Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Got Swept Up By The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is by no means Hayao Miyazaki's strongest film. Not while earlier works like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle exist. At points I even found myself wondering why he chose to do this animated project (one that easily could have made more sense as a live action piece).
But there was a beautiful heart to this thing. He chose it as his final film for a reason. The Wind Rises must have kept some sentimental pocket in his mind for years because he went seemingly out of his way to make it happen. What surprised me most I suppose was the recognition that this film was about people helping a pretty notorious war effort, but we saw it from their perspective and at no point felt malice for these men. They loved to build planes. The fact that there was a war on only gave them an excuse to build and design more. Essentially, Jirô and Honjô were just creative minds who had to accept the world they were living in, knowing they were powerless to change the bigger picture.
As usual, the art design was spectacular. I could've been watching the movie on mute and still gotten a great deal of joy out of it... though I probably wouldn't advise that.
It's sad to think Miyazaki may never make another motion picture, but he may go out with a bang here. The Wind Rises is nominated for best Animated Feature and while it will have to manage some very stiff competition, I think it has a fair chance to win. Still, Frozen looks like the front runner. And it's not as though Miyazaki is without his share of awards (if you didn't know, he won the Oscar for Spirited Away back in 2003).
I guess all I can do now is hope Hayao Miyazaki decides to come back for one more production. It still feels like there's something left for him to say. Though, sadly, this may just be a pipe dream.

It's in theaters now and definitely worth a watch.

The Lone Ranger: Not As Bad As I Expected But Still Not Good

The Lone Ranger fell into a weird situation this past year.
It suffered from an exhausted audience not wanting to see Johnny Depp bring up another franchise, much less one where for some reason he would be playing a Native American. The whole time it managed to breed this sense of "I've seen this before in the last Pirates of the Caribbean," and so forth. But if I'm being truly honest about the product that made it to screen, I'd have to say it wasn't nearly as bad as water cooler chatter made it out to be. It wasn't exactly good either... Simply put, The Lone Ranger was a mediocre attempt at a franchise run by a company that thought it could get away with literally anything after successes with a truly awful Alice in Wonderland concept and an ever diminishing in quality Pirates franchise. Essentially it was doomed from the start despite any steps anybody made to right the ship.
Recognize, of course, that this was in no way shape or form actually a "Lone Ranger" movie. The insane scope of the film felt at all times unnecessary. It ran too long, the action was bizarre and yet we'd seen it before, there were a few solid jokes, but they were surrounded by so many bad ones that it became hard at a point to tell the difference. Realistically, Disney could have attempted a much simpler film and bought themselves more artistic credit with this property.
That being said, Armie Hammer was actually quite good in the titular role.

So why am I writing about this film now half a year after its release? Well it's up for an Oscar... for Makeup and Hairstyling. And it may just deserve the gold for this individual category. Isn't it funny how one group in a bad film can still shine through? When we got the scenes with elder Depp, I was impressed by the aging techniques used.
And when he was his usual age, the war paint he kept on all movie long seemed to change in ways that made perfect sense given the other insanity that was going on on screen.

In short, this mediocre failure of a film may still come home with some gold come March 2nd.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Did Anyone Else Realize The Oscars Dropped A Nominee?

So it turns out there's gonna be one less Oscar nominee this awards season.

After surprisingly giving the small film Alone Yet Not Alone the nod for Best Song, the Academy ruthlessly stripped the production of its lone nomination. They sighted improper campaigning as the reason, but a film of this size honestly didn't stand a chance to begin with. The weird thing is, had it been a larger production, I bet the Academy would've let the nomination stand... not said anything and perhaps taken it off of voters ballets without creating this embarrassing atmosphere that the producers must now live in.

The whole thing stemmed from an email that as far as I can tell was honestly legal. But then I've never really understood the Academy's rules or rather their implementation of them.

Now I'm not religious, and I feel like people are improperly making this a religion issue since the production was a faith oriented one. But that doesn't mean injustice hasn't been done here.

Honestly, the Academy should be ashamed of themselves for their decision to omit a legitimately nominated contender.

To be honest, I don't think it would've won regardless, but the people who put the work in to make it a real song deserve better than this.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Catching Up With Before Midnight

Sometimes... rarely in film... we're given a chance to revisit old friends and reconnect with what that initial love was. I'm not talking about big budget superhero movies right now. I'm talking about the progressions of simply great storytelling. I'm talking about experiences like The Adventures of Antoine Doinel or well... the Before Sunrise trilogy.
Before Midnight was such a wonderful experience. Such a perfect return to old friends... but now we see them from a new angle. Finally they have known a bit of a life together. And at last they have to truly understand what life is... how long it goes on, what regrets can do to the people they love. Every moment of this film is well thought out and excellently executed. And the final moments are just so pure and beautiful.
The older I get, the more I understand what great sense these movies make. For once, someone has been willing to show us how people really fall in love. How life can turn that love into a million different things. And never once does Richard Linklater shy away from the difficult parts. Good love stories are about the struggle to keep love alive. Great love stories manage to show us that love that is so desperately being fought for, and many writers are afraid to face the true love sequences of a story because they think of them as boring. I am just impressed with Linklater's resolve to give us the whole picture all of the time. It's no wonder he's been nominated for the Oscar. And I honestly think he's got a pretty good shot of winning.
I love seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on screen together, because they've known each other for so long at this point and there is a clear mutual respect there. It's obvious that they have similar sensibilities and truly care for each other which certainly goes a long way to making the film believable. To tell the truth, I'm just glad this film exists... that everyone involved made it to this point and found a reason to come back. In life sometimes we are granted these wonderful little gifts.
If you haven't seen Before Midnight, I'd recommend finding a copy sooner than later.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wishing I Hadn't Seen That Stupid RoboCop Remake...

When I think of RoboCop I think of really out there satire and an intense level of violence that would put your teeth to chattering, make babies cry, and well... make you laugh so hard afterwards because you couldn't believe a movie actual did that and pulled it off.
So imagine my surprise when this new RoboCop remake came out and accomplished none of that. It felt like someone was playing with a really bad RoboCop action figure, broke it, found some transformers parts and decided to glue those on so at least they could say it was a complete toy. Sorry for the weird metaphor, but let's be serious here... I love the original RoboCop. It's one of my favorite movies of all time. So forgive me as I nitpick the crap out of this thing.

The villains in the original were well defined,
and interesting. This movie had no villains to speak of... zero. It had four potentially good villains...
and somehow managed to give them all nothing to do until the moment they had to be bad. The original film included a forgotten, beat up, and abused Detroit. This remake called for that, but did not deliver... the Detroit I saw here actually looked like a pretty nice place to live.
And I don't care if his motorcycle had a supper cool stand that came down automatically when he stopped to get off... get on with the movie!

Let's not forget that the original RoboCop was an amazing R rated film with intense bloody violence and some brutal images I still can't get out of my head to this day.

This was not just some crazed Paul Verhoeven saying "I need more blood!" He knew what he was doing, calculated how much we could take and made a point to go just beyond that. This remake was some how rated PG-13 and therefore anyone could get in to see it if they just tried. How does this happen?? In the original Murphy's partner is a strong female character...
So why did they replace her with a dude? And even worse, why would they go out of their way to create new female characters and not give them any level of strength or purpose in the film? When RoboCop fights other machines in the original, you forgive the stop motion because it's good enough and allows for the practicality of everything else in the film to work in a time before real CG. When RoboCop fights other machines in the remake, I can't believe how unforgivably false it looks. There's no real excuse for this, the movement was just awkward and jolty. On an even pettier note, I think the suit looked stupidly average. It was a far cry from the iconic image seen here.
You can't fix a bad movie with a good cast. It's clear they tried to make up for the script's short comings by installing a group of stellar actors... Gary Oldman is always aces, Joel Kinnaman has been doing really interesting work on The Killing, Samuel L. Jackson is almost always a good time, Jackie Earle Haley deserved an Oscar for Little Children, and Michael Keaton's been making a real comeback of late. But despite all of their best efforts, they were not in control (just the paint being bobbed on the brush) and could not fix the errors of this broken RoboCop movie.

I understand how José Padilha got this job. I hear the Elite Squad films are great. But the guy just couldn't deliver on a film this size. Believe me, I don't blame him. It's eerily apparent the studio had a great deal of say on this one. Ugh I'm so upset!! Look, I haven't hit on all of the problems here. Just suffice it to say, THIS IS NOT ROBOCOP. Oh well. I'm just glad the original still exists. It seems to me nothing will ever touch it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What's Wrong With The Monuments Men?

In a nutshell? Everything.
It's incredibly depressing to go into a movie like this with so much talent on every side of its production and come out with that "ugh" feeling. Essentially, Clooney came into this project with the same positive intentions and hopeful/purposeful outlook that has succeeded for him often in his previous works only to completely drop the ball this time around.
The movie just couldn't get a sense of what it wanted to be. On the one hand you've got a glorious cast of actors that each individually hold up the films they are a part of... so you want to give them all a chance to shine. But then this somehow manages to work against the pacing of the film... not just the pacing, but the entire genre. The Monuments Men bumbles around trying to find a core; a heart. And when all's said and done it is impossible to decipher whether it was meant to be a comedy, a war drama, an espionage film... at any given point it managed to attempt to be all of these ultimately failing to gain poignance in any category across the board.
I'd like to give favorable nods to the actors, but as much screen time as each of them had, it became overtly obvious that none of them actually had anything to do. Again I say, no heart. Perhaps the screenplay has something to do with these challenges.

I wonder what, if anything, was left on the cutting room floor. In fact, during Hugh Bonneville's most crucial scene I felt as though the script had skewed so far out of context that not only had the moment not been earned, but the narration running over it didn't even seem to make sense given the timeline we had been shown to that point.
If it were the screenplay's fault, the blame would still rest on Clooney's shoulders. This is disheartening for me since I have been such a fan of his works in the past. I can only hope he picks himself up, wipes himself off, and learns a lesson from this blunder much as Spielberg learned from 1941.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Today The Lego Movie came out... What a welcome distraction from the Oscars!
This is one of those family films that truly everybody needs to see. It is so chock full of wit, creativity, and a kind of adventurous spirit that I haven't felt in a movie since the likes of The Princess Bride. Every once in a while we get these magical experiences that shine through and I know that I'm gonna be back rewatching this again because it was just too much fun.
If you have ever liked Legos (don't pretend you haven't) then you will connect to this material. In many ways it's just a massive scale advertisement, but with a legitimate plot and theme... and a third act that will blow your mind. Somehow Lego has found a way to turn what could have been a lackluster money grab into something truly special. I must admit I'm impressed.
Now, when the movie opens, it does take a moment to adjust to the stop motion. But that's mostly just because the movie moves so lightning quick... it never slows down even for a second, so you've gotta be prepared for a crazy ride. There's no obvious weakness here... script, direction, voice acting, AWESOME MUSIC. It's just a damn good time.

I really don't want to spoil anything, so please just trust me on this. Go see it!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Yes, The Great Beauty Is Indeed Beautiful, But...

After sitting through a sold out show of The Great Beauty I quietly exited the theatre and went home. My friend who came to see it with me clearly had nothing to say and neither did I. The movie was pretty much exactly as advertised... very very beautiful. So what discussion did we need?
Well actually, I would really like to talk about it now. The Great Beauty is a very weird movie. It doesn't exactly allow the audience a clear path to its "moral" or purpose. Actually, it tends to weave itself into circles... beautiful circles, but circles none the less. At one point I found myself fighting to understand if an important character had died or was still alive. But it's not about that. It's about the imagery, the amazing locations... and even the not so amazing that can become something more if you look at things differently.
Toni Servillo was exceptional in the leading role. It's obvious, when he first appears, that there is so much more to this guy. And he legitimately carries this movie. Without him all of those beautifully crafted shots, all of that rich history of Rome, could have been simply a slide show, but he brought purpose, life, and depth to the films struggling pacing.
So I find myself wondering what Paolo Sorrentino was thinking as he began writing this story. Sure, he managed to bring something exceptional to life on screen, but it was incredibly convoluted and mostly reminded me that Federico Fellini was from Rome (not at all a bad thing, but...). That being said, Luca Bigazzi should have received an Oscar nomination for his beautiful cinematography... however, this being a foreign film, it seems the Academy overlooked a master.
If you manage to see this Oscar nominated foreign film, try to clear your mind and let it roll over you. That's the only advice I can manage for this one.

Rounding Out The Oscar Docs With The Square

I finally got around to seeing the square...
The last of the five Oscar nominated documentaries, and I assume the first Oscar nomination Netflix has received for original content. And believe it or not, it feels as though I saved the best for last.
Jehane Noujaim constructed an exciting and very informative journey into the heart of the current Egyptian uprising. At every turn the audience is made to feel the true dangers of the situation and in fact, we frequently see that danger hit these people head on. When my friend leaned over and said, "I've never been a part of something as important as what these guys are doing," I realized how true a sentiment that was.
Ahmed Hassan and his friends are literally fighting for basic human freedoms. All their lives, and for centuries before that, Egypt has been under one dictatorship or another. The people of that country have been oppressed for far too long. And finally technology (ie. internet, social media, film) have given them a voice. Of course, I found myself wishing they would stop making so many mistakes... form a constitution before anything else goes down guys! You have to get organized!!
Sorry, the simple truth is, these are people who are just now learning what freedom can really taste like. They will make mistakes and that in and of itself is rather interesting. But it's more important to recognize the meaning of their struggle. One day we will have to be a world united by peace. The stepping stones require freedom for all humans and an ability to go to school and learn and be informed by people in other places leading different lives.
The revolution seen in The Square is still ongoing, and it is incredibly important that we as a people recognize their purpose and their plight. I know I said in earlier posts I wouldn't get political, but this just became my front runner for the Academy Award.