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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rarely can critics ever enjoy agreeing with every creative decision
taken in a film. This is such a film, superior to its original in
spirit and verve. A social phenomenon to uplift a depressed world, DM2
is a surefire babysitter/adult-sitter for years to come. My one quibble
is its over-expressed toddler-friendliness, something the directors
themselves found challenging to comply with.
DM2's music and visuals are particularly delightful. For instance, its "Gangham-Style" dancing (by lipstick-tasered victims) are just hilarious homages to Chuck Berry's guitar-playing and John Travolta's dancing, elevated to a perfect blend of homage, music, and joy, thanks to megastar franchise composer Pharrell Williams. One half of The Neptunes, Williams wrote charting hit "Happy" for Gru's DM2 montage; it's now available online as 24hoursofhappy-com.
The same creative team is back from DM1, ensuring a sensitive sequel tonal change. "It's pretty clear that by the end of DM1, Gru was no longer a villain", claims co-director Chris Renaud, so DM2 concerns itself with the sacrifices of matured fatherly love, beyond merely falling in love with one's children, as Gru had in DM1. In the process, Gru (Steve Carrell) undergoes emotional changes needed to complete his family.
Disappointingly, "fans" of the original charge that DM2 has "no plot" since it's missing "serious villains". In not getting this sequel, they disregard Gru's character arc (business losses, a mysterious villain, the Anti-Villain League, and the minion-nappings) as plot. The prologue comes out the gate like a serious James Bond film, although the film soon begins to wink; by the first act all pretense to real danger is dropped, and the tone refocuses on Gru's put-upon fatherhood. The Disappointed Brigade can therefore be referred to Megamind(2010) and The Incredibles(2004), both of which specifically explored villain battles. The DM franchise explores the reformation of a self-centered guy (villain) via 3 little girls once he began to love them as they needed. Steve Carrell himself is quoted about the future of Gru: "You want this character to soften up and that there would be just this sense of joy and love at the end.....As crazy as this character sounds, and diabolical and mean and awful, there's a humanity to him that comes out in little bits....that's what drew me to (this franchise)".
DM2 cheekily lays bare the challenges of mature dating, especially when pushed by daughters. Both Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) and little Agnes (voiced again by exuberant child actress Elsie Fisher) enjoy being daddy's girls, but Agnes in particular senses the costs of missing a mom. The minions are an insufficient substitute.
DM3 is rumored to be a minion origin feature, but DM2's minions are still a mysterious bunch of naughty little yellow goofballs serving as Gru's amoral army ("humans are just meat to them", explains chief animator/co-director Pierre Coffin). Not actually evil, just dopey, mischievous and always squabbling, they're meant to remind us of annoying but lovable little brothers. Once co-writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio hit upon DM2's plot to turn them truly evil via a secret formula, their Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde scenario was gleefully animated with an insider's grin, adapted from old-school (Looney Tunes) short Hyde and Hare(1955)), mashed-up with Rocky and Bullwinkle's Metal Munching Mice(1960), Season2.
Since the main plot revolves around mysterious minion-nappings, the sequel's villainy pivots on what the yellow goofballs turn into: purple, hairy, knuckle-dragging, underbite-sporting, vacuous versions of themselves who cannot speak. Evil minions only do a hilariously dumb, sharp "Baaa!" screech, pointedly recalling the last scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978).
Pierre "say-'Casket'-instead" Coffin and Chris Renaud, the franchise's sweet co-directors so far, were understandably heavily influenced by cartoon classics: Dripalong Daffy(1957)'s Nasty Canasta is the unacknowledged inspiration for the "tough homber" villain El Macho (sizzling drink, gurgle-gurgle, "Bartender, bartender, WHERE's MINE?"), with added "lucha-libre"/Nacho Libre(2006) Mexican wrestling costuming. Renaud's minion-compressor idea for DM2's jar-headed minion was borrowed from Hillbilly Hare(1950); Coffin's fruit-basket minion is a spoof of 1940s popular South American songstress Carmen Miranda; the Afro-wearing beach bartender spoofs Isaac(Ted Lange) from The Love Boat(1977-1987), and the white-overalled, white-jacketed group of minions are spoofing marshmallow 1990s boy-band All For One, whose chart-topping "I Swear" lyric is cheekily minionised by Coffin as "underwear". Last, but not least, the film's wildly energizing closing track YMCA is a minion makeover of THE Village People perennial 1979 hit.
Much of the humour is realised with group scenes sporting "easter-eggs" in their backgrounds. They begin at Agnes' birthday party (a tormenting little boy is re-educated by a clever little girl, and a stumbling woman gets plus-conked with a game ball). Later there's an easily missed 22nd fart gun salute; sundry mock Minion-on-Minion-violence which once gets hilariously out of hand in a vat; and evil minions gnawing each other in cages. Even the climactic villain scene sports an "easter-egg" homage to director Chris Renaud's home town all very funny.
But there are two fall-down-funny jokes I'll never forget: little Agnes' interpretations of Gru's wild pantomime for pushy neighbor Jillian(Nasim Pedrad), and the entry of two incognito minions to the evil lair using nothing but a raspberry-enhanced password. This latter one is funniest to me personally for a real-world analogue that works equally well! The parental dating subplot is also riotous, satisfyingly skewering society's shallow and obnoxious "bodyproud" women who are only successful in the confines of their own noggin'. DM2 gives its Shannon(Kristen Schaal) character the right-royal "Weekend at Bernie's(1989)" treatment: she's flopped upside down, legs splayed apart, her indignities fully deserved.
A final word about homage: DM2 draws from pop culture going back 60yrs, even referencing Toy Story(1995) itself in Act1, yet it's all done with love and understanding: its homages are "organic" (arising naturally). Unlike other functionally lesser Hollywood creatives, DM2's storytellers never rip off decades of work by others calculatingly. Instead, DM2 so bristles with finely observed behavior in this story of love in all its forms, that it might be termed the Wrath of Khan(1986) of its own franchise.(10/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As an unacknowledged remake of A Streetcar Named Desire(1951) "written
by" Woody Allen, BJ(2013) risks nothing. Actually it's gob-smacking
that Mr.Allen would choose such a cauterizing American classic to
wantonly diminish. Streetcar was a multi-award-winning Tennessee
Williams play long before it won 4 Academy Awards in 1951 for Elia
Kazan. The powerhouse themes, carefully adapted from his play for the
1951 film by Tennessee Williams himself (to assuage The Hayes Code, the
studio system's self-censorship authority), were all still there,
including psychotic devolution, devastating carnal need, working-class
brutality in and outside of marriage, and even (off-screen) rape.
Blue Jasmine(2013) omits almost all of that.
The classic film is set in a New Orleans tenement (blue-collar neighbors living cheek-to-jowl). That "rat-like" existence alone provided several psychological stressors for the 1951 characters and plot, as did the DuBois sisters' financial "comedown" from their Old South plantation, which Blanche (Vivien Leigh) had secretly lost control of. Blue-collar greed in sister Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) set up the original's intra-familial class antagonism over the lost money. This powerful real-world theme (the playwright wrote from the real life of his aunt) has been watered down by Allen into mere blue-collar mawkishness, delivered far less threateningly or convincingly by the fiancée character Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
Elia Kazan shot his film in B&W with studio stage production values. Moreover, his classic pivots on one horribly dated scene delivered by Kim Hunter as Stella, supposedly in a fugue state of carnality towards her husband(!). So you can understand why it might be remade, potentially better, by anyone 62yrs later.
(Streetcar(1951) was re-released in 1994 with 4mins of censored footage restored, but the "censoring" just happened to contain Ms Hunter's excruciating acting usefully EDITED OUT. More interestingly among the Special Features are some cherished interviews, chiefly Karl Malden's insights about Jessica Tandy of Cocoon(1985) and Driving Miss Daisy(1989) fame, and how the Blanche DuBois character on stage really made Ms.Tandy's career.)
Unfortunately Allen's remake similarly fails to open up the staginess. BJ(2013) is shot as a series of annoying "staccato" scenes: notsomuch disjointed vignettes as just his filmmaking exposed as "Scene.And Scene.And Scene.And " One can barely recall the external plot ever driving the action: Allen actively rejects a wider social context (objective points of view), partly because he shot his film only with "required" Scenes. These are then further restricted by characters merely relating events to one another, such as (since film isn't radio) the ruthlessly "radio-ed in" revelation about Hal (Alec Baldwin) and his eventual fate. That little factoid has even confused several filmgoers, so all this sadly results in a film that doesn't "have legs" or "travel well".....Once upon a time the latter phrase meant "word-of-mouth spread", but ever since digital home viewing it has come to mean "still interesting after repeated viewings".
Even worse, all the remaining characters aside from the single lead are shockingly two-dimensional, their character arcs deeply truncated. The son in particular has the worst-explored, most throwaway character-arc of the film. BJ(2013)'s singular low-point occurs during Danny (Alden Ehrenreich)'s utterly unsubstantiated one-sentence accusation of his mother that is just left dangling! Now in this singularly jarring oversight lies the unraveling of Woody Allen's weak plot (deserted wife is foiled seeking succor at "less accomplished" sister's domicile due to self-sabotage). He needed to have the son feel that way so that "Jasmine" could be publicly discovered in her big lie (via Augie, read on), which needed to cause the ending.
Perhaps surprisingly, the only "breakout" acting here belongs to standup comic Andrew 'Dice' Clay, as Ginger's hefty ex-husband Augie. Dice's greying blue-collar Everyman is (somewhat) matured casting based on his braggartly immature persona from The Adventures of Ford Fairlane(1990). Augie's socially awkward soliloquy within that contrived street Scene ("bumping into" Jasmine with her new man) can once again be lain at Woody's feet: this is yet another plot device to both skewer Jasmine's big lie and reintroduce forgotten adult son Danny into the plot. Of course, the standoff with Danny(Ehrenreich) turns into that embarrassing, worst-developed aspect of the entire film, disappointing and irking audiences for being forced to see behind a writer's curtain; to witness the (un)raveling of the plot.
Female audiences also resent the ubiquitous two-dimensionality. Even the sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins from Made in Dagenham(2010)), is essentially just a simpleton caught several times in the act of speaking. Some viewers will point to Ginger's eventual spine in rejecting Jasmine's staunch yet deprecating advice. But Ginger's decisions then too are merely simple; that is, the characters are mere puppets for Woody's inorganic adaption. The film reveals nothing more on additional viewings.
Allen really means to mire us in the subjective psychology of his Jasmine character. Naturally, this simple-yet-proscriptive structure placed enormous pressure on the lead actress (Blanchette---even her name is intriguing casting) who coincidentally appears in almost every Scene, and who really had to chew scenery in the critical ones.
For instance, and given that our social lesson about the high personal costs of infidelity really had to be BJ(2013)'s main achievement, Blanchette is best during Jasmine's visceral, sweat-stained reaction to her husband's ridiculous, stereotypical claim that "This time it's different, we're in love". "-ARE YOU MAD?!?! She's a TEENAGER (.....you stupid, ridiculous twerp.....)!!!", she finally roars, the actress herself hyperventilating. This Scene is the film's raison d'etre with more than a tinge of self-referencing catharsis. Had Allen been brave enough for a more complex social context, his audiences might relate better to his puppets. Instead, distanced, we become aware of annoying repetitions like Jasmine's vodka bottle Scenes, always blocked in the same location.
Of course Cate Blanchette does the top-notch job here that has already made her this year's front-runner for Best Leading Actor/Actress. What is ultimately shocking, however, is that Woody Allen was willing to single out and sacrifice the 66-yr career of this earthshaking drama (Pulitzer, 1948), into a specious---if rather colorful---2013 caricature for no apparent reason.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not even its thematic unoriginality regards Earth's slum-ridden
overpopulation and the related notion of gated communities (cf
Wall-E(2008), Back to the Future 2(1989)) that is such a
disappointment: the biggest problem with Elysium is that it's
soulless... Matt Damon and his love interest notwithstanding.
The South African slum redesign of LA is only a little irritating, but the film's ham-fisted and artificial plot device of a desperately sick child is so hackneyed that it doesn't muster any emotion in the audience at all.
Later, the scientific inaccuracies and the glossover depiction of the orbiting habitat will silently irk an informed audience. For instance, there seems no evident cause for, or mechanism by which an atmosphere is maintained on this "Stanford torus"-space station, which is itself apparently so small that you can see its curvature from a couple of feet off the ground - its scale when viewed from Earth would instead dictate that it be far larger, be visibly spinning, which it apparently isn't, and have a visible dark-to-light stratospheric barrier, which is nowhere in evidence. The people who live there can't just breathe direct space in the sunshine!
Stratospheres have consequences dictated by physics and engineering: they necessitate an- and aerobic engines, and impose different crash results for the "landing" shuttlecraft. And there is a second, equally preposterous "Biddleonian"-Firing-Squad-scene (shooting turrets arranged in a circle), in which the spacecraft's exploding shards neither burn up nor behave ballistically, because they're hitting the non-existent atmosphere.
So Blomkamp's space station fails to measure up to Stanley Kubrick's far more plausible 1968 effort in the classic 2001:A Space Odyssey. Never remind an audience of a classic and then suck by comparison. Elysium's irkingly ignorant "...Ehm... and then future science happens" attitude just can't draw audiences in anymore.
The other annoying plot device is the imposition of radiation poisoning on Matt Damon's Max. This choice is so badly jarring (too serious a sickness for so many physical challenges to overcome) that it's just impossible to accept the really dying character fighting baddies at all, let alone getting alternately better then worse, then better, better, better, then worse, and better again, whenever the plot required.
Clearly this wasn't just a problem of shooting scenes out of sequence. Max's implausible bouts of robust/ill-health and back again is just careening overcontrol by the plot, which needed him to frequently forget that he was mortally ill - all while undergoing the physical assault of that horrid, unhygienic, and implausible exoskeleton.
Worse, the two neglectful human perpetrators of Max's irradiation, the mercs-for-hire, as well as the pointlessly ruthless robotic "policemen", were all so poorly drawn (caricatured) that they degraded the film's tone during their scenes to that of a graphic novel . Yes, the very same graphic novel that Blomkamp used to pitch his story to the movie stars who signed on board. Unfortunately there is little human feeling in the story to uplift it all afterward.
Neill Blomkamp's first feature film, District 9(2009), had been full of organic and unforced pathos four years ago, emotionally recalling and paying silent homage to the far more earnest Enemy Mine(1986)). District eked out surprising amounts of empathy from its audience and totally captured our hearts. Blomkamp's second film simply does nothing of the sort.
So Elysium is commonly experienced as soulless.
Interestingly, perennial recent bad guy William Fichtner now seems to specialize in roles that are soon-to-be-"red- shirted" (Star Trek parlance), as he again undertakes here.
The third act's last-ditch effort to make Sharlto Copley's ruthless mercenary Kruger suddenly develop a psychic break (the plot just lost its mind here, too) just to turn him into a crazed Terminator type in fact totally loses the film any of its elevated themes. Themes such as its internalised debate about aggressive border protectionism. If anything, that should have been the thrust of this sci-fi plot, but it's lost in this morass of careening, hackneyed, and embarrassingly ignorant cartoonish set of action pieces.
There was utterly no reason or rhyme for Copley's Kruger to go "Terminator", so again, Elysium is reminding its audience of a classic, then sucking by comparison. If you introduce a sudden gross plot change without on screen explanation with character linkages, it will be necessarily perceived as careening. Rarely are a big budget feature's ostensibly shrouded graphic novel origins so embarrassingly on show.
In the end it's just glaringly obvious that Blomkamp's past collaborator, screenwriter Terri Tatchell, had too little input into his follow-up film (she only gets a Thank You credit), because this grinding screenplay eventually wears back down into a graphic novel without her: code for "boys only". Dear Terri, please come back....(5/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wonderful, although I want to leave ratings room for the superlative
(Jacques Cluzaud/Jacques Perrin's docudrama Oceans(2009)).
Perfect "small" film mounted by Canadians that won Giamatti a Golden Globe for Best Actor, but only a Makeup Oscar nomination for the film itself.
Some critics (Eric Kohn) didn't like this film over some Canadian-American foreknowledge about Jewish men. Well, Australians (culturally never really impacted by Jewish enclaves) have no such reservations: the menschkeit stuff really appealed to me. I also wasn't comparing it to the source material, either. For me, Barney's Version(2010) was gloriously mounted in a bright-and-breezy colourful palette. Together with the soundtrack, this establishes audience goodwill for the many character foibles about to be litanied.
Barney and his flaws struck me as utterly authentic, as did those of his "1970s" dilettante friends, especially his undisciplined best friend/writer(Scott Speedman, TV's "Felicity"). Boogie's story arc is one of the most satisfying in the entire film, because he's eventually revealed as quite grubby and carelessly irresponsible towards everyone besides himself. He's worse than Barney---and Barney's bad enough.
The one exception was Minnie Driver's vivacious and fun-loving portrayal of the never-named(!) "second Mrs P". The actress was playing herself by design; this being the manner in which the actors workshopped their film. They mostly just got drunk during the Paris rehearsals.
Paul Giamatti well deserves his Best Actor Golden Globe as the permanently schlumpy semi-intellectual Barney Panofsky (who wouldn't have a writer for a lifelong best friend, nor end up a TV studio owner, if he was "average"), forever grizzling against the world through a fog of self-romanticized selfishness. The film's storytelling, however, remains deliciously warm about Barney's underbelly: the biggest laugh is his ironic naming of his "Completely Unnecessary Productions" TV studio, started as a tax-dodge.
That's the story's point. Even semi-intellectuals like Barney can so distance themselves from everyone they claim to care for---even vivacious wives--- just to continue grizzling in anger "at the world", yet end up blind to the hurts their own failures actually cause.
This is not what we usually term "average". This is the road less ..examined by the "mostly harmless".
Through the inexorable course of Barney's 2hr+ filmic life, we learn his derisiveness is just a misapplied defence mechanism. Its corrosive pallor sabotages the most sought-after things (people) in his life: even when he finally gets the love of his life, the inside-and-out stunningly beautiful Miriam(Rosamund Pike), he still behaves as badly as before, self-centeredly begrudging and resenting the world out of habituated self-indulgence.
Some audiences may be annoyed by the detail or the length this story takes; for the rest, such a cornucopia of personal moments serves to make Barney's case.
There is deep satisfaction in seeing Giamatti (real-life Executive Producer of Touchy Feely Films) finally fly as the leading man we always knew he was. I've adored his "wimpy" persona since Howard Stern's biopic Private Parts(1997), when Giamatti again portrayed a (radio) studio manager, famously referred to by the subject as "Pig Vomit"---a nickname which stuck in my memory banks.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice Giamatti breaking character in the wedding scene with Dustin Hoffman, smooching and patting "his father"(Hoffman) on the back while walking. Giamatti was privately enjoying his intimate screen-time with his idol---directors like to leave such serendipities in the final print.
But back to Barney. The film's character studies, including the warmly surprising Dustin Hoffman, are priceless. Aside from its lush look, the amazing cast was perhaps the film's chief standout. Screenriter Michael Konyves(Storm Cell(2008), Earthstorm(2006)) should be feted for so satisfyingly---length and all---adapting the complex Mordecai Richler source material.
This time, unlike my usual reaction to such things, I loved the lack of opening credits. I was PROPERLY pleasantly surprised at Driver and Hoffman's key casting, and privately chuffed at Saul Rubinek (Young Doctors in Love(1982)), Mark Addy (The Full Monty(1997), and at the poignant last performance of beloved Maury Chaykin(Dances With Wolves(1990), d.2010).
Addy's almost unrecognizable and quite prejudiced Irish, er, dick (detective) is the impetus for the story, so it was great seeing him twice. Both Giamatti's and Addy's ageing makeup work by Adrien Morot was stunningly seamless---Morot's nomination is amply deserved.
I loved the film's structure, palette, and its great soundtrack, which lovingly encourages enjoyment of its period music, even if some Baby-boomer hits (Donovan---Sunshine_Superman, John Lee Hooker---I'm_Wanderin') were before our time.
Not being over-familiar with Jewish men such as Barney, I waited for the other shoe to drop. I kept expecting some nasty comeuppance to spoil the film's mood, but this never came. The relief manifested in empathic tears, of course, as we anticipated Barney's degeneration to early Alzheimer's.
"YouSeeTimmy"(Speechless(1994)), correct character pacing is a wonderful thing. It's precisely at a film's message plea that filmmakers needs their audience to be right up there with them about plot, fully expecting the director's intentions, and delighted when they're delivered. It's this give-and-take between filmmaker and audience that gives films "relatability". Music- and Information Theory calls it "hi-fidelity transmission"(of ideas), but such pleas only remain effective when used sparingly, and at precisely observed junctures/scenes.
So Barney is very hi-fi, hence its high rating.
Director Richard.J Lewis (behind TV's "CSI") pulls all the right strings in his film--- his pacing of this 2hr+ film is exemplary. Some story elements (Boogie's unreliable nature and his consequent disappearance, Solange's secret admirer) are very drawn out, while others (both meaningless affairs) unfold quickly. Just like real life.
Above all, it was crucial that we understood how Barney himself sabotaged his life with his resentful/angry selfishness. Only once it was too late, when he was losing his mind, did Barney finally take stock---we think.
The film's pro-mensch elephant-in-the-room conclusion is that we all get frail (or die horribly much earlier), but The Ferryman will exact his price usually before we're ready.
"Mensch": Ah, MelBrooks: It's good to know some Yiddish.(9/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I did have great hopes for BLA(2011), just willing it to be better than
Charlie Sheen's The Arrival(1996), and at the very least better than
Skyline(2010). Well, for me it actually was a little better than last
year's Hy'drau'l'x stinker, but not enough.
BlA suffers similarly from a lack of audience relatability within such a claustrophobic story. Where's that (international) focus group when you really needed one? If anything, this can be said to be a by-the-numbers marine Hoo-Ah film that tries waaaay-too-hard to capture the visceral feel of life as a Marine, but suffers by comparison with The Hurt Locker(2008).
Its most obvious major flaw was its approach to cinematography, ie the overused shaky-cam, constantly filming inches from chiselled jaws. The forced crying of men on camera I also found pointedly ham-fisted; but director Jonathan Liebesman seems to handle the role of Michelle Rodriguez, the female Technical Sergeant, with admirably low-key acceptance. Other casting choices showed a glimmer of movie-making ability: Liebesman seems to have cast extras for their authentic presence as nondescript marines, much as John McTiernan had cast actual submariners for his Hunt for Red October(1990).
Thanks to the smoke-filled closeups sticking far too close to the confused, and embarrassingly hysterical, marines (telegraphing the claustrophobia), the plot itself remains a dull and confusing rehash of Independence Day(1996) throughout, more so than of War of the Worlds(2005).
In Sydney on its opening day, my evening session was less than 1/2 full, which doesn't bode well for a new blockbuster! Where's the block, boys? Nobody's bustin'. In contrast, an immediately following session of Limitless(2011), also on its opening day, was extremely well-attended, especially by young men, who admittedly looked like drug dealers in training....
I'm now leery about all H'ydrau'lx's productions. Thankfully, The Brothers Strause didn't have as much to do with BLA as they had Skyline(2010), and I note with interest that Sony didn't appreciate their "similar look" CGI aliens and plot either. Natually I wondered why H'ydrau'l'x SUDDENLY went into full story development as well as their usual CGI sfx with their silly stinker last year. Well, Sony's (now-dropped) suit strongly implies scripting laziness by "The Brothers Strause". Since release, BLA has done better business - for reasons best understood only by American "patriots" - than either Skyline ever did, or than what critics (me, Todd McCarthy, Roger Ebert, AO Scott, Betsy Sharkey, Kirk Honeycutt, Joe Neumaier, and Australians David Stratton, Giles Hardie, Jim Schembri, and you know, just about any critic alive) ever expected BLA to do.
Due to a largely wasted budget on just CGI and "blowie-uppie stuff"(effects), BLA fails to be meaningful or rousing in any real way; it delivers nothing much on screen. The "intimate"(small) group of humans actually gave the film a "shoestring-budget"(cheap-ish) feel. Aspirations to a "blockbuster" therefore just go CLANG(???) in the minds of, er, non-"patriots".
BLA's screenplay certainly didn't know how to open up the story.
I became very irritated by all the unexplained strewn dead bodies everywhere - the plot's abandonment of them made them seem all too palpably like the dummies they were. Which takes us out of the film. Nothing was ever explained about the aliens either; we only got miserable conjecture from an uncredentialled "expert" "on TV" - a single throwaway guess by a single scientist does not a plot make, Mr Liebesman (we can't blame WGA writer Christopher Bertolini, who has crafted better plots than this 12yrs ago)!
Even at the end we still know nothing about the invasion apart from the aliens' supposed thirst for H2O, making the whole film pointless! Why would I want a sequel, Mr Exec Producer David Greenblatt (with virtually no other project under your belt, unlike the writer)? Forget this hankering for Gen-Y audiences. Pick another franchise.
Even the timescale of BLA's story (24hrs) was rushed, and carelessly edited, for example during the final act with the discovery of the alien C&C as the marines suddenly emerge from night into day after 3mins of trawling underground. Does light dawn completely in just 3minutes (does the Earth spin faster) in LA than anywhere else? Who paced this (who DIDN'T)?
Ultimately everything is told far too much from the point of view, ie ignorance, of this small band of people; while LA the city manages to be a rather pointless victim yet again. So BLA certainly is "blah", or maybe just "meh".(4/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We all know Affleck the actor.
In his latest crowd-pleaser, and only the second feature he's directed, Affleck the actor limbers up like he's practicing Tai-Chi. He simply glides through his character Doug MacRay in The_Town(2010) like the hockey skater he is in real life, never breaking as his cameras shoot him unblinking through confession scenes.....daring himself repeatedly to spot past camera. Many good actors still can't do that (eg Javier Bardem, Eat_Pray_Love(2010)). According to IMDb, Affleck has "21 wins & 38 nominations" in addition to being an Oscar-winning co-writer of Good_Will_Hunting(1997), yet he's probably a much better director than that. It'd be critically blunt (and a little naive) to charge Affleck with lacking acting ability at this late stage.
The real surprise is that he has a VOICE. Audiences can appreciate Affleck's contemporary-yet-timeless directorial themes of children inheriting the sins of their....parents (mother and father respectively, so far).
For The_Town, he's attracted top-grade talent both in front and behind the camera---prime example being his Oscar-winning (There_Will_Be_Blood(2007)) cinematographer, now DoP Robert Elswit, whose fly-on-the-wall camera lingers in one scene on a fight, leaving the baby in the room to cry off-camera. Another throwaway beat was his filming the obstructed face of a coin-op laundry attendant, flagging that MacRay's inner focus is on something else. Audiences are charmed by the intimacies set up with such carefully casual imprecision amidst the bustle. Can anyone say "Oscar"?
MacRay/Affleck's divergent reactions to his two girlfriends in The_Town(2010)---his face captured by Elswit---reveal the wrung-out young lover struck by the wrong kind of sex---or life---he's having. Touches of Affleck's Holden McNeil from Chasing_Amy(1997) now show up in MacRay's confession to Claire (Rebecca Hall), as his romantic transition painfully crystallizes MacRay's inner shift from his "Townies".
The wonderful Second Unit (Directors Alexander Witt and Dylan Tichenor, uncredited) also threw in everything from 10" hand-helds to helicopter shots, and zippy car-chase masters to explicate all the skittering vehicles. This eye for editing is obviously thanks to the talented Tichenor doubling as both SUD and film editor....another Oscar right there.
The_Town's silence/feedback signals effectively squeal across the audience's distress over its violent robberies; Affleck and Aaron Glascock's sound design succeeds precisely because this technique is now so little-used.
But a film that adorns MacRay's jailhouse visit of his father with real orchestral violins deserves serious kudos (another Oscar nom).
Affleck's second bite at a hometown magnum opus boasts an amazing cast, a gift to fans of his universalist films. His leading ladies, especially the adaptable Ms.Hall, allow The_Town to sidestep the gender-challenged sins of most similar male-demog films.
Titus Welliver ("local crime-fighter" Dino Ciampa) is still the camera's darling even minus his mo' from GBG(2007), but I'm craving more scenes of Ciampa's career.
Pete Postlewaite looks haggard, which just hands Affleck a quip about 'Fergie''s features as an ex-boxer.
However, as action fans are bound to complain, this isn't wall-to-wall adrenalin; it's a drama-thriller only seemingly full of heists. There are only three, so it effortlessly avoids The_Hurt_Locker(2009)'s episodic traps. Affleck, Peter Craig & Aaron Stockard's authentic screenplay adaptation of Chuck Hogan's "Prince of Thieves"---about America's most bank-robbery-ridden square mile---brings Charlestown's "Irish omerta" underworld richly to life. The action and drama are exquisitely balanced, and the film, thankfully, takes its own observations about generational criminality seriously.
The narrative does editorialise towards the end, but with an exemplary pace and universal appeal, The_Town plays like a contemporary Shawshank.
The pacing is so good because the director keeps most of his mysteries only for so long; the storytelling isn't manipulative (overly reliant on revelations). Affleck gives us enough information so we're unworried by unanswered questions, and his hints advance the plot. For instance, we know MacRay left that note for the FBI, but FBI SA.Frawley (a too greasy Jon Hamm) then passes it off onto Claire's loser lawyer---producing the biggest laugh of the film.
In homage to Yves Simoneau's 44_Minutes(2003) (true story fictionalised as Heat(1995)), Affleck climaxes the film with a realistic/exhilarating street shootout, with innocent cars driving in the police's line-of-sight. I don't know HOW LONG I've craved such a realistic GSW, but Affleck delivers an amazing smashed jaw effect in the hail of bullets. His well-adjusted action even guarantees some ironic visual comedy, as first a little boy, then a lone cop in a black-and-white get alternatively mesmerised/gobsmacked by a carload of bank-robbers in creepy nun drag.
This type of organic (unforced) gentle humour turns out to be one of the best things about the film. Affleck's comedy is situational, logical and fresh, and always a surprise. It's wonderful to sit amongst an audience whose peals of well-tracking laughter release all their stress. Tongue-in-cheek, Affleck deftly has MacRay utter incognito concern for his robbery victim, then has Claire let him off the hook with "It wasn't your fault"---when it literally was.
The clever director has learned lessons from his prior success: this time Affleck's prologue contains minimal sombre narration. There are no opening credits, but Affleck's gravelly voice does its job admirably. His brogue is Bostonian; perhaps he plumbed actual memories for Jem Coughlin(Jeremy Renner)'s pistol-whipping his surrogate brother MacRay to stop him leaving his criminal niche. Astonishingly, AO.Scott (NY-Times) finds this "Townie" relationship not atavistic ENOUGH.
Affleck has even stronger observations about neighbourhoods. What MacRay does to the local crime boss still trying to rule him through his "lovely new girlfriend" and his father Stephen(Chris Cooper, looking in his single scene every bit the Walpole lifer he plays) is a lesson to all victims of pyramid schemes.
Naturally, critics are now comparing Affleck to Clint Eastwood, for Eastwood's somewhat similar directorial road, and Mystic_River(2003).
And yet I doubt audiences will buzz about Town(2010) as they had over Inception(2010). This is the more honest/satisfying film, but it's not terribly escapist, concluding that "No matter how much you've changed, you still have to pay the price for what you've done".(10/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Second in the Millennium newspaper trilogy, TGwPwF(2009) now follows
Lisbeth Salander(Nooni Rapace) as she becomes the hunter of her own
past, and of any men in her way to such.
The opening gambit of the young murdered journalist couple uncovering the Swedish sex-trafficking trade is really just a jumping-off point for this film. That McGuffin is more-or-less left behind for Salander's personal story told through frequent flashbacks here, since this is the installment that grapples with her backstory hinted at by the first film, a film which had been--surprise, surprise--far more satisfying.
Some are evidently too easily pleased with the second film's execution--the almost religiously avid fans of the books; but for the rest, the new film will feel unaccountably clumsy and dull.
Salander is far less human(ane) or likable this time, smacking of a tough little punk with too little to live for, and treating even her newly rekindled female lover as disposable. Soon she's on the lam again, tracking down any men who ever had anything to do with her past. Or it seems, all the sex-trafficking "johns" on the murdered couple's list, to terrorise and torment them for information.
None of this is particularly exciting. Her disinterested plodding delivers a bored Terminator-like character, and predictability. This time even her only living acquaintance, stuck in a nursing home, casually earmarks her as "invincible", devolving the film's tone to hero-worship, more befitting a graphic novel.
You also get the uncomfortable feeling that director Daniel Alfredson is now using the theme of men-who-rape-women as just a shtick, a gimmick. The second installment refers to the theme at every opportunity, but the filmmakers don't back it up with plot development, they're just resting on the laurels of the first film. No wonder the plot feels lazy; it is!
The three films have all been shot back-to-back as a TV-miniseries for Swedish television, and now that tells.
Salander's investigative reporter friend and male ex-lover from the first film (whose calls she no longer returns) Blomkvist (Nyqvist) seems an acceptably useful ally to us, but she keeps him at a distance for no reason. David Stratton--think of him as Australia's Roger Ebert--has said of Nyqvist that he thinks him "a boring actor; he has one expression, and drifts disinterestedly through the drama"; but the biggest shock of TGWPWF is that Nyqvist degenerates during his interviews of trafficking suspects into "investigative" questions like "BAH?".
Perhaps this is a Swedish word.
He is just as ridiculous as Rapace during the preposterous closing scene of Fire(2009), as he walks into a lethal situation following Salander, with no gun or backup--in fact nothing more than a vacuous look on his face.
The climactic end scene, as mentioned, had some people in the audience even laughing. Rapace is no Terminator, despite digging herself back out of a grave 6hrs after not suffocating, because she's still utterly unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the serious threat that her life is supposed to be.
Unless you're already the almost religiously converted, you won't really care for Salander as she goes into "the lion's den" - which is why the entire last act seemed so ridiculous. (Of course she "tripped every last wire". Duh, he's GRU!....I was thinking during the film).
Fans will love it, but for others this installment is just a genre flick in search of a fanbase, currently suffering major sequelitis.(5/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"I'll wager we'll discover the extent of their plans"??? "Yes, it has
been prophesied"??? - who WROUGHT this?
LotG:The Owls of Ga'Hoole is an unexpectedly overwrought and embarrassingly neo-Nazi (and not all that neo) take on owldom.
Their "owl culture" artefacts, so full of human-built trappings (the metal raffiawork archways atop inaccessible precipices, let alone the handcrafted metal masks and battle-claws for the owls themselves), deny the "culture" much credibility, and instead push the film into uncomfortable anthropomorphisations.
Suffering horribly from strict adherence to the book franchise, as well as the overdone accents of its stars accents which induce deep cultural cringe in Australians the film adaptation might be breathtaking to look at, but falls clumsily over in the storytelling department.
The character names and plot details are difficult to just hear, let alone learn, unless you've already read the first 3 books; and the predetermined happy ending is SO CERTAIN that it's totally embarrassing to watch kids being underestimated like this.
Not a scratch on Pixar.
As I mentioned, Animal Logic did a fantastic job with the sfx, but because this too is a pre-existing franchise in search of a fanbase, the production house relied too heavily on previz to animate the story, with no room for its voice actors to add much, other than their names.
I had to give this film one star for the one idea worth salvaging from the premise - that brothers can turn into mortal enemies due to mere personal shortcomings in one of them, and another for its lovely beats on the joys of flying, feathers, and the physical expressions of love by animals without hands. But such things are too far in the minority.
As for the rest, you REALLY need to be a franchise fan just to tolerate such anathema and pure throwback justifications for .war.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Few people know it took 36yrs for the correct person to be properly
credited with the birth of modern "video-assist" on our movies. VA is
the in-situ/ersatz video recording of a film; "video-reference" is the
same feed, unrecorded. This primary film technology is second only to
the invention of VCRs, co-engineered by the same inventor: Jim Songer.
Songer and his old Video WEST partners revolutionized their whole industry in 1967 for the sake of just one movie: The Party(1968). Their film industry "revolution" is even more significant than the arrival of Pixar, transforming John Cork's DVD supplement, The Party Revolution(2004), into THE insiders' story.
Despite its length(16m), the documentary is charmingly put together. Packed to seem much longer, it introduces video-assist's heretofore unknown heroes (Songer &Ken Wales), who found each other in 1967 via (Goldwyn Productions' Engineering Dept head) Gordon Sawyer and the innovative Blake Edwards.
By the mid-1960s Blake Edwards was collaborative enough to invite technical synergies too, posing wish-lists to his young,"incredibly bright" technical assistant. Ken Wales became Associate Producer on The Party(1968) after first being Walt Disney's then Glenn Ford's wunderkind protégé.....today he's the brilliant hand behind Amazing Grace(2006).
As an IMPROVISED silent-era homage, The Party(1968) quickly evolved into a huge challenge for pre-transistor technology. John Cork's sensitive-yet-educational documentary has Songer admitting how Edwards' "framework"(sparse) screenplay--relying so much on happy accidents--while ideal, became "extremely taxing" for his technology.
He's referring to the mainly horizontal parallax problem caused by piggybacking cameras.
"Video-assist" aka "instant replay"(Songer's term) aka "instant dailies"(Edwards'), began with the somewhat unsophisticated act of attaching a TV camera to the side of the larger film camera, and Cork's smart/crisp editing of interviewees plays well against his animated graphics explaining such positioning.
Naturally Songer's piggybacking irked the film cameramen, who knew the added weight/vibration/noise would ruin the film they shot. That all had to be eliminated one-by-one, and Songer almost giggles on Revolution(2004) about his experiences getting them to cooperate.
This already represents a VAST improvement on Jerry Lewis' supposedly pioneering setup of video-cameras upon their own tripods several feet away from his film camera (creating his own NEW problem). Bruce Denny(Paramount's Technical Dept) eventually developed Lewis' Jerry-rigged contraption into a 200lb monster on dolly; but even once Lewis piggybacked too, his approach never nailed the hard physics problems. It took Songer's long tinkering with Panavision's film cameras, and the many patents he holds as a result, to solve the parallax/lighting/convenience issues.
Parallax (image POV-shift) is a well-known problem to astronomers too, but for improvisational/comic acting&directing, the walk-ons and happy accidents at frame-edge required an isomorphic recording, not merely an approximation......(such visual precision was the only way to achieve continuity, crucial for unwritten improvised scenes). Beyond that, Edwards' comedic timing required precise capturing so improvisations might be tweaked to "thrust/cut into one scene or another"(Songer)......and that's exactly how Edwards, Sellers--and to some degree, Jerry Lewis--used "video tap"(yet another term) in production.
As they made continual improvements, Songer&Wales submitted one patent application after another, resulting in Songer's (shockingly belated) Technical Achievement Oscar®(2002).
Wales, the minister's son/romantic cupid who introduced Blake to Julie Andrews (then had his father marry them) also became the technological cupid between Edwards' "instant dailies" and their engineering genius. On Revolution(2004) Wales finally reveals his flummoxed initial response to Edwards:"Well .Blake, you know the difficult I can do right away ..(but) the impossible takes just a little-bit longer!" "Difficult" as it was, Edwards' "wish" had been the second-most interesting problem in 1960s film production. Impressively, Songer helped Ampex invent VCRs too, and through Edwards, eventually adapted Panavision's proprietary technology to grant the "impossible".
Unfortunately, without massive capital, any proliferation of their unique "tool"(Mirisch) onto other productions would prove to be "a tough duality"(Wales). The team even formed their own start-up company: Video WEST(Wales/Edwards/Songer Telesystems) Inc, to rent out their single non-dedicated VA/camera.
The whole 36yr-tale is painfully relived through Cork's cleverly structured interviews with little further narration.
Walter Mirisch (the gentlest and last remaining Mirisch brother) recalls on Revolution(2004) how Blake Edwards championed VA, while Edwards confirms his own inspiration as......Jerry Lewis' set. However, this group quickly recognized that Lewis' Bellboy(1960) contraption was conceptually wrong for what the industry NEEDED....just evidently didn't want yet.
"EVERYBODY said 'it's a nice idea but it'll never be used", confirms VA-specialist Clark Higgins in 2004.
The impassioned Video WEST team gradually retell their brave story despite their company's demise. As Pixar themselves found, 1970s-1980s Hollywood labored under an intense "Fear of Computers/Video" in general, and of VA in particular:"....It adds more time", agrees Walter Mirisch.
The infamous "VA=OT"(OverTime) formula is sometimes true; actors need great self-discipline to use video-assist efficiently on set. It certainly slowed the obsessive Peter Sellers right down. Edwards recalls how contemporary directors apparently "didn't wish to corrupt the actor"(with public/objective practice), and how filmmakers thought VA would "take away from (the actor/director separation)".
Another similarity to Pixar's genesis was the "tremendous.....expenditure" that inventing VA incurred. In Pixar's case it was George Lucas suffering the start-up company's losses, whereas Video West's research was personally funded by Blake Edwards.
Tragically, it wasn't enough. The Pink Panther impresario appears towards the end with a heartbroken revelation:"I just knew it was (financially) too much for me, (so) I said--'Give it back to Panavision'.....I still have to borrow for my rent, but what the Hell"! About the time he returned the VA-modified prototype-camera to Panavision AS A GIFT TO THE INDUSTRY, Edwards suffered the double insults of depression and Chronic-Fatigue-Syndrome(CFS).
Jim Songer is himself battling for recognition despite his many patents, due to the industry's early (and Peter Bogdanovich's recent) rallying behind Jerry Lewis.
".....Songer has the strongest claim on some of the biggest steps in (Video-assist's evolution), including the steps that first created a practical, complete system for motion-picture production, but.....others made substantial contributions.....notably.....Paul.A.Roos"(Glaskowsky).
What Songer and Lewis still share, however, is Hollywood's sidelining of video-assist, reportedly "embittering" Lewis(!).(9/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This cult favorite may be the peak of the Edwards-Sellers
collaboration, and boasts the funniest cold-open prologue misdirects on
film....(except perhaps Dick Lester's outrageous bathhouse farce, The
The Party(1968) opens as British Imperial forces c.1878 march through an Indian ravine; a wounded native deserter, Hrundi V.Bakshi(Sellers) climbs atop a ridge to bugle a charge. However, this is a Hollywood set, so when the abrasive/clumsy actor stretches his on-screen role by not dying on cue, his compatriots....er....hurry him along.
For 2mins, the specially flown-in authentically "Sikh" actor (played to perfection by the British comic who'd road-tested the accent in India) whines and squeals his bugle as he's repeatedly shot (more and more enthusiastically) by the frustrated cast, some resorting to a gatling gun(!)....and what Bakshi does later to an unsuspecting fort almost defies description. This may be THE most dangerously side-splitting, tear-inducing and fall-down-funny film prologues....ever.
We then immediately segue through a single scene watching this destined-for-the-chopping-block actor mistakenly get invited to a snooty Hollywood party: the studio head/party host, "General Clutterbuck" (his name hints what he'll suffer), first rages on the phone hearing his set was destroyed by "an idiot", then distractedly hands his fortunes to his assistant.
Bakshi's changing fortunes unfold via Henry Mancini's brilliant juxtapositional scoring. It first presents Bakshi at home playing sitar (recalling Beatle George Harrison's contemporary taste), then launches into Mancini's main film theme as Bakshi receives his accidentally posted Party invitation.
This is an insider's spoof--a cinematic mugging of 1960s Hollywood--since Blake Edwards both improvises and lampoons so much of his own industry. With award-winning Mirisch scribes Frank & Tom Waldman, Edwards created (co-wrote) a knowing satire: some Hollywood (stereo)types have disappeared, but the crass sexual leeches are still here. The rest of the film is sustained by Steve Franken's rare "duck-walking" drunk waiter (a decent homage to Charlie Chaplin), and Peter Seller's great precedent for Borat & Mr.Bean.
Edwards originally planned a silent film with Sellers to honor silent-era slapstick, but the radio comic (Sellers made his career on British radio's The Goon Show) knew he couldn't carry the movie without words, nor would silent comedy play in a hip 1968 setting.
The eventual screenplay, although looking as effortless as it was short (63pp), is masterful: its 'incidental' early meeting between Bakshi and Janice Kane(Corinne Cole) establishes her as having the DTs/hallucinating objects in her glass (significant later), but it also hands Sellers a precisely observed joke as he backs away from her uncomfortably, realizing she's mental. Sellers' physical comedy, so precisely set up for him by Edwards, is predicated on Cole's verbal delivery as she insists in a raised voice, "But I can see it!".
This then is why a purely silent film would never have worked for Sellers.
Bakshi creates havoc through many clumsy encounters with inanimate objects: the house's bizarre electronic panel is a too-tempting toy; retrieving his soiled shoe from the pool proves increasingly ridiculous; and feeding the parrot with spilling seeds is best recalled with the catch-phrase "Birdie num-num"--now total lore for the film's actors and fans alike! My favourite is still the prologue, and Bakshi's battle with the (rigged) toilet roll/cistern....and the painting above. These scenes are screamingly funny, often going from bad to worse; with them Edwards & Sellers achieved a perfection of "coincidental" timing that is every bit as artful as Buster Keaton's.
Everyone present compounds the evening's disorder. The Party soon becomes a veritable maelstrom of career-hungry Tinseltowners preying on one another; but Bakshi's match-made-in-mayhem turns out to be Levinson the drinks waiter(Steve Franken). Their yin/yang relationship emerges from Bakshi's inability to drink. Now technically, as a Sikh Indian, he should've worn a turban at all times as well; but it's Bakshi's cultural aversion that convinces Levinson to make up for his "shortfalls". Our waiter gets so plastered that he waddles absent-mindedly (with precision timing) through doors and pools with all manner of trays, plates and chairs, driving his boss mad, but never worse for wear.
Much of this slapstick is drowned out by white noise, simulating silent films--so Edwards still got his wish.
His (actually) partying set used the same live band, which struck up (Ethel Merman's) "There's_No_Business_Like_Show_Business" every time their baby elephant (last 15mins only) needed the elderly janitor's shovel.
The film's only false note is struck by the hostess, who goes into hysterics when encountering sudsy people from the out-of-control elephant wash. Her over-the-top "nervous breakdown" beggars belief.
Conversely, the unheralded performance of the boozy blonde (Corinne Cole) hints a future with our waiter. Their "spontaneous"/scripted co-dependent sparks are courtesy of Levinson's "insulation" while gliding through neck-deep foam. He accidentally sabotages Janice's incumbent letch, transferring the man's bribe bottle to her, seeming like a sloshed "White Knight". When she fights her way back to pour his drink, Levinson's wobbly lips lock onto hers in stunned/"insulated" gratitude. This surprisingly sweet payoff had the (unmet) potential to elevate the ending. It also qualifies Franken/Edwards as Master(s) of the Long Joke.
Beyond Franken and Sellers, only Gavin MacLeod (Capt.Stubing of "The Love Boat"(1977-1987)) remains familiar. MacLeod plays The Party's funniest perfunctory (unsuccessful) sleaze--his name Divot(="pit") implying his personality. However it's the thwarted Divot who recognizes Bakshi and threatens to undo his good fortune, considering him "meshugga"(meshugganah, Yiddish for "insane")--handing Sellers the funny retort "...I am NOT your sugar"!
The Bakshi/Monet romance probably won't succeed. While men read their awkwardness outside her building as full of hope, women recognize their fencing over a painful lack of commonality underneath their pretend-fencing over etiquette. Any future as a couple is bleak: he's virtually unemployable as "the idiot"(....headed back to India), but while The Party's on, none of us have to face the music.
The ending could have reflected Franken's contribution better, but The Party is a superbly hilarious time in the "hip" 1960s.
For more production stories please consult John Cork's terrific DVD-supplements.(8/10)
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