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I have been a movie afficionado since I learned how to work my dad's VCR (I am THAT old).
People think I am crazy for going to the cinema and buying movies instead of downloading. But I love movies and I simply prefer the real thing in its intended quality!
Often to my embarrassment, I have a lot of guilty pleasures: many films others generally regard as 'crap'; but I can be somewhat critical of movies and directors that I regard as overly glorified (sorry, Tarantino- and Miyazaki-fans).
I consider myself a broad-spectrum cinephile, and I enjoy movies of any genre, age and nationality. But at gunpoint, I'll confess my preference for action/sci-fi.
My philosophy is to simply review and judge every movie for what it is and not for what it should have been. Roger Ebert also mostly adhered to this principle, so he is my favorite critic. I do not pan sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots on principle, I do not sanctify movies, and I try not to let my childhood nostalgia filter make decisions (which is rare for a Star Wars fan).
Tom Hanks is my favorite actor, with George Clooney and Will Smith as runner-ups. For actresses, it's Jenna Elfman and Charlize Theron, and I am following Jennifer Lawrence's rising star with great interest.
There are no actors I hate (although I think David Arquette seriously lacks talent). I tend to believe that every actor simply has a style of acting which agrees or disagrees with me, and sometimes they are simply miscast. I even enjoy Mark Wahlberg, now that he has finally developed some charisma.
Aliens (generally everything from James Cameron, he's my hero)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Star Wars (yes, ALL of them)
Silence of the Lambs
All time worsts:
A lot of direct-to-video stuff most people never heard of. Some familiars:
Universal Soldier: the Return
I am also an avid fan of Star Trek, South Park, The Simpsons, Married with Children, Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory.
Publieke werken (2015)
A beautiful picture book of humanity, arrogance and fate
The Dutch film industry always has trouble to keep pace with the technical level of the major film industries, so it usually takes some time before we see special effects in our movies of a quality that can compare to the stuff that Hollywood was producing years before. So considering this, it is probably a good thing that the movie adaptation of 'Publieke werken' took 16 years. Creating a period piece is no easy endeavor; on a small budget, it could easily look like an amateur history fair. Luckily, Roel Reiné had delivered sea battles in 'Michiel de Ruyter' that were on par with the ones from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, so it certainly showed that the time was right to make a period piece as the British usually make it.
Publieke werken tells the backstory of one of Amsterdam's most curious sights: the Victoria hotel, which has two small houses embedded in its exterior. It takes some creative license, but it is a fascinating and fateful story of two cousins who are getting way out of their league in their quest for recognition. Mr Vedder (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) and his cousin Mr Anijs (Jacob Derwig) are essentially small-time men who feel that they deserve to be higher up the social ladder. Both men have noble intentions in wanting to help their fellow men, but they don't know the extent of their limitations (Vedder even somewhat less than Anijs). Involved in a stalemate with a rich developer, Vedder makes a terrible miscalculation that may cause the demise of dozens of workers that they have sent to the USA in the hope for a better life. Then again, Anijs makes an illegal medical decision that may seem dubious, yet it probably saves the life of a young worker woman who was practically ignored by the town's elitist doctor. It shows that good intentions and desire for recognition may not always be the best combination, but fate (or coincidence) can always decide otherwise.
Praise to the director, screenwriter, cinematographer and editor for making this a morality tale that is pleasantly paced and constantly in motion, rather than a dull and dusty historical narrative that it could have been. Wide shots and lush camera movements, combined with great production design, beautiful costumes and superb visual effects create a convincing picture of a bustling and rapidly modernizing 19th-century Amsterdam, which is almost a character in its own right in the movie. The choice to use mostly modern Dutch (save for some expressions and words) is often controversial, but it helps the movie connect with a modern audience. Which is essential, because one theme of the book, the seeming futility of small men fighting against the arrogance of the establishment, may be hard for us to accept, as we live in an age where we are encouraged to express our talents, no matter where we come from.
The novel's structure isn't necessarily easy to translate to film either. A movie usually lacks the amount of exposition that a novel can employ to create a coherent narrative, so the separate story lines and subplots in the film seem somewhat disconnected at first. But gradually, they come together in a great finale that is both tragic and redeeming, due to a violin as an unexpected "Chekov's gun" (look that one up). The efforts of the two main characters may have been misguided, they have not been in vain. And it provides a wonderful anecdote about that hotel. Fictional or not: never let the truth get in the way of a great story.
Het Diner (2013)
A feast too low in calories
In the Netherlands, we have had some artistic and commercial success with movies that take place in one room and concern people discussing something they prefer to keep quiet. 'Quiz' was a nice example, and especially 'Loft' was a well-made and tense thriller, although we need to thank our friends the Belgians for that last one, since they provided the also excellent original version. 'Het Diner' is an originally Dutch novel that has been sold to many countries, so I thought I had some good reasons to expect something of the movie adaptation. Sadly, this is one of those instances where it shows that a good book not necessarily translates into a good movie.
My biggest problem is that the movie doesn't seem to work one way or another. Although I don't know the book, I can imagine roughly two ways to approach a story like this: a thriller like Loft, or a black comedy like Quiz. The first one would have worked best in my opinion, given the grave subject matter of teenage homicide, but director/screenwriter Menno Meyes seems to have been aiming mostly for the latter. That doesn't have to be an obstacle for a good movie, but he doesn't have a firm handle on the material to make it work like a black comedy with some thriller elements. Maybe also because he only allows himself a meager 88 minutes to tell this story, which leaves little time for background to the characters, or a decent ending.
The story is partially about the interaction between 4 characters, and partially about the interior monologues of the main character Paul. It is therefore not surprising that the book was adapted into a successful stage play first. You can almost picture how the parts where Paul breaks the fourth wall were done in a theater, with a spotlight turned on him alone, and the other cast members kept in darkness. However, what works in theater doesn't necessarily work as well in cinema, also because it is only done a few times and not consistently. The rest of the times, Paul (Jacob Derwig) just provides voice-overs, which started to annoy me after a while. This is an obvious literary technique that can work in books and on stage, and sometimes in film. However, when constantly abused in a movie, it feels like a lack of creativity in using the visual medium; after all, one of the golden rules for film is "show, don't tell". Other advantages that movies have, such as building tension through photography and editing, are sadly underused as well. Director Meyes' choice not to rely too much on cinematic techniques can be praised, but he puts too much faith in the monologues, dialogues and the actors.
Which brings me to the final point of criticism: the characterization of the four protagonists falls flat on its face. Character interactions, especially in a black comedy, work best if you have actors who know what makes their characters 'tick'; just look at Roman Polanski's 'Carnage' for a good example. But Jacob Derwig is the only one who gets a bit of backstory, and even so, his character is merely annoying and frustrated instead of interestingly layered. The other three characters range from sad to reprehensible, which could be interesting if they weren't so one-dimensional due to lack of exposure (apart from what Paul tells about them in his endless voice-overs). They often act and respond completely unpredictable, not as a twist, but simply because of poorly written roles that undoubtedly left out too much from the book. The talent of these fine actors feels quite wasted here, because there should have been more time allotted for exposition.
Every adaptation needs to omit certain parts of the narrative, but here it feels like most of the heart of the story was cut out. The basic premise is still there, but the director did not have the experience to make it visually interesting. After an Italian remake, there has been talk about an American one, but it seems to be stuck in development for some time. Let's hope they use that time to get the script right this time, because with the right basis, this premise could really make for a good movie.
Fanboys be damned: open your mind and this remake will leave you in good spirits!
People flooding the social media with hatred for a movie before even a script has been written is nothing new. But when they start writing bad reviews for a movie they admittedly haven't seen (because they're convinced it will suck anyway), you know that there's something strange in the neighborhood. Yes people, this is, as often, a clear case of 'hating on principle'. The many one-star reviews (162 at last count) are the main cause of the current 5.3 rating. But as I have observed over and over, that is rarely the whole story.
So I did a check, and for a movie that is supposed to be so bad that you don't even need to see it to know it, I currently counted 519 good reviews against 288 bad. There you have it: 2/3 of the people who took the time to comment were positive. And you can add mine to it.
Let me say first that I have seen all of Paul Feig's theatrical movies, and I really think he has surpassed Judd Apatow when it comes to laughs. Together with the fabulous Melissa McCarthy and Kirsten Wiig, he has broken that old misconception that women can't be funny. I laughed so hard at 'Spy' that when I heard Feig and McCarthy were going to do a Ghostbusters remake, my thought was that if someone could pull it off, it would be them. Of course I love the old classic version, and did not think it was in immediate need of being redone; that said, the 1984 version was also made by a director/comedian team at the top of their game, so who says that a new team couldn't bring a fresh, new and modern perspective to it?
And I have to say: they pulled it off. Just like the reboots of Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Star Trek, this isn't a lazy retread of the original with merely some updated special effects, but a new origin story with familiar elements. Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold must have felt the close scrutiny they were under, so they purposely tried to avoid getting too close to the original, both in terms of plotting and classic scenes. It's funny to see how they keep steering towards familiar elements, and then make an unexpected turn. And where they could not avoid it, they get a nice joke or tongue-in-cheek reference out of it (just check the cameos of the original cast, and the post-credit scene!). Some sequels/reboots get overly smug with all their winks to the original (or "hommages" as they call it), but here, it never becomes annoyingly conspicuous.
That said, the original once won us over by its daring combination of an original premise, special effects and good humor. The reboot lacks a new premise, so it has to score on other areas. And it is there where the criticism comes is. Paul Feig usually creates a self-invented universe where he can unleash all sorts of appropriate jokes, but here he borrows from a previously established world, and that freshness is hard to copy. These confinements somewhat limit his inspiration for comedy, with the result that there are noticeably fewer laughs this time around, despite several very good ones (often the self-referential ones). Kirsten Wiig seems to be quite intimidated by the daunting task of filling Bill Murray's shoes in the beginning, and Melissa McCarthy, funny as always, isn't in her best shape. But maybe they held back to give the other two leads some time to shine. Leslie Jones is very funny as the assertive Patty, who has her street smarts to compensate for her lack of science, but Kate McKinnon as 'Holtz' is the unsung heroine in the movie for me. With her cool-headed attitude and general not-entirely-stable demeanor, she could be the female Zach Galifianakis. And it is refreshing to see tough guy Chris 'Thor' Hemsworth as the dumb blond/love interest for a change, even though this has led to some ridiculous accusations of man-hatred among reviewers. A strange criticism for a movie that intentionally tries to reverse the typical gender roles. Well, I think we men have the right to play the sort of negative stereotype that women were sentenced to for ages!
As can be expected, the special effects look top-notch. The makers have taken the opportunity to expand the inventory of the Ghostbusters with some really cool gadgets, giving the female leads the opportunity to show what they are worth. The ghosts all look quite convincing, and especially the climax, traditionally the most spectacular sequence in a Ghostbuster movie, is impressive, and even has a pretty original adversary. But at the heart of the movie is still the chemistry between these four characters, which isn't changed by the fact that they are women now.
If people give this movie only one star and they can clearly motivate why, I say "bless 'em". But hating this movie on the basis that it shouldn't exist is not something I shall be participating in. Whether you regard it as remake, reboot or sacrilege, I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: not as good as the 1984 version, but a bit better than Ghostbusters II. Or to use a phrase a friend of mine often coins: it is far better than it has the right to be.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
They master the art of spectacle; now get someone to write a decent screenplay
Please let me start by making a confession: I have been a fan of Roland Emmerich for decades. Critics be damned: I love his talent for taking B-movie premises and transforming them into big-budget, special effects-heavy, spectacle-driven epics. I thoroughly enjoyed Stargate, ID4, Godzilla (yes, even that one), The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Anonymous and (slightly less) White House Down, and oh well, I'll even defend 10,000 BC for being a bit of guilty pleasure. With ID4, he cemented his reputation as a director who couples the art of showing destruction with some good old-fashioned fun.
Unfortunately, his reputation as a storyteller is less solid. With the passing of the years, he has the increasing tendency to fall back on clichés, linear plotting, flat characterizations, overblown patriotism, or excessive lack of subtleties. Some people find his movies near- unwatchable for it; I'll maintain that I am not overly annoyed by it as long as the spectacle is good. With ID4, apart from some excessive bombastic heroics, I even think he had found the right mold for the story: teasing the audience in the first act, unleashing hell in the second, and delivering the knock-out in the finale. And all moderated with some great humor. Even a lot of serious critics couldn't deny that his mix of popcorn entertainment with state-of-the-art special effects put new life into the disaster movie genre.
So I really hoped that Emmerich would repeat that very same trick for this late follow-up to ID4, but alas. Repeating he did, but without much of his magic touch. This is one of the few times that he managed to disappoint me, although not to the extent of me completely tearing it apart and trampling the remains into the dirt, as some people find necessary. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong: did he finally loose his inspiration? Did he destroy the world so many times already that he just couldn't find an original angle anymore? Or was his head so much into the action that he forgot to glue it all together with a halfway decent story?
As said before, storytelling isn't Emmerich's strongest point, but in ID4, he at least knew how to build the tension by slowly revealing the upcoming alien invasion, up to the classic scene where the UFOs slowly reveal themselves as ominous shadows over the big cities. In ID:R, he doesn't seem to feel the need for originality or building tension: the big scenes of the original are copied down in a 'bigger-is-better' format, but with a big hurry. The invasion and ensuing mayhem is over before we know it, the tearing down of landmarks feels familiar up to the point of becoming obligatory, and when the best pilots come together to make one big assault on the mothership, it starts to become repetitive. The special effects look convincing enough, but due to the absence of a wow-factor, it didn't engage me half as much as the roller-coaster ride of the original movie.
A lot of the fun previously came from a great cast of actors, but Will Smith as the tough funnyman is regrettably absent. Veterans Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum get a few moments to shine, as does Brent Spiner, but most of the cast cannot really fill the void. Liam Hemsworth makes a decent try, as does Maika Monroe, and the inclusion of an African warlord as a hero can even be called innovative. But most of the other supporting actors are annoyingly cliché, uninteresting and/or unfunny. I felt sorry for Judd Hirsch and his redundant plot line where he rescues a couple of refugee kids, which really amounted to nothing except to create some tension and bickering with his son in the finale (more of that later).
Much of the movie's problems can be blamed on the screenplay, that just wants to do too much and follow too many people in too short a time (only 120 minutes). There is a promising subplot (the helpful alien species) that should have been given proper priority, but it serves more as a McGuffin at the end. You'd think that 5 screenwriters could come up with better drama and jokes, but here it sometimes plunges into cringe-worthy depths where even Michael Bay wouldn't dare. If they really go forward with a second sequel, as is announced at the end, then let's hope that they can get somebody like J.J. Abrams on board, who knows how to use old elements with fresh inspiration.
Still, I have to admit, when nearing the end, Emmerich dares to take the story in a different direction, which gives the movie a dearly needed injection of energy. The jet pilots escaping from the mothership is pretty funny, and the thrilling finale with the oversized Queen feels like Emmerich is back in shape. Although it cannot completely compensate for the general blandness of what came before, at least it shows he hasn't completely lost his trick. I'd like to see this spark of energy and inspiration if it really comes to ID3.
So although it could (and should) have been much better, I wouldn't completely throw away ID:R like so many people do. Between the eye- rolling moments, there are some nice action scenes and some promising plot elements, and the finale really saved a lot. Let's hope this was a set-up for a much better threequel.
A decently (war)crafted game adaptation, but what's the hurry?
Duncan Jones made a name for himself as a director of highly intelligent science-fiction movies with a fair dose of humanism, so he sounded like an ideal guy to deliver a game adaptation that would stand out as really good for a change. Choosing Warcraft was risky, however, since it has become a multi-game franchise over the decades, one with its own complex story lines, characters and mythology. Distilling a story thread out of a game's lore that is cinematically satisfying while still doing justice to the gaming experience is a trap that many a director has fallen into. So the question is: did Jones succeed? My answer is: yes and no.
Although I have played my share of Warcraft, I am no hardcore fan or connaisseur (I sort of lost interest halfway through WCIII: Frozen Throne), but I cannot deny that Jones delivered a pretty convincing visual representation of how I remember the Warcraft universe. The cities and castles look impressive and lush; the Orcs look physically imposing, realistic and dangerous, but they never become mindless beasts; and the colorful human armors and weapons are instantly recognizable from the games. The battle scenes look impressive and brutal, without going into much gory and appendage-shedding details (since teens should also be able to enjoy this). The CGI, often the scapegoat that disappointed audiences aim for, looks almost flawless here, and convincingly helps to create this universe. It was a prudent move of Jones to cast mainly Caucasian actors as the Orcs, because many directors before him had to battle allegations of racism for having a tribal people played by non-white actors. Both humans, Orcs and half-breeds are portrayed by a diverse mix of ethnicities now, which works fine.
But did Jones really need to be in such a rush to get the story told? I haven't kept a score, but the first 15 minutes introduces about 5 different locations, 10 characters and maybe 7 unique terms. It is as if the entire first act contains more information than both 'Moon' and 'Source Code' combined. I love a bit of fast pacing, but here I got exhausted to keep up with this frenetic storytelling. Jones' scripts are usually pretty well- written, but here it is easily the source of most of the movie's shortcomings, or maybe it is in the editing. I had the distinct feeling that this was originally a 3-hour movie that had to be cut back to 2 hours on studio demand. Many characters are thrown in with little to no introduction (it's usually not a good sign if you have to learn character names from the end credits); some of the peoples (Elves and Dwarfs mainly) are merely referenced, so you never get a sense that Azaroth is such a diversely populated world; and some sequences evoke the feeling that a lot of exposition is missing (even some of the action scenes lack coherence). That makes it difficult to get absorbed into the story, or care for the characters, despite some nice, unexpected twists at the end, which would have worked much more satisfyingly had we known the characters better. Maybe I am spoiled by Game Of Thrones, where I get to know and love the characters over the course of many hours, and feel genuine heartache when they get killed off, but Jones should really have put more effort in building a solid foundation with a backstory and the characters.
So, a nice visual attempt to make a faithful game adaptation, but again, the difficulty of translating game to screen is showing. I had a good time with it, but as the subtitle says: it is a beginning, and hopefully a good starting point for a better fleshed-out sequel.
John Carter (2012)
An otherworldly, good old-fashioned adventure movie that's not a complete no-brainer
A lot has been said about this movie. That it had quite a massive budget for an acclaimed director who had never done a live-action film before. That it bombed spectacularly as a result of poor marketing. That it was an unexpected success overseas, but still lost the studio millions of dollars. That it was a dull rip-off of many other sci-fi adventure films, with too much focus on CGI and special effects.
What has NOT been said enough is how much good old fun this movie is. Going to a movie that failed commercially always seems a risk of not getting your money's worth, but I was won over by the spectacular trailer that promised an immersive world full of exotic people and architecture, as well as plenty of action and adventure. And often you find that the trailer grossly misrepresents the movie by containing a shot of every key scene, leaving little new to be found in the movie. However, I found that JC delivered exactly what the trailer promised, maybe even more.
JC starts with a brief introductory narration explaining that we're on Mars, followed by a spectacular action scene in the air. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie where John Carter, a disillusioned Civil War veteran, gets stuck on Mars with no idea how he got there and what is going on. There is no extensive prologue, no scrolling text or studio-mandated voice over explaining everything in detail every 15 minutes. It is a way of storytelling that I like, a narrative that challenges us to piece the background and current situation together for ourselves, rather than presenting it to us on a platter, which seems more common these days. Most likely this is thanks to director Andrew Stanton, who undoubtedly resisted suggestions in this direction. Some people complained that JC was needlessly confusing, but I retort that we as the audience know exactly as much as John Carter knows, so I could identify with him in his search for answers without problems.
What also stands out in the positive sense is the running time. With 132 minutes, JC is considerably longer than the standard adventure movie that usually has to keep way too fast a pace in order to stay within 100 minutes, so that the cinemas can do multiple screenings in one day. I think it really benefits JC's story of exploration and the pacing; there is no feeling of a movie rushing through its expository scenes in order to quickly get from action scene to action scene, and there is plenty of room for some light-hearted humor, a bit of drama, and even romance. Special kudos for one scene that effectively combines a brutal fight with a grief-filled flashback. It is too bad that so many people missed the movie due to the ineffective marketing, because JC is really a film that caters to many audiences.
Those who crave some eye-popping action won't be disappointed. The special effects, certainly in combination with Michael Giacchino's riveting score, are really stunning and spectacular, especially in 3D. There were lots of complaints about too much of it being computer-generated. I have never quite understood the general audience's problems with CGI; it only seems to be an issue when the movie itself is considered underwhelming (you don't hear anyone complain about the extensive CGI in Lord of the Rings, Sin City or Avatar, for example). It all looked very convincing to me, from the beautifully designed cities and airships to the motion-control Tharks. And if special effects are convincing, it shouldn't matter how they were done.
Another grievance often heard is that JC looks too much like the Star Wars movies, especially the prequels (also movies unnecessarily criticized, IMO). If we ignore the fact that the Star Wars saga and many others were heavily influenced by the John Carter novel series, I'd like to point out that superficial similarities have become inherent to many genres like young adult movies, and it doesn't stop them from being appreciated and successful. Those who do not mind a feeling of familiarity should have no problems with JC if they can enjoy the story and the action.
In a bold move, the director purposely chose not to include A-list names to draw in audience, so I saw no glaring miscasts. Although people may have had problems with Taylor Kitsch, who does a good job as reluctant hero, but comes over as too stoic and serious at times. There is more to enjoy in the supporting cast: Mark Strong is a strong screen presence as ever, and Lynn Collins is as stunningly beautiful as she is strong and resourceful. Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy, both veterans of 'Rome', always enjoy a good chemistry together and bring in some levity, but by far the best work is done by Willem Dafoe, who makes his animated Tars Tarkas a lively and lovable character. But every scene gets stolen by Woola, the Martian dog and funniest side-kick in years.
In conclusion, while not being daringly original, JC is a well-told adventure movie that has a pleasantly old-fashioned feeling to it. I highly recommend people to look beyond their low expectations, because although this classic story may feel a bit like science-fiction pulp these days, it is a very entertaining one, and those who can appreciate similar movies like Stargate will probably have a good time with it.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
This documentary has been misrated
I saw this amusing little documentary after listening to a podcast that explained something about the shady dealings of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and how almost the entire income of the American movie industry depends on their cooperation. I already learned that the MPAA is a very mighty organization, despite the fact that it is a completely voluntary system that movie studios and cinema franchises have universally adopted, and was only designed for classifying movies into categories as a guide to parents.
The most entertaining parts of the documentary are the personal experiences of directors who tell about how their movies (initially) received the heaviest rating, the ubiquitously feared NC-17. In practice, this means that no major cinema will show it, no studio will advertise it, and hardly anyone will pay to see it. I am still puzzled by how a protracted sex scene, frontal nudity, homosexual love as well as a female orgasm in film will instantly restrict the movie to audiences of 17 and higher, whereas a violent death or a man being pleasured can be seen by any minor accompanied by an adult. However, if one thing becomes clear, it is that the MPAA is never in a hurry to explain their reasoning and motives.
It is gradually revealed that the MPAA was founded by the six biggest movie studios, and as such, they go much easier on their movies than on independently produced films. As the movie went on, I felt myself swinging between amusement and indignation as the double standards of the MPAA are revealed, as well as their untouchable status, since all their dealings occur in strict anonymity. The official stance of the organization itself is to just staunchly defend this system without any logical reasoning or accountability, much the same way in which they rate movies.
I am less convinced by the makers' attempts to track down and identify these anonymous MPAA members. All it amounts to is that we learn that most of them don't fit the job description given by the MPAA; by that time, we are already convinced that the MPAA is a non-transparent, corrupted organization with limited capacity for self-regulation. It would have been much more informative if the makers had interviewed these people, or at least documented (failed) attempts at that. I also missed the Michael Moore-style 'search for the root of the problem', where we could get some insight into where this inconsistent morale about sex and violence comes from.
In the conclusion, which is a nice example of 'life imitating art', director Kirby Dick submits this movie to the MPAA, and immediately gets an NC-17 for 'sexual content', despite the fact that those scenes are very brief and merely illustrate his point. He is allowed to fight the decision for a board of appeal, but cannot use any scenes of other movies to defend himself, so he looses the appeal. Apparently the MPAA cannot handle a bit of criticism.
Filmmaker John Waters aptly describes the conundrum by saying that the MPAA prides itself on not being a censorship organization. But since it has no official 'rulebook' on what movie content is acceptable for a given rating, there really is no other way for directors than to look at examples of others for guidance. Which is not allowed by the members, who always remain anonymous and only answer to the MPAA itself. Weird.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
A strangely uneven mix of thrills and disappointments
Eight years ago, Cloverfield was a very effective genre mix of Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project. It became a hype that delivered, thanks to a brilliant viral marketing campaign which enticed the audience with shocking images, but without revealing too much of the story itself. I guess it could be called a miracle that the makers were able to wait so long and (undoubtedly) resist studio pressure for a quick sequel, and then produce a successor under the radar, one whose existence wasn't revealed until a few months before the premiere.
That is the good news. The bad news is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a disappointing sequel on many levels. First of all, it isn't even a sequel. Marketing it with creative re-use of the original's title really created some false expectations, because 10CL has nothing to do whatsoever with its predecessor. It has a completely separate story, no familiar characters or locations, and the events of the previous film aren't mentioned or even referenced. In genuine J.J. Abrams 'Lost' style, you would have expected to see something familiar on a TV screen or in a picture frame to connect the dots, but there isn't (apart from a 'Slusho' sign, and there may be a 'Kelvin' reference that I missed, but those don't count). The closest 10CL comes to is a companion piece or side story set in the same universe, but the only small narrative connection to the original (something with a satellite) is such an obscure geeky reference that 99% of viewers will only discover it on this film's trivia page. It would have been great had it started out as something completely separate, and then slowly revealed its connections to the original. This could have created a stand-alone sequel, while still engaging the audience with insider hints. Sadly, the makers missed this opportunity, which isn't entirely surprising, since this movie was originally an unrelated film that was reworked into a Cloverfield successor halfway through.
But still, even a disappointing sequel or side story can be great in its own right. I have enjoyed movies like Hannibal and installments in the Alien and Terminator series that way. I am not fundamentally opposed to the idea of a successor that is completely different in style and execution. No found footage-style cinematography this time, since 10CL is a psychological thriller rather than a adrenaline-fueled creature feature. This is okay as long as it is done well, but here it all felt way too familiar for me. Producer J.J Abrams is certainly no stranger to recycling familiar plots and elements from other movies, but he usually combines or presents them in ways that makes them feel fresh again (just look at Cloverfield, Super 8 and The Force Awakens). Unfortunately, the main plot of 10CL in the bunker is more than a little bit similar to a story arc from the second season of his own series 'Lost', whereas the finale evokes a strong déjà-vu from several better science-fiction movies. Never before did one of his productions feel unoriginal to the point of being worn out.
And there is more to complain. The beginning certainly shows promise, with Mary E. Winstead leaving her apartment with only the score playing. After an adrenaline-spiking accident, the movie shifts back gear to the most boring part of the movie. We are supposed to invest in the trio of characters, but they are too one-dimensional for us to really care. Winstead's character clearly had some relationship issues, but the writers simply fail to use that premise later on to the character's (and story's) advantage. John Goodman is always good as a man who looks and acts like he means well, but can turn violent in a second (it was almost hard not to think of his work in several Coen brothers movies, if I'm honest). The script certainly creates a compelling mystery surrounding his past actions and present intentions, but again, when it is time for the pay-off at the end, the writers simply do not deliver on that promise. John Gallagher is the only one who benefits from a character scene which makes his persona less than the average redneck he starts out to be, and he gives the movie the memorable twist that actually works (more about that later).
There are other good things to be said for the movie. After 45 minutes of boring character introductions, the movie starts to pick up pace and build tension. It was no doubt the creators' intention to keep the audience guessing if the danger comes from outside, or from within, and it works until about 15 minutes before the end. Then we get another twist that answers that question, and although it brings back some of the thrill and adrenalin that Cloverfield had, it simply doesn't feel satisfying; 15 minutes really is too short, and it is such an abrupt change in style and genre that it pretty much reduces the first 90 minutes to an overlong and unimportant prologue. Again, with better writing, the three acts could have been married happily together instead of feeling like three completely separate movies.
So to summarize, 10CL is a bold attempt to extend the cinematic universe from Cloverfield in another direction, but sadly without much of the ingenuity and spark of inspiration that we are used to from J.J. Abrams' team. He calls it a 'blood relative' to the original; I'd say its that slacker of a second cousin twice removed that everyone prefers to ignore. It looks like the Master of Pop Culture himself was too busy with producing and directing The Force Awakens, so if they are making a third one to bridge the first two films, I recommend having him fully back on board.
Embarking again on a glorious adventure in the Zelda series
As I said in my review for the GameCube version of The Wind Waker: this game may not be the best Zelda game there is, but it is a classic adventure that has shaped the future of the series for the best. It took storytelling to a whole new level, and the seeds of later developments in the series, such as an intricate sword fighting system, a less linear narrative and a more active role for supporting characters in the story, can clearly be seen here. I will go as far as saying that there would not have been a Twilight Princess without the Wind Waker, or at the very least it would not have been as good. But when I heard there was going to be a remake for the Wii U, my first thought was that the remake trend that has gone through Hollywood has finally hit the gaming world as well. Despite some detractors, Wind Waker was an artistic success, so why remake it? Was the game too ahead of its time, and would it feel more at home in the 2010s? Could the good people at Nintendo no longer live with the fact that this game was a financial disappointment? Or was the power and interface of the Wii U just something that this game would benefit from?
It is said that the makers created HD demos of multiple Zelda games, and Wind Waker came out as the best. Now I am not entirely convinced that money wasn't a big motivation for this HD remake, but I will fully admit that this is definitely not just a simple high-definition port. Of course, the basic premise of a 3D adventure on a big sea is still intact. Those who did not like the original game will probably not be won over by it now, but those who only had some reservations about it should definitely give it a chance. And those who loved the Cube version should fully embrace it.
The original had a bit of a bad start; an early demo for the GameCube set the wrong expectations, and many fans were unpleasantly surprised with the cell-shaded splendor that Wind Waker had to offer. But those who could (and can) appreciate this less dark and slightly more kid-friendly approach will be blown away by the amazing graphics and lighting effects. The power of the Wii U is used to make the surroundings and textures even more immersive and alive. Whether it is a forest in the full sun, a fiery subterranean temple or the sea surrounded by dark clouds, every scene looks like it comes straight from a big-budget animation studio. Together with the full 5.1 soundtrack, it puts the player right in the middle of the adventure. The backdrop is still a big vast ocean for most of the time, but now you can spot even tiny islands and enemies in the distance. Sailing through a lightning storm with pouring rain never felt so epic, and neither did the swordfighting.
It is good to see that the makers have listened to the complaints about the gameplay. Since sailing can take up such a long time (especially during the sidequests and the inescapable backtracking), they have added an item called the Swift Sail, which can be obtained fairly early in the game. It removes the constant need to change the direction of the wind via the Wind Waker, and greatly increases the speed of the boat. Coupled with the warping system via Cyclones, tedious traveling is a thing of the past. One mandatory mission, the search for the Triforce, has been simplified considerably, so it doesn't take ages anymore. The Wii U pad is used to great effect to control targeting items, such as the Bow, Grappling Hook, Boomerang and Hookshot, so the Wiimote isn't that sorely missed. Maps and the Item menu are also displayed on the Wii U pad, so the act of assigning items to action buttons can be done without pausing. Most of the items used on the boat, such as the Sail, the Wind Waker, the Grappling Hook and the Cannon, even come pre-assigned to quick-buttons, removing the tedious need to equip these over and over again altogether. But perhaps the new element that is most fun is the Tingle Bottle, which can be used to send messages and pictures to other players via the Miiverse. All in all, the game has eliminated many of the elements that used to frustrate and annoy, without sacrificing the difficulty level.
One thing that unfortunately wasn't fixed is the dungeons: there are only seven (the Forsaken Fortress is visited twice, but the first time is more for narrative purposes, so I count it as one). That doesn't sound very small, but there are only three in the main quest before the final one (which has the most awesome and epic finale), and only about four dungeons are really memorable and/or challenging. A lot of the missions in between feel more like fetch quests than legitimate battles. This game is still relatively easy compared to some Zelda installments. It would have been nice if they had done something about that, because like with the Cube version, the player will need to do some sidequests to extend the playing time and get the idea that a true quest has been undertaken.
So taken in account the passage of time, the recent developments in Zelda gaming, and the nice improvements, I award this remake the same score as I did with the Cube version. It isn't a completely different gaming experience, some of its shortcomings are still there, but for those who have pleasant nostalgic feelings to the Great See, this is definitely a must. If the upcoming Twilight Princess HD remake is done just as good, we're in for a treat!
A crowd-pleaser, but one with the full power of the Force!
Let me start by saying: Wow! J.J. Abrams did it again! Like Star Trek before it, Star Wars is ready to take old and new generations of fans on a new journey. This is probably THE Star Wars movie that most people have waited for since Return of the Jedi.
But I have to be frank: I liked the prequels. Don't hold it against me. They have their fans, despite what some say and think. It was George Lucas' attempt to show the bigger picture, the politics of this Galaxy Far Far Away; how it not only revolved around the actions of a few individuals but entire populations and governments. And most importantly, how it could have become an evil Empire. At the very least it enabled us to look at the original films and Darth Vader from another perspective. Unfortunately, the depiction of that era took away a bit of the rugged, dirty and lived in environments and the small, personal storyline that hallmarked the old trilogy. And let's be clear: it is hard to make prequels very surprising and fresh, since we know how they end. Even Peter Jackson had to find that out the hard way.
But, that said, I am very pleased to say that the old feeling is back in full Force. J.J. Abrams always said that he wanted to make a successor in the spirit of the old trilogy, and he succeeded. From Lost, Star Trek, Cloverfield and Super 8, we know how J.J. Abrams is a master in taking old and familiar elements and putting them back together in surprisingly fresh ways, which is exactly what he did here. We are back to a story of exploration, where unassuming heroes venture into unfamiliar territory, the same elements that made the original trilogy so exiting. Fans will be pleased that the road is paved with familiar sights, old friends, and dark, ominous locations which seem far removed from the clean look of the prequels. Politics are conspicuously left out, and the threat of danger is tangible throughout the movie. And a great cast of not-too-well-known actors understands the B- movie nature of the movie without overdoing it (somethings the prequels were notorious for, I'll admit).
If I have to make one obvious point of criticism, it is that it may all feel a bit too familiar. In approaching the old atmosphere and plotting of the original Star Wars, the makers have spared no expense to hint, nod, wink, reference and pay homage to their favorite episodes. The prequels dared to take risks and got into directions that alienated a lot of fans. This episode is playing it much more safe, perhaps a bit too much. If I had a checklist, my guess would be that half the scenes contain a direct reference or re-used plot point from earlier in the series (some more blatant than others). The hardcore fans are guaranteed a nerdgasm virtually every 5 minutes, which explains the extremely favorable first reactions to the movie. At certain points it just becomes a bit too obvious that they want to remind us how cool they are by trying to imitate the cool kids.
But, in all fairness, in the key scenes, it works just fine. There are unforgettable moments that make great use of the previously established legacy that is Star Wars, such as the chillingly solemn epilogue. And they haven't forgotten to bring it with a light touch (leave it to Han Solo and his hairy sidekick!). Some of the crowd-pleasing moments had me laugh, some were so über-geeky that they made me think AND laugh, and others made me cheer like a 9-year-old. And in the truly unique scenes, they manage to find a beating heart in the story, remind us of all the great moments that came before, and present things to keep us guessing for what is to come.
This movie is a good continuation, a great stand-alone movie, as well as a promise for what is to come. Past, present and future well balanced. Can't wait for Episode VIII!