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).
I could also have titled this review, “Why Hot Fuzz is Better than Apple Makes it Seem,” but I thought that this title more accurately captured the warm feelings I have for Hot Fuzz, and for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in general. Hot Fuzz is a parody of every cop movie you have ever seen, but given a British twist: Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a hard-nosed, incredibly dedicated cop who’s making the rest of the police in London look bad. Angel’s bosses transfer him a middle of nowhere peaceful town, where he meets his partner, Danny Butterman (played hilariously by Frost) and all hell breaks loose.
This is a parody, yes, but a parody with a style of its own. I thought that it was hilarious to see Simon Pegg play an overly serious cop, especially when in Shaun of the Dead he plays this loser without any skills whatsoever. He’s somehow completely believable: his eyes have a hard glint that wasn’t there in Shaun of the Dead. He is constantly observing, constantly on edge, waiting for some crime to happen. The whole movie is meant to seem hyperactive, even hyperbolic, even though the first half of the movie is about what doesn’t happen—about the seeming lack of serious crime in the area. Some scenes have a series of extremely fast cuts, which are accompanied by a cute rushing sound, and we always get a sense of movement that is almost sickening. These features help the viewer understand what it means to be Angel, a cop who seemingly can’t switch it off—I could list endless more examples, but I don’t want to ruin these little gems for you.
When murders disguised as accidents begin to occur in this little town, things really get interesting. There is so much bureaucracy and lethargy in this town and you can really feel Angel’s frustration building as his attempts to investigate what he sees as clear cut cover-ups. The humor acquires an edge, with the movie making pointed comments about the nature of bureaucracy and the idea of the greater good. But even these points aren’t taken too seriously. There is a scene I love when Angel uncovers the conspiracy and is blown away by the mundane justification the culprits give for their actions. The movie doesn’t attempt to be serious in its criticism, understanding that comedy always cuts two ways.
I suppose neither of these are technically “classics” and thus are inappropriately catalogued under “Classic Capsules.” However, neither is exactly new either; I would call them “classic” in the way that Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is a classic – the people who value them, they’re great, and to the people who don’t they’re not. Simple, right?
Hot Fuzz is Simon Pegg’s parody movie of cop movies. It tells the story of a super policeman who gets reassigned to a quiet town of slacker cops because he’s made everyone look bad with his sheer awesomeness. Orion describes the humor as dry, but for some reason, I found this movie hilarious. It is chock-full of homage’s to ridiculous action flicks, ranging from Point Break to Bad Boys II. The sheer outrageousness of every situation, as well as the attitudes of the townspeople, makes it a very fun (though somewhat forgettable) ride. 3.5/5 – check it out for Pegg’s great deadpan expression and his partner, Nick Frost’s boundless enthusiasm and love for awesome cops.
Orion loves Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Having seen Joss Whedon’s musical Buffy episode, I was somewhat prepared for the sudden burst into song, a la traditional Disney movies. They were short and cute, but that’s about it; I don’t think the movie will be winning any music-related awards anytime soon. That being said, Neil Patrick Harris was great as Dr. Horrible, a “supervillain” aspiring to enter the Evil League of Evil. Nathan Fillion (Firefly!) was similarly great as superhero and arch nemesis Captain Hammer. The setup reminded me a little of Megamind, where we followed the bad guy as our protagonist, who doesn’t turn out to be all that bad, and who is in love with the superhero’s girl. Except that Dr. Horrible isn’t a children’s film, and so doesn’t get a children’s film’s ending. After the movie finished, I was left shocked and thinking, ‘Is that it?!’ 4/5 – a clever and quirky piece; mediocre singing, but a great ending!
In some ways, this is a very similar movie to True Grit. Both feature tough female leads, with absent fathers and subsequent hunts. However, while “True Grit” was filled with earth and dirt, “Winter’s Bone” is filled with cold, stark landscape and a washed out palette of greys. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl who takes care of her depressed mother, little brother, and little sister. Her father is not only absent, but has put up their house for his bond, and is known for cooking crystal meth. If Ree doesn’t turn him up, she will lose the house and her family will be torn apart.
Winter’s Bone is such a beautifully filmed piece of work – set in the Ozark mountains of Missouri in wintertime, the landscape is dreadfully pale and cold. There is very little background music in the whole movie, and so all sounds feel heightened. The dialect of the town is mumbled, with its own sort of slang, and everyone speaks it a little differently. I wrote my final paper for class about this movie, and in it, I focused on the setting as the strongest part of the movie. It is filled with seemingly random shots of children playing amongst bales of hay, people gathered in circles with instruments on a cold night, and countless pans across trees and frozen grass.
Winter’s Bone was nominated for Best Picture this year, and I can definitely see why – it’s a polished piece of work, and from the beginning, we’re on Ree’s side. We can’t help but admire her strength, her fearlessness and sheer tenacity. When she goes around asking dangerous people for help, she is sharp with her words. Everyone around town looks similar, and it appears that they’re all related in some way. Similarly, word travels around this town ridiculously fast; it feels that almost as soon as one thing happens, everyone knows about it.
While writing my paper, I came across some furious comments in the NYTimes review (check it out here: http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/movies/11winter.html). One reader seethes, “But many reviewers comment on the film’s “fighting of stereotypes” and “haunting authenticity.” I’m left wondering…how? The portrayed impoverished hill people are: dirty, mean, uneducated, violent, misogynistic, strung-out, gun-totin’, rabbit-eatin’, and dog-infested” (fifth comment down). I’m loving this string of adjectives, but the comment itself frustrates me. I really liked the community in Winter’s Bone, how tough and rugged everyone seemed, but it looks like I just fell into the stereotype trap.
4/5 – hopefully, the actual citizens of the Ozark mountains can forgive me for liking this movie, because I thought it was gripping, stark, and beautiful.
There is a moment in The Adjustment Bureau when Thompson, one of the elderly “adjusters” traces the light and dark periods of history in terms of the Adjustment Bureau. “We tried to give you free will,” Thompson says, “and you gave us the Dark Ages….Humanity just isn’t mature enough to take care of itself.” This little tidbit was so convincingly executed that I can imagine the entire story stemming from this one little observation: the writer, at his desk, reading history, perhaps, and envisioning a group of men in suits – modern day angels or something – who take care of people. This evolved into a Bureau, because that sounds more sophisticated, and in order to keep people interesting, a male and female lead were introduced.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know that The Adjustment Bureau is about David Norris (Matt Damon) as a rising politician who meets and falls in love with a dancer, Elise (Emily Blunt). Unfortunately, they are not “meant” to be together because it is not in “the plan” that is written by “the Chairman.” Thus, even though they feel such passion for each other, they cannot be together, and the adjuster caseworkers will do anything to keep them apart.
Damon and Blunt seem to do the best that they can, with the limited room this convoluted script has given them. Orion and I had planned to see this movie a while ago, but were warned against it by our friends, Feifei and Brian. Having just seen it with my family, I have to thank them for their warning, because everything they said was true. The Adjustment Bureau is filled with disgustingly arbitrary limitations and rules: for example, adjusters must wear special hats in order to travel through a teleporting-door network, and have their powers dampened (no pun intended) by the presence of water. The story tries to play on the Matrix-esque idea of the illusion of free will, only it fails to live up to anything of the broader themes it contains.
Not only all of this, but the characters are terribly simple. Elise’s dancing is great – her practice and performance are perhaps the only visually arresting scenes of the film – but that’s all that’s great about her. She’s described as a loose cannon, and to me, seems pretty much like a weak incarnation of a manic pixie dream girl. For several scenes, she inspires a crazy side of Damon’s character by throwing his Blackberry into his coffee, hiding in the men’s bathroom, crashing weddings, etc.
Unfortunately, in later scenes, when things get serious, Elise completely falls apart. She can’t handle the idea of the Adjustment Bureau, as anyone would expect, but goes along with David anyway; he literally drags her by the hand through teleporting doors, running from agents. Her character supposedly feels a connection to David, but never once reaches out to him; we see David think about her every day, riding the same bus for three years in hopes of running into her, but Elise just goes along her own way. When David vanishes from her life, she takes offense, rather than assertively attempting to seek him out. Is this the kind of pathetic female lead audiences go for? What weakness!
But that’s not the worst part of this movie; in fact, it could even be overlooked were it not for the very base of the movie being corrupt. In this movie, David is trying to fight against people telling him what to do: in one scene while he is trying to outrun adjuster agents, the taxi he hails crashes, leaving two people injured. But David doesn’t care – he doesn’t care because he’s in love, and he’ll do anything to find the girl on his dreams, even if it means throwing all his work out the window. I suppose the writers wanted this to show the magnitude of his love, but all it shows is David’s immaturity. This individualist attitude is ridiculous: the Bureau has a larger plan, written by a Chairman (implied to be God), but David just ignores it. Even later, when it is revealed that by being with Elise, David will ruin her dreams as well, he still can’t let go – he is selfish enough to try and see her still, despite all the warnings he has been given.
So what, then, are we to make of The Adjustment Bureau? The action wasn’t even that good – it’s a lot of running around more than anything else. Damon and Blunt have some cute conversations, but that’s it; besides the campaigning, Damon’s acting feels misplaced, and the same goes for Blunt. Of course, the movie has a happy ending, in so rewarding the selfish, individual and telling the audience, you can have your cake and eat it too!
Overall, 1/5 – it’s clear that this movie was thoughtlessly crafted, and lazily written. It’s convoluted in an attempt at sophistication, but not even Brooks Brothers suits can conceal the disordered plot. Elise is an example of everything weak in a female lead, and David is an example of everything selfish in a male lead. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty disappointed with the state of movies right now.
Previously, on Apple and Orion… At the rental store, Fantastic Mr Fox was playing, and I actually got really into it, completely didn’t realize that we were leaving. I never looked closely at Fantastic Mr Fox, except to notice the interesting casting of George Clooney as the main character. However, after seeing the unique animation style of the film, I was instantly drawn in. A review will soon follow! (August 14, 2010; Dead Snow Review)
Let’s just say I don’t really have a sense of humor. I mean, I thought Mean Girls was boring. However, I thought Fantastic Mr. Fox was freaking hilarious. The humor feels a little dry, and is both childish and not. The stop-motion film had great texture for each of the animals, and I loved the unexpected cuts. The titles for each “chapter” were adorable, too. Did I mention I thought the film was awesome?
I remember reading Roald Dahl books as a kid and loving him. It is always weird to see movie adaptations of childhood favorites, and I originally avoided seeing this movie for exactly that reason. Does anyone remember James and the Giant Peach? Yeah, I hated that movie. But Fantastic Mr. Fox is something entirely different. Director Wes Anderson, known for work like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, is not normally a children’s filmmaker, nor an animator. Perhaps for that reason, Fantastic Mr. Fox feels like neither – its scenes are a little too sarcastic, dry, and choppy to have been made by a classic sort of storyteller. That’s why it’s so refreshing! For example, rather than swear, the characters use the actual word “cuss,” as in, “why the cuss didn’t I listen to my lawyer?”
For anyone who has read the book, yes, Mr. Fox is alive and kicking, stealing chickens, ducks, turkeys, squabs – you name it. Yes, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (one fat, one short, one lean!) are the three farmers who are sick of being robbed and team up to go up against Mr. Fox. The movie adds a few themes about family, teamwork, and what it means to be a “wild animal” but nicely stays faithful to Dahl’s original material. Thanks, Wes, we appreciate it!
The voice acting is superb: George Clooney is Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep is Mrs. Fox, and Jason Schwartzman plays their son, Ash Fox. Everything feels natural, and the animation blends very nicely. The foxes look like little toys, with wiry fur and little pointed ears, and it’s all ridiculously adorable. I don’t have much else to say except that this movie kept me entirely entertained, for the entire 87 minutes; I wasn’t even tempted to doodle or start on my review. I can easily see myself watching this again and again. Seriously, 5/5.
A chameleon with existential issues stares out onto a bare desert with a trace of fear and doubt in his eyes. After having his comfortable and boring world literally shattered to pieces, this nameless, identity-less reptile meets a philosophical armadillo who should be dead from being run over, and an adventure begins. I do not know of another animated film that starts so gruesomely or oddly and yet manages to capture that yearning that is at the center of any good Western: that desire for freedom and the power of the individual.
Rango is what the chameleon decides to name himself. After all, in the Wild West you can take on any name you want. You can be anyone. And Rango decides to be someone special, a ray of hope, the sheriff of Dirt, a backwater town that is literally drying up. Seeing as water is the source of life in a desert, this is a serious problem, one that Rango is immediately assigned to tackle. Rango’s attributes include a proclivity for words, the imagination to tell a good story, and a healthy abundance of good luck, all of which serve him fairly well.
Because the animated film has long been associated with children’s movies I was presently surprised at the complexity of the issues presented in the film. Questions of identity, the nature of hope, the exploitation of water, and what it means to be a hero are all addressed in the movie. This explains the slightly longer run time (107 min). Unfortunately, the exploration of these themes was often cursory. For example, in a scene meant to be an indictment of the wasteful usage of water in artificial oases made for golf courses and retirement homes, Rango stands on a hill and looks down on a sprawling city while sprinklers hiss over empty green fields. Though I liked the juxtaposition of this green resort to the difficult life in Dirt, the scene itself failed to properly address the complexities of wasteful living. The audience is told that this waste is bad without learning what causes this waste or how to stop it. The existential questioning is handled better, but for many people who have experienced that panic this questioning will come across as shallow. You can’t really get more obvious than a chameleon asking questions like “Who am I?”
Despite its shortcomings as a philosophical treatise and imparter of life lessons, this film is certainly funny in a goofy way. That suits me just perfectly: I loved Johnny Depp’s turn as the crooked-necked chameleon, and Bill Nighy was downright frightening as Rattlesnake Jake (man, what a scary villain. A rattlesnake with a machinegun rattle. Should shake your bones). Much of the humor is just a level too high for children to understand, and much of it is slapstick, but you got to love it. The animation is also beautifully done. As Apple told me after the film, the movie is just filled with great texture: the roughness of sand, the hard scales of a reptile, the shiny, sleek, and almost slimy gleam of a rattlesnake. There are some trippy scenes in this film as well, the most obvious being when Rango finds the Spirit of the West, a godlike figure meant to look like Clint Eastwood. This is a pretty complex package. Parents be warned: there is violence, a little bit of cussing, and a fair amount of scary scenes.
And dang it all, after all is said and done, this is Western. And as a Western, this movie succeeds: you’ll find yourself longing for the dry heat of the desert, for the call of a hawk, for the old days when guns were in good supply and all you needed to make your day was a good shootout in the desert.
Rango is a movie about texture. The aqua-toned protagonist chameleon, voiced excellently by Johnny Depp, has skin with very fine scales that stretch and glisten with great believability. The movie is all about water, specifically, about one town’s lack of it, and the animated water has a great wet feel against the dry, hot, dusty desert. The texture of sand is especially well done, and in one scene Rango walks against the edge of a sand cliff, which causes sand to trickle down the sides in little tear-like rolls. The texture is definitely the best part of Rango, and it is extremely precise.
Rango is the story of a lizard from a tank, who is thrown (literally) into the problems of a desert town named Dirt. Dirt is a true frontier town, wild-west down to its dim-lit saloon and chock-full of gunslingers and sheriffs. It feels like there have been a lot of westerns lately – True Grit, for one, and we watched High Noon in class. Along the way, Rango meets a nice girl lizard, whose voice actress makes her sound just like the girl from Red Dead Redemption. Similar to Shark Tale, it’s the story of a little critter with a big mouth that gets him both in and out of trouble.
The movie was cute, funny, and witty, with some great action scenes. There were times where I was really surprised by some of the dialogue in this children’s film, and by the gruesomeness of some ideas: the first scene has Rango attempting to woo a “princess,” which is a naked, headless Barbie bust. There were also instances when things felt inconsistent – Rango was at one moment completely oblivious, and then too wily at the next – there were unfortunately several hiccups like this in an otherwise enjoyable film.
The movie has some strangely surreal elements to it, which are not surprising considering the dehydration the desert induces. Rango is told to look for golden guardians and an alabaster carriage, which turn out to be little statuettes and a white golf cart, by an ancient, bearded armadillo pilgrim trying to cross a highway. Cacti literally walk (like the last march of the ents!) across the desert, searching for water, and Rattlesnake Jake is a mean western diamondback who somehow has revolver cylinders as a rattle at the end of his tail.
Overall, 3.5/5 – Rango is a cute, clever movie; it’s a fun ride but is far from perfect. It felt weird to walk back into the theatre after almost an entire quarter without going, but I don’t regret going for Rango. Where else could we get the experience of an entire room of kids jumping and screaming at the movie?
You might have noticed the lack of new release reviews. Orion and I haven’t gone to the theatre since getting back to school, simply because there hasn’t been anything that felt appealing. Instead, we’ve spent our time watching old classics like The Godfather Part II and mindless action flicks like Queen of the Damned.
I remember watching Interview with the Vampire back in middle school, and getting hooked on Anne Rice’s world. I never did finish the whole Vampire Chronicles, abandoning them sometime in high school after internet blogs took over my reading attention, but I remember wanting to see Queen of the Damned when it came out in 2002. Now, having seen it, I have no idea why I wasted my time.
Perhaps drawing from its source material, QofD does have some interesting ideas: what happens when a vampire tries to modernize himself? When he tries to reveal himself? How does the modern world take this? What is it like to live forever? Does it get boring, lonely, annoying? All these are questions that a good vampire story will explore, but I have no idea what the team behind this movie was thinking. Lestat decides to show himself to the world by – get this – starting a rock band. Orion shrugged this off, calling it “a nice look into the hard metal rock of the late 90s, at least.”
Comparing Wikipedia entries of the film and of the books, it seems that huge pieces of plot were simple done away with. No wonder the story didn’t make any sense. We jumped from scene to scene, character to character, with almost no connection. I wonder how this movie even got made; there must have been some point when someone stood back and said, “wow, this movie is going to suck.” Anyways, it’s at Critics: 17% (and somehow Audience: 70%) on Rotten Tomatoes right now, so you know it’s just one of those movies.
The only good part of this movie was Aaliyah, who plays Akasha, the first vampire. The costume design, makeup, and voice-mixing all contributed to the image, but it was Aaliyah who, in the midst of so much ridiculousness, managed to imbue Akasha with some semblance of majesty. She’s the only reason this is not at 0/5.
On a side note, Stuart Townsend bore a remarkable resemblance to Keira Knightley in this movie. Everything he did looked like Keira Knightley’s face on a guy’s body, and this was super weird. See?
Overall, 1/5. I can’t even believe we finished this movie.
“The Misfits” was written by Arthur Miller, author of plays like “Death of a Salesman.” It was supposedly a gift to Marilyn Monroe, who he later married, and who is featured as the main actress in the film (I didn’t realize this until twenty minutes in, when I paused to read the Wikipedia entry on the movie). Monroe plays a divorced woman who meets three different men – Clark Gable as a cowboy, Montgomery Clift as a rodeo rider, and Eli Wallach as a pilot. They all, to some extent, fall in love with her, and the movie twists like a tornado with Monroe in its center. Perhaps because of Miller’s background, much of the movie is made up on ornate dialogue, which can be frustrating at times, but overall, the film is pretty interesting. 3.5/5 – at the end, everyone heads up into the mountains to catch wild mustangs, and the shots of the mountains the horses are breathtaking.
“Bonnie and Clyde” is a 1967 film about the famous criminal duo, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Supposedly a landmark, and I think the tale goes something like this: after one major critic’s negative review got smashed by the young public, he resigned, noting that if he could no longer ‘understand’ new, ‘modern,’ movies, then perhaps he was no longer ‘right’ for reviewing. I thought the movie told a good story, especially in the middle, when Bonnie and Clyde expand their two person gang to include a car mechanic, Clyde’s brother, and the brother’s wife. The relations between the five members include tension, puppy love, dislike, respect, and it is all told in a way that is palpable. Much of the time is spent on the road, and a car stuffed full of five people is a great place for interactions to flourish. 3/5 – perhaps because I am a modern viewer dulled to the supposedly shocking sex and violence that “Bonnie and Clyde” presented, I am not the ‘right’ person to review this either. (In other news, the 2011 movie “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” is going to feature none other than Hillary Duff as Bonnie. WTH?)
“Lady Sings the Blues” is a 1972 movie about Billie Holiday, with Diana Ross as the leading actress. Ross does an excellent job with the complicated role, portraying Billie all the way from her tomboy childhood to celebrated singer to morphine addict; she sings all the songs in the movie, employing an especially detailed “on drugs” singing and “off drugs” singing style. Similar to the more recent movie, “Ray,” this movie is about one singer’s rise to fame and subsequent struggles/fall due to drugs. “Lady Sings the Blues” is a difficult film to watch, as Billie’s self destructive behavior spirals, cutting into her career and her relationship with her eventual husband, Louis McKay. (A side note – Billy Dee Williams plays Louis, and I finally realized the reason he looks so familiar. Billy Dee Williams played Lando Calrissian in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Weird.) 4/5 – this movie was painful, but elegantly so; Diana Ross does an amazing job portraying the legendary jazz singer, and her strength truly drove the movie to greater heights.