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Tonight was the opening reception for an art show designed around the myriad works of writer-producer-director Judd Apatow–from Freaks and Geeks to Funny People, all of his characters have been reinterpreted in some incredibly different ways…
I didn’t snag a picture of the line, but Judd did:
Toward the center of the picture there’s two guys in blue jackets. I’m the one on the left. I had been waiting in line for about an hour at that point…
I finally got in and snagged a free beer, then began to wander around and look at the paintings…
Let me start this off by saying that I am a Michael Bay apologist. I don’t know why, really. I just like his movies and am not sorry for it. He may not be able to make an Oscar-Bait late-fall type of movie, but he’s probably the second best in the summer movie business (behind JJ Abrams).
I haven’t written many reviews recently because most of the movies that’ve come out this summer have sucked. Hard. And I don’t mean that in the typical “story was flat, effects were okay” type of way but in the way of they left absolutely no impression on me.
Take Green Lantern for instance. I saw it the Monday morning after it came out. By the evening, I had to remind myself that I had seen it. It was like watching a $200 million cut scene from a video game. None of it stuck with me. Maybe it’s because, at this point in the game, we’ve seen the origin story a hundred million times. It’s a necessary evil I wrote about in my Thor review.
X-Men First Class was the same way.
But Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon actually left shrapnel in my brain, left me breathless by the end of it’s 2 hour and 40 minute run time.
It’s also the only movie I’ve seen this summer that led the audience to applaud at the end of it. Which usually says something.
It’s not Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I promise.
A lot of the flack that this film’s predecessor got was deserved. Revenge of the Fallen was overlong and bloated by a plot that made no sense because of the fact that it was written in three weeks (thanks writers strike). This was probably also the reason for all the racist/sexist humor–when you’ve only got three weeks, you’re gonna reach for the low hanging fruit just to fill out the pages.
It was basically a boat with a screen door for its hull. It couldn’t hold water.
But it tried to entertain us with giant action sequences in interesting locations despite not making much sense.
This one, though, returns to the first Transformers in the sense that it really feeds my sick addiction for explosions and destruction. It never lets up. It piles on the tragedy to the point that, yea, I honestly thought that everything was fucked before the third act took hold.
Death and Destruction
Seemingly taking a cue from all the recent “urban warfare” films, this movie takes its major sequences from the Pyramids of Giza to the streets of Chicago. What this does is make the deaths of civilians that much more prominent. I’m a little surprised with how much they were able to get away with in this film because some if it is fairly grisly, even if it is just CGI people.
This doesn’t even begin to describe what happens to the city itself. It’s really something you have to see to believe…
Before going in, I had heard from several different reviewers that the 3D in this film rivaled that of Avatar and it’s true. Especially since Bay employed some of the same techniques like slowing down a shot mid-action so you could really get a sense of what was happening. Or simply not shaking the camera so damn much.
The technology was used to its full extent by adding a lot of depth to scenes and having the giant fighting robots brought right to the forefront. Nothing ever felt too gimmicky or out of place, which I guess is the beauty of the PACE 3D cameras. They make things pretty.
How Best to Enjoy this Movie
See it in 3D; turn off the critical/analytical part of your brain; sit close; enjoy the action. If you’re willing to give yourself over to this movie, you’re bound to be entertained. Which is more than I got from the rest of this summer’s lineup thus far.
But where Did Megan Fox go?
Shut the fuck up.
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[Insert MC Hammer Joke]
At this point in time, releasing a Thor movie runs into two giant problems: there needs to be an origin film and we’ve seen those a thousand times before; and this origin story is the kind of high fantasy stuff that makes most moviegoers glaze over.
These two problems then create one giant problem: This film is fucking boring.
But, y’know what? I’m okay with that. Because Kenneth Branagh, in all his understanding of the techniques of archetypal storytelling, did the best he could to make it kick some serious ass.
It honestly seems that, by choosing Branagh to direct, they were for once focusing more on the story than on the shit blowing up. Which is impressive,, because it usually seems to be the reciprocate. Let the noise tell the story, let the plot fill in the gaps; whereas, in Thor, the story is king and the action is ancillary.
The reasoning for this, I’ve gathered, is that this is the latest in a number of origin films. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern later this summer, Captain America later this Summer, Daredevil, Iron Man–you get it.
Thor is late to the party and, as a result, we’ve all seen the fallen hero turned stronger hero story before.
So it has to be really really good to keep our attention at all. Otherwise we’ll lapse into thinking about how awesome Spiderman was as mind trails off and away from the film.
Thor attempts to reach this level of “really good,” but it falls just short–hence the middling reviews of a lot of people.*
* – Walking into the theater, I heard a little boy coming out exclaim “THAT WAS AWESOME DAD!!” Walking out of the theater, I heard a 20-something dude on the phone someone, “That was awful.”
So View Thor Less Like A Film and More Like a Pilot Episode…
Given the move toward focusing less on a single film and focusing more on a franchise, movies with built in fan bases are now looking far into the future and what they can do with the story.
But in order to get you there, you have to start somewhere, as with any television series.
And pilot episodes, against the rest of the series, usually suck. But they set a lot of things up for future episodes/films, and that’s what they’re really there for.
We are here to see Thor stop being a total dickslap and start becoming Thor, the humble protector of humans. Just as we were there to see Spiderman stop being such a pussy. And to see Batman learn how to channel his sociopathy in a helpful way.
With that in mind, then, this film succeeds. It is the pilot episode for both Thor ad infinitum as well as for the Avengers movie coming in 2012.
…and Just Enjoy the 3D.
The 3D in this movie is killer–and worth the ticket price alone of the final credit sequence. I really like 3D when it works on a purely “making things seem fucking huge” level (cf. Up, the dildoes in Jackass3D), and Thor uses this technology like that to a T.
But if you’re looking for swords and things to fly out at you, don’t get the 3D ticket. There’s not much of that stuff going on. And I figure only people studying Freud are really interested in it given that you’re basically pushing a giant phallus into the viewer’s face. But I digress.
So Now Then.
Yea, the movie works on several different levels, and it consciously makes an effort to keep it from being boring, but, at the same time, I couldn’t help but nod off at times.
And I got the feeling that everyone else there felt the same way because most of the theater (save the ones who know to wait til the end of the credits on Marvel movies–you get rewarded, don’t worry) rushed out and were trying their best to immediately get on with their lives.
Which sucks because some of the best 3D in this film comes during those end credits. And having people wandering in front of you is annoying.
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This movie starts off awfully slow.
And this isn’t a bad thing.
See, in a character-driven action film, you need to develop the characters before you can get into the action. It’s why one precedes the other.
The film starts off in an arctic forest, with Saoirse (Sur-Shuh [thanks IMDB!]) Ronan hunting down an elk–tracking it through the trees, shooting it with an arrow, then chasing it down to make sure it dies in the snow.
When she reaches the animal and sees it’s still alive, she looks at it and says, “I just missed your heart.”
Then pulls out a gun and shoots the damn thing. Cue title card: HANNA.
As she’s degutting the animal, Eric Bana’s character, Erik Heller, sneaks up behind her and proclaims, “You’re dead.”
She attacks him, nearly snapping his neck, then is forced to drag the animal back all by herself.
When they get back to the cabin, you begin to realize just how truly isolated her life is. No electricity, no heat except for the fire, no culture.
The latter one is key because that’s what the film is truly about. Hanna’s mission is to kill Marissa Viegler. But what she wasn’t prepared for was actual, y’know, human interaction. She’s been trained to kill, not to be cordial.
It’s when they decide to flip the switch and allow her to come find them that the movie really kicks into high gear.
See, what’s really interesting is the way that they made Ronan look as albino as possible. They died her hair and eyebrows platinum blonde, kept her skin as white as possible, helping her to almost merge and become opaque in the forest. Because the forest is home and she has adapted to it. But the entire Earth is not an Arctic Forest.
So when she escapes from a military base, and emerges into the desert, it’s an incredible shock because, now, for the first time, she is out of her element. Against the desert backdrop, dressed all in orange, she stands out. Imagine seeing a polar bear in the desert. It’s like that.
From that point on, she is constantly dealing with trying to figure out how to deal with civilians who don’t, for once, want to kill her.
At this point, the family she hitchhikes across Morocco with is introduced–as well as her first friend, a British girl named Sophie who is obsessed with everything an actual 15-year-old girl should be obsessed with (boys, pop culture, makeup, clothes, parents being crazy).
When we first meet her, she begins to go off on a tangent about how “It’s okay if you can’t speak English. MIA couldn’t speak English til she was 8. And now she’s a huge pop star. So it’s okay if you can’t speak English.”
She, Sophie, tends to steal every scene she’s in simply because of how funny she is.
And so does her younger brother Max.
And her parents.
In fact, what’s mind blowing is that the entire family that she hitchhikes with isn’t simply there to get the plot forward, they’re fully developed characters with quirks, quiet problems, and happy moments.
The whole subplot about this family could’ve been glossed over as having them simply there as plot devices but, instead, they get just as much attention as everyone else, and even get dragged into it. They not only move our main character both physically and emotionally, they propel the film itself into the third act.
But the Action–And the Chemical Brothers–Steal the Show…
Quite honestly, I could write a 1,000 words simply on the characters in this film and how well acted and well written and well directed they are.
About how Cate Blanchett is shown cleaning her teeth to the point of bleeding to show just how exacting and perfect she requires everything to be.
About how Eric Bana wants desperately to be a good father in spite of all the secrets, the murder, and the general ephemera that comes with being an international spy on the lam.
But what I want to really, really, talk about are the action sequences. I can’t remember the last film I saw that used its sets and its lighting and its camera work to so well contextualize or stylize the beatdowns.
Choreographing fight scenes seems to have fallen to the wayside in favor, most of the time, of putting the camera super close and shoving each other around.
(Aside: This is another reason why I think Fast Five was getting such good reviews. The action sequences kick some serious, serious, ass without being confusing)
Instead, here, the choreography of the fight scenes is built around flashing lights, dark hallways, pillars, and the Chemical Brothers.
In one sequence, done in one long SteadiCam shot, Erik gets off a bus, walks through the bus terminal, the camera gliding around and revealing the danger lurking behind each corner, then down escalator and into a pillar-filled underground station, kills about five people, then runs off. Seriously. It’s one long take. It’s fucking incredible the way that they were able to choreograph buses, traffic, pedestrians, a subway station, five deaths, and a walkie talkie conversation into one single take.
And then there’s the Chemical Brothers.
They did what I was hoping Daft Punk would do with Tron Legacy–make a score so loud and ass kicking that I just had to see it a second time.
Because I have to admit that, yea, the score was probably the biggest reason I saw this film a second time.
What’s incredibly interesting about it, too, is that their bass-thumping rave-score is built out of really interesting diegetic soundscapes. The songs start and end, and get heightened, by the sound design of the action sequence. Gun shots occur on beat. Foot steps nearly in rhythm. They are building the score out of the existing sounds in the scene and, as a result, does a lot in helping express just how Hanna’s senses are adapting to these incredibly new surroundings.
And I think that’s what I like about using electronica/house music as a score. It’s always been a musical genre that felt like it needed some kind of an accompaniment. Dancing, ecstasy, what have you. It’s not the type of music you can sit and simply listen to.
The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk have proven that film, too, is a great accompaniment to the generally grating 9-minute songs of “thump thump thump ‘Get your ass on the floor!’ thump thump thump thump.”
Ok, Let’s Try to Wrap this Goddamn Thing Up
When Joe Wright released Atonement, I was incredibly disappointed. It seemed like it was gonna be really good. But it wasn’t. The characters were superb, but the movie was overall forgettable.
But, with this film, you can bet your ass I’ll be in the seat for his next film.
There’s way, way more about this movie that I could talk about (The scene of Terry Gilliam-like “madness of the mundane;” the ending; the plot twists, etc), but, y’know, I really try to keep these things to about 1,000 words or less, so maybe when the DVD comes out there will be a part 2, and we can really dig in to just how layered and fantastic this movie is.
Not related to Meek’s Cutoff; Related to my short film
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Be forewarned that I deal heavily with the ending, the story arc, and what it implies meaning, “Y’ar, thar be spoilers ahead.” But see this movie… But take a No Doz beforehand if you have a short attention span.
I saw this movie last Friday and I’ve been flummoxed ever since.
The way it begins with water and ends without it. The way it begins without any traditional setup–including how Meek convinced them to follow him–and ends without any conclusion.
See, this film’s “problem” is that the outward plot and conventional beats of storytelling openly defy what is actually going on. This is because conventional beats imply the destiny of characters. As Kate Stables wrote in her review, “”What’s manifest in Meek’s Cutoff isn’t destiny, but the difficulty of gauging truth, whether it concerns what’s over the hill, or within a human heart.” In other words, what we should be waiting for isn’t the destination, but the decision as to what the destination will ultimately be–water or death.
When Michelle Williams’s character, Emily, makes the decision to convince everyone else that the Indian knows what he’s talking about, she has figured out that the Indian is the only one, anymore, who may even possibly know where water is, so when he begins to signal and speak in Nez Perce that’s unsubtitled, she tells everyone what she believes she’s hearing.
And not in a suddenly-clairvoyant way where she finally truly understands what he’s saying but in a “He’s gotta be saying this, for the love of God” kind of way. It’s her final act of desperation to save this group.
The viewer, though, isn’t privy as to whether or not this final act of desperation yields them any luck.
At this point, I’m pretty sure watching everyone die would be really disappointing.
Destiny and Gauging Truth
While the men are tending to destiny, the women are left to be the quiet jurors. The women can’t speak openly with the men about the plight of having no water and being lost and “what the fuck are we supposed to do with this Indian who’s just as lost as us?” but they can speak quietly, by making broken, elliptical statements to their husbands in such a way that guides them without being subordinate. The last thing anyone wants is a fight of any kind.
As a result, this movie exists in a weird juxtaposition in which the outward plot and conventional beats are pointing us toward destiny while the inner workings and the quiet force of the women is truly taking us where we want to go.
The film itself is within every single detail of what these people are doing on this trail. It is built to request the empathy of the viewer, only to have any emotions toward these characters pummeled by the irresolute ending.
Just as their wagons are built to get them across the country, this movie is built to get us from water to water… Only, just like the characters and one of the wagons, we don’t quite ever make it.
The Viewing Experience
The focus of a film isn’t on its broader story but on its intricate parts and, as a result, takes its time.
In order to better to pull the viewer into these intricacies, Meek’s Cutoff is shot using the old “Academy Ratio,” or 4:3, or square like televisions older than HD.
To Director Kelly Reichardt, “It gives you this foreground: you get the height over the mountains and the sky. But it also worked for the vision that the women have in their bonnets, this lack of peripheral vision and this straight-ahead, no-nonsense perspective. And then also if you’re traveling seven to twelve miles a day, and you have widescreen, it’s like, ‘There’s tomorrow! I can see it in the screen! And there’s yesterday!’ So this was a way of keeping you locked in the moment and not getting ahead of where the emigrants were. I think that helped build tension, because you could not see what was around the next corner.”
What is interesting about using this aspect ratio is that it enhances the area which our eyes are drawn to in the sense that our characters remain in the center of the screen the entire time since there’s really no left or right third of the screen.
Reaction to the Ending
When I went to see this film, the ending was the part that made the entire theater groan and say “That’s it?” Then the middle aged couples continue to talk about it during the credits.
But while everyone else was asking “Where’s the rest of it?” I was left asking “Why?”
Because it’s a complete film, it just doesn’t feel complete. It feels like it blacks out right before the third act.
From Emily’s perspective, the story begins at the river and when she’s convinced she’s found it again.
And so, since the story of the women is done before the story of their destiny, the movie ends without resolution.
One Last Thing
The Indian in this film speaks no English, only Nez Perce (I stayed through the credits to find out what language it was). And it isn’t subtitled.
I’ve always felt that subtitling words that the main characters don’t understand cheapens the experience for the viewer. We’ve come far along on this journey with them and, now, you’re giving us more information than them for the first time. The biggest offender of this is the film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated. Elijah Wood’s character is only understanding what Alex is telling him and yet the viewer has subtitles to make sure every word is understood.
So, to me, this was a gutsy move driven by the story. But I can understand if it’s frustrating. I’d like as much as anyone else to know just what the hell he was actually saying.
But that’ll probably have to wait until the DVD.