Sunday, July 29, 2012

A suggestion

Yeah, yeah, yeah I know, lack of content. I despise content updates so I only come here when I think I actually have something to say, and wouldn't you know it, there aren't too many movies I feel like seeing right now (still not my job to do so). The next movie I really want to go out of my way to see is The Campaign so you've got some time to wait.

Anyway, I'm actually here to recommend a game: Spec Ops: The Line. I don't want to talk too much about it, since I don't want to spoil it (believe me, it has a couple of fantastically done punch-to-the-gut moments in it), but it's a really well done, extraordinarily dark story. In a lot of ways it's a very well done deconstruction of Modern Warfare type games, forcing you to live the consequences of your actions and see what happens to a mind when it goes through all that, and all of those things are things video games should be exploring. It also has some interesting commentary on the relationship between player and player character (though it still falls short to the number one game in that way: Bioshock. If you've played it you know what I mean...Would you kindly?)

That's it for me. Go play it, especially if you're a 'games as art' type.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

To answer the questions you have in roughly the order they come to me: Yes it's better than Begins. It might be better than Knight, I have to see it again but I don't think so. No, it's not the best movie I've seen all year, but it's in the top 5. Yes it's better than The Avengers. No, no performance in the movie tops Ledger's. Yes you should see it before someone spoils it for you. That about cover it? Alright, to the movie proper.

This is one of those reviews that I was sure was going to be pointless. I was going to review it, tell you it was good, tell you that it wasn't as good as Knight, bitch a bit about Hathaway, restate my love for the 'Nolan' style of doing things and close the browser. But I feel very weird about it, and not just cause I was wrong about Anne Hathaway. The same 'Holy SHIT!' feeling I got coming out of The Dark Knight is there, due primarily to an inhumanly intense final act, which allows the movie to overcome some slight awkwardness towards the beginning.

The plot is devoted to the man himself, Batman. It's been 8 years since The Dark Knight and he's been retired (as in, not going out) that entire time, with Bruce Wayne becoming a massive recluse. When a cat burglar breaks in and steals his mother's pearl necklace, he begins to try and track her down as Wayne, while Batman has his interest peaked by the arrival of Bane, a power hungry mercenary with a plan. A B-Story involves Gordon's increasing guilt over framing Batman for Harvey's murders from the last film and a cop who still believes in Batman, as well as the semi-fascist new measures imposed to fight the mob in the name of Harvey Dent.

All of these new characters are reinvented, per Nolan's MO and all of them come out great for it. Catwoman, although she is never called that, is stripped down to her essentials as a smarmy femme-fatale cat burglar, who is held together by a fantastic performance by Hathaway. She's tasked with moving the plot forward a lot of the time but her actions or character never feel forced. After the shock of the movie has worn off, I'm sure her performance will go down as one of the great interpretations of the character.

Bane, on the other hand, is unlike any villain we've ever seen in a Batman film. Batman villains in the films tend to avoid head on, one-on-one confrontations, because they're mostly just gang leaders in weird getups or mad scientists with odd weapons and would wind up with cracked skulls in a fight with Batman. But Bane here is a character who can take on Batman in the two areas he specializes in, strength and brain and who is unfazed by his various theatricalities. It's also intentionally kind of odd to hear the posh British voice coming out of the freaky mask but Tom Hardy manages to sell his character extremely well, owed partially to how ridiculously huge he is (seriously, he's easily the largest physical presence in a superhero movie this side of Lou Ferrigno). Add in a subtle and quiet, but solid, performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and all of the newcomers to the movie are doing excellent. Even Marion Cottilard does a great job in a smaller part.

Aside from that, all the acting is as great as you'd expect it to be as the movie continues to be inhabited almost entirely by Oscar Nominees and Winners. Bale throws himself into his role the way only he can, Gary Oldman inhabits Gordon perfectly, Morgan Freeman is still pure class as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine remains one of the most inspired casting choices ever as Alfred.

I'm not even going to bother with the technical details. This is Nolan we're talking about and he's a technically brilliant director. The only major issue the movie has is towards the beginning, with a bit of awkward pacing and narrative. The movie has a lot to do, setting up the changed characters and world, as well as establishing a host of new characters and their motivations and relationships. That's a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it in and it occasionally ends up with characters staring at the camera and expositing. The film picks up when Batman heads out to confront Bane personally to signal the start of the 2nd act and never lags again.

Oh and one more thing: Those of you looking for politics in it are going to have to look pretty hard. Yeah I know, a lot of people prescribe a conservative bent to the last one (although it's hard to see the interrogation room scene as an endorsement of enhanced interrogation when the subject outright states that it's not working and will not) but that doesn't really come up in this one. The conflict between Bane and Gotham (specifically the semi-fascist police state it's become) is much more the V for Vendetta (comic) conflict of anarchy vs. fascism than the V for Vendetta (movie) conflict of liberal vs. conservative.

Honestly, this movie is kind of hard to review properly, partially cause so much of the plot would have to go under the spoiler tag and partially because the 3rd act leaves such an huge impression that it's hard to remember if I had any issues other than the one I mentioned earlier (seriously though, the 3rd act is easily the most intense I've seen all year). I can say that it's good, hell great, movie, a sincerely moving story, wrapped around engaging action scenes with Christopher Nolan's usual deconstruction of the superhero genre. Come monday morning, everyone will be discussing the big twists and the intense final act act, and you owe it to yourself to see it before someone spoils it for you. I'll probably see you there, I'm going again on Saturday. And maybe again after that. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he hopes the SDCC Man of Steel footage was better, because the trailer attached to this movie fucking sucked.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: Beasts of the Southern Wilds

Beasts of the Southern Wilds is the final piece of evidence that I needed to prove that this year is going to be an excellent year for movies. How else could a July release contain a uniquely tragic heroes journey, one of the best examples of 'real world' world building I've seen, a pair of earth shattering performances by first time actors, quietly brilliant messages on Global Warming and humanities place in the universe and STILL not be the best movie I've seen all year (for those of you keeping track at home: Moonrise Kingdom still has first place).

The story is concerned with Hushpuppy, a 6 year girl living in a ridiculously poor slum outside New Orleans called the Bathtub with her borderline abusive father Wink who is suffering from an unspecified disease. The people in it live a primitive, but content, life provided that the water level holds steady. No prizes for guessing that a disaster happens (probably Hurricane Katrina, but it's never specified) and the Bathtub is flooded. The disaster, caused by an imbalance (Global Warming, but again never specified), also unfreezes a group of prehistoric aurochs (here imagined as Godzilla scale pigs with horns).

The Bathtub is, as I said, an astounding feat of world building. The movie takes great pains to establish the place, it's inhabitants and how they survive. The grime and grit of the hand-to-mouth existence of the Bathtub contrasts with what little we see of the outside world that when we finally get all the way out of the bathtub towards the end of the 2nd act, it's a shock to both us and the characters.

What you've heard about the acting is true, though I feel the need to be a little more specific. First time actress Quvenzhané Wallis is indeed one of the best actress of her age I've ever seen (between this and Moonrise Kingdom it's also a good year for pre-teen first time actors). She is playing a character tough and stoic enough at 6 to make Katniss from The Hunger Games tremble and she manages to get across an incredible amount of information with minor shifts in body posture and facial expression. Another newcomer, Dwight Henry, gets the slightly more thankless task of playing the oft-times abusive father, but the character manages to avoid falling into the trap of making him a one dimensional monster. He is so adamant that his daughter be ready to survive when he's gone, and thus he alternates between being supportive and abusive, to toughen her up and make her sure of herself. It's a difficult acting job to be sure and he rises to the task admirably.

The direction is extremely unique, often focusing on odd things and shifting back and forth between the aurochs and Hushpuppy. If it didn't maintain such a consistency of tone and if the journey of the aurochs wasn't so clearly metaphorically tied in with Hushpuppy's heroes journey, then it might come across as a flaw, but it works, alarmingly well.

The script is the closest thing the movie has to a flaw, as the dialogue can be rather intently blunt, especially when it comes to Hushpuppy's narration. But as the film progresses and we sink deeper into the world of the Bathtub and we get more used to the characters who inhabit it, the blunt dialogue becomes another level of world building: It isn't bad screenplay writing, it's EXCELLENT screenplay writing, as the blunt dialogue is just how the people of the Bathtub talk.

Every critic in the world is already singing this movie's praises, so let me join them: Beasts of the Southern Wilds is easily on the best films to come out all year and you owe it to yourself to see it. Humanity, you already turned Adam Sandler's latest into a flop and Prometheus, Cabin in the Woods and Moonrise Kingdom into surprise hits, so let's see if we can keep this trend going for this one. Or, to put it more bluntly: GO. SEE. THIS. MOVIE!

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's still not sure if the aurochs are real or not.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Con and More Shameless Plugs

*spends a few moments humming Tegan and Sara before beginning*

Anywho, this post is designed to do two things. The first and vastly less important one, is to inform all 5 of you that I'm going to be at Conneticon this year. My Cosplay is Patrick Bateman of American Psycho fame, which means Suit, Raincoat, Axe, Fore (by Huey Lewis and the News) and Briefcase. I was going to also bring a fake rat, but then I realized eventually I'd come across someone who'd only seen the movie and I'd have to explain the significance of the rat. And that's just plain a conversation I'm not willing to have (for those of you who don't know but want to find out: You don't want to know But if you MUST know, Google it, and don't blame me). I know, you don't care, but it's mostly cuz it leads into my next point.

The much, much, much more important purpose of this post is to direct you to a blog entitled Heckling From The Third Row. It's run by one of the guys I'm attending Conneticon with, and it's several different forms of awesome. You should definitely give it a look, especially since I'm probably not going to have much content until I see Beasts of the Southern Wild on the 16th or 17th (and for your information, no I'm not planning on seeing Spider-Man).

Anyway, that's it. Ta.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

DVD Review: Red Tails

Red Tails is one of most singularly depressing movies I've seen in a long while. Not just because it's easily one of the worst movies I've seen all year (congrats Tim and Eric, you're not in bottom place anymore) but also because it signals the final proof that whatever was wrong with George Lucas was not restricted to the Star Wars Prequels. Yes, I know it was technically directed by Anthony Hemingway, but the increasingly grubby fingerprints of Lucas are all over it. It was also a massive box office failure, and thus Lucas enters the final stage of the M. Night Shyamalan/Frank Miller arc from Visionary to Cautionary Tale.

But what's more annoying is how many things it drags down with it. Yes, Lucas is on his way out, but that arc began long ago with the Special Editions. What is even more depressing is how Anthony Hemingway, a young filmmaker who has shown promise elsewhere, will most likely have to live with this on his resume for years. And the story behind it, that of the Tuskeegee Airman, is an interesting and worthy story in it's own right, one which deserved a better film than this (indeed, it has previously been adapted into a flawed, but well received, HBO movie.)

The story is simple. World War II is happening, and there is an all black fighter squadron known as the Tuskeegee Airmen. They're itching for some action, but the racist attitudes of their commanding officers keep them hanging in the back, until some general decides that they might be selfless enough to protect his bombers and blahblahblah.

I could harp all day on the film's negative why don't I do that? The script seems like a good place to start, as it's laughably awful, both in terms of story and in terms of dialogue. Watching this I found myself laughing at some the dialogue and story turns, such as when a character begins a romance with an Italian woman when they see each other when he's flying and she's on the ground (No, really).

The dogfights are fairly boring in their own right, owing to inappropriate use of CGI and flat editing. Speaking of the editing, it feels like a lot of the movie wound up on the cutting room floor. There's a subplot concerning a captured Airman, who is instantly trusted inside his prison, because he's black and therefore obviously not a Nazi spy. However, barely a scene has transpired in the Prison before they're escaping, and I get the feeling the rest of the subplot got cut, most likely for time.

The idea at play seems to be to hark back to the simple 'good versus evil' war movies of the lat 40s and early 50s, the kind of thing that would have starred John Wayne back then. You see this mostly through it's sterile action scenes and it's hilariously one dimensional characters, on both sides of the conflict. This kind of backwards looking film isn't impossible (Lucas built most of his career on it) but it's hard to pull off and even harder if you're unwilling to try and think more about your subject. Star Wars and Indiana Jones both elevated the junky things they were based on to something of an art but Red Tails is merely content to wallow in it.

I was never full on the George Lucas Hate Bandwagon, so it brings me no joy to deliver the news that Red Tails is indeed as bad as everyone thought it was going to be. The curtain may be falling on his career, but that's cause for sadness, not for celebration. As for Red Tails? Avoid it like the plague.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he managed to get through the whole review without discussing the race of anyone involved.