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The Master (2012)
Most disappointing film of the year
I know, everyone is gushing about this movie. That, on top of the fact that I am a PT Anderson fan (Magnolia, for one, is probably a top 10 favorite of mine), is what made this so disappointing.
First, the good. Amy Adams does very well in a supporting role. The whole thing is beautifully filmed, and I liked the music as well. I thought it captured the feel of the time period very well.
On to the bad (of which there is substantially more, in my view). I'll start with the plot. There is almost none, and the movie has no hook. It never made me forget I was sitting in a movie theater. Its pace is maddeningly slow, and it is too long. A good portion of the film is spent watching Phoenix walk back and forth between a window and a wall for reasons that remain rather opaque. Yes, it's that kind of movie.
I didn't care at all about Phoenix's character or Hoffman's, and despite the rave reviews, I think neither actor brought their A-game to this one. Their characters were one dimensional, unsympathetic, and unrelatable. They didn't feel like real people. They don't really change much over the course of the movie.
What irked me most, though, was that the movie really didn't have anything to say. It had no real insights into anything. It didn't make me think or challenge my mind in any way.
When a movie fails to make me think or feel, as this one did, I can't help but regret spending money on it.
I finally got to see this after years of following the creation of it from the initial rumors to the announcement of Bay as director and so on. I was a very big Transformers fan in the 80s, and I'd consider playing with the toys to be a big part of my childhood. They were the last major toys I played with before puberty kicked in, so they have lingered as my favorites from back then.
My feelings about the movie are mixed. I'll start with the good (which is always shorter because it's less interesting).
It was the best Michael Bay movie I've seen. Granted, I've pretty much disliked everything else I've seen from him and I haven't seen everything. Armageddon remains the worst big-budget movie I've ever seen. But Transformers was a step up for Bay. The special effects were awesome and believable, and it was very cool to see the Transformers brought to life on screen. It's funny, I can remember saying after seeing Jurassic Park way back when digital effects were coming into their own that maybe they could make a live action Transformers, and lo and behold, here it is. The movie is visually arresting, and there are a couple of strong performances from Shia LeBouf and John Turturro. There's some humor and a good sense of fun with it.
Now the negatives.
For one, the robots didn't feel as much like individual characters as they did on the old cartoon. Their faces didn't look as much like faces, which is part of it. But they also looked too similar. The originals all looked quite a bit different. In robot form, they retained more of the look of the vehicles and other items they became. In the cartoon, you could see emotion on their faces and hear it in their voices. In the movie they were more like true robots. There also was no real portrayal of the relationships between the transformers. There was a bit of differentiation when the Autobots were introduced, but it wasn't too much. The Decepticons still all pretty much seemed the same.
There were some regular Michael Bayisms that I didn't like either. Heroes are too heroic and bad guys are too bad, especially for a PG-13 movie. Granted, that's how it was in the source material initially, but over time, the Transformers cartoon became more nuanced, with characters rethinking their positions and switching sides and issues of insanity in Decepticon leadership making some Decepticons question what they were doing. The show became more sophisticated as it went. Perhaps it is understandable that the sophistication level dropped, but I had hoped the PG-13 rating would mean more adult themes. No, just a few more curse words.
Another Michael Bayism I dislike is the glorification of violence. Now, I don't mind violent movies, but I don't like it when movies put a nice sheen on violence. If you're going to show violence, you should show its results. If you are going to show robots shooting up streets and crashing through buildings, you need to show some bodies. The original cartoon had most of its action happening in very isolated areas. The movie had a huge fight sequence in a major city and robots flying through buildings where it was actually shown that there were people working inside. A lot of people have a problem with violence in films. I have a problem not with violence but with a dishonest portrayal of it that hides its negative results.
I also thought there were some lazy stretches of believability. The government trying to cover up what happened in the end by burying the bodies at sea was stupid because obviously people would know, seeing as how a city got ripped apart and there had to have been reporters capturing it. Also, the military leadership was way too honest with the public, with the Secretary of Defense telling people on air that they had no idea what had attacked them in the desert and all that.
Yet another Michael Bayism is to depict military and political officials as simplistic, honest men who are purely heroic. Now, I think the portrayal of the soldiers themselves was actually pretty good, but the Sec Def is much more of a political position and I thought the character was basically too honest and straightforward.
I wasn't too bothered by the physical differences between the original versions and new versions of the vehicle forms of the Transformers. The change in Bumblebee's car form worked for the movie and the old versions were very 1980s anyway. How can you make a movie now where all the vehicles look like they're from the 1980s? However, I didn't like that they changed the basic nature of some of the characters. Bonecrusher and Devastator were two separate characters. In the original, Devastator was formed by combining five robots into one, and one of them was Bonecrusher. It is also a sin that Megatron turns into a plane and not some kind of big ol' gun. He didn't look nearly enough like the original Megatron to me.
Okay, I guess I've put enough effort into reviewing what was essentially a silly summer popcorn movie. It's just that it was a big part of my childhood, so I had a lot to say.
The Upside Down Show (2006)
Great show for young (and not so young) kids
It's all about using your imagination, which is absolutely the most important thing for young kids. As Einstein said, "imagination is more important than knowledge." The show is filled with endless creativity, including characters, concepts, and wordplay, that can entertain even parents.
On top of that, the "Umbilical Brothers" - Shane and David - are amazing physical actors who can convincingly behave as though they are performing a variety of actions without any props. As someone who has worked with actors before, I know this is not a skill that comes easily.
The humor is almost like Monty Python for kids. Even though it's Australian, it has a "British humor" sort of feel - lots of wordplay, fast motion scenes, etc.
Max & Ruby (2002)
Pretty good, with some qualms
My older son (he is 4, his brother is 1) doesn't just watch this show; he has my wife or me come and watch it with him. He thinks Max's antics are hilarious.
I think the point of the show has been missed by some people. It is directed at children who are in the Ruby role, I believe. Ruby is not a good caretaker. She is bossy and doesn't pay enough attention to her brother. Just about every episode I have seen has as its central lesson that if Ruby had paid more attention to Max and his needs, she would have solved her own problems or made her own life a little better.
The lack of parents is not an issue to me, as the show centers on the dynamic between the two kids, which I think anyone with more than one kid can understand.
One of the qualms I have with the show is that it reinforces gender roles a bit too sharply. As far as I can see, all the boys on the show are very physical and speak only in single words and get dirty. All the girls wear dresses and play dress-up and speak eloquently. It can also be pretty boring for an adult, but that is not its intended audience anyway.
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
I took my 3-year-old son to see this the other day, and I was somewhat disappointed. While it's a visual splendor, not a whole lot happens in it and it drags a lot. It says something that both I and my son were bored by it. Halfway through, he started begging me to go home, so we left before it was over. The pace is too slow for a kids' film, and the story is too minimal for an adult to enjoy much. While the characters are pretty well done and the voice acting is good and appropriate, the characters aren't given a whole lot to do. The whole story is them basically walking from one place to another at a mammoth's pace, and not a whole lot of interest happens for a good chunk of it. When there finally is some action, it is over in a flash and it's back to the mammoth walk.
Nice visuals but not much information
My first impression of this, as I watched it, was that the visuals were very well done, and indeed they are. Great graphics make you really see how it looks when the events described occur. If it were just a graphic presentation, I would have given it a 10/10.
Unfortunately, it wasn't. While the presentation, including Sam Neill's narration, was very well done, the content was extremely scarce, and what was there had me raising my eyebrows. There is very little information in this that can't be gotten out of a grade school level book. The series makes very simple, obvious assertions about the universe and stretches them out for a half hour each. What's more is that it is strangely alarmist, giving the feeling that we could all die at any moment from some huge cataclysm. While that's true on some level, it's also extremely unlikely that a comet or asteroid will strike us out of the blue. To watch this series, you would think it was inevitable within our lifetimes.
It also makes the assertion that the only hope for humanity's future lies in colonizing the stars. This may or may not be true. In the several billion years before this even becomes an issue, we may very well discover how to keep the sun burning longer, how to live in the vacuum of space, or any number of other things that would make that much less relevant. There is no pressing need to colonize other worlds right now, though I admit I love the idea of doing it.
In all, outside of the alarmism, I suppose this would be good for someone who is very unfamiliar with astronomy in general. But if you have some knowledge of the subject, you won't get much out of this besides nice graphics.
It's no Happiness
I loved Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse, so I looked forward to this movie with great anticipation. My hopes were dashed, however. Here we have two unrelated stories with relatively boring characters, neither of which is allowed to fully develop. Both had potential in their own right, but they just seem to go nowhere. I desperately wanted to like the movie. I gave it every chance to impress me. But the "shocking" stuff, like the racial issues in "Fiction", wasn't really that shocking, yet it came across as being more done for shock value than the well-defined, nuanced characters of the much more shocking Happiness.
What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? (2004)
What the #$*! is this movie!?
The movie bills itself as some kind of combination of quantum physics and Eastern religion. In truth, it's one of the most manipulative, pointless exercises in dishonesty I've ever seen. It basically attempts to show how quantum physics leads to certain conclusions that are in line with a particular worldview. It has all these experts from various fields explaining things in very short snippets, and it takes those snippets and combines them to lead you to this conclusion. In the midst of it all, inexplicably, is a really boring narrative about a woman coming to understand these things.
The movie contends that quantum physics shows that you can change the molecular structure of water by thinking at it, and that you can change the world - literally, physically - by thinking at it in the same way. Now, I don't have a problem with people believing this, but it is totally dishonest to say that it is supported in any way by quantum physics.
The movie looks tempting (at least to people like me) - like some kind of philosophical discourse on the nature of reality - but it's not at all. It's an infomercial for a particular religious viewpoint masquerading as a science film.
One of the best Lovecraft adaptations
As a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and the story upon which this film is based in particular, I sat down to watch this quite skeptical that it would be well done. I've seen a lot of Lovecraft adaptations, and they are usually quite a bit worse than bad.
What I got was a real treat. The creators did an excellent job of not only capturing the story, but changing it from an unfilmable, dialogue-free narrative to something more engaging. It looks like a lot of good effort was put into making it as good as it could be on what appears to be a budget of about a couple of hundred dollars.
About the budget, it is quite evident that the creators had a minuscule one. The film is mostly still pictures, with some very minimal animation, and it is all black and white. My one real gripe with it is the quality of the voice recordings. The character voices are too dynamic - sometimes too loud, sometimes, too soft to hear over the music or other sounds. It gets a bit annoying at times in that regard.
Overall, though, this captures the spirit of the original story better than any Lovecraft adaptation I've seen. It speaks volumes about how a good story told well is preferable to a mundane big budget flick any day.
This film is one of the most original films I've ever seen. On top of that, it is absolutely riveting and engaging. It will have you thinking for hours afterward. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes intriguing movies. The acting is good. Other than the girl who plays the student, I've never seen any of the actors before, which makes the movie much harder to predict than most.
The air of mystery prevails throughout. The pace is perfect, which surprised me, given the limited amount the characters could actually do. And the ending doesn't sell out the rest of the movie, which films with this level of mystery often do.