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Mother! (2017)
10/10
Allegorical Descent into Anger
27 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Expectations and frame of mind matter, and based off people's reactions, I came into Mother! expecting something like my experience with Knight of Cups -- a visually arresting and self-involved film that I was mostly just glad managed to get produced in this Age of Marvel, but otherwise didn't care for and wouldn't need to see again. I did not go in expecting to 'like' this movie so much as respect it.

Instead, I loved it. I enjoyed almost every minute of it. It's pretty much the sort of experience I look to cinema for, and the sort of experiences that are the reason I'm into film in the first place. If movies like this didn't exist, I would mostly stick to other media.

I think there are legitimate criticisms of this movie -- I personally didn't like the ending, largely coming from a place that I disagree with Aronofsky's beliefs in a cyclical universe (that he showcases in The Fountain and Pi as well, so I know it's his thing). But that disagreement comes from the statements he was making, rather than the fact that he was wrong to attempt to make them.

As for what that statement is, if it isn't clear earlier, it's transparent by the time the frog bounces out from the blood-dripping wall that we're in allegory logic, the space where characters are types of energy and cause-effect is metaphysical as opposed to any sort of Newtonian rules-based system. The topic of that allegory is about as much about motherhood as Finnegans Wake is about a funeral; it's a reworking of the Bible the way Finnegans Wake is a reworking of Genesis; it's a rip-off of Rosemary's Baby the way Finnegans Wake is a rip-off of Tristan and Isolde; and it's a criticism on the egoism of fame the way Finnegans Wake is a criticism of alcoholism. Let this statement not stand as a comparison of QUALITY -- Finnegans Wake is incomparably better a work than Mother! -- but I use the analogy because too many negative reviews of this affix their criticism to only one track with complete dismissal of the others. But the whole is larger than the parts.

Where you go from there is a largely angry, exasperated, and fearful mood piece about the self-destructive and bestial behavior of human beings, with a question mark as large as the titles exclamation point about why God lets all that happen, and finally a bittersweet and sort of hopeful / cynical exhaustion over the idea that it all renews to happen all over again. Take from that what you will and experience the rest for yourself.

As for entertainment value, after decades of engaging on the subjects of tastes, entertainment, and escapism, I've learned I'm more at a loss than anything at understanding why brain-splodey headshots, squiddy toilet monsters, and cult rave raid battles fail the spectacle any more than space wizards, superheroes, and murderous clowns. I enjoyed just watching the movie, I didn't have to analyze it to fill the time of experiencing it. I have nothing I can offer there but vague platitudes about the unaccountability of taste and something about target audiences. If it's not your thing, I know I'm not going to convince you.

But there are two arguments against this movie that are invalid.

People are complaining that Mother! is too 'stylized.' Mother!'s camera is a forced perspective -- just to the side of POV (of which there are a few key shots punctuated about), the visuals of the movie reside entirely in the peripheral vision of the main the character. This isn't too stylized, this is something ONLY CINEMA CAN DO. You don't get that uncanny feeling of something just out of your vision in any continual protracted sense from any other medium. If that's forbidden from cinema based on your arbitrary rules of 'style', then cinema ceases to have anything interesting going for it. One reviewer who liked it quite a bit mentioned "It makes you desperate for a wide shot". Who else felt desperation? The main character.

People are complaining that Darren Aronofsky is pretentious. If only more directors were pretentious, so that we'd get these visceral experiences that sent the audience I was sitting with (sold out show, post-bad reviews and flopping news) cringing, gasping, groaning, gagging, and eventually tumbling out onto the street talking about it -- love it or hate it.

Pretentious is a movie designed only to sell toys claiming some universal meaning because it follows the beats prescribed by Joseph Campbell without reading the book to learn that the format is only the capsule -- meaning is the capsule's filler. Stylized is a movie throwing three layers of lens flare and grading firmly orange teal to avoid laying bare the overcoverage that allows the producers to undercut the director and DoP. Mother! was a movie made by a person's decision to risk it with a personal voice. I'd rather watch movies with a voice I hate than a movie lacking voice at all.
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In Time (2011)
7/10
Topical and blunt but people are still talking about the concept for a reason.
4 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The concept intrigued me immediately, as Niccol's concepts tend to do, and by now it is clear that audiences on this one are going to be divided in those who love the idea and those too turned off by the heavy-handedness of the message. The concept is time is money--literally. The message is that the rich 1% gain immortality off of the very brief and stressful lives of hundreds of thousands of poor. It's hard to watch this movie without Occupy Wall Street in mind.

Future generations removed from that context may have a lot more fun with it, in how the story is realized. Because it is in the way the characters think and deal with issues of time that this movie really flows, and Niccol handles it well. Phrases such as, "Don't waste my time," "We don't have time to just stand around," prostitutes: "I'll give you ten minutes if you give me an hour," waitresses, "You're not from around here, you're in too much of a hurry"... even stock quotes from movies rendered with a whole new meaning--that's where a lot of the beauty of this movie is.

Part of the issue is that Niccol didn't spend a whole lot of time on the type of background detail that would fill out an equivalent science fiction production like, say, _Soylent Green._ (I mean that pun about him not spending time, by the way. In places you can tell this movie's budget was spread really thin). Since there are no garbage men to pick up the bodies (say, for the pay of an hour per body), or traffic jam riots, or things like that, most of the realization of the concept of time is in the direct dialog and conflict of the characters. The dialog is a little audacious--in a way that's going to turn some audiences right off, whereas I think it was pretty wonderful, even in the places it got cheesy. There are a couple-few lines that are, however, completely groan-worthy: "Do you even know HOW to drive?" (Chicka, homeboy's just been driving for the last half-scene or so, so yes). Expect lines like those as fodder for those who couldn't stomach the more political ham-fistedness of the film.

Because, yeah, this movie is heavy-handed, in a way that is sort of disappointing considering Niccol's work on movies like Gattaca and The Truman Show. I think he gets kudos for embracing his concepts seriously, but could stand to work on his subtlety. So okay, Will's character and Weis' character are at opposing ends of the rich aristocrat social Darwinist/poor socially conscious hero dynamic. The two heroes are essentially Bonnie and Clyde in Logan's Run-land. That's fine. I think the biggest issue is that the "system" described isn't filled out enough for us to know how it's supposed to break down, and that the situations like the "Minutemen" and "Timekeepers" being entirely self-aware of their complicity in the system does not fit a verisimilitude with the mafias and police officers they stand in for.

Otherwise who cares? The movie still makes you think about things like whether the time you spend working is worth the time you gain from it, what the "cost of living" really is, and if the increased danger of death is worth the time saved by speeding--common-day questions rendered strictly of essence in this movie, showcased by common idioms turned significantly important to daily lives.

So all in all, good movie, potentially crippled by being a little too topical and a little less than subtle.

--PolarisDiB
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Ra.One (2011)
8/10
Ravaan vs Giwan
28 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I got the pleasure of catching this in Dubai with an Indian friend with an International audience, so my experiences with it are going to be different and possibly more pleasurable than a typical Western audience is going to experience. The people laughed and cheered and clapped and actually dug the movie for the fun it is, which for some reason in the West is considered bad manners (audience to fit the movie: if you're watching something serious and contemplative by all means everyone should be quiet and respectful, but when you're watching this, if you're not cheering you're doing it wrong).

This movie is India's current biggest budget feature starring Shahrukh Khan upstaging Endhiran for budget and featuring a cameo of its star Rajnikanth. Both are silly effects filled bonanzas but Khan owns his own visual effects company that put to work some real Hollywood level stuff--in fact in my opinion upstaged Hollywood a little bit, if only because this movie still had some intent toward honest storytelling and didn't feel too rehashed/retread. Otherwise this Bollywood is pure Hollywood, and those who look to foreign lands to escape the entrapment of the commercial cinematic field are going to be disappointed. That said, hey, this movie is a lot of fun. It is some seriously epic stuff.

Shahrukh Khan is a game developer who, to win the heart of his son, creates a villain Ra-One ("Ravaan", a multifaced demon) supposedly more powerful than the hero. Of course, the father knows that good is more powerful and designs the game to be winnable, but unfortunately the AI in the video game becomes self aware and uses new 3D projection technology to break out in the real world to hunt down the son like an Indian T-1000. Daddy done gets himself kill't but he's left behind an avatar in the form of G-One ("Giwan", heart) to protect child and mother from a macabre end. It's all action, song and dance, and Pinocchio wants to be a real boy from there.

And it's AWESOME. The movie is split into two parts with intermission, and the first part is really much better than the second, but the movie is filled with memorable scenes and performances, the effects look good, Shahrukh Khan gets some laughs as a robot, and positive messages are learned about the power of your heart, rejecting evil, and not smoking. Indian movies I've seen are not afraid to be sentimental so this movie has a bit of that, but if Western audiences can get passed their snark they'll probably enjoy those sequences too. Khan was interviewed in Dubai saying this is a family friendly movie but I have to say there was one Demolition Man like sequence that may be worth reconsidering--a good movie for preteens and up.

I like the line about Ravaan having to be killed again because he isn't dead. Good stuff.

--PolarisDiB
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The story of a woman who is destroyed by raising a sociopath.
28 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This movie ranks a damn fine 8 or 9 for "realistic portrayal" because Kevin shows much of what we understand about sociopaths today: a deep-bred lack of empathy, perhaps a little charisma, a lot of manipulation, impenetrable self-involvement, and a calculated disinterest in the well-being of others. Focusing on his face is, as Ramsay points out in the "To watch me" monologue, basically the reason why we're here to see this movie. Behind the stone-faced villainy we want to see the mechanics of a brain we still do not understand.

The story is great because it sets mother and sociopath at a balanced mutual antagonism and draws frequent parallels between them, but does so while fully and clearly deconstructing the "Well it's the parents' fault" easy-way-out people take. Movements between Eva and Kevin are matched, sometimes as pure graphical matches and jump cuts, though a part of that may also refer to most of the story being told through Eva's flashbacks.

Kevin is a great character because he sets out to destroy his mother and his father and does so in the most complete way possible. With the mother he exploits the mutual antagonism into true long-term debilitating stress, and with the father he wins his heart and manipulates him; best of all, this turns mother and father against each other instead of against Kevin. Kevin is a great sociopath because he is able to push the punishment and the blame off onto someone else via his manipulation. He uses the fondness of his father, his sister, and so on. His sister never speaks out against Kevin despite Kevin's bullying, because Kevin moderates his voice to make it sound fond. Kevin also has absolutely no real interests of his own except watching the destruction that he creates.

He is good enough to let his mother in, in a few poignant sequences, so that she still has hope for him. Despite the constant stress and antagonism, it is clear that she still is blind to the wider implications of his behavior as well as still deeply down wants him to care for her. It is in the few moments that those are revealed that the movie has its sort of most tragic and horrifying aspects, save the foreshadowed endgame.

Kevin's sort of true-to-form self-congratulatory nature and I would say realistic ethical nihilism could create a bit of nitpicking in terms of the usual nitpicks about this subject matter: that it mythologizes the sociopath, that Ramsay criticizes the audience for being interested in watching the subject matter while still portraying the subject matter, etc. Kevin's "…to watch me" monologue was a definite moment of pushing a larger thematic point that the drama survives well without.

My problem with the movie involves much of the rest. The first fifteen minutes of the movie or so is an absolute mess. It takes Ramsay that long, really, to know where to start the movie—she jumps between flashbacks within flashbacks while playing camera tricks like long focus-pulls, disconcerts the viewer with non-synced audio, ratchets up noise to bothersome levels, and shoots a fragmentary hand-held. All of these things are obviously purposeful, and the larger mood she seems to be aiming to create is the headache of Eva as the narrative opens. John Cassavetes can be held as an example of someone who purposefully crafts a feature to upset and discomfort the viewer without turning the viewer against the movie itself. The greater, longer lasting, and really more important negative emotional aspects of this movie are within the drama and pain of the characters and Kevin's slow, terrifying development, whereas Ramsay's more abstract interludes of color and soft focus and shakiness and grating, irritating noises and music actually upset that otherwise carefully crafted feeling. I think it does no service to the movie.

The movie had a very good series of sequences punctuating the flashbacks that involved Eva cleaning up red paint splashed against her house. But Ramsay intercuts those sequences and the flashback sequences as well with other trips in timeline. Each segment holds a revelation and it's not like the fractured structure is completely useless, but underneath a lot of the noise is a much more elegant and un-self-conscious movie. It was that underlying movie that I liked more than the whole production itself.

--PolarisDiB
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1984 (1984)
7/10
More homage than adaptation
30 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It's interesting, but when watching an adaptation of a novel I do not often come to the conclusion that the adaptation is a good "homage." By the very nature of adaptation it would seem the filmmaker has to pay homage to the book, but 1984 seems to be the singular film to have that distinction.

Orwell's 1984 needs little introduction--in a world where not many people read more than a book a year, most people still acknowledge the references and understand the general gist of 1984, even if their pop-culture induced intertextuality or straight-up Cliff's Note night-before-the-high-school-5-paragraph-essay-is-due reading is the closest they've gotten. It is a shame because of course like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Orwell's 1984 is significantly text-based in a way somewhat under-evaluated. Orwell's books are by and large about the politics of language, and the famed Newspeak of the novel is dripping with irony and anger in a way that doesn't get translated to screen--there, it just sounds like a typical futurism lingo.

So here's the problem: 1984 is pretty much evenly divided into two parts, the first part following Winston's exploration of his thought crime evolving toward a real desire for resistance, the second half a protracted sociophilosophical discussion as Winston's entire psychology is broken down bit by bit. The first half is the easier to adapt into film--it results in what this movie is, a gritty gray-scaled urban nightmare. The second half is a little more difficult, and this movie lived up to the challenge as best it could. I believe it is the second half why Gilliam's Brazil ended up the way it did and Lucas' THX 1138 decided to just go for a chase scene--these are visual, exciting motifs. The end of 1984 is a multiday discussion on politics, power, language, truth, and everything connected to crushing all of same. Radford helps keep the story going visually by focusing on the torture aspect of it, while also slipping occasionally into Winston's mind for brief countryside interludes. It helps keep the tension going while a summary of the high points of the book's discussion get covered. It shows more the fascination and fear the book invokes, than develops its own fear and fascination itself.

Which is a not ungood choice (sorry, just had to make Orwell's corpse twitch just once). There are certain scenes of this movie that do not really follow but do create a strong tone that pretty much fits the feel of the novel perfectly. It is easy to point to Roger Deakins' cinematography, but it is weirder to mention that the Eurythmics add a lot of their own to the chill. The way that this movie was shot during the timeline the book took place certainly really helps the acknowledgment that the people involved in this teleplay were not just in it for a paycheck, but also had the book squarely in mind. The production design itself looks like they just pulled into some really bad neighborhoods and started filming, though there was obviously a lot more work done than that.

So really, I am glad that this movie is the adaptation of 1984 and I would not recommend another filmmaker try to do this one one better. This movie gets about as close to the text as cinema can, without starting to alter some very important aspects that might as well just make it 1984-inspired than 1984-adapted. However, as fond as I was watching this movie, in this case it is still significantly important that the viewer read the book as well, as the politics of language are harder to follow when spoken in muted, grungy dialog rather than read at your own pace.

--PolarisDiB
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Hanna (2011)
8/10
Deliciously delivered pulp with a keen production value
20 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Hanna is a good piece of modern genre pulp, in the way one could consider Source Code. It is a spy thriller with a unique enough concept to keep you actually interested in the story while it carefully sets up the action sequences to pay you off for your attention, and it is pretty well paced in terms of neither over or underdoing it. Its real skill is that it feels like Joe Wright and company sat down and said to each other, "Okay, action films... so much has already been done, our audience is really jaded... what can we do to excite their eyes once more?" What this means is that we get the gift of some actual thought in the production design. In other words, for the people who want to compare this to the Bourne trilogy, this movie actually has what a person could call "action sequences", not a ton of over-cut .2 second shaky hand cam in all closeups garbage. Not to say that this movie is exactly a paragon of reserve, either... you'll be surprised where the camera ends up going, with overhead shots, circle tracks, long steadicam sequences, and even the camera spinning upside down all edited together over a blissful enjoyment of choreography set to some mean Chemical Brothers beats. So that's where this movie's at.

The story is decent: Hanna is a young girl trained by her father away from civilization to be, essentially, a CIA assassin, but as she gets let loose in the world, she both discovers a lot more about her past than she was meant to and also has to learn to navigate the social landscape as well as the geographic. Saoirse Ronan has that same Sissy-Spacek-from-3-Women otherworldly vibe that allows her mere presence to add to a sense of rising tension as other people try to figure out just who the heck she is and why she's there. What's really weird about that is that the movie felt intensely like it was setting up a reveal that Hanna was being used as a proxy by her father Erik (Eric Bana) so that he could pull some other stunt off, when it turns out that the continual setbacks and dilemmas Hanna confronts in her fairytale journey was just straight-up oversight. This makes the reveals really disappointing, because now they simply judiciously dole out the backstory as the audience needs without taking advantage of the limited knowledge and understanding we have as an audience stuck mostly in Hanna's perspective to eventually switch the endgame on us. At least, I was disappointed: this strikes me as the type of response most people won't worry about because for the most part, their viewing is rewarded by sadistically pleasurable characters and an underlining fairytale motif. With Marissa (Cate Blanchet) joyfully cleaning her wolf fangs and Isaacs the homosexual M homage lurking around like a whistling Nosferatu, story in some ways willingly takes second place to style as a not too bad cinematic choice. Besides, fairy tales are not actually renowned for their subtlety, so whether we're in the forest of innocence, or the belly of the mechanical beast as a laser tag Moroccan underground battlefield, or the maw of the wolf, or the carnival world of magicians (yes, all of this is exemplified), for the most part we have this sense that we might as well be on another planet, CIA storyline be damned.

Unfortunately we do have to spend quite a bit of time with obnoxious Western tourists whose backstory and character development are basically described cinematically as, "These loudmouth rich privileged Western tourists are loudmouthed, rich, and privileged. And they are from the West, and they are tourists. And in this scene, we'll drive the action by having one of them say something obnoxious." This is mostly to give Hanna some inkling of the fact that her world is not the same as others', and that as much as she may desire friendship, she may not belong. Again, there was more to be done here that was pretty much dropped as soon as it no longer served the fairytale's purpose, and my feelings on that aspect are ambivalent because I certainly loved the pacing and did not particularly want to spend more time with those people.

But all of this sounds like I'm giving Hanna a lot of guff, honestly its the movie with the most original feel I've seen yet far from 2011. Considering that my summer flick to-do list is down to Cowboys & Aliens and Captain America with perhaps an additional Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now that I've already seen Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Cars 2 and Harry Potter 7.2, without a second thought avoiding Conan the Barbarian, The Smurfs, Transformers 3, and Fast Five, while it still remains to be seen if I'll get myself around to seeing Thor and X-men Prequel 2.... well, you get my point.

--PolarisDiB
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8/10
Funnier than expected
14 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The first question going in the theatre is how these guys are going to justify killing their bosses to themselves and us in a way that doesn't feel like too much of a device. Just as how in Office Space their revenge has to be turned on them to prevent any viewers from getting the wrong idea, this movie had to really win us over on their intentions while also holding back from leading people to the wrong moral conclusions. So it did so by making the bosses incredibly sadistic.

Which is great! The three main characters as television-trained comedy leads works for a sort of small-screen charm and episodic shortsightedness while the three bigger star actors as the bosses get to be Big Personalities. It's surprising how little of the gags in the movie end up being too gimmicky--even the "wet worker" scene, the most disposable in the movie, ends up showcasing just how inept these guys are and justifies their decision that leads them to the character named Mother****er Jones (mrp mrp IMDb guidelines). Even that groan-worthy joke works, partly because of a buildup behind M. Jones' explanation if his name but also because this is just how out-of-their-league the leads are. Also, Jamie Foxx embraces that character and makes it shine.

Everyone seemed to relish their roles. No one the less than Jennifer Aniston, who seems transformed here....but nowhere near as much as Colin Ferrell, which if the credits hadn't told me, I would have never noticed it was him.

So anyway, the basic plot is this: three guys got three bosses that they decide to kill off. One boss is an unabashed egomaniac willing to tell you to your face that he'll eat you alive (Kevin Spacey, deliciously evil); another is a nymphomaniacal dentist (Jennifer Aniston) who sexually molests her assistant (Charlie Day) by blackmailing him against his fiancée; and the third is a raging coke addict (Colin Ferrell). From here, however, the movie plays it smart and focuses more on the leads (Day, Jason Bateman, and Jason Sudeikis) as they figure out how to pull off their intent. The smart move the movie takes is to show they can't even figure out how to figure out their intent. Things spiral out of control and it becomes a race for the characters just to catch up with themselves. These guys are so effectively clueless that it takes a deft series of mistakes and misunderstandings just to get them to the point where they can even ask themselves if they are capable of taking a human life. And of course by then things have happened beyond their ability to go back, really justifying the movie's brisk playlength. You'll be amazed how quickly time flies while watching this movie.

There certainly is a bit of a disappointment that the movie did not really go into questioning and reminiscing on its concept a little more. This movie under the hands of someone like the Coen brothers would have made an amazingly dry classic. However, it is under the capable hands of Seth Gordon, whose King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters shows an almost equally sadistic ego/underdog id relationship. Perhaps in a sense the characters ARE too big to be fully believable and there's something more serious to go with here, but what this movie does have works well for it, and its closing sequence is a perfect closing note to the rest of the movie.

Now my qualms. Of all the boss/employee relationships shown here, the one between Jennifer Aniston and Charlie Day has a lot of room for criticism. This is a situation where if the genders were reversed, people would NOT find this movie funny... and my feelings about that are a little mixed. Is it wrong that we find this funny, or is it wrong that we wouldn't if the genders were reversed? However, there are two other reasons to criticize its inclusion. One is that whereas all the story elements ultimately work themselves out satisfactorily, nevertheless nympho-chick sort of gets forgotten as the two other bosses take over the movie for a bit. The unbalanced structure works because the movie ties up all its loose ends, but there is the fact that this part of the story is predicated on Day not wanting to lose his girlfriend. So, riddle me this, why couldn't he have said to his fiancée before psycho-lady drops the payload that she was trying to blackmail him? The question is tossed off with, "Oh well nobody will believe you because you're a sex criminal", but if we're to believe that this marriage he hopes so much for is supposed to have any basis for survival, we have to also believe duder has a spine and the trust of his lady. The spine is character development--the trust... absent. Nothing can convince me that Day's character could not have found at least some way of telling his fiancée what he told his friends, how he told them, and earn her trust--especially since he is clear whenever he tells everyone else about it that this is real victimhood.

So in that storyline is a wide variety of issues that may end up pulling this movie down from a deserved cult status. To be fair, it does point out things that need to be acknowledged, like the dismissiveness of most people towards the concept of female-to-male molestation and our tendency to automatically villify sex criminals without ensuring we know the actual crime. It's a storyline that I feel only falls apart because there's not enough of the relationship shown to believe in it, but it's open to being torn down depending on the reception of the audience.

Nevertheless I found the movie hilarious and witty, well written despite three writers and with surprising and welcome twists, with a satisfying payoff.

--PolarisDiB
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No Strings Attached (I) (2011)
4/10
Unsupported
14 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Do you consider A Lot Like Love and Guess Who to be classics of rom-com cinema? We're in Ashton Kutcher as lead-man territory. The romantic sensibilities are the same in all of these movies, Kutcher's goofy exterior and sensible interior somehow hits a perfect note of completely dull. He's at his best when put into awkward situations that he tries to slip his way out of, but there is not a whole lot of that here.

Right then. So the story is about how nobody can be friends with benefits, and comedy ensues. Except these two are jealous coy lovers nearly from frame one (the first fifteen minutes or so goes through their back history of meeting in which even just seeing each other with potential relationships makes both of them look sad panda) and so what it's really about is Portman's character Emma trying to get over a crippling and aggressive fear of commitment. The territory in which to explore this is vast, and the scenes that actually do all work just fine. For some reason I have no real comprehension of, the movie engineers as many ways as possible of refusing to acknowledge its own core dramatic element. Probably the most egregious deviation is this completely random rival for Emma's affections, whose presence is so insignificant to the plot that you're practically editing him onto the cutting room floor in your own brain while you're watching him do his Snidely Whiplash thing. Homeboy's around for maybe three scenes and not a one of them is believable, the absolute worst being when he challenges Adam and says that Emma will be all over him after leaving Adam, without enough provocation and any true indication of Emma's interest. This whole folderol set up was meant to put a jealousy element into the movie that was already there and not in need of elaboration from a completely unbelievable and unnecessary side villain, who gets dropped the second the camera looks away and only returned back later to be literally left hanging, looking around, wondering what the heck to do and why he's in this movie.

Then there's the subplot about Adam's relationship to his father which works to move forward some important plot points, but manages to do nothing to develop Adam's character. The father is there to provide a couple reasons for getting closer to Emma so that their relationship doesn't stay static, but eventually the father gets regulated to "Well if you love her fight for her" territory. Seriously this movie spent more time ignoring its own actual premise than working through it.

Also, this couple actually wants each other forever from nearly every frame after the long expository flashbacks, so most of the movie is a matter of waiting around for Emma to come around. This could be frustrating but to be fair, so is being in that situation. To be realistic, the Emmas of our lives tend not to come around, and so this movie ultimately ends up playing off like the protracted pre-sleep wish fulfillment fantasy of the recent relationship reject trying to convince himself, "She'll come around eventually.... she'll come around eventually.... she'll come around eventually..." This is one of those movies that had just enough elements that it could have become about a million other interestingly realized movies, but the actual movie it resulted in is hardly worth saving. There's even one of those rom-com final lines before the relationship is consummated that was engineered for some nonexistent much better other movie to become a classic of heart-thumping cinema, but was unfortunately left in this movie instead.

--PolarisDiB
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Elf (2003)
6/10
Maintains its gift of charm.
11 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I actually was not all that remiss to seeing this, Jon Favreau is one of my favorite filmmakers working in Hollywood today. Zathura is Where the Wild Things Are without the cerebralness or Karen O, I am of the camp that considers Iron Man and its sequel to be both living up to and counterbalancing Nolan's machismo brooding tale of The Dark Knight, Cowboys vs. Aliens promises to be geeky fanboy action in CGI awesomeness about in a blender with some actual plot and characters.

I find Will Ferrell insufferable when he yells.

Will Ferrell is like Jim Carrey. People like him mugging, mocking, yelling, contorting his face, and generally just being a big child, when homeboy could actually continue to keep making awesome stuff like Stranger than Fiction (or in Carrey's case, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). For whatever reason, actually having a character is animus to an audience that just wants a clown banging his head against a wall. I'm sorry, Will Ferrell. You deserve better than that.

So anyway, this movie is a modern classic for the Yuletide Time and for what it's worth, I can definitely see why. Buddy's absolute belief in Christmas cheer and his grinning dedication to spreading it is infectious, in its own way. It helps that the cynicism of the other characters actually works out sensibly. The movie still has to have its regrettable prolonged burp jokes, but it's nice to see things like random-taxi-hits-lead turn into actual character development as Buddy progressively gets a handle of this strange New York reality world he's found himself in and starts to adapt to its landscape... but all without losing his spiritedness. I can get behind that.

Could be better. It did feel like just a few scenes were missing in the love subplot between Buddy and Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).

What won me over in this movie was the North Pole land and the CGI references to old stop-motion animation Christmas movies of the past. Leon the Snowman is where it's at. Also, not only is Peter Dinklage an underrated actor, but his work in this movie shows he could do some really remarkable stuff if we'd all get over the "But it's funny 'cause he's a little person" aspect of it. Compare his role here (oh so woefully, woefully short, oh so scene-stealing) to his work in The Station Agent and then his work in Death at a Funeral (the, uh, British one, not the redundant and confusingly way too soon after remade one) and this man has a gift.

So what the hey, seal of approval for this one. Going back to Favreau, I can't emphasize enough he knows how to keep a movie moving and never outstays his welcome, Elf moves at a brisk pace and is over before you know it, whether you like it or not. Now that audiences are actually getting comfortable watching giant robot movies for two and a half hours or more, the art of moving along, one of Hollywood's major entertainment assets, sometimes feels like it's getting lost.

--PolarisDiB
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3/10
The Blonde Not in Her Best Form
11 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The intelligent blonde comedy has some unrequited gems and shouldn't be entirely dismissed as a genre. Clueless works because you can tell Cher's mind is just a little too distracted by fashion, but once she gets the gears in her head rolling she's really a bright and compassionate kid. Legally Blonde, scripted by Karen McCullah Lutz same as this one, works because Elle's ditziness does not ultimately give her a get-out-of-jail free card with the other characters and she eventually has to focus up and do something about herself. Buffy the Vampire Slayer works because because she has to give up fashion to slay vampires....though I guess now I'm stretching it a little.

This movie has all of the fish-out-of-water elements of the blonde comedy but is very much lacking in the charm. Most of it has to do with the clichéd script (the last ten minutes is line-for-line other movies), but its biggest problem is that it rests on those elements with a lot of assumptions about the characters (and the audience) that just gets on your nerves. For one thing, partially because of the Internet, geeky girls are no longer as readily considered losers; heck, even back in high school the most popular chicks in my grade level were the ones that joined speech and debate, student council, and MESA. The sort of cheerleader/jock POPULAR, everything else NOT dichotomy possibly still subsists as some endemic part of American culture, but it's harder to see now and not as believable as it once was. The character of Natalie and her gushing geekiness in some scenes seems exactly like what's popular right now, save the situations where they put her in front of boys and make her downright retarded.

Then of course there's the guys, few of which are really attractive because they don't do much but be attractive. Ah well, cannot have everything.

Anyway, the story focuses mostly on the character of Shelley, orphan turned Playboy bunny who gets ousted from the mansion due to backstabbing and has to make her way in the real world, stumbling upon a college campus (where nobody ever seems to do any homework or have any definable majors) and discovering the enchanting world of sororities, a more brutal and backstabbing place than the otherwise homey feel of the Mansion. She takes the freaks and geeks Greeks under her charge and teaches them the good values of fashion sense, self confidence, and only revealing 40% of their intelligence (actually she tells them to be downright nitwit dumb, but they decide to "compromise"). This is the script Simpsons episodes are made to make fun of--remember the one where Homer has to return to college?

The "Oh it's funny 'cause she's a dumb blonde" antics and general social awkwardness of the characters is just something you take in kind with this genre, but where this movie just completely collapses over its vacuousness is the part in all of these intelligent blonde movies where the outlier intelligent guy sees through the fashion to the real person underneath. Again, Clueless actually builds the biggest character beats of Cher's development around her step brother, Legally Blonde has the somewhat believable Emmett offering to help Elle out, Buffy the movie has Pike, but this movie has Oliver (Colin Hanks) who I could not believe for a second had any patience for Shelley's just absolute craziness. The antics go too far and Oliver is given no room to deal with them but just sit there with a strained expression on his face, looking just as miserable to get through these dates as we are. So the emotional core in which these stories reside, in the real human underneath the makeup, is gone. Making the movie pretty much a redundant exercise in all the obnoxious parts we merely sit through.

Then there's the house girls, who were actually well cast and it was nice to see some different body types and how they showed alternative ways of making them fashionable, though the three leaders of the pack (girl with the brace, girl with the piercings, and head of the house) ended up looking more like hipsters than fashionistas. I'm not buying the, "Well let's just be like 40% ourselves and 60% what Shelley thinks guys like." There can be a real sense of style behind fashion that is oftentimes discredited but it requires personality and self-expression that not revealing your intelligence is a good indication you don't have. So even the messages of empowerment here are mucked up.

The end is lazy lazy clichéd redundant boring done to death bad. Whoa. It gets worse when sycophant to villain girl switches her sides as some statement to the heinousness of villain girl, not that we ever realized that sycophant girl was THERE.

Finally, the cinematography is surprisingly bad for a mainstream movie. Shelly Johnson seems to be trying to light the Mansion and the Zeta House "naturalistically" and instead is commonly blowing out the frame on the lower half of the characters (the half we're not supposed to be looking at since its their faces that matter). I think for the wide shots and setting the space such a Spring day look is fine, but how much does it take to block the characters a bit out of the way of the windows so as to avoid being blown out? On the other hand, this is the exact type of stuff you're not supposed to be spending time pondering while watching the movie because the story should be involving your attention, so there's that.

--PolarisDiB
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Soylent Green (1973)
10/10
Despite famous twist, STILL amazing movie
5 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I actually find this movie to be very believable. Fleischer really wows me with his eye for details, small things that illicit quite good responses in the narrative. In Tora, Tora, Tora , he successfully details the minutia of the thinking that went on behind this unknown-to-the-characters attack, in a way that helps the already-knowing audience how the historical people really felt. I think it's great that Soylent Green works the same way, where you can know all about how it's made of people and yet the reveal still illicits surprise and dismay.

In this case, also, there's a sort of working backward effect to it. Charlton Heston has something great going for him in post-Apocalypse narratives (whereas his historical epics… not) but this is more reserved, and the scene where he is enjoying a feast with Sal makes you really feel the absence of the food in their regular lives. The riot police wearing football helmets actually makes sense—all this sports equipment lying around, no more interest in sports, no more money for riot gear. The simplest smallest details really stand out, both in the detail of the world and how to achieve good results without a big budget for special effects.

Meanwhile, I am impressed how daring the gender politics are in this… because actually, this vision is believable, and it is horrible, and it would have been (and probably was) easy for the movie to be misconstrued. In an arena of exhausted resources and overpopulation I can totally believe in the rich using women for life as "furniture". It really works great that the whole humanitarian principle behind the "Oh noes, we're eating ourselves!" is so shocking to a character completely comfortable with using women as furniture. The movie walks a thin line between empathy and concern for its characters (successful) and realization that even what they are comfortable with is horrifying to our current perspective (also successful).

Then there's the introductory titles, Sal's retirement chamber, and the closing sequence. Fleischer extends a bit into the experimental and the effect is riveting. For instance, in the retirement chamber, the almost commercial over-indulgence in nature cinematography becomes less a commercial for Pfizer and more an aching remembrance of times past—but it's created by a company that might well be the future of Pfizer. It's a past that is gone and also never existed anyway. It's the past they want to believe in AND have nostalgia for AND never experienced, not knowing that it didn't really look quite like that. However, it also informs to the audience what we're losing. It's still a commercial of good meaning, pointing out cinematographically what we don't look at now.

The bookending titles work in roughly the same way with opposite values. The opening sequence is a masterful montage of human development paced to human development. Slow steps become leaps become exponential growths as the cuts get faster and faster and more overwhelming. The closing sequence is repeated imagery from Sal's chamber, now shown as something not achieved—something out of reach. With these two statements, Fleischer points out it's already too late.

This is a movie that also operates scene-by-scene. The overarching investigation narrative certainly helps to draw the movie together but it's amazing how distinct little vignettes appear throughout the movie. The introductory sequence of Sal and Thorn and how it's lit to look like their space is lit only by a single bulb, and the careful detail of how these two men live so close together and don't get on their nerves—and then are later revealed to basically be living a decent "middle class life" amongst the masses literally massed on stairways… the furniture party… the strawberries. These things lead to the idea that there are stories going on beyond our vision that we just don't have the time or power to be able to perceive. It's almost possible to imagine actually a separate reveal where the world ISN'T so overcrowded and only the people of New York have been trapped in a rat cage… if only we could look further.

Anyway, this far beats Omega Man and Planet of the Apes, and I qualify those three in that order, Soylent Green first.

--PoalrisDiB
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6/10
The retirement of the era
5 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Tonight I finally saw This is Spinal Tap for the first time, after years of knowing what I was missing and having to stave off people's incredulity that I'd have the audacity to have not gotten around to a classic. Actually, quite a lot of funny coincidences, from scratched discs to changed syllabi, got between me and experiencing this movie. Nevertheless, it is done, and all the jokes I've heard a million times I got to see in their original form.

But that's not what this review is about.

One thing that struck me about this movie is that yes, if I had been watching this on, say, VH-1 without a clue as to what I was watching in advance, I would have thought it was real. Fine, that's mockumentary. However, the reason why it works best is how it basically cuts straight through to the typical, clichéd rock drama of the VH-1 special genre, which makes this to me a little bit more than, say, Airplane style parody where the the whole thing is just set-up for sight gags, Mel Brooks' farces, or Shaun of the Dead loving parody/homages: it's almost an instructional video on how it's time to retire that story.

It's ironic then that this movie actually generated real live shows and it ends with a "Spinal Tap will live on" message, because it really seems most like it's pointing out how the rock doc has lost all its legs. A lot is laid on the age of the band members not only to emphasize their own mortality, but the feeling is almost as if the idea itself is in its forties and already ready to retire. Or maybe it just feels like that almost thirty years after this movie came out, sixty years from the point in which these documentaries started getting made.

Anyway, the only other Christopher Guest penned movie I've seen is Best in Show, which I found far funnier (I have to admit I'm full of schadenfreude…), but this one was a lot sadder. Might as well been called This is The End.

This is Spinal Tap is sort of like an instructional video rock documentarists should watch to see how rock documentaries should no longer be made.

—PolarisDiB
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6/10
Illustrative
21 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
There's this superstition about Star Trek movies that all the even numbered ones are good and all the odd numbered ones are bad. By the Harry Potter movie adaptation reckoning, it seems to be just the opposite: the odd numbered movies were spiffy and the even numbered movies were dull. However, the fact that the first adaptation didn't work out too well off-sets that and splitting "7" into "7.1" and "7.2" seemed to create a curious result: that of the fact that 7.1 was almost spot-on and 7.2 almost completely (save a few good moments) dropped the ball.

David Yates has been one of the best Harry Potter directors (probably why the longest running) because of his closer attention to the characters and mood than just reciting plot points (Columbus and Newell) and focusing on the magic (Cuaron). Here it doesn't work. Previously, David Yates went the daring route of allowing the camping scenes to draw out the way they work in the book, focusing on the character's loss of direction and even boredom in a high stress environment as tension is building. This approach is unpopular in filmmaking because audiences don't like watching characters be impatient and bored--it makes them impatient and bored as well, and 7.1 had its critics for that. It seemed with all the careful mood-building Yates was doing, 7.2 was going to be the release we were all looking for in an ending: the tension explodes and the threads close.

...and though 7.2 certainly had its action, Yates managed to make the movie both slow... and rushed. For once his devoted focus to Harry Potter's mental working doesn't work out, because while we're sitting with Radcliffe in a room somewhere as he decides what to do next, information is getting straight skipped over in the Battle of Hogwarts going on outside. People've not read the book seem to all be reacting with confusion and require too much explanation from the audiences that have read the book as to what's going on. Deaths happen off-screen and are only mentioned in single lines of dialog, despite being important to both plot and often audience. The Snape's Story flashback scene is cut near to a third of the detail, but the limbo scene seemed protracted for no reason at all. The Battle of Hogwarts covers a good 80% of the playlength of the movie, but the actual action of that battle is regulated transition scenes where the characters have to run through it to get somewhere else--AND is shown more as crowded hallways with extras running wildly instead of showing the important elements of the battle regarding which characters end up fighting whom.

It's difficult because the movie stretches at over two hours in length and should not be much longer. But Yates seems to have forgotten Griffith-old well-established cross-cutting. Compare to Star Wars Episode 6. Star Wars balances three entire battles with their respective character beats while Harry Potter 7.2 cannot even balance one battle with Harry's personal discoveries. Star Wars Episode 6 may have annoyed fans with cutesy teddy bears but Harry Potter 7.2 annoys them major plot points being dismissed entirely. All one needed was some cross-cutting between, say, the Room of Requirement and the people in the entrance way of Hogwarts, but instead of showing WHY Mrs. Weasley was so protective of her daughter to inspire what was supposed to be an epic line, the camera lingers longer on stone soldiers fighting giants.

The split-up of book seven was intended to fit the amount of information in that book into a longer play-length, as well as increase the amount of tickets sold, but it feels like 7.1 was the movie that Yates wanted to make, and 7.2 was just him trying to shove some denouement in around studio-requested 3D shots. There is a lot of room for improvement but there isn't a whole heck of a lot that can be done now. So now its time to sum up the series.

Whereas its taken as a general rule that the books are better than the movie, a good adaptation can stand on its own and deliver the story to a new audience. Lord of the Rings is a good example of this, creating a pretty consistent movie narrative that most audiences can keep up with and enjoy despite deviations from the books. Harry Potter from the get-go was too focused on enfranchisement that it took quite a few entries before it gained its legs--and by then it may have been too late. Its later movies got a handle on how to actually adapt the books, but all told I'm not sure these movies suffice for non-book readers. They work better as visual counterpart than narratives of their own, and now that the event-ness of them is over and we can all stop dressing up to go to the theatre, I think it's safe to mark them down as mostly illustration.

--PolarisDiB
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Cars 2 (2011)
7/10
Formula One
24 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
If you mentally switch out the vehicles in Cars with post-human description of entire cyborg societies where the beings can constantly update themselves and switch out their own body's mechanics, Cars is kinda trippy.

If you do that with Cars 2, you'll completely lose your mind and probably get paranoia-laced nightmares for weeks.

It's not just that the characters have personalities of their own and even things like empathy, friendship, and ego that is the problem. It's the fact that they're self-aware of damage and get to choose whether to keep it or leave it while blowing each other up to smithereens, over issues like self-recognition.

In other words, it's a really good movie. A few random people here and there wondered about "how the world was supposed to work" in Cars, and it seems like Pixar responded by giving them the finger. It's not that they have that in mind while they're making it--Pixar probably meets criticism with a shrug of, "Yeah but our movies make millions and are children's fantasies with actual stories, so we'll just go about doing our work and you can deal." However the point I'm making here is that though the more open theme of environmentalism is going to be the one getting the most press, the subtheme of identity politics is what drives this movie (pun intended), and that makes it closer to The Incredibles 2 than any of their other works, really.

However, I'm hoping that their two summers in a row of sequels is just a temporary aside while they pull together their plans for more original characters, because though their narratives aren't suffering, characters like Lightning McQueen and Mater can get to be a little insufferable. This movie is better than its original but I'm still thirsty for more.

Cheers, --PolarisDiB
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Super 8 (2011)
6/10
Hard-edged nostalgia with lens flare.
17 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
You know how James Bond is now tougher, Batman is now darker, and slashers have become "torture porn"? Stephen Spielberg's nostalgia-laced children's adventure land is likewise more dysfunctional and militant.

This movie is unapologetically advertised LENSFLARE and sold as a Spielberg homage, not just his own movies but the rippled effects therefrom. The way LENSFLARE the PR for this movie went, I was rather surprised they didn't hand out a checklist card with a "Find the movie reference!" list on it, but actually the references LENSFLARE were really more understated than it seemed, and the nostalgia surprisingly LENSFLARE more sincere than it was sold as. What's more interesting than Abrams' beloved Super 8mm childhood is the fact that that idea LENSFLARE is put to the background as a series of plot points that serve the popcorn LENSFLARE adventure just as well as any other device could, just as the story could have been told in any decade but forced itself into the 70s/80s to fit LENSFLARE the device. All of LENSFLARE this would be fine but Abrams I feel makes a misstep in actually not keeping the movie confined to the essential elements that he, and we as audience, are LENSFLARE there for: the childhood adventure.

Instead it is more adult and darker. Now the thing about those wonderful Spielberg and company movies is that they were a lot more adult than subsequent generations of children's entertainment, featuring potty language and blood and monstrous thrills amidst the otherwise magical fantasyland. However what I mean by more adult and darker here is the way the movie loses focus, breaks away from the kids' perspective (which could easily have been maintained by sticking to the Super 8 camera motif) to do its evol military thing, investigative local cop, adult grief, and all layered into a movie that handles it well but didn't really need any of it. Again, The Goonies, ET, Gremlins, so on, they had those hints, adults struggling with something difficult the kid doesn't fully understand, forces beyond the community's control threatening their livelihood, the alienation of the kid familiarized by the alienation of the alien, but yet again, from the kid's perspective. Here it's laid out bare and thus much more hard edged and cynical in what is otherwise supposed to be a return to innocence. James Bond doesn't just flirt with Moneypenny anymore, now he's a vengeful force of nature. Batman doesn't just quietly suffer his traumatic past but fights moral conundrums as aggressively as his opponents. Slashers don't just go out for blood but lock victims in rooms to protract the bloodletting. And now we don't worry about Han shooting first or walkie talkies replacing rifles 'cause we've already an entire suburban landscape blowing up from out of control heavy artillery.

So when's nostalgia not nostalgia and innocence not innocent? Perhaps that would be the point except that it clearly isn't. The characters are written very lucidly to type, Chunk is now a burgeoning director, Data is now a fireworks fanboy, Andy is now a neglected loner girl. In this way the movie works, especially when the kids go off on their chatter. There is a lot of "GEE WHIZ!" "THIS IS CRAZY GUYS!" "DID YOU SEE THAT EXPLOSION!" fanfare that really is the heart of the movie and the best characterizations by the actors as they all run around doing their adventurous thing. It's fun hearing their interests and opinions popping up even in such cases when buildings are falling around them. So once again, though the story is fully fleshed out and makes sense in context to how its told, still yet the adult element is really unnecessary and distracts from the point.

This movie will also probably be debated in terms of its choices LENSFLARE of reveal. People are already LENSFLARE rapidly falling into the, "Should the monster be seen or shouldn't it?" debate, and actually I didn't mind the movie's LENSFLARE choice. In a way it is a different type of old school, a newer old school if you don't mind the contradiction. This movie LENSFLARE recalls Jurassic Park and early CGI feasts by LENSFLARE keeping things even when in plain view either in the distance or in the dark. Though we've gotten to the point LENSFLARE where South Korea has The Host and LENSFLARE Norway has Troll Hunter, proving that you needn't require even Hollywood production to make acceptable CGI, this movie plays that card safe and leaves the best parts LENSFLARE for actual emotional beats.

In the end the movie is going to be summed up by a variety of people in the same way: a summer popcorn movie that embraces its popcornness. For some, that's exactly what they want from cinema and for others, they'll mean it in a bad way. I'm completely neutral on the matter so unfortunately my response to the film is rather mediocre. I enjoyed it and was glad that I saw it with friends, I especially enjoyed the crowd's reactions to it in the movie theatre as an "event movie", and I couldn't really say there's any reason to see it again or own it on DVD or recommend it to anybody or anything. It's a good movie, I'm glad I saw it and it surprised me a little. Something tells me Spielberg's own Tintin is going to blow this out of the water.

--PolarisDiB
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Love patate (2010)
6/10
Attack at the Friterie
3 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This amusing little fable takes on the inner loves and inner jealousies of potatoes. The boyfriend of an owner of a "friterie" (French fry vender) hits a potato on the road and... falls instantly in love? Following, he maintains his relationship with his starchy fiancée while alienating his friends, neighbors, and the local priest... until apparently the potato "dies" or something. All seems to be going well but the potatos... those vengeful things... lie in wait.

It's a cute movie. It's animated in a variety of ways, mostly 3D for the inanimate objects, 2D hand-drawn for the character animation, and either compositing into live-action or really high definition HDRI texturing for some sort of strangely realistic backgrounds. As more and more animation slips into live action movies, photorealism is slipping into animation at an alarming rate--not because it's bad, but because it's sort of strange to see when it's used and why.

--PolarisDiB
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5/10
Paper Maze
3 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A music video by OMR about a balled-up piece of writing making its way through a city of typography barred by hands and other pieces of paper, until it breaks through. The content on the paper itself is a map to the exit of the city. This liminal narrative is basically a good exercise in animating to the music, which in the habit of music videos is sort of related to the subject of the lyrics, but sort of not.

It's creative and looks good. It reminds me of the ending of Brazil, but only because I feel like drawing that connection. A few shots are repeated and not a lot of different action or reverse action occurs. Again, in music videos not often a whole sense of continuity is created or required, or even expected, but at one point you have a scene where our hero is surrounded by other paper and then in the next few shots isn't, showing that adhering to the beats of the sound is more important than the actual flow of images. THUS, if you like the music, you'll probably enjoy the video. And the music was alright.

--PolarisDiB
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9/10
History of Animation in 10 minutes
3 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I'll have to admit, throughout most of the movie I was thinking to myself, "Why's the mosquito in 3D when the rest is 2 1/2 D?" And then I got my answer, and I have to admit--good play, sirs.

This beautifully animated Nosferatu-inspired film is pretty much all about visual treats--storybook pop-ups, fantasy worldbuilding, labyrinthine twists of perspective, frames of reference. At first it seems odd to see the story of Nosferatu, one of cinema's favorite icons, from the perspective of a mosquito, but once its finished, it couldn't be better.

It's interesting because stuff like pop-up books are now sort of regarded in academia in terms of "pre-cinematic" expressions of moving imagery or image-building. So this movie is sort of all about that, using the latest in digital animation to tell it. This movie sort of encompasses the history of animation as its so far been written.

It's also fun to listen to the soundtrack. Don't worry about missing subtitles, English speakers--they mix like five different languages together! --PolarisDiB
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4/10
Teddy Bear's primal scene
3 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The description for this movie is kind of funny: "This story about depression is also about recovery and shaking off the grip of the shadows. It's about the beauty of chance whereby the reasons for the depression are discovered and the body led to redemption" Makes it sound serious. What it's about is a woman who lost her teddy bear at childhood, and is profoundly and abjectly traumatized by the experience, all the way through all of the cinematic clichés of madness including dreams, visions, Freudian psychoanalysis, and just general creepy things coming from nowhere. With teddy bears.

However, the use of the word "cliche" above is not to say the movie itself is clichéd per se... it seems more to be joking, parodying those clichés. There still is a sense of self-seriousness behind it that's a little awkward, but I don't think it would have been much better if it had just tried to be outright silly.

--PolarisDiB
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6/10
A trippy hit
1 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The first few minutes of this seem like something out of Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted. Adult language and situations with gangsters and drug use and circuses felt like it was going to spin out quickly and do its thing. Didn't help that I thought when initially watching it that I was getting ready to view a short film.

However, it turns out to be quite the production in the long run. The English speaking voice cast is filled with stars and character actors, and the dialog is written by Simon Pegg. Fitting it into the Norwegian original is probably why it's a bit chatty at certain parts, and the movie is somewhat slow paced for what it's trying to be, but that has more to do with what was obviously a long process of animation. This movie doesn't come out to be as striking of an independent animation as something like Fritz the Cat, but by the time you're a good half hour into it you realize you're seeing something unlike any other.

Jimmy the Elephant is a drugged up dragged out old circus elephant addicted to the drugs they feed him to keep him trapped and performing, and unfortunately for him he becomes wanted by a wide array of sketch characters. There's the deadbeats lead by Arnie to work at the circus so that they can have access to a special package hidden in Jimmy's rump; bumbling animal's rights activists that end up killing more animals and making more speeches than effectively doing anything; Asian jester bike gang sent by the Russian mob to hunt down Arnie, only to find that Arnie's interest in Jimmy is even more valuable; and an angry fat hunter wanting a prize kill. Via various escapades they end up in the Moors and vie for a variety of positions very violent, resulting in mayhem. Poor Jimmy has to recover from his drug problem and survive in the wild in the middle of it.

It's the latter point where the movie gets a heart, a surprising one, but probably the thing that pulls the movie together the most. The rest is slapstick comedy and the adult humor can drag a bit at times (especially in the dialog) but suddenly when you see a moose befriend Jimmy and put him through recovery, you get this strangely wonderful, wonderfully absurd, and absurdly powerful recovery plot that sticks. The music is a little hokey, yeh, but the character animation and how they personify the characters of the moose and Jimmy is pitch perfect.

So, that only leaves the trouble of where the heck did this come from? An 80 minute animation from Norway with a story like that was not only a movie I didn't expect to stumble upon (currently it is playing for free on Mubi.com), less do I understand why I wouldn't have heard somethings about it. This is certainly currently an undiscovered gem--flawed, not exactly the best movie out there, but something different. Maybe star power behind the voice actors will bring it a little more attention.

--PolarisDiB
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7/10
Just the type of contemporary summer blockbuster needed.
29 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Now that graphics and interest has caught up, comic book adaptations have become normalized, and cross-franchising doesn't seem as unexpected as it once was, feature length movies have officially reached the ability to become serialized--and this is a good thing. Not to say that there are not movies in the past with a nearly endless line of sequels--horror and porn are sort of infamous for it--and furthermore, film serials were quite common before movies expanded to multiple reels, but nowadays we practically have franchise movies sold in narrative blocks of three. The problem is when each episode depends on each other--which is why Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 are not that great, why Matrix 2 and 3 are not that great, and why On Stranger Tides is the sequel Curse of the Black Pearl deserved. Maybe other franchises will also embrace general serialization as a stand-alone interest, maybe not. Nevertheless, On Stranger Tides should make an example of things.

It probably won't, because... people don't think about things like this... but nevertheless, what really DO you expect from Pirates of the Caribbean? You expect Jack Sparrow, and you don't expect him to be particularly bothered to make a point of doing specific things in a way that garners a logical plot. For that, you need other characters with other interests to drive the story. The problem with 2 and 3 is that it was bogged down in characters that outlived their welcome (Elizabeth and Will, aka Keira Knightley and Legolas) whilst introducing a broad array of other characters, none of which the filmmakers writers, director, or producers alike wanted to kill, dragging the story on an endless array of double-crossings until it finally just got tired and fell down like a kid spinning round and round yelling. Pirates 4 does the necessary and gets rid of all that crap. Now characters are in danger. Now they could possibly die. Now, when a handsome loverboy finds his missus magical (this time a clergyman and a mermaid, heck yeah!), the movie lets them do their lover-ly thing and sinks them into the water to be forgotten for good.

This movie is the continued adventures, but in the way that anybody could come in or out as they please. Jack gets a bit more backstory, the worldbuilding gets broader, and there are flesh eating mermaids (not necessarily far from traditional merlore, but let's keep in mind this is the same studio that is responsible for Ariel the princess on first grader girls' backpacks). The only reason to see 2 and 3 would be to understand why Barbossa appears in 4--a throwback again to the fact that nobody wanted to kill anybody in the second two sequels, and in fact just had to bring back basically the only dude who died in film 1! More importantly, this movie has Blackbeard. After about seven or eight long hours combined of pirates scowling and buckles a-swashing (swashes a-buckling?) and a rather tepid Cthulhu wannabe Davey Jones following up the at this point fully all-too-lovable Barbossa, Blackbeard fills the presence of the screen with some real sense of unease. This is one maniacal pirate, whilst being cold and calculating--FINALLY! Spritey Jack has a foil! Blackbeard is everything Jack Sparrow is not--solid, burning, serious, destructive, fearful, and evil. The best part is, however, he has a relationship you can actually connect to--and its his treatment of that relationship that really shows how dangerous this guy is.

Now let's get to the use of 3D. 3D technically doesn't do anything aesthetically good depth of field couldn't do in 2D, but for what it's worth, Rob Marshall and Dariusz Wolski don't clutter up the foreground of vision with out-of-focus layers (in other words, the exact thing your eyes were they on their own would focus on first, but instead stay out of focus because the camera decides) and lets the characters' faces loom in foreground, the world of fantasy and adventure in the background. It's a good choice, this movie is much more pleasant on the eyes in terms of stress than even Avatar, which reveals the limits of 3D in almost the very first frame with that friggin' droplet hanging in the air. And if you are the type of person to pay attention to such things, this movie is cut a bit slower than previous fares, probably to make room for the 3D and the delayed reaction times to spacial cuts audience's eyes have. It looks like Hollywood is finally learning to use its little spectacle beast correctly, finally. However, just as Avatar looks better in 2D, I wonder if Pirates 4 wouldn't seem a bit slow and laggardly in 2D. I suppose I'll find out later since I wouldn't mind watching this one again.

At any rate, this movie is pretty much just as it should be, as far as the franchise and the technical aspects are concerned. Hopefully discontinuous serialization of franchises will continue to occur whilst 3D filmmakers keep their frames clutter free, and maybe someday Disney won't own a near monopoly on swashbuckling. Amen.

--PolarisDiB
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10/10
Holding back the flood...
24 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I made a mistake. I had been feeling really down lately, so I figured a nice, lighthearted comedy from the director of The Triplets of Belleville would really improve my mood. Instead I felt like killing myself.

In a good way, though.

It's not depressing, it's bittersweet. Which means it will make you cry, unless you have no soul. The story follows a struggling magician as he tries to care for a transient girl name of Alice, who believes his acts of illusion to be real magic. He tries to take care of her and does his darnedest to keep the illusion alive because, as much as he occasionally tries to protest, he likes the attention and he needs someone to believe in him. The problem is that it's not real, and her faith in him inevitably has to have its awakening, which the two characters protract as long as humanly possible.

Which is painful. This is a painful movie to watch, and amongst its lighthearted elements, visual humor, and aching loving for everything that it's doing, is a real fear that its conclusion is reality: there is no such thing as magic. This is backed up by newspapers declaring war, bosses pocketing employee's money, and suicidal clowns. You're just not gonna get the "Let's make music with a refrigerator!" feeling you get from Triplets of Belleville. Be forewarned.

Alright, but that aside, everything else in this movie is pitch-perfect what it's supposed to be. Mostly hand-drawn style animation with a few bits of digital help, this movie looks gorgeous, especially in its representation of Scotland (which was spot on in some places, I may add), and whereas initial amounts of dialog concerned me that Chomet was dropping both his and Tati's sublime elegance-in-silence, the actual snippets of recorded dialog are as significant in their individual words as Pokemons' name-repeating stands in for real language. If there's anything hard to do in a movie animated or otherwise, it's laying the full brunt of a character's feelings and actions on their faces, and this movie pulls it off.

The cards are stacked against this movie. Featuring an older style of animation (more skillful than some of the best-done CG animations of today, and I'm nondenominational as regards animation), not a lot of dialog, a sad and sensitive ending, and foreign produced, it's a very good thing that it managed to get a nomination at least to get that crowd interested in it. Keep in mind, people, that this movie came out the same year that Studio Ghibli announced the possibility of a bankruptcy. It's really easy to see where it gets its negativity from, less extra-cinematic craziness of our current world.

--PolarisDiB
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Black Swan (2010)
7/10
Sticks close to what you should expect, with enough room to surprise newcomers to the genre
24 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is actually difficult for me to review because it was pretty much exactly what I expected, through and through. I place Aronofsky's greatest gift at putting the viewer into the mindset emotional topography of the character, but here it sort of comes as part of the package, considering he's making what is honestly an identity thriller typical of his contemporaries back in the late 90s. You've really got it all here, mirrors, doppelgangers, mirrors, sexual confusion, mirrors, blurring of fantasy and reality, and mirrors within mirrors. If we consider "identity thriller" to be a genre, this is one of its more straightforward additions.

That said, it's still shot beautifully, featuring a particular style of grayscale that had me captured by the first few moments of the trailer and never ceased to let me down throughout the actual movie. And as Aronofsky's gift for cerebral suturing goes, unlike in his other films where such an immersion takes place over time, you're basically stuck in Nina's head from the moment the movie starts, with only enough indication of the world outside the movie to make everything so deliciously claustrophobic.

But what makes that work (as opposed to just make you shift in your seat uncomfortably for two hours) is two things: Natalie Portman's acting, and small details in the background characters. Portman's acting does not need too much elaboration because she's the star of the show, and shines: that's what is. What helps is that it's counterpositioned against the rest of the ballerina troupe--not just Lily, but the rest of them as well. There, petty jealousies, misunderstood whispers, even gestures with no significance intended set the entire tone of the scene for Nina/us. It's common enough to set a movie inside someone's rapidly deteriorating mind--but it's really difficult to do what I think Aronofsky pulled off doing, and that is showing enough indication that there's an actual reality outside of the mind being completely washed over from stress. Dare I say that this movie is then exactly what it would be like, having a mental breakdown while the evidence is clearly there that the breakdown is occurring? Certainly there have been times when I've known there is nothing to be upset about, but managed to let myself go anyway. The problem here is that Nina is outright encouraged to go crazy.

Another thing I really like about this movie, though, is that it's potential for literary allusion or allegorical meaning or whatever is actually ignored. It would have been so easy for Aronofsky to use this space as a place to pound Meaning and Significance, but for all the stylistic shenanigans I'd actually consider this movie quite reserved. The stuff that happens is kinda crazy but when it's over, it's over, and we're not left with some unearned pseudoquestion like whether the top falls or keeps spinning. We know what happened, because that's all the movie is concerned with doing.

I don't think it's Aronofsky's best, nor that it should really surprise anyone who has ever heard of David Lynch, Nicolas Roeg, or Jorge Luis Borges (to name just a few off hand). I think this movie might have been quite the profound experience to someone not familiar with those people or Aronofsky's other work, in which case I recommend they follow up. For those who love or hate Aronofsky, it is not going to change their mind either way one bit. And for those of you who are like, "Eh? Aron-who-sky...? Bore-gus? Isn't this the movie with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis getting it on?!" yes, yes they do, and it's... pretty much the type of sex scene that is featured in a movie like this, which means you'll probably have something else on your mind while it's happening, like figuring out what the heck is going on. It's not that type of movie, bro.

--PolarisDiB
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8/10
Sork the Finch of the Eisenzuckerberg.
24 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
To paraphrase 99.9% of the reviews about this movie out there, "David Fincher helms Aaron Sorkin's script about Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg, who's Jesse Eisenbergness infuses Sorkin's Zuckerberg with Fincher's unique style of Sorkinian Eisenberg Sorkin Fincher, of which Fincher Sorkin make Eisenzuck and Sorks to the Fincherian Jesse Mark Zucksenbergergerai. I loved/hated it, it was terrible/brilliant. Facebook is a terrible thing even though I use it." With reviews like that, I expected a movie with Personality, capital P. Actually, it was just a really good corporate thriller, which is nice because if we're going to mention Fincher, he's a director who can pull off anything technically, but obviously really prefers to make thrillers (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, at times, seemed almost sad that there wasn't a serial killer stalking the Katrina-looming streets). The movie firmly places Zuckerberg at well past the awkward computer geek to suffering some level of antisocial dysfunction, spins him into a dog-eat-dog world of ego and greed, and then throws him off as a tragic hero at the end before they can go as far as to implicate him as some sort of murderer. It's high-octane action whilst the characters mostly sit at computers and hearing boards. As goes the Sorkinish writing of Fincherian plotting of Eisenberg portrayal of something or the other namedrop Justin Timberlake.

Anyway, underlining most of how the movie works is the character Zuckerberg's habit of lashing out verbally like a cornered rat--even as the movie is opening. Those moments are the punctuation marks that structure the beats in this general shark frenzy, and would probably explain why most of this movie was shot as if Mark were in prison from the get-go. Thing is, if you watch contemporary biopics of people of the past, you tend to see such underlying emphasis (some call it exaggeration; others call it "drama") in aspects of real people's character, placing this movie quite firmly in the "inspired by" spectrum of the "based on a true story" paradigm. This is some story, indeed, but it was a mistake to make it so soon--firmly centering the audience's grasping of what's real and what's fantasy as a major drama where otherwise a rather fun genre film would suffice.

But the Internet is boggling Hollywood and so someone like Fincher has to step up to make something that isn't Eagle Eye. I still do not think Hollywood "gets" the Internet. Just look at the DVD cover, visually weighted almost completely by an entire pillar of critic blurbs. They seem to be expecting that us Internet kids with our multiple tabs opened in Firefox and columnar listings of interests are attracted by visual noise in graphic design, when such phenomena exist specifically because covers like that are tl;dr. But at least the movie itself doesn't fall into the same detachment from its audience as Sony's marketing department, firmly establishing its type-A personalities and biting ironies as existing in some horror land Harvard far beyond the well-lit streets of lolcats and message boards.

At least they didn't make a 4chan movie. That would be Miike's Ichi the Killer to this movie's Se7en.

--PolarisDiB
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Source Code (2011)
8/10
By golly I think he's got it!
16 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Whereas it still may be too early to tell, I think Duncan Jones has GOT IT.

This is a man who knows science fiction. He has currently made two of pretty much the best examples of the genre, but more importantly, he's doing it in a way contrary to the way most contemporary directors are trying to shine within genre filmmaking: he is not subverting it, mixing it, trying to rise above it--Duncan Jones is sticking to his premises and plying all the rules with a straight face. He is very referential, but takes care that the references are only gentle homage and that he uses them only if they fit the purpose of the movie.

Let me put it this way: if this movie was made write-by-committee to be the genre film it is, the initial premise would become gimmick once several obvious options for flat and uninspired twists appear in the narrative, in the hopes that it would dazzle enough people to make money before everyone noticed that it doesn't make any sense. If it were made in the manner most contemporary but famous-name directors do (Nolan, this is me glaring at you), it would not keep itself contained to the science fiction and thriller aspects of what it's doing. Most importantly of all, however, the key is that what underlies everything going on here is a strict focus on the story. Anything else that doesn't fit, Duncan Jones doesn't do.

Here's what I mean. Both Moon and Source Code involve an initial premise ripe with the danger of gimmick: in Moon, a man becomes slowly aware that he is a clone with an expiration date trapped on the Moon all alone; in Source Code, a man becomes slowly aware that he is a dead soldier being used in an experimental form of crime prevention involving quantum physics-based time travel (there's a bit of dialog in the movie that argues its not time travel, but for all intents and purposes, it is). In either movie both the premise, and the reveal that explains it, is delivered and clarified within the first third of the movie, with very little time wasted on exposition. Jones is not holding cards up his sleeve to wow the audience with magic tricks, he's laying out the hand early and letting the characters work with them. The rest of the movie follows their attempt to deal with their situation using whatever tools they have available. It's BRILLIANT.

He's also keeping it small. Moon takes place entirely in a few sets with only two actors. Source Code is much bigger, but is still contained to, basically, a train, a train station, and a government facility. I would not be surprised if Jones' movies keep getting bigger, but I would be surprised if he loses his economy of sets, characters, and conceits. The point I'm stressing again and again is that this guy cuts out all the fat.

Now comes the inevitable "but". I have to admit that there's a little more to be wished for in terms of the heavy, and his motivations. Since the story is much more focused on Gyllenhaal's character and his attempt to work through the very circumstance he finds himself in, it did not give Jones a lot of room to give much detail or development to the bomber that the character is eventually supposed to capture. The result is a rather lame high schooler who has just seen Fight Club for the first time and happens to have access to radioactive material. A little bland, I must say.

But you know what? I don't care. This movie was great. If Jones peeved me in any way, it's in the attempt to differentiate the concept from time travel from the explanation given, a concise enough pseudoscience explanation operable for establishing the story if not entirely accurate itself, when he already refers in some sequences (especially the end) to movies like La Jetee (which I KNOW Zowie Bowie is aware of, considering his father's music video which is a direct spin-off of that film), which have pretty much established mental memory morality plays as a legitimate form of time travel long ago. That's the the time-travel geek in me getting a bit uppity, is all. I love you D-Jones, keep working the good work.

--PolarisDiB
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