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Monthly Report: May 2012

Compared to the previous two months, May was a bit disappointing in terms of both quality and quantity. The quality is unfortunate, but it’s due to knowingly dumb choices on my part. As for quantity, I was on my way to another movie-filled month until a certain video game called Diablo 3 derailed everything. No need to worry, though. I’ll be back in the swing of things sooner or later, with a planned Saturday viewing of Prometheus likely to get my film-watching back on track.

For now, enjoy this overview of the films I saw in May.

The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
I wish I had gotten to see this one before seeing The Avengers, because it’s hard to be all that impressed with the action here after seeing what Hulk does in that other movie. To be fair though, The Incredible Hulk puts in a good effort action-wise, as the stakes are carefully ramped up throughout the film. The climactic battle is satisfying. More problematic is the story, however. Bruce Banner is an interesting character, arguably moreso than the other Avengers, and Edward Norton is quite okay in the part. Unfortunately, Norton’s Banner disappears when CGI Hulk jumps into the fray, and the disconnect is there. The lack of strong supporting characters also hurts the narrative aspects of the film. Still, this remains a decent movie. The tale of an unwilling and tortured soul of a superhero is compelling, and the action is solid. The Incredible Hulk ranks somewhere in the middle when comparing the pre-Avengers films.
3/5

Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988)
Well-crafted thriller in which Harrison Ford – at the top of his acting game – tries to find his wife (Betty Buckley), who has gone missing on their vacation in Paris. The first half or so is particularly good. The Pace is methodical, everything is uncertain and tense, and there’s a realistic tone to everything. Unfortunately, the film eventually boils down to something we’re more familiar with from regular Hollywood thrillers, and the atmosphere weakens a bit – something not helped by a few unnecessarily humorous touches. Still, Ford himself performs admirably from start to finish, and the end result is a positive one even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the Polanski thrillers of earlier days.
3/5

The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
There were scenes and moments in this road movie that I found quite beautiful, but they can’t make up for the dullness that surrounds them. The mood of the film never quite seized me, despite a stunningly wonderful performance by Richard Farnsworth. I could see myself growing to like this movie with time, but for now, it’ll have to settle for lower marks.
2/5

Puncture (Adam & Mark Kassen, 2011)
The problem with basing a story on real events is that you need to stick somewhat close to reality. Puncture features an interesting tale of lawyers trying to work against a health care conspiracy, one I found myself quite engrossed in. However, the lead character (a very good Chris Evans) is a junkie, and this aspect eats up too much of the screentime for my liking. It feels like an unwelcome distraction. Still, you couldn’t really make the movie without touching upon it, I suppose. This one could have been even better than it was had it chosen a different way to tackle parts of its subject matter. Enjoyable nonetheless.
3/5

You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson, 2010)
Al Pacino shows that he’s still capable of great performances in this biopic on Dr. Kevorkian and his struggle to legalize euthanasia. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t match him. As important as the issue is, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. Pacing is also an issue as there are slow stretches where the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
2/5

American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (John Putch, 2009)
There’s a scene in this movie where an old ugly hooker is performing oral sex on a guy and uses her dentures to nibble his nipples. That actually made me snicker for a split-second. It’s the comedic highlight of this movie, the rest of which is absolute horse manure. No, wait, that’s not fair. Horse manure at least has useful fertilizing properties. This movie is worthless.
1/5

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010)
To begin talking about Hesher the movie, one must mention Hesher the character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He has the kind of larger-than-life presence that commands attention. He’s a heavy metal Joker, only he’s in a family/grief drama with a slew of black comedy, rather than in a superhero movie. He operates on Hesher logic, something distinctively different from real logic. The movie is infected by his “agent of chaos” ways, and it makes for a really fun ride for the first half or so. It’s one of those movies where you have no idea where it’s going to go, which is a rare quality to have. That it eventually becomes apparent that not even the movie knows where it’s going is a shame, and Hesher the character becomes more of an ill-fitting obstruction than anything. When it’s all said and done, this film offers quite a few laughs and has some good acting on display, but it is also uneven and awkward. A for effort, but not for the end result.
3/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Herman, 2008)
Holocaust drama from the eyes of a German child (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who befriends a jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) stuck in a camp. The film does a pretty good job of filtering the unknown horrors of the situation through the main character’s innocence, and there’s little faulting the performances – I was particularly impressed by Vera Farmiga who plays the worrying mother of the protagonist. I’m a bit torn on the ending, though. It’s sad – like most holocaust films tend to be – but it also felt vaguely manipulative. I’m not entirely sure whether this was due to my own expectations of where the film was going or not. Nonetheless, I wasn’t entirely enamored by the way the story ultimately went. A fine film, but not a great one.
3/5

Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
Here’s a case where the selectiveness of the awards season can lead to conveying the wrong ideas about a film. Christopher Plummer got all the attention for his supporting performance as the old gay father, which had me thinking that this would be the sole stand-out quality of the film. Oh, how wrong I was. This is a wonderfully bittersweet movie from top to bottom. Oliver’s (Ewan McGregor) problems with love and commitment are juxtaposed with the situation his dad was going through, showing us the guards and masks we subconsciously put up in order to avoid hurting ourselves and others. This one tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways, and the result is a great movie.
5/5

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2007)
I’m torn on what score to give this video game adaptation. I watched it and its sequel back to back, and this first one is certainly the better one. That’s not saying much though, because this is still a bad film. Are there enjoyable parts of it? Sure. While most of the actors sleepwalk through the movie, there are at least some that realize what kind of movie they’re in and decide to ham it up quite a bit – Matthew Lillard in particular. And there is at least some modicum of effort evident in making the film look good design-wise. I’m tempted to give it a score of 2, but… no. The Lord of the Rings-wannabe script is ridiculous, and Uwe Boll has no idea how to shoot action scenes. This gets a 1 and likes it. Only recommended for Jason Statham completionists. Like me. And even I regret seeing it. Uwe Boll has done it again.
1/5

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, 2011)
And again. Because if there was one thing missing from the first one, it was a fish-out-of-water angle to the story where a guy gets transported from our world to medieval fantasy. And Dolph Lundgren in the lead instead of Statham. And tracing the plot of The Matrix rather than Lord of the Rings. This movie is an utter failure, even when compared to the already bad first film. In that one, there was at least budget (60 million dollars!) to get some name actors onboard and to stage big battle scenes. This one, by comparison, feels like some dozen guys running around the woods in shoddy LARP costumes. An even bigger problem is the fact that nothing really happens for most of the film. It’s not just a bad movie, but also a boring one. Stay the fuck away from this one.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 2.5 / 5
Best film of the month: Beginners
Worst film of the month: In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds

 
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Posted by on 31 May, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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A decent Oscars ceremony + a self-plug

Watching the Oscars ceremony is always a special feeling for me. No, not because they’re “magical” or anything like that. Rather, it’s because they start in the middle of the night in my timezone. I went to bed around 9 PM, eventually settled down to sleep, then woke up at 1:30 AM or so to get everything ready for the viewing experience. With few hours of sleep followed by a couple more hours staring at a screen, swapping between watching, tweeting and forum discussions, my eyes get a bit exhausted, as does my brain. It’s a state I don’t often find myself in apart from this one day of the year, so I kind of associate the Academy Awards with it. So with that in mind, I apologize in advance for any weird typos or rambling thoughts in this blog post.

I thought this year’s ceremony was… okay. Not great, not terrible, but okay. There was a lack of really special moments, and not all of the humor worked. But there wasn’t much outright bad about the proceedings. The whole thing moved at a fairly brisk pace, finding a suitable balance between giving people time to thank everyone and not enough to get boring. Billy Crystal as the host did a decent job. There were stretches were his presence wasn’t felt much even when he was on the screen, and he had a few awkward “waiting for applause” pauses, but he was kind of funny, kind of charming, and certainly a step up from the past two years’ hosting duos. And now I resume my hopes for Kevin Spacey to host next year. Or maybe Fred Willard?

Some random thoughts on the show:

  • Speech of the night: The long overdue Christopher Plummer. Such a charming and funny man. “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?”
  • The Wizard of Oz focus group skit was quite funny, but more than anything, it was just a really pleasant surprise to see the Christopher Guest crew together again on my screen.
  • The Cirque du Soleil number was quite spectacular and impressive, though I question its relevance to the Oscars. The time could have been better spent elsewhere, I feel.
  • The interview montages with people talking about why they love movies were kind of a drag. No real insight or emotional impact was offered, so more than anything, this felt like padding.
  • Not everything in Crystal’s mind-reading spiel worked, but it was all worth it for the mumbling Nick Nolte bit which provided one of the few real laugh out loud moments of the broadcast for me.

I don’t have any strong personal feelings either way about what won and what didn’t, although I’m happy for all the winners. Respect and amiration from one’s peers is always great, so congratulations to everyone who went home with a statue. There were one or two real surprising announcements; sole non-BP nominee The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo picking up Best Editing was something few people had predicted, and I certainly did not see Meryl Streep‘s Best Actress win coming personally – she was always a possibility, but I still felt Viola Davis had that award fairly secured. Apart from those two, everything else fell within the realm of what could be expected. That’s not to say I did great with my predictions, ending up with 15 of the 24 categories right. An okay result, but not enough to win any pools or contests. It says something about how open many of the categories were when I can get 9 things wrong and still think there weren’t many proper shockers.

So now that the Oscars are in the books, Awards Season is officially over. Time to go back to my main interest: Movies.

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Oh! But before we move on, there is one more set of awards to take in: The 1st Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards. I talked a bit a while ago about being part of the nominating voters, and yesterday/tonight/today the winners were announced. There’s a post up about it on the Flickchart Blog where Ross Bonaime, Jandy Stone Hardesty and myself offer our thoughts on the categories. I think the internet will like our winners more than those of the Academy, so go have a look to end Awards Season on a highnote!

The 1st Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards Winners

What did you think of the Oscars this year?

 
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Posted by on 27 February, 2012 in Links, Oscars

 

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“Final” 2011 Oscars Predictions

I haven’t been keeping quite as close a look at the Oscars race this awards season as I have the last few years. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but the result is that I find it hard to make confident predictions in quite a few categories. And it’s not even like last year, where a lot of uncertainty basically boiled down to whether The King’s Speech or Alice in Wonderland would pick up the most arts and crafts wins, or just how strong The Social Network still was. This year, there are plenty of categories where I have trouble even boiling things down to two possible winners. Then again, I did really poorly with my guesses last year – thanks to overconfidence in The King’s Speech, stubborn and ill-conceived faith in Annette Bening, and those damn short categories – so perhaps being a bit aloof about things will turn out to be a blessing.

So for what it’s worth, here are my picks in the various categories. They’re final, unless I change my mind. My predicted winners are in BOLD CAPS.

BEST PICTURE

THE ARTIST
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Back in September when the race was still wide open, I made a baseless guess that the unseen War Horse would turn out to be the eventual Best Picture winner. At the end of 2011, The Artist had established itself as the front-runner, yet I had a hunch that it would run out of steam and not end up the victor. Well, here we are a few days away from the ceremony, and I have to concede that I was wrong on both of those occasions. It’s hard to see The Artist losing at this point.

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Most of the time, Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. Yet year after year, there’s always people predicting a split between the two. This is rarely wise, as when a split does happen, it’s always a major surprise – think Crash / Brokeback Mountain. So I’m playing it safe and going with Hazanavicius.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22 February, 2012 in Oscars

 

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Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher has in the past shown that he is a master of the modern thriller, and his films have often been soaked with tangible atmosphere. Seven was so filthy and grim that I felt as though I would never be clean again. The same goes for Fight Club, where further ambience was added by it being viewed by a protagonist whose mind was frayed by insomnia. The Game played the paranoia card, putting me right in there with Michael Douglas‘ character, having me wonder where the danger is and whether it was real or just, in fact, part of the game. The more subdued Zodiac concerned itself more with the mystery of the murders, constantly egging me on and telling me there was more beneath the surface, a lurking darkness threatening to destroy the lives of the people investigating it from both the outside and from within. Even Fincher’s comparatively weaker thrillers like Panic Room and the disowned Alien 3 had tension to spare.

So what the hell happened?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is cold and unwelcoming, yes. This is fine. These can be useful qualities for the genre. What is lacking is a sense of danger, an air of uncertainty, and a driving force to push the story along and me along with it. There are scenes with bite, but for the most part this is a toothless thriller from a man who used to be all fangs.

Set in Sweden, the story of the film revolves around a mystery: Who killed Harriet? The daughter of wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), she disappeared 40 years ago. Henrik is convinced that someone in his family murdered her. This doesn’t seem far-fetched; the Vangers are essentially a bunch of loners and Nazis, says Henrik. The killer keeps sending him a gift every year on Harriet’s birthday: a simple flower painting. Someone is toying with him.

To figure out the mystery, he enlists journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Mikael, recently convicted of libel againt a corrupt businessman, is reluctant to accept the job but realizes that he needs the money now that his career is in jeopardy. More importantly, the well-connected Henrik promises him information that would prove his innocence. Mikael isn’t the sole protagonist, though. A young hacker by the name of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) also figures into the story. It takes a while before she encounters Mikael proper in the movie, but she eventually helps him with the investigation. Keeping the two leads apart like this for almost the entire first hour is a smart move, as it allows us to get to know their characters and understand what’s at stake for them as individuals, rather than as a unit.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

A big draw of the story – which has been told before in Stieg Larsson‘s novel and in Niels Arden Oplev‘s Swedish film from 2009 – has always been the character of Lisbeth. Dressed in black with multiple piercings and tattoos, constantly on guard against the world, and with a troubled past. Strong-willed but slight in stature, keeping a lid on her words until she needs to make a point. By having a lesser-known actress like Rooney Mara play the role, it’s easy for us to accept her as a proper person. Regardless, I am not fully wowed by her performance. She plays the bottled-up aspects well enough, managing to be oddly intriguing despite her pricklinees. It’s the scenes where she has to show strength and wrath that I don’t fully buy into. Meanwhile, her co-star Daniel Craig has problems of his own. The character Mikael is a more conventional one, almost an every-man albeit with a sharp and honed intellect. Craig is a fine actor, but one who rarely manages to fully disappear into a role. There are times when he comes off as too strong. Too stoic. Too James Bond. I never get the sense that he’s in danger. If this sounds overly harsh, it’s not by intention. Both performances are overall serviceable.

There are bigger issues I have with the film. One is that the solving of the mystery isn’t handled very coherently. We’re introduced to suspects at a rapid pace. Clues are discovered and delved into rapidly. Mikael and Lisbeth interview old witnesses and police officers, examine newspaper clippings and study bible quotes. Often presented in speedy montages, I found it hard to keep track of the connections, the whos and the whats. When they arrive at a likely culprit, I was wondering how they got there. More importantly, I was questioning whether they knew how they got there. For a film where solving the case is the central focus of the story, this is a serious flaw.

The climax of the film is handled well. However, the film sputters along for a good 20-30 minutes after that. Tying up loose ends of the case is fully acceptable, yes, but there is a lot of stuff going on there that seemingly has more to do with the overarching plot of the trilogy rather than the story of this first film. It’s likely that these parts will feel more warranted as the two sequels arrive, but for now, it makes for an odd sense of pacing towards the end. I was ready for the end credits to roll a good 15 minutes before they did.

Again, I fear this review has come off as too negative-sounding. There are things I like about the film. Most of the supporing performances are good, with Plummer as the stand-out. Here’s Henrik, an old man who recognizes the importance of being hospitable even when under personal stress, who has had a successful career and knows how to get things done. And yet there’s a slight glimmer in his eyes that makes me think he knows more than he lets on, no matter how jovial and open he seems. It’s a strong showing from the veteran actor, making me all the more eager to check out his awards-toted performance in Beginners. Another one who impresses is Yorick van Wageningen, who plays Lisbeth’s newly appointed guardian Per Bjurman. His character is not one of nuances but a complete monster, and it’s imperative that we hate him. The script does half the job for him, but there is no denying the sleaziness he brings to the part. You might say a one-note character requires less effort to play, but that one note needs to be played to its fullest possible effect. van Wageningen holds nothing back.

While I didn’t feel much tension in the film, I can’t fault the score for it. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have crafted a solid soundtrack here, one which at times becomes quite palpable and provides a raw texture to the movie. I’m one of the seemingly few who never noticed their acclaimed work on The Social Network while I watched that film. This certainly didn’t happen here. Another thing I need to give serious props for is the way Fincher and company have captured Sweden. Every design choice, every item in every frame is spot-on, from the candelabras in the windows to the news presentations on TV. Everything looks just as it should, so a bravo is in order.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a terrible movie by any means, but it is a lukewarm one. Had this come from a less accomplished director, it would be understandable. But this is David Fincher, a director who has proved himself to be in possession of great talent and a keen eye. Considering this, the film becomes almost baffling. What was he going for here? Why did he choose such a cold and distant tone for a story wrought with intense violence and evil? Why is the investigation process such a mess when he did it so well and intriguingly in Seven and Zodiac? Why why why indeed.

Score: 2/5

There. That’s my formal review of the movie, where I of course have offered my subjective opinion of it but while doing my best to view it from a fair and unbiased point of view. I have refrained from comparing it to the Swedish movie, because there’s no reason to. This is a readaptation of a book I haven’t read, not a remake of a film I have seen, so it deserves to be judged on it own merits. There is a lot more I have to say, however. It doesn’t suit the tone I want in my reviews, but expect another blog post on it either later today or tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Here it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Reviews

 

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