Friday, March 28, 2014

The Strangest Noah Adaptation Is The Only Noah Adaptation...

Thank you Darren Aronofsky for reminding me just how trippy the old testament is.
Now this is not a direct adaptation of the Noah story (thank god for that... get it?), but a very bizarrely interesting reimagining of the classic story. The reason a feature film hasn't surfaced up to this point is probably because Noah's Ark is just such an unbelievably weird concept to begin with. A guy talks to god and god tells him to gather two of every animal... every animal?? Wouldn't they like kill each other or something?? And build this massive ship because... well... he's about to send a flood that'll kill everything unless the guy does what he says. Heck, even DeMille never made the attempt. But for whatever reason, Aronofsky decided now was the time to make this happen... and he went epic with it!
To call it beautiful to look at would be an understatement, the cinematography was just insane in all of the best ways. The Ark felt almost secondary to the rest of the story, but it certainly looked great. And to think every animal was a CG concept... well I just have to applaud their creative team. The rock creatures too... oh yeah, there're rock creatures in this movie... and they look excellent. They move in such an interesting way and never once did I find myself saying "hey that doesn't look real" cause they're somehow perfectly seamless with the rest of the film.
The script goes a myriad of places I never would have expected from this story and honestly I'm glad it did. Noah has a weird human element that the old story never allowed for given how cryptically the bible tends to tell things. Aronofsky got himself really dirty in the meat of what conflict could have erupted in the wake of Noah's visions. He attempted to bring into question the purpose of existence and our place in that. The question of wether or not we deserve to exist is obviously a hard one to swallow. But he went after it. He found a way to include evolution in the conversation... a brave "controversy" when you consider the kind of religious crowd a studio would hope to draw for a film like this. And considering the budget I'm surprised a studio was actually willing to give him such free reign. Bravo to that.
Russell Crowe did a swell job of humanizing a ridiculous situation. His performance was so interesting to me because there was very little change in him from beginning to end, but somehow he did manage to get the point across. I was glad to see Emma Watson show up and I really have enjoyed watching her career blossom. I think she's got talent and deserves whatever projects come her way. Jennifer Connelly gave a solid performance with a few moments of weirdly unnecessary crying... dry heaving... or whatever you'd call it. But she didn't bother me. And while Anthony Hopkins' appearance at first brought back horrifying memories of Alexander, he did manage to find a legitimate purpose for being in this film. Don't get me wrong, I like Anthony Hopkins, just not in Alexander. And that's not his fault, nothing could ever make anything about that movie good... except Rosario Dawson's boobs... and even that was kind of weird under the circumstances.
Look! Snakes!!
But enough about that. Noah was a very interesting flick that will hopefully usher in a very interesting season of movies. It will not be the best of 2014, but it will certainly be memorable and a worthwhile discussion piece for weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Muppets Most(ly) Wanted

Man, it's really nice to get a new Muppets movie every couple years. Not that they'll always be perfect. But they will be the Muppets and that seriously counts for a lot.
So Muppets Most Wanted came out just a few days ago and still managed (as usual) to bring a bit of that old Jim Henson charm back to the screen. It wasn't perfect and at times it felt exceedingly rough around the edges, but it also had a myriad of excellent laugh moments and... well... real puppets. In a time completely owned by CG and the idea that more action and bigger is always better, it's just a relief and such a necessity that something like the Muppets still exist.

What's weird about this flick?
1. We don't get a whole lot of Kermit. Usually you can expect Kermit in almost every scene of the movie. This time he's left on the far side of the world... literally.
2. The music is far poppier than in any iteration from the past... especially early on in the film. Even stranger, that oddly well polished studio sound wares off into the third act and some surprising musical moments do come to light. But it feels like the audience really needs to sit through a lot to get to that point.
3. Celebrity cameos are back in a big way... but several of them are so blink and you'll miss 'em that it almost felt like they should've saved those for the next movie. Looking at James McAvoy and Chloë Grace Moretz for starters.
4. They referenced the previous film... a lot. Actually they referenced all of their feature films. Strangely I can't recall a time they've done this before. This movie starts about two seconds after the end of The Muppets (which referenced the very first movie... a little). So it's a slightly different take than what I'm used to. Not a bad thing, just weird.

5. Despite the awesome puppetry, there were still a few really awkward CG moments. And when you consider how little they asked of their CG department it seems odd that they didn't work harder to make these moments look perfect. The worst part and the thing that worked the least in the entire movie was a massive mash up of all of the celebrity cameos trying to look like everyone was all together in the same place at once. Well they clearly were each in a studio set up against a green screen without any clue who or what would be beside them. Too bad. This could've been a fun little moment.
Anyway, Muppets Most Wanted was still a fun movie. And it still carries that same old swagger and charm. It may not be the best Muppets flick, but it's certainly a better total film experience than Rio or its upcoming sequel will be. Plus there's hours and hours... probably weeks... of content for parents to show their kids and bond over after watching.

At the end of the day, who doesn't like the Muppets?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mr. Peabody And Sherman: An Afterthought

I didn't hate DreamWorks' new big screen adaptation of the classic Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, Mr. Peabody and Sherman. But on my way out of the theatre I did feel a very specific sense of dread.
It's not about this movie being good or bad for a family. It's about the statement this movie was trying to make. The idea it was attempting to force into an otherwise rather pure piece of our television history. Now I'm biased... Peabody and Sherman has always been my favorite part of Rocky and Bullwinkle. But to witness a story wherein Peabody might lose Sherman to child protective services because one of their agents holds a totally inexplicable grudge against the worlds smartest dog... well I just about wanted to leave the theatre on principle alone.
It's made worse because, as a writer, I can understand the necessity to make this film have such a plot. This comes from a place of recognition, that those old Rocky and Bullwinkle toons were developed for a very specific medium: Television. And not only that, they were made for a variety show, so they did not require an extensive amount of time per episode. Not that that could keep the writers from stuffing each toon full of more dialogue than some Sorkin shows. Rather, those original writers embraced the simplicity of their format and then went beyond.
"Sherman, in approximately 54 years a Hollywood studio named DreamWorks is going to make a motion picture about us that has nothing to do with us at all." "Gee, Mr. Peabody. How does that work?" "It would seem not even the filmmakers know."
By adding this crazy plot line, the filmmakers were saying "We know this doesn't work in such a lengthy format... but we've been payed to do this... so here's the most obvious story based on what the original presented us with." And that surly doesn't make it the "best" story. Sure, it's funny to have a dog adopt a boy. It's a lot less funny when child protective services gets involved. And it's made even worse when too many rules are presented surrounding the way back (Peabody's time traveling device). If the wit of the original comes from tiny changes the characters accidentally made to our history, this new film kind of smashes that wit to pieces with an already dated space-time continuum subplot.

Still I'm rambling. I went in hoping for a very extended episode. But I came out with definitive proof that such an endeavor was destined to fail in our current Hollywood Studio System. The stakes are just too high to allow a film like this to actually have an original and interesting perspective. So I have to ask as I've asked before, with legitimate bias, "Why make this film at all?"
If parents bring their kids to see this movie, I certainly hope they'll let them watch the original series before hand.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Few Nice Words About Jason Bateman's Bad Words

Jason Bateman has officially directed his first feature film...
And it ain't half bad. Actually, I found myself really enjoying Bad Words; also the first screenplay credit for newcomer Andrew Dodge. It's not that it was game changing, or wildly inventive. It was just a well made movie with the temperament of Bad Santa... but not nearly as filthy and with a considerably better pay off at the end. No, I think Bad Words was just solid. It played with the idea of this adult who seems to hate everyone and everything and joins a Spelling Bee because the rules are out of date and easily loopholed just to get a chance to... well actually I don't wanna spoil any of the fun.
Bad Words moves very well. At no point did I feel like a shot didn't belong or an edit was out of place (a frequent problem with first time directors). In point of fact, the movie was fluid and looked great. The actors were on point and Jason Bateman really found a script that played to his personal strengths. Every moment of his is well timed and it just makes me wish that other projects he becomes a part of in the future allow him this kind of room to play.
Rohan Chand did his job with clever abandon. It's so fun to watch a kid at his age, 10 now, really play so well off of an adult. He's really the second lead and should be credited as such. Kathryn Hahn was fine, but nothing particularly special. But when Allison Janney came on screen I knew this was gonna be a good time. Her role was so well defined in just limited time. Same goes for Philip Baker Hall. The man was honestly perfect for this role.

It's so nice walking into a theatre without any expectations, knowing practically nothing beforehand, and coming back out having seen a quality film. 2014 is just getting started, but Bad Words is a welcome change of pace coming out of the dead season post winter break.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I got to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last night!

I got to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last night!!
I got to see The Grand Budapest Hotel last night!!!
It was awesome. Wes Anderson always hits the right notes. He's one of the few directors out there right now that seems to just get it each time out of the gate. What's his trick? Well he plays by his own rules and I wouldn't have it any other way.
It starts with his uncanny ability to gather the cast. He brings together a combo of stars that would make any other production turn greedy and green in the face... Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson... Honestly it's like the cameo list from an old Muppets movie. And the list of stars actually keeps on going.
But then, the script is just as perversely good. And when everything makes it to screen at long last, it is perfectly clear that he made exactly the movie he wanted. Not only that, the movie resonates with his viewers. Seriously, Wes Anderson gets it. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception.
It may not be my favorite of his films, but that simply comes from that fact that he has made so many good ones. Now I don't want to ruin a single moment, so when you get the chance... go see The Grand Budapest Hotel. You'll be glad you did.

300: Rise Of An Empire Is Horribly Unworthy

Weak story, weak characters, weak cast... this is the epitaph of any potential 300 franchise after the colossally bad 300: Rise of an Empire.
Somehow I had managed to hype myself up for this flick, despite the repeated warnings that people had been walking out mid-film. Really I don't know what I was expecting. I guess I just assume action like that of the original 300 would be easy enough to duplicate, and all that was really necessary was another buff army marching into battle and looking quite cool. But somehow this sequel failed to do even that.
Was it difficult for anyone else to understand his character's name?
Sullivan Stapleton was so outrageously miscast as the lead of this movie that in the trailer it became incredibly clear the ad department had to scrape and claw to find moments of his worth showing to us. I honestly can't think of a single interesting thing he does in the movie. They had their work cut out for them.
What's even stranger, Eva Green, one of the things that drew me to this movie to begin with, gave an equally yawn-inducing performance of her own. She seemed like she was trying, but nothing from her bag of tricks was working. Perhaps the script held her down, but there were a few moments that I am certain were strictly her fault. She's been good in the past, so perhaps this had something to do with the overall vision of the project.
But beyond that, the Athenian army... the group we're watching most of the time... was far less interesting than the 300 Spartans of the first film. Those guys trained hard for that movie and looked beefed... these guys looked like a bunch of poorly wrapped sausages who were told to put on armor and pretend they were badass. They didn't even come close. And before you say anything, I get it... the Athenians wouldn't have been as strong as the Spartans. They were poets and intellectuals. But to me that is just further proof that this story did not deserve to be told... at least not in this heavily stylized action format.
Seriously, Xerxes?
300 worked well as a stand alone film. Rise of an Empire just muddied the water. And I don't think I'll be going back for another drink.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Man, Was I Surprised By Non-Stop!

It's not like the filmmakers broke new ground with this movie... rather, they put together a fun, action-filled experience in much the same style as old genre flicks like Air Force One. If you've ever seen that movie, you know being compared positively to it can only mean one thing... Non-Stop is pretty awesome!
Liam Neeson had already found his new niche with the advent of Taken back in 2008, but to be honest, I never really got a whole lot of enjoyment from the attempts that came after. Unknown was extraordinarily awful, and while I did enjoy The Grey to some degree it would seem Taken 2 left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. So I went in to see Non-Stop pretty much holding my breath. My expectations couldn't've been lower. And somehow I came out the other side with a big old smile on my face.

Essentially what you need to know is:

1) They got the action just right... there was a certain fight in a bathroom that was both surprisingly cool and weirdly funny at the same time... and a certain moment with a gun toward the end of the film that I'm gonna remember for a long long time (it could've been bad cheese, but instead it was good).

2) The film was very well cast... obviously Liam Neeson's been doing this for a while and he's really beginning to develop a nack for his own brand of fun/funny but good action... Julianne Moore was just a very welcome surprise and once I saw her doing her thing before the flight I knew there was going to be at least a small amount of quality to this film... add in Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stall, and the Oscar winning Lupita Nyong'o and you've got yourself a pretty well rounded group of performers.

3) The cheese was not too cheesy... this film lived on action and awkward cheesy wit... but sometimes that can work against a movie... this is a good example of the cheese factor giving the movie a boost and welcome applause rather than boos.

4) The mystery really stays a mystery until you absolutely need to know... and then, when the reveal does take place, I promise everything that has happened that seemed unlikely for one reason or another really does make sense... it may seem outrageous at times, and the reveal is not of the earth shattering variety, but it absolutely works for what kind of movie this wants to be... and is.

I'm not afraid to say it, I really like Non-Stop!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

R-evisiting Anchorman 2 As The Slow Season Comes To An End

I enjoyed the original cut of Anchorman 2. Though I was surprised to see it push for the PG-13 rating. Then again, the first one was miraculously PG-13 as well. So I was excited to get a more complete version of the film with Paramounts R-rated rerelease of its big time Christmas comedy.
Anchorman 2's R-rated version had a lot going for it. Apparently some poor intern had been forced to compare both versions of the film and count up the differences. The final number was 763. Now that's a little absurd, so of course I had to know what had changed.
And to be honest, 763 new gags really just translated to the same movie... but the good stuff had changed to other (sometimes good, sometimes bad) stuff... while that unnecessary plot stuck around as fully scripted as it always had been. I personally was hoping for a completely different film. Perhaps one where we could have shed those annoying plot points in lieu of more jokes... or rather a shorter run time might have done the trick. Anchorman 2 was entirely too long from the outset. So I don't know why I was so surprised to see it bog itself down once again in that 2 hour and 20 minute anti-timemachine (where time goes slower and you get to your destination much much later than you expected). Did this reiteration of that reiteration really need to go on for 2 hours and 20 minutes?
I say no. It's too bad, because there really were some wonderful new moments. If only they had just existed the first time around and in a much shorter movie. Fair warning: this one's for diehard fans only.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Gold Rush: A Conversation About Oscars, Part 2



March King: I also think Frozen steps up and returns the Best Animated Feature award to Disney. The Wind Rises was good, but not good enough. It would've had to be another Spirited Away, and it just didn't bring that same level of vibrance. The Croods was cool, but just barely misses "Oscar worthy" in my mind.

Silver Screener: Not that I'd know! I only saw Frozen. But I do agree that it's probably going to win.

MK: Wow. You missed a pretty good year for animation bud. When Pixar misses the category all together, the other studios tend to step up their game.

SS: Did Pixar have something this year? Monsters University, right?

MK: Yup. Not good enough Pixar.

SS: Look, I don't think Monsters Inc. is all that, either.

MK: It didn't win. But I actually do love that one.


MK: So there was another noteworthy snub... Spike Jonze. Yes he was nominated for Original Screenplay, but not for Director... even though his movie Her is up for Best Picture.

SS: Yeah, but there are up to ten slots for Picture and only five for Director, so something's gotta give. I wish that something was Alexander Payne, but ALAS.

MK: David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese all should've given way for someone else.
"Sorry guys. Give me just five seconds and I'll be out of your hair."
So for me that really only leaves two candidates standing in the Directing category...

SS: Yup yup: McQueen and Cuarón.

MK: Between them... it's sort of tough for me, just because I love both of these guys' films so much. Past and present. But I gotta go with Alfonso Cuarón on this one. Even though I think 12 Years a Slave ultimately wins the big award.

SS: And I get that. Cuarón should've been nominated for Children of Men, he does great visual work with Gravity, but man -- McQueen knocked it out of the park. The visuals, the ensemble, the editing. Everything in 12 Years a Slave just clicks so perfectly.

MK: But Gravity became so much bigger because of Cuarón's vision. It truly became an event. Something you can't experience the same way at home.

SS: And I give Cuarón credit for that, but personally, for me, that kind of limits it. Akin, almost, to THIS IS CINERAMA being a showcase for a new format. Gravity can only really endure on the big screen.

MK: Actually, I may have it backwards now that I think on it. Steve McQueen gets Director, but Gravity gets Best Picture. That would certainly make a statement about the state of Hollywood. “What's necessary for film to survive further down the road.”

SS: That certainly *would* shake things up! Everyone would lose their Oscar pools!
Damnit! I always get these things wrong!

MK: I know right? But I already lost mine anyway. I always get too sentimental about these things. I'd probably put Her on an Oscar pool even though I know... I know...

SS: Yeah, you gotta separate your head from your heart. Like, I'd LOVE for Blue Jasmine to win Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress, but it's not gonna happen.

MK: Because the Oscars are based on a big old conglomerate of opinions. But it will win in one very very crucial category...


MK: We love you Cate! You really do deserve this.

SS: Amy Adams was great too but CAAAAAATE!

MK: No, I know. Best Actress is a great category. But Cate! Ooh... and Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years for Supporting Actress too. That’s my pick anyway.

SS: I think Jennifer Lawrence may win.

MK: ...Again?
Oh no. Not another tie.
SS: Or....A TIE

MK: ...Is that possible??

SS: To quote Tilda Swinton in the shoulda-been Best Picture winner of 2008, "Anything is possible."

MK: "Anything is possible." I think that's a pretty good theme for this year's Oscars. And a pretty good way to close out this year’s Gold Rush. In 2013 we saw bigger than life realities and minuscule, tender moments that touched us more than any crazy super hero action sequence ever could. We saw game changing event films and art house instant classics... and we saw a few less than desirable movies take home box office successes, but such is the industry.

SS: Couldn't have said it better myself. And with, for once, a tight race for Best Picture, 2013 is a true GOLD RUSH.