Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

A little known fact about me? I can watch any movie with Harrison Ford in a lead role, and enjoy myself. Oh I can recognize they're not good movies if they're not good movies (looking your way Firewall) but I really do just love Harrison Ford. How bad does this get? I own Air Force One on DVD. Yeah. So I was looking rather intently forward to this one, which makes me wonder if I'm disappointed or not.

The well more or less what it says on the tin. It's the old west, Daniel Craig awakens in the desert with a pipboy on his arm and no memory of who he is or how he got there. He wanders into town, and finds out he's a wanted criminal, but before anyone can cart him off to face justice, the town is attacked by alien ships and Daniel (I'm sure his character had a different name, but I don't care) finds out his pipboy is actually an alien weapon capable of taking down the ships, so he and the denizens of the town must team up to rescue the captured citizens.

On a purely technical level, this film is near flawless. The cinematography is gorgeous, combining the sweeping camera shots over the scenery and great combat shooting. The score by the underused Harry Gregson Williams is incredible. The CGI is well utilized and the monster designs are unique and intimidating. The costumes and sets are all nice, and the combat is well coregraphed and invigorating.

The problems mostly come in on the screenplay level, which is usually the case with a screenplay with 5 different writers. Almost all the characters are playing Cowboy Movie stock characters, even Daniel Craig is pulling a 'Man With No Name' bit. And while there's no problem with playing with stock characters, the dialogue is clunky and almost none of the characters have an arc that pulls them out of their stock. I'm given to understand the movie borrows it's name and next to nothing else from a graphic novel I've never read, but if it's as cliched as this I'm not sure I want to.

On that note, while the story is well structured and will hold your interest, a lot of it is fairly predictable. A twist involving Olivia Wilde's character is telegraphed way too early (a friend of mine called it months ago) and while it's hardly a complaint, the plot seems just a tiny bit too straightforward for my preferences, but then I really like Deathly Hallows Part 2 so what do I know?

The acting is mixed. Harrison Ford comes out the best, imbuing his psychotic cattle baron with real interest, while Daniel Craig does an excellent job with what little character he has. Adam Beach does what he can (seriously, he needs to be in more movies), while Sam Rockwell sleepwalks through...well a role he could do in his sleep (people need to watch Moon before casting him). And while Olivia Wilde's primary job in this film seems to be hanging around looking hot and dropping occasional exposition, someone really needs to get her to act more, since she seems to be in a rut since Tron (I know she can act, I've seen House).

I get the primary joke of this movie, to drop aliens into a fairly rote western movie and see how everyone involved reacts. I also get the primary point, IE the parallels between what the Aliens are doing to the Cowboys and what the Cowboys did to the Natives, which thankfully goes unadressed by the characters. I also like that they elected to take the True Grit approach to Cowboys by making them more realistic (IE unwashed, racist and psychotic), but there's far too little of both fun and intellect to make this a great movie. But while I can't really recommend that you run right out to see it, I also really can't say you should avoid it. It's enjoyable throughout, engaging while you're watching it and frequently exciting. Basically, if you felt that you might want to see it based purely on it's title or it's leads...yeah I guess it might be worth a matinee. Sorry if that's unhelpful. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's going to make a drinking game for every time someone references their wife, son or people.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Second Age Reviews: South Park, Bigger Longer and Uncut

I'm gonna keep this one short, because a review of the South Park movie is ultimately pointless. Now entering it's 18th season, with it's characters and their universe as well recognized as Homer Simpsons or Lucille Ball, there's very little to say on the subject. It's odd then, to note, that when the movie came out it wasn't anything like this. The show was on the verge of cancellation, Comedy Central itself on the verge of collapse, and the movie was essentially seen as a last ditch effort to save the suffering show.

It worked, as the movie acted as a revelation, teaching an entire generation 'Oh, THIS is what these characters and their universe can be.' It was a huge hit, and even managed to drag in the awards (no seriously. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, for 'Blame Canada.' I always liked 'What Would Brian Boitano Do?' more, but that's me.

The story is devoted to the 4 boys of South Park, who begin cursing a blue streak after seeing a Canadian comedy film at their local theater. Soon their parents are beginning an anti-cursing and eventually anti-Canada crusade.

While most movies of TV shows take the opportunity to be darker, edgier or just plain more adult, South Park doesn't. Indeed compared to some of the more recent episodes of the show, the movie seems almost gentle. South Park after all has always prided itself on it's extreme edginess, so rampant swearing, sex, violence and racist jokes are par for the course.

What many of you, who aren't familiar with it, might be surprised to find out, is South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is actually a musical in the disney mold, albeit a billion times more dirty. Since the duo behind it just wrote a proper broadway musical (The Book of Mormon and good GOD are tickets impossible to find) this may come as less of a shock as it used to, but the songs are actually really well written and funny.

Look, as I said at the beginning, a review of this movie is ultimately moot because everyone who wants to see it has, and nothing I can say will change people who don't minds. But even as, at best, a mild fan of the TV show, the movie is genuinely funny and well made if you overlook the animation, which long ago became a style rather than a budget requirement. So if you're a fan of the show and have managed to overlook the movie, give it a look. Next one will be longer, promise.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Rabid

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like to congratulate himself at still knowing all the lyrics to What Would Brian Boitano Do after all these years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Here is something that doesn't come up too often outside of geek conversations. I don't like Captain America very much. Oh it's not the perceived jingoism that comes with him, though I certainly have no taste for jingoism, but that's rarely accurate to his character. It's just...his personality of complete goodness without any temptation or compromise makes me perceive him as...well boring. It's not that a hero has to be Dwight from Sin City, but flaws, doubts and issues are what make a character well rounded and give him interest and humanity. It's ironic therefore that this movies desire seems to be to take that aspect of Captain America and ramp it up to 11.

Which isn't a deal breaker by any stretch: I still like Superman and Superman II despite a similar main character (I don't like Superman much either) but it doesn't help. For those 3 of you who don't know, the plot is concerned with underweight asthmatic Steve Rogers, who wants to join the army. He is refused for underweight asthmatic, but gets a chance at joining after being injected with a super-soldier serum, but sabotage leaves him as the only super soldier, left to fight ex-Nazi scientist the Red Skull.

The Avengers lead in films have been getting gradually shorter on brains, so all I really required out of this was a solid action flick, and on that note it certainly delivers. The fist fights and coregraphy are both excellent, the CGI delivers, the cinematography and editing are both great. If The Incredible Hulk hadn't happened, I'd say it has the best action scenes of the Avengers films so far, though I will say it's odd seeing a supposedly serious film having Captain America's shield bounce around like Xena's chakram. And the technique used to make Chris Evans look like a 90 pound weakling (not sure what it is off the top of my head) works well.

Of course, the place where it falls short is in the story department. Oh the story isn't bad, it's well structured up to a point, even if it is exactly what you're expecting, but it seems to be lacking any real depth. Captain America himself is so deeply fixated on being 'good' that he's almost entirely without an arc. There's no interest in watching a guy be good if he has no compulsion to be otherwise, because there was never a question of whether he would be good.

A lot of important things seem to happen off screen, a biproduct of it taking place over the course of years as opposed to weeks, but that never really hurts the film. Where it does start to crack is the third act, which amounts to an abbreviated sequence of action scenes, relegating a major part of the plot to the blink of an eye. It pulls itself back together for the final battle, but by then the damage is done.

The acting is mostly good. Chris Evans does what he can, but absent a character arc, all he can do is stand around looking serious and intone his lines with great pathos (makes you wonder why they didn't just hire Mark Whalberg). Hayley Atwell does alright as...well The Girl (which is really all the movie presents her as). Tommy Lee Jones shines in a minor role as what amounts to a softer version of R Lee Ermery from Full Metal Jacket (what would drill sergeants in movies do without him?) and Hugo Weaving chews every bit of scenery he can get his hands on as the villain.

The script is...well it's not BAD persay, but it's underwhelming and unsubtle. Most of the good lines of dialogue are given to Tommy Lee Jones. Many of the characters are under characterized, especially Captain America's anti-Hydra team. And while this is a minor complaint, part of the problem with the inter-movie continuity is that they feel they don't need to explain anything. A BIG part of the plot hinges on the Red Skull having a magic thingamajig that never gets explained at all. And while many geeks might disagree with me, expecting your audience to have seen a movie that isn't a direct prequel to the movie you're making is really bad form.

At the end of the day, Captain America is a solidly made film. I doubt it'll be on my Best Of The Year list (unless I don't see anything else good for the rest of the year) but it's a solid summer action movie and certainly better than a lot of things this year, so if you're so inclined, give it a look.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders why is Union Jack not in his costume? His costume is awesome.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Second Age Reviews: It Came From Outer Space

I feel kinda bad about this one, so I'll keep it short. The main reason I feel bad is I could honestly just copy-paste my Creature From the Black Lagoon review into my word processor, change a few details here and there, and post it with the exact same relevance. Hell they even both have the same director, Jack Arnold best known for films like The Incredible Shrinking Man or The Mouse That Roared. So I really don't feel like repeating myself on this one.

What this film does bring is a grim undercurrent of social commentary, and something I've long noticed about sci-fi (and to a lesser extent fantasy) is that social commentary makes good sci-fi fantastic and bad sci-fi pretentious. And while this has not aged anywhere near as well as other 50's and 60's sci-fi commentary (The Day the Earth Stood Still for example), yeah the commentary works, if only because you can tell it was deeply relevant at the time, and because they present it so well.

The dialogue is ham-handed, naturally, but we'll be nice and forgive that. The aliens look fine, at least when they look like themselves, which is rarely. There's a not unclever twist on the nature of the aliens and what they're doing on earth and while it's presented in an obvious way, it's at least a nice spin on the usual style of these movies. Oh and hey, Richard Carlson is in it. Remember, he was in King Solomon's Mines? No. Okay.

The 3D is naturally worthless, which is a shame because 3D prints from the 50s tend to have a yellowish tint and red outlines on the things in 3D. And on that note, some of the most random things in the world seem to be rendered in 3D (people's faces? Really). And while this isn't entirely a complaint, it's worth noting that it's a very short movie, barely 80 minutes.

At the end of the day I'm not certain that this works great as a movie. Cut an hour off it, bring it down to 20 minutes and you'd have a killer episode of The Twilight Zone (it would look nice next to The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and man I could not go any nerdier could I?) As it is, it's an interesting example of pre-Dune sci-fi in film form, like The Wizard of Oz is for fantasy. I don't know how easy it is to track down, but if you're inclined give it a look. Just skip the 3D.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like this movie narrated by the announcer from Futurama.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reblogging and thoughts

I disagree with Roget Ebert as much as I disagree with any critic, as any critic will disagree with another simply because movies are a subjective thing. But I continue to follow his site and read him fairly regularly because as much as I disagree with him, I also often agree with him, and I continually find his opinion interesting.

He writes articles occasionally and this time he's written an interesting article on how the Republican party is gradually moving out of relevance and representing the majority of people. Give it a read:

The Republicans Exit History

Incidentally, the argument about raising the debt ceiling and raising taxes continue to infuriate me to no end. I have no degree in economics or anything of that nature, but it seems to me that the Republicans are ignoring some basic math. Yes, there need to be spending cuts, but that simply lowers the rate at which we increase our debt. In order to truly lower our debt, we need to increase the amount of money we take in. The best way to do that is to, you guessed it, raise taxes.

Is it a perfect solution? No, but perfect solutions are only for a perfect world, IE the world we don't live in. As I've said before, dealing with the financial crisis will require compromise, sacrifice and the willingness to face hard problems in the face and come up with solutions that work the best for the most people. If someone, on either side of the aisle, is unwilling or unable to live up to those standards and requirements then they should sit down and shut up.

I apologize for the rant, I do intend to keep this from being a political blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Missed Movies Number 7

This one is devoted to movies that might not be the best things around, but are worthy of your time and attention...That's about it.

I Love You Phillip Morris

One of the most underwatched movies of 2010 (behind Winter's Bone), this one centers on Jim Carrey as Steven Russell, a man who, after a series of traumatic events in his life, comes out as gay to his wife and moves to Miami to live the high life with his new boyfriend. Unfortunately he's paying for the high life by being a con man and is caught and sent to prison, where he meets the titular Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and falls in love. Oh and did I mention this is technically based on a true story?

The vast majority of the narrative is given over to a fairly lengthy examination of Steven Russell, and while neither Jim Carrey, nor Ewan McGregor are quite up to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Trainspotting levels, respectively, they both give it their all. The primary way this film works is mixing just enough sweet and bitter together so that you don't choke on either. It's a well made and occasionally moving film, and failing that a genuinely funny comedy, so if you can track it down, give it a look.


This one is a bit wonky, but it's technically a hardboiled detective story (is there such thing as a softboiled detective story?) taking place in a California High School, as Brenden (Joseph-Gordon Levitt, also known as that British Guy From Inception. The short one. Now you remember) investigates the suicide of his ex-girlfriend and the connection to a...well Brick of Heroin.

This is a strange film and it won't appeal to everyone, as it pushes the concept of a film noir acted out with high school students all the way, and can get extremely nasty on occasion. But if you're willing to stick it out, it's a unique take on the film noir genre and a fascinating story on occasion. So if you see it on Netflix or whatever it is you kids use these days, consider trying it out for size. Just chase the prudes out.

Howl's Moving Castle

This one suffers more from it's heritage than anything else. Oh it's not a perfect film on it's own. It's characters are broad, the messages obvious and often stated outright and it's just a little too close to an Oz tale for comfort. But those aren't the reasons it has trouble, it's a fine enough film on it's own. The reason it has trouble is it's a Studio Ghibli by Hayao Miyazaki, who's two previous works were Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, two of the best animated films of all time. And Howl's Moving Castle just isn't quite up to that level.

The story is concerned with a Hatter (save your Alice in Wonderland jokes, please) named Sophie who, after catching the attention of a womanizing wizard named Howl, is prematurely aged to an old woman, and ends up working for Howl as his house cleaner. While there she befriends a flying dog, a fire spirit and a scarecrow, while trying to find a way to de-age herself and see what I mean when I say it's like an Oz story? Fortunately it all looks gorgeous (Miyazaki does good work) especially the subtle changes used to de and re age Sophie as the scene requires and the characters and story can be touching occasionally. The narrative does pick up once the actual conflict kicks in near the middle, but it can drag a bit before then, so if you like animated movies, give this one a chance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

One of the interesting things about where Deathly Hallows Part 1 ended is, all of the slower story building was put into that. Most of the scavenger hunt was done in that one, the major character beats happened there, leaving the major battle scenes and epic duels for the final part, something the film seems to be aware of and, dare I say it, planned for it.

Do I really need to recap the plot? Blah blah blah, Harry needs Horcruxes, 3 to go when the movie starts, blah. With the exception of the first movie and MAYBE the 3rd one, they've never really stood on their own that well, so if you're not a fan of the series, you're probably gonna end up fairly lost by the end. This one picks up very literally the SECOND the last one ended and maybe has one sentence devoted to recapping what's going on and what they need. This one assumes you know who everyone is, and if you don't well too bad, it's got to get to the big siege of Hogwarts.

Which isn't to say the movie doesn't have acts or structure, just that it moves toward it's big setpiece at Hogwarts with frightening speed. And given that the first act ends with the three main characters escaping from underground on top of a blind dragon, that big setpiece at Hogwarts has a lot to live up to. It's fortunate therefore that it kicks ass.

Look, I'll be upfront, I'm a sucker for that big moment near the end of fantasy stories (sci-fi stories too, but they do it less often) when all the chips are in and everyone's grabbing everything and everyone they can and going at it. And a good portion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow's Part 2's (christ that's a long title) second act is given over to one of the most grandly realized final battle in a fantasy movie since the Battle of Pelanor Fields.

I could address the acting, but that's ultimately pointless at this stagte. Even the bad Potter movies could count on having some of the best actors and, by extension, acting in British stage and cinema, and every actor seems to inhabit their role perfectly. The cinematography and editing are well used, again using that fantastic washed out filter from the last one to focus heavily on the darkness and gloom that are coming with the final battle, and reminding us that the journey of three of the most well known characters in modern literature is coming to an end.

As is, it must be said, the lives of many of the minor characters. When it first came out in book form, I joked that this one has to be called Harry Potter and the Death of the Minor Characters, but that comes back to bite me in the ass during the film. Beautiful camera work and editing, combined with the music as well as INCREDIBLE acting, makes the simple sight of a single body and the character reactions almost as heart wrenching as an extended death scene.

All of the cinema details rise to the occasion, but special mention must go to the beautiful soundtrack, combining not only fantastic original music, but subtle uses of the original scores. A slight use of the original theme, stripped down, in a single scene had chills running down my spine. The CGI is gorgeous, as is the incredible makeup used to realize a goblin character (don't ask). The action scenes, while treated differently from the slower more character oriented scenes, are still incredibly realized and exciting. The final problem of the action scenes being two characters waving sticks at each other and yelling has been solved by making the spells themselves grander or (at one point) just removing the wizards from the equation. We finally get to see what the teachers at Hogwarts are capable of, and when you get to see it, you'll be blown away.

Okay Elessar, rein in fanboyism, come up with criticisms. Well the 3rd act is one. It's not bad, god no, but it's a step down. It's a little like if they had the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second act and then moved on to, in the 3rd act, the Skirmish at Amon Hen. Christ that was a nerdy analogy. A couple characters motivation and actions get lost in the shuffle, but that might have been me not paying attention. Oh and while most of the CGI and makeup is great, the stuff used in the Epilogue could stand to be better. People who have read the book know what I'm referring to without me having to say.

Look, I was going nuts over the last one too, but this one is fucking fantastic. It nearly unseated Source Code from the best movie of the year and will most certainly be on my best-of at the end of the year. If you're a fan, of either books or movies, then you need to get your ass to the theater and see this movie.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's a little disappointed he didn't get a Batman trailer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the passing of Potter

The last Harry Potter movie is out tomorrow. I'm trying for a midnight showing, but even if I don't see it tonight, I'll see it sometime this weekend. So, let me say again: The final Harry Potter is out this weekend.

This is a big moment for me, in some ways one of the biggest 'cultural' ending moments in my life. It's not that there aren't franchises that I like more or that mean more to me, there are. But something about Harry Potter is different. This isn't like Star Trek where I became aware of it long into it's run and only ever liked about half of it. This isn't like Star Wars where the franchise I was alive for spent it's time beating me around the head. Hell this isn't even like Lord of the Rings where I got to see a perfect translation from book to screen.

Why is this different? Because I was there when it started. I read the first book in grade school and was hooked. I convinced my mother and father to read it so we could discuss it. I waited in line at midnight for the 4th book. When I got my hands on Order of the Phoenix, I sat myself down in the armchair in the living room and did not move until I was finished. Six hours, I sat there, burning through it, resisting all attempts to move me.

I borrowed my mom's cloak to see Sorcerer's Stone in theaters and could point out where they changed minor details, from cutting lines from conversations to altering slight events. Not that I minded, the initial translations were fantastic. Soon after I began my rapid descent into film nerd and aspiring director, and I must have watched the early Harry Potter's a dozen times each to study them for technique and style.

In a lot of ways, Harry Potter is perfect example of my approach to nostalgia. Anything I loved as a child must constantly be brought up for re-examination and if it is found lacking, than nostalgia will not save it. But Harry Potter? Harry Potter always comes up aces. Sure it's not the deepest or most complex of books, but as I point out in my love of Back to the Future, not everything needs to be Dune. What it is, is a jolly good read, with enjoyable prose, interesting characters and a well realized world. Dumbledore's death in the 6th book remains one of only 4 times I've cried while reading a book.

And now it's over. I know, all good things must come to an end, and trying to stretch out a series past it's logical stopping point is poison for the quality. But, as much as I know that, I also know I'm going to miss it.

Not as much as WB is gonna miss it's yearly cash infusion though. Sorry folks, gotta be me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Feel the hate flowing through you

I'm not usually one to be vocal with my hate. Okay that's a blatant lie and we all know it, I totally am always vocal with my hate. But this time, I'm joining others in hatred. See, just moments ago, a RedLetterMedia post on Facebook commented on how terrible it would be if all of his subscribers dislike the video at the end of this link. For the record it's a trailer for a movie called Jack and Jill, a movie in which Adam Sandler plays both himself and his abrasive unladylike twin.

Now hold on, I hear you cry. Didn't that already come out like, 5 years ago? And didn't it suck then too? Yes, the basic concept (former SNL comedian who hasn't been funny for years, does a comedy where he plays multiple characters in makeup, including an abrasive, cruel, unladylike woman) did come out a few years ago as Norbit and yes, it sucked so badly it practically drank the oceans then too. But this has Adam Sandler in it. That's a completely different former SNL comedian who hasn't been funny for years.

You know, we like to give Jim Carrey and Robin Williams shit for making bad movies, and without a doubt they both have. But you know, the reason I'm willing to give them more slack is that some of their less than great comedies have actually been funny (Liar Liar for Jim, Man of the Year for Robin) and in between them, they've both done great dramatic work. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, One Hour Photo, The Truman Show, Good Will Hunting, they're both actually pretty good at it. Hell, Carrey was just in I Love You Phillip Morris which already one of the most underwatched comedy of the new decade. And even down in Patch Adams or Mr. Popper's Penguins levels, they never sank THIS low.

Sigh. The ultimate point of this rant is, if you could help by disliking this video, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Alligator

Some movies are rather obscure about their titles. For example only about two minutes of Fargo takes place in Fargo, and the closest thing we come to a blade in Blade Runner is the nail that Roy drives through his hand. Some movies, on the other hand, are a little more upfront about their titles. You go into a movie called Alligator, there's about one thing you can expect from it.  
The plot is concerned with a cop, haunted by the death of his partner, who is investigating recent deaths in the sewer lines, only to discover that, I'm sorry do you care? Cause I don't. Oh don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fan of story and characterization as the next man, probably more so. But in this case, it all seems rather pointless. There are two things a movie like this needs to do right, it needs to have an Alligator and it needs to have the alligator kill people. Sure it'd be nice if we had interesting characters like in Jaws or a solid story like in Jurassic Park but that's not why we're here.
And on that note, while the film maybe takes just a tiny bit too long getting to it, once we finally get the alligator on screen, once it gets to the point where it's stopped setting shit up and just gets down to the monster killing people, it's pretty damn good. Then nature of it's title monster means that we get a fun mix of sewer sequences, underwater stalking and just straight monster mash. Of course the size of the damn thing means that they can't really have quiet sneaking scenes, something which the movie tries hard to work around, with mixed success.
The flip side of the kills being the draw power is that the kills need to be interesting for us to want to stick around, Scream taught me that years ago, and while it's difficult to keep 'An alligator eats somebody' interesting, the film mostly succeeds. Notably two of the oldest genre rules, that pets never die and kids never die, both get broken in this film, which is good for keeping us on our toes.
Of course, there is the aspect of this film that is intending to be something of a tongue in cheek parody. These can range from High Plains Drifter where it's actually got some clever spins on the concept and a certain level of self-awareness, to the Scream series, where all it is is an excuse to use tired genre cliches and pass it off by making glib references to it. And while it never quite attains the level of High Plains Drifter or even Burn After Reading, Alligator is in the former category. The dialogue and minor characterization are just silly enough to make me buy that it's intentional and while it's all very cliched, no one ever makes any winking references to it being cliched, which is usually a sign of trying too hard.
Okay, I don't want to oversell it, it's certainly not without it's issues. The Alligator is apparently immune to bullets for example, for no other reason than it would end the movie too quickly if it wasn't. As you can probably guess, the plot and characters are absolute tripe, but that's not such a bad thing that it ruins the film. And while the mechanical alligator is great, any time they try to use another effect, mostly puppets or the actual animal on a scale set, it looks ludicrously bad. Carnosaur bad.
At the end of the day, my statement earlier is accurate. If you go into a movie called Alligator you know exactly what you want out of it. And if that's what you're looking for a movie about a giant Alligator eating people, you can do much worse than Alligator.
A quick side note before I go. Since it looks like I'll be leaving for N'Orleans on the 13th or 14th, odds are I'll be missing the next film at the Avon, one which I've reviewed already anyway (The Big Lebowksi if you were wondering), I won't be putting a next time on this one. I'll let you know what the next one I'll be seeing is when I know it myself.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still laughs at the absurd amount of racism in calling the black guys in the movie the 'Natives.'

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A few thoughts

I have not, nor will I probably ever see Transformers 3. The first one was acceptable enough, but fairly forgettable. The second was bad enough to muscle it's way, however briefly, onto my top 5 worst movies of all time. With pattern recognition, the 3rd one should be bad enough to cause me to try to end my life, so I think I'll avoid it (the same pattern, going the opposite way, is why I'm excited for Uncharted 3 by the by). I bring this up because Roger Ebert has a fairly interesting article on how the Transformers are extraordinarily boring as aliens. It's an interesting read, so if you're so inclined give it a read.

I realized I haven't done a Missed Movies in a while and the reason for that can generally be summed up as 'can't be assed.' Still, if my hits count are any indication then you guys seem to like them, so I'll try to whip up another before I leave.

Oh speaking of leaving, it seems that I'm leaving for N'Orleans around the 15th or so. More on that as it develops.

And finally, I will be attending Connecticon this year, as last year. I will be appearing as Jason Vorhees because I'm a lazy bitch when it comes to cosplaying, and my friend will be attending as Indiana Jones, as he did last year. Look for me so I can prove to myself that all my hits aren't just me having a Tyler Durden moment.

EDIT: Turns out I won't be in Costume after all, cuz the place I wanted to grab my mask closed earlier than expected and I don't feel like suffocating in a burlap sack. So...I'll just be me I guess.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: The Tree of Life

The term for today's review is Kubrick Syndrome. This is the term for when you leave a theater and think 'Wow, that was incredible. What happened?' Yes, The Tree of Life is a unique and visionary film, and quite a good one at that. But it is oftentimes deliberately obtuse, which is going to scare off more than a few viewers.

The story is concerned with a family who has just suffered through a horrifying tragedy (to say what would be telling) and seem to be wondering what it all means. The film seems to want to answer them, and spends most of the rest of it's plot, such as it is, retelling most of their respective lives.

I'm not going to beat around the bush, this is a weird film. To call it nonlinear would be like calling Total Recall a little bloody and it's full of odd moments. After revealing the tragedy to the audience, the film takes a 20 minute digression into the origins of the universe and the planet, and then leaps back into the story of the family.

The cinematography is easily the highlight of the film, at once shaky and unsure (like the characters) and sweeping and grand. Long pans, circling rooms and characters play into the story and message, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. The CGI is something to behold, as is the incredible old age makeup used on Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain.

The acting is all quite good, despite the fact that most of the film lacks dialogue, the story being told through sparse conversation, visuals and voiceover. Brad Pitt is the standout, keeping his character fully formed and sympathetic, but Hunter McCraken does an excellent job as one of the kids.

The writing is good, what little of it there is. Of course I'd love to see the screenplay, because so much of it comes off as just odd. I get, for the most part, what he's driving at (not gonna say, don't want to bias my readers) but a lot of it just comes out of nowhere. You'll see what I mean. It's also worth nothing that while the trailers skip over a lot of it, the film can veer into some unpleasant territory, especially for a PG-13.

It feels like a deeply personal film, with a mixture of meditations on loss, anger and religion all tucked into it's narrative. Of course as Glen or Glenda taught us 60 years ago, just because a film is personal to the director, doesn't mean it's good, but in this case it works, adding an extra level of depth to an already deep film.

It's got more than it's shares of flaws, most notably that it's LONG and it feels like it. I know, I know, a lot of good movies are long, but a good one will never FEEL long. The sheer level of oddity and directorial quirks put into this film make it feel obtuse to even the most experienced cinemagoer, even as it's hitting you over the head with it's point. All of this makes it feel more than a little overindulgent, as there are several scenes that could easily have been excised without affecting the plot too much.

This is going to be a polarizing film. Hell it already was, as it both was booed at the Cannes film festival, and won it, so there are going to be people who adore this film fiercely and who loathe it with a passion. And while it may not appeal to everyone, I'm firmly on the positive side, and if you think you can like it, you should definitely see it. Here's a good barometer: You like 2001: A Space Odyssey? If so, there's a good chance you'll be very fond of The Tree of Life.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like to congratulate himself on referencing both an Ed Wood film and a Stanley Kubrick film in the same review.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Second Age Reviews: The Running Man

Ahhh, this was just the balm I needed after Hollywood Boulevard. Oh it's not a great movie. Hell it's not even a good movie. But what it was was enjoyable. It's a perfect middle ground between the classics (Princess Bride, Halloween) and the flat out godawful films (Hollywood Boulevard, Rock 'N Roll High School) of the last few weeks. Oh it's not deep or exceptionally well made, but neither is it incompetent or terrible. If you're in the right mood The Running Man can be a silly little romp.

The plot is based on a mostly forgotten Stephen King story, partially cuz these days it's painfully generic. It's the future, things have gone to shit, the public is kept under control by a violent game show where criminals fight for their freedom against psychotic hunters who... Hey come back. Hey, if you come back you'll get to see The Terminator fight The Fury from MGS3. Yeah that's what I thought. Oh and the main character is a wrongly convicted cop forced to partic- Okay, okay, come back I'm sorry.

This is, put simply, silly. The story is the worst offender and seems for a couple minutes like it might actually threaten to sink the entire production. The dialogue is laughable and unsubtle, the story initially poorly paced and predictable and at times it's downright...random. Several scenes can be boiled down to 'Here are some scantily clad chicks dancing for no good reason.' Not that I'm complaining. And someone really needs to remind Arnold Schwarzenegger that he can't technically act.

But you know what, once they've stopped setting up why Arnold is down in the pit fighting, why everyone else is there, what the world is like and, for the love of god, stopped trying to make anything resembling a point or make the plot go anywhere and just got the guys going at it in the pit, then it can get pretty damn enjoyable. The villains (named Stalkers) are a colorful gang of psychopaths, each with their own weapon and arena (though I'll maintain: Fireball is The Fury and no one can convince me otherwise). The music is well used and written for the most part, Techno-Ride of the Vakyries will stick with me for a while. The cinematography is well used if unspectacular, the special effects well utilized, the action sequences clean and exciting and more importantly plentiful. And while he uses them more often than Mr. Freeze uses Ice Puns, Arnold's action-movie-one-liners are actually amusing this time around, in an ironic sort of way.

Okay, I don't want to oversell it, it's still not very good. The problems with the dialogue aside (and oh boy does it have problems) the story has other problems, aside from cliché and predictablity. The pacing seems rather wonky for starters. It opens alright, with a setup and then an action sequence and then...sort of meanders for a while. There's some BS with a resistance that only comes up in the end, and the introduction of an absurdly bland love interest, none of which really NEEDED to be set up in that particular way, and if they'd skipped it, probably would have been a better movie.

Also, there's not one actor on board who can act, and while this is a minor complaint, the villains' end speech might as well have “MESSAGE!” written on the bottom in subtitles. But those complaints don't stop it from being a good time. It's honestly very similar to Total Recall: A silly little action romp with Ahnold in the lead. And if you're in the mood for that, you could do a lot worse than this.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Alligator

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the tube sequences in this film still give him a headache.