Friday, December 31, 2010

2 quick things

It's New Years Eve and while I was debating having some content-proper for you, I figured it would be wasted, especially since I'd have to rush to finish it on time. Instead I have to wonder how I missed this:

The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp is essentially using this as a follow up to his role in the flawed but worthwhile adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What I'd like to know is how this passed under my radar. Hunter Thompson is a personal hero of mine and I loved The Rum Diary. I'd also like to know how they're going to hammer a working narrative out of it. So much of it is just the lead character rambling to himself, describing the people or the places or just plain complaining. Very little happens until the last 3rd where the plot suddenly shows up drunkenly and knocks everything over. Oh well, could be good.

Oh and since I just finished it I would be remiss to not suggest you read Mogworld. For those of you who don't know, Mogworld is the first novel by the man behind the Escapist's Zero Punctuation (If you've never heard of ZP, I'm going to ask how that happened and recommend you go look at it, now). I'm not going to review it but it's funny in a very Douglas Adams sort of way, well written and unique, along with some genuinely interesting characters. I don't think you'll see a lot of the plot coming and it's very good, so give it a look.

Happy New Years.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Elessar's top 10 films of the year

Naturally, this list will be kind of limited. There are still films from this year I'm going to see soon (King's Speech on the 1st) and a bunch of others I want to see but won't get to for a while (The Fighter comes to mind, as does The American). But these are the top 10 2010 films that I saw this year.



#10

Hey look, Scott made it after all. Give him a big round of applause. Sure, Scott Pilgrim was far from a perfect movie, but it was exciting, enjoyable and occasionally touching. Hell it was good enough that I forgot I hated Michael Cera for 2 hours, and if that isn't a recommendation I don't know what is.

#9

It must be said, the bar for over-the-top actioners of the new decade has been set and it has been set high. Danny Trejo finally manages to be a star in his own right, as opposed to playing opposite Antonio Bandaras (and it took him a while; would you believe he's over 60?) and Robert Rodriguez puts out what is easily his best film since Sin City. Come for the kitschy violence, stay for the just-as-kitschy (but relevant) political commentary.

#8
Get Low



Despite the serious style and subject matter, this film has more than a little in common with tall tales. With a solid supporting cast all around and a FANTASTIC lead performance from Robert Duvall. He's doing the same kind of work he did in the flawed, but touching Secondhand Lions but this time in service of a better movie...that no one saw. Oh well, it's still a great movie and worth your time and attention.

#7

The first of a series of improbably good movies. This one is far better than any movie about the founding of Facebook has any right to be. With a fantastic screenplay, a group of great performances and some great directing (not to mention the best twinning technique I've ever seen) The Social Network might not be relevant 2 or 3 years down the line, but right now it's a great film and one you should definitely see.

#6

The second improbably good movie, comes to use courtesy of Danny Boyle (come to think of it Slumdog Millionaire was also improbably good...hmmm). You wouldn't think there's a good movie in the story of a guy trapped under a rock for 5 days, but you'd be wrong. James Franco is high on my list of candidates for Best Actor as he gives a rock solid (pun intended) performance. Ignore the deceptive trailers and just see it, so you can be that guy going “Ohmigosh you gotta see it.”

#5



This is how important this movie? It's subheading has a subheading. A near complete turnaround in style and technique (not to mention quality) from the last 3 that chased away all my fears and made me excited for a Harry Potter movie again. In fact, I'm gonna call it now: If Part 2 lives up to what Part 1 has set up, we might just have a modern classic on our hands. Welcome back Mr. Potter. We missed you.

#4

Christopher Nolan blows the roof off with what is easily his best original movie and second only to Dark Knight in his career. If you haven't seen it (which judging by it's box office take means you're living under a rock) you OWE it to yourself to get out there and see it. One of the best action movies in years, with a fantastic lead from Leonardo Dicaprio (and once again, I take back everything nasty I said post Titanic).
And he's AWAKE goddammit.

#3

HAIL STIEG LARRSON! HAIL THE VICTORIOUS DEAD! So Played With Fire and Kicked the Hornet's Nest weren't up to snuff, who gives a shit? This is still a tightly made thriller, with a great lead from Noomi Rapace and an incredibly interesting plot and a high frontrunner for Best Foreign Film. Easily the best foreign films since Pan's Labyrinth (if you haven't seen Pan's fix that NOW!). Now can we PLEASE not fuck up the American version?

#2

Hey, a pair of fantastic directors took a team of great actors and an incredible script and made a great film. Are we shocked? Featuring some great performances from Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon and a great amount of talent shown in newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit isn't westerns the way they used to be. It's westerns they way they SHOULD be.

#1

If there was any evidence in Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler that Darren Aronofsky had a movie of this caliber in him, I certainly missed it. I really can't say anymore than I already did in my review; there's no bad reason to see Black Swan. There is, simply put, nothing out there quite like it, now see it, before someone close to you sees it and spoils it for you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Update and Coraline

So I missed out on seeing The King's Speech today for reasons that are uninteresting and I won't have a chance to see it until the 1st, so I'll be posting my top 10 films of the year tomorrow morning or so.

However, while I rarely talk about movies I saw on DVD, but I finally managed to track down a copy of Coraline, and if you haven't seen it (which judging by how hard it was to find and it's box office take isn't a lot of people...yowza), you really should. Not just cuz I love Neil Gaiman, though I do (seriously American Gods is probably the best novel written in my lifetime and The Sandman is the best graphic novel ever written, both in my opinion), but because it's the first real attempt at making a legit horror film for kids. Yes even moreso than the still rightfully lauded Nightmare Before Christmas

That's a recommendation, because it's a fantastically unique and visionary film. I'm not doing a full review, but I will say that Neil Gaiman's writing style, story techniqes, personal ticks and subject matter have made for, shall we say, difficult adaptations. Mirrormask was visually rich and full of unique and interesting ideas but the story was not, shall we say, up to snuff, whereas Stardust sliced off most of Gaiman's style to create a fun, but inconsequential fantasy action movie. Never managed to track down Neverwhere though. (Beowulf doesn't count since he actually wrote the thing).

Coraline however, keeps it's creator's styles and ticks more than any other film based on Gaiman's work and it works and holds together as a movie. I'm not doing a full review, but it's a fabulously unique and inventive film, so if you haven't tried it, give it a shot.

Trivia: What is the first movie Gaiman worked on? Answer, Princess Mononoke (IE, my favorite animated movie of all time). He worked on the English script adaptation. Don't say I never taught you anything.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How I review

So I'm going to see The King's Speech tomorrow and I'm still searching for a theater playing Rare Exports (short version, Santa meets The Thing, don't believe me, look it up, doubt I'll be able to find one though) and after that, I should have my top 10 films of the year soon after that. But that brought up a question in my mind; How much do you, my faithful readers, know about how I rate things.

By way of an example, if you were to ask me which Disney movie is my favorite, I would answer fairly quickly: Aladdin for reasons that are fairly obvious (I adore Robin Williams and it was the first movie I saw in theaters). On the other hand, if you were to ask me which of the Disney movies is best, again I would answer quickly: Beauty and the Beast, for a variety of reasons. So I figured it would be a good time to explain some of my thoughts on a film's quality (especially important since I refuse to quantify my opinions numerically).

The first I really consider is how much fun I had, which is ironic because a lot of times it's irrelevant. Let me explain. In my opinion the second best film of the last decade was No Country for Old Men and I did not enjoy it. At all. In fact, much of the time I felt oppressed or even brutalized by it (for more information just check on me after a viewing of A Clockwork Orange). But still, depending on the style of movie, if I enjoyed it, it can make up for a lot.

Another way is how successful it is at communicating it's ideas. This can be overridden if it forces you to think about the ideas, even if you don't get the idea across all the way on the first viewing. Terry Gilliam excels at this confusion, as does my personal idol, Stanley Kubrick (I've seen 2001:A Space Odyssey, IE my 4th favorite movie of all time, at LEAST a half dozen times and I'm still note entirely positive what it's on about). But if you can communicate your ideas well, then you'll often score a lot of points with me.

The downside of this is that I CAN be biased against certain ideas. Not inherently conservative or liberal ideas mind, but certain ideas. Twilight will always be working against bias because of how much I HATE it's themes.

Next up is technical details. Technical details are problamatic, especially cinematography because unless you do them INCREDIBLY (like in Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Shining or the CRIMINALLY underwatched Barry Lyndon) doing them well doesn't add a whole hell of a lot. On the other hand, if you fuck them up you can ruin the entire production (looking at you Michael Bay). Script, dialogue, etc are all important but that's obvious.

The final thing, of deceptive importance, is how original a movie is. This is twisty to explain. True Grit is, when you boil all the details away, a fairly simple story of a kid hiring 2 cowboys to hunt down her father's murders, and Black Swan is just about an artist throwing herself too far into her art and beginning to lose it. Neither of those are particularly unique storylines, but I'm a fan of Carl Jung (look him up) so most stories aren't going to be all that original. But by ramping up the details and infusing new life into it, you can make unoriginal stories FEEL original. This is important, because no matter what else, if your story feels unoriginal, than it'll cloud my judgement of it (Avatar and my up-and-down opinion of it, is the best example of this and no I'm not just referring to it's basic story).

So that has been a peek into how my mind works. Won't do it too often, don't want my readers to end up looking like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: Tron Legacy

For those of you who forgot or never found out, Tron was unique and ambitious 1982 Disney piece, imagining a fairly generic escape movie set in the 'grid' of a computer or video game world. It was certainly visually and conceptually unique and featured some great performances, notably from Jeff Bridges, but the plot was fairly rote, the dialogue was often clunky and the pacing was terrible. It was also a HUGE financial flop, but nowadays appeals to the film geek culture for it's big ideas and potential. And so, 28 year later we have a sequel.

To rehash the plot, a few years after the end of the first one Jeff Bridge's Flynn disappeared, leaving his son Sam behind who, nowadays, is a cyber terrorist, fighting against Flynn's old company which is now looking a little too much like Microsoft to be accidental. He gets sent to his dad's old office and sucked into the grid to find that his father is trapped there and his digital copy Clu has become a fascist dictator. A few spoilers later, Flynn, Sam and Flynn's apprentice Quorra are bolting for the exit with a magic macguffin that Clu wants.

Right out of the gate, I want to say that I was a little apprehensive about this one. The first trailer (the one that ended with “IT'S JUST A GAME” if you remember) was easily one of my favorite trailers for going on a year, but each trailer after that got me more and more worried. My main requirement, going in, was that this movie not suck. And it didn't. It's not great, but it's pretty good and it's enjoyable. So color me satisfied.

To the good first: The CGI is absolutely incredible (with one notable exception), the action sequences are enjoyable and inventive, even if one is just a little too close to one from Star Wars for comfort. Olivia Wilde (who some of you might recognize from House MD) does a fantastic job as Quorra, definitely looking forward to her in Cowboys and Aliens. Garret Hundland does a good job as Sam, despite my initial apprehension. It moves at a nice clip, eliminating all of the pacing problems from the original. And Daft Punk's soundtrack is easily one of the year's best, being both distinctive and memorable on it's own, and well suited to the scenes it inhabits (and keep an eye out for the men themselves in the movie proper.)

Now to the bad, and there's more than a little of that. First off, while depicting Clu as a 20 years younger Flynn makes sense in context, the tech does not rise to the occasion (it's the face movements people, Gollum was 7 years ago, why do we still have this problem?). The script is still more than little clunky, especially since the second half of the movie is essentially an extended chase scene. You'll guess a pair of reveals way earlier than your supposed to. A lot of it is vaguely defined (the macguffin's purpose is defined, but not how it works and what precisely Flynn can do is never specified). And Jeff Bridge's performance is unfocused, flitting back and forth between the laid back role from the first one (which he perfected as The Dude in The Big Lebowski) and a fairly rote Obi-Wan knockoff. And someone REALLY needs to tell Michael Sheen to dial it back at least 5 levels.

I suppose the film as a whole's biggest problem is that it wants to be 3 separate thing. It wants to appeal to niche fans of the original, it wants to be a standalone action movie and it wants to lay the groundwork for a series (since Disney can't rely on Pirates anymore) and those three things are pulling it in different directions. The third is probably hurting it the most, since a bunch of things are hinted at and a couple characters cameo, none of which amounts to anything, leaving me feeling unfulfilled.

Still, the good outweighs the bad and it's definitely worth a look. I'd wait till you've seen True Grit or Black Swan first but if you feel inclined, go see it. It's not perfect, but it means well and is enjoyable. Or you could go see Yogi Bear. Or the new Meet the Parents movie. Since that was so fucking good the first 2 times.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he doesn't advise you to see Narnia either.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: True Grit

Before I go into this review, I'd like to answer the first question that springs into mind when discussing a remake, especially one that gave someone an oscar, is whether it's as good as it's original. So to answer: Yes, it's better than the original. Can we move on? Good.

What sets auter directors Joel and Ethan Coen apart from their peers on the more independent side of filmmaking, besides the shocking amount of talent and vision they consistently show? Well, the answer lies in setting. Films like Fargo, No Country for Old Men or A Serious Man would usually never be able to make any money outside the indie scene, due to their labyrinthine plots, dark subject matters and often nihilistic endings (to say nothing of The Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Art Thou). BUT when they're set in the obviously American settings, then they become less impentrable. Such is the case with the Coen Brothers latest work, True Grit.

Hailee Steinfeld has the lead as Mattie, a 14 year old girl who's father was murdered by a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, who some of you might remember as the hero from No Country for Old Men). She hires a violent Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, IE The Dude) to help bring him to justice. Along the way they are joined Matt Damon as La Bouef, a Texas Ranger hunting Chaney for his own reason. And, this being a Coen brother film, that's about all I can say without risking spoilers (and yes there are still spoilers, even if you've seen the original).

The acting across the board is excellent, with a lot detail devoted to making all 3 of the leads human and flawed. Hailee does an excellent job, and she is definitely a young actress to keep an eye on. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon of course do great work, be shocked. What keeps it all interesting is, while they are unique and sympathetic, all 3 of them are on some level, deeply unlikeable. Mattie is naïve and condescending whereas La Bouef is rude and arrogant. But the standout in this area is Cogburn, who is violent, crude and careless. He's less the cowboy hero that John Wayne played him as and more a violent hobo, who just happens to be an expert gunfighter.

The dialogue and story are both well written and compelling (see above Re: Coen Brother) but what surprises me is how efficient it is. Each action leads to the next, no line of dialogue is wasted, all of it works towards characterizing one of the 3 leads or pushing the plot forward. That's not a complaint, merely an observation. It's easily the leanest, most efficient movie of substance since Eastern Promises.

The camera work is excellent, used to accentuate the excellently coregraphed gunfights and chase scenes. The Hymn based soundtrack works well with the setting. What also works excellently is the sets and costumes, adding some deeply needed authenticity to the setting that a lot even very good westerns neglect. Of course, this being a Coen brother film, it's also rather dark. I don't want to get into it (spoilers you know) but I'll just say I'm surprised it got a PG-13.

Of course this leads to the question: Is it as good as Black Swan? (Originally this would have been is it as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but you know). I feel that it's a more efficient, more successful movie, and is better at communicating it's ideas and thoughts. But on the other hand, Black Swan was a more unique film from a less proven director; The Coen Brothers making an excellent movie is as shocking as the sun rising in the morning. But then, why should I choose? They're both excellent movies, both high on my list for best movie of the year and both worthy of your time and attention. So go see True Grit. And Black Swan. Go see them both.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and look at him, he actually saw a movie the day it came out.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Logic of Twilight

Amidst my continued attempts to finish New Moon (yes it is still forthcoming, I had finals this month and it's hard to motivate myself) I had a thought which I wanted to make sure I didn't lose somewhere in the 400 pages of idiotic dialogue, so I thought I'd throw it up here to help collect it.

Part of what makes Twilight interesting to examine, at least intellectually, is because it's essentially a female version of the mindset that creates Power Girl, IE the logic-less hypersexualized objectified mindset, except the thing being hypersexualized and objectified in this case is a man. For example take the Werewolves (term used lightly) from Twilight, who wander around shirtless because the transformation rips up their clothes, but not skintight sweatpants (insert reference to Animorphs here).

Now that's idiotic pretzel logic and we all know it: After all the transformation creates several hundred pounds of fur and muscle, why couldn't it send the clothes to, I don't know, mallet space. But, back up out of your...gender I guess for a moment, and consider it from a neutral perspective: Is that really any dumber than the idiotic logic we come up with for why the women in fantasy stories wear chainmail bikinis?

Now there's an interesting essay in there, and I'll probably expound more on that concept at a later but that idea led me to realizing what kind of logic is at play in Twilight: Porn Logic.

Think about it for a moment: All the guys in the school instantly fall in love with her, Edward and Jacob are instantly in love with her and she loves them both, Alice wants to be around her all the time, whatsername (the blond chick) doesn't like her but is still around her all the time, both the main villains want to kill her at the exclusion of EVERYTHING else. A little rewrite (basically, add "and they fuck" to every interaction) and that could be a softcore porno running at cinemax at 1 AM.

This adds into my theory that Twilight plays to the same part of the female brain that porn taps into in the male brain. If there are any females out there who are familiar with Twilight and have their own thoughts, I'd love to hear them. I'm planning on writing an essay about this concept (both the porn one and the objectification one) once I'm finished with the books.

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep the idea of porn logic in my brain while reading New Moon, see if it makes it any less dreary (I doubt it).

Friday, December 17, 2010

A question

Okay, so. I'm going to see Tron Legacy as soon as possible. My viewing companion might be busy this weekend and I'm sure as hell not gonna see it without him so next Thursday at the latest (King's Speech either this weekend or next Tuesday). But I have a question I want to pose to everyone who's seen it, or not, it's not exceptionally important.

So yes, the movie entitled Tron Legacy. But from what I've gleaned from the trailer and from the reviews I've read/seen, the big villain is Clue (remember, Jeff Bridges Avatar from the first one, got killed) and Tron the character doesn't play much of a role, if he's even in it.

So why precisely is it called Tron Legacy?

Second Age Reviews: 12 Monkeys

What sets former Python and now auteur director Terry Gilliam apart from many of his contemporary's in the intellectual side of film? The answer, simply, is his consistent ability to impose odd forms of logic onto his films. All of his good films rely on odd forms of logic; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas relies heavily on drug logic, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen relies on fairy tale logic, The Imaginarium of Dr. Ponassus rely on dream logic, and so on. It is therefore interesting to consider that 12 Monkeys is by far his most linear, straightforward film. That it is not to say that by any normal standard it is straightforward or linear; merely to say that compared to Brazil or Time Bandits it is relatively easy to follow. It's also a heavy favorite for the movie of his career and high on the list of the movies I've reviewed.

The plot setup takes some explaining so give me a moment. Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a convict from a future in which a virus has killed off 99 percent of humanity and forced the survivors underground, leaving Earth's surface to the animals. In this future, they've developed the technology to send people back in time, not to try to change the result or stop the virus, but to gather information to help them find a cure. James is sent back, but is initially unable to handle the switch and is sent to a mental hospital where he meets Jeffery (Brad Pitt) who just might be connected to the virus and Kathryn (Madeline Stowe) who diagnoses him as insane and begins to convince him that the future is just in his mind.

If that setup sounds complex, trust me it gets worse. The plot is full of twists, fake outs and even causes James and Kathryn to question whether James is really from the future. If you end up taking my advice (Spoiler for the end of the review: My advice is that you see it) and find yourself lost, take comfort in the fact that when you get to the end, it'll all make sense.

Bruce Willis, in a fantastic performance, easily one of his best, eschews the action-guy that is the lifeblood of his career in favor of a darker, more nuanced character. We become attached to him as he revels in the small things like music or fresh air, and even his attraction to Kathryn feels desperate, rather than romantic. Madeline Stowe gives a good performance too, as we watch her doubt herself, and begin to despair in the possibility that 5 billion people might die.

It's a shame (but not a flaw) that two such great performances get completely swallowed by Brad Pitt in a scenery chewing role as a violently unhinged lunatic, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Brad says he spent a few weeks preparing for the role at an insane asylum and I believe it. His entire performance is a massive ball of physical ticks, nonsensical rambling and more creepily sensical rambling. When he's on screen he sucks all the energy in the room to himself, and Bruce and Madeline seemed resigned, like Orlando Bloom in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, to sit back and wait for him to go off screen to shine.

The art design, while beautifully designed and owing more than a little to it's director's often slightly surreal vision, is often intentionally bleak and disturbing to look at. The cinematography is well done and works well with the scenes it inhabits, but then Terry Gilliam wouldn't be the name in film buff circles he is if he didn't understand the basics. The score is surprisingly well done, with the 'theme' of the piece emphasizing the madness, real or imagined, of it's characters, and one scene recalling a certain Hitchcock piece. You'll know it when you hear it.

The script is wall to wall excellent, written by Dave and Janet Peoples who also wrote Blade Runner still one of my top 3 favorite films of all time. The characters, even the minor ones, are fully fledged people with flaws and humanity. The time travel logic might be a little difficult to wrap your head around at first, but once you get it, most of the movie should make sense.

I must say, that despite my great love for the film and my admiration for the craft and skill of the filmmakers and actors, this film is not for everyone. The bleak art style and outlook, the labyrinthine plot, the often disconcerting performances and the disquieting themes will often turn off casual viewers. I mentioned Blade Runner a moment ago, did I not? Well that's good, because it's an excellent barometer. If you like Blade Runner then you should get along well with 12 Monkeys.

If you're on the fence (or have never seen Blade Runner, in which case: shame on you) I'd like to recommend you see it. It's a bold and original piece, and probably the front runner for the movie of Gilliam's career so far (though supposedly The Man Who Killed Don Quioxte is still forthcoming, so maybe that'll change). It might not be the most pleasant movie, but it's truly an example of cinema-as-art and worthy of your time and attention.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: The Dark Crystal

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the line about the dentist makes the movie worth seeing all on it's own.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elessar's Top 5 Games of the Year

As I have precisely 0 interest in any games coming out until January and I am constantly searching for ways to enrich my readers lives, I have decided to list my top 5 Video Games of the Year. Expect my top 10 movies of the year closer to December 31st. Oh and tune in tomorrow for my 12 Monkeys review, and sometime this weekend for my Tron Legacy review.

# 5:
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Hideo Kojima has always been one of the better name-developers out there right now (Metal Gear Solid 4 is my 5th favorite game of all time) and while he's not quite outdoing himself on this one, it's an excellent entry into an excellent series. Some of the best gameplay with the PSP controls I've ever seen and a solid and well written story combine to make probably the best PSP game of all time. Which is both awesome and a little sad.

#4:
Fallout: New Vegas

It's still up in the air whether New Vegas is better than Fallout 3 (depending on DLC and patches) but right now it's still eating my life alive. What's improved has improved mightily and what hasn't isn't so bad, but there's not a whole lot to be said that wasn't said about Fallout 3. With improvements made to the Karma (mostly through factions), some better writing and a MUCH better ending system, New Vegas was overall the game I was promised when I heard about it.
And only 2 story related trophies till platinum.

#3:
Mass Effect 2

Bioware is still the overall best American RPG developer (and second worldwide right now to Atlus) and while I'm STILL waiting for my Jade Empire 2 (where the fuck is it), Mass Effect is their current flagship game for a reason. An incredibly in depth story, told in a well made universe with unique and engaging characters, it's one of the best regarded games of the year. And it's arrival on the PS3 was the last straw against my 360, the final reason why I don't need it anymore. So really, I was holding on to an entire system for 1 game. And doesn't that say volumes about the game?

#2:
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
What was initially scary to me about the Assassin's Creed series was how much it took me by surprise, rocketing to near the top of my favorite games of all time (3rd for those of you who are interested). What continues to be scary about it is, each game keeps getting better. Brotherhood is easily the most refined vision of the series, with great new mechanics, better writing and FINALLY the ability to use a crossbow (seriously it was in the pre-menu cutscene of the first one). If they keep getting better, they might be able to take a run at the number 2 spot by the time Assassin's Creed 3 hits.

#1 (Game of the Year):
Heavy Rain
This is technically a cheat. Brotherhood and Mass Effect 2 were technically more refined, more polished games, with easier to control mechanics. But none of that matters, because while it wasn't the most refined game, it was the boldest, the most unique, the bravest. It set out to create a game like no other before. There were moments of true tragedy in the game, of real emotion, of honest feelings. The scene in which Ethan is forced to cut off his finger is one of the most painful There might be more polished or successful games out there this year, but if this game didn't achieve all of its goals, it's because it set it's bar so high. And around here, we occasionally give points for intent. Enjoy Game of the Year Heavy Rain.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Black Swan

Part of the problem with reviewing a film is that often times you have to discuss the plot and, in plot or character driven film, you risk giving away important twists or interesting developments, even without meaning to. So therefore, to avoid this, I'd like to simply throw up a quick bit on the quality and whether you should go see it. To all of you on the fence, against seeing this movie or want to but haven't yet:

What the fuck is WRONG with you? Get your ass to the theater. This is the boldest, most unique, most visionary film I've seen all year. It finally usurps Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's spot as the best movie of the year so far. It doesn't matter if you want to see it because you liked The Wrestler, or because you want to see Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis get it on or because you want to figure out what the HELL is going on in the trailer. Get. To. The. Theater. Movies of this caliber do not come along every day, go out and see it. Don't go on to read the rest, I might accidentally spoil something, and half the fun of this movies is how INSANE it gets. Come back and read it afterwards. Or don't, just see it.

Okay, for those of you who have seen it and want my thoughts, or are willing to risk spoilers to get my detailed thoughts (go see it), here we go:

This has been a good year for good director/actor teamups. First we had David Fincher and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network. Then we had Danny Boyle and James Franco in 127 Hours. Now we have Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman in Black Swan and like the 2 before it, it's yielded one of the best films of the year.

The setup is fairly simple. Natalie Portman is Nina, ballerina with a domineering mother and more than a couple issues is cast as the lead in Swan Lake. Don't know Swan Lake? It's cool, you'll catch up. See, one of the big things about Swan Lake is that the lead Ballerina has to play both the pure and virginal white swan and the lustful black swan, and while Nina is perfect for the white swan, she is consistently having problems playing the black swan. Enter Mila Kunis as Lily, the perfect dancer for the black swan for...well obvious reasons. Soon the attempts to delve into her darker side to find the black swan are causing her sanity to begin to fray. That's all I can say without really spoiling anything, and TRUST me, you don't want the 3rd act spoiled.

As with many character driven movies, a lot of the credit has to go the actors, and Black Swan is no exception. Natalie Portman owns the movie in the female lead role of the year, giving easily her best performance of her career. She will get nominated for an oscar and she should win. She gets great backup work, not only from Mila Kunis, but from Vincent Cassel as the dancing instructor and director, as well as Barbra Hershey as the domineering mother. And keep your eyes peeled for Winona Ryder in a small but important role that she fulfills with admirable gusto.

The writing and direction are incredible, as are the metaphors and points centered around the similarity to the creation of art and the destruction of self. Early on, the film is incredibly subtle, at one point hinting at something with a quick out of the corner of your eye detail that pays off in one of the creepiest scenes in year. Darren Aronofsky directs the HELL out of it, and were he less fearless in his technique, it would threaten to be over directing, but soon you realize that he not gone for the gusto so intensely, the film would have suffered mightily.

A lot of actor driven movies suffer from a lack of interest in keeping the technical details unique or well done (looking at you The Social Network) but Black Swan doesn't fall into that trap. The swirling camera techniques work perfectly with the dancing sequences they inhabit. Subtle use of lighting and CGI are used to show Nina's loosening grip on reality. It's not a stretch to say that the movie is actually scary more than once, turning it into not only the best movie (so far) of the year, but easily the best horror film in I don't know how long. Oh and while I can't tell you about the makeup, believe me I want to.

And the soundtrack, oh GOD the soundtrack. Fantastically written and boldly used, it dovetails perfectly with the ballet it's clearly based on. Used in conjunction with the tense scenes and accentuating the dancing sequences, it adds an extra layer of excellent onto an already incredible film, especially since so much of the movie is completely dialogue-less.

Guys, I don't know how much more clearly I can say this. I was completely blown away by this movie. It's easily Darren Aronofsky's best film and the best film of the year so far. There is no bad reason to go see it, just get out there and see it.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders just how long Natalie Portman had to starve herself to look the part.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stranger Tides indeed

Pirates 4 trailer

Put my down as cautiously sold. First off it's a very good trailer, very fun and all that. Secondly it looks like it's kept enough of the spirit that made Pirates 1-3 without feeling too devoted to the formula.

If nothing else it looks better than OTHER 4th entries to well regarded series (Terminator, Alien, Star Wars, do I need to go on?)

It's not perfect by any means. It FEELS a bit too much like a cash grab sequel (IE, let's throw everything we have at you and see what sticks), Geoffrey Rush doesn't appear to be in it much or giving it his usual fervor and Penelope Cruz is a poor replacement for Keira Knightley, despite the fact that they seem to be playing essentially the same person with different backstories.

But still, the first 3 were what we'd describe as 'improbably good' so maybe this one will be alright? Now please, PLEASE let Tron Legacy be good.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A-fucking-men

People who know me will know I'm a BIG fan of politics and The Daily Show. They will also know that the current um...political climate has me exasperated.

That's why when I saw on the Daily Show (first segment) two people running for State Senate in my current home-state of Connecticut, Stuart Norman (R) and Andrew Maynard (D), were not only pledging to run a clean campaign but also sticking to it and even campaigning together (Maynard is openly gay, which has not come up in the campaign) under the banner of "Don't be a jackass"...

Well it warmed MY heart.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What in the hell?

I should be doing homework but I need to get this off my chest:

Watchowski's Seeking Will Smith to Play Modern Robin Hood

Not that I'm against remakes or reinventing, but...seriously? If you're gonna set it in modern times, have it NOT be England and make Robin black...why call it Robin Hood. Just switch some names around, alter the plot a little and you'll have a more heroic version of Boyz 'n the Hood.


Just my thoughts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: The Warrior's Way

The Warriors Way is devoted to a samurai (known only as The Warrior) who, in the midst of murdering his clan's enemy clan, changes his mind about killing a baby. Knowing that his clan will hunt him down, he runs away to America, and settles in a town made up of ex-circus performers and tries to live a peaceful life. However soon enough the town is under threat and he has to defend it, first from marauders and then from ninjas. It calls to mind a mash up of Kung Fu, Shogun Assassin, The Good The Bad and the Ugly with just a hint of Shane mixed in and the result is diverting, enjoyable and more than a little silly. And if the movie I just described sounds like it would appeal to you, you should probably go see it, because it doesn't stray too far from that central premise.

Okay on to the technical details. The writing is...eh, pretty terrible, but no more so than a lot of movies of it's ilk. The acting is alright, lead actor Jang Dong-Gun (apparently a big deal in Korea) does little more than glower and not talk, but whatever. Geoffery Rush does rather well with a small role (he's apparently doing smaller roles this year, waiting to appear in his big 'gimme my Oscar' movie with The King's Speech until he gets his giant paycheck for Pirates 4 next year). Kate Bosworth is...eh, she's alright, basically doing just a straight cowgirl. No one besides Tony Cox as the midget leader of the circus makes an impression.

The action scenes are, of course, the lifeblood of a movie like this, and thankfully they're excellent. Oh they're not very original, ripping off The Matrix and Shogun Assassin in equal measure, but they work. The camera work is fine, and while the setup seems to be taylor made to muse on the similarities between the Wild West and Samurai-era Japan (when is this supposed to take place?), it never really comes up.

If there's a letdown, it's in the editing and directing department. The tone is all over the map, there are some odd directorial choices here and there that get dropped as soon as the crop up and it very clearly works better in pieces than it does as a whole. And since it's an over the top 2010 action movie, it would be remiss of me to not compare it to Machete which is starting to get unfair to over the top 2010 action movies, because NONE of them are going to be better than Machete. And this one is no exception: It's not as good as Machete.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I, as a critic, am supposed to say about this movie. If you saw one trailer for it, you know what to expect from it and if it looked like it appealed to you, you should go see it. If you're on the fence...yeah, go see it. If it didn't look like your thing, it's not. Some movies are more or less than their trailer shows you, but this trailer is entirely honest about itself. The only thing I can say about it is that it's another attempt at reviving the Asian style samurai-action movie, and in this it's more successful than last years Ninja Assassin. So I guess this review is shorter than usual. See you next time

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like the thank his roommate for this movies nickname: Lone Wolf and Cowgirl

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Aliens among us

For those of you who don't keep up with such things but for some reason follow my blog (and yes I will have real content tonight and tomorrow) this is exceptionally fascinating.

NASA Discovers New Form of Life in a Lake in California

To summarize: NASA has discovered a microbe in Mono Lake California that substitutes one of the basic building blocks of life, phosphorus, for arsenic at a molecular level. This is something without precedent in nature.

To summarize further: The definition of what we would call life has just expanded, in a big way.

To summarize even further: HOLY SHIT!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: 127 Hours

127 Hours is a textbook example of a movie, or story rather, that you couldn't get away with if it weren't true. If it weren't based on a true story, SOMEONE (most likely someone mean-spirited) would claim something along the lines of “It's all too coincidental.” But you can't do that now, because then you'd be claiming that reality is too coincidental (regardless of the fact that it often is).

You're probably familiar enough with the setup from the trailers. Hiker and climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) is going out climbing without telling anyone where he's going. On his way down a canyon he slips and his arm is trapped. If or how he gets out would technically be a spoiler, so go see the movie to find out. Can't wait, look up the guy.

You probably wouldn't think there's a movie there, but director Danny Boyle and James Franco pull it off grandly. Much of the movie is about the circumstances that led Aron there and his fraying mental state. Those of you expecting a grand life story ala Slumdog Millionaire (which, despite being overhyped, is a good little film and you should really see it) are gonna be disappointed. The backstory is told in the broadest possible sense, telling us about the man's past, without delving into it in detail.

Oh and those of you expecting a handheld camera style in the movie are being fooled by the ad. It's used very sparingly, only one scene really uses it at length and it's really well done. Trust me. All the rest is general camera work, and it's all excellent.

What you've heard about James Franco in this movie is true, he OWNS it, in the (male) lead performance of the year and maybe the performance of his career, which will go a long way towards me forgiving him for his upcoming new Planet of the Apes movie. Much of the role requires some subtle physical acting and quiet emotional scenes, as well as some subtle 'losing his grip' acting. He will be nominated for an Oscar for this one and he should win, it's one of the best performances of the year. You can't really talk about anyone else's acting in this movie either, because he literally gets all the screen time, no one else gets more than a few minutes.

But half of the credit has to go to Danny Boyle. He directed wildly here, and he did it fearlessly. Wild tonal shifts, weird camera angles and just plain odd directorial choices that would threaten to damage the film are so well executed that they play into the film's strengths. An example is around the midpoint, Aron acts out an interview with himself, as both interviewee and DJ interviewer, accusing himself of the series of events that led him there. It SOUNDS comical on paper, but through a mix of subtle camera use and great acting from Franco, the entire scene is actually deeply affecting.

There's really not much more to say on this one. It's a two man show, between Franco and Boyle, and it's rather excellent. Right now, aside from Harry Potter there's not much in theaters that's equal to or better than this, so you should go see it while you can. So I guess this one is a bit shorter than usual. See you thursday for Rocky Horror.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and to those who know the story: Yes that scene is intense.

Monday, November 29, 2010

And Irvin Kershner

This is why I didn't want to start a blog last year. Reporting on celebrity deaths would have gotten old.

Irvin Kershner, a WWII survivor and director died this morning. After directing a series of mostly mediocre movies that no one remembers, he directed a very good movie based on a John Capenter script called Eyes of Laura Mars. This caught the eye of George Lucas who pulled him to direct a movie you might have heard of called The Empire Strikes Back. He never really topped that, only directing a mediocre Bond film and a Robocop sequel.

Empire is my favorite Star Wars movie (you're shocked, I know) and Star Wars is still second only to Lord of the Rings in my pantheon of favorite movies. So I'll be watching Empire tonight, as a tribute. Rest in Peace.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsan

Those of you like oldish comedy will be sad to hear that Leslie Nielsan is dead at 84. I dislike tributes, partially cause the descend into pseudo-spirtualism (of which I am not a fan) and because, I didn't know Mr. Nielsan. He was not a huge influence on me, nor someone who was a big hero of mine.

He was however, a rather exceptional comedy actor, known primarily for his starmaking turn in the justifiable classic Airplane! and the fantastic lead role in The Naked Gun (as well as a role in The Posiden Adventure), given to amazing comedic timing and the exceptional ability to deliver absurdist dialogue completely straightfaced. One of his lines from Airplane is considered one of the most well known quotes from any movie, and rightly so. Overall, even though he didn't mean a whole lot to me, the world is poorer for his passing. I suppose the title says it all. Rest in Peace Shir  Leslie.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reviewing the Twilight Books: Twilight

Hoo boy.

First off, to my regular readers, I'd like to apologize for this taking to so long. I can normally read through 50 to 100 pages in a sitting, but I couldn't read more than a few paragraphs of this without drifting off to do something else (which is rather indicative of it's quality, that I found reading old XKCD comics more interesting than this). Also, more than a few of these jokes and/or observations may be repeats of jokes or observations made elsewhere, but I know I'm late to this party so sorry in advance.

I feel no real need to rehash the plot, except for formalities sake. For those lucky few of you who don't know, Twilight is concerned with a girl named Bella Swan (no, not as in Bela Lugosi, as in Isabella Swan. As in beautiful swan. Yeah) who moves to a small town called Forks in Washington, only to fall hard for a model gorgeous guy named Edward Cullenwho turns out to be a vampire. Good for her, he's a vegetarian vampire, IE he along with his entire family of Cullen's, doesn't eat people. Better for her, vampires in this world don't burst into flame in the sun, they just sparkle like they're wearing body glitter. Best for her, he's in love (See: Stalking) with her too.

The book then meanders around for 150 pages of shitty dialogue until the plot shows up randomly, in the form of a one note villain who decides, out of the blue, that he wants to hunt Bella till the end of the Earth. 50 pages of avoiding anything happening later, he's dead, with no assistance from the 'heroine'. And then the end. Yeesh.

Anywho, I have now finished Twilight and am already regretting this decision to try and dig deeper into the inexplicable phenomena. One nagging complaint that started in the first chapter and held on throughout the entire damned thing was the rather incongruous fact that Stephanie Meyer has repeatedly stated she has no familiarity with her genre. This is easily forgivable; Hell it should make the thing more original. But that gets overpowered by her utilizing of some of the oldest cliches in the book. By way of an example, Edward's 'Arc' (I use the term loosely) from the first book is a nearly beat-for-beat rehash of Angel's arc from the first season of Buffy, but with the good writing and humanity sucked out.

Incongruous is, by the by, the term of the day. Bella continues to refer to herself as plain or unattractive but EVERY guy in the book tries to sleep with her. Edward continually says that he wouldn't wish his 'condition' on anyone, but there doesn't seem to be any downsides to being a vampire. Everyone in school notices that the Cullen family doesn't eat, drink or come to school when it's sunny out, but no one puts the pieces together or think it's worth investigating. Hell, when the 'villain' shows up, Edward and Bella have been dating for about a week and the rest of the family has just met her earlier that day but they're still tripping all over themselves to protect her.

The book is all horribly written, consisting primarily of drippy dialogue between it's two leads. This is compounded by the fact that of the characters, at least the supernatural ones, that they are the least interesting of the bunch. Not that the others are much better, all of them are massive piles of one dimensional cliches (role call: Pixie one, silent one, big lug, angry chick, overly-motherly one, father figure) but some of them have interesting backstories. The pixie one (technically named Alice, who resembled nothing so much as a pale third generation Drusilla) doesn't actually remember her human life and turns out to have spent it in an insane asylum and can't remember due to electroshock therapy. There's probably an interesting story in there, but it's run through in a sentence. Silent one (named Jasper or, as the guys on Rifftrax dubbed him, Evil Harpo, yes as in Harpo Marx) fought in the Civil War. Father figure tried to kill himself when he became a vampire. THOSE could be interesting, but the book doesn't consider them so, instead dwelling on the 'banter' between it's leads.

A much larger problem, stemming from borrowing so much from better works, is that Stephanie Meyer seems to have NO idea what made the originals great. Drusilla WORKED as a character because while she was whimsical and ethereal, she was also opportunistic, cruel and more than slightly crazy. Stripping away those last 3 leaves her boring. Angel was tormented because when he was soulless he was the worst of the worst, a downright psychopath and when he got his soul back he was constantly tormented by memories of what he did. Edward seems to act tormented, but there doesn't seem to be any damned reason for it. There's no dark past, he didn't even feed on humans in the past; he got raised on animals.


Brief sidenote: While it's not even approaching the creepiest romantic bullshit going on in the series, or even the book, the vibe I get from the 'paired off' adopted siblings in the vampire family is extraordinarily creepy. Though given that female vampire romance writers include Ann Rice, I suppose I should count myself lucky that it's just a vibe.

All the additions the series makes to vampire mythos are either idiotic or wasted. Aside from the obvious glittering problem, the method to kill vampires is ludicrously overcomplicated, there is no reference to stakes, crosses or the oft-forgotten needing to be invited in. Giving them all Superman level powers makes the whole thing a joke, as does the implication that being a vampire automatically makes you model gorgeous. The only action in the entire book, not counting the Vampire Baseball Sequence (No Really) takes place off screen while the lead is unconscious, though given that in the movie, all the fight sequences look like their about to break out into a West Side Story Dance Fight, maybe that's for the best.

Finally, while Stephanie Meyer understands that good characterization means flaws in principle, she sucks at putting it into practice. The lead characters assertion that's she's unattractive is laughable as is the concept that her flaw is that she's clumsy (securing her place as the biggest Mary Sue in modern fiction) and all the vampires are repeatedly described as perfect.

Oh, and while technically this review HAS to focus on a by-the-number assessment of quality, I would like to reiterate that the subtext, which amounts to the biggest anti-feminist work to come out of a woman since The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right can fuck right off.

I'm honestly not certain if I want to do New Moon. Reading this ranged from boring to painful and I'm not certain if I can bring myself to struggle through more of this, especially when I'm so busy. I'll give it a shot, and if I give it up I'll let you know.

Now to go watch G.I. Jane to counteract the subtext.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Viewing

Every Thanksgiving since I was a kid we've celebrated Thanksgiving by watching something Native American related. There's a lot of reasons for this, starting but the main one is Natives started Thanksgiving so I figured we should honor them. As I now have a blog and a few readers I figured I should run down a list of 5 really good Native based films you should watch. There are others (Skins comes to mind) but these are five introductions, shall we call it.

NOTE: This list will not include Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves or Last of the Mohicans because EVERYONE has seen those. But if you haven't, you should. They're great.

Squanto: A Warriors Tale
The oft forgotten older brother to 95's Pocahontas this 1994 Disney movie may be a little simplistic, but it's an excellent introduction to Native history. Briefly, it's about a Native Warrior, captured by British soldiers who escapes from captivity to find his village and people devastated. Those of you who've taken American History may know he also started the first Thanksgiving. It's also well acted, mostly well written, gorgeously shot and rather unflinching in it's portrayal of the brutality inflicted on the Natives. It's not a perfect movie, but if you have a kid in the house, it's probably best.

Smoke Signals
Based on the EXCELLENT Sherman Alexie book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (don't ya just love that title?) Smoke Signals tells the story of Victor Joseph and Thomas Buildsthefire traveling to Phoenix, Arizona to pick up Victor's father's ashes. It's a rather touching little story, devoted primarily to the alternating views of Victor's father from Victor's and Thomas' differing point of view. It's primarily a comedy, but it does have several dramatic scenes. Overall a sweet and well written film, and if you haven't seen it you probably should.

Thunderheart
Based on a series of real events in the 70's, this one tells the story about a half-Native FBI Agent sent to a Lakota reservation to investigate a murder and begins to discover a growing conspiracy to frame a Native for the murder. Featuring a solid lead role from Val Kilmer and a fantastic supporting role from Grahm Greene (who you might remember from Dances With Wolves), it's easily one of the darker offerings in this list. It takes some liberties with the facts, but much of what happens in it is based on real events. And that should terrify you.

Navajo Blues
Now HERE'S an obscure offering. For those of you who were worried that these would all be historical or dramatic films, here is an out-and-out action film. Starring Steven Bauer and Irene Bedard (who played Pocahontas in...well...Pocahontas) it's devoted to a cop who saw his partner murdered an goes to a Navajo reservation in witness protection. Surprise, surprise, trouble follows him. Compared to the others, it's not particularly deep or relevant, but it's a well made action film set on a Native Reservation and it's exciting and enjoyable, even while it doesn't have a lot on it's mind.

Dreamkeeper
No, not Dreamcatcher, a spectacularly shitty Stephen King movie, this one is devoted to a troubled 17 year old and his grandfather traveling to the All-Nations Powwow. Along the way the grandfather tells him a series of stories, which believe or not, teach the kid something about himself and help him mature. Yes it's fairly rote, but it's mostly just a framing device for the much more interesting traditional Native stories. The CGI is a little unfinished and it looks noticeably cheap, but it's a nice story well told. Think of it as Big Fish retold with Native Folktales and you're about halfway there.


Oh. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Newest Object of my Hate

Yes I'm late to this party, but I need to comment. And that title's not a joke, there's a list. A LONG list.

I'm a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. HUGE. Own all 7 Seasons, all 5 of Angel, read the season 8 comics until it became unbearably silly (if you've read it you know what I mean).

So I was understandably skeptical when I heard the Powers-That-Be (or rather, Wolfram and Hart) are Planning to Reboot it.

This is going to hit harder and cause more anger, in the long run, than the Spider-Man reboot. A lot of people were (understandably) upset about Spider-Man 3 and with that being the last thing we heard from Spider-Man, we're less inclined to be angry. Plus Raimi going off to do the Warcraft movie (really) and possibly a remake of Day of the Triffids of all things, seems to suggest he had reduced interest.

Buffy on the other hand is one of those things that, like it or not, really set the stage for geek movies and shows to take over in this decade (the other being The X-Files). A show about a teenaged girl battling true-to-legends vampires and unique varieties of demons, alongside massive amounts of backstory and magic, seems like it would only appeal to true geeks. But, through some trick of fate, Buffy was massively popular, ran for 7 seasons and is still a cultural staple today. I say Buffy and even the most snobbish or culturally ignorant person knows I mean the Slayer of Vampires.

Trying to reboot that, in a movie no less (the movie Buffy was...not good, to say the least) is going to be hard. You're going to be fighting an uphill PR battle, and not just against hardcore fans. Vampires have been among the most abused and widely mocked concepts since Twilight got big, and rebooting one of the Holy Grails of Vampire Mythos in this climate is unwise. ESPECIALLY since Twilight could be best be described as Buffy but with everything that made Buffy good sucked out of it.

I'm not against the idea of remakes or reboots: I loved both of the new Halloween movies. The difference is, Halloween hadn't been good for a long while (since the first one, really) and Rob Zombie had some interesting things to say on the subject. Unless you have something new, or unique, to say about Buffy, the culture surrounding it or the universe it inhabits...why bother?

Incidentally, a contributor over at the Escapist has an interesting article about Buffy from a lady's point of view. Give it a gander.

Alright, that's it for me. If I don't have anything more to say over the next couple days, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the US. (Non US readers, please disregard).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

If you've been to an indie theater or maybe one likely to show foreign films, you've probably seen the poster for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, one of my nominees for poster of the year. It's a simple subversion of the generic headshot/main character poster. It just consists of a headshot of the titular girl, albeit with a massive number of piercings, spikes necklaces and probably the biggest mohawk I've seen outside of a Mad Max movie. If nothing else, it catches your attention and sets the tone for the movie as a whole.

The problem with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (and The Girl Who Played With Fire) is that the shock from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is hard to top. Tattoo was such a thing-from-another-world that it was hard to wrap our heads around it's characters and it's world. It was such a unique and weird creature and no sequel could live up to that shock. There's also the fact that since Tattoo, the series has only gotten sillier.

Permit me to qualify that statement. Tattoo was an extremely normal, extremely grounded murder mystery that began and ended in it's own movie. Very straightforward. Hornet's Nest and Played With Fire on the other hand are mostly devoted to a giant overarching conspiracy including secret government agencies, defecting KGB agents and semi-crazy psychiatrists. At the center, shockingly enough, is Lisbeth Salander, who is on trial for the attempted murder of her father in the last one. She apparently knows too much about...something, it's never abundantly clear, and thus the conspiracy is putting all it's efforts towards putting her in jail, like she's Jack Bauer at the end of a season of 24.

Meanwhile a B-Plot devoted to Lisbeth's half-brother killing people across the country because...again, not made very clear. It doesn't matter much, the B-Plot doesn't intrude on the main plot in any meaningful way until the last 20 minutes, which ends up being one of the major issues. Much of the plot is left dangling without ever getting explained. Why is the conspiracy so dead set on silencing Lisbeth? Why is her half-brother murdering his way across Sweden towards Lisbeth? Why doesn't the conspiracy just shoot her? The movie never bothers to explain, and as such much of the plot is unsatisfying.

What's irritating is most of the plot seems to have been trimmed to make room for an extended court room sequence which seems to try and be extremely true to real life. Now my father is a lawyer, so I know a little about law, so I know it can be intensely fascinating. I know that it can also be deeply boring, often times at the same time. As such, basing the entire second half of your film around an extended court room scene intercut with the actions of some of the other characters was...not the best idea.

There are bright spots. The cinematography and mood building are still good. Lisbeth is still a fascinating character and Noomi Rapace still does an exceptional job playing her. All of the dialogue is well written and it manages to be actually suspenseful, even when it's not being particularly coy about how the case is going to turn out.

But I'm not sure if they're enough to overcome it's flaws. I've yet to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (I'm most of the way through Tattoo, interrupted by my ongoing attempt to finish Twilight) but a lot it reeks of poor adaptation. Tattoo succeeded by slicing off all the extraneous subplots and characters to deliver a streamlined version of the main story, allowing them to focus on the interesting characters of Lisbeth and Mikael and they're evolving relationship. But in this one, as in the last one, much of the subplots remain, albeit mangled and they make the movie feel half finished and unedited.

So the Millennium trilogy has drawn to a close, and while The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is easily the weakest of them (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is STILL my best movie of the year and it looks like it might just hold onto that title), it remains a fascinating movie, and I can't fully say you should avoid it. Don't rush right out and see it, but when it hits DVD, I'd recommend giving it a look. Between this trilogy and Let the Right One In, Sweden has been putting out some interesting movies lately, so it looks like they're a country to keep an eye on.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like someone who speaks Swedish to settle a bet: Is Rapace pronounced Ra-pace or Ra-pa-ce?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Those of you who are regular readers will know I was...apprehensive to say the least of the first part of the final film of the Harry Potter series. They will know that the action heavy trailer, the poor direction of the previous films and the disregard for what made the good Harry Potter movies good had me awaiting inevitable disappointment.

They will now hear something rarely said on this blog: I. Was. WRONG! Just as in 2008, Uncharted 2 overcame it's predecessor's flaws to create something incredible and rocket to near-the-top of a nearly set in stone list, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has managed to overcome all of the myriad problems of 4, 5 and 6 to deliver one of the best films of the year. It's not only better than I expected, it's better than I dared hope.

This time around, to quote an excellent movie, the board is set and the pieces are moving. Voldemort is directly assaulting and taking over the Ministry, the Order is fighting a losing battle and Harry, Ron and Hermione are setting out to find the remaining Horcruxes (aka, the Not-The-One-Rings).

So it's a scavenger hunt, which leads, without any spoilers, into a second scavenger hunt and then into a 3RD scavenger hunt, and a lot of directors would be tempted to try and ramp up the excitement by throwing in some random action sequences and if you watched the trailers while being aware of the plot beforehand you might have assumed that they did.

Well forget the action heavy underwhelming trailers (much of the action in the trailers is either misleadingly cut or not in the first one anyway). The film instead elects to pull back and take it slow, concentrating on character building, plot and mood. Much of the cinematography suggests that someone involved watched The Seventh Seal several times before starting production.

All of this works because the film is unafraid to be disconcerting and actively frightening. The corrupted Ministry resembles a Nazi regime too closely to be accidental. Death and torture happen on screen. A chase scene is shot disjointedly and shakily to highlight fear and desperation. Most notably, a scene that threatens to fall into the “simple scene amped up” problem of the earlier films is done so perfectly and fearlessly that it manages to be actively frightening and emotionally effecting. And there's an extraordinary bit of animation used during a story scene.

All of this works better than it might otherwise because the series has finally abandoned it's irritating habit of playing up the famous scenes. The story has been properly adapted. Things have been altered, switched and outright removed to allow the story and themes to arrive on film.

The cast is of course, perfect. And why not, after 7 movies everyone is inhabiting their characters perfectly, working hard to keep all this connected and relatable. They're backed up by some fantastic cinematography, an incredible soundtrack and probably the best script of the series.

It's not quite perfect, much of it's problems arriving based on the other films. The decision to more or less cut the characters of Kreacher and Bill from the other movies means that they have to be introduced, play their part in the plot and be ushered off screen. A couple deaths are not as effecting as they might be due to their lack of reference elsewhere in the films. And where they choose to cut out is gonna piss some people off.

Guys I was really apprehensive going in but this one dispelled all my fears. This was the film promised to me by the third one and bungled by everyone up to this point. If you like the Harry Potter movies or even fantasy movies in general, you owe it to yourself to go check this one out. So you go do that, and I'll see you tomorrow for The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like to tell you that Hedwig was as bad as he thought it would be.