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An improvement over the first, still outclassed by LOTR
I saw this film in 3D high-frame-rate, which is I think the only way 3D should be seen. It does have a bit of that soap-opera look to it as a result, but I think that's far preferable to the choppy flip-book effect that marred other recent 3D flicks like Gravity. Why aren't other films done this way?
Bad stuff first. Let's be honest, that's why were all here.
Let's complain about the cinematography for a while. (1) Even in HFR, there are some scenes where motion blur is required, and it needs to be painted in if it doesn't happen naturally. For example, the scene where it is snowing, and you see the snow in front of actors' faces, would have greatly benefited from motion blur on the snow. It's very chunky snow, and snow that big shouldn't just pop into and out of existence. Similarly, some of the rapid fight scenes should also have been blurred. The vast majority of motion in the film is luxuriously smooth, and it's jarring to see the strobe effect when things start getting fast. (2) The cinematographers & directors just don't understand how a 3D film should feel to an audience. Quick cuts, hand-held cameras (or equivalent CG effects), and crazy swooping camera positions DO NOT MAKE SENSE in 3D, and make even less sense with HFR. It's almost nauseating. (Almost). With this level of realism, you need to return to stage ideas. Take a cue from Les Misérables (the stage musical). The stage can move, but there better be a reason for it. It needs to make sense. This team may be filming in 3D, but they're directing for 2D. Stop it. Stop it! (3) Some of the close-ups looked perfectly flat, or worse yet, projected onto a tilted flat surface. I have no idea what to say about that, except that I'm glad I only noticed it twice. It's almost like it wasn't finished.
My other major gripe about this film is the writing and acting (and directing), which SHOULD combine to produce characters you care about, because you understand them and their lives. I know the source material for The Hobbit doesn't really lend itself to that. I don't care. It's not my problem. They should have made it work, but instead they clearly said "f--- it". There are a grand total of zero interesting characters in this film, including the two title characters, although they are slightly closer to being interesting than the rest. Ultimately most are merely cogs fit into a machine that produces a defeated dragon in the upcoming 3rd film. We all know what's going to happen. We want to feel it. Where is the feeling?
And the credits, which I sat through, just sucked. Bad. Really, Peter?
The good stuff.
This film is not just a middle film, and it does deliver the goods you were looking for. Fortunately, The Hobbit's "middle film" was got over with first (Sorry, Gollum). This is really the first film that matters in The Hobbit trilogy. You don't even need to see the first one to understand it.
Some of the images on screen were really, really beautiful. They remind you what the artists of cinema can do (like in Avatar). One of many shots that I found remarkable was just after Legolas leaves his home to search for Tauriel, and finds her. It's just an amazing image of the two of them there in the landscape (and to be clear, I am speaking of the landscape, not them).
Once again, cinema has crowned a new dragon. It happens every once in a while, and we've come such a long way since Dragonslayer (1981). If you do not actually feel the heat on your face from this one, you're not breathing. I'm going to miss him when he's gone. I know he's "the bad guy" but honestly almost nobody has good motives in this film anyway (and I think that's the point of the story). He just wanted to sleep with his (admittedly stolen) trinkets and now people have come to kill him.
As thrilling as it is when it happens, I am surprised that we see Sauron in this film. True, we sort of saw Sauron in LOTR prior to his ring-finger getting lopped off, but we never really saw Sauron in all his fiery glory. This time we do, in a stunning battle with Gandalf the Grey. I'm not sure what to think of it, but it was spectacular to see. Also somewhat interesting is the not-subtle suggestion that Smaug and Sauron are more than simply on the same team, evidenced by their near-identical eyes, and use of the same voice actor.
And the first song during the end credits was very good. I wish I could have heard it over the bustle of people heading for the exit... (Peter, this is why you need to make credits INTERESTING again).
In summary, I am very glad I saw this film, but it should have been better. I am expecting better from the final film in the trilogy. And I hate that you're making me wait a year to see it.
Interior. Leather Bar. (2013)
You can't say you aren't interested.
This film takes as inspiration the 1980 film Cruising, which I've only seen clips of (e.g. in documentaries about film), and the idea that there's 40 minutes or so that was destroyed in order to achieve a more favourable rating. (I'll assume you know all about Cruising because you can look it up here on IMDb).
Yet this film is not a replacement of those supposed 40 minutes, nor is it a documentary about how Franco and Mathews attempted to re-imagine them. Instead, they play fictional versions of themselves, so doing. So they get two shots at re-imagining those 40 minutes.
On the simplest level, there is the scene of actor Val playing Al Pacino's character Steve from the film Cruising, which to me seemed entirely believable, and could have fit into the original film. Then there are more sexual scenes, including scenes of oral sex between men. Together, these form a vivid re-imagining of what might have been shot and destroyed. Maybe.
But the story is where the actual re-imagining is. Val (the character) is straight, like Steve in Cruising. Through his work, he is put into an in-your-face gay sexual environment, and overcomes initial hesitation, to become comfortable with the people in that environment. (I can't compare further with Cruising, not having seen it).
I think there's a third layer, which is the audience who is also taken to a place cinema doesn't usually go to. The film doesn't interact back with us, but it's a sense of what Val and Steve experienced.
In the film, James makes some interesting points regarding the explicit sex, and there's no doubt that's the big discussion topic for this film. I think he might be just a year too late to be correct about what audiences watch, but still his point that intimate love and sex should be shown without timidity in film, including same-sex, is correct.
An earlier film that I really liked was 9 Songs (2004). A large portion of that film is the leading man and leading woman making love together. But it told a story about the course of that couple's relationship, and I don't think it could have been done any other way. There should be room for this kind of film in cinema, so these stories can be told without being dumped in with the porn, and then overlooked.
But specifically regarding explicit gay sex in the telling of a story, it's already happened, via Shortbus (2006). Other audiences have seen I Want Your Love, a short and then a feature-length film by director Mathews (of this film) and including explicit sex between men. And the recent Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, I'm told, includes explicit sex between women. So this film is a bit late to break truly new ground.
But more generally (and in stark contrast to television) cinema, and even this film oddly, has been afraid to show much in the way of male couples having the anal sex everyone thinks they're having. I don't think since Brokeback Mountain (2005) there has been a major male film star do this until this year's Kill Your Darlings. Hollywood ought to be able to do a lot better than that. Everyone is already thinking it, so just show something appropriate to the film.
On the theme of missing same-sex film scenes, a (much, much tamer) scene from the film 54 (1998) was recently leaked online showing a kiss filmed between its stars Ryan Phillippe and Breckin Meyer. So apparently old footage does sometimes find its way to audiences.
Part of the experience of seeing this film, I think, is the locale in which you see it. Much as I never expected to see a Bruce LaBruce film series at a mainstream festival in the middle of 1999 Dallas, I wouldn't have expected to see this in Windsor, Ontario. That's how it should be seen.
The Magic of Flight (1996)
A piece of its time, but I liked it
Despite being nearly two decades old, this is a film I liked. It's certainly US-centric (and I'm not) but who cares? Using the Blue Angels to hold the film together, it touches on a few aspects of flight history, leading up to a thrilling aerobatic display concluding the film. You want to see this in a true IMAX theatre.
At first I was annoyed that much of the film was not shot in IMAX, using only a small fraction of the screen, but it does really emphasize what you're seeing when it opens up to the full giant IMAX size. The looping and spinning as you ride along is so immersive that you may feel just a bit nauseous (but it's so worth it).
I'd like to see an updated version of this film that doesn't pretend to be a history of flight, and just focuses on the Blue Angels, and other aerobatic acts.
Fun fact: the film attributes lift to the Bernoulli principle. While the principle is correct, it is NOT what keeps planes in the air, or they obviously would not be able to fly vertically or upside-down. And we've all seen stealth planes with perfectly flat wings. This part should be edited out.
Flight of the Butterflies (2012)
An average film, if we're being honest
I was looking forward to seeing this film, both for the IMAX 3D format, and for the Monarch butterflies which are in news recently for declining population.
Cons first: This film doesn't really make much use of the 3D format. Those things which have the most 3D effect appear to be CGI, rather than actual butterflies. I don't know whether they are, but the fact they look like they might be is disappointing. Peter Jackson is right when he switched to High Frame Rate for 3D, to reduce motion blur or snapshot effect, and look more life-like. Also, the IMAX at the Henry Ford Museum seems to have some trouble holding 3D together. Sometimes there's 3D, and sometimes (particularly toward the edges of the screen) there's just two flat 2D images next to each other. I attribute that to the theatre, rather than the film. But viewers should be aware that it can happen.
Pros: This is more on the monarchs than I've seen before. But it's presented at a level that kids can understand. And it does seem to do a good job of covering the story of the discovery of the migration route between places like Toronto, ON, and a forest in Mexico. Actors portray Urquhart and his wife, and two other in Mexico (Wikipedia says Brugger and Aguado, but I'm unsure if that's who they identified in the film). It is thrilling when the migration route is discovered, even though we all know it's coming.
I'd recommend the film, but probably not in 3D, and maybe not in IMAX either. The content doesn't justify extra expense.
A good movie, but not a great one
I guess I should be clear about which Gravity I saw. I saw the "IMAX Experience" 3D version.
(I wish the cinema had been as clear about which IMAX I would be seeing. In the rust-belt Canadian city of Windsor, IMAX apparently means "standard movie theatre plus reclining seats and oversize goggles". I'll try not to let my disappointment with this Cineplex "IMAX" theatre affect my review of the film.)
I'm told the film was shot in 3D, but not in IMAX. I was not wowed by the 3D in this film. It's no Avatar, and even the up-converted Titanic had superior 3D feel. If you see this at home in 2D, you will not be missing anything.
I think the film is appropriately named Gravity, even though it's not really about physical gravity (until the final scene). Sometimes popular astrophysicist Tyson takes things a little literally. It's also about life and death, and the meaninglessness of life's struggle, which are pretty serious (i.e. grave) concepts.
I wish more time had been spent introducing the characters. It seemed a shortcut to just start in space. I wanted to meet these people (and the others) as they were on Earth, and ride up with them. Budget cuts, I guess.
But I think the film is probably the most realistic (for what it's worth) depiction of low-earth-orbit space that has been shown to large audiences in North America. Nevertheless, when I compare it with 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicted a journey from Earth to Jupiter, with no CG effects at all, I'm left with more admiration for 2001, and a disappointment in Hollywood for making accuracy such an unexpected thing that people comment on it. But at least we have this.
There are some obvious problems, most notably the locations of various space stations relative to each other and to other satellites. I figured that was BS during the film, and confirmed it by reading a Tyson tweet. Yet, I don't know how else you could have a story like this. We should note that there is no space shuttle program any more, nor is there "Explorer", so maybe this film happens in a universe where things are a bit different.
The first half of the film is about Batman trying to save Robin... I mean Ryan, after their shuttle is catastrophically hit by debris. I found the first half to be fairly average, and I blame Clooney. I just can't take him seriously any more. They should have gone with a non-Hollywood actor.
The second half is about Ryan escaping ever-more-desperate situations on her trip back to Earth. The film gets significantly better in this half, so it's worth it. For atmosphere, I draw your attention to Le salaire de la peur (1953) (The Wages of Fear). These movies both patiently build a tension that have you gripping the arms of your seat.
In terms of effects, I'm going to assume that almost everything that wasn't fixed in place in front of an actor was CG. That's a lot of work, and it was mostly good. But I was disappointed with the fire. The fire was good for 1999. For 2013, it was pathetic. Unless fire in space looks like poorly-animated CG fire, in which case it was spot-on. At least there wasn't a lot of it.
The ending was somewhat of a let-down (see what I did there?). Here we have a person who has just been through an experience that no gods cared to help her survive, and that will render Earth orbit unusable for humanity, and she both thanks gods, and tells Matt to say hi to her dead daughter. How cheap. How predictable. If this film wanted to make a statement about religion, her capsule should have crash-landed in an Islamic republic, where should would have been sentenced to whipping for being discovered improperly covered at the beach. All the knowledge, all the heroism, all the humanity embodied by this character would be instantly irrelevant, reduced to an object at the whim of religious nuts. Now THAT would be a statement worth making, if anyone would dare.
I really disliked the music. How many times do we have to suffer the cliché of crescendo orchestra followed by silence? I think I noticed three, and three more during the credits, because they are such suspense!
Was the frog at the end an homage to launch-frog? I'm going to take it that way.
In any case, this is certainly one of the better films of 2013, and is probably in the top three 3D films of 2013. I just wanted it to live up to the hype, and it does not.
Japan's War in Colour (2005)
For most, WWII has been something visually learned about through black-and-white video in the dimensions of the 4:3 screen (unless they're teaching it via Hollywood fiction these days... which wouldn't surprise me). There is a distance, marking that era as something that doesn't really apply to us. We're colour people. It's a new world.
Well, here we have a collection of colour film, mostly relating to Japan, covering the lead-up, through to the aftermath, of WWII (which for Japan lasted 8 years, starting with their invasion of China). I doubt it was all shot in widescreen, but it's presented in the widescreen format, without distortion. Suddenly, it's not so far away any more.
I've seen two notable features relating to Japan in WWII in whole or in part from the Japanese characters' perspective in recent years: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Nanjing! Nanjing! (2009). They are both interesting, are filmed excellently, and move the viewer (and you won't forget the latter of the two).
In comparison, this documentary pieced together from a variety of found film sources, plus readings from diaries and journals, packs a punch you don't see coming. How much colour film could there be, and what would be on it? There's quite a lot, and it gets more and more difficult to watch as it proceeds.
The senseless loss of life, in a war based in large part on religion, is just staggering. And the "god"-man who could have stopped it all walks out of it with impunity, to cheers.
Nobody comes out of this looking good. Carpet bombing of civilians, culminating in reckless nuclear destruction and the slaughter of children by radiation poisoning are war crimes the US has never been held to account for.
You won't learn much about the strategies of the war, or the politics of it, but a surprising number of key events in the war are presented, and they are in chronological order, so you can get a sense of the times and the progression of it. And you will certainly be reminded again about the barbarity that people are ever-willing to inflict on each other, and you'll see and hear the results inside Japan.
I think every person should see this documentary, to learn something important about humans.
The Act of Killing (2012)
You must see this film.
Indonesia is stinking of vomit today.
I'm not sure it's possible to write a coherent review after seeing this film. Actually, no. I'm sure that is isn't possible. So here's this.
The film is about the mass murders of 1-2 million Chinese, communists, intellectuals, and farmers in Indonesia in 1965-66, as re-enacted and retold by some of the people who actually did it. Incredibly, Indonesia celebrates this past.
I saw the theatrical (i.e. shorter 2-hour) version of the film, with a one-minute recorded introduction by the director. The director asked us to stay to see a scene through the credits, but while the credits began over a scene, there was nothing additional that stood out to me, so I have no idea what he meant. Perhaps he was drawing our attention to the seemingly endless credits for "anonymous" (individuals, not the internet mob).
The fact that this movie exists at all simply blows my mind. If you made it up, you couldn't come up with anything more strange, more disturbing. That many of the actions of these criminals were inspired directly by John Wayne cowboy movies and Hollywood gangster movies makes it unsurprising that references to a film from another Hollywood genre, Apocalypse Now, come so easily. They could not have yet (or perhaps ever) seen the Italian film Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, but it seemed they lived in a similar way, with near-complete disdain for human life. It is as if the society depicted in the Star Trek episode A Piece of the Action actually existed, but a million times worse. Yes, it seems you have to go to science fiction to find a story like this one.
Did I mention one of the thugs is a cross-dresser? I guess anyone could be, but it puts a really, really strange spin on this. The same US right wing that cheered these guys on in the 1960s will now point to this as a sign of their moral depravity.
I want these mass murderers and child rapers, still celebrated in Indonesia, held accountable for their crimes, admitted on film, before they die of old age. Regret and self-loathing is not accountability. I would be furious about this, but this film hits so hard ... I am numb.
Only briefly alluded to in the film, the so-called "religion of peace" also has much to answer for, given its complicity and silence regarding the atrocities committed in securing its power.
Blood Pressure (2012)
Don't take my word for it
Why are there no reviews of this film? I'm terrible at reviews. But if nobody else is going to do it, then it's me.
This is a good film, and I'm always delighted when someone makes a good English-language Canadian film. This one is not ashamed to be matter-of-factly set in Toronto, Ontario (or some suburb thereof), rather than pretending to be some nameless US city. The acting is realistic (partly due to the way it was shot in story order) and the story remains suspenseful throughout. There are times when the film feels Nordic to me, perhaps due to the colour scheme and the possibility of things taking a very dark turn, but also the naturalness in the acting. There were times when the story could have morphed into a preachy movie-of-the-week sort of thing, but it wisely avoided falling into that trap.
On the negative side, which wasn't all that negative, there were two things that took away from the naturalness and realism that otherwise permeated the story. I think the use of text was supposed to make me feel drawn into Nicole's experience with this, or caught up in the romantic aspect of it, but it didn't work, particularly when combined with the shaky camera. I also thought that there were sometimes too many tight shots and quick cuts.
Fans of this film's red room scene may also like Sleeping Beauty (2011), which is a completely different take on a similar problem. Also, I haven't seen it myself, as it is still on my to-see list, but the documentary webseries "Often Awesome" deals with a person's life and death with ALS.
The Manor (2013)
Not the Bada Bing
This film is probably not what anyone expects, and it's captivating throughout. This could have gone another way, but we've seen similar things before (the series Family Business, for example). This film benefits by editing away the business, to reveal the family behind it.
The director's family owns a strip club/hotel in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The family's two sons grew up there, and now are beginning to share day-to-day management of their father's business. There is some brief female nudity, but this documentary is not really about the strippers.
The father has made some odd choices. He's added a violent (and I think dishonest) man to the situation as a sort of adopted son. And he's also eaten himself to obesity, requiring surgery to address. At the same time, he's failed to pay the right kind of attention to his wife, who is withering herself away via anorexia (and we can't really know the reasons for this, though it is tempting to jump to an easy conclusion).
There aren't many documentary features shot from within a family, by a member. The very different Tarnation is the only other one I've actually seen that comes to mind. So this is worth seeing even for that aspect alone.
Part of what is going to be interesting to people about this film is the family's reaction to it, so hopefully that can be included as a DVD extra or short, or maybe even added to create an extended cut.
Last Woman Standing (2013)
A good start
I came to this film not knowing much about boxing. What I know basically comes from Rocky films and Tyson and Ali documentaries. I think people who already know more about Mary and Ariane or boxing will probably have a more favourable reaction to it.
For me this documentary's flaws mostly have to do with me wanting more information, because the picture itself is absorbing for the full time. There should just be more, which is kind of a nice flaw to have, because it means it's interesting, and time keeps moving so there's going to be more which can be filmed.
So, I still have my ignorance about boxing, and women's boxing in particular. I was hoping to learn about it, since the film is about a rivalry to get a coveted spot in the first Olympic women's boxing competition. Beyond the history of the female version of the sport, its scoring system, how boxers fight in the ring, what the effect of having a particular set of weight classes is, and the road-map to the Olympics, I'm also still interested in what would draw these two particular women to it.
But one thing I did enjoy learning is that there's a refreshing level of good sportsmanship from everyone involved, in the ring, and out. When you compare these top athletes with what we sometimes see in the world of men's boxing, it's admirable and unexpected. There is a respect that you might more readily associate with Asian martial arts (at least as portrayed in cinema).
The film is best at illustrating the harshness of a system that permitted only one female boxer to represent Canada at the 2012 Olympics, when potentially two could fight at that level. Canada can have two entrants into other events, so why not women's boxing? The absurdity seems most highlighted early when a decision is made to fund only Mary, even though she was apparently not yet the person guaranteed to represent Canada. I'm left thinking that it would be nice if Olympic-level sport was just about excellence, rather than flags and quotas.
I wanted the filmmakers to delve more into the development of the friendship between the two rival boxers. That background seems to go by so quickly, and suddenly they are opponents, so I don't feel as a viewer that I care perhaps as much as I'm meant to. I didn't really feel the tension in having to defeat a friend in the ring, but I know it's a key part of the story because that rivalry was the fuel for the Olympic competition. Although it's a documentary, I think there's some room to use more techniques from dramatic features here to make us feel it.
And I also wish they had delved more into the coaches' stories. These men are surely interesting people, and I'm sure they are well-known in the sport, but as a viewer, I don't know them, and I want to.
At the Olympics itself, I wonder whether scoring was an issue. Earlier in the film, Ariane had challenged some scoring when she lost, and I wonder if Mary considered that option at the Olympics, because I do recall the London men's event was notoriously marred by poor refereeing and judging. (If even I heard of it, it must have been bad.)
Fortunately, we know from the film's ending that the story itself is not ended, and that one or both of these boxers will fight in 2016 in Rio. I hope that the filmmakers will continue with this story to create a sequel.