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Awesome facial CGI. Weak and bungled screen writing.
No amount of progress in CGI facial expressions can make up for an unimaginative story and a clumsy script. A better screenwriter could have done so much more with this premise. As it stands, this is just another example for film class on an over-reliance of technique over substance.
It was impressive to see a vaguely chimpanzee face make human expressions. There are lots of micro-expressions and nuances a human viewer could appreciate. They clearly worked very hard at it. They are clearly very proud of it. But after a while the movie seemed like a demo-reel for those wizards. It is no surprise that the extras go straight into a facial CGI documentary slash fundraiser.
The dialog is trite and uninspired. And this just draws attention to how far the art has to go. The uncanny valley is wide. We have not crossed o'er. The walking, running, fighting, falling, are all still campy and cartoonish. If it only told a good story then maybe this movie would not be unwatchable in another ten years.
Total Recall (2012)
2012 Effects, Age 12 script.
Big disappointment. Compared to Ahhrnold's version, this remake had 100x the effects budget, 0.01x the writing budget. A full 20% of the script lines contained or consisted of "C'mon."
Excellent ideas and effects though, wowwee. Elevator between UK and Australia is visually brilliant and interesting. No one on set grasped more than a 4th grade level of geology and physics, but hey, it's still fun.
Colin Farrell, hang a WTF sign around his neck, and you could trim 75% of his camera time. Jessica Biel is underutilized. As is Bryan Cranston.
And oh the lovely Kate Beckinsale. She's the difference between 2 star and 3 star, though I'm not sure in which direction. Let's see, cop, ex-wife, corrupt, gorgeous, ruthless, slavish to the main villain, salon hair. Pick two, or four at the outside, but never saddle her with all seven. Dude that's just rude.
Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Independence day, with less story, worse writing, and More Orchestra
Starts out very entertaining with the ideas and great visual effects but waxes maudlin often. Sloppy pacing, hasty parts interleaved with lazy parts are jarring. Besides the viewer wanting to yell "get moving" it just seems as if the director and crew filmed some parts after coffee, and others after having a huge carb-heavy lunch and skipped their nap.
Why does the dialog hurt? It's not only painful to watch soldiers standing idle while the battle isn't finish, but they're listening to a self-righteous, sappy speech from a middle-school play. Independence Day was maudlin and middle-school simplistic too, but that story had a backbone. This story could be summarized in 20 seconds. And half of that would be "like Independence Day but less cool". Overused, loud, pushy orchestral score.
Light Touch within a Light Touch
The dialog has that rare combination of smart, quirky, and subtle that is such a thirst-quencher for the intellectual. This is the thinking man's Marty. No, I had never heard of it either, but it might do you well to get a little familiar with the 1955 movie with Ernest Borgnine before watching this one, e.g. the excerpts on YouTube. And not only because the plot talks about a remake.
Jeff Garlin, charming, never maudlin.
Sarah Silverman is her thoroughly attractive self. As the lead says, what can he do, he likes them young and insane. When she's uncomfortably over-the-top, it's the character's fault, not the actor's.
Bonnie Hunt, what can I say, she is never less than a treat with a cherry on top.
The main thing I'd add to the excellent reviews by Ed Uyeshima and CountryJim: pay close attention. The last three minutes say an awful lot. The big twist in the middle left me feeling abandoned. The denouement at the end tied me back in.
China Beach: Hello Goodbye (1991)
What Makes A Woman Happy?
The shrewdness of the series-finale episode took me a while to appreciate, as decades-long as the fictional time-line 1967-1985 itself. The premise seems simple enough, almost sophomoric: why did nurse-protagonist, cool-hottie, teflon-hearted-superwoman Colleen McMurphy end up with the guy she did? Veteran character-actor and generic nice-blob Adam Arkin plays her husband. They awkwardly meet three regular characters from her past at a reunion, and all are not-so-thinly-veiledly, shamelessly, still in love with McMurphy. Like a morality play, there's Dr. "Security" Richard, "Pretty Boy" Boonie, and "Manly Man" Dodger. Each in turn makes it plain, subtle or no, that his heart yet pines for McMurphy. Simple apparent answer: if only she could have found a man who combined the best of each of her flawed suitors. Is that why she rebuffed them all? Did she settle?
The men's-room scene seems about to propel milquetoast husband right down pathetic lane. He's so desperately trying to find his well-stalked wife that he's looking in the men's room? Does he expect to discover an illicit tryst of the most tacky form? Long pause builds the tension. But then that bubble pops in Whedonesque style when she answers "over here". What the? There she is in the last stall with the door open, fully matronly clothed.
Where the writing U-turns is his reaction. He does not shout in horror, what are you doing in a men's room. Nor does he clarion for retreat before shameful discovery. Instead he does something so ordinary as to be extraordinary: small talk. This elicits the calmest of incongruity-belying responses from the overstimulated McMurphy. By banal conversation he makes the moment sublime: these two have an understanding. The palpable audience tension starkly contrasts the character ease. The inevitable discovery sees our heroes coolly toasting some vintage dry wit, sardonic banter at the expense of a stunned young restroom patron. Here begins the answer, this is no ordinary couple.
Here we approach the heart of What A Woman Wants, or actually the oft-confused co-conundrum: What Makes A Woman Happy. It wasn't safety. Not good looks nor fun-lovingness. Neither rugged grit. And it certainly wasn't mere devotedness, which all suitors exhibited in abundance. Not even all these qualities combined. Here's what Colleen really wanted all along: 1. Don't judge me, accept me as I am and as I become. 2. Care about me, be proverbially there when I need it, and 3. Make me laugh.
Even the husbandly exit from the men's room scene is telling: he leaves a few seconds after a diligently-coaxed smile relaxes McMurphy's battle-furrowed brow at last. So this was her knight's chivalrous goal. For what other refuge is there from man's worst, as well as from mankind's worst? The worst of war's experience is not witnessing injury or death. It's not even cruelty, perverse savagery, indifference, nor incompetence. It's when those base emotions are so commonly amok as to reflect the same in the observer. It's not the calloused view down into the bleak abyss, it's the callous-evidenced complicity in having helped dig it. The only way out of an overload of abhorrence is the overdose of absurdity that is humor. And, quite simply, the man who delivered it won her heart. McMurphy knew this all too well when she left China Beach and left all her beaus behind. She ultimately answered the question of the series through her chosen's actions.
Two Minute Rewind Button
What would life be like if you could rewind two minutes whenever you wanted? You'd tell everyone ELSE that you can SEE two minutes into the future. But for YOU, what it FEELS like is a skip-back-2-minutes button on life, the universe and everything. This movie unfolds that point slowly, and competently, blending outsider to insider perspectives. That's the real storyline and it satisfies. OK I just spoiled the plot, but wait not really (inside joke). Watch for that issue to climax and I believe (hope) it'll be more satisfying.
This is an original idea fleshed out thoughtfully with some pretty people doing it. That's the non-formula formula Hollywood should be practicing as if it were about to be eclipsed by YouTube anyway. I'll agree there are a few lines of dialog that seem hacked by high-schoolers. And the love story is weak on both sides, too devoted too fast. "Wait, who are you again? Oh right, I guess I am completely in love with you too." Minus two points. Still darn entertaining. Not artsy fartsy nuancy original, just a refreshingly new idea: how one simple ability would, in vicariously rich detail, transform a life, from little benefits (knowing what pickup lines will fail on a girl) to huge (saving the world). I normally hate abrupt endings, but not this time. This movie could have gone on and on and on for like forever because of the two minute rewind thing, and there was just no way out but quick, like a bandaid.
And by the way Biel is such a cutie. Shallow, I know, but this movie is a nice buffet of little things: her exotic Euro-Choctaw face in its prime, lots of masterfully crafted details in dialog and setting, flashbacks satisfyingly filling in the cracks, even some cool special effects. Just how would *you* deal with a dozen trucks falling down the hill toward you AND a pretty FBI agent? Well, with the unlimited do-over thingy, you don't even need to look. They had some fun with this one.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
Exposition uses dialog to inform. Propaganda uses media to influence. Since proposition is already taken, I suggest "Expoganda", the playwright scripting of righteous indignation.
Plato did it, but skillfully drawing more attention to subject than technique. Others call this movie's dialog "wooden". Yes, it was eerie. I expected the characters of the three story lines would at any moment turn and face the camera and start dressing me down, you impressionable viewer you. If we lived in a totalitarian state with a well-fettered press, this movie would not stand out as it does. Entertainment for once taking a back seat to Earnestness.
The military story was the most entertaining, or shall we say it started that way. It was the vital, clingy thread, the most must-know-outcome.
Cruise and Streep were the most vividly shamelessly earnest. In a morality play their characters might have been named, Ms. Press and Mr. Government, personifying the eye-sideway selfish interests, open-mouth epiphanies, and thrust-jaw opportunities for redemption of their respective ilks. What was he thinking? Indeed. Well maybe, just maybe, Redford knew exactly how starkly preachy this work would stand out and left his prime message for that level: know when you're being handled. Over the top, I know, but apparently that's fashionable now. So long as you know you're doing it.
Return to Me (2000)
Bonnie Hunt's career masterpiece
This movie bursts with masterfully crafted humor. Writing, direction, acting, this is how it was all meant to be. From the old guys at the bar to the oversexed couple (Belushi & director Hunt), every character is vivid and lovable and supremely funny. Makes other comedies seem half-baked.
Also works very well as a love story. If you don't fall in love with Minnie Driver you have no heart (insider joke). And I took special enjoyment in the Irish/Italian restaurant "family". A life with such friendship and rewarding work is to be envied. Bonnie must understand this for a reason.
The Skeleton Key (2005)
Creepy, Twisty, Deliciously Rich (but cheesy too)
It took many discussions afterward to unravel. I love that. The eerie sensations of "something's not right" and "this is not what it seems" were developed with skill, and paid off with satisfying original surprises. I still don't understand what was the deal with those mirrors... Annoying how nosy the main character got, but you know even that had good reason, thinking back just now. (See what I mean?) The bleak cinematography of New Orleans makes one eager for new houses and high, dry ground. Which makes for good entertainment: immersion. Pace is slow at first but kept alive by a well honed creepy-factor. Special effects were cheesy (by 2005 standards) when needed most.
The Village (2004)
Exquisitely Crafted Moments, of Love, of Terror -- Less is More
Less is more. I had to watch twice, over a long passage of time, to realize the REAL reason I loved this movie so much.
The plot had some very fulfilling and original contours to it, yes, that's what I thought made it great at first. But the real core of the movie is a series of gentle interactions. Each one is about drawing meaning from what does *not* happen. Less is more. Ivy to Lucius: "Sometimes we don't do things we want to do so that others won't know we want to do them." She's not telling him she loves him, only how she knows he loves her, which amounts to the same thing. But you don't really know she's right until you hear Lucius tell the same principle to his mom, to explain how he knows his mom is loved by Edward. Later her test of the principle, and her sliver of a smile, gives her secret away too.
Less-is-more is also part of the primary plot. The fear that grips the village, particularly the children, is amplified by the scarcity and subtlety of interaction with "Those We Do Not Speak Of". Ha, even that name attempts to say more with less. But the REAL moral of this story, and the whole purpose of the village, is to provide a space for moments like Ivy-Lucius-Alice-Edward to happen. For less-is-more to distill the human spirit to purest essence. Every great movie is made great by a few moments. Seconds out of hours, opening up human vastness. To say Shyamalan crafts them masterfully is saying too much. I wish I could say less.
Music (Maker) Lover's Delight
Beautiful music, and even more beautiful portrayal of a music-lover. The main character Lily's love oozes off the screen and shames everyone who's ever made a tape or CD music collection with far less effort and trial -- and persistence. No less beautiful is the love that catches fire between the leads, and where it takes them.
If you believe music, not to mention love, should be near the helm of your ship, you will savor the textures of this surprisingly fine home-made wine of a story. If you've also ever loved simple folk music, then that will be sinfully delicious icing on the cake. Hat's off to the crew for this very-obviously (and satisfyingly successful) labor of love.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Rich Stories, enough Breathtaking Visuals for 10,000 posters
Rarely will you see a movie made with such exquisite attention and competence to the craft -- the same self-mastery that the lead characters are supposed to have as itinerant soldiers. There are two love stories, and they both work, absolutely beautifully. The cinematography is so good this movie should have 10,000 posters. The overdone satisfies: a lady does not spill her tea while defeating twenty attackers; leap from a roof with no pain and no sound, who couldn't use that ability? The team even expertly flaunts the limitations of the effects (such as a swordfight up and down live bamboo).
The End of Violence (1997)
Cruelly abrupt movie about a cruelly abrupt movie
Great actors, characters and story building up to a dissatisfying oh-my-god-it-can't-be-yet ending. It's almost a cruel joke that in the movie is an aborted movie production. Am I just not deep enough to see the point? I must be so shallow that it seems like the original writer/director/producer team were all shot before the movie was done and the cleanup crew left more loose ends than a tide of Malibu seaweed. There is a beautiful little existential paradox and message. But we were so much enjoying the story and all the substories and loving the characters that to just quit on us like it did was cruel. The inbred credits led me to expect a much more coherent wrap up.
Children of Men (2006)
a sublime Sound amid Silence amid Mayem
(No spoilers here, but I write this for who you'll be immediately after you see this movie.)
Movies fulfill in sublime moments, as lives. This delivers well. An unmistakable silence in the middle of mayhem, of awe among the hopeless. In a scene dripping and oozing with metaphor and morale, for parents of grown children, for nations with stale enmities. Pay attention, this isn't a movie you'll want to see twice. Even the shockingly beautiful English countryside (a sensuous curved road through a tall tree forest) impacts most fresh. The movie skillfully delivers in other ways: plot twists that surprise without making too little sense. Character development, from girl to mother, from fool to hero. Oh yes, the violence, tragedy and despair overflow. Urban war intentionally, indelibly palpable.
But in the middle of it all comes a sound. And I'm still not even sure what it was it said exactly, but it spoke to me. What do you think it would feel like to hear for the first time the cry of a baby?
My Date with Drew (2004)
The most understated climax - delivers a most powerful punch
Essential to good storytelling are conflict and climax. Win versus lose is so engaging because life means not knowing whether you'll get what you want. It reaches the heights of living when a long struggle is capped by a moment. This movie works when it delivers both conflict and climax. It's so pleasing to see them delivered in wholly fresh ways. Brian is a filmmaker first and a stalker second. Had to be that order, or you couldn't stand to watch this story.
It's great the way he involves his friends. It's great to hear about the threads in his life with her name on them. Here is someone committed to doing something new and unconventional. He bends and breaks rules (maybe laws too) with refreshing self-honesty. You want to see him win. There's no escaping the conflict. This movie makes you wonder, and you have to know: Does he get the date? The best moment is pre-climactic. It sneaks up on you but it's inescapable. I've never seen it done so subtle and so natural. The answer to the conflict comes without words, without action, with hardly motion or sound at all. Watch for it. In his face. And then tell me who shouldn't count their lives in moments like that. Moments when you find out whether you get what you want.