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Archive for April, 2011

May 2011 movies!

Which May 2011 movies do you want to see?  There are a lot of interesting ones!  Vote on the sidebar!

Thor – Norse mythology!  Natalie Portman!  Action and thunder!

The Beaver – Depressed Mel Gibson and a beaver puppet; family includes Jodie Foster.

Last Night – Keira Knightley + Sam Worthington + out of marriage temptations!

Priest – Vampires + priests; Paul Bettany starring.  From a comic book.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – no more Knightley/Bloom, but Penelope Cruz joins!

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Jack Black returns to voice fatty panda Po!

The Tree of Life – Brad Pitt stars in this dramatic period piece.

Celebrity doppelganger escapes intra-movie limitations to inter-movie world!

Friends with Benefits = No Strings Attached.  Mila Kunis = Natalie Portman = celebrity doppelganger – (http://appleandorion.com/2010/12/05/mila-kunis%E2%80%99-celebrity-doppelganger-is-natalie-portman-on-%E2%80%98were-swans%E2%80%99-in-%E2%80%9Cblack-swan%E2%80%9D/) – did I say it or what?

Categories: Previews, Snap Judgment

Previews from Hanna!

For some reason, the previews from Hanna were really interesting!  Here are some:

The Debt: Sam Worthington!  Three assassins/agents go into the Soviet Union but fail to complete their job…many years later, the much older agents decide to finish what they started.

Priest: lololol!

Anonymous: a historical drama about Shakespeare!

Warrior: this looks just like “The Fighter”!

Hanna–Orion’s Take

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Watching Eric Heller (Eric Bana) dismantle four agents is very much a pleasurable experience.  I do not use the word dismantle lightly.  While James Bond might be charming, watching him beat up thugs is like watching a man try to take a watch apart by slamming it on the ground.  Watching Eric Heller, on the other hand, is like watching a watchmaker deliberately separate all the pieces.  His movements waste no motion, no energy.  His sole intent is the disabling of his pursuers, and when he’s done with them, they don’t even twitch.

When the movie opens, we see Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) in brief flashes amid the snowy landscape.  She’s hunting a reindeer, and so moves quickly and silently from one location to another.  When the deer goes down, Hanna is there to cut it open.  She’s like her father—deadly, efficient, and merciless.  She’s been trained that way so that when the time comes she can find and kill Marissa Wiegler (played chillingly by Cate Blanchett).  But she’s also a young girl with a fascination with everything and everyone, her young exuberance shining through at every moment.  You can train a girl to be an assassin, but she’s still going to have the heart of a young girl.

This naïve wonder, this curiosity towards the world, is handled brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan.  Much of the movie involves not only Hanna’s hunt for Marissa Wiegler but also her growth in a world she has never seen.  For me, this character development was handled well, maybe not perfectly, but with an amount of competence.  There is a certain charm to the way Hanna responds to questions (when asked about what her mother died of, Hanna simply says, “Three bullets”) and her strength makes that charm all the more endearing.

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been watching movies with heroines that are kind of weird (Jane Eyre, Babydoll from Sucker Punch) but Hanna really appealed to me as a truly strong girl.  She’s not a falsely steely-eyed assassin like Marissa Wiegler.  Her heart, despite everything, is pure.  This purity is what I loved most about the film, the way her heart is free and full of light, the way that despite everything she has to do to survive, she can still admire a run-down amusement park as magical.  This is especially striking when one considers the two counter characters of Marissa Wiegler and Eric Heller.  Eric is a weary soul, just tired of it all, while Marissa Wiegler is a woman afraid—but we are not really given a glimpse of what that fear is.

Before I start complaining, I want to spend some time praising the acting.  Every single member of the case was exemplary, but Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana are especially worth noting because they manage to hold their own against the marvelous lightness of Saoirse Ronan’s performance.  Cate Blanchett adopts a southern drawl that grates against Wiegler’s steel spine—Wiegler’s affected sweetness is brutally drowned in her vicious movements.  In one scene, she angrily screws on a silencer in preparation for a cold-blooded assassination.  She’s angry because her target is not afraid, and that anger is not satisfied until the victim in lying in a pool of blood.  Then a hint of pleasure shivers through her voice, as she says in German, “Just like her mother.”

Eric Bana is simply cool, in all senses of the word.  When fighting, his actions are smooth, brutal to the point of beauty.  When he speaks, though, we get the hint of gentleness that is so missing in Wiegler’s character.  In one pivotal scene, after a long fight, we see his weary face brighten with pride as he says something about Hanna.  From the very beginning, we see his connection with Hanna, the desire to protect her conflicting with his desire to set her free.

But despite the excellent acting, something about the story simply does not ring true.  I believe the characters—as they are in the time depicted in the movie.  But I can’t accept their motivations.  What drives Wiegler?  Shame?  Guilt?  Fear?  Why does Eric Heller hide in the first place?

The ending, cycling back, will be immediately recognizable.  The time in between—the growth and the interaction of characters, was worthwhile, a little world contained.  I just wish I could believe the world outside those borders.

4.5/5 Waffles

-Orion

PS—There is more to say, but just watch the movie first.

I just missed your heart: On tension and incoherent histories in “Hanna”

April 15, 2011 2 comments

Because it had the most votes on our monthly poll, and because it looked damn badass, Orion and I went to see “Hanna” this week.  The trailer summarizes the premise pretty well: Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl trained to kill a woman named Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett); she has grown up her whole life in the Arctic forests with father figure Erik Heller (Eric Bana).  Now, set loose into the world to kill Marissa, she struggles to come to terms with the brave new world around her, and is constantly on the run from men who want to capture her.

The best part of “Hanna” was undoubtedly the action scenes.  A quick tempo, heart pounding music, and crispy choreographed fighting all led to a level of tension that I could barely believe.  Reminiscent of fights from “The Bourne Identity,” “Hanna” is full of chase scenes that truly inspire adrenaline.  If “Hanna” were nothing but these action scenes, it would be an undoubted 5/5.

Unfortunately, the pure speed and rhythm of action scenes are constantly interrupted by a vain attempt to show Hanna’s integration into normal society.  She meets a touring family, and briefly befriends the tween daughter, who takes her out and uses words like “vomitorium.”  I think that alone makes it clear that whoever wrote the story wasn’t in his right head.  Furthermore, the film attempts to sketch in a science fiction backstory, with something being strange about Hanna’s DNA.  This backstory is terrible, filled with weak points and feels last minute, as if writers were barreling through the script the night before their deadline.  These poorly drawn stories then cast doubt onto otherwise excellent characters, and corrupt great performances with nonsensical and incoherent histories.

In terms of the performances, everyone was great. Eric Bana was likewise great as Erik Heller, coming off as ultracompetent in some senses, while weak in others; what faults the character has comes, as aforementioned, from the thin design.  At one moment, Erik Heller is far-seeing, knowing that one day Hanna will grow up and become unsatisfied with the solitary, woodsy lifestyle that Erik has built for her.  At the next moment, he fails to see what obvious obstacles Hanna would have integrating into the world.  Again, this is not Bana’s fault, and I think he did his best with what he had.

Cate Blanchett played CIA agent Marissa Viegler, and her personality reminded me of Tilda Swinton’s role in “Michael Clayton.”  She had an excellent witch-smile, fitting the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale theme that director Joe Wright struggled to work in.  As expected, Saoirse Ronan was an excellent cold, ruthless yet naïve assassin.  She has the same nuance and believability we saw in “Atonement,” although her character’s actual situation borders on absurd.  The fact that she was able to convince us to like Hanna in lieu of the terrible story really says a lot.

I really, really wish the story of “Hanna” were better – I want so much to like the movie, to be able to recommend it for more than just excellent action.  I wanted Hanna to grow as a character, and I wanted strong themes to weave through the movie, growing themselves into lessons for viewers to reap.  Unfortunately, all attempts at meaning fall through: in the beginning of the movie, Erik reads to Hanna from an encyclopedia about “music,” and Hanna replies that she wants to see it for herself.  Each time Hanna hears music, we are reminded of this statement; likewise, a scene at the end parallels a scene from the beginning, but it is just too exactly.  Such heavy-handedness is intolerable to me, because it gives no credit to the movie-viewer.

Overall – 4/5, the action scenes are so good that they balance out the terrible storyline, but just barely so.  I recommend it!

Best regards,

Apple

I must keep in good health and not die: on the sheer boringness of “Jane Eyre”

I wanted to see “Jane Eyre” since I first saw its preview last winter.  Unfortunately, Orion adamantly refused, having read and hated the book in high school.  We finally got to see it this week, and by the time the movie was over, Orion was singing its praises while I was so bored I could barely rouse myself from the theatre seats.  Go figure.  (I remember my roommate being assigned “Wuthering Heights” in high school, written by a different Bronte sister, Emily.  I picked up the book and read the whole thing, regarding it as the funniest things I had ever read.  I began reading Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” but couldn’t get through the first chapter.)  But the movie looked good, and I especially liked the slight tinge of mysterious, dark, gothic elements.  There are hints of the supernatural, of secrets being kept, and of haunting ghosts – these felt surprisingly in an otherwise period piece, but were well received by our audience.

I’m not exactly sure why this movie was so boring, and I’m not exactly sure why I disliked Jane Eyre so much.  She was great at first, being strong but reserved, fierce but quiet, but then she had to go and FALL IN LOVE.  I couldn’t get into her after that.  She seemed so strong for the beginning of the movie, so plucky despite her misfortunes – I just couldn’t forgive her for falling in love with the first man she met.  It was almost as bad as Grushenka’s change of heart in The Brothers Karamazov.  I don’t know if the book handled this in a convincing manner, but the movie certainly didn’t.  There were barely five conversations before Rochester declares outright to Jane, “You rare, unearthly thing, I must have you!”  (I later misremembered him as saying, “You weird, unusual creature!”  That’s just the vibe I get from Michael Fassbender’s Rochester.)

Speaking of the actors, Mia Wasikowska was wonderfully plain, which I felt fit Jane Eyre very well.  I guess it wasn’t her fault the story/movie took a turn for the worse.  Judi Dench plays a supporting character, Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper, and I just couldn’t get over how miscast this felt.  I thought Dench was far too strong an actress to be written into this old woman’s personality.  As for Rochester, like I said earlier, I thought Fassbender was just strange.

Overall, 1.5/5.  This was seriously the lamest movie I’ve seen this year.  I’m sorry for the terribly boring review, but really, I didn’t feel like the movie had any material for me to work with.  Orion claims this is because I am immature, but I think some movies just aren’t to my tastes.

Best regards,

Apple

Jane Eyre–Orion’s Take

April 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Full disclosure: I hated Jane Eyre when I read it in high school.  It was the ending that frustrated me: a happy ending to a story wreathed in darkness and fear.  I found it utterly unbelievable, so much so that I ended up rewriting the ending for my final project (I got an A-).  My ending was depressing, but in my rather biased estimation, more realistic.

The film has all of the novel’s weaknesses, but beautifully renders its strengths on the screen.  The first shot, darkness opening unto light, brought me back so viscerally into a story I had forgotten that I literally caught my breath.  As the story of a cruel childhood unfolded and I remembered what I had read several years ago, I marveled at how much I had despised the novel.  I was attracted to Jane Eyre’s quiet fire, the spunk and emotion of her youth, and the dignified sarcasm of her adulthood.  I felt myself hoping for her happiness, for love to bloom and grace her face with a smile.  To tell the truth, I was surprised at how sentimental I was being, which speaks to both the strength of the plot as penned by Charlotte Bronte and the strength of the acting.  Amelia Clarkson is great as a young Jane Eyre, her strength dancing undaunted in her eyes when she declares to her stepmother that she is not a liar.  Mia Wasikowska, a very young Australian actress (just 21!) is a marvel, stiff and reserved when necessary, but exploding into a sarcastic biting wit when bantering.  Judie Dench, a legend, brings strength and dignity to the character of Mrs. Fairfax (where, to be fair, strength probably was hard to find).  Michael Fassbender is excellent as the rather grumpy Mr. Rochester.  I can gush on and on about the cast, but I think you get the point.

One of many great aspects of this film is the way in which it conveys not only the central romance of the book but also the gothic, creepiness of the story.  Mr. Rochester doesn’t just brood because he’s a brooding person.  There is a darkness behind him that is wonderfully captured.  Jane Eyre’s own troubled past is explored in full detail.  And this is all done absolutely beautifully: the film looks gorgeous.  The lush greens of a rich countryside, the darkness that existed before the invention of electric lights, the gleam of rich wood, the bleakness of stone is all captured and expressed in a way that is hard for novels.

But, and there must be a but, the ending is still unsatisfying for your brain.  However, I accepted it in my heart.  This is a true adaptation, one that captures the soul of the novel in a way that I admire.  The ending, as bad as it remains, was one that I appreciated.  I needed a happy ending and hopefully so will you.

4.5/5 Waffles

–Orion

Improper representation: a manifesto on documentaries (incl. King of Kong and Mississippi Queen)

April 7, 2011 1 comment

I am of the opinion that there is nothing worse than a documentary with an agenda.  When I go see a documentary, I want something that educates me, something that shows me something I would otherwise not be able to see.  What I do not want is to be force-fed some director’s disgustingly one-sided view of the world.  Whilst trapped in the darkness of the theatre, after having paid an entrance fee, the audience is vulnerable to all sorts of mad propaganda.

Among the worst of these are movies that seem to be fighting for something helpless; whether they be cute dolphins or schoolchildren, moviegoers are especially susceptible to manipulation under these topics.  However, I’ve tried to avoid these due to the angry reaction they incite, and instead have stuck to lighter pieces such as The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

They say that “winners write the history books,” but who reads history books nowadays?  I propose an update: “he who writes the history books (aka, films the documentary) is the winner!” King of Kong is the story of two men fighting to be the internationally recognized champion of Donkey Kong, an early Mario videogame.  The main record holder is an outspoken gunner named Billy Mitchell, but he’s not the hero of the movie.  A quiet schoolteacher, family man named Steve Wiebe buys an old arcade unit of Donkey Kong and plays it in his garage.  Pretty soon, he gets good, and begins challenging Billy Mitchell’s longtime place as the king of Kong.  The film covers Steve’s journey to have his score recognized, and face off against Billy Mitchell the old fashioned way, in person at the arcade.

Despite his best attempts, Steve is never able to play against Billy, who seems to avoid this new challenger at all costs.  The movie is filled with interviews of both players, their friends and family, as well as the members of Twin Galaxies, the group responsible for verifying and record-keeping gaming achievements.  I applaud this movie’s generosity at giving us a detailed peek into a small niche world; I feel like I have learned something about the difficulties of the gaming record world.

What still nags me, though, is wondering just how much is genuine about the documentary.  As the audience, we are clearly meant to favor Steve over Billy Mitchell, yet there are plenty of interviews of both.  I wonder if Billy Mitchell knew how he was going to be portrayed in the movie, whether his wife and parents knew that while they were being filmed that their words would be eventually juxtaposed against Billy Mitchell’s failures, his cowardly (or so it seems) actions.  Billy’s friends’ interviews provide a rather cruel irony in their praise of his character, which adds yet another layer to an already negative portrayal.

Is it too harsh for me to judge what I assume is meant to be a mostly harmless story?  Not having been present for any of these events, I can’t tell what really went down, if Billy Mitchell is as big a jerk as he seems.  All I have is my skepticism, and I can’t help but heed this sense that not all is as it seems.

King of Kong is a lighthearted film, and by comparison, I felt very differently about Mississippi Queen, which took on a much more serious issue.  To be fair, Mississippi Queen is marketed as a personal exploration, and I do admire filmmaker Paige’s courage, but it’s just not what I look for in a documentary.

Mississippi Queen is a documentary we watched in class, in which Paige explores the southern ex-gay ministry.  At first, I thought that this would be a good, unbiased approach into an extremely controversial topic, but it soon delved into a story that was too personal, literally too close to Paige’s own home.  She starts by interviewing several women who have changed their lifestyles, and I was surprised by their stories.  I guess I had always assumed the movement to be a vicious, religious harkening, full of close-minded leaders.  But several people that Paige interviewed were not only extremely open to different opinions, but had clearly given a lot of deep thought to their decisions and feelings.  Of course, Paige includes a few angry, championing guys, but their interview scenes are filled with little text notes from the Bible that contradict exactly what they are saying; it’s done in a way that leaves the filmmaker’s opinions clear.

I like the film until it became about Paige.  She includes interviews of her parents, of her wife, and as the film progresses, lets too many of her own feelings interfere with what was previously an interesting look into a loaded field.  If Mississippi Queen’s content had, say, been used to make a feature movie (Based On A True Story, BOATS, of course), I feel I could have been much more okay with Paige’s journey as a personal story.  As it is, when I watch a “documentary,” I want an unbiased, impersonal, educational approach.

It is always much harder to rate documentaries than it is to rate movies (see The Cove or Waiting for Superman).  The real world is full of real people, and by judging documentaries, I feel guilty, as if it were the actual people I am judging.  Perhaps in my reviews, I have already judged them, but all the same, as a matter of what principle remains, I will refrain from tacking numerical values to documentaries.

As it is, I hope that you, the reader, can still appreciate the opinions and thoughts I have expressed.  And should you choose to go forth and peruse the aforementioned pieces yourself, I hope that my ideas will remain in your thoughts, either reaffirming your own or providing content for always-welcome debate.

Best regards,

Apple

Sucker Punch–A Rambling Review by Orion

Watching several scantily-attired women kill zombie Nazis with swords and guns while a hot Asian chick sucking on a sucker pilots a mecha-suit (or something of that nature) was…interesting.  Or at least it appealed to my brute senses in a very primitive way.  The skeleton of the story was far more appealing than I had been led to believe by the trailers, the emotion raw but strangely compelling, the actresses oozing both sexuality and vulnerability.  The structure, a fantasy within a fantasy, explored issues of escapism and empowerment, albeit in a very crude way.  But I felt that there was something there, something deeper that remained woefully distant, a depth that could have, might have, saved this movie from…from what, exactly, I can’t say.  I can’t help but like this film more than a similarly ridiculous one (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).  Whereas Scott Pilgrim had a sort of nerdy polish but no real depth, Sucker Punch is a wild and messy film that aspires to something great.

If you couldn’t tell this movie is straining to hold itself together.  The responses to this film have ranged from a kind of exploitative pleasure to disgust (I heard a man and a woman speaking about this film—“It was awesome!”-man.  “Oh, shut up, you just liked it because of the costumes, which were, by the way, terrible.  It would be so impractical to fight in those clothes.”-woman) and I ran the gamut in terms of emotions.  I couldn’t help but like the style of the film, the flashiness that Zach Snyder brings to the table, but I would have liked a gentler touch with the overarching plot.  At some points the action scenes distracted from the real emotion that is involved in this story of a girl wronged and assigned to a mental asylum.  This distraction was compounded at some points by the structure of the film—most of the film takes place in a fantasy world one level removed from the actuality of the plot, and the action scenes take place one level further from reality.  While at some points this distance works, at other times this extended metaphor/fantasy is just confusing.

It’s hard to explain the structure, especially since the movie itself fails to clear up some points, but in essence there are three levels of the film:

LEVEL 1—this is reality, where the story is that of a girl, Baby Doll, whose stepfather places her in a mental institution and bribes an orderly to have her lobotomized.  It is revealed here that the doctor who will do the lobotomy won’t come for five days.

LEVEL 2—A fantasy that puts Baby Doll in a different prison, a bordello, where she plans an escape.  On this level, Baby Doll is capable of completely distracting men with her dance.

LEVEL 3—A further fantasy world in which all battles occur.  When Baby Doll dances on Level 2, this is where the girls are transported.

There are so many ideas I appreciated in this film.  Simple touches, like a story behind dragon’s fire, like off-screen violence that hits you hard, like the damn twist at the end, all these things make me want to like this film.  But there’s simply too much here, too much stupidity mixed in with ambition, too much trash mixed in with the gold.  I just can’t stomach the mix.

3.5/5 Waffles

–Orion

P.S.  If you want a better written and smarter exploration of Sucker Punch, check out this article: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/our_picks/index.html?story=/ent/movies/andrew_ohehir/2011/03/24/sucker_punch

 

You have all the weapons you need: on sexism and offence in “Sucker Punch”

Going into “Sucker Punch,” Orion and I were expecting a mindless action flick.  Coming out, we were both unsure of how we felt; the movie seemed to be straining for something, but neither of us was quite sure exactly what that something could be.  The film is highly stylized, as per director Zack Snyder’s usual style, and is filled with imagined worlds and fight sequences.

The first scene is told entirely without words, with heavy music in the background; because of this, the whole setup is inherently ambiguous.  It’s not really clear how our protagonist, the aptly named Babydoll, ends up in the asylum that she does.  But all that doesn’t seem to matter much, because as soon as Babydoll gets to her prison, she immediately imagines it into a theatre (brothel?), where the inmates are dancers (and more?).  When Baby dances, she further imagines herself as a fighter, battling dragons and cyborg zombie Nazis.  (F A N T A C E P T I O N, no?)  In many ways, this felt like a mix of a comic book and a video game: Baby’s goal is to escape, and to do it, she needs to find five objects, which she searches for in all three layers of fantasy.

This movie has the extraordinarily low score on Rotten Tomatoes of 20% from critics (the audience was more generous, giving it 60%).  Reviewers criticized it as being boring and nonsensical, but surprisingly, I felt drawn into the story.  Sure, the characters’ back stories didn’t make much sense, and neither did most of Baby’s fantasies, but the movie still had quite a few nice shots.  Action ranged from sped-up to completely slowed-down; objects hitting the ground were given a great deal of focus, sound, and time.  At one point, we watch the girls talk at dressing stations, and it isn’t until the camera moves that we realize we had actually been inside the mirror.  I actually liked how genres were mixed: in one scene, Babydoll takes on a giant demonic samurai-esque creatures which wield swords and machine guns.

I still haven’t made up my mind whether or not to be offended.  Sure, the movie is full of girls in short skirts, but at least it strains for something like empowerment.  Baby imagines the girls as warriors, elite, powerful, who bend to no one; isn’t this attempt at empowerment worth something?  Standing alone, the movie is wonderfully trashy, but something holds me back from recommending it.  Is it the guiltless objectification of its heroines?  Is it the exploitative stereotype of a beautiful, helpless patient?  I have been told that this is a “guy movie,” and I hate being typecast into liking “girl movies,” but I definitely feel like there’s a barrier.

Overall, 3/5 – maybe it’s because I went in with such low expectations, but “Sucker Punch” definitely exceeded my expectations by at least aiming to be empowering.  It may not have succeeded, but I have to say, it was pretty awesome to watch a bunch of girls take on a steampunk army (even if their weapons had little cellphone charms dangling off of them).

Best regards,

Apple

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