Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - March

THE HUNGER GAMES lived up to its potential, and was far better than the original young adult novel. It could have lost some of its heavy use of shaky-cam, but the performances of all in the ensemble cast plus some strong moments and direction made it exceptional.

JOHN CARTER also lived up to its potential, though for non-desirable reasons. It has some fun little scenes and good supporting players, but the boring story, wooden main character, and utter waste of money and talent ruined the adventure.

PROJECT X plainly sucks and is yet another reason why American society hates teenagers nowadays.

Best Films of 2012

1. Chronicle

2. The Secret World of Arrietty

3. The Hunger Games

Worst Films of 2012

1. Project X

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Project X - Review

Walking away from this, the only thing I could think about is why there are not a lot of evil flame-thrower wielding madmen in films. The spectacle of someone using the army-grade incendiary device, or a dangerous home-made edition such as in BELLFLOWER, is genuinely breathtaking to the movie camera. Of course, the majority of films with them featured only care about the weaknesses of the weapon, namely its vulnerable fuel tanks, in order to have a fleeing man on fire and/or a violent explosion to cap a scene. Still, I'll continue to pine for it, especially when it is used viciously against ungrateful main characters and their pathetic scrap of story.

PROJECT X is and always was going to be nothing more than an endless parade of debauchery. It is all about finger pointing at crazy shenanigans; there are multiple shots of drinking, female butts, bare breasts, sex, drug taking, and more drinking. That's the obvious main draw for the teenage crowd, but the problem with watching endless debauchery throughout a movie is that it gets both extremely aggravating and frankly very boring. Hell, this thing happens to controversial yet critically acclaimed works like IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES and the absolutely nihilistic SALO. But at least those two films have a message to get across to the viewer, not to mention go further to the extremes of moral taste. PROJECT X is just paper-thin, regulating itself to be strictly just for people who thought Woodstock 99 got a bad rap.

It was the first act of the film that greatly agitated me the most. Here, we are forced to follow the main trio of Thomas, Costa, and J.B. as they are being filmed by a hired-on goth kid named Dax. Costa, a particular character I'll get into later, wants to throw a major 17th birthday party for Thomas at his house after his parents leave for their coincidental anniversary. Do they all want to do this to help out their social status in high school? Not exactly, it is mainly just all about their loins. The three talk so much about objectifying women and genitalia, that they move from being simply horny young men to mentally damaged sexual predators. Even Michael Fassbender would say tone it down. The film even has proof of this in the very first scene: Costa walks around Thomas' house singing an explicit call-and-response rap song. We, as the viewer who is currently watching a post-production finished product from all of the found footage, hear the song yet Costa has nothing on him to be able to hear the calls. That means that in the so-called "original" footage, Costa is quietly shifting around before shouting out a brief derogatory exclamation.

Once the party gets under way, the film becomes lame chaos and the putrid script is more and more noticed for its vast shortcomings. The story and half of the script was written by Michael Bacall, a man who has helped write other movies involving high-schoolers or people trapped in the high-school mindset. Here, he and co-writer Matt Drake simply just dug out a washed-up 80's screenplay, complete with plenty of usages of the other "f" word in this day and age. All the same old beats are there: the hot girl, the other hot girl who inexplicably is just a friend, the room and car to be destroyed later, the college kid, and the father who thinks his son is totally uncool. I felt bad for Kirby Bliss Banton as Thomas' tomboy friend Kirby and Miles Teller as the college baseball jock Miles (notice a trend?). These two have the energy for better work, especially Teller since his breakthrough in last year's FOOTLOOSE, yet they are stuck with little material compared to the devil times three main characters.

Now, about that Costa character. This Jonah Hill wannabe, both the character and the never-likable Oliver Cooper playing him, is a menace not just to society, but also for the mental well-being of everyone. Actually, bringing up Hill is an insult to mention; This new Andrew Dice Clay is an annoying author insert character, who revels in the excesses when he is not whining to move the plot in his direction. Seriously, Costa controls the same way the story goes as Bacall and Drake. Why does he just have to steal a gnome from a deranged army vet? So the guy can come in later to terrorize them. Why should Thomas need to almost sleep with the hot girl Alexis, despite just hooking up with Kirby? Because he tells Thomas that Kirby has small breasts, is more of a dude than lady, and this night is to bed the unattainables in life. Never in a while have I loathed a character this much.

As for the technical end of things, there's not much to say compared to the other crap. The found footage film was supposed to look like it was shot at a real party, and it does. It seems that director Nima Nourizadeh has a background in music videos. Well, that was a safe and easy pick for the producers. However, there is a very good reason why music videos do not go for long. Also, though the film explains why there are footage from two other cameras, those belonging to the very young security team, it never acknowledges how the main cameraman keeps teleporting around everywhere when an action arises, or has the hard drive space to film all of this.

I'm not just another old fart that curses the teenage minds today and their idea of "fun", even though I do have such feelings, I only care if everything in PROJECT X comes into some type of context at a point. But what a happy non-surprise, this film doesn't and never wanted to go in that direction, cause that would ruin the party. Why explain that massive destruction and ruined futures are in order when high school and one fun night is all that matters in life? Simply put, this is a film for the IDIOCRACY generation; how else explains the inclusion of a little person who's there to punch men in the balls?


John Carter - Review

As of this writing, the judgment has already taken place. JOHN CARTER is now ranked up with many others as one of Hollywood's biggest overall fiascos. From the skittish Disney marketing department's aversion to include "of Mars" in the title and their horrendously produced trailers, to the bad test screening scores and street reputation, to the failed last ditch effort to save its life. Nothing worked in Disney's favor, as they suffer from another ruined franchise-starter, despite having talent and the money to make it work.

Unfortunately, given the final outcome of the film, the proof is certainly proved in the pudding. This is one of the most shocking displays of identity crisis in some time. For instance, after a laborious opening segment I'll get to, the title comes up as JOHN CARTER, in a boring font anyone can get for Microsoft Word, in front of a charted map of Mars. The last shot of the film has the title JOHN CARTER OF MARS pop up, complete with the real version of Mars and the main character's new war insignia. Obviously, this is intended to show the differences between our two worlds and the main character's newly found acceptance in life. However, this difference also greatly shows off to the audience what they can expect will bring the dire and fun aspects of the film; Earth's backwards technology, ideals, and its pessimistic attitudes are far more boring compared to exploring and embarking on adventures on Mars. And again, you wonder why the marketing team wanted to celebrate the film will a yawn-inducing title.

As noted, JOHN CARTER starts with a hell of a mess at its hands in the beginning: Three separate storylines, two conflicting narrators, and a whole lot of human misery. For the most part, the film belongs to the viewpoint of Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter's cousin apparently and a completely pointless character within a pointless plotline, reading from Carter's journals after the latter's recent yet mysterious death. We hit the books with Edgar, as we follow Carter's supposed history from being a former Confederate soldier turned wandering shell of a man, to his discovery of a mystical cave and a special device he obtains from a bald stranger, to his transport to Mars and becoming a super-powered being. I say supposed because there are plenty of scenes and shots where Carter is nowhere in sight and unable to recount such events. Not to mention that the film doesn't start with any of Carter's words, but that of a different narrator's overview of Barsoom, the name of Mars by its inhabitants, and the war between the two factions of Helium and Zodanga. Then later, there's all of the things involving the four-armed green giants the Tharks and their inclusion into the war of Barsoom. Then, there's the mysterious Therns who can shape-change into anyone in order to be evil and tilt the scales of destiny for some reason. All of this massive, thrusted upon amount of plot is badly handled together by the three screenwriters before concluding with a truly awful anti-climax and a finale that many viewers would rather be heading to the doors for than seeing.

The film's little over two hours running time is heavily padded out with plenty of scenes that reek of wasted money and annoying high school-grade melodrama. When Carter is on Mars, he is able to jump really high and has immense strength that comes and goes whenever the writers feel like it. This is all due to the differences in gravity and the strength of the human muscles of an Earthling. Beyond the fact of implementing more costly CGI work, the creators decided to limit Carter's profound abilities, something which could turn the tide of warfare between the cities and win the hand of the Helium Princess Dejah Thoris, not by having equally strong opponents but by having Carter whine and be aloof the entire time. See, he's still very sad that his wife and daughter we never got to know or care about died, and he doesn't stick his neck for nobody anymore. Due to this audience-hating device, you have to sit through the film watching the strangely plentiful villains win basically every round in combat way too easily while Carter just mopes around.

The sad thing is that when Carter is motivated or uses his internal willfulness to survive, you are treated to great action sequences and fantastic swashbuckling. These moments only last a short time but there is so much fun to take in over the copious amounts of misfortunes. Some of it comes off as bait for dumbfounded audiences but it's so rich and campy that it becomes the Hail Mary's of the film. For instance, the character everyone is bound to love is Woola, a dog-like alien with a special hidden talent. He reeks of creative desperation and easy audience adoration but he's wonderfully designed, a lot of fun to follow along with, and has a better character arc than John Carter himself. There are even several instances where the minor characters help alleviate the pain and make it an enjoyable popcorn movie. For instance, Bryan Cranston is inexplicably in this during the tedious Earth segments as a cavalry officer, yet he has great chemistry with the main character and partakes in one of best interrogation scenes ever. The same goes for James Purefoy, who plays Helium hero Kantos Kan, who has a delightful sequence with John Carter involving hostage-taking. Too bad John Carter is the one who has to be carried by the others instead of being able to carry the film himself.

Casting Taylor Kitsch, an actor who absolutely defines the term "hit or miss", as John Carter proved to be a choice chosen poorly. He's always too gruff and Bale-Batman like in his voice and manners, too modern to be believed to be existing in the 19th century. Of course, this is more of a supporting actors film, so they are the ones who truly get to shine. Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah gets to be the better conflicted hero, a person who can be crafty and manipulative when necessary yet is proud of her people and willing to sacrifice herself in battle or in marriage for the greater good. Willem Dafoe has a lot of fun as the voice of Tars Tarkas, the king of the Tharks, going beyond the CGI created acting to make him a respectable yet tough leader. Both Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West get to ham it up a bit as the kings of Helium and Zodanga respectively.

It is really too bad this film lost so much potential in the process of being made, despite coming from a novel that helped usher in every single sci-fi and fantasy series today. Andrew Stanton is a long-time worker at Pixar and has made several animated masterpieces. He just couldn't save the project, nor keep the other cooks away from its broth. JOHN CARTER is yet another serious misstep for Disney and one not to be forgotten about in the history books, though the film is forgettable to the letter.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games - Review

A brief little moment to address something: This review will not be a snarky compare and contrast session for THE HUNGER GAMES and its original book against the numerous other science fiction films featuring televised human sporting events as the main attraction. This goes double for BATTLE ROYALE, Koushun Takami's novel and its great adaptation by legendary Japanese director Kinji Fukusaku, which has prompted numerous detractions for the similar ideas and conflict beats that THE HUNGER GAMES coincidentally (?) has as well. I wanted to face and address it on its own terms, both for its faithfulness to the source material and its overall design as the next big thing for cinema.

Well, its good that the film corresponds with its main character's hunting style and easily shoots an arrow through the eye of the book. It comes out being a clean kill, not much blood beyond a few droplets, and becomes more valuable as a product. THE HUNGER GAMES film is far better than its literature confines, losing some of its young adult limitations in order to be an effective display of blockbuster entertainment amidst human misery. Play the odds, believe in the hype.

In a post-apocalypse world, described in the book as the remnants of America, the balance between order and chaos among twelve districts is tightly controlled by the overseeing Capitol. After a brief uprising is suppressed, the Capitol imposes a strict punishment in the form of an annual television event, The Hunger Games. Two pre to late teenagers from every district are randomly picked to compete against each other in a battle to the death to bring "pride" to their own masses and economic growth to the privileged. In District 12, a baker's son named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a 12-year old named Primrose (Willow Shields) are selected, until the later's older sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) makes the bold decision to volunteer in her place. The new duo are then sent with their guardians/personal entourage to the Capitol, to be artfully and entertainingly presentable amongst the rich before blood ruins their new hair style.

Director Gary Ross is well and far enabled to handle crafting the differences in tonal styles, from the decaying filth of the districts, to the sleek pomp and circumstance of the Capitol, to the treacherous, unforgivable forests of the battle grounds. What would you expect from the man who made PLEASANTVILLE? It seemed that he enjoyed doing the sequences at the Capitol the most, as the artificial nature of everything is flooded with rich material. The most striking aspect is how it greatly underlines one of the book's major storylines, that this barbaric and vicious elimination match is nothing more than a heavily produced reality show, with the contestants and their handlers having control over their own story arcs and character motivations as much as the ones running the show. Everything needs to be a spectacle before the games, where the contestants' own fashion stylist are treated as rock stars, with District 12's being played by actual rock singer Lenny Kravitz, and anything can be pulled off, from a star-crossed lovers routine even to shooting an arrow toward the show's producers, in order to make the odds ever in their favor.

That is not to say that the film falls apart once the battle commences. The overlong climax is always often thrilling to behold, keeping the adrenaline pumping for the next danger lurking behind the trees or in the sounds of the air. Ross and his fellow screenwriters, including the book's author Suzanne Collins, streamline the proceedings as much as they can, removing some of the finer details and the tedious eating and walking sequences that often bogged down the action. Though the film is often just following Katniss' viewpoint as in the book, the creators also choose to feature what's happening behind the curtain, as the producers marvel at what's on their screens before creating new variable disasters to the battlefield. Probably my most favorite inclusion is having the television commentators interject as exposition dumpers when the need arises. If the television station's name is KPLOT, all the more better.

The absolute best feature the film has beyond the direction, not to mention the excellent sound mixing team, is the ensemble cast. Every actor truly gets to shine, even before their brief but inevitable demise. It's no surprise that Jennifer Lawrence once again dominates overall, as she makes another lasting statement why she is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Not only is she the perfect choice for Katniss, she makes the character both more likable and ruthless than her book counterpart, who is a complex person but largely handcuffed for female baiting material. Josh Hutcherson will be the most underrated coming from this, as he does grasp his character Peeta's hopelessness to win but immense to strength to fight it out nonetheless. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci each get to have their great little moments, particularly Tucci who can easily grasp being a slimy Phil Donahue figure wearing a ugly blue wig. I also need to note Amandla Stenberg, who plays the diminutive but resourceful Rue. I have seen her before in the dreck-fest COLOMBIANA, where she was one of the only standouts. Here, she again does well, making her character more unique to watch beyond simply being an angelic little figure.

Though the script loses several brakes in the book's narrative, such as the all-encompassing unimportance of the character Gale, it does strip some of the book's juicer moments. A last-minute shocker is not brought up and a sequence where Katniss suffers hallucinations is just a stuttering mess instead of being a colorful surreal nightmare. The cinematography is often striking, bordering on being Malick-esque, but the jittering shakey-cam effect during fights and even strangely a montage through District 12 is sickening. That's not to say that the harsh violence is severely lacking, especially since it is still pretty brutal for a PG-13 rating, but except for the initial all-out fight at a convenient supply depot, the BOURNE IDENTITY camerawork needs to go. Despite these problems, however, THE HUNGER GAMES is a fantastic genre film for all to embark on for two and half hours.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Trailer Review - Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows
1st Trailer

Person of Interest: A deliberately stiff and funny Johnny Depp, a vengeful and sexual frustrated Eva Green, an annoyed Chloe Moretz, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the requisite drinking matriarch.

Scene Pop: One hell of a room-destroying fling between Depp and Green.

Briggs Breakdown: Four seventies songs, one wrecked television, one shattered disco ball, one pink (?) explosion of a canning factory, and rampant sexual themes.

Effective?: Yes, especially as a broad comedy.

Check it Out?: A possibility. As seen through its trailer and commented on by many others, it looks like Burton is remaking Beetlejuice, except having a ton more sexual attitude to match up with its based upon soap opera. I never watched anything from the original television show but you can tell it won't be absolute faithful. Still, it does looks like fun.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trailer Review - That's My Boy

That's My Boy
Green Band Trailer

Person of Interest: Ugh. Again, an obnoxious Adam Sandler. He dominates the trailer so heavily, you'll forget that Andy Semberg and Leighton Meester are in there as well.

Scene Pop: A statutory rape plot point!

Briggs Breakdown: one ill-gotten pregnancy, two punches thrown, two car stunts, a sloppy spit take, one "hilarious" baseball injury, one baseball caught by boobs, a warped NKOTB back tattoo, rampant drinking of Budweiser products, rampant hand carrying of Budweiser products, rampant Budweiser product placement!, and one special tennis ball trick.

Effective?: The sad part about this spot is that I have to be objective and give a "yes" to this monstrosity. It tells you the main plot and the stakes to be had and promises the gullible, brain-fried public that they will experience Sandler's trademark douchebaggery and his "unique" taste of humor with a hard R rating.

Check it Out?: Heavens to Murgatroyd! Hell no. Seriously, a statutory rape joke!? The only exception is for trash lovers & divers and desperate movie critics who want to fill out their year-end lists, like myself. It's very sad that this was the trailer I wanted to cover first, rather than any of the more deserving fare. The fact that the Green Band trailer is more offensive and horrendous compared to the Red Band version truly makes me hate the MPAA even more.