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A “Classic” Movie Review: X-men – Orion’s Take

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

This review is a present from Apple and I, as we enter the new year.  Many thanks to our readers for making this year a blast for http://www.appleandorion.com!

I’ve seen this movie many times.  So when a slightly tipsy Apple suggested that we watch it again, I wasn’t very enthused.  I remembered it being cliché ridden and altogether disappointing for a film based on some of my favorite superheroes.  Come on, who doesn’t think Cyclops is awesome?  I also personally think Professor X is an excellent character.  In any case, I relented to Apple’s request with a sigh and started to watch.

It was as bad as I remembered: the characters spouted inane clichés and bad jokes, all the while failing to do anything useful.  Does anyone else think the plot makes no sense?  Are you telling me that Professor X, who can kill any person in the world as long as their mind is not shielded, and who can sort through billions of people to identify the location of one particular mutant, isn’t able to notice one mutant who sneaks into his school?  That he wouldn’t able to tell when someone had tampered with a machine he helped build?

Of course, it isn’t the plot of this movie that is the worst.  The worst sin for an action movie is having bad actions scenes.  And boy does this movie have bad action scenes.  Why do the X-Men suck at fighting?  For God’s sake, how do you lose a fight against Toad?  Also, Sabertooth looks like a Neanderthal with overlong nails.  Speaking of bad character design, Cyclops is the biggest loser ever, and I would know.

The only redeeming quality of this film is the inclusion of two masterful actors, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  Patrick Stewart is graceful as ever as the magisterial Professor X and Ian McKellen embodies the intellectual and menacing villain Magneto with charm.  Those two were really the only reason I could finish this miserable excuse for a film.

2.5/5 Waffles

An Audience with the Emperor: Sid Mukherjee’s Biography of Cancer

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

(Note: My apologies for hijacking what is normally a movie review site, but this was too striking to let go unwritten.  The following review is about a book, not a movie; proceed with caution.)

I first saw this in a “New Yorker” review.  Then I saw it in a “Time” short list.  Then I saw it on display at Barnes and Noble.  Then I bought it.

First, a brief foray into my history of nonfiction: I started reading books besides novels (cough, teen paranormal romance) to get up to date on healthcare and medicine.  Atul Gawande’s books, praised on the SDN forums and online bloggers of medical students, struck me at first as dramatic and heavy-handed.  He employs a trick of over-humbling his experiences: by blasting the reader with accounts of his won failures, he slowly bridges a gap.  Before long, however, these techniques become redundant, and while perhaps successful, Gawande’s writing is reminiscent of a columnist rather than a novelist.  (That’s not to say he’s bad, because I did read through all his books and online archives.)

So I was hesitant to read “The Emperor of All Maladies,” despite the excellent color palette of its cover design (the parchment hued background bears only a thin red crab, with text flanking it from above and below).  However, once I flipped the first page, standing there in Barnes and Noble, something clicked.  Mukherjee was another beast altogether – the introduction alone bowled me over – his voice is something melodious, and while at times grandiose, wonderfully mature and filled with humanism.

The book itself is something of a behemoth, and as it should be; it calls itself “a biography of cancer” and thus spans centuries of history.  I was shocked at the sheer mass of the bibliography and footnotes.  Mukherjee’s research is thoroughly performed, and more importantly, he does a good job of turning it into a story.  We watch the beginnings of the ‘war on cancer,’ likened to the ‘war on terrorism’ by the NYer for its immaterialism.  In our audience with the emperor of all maladies, we watch the transformation of cancer treatment, through scientific discovery as much as through social revolutions.  The result is something epic, majestic and unparalleled in its approach and carry-through.

Overall – 5/5, I haven’t read something this smooth (or massive) in a long time.  Right now, the book is still in hardcover, so check out your local library or Amazon’s used list, or ask me to borrow my copy.  You won’t regret it.

Best regards,

Apple

True Grit – Orion’s Take

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

If there is such a thing as a perfect western, this is it.

For me, the idea of a western is the idea of a young America, an America untamed and still a bit wild around the edges.  This film captures the sense of an America still learning about itself, a country not wholly explored or even at ease with itself.  This is a changing country, and one that requires true grit to live in.

We are introduced to the title early on in the film.  The protagonist Mattie Ross (played without a hint of hesitation by the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) is seeking a U.S. Marshall to help her find Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a drifter who killed her father, and bring him to justice.  The fast-talking, spirited, and bright young girl settles on United States Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (an excellent Jeff Bridges) a rather disreputable but well-known Marshal who displays “true grit.”  Cogburn agrees to the terms, but attempts to leave Mattie behind.  Mattie and Cogburn also meet the Texas Ranger La Boeuf (hilariously played by Matt Damon) who is also tracking down Chaney for reasons of his own.

The cinematography is beautiful.  The wide shots of wilderness, whether it is lush or barren, are truly powerful, and the camera work never gets in the way of the story, which is told rather simply.  The Coen brothers aren’t especially known for their subtlety, but this film is handled delicately.  Quiet treks in the forest or shootouts on a plain, both are handled without excessive sentiment or heavy-handedness.

Of all the strong performances in this film, I really have to commend Hailee Steinfeld for an absolutely pitch-perfect rendition as Mattie Ross.  Her tongue cuts like a knife and stings worse than a wasp.  In one scene she takes Matt Damon’s character apart, piece by Texas piece.  In another, she negotiates with a seasoned businessman and takes the clothes off his back (figuratively).  Matt Damon is excellent as usual as the rather buffoonish La Boeuf, and Jeff Bridges manages to rise about acting to embody his character’s soul, yet I cannot help but think Hailee Steinfeld did the best job.  The rest of the cast is excellent, but the focus of the film is always on Mattie Ross.

Everything is nigh on perfect in this film.  The Coen brothers leave no little detail out.  As a good example, take Matt Damon’s pronunciation of adios, which he pronounces “ehdios,” like a proper Texan might.  And in the one part of the film where the Coen brothers had a chance to stretch their directing muscles (a scene of delirium), they show surprising restraint.  The resulting scene is both frightening and beautiful.  The ending, when it comes, is elegiac yet not melancholic.

Shot with an eye for grit and for beauty, this film will leave you breathless at times, while you marvel at the sheer energy of an untamed land.  This is what America was.  This is a western.

5/5 Waffles

-Orion

Golden Globes 2010 Nominations

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

If you haven’t already, check out the Golden Globes Nominations for this year:  http://www.goldenglobes.org/nominations/

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen all of these, but we still have our predictions (or rather, hopes)…what do you guys think?

Orion: One category I’m looking closely at (as is everyone else, I’m sure) is the Best Motion Picture – Drama category.  With Black Swan, Inception, and Social Network all nominated, this is a field of heavy-weight contenders.  I have to lean towards Black Swan, simply because of the strength of the actors and actresses involved, however it is possible that Natalie Portman will win Best Performance and Black Swan itself fail to make the cut.  I’m also looking at the Comedy/Musical category, in the hopes that Red makes it through.

Apple: I really want Jeremy Renner to win Best Supporting for The Town – he was great.  But he’s up against Geoffrey Rush from The King’s Speech and Christian Bale from “The Fighter”, so it’ll be hard to say.  I also am looking forward to seeing the winner of Best Animated – there’s Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3.  Although I didn’t like it, I’m sure Inception will take something home.  Last year had so many good movies…I know this year was great because of Waffle Reviews’ fantastic debut, but I’m not sure even about the Best Picture nominees.  Which do you think will win?

Categories: Snap Judgment

You display great poise: True Grit

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I have always liked the Coen Brothers.  They have a great sense of style, polishing their movies into smooth stones that roll along effortlessly.  “True Grit” is no exception: it is perhaps the best film I’ve seen so far this year, with really spectacular dialogue and acting.  The 1969 version starred John Wayne, who later won an Academy Award for his role; I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure this remake can quite easily hold its own as a fresh breath of quality in an otherwise frilly season.

“True Grit” tells the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old girl out to avenge her father’s death.  She hires a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, in much different role than the one we saw in “Tron”), to track down her father’s killer and bring him to justice.  Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (like Shia La Boeuf but pronounced ‘LeBeef’), is also tracking the same man, to drag back to Texas for crimes committed there.  The three have wonderfully believable, dynamic relationships, and they are vividly portrayed by a great set of actors.

Hailee Steinfeld, who was only thirteen when shooting this debut film, steals the show.  Although the title is used to describe Cogburn, who is supposedly a “man of true grit,” it is Mattie Ross whose grit the audience falls in love with.  There is one great scene, where she singlehandedly barters an amazing deal against a shopkeeper – it’s filled with wonderfully written dialogue, and while complicated to describe, is just an example of the effort and care that went into this movie.  Mattie Ross is in an adventure amongst killers and robbers, but she never backs down; her grit is amazing, and I foresee a successful future for Steinfeld.

The other actors are similarly well cast.  Matt Damon, whose versatility as an actor never ceases to amaze me, gives us a complex La Boeuf whose changes in opinion feel genuine and natural.  Bridges, too, does an excellent job – his messy appearance and personality seem so real, and his relationship with Mattie does too.  The story itself is so smooth, with great setup and even greater development.  Everything is so well done, so refined!

Overall – 4.5/5; I’m not too familiar with the Western genre, not venturing further than “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” but I recognize a great film when I see one.  If there’s one film in the holiday season you go to the movie theatres for, make it this one!

Best regards,

Apple

Tron – Orion’s Take

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Tron: Legacy is beautiful nonsense.  When the Grid pops out in 3D, when the light bikes explode in a glorious explosion of psychedelic colors, there is nothing in your head besides Daft Punk’s excellent soundtrack.

I’d love to expound on the merits and flaws of this film, but truthfully speaking this movie is nothing but fluff.  The graphics are incredible, as expected from a movie with a $175 million budget.  The acting is passable (with the noted exception of Olivia Wilde’s turn as Quorra, which is bad only because the script gave her no room to act), and after all, the great Jeff Bridges does a lot of the lifting (acting as protagonist and antagonist both).  The script is absolutely terrible, but hey, that’s not why you go to watch this movie.  One major minus is that the fight scenes are rather bad, however, as a fluff movie usually has to have some really good fight scenes.

But let me say that what saved this film from being a total waste of time.  First, I cannot explain to you how pretty this movie is.  Watching it in 3D was comparable to watching Avatar in 3D, and truthfully I preferred Tron.  Secondly, there is one sunset scene that contrasts perfectly with the darkness and pulsing neon lights of the Grid.  It occurs at the end of the movie, and acts as a kind of detox that allows you to walk out of the theater without a headache: a thoughtful touch that I appreciated after 2 hours of graphical chaos.

In the end, how much you will like this movie will depend on how much you like eye candy.  If it is just enough to withstand a ridiculous plot and half-hearted acting, this will be a treat.

3/5 Waffles

-Orion

A lack of legacy, logic, and layers – “Tron: Legacy”

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Once upon a time, in 1982, there was a breakthrough movie named “Tron” – it employed state of the art technology and quickly became a cult classic.  Now, 28 years later, we have its sequel, “Tron: Legacy,” which unfortunately comes too late for fans of the original and too early for a new generation of fans.  I never knew Tron was a real game until Orion described it as “like snake but with multiple snakes” and certainly wasn’t familiar with the original movie.

The basic story behind “Tron” is that twenty years ago, Sam Flynn’s father, Kevin Flynn, vanished.  Now grown, Sam stumbles across the Grid, a dark world illuminated only by fluorescent streaks.  His father has been trapped there, and it is up to him, a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), and his father himself to get back to the real world and stop antagonist Clu from taking over the world!

First, there is no doubting the film’s visual beauty.  This is the best use of 3D that I have encountered; the world of the grid truly comes to life.  Some of the film is even purposely filmed in 2D, to present a contrast to the 3D parts of the film.  But however much depth we might perceive the film’s visuals to have, the story is cardboard-thin.

Discussing the movie afterwards, we agreed that it felt like the story was forcibly pressed to fit the backstory that was already present.  What was especially hilarious was the technology mumbo jumbo rattled off by Kevin Flynn – his mumblings about ‘digital DNA’ set off a series of giggles in my friend Kathy Huang and I, which subsequently set off a series of shushes and elbow prods from Orion.

Sam, played by Garrett Hedlund, is supposed to be almost thirty years old, although Hedlund himself only looks a young twenty-something.  We were joined in the theatre by eight kids and their parents, and I wasn’t sure who the movie was more directed towards.  Olivia Wilde was especially miscast as Quorra – the character is evidently meant to be naively awkward, but with Wilde, it was just plain awkward; it didn’t work.  I’m missing out on good movies so far this holiday season; really looking forward to “The King’s Speech” with high expectations.

Overall, 2/5 – see it in 3D for some awesome graphics, but otherwise, skip this sequel.  Throughout the whole movie, we never even see the eponymous Tron’s face.

Best regards,

Apple

And the videogame!

Johnny Depp + Angelina Jolie = Bad Romance

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Tourist” is one of those curious creatures which on Rotten Tomatoes has earned 20% from critics but 80% from viewers.  With such a star-studded cast and a quirky but cute preview, how could a movie like “The Tourist” be bad?  I asked myself the same question over and over again – at first, there is promise, as the first few scenes with Jolie are great; the first interaction between Depp and Jolie is even good…  However, any chemistry that existed quickly fizzles, like a bad orgo experiment.

“The Tourist” is about a woman (Jolie) whose lover stole a great deal of money from some gangsters.  He has been MIA whilst supposedly undergoing serious plastic surgery to change his identity.  He writes to Jolie, telling her to find a man of his size and make the police believe that he is him, thus throwing them off of his true trail.  It’s a good setup, but stumbles and ultimately falls through.

There are so many great supporting actors: Paul Bettany, Steven Berkoff, and Rufus Sewell.  Yet, each one’s potential is completely wasted, as they don’t seem to really do anything.  I’m especially disappointed because this is from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the genius who brought us Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others” – this movie could have been great, could have worked, but it didn’t.

The action movies felt like the work of amaterus, even though we all know Jolie can pull off Tomb Raider moves.  I tried to figure out who/what I could blame for the sheer badness.  Jolie is beautiful, Depp is charmingly awkward; their dynamic should be fun but it’s just not convincing.

At the end, there is a twist.  Surprise!  Orion, most oblivious of film watchers, predicted its arrival.  So yes, you can probably guess it too.

Overall, 2/5 – nice actors and beautiful scenery, but a plodding, convoluted plot.  See it in holiday spirit or if you’re into Venice, but for no other reason.

Best regards,

Apple

 

The Tourist – Orion’s Take

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Not what I expected.  That about sums up my reaction to the new “action/thriller” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  Except for the twist, which (ironically) I totally saw coming, this movie is filled with surprises, some pleasant and others quite unpleasant.  I had high expectations for this film, expectations I now have to lay aside.  Despite almost falling into boredom, and despite really liking some scenes, I can’t help but feel exceedingly lukewarm about this film.

Angelina Jolie plays an elegant thief(?) named Elise who is being watched by the police because of her connection to a certain Alexander Pearce.  Pearce has stolen several billion dollars from a very dangerous gangster (Steven Berkoff), and is being pursued by the police because of unpaid taxes to the tune of some $700 million.  After two years of no word from Pearce, Elise receives a message from him which states that she should pick out some unsuspecting idiot on the train and make the police believe that it is him (as Pearce has never been photographed, and supposedly has had plastic surgery).  Elise picks Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher at a community college in Wisconsin on a train to Venice, and voila, the chase begins.

Let’s start with the pleasant surprises: firstly, the two leads are excellent.  Johnny Depp brings his ever present charm and imbues his rather clueless character with that kind of dashing mischievousness that so characterizes him.  Angelina Jolie looks right at home in the midst of splendor and elegance, and her sultry sarcasm (yes, even her sarcasm is sultry) really enlivens the dialogue.  Unpleasant surprise: the amount of chemistry between the two actors is pitiful.  At one point Frank looks at Elise as she drives away in a boat and says, “But I’m in love with you!”  Really?  Because I couldn’t see it at all.  In fact, by that point I was barely beginning to detect the beginnings of an interesting friendship, and this was halfway through the film.  Though Jolie is always sultry she is never more than barely so toward Frank.  Pleasant surprise: though there is no real chemistry, the interaction between Elise and Frank throughout the film is always funny.  In several scenes I had to laugh out loud at how Elise was playing Frank (and everyone else for that matter).  Unpleasant surprise: how booooring the film was when Elise and Frank weren’t interacting in this manner.  This is supposed to be a thriller, right?  Then what is with the less-than-tense chase scenes?  Where is the edge that pushes the film?  Even at the climax of the film, when everything seems to be going wrong, there is literally a sniper squad at the ready looking at the bad guys and just waiting to fire.  There is never any real danger to anybody.

However lukewarm my overall feelings about this film might be, it was at least watchable.  Depp and Jolie push their characters as far as they can go, and though their characters are flat, they imbue them with a certain warmth.  To be truthful, however, If I had to choose between watching Depp and Jolie scamper about Venice and actually going there, I have no doubt I would choose the latter.

3.5/5 Waffles

Love,

-Orion

Tangle-free and shiny: Disney’s “Tangled”

For a movie named “Tangled,” Disney’s new animation feature is surprisingly smooth.  The characters are beautifully rendered, as are several very moving scenes, which I’m sure Orion has emphasized enough.  Princess Rapunzel has been kidnapped for the healing powers of her luscious blond hair, which may not be cut, and thus has lived her whole life in isolation, with only her ‘mother’ Gothel as a company.  Of course, she has an adorable chameleon named Pascal as a sidekick, but she spends most of her time struggling to fill it up.  Boredom is certainly a familiar feeling for the age-group this movie is targeted at, and this movie surely succeeds at curing it.

Going in, I didn’t realize “Tangled” was going to have singing; it’s been a long time since I saw a musical picture.  However, the singing felt right at place; Mandy Moore did a surprisingly nice job of giving our princess her voice, as did all the other members of the cast.  It’s actually very refreshing to get a song in the middle of a movie, to give it texture and a break from plain old speech.  Gothel’s voice actress especially – Donna Murphy – gives an excellent performance of the line, “Mother knows best.”  Even from the bright beginnings of the movie, there is a hint of menace in her voice; by the end, it has fully emerged as a beast, rasping its way to dominance.

The movie overall was adorable, pulling in an expressive horse, plenty of ragamuffins, and of course a dose of true love.  Flynn Rider, a daring thief whose real name turns out to be Eugene Fitzherbert, stumbles upon Rapunzel and the two are whisked off through the forest in a quid pro quo relationship, alone together in a “Shrek”-like recipe for interaction.  It’s cute stuff, and well set up.

At one point – to me, the climax of the movie – Rapunzel and Eugene sit on a rowboat, watching the sky fill up with paper lanterns (kong ming deng, if you’re familiar with them).  Eugene surprises Rapunzel with their own set of paper lanterns, and this simple gesture is unbelievably touching.  The entire scene (the same one Orion has gone on and on about) is so realistically rendered; the timing is carefully considered, so that it is perfect.  In what could be a scene on scale of the hundreds of plants from “Curse of the Golden Flower,” lanterns outshine the stars with their fiery magnificence.

Overall – beautiful, wholesome, sweet; it’s no “Beauty and the Beast,” but it’s a hell of a lot better than some of the other stuff Disney has been putting out lately.  See it to get a lift from the grind of finals week!

Best regards,

Apple

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