Jul 9, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

The Last Airbender – Hurm, this is a hard one. I know, intellectually, that it’s not a very good movie. The writing is pretty atrocious.  I don’t know what the hell M Night was thinking writing this garbage. The dialogue is nearly painful in parts. The acting is kind of so so. The filming in general is fine, nothing amazing. Momo isn’t even named in the movie, let alone used. Appa is barely used, we only got one quiet “yip yip” But, god dammit, I love the show so much. It is one of only two shows I’ve ever watched more than once. I mean, sure, I’ve watched reruns in syndication. Especially the comedies, especially especially the cartoon comedies like simpsons and family guy. But that was long ago when I had time and cable. But Avatar and Firefly are the only things I’ve watched all the way through more than once, more than twice! So this movie started about 28 legs up. Granted, you could imagine that would turn into disaster with nerd rage and dire screams of “I am not pleased!” from the back of the theater. But that’s not what happened (at least not for me, my movie going companion experienced her first ever nerd rage, I believe). Instead I gave this movie all the leeway in the world just for showing me more avatar. The effects are pretty great. The movie made much more of a deal of the form of bending than the show, which was actually cool. It seemed like kind of a cop out to turn a given effect into a 10 second arm-waving ordeal instead of having to pay for 10 fire blasts in one second. But there is, no pun, an art to the forms in martial arts. I don’t remember what they are called, those practice routines that train technique or stances or attacks or whatever. But there is quite the love for those in this movie. I’ve been told the cartoon was really faithful in that regard, using real martial art motions, and the movie really takes than and runs, it was cool. The fights are pretty cool, they cheap out at times and avoid showing the cool stuff. But they ramp it up at the end and it’s pretty fun. I think the movie actually does a pretty admirable job of compressing 7 or so hours worth of season 1 into a 2 hour movie. There’s no way they could get it all, but they manage to hit the high points. It’s kind of a greatest hits record, plot wise. Sadly, the charm is almost completely missing. I think this is inevitable too. The cartoon is wacky and silly and a little over the top. There’s no way to to that live action. They could have mimiced it, I suppose, but I think they made the wiser choice to underplay the humor. I think there could have been more, I don’t think M Night is a good comedy writer, but I agree theoretically with how they went about it. For the same reason, the movie lacks the charm of the show. All the little moments are gone, sitting around a campfire telling stupid jokes or hopes or fears. The small moments around a cup of tea between iro and zuko are gone except for one place, which I was happy to see. So, the movie isn’t great, but I kind of loved it anyway, I got to see all the bending fights and that was great. There is, of course, the meta issue of race bending I think I should mention. The cartoon is pretty strongly not white. The written language is something asian (which is preserved in the movie), and nearly everyone is a non-white race. Aang is the only exception, though some might argue he’s asian, he seems kinda white to me. So we were all pretty shocked when the first trailers came out and Kitara and Sokka were pretty strikingly not non-white. Aang was as well, though that was fine. Zuko was at least dark skinned, and that was mostly all I saw. It’s kind of depressing, sure, in an ideal world you hire the best actor for the part (and the sokka guy does look an awful lot like him, modulo skin tone). But the world is not ideal, and there are a lot more white actors than dark skinned actors. And too often we “end up” with white leads that are best for the part instead of the other way around. So, I’m not comfortable with their chocies. On the other hand, the movie did go out of its way to make all the nations extremely multicultural. In the show everyone is kind of asian-ish, in the movie you get everything in most of the nations, which is pretty cool. Fire nation might have been an exception, but it’s hard to tell under all that armor. So that’s the story, I can’t help but like this movie, and I’m super excited for a sequel and to see Toph, and that crazy earth kingdom old man, and the earth king, and all that. And god dammit, next time there better be the cabbage man. It kind of sucks that the movie was missing so many little things of the movie, but I honestly don’t know what you would expect in 2 hours. I see this movie, like I said, as a highlight reel. If you want the charm, and the humor, and the little stories, go watch the damn show, it’s the best way you’ll ever spend 7 hours.

Prince of Persia – Well, it’s taken me a week to get around to even writing this review, and that’s about how I feel about the movie. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just fundamentally underwhelming. It seems like it could have been a really fun movie, it had all the elements. The actors are nothing special, especially given the race bending going on (I’m looking at you, last air bender). Are people really seeing this cuz jake jigglypuff is in it? Couldn’t they have gotten, like, a persian guy? Maybe one that can even do parkour so that the action scenes aren’t a compilation of 59 1.5 second clips spliced together by quick cuts and reaction shots. The princess was unimpressive as well. Everyone was, really. I think the movie looks pretty good, like aladdin come to life. The effects are mostly cool, the sands of time stuff is pretty great besides the weird CG faces they get. The movie isn’t that funny, some humor, but kind of forced. The action is decent, but suffers the same quick cut treatment as the free running. The plot is fine, if kind of hole-ey. I mean, I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t sitting in it praying for it to be over. But I am 100% neutral about the fact that hte movie exists and that I saw it. It’s just completely unimportant. Sad to say.

Best Worst Movie – This is a pretty amazing movie. It’s a documentary by the kid (now grown) who starred in Troll 2, widely found to be and celebrated because it is one of the worst movies ever made. But bad in a way (I haven’t seen it yet) that is genuine, like they really tried and really failed. Not so much just didn’t give a shit. The “star” is the guy who was the father in the movie, who is an unbelievably nice dentist in alabama whom everyone likes. He has an interesting arc. He gets very quickly wrapped up in the “celebrity” of being the guy from troll 2. Whereas the first screening he is blown away by all these people there to see him, by the end he is practically bullying everyone he meets into learning about his movie and his obnoxious catch phrase. But reality hits hard when he goes to some places that don’t embrace him. Where he is no more or less important than some chick who played some chick in the 8th Freddie movie. It’s an interesting moment of clarity. Eventually he seems to wear of the faux fame and though he loves the spotlight, maybe feel like he’d rather be the little fish in the tiny pond. It’s not to take anyting away from him, he seems honestly like one of the nicest people on the planet, but it’s an interesting arc. But we also go through and meet most of the people involved in the movie, and go through the screenings and conventions and all the culture surrounding this bad movie. It’s a very honest and endearing look at these people and the people who watch them and love them for their horribleness. It is at times very sad. The crazy guy who played the crazy shop keep is 100% crazy, no jokes. The woman who played the mother is a recluse, a shut-in. Semi-delusional, trapped in her very small world with no human interaction besides her enfeebled mother. I was very annoyed at people laughing at these parts. It was heart breaking to see where these people have ended up. But the movie as a whole is a celebration of this crazy movie and the crazy people who hold parties in its honor. It was at the Loft, so lots of the crazies were in attendance. After the movie we had a live skype chat with the creator. He was supposed to actually be there, but his wife had a baby. But the skype thing was neat, he seems like a pretty straightforward guy. But a couple questions from the audience proved the quality of people we were dealing with. Well, I shouldn’t judge their quality, but I can absolutely judge their classification. And in some cases – yikes. The movie is also largely about the director of Troll 2. An italian, with his wife who wrote it, that has largely no connection with the reality of movie making. He legitimately believes Troll 2 to be very good and very important. He is so around the bend that he’s another one of those somewhat sad characters. Not as much because he’s an (apparently) successful director who has a good life and I’m not worried about him. Not like the old man who couldn’t become an actor because he wouldn’t leave Salt Lake City. So he will die alone in a few years, and no one will remember him. I’m not being mean, he discusses his approaching fate, it kind of hurts. But the italian is not this, he’s mostly just a clueless idiot. He’s insulted that people consider his masterpiece the best worst movie. He’s insulted that his actors didn’t understand his genius. But by the end of the movie, I’d actually say that he wins. He has a monologue, one of many, toward the end about what makes a movie good. Not this or that, but its ability to make an impression. He has a disdain for boring emotionless movies, and thinks that anything that can gets you going, whether its funny, sad, or thought provoking, is the heart of a good movie. And that’s hard to argue with. And the fact that this movie has become such a thing and that all these people get together and have the best time of their year watching it – he wins. It’s not what he meant, if he thinks about it at all he’ll be embarrassed. But people love his creation, and that’s cool.

Alice in Wonderland – Hm. This movie isn’t that great. I fell asleep the first time, it is far from captivating. At the same time it’s a pretty burton-ey movie with all the expected crazy visuals. Though, honestly, if you’ve seen the trailers you’ve seen all the crazy visuals. But if you go into it just for that, you’ll be satisfied. The story is more interesting than I gave it credit for. It’s not precisely a remake, which is actually pretty cool. But there is something fundamentally lacking. Depp’s Hatter isn’t actually particularly charming, though he is supposed to be the quirky crazy rapscallion you love. The Tweedles aren’t funny, the rabbit isn’t endearing, the red queen isn’t scary, and white queen isn’t inspiring. The characters should carry this movie, but instead it falls flat. I don’t know if that’s the writing or the acting or both. It’s sad to say, because in principle it could have been pretty cool, but in reality it’s just kind of meh.

The Men Who Stare At Goats -

State of Play – So this is kind of a political intrigue / reporter movie. It’s a big of a love letter to investigative reporting, with a couple of montages of pavement pounding. Not really that much, though. Mostly its sort of a politics mystery thing. I suppose I didn’t see the end coming, we tend to naturally distrust certain entities in movies like this. But I was playing a game at the same time, and it’s not really much of a shocker or anything. People do fine, I suppose. Russell Crowe is himself, Rachel McAdams is fine. I didn’t like helen miram’s character, she was too bloody british. Almost a caricature of a strict british lady. The movie isn’t bad, but there’s not all that much to say about it either, I don’t think.

Land of the Lost – Wasn’t really expecting much from this movie. It’s funnier than I thought it would be. Mostly the humor is the standard will farrell stuff. Something crazy happens and he talks/yells loudly about the ridiculousness of the situation and that’s funny. It’s kind of old hat, but it still made me laugh. The movie is fairly inoffensive, I thought it would be stupider. I have no connection to the original, so whatever is or is not there is lost on me, no pun. I wouldn’t rush out to see it or anything, but it was surprisingly enjoyable for what it was.

The Day The Earth Stood Still – Well, I finally saw the remake! I watched the original almost TWO YEARS ago because the remake was coming out and I thought I should be prepared! Jeeeeesus I’m slow. This movie is fine. I don’t remember the original, which was the whole fucking point of watching it before seeing this. But apparently I thought it was decent. A nice cautionary tale (against our own self-destruction) that likely had much more impact in the 50s than now, though our own self-destruction is as real a possibility as ever. This one doesn’t focus on that so much. It’s mostly a normal scifi theme of the aliens thinking we are brutes, then seeing our good side, then wanting to save us. Everyone does okay. The movie has sort of a digital sheen on it. Looks as if it was all digital backgrounds, though I’m sure it wasn’t. I guess it fits with the style. I don’t really think there’s any reason for the movie, it doesn’t do anything better than the first. The galactus-style nano machine effect is neat, that’s pretty much the only solid improvement.

Pathfinder – I’m fairly shocked at how good this movie was. Now, I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s better than bad. First off, the atmosphere, while kind of cheating, is very cool. It’s all very dark and misty. Feels “new world” in a stereotypical way, but is actually somewhat original for an action movie like this. The viking thing, too, is basically unexploited territory. I can’t even think of the last time I saw viking-based entertainment. I’m thinking that old SNES lemmings-like game with the 3 vikings. That’s all I got. So that’s in its favor. NOT in its favor is the ridiculous white man saves the ethnics story. I understand that it makes dramatic sense for a leftover from the invaders to save the invaded, I get it. But let’s be realistic and recognize that you are once again having whitey mcwhiterson save all the poor natives. There’s nothing special about the writing or the acting, but you don’t expect there to be in this movie. The fact that it’s not obnoxious is a real achievement. The action is pretty alright, with the caveat that they hide behind the mist a little too often. Sadly, this “wow, this is almost good” feeling has me almost more upset about the movie than not. I expected it to be shit, i would watch it, see some swords, see some shit, and forget. The fact that this movie has almost a measurable quantity of worth is distressing, because you can see where it would have been good. Attend to your race issues, fix some really dramatic missed opportunities when it comes to action scene structure, spruce up the look and the writing a little, and you’d have yourself a movie. It still wouldn’t be anything amazing, but it would be ahead of the pack in this genre. It really had a chance! Oh well, I’d still say I liked it, when netflix asks.

Raise the Red Lantern – This movie causes some consternation in me. It’s about a household, in china 50 or 100 years ago. The dude is the boss, he has 4 wives, and a shit ton of servants. The main character is the fourth wive, a college girl (apparently a rare thing) who’s family has no money and so she becomes a wife. The consternation comes from me finding myself thinking bad things about victims in this movie. It’s horrible that this girl has no choice but to become a professional mistress. Yet she takes to her role with such arrogance, cruelty, and expectation that you hate her. She is a insufferable little brat who mistreats her maid and expects the world to be handed to her. Meanwhile, the other wives are no better. They fight and connive and betray to be the preferred wife, which is sad and pathetic. But the actress do an amazing job of displaying this and the psychology that leads them to it. The desperation is palpable. And in a sick way, you can understand how these women are beaten down (not literally, but then I wouldn’t be surprised, they just don’t show it) so much that the only achievement then can attain is to be the preferred wife. Their world view is so distorted that they think earning the right to be forced to have sex with this man is a good thing. Just because it comes with foot rubs, literally. It’s a disturbing frame of mind that is presented, but I think the movie is fairly fantastic for doing it. They make a point of never showing the man closer than half a room away, which is interesting. The movie is also gorgeous, this is partially my penchant for chinese architecture and art. But it’s filmed really beautifully as well. Much care (almost redundant care) is gone into framing shots. The house of the 4th mistress is always shown the same way, with a little patch of ground framed by 4 close buildings, the house in the back. People are often shown through doorways, multiple doorways, framed by light and the doorway itself. It’s striking and lovely. It’s not really a movie that you love, because it is sad, it doesn’t go anywhere good, bad things happen and the cycle continues. But it is a good movie.

Throne of Blood – So here’s a funny story – a japanese remake of an english story! Whaaaaaa? It turns out this is Akira Kurosawa’s remake of MacBeth. I’ve never seen or read macbeth, so I don’t know how it compares, but wiki tells me its nearly exactly the same. Two war heroes, given a prophecy of different levels of greatness. But things do not go that way immediately for the one who should be greater, and so he (largely spurred on by his wife, i.e. Lady MacBeth) goes pretty nutbar supreme trying to make sure he gets the power promised to him. It ultimately leads to him doing horrible things (though not quite as horrible as in macbeth, I read) and then to his own demise (again, not as exciting a demise). Unfortunately, as in most of the american remakes of japanese horror movies, there is simply no point to this movie existing. I do like reimaginings of stories, and putting this in a japanese context could have been cool, in theory. But nothing new seems to have been brought to the table. It maybe makes the story consumable by a japanese audience, but it doesn’t add anything to an american audience, at least not a me audience. It’s too bad, Kurosawa is suppose dto be such a master, and i woudln’t say it’s a bad movie by any stretch. It is made well enough, for it’s time. The acting is kind of japanese in style, the main guy starts out the movie screaming all his lines, so when he goes mad and screams them, it’s not as effective. I just don’t see why the movie had to exist. Sorry!

Invictus – I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. I wasn’t super interested in it, but it got good reviews so I figured I oughta. Don’t care much about soccer (it’s not about soccer, but I thought it was), and never knew much about Nelson Mandela. Its actually about rugby, and mandela trying to bring his nation together through it. I don’t know to what extent the impact of the rugby world cup is, but hey it makes for a good story. Everyone does a good job in it, acting wise, nothing mind blowing, but definitely good. The script is fine, the filming is fine. Some of the scenery is very beautiful, with south africa being at the tip of a continent like that. But it’s also often very digital looking, which took away from the beauty. But it’s a very nice movie. Didn’t change my life, but totally worth the time. Plus it educated me a little, and as embarrassing as it is to learn about history from an effing movie, it’s still good for me.

The Invention of Lying – Didn’t really expect to like this movie, and I didn’t. On the surface it’s kind of a parable, twilight zone esque movie. A crazy world where no one knows how to lie, it doesn’t even exist. You have to give the movie a lot of faith, because the concept is stupid. And I don’t mean the core concept, but how they structure the world around it. Since when does not lying mean being a dick to everyone? There’s a huge difference between lying and saying you love someone and crossing the street to tell them they suck. The whole basis of social interaction is so ridiculous because it places this artifice in our social structure, instead of building a new one that might possibly make sense when everyone constantly gets their feelings hurt. But let’s say you get over that, then there’s this one man who can lie and the world is his oyster. Then it turns into some cautionary tales about religion, and faith, and happiness, and in the end love. At the end of the day, this is a romantic comedy where the fat ugly man really wants the hot woman to like him for him. That’s all this movie boils down to, and as far as trite morals go, this is pretty standard. It’s not as if it’s on offensively bad movie, there are humorous moments, people act fine, it’s just unnecessary. A forced concept to get to a forced conclusion, not super interesting.

The Manchurian Candidate – I effed up and forgot to review this one for a month and a half and now I can’t really remember it. It was interesting, I think. I honestly can’t remember what I thought, though. I don’t think I was blown away, I don’t think I hated it. I haven’t seen the Denzel Washington remake, so I can’t make a comparison there. Pretty sad, this is why I write this blog, and yet I still fail!

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