Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - February

CHRONICLE somehow was able to bring the superhero and found footage genres together and blended to great effect. It was able to feature realistic and likable modern teenagers with the thrilling theatrics of great power and massive destruction.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE seemed to tick a lot of people off but not myself. This purely goofy and insane re-take of the b-level superhero blew the original awful movie away, thanks to thankfully hammy acting and total embracing of the id.

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY was a welcomed new addition from Studio Ghibli, not to mention one of the best recent children's films that doesn't talk down and bombastically distract young viewers. It is instead a peaceful, often humorous and adventurous little movie.

Best Films of 2012

1. Chronicle

2. The Secret World of Arrietty

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reaction to the Oscars

Wow. This was barely a bit better than last year's edition. Instead of pretentiousness and duo hosts with bad chemistry, we got a dire mess with a truly insufferable host.

At least my predictions went to 16-8, up from the 12 even last year.

I like Billy Crystal, but not last night's version of him. He simply does not look good or is suited for HD and his tired shtick was embarrassingly bad (Blackface, everyone!). He was once a funny Oscar host but even his mannerisms, singing, and opening video numbers were losing luster in the 90's. Here, everything was stripped to the bone, only leaving a homunculus in its wake. I gladly take a producer-hating James Franco any time than the desperate, pathetic loser Crystal has become.

Too bad the show runners couldn't steal the energy and excitement the Tonys have every year when they stole their set design.

I'm one of the few who like the montages produced for the show, whether for how great they can be (Tribute to Foreign Language Film winners at the 79th edition) or hilarious to laugh at (Including Space Chimps and Twilight in celebrations of Animation and Horror respectively). Tonight featured some of the worst I can recall, not only for the yawning-enducing "great film" montage, again featuring Twilight, that wouldn't be fit to air on Turner Classic Movies but for those Errol Morris rip-off segments. I don't believe, and really hope, that Morris didn't do those, since the people were sitting down and in front of a black screen instead of white. However, despite the laughable "profound" statements of Adam Sandler, I will award bonus points for featuring Patton Oswalt and having Brad Pitt explain his childhood love of watching the Toho Studios monster movie War of the Gargantuas.

The Christopher Guest troupe sketch. They really did try, especially Fred Willard, with what little material they were given.

FLYING CARY GRANTS! I truly appreciate the hard work and determination the Circus de Soleil group has to go through to perform but their entire segment had absolutely nothing to do with going and experiencing the joys of the cinema. It was just a televised publicity stunt and a waste of time.

The Emma Stone-Ben Stiller pairing for Best Visual Effects was probably the funniest thing staged, extremely greater than anything Crystal did.

You know what I wanted to see instead of longer time frames for people to speak? Random women wearing retro movie theater outfits, handing out refreshments. Because that is what's really happening in movie chains right now!

If Chris Rock was mocking how Hollywood animated films often incorporate celebrity voices for lame prestige, easy money and bad voice direction, then his bit was funny. However, knowing him, he not only was rude to the several great actors and actresses who can bring passion to voice work, he made a disgrace to animation and its award just so he can spread his ego.

I love you, Jim Rash. For mocking Jolie's sexy leg and getting applause for it. Even though your film still sucks.

No Eiko Ishioka in the "In Memoriam" montage. Her costume artistry really did make me first notice one of the hidden beauties of film.

Honestly, I wasn't really jazzed up and hoping for many winners, since the Academy often fails or picks easy fare over the richly deserved. There were a few exceptions; Drive didn't win Sound Mixing, The Tree of Life somehow got skipped over for Cinematography, and the unjust anti-Andy Serkis sentiment hurt the visual effects crew of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I did get to see The Muppets and A Separation win though, so that was nice.

You know what would have been even more better? If the Muppets actually got to perform their Oscar winning song!

Jean Dujardin won, started to make a Oscar highlight reel for himself and the stupid show director cuts away and botches it. Combined with the horrible mic work, the orchestra music playing over the people talking, and constant shots of a bored audience, you have a lot of pink slips that need to be delivered.

Why yes, Meryl Streep. I was thinking just that. I was thinking you didn't need it, nor should you have it from the more deserving nominees.

The Artist was the big winner and Harvey Weinstein still has the touch to be at the top. Though that hasn't exactly translated to boffo box office business. Frankly, I'm happy the film won but I wasn't surprised. In fact, that's the biggest nitpick the Oscars have been facing for quite some time now.

There's always next year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Predictions and Thoughts

Of course, these are my predictions to win, not what or who I wish would win.

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Best Animated Film: Rango

Best Foreign Film: A Separation

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life

Best Film Editing: Annie-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, Hugo

Best Makeup: Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland, The Iron Lady

Best Documentary: Pina

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Saving Face

Best Original Score: Ludovic Bource, The Artist

Best Original Song: "Man or Muppet", The Muppets

Best Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Best Live Action Short Film: The Shore

Best Sound Editing: Drive

Best Sound Mixing: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I do honestly believe that Dujardin will win over the Clooney and Pitt duo. I don't think Dujardin will fall with the Benigni Curse, since the French actor has a lot of charisma and can be well-suited to Hollywood fare to come. Clooney is a safe bet and a strong possibility but I do not think it will be. Oldman is certainly a potential shocker.

The rest of the Big Five are sadly easy to pick. I do wish Melissa McCarthy would win, as she is a strong contender to upset Spencer.

It truly pains me for my choices in the screenplay categories. Midnight in Paris was a clever film but not as much as its other nominees and of course, I loathe The Descendants.

War Horse will sadly be a shutout. Hugo could be one too, but I think it might get some love from the Academy.

Remember when actual pop songs were nominated and would win Best Original Song? Part 2: With only two nominees, it has to be The Muppets.

Is it just me, or has the Costume and Makeup categories have gotten boring with their selections? It has continuously been old fashion, old people.

Documentary is a toss up. I think the uniqueness of Pina, combined with featuring European powerhouse Wim Wenders as director, will win out though its opponents are strong with compelling stories.

See you on Monday with reactions to the awards.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Review

Here we have the film that sold itself thanks to flame-throwing urine. Does the infamous final note of its trailer appear in the film itself? Why yes it most certainly does, twice in fact. It never felt old, especially since the scene ends with the Rider looking toward the audience with an agape mouth, marveling at the spectacle before him.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is one hell of a looney-tunes movie. It is a purely gonzo, dumb comic book film and I enjoyed all of its excesses. I could but I am unable to label it as a guilty pleasure, at least for me since no guilt crossed through my mind during the proceedings. It might be for others though, since the sheer goofy insanity will be a harsh annoyance or a nice distraction from the lame story and script by David S. Goyer.

Goyer has had a rich past with comic book films, most notably the BLADE and DARK KNIGHT series, but he has often hurt many projects with his ultra-serious and vanilla approaches. SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE sadly isn't one of the exceptions; The film follows a possibly re-booted Johnny Blaze (a returning Nicolas Cage) in Eastern Europe, tasked with finding and transporting a boy away from the forces of evil in order to remove the force of evil inside of him. Both Blaze and Cage are forced to whine and have stiff conversations about being an "angel of justice" instead of a hellish spawn, all leading to a unintentionally laughable final scene. Goyer didn't just make a horrible first draft with his ideas, he made a shameful rip-off of both THE OMEN and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. Funny how this is the second Cage film I've reviewed, last year's DRIVE ANGRY, with stolen elements from the exploits of the T-800.

Now, I am just assuming the faults lie solely on the shoulders of Goyer, due to his double duty with the plot. Miraculously, especially after the disastrous first endeavor with the Ghost Rider character, he was partnered with co-writers Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman to punch up the script and had the film helmed not by himself but by the gloriously stupendous and stupefying team of Neveldine/Taylor. The latter duo are at large why this worked within my fields of pleasure; crafting the picture with their signature shaky steadicams, music video freakout edits, pop up subtitles, and adrenalin fueled action sequences, they saved this dying beast from being another victim atop the pile of bad comic book films.

The acting helps as well, matching up with the madcap adventures and stunts. Instead of the drooling Elvis impersonator in the first film, Cage is back in his signature crazy saddle again and chewing up any scenario that comes his way. He dominates both when he's hooped up on goof balls, such as when he threatens to kill an underground fighting promoter, or being a uncouth father figure to the boy Macguffin. Johnny Whitworth is humorous as the devil's right-hand thug who is later granted a better position among his ranks. The makers also decided to class the film up with talented actors such as Ciaran Hinds and Idris Elba in supporting roles but giving them plenty of material to ham it up at key moments. Elba particularly stands out, making the most out of his French character Moreau during the shootouts. I also must note Violante Placido and her character Nadya, the boy's gypsy mother, since she is written not to be an unnecessary love interest but as a badass mama bear, so to speak.

SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is going to be one of those "love it or hate it" deals for viewers. This is the second entry under the Marvel Knights label, sharing a nice space next to another goofy "love or hate" movie, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. Personally, I would gladly like to watch anything that features two demons doing pro wrestling moves on top of moving trucks in the middle of a car chase or seeing Christopher Lambert in Hakushi makeup as a priest. Like its choice of locations, shot in Turkey and Romania probably for tax breaks, this is most certainly a tried and true exploitation film that simply just works beyond its misgivings.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Trailer Review - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
1st Trailer

Person of Interest: ass-kicking Lincoln, I guess. There's actors listed at the end but no one, not even the guy playing Lincoln, really get any attention.

Scene Pop: Lincoln fights during a horse stampede

Briggs Breakdown: one bridge destroyed, a plummeting train, Johnny Cash as the narrator, big bushy beards, vampires???, axe-fu, cape-fu.

Effective?: Not really

Check it Out?: Drive-in fare at best. This first taste comes off more as a Sherlock Holmes rip-off, something The Asylum has already taken care of, than as a humorous but awesome adaptation of the popular book. It didn't show any vampire-like behavior or had the weight of truly experiencing a battling Lincoln, only the annoying gloss of a Tim Burton production.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston - RIP

Whitney Houston, once the absolute best singer of any gender for two straight decades, has died. She was 48.

Growing up, Whitney was everywhere in a kid's life. She had a phenomenal hit single that played everywhere ("I Will Always Love You"), she had done a heavily celebrated rendition of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, she was the host of severe kid's award shows on Nickelodeon, and she both starred and included on the soundtracks of several movies.

The last part was what introduced me to her music. The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack is still one of the best R&B albums for myself, fueled thanks to Houston's two songs, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and her duet with CeCe Winans on "Count on Me". This new love brought me to her five singles on The Bodyguard soundtrack, her past great work during her run at the top in the 80's, and her then current output such as her work on The Preacher's Wife and her last signature and successful album in the mainstream, My Love is Your Love.

Despite her present image as a troubled icon with crippling personal demons, I still embraced and supported the woman, thinking there would come a day where she would rise as a phoenix to shut up the detractors. Sadly, this proved fruitless. She will never escape me, especially with her great voice and the plenty of singles: "How Will I Know", "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)", "Didn't We Almost Had It All", "So Emotional", "I'm Your Baby Tonight", "When You Believe", "Heartbreak Hotel", "It's Not Right But It's Okay", and of course her soundtracks.

She will surely be missed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chronicle - Review

It seems that beside being one of Hollywood's biggest times to dump its cruddy remains on to a unsuspecting public, the first months of the year are now starting to be my appreciation of newly released superhero films with a dark edge to them. Last year had THE GREEN HORNET, a film I still stand behind both as a comedy and for its anti-thesis of the IRON MAN and BATMAN's of the world; Namely, that privileged crime-fighting individuals with expansive/expensive resources can't overcome their selfish delusions and deplorable attitudes.

In comes CHRONICLE, a film that mashes up several things that fuel the bad vibes of jaded viewers and critics. It is a found footage film, about superpowered individuals, who also happened to be the current generation of teenagers. Combined with a fear-inducing marketing campaign that only shows off their adoration for superdickery and you have yourself a potential rich dose of brain poison. Shockingly, the brew isn't bad at all, instead being a compelling little film with many scenes of grounded realism and humanity among the tests of flight and massive city destruction.

The film is about Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan, but at the same time becomes him. He is a teenage loner who suffers from the physical abuse of his alcoholic father and watching his mother slowly die from cancer. He starts a personal project to film everything about his life with a cheap camera, which proves to be more distracting to others and brings further prejudice against him. However, his questionable new hobby becomes worthwhile after a party when he, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and senior class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan) uncover a strange blue radiating object lodged deep inside a hole. After the alien device reacts badly to them, the film jumps ahead with a change in picture quality, since Matt bought Andrew a new and better camera, and with all three developing telekinetic powers and a linked mental connection.

The rest of the film follows them enhancing their talents through humorous trial and errors before the eventual differences in character and behavior. But it is the arc of Andrew and his camera that proved to be the most fascinating aspect of the picture. As noted above, he becomes so enraptured with the camera and his new image that he begins to have it record everything, damned if someone objects. Whether it is a peaceful image of him among friends or him attacking bullies, he wants to relive it all again once it is uploaded to his editing program, making himself a human highlight reel. This reliance brings destructive qualities to Andrew's psyche; it causes him to become a better documentary filmmaker, allowing his telekinesis to float above or behind him for crane and tracking shots and even remotely controlling and activating it when a possible exciting situation occurs. By focusing more on the record and visual style of events instead of his own feelings and emotions, he becomes detached from the world further, so far in fact that his human body turns into a empty hollow vessel of unfathomable rage while his camera captures his soul and becomes the new Andrew.

The young turks behind the film, director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, truly need to be applauded for their entertaining and thoughtful creation. By incorporating a floating dynamic to the cinematography, Trank is able easily overcome the faults of many found footage genre films while making his scenes more exhilarating. Landis, who is noted chiefly by other critics simply as the son of director John Landis but is more importantly known for comical internet videos about his love for weird comic book history, has a stroke of genius when concocting the plot. Beyond his themes and messages about the YouTube/Facebook culture and exploitation, he can easily grasp the dynamics and dialogue of teenage life and their current love and immersion of technology. They are several exquisite moments with the three characters talking with each other about their problems, even when one of them is distracted by constantly texting or playing a phone game. Trank worked perfectly with the three actors, all who give very good performances, most especially Michael B. Jordan, who can easily show off why he is so charismatic among his peers.

CHRONICLE does fault a bit from some annoying errors in judgment. Though the low budget nature and video camera style can hide the shortcoming of the CGI work, most definitively during the grandiose action finale, there are still several shots that look clumsily composed and not well thought out. Also, some viewers might not appreciate the frankly flat portrayal of women during the proceedings, despite being somewhat the same mind set of teenagers. Nevertheless, this is one film this year that is both awesome with its violence while obtaining some modern truth and hurtful human anguish.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trailer Review - The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man
2nd Trailer

Person of Interest: A very snarky Andrew Garfield, an always angry Denis Leary, and a shockingly bored-looking Emma Stone. I do hope Stone actually is given something in the actual film cause this boy-friendly-and-approved trailer makes her invisible to its other proceedings.

Scene Pop: Spider-Man, superhero vigilante vs. NYPD

Briggs Breakdown: 8 cars destroyed, 3 cops beaten up, back-seat car thief, super angst, sewer web-net, hulky CG lizard-man, bathroom-fu, parkour-fu, sewer water-fu.

Effective?: Yes

Check it Out?: A probable visit to the cinema. It does look to be entertaining with thrills and wit though the big CGI action sequences, especially the finale with the tower, are a bit ho-hum for now. It certainly will be the dark horse of the superhero films this summer, which worked wonders for X-Men: First Class last year.

New Feature - Trailer Review

Other than doing written-up movie reviews and the now very rarely occasional television and video game review, I wanted to further spread some of my vile and amazement to some other type of medium. So, I decided to now do the easy blogging method of reviewing movie trailers and make snarky comments.

Honestly, this idea is so played out on many other boring internet shows and websites that it feels absolutely belittling for me to do it. However, I do really want to this on a truly personal level. I have always loved trailers, whether at the cinema or before watching a VHS movie. I like the juxtaposition of frames, use of music not including in the actual film, the clever and/or maddening use of hiding the film's shortcomings, and the ability to essentially create a visually masterful image in your mind which in turn causes you to go and find the film or wait till it hit theaters. Taking some recent examples, the shot of a superhero having flame-throwing urine (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) or showing the White House, a popular stable, roll out the flags of a terrorist organization (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) certainly took me by the throat.

With the advent and popularity of itunes Movie Trailers and YouTube, I should have been overjoyed with the ability to witness more and more. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I feel that with the increase of internet buzz and quick online judgments and comments, the movie studios have lost sight on the once skillful tool of crafting and presenting a quality movie trailer, regardless of the true quality of the film itself. They bombard traffickers with banner ads on YouTube, links and videos to behind the scenes footage, all without first presenting a simple but effective draw for attention.

It is now very slowly being a lost art form to make a trailer, especially with rampant home editing programs and the cavalcade of IP and superhero fans who constantly pin point and break down every frame to muster up a new whine against a new film. I don't believe it will every die but the overall mediocrity in the field is not helping matters.

For this feature, I will personally review the trailer upon several merits:

Person of Interest: Does it push a major star or some blank name with a producing credit to a better film? Is there someone in the background of shots that sells quality to me?
Scene Pop: The main thing and draw you will walk away with from the trailer, if any.
Briggs Breakdown: In tribute to one of best movie reviewers, Joe Bob Briggs, this tongue-in-cheek section details in the language of Briggs what ultimately matters to the attention of the viewer: violence, odd forms of kung-fu, and anything sexual.
Effective?: Objectively deciding whether the trailer as a whole did its job regardless of my personal opinion.
Check it Out?: This is largely for my own volition, judging whether the trailer made the film in question be a day one purchase at the box office for myself to a long wait for video to absolute nil.

And wouldn't you know it, a trailer for the new Spider-Man just came out. What a coincidence.