Category: Film

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Full disclosure: I have an aversion to apes. I simply don’t like them. I have never seen a Planet of the Apes film, so this is a new experience for me. In the age of The Simpsons it’s hard not to have a base familiarity with the series, though, so I think I knew enough going in to make a reasoned judgment.

I had a healthy scepticism for all of the early promos for this film. It wasn’t until the last trailer was released that I was willing to give it a chance. In the end, James Franco delivers on his promise with all of his limbs intact.

 

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger is a pretty good film. Technically the fifth in the Marvel universe that has been forged since 2008’s Iron Man, it is the chronological first. I would go so far as to say it’s the best one that they’ve offered yet, completely failing to pander to easy nationalistic pride while presenting a valid hero’s journey and allowing Chris Evans to create a character with some nuance and likability. Intensely stylish and pure of heart, Captain America: The First Avenger is surprising in many ways … except for its wholly and depressingly unnecessary subtitle.

Bad Teacher

The quadrant of America that rails against the “lamestream media” is the same that claims that the educational system is terrible, that kids don’t learn the important things, and that, because education is so bad, funding should be withdrawn from schools. Bad Teacher plays right into the fears of the “heartland”: teachers are apathetic morons and the only lessons that your children need are the filtered teachings of Jesus.

 

It’s not a good movie, and it’s hard to see who it’s designed to appeal to: it’s a dumb comedy with feigned bite, occasionally falling back on racism and homophobia to generate laughs. If you think that the implied erection of a grade school boy is hilarious, then this film is for you.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the Potter franchise ends not with a bang or a whimper, but unending fields of grey. Not shades of grey. Not grey to represent moral ambiguity. Just literal grey. No colour was used in the creation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
This is not to say that it’s a bad film (although it does have a bad title), For something that has been effectively ten years in the making, dragging seven films of baggage behind it, this is a movie that relies too heavily on the projections of its audience; David Yates has provided a near blank canvas upon which actors run through motions endowed only with the meaning that the audience chooses. Yates has forced us to do the heavy lifting, spending hundreds of millions of dollars without investing any of it in emotion or gravitas.

Directing With A Tintin Ear

I would dearly like to believe that Steven Spielberg isn’t a terrible person full of bad ideas, but being presented with the trailer for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a severe test of my faith. I’m no wholesale motion capture snob, but I don’t understand how Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg could look at what they’ve created and call it aesthetically pleasing.

There was very little point approaching a Tintin project this way. While the scenery looks okay, Hergésque, even, the animation and the character models are simply not up to standard. This level of work is only one step above the visual hellscape that was Mars Needs Moms, which is considered one of the biggest box office bombs of all time after inflation. If you look at the 50 second mark with Thompson and Thomson bumbling down the stairs, or the 1:50 mark where one of them hits the street light, it’s clear that Spielberg has no sense of animation. These characters are being clicked and dragged, and it’s not a good look.

Whoever decided that Snowy looked like a dog rather than a series of cotton buds needs to be fired, as well. It’s he and Tintin, rendered breathless by Jamie Bell, that get the worst of it all. Tintin, being the title character, needs to look less dumb. It’s too late for that. It was always going to be too late. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, intent on whittling away all of the good will that they’ve earned over the years, are uninspired thus far.

Next we have Captain Haddock, the most pleasing member of the bunch. He looks like Captain Haddock! Alas, he’s been rendered into a bumbling Scot. At this point in the Tintin mythos he’s a drunkard, but that’s not communicated here. Due to the inexplicable thick accent, the audience is forced to assume that his stupidity is directly related to his country of origin. I know that this isn’t strictly fair given that we’ve only got 2:24 to work with, but trailer cutters should know that first impressions count.

While I believe I will drag myself to see The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, I don’t hold out much hope for it. The sense of adventure might be pointing in the right direction, but the look and the sound are entirely wrong. Had Spielberg attempted to go all the way in either direction – live action and effects driven, or computer generated – he might have ended up with something worth looking at. Secret of the Unicorn is the movie of 2011 that I’m most likely to watch with my eyes closed.

Jack and Jill: Adam Sandler hates me and you and everyone we know

In Judd Apatow’s long and boring 2009 vanity project Funny People, Adam Sandler plays a successful comedian who made his fortune with a series of terrible and gimmicky comedies (a wizard has turned Adam Sandler into a baby! Only Justin Long can look after him!). In 2011, Funny People has come true.

Yes, Adam Sandler’s career has finally caught up with Rob Schneider’s. I never thought I’d see the day!

 

Making terrible movies is nothing new for Adam Sandler, but I think that Jack and Jill has to be a new low. It has to be, because I refuse to accept that he has made a movie worse than this one. I don’t make a habit of watching Adam Sandler movies and was burnt terribly by his last non-Apatow vehicle that I saw, so I’ll just keep on believing what I choose to believe.

 

Is there any way that Jack and Jill can be good? Adam Sandler plays himself and his twin sister, living in an idyllic and totally unsympathetic capitalist dystopia. Every single problem that the Sandlers face in this trailer can only be experienced by a stupidly rich person: “I hope my sister doesn’t ruin my pool by riding on a jet ski!” “I can’t believe Al Pacino is hitting on me court side at a Lakers game!” Even their apparent reconciliation, awkwardly shoe-horned  in the midst of the trailer, comes in the form of Double Dutch skipping on the $1.2 billion USD largest passenger ship ever built.

I know that the millions of families who go and see this movie will personally identify with the sickening bourgeoisie antics of Adam Sandler and Adam Sandler! If anyone recalls Macaulay Culkin’s Richie Rich from 1994, the entire concept was that Richie had so much money that he had no idea how to relate to society. A more “modern” example like Russell Brand’s remake of Arthur covers similar material, denouncing wealth while revelling in it.

The nightmare that the Sandlers live in with Katie Holmes is presented as if it is a wonderful life that can only be spoiled by outside influence. Humanity is presented as destructive to the American way of life, which is the right to own more than you could ever possibly need while systematically ignoring your family.

 

Of course, “none of this would matter” (it would) if the movie looked funny at all. It doesn’t. It has no capacity for laughs, existing only to bring further shame to Al Pacino, who I understand has made some good movies in his time … but that was so long ago I can’t remember. I can’t picture Katie Holmes and Adam Sandler having anything approaching chemistry, and the cute adopted child cribbed from Easy A is more than a little on the nose. I can’t wait for this movie to make billions and reinforce my total lack of confidence in the universe.

 

I’ve got one thing to say to you, Adam Sandler: Don’t Bring Me Down!

Norwegian Wood (film)

How I missed those loving arms

It’s easy to have bad ideas. One such idea was “Let’s make Norwegian Wood into a movie!”
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami’s breakout novel, has in my uninformed opinion influenced Japanese cinema culture in the 24 years since it was first published. The nostalgic student romance genre has been essentially perfected as an art by a long series of directors – some distinctive, some interchangeable, but many worthwhile.

The same can’t be said of Anh Hung Tran, who has taken only the bad lessons and excesses of so much student melodrama and fashioned them into a movie that is not only superficial, but deeply unsatisfying. I don’t see how anyone who has read the book could be pleased with this result but, more than that, it is a failure of the cinematic form. Dull and soporific when it isn’t being irritating and shrill, there’s nothing here to recommend.

Beginners

No one on this poster is this happy in the film itself.

Beginners is the sort of movie that I’m required by law to love, but I couldn’t. Emotional distance is a huge factor in too many contemprary movies: fundamentally broken characters who don’t care about fixing themselves, choosing instead to fixate on their moping don’t make for particularly interesting movies. This is not to say that you can’t make films about depression or depressed characters, just that, like any other film, you should work on making them engaging in at least some regard.

That Beginners tells such a personal story makes its distance unforgivable.

Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is recovering from the death of his four years out of the closet father Hal (Christopher Plummer).He meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent, who still hasn’t learned to pick them after Inglourious Basterds), an actress, and they kind of have a relationship but kind of don’t. The film features parallel story lines of the last months of Hal’s life and the beginning of Oliver and Anna’s relationship.

Mike Mills wrote Beginners in response to his own father’s coming out. You would think this would endow the movie with a degree of feeling, but it doesn’t. The whole exercise is remote. Oliver’s mother is represented in flashbacks reminiscent of Harold and Maude; Oliver tries to trace his melancholy to his parents’ presumed loveless marriage, but the answer is much simpler: he’s a sad sack, endlessly waiting for a lion.

It’s easy to blame your parents for everything, especially when you deliberately don’t seek parts of the story that make sense of their emotions and actions. The childhood flashback sequences of this movie don’t particularly prove anything except that Hal felt absent and Oliver misses his mother. These scenes are quirky but offer little. The film’s whole structure doesn’t make much sense; the parallels aren’t easy enough for us to draw, and what Oliver is doing always feels the same regardless of whether his father is alive or dead.

Periodically the film is broken up by Oliver’s illustrations of the history of sadness. These are for his job, where they prove profoundly unsaleable. They were drawn by Mills himself, and they seem too pithy to really reflect what is supposed to be fighting to release itself from Oliver. At other times the film tries to force collages of “these were the days”, utterly failing to set the scene and continuing to take the audience further and further away from the film and from Oliver himself.

Ultimately Oliver’s depression becomes the entire content of the film: that his father was gay and died seems incidental; that he can’t connect and commit to a potential girlfriend is symptomatic but irrelevant.  Depression can feel like your life has become a total blank, and largely meaningless to you. It can be frustrating. Oliver is undeniably frustrated; he can touch but he cannot feel. Mills has injected this melancholy into the very marrow of Beginners, resulting in a film that is bland and tasteless.

It’s disconcerting to feel this disconnect: dead and dying parents are supposed to be a safe way to get audiences to discover their emotions. Christopher Plummer attacks the role with gusto, but it’s always presented through the filter of Oliver. He is shown feeling grief, but we feel nothing. We’re given the memory of this grief, but it is the grief of a man looking at himself and thinking “where did I go wrong?”. I would dearly have liked to feel sad that Hal had died, but Mills never let me.

Any movie with a gay theme and a big name cast like this is going to get a special kind of attention from the outer limits of media. Beginners has been well received, and that’s the mystery: there’s really nothing to it. We’re bathing in misery which is only occasionally leavened by imagined subtitles from Oliver’s dog.

Beginners has nothing to say about romantic relationships, nor does it explore the particularly fascinating reality of a man finally allowing himself to be gay at 75.  A guy is sad, his father was happy. Guy continues to be sad, maybe thinks he shouldn’t be sad any more but he’s not sure.

You don’t have to like Beginners. It’s not really that good a film, tackling important and interesting issues in the least engaging way possible. Mike Mills was perfectly suited to make this film but he failed his material, gazing so far into his own navel that he disappeared into it.

Oscars 2011 Post-Mortem

For at least the past decade, the Oscars have been the same every year: a boring ceremony lacking in spectacle or pageantry that drags too long and ultimately disappoints. The excitement generated by the Oscars is never actually justified by the show that we end up with. It’s been the same for the longest time, and I can’t remember when it was last great. My most vivid Oscars memory is Billy Crystal’s intro to the movies of 1998, and my most violent Oscars protest was seeing Brokeback Mountain for a second time instead of watching the ceremony as a way of boycotting Crash (what an outrage).

 

But no, the Oscars are not a good show any more. We’re going to keep on doing it ad infinitum, and we’re going to find excuses for the severe lack of entertainment occurring. By the time we got to the In Memoriam phase of the evening, a lot of people on Twitter were saying that it should have contained “90% of the show” or at least James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Now, this isn’t fair. Franco and Hathaway did the best they could with what they were given, but the ceremony is so bloated that regardless of their performances people will just blame them for every shortcoming.

Observe Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin last year: a lot of people hated them, even though they were kinda funny. The identity of the host is mostly irrelevant, although some, like Jon Stewart, are undeniably worse than others. They simply don’t matter.

The hosts show up at the start of the show and introduce the evening, and then they occasionally come out just to remind you that they’re the hosts. Because they’re the sole focal point of the show (and this year they couldn’t even stick to their weird conceit of “let’s celebrate Gone With The Wind and stuff” beyond a few seconds), people focus on them. We blame Franco and Hathaway for the lack of momentum, for the rigidity of the system.

If we’re Ricky Gervais we somehow make it all about ourselves, writing a bizarre script suggesting that all of the jokes would be made at our own expense rather than talking about movies – a fine way of doing oneself absolutely no favours beyond the salvageable damage of the Golden Globes. One would think Gervais would be smart enough not to personally attack Franco and Hathaway, but … he’s not.

 

So let’s ignore the show. The show was boring, beyond a few key speeches. Let’s look at results!

 

Let’s just say it felt like a weird night. I didn’t make a lot of concrete predictions, but the only real upset was the romping home of The King’s Speech. Because The King’s Speech is both a late-2010 upstart and a British production, it’s been getting a lot of flack from people who think that it should have been roundly ignored. The Social Network had, of course, been the big favourite. That someone would dare make a film about the dreaded monarchy of the UK set in a time when the symbolism and power of the throne meant considerably more than it does today was an affront to steadfast and true American patriots and small r republicans the world over. The Nazi smear, popularised a couple of years back to throw the scent off Kate Winslet, proved ineffective.

While you should prepare yourself to weather a huge storm of backlash the likes of which have not been seen since Slumdog Millionaire, keep in mind The King’s Speech is actually a well crafted boutique or cottage film. I don’t mind it winning Best Picture, because this was a strong selection of ten and the movie was very good indeed. Firth definitely deserved his Best Actor nod, although it could just have easily found its way into Bridges’ hands. Many have railed against its direction, but I think that everything was perfectly measured. It’s not that strange a selection, but I would have expected Best Director to go to someone more flashy, like Aronofsky or, more likely, Fincher.

 

What went wrong with Fincher? I should make it clear that now The Social Network did not end up the winner I feel kind of sad for it. It had all of its hopes riding on it and it’s sad to see it punctured. It’s amazing what a difference 24 hours can make, but I’d like to see it again. Now that it doesn’t have the official overall backing of the Academy maybe I can appreciate it for what I always knew it to be: a well made movie about awful people that I thought was okay if nothing special (I’m listening to the Academy Award winning score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross right now and frankly it’s not doing that much for me). Poor kid.

At least Aaron Sorkin won his award, even if his source material for adaptation was surely very loose indeed.

 

The Fighter’s contingent was the obvious pairing of the rather boring Christian Bale and the ultra-mother Melissa Leo. Bale failed to surprise and the truest victory would have belonged to John Hawkes. Leo redeemed her dull if entertaining victory with the best speech of the night, because it’s always fun when someone forgets that American ears are too delicate to process profanity without opening a portal of sin and immorality in the mind. Leo’s speech almost justified a victory that should have gone to any one of the five in the field – although it would have been really nice to see Jacki Weaver take that stage. All of the clips that they showed for the other actresses were standard issue, but Weaver’s excerpt from Animal Kingdom was electric.

 

The Blackest Swan of them all was of course Natalie Portman, the most foregone conclusion of the entire event. I think that we won’t see a lot of performances like this one in attempts at Oscar bait simply because of the physical and emotional demands entailed. It would have been nice to see Nicole receive recognition for Rabbit Hole, but all of these actresses save Bening deserved the award, so I have no regrets.

 

The last film deserving of mention is, of course, Inception. It took away some technical awards and I guess you can’t say fairer than that. It was a movie of fine tuning and physical crafting.

 

The Oscars as a ceremony left me feeling empty, a sensation that I experience every year but conveniently allow myself to forget so that the magic of Oscar can live in my heart. The results, however, are not terrible. I can get behind these statues … and far away from school children singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

 

Oscars 2011: Woody’s Roundup

The Oscars! The one night of the year when everything is grand. This year they have corrected the error of having to scrounge to find ten Best Picture nominees to present a pretty good spread. I’m hoping for some upsets, because if everything plays out the way it has been going, I will be sorely disappointed. Let’s go into the hopefuls in the categories that I care and know about!