Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Multiple movie reviews in one post! OH YEAH!

I watched three movies yesterday, two worth reviewing and one not really worth reviewing but I figured I'd might as well so down to brass tacks:

The Hunger Games (2012) dir. Gary Ross

This is one of those movie/book phenomenons I end up seeing as a rental just to see what the hype was about (hell I watched the first Twilight for this reason as well as other hyped movies).  Additionally I was interested in seeing how the protagonist was portrayed.  I had only seen one trailer before the movie came out and based on that alone I had a pretty good idea of what the movie was about.  I wasn't expecting much since I had written it off as an American girl power Battle Royale-lite.  I wasn't that far off in my expectations but what surprised me is that while The Hunger Games is a girl power BR-lite on the surface, there were some elements to the film that surprised me.  It also surprised me that I actually began to care about some of the characters (to the point where I'm actually curious to read the book) and things that were alluded to the film that obviously played a more important role in the book.   What surprised me the most was, in retrospect, it is not simply a "girl power" movie, though it could be viewed as such, superficially.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) strikes me as less of female character and more of an everyman (with superior survival skills) and for me this was an interesting, and refreshing, approach.  I found myself liking her character more because she was just herself and the filmmakers didn't use her as a soapbox or a social ills hammer to bludgeon you with.  The same can be said for the side characters (some of which are minimally developed but still made for engaging players).  I also enjoyed how the characters were shown to rely on their natural strengths (mentally and physically) during the short training sequences and in the ensuing combat.  The characters in the movie sold me more than did the story itself.

As a fan of dystopian literature and films, I found the story to be predictable (a more accurate description would be telegraphed), lacking tension, with some interesting but under-developed themes.  This came of a knowledge of the genre and having seen the trailer.  The world in which they live was interesting but the film failed to really cement that part of the story (which I'm sure the book does a better job of).  Something something totalitarian regime something something screw the poor people something something wait, where's the "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" moment?  Not that the movie necessarily required such exposition but as a dystopian junkie I'm a huge nerd for the twisted reality created (e.g. 1984, Logan's Run, Battle Royale, We, etc.).  I got what they were going for but I wasn't particularly sold.  I found the lack of tension to be disappointing.  As much as I like Katniss and her peers, I never felt she was ever in danger (I knew there were several more books and the movie in the first in a series).  I knew which characters were going to get snuffed and how quickly by their amount of (or lack of) screen time.  In pursuit/survival films (the good ones) the tension needs to be turned up to 11 and remain there even during requisite moments of rest and/or humor.  I don't feel that the lack of tension is because of my age or movie-going experience.  There are a number of PG/PG-13 movies I saw when I was younger that when I rewatch I still get a, "INDY, LOOK OUT!" feeling no matter how many times I see it.  While I was engaged while viewing The Hunger Games, it failed to suspend my disbelief and really get into the movie.  At one point, I realized this and it created a sense of disappointment I couldn't shake.

From a technical standpoint the movie was solid, the effects were well done, the violence and action were clinical (not necessarily a bad thing for a movie that was marketed to a younger audience), and costuming and color palettes were standard but aesthetically engaging (washed out blues and earth tones for poor schlubs and garish, nearly cartoonish colors for the wealthy and indolent). A major flaw though was the painful camera handling, especially during the first half of the film.  During action sequences the shaky cam wasn't terribly apparent but for a good number of static shots the camera jiggled (e.g. a shot of a man sitting, a domestic scene, a number of non-FPS crowd shots).  I realize this is a very common complaint in my reviews but damn it, just put the damn camera on a tripod or a pile of phone books.

In the end I enjoyed The Hunger Games enough to want to pick up the book and look forward to the next movie installment.  This time though I'll avoid trailers, teasers, spoilers, and have a (relatively) unbiased watching experience.

Despicable Me (2010) dir Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

I had avoided this movie because I frankly am not a fan of Steve Carrell.  I just don't find his brand of humor humorous (at least how it's portrayed in the scant number of movies I've seen him in and no, I don't like The Office).  I prefer absurdist over his brand of awkward, uncomfortable humor (though I find deadpan comedians brilliant).  I was in the mood for an animated feature though and Despicable Me was one of the few I hadn't seen.  As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of animated features.  They bring out the little kid in me and in all honesty, the treacly sentimentality of a majority of them make me cry (Oh, that's funny?  When's the last time you didn't cry while watching Up or a Pixar movie?  I bet I make you get all misty just by saying Toy Story 3).

Despicable Me is a well done, predictable, yet an entertaining and well crafted movie.  Carell and cast's voice work were excellent (once I stopped thinking, "Wow, Carell is doing a really good job.").  The tried and true (well-worn) story of a grumpy bastard who learns to love is one of my favorites.  Shut up.  What I really enjoyed about Despicable were the animation and the humor.  The animation because it had a very European touch and the humor for the same reason.  This is one of the few animated features I've seen in quite sometime where the jokes actually made me laugh hearty peals of laughter (there were one or two I had to rewind).  The "Ah!  Curse you tiny toilet!" made me laugh so hard I nearly peed and made Moxie look at me like I had gone batty.

Yeah, it was fun and cute and I had a good time.  If you haven't seen it then I suggest it wholeheartedly.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) dir Zack Snyder

I saw a trailer for this before the abysmal Airbender movie and was momentarily interested until I found out it was a 3D movie (3D delenda est).  I had completely forgotten about this movie until I was poking around for another animated movie to watch after Despicable Me.  I figured, what the hell, and rented it.  Now, I'm not a Zach Snyder fan.  I thought 300 was poop infused with crap and Sucker Punch was entertaining as a piece of cosplay wank/watch after smoking a bunch of reefer clunker.  Watchmen was just awful.  His Dawn of the Dead was pretty good and though I'm all out of patience for zombie flicks, I'd rewatch it.

Ga'Hoole is an excellent kids' fantasy movie.  Predictable (making it a Monday night predictability triple feature) but actually kind of awesome.  Based on Kathryn Lasky's book(s?) this movie falls solidly into my "Was that so hard?" category.  It's a strange category I have for movies that are genre pieces that hit all the right notes and are just well-crafted works.  I may know exactly what's going on and be able to tell you the plot devices and character archetypes before I even see the movie but when I watch it, all that goes out the window and I just enjoy myself.  Few movies are in this category but the ones that are I will actually watch again and again (Antoine Fuqua's Shooter is a prime example - it's a good movie and yes I love Marky Mark as much as I love kittens and Skittles).

I enjoyed myself from start to finish.  The animation is amazing, even by today's standards.  The voice acting is superb, genuinely great (and I had to laugh at one point because it reminded me of late 20th Century fantasy where everyone was British/Aussie/Kiwi because nothing says high fantasy like a non-American accent).  

It's not without it's faults - the songs are puke inducing and James Newton Howard's score is lacklustre at best (though, I'm not a fan of his compositions).  There were several times I noticed where the movie was supposed to be 3D and some overlong visual sequences that, while very pretty, made me look at my watch.  Apparently the movie distills three books into one feature and there were points where I could see that.  Some characters were briefly on screen and just stepping stones in story progression.

All in all I'd put it on regularly if I owned it, as a cleaning day movie.  Plus Hugo Weaving has such a sexy voice.    

Greatest Hits

Blog Archive (s) It's like a Wayback Machine!