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.

“Which story do you prefer?” – A Rapid Review of “Life of Pi”

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment
  • Life_of_Pi_11I read this a long time ago, in high school, and loved the ending, which caught me off guard.  I wasn’t particularly keen on seeing the film, for fear of ruining my fond memories of the book.
  • While sometimes more beautiful, as expected from Ang Lee, (the moment when we see the ship sinking from underwater, the storm, the jellyfish, whale, meerkats galore, and awesome animations that brought Richard Parker to life), “Life of Pi” lost that subjective experience of reading a book in its translation to a movie.  It became less ambiguous, less meaningful.  
  • Reading about Pi’s experiences made the more magical parts of the book seem closer, whereas watching them created a distance – for example, the carnivorous island.
  • The modern day conversation that bookended the story felt heavy-handed, unrealistic, forced, as did Pi’s earlier explorations of religion.
  • The animals felt lifelike and real.  Wonderful animation technology.
  • 3/5 Waffles

On The Dark Knight Rises – warning: spoilers within!

July 20, 2012 1 comment

I cannot remember the last time a film has been so hyped up, or even the last time I have been so excited about something.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one: despite arriving over an hour early for the midnight premiere, the theatre was already packed.  Back in the summer of 2008, I remember watching The Dark Knight in awe, shocked again and again by Heath Ledger’s astounding performance and the film’s moral traps.  These were dark situations, darker than Batman Begins, and surprisingly thought provoking.

So, standing on the shoulders of an amazing second installment, The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to.  Yet, despite this potential, in a position unrivaled by any other superhero movie of recent years, Rises not only fails to rise to greater heights, but it falls from them with a crunch as devastating as Bruce Wayne’s falls while attempting to climb out of prison.

What was it that made The Dark Knight Rises such a disappointment?  It drew upon the same themes that the first two films did, and had the same taste of moral questioning.  Yet, after being thrilled by these tricks in The Dark Knight, I craved something more – I expected Nolan to push farther, ask better questions than the ones that he had already so thoroughly combed through.  The film was filled with these moments that repeated things we had already learned in The Dark Knight, and failed to fly of its own accord.  The titles themselves speak of this – from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight there’s a pleasant change of words, but from The Dark Knight to The Dark Knight Rises, we only get hastily tacked on addition that might as well have been The Dark Knight Rises Part II.

With regards to the story – a plot this complicated required a great deal of explanation, and a large amount of compression to fit into an exhausting three hours.  I remember The Dark Knight flying by, despite its length, challenging us and propelling forward at the same time.  The same is not true of The Dark Knight Rises.  There were far too many heart-to-hearts with the wisdom spouting Alfred Pennyworth, in heavy-handed dialogue that may have worked if it appeared in lower quantities.  The movie needed Bruce Wayne to get out of his house, and so Alfred gave him some very heavy prods.

There’s a slew of new characters in this movie, and giving them all appropriate backstory takes up valuable time that could have been better spent in the present, or even cut out from the movie, which dragged and grew boring about halfway through.  There’s only so much back and forth we can take as an audience.  Nonetheless, Anne Hathaway was surprisingly fitting as Selina Kyle, though I was greatly surprised at her being cast in a role that I assumed would be more fitting for the likes of Angelina Jolie.  Likewise, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as a little burgeoning sidekick, although his deduction also felt forced and not entirely believable.  Tom Hardy’s Bane had a costume that tried too hard to bring Hannibal Lecter meets Darth Vader; it muffled his voice more than lending it any sort of intimidating factor.

Overall, 3/5 – this is a long, winding, heavy-handed film that fails to surpass or even stand alongside its amazing predecessor.  Too many characters trying to do too many things in too short a time, The Dark Knight Rises is still entertaining in its own right, but a great disappointment coming after The Dark Knight.

I hope I haven’t upset anyone who really loved the film – if you liked it, please comment about which parts you thought were good.  I wanted so badly to have the same experience that I had with The Dark Knight!

Thunder buddies for life: on childishness and uncomfortable humor in Ted

When I heard the premise of the movie, I was very skeptical of it having any chance of being good.  Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, directs and voices Ted, the story of a teddy bear come to life to be a little boy’s best friend.  Fast-forward 27 years, and they are both grown up.  Ted is incredibly crude, has absolutely no sense of limit, and is overall a pretty terrible bear.  Ted and John (Mark Wahlberg) like to stay home, get high, and watch Flash Gordon.  What else would you expect from MacFarlane?

What’s most (or least?) surprising is the humor in the movie.  There are jokes that are just so terrible, one can hardly imagine them being written, much less broadcasted in a (packed) movie theatre.  Is humor the answer to barriers in society?  By making fun of something entirely not PC, does that make people more okay with touchy subjects?  I don’t really think MacFarlane is trying to push a more progressive and open outlook on life with his style of humor, but there’s something underneath the cheap laughs that’s actually sort of optimistic.  There are moments that are entirely random, that come out of nowhere, and catch you off guard.  I’m not sure how much I would have laughed had I watched this by myself, but as it was, the audience was roaring with laughter more often than not.  There are quite a few bits that are over-the-top, reminiscent of Harold and Kumar, but the funniest moments are all in snappy conversations that make very little sense, really.

The plot is simple: Lori (Mila Kunis) wants John to grow up, which he can’t do when their third roommate is a gruff, hard-partying teddy bear.  John loves Lori, but hasn’t outgrown his childish mindset, despite being 35.  Also, bros before hos.  The relationship turmoil is surprisingly believable, and although the territory is familiar chick-flick ground, throwing a talking bear into the mix made things interesting.

What is Ted?  Is he the personification of childishness?  Is he the perfect lifelong bro?  Why did it feel like this movie seemed more realistic than it should have?  Also, I feel so old, because this is exactly the kind of movie that seems like it should be for kids, but is entirely not.  Having watched Pixar’s Brave yesterday, I cannot imagine two more dissimilar movies both about bears (thanks to Weixia for pointing that out!).

In his 3.5/4 review, Roger Ebert called Ted the funniest movie of the year, adding, “I know, this also was hard for me to believe.”  Though I haven’t watched many comedies this year, I have to say that Ted completely exceeded my (albeit very low) expectations.  Anyway, it was loads better than The Dictator.

Overall, 4/5 – I really can’t believe I’m giving Ted such a high rating, but honestly, it was enjoyable, humorous enough, and surprisingly uplifting.

Best regards,

Apple

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