Monday, July 19, 2010

Twilight Saga: Eclipse with a grip-load of spoilers and disturbing images

Directed by David Slade. Released 2010. Rated PG-13.

If you wanted to see this movie you probably have already. If you haven’t, you didn’t want to anyway. That established, I am going to spoil this movie as much as possible.

First, let me assure you that I am as disturbed by the frequency of children’s movies in my reviews as you are. This next one straddles the line between the grown-up and children’s genres, and should probably have its own category. I’ll call it the Woman-Child’s genre. This genre reflects the dreams of women while retaining unrealistic views that can only be called childish.

In case you’re worried I’m being sexist, there is a Man-Child genre. These films are mostly action, though. Like Die Hard 4, or The Losers. The unrealistic points of view in Man-Child movies are mainly awesome to watch,

and don’t make you uncomfortable like Woman-Child movies do.

(Like walking in on your mom....)

So, here we have an interesting specimen of Woman-Child cinema: Twilight Eclipse. It’s a new sort of woman’s movie that is dark without being lesbian-feminist, yet still so estrogenially driven that only women can stare into directly…like the title hints at.

And that’s why I had to watch it at a drive-in. Watching a movie like this is like being locked in a car while an incontinent Pepe LePew has his way with a futily-resisting cat. Watching it at a drive-in is nearly the same, but with your head refreshingly out of the window.

(Just another reason why Smell-o-Vision would be a terrible idea)

But let’s get to the gritty. Eclipse has a story! Or something very close to it. I have suspicions that Eclipse is two stories, but the interesting one is not only told by secondary characters, but has almost no impact on the main characters.

We all know that Bella and Edward are simply made for each other, right? And we all know that it’s Jacob who really deserves her, but she’s, like, too conflicted over her relationship with Edward, right? Good, because this movie is nothing like hearing about it for two hours.

Except that Bella is really only leading Jacob on for her own selfish means. And not only Jacob, but his entire tribe of Indians. On top of that, she never lets Edward into the know. Does this make her a bad person? What part of it doesn’t? Whatever. There’s cooler stuff going on, while this is unfolding.

There is a vampire that is pissed at Bella from the first movie. This vampire is raising an army of vampires to kill Bella. Bella’s house-trained vampires hear about it, via equal parts obvious news reports and clairvoyance. They immediately and unquestioningly step up to the table, putting all their lives down. They are naturally worried that this army of super vampires could be dangerous to their six-man team.

(I don't see why people so fashionably dressed would worry about anything)

Selflessly, Bella enlists the services of the were-wolf tribe Jacob is from. She has some few concerns that are all silenced when she reasons: “But this is for my protection.” It’s never talked about it again, and she never talks to any of the fighters ever again.

This is probably shy of the half way point. After here we just see poorly delivered line after poorly delivered line from both good and bad guys, along with different training sequences. Bella exemplifies Triflin’ brand Ho behavior, and Edward proposes. She accepts and then lets Jacob rub up on her in front of Edward for an entire night without ever acknowledging that it might be awkward. Then she makes out with Jacob the next morning. Honestly, if Jacob could just shut up about trying to be alpha male he could bank on a piece of that triflin’ booty being available every time Edward left the house. Or, apparently, whenever Bella was in the mood.

(Edward is just overreacting. This is part of the uniform for milkmen now a days)

We get some more back story on some other vampires. It's kinda fun, but like I said, Bella couldn’t care less. Then the war happens. You may hear some bad things about the war, but it was ok. Arms were being torn off, heads were snapped, and giant wolves were eating people. Of course, the main characters were pretty safe and far away. Only the two most important bad guys break free and make their way to Bella so we can tie the two stories together.

Everything turns out ok. Bella even cuts herself to distract the bad vampires so she doesn’t have to see Edward’s head broken. I say “even” because Bella actually did something for someone else, not because I think it made the movie better. I think we can all agree killing Edward would only simplify things and lead to a happier ending for everyone.

But she never apologizes for risking everyone’s lives, never apologizes for cheating on Edward in front of him, and actually insists that she becomes a vampire for the lifestyle, not because she loves Edward. In fact, she makes it sound like he is simply convenient.

For some reason, Jacob gets mangled by a stray enemy in one of the last sequences. I think it was an excuse for the doctor vampire to do good deeds to werewolves, but, like everything else poignant in this movie, it has no moral effect on Bella.

So there you have it. I couldn’t say anything more. If you aren’t getting turned on by Jacob’s abs, there is no reason to watch this. Don’t let anyone tell you that they like it for the story. They like it because they want to be immaculate whores.

(She may have the name, but she don't look like Mother Mary)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Released 2010. Rated G.

How does a movie like this end up being a wonderful children’s movie? How does someone write a children’s movie about death, abandonment, elderly-care, and religious questioning with never actually using the terms associated to them?
Actually, a few people in the after-movie discussion were a little irritated that I would take the movie that far from its target (five-year-old) audience. Let’s see if I can break it down.

Andy is the owner of a small band of desperately loyal toys, all of whom wear his name on their bodies. It would be perfect for these toys, who value nothing more than being played with by their kid, except their kid is not a kid any more. He’s seventeen and pretty much done with toys. The beginning of the movie is a slow paced kick in your mortality. You will get old, people will leave you, and when that time comes it’s either wait to die or take the quick road. In fact, many of the familiar faces from the first two movies have already found their way out of Andy’s life.

(Bo Peep is definitely not in this movie)

At this point, you only have a few thoughts to keep you afloat: an unknown future (which could be bright. Possibly. Maybe.), or the “at least we still have each other” mentality. Neither thought seems very buoyant; after all, Andy didn’t care about tossing their friends, and what’s keeping them together if not faith in Andy?

See how that word faith found its way in here? Keep it in mind.

That’s as far as I’ll take the synopsis. You should already know most of that just from the first trailers. It was hard to watch with those themes in mind, but the movie doesn’t keep you in agony for long. Soon we’re back to enjoying toys in action, with all of their caper-like stylized action. So what’s new? Naturally, a few new characters, a new world to explore, that sort of thing. While the toys have had to deal with misfortune and human wickedness before, this time they have to deal with it from other toys. This new dynamic lets light in on the toy moral ethic and many of the driving forces in their lives. It helps the audience question their own methods. Or not. Sometimes it’s just fun to chuckle at the simple life of a toy.

Can anyone actually tell me if the visuals are actually getting better? I swear, in 1995 the characters looked perfectly in their element. They still do and I can’t tell if they were just perfect the first time or if Pixar just effortlessly keeps up with the pace so easily that they won the gold while jogging.

It’s interesting to relate toys to the abandoned parents of children, but that seems to be how Toy Story has always taken itself. They stay with a child, a child they love more than anything, and they stay until the child is grown up and can make do without them. Then the kid has to do SOMETHING with his poor care givers. Donate, attic, or trash. In this movie you can substitute those words with old folks home, your basement, or...trash. But a kid's gotta do something.

However, Toy Story 3 deepens that relationship into near worship. The dramatic question throughout the movie is “how can we return to Andy,” but just behind that question is the question that was asked before they were separated, “does Andy care?”

While some toys are set on making their own fortune and cutting their losses, others, like Woody, are constantly urging the toys to just stay together and stay as close to Andy as they can; someday he may need them, and, if not Andy, maybe his children. It is the faithful waiting game; there is no guarantee, barely a promise and no future vision. Why bother? Just have faith.

In a climactic moment, disaster seems eminent, one faithless character asks the ironically religious question, “Where’s your boy, now?” Personally, I use the root phrase of that as often as possible.

In conjunction with this movie, it’s impossible to not see its religious connotations. I shouldn’t really go into detail about what happens next, but I think it is a very honest way to look at faith in reality.

When all is said and done, the movie is a blast, even if you don’t care for its theological themes. All of the characters the movie retains are more fleshed out than ever. After the previous films it’s obvious that these toys are old hands at working together and getting out of situations, so their caper-style antics are at their best. The Potato Heads have some of the absolute funniest scenes and gimmicks as it turns out that their mix-and-matchable parts can connect to other things than their bodies.

(This is not one of those moments)

Definitely a high rating. 3-D was good because it wasn’t intrusive, but I’m not sure it was necessary. I’ll tell you what, though. You better watch it 3-D just so no one can see you cry behind the dark shades at all the sad parts.

(You'd never guess he just shot his woman...and then watched Toy Story 3)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Adapted from the graphic novel. Released 2010. Rated R.

Honor, Courage, Maturity, Idealism, Love, and the importance of Fatherhood: these are the unspoken key-words in of Kick-Ass. Another list of its contents might be gratuitous Stylized Violence, an abundance of Teen Sex, a contradictory Disregard for Life, and a lot of Heart. Or laughs. I probably laughed more. Yeah, definitely a laughing movie.

And, Oh! The things we laughed at! I’ve been entertained, or awed, by senseless violence before, Watchmen and any number of Tarantino movies come to mind, but to say I’ve been delighted by violence before—well, that’s just something I haven’t said until now. I was disturbed to be delighted by a thirteen year old girl playing an eleven year old and killing mobsters in the most gangster-ninja ways I’ve ever seen. I’m also a little disturbed to have to mention my infatuation with the youngest actresses in two reviews in a month. American directors must be learning something from the Chinese Olympic coaches, and I’m all for it.

Actually, I’m a little torn. The first list of Kick-Ass’ virtues carry out the best themes of the movie, but the follow-ups on each are less than clear. Let’s review--
Kick-Ass is the story of high-school student nobody, Dave Lizewski, in the mean streets of New York, tackling crime as a homemade superhero. Acting on principles born of comic books, he inspires the city via YouTube and Myspace. This makes him the most up to date hero yet. Of course, things get out of hand. It’s a movie after all. Hilariously, his alter-ego includes confusion on sexual orientation, but that should be the least of his worries as the mobsters he faces get badder and badder.

What we have to deal with is the psychological cost of all of these choices. Is it worth it to be inspiring and effective if it also means to be as ruthless as the bad guys? This question is barely addressed by the characters, but it stares the audience in the face more than once. You’d think a movie based on comic book morals would address this age-old question. Maybe that’s why it didn’t, but it felt like the movie transitioned from a story about courage to simply a story about power. We never question the characters with power; we are simply impressed by it. Even the bad guys have enough charming moments that we only root for the good guys because they seem to care more about each other.

Now, the movie does briefly give a reason for why it abandons its high ideals. Without revealing too much, our hero discovers something that is more valuable to him than simply following his dreams. It’s a bold message and an interesting one in a genre that mostly values naïve idealism and dream-following supremely. However, Kick-Ass only mentions it in passing and is swallowed up in more questionable themes.

All in all, it was a very fun movie to watch. If it wasn’t for the unnecessary sexuality that could’ve been replaced with more superhero fun, and the moral basis it abandoned, I’d give it 4 stars. As is, it’s probably just a 2.5. But we don’t need to look at it as a movie that loses points for being shallow; we can look at it as a movie that murders its way to our hearts.

The 'R' is well deserved, so don't bring your kids. That is so obnoxious.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Adapted by Cressida Cowell and Dean DeBlois from the novel How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Released 2010. Rated PG.

If Norse Vikings speaking in Scottish accents is a sin then I will be sure to wear my tartan to hell. But who can blame DeBlois or Sanders for making this decision? Vikings just look like Scotsmen. On top of this, the Vikings had what Scotsmen are always trying to get: Their Freedom!

Oh, and they have one other thing: the most realistic cartoon dragons you’ll ever see. How to Train Your Dragon was one of the best looking animations I have ever seen. On the people, you’ll spend most of your time looking at hair and clothes. The textures are tangible. On the dragons, it goes much deeper.

You know how babies will pick up anything they see and try to eat it? Or have you ever seen something and just wanted to touch it? I was resisting the urge this entire movie. The dragons looked like layered scales and muscle. Their scaly skin stretched, scrunched, and folded like real reptiles. I wished my pet turtle was still alive so I could name him Toothless, after the leading dragon. But my turtle would fit the name better, for reasons you’ll see in the movie.

How to Train Your Dragon is a contemporary take on romanticized Viking life. “It snows nine months of the year and hails the other three. All the food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people, more so,” says the sarcastic hero of the story, Hiccup. He happens to be the skinniest, least war-like Viking that has ever lived. His dad happens to be the opposite, and the Chief. Neither of them is very impressed with our hero when occasional dragon outbreaks occur and the only thing Hiccup can do is help the gimpy weapon smith. But when Hiccup secretly befriends a rare and dangerous dragon his opinions change.


It may not be the most original story line, it may not even resemble the novel it’s based off of, but if you don’t enjoy the plot then you must not have liked E.T. and in my book, that lands you in the same fiery hole as the Pagan Scots.

The movie deals with a vast array of themes starting humanism, flirting with pacifism, dwelling on familial acceptance and then thinking twice, following in Dreamworks’ pattern of producing higher level family entertainment (ignoring Madagascar). If our hero isn’t as bloodthirsty as his neighbors are, don’t think that Greenpeace made it, either. Action is very present and when its not, sarcastic and clever characters are. The audience, at any age, shouldn't be bored.

I didn’t see this movie in 3-D. Alice in Wonderland and Up had scarred me. I regretted my decision the entire movie. The parts that were obviously 3-D would have been really cool and the parts that weren’t were so crisp that I don’t think 3-D would’ve ruined it.

Basically, this is a fantastic movie that everyone on your phone list would enjoy. Rated PG because it's just too good to be restrained by just one letter.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton. Adapted from Lewis Carroll by Linda Woolverton. Released 2010. Rated PG.

I am amazed that Alice in Wonderland can still pull in a crowd. It is a drug-induced story by a man who may or may not have had a pedophiliac relationship with the title character. Yet, Lewis Carroll’s (or Charles Dodgson’s, if you will) unfathomable imagination and lyrical nonsense have intrigued readers and audiences for over a hundred years. However, now we are in an age of story-telling that has minimized lyricism and emphasized visuals. We are left with the nightmarish characters of an imagination that transfers poorly to realism. Who better than Tim Burton, right? Well, hold on to your popcorn, he actually did a decent job. Despite his reputation for surrealism, Burton delivers the safest image of Wonderland yet. It may not be the most canonical, but he’s done Disney proud. At least he’s done Disney a new money trophy.

Oh, Tim Burton. At first, I forgot that he was the director. London seemed so sterile. It all came crashing back to me when Alice started her tumble down the rabbit hole. The next blazing paced sequence dropped her into a dark world of prophecy and violence, complete with grotesque, classical faerie-tale maiming. But then it was over. Tim Burton put a reign on his imagination and never beat you in the head with his stylistic choices again, even in other dangerous moments.

But watch this movie in 2-D. Of course the trend is fun to be a part of, but 3-D actually detracts from this movie. Sure, the Caterpillar’s hooka smoke looks cool, and sure the Cheshire Cat has some novel perspective, but Burton’s framing is wasted if you spend the entire movie hoping for the depth of Avatar. Most every shot is brilliantly composed from left to right. I would take off my glasses and revel in the color schemes and placements. Then I would put the glasses back on and gaze at the emphasized depth of Helena Bonham Carter’s forehead. Not worth it.

In fact, color choice was a trend that I couldn't get over. In the beginning, Alice is in London and grudgingly attends a well-to-do. Everyone at the party is wearing white with dull, earthy tones like brown, tan, or occasional subdued gold. Alice, on the other hand, is wearing sky blue. Obviously, Alice has differing values from the other guests, except for her sister, who also wears blue even though she seems to be at home with everyone else. Nothing extraordinary except that Burton’s choices are always so blatant that he makes it part of some caricature that only he seems to fully comprehend.

Most are color themes are easy to grasp. The Red, violent, and passionate queen is the villain and the White, serene, and liberal queen is the side of justice. What I couldn't figure out was the connection between the White party in London and the White kingdom in Wonderland.

For being such a blockbuster, Alice has a surprisingly unmotivated plot. This fits the world of Wonderland, but sits unevenly with the epic atmosphere that Tim Burton attempts to create. Alice is thrown from situation to situation, all very exciting, but she barely lifts a finger in her own self interest. Things just happen to Alice, who allows it because she knows it’s "her dream" and nothing more.

She struggles each step of the way with her own integrity. Her mother wants her to be this, the rabbit wants her to be that. In response, the Hatter, Johnny Depp, says that Alice has lost her "muchness." "Why is it that you are always too small or too big?" These concepts culminate well with the climax, but it leaves the journey rather tasteless.

How serious should this be taken? Does Alice care? Do we? Add to this the necessary element of every character being more than half-crazy, and it seems like random elements simply lead to a fated outcome rather than one that Alice actually reasoned out. Which is both contradictory with, and discussed in, the plot.

Johnny Depp may have been a good choice for a Mad Hatter, but he was more distracting than entertaining since Linda Woolverton, the screen writer, had to spend so much time on him make him into a sympathetic character. I never wanted to buy it for a minute. The make-up artists blacked a gap in his teeth that never convinced, and the whistle he tried to affect for it only sounded like an inconsistent lisp. The tirades of Scottish brogue and stifled whisper never got a chuckle out of me, or the audience I was sitting with.

Now, Mia Wasikowska, Alice, had some interesting parts. We all saw that she ends up with a sword from the trailers, right? Well, she knew how to use it. Better than Depp knew how to use his. Most of her exultant moments surround the ending when she exemplified boldness and endeavor. When she was simply a bemused face, tripping through Wonderland she was typically boring, but I was more than satisfied to see her get her ire up. Backing up Wasikowska's performance of Alice was Mairi Ella Challen as the 6 year old Alice. She was so charming that I spend a lot of time wishing the movie was about her than the 19 year old Alice.

The rest of the cast did their jobs well. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway absolutely sealed their parts, though the characters were not equal. Even the bizarrely enhanced toadies of the Red Queen felt entirely at home, though Crispin Glover's CG enhancements as Stayne were jerky at times. My personal favorites were the slimy servants of the Red Queen: the deep, bass voiced frogs and slithery fish.

I’m not a big Wonderland fan, and I left not quite satisfied in the entire experience, but very content with the conclusion. I'd say rent not buy, and if you really want the theater experience, watch the 2-D version.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green Zone

Directed by Paul Greengrass. Released 2010. Inspired by Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Rated R.

Takes place in Iraq 2003. America has invaded, Sadaam has fled, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction have yet to be found. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is tired of risking the lives himself and his soldiers on possible WMD locations without any payoff. The source for the reported WMD locations is a mysterious third party known as Magellan, but who can account for him?

The dramatic questions are "Who is Magellan," "Where are the WMD's," and "Why is this movie being released so late?" Honestly, hardly anyone is seriously asking whether or not WMDs were there anymore, for whatever reason. These questions were vocally asked a number of times throughout the movie, and it really was unnecessary. This movie didn't only feel untimely, but it felt like an antique. "Don't be naive" was another well worn cliche this movie threw around thanks to the stereotypical reporter character who would do anything just to get a story.

Granted, when Chandrasekaran wrote his book this topic was much more intriguing, being 2006. However, his book was not about international intrigue and government secrets, but was a nonfictional account of life in the Green Zone of Iraq and tried to deal with the facts as unbiasedly as can be reported. The movie is entirely fictitious and has only one character who is even interested in just trying to live life in Baghdad, though several characters were based on real people.

Green Zone is a tired story and plot that was slapped on a recent conspiracy theory and toted as a thriller. Not only was the plot tired and boring, but the action didn't deliver either. While there were tense fight scenes they were overshadowed by the hand-held cameras and very low lighting choices. In fact, I spent a good portion of the movie squinting and hoping I didn't miss what happened. Politely, the movie makers usually had clarifying shots to help ensure that the audience saw what they needed to. Similarly, the complicated character twists were clarified by plainly restating every discovery that was made, thus ensuring that the film left no room for speculation or audience participation. Or audience interest.

Green Zone's best qualities were the talents found in Matt Damon and Khalid Abdalla. Khalid Abdalla played an everyday, local Iraqi man mostly referred to a Freddy. Though not nearly as established an actor as Damon, Abdalla easily surpassed the rest of the cast as the only sympathetic character in the show. While Damon's conscientious role as Miller carried the moving parts of the movie, Abdalla's helpless but justified role was the moral message the movie tried to portray. Sadly, it is mostly run over by the bigger political players in the plot.

In the end, the movie delivered very little that would inspire anyone who wasn't already aware that everyday Iraqis are not terrorists and that America isn't telling everything it knows. The cinematography was interesting, but also very obvious, and the story gave us so little to be excited by and so much to be insulted by. I'm looking at that journalist character again.

Rated R, as I see it, for some language and unexplicit, but severe violence.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pixar's Up

Written and Directed by Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson. Released 2009. Rated PG.

This review has been a long time coming. It will difficult to express without revealing the entire movie, but I will try my best.

I like Pixar and I like fantasy-flying adventures. You can guess that I was immensely excited when I saw the trailers. Then I saw more trailers as the movie release date got closer. Then I heard that it would be a 3-D movie. My hopes plummeted. Nothing like a gimmick to underscore the value of story. But I went and saw it in the theater and even wore the bulky glasses.

I was entranced for the first ten minutes. I was surprised but not disappointed to be intensely absorbed into the childhood drama of exploration and friendship not at all set in the fantastic. I was touched as I watched the friendship grow into romance. I wallowed in bitter-sweet sorrow as I saw the couple remain together through crushed expectations and unfulfilled promises. I rejoiced in the animated ballet that carried the story. Then I saw a fat, little kid ruin everything for an hour and half.

This movie is divided against itself, not by plot holes, but by the nature. I’m going to say that the opening sequence is Movie A, and that the remaining time is Movie B. Movie A is artistic and touching at the deepest levels. Movie B is delivered by stereotypes and dog jokes. It simply can’t hold up against Movie A. Now, Movie B is still enjoyable. It’s funny, it has high-tension drama, and it has a solid buddy-picture mentality that develops nicely. However, everything that transpires in Movie B is shadowed by its relation to Movie A. The odd couple story in Movie B is almost in the face of Movie A’s relationship, the villain portrayed in Movie B ignores the significance that was associated with him in Movie A. Basically, everything special about the incredible Movie A is desecrated in Movie B. And I use the word ‘desecrate’ deliberately, as Movie A’s themes border the sacred in value.

The 3-D was enjoyable but for a few moments where it distracted. Rocks would fly out of the screen at you, but since they blocked my view of the flying house I was not appreciative. More than once I thought someone was walking in front of the screen to look for a seat.

If you don’t have a problem accepting the themes and morals this movie gives you, then it’ll be a favorite. However, if you’re like me and have definite opinions on the differing experiences, then you should probably just watch The Incredibles.