This blog is temporarily on hiatus. Its blogger is abroad in Spain for a month.
This has to be one of the best movies I’ve seen. I loved it when I was a kid, and now that I’m older I just find more to appreciate. It’s a sports film at its heart, except the ‘sport’ in question here is chess. And if you think that there’s no way a movie centered on a game in which two people sit at a table and move little pieces around can be exciting, think again.
The movie works on several levels. On the one hand, it’s a rousing, inspirational, and suspenseful story about a child prodigy named Josh Waitskin (a real chess champion, by the way). At the same time, it takes a few potshots at modern American culture, a culture concerned with competition and prestige, with winning and losing. The parents in this film are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their kids win–and I mean anything. We see a formerly kind and loving father decide to deny their child friendship so that they can devote all their time to bettering their skill at chess. We see a father yelling at his son for losing a game at a tournament. We see a teacher telling a student to “hate your enemies, because they hate you.” The question this movie wants you to think about is this: what do you have to give up to be the best, or to enable your child to be the best at something? And is it really worth it?
What makes this movie so special is the multidimensionality of its supporting characters. Although the father mentioned above certainly does some horrible things for the sake of glory, he’s also shown to be a loving man who deeply cares about his son. Though the actions of the protagonists’ chess teacher often seem needlessly harsh, he, too, is shown to have good intentions. Even the movie’s ‘villain’, an arrogant, ultra-competitive boy who likes to gloat over his opponents, is pretty sympathetic, since he’s just a product of an upbringing so shocking it makes me wonder why no one called child support on his parents.
You don’t have to be a chess master to enjoy this movie. Honestly, the games themselves are barely shown at all. It’s the players’ faces and emotions that hold center stage, rather than the movements of the pieces on the board. The games themselves will actually make good chess players cringe. There’s one scene in particular that’s guaranteed to make anyone who knows anything about chess laugh out loud. It’s where a one of the children, who’s supposed to be some sort of super-chess genius, smirks at his apparent victory, only to have his smirk change to a look of horror a second later when he notices he’d been tricked. Then the movie pans down to show the chess board. It’s got three pieces on it, in a straight diagonal line. Three. Are we really supposed to believe that this boy genius didn’t notice he was about to lose? I wonder which of the three pieces slipped his notice.
Honestly, stuff like this doesn’t even matter so much. Though I’m not exactly sure why the filmmakers couldn’t be bother to think up tactically-sound games for a move all about chess geniuses, such technicalities are pretty much irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It’s a great drama, and a feel-good movie for all ages.
Super 8 has to be just about the only blockbuster this summer that’s not a sequel, in 3D, or based on a comic book. And that makes it so very special. It’s a reminder that not everyone in the movie industry has forgotten that they can make up their own characters and stories. Not to say that Super 8 is entirely original. In fact, the twist at the end is so typical by now that it would have been more surprising if it hadn’t happened. Still, there’s no denying that this movie is a welcome relief. Maybe a few filmmakers will take the hint and stop desperately resorting to ever more obscure comic book superheroes to fill the summer’s movie quota. Seriously? Thor? You guys are getting pretty desperate.
The movie Super 8 revolves around a group of kids, who, while filming a zombie movie that, chance upon the mother of all train wrecks. Seriously. It’s like train-mageddon. A pick-up hits the train head-on, and ka-boom! CGI everywhere. Somehow out plucky heroes manage to avoid the giant fireballs, tumbling steel trailers, and raining debris without sustaining so much as a scratch. Not only are they unhurt, they go back to witty one-liners and amusing bickering about five seconds later. Until a scary black man (who somehow survived a head-on collision with a military train) tells them not to tell anyone or the baddies will kill them for what they’ve seen. Which turns out not to be true, by the way, since the baddies in question merely capture them later. But I guess kill sounded more foreboding. Anyway, after hearing this proclamation and having the black dude chase them away at gunpoint, the kids get a little nervous. Still, no breaking down, no crying, no PTSD. These are some pretty hardened, badass little kids.
It turns out the train wreck was only the beginning. You see, inside the train was an alien, and when the train crashed, the alien managed to punch its way out through the wall and is running around the town, wreaking havoc. You may wonder why the alien needed to wait until the train was derailed before punching through the wall. I don’t know.
Anyway, since the movie-makers obviously what Super 8 to be as mysterious as possible, I won’t give away any more of the plot. Suffice it to say that the plot is pretty good. Not exceptional, but decent for a monster-thriller.
You will not know what this movie is about until you see it, JJ Abrams has decreed it.
What is exceptional is the character development and the dialogue. Far too many movies centered around children force us to endure characters that, instead of being endearing and comical, come off as obnoxious and cliched. These kids are not. The humor is funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but sort of chuckle-and-grin funny. It’s like if Quentin Tarantino wrote a movie about children.
Like a boatload of disaster thrillers, this movie features a subplot involving an estranged father and son who manage to re-discover their love for each other. It also features a romance. Again, these plot elements are a lot better handled than in a lot of movies. When the character development is taking place, you don’t feel bored. You don’t want to yell at the screen to just get back to the action already. These touching scenes ARE a part of the action, and just as involving as the big scary monster moments.
Unfortunately, this movie commits what I consider the cardinal sin of thrillers and horror films everywehre–it resorts to jump scares. Lots of them. Worse, it resorts to LOUD jump scares.
The thing about jump scares is this: they’re easy. Everyone knows that you can play a supper loud noise after a long quiet pause and people will jump. And wince as their eardrums throb in anguish.
See? It’s easy…
Honestly, though, doing this over and over again–it’s lazy. It’s the cheapest and most obnoxious means possible of scaring people, if you can really call it scaring. I call it startling. And it detracts from the movie when you have to cover your ears to protect them from the next big bang or crash that you just know is coming.
Apart from that, though, the movie s a pretty fun ride. Almost all of it, at least. The climax, as I said before, is a little cheesy and predictable, and it feels a bit like the ending of a Disney movie. Which would be fine, I guess, if this were a kids’ movie, but I can’t help but feel that if it were a kids’ movie they wouldn’t have had all those tedious jump scares.
Gotta give Super 8 props for its ending, though. It wraps everything up, and then–it ends. It just ends. No anti-climactic bullshit, just a nice,clean, fade to black. It’s a bold move, and I respect it. Hey, the story’s done, so do we really need to see a scene of everybody sitting around and talking about what happened? No. No, we most certainly don’t. Super 8 out with a bang, not a fizzle, and that is truly the way to go.
Oh, and during the credits? We finally get to see that zombie movie they were filming.
The title “There Will be Blood” suggests some sort of horror movie. When I first heard it, my thoughts immediately jumped to chainsaws, serial killers, dark rooms full of spiky objects, and gangsters. Strangely enough, for a movie that promises blood in the title, there is surprisingly little blood. The title’s not an outright lie–there are in fact two scenes in which blood is shed. There’s also quite a bit of slapping. But it is somewhat disappointing that, considering all the gory, gritty, dark, and violent movies out there with somewhat uninspiring titles, that the oh-so-evocative title “There Will be Blood” was wasted on a movie about oil. Admittedly, “There Will Be Oil” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
This movie is somewhat unconventional in that it doesn’t have a plot, per se. Things happen, yes, but they aren’t connected to each other-at least not in obvious ways. There Will Be Blood is more of a character study, an examination of how all the events in the movie play upon the emotions and psyche of the protagonist–an oil tycoon named Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis–and change him from a sleazy dirtbag who loves his son to an insane, evil, murdering psychopath who hates his son.
Let me say that Lewis does an amazing job here. He truly transforms himself into the character of Danel Plaiview. He’s got his mannerisms down pat, from the limp, to the whispery voice, to the hunching of the shoulders. He is so compelling that he manages to deliver such absurd lines as “I drink your milkshake” and “I am the Third Revelation!” and make them sound chilling. It is a rare actor who can go so off-the walls-crazy as Day-Lewis does here without compromising the seriousness of the movie.
Daniel Plainview’s nemesis is an equally insane pastor, played by a young actor named Paul Dano, a man who seems determined to prove that he can debate Day-Lewis at his own game and deliver an even more over-the-top performance. It’s up for debate whether or not he succeeded. One thing is sure, though–watching the two holler at each other about God can be pretty darn fun.
Be warned, though: at times, the performances of Day-Lewis and his nemesis, a young pastor who seems to be determined to beat Lewis at his own game, are, at times, the only thing keeping the movie afloat. There Will Be Blood is slow at a lot of parts, and while the end ties everything together and leaves you satisfied, the movie seems sometimes to dally unnecessarily in getting there. It runs about 2 hours and 40 minutes, and the 40 minute is mostly long shots of people riding around on horses or an oil derrick doing its thing. I’m not entirely sure what all these shots were for. Maybe to win the cinematography Oscar? If so, it worked. Could that time have been better spent in other ways? You betcha.
This is a movie that requires some degree of audience participation. It tells a story, to be sure, but because There Will Be Blood takes the epithet “show, don’t tell” to all new levels, the story has big blank spaces in it that the viewer has to fill in. We are given a few glimpses of Plainview’s life over the years and left to piece together a narrative that explains Plainview’s actions. On the one hand this can be annoying, but on the other hand, it is somewhat enjoyable to be left guessing, to have to figure out the internal motivations that lie behind our protagonist’s actions. It’s the sort of movie you what to talk about with your friends after watching it. Maybe whilst drinking a milkshake.
My one gripe about this movie, apart form its paraplegic pace, is the music. It’s your usual, cliche, standard Hollywood, crazy-person movie music–lots of twangy strings and weird percussion lacking any sort of melody. Completely un-hummable. It’s so loud and jarring that it makes you want to reach out and give the screen a shake, just to make it stop, dear God. Oh, wait, this was nominated for best original score? Wait, it WON? I can only assume that the Academy members’ thought process went something like this:
PLEASE, SWEET JESUS, MAKE IT STOP. We’ll do anything. Yes, we’ll give you the Oscar, just please, turn it off. And may we never have to hear it ever again so long as we shall live. Amen.
To be fair, there was one good song I remember–the one by Brahms that played at the end of the movie. The one not included for Oscar consideration, since it’s not part of the “original score.”
Let me say right off the bat I haven’t read the novel this movie was based on. I don’t know how true it is to its source material. I don’t know if the problems this movie has are owed to Cooper’s novel, or if they are the result of Hollywood meddling. I’m guessing the latter, but I’ll get more into that later. All I know is that for a movie called the Last of the Mohicans, it’s very focused on white people.
First let me enumerate this movie’s strengths, of which there are many. The plot is good. The music is awesome, especially the theme that plays during the climactic chase scene. The battles are well done and exciting. Daniel-Day-Lewis is a good actor, and is character, Hawkeye, is a likable protagonist. Some of the characters are well-developed and engaging.
But only the white ones.
The movie centers around the efforts of three rugged frontiersmen to save a pair of white girls from an embittered Native American chief bent on revenge during the SEven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War). One of these frontiersmen, Hawkeye, is white. The other two are Native American, a father and son. They have about five lines apiece, and about a third of the screen-time Hawkeye and the white women enjoy. In order to explain why this is such a problem, I’m going to have to spoil the end of the movie. Sorry, folks.
This becomes really problematic towards the end. The thing is, we’re supposed to care about these two flat, un-developed Native American characters. I thought they wre just there to help Hawkeye in the action scenes, and then, out of nowhere, the son dies, and the father suddenly and abruptly takes center stage. It is he, not Hawkeye, who takes on the villain in single combat, and it is he who makes the dramatic speech at the end of the movie. Also, as it turns out, he is the titular “Last of the Mohicans.” Take a look:
Which makes me wonder why, if he was going to be so damn important to the end of the film, he sat around and did nothing during the preceding hour and a half. Why did the movie spend so much time on Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, when, in truth, he actually wasn’t all that important to the resolution of the story? He honestly did no more than his companions to decide how the movie turned out, and yet his romance with one of the white girls took up about 20 minutes of screen time, while the romance between his Native American comrade and the second white girl was breezed over in a 30-second long scene showing them cuddling together. Why? I’ll never know the answer for sure, but I have a couple of guesses.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis is a big star, and 2. he is white.
The ending might have worked if they’d built up the two Native American heroes, but these characters were so marginalized that I’ve forgotten their names and what they looked like. Since the climax focuses on two non-characters, it loses much of its potency and feels awkward, crudely tacked-on and out-of-place.
So. A rousing adventure tale, and a nice war movie, but it could have been something so much more if only it had been willing to be brave and focus more on the Mohicans and less on the whites.
Despite its name, Serenity is not very, well, serene. It contains a rather large quantity of explosions, fistfights, stabbings, and shoot-outs.
It’s a little tricky to review Serenity, since it is trying to be two things at once. Serenity is in fact a sequel to a TV show named Firefly, a space western (in a very literal sense of the phrase) documenting the adventures of the crew of the Serenity, a smuggling ship. Featuring well-drawn characters and snappy dialogue, the show was a true gem of sci-fi adventure. Sadly, it was cancelled before the first season could be finished. The reason for this? Fox network, apparently not understanding how plots work, decided to air Firefly’s episodes out of order, with the goal of airing more action-packed episodes first in order to entice their viewers. The result, needless to say, was a confused, muddled mess that was impossible o follow. That’s the tricky thing about plots. They have to go in a certain order, or things just don’t make sense. Yet some fans managed to piece together the plot despite Fox’s carelessness, and somehow I guess these fans managed to persuade someone to make a big-screen, big-budget sequel.
But I digress. Serenity, the movie, tries to wrap up all the hanging plot threads left unresolved at the end of Firefly and give the disappointed fans of the show some sort of closure. Yet it also attempts to stand on its own as a space action film. This is evident in the way that all the western-ey elements that made the firefly show so zany and just plain weird are gone from Serenity. There are no horses or cows, no cowboy pistols or country dances. Serenity looks and feels more like Star Wars than Firefly. The goal of these changes is to make the universe of Serenity more accessible to viewers unfamiliar to the show. At the same time, a lot of the character drama in the movie is hard to follow unless you’re already familiar with who these people are from watching Firefly. It’s a tricky balancing act, and Serenity pulls it off…mostly.
While watching this movie, I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who’d never seen the show. To look at Serenity with unbiased eyes. And what I saw was a fun, exciting adventure movie…with a few really confusing subplots that seemed crudely tacked on, and some melodramatic scenes that weren’t built up to nearly enough. Those who’ve seen Firefly will find these moments profoundly touching. Those who haven’t may wonder why these scenes made it off the cutting room floor. To be honest, Serenity isn’t going to pack a real emotional punch if you haven’t watched Firefly. But it can still be enjoyed. It’s got snappy dialogue, a pretty good plot, and some really good one-liners. Not to mention some really good fisticuffs.
If you have seen Firefly, then this movie is probably going to rock your world. I’ve got to admit, it’s got its slow moments. There was a long segment in the middle where I found myself getting antsy. I thought to myself, Jesus, they’ve only got two hours to deal with and they’ve barely moved the plot anywhere. Can they actually tell a story in the time that’s left? Is this actually going somewhere?
The answer is yes. The film rebounds and closes with a magnificent third act. We get to see space marines fighting zombie-psycho-rapist-swordsmen things, a black ninja fighting the captain, a big space battle, and an epic last stand. Not to mention the resolution of a few romantic subplots. And the last scene is genuinely heartwarming instead of cheesy, due to skillful writing on the part of Joss Whedon. Well done, movie.
It’s a rare movie that manages to appease both fans and newcomers without sacrificing the integrity of its source material or dumbing down its characters. Serenity is that rare movie. Firefly goes out with a bang.
To follow up my review of X-Men: First Class, I thought I’d do a brief rundown of all the X-Men films thus far.
For the uninitiated, X-Men is an epic, action-packed sueprhero franchise that can be seen as a metaphor for the civil rights movement, gay pride, and a lot of other important social issues. It boils down to this: due to some scientific BS involving genetic mutation, superheroes are appearing in the population. Normal people are afraid of these mutants and the government is taking steps to protect people from these mutants. Some of these steps could be seen as civil rights infringements. For example, kidnapping a bunch of kids out of their beds and taking them off to be murdered.
There’s two old guys, Charles Xavier and Magneto, who each have a different way of dealing with the situation. Xavier wants to convince the humans that the mutants really are pretty chill people, once you get to know them. Magneto just wants to kill everyone and take over the planet.
X-Men grabs your attention right away, with a strong, dark, dramatic opening offering a glimpse into the backstory of the film’s villain, Magneto–turns out he discovered his powers when he was parted from his family in a Nazi concentration camp. The next half hour or so focuses on two characters, Rogue (a troubled young woman who ran away after nearly accidentally killing her boyfriend), and Wolverine, a bdooring ex-soldier with a mysterious past. Though the angst concentration may be a bit too high, the interaction between the two characters is great to watch. We get to see a bond subtly develop between them.
The rest of the movie fails to live up to the opening. As soon as Magneto activates some CG-looking machine designed to transform people into mutants by altering their DNA, it becomes pretty darn hard to take it seriously. The campiness of the second half of the movie seems at odds with the serious, dark tone of the first half hour. Still, the fight scenes are flashy and fun, the mutant powers are cool, and strong performances from IanMcKellen and Hugh Jackman make this an above-average superhero action flick.
Without a doubt the best of the X-Men films, with the most suspenseful plot and possibly the best action scenes in the franchise. The movie is called X-Men United because this time, we get to see arch-enemies Magneto and Charles Xavier working together to face the threat of William Stryker, a bitter, hate-filled army commander with a great backstory and a plan to wipe out all mutants. But it turns out Magneto’s got a hidden agenda of his own. This movie does a good job of exploring the series’ themes about prejudice, fear, and acceptance without being heavy-handed about it. The last thirty minutes make for one of the most exciting climaxes in a superhero movie.
X2 has some pretty cool scenes, mostly involving the two mutant villains, Magneto and Mystique. My favorite has to be how Mystique helps Magneto escape from prison by seducing his guard and injecting him with iron. The results are…fantastic.
X-Men 3: the Last Stand:
A mixture of hits and painful misses. X3 has a lot of great ideas, but it can’t quite figure out how to weave them together into a single coherent story. We get a whole subplot about how Jean Grey, a character from the other two movies, is actually the most powerful mutant in the world. Much of the story revolves around both Magneto and Xavier attempting to win her over to their side. Unfortunately, the director and/or screenwriters couldn’t seem to think of anything for her to do in the climactic battle scene except stand in the background and look sexy. A love triangle involving three characters called Rogue, Kitty Pride, and Iceman similarly sucks up screen-time fails to pay off. Also, Halle Berry’s acting as Storm in this movie can be pretty painful to watch. X-Men 3 suffers from too many characters that end up being little more than shallow eye candy, since there isn’t enough time to give each one the attention he or she deserves.
Still, it does manage to achieve a certain level of epicness, with the help of awe-inspiring effects, some key dramatic scenes, good action, and a sweeping orchestral score. Also, unlike all the other movies in the franchise, this one actually has the balls to kill off some of the main heroes. Though fans may be upset by this, the movie IS about a giant superhero war, and it is called the Last Stand. If there weren’t any casualties it would feel like a Disney movie.
X Men Origins: Wolverine:
Wolverine is basically an example of all the mistakes you can make when doing prequel. Its story is so mind-numblingly tedious, uninvolving, forced, passionless, and cheesy that I don’t know where to start. Baisically the story goes like this:
Wolverine and his brother work for a creepy army dude but Wolverine doesn’t like the dude’s creepy methods, so he leaves. His brother gets pissed at him for walking out on them, so he comes back and kills Wolverine’s wife.Wolverine goes to the creepy army dude and ask for help so he can kill his brother. But then it turns out his brother is actually working with the creepy army guy, and they wanted Wolverine to go to him for help so they could put metal claws on his hands as part of some weird experiment to learn how to create the ultimate mutant assassin of death. Also, it turns out Wolverine’s wife isn’t dead, she is also working with the creepy army dude to trick Wolverine, and she never really loved him, she was just using mind control on him and manipulating him the whole time. Except she actually still loves him, and he loves her after all. Honestly, folks, I don’t understand it, either. Let’s just say that it kills the spirit of a revenge movie when you find out halfway through that the thing the hero is trying to get revenge for never actually happened. I guess this movie takes the award for the most needlessly complicated bad-guy plot of all time. The movie’s plot really brings up a lot of questions. If they needed to experiment on Wolverine so badly, why didn’t they just nab him of the street and chain him up? How did they know shooting Wolverine in the head would erase his memories? How come cutting Wolverine’s head off can kill him but shooting him in the brain can’t? Where is Stryker’s son (the one they talked about so much in X2) in all of this? How come in this movie Sabertooth is a short, dark-haired guys with claws and healing when in the first movie he was a big blond guy that roared a lot and had no claws? Did they think we wouldn’t notice the difference? Or was that a different Sabertooth? Or–ah, **** it. I give up.
This movie also gets really lazy with the action scenes. Half the move seems to consist of Wolverine fighting someone, and yet in all that fighting there’s not a single action sequence that’s half as exciting or memorable as anything from X2. He fight helicopters, he fights a magician with a stick, he fights a dude with katanas coming out of his arms, he fights his brother three (hundred) times. He even fights some big fat bloke for no real reason at all. Oh, also, the black superhero dies. Just like in X-Men: First Class. Seriously, does someone involved with this franchise hate black people?