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The Avengers (2012)
What's $200 million without a good story?
What an utter disappointment. Expected so much more substance from Joss Whedon. With so many great characters w/ great stories, you'd think the writers could have put together a good story. But no--that's not what obscenely budgeted films with the sole purpose of setting up a franchise care most about. Everyone's already pointed out all the ridiculous plot problems, so I'll just say that the writers had NO excuse when there's an entire comic series worth of stories to supply all they needed to work things out. A waste of some decent actors and lots and lots of money. (Pretty clear that the only moment Samuel Jackson actually enjoyed was when he got to walk out and blow up one of the jets. He looked bored or in pain for every other mediocre line.) I enjoyed most of the witty one-liners...and that's about it.
Shallow on so many levels...who cares how shiny the CG was or how many things got blown up? The studio may have raked in disgusting amounts of cash based on the hype (and the promise of a great story), but will anything else about this film be memorable? Can't see how Stan Lee would have been pleased...
A disappointing waste of an interesting story
I'd heard an interesting interview w/ Zwick on NPR and thus, looked forward to this film. The reality was utterly disappointing. I couldn't believe how unconvincing and uninvolving it was. But I never was drawn into the story and few of the characters were compelling as they so easily could have been, were the script even a bit better. I watch a lot of foreign films, so I'm usually the last to say a film is boring b/c it's slow--instead, I'd say the poor script, uneven acting, and terrible casting is what did it in. I felt somehow cheated of my $10 when the credits rolled.
Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell, who are both excellent actors, did well with what they were given--in fact, I would have found Schreiber more convincing in the lead role, and it's sad that he didn't get the role due to Daniel Craig's star power being so heavily counted on for the marketing of this film. Craig was, instead, a casting mistake in more ways than one: no WAY could he pass as Schreiber's brother--I know the real Tuvia was supposed to look more white than the others, but I've seen his real photo, and not only did he resemble his brothers--he didn't look even CLOSE to Aryan!) Still, in spite of their commendable efforts to make the often-cheesy script work, the poor choice to make the Jews from Poland and Belarus speak horribly-accented English while the Russians and Germans spoke their native languages was a disaster and hurt the actors' credibility--I thought that the rule of thumb is that you choose one or the other if you don't want to make your film come off as false.
Worse, there was some spectacularly bad acting/lines--almost classic TLC/Hallmark movie stuff...i.e. cheesy choruses of "I'll go." "Me too!" I'll go." "I will also go." Or: "I have a belt." "Me too!" "I have a belt, too." "Take my belt!" The screenwriters also failed many opportunities to develop the other characters, which almost all came off as two-dimensional and sometimes even fake. All the story potential to create moving drama was wasted.
The script stalled and meandered, and failed to make us invest more in the characters. Mediocre photography also didn't help. All this without the fact that there was a ton of tinkering done with the actual historical accounts of these events. The more controversial inaccuracies aside, I still think the melodramatizing and sensationalizing of the story really was a disservice to those who actually lived through it (regardless of whether the brothers were really womanizing bullies or not). Still, it seemed disingenuous to not say "inspired by a true story" in the beginning--instead, now there a ton of people who are taking this Hollywood version as a documentary. Could go on and on, but this was so disappointing on so many levels that there's no point.
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Help! Death by exoticized melodrama!
HATED IT. I should have known better...Written by a white guy from his imagination, adapted by a blonde lady who can't even pronounce Japanese words correctly, directed by a white guy who thinks Japan is exotic...just watch the featurettes on the DVD and listen to them swoon about exotic this and exotic that. I mean, what's worse, all these well-known Chinese/ Chinese-American actors playing Japanese characters or having to speak Engrish with "bad" Chinese accents? I cannot believe that such respected and accomplished actors as Ken Watanabe and Koji Yakusho actually agreed to do this. And I hate that this film further stokes the West's image of Asian women as "exotic." ARRGGGGHH!! The melodrama! Yech! I refused to see this in the theater, but finally agreed to borrow a friend's DVD with an open mind. I thought that at least I would enjoy the visual 'sumptuousness' that I had been told about. But even the visuals were so exoticized. The music was weepy (and I normally love some Yo Yo Ma) and totally out of place. The dialog was totally fake. The only character who was remotely interesting was Pumpkin, emphasis on "remotely." I suspect I would also hate the book, but it seems that this is nevertheless a poor adaptation that is so in love with the visuals and the so-called secret geisha world that it forgets to make the story engaging or the characters realized. Totally lame. And don't get me started on the Engrish.
The Time Machine (2002)
Two different films--I'm opting out of the second
Fans of the Wells novel won't agree with me, but for those of us who who are not fans and know but are uninterested in the old school sci-fi plot line, I think this film's problem is different. I think it would have been terrible if they tried to follow the book exactly--this is one of those books that is so rooted in its era that it should stay a book. To adapt it faithfully would make for a totally hokey film--imagine the weak, wispy Eloi, for example. It's clear that the filmmakers were attempting to update the story by utilizing the FX technology (such as the brilliant 'librarian'). That said, I honestly think this would have been a much better film were it to have not been an adaptation whatsoever, and rather spring-boarded off the book (as in "inspired by" HG Well's novel). The premise is fascinating, and the thought that Alex could have gone to any time is full of possibilities. The bombastic year chosen by Wells just doesn't ring true in 2002.
The result is that the first half of the movie and the second half are pretty much two different worlds, the second being closer to the book but more unbelievable and hokey (consider the Morlocks Attacking Eloi in the Jungle scene--laughable!). The first was so well done (Guy Pierce is great), and the middle is inspired and makes excellent use of FX (i.e. the time-traveling sequence). Then it falls apart. I would love for this have to completely launched into a different story that kept the same feel as that middle section. In a case like this, I think it's better to focus on making a successfully-illustrated story over sticking to a book's elements when you're already diverging quite a bit. I just don't think the book is adaptable in live action...but I do think it might make a highly interesting animated film. Just my two cents.
The Lost Child (2000)
Great Acting, Bad Casting
Such conflict within my soul! Oh the torment! On one hand, the acting in this TV movie is just excellent. Mercedes Ruehl, the lead, is wonderful as Rebecca, as is her husband (Jamey Sheridan), the ever good-lookin Ned Romero as her dad, and Julia McIlvaine as her eldest daughter. So that makes it hard for me to say that the casting ruined the movie.
I simply could *not* get past the fact that Ruehl is supposed to be a full-blood Dine. I was so confused when I realized that neither her mom nor dad was supposed to be white--I assumed the character was half-white. Maybe possibly sorta kinda (given the unpredictability of genetics) Ruehl could pass as half-Dine, but even that's pushing it. She isn't Native at all, although she could certainly 'pass' as a quarter. But not Navajo! (For that matter, a bunch of the Indian actors don't look Navajo at all, but I can get past that because it's so normal (Irene Bedard has played a Navajo role a zillion times, but even she and the other sisters, including the awesome Tamara Podemski, look nothing alike). Even worse, the girl who plays the young Rebecca looks so white that it's jarring to see her in a shot with her birth mother, all while knowing that her dad is supposed to be Ned Romero (who does look Navajo in his old age). I would also complain about casting Julia McIlvaine as her elder daughter, who clearly isn't half Dine but rather could've stepped right off the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria (the younger daughter could presumably have just gotten 80% recessive genes, but she wasn't very convincing either). But this is based on a true story, and indeed, I do know mixed-race families where someone impossibly comes out with blondish hair (like my cousin)...and then there are all those 1/128 blonde Cherokees, of course. But STILL! So hard to get past. And, as great as Mercedes Ruehl was, there are plenty of excellent Native actresses her age who could've been casted instead. Why not Sheila Tousey? She could have totally pulled off this character (and is light-skinned enough to be convincingly racially ambiguous in her prior life). Enough complaining, but I hate that I can't put this on my Good Indian Movies list (see my Listmania) because of this glaring problem. Tragic! Indeed!
On the other hand, because this is based on a true story, there's a great deal of non-Hollywood realism here that I really appreciated. Aside from the totally cheesy Hallmark soundtrack and Wise Indian Elder lines they made Tantoo Cardinal say, the relationships and family dynamics played out with such genuineness, and that's what really makes you care about the story. The cultural dissonance played out really effectively, too, and had enough tension to make you feel it and invest in the characters more. (Although--I felt that some of that dissonance was presented in too much of a one-sided way and could make white viewers see Navajo culture in a negative light.) I'm torn (oh woe!) on the last positive, too...I thought they presented a really broad sense of life on that particular rez from the average school to the community center, but there were also times when I also felt they were kinda making things seem more 'exotic' than they really are. I mean, where were the schoolkids listening to rap? Where was the bingo? But as a whole, I thought the story was engaging and well told. I'm interested in checking out the book now.
It's all about The Balance.
My misuse of the 10/10 is all about Keeping the Balance (said in best Keanu voice).
It seems a certain rabid Hellblazer fan has attempted to spread the non-luv with a zillion reviews saying the same thing about how this ruined the comic and how Keanu is a moron. I totally understand adaptation-disappointment and sympathize. (But come on, give me a break. But it seems that hundreds of people have fallen for these cookie-cutter reviews...unless it's the same person making their neg reviews popular?) Regardless, I think in this case, you have to take the film as it is and not focus so much on comparing it to Hellblazer. Comic/graphic novel adaptations always come out different--they're two totally different visual mediums (there's a good reason Alan Moore doesn't want to do screenplays for adaptations of his books), and I think filmmakers need to be cut some slack for just trying to make a good movie that works on all levels. I think Francis Lawrence and crew (particularly the DP, editor, and production designer) have done an extraordinary job in adapting the medium, even though some Hellblazer fans might fault the adaptation of the content. It's tough to translate the hyperbolic normal of a comic bk world in film--it's a fine line between cheesy and cool when on the screen. But I felt they kept the balance quite impressively. Every moment that had the potential to cross the melodrama-cheese line suddenly cut to something normal/humorous enough that kept it all in amazing balance. In other words, they made that world believable enough to draw you into the story. And aside from the wasp-demon's face (the one bad egg), the CG was great. There's a ton of it, but it doesn't feel that way; it was generally very organic and melded into the fabric of the production design.
With said fine line (between cheesy & cool) in mind, the acting was great for the most part (and I disagree with Mr. Write-a-zillion-reviews/Enemy-of-all-that-is-Keanu--I think this was one of Honsou's more unimpressive performances--he sounded like he was reading his lines). It's why I think Keanu, for all the bashing he gets, is really a rather good actor on average. A hell of a lot easier to do scenes where you don't have to talk about dragon-breath and fight with halfbreed CG characters and make melodrama believable--and just play an ordinary character in the ordinary world like our more celebrated celebs are so often celebrated for doing. I found his of Constantine to have depth--not so simple to interpret when your character is a guarded, solitary, hardened person. Despite the fact that the Matrix comparisons are the first to be thrown around, I'm thinking that casting Keanu for the role was equally, if not more about his performance in The Devil's Advocate. (Which was one of his better films, methinks. Actually, I thought there were some similarities in terms of how these films dealt with supernatural horror elements--it's an accomplishment to make those elements legit and powerful enough without the gratuitous creepiness that makes a lot of typical horror obnoxious/manipulative/cheap...IMO, of course.) And back to the script and directing--I felt it was solid all the way through. Deleted scenes say a lot for a director--it's praiseworthy when every one of them would've really hurt (or even ruined) the film as a whole and got scrapped, re-shot, or heavily re-edited. I'm impressed with Francis Lawrence, who didn't have mounds of experience, but really crafted a satisfying, intricately balanced (heh-heh), non-cliché story out of all the elements at hand--and even more so as the subject matter (heaven/hell, evil, salvation, etc) is a heavy and delicate one.
This is an adaptation that works in capturing the spirit of a very broad, layered story medium and crafting it into a more compact yet more visually-layered story medium. I really hate that I listened to the din of purists (and all those who like to parrot/regurgitate the "wooden" Keanu diss..."wooden"? Come on.) and didn't catch the film in the theater. This one's a keeper.
Pay close attention to the village Storyteller's story
Before you decide whether or not to see this film, I would highly suggest going to the movie website and reading at least the first half of the copious production notes--it will give you a much deeper perspective.
===Quick interjection: If you don't want to read this review, just keep in mind that if you pay close attention to the story told by the village's old Storyteller towards the beginning of the film, you'll have a 'deeper perspective' of the film as a whole.=== Without knowing about the production, Gibson's attitude toward the topic, or having a little background in Mayan art and culture, I might not have been as satisfied with the film-- and this is probably somewhat of a flaw. Coming from an indigenous perspective, I worry that many will walk away thinking that the Mayas were a "horrid" culture (as one Yahoo reviewer said--rather simplistically, I might add) based only on the sacrifice scenes and the characters of the Holocane warriors-- and that it wasn't such a bad thing that the conquistadors were about to come and wipe out the majority of them.
However, if you consider that the story takes place at the "end"-- when many aspects of the civilization were spiraling due to the greed of a few leaders who had a great deal of power, you'll get a less black and white picture. Step back and allow the Maya to be human-- and you'll see a larger story here that speaks--sometimes in hyperbole-- to any 'civilization.' We're quick to criticize others without seeing the tree in our own eyes obstructing our vision. And this is exactly what the conquistadors did-- why they smeared the name of "God" in blood-- not a far cry from a manipulative priest who cuts out beating hearts while claiming to know what "God" is saying.
I can only hope that whatever viewers' reactions are, they'll be compelled to learn more about this time in history to get a better understanding as to why those at the peak of superficial success are often on the cusp of a downfall.
In the end, I honestly believe Gibson has paid respect to the Maya of old by allowing them to be human. Hopefully, we'll be willing to emerge from the theatre open to dialogue.
The Nativity Story (2006)
Finally: a non-cheesy Nativity with a Worthy Cast
I knew things were sounding promising when the cast began to come together--people with shining credentials like Keisha Castle-Hughes, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shaun Toub, Ciaran Hinds, Alexander Siddig. Aside from the ethnically-flexible Ciaran Hinds (who is a perfect Herod, by the way) notice this glory: we finally have a true-to-history non-white Nativity cast! Add to that Catherine Hardwicke's obvious background as a meticulous production designer and a beautifully nuanced, human, and creative script, and you have one more of the very few worthy biblical films to make up for the loads of tacky (albeit well-meaning) ones.
This is a subtle film (except for the blatantly arranged crèche scene near the end!) that is marked with revelatory acting. Castle-Hughes is the perfect balance of reality and the extraordinary-- I think that a second viewing will show that she was not being "sulky" or emotionless but rather real--in Mary's culture a girl her age would not be given to loud displays of emotion; I feel she took an introspective approach and we westerners are interpreting it as being 'not religious enough' or emotional enough. And Oscar Isaac--the most unrecognizable name in the main cast-- is simply stunning as Joseph. His performance is so evocative, insightful, and moving, I would say he's managed to shed light on history itself (I'm looking forward to seeing him in the upcoming "Guerilla"). I predict more lead roles for Isaac and applaud the casting director for casting him. Shohreh Aghdashloo shines in a supporting role as the joyful and large-hearted woman that Elizabeth undoubtedly was. (And the treatment of the "John" story is refreshing in general.)
And again, the production design was just fabulous in an understated way, as was the majority of the direction. As others have said, you really do feel 'transported' into the characters' culture throughout most of the story. It's the details that cause most of the characters to cease to be the near-caricatures they have been made into for ages, and I would say that just for that alone this film is worth the attention of the not-Christian movie-going crowd. Of course, to be fair, there are subjective flaws which have been well-detailed in some of the more negative reviews here (and I hear them--they have some good points)--my personal complaints being the crèche scene, the Magi time-discrepancy and their not-as-believable 'office'/clothing, and Gabriel's costume design/treatment (he didn't look like a warrior as angels-in-human-appearances are supposed to look but instead rather culturally-angelesque). But if the big critics would put aside the cultural baggage of the last, say, 2000 years-particularly the last 6 (I know--NOT an easy task!), they might have recognized the merits of this film before completely writing it off.
Tears of the Sun (2003)
Succeeds in accomplishing high aim to communicate the indiscriminate value of all people
In spite of critics' complaints (come on--you certainly CAN become an American citizen by marriage!), Tears of the Sun is a successful film on many levels. Of course the conflict details are fictional-- but the details are far from the point of the story; the filmmakers obviously wanted to rather portray the heart of similar conflicts in Africa (such as Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan) that the West has largely ignored. Thus, the underlying question is: why do we turn a blind eye to such injustice? Could it be that we think Africans are worth less than those with white skin or lucrative natural resources? The filmmakers succeed in causing us to care without over-manipulation, to the point that we must agree with the SEAL who says, "I can't see them as 'packages' any more." While I felt it was overly brutal for the viewer to watch so many of the SEALs die in the course of the mission (as American movie watchers, we like as many of the 'good guys' to stay alive-- we're only willing to let a couple go for the sake of realism), it drives home this truth: the lives of the refugees they were protecting were just as valuable as theirs. Even though viewers are more familiar with the American characters than the majority of the Nigerians' characters, this equality in value is successfully made clear. In the end, we find ourselves, along with the Lieutenant (Willis), understanding why the doctor (Belucci) was unwilling to save her own life while leaving the others to die--their lives were worth just as much as our own. The quote at the end of the film leaves us with this problem to consider as we face our real-life world, just as embroiled in violence and injustice: "The only thing necessary for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
The Doe Boy (2001)
Randy Redroad's 'debut' is astounding.
Randy Redroad's 'debut' is astounding. The story is subtle but incredibly strong and emotionally-charged. It's about the struggles of self-identity, father-son relationships, reconciliation, and healing. There is no melodrama or cliché in this film-- it's entirely refreshing. The dialogue is terrific-- often hilarious, never trite. James Duval totally possesses his character and draws you into Hunter's story-- his performance is really beautiful. Anyone at all who's mixed-blood in some way can strongly relate to this story, but I think its detailed uniqueness actually reaches that point of being universally accessible. I don't think anyone can see this film without relating with Hunter or caring immensely what happens. This is one of those 'must-see/must-have' films for anyone who values good stories.