Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who Makes Short Films

So, funny story. I'm currently taking a semester off the NY Film Academy (reasons are...complicated) but I did finish other short films while I was still attending. Anyway, this is one of them, that I TECHNICALLY completed in November, but one of my neuroses prevented me from uploading it to youtube. What neurosis is this, I hear you ask?

I. Hate. ANYTHING! I've created. I have a novel, a completed novel, sitting on my computer right now, and every time I try to read through it long enough to submit it to a publisher or a literary agent I nearly get physically ill. Right now I am completely convinced it makes Twilight look like American Gods, so I'm having difficulty doing anything with it. 3 years I work on this thing and now it might sit on my hard drive for all eternity. Oy.

But I am attempting to work past this. So, I've uploaded this short film. I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to learn that I'm not happy with it it is, for better or worse. Give it a look so you can tell me it's awful:


(And yes that's my real name in the end credits, so I'm sure I can be tracked down and murdered now).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Based on a book I've not read (as usual) The Hunger Games reads like nothing so much as the bastard crossbreeding of Battle Royale and Running Man. While it lacks the brains or balls of Battle Royale, it's far from bad. On the contrary, despite some very odd directorial choices, the restrictions of a PG-13 rating and a clearly middling budget, I actually quite enjoyed it. Call it a 7.5 out of 10 (if I assigned numbers. Which I don't.)

The plot is fairly familiar, for those of you who know movies: In the future there was some rebellion and so all the former rebel sections of the city have to offer one girl and one boy to fight to the death in a televised deathmatch (with an apparently rather low age restriction). The main character, Katniss Everdeen (really)'s sister is chosen and Katniss volunteers in her stead. Insert lengthy takedown of reality TV, pundit newscasters, tabloid journalism, blah blah blah.

Okay so the setup is, as I said, lifted wholesale from Battle Royale and Running Man (I read Royale as the bigger influence) but that doesn't make it bad. In fact, for much of the movie, it's rather good. It starts out with an above average script and some solid actors. Okay so some of the adult actors phone it in a bit (mostly Donald Sutherland who must be pushing 70 by now, and looks constantly bored) but most of them are doing solid work. Woody Harrerlson does a good job, as does Lenny Kravitz with limited screentime. And Jennifer Lawrence is as always, so, so good in this, that I'm just glad she's working. In fact, while I'm at it, I know there are a few of you that haven't seen Winter's Bone yet. Go fix that, now. This review aint going anywhere.

Back? Wasn't that a great movie? Anywho, I'd best back off a bit, I don't want to oversell this one. The issues mostly start to come into play during the actual games themselves. The guerilla warfare stuff is all well done, and some of the more important characters get enough screentime and characterization that their life or death actually means something. But when we get down to actual combat, it's mostly shot in shaky-cam bullshit that's jerky enough to actually give you a headache. This is pretty obviously an attempt to have their cake and eat it too, IE to have brutal combat but not show you any of it. And while we're on the subject, an aspect I've seen played up a bit is the prospect of seeing teenagers forced to murder each other. This invites the inevitable comparison I've made several times already (IE, to Battle Royale) against which it can't really compete. Okay, it's bloodier and more brutal than you might expect (two kills in particular are rather nasty) but compared to a movie where a relatively tame death involved having the victim's head thrown through a window with a grenade in their mouth...yeah.

Where was I? Oh yeah, complaints. Aside from the shaky-cam shit, there's some other minor stuff. The look of the Capitol Citizens is INCREDIBLY garish. This is likely intentional, but it doesn't look distinct enough from any other movie to really excuse that. There's a couple annoying breaks of the show don't tell rule and some minor character hiccups in the villain department. Namely, falling into the 'make some of them evil so it's okay to root for them to get killed' trap.

But taken on it's own merits, The Hunger Games is above whatever passes for average in my madness addled mind, and worth seeing if you're in the mood. I guess the best term I've got is 'better than I expected.' See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept hoping the Tribute from District 9 would be a pair of Prawns.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Casa de mi Padre

Casa de mi Padre is a movie that's all about execution. The movie, in concept, is fairly rote: A beat for beat spoof of the infamously overdramatic Mexican Tellanovellas starring a well known comedy actor. It's very easy to envision a version of this film that becomes a film-person punchline for years based on how terrible it is: A condescending, winking idiot fest probably starring Carlos Mencia. But, with the right actors and the right style, mixed with a real understanding of what makes these things both compelling and HILARIOUS, Casa de mi Padre has a real shot at being one of the best comedies I'll see all year.

The set up is fairly simple: Will Ferrell (yes really, we'll get to that in a second) is the son of a wealthy rancher who's brother returns home with an impossibly beautiful woman. Oh and the woman is hiding secrets. And so is the brother. And so is Ferrell for that matter. Yeah it's one of those.

And that's about 2/3rds of the execution right there, in knowing how to handle itself. Ferrell for example, sticks out like a sore thumb, despite having learned Spanish for the role. He is clearly not Mexican, nor is any attempt to make him look Mexican nor does anyone ever comment on it. The execution includes intentional 'technical failings' like shitty edits, bad matte paintings or an obviously fake mountain lion. But, even though no one ever comments on them we can all tell it's obviously intentional, a secondary line of jokes.

A lot of how much you enjoy it will be determined by how much you can get on that wavelength: The idea that all of it is intentional. From the shitty effects, film skips, hilariously awful screenplay, overdramatic line readings, translation errors, all of it is clearly intended to create a feeling of something that's terrible. And, with a couple of exceptions, they really manage to pull it off.

The various odd plot twists are the weakest part of the film, as much of it feels a little underthought, even from a comedy perspective. There are parts of it that trail off into nothingness, though since the movie is only 84 minutes long (no really, only 84 minutes) that might be an editing problem.

A lot of the movie, especially towards the middle, feeling like it's stalling on it's way to the completely insane third act (seriously, the movie is almost worth watching just for how batshit insane it goes in the third act). And while it's funny on the way there, a lot of people won't want to stick around just to wait for that level of insanity.

As I said during my Tim and Eric review, I judge a comedy by how often and how hard I laugh. And I laughed throughout about 90 percent of this movie. So judged by those standards, Casa de mi Padre is a solid film, a good comedy if ever I saw one. So if you're in the mood for a comedy, definitely go see this one.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's pretty sure that the opening song is by the same person who did the Goldfinger theme.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mass Effect 3's Ending

So I've finished Mass Effect 3 (working on my Insanity Playthrough, I WANT THAT PLATINUM) and I've been hearing all the complaints about the ending. The following is my take on the endings, I'll try to avoid spoiling as much as possible, but it will still be past a cut. Oh and I'm aware of the 'Day 1 DLC' fiasco, but I can't begin to care. I play Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, so if I started getting pissed about business practices that aren't very nice to the customer, I'd never stop being angry...okay I'd be even more angry even more regularly, happy?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Game Change

I have, shall we say, interesting feelings toward Sarah Palin. Okay, let's not beat around the bush, those feelings consist mostly of white hot rage. I'm an Alaskan, I was born there and I lived there for 13 years, plus all the times I've visited (my father still lives there) and I was living there and working on the Begich Senate Race in 2008, while she was running for Vice-President. In that respect, Game Change is interesting, as it's quite a good movie that takes an almost sympathetic view of Ms. Palin.

The film's story is fairly predictable from it's set up: It's August in the 2008 Presidential Election and McCain is badly behind and needs a Vice-Presidential Candidate. He chooses the underprepared Sarah Palin (as played by Julianne Moore) as his running mate, and the rest is very stupid history. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Woody Harrelson as a campaign advisor who chose her. Most of the big moments (Convention Speech, Couric Interview, Debate etc.) are re-enacted by the various actors.

The film instantly separates itself from inferior political movies by taking little to no position on Sarah Palin's politics. She is absurdly pro-choice, for example. This is neither a good nor a bad thing for the movie, merely a fact of the person, and something which they wisely do not dwell on. They expect us to already have an opinion on Sarah Palin, and don't want this movie to change our minds. This, combined with the interesting decision to portray Obama, Biden and even the Media entirely through real footage, rather than actors, allows us to separate the politics from the movie and really concentrate on the story and the characters.

On the acting side Julianne Moore as Palin is the real standout. She looks and sounds almost eerily like Palin, but that's not the point. She inhabits Palin, as a none too bright but decent person who really doesn't understand all this media attention, or even the campaign itself, much less more complex things like foreign policy or economics. It portrays her as a nice person for whom everything has always worked out well and she intends to keep working it like that. She is initially caught in the headlights (and headed for a breakdown), but when she realizes that she is the star of the show, her ego inflates and she begins taking control and saying contradictory or even outright wrong things. Moore is able to sell both actions as the same person, especially during her freakout post-Couric where she blames everyone else.

Harrelson does a solid job as the foundation of the movie, though he gets help from Ron Livingston and Sarah Paulson. He sells the behind-the-scenes frustration excellently, through both dialogue and subtle physical reactions (a standout moment for me is, during the Couric interview, where he bursts out yelling 'Name one fucking paper!'). Ed Harris as John McCain is relegated more to the background, portrayed here as decent man fighting a losing battle who eventually ends up running a campaign he doesn't like.

The script is rather good too, deftly balancing the behind-the-scenes nonsense with the reenactments of the famous events. If I have to complain about something (and I do) it would be that the direction isn't too great (with a couple exceptions). But then, it's TV movie, I'm not expecting a The Shining tracking shot. In fact the direction is a good analogy for a good portion of the movie: Does what it needs to do so that the really good parts can shine.

What you have to know is that Game Change is an interesting, uniquely made movie, the kind of which doesn't wander onto TV, much less theaters, too often. When it hits DVD, or if they rerun it, you should definitely give it a shot (or maybe it's On Demand, I dunno). Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this is the first time he's ever reviewed a TV movie.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Looking Forward

I've been pretty much neck deep in Mass Effect 3 for the last week (contain your shock) and while I'm at it writing up a Warhammer 40k original army based around it (shut up) so the content levels have been kind of low. I'm hoping to scrape together the cash to see John Carter later this week and I've been working on a list of the top 10 movies of the last decade as a bit of content for my readers. But I've been hampered by the aforementioned Mass Effect as well as a lack of willingness, so I figured a more interesting use of my time might be to write up a list of some movies I'm looking forward to this year. Hope you enjoy. Also possibly a review of Game Change tomorrow, depending on whether I can get to my friend's house to see the DVR of it.

NOTE: This list won't include things like The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Brave, The Hobbit (THE HOBBIT AHHHHHHHHHHHH) because everyone knows they're coming. This is, at least partially, drawing attention to some more obscure things. With that in mind: Away.

Casa De Mi Padre
Will Ferell is at the point in his career where he can get almost anything greenlit on the prospect that he's Will Ferell (a process that created the flawed, but worthy Everything Must Go last year, which flopped at the box office...sigh) and this one has me legitimately interested. It's a spoof of tellanovellas (quick version: Spanish Soap Operas) and Ferell apparently learned Spanish for it. So...interesting.

John Dies at the End
I'm a huge fan of the book this is based on, so my ticket was probably bought the minute this was announced but the trailers look extremely interesting as it appears to be willing to try and catch the unique feel of the book (that of a weirdly humorous take on the 'demon fighter' concept, with the fact of the sheer power and weight of the enemy adding an understated bleakness to the whole affair). Oh and it was directed by Don Coscarelli, late of the weird but enjoyable Bubba Ho-Tep, which consisted of Bruce Campbell, as an aging Elvis, fighting a Mummy in a retirement home (no really, that's the premise). Definitely one to watch.

The Cabin in the Woods
This one is proudly touting director Drew Goddard as the 'writer of Cloverfield' but to me he will always be the writer of some of the best episodes of Buffy and Angel (The Girl in Question, Damage, Why We Fight, Selfless, Lies My Parents Told Me, CONVERSATIONS WITH DEAD PEOPLE!). Anyway, it's a Joss Whedon produced spoof of slasher flicks which was completed all the way back in 2009, but got stalled when MGM filed for bankruptcy. Oh and avoid trailers, as they are gleefully spoiling the twist. Still, Joss Whedon.

A sequel to Ridley Scott's genre defining Alien (or maybe not, they've been kinda unclear), this is Ridley Scott's first return to sci-fi since 1982 and Blade Runner (still my favorite movie of all time). Other than that, unlike the aforementioned Cabin, this one's been really careful about spoilers, so I've no idea what it's about. But still. Ridley Scott. Isn't that enough.

Kill Bin Laden (Working Title)
Katherine Bigelow, who you might remember as the person who got to step up to tell James Cameron that Avatar was not good enough to win Best Picture in 2010 (I'd have preferred Up in the Air or District 9 do the job, but still, a good choice) is currently working on a procedural movie about catching Osama Bin Laden...hey didn't we get him? Woo, happy ending. Also of note is the fact that Republicans tried to block it from being made, supposedly because it had classified material in it, but honestly because they didn't want Obama looking good in a movie during Election year (IE, they don't want voters reminded AGAIN that he's the one who got Bin Laden). Still, could be good.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen has thus far failed to hit the same level he hit with Borat, but this one looks very interesting. Okay, so he's pulled a couple stupid stunts promoting it, but his devotion is admirable and if done well, this could be a film for the ages. Remember, when we think of Charlie Chaplin, we all remember The Great Dictator, not City Lights (which one is better is up for debate, but my point stands).

BONUS: Movie I am Least Looking Forward To

Now that The Lorax is behind us (seriously, the level of rage that trailer inspired in me is fucking Biblical) this is the trailer that sticks out out the most in my mind. Oh there are dozens, if not hundreds, of movies I'm sure will be shitty this year, from Battleship to that atrocity named after The Three Stooges. But this one hit me in a weird place: The entire trailer felt so stupid, so generic, so painfully quality resistant, that I kept waiting for the punchline. The 'aha, we're kidding' moment. But it never came. To wit? They say 'He's a loose cannon, but he gets results,' in the trailer. Wait, are you fucking serious? You fucking SAID THAT? You IMPLY that, or reword it, you don't just state your cliche word for word. I mean...ugh. It's like if Brett Ratner took MORE stupid pills.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

It's not that Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is bad. Okay, let me start over. It's not JUST that Tim and Eric's Billion Movie is bad, because it is very, very bad (maybe even terrible). But it's bad in a very odd, very specific way that I'm going to have to spend the rest of this review trying to pinpoint. If you want the quickest possible version: I judge a comedy by how often and how hard I laugh, and in this I was giving a half-hearted chuckle MAYBE every 20 minutes.

Quickly recapping the plot: Tim and Eric (a pair of sketch comedians mostly known for being on Adult Swim) are playing casually evil versions of themselves, who are given a billion to make a movie by another casually evil corporation. When they only make 3 minutes worth of movie they are sent on the run from the corporation and attempt to recoup the money by taking over a failing shopping mall.

There's probably a funny premise in there, but the movie doesn't just mishandle it, it seems determined to mishandle it. The primary purpose of the piece is extreme shock and surrealism in comedy form, but it doesn't seem to be willing to work it into any recognizable order or to try and string it together. Constant shock and weird things happening get boring very, very, very, VERY quickly and the film is unwilling (or unable) to try and structure a working joke (IE setup, build, punchline).

So once we get past the constant stream of random garbage being flung at us at high speed, we're left with a movie with no real jokes. It's one thing to make random crap and surreal oddities work in a sketch show (go watch A Bit of Fry and Laurie for a masterclass in this) but to make it work in movies takes a deft touch and it DOES require that you stop occasionally to give us some context, or make someone the straight man (see: Life of Brian or maybe Anchorman). If EVERYTHING is weird and EVERYTHING is random then there's no baseline and it just becomes dull.

But it's not just that they just throwing stuff at the wall and saw what stuck. There are a few concepts that are actually funny. And the duo seems to have figured out that they were funny, because they stretch them out and repeat them to the point where I can't remember why they were funny in the first place. One that particularly annoyed me was a sequence involving Will Ferrel and John C Reily which is initially amusing but keeps getting extended and extended until all trace of humor is lost.

But then Billion Dollar Movie commits the cardinal sin that separates merely bad random-shit comedies like Epic Movie and LEGENDARILY bad random-shit comedies: It crosses the line and goes from random to disgusting. Amidst the weirdness, bad comedy and annoying running gags they manage to include a couple of truly revolting sequences that turn this one from merely bad, into the kind of nether regions where you find such disgusting offerings as Freddy Got Fingered.

I suppose it goes without saying that if you're a fan of Tim and Eric's Awesome Show: Great Job!, that you should go see this, because if you're a fan, you've probably already seen it and dismissed my review once I got done with the first couple sentences. But if you're not and you're in the mood for a movie that makes Anchorman look like PG fucking Woodehouse, then go ahead and ignore this review. But if you're looking for my advice, avoid this movie like the fucking plague.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks that Jeff Goldblum should know better.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: The Secret World of Arietty

The uncomfortable thing about reviewing this, or any Studio Ghibli film, is the fact that as a critic I'm required, essentially by law, to compare it to it's predecessors. And given that previous Studio Ghibli films include Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away and motherfucking Princess Mononoke (IE, 3 films of such depth, beauty and intellect that they would cause Pixar to hang their head in shame), it makes it an impossible standard to live up to. But that doesn't mean The Secret World of Arietty is anything resembling bad.

The plot is devoted to Arietty, a Borrower (think a fairy without the wings) living under the floorboards in a house in the Japanese country with her mother and father. Borrowers are so named because they survive by borrowing small things from humans, things they won't miss like cookies, sugar and pins. As the film opens, she has been accidentally spotted by Shawn, a sickly boy sent to the country to rest and well, you can just see the movie.

While you can probably guess most of the good things about this film's animation (IE it's fucking GORGEOUS) I was actually struck by how visually inventive it is. Much of the film is given over to how a human might live at that size, and to the tools they make out of small items they might 'borrow' from normal sized humans. A personal favorite is earrings used as climbing hooks but that's far from the only one. A lot of time is also spent giving the audience a real sense of scale, how tiny the Borrowers are and how much bigger the world is than them. I may sound like I'm ranting, but this really helped me feel for the characters in the long run.

The characters are also one of the films triumphs, being extremely well rounded and interesting. The story is engaging, but it's in the story and characters that the film finds its few failings. The story is rather weirdly paced for one thing. It has a rather lengthy first and second act, and a rather abbreviated third act. It should also be noted that the dialogue is occasionally deeply unsubtle and really kind of sappy, but that's probably the kids movie thing leaking through, so I'll forgive it. Oh and the villain lacks any real motivation beyond 'She's just a jerk' but since it's based on a book, I sense a cut subplot (as she keeps hinting at one that never gets fleshed out).

Look, it's minor issues aside, The Secret World of Arietty is an extremely beautiful and well made film and if you have kids it's almost certain to be one the best kids films of the year. So if you're looking for my recommendation: Yeah, go see it. Oh and if you're wondering, I really didn't see too much of an 'environmental message' in it, so I don't know what Fox was on about. Besides being assholes. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the main male character looked so much like Ashitaka that it became awkward.