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Posted on 2/20/14 01:57 AM
For almost the entire run-time, The Lego Movie is purely a comedy. It pays little to no attention to such qualities as story, focus, or characterization, and for about an hour, it's pretty glorious. The Lego Movie is a silly, frenetic and colorful movie and, even though a good deal of flaws start to set in after the one hour mark, it should appeal to all but those with the thickest, most impenetrable inner walls of cynicism.
In case you didn't get it from the title, this movie takes place in a world where everything is made of Lego. Our hero Emmet Brickowoski is a completely generic, ordinary, run of the mill Lego construction worker. He follows his life instructions to a tee (literally, everybody has a set of instructions on what to do) and he wouldn't know what to do without them. He is perfectly content being entirely ordinary. That is, of course, until he is mistaken as The Special, an extraordinary Lego figure, and the only one who can save the Lego world from Lord Business, a terrible dictator, whose diabolical plan is to use the "Kragle" to glue the whole world together, thus killing all the Lego figures.
For almost the entire movie, everything is strictly comedic. And the comedy's good! The jokes come at a furious pace - there are undoubtedly many jokes that I missed - and so it's rare that somebody isn't giggling uncontrollably in the cinema. And seeing as how the movie doesn't really pay attention to story, The Lego Movie goes out of its way to tell just one little joke, with so much setup you can't help but laugh. This is a movie where story is governed by comedy, and not the other way around. And whereas I would normally hate that, it's great fun here. The aforementioned inner wall of cynicism is completely bombarded by color, silliness and unstoppable energy, so that only five minutes in, it's completely collapsed, and you're left chuckling as cowboys wonder whether or not zeppelins are a good investment. Admittedly, there are almost no big laughs (they're mostly limited to Liam Neeson's good cop/bad cop shtick), but when the audience is giggling so consistently, you don't really care.
Adding to the "filmed playtime" tone, the movie has a lot of action sequences. And really fun ones too! Like everything else in the film, it's super colorful, fast, and overflowing with jokes. One really memorable one is right after Emmet breaks out of Lord Business's prison with one of the MasterBuilders, Wyldestyle, and the authorities are trying to capture them. There are jokes everywhere you look and it still maintains this action scene pace. It's wonderful.
Also, the movie has a huge cast of celebrities, and they add a lot to the film. It's not like a DreamWorks film, where the celebrities are completely miscast and are just there to get parents in the seats. All these movie stars are perfect for their roles and bring tons of energy and character to the movie. Will Ferrell plays Lord Business, and he's so infectiously silly, you couldn't cast anyone else. Will Arnett is also great as Batman - he's even got the singing voice necessary for what could go down in history as the most fabulous Batman theme song ever. There's also Morgan Freeman, obviously just here because of his "rich molasses" voice, and Elizabeth Banks playing the rough-tough Wyldestyle, but doing it with a lot of character and energy. However, my personal favorite is Liam Neeson. He plays Good Cop/Bad Cop, a worker for Lord Business whose head has two sides: one who's really nice and chirpy and smiley, and the other one who's the typical gruff, mean, Liam Neeson character. Neeson voices both sides, and hearing him put on a high-pitched, really nice voice is just the funniest.
The animation is also endlessly inventive. Everything was computer animated, but it's all been done to look like stop motion. It has that same choppy feel to it, which gives the film a nice charm. This world is made entirely out of Lego pieces (even the water and flames; a funny touch) and so looking at it during the set pieces and scenes where everything is speeding by is very impressive.
And the last subject of my praise is Mark Mothersbaugh's score, which is a funny satire of many other films' music. In the scenes in the West, it pulls out the Ennio Morricone-esque choir; in the scenes in Middle Zealand (get it?) it gets that Lord of the Rings tone. It's pretty funny, and the theme song 'Everything is AWESOME!!!" is very catchy, funny and upbeat (a lot like the film it's in).
But after about an hour of being bombarded by so many jokes, the audience starts to feel a bit exhausted. We need something to renew our interest, something to be added that will bring the movie to the next level.
And Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do bring something new! The movie brings in an element of drama and child-friendly messages. And it is tedious. The movie comes to a grinding halt and is replaced with a Lego commercial. Ooh, we're all special! Go imagination! With a little bit of effort, we can do anything we want to! These are all the types of messages you would find in an episode of "Barney & Friends".
For one thing, it's pretty hard to tell most of the time whether or not it's trying to be funny or super serious, and so we get this weird blend of the characters talking and holding themselves in a silly manner, but trying to do a genuine frown, and consequently the audience has no idea how they're supposed to feel. It makes you beg for the comedy to return. It is clunky, awkward and elicits no emotional reaction whatsoever.
So, essentially, The Lego Movie is an hour of pure fun, with unadulterated energy and wit and ingenuity, followed by 20 minutes of alright, and then a 20 minute commercial break to end it off. But in spite of the lackluster last 40 minutes, The Lego Movie is a lot of fun, and this is coming from somebody who's never played with Legos before. Perfect? No, but an all around fun film, it certainly is.
Posted on 2/18/14 05:03 AM
How can a movie with such a well-respected director, A-list cast, and fascinating story end up being so dreadfully boring? That was the question I was asking myself as I exited The Monuments Men, a film that starts out with so much promise, but ended up making me twiddle my thumbs and long for the two hour runtime to finish. It is a dull, disjointed, and entirely witless movie, that, in spite of some redeeming aspects, provides a terrible disappointment for the viewer.
Though the film changes several details (like the characters' names), Monuments Men is based on a fascinating true story about an angle of World War II that often goes overlooked: the attempt to save the world's culture and art that was at risk of theft or destruction. The group of people that set out to do this - nicknamed the Monuments Men - were a group of art historians and museum personnel who, though unfit for duty as a soldier, were passionate and motivated to stop Hitler and save the art. This film focuses on 7 of the roughly 400 Monuments Men (the others are never shown or even acknowledged), as they throw their lives on the line to save our beloved masterpieces.
That's a terribly interesting story, but it unfortunately falls flat. I attribute most of the film's problems with the writing and directing (Clooney did both, though Argo producer Grant Heslov co-wrote). It just isn't very good. The film was pushed back because Clooney was having trouble with the tone of the movie, and it still isn't very well handled. The movie doesn't really seem to know what it wants to be: a cheerful, escapist caper film or thought-provoking drama about World War II. And as a result, we get bright, happy scenes where everybody's smiling, jarringly contrasted by dramatic frowns and tears. It's quite distracting, and, worst of all, neither tone is well handled. For one thing, the drama is schmaltzy. The dialogue, the music, the direction; it all feels so heavy-handed. Especially one scene with Bill Murray, involving the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which makes all the characters sit down and cry and contemplate the war. It's awfully syrupy. But on the other hand, you have the light, old-fashioned comedy, and that doesn't work well either! No matter how jokey it gets, the movie never truly feels fun. It lacks that natural feeling of warmth and cheerful jumpiness, and it ends up feeling all too calculated. Also, the jokes aren't too funny, and this doesn't help at all. The witty banter between our characters, and light and silly comedic routines all fly by with little reaction from the audience. Nothing truly has you groaning, but for a comedy, what we have is not enough.
Also, the movie constantly feels the need to interrupt the story in order to explain the movie's themes and plot points. There are whole conversations just establishing what the audience should already know. The themes are also spoon-fed. One theme of the movie is whether or not it was worth it to risk these people's lives just to save art, and though this is a perfectly alright theme, Clooney delivers it terribly unsubtly. It's constantly brought up through speech, and not images: at the beginning of the film Clooney says 'remember, your lives are more important than any piece of art,' but then later in the film he's asked if he still has that opinion, and we learn that 'no, art is indeed greater than us.' Having themes, plot points and characterization so blatantly delivered through monologues and dialogue is simply lazy filmmaking.
That's not the only way in which the movie's storytelling misses the mark, though. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is its pacing; The Monuments Men is a disjointed and dreadfully choppy film. It does not flow at all, and there's no time to let the audience soak anything in. Individual scenes might be interesting, but when they're surrounded by entirely different episodes of the story, they quickly fade in memory. Episodic truly is the word.
But, still individual parts are good. Clooney is entirely decent at directing action, and the set pieces of the film are reasonably exciting. Also, some of the characters have memorable rapports with each other, like Bill Murray and Bob Balaban's characters, who have some entertaining scenes together.
Also, no matter how choppy or unsubtle the story is, it's still very interesting. It might not be told all that well, but parts of it do undeniably shine through. I do want to learn more about the mission that these people went on, and some scenes that we get in the film do show a quite excellent movie struggling to get out, highlighting just how interesting this film could have been with only a couple of rewrites.
And also, as expected, the actors are great and very likable. Even when the script doesn't really flesh them out, the actors give us enough reason to care about them. I would argue that Matt Damon is the star of the movie, and he's definitely quite good. It's not a very difficult role at all, but he's perfectly decent in it. The movie also stars John Goodman (lovable as ever), Jean Dujardin (carrying that same charm he showed in The Artist) and Bill Murray, being the same glorious Bill Murray as ever. Also, Cate Blanchett plays Claire Simone, inspired by Rose Valland, the spy who voluntarily recorded details of art stolen by the Nazis, and Blanchett's definitely quite good, even though her French accent is at times alarming, and frequently switches from very strong, to less so. In terms of acting, though, I'd say the one weak link is Clooney, who won't stop grinning or bobbing his head back and forth. It gets a bit obnoxious after a while. Other than that, though, the acting is very strong, and manages to keep the film from collapsing entirely.
Also, though unspectacular, the score by Alexandre Desplat of Fantastic Mr. Fox fame is perfectly decent. It might not rank near the top of Desplat's ever-expanding collection of work, but there are some very strong musical moments, and the film's theme is actually quite nice.
But in spite of all the good that the film has, The Monuments Men never amounts to anything much. It's simply a dull movie, and one that wastes its fascinating subject material. And this is a terrible shame.
Posted on 2/18/14 04:59 AM
Most every year, there is one crowd-pleasing, very accessible movie that gets lots of critical acclaim and awards attention. Last year there was Silver Linings Playbook, before that we had The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and I would even say that in the 2012 Oscars we had The Help (and yes I will fight you about that). This year, though, to the surprise of many, it was Philomena, Stephen Frears's new movie, that got the Academy's vote as crowd-pleaser of the year, over the ever popular Saving Mr. Banks, which they seemed kind of cold to. So, does Philomena deserve this love? I think so. Although it isn't quite as good as Saving Mr. Banks, Philomena is still more than good enough . It's obviously not a great movie, and it is very much that typical crowd-pleasing film, but nonetheless, as a member of the crowd, I can proudly say that I was pleased.
Based on a true story, this movie follows Philomena Lee and her adventure with Martin Sixsmith, a British journalist and Russian history enthusiast. We are told that Philomena got pregnant as a teenager but had her child taken away from her by the 'evil nuns' as they are jokingly referred to in the film. Sixsmith agrees to help Philomena find her son and write an article about it that will bring to light all the awful things that happened to her . So, thinking that her child - Anthony Lee as she called him, or Michael Hess as he was named by his adopted family - is in America, Martin and Philomena travel there to find him.
Though this is a good film, there is one big problem with it. And it isn't the anti-Catholicism message, which I frankly believe people are way overreacting about (yes what the nuns did is terrible, but it's not an attack on a whole religion! It's nothing to get offended about!). I don't mind that aspect at all. Instead, I don't like the portrayal of the title character. Not so much in the end of the film, but definitely in the beginning and even in places in the middle, one gets the feeling that the writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope are poking fun at her. It's a very cynical portrayal of Philomena, but not cynical in the way that British directors, writers and comedians have pulled off so well in the past. And when you get this impression, it takes a lot out of the film. It sounds like a petty, silly complaint, but I feel like they should have respected their characters more, because the film comes off as a little bit mean, and that's not something I want in my movies. I do seem to be alone on this, though.
But she does improve as a character, and you do start to care for her. You've liked her as a person the whole way, but it's not until later in the film that the rude writing goes away. There aren't a whole lot of other characters, but those that there are are quite good. Obviously Martin Sixsmith is the other main character, and he's quite fun. He gets some wickedly funny lines, and Steve Coogan is a very likable actor. Sean Mahon has very little screen time and hardly even says a word as Anthony/Michael, but he and his character make a big impression. The nuns however are pretty flat characters without much dimension, but they're hardly in the film. And I highly, highly doubt that Stephen Frears put them in to get a message of anti-Catholicism across.
However, it's not the evil nuns, but Sean Mahon and his character's relationship with Philomena that is definitely the emotional core of the movie, and this core is very affecting. Interestingly though, the dramatic attention of the film is given entirely to Anthony and Philomena, leaving the relationship between Sixsmith and Philomena not for tear-jerking, but entirely for the film's thematic and comedic elements. Yes parts of the drama are cliché, but when the movie tries to get you to cry, you hear snivelling in the cinema very quickly. This movie is the definition of bittersweet, but I think that when done right bittersweet-ness can be one of the most affecting angles of drama to put in a story. And here it is done right! It's very well handled by director Stephen Frears, helmer of The Queen, which is actually one of my favorite movies of all time. The directing of Philomena is obviously not as good, but it's still impressive. His directing here is very simple and understated, but that's a good thing. He lets the scenes fly with some nice, but not flashy, cinematography, and good, but not attention-grabbing editing. He lets the writing and actors do most of the work, and this is not lazy, but admirable.
But this film is also part comedy, and though the humor is alright, it's not as succesful as the drama. Some jokes are hysterically funny, others are OK, but some are actually really bad . Most of the great jokes come from Steve Coogan's mouth, who's very good at delivering comedic lines, but there are also some big laughs coming from Judi Dench . There are admittedly some gags that make you wonder however they got past the first phase of script editing (what was up with the 'do you believe in God' exchange?), but there are enough laughs to counter the groans, and the cinema was often erupting with loud guffaws.
Finally, the score by Alexandre Desplat works okay, but it really isn't that memorable. For instance, it definitely can't hold a candle to his masterpiece of a score from last year, Moonrise Kingdom (why do so many people dislike that score?). This score isn't bad, it just really follows the motions without doing much different. Especially Martin's theme which just blares 'CLICHÉ CHARACTER THEME' at the listener. It has some fine tunes I guess, and I do like the choice of instruments, but on the whole it's not as memorable as some of Desplat's other work.
Even though Philomena starts off really shakily and stays that way for rather too long, it improves. It's a very bittersweet story, with finely tuned performances, good laughs and a nice central theme. It has nothing to it that screams theater experience, but if you're looking for an undemanding but ultimately rewarding film, it's fine to check out on DVD.
But, still, could the Academy find nothing better to nominate for Best Picture? No Inside Llewyn Davis....? Oh well. Never mind.
Posted on 1/31/14 09:17 AM
The poster could have nothing but the words "Christopher Nolan's New Movie" and it would still gross a billion dollars.
Posted on 12/24/13 05:29 AM
If you put the awful, melodramatic kitsch that was Tangled aside, you'll notice that Disney has been doing really well as of late, with some really great films. Winnie the Pooh was supremely charming, Princess and the Frog nice and nostalgic, and Wreck-it Ralph really, really nice and well done. But, unfortunately, Frozen is not nearly as good. And I deeply hope this doesn't mark the beginning of a slump for Disney.
The story, which is loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ice Queen, is about two sisters: Anna and Elsa, both princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa, however, has the peculiar ability to conjure snow, freeze things at touch, raise ice castles, animate snowmen, , make rainclouds that will follow people for all time and pretty much do any other snow/ice-related activity that is convenient to the plot. At her coronation, though, her powers become too strong for her to control, and she sets off an eternal winter in the kingdom, before running away, and creating a magnificent, homemade ice castle with just her bare hands. It's up to Anna to stop this, with her buddy Hans, and his reindeer Sven.
This film has been called by many a return to the style and quality of the films of Disney's famous Renaissance period from the late 80s to 90s, but I strongly disagree with this statement. In terms of humor, characters and story, Frozen bears very, very little resemblance to those films, going more for the modern Disney formula, than the old one. Yes, the film has a lot of songs, and that was of course always one of the defining magical elements of their Renaissance, but these songs are so different to what you expect to hear in a Disney film, that the Renaissance feel is somewhat lost.
The songs are indeed very different than what you'd get in an 80's/90's Disney film. The reason for this is that the songs all feel very modern pop-music-like, even more so than the most famous of Disney songs. None of the songs are terrible, but none are very good, either. The opening song 'Frozen Heart' about how characters who are never mentioned again love ice so much is incredibly forgettable and even a bit dull. This one doesn't really set a very good stage for the rest of the film. The next one, 'Do You Want to Build a Snowman' is alright, and definitely better, if still not particularly good. It's showing the two sisters' relationships with each other deteriorating, and though that's something you need to show in the film, and showing it through song is a very good idea, the song that they did go with isn't as emotional as it should have been. Also forgettable is 'Fixer Upper', which isn't very exciting, and has an insanely abrupt ending, which is pretty ridiculous. The biggest song, the one that everyone's listening to and talking about and downloading is of course Idina Menzel's 'Let it Go', which has been advertised and performed and covered like crazy. But, yeah, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the song. It's good, with a nice tune, and it's performed very well by Idina Menzel, whose Broadway roots become very clear (in a good way). The lyrics might not be quite as clever in this song as they are in the other songs (for instance: "Let it go, let it go/I am one with the wind and sky". Why did she say sky, and not snow? Your guess is as good as mine), but it is a good song. Even if it is unfortunate that it's not sung to the tune of 'Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow' (sarcasm...kind of). Still, there's one thing about that song that is a genuine complaint, and not just a nitpick. This song feels so out of place! I don't care how good a song it is! In terms of tone, it feels like it belongs in an entirely different movie and it really takes you out of the film you're watching. It's nice to listen to on its own, but in the film, it doesn't work nearly as well as it should have, and that is a real shame.
The other songs aren't great either, though some are better than others. 'In Summer', sung by Josh Gad, about Olaf the Snowman's longing to see Summer and warmth is pretty forgettable in tune, but I will admit that the lyrics are really clever, for instance "I'll be doing whatever snow does in summer" and "Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle/But put me in Summer and I'll be a.....happy snowman!" and more. That's very funny, and very clever. My favorite song (or at least, the one that fits best in the film) is actually 'Love is an Open Door', the song in which Anna and her love interest Prince Hans of the Southern Isles declare their love for each other. This song has the clever lyrics of the other songs, but also with a catchy, upbeat tune, and it cleverly satirizes the quickly developed romances of other Disney movies.
This sense of satire makes Hans easily the funniest character. It's just great to see his romance with Anna. And then he gets a twist at the end of the movie, which is just fantastic and so unexpected. It catches you off guard, but makes you feel like you should have seen it coming. Like all great twists do. The other characters are a bit less strong, unfortunately, and are all pretty cliché modern-Disney characters. In other words, the characters are pretty much copy-and-pasted from Tangled. I mean, look at Sven! How is he not exactly like Pascal?! And Anna! She is Rapunzel, just with short hair. The similarities get pretty bad.
Still, I probably could have forgiven this had the characters been more interesting, but they're really not. I don't think Disney quite hit the mark they were trying to hit with Elsa and her internal conflict, which is a shame because there's a lot of potential there. It's never terrible, which it could have been easily, but it's not great. Anna's a bit better and she has some fun moments, but she's not nearly as interesting as a main character should be. Except, of course, in the moments when she's with or talking about Hans, and the silliness those scenes give. The villain voiced by Alan Tudyk is remarkably underdeveloped, so much that it's hard to even call him a villain. He's just there, and at the end of the film he gets arrested for villainy, but none of the audience members know why! It just feels like he had ten minutes cut out of the film. It's really bizarre. I really wish the characters were more like in Wreck-it Ralph, where they're all likable, well developed and entirely original.
Olaf the Snowman, though not entirely like other Disney characters, isn't very funny. He's not nearly as annoying as he could have been, but he isn't exactly fun either. He has some very funny gags in there, yes, and nothing truly had me groaning, but on the whole he's not nearly as funny as he should have been.
Actually, nobody's really as funny as they should have been (Hans being the exception). The movie doesn't really have you laughing very often. Like Olaf, there are very funny jokes and nothing is truly groan-worthy (which is impressive, and I can't even say about Wreck-it Ralph), but out of a comedy, and especially a Disney one, you should expect more.
And, finally, the story isn't very good either. It's funny that, while satirizing Disney, Frozen stays pretty close to the formula, as well. The sisterhood theme of the film is nice and new, but other than that, the film stays pretty close to Enchanted, with bits and pieces of other Disney films thrown in. That's a shame, because this story has a lot of potential.
Still, at least it looks gorgeous! The animation is absolutely beautiful, taking full advantage of the snowy environment. The snow, the ice; it's pretty near spectacular. I do wish that the film had been hand drawn instead of computer animated, but that's just a nitpick, and what we do get is wonderful.
Though I know many that would disagree with me, I just couldn't get into Frozen. But, still, even though nothing but the animation is *entirely* good, the rest of the film isn't completely black and white, either. I'm not going to be listening to most of the songs over and over again, but I have to say that some are really good. I don't love the characters, but they have some great moments. And though for the most part the jokes aren't great, there are some genuinely funny ones. And, plus, the movie deserves a lot of credit for avoiding so many pitfalls that could have made it a really painful film to sit through. The occasional bits of quality in this film do keep Frozen from ever being boring, or too bad, but the excess of aspects that really could have used improvement keeps me from recommending this film. In all honesty, and in spite of its non-black-and-white-ness, this movie just isn't very good. As is the case with most years (2012 being a rare exception), in terms of making a good, fun and emotionally risk-taking movie, Pixar beats Disney, very easily.
Posted on 12/24/13 02:00 AM
Surely you remember Mary Poppins, the musical classic starring Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews. Who can't? It's a lovely film. It's a touch outdated, sure, but nonetheless, it is fun, charming, heartfelt and all around wonderful. Now, almost 50 years after its premiere in 1964, we get Saving Mr. Banks, telling the story of the production of that classic film. And funnily enough, this movie happens to be quite a bit like the film that its story revolves around. I'm not saying that this film is anywhere near as good as the original, but, undeniably, the formula and way it reaches success are similar. Saving Mr. Banks is by no means a perfect movie, but you won't care. Much like Mary Poppins, it's a charming, funny and touching movie that can entertain most anybody.
This film tells two stories: one, of the making of the Mary Poppins movie, and the battle between the happy, cheerful Disney and the disagreeable, curmudgeonly P.L. Travers to get the rights to the Mary Poppins book, and then create a film that will satisfy Disney, the world, and the endlessly nitpicky Travers. Turns out, those battles shall not be won too easily.
The second story is about Travers's childhood with her father, whom she adores: the whimsical, and imaginative, yet financially and alcoholically troubled Travers Goff, played by Colin Farrell.
The first story about the making of the film is definitely the better one and is a whole lot of fun. Especially in the beginning, the film reaches levels of humor pretty near riotous. There are some belly laughs to be had in this film, and my theater was consistently erupting. One big reason for this is John Lee Hancock's wonderfully over the top direction. He makes sure to play up the contrast between the jolly, happy and smiling Disney crew and the cantankerous, grumpy grouch that is P.L. Travers. Hancock dares to go much farther than I think many other directors would and this leads for some excellent humor. And so when you see P.L. Travers shrug away the jolly, welcoming Sherman brothers, just trying to welcome her to the studio, you laugh, because that contrast is so exaggerated.
In fact, John Lee Hancock does a very good job with the film, not only with that contrast. For one, he does a very good job with the tone, especially in Travers's backstory. In the beginning, he plays up the whimsy, shooting everything with a clear view of the blue sky, with several white fluffy clouds and very precise framing, creating a nicely whimsical atmosphere. Then, as the film grows darker and darker, and everybody's life gets more and more troubled, the sky begins to play a less and less prominent role in each shot, creating an appropriately sad mood. Then in the present-day scenes, he shoots Emma Thompson in such a way so that we can soak in every wonderful little subtlety of her performance, which is very, very kind of him to do, because Emma Thompson really is great. This definitely adds a lot to the comedic scenes. Especially after being very underwhelmed with his work for The Blind Side, I was very pleasantly surprised with the skill he displays in this film.
I mentioned there that Emma Thompson is great, and I'll say it again: Emma Thompson is just fantastic. I like that contrast, sure, the writing's good, yes, but without Emma Thompson, this film would not have come close to the level of humor it reaches here. She is just wonderful. She captures brilliantly the British disagreeableness of the character, and is very, very funny. She manages to play this character so, so well, and I believe she's definitely in for an Oscar nomination.
Actually, Emma Thompson isn't the only one who delivers a great performance. All the actors do a great job. Paul Giamatti and Tom Hanks are really great in their roles as Travers's driver Ralph and Walt Disney respectively, but, frankly, that's a given. They're some of the best actors working today, and they're both excellent in their roles. Tom Hanks surprisingly doesn't get a lot of time as Walt Disney, especially after being advertised so prominently in the trailers and posters, but, with what he's given, he does an excellent job. Still, if you're looking to really be wowed by Tom Hanks this holiday season, Captain Phillips is probably the way to go. Colin Farrell as P.L. Travers's father does a good job, even if he's not as good as some of the other performers in the film. He seems to be channeling Johnny Depp's performance from Finding Neverland, but he's good at it, so I can't really complain. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are excellent in their roles as the Sherman brothers too, and it's very hard to not like them. They definitely help in the comedic scenes, giving way to some really funny moments.
Unfortunately, though, this humor does begin to falter out (as does the story with the making of the film) to make room for the dramatic side of the film (Travers's backstory). And this brings the film's biggest problem. Though the drama isn't poorly done, it isn't quite as good as the humor. It becomes a touch too sentimental, and it isn't quite as interesting. There are still some jokes but they feel more out of place, and don't get the laughs that they should have. It's a shame.
That being said, the drama isn't poorly done, it's just doesn't reach the high standard that the film had set for itself after the wonderful humor. Still, this is all excusable, especially when Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are on screen. There are moments when you might wish for a bit more humor, but, nonetheless, you'll exit the cinema feeling warm and happy inside.
The score by Thomas Newman is also good, if not great. It fits the images well, though it isn't as good when listening to it by itself. It's a lot like his famous score for Finding Nemo, interestingly enough, in that it has that same dreamy quality to it, but it still doesn't feel like he was just copying Finding Nemo. It's not a great score, but it definitely does what it was supposed to. And when the songs from the original film start playing, it's hard not to smile and hum them for the rest of the day.
Saving Mr. Banks does have a slight issue with an excess of sentiment, but it's still a very nice film. Even if it's not all-around a perfect movie, you couldn't ask for more this time of year; it provides us with a lovely movie that can make us laugh, touch us, and get us in high spirits. I'd definitely recommend it.
*Note: stay for the end credits*
Posted on 12/24/13 02:00 AM
Even though I only saw them for the first time recently, I adore the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think they're thrilling, emotional, and very, very well done. An Unexpected Journey, however, was not so good, giving the Middle Earth-hungry world a huge disappointment, leaving us with the bitter taste of dish clanging and song singing sitting in our mouths. But, in spite of last year's unexpected disappointment, I simply could not wait to see Peter Jackson's newest venture into Middle Earth, the Desolation of Smaug. And this movie definitely makes up for An Unexpected Journey, marking a very, very welcome return to excitement in Middle Earth. It never comes anywhere close to Lord of the Rings-level good but the film is nonetheless a very fun, exciting film.
In this film, we are reunited with the dwarves of Erebor, trying to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug the Stupendous, who usurped it a long, long time ago, leaving the dwarves with a strong thirst for revenge.
Fortunately, this film marks a huge improvement over the mediocre Unexpected Journey. It is more exciting, faster paced, and has perhaps the most remarkable dragon you'll ever see.
Indeed, Smaug the Stupendous lives up to his name in the most spectacular fashion, easily providing the highlight of the movie. From the design, to the realization, to the incredible CGI to Benedict Cumberbatch's superb voice-work, Smaug is utterly astonishing. Upon seeing him revealed for the first time, it's hard not to forget everything, shrink back in your seat, and just yell "ah, a dragon!" To see Smaug and his huge pile of gold (especially on a big screen) is just jaw-dropping, and is worth the price of admission in itself. Sure, his scene runs a touch too long, but it's excusable, because he's just such a brilliantly cool dragon.
The other set pieces in the film are also good, if (again) not quite Lord of the Rings level. It's clear that Peter Jackson was saving up all the set pieces for this film, starving An Unexpected Journey of excitement. This film is action packed! The most memorable set piece in the film is a big, exciting chase involving barrels, elves and orcs, which is great, silly fun. Also good is the scene in the Mirkwood forests, where we get to see Bilbo and his pack of friends fight fearsome, beautifully animated spiders. What's best about the action and actually very surprising is how non-Lord of the Rings-like it is. Those films have very gritty and serious action, full of dirt, grime and darkness. With this film, Peter Jackson doesn't seem to be aiming for that, and the action has become far more fun as a result (note: more fun does not mean better, in this case). The music is lighter, the colors are brighter, and it's just great to watch. Bright and colorful action scenes might not be what you want out of your Middle Earth, but I was very happy with this move by Peter Jackson. It's not like the stupid snot-joke-full tone of Unexpected Journey, however; the set pieces here are fun, exhilarating, and have just the right amount of exhilarating silliness, something I can't say about the first Hobbit film. I'm not sure if this is exactly what Peter Jackson was aiming for with the whole film, but just tell me you don't get this same feeling when watching the barrel sequence, with its careful choreography and smooth cinematography.
However, where this film improves the most upon its predecessor is not in the action or CGI, but in the characters. One of the biggest flaws with the first Hobbit film is that you didn't really know any of the dwarves (literally, 2 hours in, you would be looking at one of the dwarves, wondering if you'd seen him earlier in the movie). In the Desolation of Smaug, though not everyone is given a very developed personality, you do know and recognize all of the dwarves. Thorin, in particular, is much better than he was in the first film: he's no longer trying to be Viggo Mortensen, he's more likable, and he seems to have left behind that awful Batman voice, which is a big, big plus.
Unfortunately, though, Bilbo gets a much smaller role. I love his character, and yet he's pushed back to make room for Thorin. This also means that the amazing Martin Freeman doesn't get as much screen time, which is an utter shame. Still, with the time that he does get, Martin Freeman turns in a fantastic performance. He's likable, he delivers his lines in a wonderfully natural manner, and he provides exactly the type of performance you'd expect from an actor of such magnificence and skill.
The most talked about characters, however, are Tauriel and Legolas who were not in the book, but Peter Jackson decided to throw in anyways. Their inclusion isn't bad (in fact it's pretty great to see Tauriel fighting orcs), but their love triangle with the 'attractive' dwarf Kíli is just dreadful, and provides some of the film's worst moments.
Outside of the love triangle, the biggest problem with the film is definitely its length, which is funny because the film is actually Peter Jackson's shortest trip into Middle Earth. Though it features many action scenes, there's no denying that this film has a lot of filler material, and could have been much, much shorter. You won't always be at the edge of your seat, and you will certainly feel the long runtime at times. It's not worse than the first forty or so minutes of An Unexpected Journey, but that definitely doesn't mean you get the Lord of the Rings 'surely that wasn't an hour; that was more like 20 minutes!' feeling.
Howard Shore's score is alright, if not exactly what we've come to expect from him. On a side note, the scene in which the dwarves are breaking out of the elves' prison sounds incredibly similar to the score for Hugo, also written by Howard Shore, and this is sure to distract audiences (it certainly distracted me). Case in point, listen to track 9, 'Barrels Out of Bond', and you'll notice that in the beginning, the similarities with the score for Hugo are simply uncanny. Other than that, of course, it's a good score, creating suspense and drama in a way that all good movie scores do. Especially Smaug's theme, which fits the fantastically intimidating images of the dragon well.
Though the film doesn't really have many flaws, the ones it does have (padded length and miserable love triangle) take quite a bit out of the film. But, in spite of that, the film is very entertaining. It's got the most spectacular dragon I've ever seen, some fantastic set pieces, and a cliffhanger so ingenious, I simply cannot wait for 2014's There and Back Again.
Posted on 12/22/13 03:12 AM
*Note: I actually give this film 3.75/5 stars. I like this film, I really do, I just can't give it the same rating as such films as Captain Phillips and Blue Jasmine (both great films, by the way, check those ones out, too).*
Even though I really like the first book, and to a lesser extent the third one, the second book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I do not enjoy. I find it unexciting, hard to follow, and very cliché in its romance. Therefore, I am very pleased to say that the movie adaptation is much better: it's exciting, well acted, and features some great buildup.
After winning the Hunger Games last year, Katniss and Peeta have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble with their defiance at the Games and, so, the Capitol wants them dead. As a result, they get sent back to the arena, for another episode of the Hunger Games.
Only, this year, the people who have to settle their differences in the arena are reaped from a pool of existing victors, young and old.
Now, before I go into my criticisms of the film, let me make one thing clear: this is a good movie! I really think so. It's an exciting, well directed film and it held my attention for 150 minutes. However, I simply do not think that it is worthy of all the other praise that's been thrown at it. This movie, to me at least, is undeniably flawed.
One of the big flaws is the romance, which hasn't improved much since the last film. There's a love triangle (ugh), but inexplicably, there seems to be a corner missing. Gale and Katniss have very little chemistry in a movie that the former is barely in.
Also, some of the lines and scenes of romance with the other male corner are not very good. Glaring examples of poorly written romance include their conversation on the beach and conversation on the train (I'm sorry, but the question "what's your favorite color?" doesn't exactly do much in developing their relationship) . I wouldn't say that the romance is any worse than what we saw in the book, or even what we saw in the first film, but it's still not very satisfying.
The other big flaw - and I realize I'm in the minority with this - is the Games. Now, I'm not saying they're unexciting or uninteresting. I love the look of the Games, I like the participants, and I think the action is exciting. However, they just feel like a break from the narrative, intriguing buildup and escalating political tension that had full attention in the really interesting first act. You see, there are those who see the Games as really powerful symbolism: social satire, an allegory on the status of celebrities today, about reality television. I've even heard a theory about how the Hunger Games is about finding Jesus (no, really,). But, even though I see that, I'm not as moved by it as other people. And, so, to see the really interesting tension rising replaced by the (admittedly exciting) narrative halt is rather disappointing.
Another problem with the games is the hourly events, which aren't very interesting. They weren't very interesting in the book either, but I think this is one of those times where you should change what's given to you (on an entirely different note, the scene with Haymitch's Hunger Games was not one of those times, but I digress). You have this very clever setup with the clock, and then the poisonous fog, poorly animated monkeys, and blood rain that's in it isn't very creative. That being said, the jabberjay hour is fantastic. They mimic the voices of the tributes' friends and family, creating a really fantastically surreal scene.
Also, and I promise this is the last subject of my criticisms; the last ten minutes completely collapse. It doesn't make sense, and it's full of overly dramatic shots. The cliffhanger's silly, the idea of hitting a lightning bolt mid-strike is stupid and it simply does not work.
All that being said, this is a good movie, and I very much enjoyed watching it.
As I've already mentioned, I really like the buildup and first act. It's very interesting and very well done. I wish the whole film had been done like this. The pacing isn't always top-notch, but that's excusable when you see the careful thought put into the somber tone and building of political tension.
Another improvement is the characters who are all much better than they were in the first film. The main one is Peeta. He's more interesting, likable, given more to do, and he has better lines to say. President Snow is also an upgrade. I saw the first film before I read the books, and I didn't even realize that Snow was supposed to be a villain. He's definitely villainous here, even if there isn't much to distinguish him from any other baddie. The best character here, by far, is Stanley Tucci's Caesar, who's just fantastic. Tucci plays the character so well. He's a very believable talk-show host, with his flamboyance and smiling and laughing. It always put a big smile on my face when he was on.
The tributes are also an improvement. One of the biggest problems with the original film is that, with the exception of Rue, you hardly knew any of the other tributes, which reduced the suspense quite a bit. In this film, we know the other tributes fairly well. Johanna Mason is the best one with a very strong personality, and Finnick is surprisingly not very annoying, which is a plus. Beetee is fun, even if he's not really given much of a personality to work with.
The directing is also a big improvement. Gary Ross plagued his film with sloppy, nauseating shaky cam, which does very little to up the suspense. He also made his film feel very understated (some, like me, might say boring instead) with no music or anything playing during the very big scenes. I'm all for being understated, but that crossed a line to just being dull. This is not the case with Francis Lawrence. It's obvious from the very first shot of Katniss, shrouded in the shadows, sitting by the lake that he wants to impress us with his directing, and for the most part, he does. For one thing, the movie looks very pretty. Lawrence has a great eye for interesting camera angles, and the big budget that he's given helps the production designers create a very nice world. It's all very pretty, and the somber tone he sets is really nice. He does well.
He also directs the actors very well. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss. She's just *perfectly* cast, and plays her character very, very well. There are a lot of emotions and subtleties that you have to juggle while playing Katniss, but Jennifer Lawrence does them all excellently. The Lawrence's in this film do a very good job (Lawrence Kasdan should have written the script; he's actually a good fit, as well as having the right name). Josh Hutcherson is also very good. The fact that his character is so much better helps of course, but his acting is still very strong. The actors are all excellent, and very impressive.
However, I was perhaps a bit less impressed with the score by James Newton Howard, which is a shame. Parts of it are excellent (Beetee's violin theme is just terrific), but on the whole the score fails to leave much of an impression. The chase music is very generic chase music, with little added flavor. It's not a terrible score, but I was hoping for a bit more.
On the whole, and in spite of all my nitpicking, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very good, if overrated, piece of entertainment. It's well acted, intriguing, nicely shot and features a really excellent first act. You'll love it if you're a fan, but even if you're a little hesitant on the series, you'll find much to enjoy.
Posted on 12/22/13 03:11 AM
Thanks in large part to Disney and Johnny Depp, pirates are now thought of as little more than alcohol-drinking, makeup-wearing, Pepe-le-Pew-esque people. Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass's first film in a couple of years, does not have Johnny Depp parading onto the Maersk Alabama, asking where the rum is. This movie has Barkhad Adbi and his three friends climbing onto the ship with machine guns threatening to kill the crew in just 60 seconds. It's surprising...and it's terrifying.
Captain Phillips is the story of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama Cargo Ship, which, in April of 2009 was hijacked by four Somali pirates. The pirates board the ship, and scare the audience and crew half to death, but then take Richard Phillips hostage in the ship's lifeboat, sparking a big Navy Seals operation to save Phillips before it's too late.
This story is intense, and really suspenseful. I don't think Gravity even had moments of intensity like the scene in which the pirates are on the ship, and looking for the rest of the crew. It's intense and oh-so-terrifying. Even if the Navy Seals operation isn't as intense as the pirates-on-the-ship scenes, this movie is intense all the way through, and will leave you at the edge of your seat.
The intense moments are really well done, as well. There's a lot of yelling going on, a lot of shots being fired, and the camera moving a lot. Yet it never feels muddled. It always feels like these scenes are organized chaos. That sounds like an oxymoron, but check the film out and you'll know what I mean. It sounds strange, but it's really what I got out of it, and it's rewarding.
And the camerawork is terrific, really adding to the suspense. I was concerned going into the film that Greengrass would go overboard with the shaky cam (having never seen a film of his before) and so I am very happy to report that this is not the case at all. The camera moves a lot, and there are a lot of closeups on the faces so that you can count the little beads of sweat rolling down the characters' faces, yet it never makes you nauseous or uncomfortable. What the shaky cam does so well is that it shakes the camera to get you scared, to make you feel like you're in the situation, but it doesn't shake it so much so that you can't see what's going on.
Furthermore, the scenes of shaking are well chosen. It's not like The Hunger Games where the camera shakes randomly even during the conversations and slow moments (ironically, Billy Ray the writer of Captain Phillips, also wrote The Hunger Games, but that's neither here nor there). The camera is held steady in the uneventful scenes, but when there's action or something exciting going on, the camera builds in shakiness. This adds a feeling of suspense and heightening of intensity that The Hunger Games was never able to achieve. The camerawork is great, and highly commendable.
The acting, too, is really, really great. Tom Hanks is terrific as the title character. Even if his Boston accent is a little alarming at first, he gives a brilliant performance and really, really makes you care for him. He gives Richard Phillips the personality the writers can't. And he's perfectly countered by Barkhad Abdi, the actor who plays the main pirate Muse. He's never been in a film before! That's unbelievable! He's fantastic in this film. The choice to cast Somalis as the pirates was quite risky, but it more than payed off. Especially with Abdi, who is terrifying. It's well worth an Oscar nom.
One more thing that the film gets right is in showing both sides. Now, it doesn't show everybody's side (the film doesn't show the crews' side; that Phillips did deliberately go very close to the Somalian coast; waters which he knew very full of pirates), but it does show way more than most Hollywood thrillers do. Namely, the pirates. Captain Phillips doesn't portray the pirates as bland, one-sided bad guys. It does show their side, it does show why they have to do this, and that's very good, interesting, and new.
However, if I am to point out a flaw with Captain Phillips is that the Navy Seals mission really isn't as intense as the beginning of the pirate incident, and the film does take a little step down. It's still gripping, and I'm just nitpicking, but it is a bit unfortunate nevertheless.
Also nitpick-worthy is Henry Jackman's score. It has good moments -- particularly when the pirates are boarding the ship -- but in general, it's too generic-thriller-score-ish. It also sounds a lot like Hans Zimmer's score for Inception, oddly enough, something that is definitely worth wondering about.
There will be those who will watch Captain Phillips and see messages about globalization and economic disparity and those themes are definitely very evident. But the film is more than enjoyable without looking at it like that. An extremely thrilling, well acted ride, Captain Phillips is a film that will entertain you almost as much as it raises your heart rate. It's not quite as good as the other survival film of October, Gravity, but it's highly recommendable nonetheless.
Posted on 12/22/13 02:54 AM
After falling in love with Peter Jackson's epic and massively-scaled Lord of the Rings films, I was told over and over again not to get my expectations up for his follow-up film, the prequel to his Rings films, The Hobbit. I can definitely see why I was told this. It's unfunny, poorly acted (with one major, major exception), slow, and featuring poorer CGI than its predecessors. That being said, it's not that bad a movie. It's just an intensely flawed one.
This film follows Bilbo Baggins (played by the all holy Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey and thirteen dwarves, on a quest to take Erebor, the home of the dwarves, back from the dragon Smaug the Magnificent, who stole the place with all its gold many years ago.
Even though The Lord of the Rings are very flawed, when compared to The Hobbit, they look like perfection. The Hobbit is good, but, goodness gracious, one could do an entire commentary of the film just pointing out all the flaws and nitpicks. Although many of these are short nitpicks, there are some big ones, as well. Let me just play pessimist and count some of the major flaws.
The biggest one is the characters. In the original LOTR films, there was a lot of time for each and every one of the main characters to be developed. Even when the characters were simplified, you were well acquainted with each and every one of the characters. You know well who Aragorn is, who Gimli is, and who Sam is. In The Hobbit, there'll be people standing in the frame, and you think to yourself whether or not you've seen this dwarf before! There's one dwarf that's really developed, three dwarves that you always recognize but don't really know, and nine dwarves you know about as well as a random person you pass on the sidewalk. The one dwarf that is really developed, Thorin, seems like a poor, overly serious, and dull wanna-be Aragorn. But, unfortunately, Richard Armitage simply is no Viggo Mortensen, and his character is not as interesting as the character its trying to copy.
The next big, big flaw with the film is its sense of humor. Now, I'm all for not being overly somber and being able to crack some jokes. But this film's sense of humor is just way off. I don't like snot jokes and burp jokes with my Middle Earth. The film is unfunny, and it meshes uncomfortably with the dark mood of the rest of the film. It just isn't funny, and it doesn't work.
Yet another big one is its first hour, which just isn't very good. Poorly paced, full of filler material, and filled with dull exposition , the first hour really should have been improved. It isn't terrible, but it really isn't good, either.
I won't continue with the flaws, because this would exceed the Rotten Tomatoes characters limit if I did. But I believe I've gotten my point across; this movie is flawed. But, nevertheless, I enjoyed this film. And a huge reason for that is, of course, Martin Freeman. In this movie, Martin Freeman is at his very Martin Freeman-iest and I couldn't get enough of it. He is utterly fantastic (and, obviously, I say that with absolutely no bias). This is the guy that Tom Hanks looks at, and says "gee, that guy's likable". He is perfectly cast, and really delivers. I will have to contain myself from raving about him the entire review.
And there is one scene in which he shares the screen with Gollum (I know, that sounds like something out of a wonderful dream) and it's really well handled. Even if the characters are unrealistically good at riddles, it's a really fun scene.
Furthermore, and very importantly, the action scenes are fun. The action scenes are exciting (and have a lot of Martin Freeman) and are very nicely shot. Peter Jackson finds very imaginative ways to shoot each scene, and it does add quite a bit. There's one set piece in which our dwarves are in The Great Goblin's lair, and the camera keeps on panning smoothly throughout the cave, and it's very nice. But it also manages to be exciting, without the fun camera movements. It's tense, exciting, and helps carry the film through the slow moments.
The movie, I believe I've already mentioned, is immensely flawed, and I haven't even mentioned some of its bigger flaws (let me just say, in The Lord of the Rings, death is just something that people re-emerge from, five minutes later), but nevertheless, I found myself enjoying this largely scaled, fun adventure film with a fantastic score, and, of course, Martin Freeman. It's not a perfect film, but, hey, it's still entertaining.