Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a movie based around a single joke: Isn't it funny there's a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter out? Yes it's a single joke, stretched out to movie length, which was previously attempted with the ill-fated Snakes on a Plane. But unlike Snakes, this movie is directed by a director who's actually good (Timur Bekmambetov, previously of the awesome Nightwatch everyone missed out on) and is also entirely unwilling to admit to being anything other than entirely serious. And while it remains a feature length joke, it's good at being that if nothing else.

The story is exactly what you expected when you read the title, with a couple of added wrinkles. In it, Lincoln is trained to be a vampire hunter after his mother is killed by a vampire and then winds up being a secret vampire hunter throughout all of his famous moments. There's also the fun bonus that the vampires are concentrated in the South, and are using slavery as a way of getting a steady food supply, which I imagine is gonna play poorly among the 'lost cause' types.

There's not a whole lot to say on this one. The script itself is not particularly good, but never enough that it becomes a deal breaker. The story is actually pretty engaging, at least for what it is. The characters are okay, nothing great but okay. The acting is actually pretty good, particularly Dominic Cooper in the requisite mentor role. And there's the fun meta-casting of Benjamin Walker as Lincoln, as he had previously played another reimagined President... He was Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson? Anyone? I'm so alone.

The main draw is the fight scenes and I can tell you assuredly that they are all kinds of awesome. The last one in particularly has a lot inventiveness about it, especially when two characters start tossing the main weapon back and forth. Bekmambetov is still a fantastic action director and it never stops being kinda funny that one of the most famous Presidents in history is kung-fu fighting vampires. It's also a lot bloodier than I expected, with limbs, heads and gore flying everywhere. And it must be said, the design on the vampires themselves is extremely cool.

The movie has issues. It's got a weak script as I said above, much of the dialogue is kinda bad, there's a long stretch towards the end where nothing happens and several people start to pick up inexplicable kung-fu skills. But at the end of the day, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is just too much fun to be argued with. Will I remember it at all beyond it's amusing title a month from now when The Dark Knight Rises comes out? Probably not, but if you're in the market for a new action-heavy movie, this is the one for you. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this is the first movie since Toy Story 3 that I saw in 3D.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Brave

Brave can best be summed by it's character design. The two leads (the mother and daughter) are realistically designed and proportioned, whereas all of the other characters are much more cartoonish. It's a microcosm of the movie as a whole, because there seem to be two movies happening at once, one a fairly serious and quite good fantasy movie, the other an average broad fantasy/comedy. This inability to focus on one or the other is probably due to the movie's infamous troubled production and the film is the poorer for it.

The plot is devoted to Merida, a princess is a fictionalized version of Medieval Scotland. She is has recently come of age and a tournament is being held by her mother for her hand. However as you may quickly guess, Merida is not particularly interested in getting married, and the tournament sets her at odds with her mother. She goes seeking a spell to fix this, but as is often the case, she words it improperly to the witch who gives it to her and this causes...problems. The way the problems manifest themselves isn't precisely a surprise if you're watching the movie, but the trailers and press have avoided spoiling it so I'll do the same.

The film is, put simply, gorgeous to look at it, easily one of Pixar's best looking movies. Hair is one of the hardest things to get right in computer animation, but they do a fantastic job with Merida's. The landscapes are so amazing that the movie seems it needs to pause every so often to show us them (that's not a complaint, just a statement). It also has solid enough script, which balances it's two leads very well and manages to humanize them both rather exceptionally.

But, and here we're getting to the issues, the plot has problems. Not the story mind, the story is just fine. No, the plot and the reasons are kind of hard to identify. Firstly, the movie is structured rather wonkily. The movie has pushed past it's first act and is well into the second, when suddenly a new issue comes up and the second act seems to restart almost, which is a tiny bit off putting. It's not a deal breaker, but it is kind of weird.

The other major issue is that, outside the main 2 characters, everyone in the movie is essentially a cartoon character. All of the other characters exist essentially for extended comedy sequences, none of which are exceedingly funny and all of which are at violent odds with the much more serious tone of the rest of the film. The film comes most alive during the third act when they finally ditch the comedy bits and focus on the darker stuff (most notably a series of action sequences, at least one of which is shockingly brutal, by kids movies standards).

It seems weird to say this after I just spent two paragraphs ragging on it, but I actually liked this film. It's nice looking, the soundtrack is amazing (even if they do choose a couple songs with lyrics that grate), the story is mostly engaging and the characters are interesting. It's not nearly as good as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but that's far from saying it's bad. So if you're looking for my advice regarding this movie, I'm gonna give it a recommendation. It's not perfect, but what is?

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found the fact that there was a character named Macguffin really distracting.

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, is one of those movies that reads like a mashup of other movies. In this case, it reads like the combined bones of The Road and Melancholia with comedy skin stretched over them. And while that sounds like a hard combination to pull off, Seeking A Friend actually does admirably.

The plot is concerned with Dodge (Steve Carrel) a quiet, emotionally repressed man who, like the rest of the world, has just discovered that the last attempt to stop an asteroid about to hit the world has just failed. As the world falls apart around him, he meets and bonds with his odd neighbor Penny (Kiera Knightley). He promises her that he can get her to a plane to get her back to England to be with her family, if she can help him get to an ex girlfriend.

What this ends up amounting to is a combination character based comedy and road trip movie, as Penny and Dodge drive across the country seeing how different people are dealing with the coming end of the world. And despite it's PG-13 rating, the depictions of people losing it as the end approaches can get shockingly nasty sometimes. I don't want to spoil, but I'm actually a little impressed that they didn't cop out on their depictions of people losing it (up to and including assisted suicide).

This is primarily an actor driven movie and Steve and Keira do good jobs. Keira comes off better, given the more interesting character and getting a really nice bit of acting done during a phone conversation we only see one half of. Steve Carrel does alright, in a character seemingly designed for his oddly underplayed acting style. Steve is an actor that I don't know how to feel about, as he's best known as being a comedy actor, but with the exception of a pair of supporting roles I don't much like his straight comedic roles (I can't stand The Office for example). On the other hand, in more serious, darker comedy roles, he frequently comes off pretty good, and his performance here is easily his best since Little Miss Sunshine.

The direction is pretty good, certainly ahead of the director's previous Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It has some nice juxtaposition of the odd ordinariness of certain things with what's coming. The screenplay is okay, even if the story is going where you expect and it's a little on the nose sometimes. But the combination of what's coming and some great acting from the leads allow it to be occasionally rather touching. Neither of these things are precisely top tier, but they're both above average, which is all you can ask really.

It's not perfect. The second act is a little overlong, the screenplay is a little blunt sometimes and it sometimes seems to be bouncing back and forth between practiced cynicism and clinging to hope, which can give you whiplash occasionally. But those minor issues don't stop it from being very good. I know there's a lot of stuff out right now you'll want to see (I'm seeing some of the other stuff later this weekend) but what I do know is that this one is a nicely made and interesting movie. Definitely recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he refuses to spoil whether they cop out on the ending or not.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review: Prometheus

If you're aware of Prometheus at all, you're probably aware that it was initially pitched and billed as a prequel to it's director's seminal classic Alien. But supposedly director Ridley Scott changed his mind for a variety of reasons part way through filming and elected to downplay the Alien aspect. So while there will be moments you'll get find more interesting if you've seen Alien enough to recognize all the mini shout outs and references, it really doesn't affect the story much. Yeah there'll be a couple moments you won't chuckle at, but if you don't know enough it's not really a problem. For me, it was Ridley Scott's first sci-fi movie since 1982 when he made Blade Runner, IE my favorite movie of all time. And while Prometheus is not as good as that, I don't think anyone could tell you it's not good.

The story is concerned with Noomi Rapace as an alien obsessed archeologist. She finds evidence suggesting that Chariot of the Gods might not be BS and finds a moon out in deep space where she thinks the alien creators came from. So she heads out there, with the usual supply of characters, plus a scheming android with his own agenda.

While I want to gush about the technical details, first I want to gush about the acting, oddly enough. This is the movie that conclusively proves that Noomi Rapace can be more than Lisbeth. She gives a hell of a performance, in a role that seem tailor made for her oddly physical style of acting. And just last week we were discussing how Charlize Theron is best in a villain or at least unlikeable role. Well here she is, doing it again, this time in service of a better movie. But the odd standout is Michael Fasbender as the android. He's doing an incredibly committed performance and manages to make everything about him, from his expressions, to his voice to even his posture seem just a little off. The movie would be worth seeing, just for his incredible performance.

Fortunately, it's worth seeing for other reasons though. The cinematography, the music, the editing, it's all frankly incredible, but then we all knew that. Ridley Scott is one of the most technically proficient directors currently working and he puts out some of his best theatrical release since Black Hawk Down. It's easily one of Scott's best directed films in near on a decade.

There are some issues, at least a couple of which make me want to wait for the director's cut (Ridley has this happen a lot, most notably to Blade Runner but also Kingdom of Heaven. Seriously, everyone should see the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, it's like a different movie). The second act is a little overlong and takes a while to get going. The characterization can be a little awkward sometimes, both with the main characters and some of the canon fodder. The script is a little weak at times, more in the story than in the dialogue. And it's hard to ignore the fact that most of the people on the ship are essentially stock characters.

But none of those issues stop Prometheus from being worth seeing. Unless Moonrise Kingdom is playing near you, Prometheus is probably the best thing in theaters right now, so go and see it. Unless you can see Moonrise Kingdom. You know what, fuck it, see them both.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found the Alien style title sequence awkward with an O.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

For some reason, Snow White is everywhere in the popular culture. There was a comedy movie earlier in the year called Mirror, Mirror which by all accounts was pretty terrible. There's a fairly popular tv series, Once Upon a Time. There was even supposedly a martial arts version of it slated for release later this year, but it got scrapped. This can probably be attributed to people finally figuring out that you can make a billion dollars aiming fantasy fiction at women (which might be the one lasting good thing that Twilight did).

As for the plot of this one, it essentially reads like all the big moments that everyone knows from the Snow White story (or rather, the Disney version that everyone remembers) reimagined as a somewhat lackluster episode of Game of Thrones. And while I can't really dislike it, it's unremarkable and average enough that I can't think of a hell of a lot to say about it.

If there's a reason to see this movie, it's the striking visual design. The film is full of unique and interesting interpretations of fairy tale concepts. The stuff you've seen in the trailers is nice, but it really hits it's stride towards the middle and end. In particular are some really unique monsters the villain summons in the later scenes and a nice sequence towards the middle. Combined with some okay fight scenes and good cinematography and music, and there's a lot of good on the technical side of this film.

The acting is mixed. Charlize Theron as the Queen is the big standout, as she's always at her best in a villain or at least villain-esque role. She spends most of the movie hanging around her castle roaring and shrieking at her foot soldiers. She also has the most interest of any of the characters, with a nifty backstory that ties heavily into the broader symbolism of the Snow White legend. Kristen Stewart does alright, but she essentially lacks a proper character. The Dwarves are pretty good (played by an EMBARASSING number of famous character actors) but the movie can't find a whole lot for them to do. The Prince and the Huntsman are okay but...oh yeah, the Prince is in this. No really. I know he's not been in the advertising much. Or at all. He actually technically shows up before the Huntsman and has a more interesting character. I think the Huntsman got shoved to the front because he's played by Thor.

That's really one of the larger issues of this film: You can read far too much where it's getting it's inspirations. A lot of the cinematography techniques are straight out of the Lord of the Rings, there's a hacky love triangle right out of the Twilight movies, the visual scheme is right out of Game of Thrones, the Prince mostly hangs around acting like Robin Hood, the middle 3rd is pretty much straight out of Princess Mononoke. None of it's exactly deal breaking, but it does get bothersome eventually.

The movie has other issues, like a weak screenplay and mostly boring characters, which keep me from recommending it outright. It's probably better than a lot of other female targeted fantasy movies, like Twilight or Red Riding Hood which means they might be getting how to make these movies better, but that's far from saying it's good. Unless you're really into this kind of movie, you can probably ignore it.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he always finds it annoying how lead characters in fantasy movies never put on helmets.