Saturday, February 23, 2013

DVD Review: The Moth Diaries

The Moth Diaries is a movie I'm going to regard sort of oddly, and it'll probably make a good conversation piece if I ever find anyone else who's seen it. It's a movie so full of flaws and issues that they're leaking out of it at every turn. But it's so well presented and so interesting that I can't despise it. I actually kind of dig it. I've always maintained that I can appreciate or even enjoy movies that are flawed, so long as they're interesting. And this one is certainly interesting.

The plot is a high school reimagining of Carmilla (which the movie references constantly, and which I think gets name dropped more than it actually gets adapted). Rebecca, the lead character, is attending an all-girl boarding school and recovering from her father's suicide. She is very close to (and prettttttty obviously in love with) her best friend Lucy, who begins to drift away from her when a new girl, Ernessa arrives at the school. Since Ernessa doesn't eat, doesn't appear to sleep and has a very strange name, Rebecca begins to suspect Ernessa is actually a vampire and that her attention is killing Lucy.

The film has a plethora of issues (how often to I get to use the word plethora?) but the biggest is an extremely wobbly structure. The film's first act is pretty abbreviated and it doesn't so much climax as it coasts to a stop. The movie clocks in at barely an hour and 20 minutes, and when combined with some extremely out of place surrealist sequences toward the end, it seems to suggest to me that the original cut was much longer and much weirder and it got shave down in post-production. My research into the book it's based on seem to suggest it was built heavily around the unreliability of it's narrator, so perhaps the original cut emphasized that a bit more?

There are also some minor, but annoying, script issues. At least a few of the minor characters are a tiny bit...on the nose I guess is the term I'm searching for. At least one of them keeps dropping in and out of the movie and with one exception, none of them have any real depth or interest.

But I obviously like the movie or that first paragraph would have been a lot more vicious. Unfortunately, the things I like are a little more nebulous, harder to nail down. I guess a big part of it would be the actors. All of them, especially Lilly Cole as Ernessa, are extremely game for the material and they all commit to their roles with admirable gusto. The visual scheme style, especially for dreams and flashbacks, help the movie really come alive in ways that a more conventional style wouldn't have. A lot of the more unique moments (especially the admittedly out of place surrealist sequences towards the end) are interestingly shot and put together. And while the occasional attempts at horror mostly fall flat, a couple of them work surprisingly well.

It weirds me out a tiny bit to be giving this movie a recommendation. If I'm being brutally honest the movie is a failure, but it's an admirable and unique failure. It was directed by Mary Harron, best known (hell, only known) for her adaptation of American Psycho which also walked the fine line this movie fell off. If you go into it willing and interested, it can suck you straight in. So I dug it, and if you're willing to give it a shot, you might too.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept waiting for a High Tension style twist that never came.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2012 Oscar Predictions

Sorry this is so late, my laptop requires repair, so I'm writing this at the local library. Never let anyone tell you the library isn't needed.

Anyway, this is one of the most generic things I have to do all year (right up there with choosing my top 10), so to make it more interesting I'm going to add a new category to each of the BIG awards (IE non technical): Movies or people I think should have been nominated. So, because I have limited time, I'm gonna cut this short. Here are my predictions for the 85th Academy Awards:

Best Picture:
Winner: Lincoln
Upset: Silver Linings Playbook
My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Be Nominated: The Master, Moonrise Kingdom 

Yeah, I'm sticking with Lincoln, what about it? Yeah, Ebert predicted Argo is gonna grab it, but since Ben didn't get nominated for Director, I'm not feeling it. The last time a movie won without being nominated for Director was in 1990, so while it's not impossible, I tend to doubt it. I'm still predicting a Lincoln sweep. Also, people who have wondered aloud who the 10th nominee would be if they still had to have 10 nominees, instead of up to 10? It would have been The Master. Now you know.

Also, you may notice that I'm not saying Cloud Atlas should be nominated. While I of course believe it should be, I promised myself this wouldn't turn into one giant bitchfest about Cloud Atlas getting shut out (like I almost did last year with Drive). And I could turn it into a bitchfest, trust me. I could find nominations for it in EVERY category.

Best Director:
Winner: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Upset: Michael Haneke for Amour
My Pick: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Should Be Nominated: Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom, Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.

Noticing a pattern with Should Be Nominated? Yeah, expect that to continue. Anyway, I'm going out on a bit of a limb for Haneke, but I'm gonna stick by it. I don't think they'll have another chance to give it to him, so it might be an option. SLP is still probably the Picture upset, but it was poorly directed enough that I don't think it has a chance at Director.

Best Actor:
Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Upset: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
My Pick: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Should Be Nominated: Jared Gilman for Moonrise Kingdom, Ben Affleck for Argo

Yeah, a pattern. Second easiest call of the night, since Joaquin's performance (while brilliant) is just a tiny bit too dark to really have a shot.

Best Actress:
Winner: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Upset: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
My Pick: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Should Be Nominated: Kara Hayward for Moonrise Kingdom

This is one of several categories that is incredibly close (even now I kind of want to stick Emmuanuelle Riva in for the upset) but that's my choice. And I promise not to try to edit this quickly if Riva wins.

Best Supporting Actor:
Winner: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Upset: Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
My Pick: Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Should Be Nominated: Bruce Willis for Moonrise Kingdom, Paul Giamatti for Cosmopolis, Samuel L Jackson for Django Unchained, Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wilds, Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained, Sam Rockwell for Seven Psychopaths

It's weird, I'm okay with whoever wins Best Supporting Actor, but I could populate an entire alternate list with people who I think should be nominated. Obviously the odd man out there is Sam Rockwell (and I will maintain till I die he should have been nominated for Moon) but after a second viewing, Seven Psychopaths has quite grown on me, and I'm starting to think it was overlooked in a lot of ways.

Best Supporting Actress:
Winner: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Upset: Sally Field for Lincoln
My Pick: Amy Adams for The Master
Should Be Nominated: Frances McDormand for Moonrise Kingdom

Well if Jacki Weaver can be nominated for SLP, why can't McDormand? She was in Moonrise more than Jacki was in SLP. Anyway, easiest call of the night and we all know it. Go Amy!

Best Original Screenplay:
Winner: Django Unchained
Upset: Moonrise Kingdom
My Pick: Moonrise Kingdom
Should Be Nominated: Seven Psychopaths, The Cabin in the Woods, The Master

Yeah, I said Cabin. Come and get me. Anyway, people have gone back and forth about Zero Dark Thirty or Amour, but I'm not feeling either of them, so I'm making my odd predictions and sticking by them.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Winner: Lincoln
Upset: Silver Linings Playbook
My Pick: Argo
Should Be Nominated: Cosmopolis

This one is pretty close, so don't take my word as gospel, that's just what I'm feeling. And just to remind you, I really really liked Cosmopolis. And I don't care who knows it.

Best Animated Film:
Winner: Brave
Upset: ParaNorman
My Pick: ParaNorman

The fact that I think Brave is gonna win drives me fucking insane, but that's how the cookie crumbles. There are enough strong non-Pixar nominees to split the vote and give Brave the win (that's how Once wound up getting Best Original Song over Enchanted.) Also, Ratatouille beat Persepolis, which made me quite cynical.

Best Foreign Film:
Winner: Amour
Upset: Fuck You.

I'm sorry (there's no movie named Fuck You nominated for best foreign film) but there's no point in naming an upset. Amour is getting it. There is no question. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either completely crazy or incredibly brave. And either way, they're wrong.

Best Documentary:
Winner: How to Survive a Plague
Upset: The Gatekeepers

I've not seen any of the nominees so I have no stake, but Plague has the most buzz so, there you are. My commentary is probably gonna be limited from here on out, so more than one category might pass with minimal commentary from me.

Best Original Score:
Winner: Skyfall
Upset: Life of Pi
My Pick: Lincoln
Should Be Nominated: Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wilds, Cloud Atlas

Yup. A pattern. Also, I'm breaking my promise for the technical awards. Leave me alone.

Best Original Song:
Winner: Skyfall from Skyfall
Upset: Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted
My Pick: Skyfall from Skyfall

Let the sky fallllllllllllll. Adele is actually growing on me. Go figure.

Best Sound Editing:
Winner: Zero Dark Thirty
Upset: Skyfall
My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty 

I don't know a ridiculous amount about Sound Editing, so I'm not going to make suggestions for what should have been nominated for this, or Sound Mixing.

Best Sound Mixing:
Winner: Lincoln
Upset: Skyfall
My Pick: Lincoln

Given that I frequently couldn't hear the actors over the music in Les Mis, I really don't think it should be here, but what do I know?

Best Production Design:
Winner: Lincoln
Upset: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
My Pick: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Should Be Nominated: Cloud Atlas, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom

Les Miserables' production design was terribly generic and rather small, so I don't see why it's here.

Best Cinematography:
Winner: Life of Pi
Upset: Skyfall
My Pick: Skyfall
Should Be Nominated: Moonrise Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises

Well TDKR was really well shot. Shut up.

Best Makeup:
Winner: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Upset: Hitchcock
My Pick: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Should Be Nominated: Cloud Atlas

This is kind of a bullshit category this year, but what are you gonna do.

Best Costuming:
Winner: Lincoln
Upset: Anna Karenina
My Pick: Lincoln
Should Be Nominated: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Who the fuck let Mirror Mirror in here? I'm serious, who liked that movie enough to get it a nomination? I have not met a single person who liked it?

Best Film Editing:
Winner: Zero Dark Thirty
Upset: Argo
My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Be Nominated: Cloud Atlas, Cosmopolis, Moonrise Kingdom 

The fuck. Is Silver Linings Playbook. Doing here? I'm fucking serious, pretty much every movie nominated for every other award had better or more interesting Editing. Fuck, Cloud Atlas had to cut between 6 different stories in 6 different time periods, with 6 different GENRES! What did SLP do?

Best Visual Effects:
Winner: Life of Pi
Upset: The Avengers
My Pick: The Avengers
Should Be Nominated: Cloud Atlas

Well Pi had the tiger and it looked very pretty. The Hulk was the most impressive visual effect of the year though. Oh and Disney? Stop sticking "Marvel's" in front of everything you make under the Marvel umbrella. Makes them look like products rather than movies

Anyway. The awards are on the 24th, I shall be over at friend's house and drunkenly live tweeting the whole thing. See then how ridiculously wrong I probably was.

Friday, February 8, 2013

DVD Review: Branded

…The fuck did I just watch?

I think of the many, many, MANY unintentionally hilarious moments in this movie, my favorite has to be the moment when Jeffery Tambour’s character (who, for the record, plays a businessman, who was sent to Russia to spy on their government, a fact that sustained me throughout much of the first half of this movie) sums up in dialogue why the movie’s plot up till that point doesn’t make any goddamn sense. I assume that this bit of dialogue was a script note from the producers, and it sort of sums up the entire movie: Intermittently accidentally entertaining, often boring and overall baffling.

I’m going to sum up the plot as best as I can, because I’m not 100 percent certain of what happened. Okay so, the main character is Misha, a Russian advertising genius who gets his advertising powers from being struck by lightning as a kid (roll with it, it’s not even close to the dumbest thing in this movie). Misha is actually a perfect example of how this movie is completely unaware of show-don’t-tell as it keeps telling us that Misha is an advertising genius, when I’m not 100 percent certain he’s not special needs, as all of the advertising he makes is awful and he acts like a moron. He’s also an asshole, but whatever. Anyway, Misha is producing an extreme makeover style show, about a fat woman’s plastic surgery journey, but something goes wrong and she winds up in a coma. So while Misha goes into self imposed exile, it’s revealed that all of this was a sinister conspiracy by Max von Sydow’s character (who I think went a little crazy when Ingmar Bergman died) to increase the profits of his fast food chain by using this woman’s plight to launch a worldwide fat-is-beautiful campaign. Oh and Misha has a dream that tells him to ritually slaughter a cow and bathe in it’s ashes, which gives him the ability to see brands as sci-fi creatures attached to people (the movie never completely decides if these are real or just symbolic hallucinations, but I’m sure I don’t care). Oh and we don’t get to see the dream or figure out any of the plot twists or character actions for ourselves, as everything that happens in the movie is described in voice-over by a woman who sounds like she took enough valium to kill a horse.

This is, without doubt, one of the most surreally awful films I have seen in a VERY long time. It’s got an incredibly obvious, on the nose, point to make about how much advertising rules our lives, which it chooses to make in the most heavy handed way possible, but still manages to be ridiculously obtuse about it. Along the way it manages to also be oddly mean-spirited about it’s point, as a good portion of the second act amounts to the film telling us how awful and disgusting it thinks fat people are. By the time they’ve gotten off and to their supposed real point the whole ‘body shaming’ thing, the movie is nearly over. And when they finally get to their real point and reveals it’s happy ending… holy shit, I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was pro-censorship.

But fuck that, it’s not what a movie has to say, it’s how they say it, right? Except the movie is so poorly made that I half expected to see Tommy Wiseau’s name in the credits. Nothing anyone does makes any sense on any level, either from real world logic or the movie’s own baffling internal logic. Max von Sydow’s character keeps dropping in and out of the movie, large sections of the plot require leaps in logic that would cause Videodrome to stumble and there’s precisely 0 interest in the movie as a whole. The movie attempts to tie the narrator into the plot…sort of (the tie in is just plain fucking stupid, no two ways about it) but I’m not fooled. I guarantee you the narration was a post productions decision by either the editor or the producer (or both) to try to desperately to make this shit make sense.

And I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of awful on this movie. Jeffery Tambour is at least entertaining his role (always nice to see you George) but Max von Sydow is completely checked out and all of the other actors are terrible. And even aside from the completely nonsensical plot, the dialogue is fucking awful, so on the nose and obvious that the narrator explaining every scene doesn’t even feel that out of place. And then there’s the weird direction, which strains for Cronenberg style surrealism, but really just ends up being completely baffling.

The movie this most wants to be is an arthouse version of They Live but it’s not really even fit to stand in the same room as that particular classic. I briefly entertained the idea that this movie was a giant troll, as it’s rather meta that a movie about the evils of advertising had an INCREDIBLY dishonest ad campaign (as in “Haha, see? Advertising is evil, it got you to see this piece of shit!”) but I think that’s giving too much credit to the movie that posits that modern marketing was invented by Stalin. Besides, I’m something of a connoisseur of bad movies (I own a copy of The Room on blu-ray) so I can tell when a movie is intentionally trying to be bad, and this is completely sincere in it’s incredible level of pretention. If you’re into drunkenly ragging on terrible movies with your friends, then this will probably work for that, it’s certainly terrible enough. But if you want a movie to enjoy unironically, on it’s own merits, then stay farrrrrr away from this movie. It doesn’t really have any merits.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found the fact that supposedly Russian cars had left hand drivers seat distracting too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: ParaNorman

ParaNorman is yet another 2012 film that was a victim of it’s own marketing campaign (this list includes The Cabin in the Woods which managed to make it through strong word of mouth and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, which did not. I’d count John Carter too, but that would imply it HAD a marketing campaign). The ads had it painted as a lowbrow kids comedy with some horror elements, probably not technically bad, but certainly not my speed. The actual result is a well put together horror film for kids, that is not only uniquely intelligent but an incredibly in depth exploration of what it means to be an outcast.

The story is devoted to Norman, a horror movie obsessed elementary school student with the (apparently) unique ability to see and talk to ghosts. This, kind of naturally, makes him an outcast. His crazy uncle (who also possesses his apparently not-so unique ability) arrives to tell him he has to head down to the town cemetery and read a book, to keep an ancient witch’s curse (which has become a tourist attraction, in what amounts to a brutal, but unfortunately accurate, takedown of Salem) from destroying the town. He fails in his mission (because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie) and a group of 7 zombies, the original people cursed by the witch rises from the grave. And…that’s all I’m gonna tell you. Watch the movie, you’ll see.

The animation is the first place where the movie excels, courtesy of Laika Animation, who previously made Coraline (another high point for stop-motion animation) and the new visual technique to allow for an incredible amount of facial expressions. Combined with the incredible and stylized character models and some of the best sets I’ve seen in a stop motion movie, the animation is some of the best I’ve seen in years.

But animation can only carry you so far. Brave had gorgeous animation and it was mediocre due to story issues. What causes ParaNorman to be so much better than any animated film I’ve seen in years is its amazing story and characters. Each of the characters, even small ones, feel like complete and well rounded humans. The story, while occasionally genuinely scary (especially for a kids movie) is also an incredibly engaging mystery, with multiple twists and turns throughout the story. When the first major twist is finally revealed, I was actually shocked by what a dark twist it was, and it leads into what has to be one of the darkest third acts in a kids movie I’ve ever seen.

I really have nothing but praise for this movie, which makes it kind of hard to write about in detail, because so much of what I want to praise could be considered spoilers. There’s a running subplot (with a huge and quite dark payoff) about how insular and xenophobic small town America can be, which I love. There are a series of running references to classic horror films, but none of them ever feel like a Dreamworks style ‘reference for reference’ sake. And what I find impressive is how upfront it is about its occasionally dark subject matter. A lot of movies, especially kids movies, would try to skate over it or mitigate it with a joke, but when ParaNorman goes dark, it goes all the way.

I really cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s easily the best animated film made since the 2009 triple punch of Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Secret of Kells (all of which are really awesome and deserve to be watched too). If you haven’t seen this one, you really should. It’s the best animated film of 2012 and probably one of the better overall films of it too. Don’t miss it.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s pretty sure he laughed louder at the reveal about the jock than anything else.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: Amour

Michael Haneke is an extremely talented Austrian director who has had a few well known and regarded movies. I’ve always admired him more than I’ve directly liked him (an admittedly difficult to define distinction, but shut up I have a point). The reason I never quite crossed over into liking him, is because all of the films of his I’ve seen (The Seventh Continent, Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, White Ribbon) have one thing that unites them: They are all designed to make the audience HURT. And Amour, while an extremely well made and incredibly acted film, is not an exception.

The plot is concerned with Georges and Anne, an elderly French couple. One day Anne has an unexplained stroke, which leaves her with brain damage. She returns home with left side paralysis, forcing her husband to care for her as her condition worsens rapidly. Yeah, doesn’t that sound cheerful?

Yes, we’re all aware (or at least I am) that Haneke is very fond of bleak films, with themes of alienation and isolation, but he commits to them here in a way I haven’t seen a filmmaker commit to a theme in a while. The film never leaves the apartment where all the action takes place, and actions that take place outside of the apartment (or even the main character’s hearing, more on that in a moment) are only told second hand. This, combined with Haneke’s signature long held wide-shots and lengthy pans, help to create the atmosphere of the film. But what elevates it above nearly all of his previous work (aside from possibly White Ribbon) is the slightly element of hope against the horror, the element of…well it’s right in the title, isn’t it? Eh, I won’t spoil it, see the movie for yourself.

Emmanuelle Riva is getting the most attention, as she has the showiest role. Her part requires her to play a character whose mind and body are slowly slipping out of her control and she plays it like a champ. A scene towards the end has her emoting through her breathing. It’s an incredible performance and she deserves all the recognition she’s getting. But she’s not the main character believe it or not. Yes, the actual main character is the husband, as the film essentially never separates itself from him and on at least a few occasions, goes inside his head (for a dream sequence that is actually one of the most memorable moments of the film) to give us a more intimate understanding of him and his pain and issues during the events of the movie. His acting is more understated, but no less impressive and it’s a bit of a crime that he’s not getting as much recognition.

Is it a film without its flaws? Of course not, almost no film is without flaw (this one is mostly a little long towards the end, but it still works) but I’m not interested in really discussing them at length. This is an incredibly made film, an intense, depressing and ultimately emotionally draining film with perhaps a tiny bit of hope and light towards the end of the tunnel. If you think you can sit through it without wanting to kill yourself, I highly recommend it. It’s going to have at least one Oscar under its belt by the end of month (it will win Best Foreign Film. It is a certainty) so you might as well see it before then, just to say you did. Besides, emotionally exhausting films are often great films, and while they might not be the most pleasant to watch, the world would be much poorer for their absence.

Elessar is a 23 year Alaskan born cinephile and he’s officially seen all the Best Picture Nominees.