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First rule of politics: don’t screw the interns (The Ides of March – 2011)

The somber and sorrowful tale of a political prodigy dirtying his hands with the democratic machine and becoming a seasoned, cynical veteran.  An excellent film for those who enjoy drama, politics, and the reinforcement of negative political stereotypes.

Once upon a time…

…in a small suburb outside of a big city, a young man sat and pondered his future.  He saw himself at the present, what resources he had and were available to him, and attempted to plot the course that would best suit him.  A doctor?  An engineer?  Perhaps a school principal.  But why did he want to be these things?  What good is the man who affects only himself?  I want to change things.  So he can change a life.  A group of people.  If he tried hard enough, a generation.  But what if he went larger?  What if he could affect not just one, but many generations?  What if he could not affect only a small group of people, but a country?  Or the world?  So he set his sights higher and, while he’d always look fondly at the lives of healers, inventors, and educators, this young man pointed himself at the throne of the most powerful man in the land.  Just before leaving his home and all of the things he knew to go learn in the central point of political power, he received a number of warnings all with same message: don’t let it corrupt you

Now, while the overwhelming majority of the people he knew were not involved in politics, they all had the same mindset; nothing that enters the political machine leaves it in the same state.  The Ides of March is one of the many films that reinforces that mindset.  But enough of my tale, let’s discuss the film:

For a kid who enjoys politics, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling, this film looked like cinematic ambrosia.  So, perhaps my expectations were a bit high.  But what is young naiveté without hope?

So, after work this morning (side note: yes, I have a job now.  I’m a staff technician at my university library.), I went to the AMC in Georgetown and purchased a ticket for my third Gosling film in two months.  I left happy.  Though that’s not to say this a happy film.  Make no mistake, this play is closer to a tragedy than a comedy.  And a play it is, The Ides of March is the film adaptation of the stage performance, "Farragut North".  But I realize that I’m digressing, I’m supposed to tell you about the quality of the film, not its history.

Beginning with the actors, Clooney and Gosling were excellent in their roles, both playing characters to their strengths.  Clooney makes a political leader unparalleled by anything short of President Bartlett.  Gosling is an idealistic, young campaign leader, not dissimilar to Josh Lyman (yes, I know I should stop making West Wing references).  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character was pretty much as expected, not a departure from the roles in which we imagine him.  My only true grievance with the casting was Paul Giamatti.  Personally, I have no qualms with him and tend to enjoy his films.  However, I feel that his character was underdeveloped and using a high profile actor for the role seemed like overcompensating.

In terms of dialogue, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  Likely a byproduct of having once been a stage play and being about politics, good dialogue is an absolute necessity.  Still, watching Gosling toss around his lines with the suave aloofness we’ve come to expect and then hearing Clooney’s response as the next leader of the free world was greatly entertaining.

Also benefitting from once having been a stage performance, the writing is good.  When I was watching it in the theatre, it seemed to be a bit scattered, creating three or four possible plotlines that could have dominated the film.  However, it takes each of these directions and uses them to further Gosling’s fall into the realm of corrupt politics.  So while it may seem convoluted or unnecessarily busy for such a short film, it makes use of each element as a step in getting to the conclusion.

Altogether, I enjoyed this film.  It was practically made for me, employing some of my favorite actors in a story that’s based upon one of my greatest interests.  Like watching The West Wing with a prettier cast, it certainly made for an enjoyable afternoon.  That said, the film isn’t anything special.  Tales of dirty politics are far from new and neither drama nor tragedy are young.  Still, it’s a good film that will entertain those who go to see it.

DRIVE (2011)

Continuing this short streak of on-time reviews, I went and saw Drive earlier today.  And, quite honestly, I don’t know if I enjoyed it.  The film is truly different from anything else I’ve seen and would take about three reference films to give you a general idea of what it was like.  But I’ll bypass the name-dropping and just begin my assessment.  (I’ve tried to steer away from the massive paragraphs and instead typed up a bunch of bullet point thoughts when the movie ended.  The short paragraphs below are those bullet points fleshed out, but you might still see some odd bullet syntax.)

THE GOOD

Ryan Gosling’s character (I’m not being lazy, he doesn’t have a name.  In the credits, he’s referred to as Driver.) is one of the most enigmatic machinations I’ve ever seen.  His character is inherently inhuman for the brutality he exacts upon his aggressors and the manic-depressive behavior he exhibits.  And, while I’m so on the fence about him that it hurts, the lack of humanity works in his character.  Because he is a man with no name, he can be more or less than human.  (For anybody who’s read it, this is a bit like Shadow from American Gods)

Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is an interesting character for his considerably more human portrayal, though he gets few precious moments of screen time before being executed to further the plot.  Returning from jail, he’s not the belligerent ex-con, but instead a caring father and family man who wants to repair the frayed ties to the people he loves and put his incarceration behind him.  Unfortunately, he’s not that lucky.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos) are completely static characters, Irene the adulterous wife and Beni the aloof child.  As his father is being injured and subsequently dies, Beni’s demeanor changes little.  Irene’s feelings for Ryan seem to grow immediately following the death of her husband as viewed in the elevator scene and the film’s ending.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a similarly static character.  He never does much to give his character depth, leaving us with a down-and-out auto shop owner who’s hired Gosling (and genuinely likes him) and has ties to the local mob.  While he’s inherently dirty for his ties to the mob and scheduling of Gosling’s "after-hours" activities, you grow fond for him throughout the film and are sad to see him killed.

The main mobsters of this film have received accolades from other critics and not without reason.  Nino (Ron Perlman) is a sort of horrifying ape of a man, who seems a sociopath until he has a conversation with his partner, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), and describes why life as a Jewish mobster is so difficult.  It’s almost endearing.  Still, Albert Brooks has more screen-time and effectively uses it to make something more than a one-dimensional mobster.  He’s a business man with friends who, begrudgingly, has to kill them.  While he seems to be a sociopath for the swiftness with which he kills, it’s business.  Still, it’s evident, on occasion, that his fondness for certain people extends to the way in which he takes care of them (i.e., attempting to be merciful when killing Shannon).

Beyond the odd assortment of characters, the film has an eclectic artistic direction.  There are many scenes in which we only see Gosling’s face and/or torso behind the wheel and the blurred background changing outside the windows.  It’s also a film that seems hell-bent on showing us that it takes place in Los Angeles.  (That last bit made me happy because I got to see shots of my hometown.) The most interesting artistic aspect of this film though, were the scenes resembling live theatre, where the lighting would dim on all players and sets save for the one(s) we’re supposed to focus upon. 

Finally, there’s an odd bit of irony in closing music.  A pop song with the lyrics "a real hero, a real human being" plays as Gosling drives away and the credits begin to roll.  It seems particularly ironic because those are the two things Gosling’s character did not seem to embody.  Gosling is less a hero or human, and more a destructive, though "just" force of nature.  He shows up, with no identity, enacts whatever he must, and leaves without anybody knowing who he is.

THE BAD

Film appears as if it’s 25-30 years old if not for the infrequent cell phone usage and a few cars.  That’s my succinct way of saying that, if they hadn’t shown us shot after shot of Los Angeles hot spots or made references to where everything was (Reseda Blvd, The valley, Echo Park, etc.), this film would have had no discernible time or place setting.  And doing so could have worked for this story, making it less real, and more a definition or attempt to redefine the archetype it was expected to fulfill. 

THE UGLY

Film will likely become notorious for seemingly unnecessary gore.  This film begins with driving and pleasant characters, enwrapped in some sort of intrigue (in this case, criminal acts to further advance their financial status quo).  Then Standard is being attacked by his old prison mates and everything takes a turn for the bloody after a failed heist.  Standard dies at the heist with multiple shot gun blasts to the back.  Then a female accomplice dies at the hide out after she takes a shot gun blast to the head (which we see in slow motion).  Gosling then kills the two assailants who’ve come to the hide out, one with a shot gun and another by ramming a pipe through his stomach/chest/mouth (I can’t remember which, just a lot of blood).  Then we have a series of knife/fork/straight razor based deaths and assaults, all proving a bit taxing on my stomach.  Luckily, I’d not eaten anything prior to viewing this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is not about the characters but about the actions they take out upon each other.  I know that seems a serious generalization and applicable to any film, but that’s what made this film different.  The characters didn’t need names or even backstories to tell the story as it did, it just needed faces and bodies to act out the motions.  The actions said more than words ever could and the film lingers in my mind because it chose not to tell me who I was seeing.

Now, leaving the review and entering the consumer advice (my old writing teacher’s gripe with critics), should you go see this film?  Well, it’s rated R for gore and nudity, so take that into account however you please.  It’s an interesting story that makes me want to read the novel it’s based off of.  So, while I can’t entirely say that I liked it, I do recommend it for others to form their own opinion on what will likely be a polarizing film.

WARRIOR (2011)

It wasn’t until yesterday that I began doing what I needed to do in order to fulfill the objective of this blog.  I went out the the cinema and saw a new release.  If you somehow managed to begin reading this article without looking at the title, the film I saw was Warrior

Now, before I begin my critique, I feel the need to mention a few things.  Most notably, I’m not really a fan of fighting.  I don’t watch WWE, UFC, professional boxing, or anything of the sort.  I’ve just never found it particularly interesting to see men harm each other for sport.  And, when I look at them as I look at NFL or MLB professional athletes, I think it an odd, if not disappointing choice of career.  However, much like 2010’s The Fighter, I adored this film. 

THE GOOD

First and foremost, I absolutely love the story of this film.  Fighting, while a major component of the film, is really just the vehicle by which the rest of the story is told.  More than fighting, we see characters developing in order to fight.  Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy spend less time on screen throwing punches and considerably more time conversing with their families, fleshing out their pasts, and building an observable rapport with the other characters in the film.  Where this story truly shows itself is in the family dynamic.  Hardy and Edgerton are estranged brothers, who are both estranged from their father, Nolte.  And, throughout the film, there’s no absolute moment of resolution.  Instead, Hardy grows minutely closer to (or simply less likely to throw a punch at) his father when Nolte hits his lowest point.  Edgerton "forgives" his father for ignoring him throughout his childhood, but still doesn’t actively engage him.  The dynamic between Edgerton and Hardy is more interesting and the actual meat of the film.  While they spend little time together on screen, you know throughout the film that their encounter is inevitable.  Then, upon meeting, you discover that Hardy resents Edgerton.  And, when they’re in the cage, Hardy holds nothing back. 

So, trying to not spoil this film too badly, I think I should move onto the characters.  While I’ve already summarized them above, their characters are so important to the quality of this film that I need to describe them in detail. 

First, and I am playing favorites here, is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton).  In the beginning, we’re presented with a family man celebrating his daughter’s birthday.  Obviously an attentive father and husband, we recognize him to be a "good" character.  When he goes to work, as a high school physics teacher, we observe his classroom dynamic.  He’s well liked by his students for being entertaining and down-to-earth, which only reinforces our sympathy for him.  His good fortune goes south however, as his house is scheduled to be foreclosed upon and, in an attempt to earn some extra money by joining an MMA fight, he’s suspended from his job.  Ergo, we’re left with a good man struggling to provide for his family.

Our other main character, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), exists as a stark contrast to his pure brother.  Tommy is the dark horse, an outrageously evident antihero whose amassment of issues seems almost ridiculous at first.  With the down jackets, watchman’s cap, and paper-bagged bottle of alcohol, he’s the stereotypical vagrant.  Luckily, he sheds the comical vagrant look to detail his background.  First a professional young wrestler with great aspirations, he eventually left his raging alcoholic father with his dying mother.  When she passed, he joined the marines.  Upon having his closest brother-in-arms killed by friendly fire, he goes AWOL, but doesn’t manage to escape the warzone before saving the lives of a few fellow marines.  Now on the run from military police, attempting to provide some sort of support for his fallen comrade’s family, he reunites with his father (still hating him) to begin training for the MMA world championship, Sparta.

Beyond Hardy and Edgerton, we have Nolte and a large supporting cast.  Nolte’s character, Paddy Conlon, is a regretful father.  Attempting to repair his long broken relationships with his two estranged sons, most of the scenes show him sad, making poor attempts to grow closer to his boys, but then being rejected in all of his advances.  His character lacks any real catharsis (a recurring theme in this film), but we find one warming moment when Hardy calms him down after he’s begun drinking again.  This moment comes in great contrast to his previous attempts, as we see that Hardy retains some amount of sympathy for his depressed father.

Now that I’ve essentially explained all that you need to know about the characters that affect the ending.  I can attempt to describe why I feel that this is the greatest film of 2011.  This film, while being an exciting action/fight film, is a much better drama film.  While we have the Rocky reference when Brendon’s wife yells at him for fighting, we have a much more heart wrenching scene in the film’s last ten minutes.  Watching the two brothers fight, one for his family and the other for revenge, and seeing that Edgerton doesn’t want to fight whereas Hardy wants to injure his brother, observing Edgerton’s victory becomes so much more painful.  Needing to prevent his brother from continuing, Edgerton dislocates Hardy’s shoulder.  The doesn’t stop Hardy though, and thus Edgerton is forced to continue through sobs and apologies, to incapacitate his brother.  I can honestly say that this is the first movie to bring me to tears in over a decade.    

THE BAD

While I’m in love with this movie, like any love, it’s not perfect.  There are two main points that I felt were not up to the same quality as the rest of the film. 

The first point is simply a minor qualm I had with characters that are the subject of much dialogue, despite making relatively few appearances.  The daughters, Brendon’s children, take this role.  As a major motivational force for Brendon and virtually every opening line of conversation other characters try to have with him, I was surprised that the daughters did not receive more screen time.

My other point is the ending of this film.  It leaves the audience more saddened than virtually any other ending could have.  While that’s admirable, it also leaves you questioning the fate of Hardy as he’s been discovered by the military police as an AWOL soldier but you never actually see him being taken into custody.

THE UGLY

I truly adore this film and therefore I only have one major point for this category.  My greatest upset with this film was Hardy’s first appearances.  His physical appearance and actions in the first few minutes made it very hard to sympathize for his character.  From the negative costume choice to the pill popping to his upset demeanor at every turn, it takes a considerable amount of time and flashbacks for the audience to recognize that he’s more than just a black sheep, he’s a person whose goals and aspirations are of some merit.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I absolutely believe that this is the best film of 2011.  While I’ve a special penchant for father-and-son films, my heartstrings are even more easily pulled by brother films.  So I have a small bias for this film.  Still, whereas I thought The Fighter was a great film, Warrior takes a great film and makes an excellent film.

THE HELP (2011)

Look at the title.  Now look at the date.  Look back at the title.  Look at the date once more.  Sadly, you ought to recognize that this film came nearly four weeks ago.  So why am I reviewing it now?  Why am I not reviewing one of the films that came out two days ago?  Well, in the simplest sense, because The Help seemed better than any film released this week.  I had considered seeing The Debt, being a fan of stories about secret agents and intrigue, it seemed like it would be a good fit for me.  But then The Help shot up to the number one position in last week’s box office totals.  So, I decided to finally see the movie my mother had told me to go see weeks ago.

THE GOOD

Let me begin by saying that this film was incredibly well written.  And that was expected.  Why?  Because it was a novel before it was a film.  While readers of the original literature may always find issues regarding the move from text to motion picture, it’s virtually guaranteed that whenever you have the book-to-film scenario, an excellent story will be told.

While I say an excellent story was told, unlike many of my other posts (especially those involving Emma Stone), this has nothing to do with clever dialogue.  What was truly great about this film was that it told a story that mattered, a period piece taking place in Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960s, using people that were real.  These were not human caricatures based off stereotypes, nor were they fabrications made to present the image of one side being better than the other.  They were constructed of narrative voices and histories that, in tandem with good actors, made the characters into people we’d recognize and cheer on or despise.

These characters and the many men and women who played them performed very well in this film.  Of all the talented actors and actresses, a few deserved special commendations.  The first of these is Viola Davis, who played Aibileen Clark.  She is, if not the protagonist, certainly one of them.  Her character was incredibly balanced in terms of emotion and intelligence, and Davis performed the role so well as to have me completely believe she had always been a maid as her mothers before her.  The second is Octavia Spencer, the actress and basis for the character Minny Jackson (author of The Help claimed that Spencer was who she pictured Minny as when she was writing).  Next is Emma Stone, who portrayed the writer Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan.  Stone is beautiful as always (which is a slight conflict that I’ll discuss later) and retorts with snappy quips to any negative situation as she does in all of her movies.  Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, who was the film’s antagonist, Hilly Holbrook.  She perfectly assumes the role of "the character we love to hate".  After Howard, we have Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek, mothers to Stone’s and Howard’s characters, respectively.  Both were incredibly funny when the film called for a laugh, and otherwise acted as women in their positions would.  I applaud them both.  Finally, and a bit of an oddity for how little we see of him, is Nelsan Ellis, who takes the role of Henry the Waiter.  That’s right, we see so little of him that he doesn’t receive a last name but a job position.  Still, I thought he was one of the most impressive characters for being eternally kind and pleasant in a time of strife, and being a vehicle in order to move the plot forward. 

THE BAD

It’s difficult, though not impossible, for me to find elements within this film that I did not enjoy.  The first, and probably most important, is the absolute ending.  Or rather, the lack of such a thing.  To spoil the film, though nobody should watch this film for the ending, it’s about the humanity displayed.  So, it ends with Skeeter’s book, The Help, being published and recognized by Hilly.  Hilly has Aibileen’s mistress fire her and threatens to call the police.  Aibileen has an emotional moment with the child she has been nannying for years, and then leaves the house with a few tears as the child screams.  Then we have a voice over by Aibileen saying that she retired at that moment and is ready for whatever the future may bring.  But that’s the biggest issue.  She has just lost her job, the people of Jackson are slowly realizing that the book is about them, Skeeter is leaving for New York, and black people are being killed during the tumultuous years leading up to the civil rights movement.  While the final image you’re left with, Aibileen walking down a street flanked by large trees, is pleasant, it leaves you wondering if there is any sort of happy future for her. That said, this is probably the best ending as we could hope for as fleshing out the rest of her life (or the next few years) would have been a real detraction from the plot.

My only other qualm is the choice of Emma Stone for Skeeter.  While I adore Emma, Skeeter’s character is supposed to have image problems.  Supposedly unattractive in high school and having issues with men throughout the film, it seems off that such an attractive actress (especially recently if you’ve seen Jim Carrey’s recent confession) would be chosen for the character. 

THE UGLY

Only one item can be placed under this heading.  And it’s when Spencer’s character feeds her mistress a chocolate pie into which she has mixed her own excrement.  (Even writing that is painful, at least as I try to remain even remotely professional.)  So, while the concept is a little disappointing for such a good film, it was done (I’m going to regret this next word for many, many reasons) tastefully.  You only come to know what’s in the pie through dialogue and it’s the reactions to this event that are truly hilarious, particularly Spacek’s laughing at her daughter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend the film to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  It’s enjoyable to watch and particularly so for being an impressively human and balanced drama.  Lastly, it’s a rather long film, about two and a quarter hours, meaning that you get your money’s worth without it feeling overly lengthy.

IT ALL ENDS

Well, it was supposed to.  So, I just got back from the theatre about fifteen minutes ago after viewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2 in 3D.  And, well, this is what I thought:

THE GOOD

I’ll try my best to do this chronologically, which has me start with Gringotts Wizarding Bank.  I thought the visuals in this scene were brilliant and exciting, coming in stark contrast to the scenes that had preceded it.  I was particularly fond of the rotating rail-car that Harry and the group used to access Bellatrix’s vault.  I thought the dark and wet cavern they travelled through was well designed.  Finally, I thought the vault looked good, as did the multiplying gold trinkets and cups.

After this scene…well, we skip like half the film, and I pick up enjoyable moments in the fortification of Hogwarts and the main battle scene. 

First, I enjoyed the reunion of Harry with McGonagall in the hall.  I felt that, like many characters in this film and throughout the entire series, she was underrepresented.  She’s one of my favorite characters and, while there was considerable emotional depth whenever she came onscreen, there could have been more had she more dialogue.  Listening to her welcome Harry back to school, telling off Filch, or explaining to Flitwick that Voldemort would kill him regardless of the name he used conveyed more emotion than most other characters throughout the entire film.

Second, I enjoyed McGonagall enchanting the statues of the castle to life.  While the CGI wasn’t absolutely perfect, it was certainly fun to see a stone soldier leap from a pedestal and land on one knee.  Furthermore, the visual of the soldiers standing at attention, guarding the bridge to Hogwarts was well done. 

Third, and likely the best scene from the film, was Molly Weasley’s battle against Bellatrix Lestrange.  Beginning with Molly’s best line (EVER) “Not my daughter, bitch!” at Bellatrix’s provocation, they duel upon a set of bleachers with Molly killing Bellatrix about fifteen seconds after the duel began.  Bellatrix’s death, however, was a bit off.  Instead of leaving a corpse like a normal dying creature, she explodes into a cloud of shards. 

Fourth, Neville Longbottom slicing apart Nagini the snake.  Simply an epic image, standing out in the minds of those who’d seen the previous films as being in stark contrast to the Neville who tripped over his own robes and was paralyzed by Hermione when trying to stand against her. 

After the main battle, there are two endings.  The main ending in which Harry destroys the Elder Wand and then the epilogue.  I enjoyed the main ending as it finally redeemed Harry’s character for me.  Often he would complain of his fate as the boy who lived and simultaneously steal attention from everyone else on Earth.  However, in this one moment, Harry destroys the Elder Wand, leaving behind a guarantee of greatness and/or excitement.  As for the epilogue, I felt that it was unnecessary both in the book and the film.  In the film though, it left the realm of unnecessary and entered that of confusing.  I’ll get to that in the next section, however.  What I liked in this scene, was the conversation between Harry and his son, probably the most understandable example of emotion throughout the film and certainly the most welcome in my mind.

In general, I felt that the actors did well.  I recognize that most, it not all, of my issues with this film lie in the writing.  So I applaud the actors on ending the series well.  I feel that they did excellently, save for a few whom I’ll point out in the next section.

THE BAD

As a fan of the novels, this could be quite long, but I’ll try to keep it short. 

My first issue was with the dragon guarding the vault at Gringotts.  While others have told me that this is the better rendering of a dragon done in any of the Potter films, the image left me feeling off.  I kept finding issues with the animation that may or may not have truly existed.  This left me with the thought that, at some points, I think the dragon had too much detail. 

Now, I’ve decided to depart from chronologically naming individual issues to sweeping generalities. 

The romance between Ron and Hermione was rushed and therefore comical.  After having ignored it for much of the first film, the second attempted to rush the romance between Hermione and Ron, creating and hour and a half of poorly timed kisses, much hand-holding, and lost screen time in hugs.  The most noticeable of these was the long kiss between Ron and Hermione in the Chamber of Secrets after a wave of water flows over them.  It just randomly occurs, then it cuts to Voldemort screaming over his just-destroyed horcrux.  The follow-up of screaming to the kiss just made the scene hilarious.

Next, major characters were either completely ignored or had single-line cameos in this film when they should have delivered pieces of instrumental or at least memorable dialogue.  Case in point, Lupin and Tonks.  I hardly remember seeing Tonks in the first Deathly Hollows film and, in this one, the only times I saw her were walking, stretching her hand to meet Lupin’s, and then as a corpse.  Now, this seems like a fan-based issue, but it also to do with the characters being alienating if one considers this a stand-alone film as well.   

Beyond ignored characters, many of the deaths were undervalued.  Now, in any major battle, the casualties will prevent much grief being spared to individuals.  That said, certain deaths should have stood out more.  Fred’s death was undervalued because it’s forgotten almost immediately after the eight seconds of wailing on-screen.  Lupin and Tonk’s deaths are undervalued because they’re not mourned by anybody, merely noticed by Harry.  In a strange twist of fate, the most notable deaths seemed to be Goyle’s and the head goblin of Gringotts, both of whom perished in large fires.

To my few qualms with the acting, it mostly comes up with Voldemort.  I’m not sure if the blame lies with the actor or the writers, but virtually all of the actions that took place in this film felt awkward.  Everything from witticisms to movements felt forced and out of character for what is supposed to be The Dark Lord.

Finally, the epilogue.  I remember having issues with this when I first read the book and thinking, before the movie had began, that I’d detest it here as well.  Yet, as I wrote above, it contained one of my favorite moments.  That said, it had more than it’s fair share of issues.  First, if this had been a single film, the epilogue would have been completely pointless, extending simple characters far beyond that which they should go.  Taken as a series, it makes a bit more sense.  However, it was largely unexplained as to whom the children were, Teddy Lupin being left up to the novel fan to recognize at all.  Beyond that, whether you’ve read the novel or not, the scene feels forced, like the film could have ended just before the scene began.

THE UGLY

(This is where the fan of the novels notes the inconsistencies in a calm and eloquent manner.)

WHAT HAPPENED TO NEVILLE MCBADASS?!?!  In the final novel, Neville Longbottom is supposed to assume leadership of Dumbledore’s Army, basically become the unsung hero defender of Hogwarts, and essentially look like a young Mad-Eye Moody by the end.  Instead, we have a slightly taller version of the bumbling Neville we’ve always known, who has really only taken the helm of leadership because nobody else would.  It was less the alternate boy who lived and more of a temporary stand-in for Harry while he was out.

I’m still pissed about the crummy death sequences.  Lupin and Tonks, Fred, even the Creevey kid were more or less ignored.  I recognize that a lot of people died in the seventh book, but Hedwig and Dobby were mourned for minutes, not seconds.  I feel that the other major and minor characters deserve at least some semblance of this.

The epilogue.  Like I said before, it was bad in the book because it left you too happy.  Or it tried to do so.  Here, it left you with a bunch of faces you wouldn’t recognize if you weren’t looking for them, and portrayed the adult original cast rather cheaply.  After almost two decades, the only real changes are that Ginny has a terrible haircut and that Ron is fat. 

Now, the point I’ve been waiting for, creative license.  Specifically, Harry jumping off the bridge while hugging Voldemort.  Everybody who has seen any of the trailers knows exactly what I’m talking about.  What the hell was that?  “Let’s finish this like we started it, together.”  It’s a great action line, but seriously, if the movie ended with them both falling to their deaths, I’d have laughed my way out of the theatre.  Instead however, Voldemort flies around a bit, their faces become one, and they land to finish the fight.  It was a pointlessly added scene that upset me the first time I saw it in the trailers and it upsets me now because it was funny when it shouldn’t have been.

There are countless other inconsistencies I could be upset about, but I’ll try to end it here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a film, and only as a film, it was pretty good.  In fact, while this is news to nobody, it’s a must-see of the summer.  But then again, people often don’t have good taste.  However, taste is a nonissue here.  The movie is a spectacle worth viewing and is likely to entertain many.

Stricter fans of the novels will obviously have their qualms with this film as they had with its predecessors.  Beyond the norm though, they may have more issues with this one than some of the others. 

In the end, the very end, as this is where it all ends, it ended well.  I think they (the actors, writers, producers, etc.) did a good job and left me satisfied with the way this eight-part series concluded.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (FILM REVIEW)

Writing in a mild state of delirium with the image still fresh in my mind, I have to say that the movie was good.  It did a lot of things I liked, a few things I didn’t like, and then just made me feel like I’d watched a previous Transformers’ film with a slightly different plotline.

THE GOOD

This movie follows the previous movie in terms of story and characters.  The only continuity break that was truly noticeable was the departure of Megan Fox (see THE BAD for more).

As expected with any Michael Bay film, and doubly so for his opus, the Transformers franchise, we’re treated to two hours of explosions and car porn.  Now, if you take a quick look at IMDB (it’s okay, I’ll wait) … (not), you’ll see that the movie runs just over two and a half hours.   So, why did I say two?  Well, this follows the Transformers’ model of providing a semblance of background story in the first twenty to thirty minutes to enable the film to revolve around a central concept or event.  This is then followed by the fire effects everybody bought tickets for.

THE BAD

Remember that little note after the departure of Megan Fox above?  This is where it comes back.  Now, I remained completely ignorant of the growing feud between Fox and Bay, only understanding that she would not be in Transformers 3.  I understand that and naturally assumed, for continuity’s sake, that the film would briefly allude to her absence and then proceed with the story.  In fact, I’d previously spoken to some friends about the exact situation.  I assumed the characters would bring her up (not by name) and say something about her dumping him.  That would have solved the problem completely.  And the scene began just so.  But then something a bit unprofessional happened.  Two of the autobots made comments about her, one saying that he didn’t like her, and the other calling her mean.  Perhaps this was prompted by history I missed, or written for comedy’s sake.  However, if it wasn’t, it seems more than just a little bit petty.

THE UGLY

After that obnoxiously long rant, what more could I possibly have to say?  Well, there were a few final details that stood out. 

First, this movie seemed to be making a lot of references that were funny to notice, but then immediately diminished the quality of the film.  For instance:

  • The “Boomsticks” (one of Wheeljack’s weapons),
  • “There can only be one” (uttered by either Sentinel or Megatron during the final battle),
  • and Optimus’s “Fight for Freedom” speech (not sure if this is original or not, but it has an Independence Day feel to it).

Second, the racism equilibrium.  If I remember right, a group of people claimed two characters from the previous Transformers film were derogatory towards African-Americans.  Well, this time the tables were turned with what my friend pointed out as being a few Nascar Transformers known as The Wreckers.  Sadly, I thought they’d been Scotsmen.  Not sure just how bad that is for my North-Western European heritage, but whatever.  Upon further investigation, it seems one of the three voice actors was British.  I feel slightly less wrong.  (God save my ignorant American soul…)

Third, this movie vaguely held a plotline similar to the previous films, but made the characters considerably more static.  In fact, the characters, having been caricatures in the past, became caricatures of caricatures.  The parents were painfully, disgustingly unaware of any impending danger or what matters of their son’s life should be left alone.  The new girlfriend was a standard damsel in distress for the entire film, not the tough-girl we’d come to expect from Megan Fox.  The human villain was evil to his own death, just progressing from casual jerk to harbinger of destruction.  Worst of all though, was Shia LaBeouf’s character, whose most consistent emotion was a temper tantrum involving screaming and poor displays of violence. 

Finally, this film seemed darker than the previous two, even when accounting for the death of Optimus and Sam in the last one.  Instead, this one goes over the top with betrayals and the utter destruction of Chicago.  It also makes use of guns similar to the weapons employed by the tripods of War of the Worlds.  Furthermore, the story doesn’t try to reconcile the thousands, or perhaps millions dead at the end of the film.  The loss of life isn’t even recognized after the final battle.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Well, looking at what I’ve written here, it seems that I felt negatively about the film more than anything else.  But that’s not really true.  The movie is not a cinematic classic and has plotholes that must’ve made the script look like swiss cheese.  That said, this film does exactly what it promised to do:  It gave you transforming robot-cars and explosions to satisfy even the most deranged of pyromaniacs. 

I would recommend this film for teenagers (probably not the best film for children under 8 ) and anybody else looking for an explosive action film that doesn’t require great thought.

IN BRIGHTEST DAY, IN BLACKEST NIGHT… (GREEN LANTERN FILM REVIEW)

Yeah, that was far from an imaginative title, but who could blame me?  This isn’t exactly an imaginative film.  Nay, it’s based off a seventy-or-so year-old comic book hero.  And that’s brilliant.  Green_Lantern_poster

IT’S NOT BAD

I’d like to start this by taking on the critics that said this movie was poorly written or lacking plot. 

Well, what did you expect?  The film was based off 32-page pulp comics whose prime audience was children from 12-18.  This movie intended on commercializing an audience of families with children, teenagers, men of all ages, and young couples.  This was not a film for Roger Ebert and his ilk to analyze the character development (or lack thereof) over the 105 minute runtime.  It was the faithful reproduction of a golden age comic book. 

What does that mean?   Simply, that the colors should be vibrant and the characters be caricatures.  Your hero will be glowing green and he’ll battle a foe who’s bent on destroying the planet without reason.  The hero will be the edifice of good, whilst the villain hates everything he stands for.  The villain will only become more villainous as the hero becomes more heroic. This was expected and delivered.

BEYOND THE CRITICISMS

The film was enjoyable, certainly, but that should be a given if I’m defending it from the critics.So, plot issues aside, what did I think of it?

610-green-lantern-2I thought it was fun to view.  In more words, the images stood out.  Hal Jordan wore a glowing green, skin-tight suit.  Parallax was a giant, city-sized smoke monster with a dreadful face.  Giant fists, artillery cannons, and race cars made of “will” were entertaining CGI constructions.  Furthermore, the fish-like creature, Tomar-Re, creates a magnificent cyclical construct that I could have stared at for much longer than the fifteen seconds for which it was on-screen.

I thought the acting was enjoyable for Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and Tomar-Re’s voice over.  Ryan Reynolds pulled the goofy playboy act that he’s known for, Mark Strong looked good embodying a soon-to-be foe, and Geoffrey Rush was as supportive to the fresh Lantern as we hoped.GL_tomar-re_Crop

WHAT DIDN’T I LIKE?

The female characters were painfully underdeveloped.  Sadly, anything I say here is more or less negated by my comic book explanation.  The female characters were often minimal and static.  Likewise, the women in this film did not develop beyond being something to save or attracting the eye of certain male characters.

Also, I could have done without the screaming.  Not of damsels in distress, but of Dr. Hammond.  I understand that his character was experiencing nightmarish pain and probably envisioning horrors unheard of.  That said, watching his writhing and listening to the screams left a bad taste in my mouth.  To that same end, I applaud Peter Sarsgaard for fulfilling the demands of the role.green-lantern-hammond-poster-thumb

FINAL THOUGHTS

This film was fun.  It was a comic book brought to the big screen without losing anything. 

It was fun.

It was cheesy.

And it was green.

greenlantern-440x440

It’s named after the film (Super 8 film review)

On the way home from the theatre, a passenger in the car began to question the film’s title.  The driver responded that it may have been an allusion to the film’s alien, but I knew otherwise:

To my 21st century brethren, allow me to enlighten you.  Once, long ago, digital cameras were not the primary means of recording images and video.  The older among us will still remember these days, filled with cassette tapes and rolls of kodak 35mm film.  Beyond them though, in the time of the ancients, video was recorded on film.  Not playable in your VCR, and not transferrable to any player.  Rather, the reels had to be developed similar to the 35mm kodak rolls.  This, Super 8mm film, is the source from which the movie derives its name.220px-S8cartridg

Now that you know this, let’s look at more important matters.  How was the movie?  In short, good.  Yes, it was a good movie. But that shouldn’t surprise anybody.  J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg routinely produce loved box-office hits.  Bringing them together was the beginning of what could have been the greatest sci-fi movie ever released.  Did it reach this level of excellence?  No, it did not.  That said, it didn’t hit a Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull level of bad either.  It fell somewhere between these two extremes, and I’d say it was considerably closer to the former than the latter.

While I will not spare this movie any criticisms I may have, there were a few things it did very well.  First was the fun meta-film aspect.  I don’t mean this in the way that The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield are told through recovered film.  What I mean is that the movie folds over on itself as we’re viewing the filming of an unrelated story as the movie develops.  This allowed for the characters to move the plot along and develop meaningful characters while being exactly where they were needed to experience the alien’s rampage first-hand. 

Second, I congratulate Abrams and Spielberg for not overdoing the alien.  One gripe I had with Cloverfield was that the alien seemed to be the size of a city block and as tall as a skyscraper.  While we’re not allowed to observe most of the alien until the very end of this movie, he was something between the height of a bus and a house and about as long as a commercial truck (maybe a truck and a half).   Furthermore, he did not have the futuristic or weapons-enabled appearance of some aliens, while apparently retaining intelligence and perhaps a semblance of mercy.  220px-Super_8_Poster

Third, and finally for my brief list of positives, I enjoyed the young, innocent romance between Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning).  The evolution of their “relationship” was entertaining to watch as it had few, if any, cringe moments while never seeming superficial or forced.  Likewise, we don’t have the relationship that stems solely from their mutual involvement in an hour-long disaster.  Rather, they share several instances of dialogue that bring them together emotionally while simultaneously building their characters for the viewer and answering questions pertaining to events just prior to the beginning of the film.

But what of the negatives?  Well, there are only two things that I was even remotely bothered by.  The first is the portrayal of Joe’s and Alice’s fathers.  The former’s is shown from the beginning to nearly the end of the film as having no grasp of his mild-mannered son and consistently ignoring him for his responsibilities as deputy.  The latter is a raging alcoholic with emotional issues.  While Alice’s father helped to strengthen her character and even affected Joe’s character, Joe’s father only seemed to have his personality for a few father/son conflicts that did little to build characters or move the plot along.

super-8-train-crash11My other grievance with this film was an experiential issue that slightly diminished the enjoyment I had in theatre.  While the images were excellent, each scene was well shot and the special effects were brilliant, the sound did not work at the same level.  Unfortunately, it seemed like somebody had watched the film distracted and later said that the action sequences didn’t have proper visual cues but that the situation could be remedied with volume.  This produced ear drum shattering explosions and screams, often causing audience members to jump when the suspense alone should have sufficed.  If I make one recommendation to any future viewers, it’s that you cover your ears just before the train crash.  I’m sure you’ll still be able to hear it, but you won’t feel assaulted afterwards like everybody else in the theatre. 

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  The writing and videography was above average.  To anybody who wants the ultra-short synopsis: It’s a cross between E.T. (Spielberg’s influence was painfully obvious) and Cloverfield.  I would not recommend this movie for children under 8, but I’m sure that most others will enjoy it.

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