star Wars. Not E.T., not Shawshank, not Private Ryan, not Gone With the Wind, not Wizard of Oz.
Consider yourself fortunate if you're part of the Star Wars generation, those kids and teens of the 1970s who experienced this film when it blew the lid off the industry and wowed the world. It was a very special thing indeed.
Technically beautiful, great concept, great beginning...then question marks
This film is a marvelous technical achievement. The digital animation is outstanding, possibly the best ever achieved. And with a film budget exceeding $170 million, you would expect nothing less.
The basic plot is great and rich with pathos. The beginning of the film is wonderfully done, as we see a "highlight reel" of Carl's life journey with his lifelong love Ellie. It's an ordinary life, like so many, with ups and downs (mostly ups) and one great dream unfulfilled.
The adventure phase of the film then begins, and at first it's great. The characters are presented, the stage is set, the journey "up and away" begins.
Once Carl and Russell set sail and leave the city behind though, the story unravels. The pace, development and story arcs are problematic and, frankly, peculiar. I realize this is a children's tale with all the developmental liberties and assumptions that provides, but some of the gaps and story decisions are outlandish and just don't make sense, and leave you asking, "what" and "how" more than a few times.
A few examples:
In the span of an old man's exhausted nap, the two travel (at a drifting balloon pace) from somewhere in North America to directly above southern Venezuela. Huh? Even kids in the theater were asking their parents, what happened? How much time went by? Is the giant waterfall close to the house? I thought it was far away, but it must be really close, right?
Talking dogs? Advanced "canine interpretive technology" emerging from a remote landscape with no civilization or human presence? Wow. Where did that come from?
And the strangest decision of all, one that had kids (and adults) in the theater thoroughly puzzled --- the heroic adventurer is alive and well, with the agility and stamina of a 25 year old, and the advanced scientific capabilities of engineering genius? If Carl is pushing 80 years old (do the math, watch the beginning of the film, time it out), then the heroic adventurer has to be at least 100, and probably 110 years old or more.
The story arcs have to explain or justify these things. It can be done with just a few transitional scenes, fantastic as it may seem. But you can't just go from A to B to C with big gaps and unexplained progressions. That's basic. Any professional in this industry should understand this. When 8 year olds in the audience are scratching their heads and trying to understand the plausibility of the story, you have a problem.
The Blind Side (2009)
I can see why Michael Oher was unhappy with this film
First of all, Quinton did a fine job in the lead role. Let's get that out of the way. Great acting job. He took the material he was given and played the role very well.
However, this film is pure Hollywood sap, a "feel good" movie that picks and chooses factual elements and builds a fictional tale around them. The film loves the character of Leigh Ann (who is really not that interesting, although she is kind hearted and generous), and as a result, Oher is relegated to a shy over-sized charity case with no clue and no skills of any sort, other than his natural kindness and resilient character. That strengthens the focus on Leigh Ann's rescue actions, how she "saved" this poor aimless kid and gave him all the life skills he needed to succeed on and off the football field. It resonates with white suburban do-gooder audiences, but it's just not accurate.
In truth, Michael Oher was already a very good football player when the Tuohy family took him in. And he had a bold, confident personality that rubbed off on everyone and made him a natural leader. He was a motivated, focused kid who knew what he wanted, but came from an environment where no one really cared or provided support. He was NOT a shy, introverted pathetic case. He just came from a terrible domestic environment and found stability with a nice rich family. The real story of Michael Oher is how he caught the luckiest of breaks and escaped the ghetto jungle and was able to leave all that soul crushing crap behind, and focus on academics and athletics in a completely different upper middle class environment. It's a study in how important environment is in the life of kids and teenagers, and how it can make a huge difference.
But what we, the audience, receive is a Hallmark channel film that is nothing more than a lazy, formulaic, fictionalized "warm your heart" chick flick couched in a football world. Sassy dialogue, woman-takes-charge scenes, tender moments, etc -- all the usual stuff is there. The film would have been FAR better had it focused on Oher as the lead character, instead of Bullock. No offense to Bullock, who is a fine actor.
It is well known that real life Michael Oher was very displeased with this film, and how it portrayed him.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
The greatest comedy of all time? Possibly.
One golden rule of Hollywood is to never underestimate the great call of serendipity when replacing a dedicated role in casting. Cleavon Little was never intended to play Bart, that was Richard Pryor's role. Pryor couldn't take the role because of other commitments, and the role went to Little. And therein lies the magic of Blazing Saddles. Little was THE actor to play Bart, a suave, urbane fellow who shines well above the hysterically funny peckerwood riff raff that surrounds him in this film.
Never mind that this is probably the greatest comedy script ever penned, and that Gene Wilder, in retrospect, may be most remembered for his genius portrayal of the confused, laconic and perpetually drunk Waco Kid. Mel Brooks committed 100 percent to Little and arguably the funniest film in Hollywood history was born. And I haven't even mentioned Slim Pickens, Madeleine Kahn and Harvey Korman, each whom is nothing short of magnificent in their roles.
Virtually every single line of dialogue in this film can be quote dropped at a barbecue, cocktail party or card game, and everyone laughs their butt off because they remember how funny it is. If you haven't seen this film, see it immediately. If you don't love it, watch it again. It's brash, it's obnoxious, it's crude, but it's true comic genius at its very best. It's more than a classic, it's an epic two hours in motion picture history.
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (2007)
Want to learn more about crime and corruption in Brasil? Look no further
This film will teach you a lot that you didn't know about Brazilian society and that nation's struggles with deep undercurrents of poverty, corruption, extortion and social confrontation. It fails to fully connect the dots in terms of why and how these problems manifest, but it definitely exposes a good deal of truth in terms of day-to-day realities for some of Brasil's wealthy and poor citizens. It's an aesthetically-driven documentary, with visual meditations on frogs, ears, cityscapes and the expressions of interview subjects and their sometimes equally intriguing interpreters. The soundtrack is an alluring collection of Brazilian pop and traditional arrangements that hums away in the background, as we watch some rather interesting folks talk about how they fit into the skewed morass of Brazilian society, whether perpetrator, victim, agent of the law or medical healer. Be warned: some of the raw kidnapping footage is graphic and disturbing.
Night at the Museum (2006)
fun film, despite plot and script flaws
This film is plagued with a litany of plot and scripting flaws, but perseveres as a fun, mindless piece of entertainment thanks to the quality of acting talent. It would have been much funnier and better if the plot were centered on the security guard's efforts to keep the museum intact while Dexter the Monkey tries to sabotage his efforts at every turn. The story arcs centering on Larry's personal relationships are trite and extraneous, and the bumbling old security guards add little more than a few funny lines. Shawn Levy is seen in the film industry as a decent but not overly-talented director. This film serves as proof.