Wednesday, November 30, 2011

10(?) Best Things of November 2011

Yeah, not a lot of great things happened, so it has been reduced to six. Let's hope this doesn't happen during Christmas season.

1. Saints Row: The Third

If I had to think about it, this was probably my favorite video game of the year.

2. The Walking Dead, "Pretty Much Dead Already"

Holy crap. What an ending.

3. Batman: The Brave and the Bold series ends

"Mitefall!" was perfect final gift for comic book fans with a uplifting but still sad last scenes.

4. Snow White & the Huntsman trailer

Certainly looks better than the other Snow White film. Its LOTR-style and direction sold me on it.

5. Carlos on The Price Is Right

Carlos is one of my college friends and starred in my senior film. Seeing him on the television was a real treat, something I would like to see more often. Still, I don't understand why he guessed the price was for the spa. Good split though.

5. "Life's a Happy Song" from The Muppets

It wouldn't leave my head. A complete and total earworm.

My Tops of 2011 - November

IMMORTALS had some potential and showed it off thanks to Tarsem Singh's direction and framing, but the story and shallow characters set it back.

SUPER repeats the "real-life superheroes" trope to make a strangely effective black comedy with peculiar psychodrama scenes.

ROAD TO NOWHERE is certainly one of the art films of this year I will still be thinking about, trying to figure out its complex puzzles amid beautiful cinematography.

SEASON OF THE WITCH was a dull low-budget medieval action film with no tension and no acting from Nicholas Cage. Poor Ron Perlman.

THE LAST CIRCUS is what you receive when you mix history drama, Fellini-esque imagery, and the sensibilities of a Troma film. A definitively great original film.

ZOOKEEPER is a complete failure both as a romantic comedy and a babysitter film. No scene truly works and it wastes the considerable talents of people like Rosario Dawson.

THE MUPPETS is a true delight with its fun-filled songs and humor. However, too much 80's humor and a collapsing finale hurt it a bit.

THE DESCENDANTS is a truly horrible mess of everyone's talent. Insulting and unbearable, every actor in it should have a subtitle under their performances saying "Deserves Better".

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER was an obnoxious candy-coated kid's film with overblown performances and poop jokes. Bad, but I had worse.

PRIEST is one of those more worse films. A boring, dull patchwork of many better movies with much under or non-existent acting, except campy Karl Urban, and cinematography that is too dark to see anything.

TROLL HUNTER is probably the best of the found footage films this year. It is engaging, has a great lead performance, and feels and acts "real" despite its high fantasy concept. Too much car traveling footage, though.

RED STATE is a turgid mess and is much too shrill in its dark material to enjoy in any way. Too many slumming actors, including a charismatic but mumbling Michael Parks, and an ending that just slams on the brakes. Another horrible idea from Kevin Smith.

YOUR HIGHNESS was not funny, at all. The actors may have fitted their respective characters and the action stunt work is pretty good but not one of its jokes reached the smirk phase for me.

Best Films of 2011

1. Drive

2. Bridesmaids

3. Rango

4. The Tree of Life

5. Source Code

6. Super

7. Super 8

8. X-Men: First Class

9. The Last Circus

10. The Green Hornet

11. Paul

12. Thor

13. Fright Night

Worst Films of 2011

1. Passion Play

2. Zookeeper

3. Waiting For Forever

4. Mars Needs Moms

5. Red State

6. Battle: Los Angeles

7. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

9. Priest

10. Scream 4

11. Gnomeo and Juliet

12. Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

13. Season of the Witch

14. Rubber

15. The Descendants

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell - RIP

It has been reported that British avant-garde/controversial director Ken Russell has passed away. He will be missed.

Russell is now widely known for his extravagant imagery and excess in sensuality (Women in Love) and disturbing content (The Devils).

I haven't seen all of his films currently, including some of his most (in)famous (Altered States, Whore), but viewings of his work during my high school years certainly made me notice him. Tommy and The Lair of the White Worm were crazy, bizarre cult films that blew me away while his segment in the mixed bag Aria, set to "Nessun Dorma", was absolutely beautiful.

Even when one of his works was pretentious or a complete disaster, such as Valentino, I can never say that I wasn't entertained by his artfully gonzo auteurship. Truly a master of film and a great carnival barker.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Descendants - Review

I hate being insulted in the first minutes of a movie. No George Clooney's character Matt King, I have never seen Hawaii as only a paradise. I've always been aware that it is just another state and has problems just like everyone else. I'm not stupid nor have I been educated or believed of its "eternal peace and tranquility" by media myths and marketing. It is no Shangri-La. Hell, even people died inside that utopia.

THE DESCENDANTS is one of those films that make you so angry at the crew behind it, both for how manipulative and exploitative the film is and how much of the talent is wasted. This film was written by Alexander Payne, Nat Fixon, and Jim Rash. Payne has written and directed some great dramedies such as ABOUT SCHMIDT and especially SIDEWAYS. Fixon and Rash are both members of the comedy troupe The Groundlings, with Rash getting special mention for his current role on the television show Community. Instead of something funny and charming or a bleak drama, these three just made a glorified television movie with a horrendous script and simply only serviceable performances.

Nobody in the cast deserves punishment or sadly any acclaim either. Clooney has been touted all year as the best here but he runs on auto-pilot except for scenes involving anger. He wasn't directed and blocked properly, most notably in a scene where he's apparently waiting to hug his daughter but looks confused and stiff instead. The two daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, seem to try to act natural but the script calls for them to bring the comedy only by constantly swearing. See, it's funny cause they are young and are being naughty. Yes, I'm aware kids say expletives, I was one of them after all, but there is no other punchlines and gags. Just a lot of hackneyed sentences and exposition dumps that talented performers such as Robert Forster and Judy Greer have to deliver.

I can not stress how much I loathe this script. As stated earlier, Clooney is Matt King, a descendant of the King family who inherited and owns a giant peace of ocean land ready for developers. His wife Elizabeth has been in a coma due to a boating accident and he can't take care of his daughters without her cause they be all like crazy. How can a man handle female children when that's supposed to be a mother's job? That's not my opinion, but the opinion of both Matt and the film. Anyway, rampant misogyny aside, Matt is now forced to pull the plug due to his wife's declining health and has to tell everyone before she finally succumbs. He then finds out from his oldest child that Elizabeth was cheating on him with someone later to be revealed as a home retailer named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). He wants to find and confront him while at the same time is heckled and lectured by his cousins about the pending sale of the land to several prospects.

The only thing moving in this slow film is pure misery. Death, suffering, and past sins are hard to deal with as a human being but it is not conveyed properly here. When it should be shown, such as when the youngest daughter is finally told, Payne drops the volume in favor of melancholy, happy Hawaiian music. This music is everywhere and ruins so many moments that could have been great for the cast. When there is no music to distract you, Payne forces Clooney or the other characters to explicitly tell you like a flock of sheep; the entire opening is nothing but Clooney explaining in a heavy voice-over the entire plot and his feelings. It also doesn't help that Matt doesn't tell anyone of the new revelations about Elizabeth's character, so we have to just sit there with him as he is insulted by others for not treating her properly. Matt even betrays his new feelings for her by acting hypocritical whenever someone else, including his also suffering older daughter, insults her on her hospital bed. Then, there is Sid (Nick Krause), a side character who is glued to the King family's proceedings only for us to laugh at his mental and social deficiencies. The script thinks it can make this creation critical to the plot later when he and Matt have a special man to man talk but it still doesn't hide the badly made stitching away from the viewer.

The writers try to make this land sale side plot important, going so far as to tie it up later with the main plot. However, it is so boring, cliche and unnecessary. King was all forward to selling it but just because of one angry mother and one unexpected visit to the site, it changes everything he believes. The biggest problem with it entirely, however, is by the time the signing is to take place, King's choice is more of petty revenge rather than his actual true beliefs. Even if he decides to not sign, the land has to sold in the next seven years, so where's the tension to be had? But since this is a deliberately made movie, a major business change must be synced with a major life change for maximum emotion from the audience. How insulting and degrading of you, Alexander Payne.

I have seen many awful, terrible, atrocious films this year but THE DESCENDANTS is just plain despicable and misleading. No humor or heart, no new way of seeing and experiencing life. It is a badly made Oscar bait film, filled to the brim with vile and mediocrity.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets - Review

Nobody wants to become the grown up Christopher Robin. This is why nostalgia has a tight grasp on people to the point of exhaustion and suffocation. For myself, this expression of mine is not suited for that silly little bear with a short red shirt. It was instead connected to the creations of Jim Henson's wonderful mind. Like a lot of kids growing up during the 90's, I was overwhelmed with continuous re-runs of Muppet Babies and The Muppet Show. But seeking out newer outputs from the Jim Henson Company saw a steep decline in quality and laughter.

I was aware and notified of the death of Jim Henson as a kid, joining Mel Blanc and Keith Haring in my mourning of threes. Losing him proved to be the loss of both the soul and heart in all of the newer releases and attempts to reboot the lovable puppets beyond Sesame Street. Television star and mega-fan Jason Segel was given the reins along side co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin to spill new blood and a new way of thinking to the Muppets, much to the chagrin of the old man mentality of Frank Oz and other anonymous workers. Oz and his crew now need to eat their hats and shoes because THE MUPPETS is a very swift kick-start to the Muppets' heart, bringing them back but more importantly underlining why there are needed for the lovers and dreamers of the world.

The plot is not totally sunk by an unnecessary back-story of Gonzo or another book adaptation, but it won't win any originality awards. Segel and his muppet brother Walter travel to Los Angeles to see The Muppets Studio while on the dime and time of Segel and his girlfriend Amy Adams's vacation. Walter is a life-long obsessive fan of the Muppets and is heartbroken at the decay of the studio and the absence of everyone. His luck and fortune turns better through ironic means when he overhears rich oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) talking and maniacal laughing with his cronies over how he's going to destroy the studio and theater for more oil, more money. Our hero trio is then thrust to search for Kermit the Frog, round up all the other Muppets around the globe, and pull a Mickey Rooney to put on a Muppet show to save the last standing legacy of them.

Though it acts and feels like a remake of the THE MUPPET MOVIE, the film is more of a love letter by Segel of the original television show. When The Muppet Show left airwaves in 1981, so did the allure of the Muppets since there's no mention of any of the other films or even fan-winking to other Jim Henson productions like Fraggle Rock. The main reason for this exclusion is for the plethora of 80's humor Segel and Stoller revel and annoy in. I did like Kermit's servant '80s Robot with his dilapidated technology and dispensing of Tab and New Coke but the other jokes are tiring; a musical sequence set to Starship's "We Built this City", a favorite of mine that would be a guilty pleasure if I actually felt guilty of it, is truly not necessary nor fits with the context of the scene. When the two writers reach for a Benson reference, you'll know that they needed to tone down their geek jokes.

That's not to say all of the jokes are middling and lame, except for the deliberate ones by Fozzy the Bear. There is many funny punchlines and absurdist wit to behold and laugh at, from "traveling by map" to unexpected rap songs. The film also brings some bleakness to the characters and their current states but not too much; Kermit is seen living like Norma Desmond in a marriage mansion surrounded by photos of the past but the lighting is too bright to achieve any real weight to the scenes and his song. As hinted in the past two sentences, there are many new original songs with a few revivals, like the Muppets staples "The Rainbow Connection" and "Mahna Mahna". The Bret McKenzie written and produced ones are all ear-wormy and greatly fit, like the crowd-pleasing "Life's a Happy Song" with its MGM-style musical sequences. A personal favorite was "Man or Muppet", which is hilariously overwrought but fits my theory of Walter being a Cronenberg manifestation of both Segel's own and his character Gary's immense adulation of Henson's products.

THE MUPPETS isn't perfect or probably change the future Hollywood landscape of family films. It has some eye-rolling pop culture jokes, "Forget You" sung by chickens anyone?, and its deus ex machina/reverse of fortune never-ending finale falls apart. However, it was a fantastic film that gave me a big smile throughout the majority of it. It was nice to see some old friends again; kid and adult-friendly characters who talk to them like equals instead of just being hyperactive clowns. Nothing makes me love film more than having a frog puppet experiencing the human condition and always searching for the brighter side of life.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Immortals - Review

Though I never have been assailed for it by anyone, I still stick to my opinion that 300 was a very good film. It works as a comic book film, a glorious Greek times film, a camp classic, a "movies for guys who like movies" film, etc. 300 was so effective in pop culture and the zeitgeist that it served as the base movie for one of Friedberg and Seltzer's atrocious parody films. This despite the fact that 300 is already hilarious to laugh at.

IMMORTALS could have followed as one of the better, more likely only, films of the 300 rip-offs and it does, sorta of. I didn't go into this expecting a Paddy Chayefsky written masterpiece when it comes to the plot, just a lot of hyper violence with the beautiful imagery and imagination of director Tarsem Singh. However, it often feels like its bare-bones approach is just too hard to truly and completely enjoy.

Future superhero star Henry Cavill gets his biggest break in American cinema as Theseus, a peasant in a small Greek town embedded into the side of a massive cliff. Secretly being taught by Zeus in the form of an old man (John Hurt), he is destined to engage in conflict with King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a warlord who has embarked on a god-killing mission to attack Mount Tartarus and free the mythical Titans with the aid of the powerful but missing Epirus Bow. Now just include a comedic sidekick played by Stephen Dorff, who is actually quite good, and Frida Pinto as a love interest able to have premonitions and remove her clothes.

That's really all Vlas and Charley Parlapanides can muster. There is, or seems to be, a debate about the declining belief in the faith of the gods and the rise of human thinking but it is very muddled and confusing. The gods way too obviously act only as deus ex machinas when they aren't whining about doing something. And just like a true Macguffin, the Epirus Bow isn't really used often or as important as it should be. If the Parlapandieses wanted to be ultra basic or post-modern with a Greek tale, then hooray I guess. That doesn't excuse extensively setting up a major supporting villain for Theseus only to deliver a vicious balls shot, literally and figuratively, with/and a showdown that last five seconds.

There's really no reason to see this for character and plot substance. This is strictly all about action and art, which the film does deliver in spades. The action and battle choreography is well-crafted and flows like a true blood ballet. I would have preferred more actual movie blood than its CG counterpart though. The absolute best craftsmanship, however, comes from director Tarsem Singh and the cinematography by Brendan Galvin. Singh has always loved to make moving displays of classical art paintings, whether in his films or his abundant early days in music videos, and he once again displays it here. The framing and tableaux are very striking and immensely pleasurable, able to stand the film further out from being just another Greek mythology movie.

IMMORTALS is bloody good fun and beautiful to look at even with some big shortcomings. I'm more inclined, however, to recommend the Spartacus television series for better and campier displays of sex and violence. Still, that show didn't have some artistic quality and a commanding and dirty performance by Mickey Rourke. Not to mention, this film can actually incorporate green-screening better into the proceedings.