Monday, December 16, 2013

Give it a Shot! - Year End Writeup

As part of my continued work for Moar Powah, I got to write an article in Moar Powah's ongoing series entitled Give it a Shot! in which the writer details something that might not have gotten a lot of coverage. In this case, I decided to write about 3 movies from 2013 that didn't get a lot of love, but that I thought were worth seeing.

Give it a Shot! - Year End Writeup

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Nebraska

My review of Nebraska has...actually been up on Moar Powah for a while now, I just forgot it. Anyway, here it is:

Alexander Payne is a bit of an odd director. I’ve likened him in the past to the Coen Brothers, although he’s not quite as good as them since no one is as good as them. Like them, his movies are quintessentially American even in an age of increased globalization; he has a talent for writing characters who are awful people but still sympathetic and he manages to handle swerves between pathos and dark comedy that would wreck most movies. One of the main differences however (aside from the Coens occasional dips into weirdness for weirdness’ sake) is that Payne’s movies tend to be smaller and less intense, which can turn off people used to more gripping movies. Still he’s an incredibly talented writer and director and while Nebraska isn’t quite his best work, it’s still one of the most oddly engaging movies of the year.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Frozen

Oops, forgot to post this. Here's my review of Frozen that I posted on Moar Powah.

"I’ve always been sort of contrary and nowhere is this more apparent than in my relationship with the Disney Corporation; as my generation grows ever more attached to Disney and its every output, I’ve only grown more distant from it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to enjoy more offbeat children’s animation (The Secret of Kells, ParaNorman, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Triplets of Belville etc.) which has often made some of Disney’s lesser or middling output begin to pale in comparison. On the plus side, since I’m not nostalgia blinded, you can believe me when I tell you that Frozen is really good."

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Blue is the Warmest Colour

Sometimes a movie gets to be known for a single scene above all others. This can be an incredible action scene, an intense dramatic scene or even just a scene that makes it stand way the hell out from all the other movies. These movies can be good (There Will Be Blood will always be known for Daniel Day-Lewis screaming about milkshakes) bad (Zabrinske Point is a painfully dull movie, but goddamn that final explosion is awesome) or mediocre (would anyone even remember Return of the Dragon if Bruce Lee didn’t kill Chuck Norris in it?) And sometimes, it’s helpful to back off and acknowledge this fact, no matter how crass it is. So, with that in mind, Blue is the Warmest Colour has become well known for the fact that it contains, amongst other things, a 7 minute long, ridiculously explicit, lesbian sex scene.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it. The plot, loosely adapted from a French graphic novel entitled Blue Angel, is devoted to a girl named Adele (I’m not making jokes about it, but you can if you want). One day she randomly meets a woman named Emma with the eponymous blue hair and begins a rather passionate relationship with her. The rest of the film is devoted to the ups and downs of their relationship, spanning from Adele’s teenage years well into adulthood.

I do want to get this out of the way right up front; The biggest and most glaring problem with this movie is it’s pacing. Yes it might not surprise you that a 3 hour movie entirely about one couple with little in the way of side characters and nothing in the way of subplots is paced like a river of cement, but it sure as hell surprised me. It’s not just the length though, it’s paced rather oddly. Scenes will seem to keep going on forever, and then abruptly end. A lengthy section at the end gets weirdly repetitive, and while it may seem odd for a mostly straight male to say this, I’d have cut a bit of the sex as it too gets a bit repetitive and doesn’t seem to add a ton. So if you’ve got low stamina for lengthy movies, this one is probably not for you.

But if the length and sometimes slow pace aren’t a problem for you, there’s a lot to recommend about Blue is the Warmest Colour. It’s extremely well written for one, although my ability to judge the character’s “voices” are limited, as I don’t speak French. The length may get tedious at times, but it does give us a rather intimate look into Adele’s life and helps her come alive as a person. The cinematography and use of light in particular is gorgeous and the direction is, for the most part, pretty solid.

It’s also become a custom for presumed Best Foreign Language Film winners (which Blue mostly certainly is) to have a nomination in another category, and if that’s the case this year at the Oscars, then we can probably expect to see Adele Exarchopoulos up for Best Actress. She is phenomenal, not only at making her impossibly explicit sex scenes seem realistic (to the point where they begin to threaten to stop being erotic occasionally) but also in quietly inhabiting her character, in even the smallest scenes. It’s all the more impressive, given that her performance is basically devoid of any big scenery chewing shouting moments, but that she still manages to give such an intense performance. Her costar Lea Seydoux (so many names I have to double check the spelling on) is also spot on, and is tasked with a couple of the bigger moments so she might stand out a little more than Adele. Unfortunately I can’t say too much more about the acting, because as I said earlier, there’s not really anything in the way of side characters.

There are some other minor complaints I could harp on (the movie overuses the color blue a tiny bit, even with the title being what it is, there are some scenes that feel out of place and it isn’t in much of a hurry to clue us in on time skips) but ultimately Blue is the Warmest Colour is an extremely good movie, that occasionally flirts with being great. It’s extreme length, explicit sex scenes and occasional slow pace might mean it’s not for everyone (also it’s subtitled, but I refuse to acknowledge the idea that there are people who won’t see a movie cause it’s subtitled) but if you think you can get into it, odds are you’ll get way into it. So I guess Blue is walking away with a recommendation. So what it’s not perfect, you get imperfection from trying new things.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he had to work very hard not to make a joke about Thanksgiving and eating [PUNCHLINE CENSORED].

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I was not overly fond of the first Hunger Games movie, but I didn’t dislike it. I thought it was a good idea (like it was the first time they made it, when it was called Battle Royale) and had some good acting, but it was let down by an obvious low budget. And this characteristic lack of enthusiasm was exacerbated by trailers that didn’t seem to be advertising to anyone but people who were already fans of the books. So perhaps it was merely lowered expectations but I was unprepared for how agreeable I found Catching Fire to be.

The plot is…basically a more in depth retread of the first movie. As the story opens, Katniss and Peeta (names haven’t gotten any less stupid, but we can roll with it) are basking in the glow of having been dual winners of the last Hunger Games, via pretending to be a couple. This is complicated however by Peeta’s actual feelings and the fact that their stage managed post-victory tour has them in the spotlight a lot. But when Katniss starts becoming the symbol of a brewing revolution, the new games master (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) decides that the best way to remove her is to make the next games be a big free for all between previous victors, with the plan for Katniss to die fighting.

The main improvement over this film is in the pre-games part of the movie. The social satire is still on the clumsy side, but it’s a lot more naturally weaved into the story in this one, mostly because the stage show/media side of things is front and center, rather than a side thing. The rebellion stuff is mostly well handled, although obviously hampered by the PG-13 rating and sequences involving Katniss’ PTSD from the first Games and gradual push towards playing along are sparse, but well done.

The acting is mostly good across the board. Hoffman is good in a downplayed and restrained performance and it’s nice to see Sutherland looking more engaged and awake than he did last time. Jennifer Lawrence is throwing herself into her role with the same gusto she usually does and it’s nice to see a little more range from Josh Hutcherson than we did last time. Series MVP is still Woody Harrelson to me, and it’s quite frankly criminal that they lost the opportunity to have him be involved in the games, at least in my opinion.

The games themselves are up and down. See, with the cast of fighters being more ‘seasoned veterans/colorful murders’ than frightened high school kids this time around, I was hoping the action would skew more Running Man than Battle Royale. Unfortunately, while the few action sequences we do get are well put together and engaging, most of the more colorful psychos are killed off off-screen. Between the girl who files her teeth into fangs, the drug addicted goths who hide and the married couple who use science to kill people, you’ve got enough to populate the boss fights of a Metal Gear Solid game. You honestly expect me to believe that you can’t get a couple good fights out of that.

Still, review the movie you’ve got, not the movie you want. The action sequences we get are sparse, but well put together. Most of them involve the group running away from or fighting a hazard inside the arena, but they’re still pretty good. Francis Lawrence is definitely a better director of action sequences than Gary Ross (even if Ross has done generally better movies) and more importantly he owns a tripod. The production values and dramatic involvement have definitely improved as well, so I actually care what happens to most of the secondary characters and the monsters in question don’t look terrible this time around.

There are still flaws, even with the improvements. It suffers a bit from being the middle child, so there’s no real beginning and no real end, and it’s clearly just marking time for the big finale. And while the movie clearly has very little interest in the love triangle, it keeps pushing it and Liam Hemsworth doesn’t get enough screen time for me to care about what happens to him.

I didn’t expect a lot from Catching Fire. Maybe it was the crappy marketing, maybe it was how mediocre the first one was, maybe it was just that the blockbusters this year have been on the weak side. But there’s a lot to like about Catching Fire, even if you’re not a huge fan of the books. So if you need an action movie to see, and you’ve already seen Thor, this would probably suffice.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept expecting The Fear to show up as one of the fighters.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

I think I’ve been looking forward to liking a movie with Matthew McConaughey. There’s no particular reason for it, other than the fact that we have the same last name (mine is spelled slightly differently) but I’ve always wanted to like him. Of course the problem is that, up until very, very, very recently, everything he’s done has been absolutely terrible. But as of late, that’s been changing a bit. Maybe Matthew realized he’s not going to be young and hot forever and should try actually acting, but he’s been appearing in more mature and difficult roles lately. And this has culminated in Dallas Buyer’s Club, a movie and a performance that all but guarantees that the star of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is going to be an Oscar Nominee.

The plot is about Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a womanizing drug addicted homophobe living in Dallas in the 80s, who contracts AIDS after a night with a heroin addicted woman. Given 30 days to live, he eventually finds himself in Mexico, seeking non-FDA approved treatments, as AZT, the only FDA approved treatment appeared to be killing him. When he improves he returns to the US and starts a Buyers Club, designed to work around the laws keeping him from selling this treatment to other AIDS patients with the help of a transgendered woman named Rayon (Jared Leto).

All of the ads for this movie are selling McConaughey’s performance as the main draw, and in that the movie certainly does not disappoint. The best moments are in the first half, between when Woodroof gets his diagnosis and when he begins getting treatment, as his performance is extremely raw during that period and all the more compelling for it. After that his performance becomes a little more conventional, along with the movie which shifts into a fairly straightforward ‘issue, fight the power’ movie at this point, but it’s still nice to see McConaughey, an actor I’d once dismissed as a one note pretty boy, disappearing into a role. The quite frankly more impressive performance comes from Leto, as his character has more problems and winds up with a lot of darker and more depressing sequences to sell, and he does an incredible job…that I can’t really tell you about as it’s full of spoilers. Oh and I guess Jennifer Garner’s in it, but that really should tell you all you need to know about her performance.

Of course the fact that McConaughey gets upstaged a lot by Leto might be because the director or screenwriter dropped the ball a bit. The issue is mostly in the editing, what we get shown vs. what we don’t. We end up seeing Ron at the beginning and end of a lot of his arcs but we see very little of the middle. Ron is homophobic at the beginning and he’s not at the end, but we see very little of the transformation in the middle. We don’t get to see Ron bond much with Rayon, which is depressing as their relationship is an interesting one.

This is par for the course in issues movies, and the film is overall a lot more interested in the battle over AZT as an AIDS treatment then it is in the relationships between the characters. The upside is that, this time around the sequences involving the ‘issue’ are a lot more entertaining than they usually are, as the film chooses to stage and shoot them in the vein of comedic hustling sequences, with Ron going around the world to find non-approved medications and supplements and talking his way around the feds. These scenes are fun and engaging, but it’s a shame that the relationships at the center have to suffer for it. Less fun is Jennifer Garner’s character; She’s saddled with playing the Sympathetic Doctor ™, who winds up Woodroof’s Unlikely Ally ™. This doesn’t need to be a bad thing, but the movie both over and under commits to her, letting her eat up way too much screen time but not giving her enough to have a proper character or arc. I also saw hints of her being the Love Interest ™, an aspect that should have been dropped entirely.

Other than that, there’s not a ton to say. The direction runs a little on the by-the-numbers side for my taste, but it’s competent and it commits fully to its time and setting with a nicely appropriate soundtrack and a washed out desert color palate. The screenplay is good, with each character having a unique voice and all of the character arcs that we get to see well thought out. The supporting cast all do their jobs admirably and it seems to have real empathy for the plight of the AIDS affected in the late 80s.

The end of the year means Oscar Season ™ is upon us, and character driven actor movies are swiftly becoming the norm (how long till the new Coen Brothes again?). Dallas Buyers Club is, unfortunately, on the low end of this November’s Oscar crop, and with both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity still hanging around theaters, I can’t say it anywhere near the best thing playing right now. But, taken on its own merits and not compared to those two, it’s a well executed, if occasionally flawed, issue movie and biopic centered around a pair of Oscar caliber performances. So if you’re in the mood for an actor movie this will easily scratch that itch.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he had to keep checking to make sure he wasn’t spelling Matthew’s last name like his own.