Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review: War Horse

War Horse conclusively proves two things. First off that director Steven Spielberg, when teamed with now legendary composer John Williams, can still make inhumanly emotionally manipulative movies. And secondly, that being among the most emotionally manipulative movies of the past decade doesn't necessarily make a movie bad. War Horse is the perfect kind of movie for me to review after having announced my top 10 and my worst 5. Not QUITE good enough to break into my top 10, but nowhere near bad enough to fall into my worst 5.

I'm really going to bother reciting too much of the plot. A man buys a horse, his kid gets really into raising it, it impresses all of them, they all get attached. Suddenly, war were declared and the horse is sold to an officer. He's caught up in World War I, and has to survive and find his way home.

In the spirit of being in chronological order, I will say that the first half hour of this film is pretty much pure torture. The dialogue, from beginning to end, is pretty poorly written but it's worst in the first half hour. It's all setting up the characters and their arcs, including for the horse, but it's all so obvious it becomes painful. It keeps setting up obstacles to try and keep the horse away from the boy (insert Narnia reference here) and it's all so bucolic (look it up) it really does start to become boring.

But then something weird happens. Around the half hour/forty five minute mark, when horse finally goes to war, the movie stops trying to be E.T. and starts trying to be Saving Private Ryan, it actually picks up. The film manages to concentrate on it's visuals more than it's dialogue, the horse takes over as the primary character and it really comes alive. Spielberg is playing the 'horrors of war' bit all the way to the hilt, and while that particular aspect would probably benefit from and R-Rating, this part of the film really works and it's easily worth slogging through the shitty parts to get to.

Of course the movie as a whole isn't without it's share of strengths and weaknesses. As I said, the dialogue is pretty poorly written across the board, but the movie wisely shuts up for most of it. The movie is based on a play I've never seen which is based on a book I've never read, so I can't talk too much about the adaptation aspect, but the story seems tailor made to a movie. The best part about the script is how it handles the conflict, managing to portray both sides as equally 'heartless bastards' and 'good people caught up in a stupid war.'

The direction is the highlight of the movie, with beautiful camera work and fantastically shot action sequences. Spielberg's direction is one of the most recognizable among 'mainstream' directors currently working (except Tim Burton, but his is more of brand than a style) and while it's easy to mock how manipulative it is (lord knows I have, and will probably continue to), no one can deny that his signature style seems to suit the story almost a T.

It all comes down to this: One of the best and most impressive setpieces for this film is an extended sequence at the end, where the horse, is finally set free and bolts across No Man's Land in an extended chase sequence. The entire thing is gorgeously shot and set to some of the best work by John Williams in over a decade. It's also shameless emotionally manipulative, but it works so well that I can't bring myself to care. If that sounds like something that you can tear up or cheer during than this movie is definitely for you. And even if not, if someone as cynical as me can get into it, then I'm sure almost anyone can. This one comes recommended.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still thinks it's very odd that the best characterized character in this movie is the horse.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Worst Five Movies of 2011

Well why not? It's content, it allows me to do something I love doing (IE ragging on terrible movies) and it allows you to see what I consider to be truly terrible. A lot of respectable reviewers (IE people who don't use fucking in their reviews, or at least try to keep it down) do it. So again: why not?

#5: Sucker Punch

Well I thought it was terrible. Lazily scripted with flat, boring characters, this was always going to be panned by me. But the really clincher was that the way the action was presented meant there was never even the slightest amount of tension in it. If a character can get flung across the room at 100 miles an hour and stand up without her hair mussed, why should I care?

#4: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Worse than the first and better than the second and if THAT isn't damning with faint praise, I don't know what is. An overly long, irritating, mindless chore of a movie. For once the action isn't fast paced or in too close, but I think that's more of a biproduct of the 3D than any directorial choice. And goddammit, why in a movie about giant robots fighting are we still on about the douche from Disturbia and his personalityless chick friend?

#3: Green Lantern

We all knew this was gonna be here. You know what's weird? Outside of Buried the only times I can honestly remember seeing Ryan Reynolds and not hating the product was when he was in an episode of Scrubs and when he was the cold-open victim in an episode of The X-Files. Go figure. Anyway, the best thing I can say about this movie is that it managed to be expensive enough and critically panned enough that it probably killed off any idea of a sequel and hopefully taught superhero movies to shape up. Hopefully.

#2: Battle: Los Angeles

I'm sorry Mr. Eckhart, you're gonna have to pull double duty to make up for this. And you were doing so well. As for the movie well for most people it would be a career low point for them. Except that this director's career contains the platinum dunes Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel, so it's technically a step up for him. And that thought kinda makes me wanna cut myself and cry. Oh well, at least it's better than Skyline.

#1: Red State

Red State, you'll recall is the movie that I opened the review with "Holy shit does this suck" which is rather indicative of it's quality. Poor, poor Kevin Smith. He had such a promising start. But with his movies from this decade including this, Cop Out and Jersey Girl, I don't think anyone will be missing him when he puts himself in self-imposed retirement after Hit Somebody (which is apparently really happening).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

DVD Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

I don't know if all of you know this, but I see a lot of movies. So it takes lot of movies to show me something completely new. That said, a horror film where the main monster/killer is an underfed naked man who is taken to be Santa Claus is something I haven't seen before.

Quickly: the film is about a bunch of villagers on the border between Finland and Russia. Just across the border, an American team is digging up a mountain in search of Santa Claus who was trapped there hundreds of years earlier. One of the kids cuts a hole in the fence and finds notes that indicate that Santa is actually something of a demon, who punishes bad children. Weeks later, Christmas is near and odd things are happening. Kids and heaters are disappearing and a weird pale man has been seen wandering around the village...

Okay so it's a unique hook, but that isn't all a movie needs. Fortunately the movie has all the pieces in place to be a good horror flick. It's exceptionally well paced and some good acting, especially from the young kid who has the lead. It also has a tiny undercurrent of parody that really gives it an extra edge. It was directed by a Finnish director Jalmari Helander, and his knowledge of the culture of the Arctic helps give the film an air of realism that helps with the tension.

It's not completely perfect film. It's ambitions are heavily hamstrung by it's low budget and there's some awkward characterization near the beginning. But it's a unique and legitimately scary horror film, two characteristics a lot of horror films are lacking these days. So if you want to be different and watch a horror film on Christmas, or just feel in the mood for a new horror film, definitely give this one a look.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks this has to be the second scariest Christmas movie. After The Magic Christmas Tree.

Elessar's Top 10 Films of 2011

Every year there are films I want to see but, for one reason or another, just don't, and this year is no exception. Maybe they were near me and I just couldn't find the time (Melancholia, Take Shelter), maybe I just haven't gotten around to it yet (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse) maybe they're not getting wide release until next year (The Flowers of War, Miss Bala, A Separation, Albert Nobbs). Maybe they're on DVD and I haven't managed to track them down yet (The Help, The Devil's Double). So while I'm sure this is not the end of my watching of the best movies of 2011 (hell, I'm scheduled to see A Dangerous Method tomorrow), with a week left in the year, it seems like the time is right to release my best 10 films of the year. If you haven't seen any of them yet, all of these films come highly recommended, so give them a look. (Also I'm trying a new style for this one, if you have any thoughts on it, let me know)

Europe has thus far put out some of the best genre films of the past 10 years, and since Europe's preferences tend to run more towards intellect and story telling, their increased participation in the film industry can only mean good things. But don't take that to mean that they don't like things to be fun, as The Troll Hunter is not only one of the smartest monster movies made in the last decade but also one of the most visually impressive. The CGI used to create the trolls and the action sequences that include them are hands down some of the most astonishing things I've seen all year.

Jason Reitman continues to show himself to be the sober and intellectual yin to his father's more crowd pleasing yang and Diablo Cody proves that Juno wasn't a fluke. Together with a great cast they craft a unique and engaging story of a person so intently unlikeable that it feels strange to realize you pity her. The script is funny, the characters unique and well rounded and if you look carefully you might see the strands of a spoof of romantic comedies peeking in around the edges If you know that prom queen bitch and hated her in high school, show up just to see what she might look like when she's pushing 40.

With Green Lantern being nearly unbelievably bad and the latest Avengers lead ins being little more than empty spectacle, it was up to the X-Men again to show everyone how it's done. With an incredible cast and great characters, it felt like real people were inhabiting it's incredibly directed action scenes, rather than empty ciphers. Most of all, it's adult story and great writing made me feel that superhero films can still be legitimately intelligent movies, rather than empty action films. Thank you First Class, for erasing all the hurt from X3 and Wolverine.

#7: Tabloid

It's difficult to put into words just what I liked about Tabloid. The uniqueness of the story it was covering and the way it managed to give us real insight into the events without trying to ever choose a side in it might have a lot to do with it. The incredible presentation also helped and the great direction and editing certainly didn't hurt. Tune in because you want to find out more about the case, or because you find Tabloid newspapers interesting or just because you want to learn more about Mormons, it doesn't matter. Just show up.

An oft-forgotten fact about Brad Pitt is that he is star who, along with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, can actually really act. Even in movies that don't require a lot of effort from their actors, like Ocean's 11, he still manages to give great performances. Which makes his performances when he's actually trying all the more impressive. And hey, Jonah Hill manages to be effective enough that I'm almost willing to forgive him for the rest of his career. But all the actors in the world are for naught if the story isn't good and in this case it's a deeply intelligent and surprisingly moving story, told from a unique angle. Highly recommended.

Given that Source Code was my best movie of the year for so long, it seems weird for it to have fallen so far. But let's not hold that against it, it's still a tightly made, engaging thriller. So what the ending took just a tiny bit too long? The characters are well rounded, the acting solid to great across the board, the story is intriguing, the science fiction aspect really works and it really focuses on the human aspect, more than a lot of films like it. And hey, Duncan Jones is actually getting a career. I'm really glad he didn't have to stop at Moon.

This was one polarizing film, some people giving it great reviews, others giving it terrible reviews. But I've never been one to let other people's opinions affect mine and for my money it was great. The script was excellent, as was the direction (even if the continuity was a little wonky) and the acting was amazing. Even the negative reviews agreed, Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was one of the best of the year, and a career highpoint for him. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's still an incredibly good movie.

The fact that someone went and made a silent film in 2011 is enough to make most people sit up and take notice. The fact that it's one of the best and most engaging films of the year should be enough to get most people to go see it. With an interestingly metatextual story, fantastic direction and amazing performances from the entire cast, we might be looking at the first silent film to win Best Picture since 1927, and if that isn't enough to get you to see it, the story is engaging, funny and even moving, so just go see it.

George Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career in a subtly brilliant film. Everything, from the gorgeous cinematography, to the amazing performances, to the ingenious screenplay to the eclectic music choice combine to make this one of best and most affecting movies of the year. Maybe if this can win a bunch of awards, we can finally have Alexander Payne make more than 2 movies a decade. And it would almost certainly be the movie of his career, if his career hadn't been on an upward slide. Keep 'em coming Mr. Payne, and keep seeing this people so he'll get a chance to make more

#1: Drive

No film completely blew me away the way Black Swan did last year or District 9 did the year before, but let's not hold other years against this one and just talk about how good this film is. And what a good film it is too. Taking a serious look at a well worn genre and coming out with an intelligent and beautifully directed piece of cinema. With gorgeous cinematography, unique music choices, bone crunching action, a quietly brilliant script and amazing acting all around, Drive is a career high point for Nicholas Winding Refn and a worthy best film of the year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Here is one of the stranger results of my upbringing. I am a huge fan of Tintin. Not of the concept or of this that or the other adaptation. I actually grew up reading the comic, because my dad is a huge fan. As a result I'm more familiar than most Americans with the (actually fairly extensive) comic this film is based on. And as a result, I was aware of both the strengths of the original material and the shortcomings the movie would have to overcome. And while it kept true to most of the materials strengths, it couldn't quite overcome some it's failings.

The story amounts to a combination of the stories of Red Rackham's Treasure and The Secret of the Unicorn with elements of The Crab With the Golden Claws. Tintin, a reporter who fights evil for some reason, buys, on a whim, a model ship. Hidden in the mast is a tiny scroll which some mysterious figures are seeking and are apparently willing to kill for. Tintin sets out to find the other two scrolls...because there might be a story in it, is the given reason.

And already we've hit on one of the major problems with the film. The director's love for the material (which becomes increasingly obvious when you take into count the absurd number of in-jokes for fans in the film) was such that he didn't want to alter the characterization or personality of Tintin at all. As such, for the first half of the film or so, all Tintin has, by way of character motivation is 'Well why not?' which ceases to be believable when he's getting shot at. He also has an extremely thin character arc that really only hits in the third act for about a minute.

As a result, the first third of the film is pretty bad. It's slow and tedious and all of the films flaws are on full display. But once we have all the shit set up and, much more importantly, we introduce Captain Haddock (Tintin's bumbling alcoholic sidekick, who is the one to get an actual character arc), it manages to pick up. It ironically enough manages to sidestep most of it's issues by focusing heavily on the action, keeping things moving fast enough for us to not want to take an real issue with it.

And the action, and with it, the direction, are no doubt the highlights of the film. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and his long experience shows. The setpieces are unique and inventive and take advantage of the fact that it's animated and thus they don't need to stage or create any of the big setpieces physically. A really well done ship battle in flashback is particularly engaging and the transitions (yes the transitions) are usually unique and interesting.

The animation is mostly excellent, with a lot of detail given to the motion capture aspect. Honestly it comes as close as anything to making the mocap worth it an animated film. Unfortunately it does fall into the old uncanny valley trap, though less than usual. Most of the more cartoonish characters come through alright, though the more realistic characters start to be creepy when focused on, particularly Tintin (come on guys, it's the eyes, we're so close). The voice acting is mostly good, aside from a disappointingly bland turn from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the Thompson twins.

Apart from the above mentioned problems, there are some issues at the script level. The dialogue in particular seems to be often poorly written and a tiny bit redundant, but it's intended to be a kids movie so maybe that doesn't matter so much? The story also just sort of stops, probably a result of the planned sequel, directed by Peter Jackson and expected sometime after he finishes his work on The Hobbit. I'd also be remiss if I didn't tell you that the periodic comedy bits really don't gel with the rest of the film (especially an extended one about refueling an airplane).

I'm still not sure how I feel about this movie: The direction is excellent and with a little better story and characterization we could have had something great on our hands. Ultimately, the best thing I can say about it is that it's pretty good and while it won't be on any year end 'Best list' on this site, if you have kids and you want to take them to something, this is the movie for you. Apart from that, while there are better things out, I can't really recommend you avoid this, even while I can't really recommend it. So if you're inclined, go see it. Sorry if that isn't helpful. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wishes they'd just do Tintin in Tibet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Elessar's Top 5 Games of 2011

 Yeah, yeah, yeah, movies are coming later, I still have a few I wanna see. But, as usual, I'm done with my games early in the year, so I figured I'd throw a list up here to continue to try to serve my loyal readers.

Also: Some of the best games I've played all year were Metal Gear Solid 3, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico (and Mass Effect 2, but that didn't get a rerelease so much as a really late port) but they're disqualified for not having been released this year. But if you're interested, you should definitely get the Metal Gear Solid and Team Ico HD collections. Oh and other worthwhile games from this year include Catherine, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Alice: Madness Returns and Dragon Age 2. And I still haven't played Skyrim.

So, with no further ado here are the top 5:

#5: LA: Noire
Okay I'm a bit of a sucker for the film noir genre, and since LA: Noire was essentially a film noir in game form (as you might have gotten from the title) but it's still a good game. Okay, it's not without it's flaws, mostly from the driving and gunning mechanics, but it looks great and it's a unique attempt. Here's hoping more game companies try to make games focusing on story and intellect instead of mindless shoot 'em up. I doubt it though.

#4: Batman: Arkham City
Oh Batman, Batman, Batman. Best Superhero movie ever made, best superhero TV show and best video game (although not a lot of competition there, given that runner up is probably Marvel: Ultimate Alliance). No wonder we all think you're awesome. I was a big fan of the open world aspect, playing as Catwoman, the boss fights. Hell even the ending took me by surprise and took balls...well balls for a superhero story (you'll know it when you see it). Overall improvement on the already good Arkham Asylum.

#3: Uncharted 3
Uncharted 2 in comparison to Uncharted was a little like Raiders of the Lost Ark being a sequel to Romancing the Stone. So Temple of Doom might not be as good as Raiders and Uncharted 3 might not be as good as Uncharted 2 but it was still really fucking good. The gameplay is still as good as ever, and while the story might feel copied wholesale from The Last Crusade it was still engaging as ever, with some impressive, albeit slightly shoehorned in, set pieces.

#2: Assassin's Creed: Revelations
I really wish I didn't like Assassin's Creed as much as I do. But I have to admit, Assassin's Creed gets me, in a way no game outside of ones made by Bioware does. It helps that Ezio is probably my single favorite character in any game ever and finally continuing with the story of Altair really helped out. Of course with the ending the way it is, they'll probably have to come up with a new protagonist, but hey I'm not worried.

#1: Portal 2
Portal was already one of the best games ever made and while Portal 2 has some of it's own flaws (mostly in having to explain itself every 20 minutes) but when it works, it works ABSURDLY well. The gameplay is still some of the best and smartest puzzling I've ever played in a game. And it's funny, did I mention it's funny? Not stupid funny, actually funny. I was really worried that Portal 2 would be a collection of inside jokes and cake references, but it avoids that route completely. A worthy successor to Portal and a great game of the year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: The Artist

Many films have attempted, on one level or another, to imitate the style and techniques of a bygone era of filmmaking. All slasher films, for example, are essentially reverse engineered from Psycho and Halloween. Quinten Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez have often included elements of old 70's Grindhouse era movies in their films (and brought it to it's logical conclusion in the ill fated Grindhouse double feature film, which attempted to copy more than the aesthetic and shamelessness). And while copying the styles and techniques of silent era films is technically nothing new (they've been used in everything from 2010's The Illusionist, to Young Frankenstein to even Van Helsing) it's never been quite this gung-ho about it, nor anywhere near as successful in both it's mimicry and in it's overall quality.

And when I say it's copying silent films, I mean it right down to the wire. No dialogue, no sound effects (except for two scenes). Just music and the occasional title card to indicate what people are saying. The effect may be a little strange on people who have never seen silent films, but as a personal fan of them (my favorite silent film, for the record, is Metropolis) I found it's imitation endearing and unique, allowing the actors to branch out their performances in ways you might not expect.

The plot, in an interestingly metatextual twist, is also concerned with silent films. Jean Dujardin has the lead as George Valentin, a 1927 silent film star who seems to act as a mix of James Bond and Zorro. He meets an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller coincidentally and gives her bit part and some advice. 2 years later, talkies are beginning to break out, but George is reluctant to change, and sinks all of his money into a silent film, while Peppy is the up and coming star of the new wave of talkies. His film tanks as the Great Depression hits and George begins to despair.

Most of the film is Dujardin's show and he owns it, keeping his performance subtle, while still managing to imitate the style and acting techniques of old silent film actors. He also gets strong supporting work from John Goodman and James Cromwell, with Goodman acting being more in line with silent films and Cromwell's performance tending more towards quiet dignity. And it must be said, Bernice Bejo as Peppy Miller gives some of the best, most effective work in the film. She comes dangerously close to completely stealing the show from Dujardin whenever she's on screen and it will be criminal if he gets nominated for an Oscar and she doesn't.

The film was directed by French director Michel Hazanavicius and he gives it his all, with subtly beautiful camera work. At least two shots in this film rank up as some of the best camera work all year (you'll know them when you see them). The soundtrack, naturally has to stand in for dialogue and set the mood for any given scene, and it does an amazing job. It's easily some of the best soundtrack work you'll hear all year.

Look, this is the time of year when the theatrical releases are split between generally fairly shitty (not always shitty, but often) family films, like comedies and light actions, and the big Oscar favorites. This is definitely in the latter category. And while I was aware it was being talked up as a big Oscar film before I saw it, I was surprised by it's level of quality. It's subtle, beautiful, inventive and frequently moving, and it would be a worthy best picture winner. So while I don't know how wide it's release is right now, if it's playing near you, do not miss it. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and it's really weird to see actors I know are alive now appearing in a film that could have been made 80 years ago.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Oscars Nominations Predicitions

I've made it clear that I like the Oscars before. Okay so they rarely choose what I would say is the best film of the year (although they've been getting better about it: 2003 and 2007 they chose my best picture of the year), but their very existence makes movie studios and makers try harder.

So it's getting to be the time of year when film critics announce their best movies of the year and what they choose is often a good prediction of what will get nominated, since movie studios lobby based on what critics choose. So, as a precursor to the Oscar bits I will be doing in the future, I figure the best thing I can do is tell you what movies are likely to get nominated. This should give you a leg up on your friends in the betting pool.

CRITICS NOTE: These are merely who I think will be nominated based ENTIRELY on what's been winning critic awards, not my top 10 of the year. Some of these films have yet to be seen by me and there are still a handful of films I want to see before I announce my films of the year (notably The Artist and Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close). My top 10 will probably be announced the last week of the month.

Best Picture:
Shoe Ins:
The Descendents
The Artist

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Tree of Life
Albert Nobbs
The Iron Lady

Outside Chance:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
J. Edgar
Win Win
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Help

Best Director:
Shoe In:
Alexander Payne for The Descendents
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive
Martin Scorcese for Hugo
Terrance Malick for The Tree of Life

Outside Chance:
Jason Reitman for Young Adult


Best Actor:
Shoe Ins:
Jean Dujardin for The Artist
George Clooney for The Descendents

Brad Pitt for either Moneyball or The Tree of Life
Leonardo Dicaprio for J. Edgar
Ryan Gosling for Drive

Outside Chance:
Thomas Horn for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 

Best Actress:
Charlize Theron for Young Adult
Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Charlie
Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady

Outside Chance:
Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene
Emma Stone for The Help

Best Supporting Actor:
Albert Brooks for Drive
Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Hunter McCracken for The Tree of Life
Patton Oswalt for Young Adult
Jonah Hill for Moneyball
Best Supporting Actress:
Shailene Woodley for The Descendents
Carrey Mulligan for Drive
Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs

Best Original Screenplay
Young Adult
The Tree of Life
The Iron Lady

Best Adapted Screenplay
Shoe In:
The Descendents

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
Albert Nobbs 

Best Foreign:
Shoe Ins:
Flowers of War
A Seperation
Miss Bala 

That's all the major awards and I can think of. Documentary doesn't really matter to me since Tabloid isn't up, animated will probably go to Rango.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Young Adult

Director Jason Reitman has thus proven to be the Ridley Scott to his father, Ivan Reitman's Tony Scott if that make any sense. While Ivan hasn't made a single movie worth watching since Dave in 1993, Jason has been steadily putting out films that might not break the bank, box office wise, but manage to be smart and meaningful, while still being funny. And while Young Adult isn't quite on the level of Up in the Air, it's still a unique and interesting character study.

That last part isn't kidding, Young Adult exists primarily as character study (which shouldn't be THAT shocking, since two of Jason's previous previous films were character studies). The character in question is Charlize Theron's Mavis, which means this might finally be a career resurrection for Charlize, who could use it. What makes it unique in that regard is that it is a study of a character who isn't a great person or an evil monster, but merely completely and thoroughly unlikeable in almost every respect. She's an alcoholic, caustic, bitter and often rather cruel. It's a unique place to be, because by the end we so despise Mavis that it makes very weird to discover we also pity her.

The plot is concerned with Mavis, a ghost writer and female equivalent of a manchild deciding, apparently appros of nothing, that she and her high school boyfriend were meant to be together. She then sets out to go win him back. Problamatically, he's still living in their tiny hometown while she's moved on to the big city. Oh and he's married and has a new kid. But she's not about to let that stop her.

Most of the attention is on Mavis, but there are generally interesting performances all around. Patton Oswalt finally gets a chance to shine on his own in a secondary as an actual manchild who Mavis starts bonding with, for obvious reasons. Patrick Wilson manages to find a weird spot where he's trying to maintain a level of politeness towards Mavis, despite his growing realization of what she's up to.

The script comes courtesy of Diablo Cody, late of the quite good Juno and the fucking terrible Jennifer's Body. She puts in a weird balancing act of despising Mavis while understanding and eventually pitying her. One of the things I like is that it's working off romantic comedy cliches occasionally and manages to brutally and repeatedly subvert the cliches. I don't want to spoil, but you'll know them when you see them.

Jason Reitman's direction is one of the weirdest aspects of the film, especially since like Margin Call it's completely musicless, so the actual pieces of music, usually bits of music being played by the characters, are all the more jarring. The direction, in particular the camera work, emphasize a sort of coldness and distance from it's main character. This is a tiny bit at odds with the oddly montage style of editing, but it all works incredibly well when it needs to. And while many of you may disagree, I found the movie's outright contempt for this bullshit myth we have about small town America (not small town America itself mind you, the bullshit myth we have about it) incredibly refreshing.

It's not a perfect movie by any means. While most of the acting is great, Elizabeth Reaser's performance feels oddly flat, which may be intentional. A recurring gimmick devoted to Mavis writing a young adult book, in which she is clearly writing what she's feeling about the situation, cuts down on the subtly a bit.

Regardless of it's flaws, Young Adult is a brave and unique film and well worth your time. It opens wide this friday and if you've been following my recommendations so far (HA, not likely) then you're probably caught up enough that this the best thing on your radar. So if you're interested and it's playing near you, don't miss this one.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's glad Diablo Cody has proven Juno wasn't a fluke.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Empty Garden

I nearly forgot this to post this.

Today is December 8th. Today, 31 years ago, some stupid man came along with a gun and shot another man in the back of the head, for no exceptionally good reason. The name of the man who was shot was John Lennon. You might have heard of him, he was a member of a rock group called The Beatles.

Lennon is an odd standout in my list of personal heroes. All of the rest are filmmakers (Stanley Kubrick, The Coen Brothers, David Lynch) or writers (Neil Gaiman, Hunter Thompson). Lennon is a musician, a field I've never even briefly considered getting into, no matter how much I might love playing Guitar Hero 3. Sure I love The Beatles, but I love a lot of musicians, not all of them make it onto my list of heroes. I suppose I admire his rise from nothing story, his defiant attitude, his desire to stick to his principles, such as they were. Sure, there were things he did that he might have been less than proud of, but that just proves that he was human. Don't we all have things that we did that we wish we hadn't. Part of what makes him admirable, what makes him a personal hero of mine, is that he rose above those flaws to make himself a great and important artist. Love him or hate him, he and his compatriots changed the face of rock 'n roll and music forever. And, in my opinion, for the better.

I'm going to recommend three things. The first is a documentary called The US vs. John Lennon, (no, I still haven't seen Nowhere Boy) chronicling the...let's call it run in, Lennon had with the government during the Nixon Administration. The second is an Elton John song, called Empty Garden. Yes, I know Elton John's best known tribute song is Candle in the Wind, or whatever it's called, but Empty Garden always felt much more heartfelt to me, more personal. This is backed up by the fact that he rarely performs it live, as he was friends Lennon and finds the memories he gets when playing it too painful. Give it a listen.

The final thing is a Lennon album that I don't think gets enough love: Double Fantasy. Sandwiched between his more famous Power to the People (Right On) and Imagine, I've always maintained Double Fantasy was the best album of his all too short solo career. So if you have some money on your iTunes or Amazon, give it a listen. It's some of the best things he did on his own (with, it must be said, Yoko at his side.)

I said it on his birthday, and I'll say it again. We miss you John.


I don't usually get in on the tech side of stuff but this was too amusing not to share. My brother's girlfriend was over with her new iPhone and she was showing off the new Siri stuff. So I, screwing around, ask it "Siri, find me hookers."

Pause. "12 Escorts located."

No, I'm not making that up.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DVD Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Author's Note: This film was watched with the Rifftrax playing along side. The reviewer doubts that his opinion would be altered by the Rifftrax playing, but it certainly made watching the film a little more bearable. Also, Jesus loves Rifftrax and so should you.

When a reviewers first thoughts upon finishing a film are “...Why did I do that to myself?” the review is probably not going to be positive. And while yet ANOTHER negative review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is probably redundant, well what do you want, it's what I watched. Quick version of my history: No, I'm not a fan of the Transformers, comics, animated shows, toys, video games, whatever. I watched a little Beast Wars when I was very very young, but I don't remember any of it. The first movie...well I don't remember much of it. I remember being generally entertained at the time, but as with Beast Wars I couldn't remember a single thing about it.

Still, I was ready to shove it with the other Michael Bay 'dumb fun' movie, IE Bad Boyz II. After all it wasn't nearly as bad as Armageddon. Or Pearl Harbor. Or The Island. How come he gets to keep making movies? Anyway, then the second one came out and I'm pretty sure it actually shortened my lifespan with how bad it was. Seriously, every single problem the first one had was tripled and everything I can remember being entertained by was drained out. So expectations were not high for this one.

So how is it? Well, the hour long final battle is quite visually impressive, mostly because the limitations posed by 3D cameras and it's inability to handle his usual rapid-fire editing makes Bay calm down a bit. But it has the same problem the second one had (and the first one for that matter) in that the big robot fights we're supposed to be here for keep getting sidelined for the human bullshit that just pisses me off. Perfect example: The bad guys have just summoned dozens of new enemies, vastly outnumbering and outgunning the heroes and...we cut away to Shia trying to get his girlfriend back. And this extends into the main battle, to the point where the final duel keeps getting cut away from to show us Shia and some other douchebag who's name I don't know having a punch up on top of a rock.

And it takes us an HOUR to get there and that hour (and the finale) have all of the problems of the first two. The dialogue is painful, the humor is stupid, the stakes make no sense, the characters are one dimensional and the acting is painfully bad. Oh and we can add John Malkovich and Francis McDormand to the list of actors appearing in this film who really should better, along with John Tuturro (all of whom make me want to go watch better films).

Overall it's not the worst movie of the year, technically. Green Lantern was worse. Red State was worse. But on the whole, it's just bad. It's stupid, poorly made and generally boring. The only reason I was even able to sit through the whole thing was because of the Rifftrax (remember: Jesus loves Rifftrax) so if you want my advice? Buy the Rifftrax, pirate the movie. I'll see you next time.

Elssar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he told you he'd end up doing a DVD review that wasn't a documentary.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Margin Call

Dozens of films purport to be based on or retell real events and many of them purport to be about events that no one outside those directly involved actually witnessed and are thus, probably, complete bullshit. But that doesn't matter as much as people seem to think. Was The King's Speech or The Social Network accurate to the events they were based on? Shit no, but as long as the movie is well made and entertaining, it doesn't really matter. And while Margin Call is far from the best movie of the year, it is actually pretty good.

The plot is concerned with a firm who, after a round of layoffs, realizes that their real estate holdings are worse than worthless and the firm will be bankrupt within days if they don't unload them. So, knowing full well it'll damage the people they sell them to and probably damage the economy, they prepare to sell all their real estate holdings.

If that sounds kind of slow paced, it is. 99 percent of the film is dialogue based with most of it being fairly dense (which they fix by bringing out the 'ignorant' CEO to explain everything to). It manages to take most of it's cues from political thrillers and other good hacker movies, using judicious editing and solid direction to keep it all interesting.

The writing is solid, nothing on The Descendents but still a worthy and interesting script. The dialogue is believeable and manages to make the story engaging and interesting. One of the more interesting aspects is the entire film is almost completely musicless. There are a couple exceptions, mostly from in-story music, but for the most part it's devoid of music. This lends the film a certain disconcerting air of realism. The editing takes it's cues from The Social Network in style and presentation and there are certainly worse things to take cues from.

The story is engaging and interesting with mostly unique and well rounded characters and an almost disconcertingly . There are a couple exceptions (a few of the characters feel interchangeable), and at least one characters arc sorta...fizzles out towards the end. The acting is great, especially from Paul Bettany and (surprisingly) Zachary Quinto. Has he been good in anything else? And it's so nice to see Kevin Spacey putting his considerable talents towards playing what amounts to a hero as opposed to a villainous role (don't deny it, even when he's the main character, if he's giving a good performance, he's evil. Look at Casino Jack). And it must be said, the final scene is disconcertingly poignant.

It's not perfect and if I was being brutally honest it's riddled with flaws, some of which are annoying but none of which are deal breakers. The pacing is rather off for one. It starts out with an extremely abbreviated first act and spends the vast majority of it's running time in the second act, before stumbling into an inhumanly short third act and tiny denoucement. A few interesting things and characters are shunted off to the side in favor of the main characters arcs. One character's arc and personality flit about a bit schitzophrenically and at the final speech from the closest thing the film has to a villain might as well have 'MESSAGE' under it in blazing red letters.

Look, Breaking Dawn has held the first place spot in box office for 3 weeks running, so I'm libel to root for anything (ANYthing) else to make money. But if you want my two cents, Margin Call is a flawed, but well meaning and well made first effort from a new director. So if it's playing near you and you have the jones to see something like The Social Network again, give this one a look. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's still a little suspicious of Zachary Quinto getting cast as the gay guy in American Horror Story RIGHT after he came out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DVD Review: Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

At some point in the last few years Morgan Spurlock (director of Super Size Me, if you didn't know) looked up from having created one of the most important documentaries of the last decade, behind Bowling for Columbine and realized that he'd been unable to replicate that success. Oh not that his other films were necessarily bad, but they just didn't have anywhere near the impact of his first film. So, he did what anyone would do in that situation: He went back to formula.

Yes, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold has Morgan Spurlock back in the weird position of simultaneously pointing out the absurdities and weirdness of a situations while simultaneously doing it so we can see it ourselves. In this case the situation in question is the getting money for product placement in a movie. Is it as good as Super Size Me or even Tabloid? No. But it's still quite good and it reminded me why Super Size Me was good and important.

The vast majority of the narrative, such as it is, is devoted to Spurlock going around to different companies and offering them ad space in his movie in exchange for funding. Of course the nature of the documentary, as well as memories of Super Size Me, mean that most companies aren't going to want to have anything to do with him. But when he actually gets behind the scenes and we see what arranging for sponsors and putting product placement in movies actually looks like it gets a little strange. Interspersed with this are interviews with consumer advocates and directors (though he seemed to have trouble getting people who are actually talented...Brett Ratner, really?) And it must be said, the sequence where Spurlock and Ralph Nader (remember him?) discuss the merits of a shoe would make the documentary worth watching alone.

History will tell if Morgan Spurlock has another Super Size Me in him, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is quite good when taken on it's own merits. Well worth watching, especially if you're a fan of consume advocacy.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he will eventually do a DVD Review that isn't a documentary.