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“I’m here to pick up a fossil” – on unchanging ideals in “Captain America 2″

Captain-america-2-poster-us-fullWarning, spoilers are present below!

Several years ago, I reviewed the first Captain America movie, criticizing it for being too safe and glorifying war.  In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” there is some degree of realism – mentions of PTSD, groups at the VA, doubting the morality of covert missions.  However, it’s very little of the movie, and what doubt exists is mostly for naught – Steve Rogers is still a straight arrow, boring and flat.  Even Romanoff, who supposedly has more flexible principles, was quite simple.  Also, I liked her better with dark, curly hair.   There was a great opportunity here – dropping a hero from days past into the modern world and watching him struggle to align his way of thinking with that of his new surroundings.  There’s a couple good moments where Fury describes how things must be realistic; unfortunately, Captain America barely changes, and instead just gets his way when he (of course) ends up being right about everything.

In terms of style, I thought some of the fight scenes were really too ridiculous.  It’s fine to have heroes bounce their shields off walls with billiards-like movements in a cartoon, but to see the same effect so poorly-rendered in a movie is pitiful.  Plenty of other superhero movies have portrayed high-powered fights with believable physics, so why couldn’t they here? I also thought the dialogue was for the most part bland, with the occasional cute quip thrown in.  Furthermore, there were devices thrown in just for the sake of advancing/delaying the plot – why does the Winter Soldier wear a mask?  So we don’t know who he is until it gets taken off.  I can’t stand storytelling that resorts to this kind of weak mechanism.  There are too many predictable cards – the sidekick who joins up (despite previously mentioning how happy he was to get out of fighting), the nemesis who turns out to be a former best friend, etc.  I had heard great things about Captain America 2, and had high hopes for it despite disliking the original.  After seeing it, I can’t fathom how it managed to score so high on Rotten Tomatoes (89/95%).

I do have to applaud Marvel for building up quite an expansive cinematic universe.  I actually enjoyed the television series, “Agents of SHIELD,”  which follows a team of less famous actors that constantly refers to movie characters like Thor or Captain America.  However, as I discussed in “The Avengers,” there’s a danger in involving too many heroes – someone will have to take the back seat, and things will eventually spiral into complicated mush.  In terms of Marvel’s main movies thus far, I thought the first “Iron Man” had some original ideas, but that since then, their movies have devolved into disappointing money-making pieces that are continuously churned out as if through an assembly line.  Sorry, Marvel, I think I’m going to have to stick with DC from now on.

“Always strive to elevate your craft” – on passion in Jiro Dreams of Sushi

jiro_dreams_of_sushi_xlgThis post is unique because here is an example of two of my passions colliding.  I have a food blog that I update much more regularly than this blog, and I plan to post about this film there as well.  However, as this is a film blog, I will focus more on the aspects unique to film, rather than my philosophy on food and restaurant experiences.  I thought the film was beautiful, with lots of slow motion and fast motion interspersed.  I thought the elegance of the food was captured visually, and the story behind the food only made it that much more lovely.  The film also utilized sound in a wonderful way – at times, the sounds resembled those heard on radio programs, full of auditory stimulation.  (Another great example of auditory stimulation is the short, Fresh Guacamole.)  I thought the interviews were interesting, but the camera always stayed a little too long on their subjects, as if waiting for more – perhaps all cameras do this in order to not miss anything, but are cut out in the final production.  In the case of this film, it lead to an uneasy feeling, a sense of nervousness.  Subjects occasionally glance up at the camera as well, unused to it.  Otherwise, the narratives with all the dealers – the tuna dealer, the shrimp dealer, even the rice dealer – as well as the details around the preparation of all the different types of sushi, really built up a beautiful story.  The difficult life of Jiro’s firstborn was especially tangible, communicated to the audience through small moments here and there.

5/5 – I highly recommend this film.

“The spaces between the words are almost infinite” – on slow conversations in “her”

  • FILM_HerI heard great things about “her,” that it made you think, that it was a great film, etc.  I thought I had better watch it.
  • I love stories that have just a touch of science fiction to them – I feel that this expansion of rules allows for unique ways to probe old problems.  In this case, I felt like it wasn’t used to its full potential.  I thought it was funny how everyone in this future wore their pants quite high.  I also thought the idea of a surrogate partner was genuine and interesting, and also totally awkward.  I wish there could have been more explorations into the world of human-OS relationships.
  • Scarlett Johansson’s voice is perfect.  Apparently, the film was originally shot with Samantha Morton standing in a box; I don’t know how she would have sounded, but I do think that Scarlett Johansson did a great job.
  • While many of the conversations are touching and sweet, sometimes it feels like Spike Jonze was trying too hard.  Some of the dialogue feels forced and fake; at times, Samantha is overly naive, at other times, unexpectedly worldly.
  • The first half of the movie is very slow; I got so bored at one point that I stopped watching and went to do something else.  I eventually came back and gave it a second chance, because I wanted to see what would happen in the end.
  • Overall, 3/5 – some interesting ideas, but too much talking, too slowly.

“Everything is awesome!” – on joy in “The Lego Movie”

  • MV5BMTg4MDk1ODExN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzIyNjg3MDE@._V1_SX214_I was initially doubtful of the idea of a Lego movie, despite the Lego games being excellent.  However, after hearing nothing but good things about it, I decided to give in and finally go see it.
  • It was hilarious, one of those rare laugh-out-loud movies.  The characters were adorable, the story had great moments.  I loved how the Master Builder powers were depicted, as well as the sound as new things were constructed.
  • The lapse into real-world film was a great, unexpected twist.  It brought its own message, another layer to the film.
  • 5/5

“The cold never bothered me anyway” – on progressive ideas in Disney’s “Frozen”

February 24, 2014 Leave a comment
  • Frozen_(2013_film)_posterI loved how spunky Anna was, and the struggle that Elsa faced.  The fact that parents can be wrong even when well-intentioned, that once can’t marry a man one has just met, and that not all princes are perfect – these are just a few of the great topics addressed in “Frozen”.
  • Idina Menzel (Elphaba!) does a fantastic job with “Let It Go”, and the animation sequence that goes along with it was fantastic as well.  The working song “Frozen Heart” was also good, but I always love working songs.
  • I felt the movie missed a scene where Elsa explained to Anna what had happened when they were children, and that Anna just stumbles through the whole movie without knowing their history.
  • I felt like dialogue took over in the second half of the movie, and opportunities for additional songs were missed.  Musicals are great in that songs act basically like soliloquies, allowing us to glimpse inside a character’s mind without the trouble of having to use interactions/actions to show, not tell.  When done well, songs are excellent ways of getting to know characters!
  • There’s a cute bonus scene after the credits.
  • 5/5!

“All is well” – on calculations in “3 Idiots”

February 24, 2014 Leave a comment

3_idiots_poster“3 Idiots” is one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films, following three friends through their stressful education at a prestigious engineering college.  While the film attempts to address ideals such as following your heart, studying out of a passion for knowledge, etc., it fumbles over its too-precise calculations.  The interactions feel scripted, and the whole story falls short of sincerity.  Despite the attempts at back-story, there doesn’t seem to be any complex characters – there is only pure love and pure hate, with no room for doubt or anything that the audience might not be able to follow.  Almost every plot twist was predictable, down to the last big reveal.  For a few scenes, a household described as living in the 1950s is depicted in black and white, a nice cinematic touch.  There’s some cute moments, and the movie does a reasonable job of depicting parent-child relationships, but overall, the movie was idealistic even in its conflicts.

2/5.

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Closing the loop: on unexpected story in “Looper”

December 30, 2012 Leave a comment

looper-posterI went in knowing very little about the movie, besides that it involved time travel and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it.  When the movie finished, I sat in my seat for a little bit, thinking.  The film caught me completely off guard, perhaps because I had such low expectations for it, but perhaps because it was uniquely designed, told an unexpected story, and brought more to the table than its trailers promised it would.

The film is creative in many ways, especially in the way that it uses time travel as a tool, not as a purpose; time travel is set up an interesting way through which we can explore certain ideas.  We could go on and on debating the incorrect details of how the did or did not handle time travel, but that’s simply displaced, even by the characters themselves.  In the words of Old Joe, Bruce Willis, “this time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg,” who goes on to dismiss all.

There’s a terribly gruesome scene, during which we don’t actually see anything.  Somehow, that lack makes the scene all the more worse – imagination has always been the most powerful storyteller.

There’s a wry sense of humor pervading the film.  Small moments, like the name of the waitress with fewer letters.  Good interplay between past/present Joe.  Nice camera decisions, poignant imagery.

Emily Blunt did an excellent job here, coming off as both tough and struggling, a great improvement from her performance in “The Adjustment Bureau.”  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fine too, although he looked a little strange, trying so hard to be a young Bruce Willis.

4/5 Waffles

Do you hear the people sing? – A rapid review of “Les Miserables”

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

amanda-seyfried-new-les-miserables-poster-01I’m sorry to say that, despite experiencing chills during the opening scenes of “Les Miserables,” I fell asleep during several scenes near the end.  The live show was amazing when I saw it back in undergrad, and I felt that the quality of the singing was lower here, especially with Javert, despite Russell Crowe’s piercing glare.  Everyone has been praising Anne Hathaway’s performance, but I felt it was a little empty, a little simple.

I expected the movie to flaunt its medium more – with film, one is able to get both closer and farther from the singers, as well as realistic scenery and setting.  The opening scene was a good example of this – the ship was huge, and the shot started unexpectedly from underwater.  However, too much of the film was the same: close-ups of the actors, blurring in and out of focus, singing.  While this might be more intimate than watching someone sing on a stage, the truth is that a lot of people don’t really look that good or interesting while they’re singing, and having a face so up in your face actually detracts from the musical performance.

Despite my misgivings, the movie got a round of applause at the end.  Also, why was this a Christmas movie?  It’s a bit of a downer.

3/5 Waffles

And though we are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven – a rapid review of Skyfall

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

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  • Great use of mirrors and reflective surfaces:
  1. James looking up after a night of drinking, seeing his reflection and the news behind him.
  2. Battle with Patrice in a glass skyscraper.
  3. Final holdout at Skyfall, firing at a mirror rather than the true target.
  • Great visuals overall – contrasting night and day, great initial shot introducing Silva, an ant approaching from the center of the screen, telling a disturbing tale while growing larger.
  • Excellent performance by Javier Barden, with again, offputting hair, though still not as terrible as in “No Country for Old Men.”  Just disturbing enough to be convincing, like Heath Ledger’s Joker. For a while, I thought for sure that Ralph Fiennes would be playing the villain, but apparently, Voldemort’s got a side for government.
  • Weak Bond Girls.  Made me miss Camille from Quantum of Solace, though Skyfall was the better film.
  • Nice threads of young vs old, classic vs modern:
  1. The traditional world of espionage is dead, it’s all about technology nowadays
  2. Q and James (who for the first time is really showing effort and struggling)
  3. A previously majestic ship being lugged away for scrap metal
  • Loved the final setting.  Skyfall was haunting yet mesmerizing.  Adele’s song was great too.
  • Cute hints to previous films, as always.  Exploding pen, for her eyes only, Moneypenny, etc.
  • Daniel Craig fitting the Bond persona, adding dimension.
  • 4.5/5 Waffles

I do believe the worst is behind us: a rapid review of “An Unexpected Journey”

December 24, 2012 1 comment
  • Dthe-hobbit-an-unexpected-journeyespite its low score on Rotten Tomatoes, I still went to go see “The Hobbit” in IMAX 3D and thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Throughout the film, I kept thinking, “this is amazing, please don’t let this be the final battle!” – and then the film went on.  It appears this is a major critique of the film, which stretches one book into three movies, but I loved the feeling of being swept up in a story and am greatly looking forward to the next two movies.
  • I disliked the exact reuse of motifs from the trilogy – this is a different story, and having so many clear connections to the trilogy made the film feel more like a tag-on, rather than a piece in and of itself.  It also took away from the epic nature of the trilogy – we’ve already seen Gandalf stand and take up the room, whisper to a moth to summon eagles, etc.  Even if this is the same world, I don’t want it to drag down the other LOTR films.  I feel like a prequel can have notes from its predecessor, like “Prometheus,” but it should still tell its own story.
  • In general, “The Hobbit” just felt smaller and less polished, though still a fun ride.  Things don’t particularly make much sense – why Bilbo?  Because he gives Gandalf courage?  I’m sure we can do better than that.
  • Gollum is every bit as unnerving as he always was.  Bravo to the motion capture team.
  • Hopefully, this was the lightest part of the three, and the worst is behind us; I’m hoping the next two films really step it up!
  • 4/5 Waffles, regardless of its flaws.
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