9.19.2012

TIFF 2012 Wrap-Up, or: how I learned to stop worrying and just use basic blog entry titles

Where to begin but with this cliché? There is so much to cover from just a week's worth of travel, mirth and moviegoing at what was my first major film festival, and despite a loose goal of keeping things brief, my tendency for long-windedness is sure to see me getting to most of it. Or! What if I resort to list formatting...

too long; don't want to read: just take me to the reviews, thanks.

What I Learned at TIFF

  • Filmmakers are real people! Well, duh. But really, when it comes to the more recognizable names, having the directors and stars present for introductions and post-show Q&As really enhances one's perception of the work at hand - after writing about them as mere names with filmographies attached for so long, they become tangible entities, bringing a whole new view to their process. It's a simple concept that perhaps some find themselves beyond from the start, but it without a doubt impacted me. Plus, hmm, I have a curiosity about what I just saw... oh, there's the guy who made it, I think I'll just ask him. "Mr. De Palma, I was wondering..."
  • 'Rushing' is really easy! I locked down ten shows during my pre-ordered, randomly-assigned ticketing window, but probably only attended half of them. Certain sold-out shows proved worth standing in line for despite my holding for a concurrent show. In many cases this practice saw me simply attending world (or at least continental) premieres as opposed to my booked encores, then hawking the encore tickets at the next day's rush line before heading to see something different. Thanks to some sheer luck and a little determination, I came close to breaking even. I will keep rushing close in mind when booking in the future.
  • Sitting close to the screen is perfectly acceptable, and in some cases preferable. I'm a stickler for dead center, but sometimes at the end of a rush line you have to take what you can get. Myself and a friend were literally the last two allowed in to "The Place Beyond the Pines" so we sat back row balcony, all the way to the right, and it was great (similar story for "To the Wonder"). When I could, though, I'd enjoy sitting much closer than is typically comfortable, because it meant I'd be closer to the filmmakers during intro and Q&A. Either way, unless you're in the Lightbox or perhaps another theater I didn't have the pleasure of experiencing, you're damn lucky to find a comfortable seat. These mostly lovely venues boast high seat counts, but it's clear they achieved such counts by cramming seats as close to one another as possible. Leg room is nonexistent.
  • Even traveling half a globe to a place temporarily dedicated to showcasing great artist's newest works, one simply cannot escape poor audience behavior. Dare I say the amount of loud speaking and barnyard-appropriate popcorn chomping was even worse than I've grown unfortunately accustomed to.
  • Saturday nights in downtown Toronto are like a gay version of "Eyes Wide Shut". I half-expected a harrier Leelee Sobieski to beckon me in to a costume shop on the way back to my hotel. Note to self: walk past more costume shops.
  • Know-it-alls are everywhere. Stereotypical festival types, I guess. Hell, for all I know I'm one of them.
  • Actually having an agenda in an unfamiliar city causes you to hemorrhage money. Every time I've been to a city before, I may have had a few relaxed objectives but I mostly just like to wander about, taking in the aura of the architecture around me. In Boston I love to ride the T until I don't feel like riding it anymore, then getting off wherever it may be to semi-aimlessly find my way back. There is, however, no down time during TIFF. Sure, this meant I barely had time to eat and that sure shootin' cut down on my food bill (diet for the week: gorge on hotel breakfast croissants mid-morning, eat shawarma and coffee mid-afternoon, maybe a beer at night) but even trying to walk everywhere couldn't save my cash. Advice for next time: learn the convenient subway system.
  • Speaking of cash, ha! Canadian money, until I quickly realized how much of it was leaving my wallet, made little ol' American me feel like I wasn't actually spending anything at all. "Oh, you want this unfamiliarly textured and somewhat shiny piece of purple paper with hockey players drawn on it? Be my guest, cab driver."
  • WiFi ain't easy to come by. Slow connections in coffee joints (no patronage required, but I'd've felt awkward otherwise...), slightly better connection in one of the more distant film venues (the TIFF Bell Lightbox itself), and best connection all the way back at the hotel. We'd often cruise back to our hotel lobby to catch up on things and get to writing, but every time realized not long after, "Crap, we'd better go stand in line for our next film!" Eventually most of the writing got done in line, with the uploading occurring, well, whenever we could manage.
  • Canadians en masse really are disarmingly friendly, but don't think they say "ou" any different than Americans do. "It's more of a Newfie dialect." Right, right, of course it is...
  • The solicitation laws must be way lax compared to the States, even for metropolitan areas. Every two seconds I'd have someone asking for money, whether they be clearly destitute or clean-shaven and wearing a Ralph Lauren polo. The demonstrators don't hold back, either - it was practically cartoonish to see some of the protests and religious zealotry.
  • Stag shops and strip joints are on every other block, and they don't hold back their advertising. Not a block away from Yonge-Dundas Square (what everyone calls "The Times Square of Toronto") is perhaps the largest stag shop in town with a big poster of a girl holding a curved vibrator designed to stimulate multiple zones while concealed. Maybe some of the people I passed were in fact concealing, having been compelled by that poster. Maybe others were enjoying the "back-to-school" lap dance specials at the club that loudly exclaimed with its sign, "Always hiring naked men!"
  • With the exception of coffee shops and convenience stores, everything is so niche it can be difficult to find basic foods or gifts. This is how I wound up eating shawarma and bringing home Hello Kitty chopsticks to my daughter. I mean, there's an entire store that's just throw pillows.

...Okay, so list format didn't shut me up much but it did alleviate the need for most structure and segue woes. On to the films. First is a list of the main titles I was most interested in seeing at TIFF, in descending order of interest (note: stress on "at TIFF" - some titles, like "Argo" and "Looper", were easily passed up as for reasons hopefully obvious by now they'd seem like wastes of time to go out of the way for during such an event). To say the least, it would be a promising festival no matter which selection from the following I'd've ended up with. Asterisks denote films I managed to pre-book tickets for, several of which were ultimately "swapped" - encores for premieres, or lower priorities for a chance at rushing sold-out shows (IE "Dredd" for "The Place Beyond the Pines").

  • The Fifth Season (Brosens, Woodworth)
  • The Master (P.T. Anderson)
  • To the Wonder (Malick) *Encore
  • The Lords of Salem (Zombie) *Midnight Madness/World Premiere
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (Cianfrance)
  • Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
  • Spring Breakers (Korine) *Encore
  • Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)
  • Mekong Hotel (Weerasethakul)
  • Aprés Mai (Assayas) *North American Premiere
  • Passion (De Palma) *North American Premiere
  • Frances Ha (Baumbach) *World Premiere
  • Krivina (Drljača)
  • Cloud Atlas (Wachowski, Wachowski, Tykwer)
  • Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami) *North American Premiere
  • Antiviral (B. Cronenberg) *World Premiere
  • No (Larraín)
  • The Iceman (Vroman)
  • The Company You Keep (Redford)
  • Byzantium (Jordan) *Encore
  • The Paperboy (Daniels)
  • Anna Karenina (Wright)
  • Dredd (Travis) *Encore
  • End of Watch (Ayer)
  • Aftershock (López)
  • Everybody Has A Plan (Piterbarg)
  • Disconnect (Rubin)
  • The Sessions (Lewin)
  • On the Road (Salles)


Next up is a list of the 15 I managed to see, in descending order of preference (with blurbs and links to Sound on Sight reviews where applicable). Some List 1 films were just too inconveniently scheduled to work. The gentlemen I spent most my time with assuredly tired of my constant declarations of, "I can't believe the Brosens, the Reygadas and the Joe are showing after I leave!!" I would have tried to rush "The Master" or "Seven Psychopaths" (the encores of which took place simultaneously), but that was but my second day of the fest, and I hardly knew what I was doing yet. I figured there'd be no chance of getting in to either film, and rationalized with the knowledge that each would be readily available in theaters nationwide in several weeks anyway. I blab too much. Onward!

Thanks for Sharing (Blumberg; Encore)
[Thanks for Sharing] combines elements of artistically successful independent vision with more accessible production values and pacing to create a film conceivably for anyone and everyone. It is a new millennium Billy Wilder in the sense that it so effortlessly and captivatingly makes you laugh and cry – occasionally at the same time. Blumberg’s documented talent continues to rise as the man enlightens, entertains, and encourages us to realize and address our own addictions of any kind – how they affect our lives and the lives of those around us. Read the full review.

Passion (De Palma; North American Premiere)
The operatic Passion is pulpy perfection. By now Brian De Palma could probably sleepwalk his way through such material, but to his credit he appears to still be giving it his tireless all. Read the full review.

To the Wonder (Malick; North American Premiere)
To aptly respond when questioned on one’s response to To the Wonder is to first spend a brief eternity in silence, jaw agape in attempt to conjure wordless phrases. For better or for worse – perhaps for neither – the experience exists outside the fashions by which many of us perceive film, whether in more traditional senses or no. Read the full review.

Paradise: Love (Seidl; North American Premiere)
Though several shots throughout seem meticulously arranged – and all the more classically lovely for it – co-writer/director Ulrich Seidl’s often widely composed exhibition of his central tourist allows her longing for attention and more quietly developed hang-ups with body image to command the piece amongst complimentarily competing themes of objectification, cultural hierarchy and mutual exploitation. The carefully set-back camera watches mature lead actress Margarete Tiesel’s sexuality naturally blossom as her character allows the illusion of acceptance to lead her down a repetitious yet progressively dark path. Read the full review.

Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami; North American Premiere)
Essentially a companion piece to Certified Copy, this follow-up seems to play on notions possibly conceived by its educated audience though appearing almost bafflingly straight-forward. This mere observation only prefaces the technical prowess at hand, as with his latest film Kiarostami displays absolute mastery of composition and blocking. About the first half of the picture - presented in real time - is a crash course in cinematic storytelling genius.

Spring Breakers (Korine; Encore)
Though surprising in its sensibly high production value, Spring Breakers does fit well in Korine’s filmography of beautifully raw and enlighteningly disturbing observational pieces, even if it does rapidly grow more and more preposterous as its characters move from aspirations of assimilation to ones of new, if manipulated, individualism. Read the full review.

The Lords of Salem (Zombie; Midnight Madness World Premiere)
Reaching the ultra-obscure side of the spectrum to illustrate just how far out Zombie has gone here, the design and meticulously symmetrical tableau vivant composition at hand is structurally evocative of films such as Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (to name just one essential example). Considering this stylish choice’s brief appearance in Halloween 2, it seems safe to say this is a new trend for Zombie, and something we can fortunately anticipate in future works. Read the full review.

Krivina (Drljača, Encore)
As if Jon Jost visited Bosnia, Krivina itself is an inspired and sentimental road trip – a truly personal undertaking with a gentle narrative built around it, seamlessly integrating even a certain headline event from the time of the shooting. Read the full review.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Cianfrance, Encore)
Though it features a somewhat worrying build-up, there is much to be said for the classic excellence found in the first act of The Place Beyond the Pines, from riveting and original heist scenes and another stellar supporting turn from Ben Mendelsohn to startlingly abrupt violence and a generous moment of hilarity involving Bruce Springsteen and a dog. Cianfrance has vastly overreached, however, as in subsequent acts the picture slowly loses steam. The director's ambition is admirable, and the strength of act one carries the remainder of the piece, but Pines does not leave us with much more than a memory of how well it began.

Here Comes the Devil (Bogliano, Encore)
The piece thrives on Catholic fear, with recurring instances of immoral sexual awakening proving catalytic for many a demonic deed. Commencement of menstruation, non-consensual loss of virginity, homosexual experimentation and the recounting of early sexual encounters being used to arouse against one’s conscious will coincide with the unleashing of Santeria-like evils – evils only cracking the ice of this chilly rabbit hole. Read the full review.

Frances Ha (Baumbach, World Premiere)
An apparent passion project for Baumbach, the quaint Frances Ha has little to say for itself beyond homage to the French New Wave, but it is sufficiently amusing with at least one swoon-worthy sequence. It was odd to view this film in an auditorium filled with 1,200 laughing people, as I feel the proceedings would play more effectively on a home theater system with the benefit of silence awarded its plethora of purposefully awkward moments.

Aftershock (López, Midnight Madness World Premiere)
With few punches pulled and nearly every aspect accomplished through refreshingly practical effects, the film provides a 90-minute thrill party at efficiency rates. There is hardly a pinch of salt or slather of butter, but if it’s meat and potatoes you’re craving it’s tough to go wrong with this menu. Read the full review.

Byzantium (Jordan, World Premiere)
Despite occasionally interesting imagery, Jordan's return to vampires flounders beneath its utterly uninspired approach that heralds little narrative significance whatsoever. Solid performances, though, including the first I've seen from Arterton that I can positively critique and an appropriately ethereal showing from Ronan.

Aprés Mai (Assayas, North American Premiere)
We have seen this all before. At times the piece feels as though a pale copy of past work geared solely to grant the filmmaker opportunity to revisit scenes for merely slight reinterpretation, or to at times hubristically communicate with them. The gorgeously exemplary Summer Hours house party, for example, is practically transplanted here with only a differing conclusion and downgraded visuals to set it apart. Read the full review.

Everybody Has A Plan (Piterbarg, World Premiere)
Default optimism indicates there may be brighter, more stylistically assured horizons ahead for Piterbarg, but this wholly unremarkable and thoroughly disengaging reversal of Mortensen’s arc in A History of Violence does not travel far in the way of inspiring such hope. Read the full review.

For further thoughts on the bests, worsts and pieces of interest at TIFF 2012, check out the Sound on Sight staff wrap-up.

For more pictures from TIFF 2012, visit my Facebook album.

6.29.2012

My Week 53: Magic Mike; Moonrise Kingdom

Magic Mike (Stephen Soderbergh, 2012)
If "Haywire" was so expertly crafted around the way Gina Carano moves, much of "Magic Mike" is crafted around the way Channing Tatum moves, and holy hell can that boy dance. Instead of Soderbergh's usual bait-and-switch using A-list casts with uniquely selected side players and tantalizing stories to lure audiences in to less-accessible-than-expected affairs (not that this tendency is a bad thing in my opinion, considering my thoughts on his prior three career-crowning features), The director strikes a perfect balance between his ever daring "indie" characteristics and his more crowd-pleasing mainstream sensibilities to create a film that really earns its merit as a spiritual successor to "Boogie Nights" (it hits just about all the same key plot points, becoming particularly good when it veers toward more bitter material) and a "girls' night" phenomenon. Of course the A-list cast is still present - after this whirlwind year Tatum is surely close to being considered as much, and meanwhile Matthew McConaughey delivers one of his better performances in an opporunity to one-up Matt Damon's notoriously hilarious "Late Show" immitation - and we have a unique cast of supporters indeed, from up-and-comers such as the superb Cody Horn to recognized faces like Gabriel Iglesias and Kevin Nash. And speaking of girls' nights, I do have a slight bit of a personal investment in this film now. I have been working around the clock to create a premiere event for the cinema I work for (the first of many - "The Dark Knight Rises" midnight premiere being the next), and so far it has been a major success (one more day to go!). Big thanks go out to my former editor-in-chief Julie Rabbani with Threads & Feathers, Pierre and Sexy D at Retro Fitness, Kurt and Matt our models, Danielle at NBC, Kathy, Alisa and Brittany at the local paper, and of course everyone I work with at the cinema for helping make this thing a hit. Thank goodness it's centered around a good movie!
 
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
Like his contemporaries - others of the young group that took the last decade by storm - Paul Thomas Anderson and Sophia Coppola, with his latest Wes Anderson seems to be taking a step of maturation. Thing is, while I do greatly like films like "There Will Be Blood" and "Somewhere", they don't represent what I like about their creators. Now, with precise blocking in carefully composed shots, signature dialogue stylings and parent/child themes directly relating to expression through material belongings, "Moonrise Kingdom" is very Wes, no doubt about it, but it seems to subdue what we love about the man's work in effort to find middle ground between his stranger (IE "The Life Aquatic") and more grounded offerings (IE "The Royal Tenenbaums"). I suppose it's cute that the film becomes an action/adventure flick (complete with Bruce Willis as the cop) only in the robes of a quaint Boy Scouts summer camp, and it is certainly not without its uniquely relatable moments of puppy love or affecting characterizations (Bill Murray's hopeless father as a standout), but upon first viewing "Moonrise Kingdom" is not, for me, in the realm of Wes' best. Then, that best is an immensely high standard to be held to.
 
 
Total: 2
 
Rewatches (3): The Darjeeling Limited (W. Anderson, 2007); Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete (Nomura, 2009); Rango (Verbinski, 2011)
 
Episodic Television (1): Up All Night (Pilot - Working Late & Working It)
- There seems no end to the repetition of new parent humor in entertainment media, but I've really got to hand it to "Up All Night" - something particularly relatable has been tapped in to here, generating winningly hilarious results for modern parents. Maya Rudolph continues to be one of the best comedic actresses working today.
 
Episodic Television Rewatches (3): 30 Rock (The Break-Up - MILF Island); Community (Basic Lupine Urology); Louie (Travel Day/South; Bully)

6.23.2012

My Week 52: Shame

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
What can I say? From open to close I was utterly hooked - deeply involved in this gorgeous, gorgeous film and willing to go wherever it might take me. An instant favorite. If anyone asks what I look for in a movie, I can just answer, "Shame."
 
 
Further first-time viewings:
 
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov, 2012)
What we have in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a film that never should have been more than an idea for the direct-to-DVD market. We have a film that doesn’t seem to know what to emphasize, what to merely imply and what to assume the audience already knows, that thereby leaves a vague semblance of an unworthy and often blindly backwards story amidst a monotonous onslaught of poor, in-your-face action and mislaid style. We have a film that wastes the solid talents of Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Alan Tudyk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson and Marton Csokas. If only the 100-minute running time felt as trim as it is. Up next: barrier-breaking baseball star fashions bat in to stake to battle nocturnal beasts in: “Chocked Full o’Guts: The Jackie Robinson Story”. Full review at Reel Time.
 
 
Total: 2
 
 
Rewatches (1): Haywire (Soderbergh, 2012)
 
Episodic Television (1): Community (A Fistful of Paintballs - Introduction to Finality)
- Even if season 3 of "Community" is a little more settled in to its groove and not as consistently excellent as S2, it has more than its share of highlights ("Basic Lupine Urology" being an instant fave). An observation: while at first I felt the characters were too vicious with one another for the sake of mean "humor" (a primary reason I did not continue watching after a few episodes when S1 first aired), as much of S1 focuses on each individual really does fill a key archetypal role that fleshes out a group-reliant social ecosystem... everything would be so honky-dory if they'd all quit projecting flawed ideas on one another.
 
Episodic Television Rewatches (3): 30 Rock (Pilot - Tracy Does Conan; Christmas Attack Zone; 100); Community (The Science of Illusion; Modern Warfare; Epidemiology); Futurama (Fry Am the Egg Man; The Tip of the Zoidberg)

6.14.2012

My Week 51: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)
In today's age, it seems a common feeling that most popular music of the 1980s is mockable novelty - a wave of kitsch now beneath us. I, for one, adore human spirit-championing hair metal and arena rock, and hearing that Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were to star in a musical about that sadly lost era excited me greatly. The joyous "Rock of Ages" pays off on its premise in spades, celebrating the simultaneously unifying and individualizing power of '80s rock by holding it on high to be marveled at and enjoyed by all. "Why can't life be more like this," I think to myself while rocking out in my seat to a bunch of 20-somethings spontaneously seething as one to "Jukebox Hero" (given an awkward medley with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" sung in part by a Brand who looks more like Joan Jett than Kristen Stewart did in "The Runaways"). Then the climax hits, but the movie never ends; it goes on, and on, and on, and on. You see, until after that early climax, "Rock of Ages" was never about story. Until after that climax "Rock of Ages" was about the music, and I couldn't have cared less that it was framed by the most clichéd clichés possible. A shift occurs, however, where the film wants us to really care about its frail stories, and here does it enter a realm of tedium. Plenty of fun remains to be had, yet it is sullied by rote and fraying yarns about censorship and puppy love. Dwelling on positives, the aforementioned trio indeed walks away with the show with Cruise's Frank Mackey-ish caricature of a headlining rocker being worth every ounce of anticipation and Baldwin getting perhaps the film's highest highlight early on as he croons the bridge to Poison's "Nothing But a Good Time". There are also a handful of surprises tossed in with what is essentially a greatest-of-the-greatest hits checklist chocked full of Foreigner, Twisted Sister and Journey, etcetera. Not that I have anything against Foreigner, Twisted Sister and Journey, mind you. On the contrary! It's just nice when a little Night Ranger and Skid Row can shine amongst the heavier heavies - otherwise it's all too expected.
 
 
Total: 1
 
 
Rewatches (3): Haywire (Soderbergh, 2012); Prometheus (Scott, 2012); The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
- I can't believe I didn't latch on to the groovy '70s-esque score of "Haywire" upon my first viewing. It is just one of the aspects that make Soderbergh's ode to Gina Carano one of the best of the director's career and one of the very best of the year thus far. Great, inspiring stuff, with some thrilling set pieces.
- A second viewing of Prometheus makes some of what can be labeled its narrative flaws more apparent, and also invalidates many of my theories, justifications and questions (those who recall the plot's details well would probably wonder what I was smoking when explaining these ideas and ponderings on the podcast). I'd like to think I was overwhelmed enough by the technical achievements on display that I failed to take note of important images or lines of dialogue. Additionally, certain scenes and subplots could have stood to be cut entirely, as well, without any impact to the overall piece. Makes me wonder even more what the impending extended cut has in store. Though my view of the film may be simplified now thanks to the revisit's gift of clarification, I still greatly enjoyed it and feel that dwelling in some of these narrative nitpicks would prevent me from fully marveling at how impressive the film is in so many ways. Really hoping for a sequel.
- Despite my negative opinions of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight", the marketing campaign for "The Dark Knight Rises" has somehow managed to make me optimistic about this final outing for Nolan's take on the caped crusader. I figured I'd revisit "The Dark Knight" with this newfound optimism. Didn't work; movie's still terrible. It has some ideas that intermittently threaten to make it interesting, but they are accomplished in the most boring and technically dry ways.
 
Episodic Television (1): Community (Romantic Expressionism - Conspiracy Theories & Interior Design; Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas - Applied Anthropology & Culinary Arts)
- At long last I may finally be colored a "Community" enthusiast. I had seen 5 episodes on NBC before, but clearly I hadn't seen the right ones. Season 1 does take a while to hit its groove, and the characters still work to fill types in various stories rather than become living people we truly care about but this is per the progressively ingenius model of the show. Following the suit of what is far and away S1's best episode, "Modern Warfare" (though there are several other winners to be found in the season's latter half), S2 has been thoroughly brilliant with genre-benders like "Epidemiology" in which survival horror films are energetically honored, and mind-benders like "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" in which we view a meta imagination and are left to imagine the understood-to-be-false reality (trust me, it makes sense). And that's not to leave out other great episodes such as "Accounting for Lawyers", "Basic Rocket Science", "Messianic Myths & Ancient Peoples", "Aerodynamics of Gender" and "Cooperative Calligraphy". So, in short, I'm glad I finally quit resisting based on a handful of mediocre-to-poor episodes displaying a seemingly invalid cleverness that just came off as lazy, and gave "Community" a shot, because it's proving extremely well worth the while as it goes forth.
 
Episodic Television Rewatches (2): 30 Rock (The Moms - Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish); Community (Mixology Certification)
- It remains highly watchable, but "30 Rock" really feels fatigued in its 5th season, particularly toward the beginning. Nothing against the live episode and the 100th episode, of course. This fatigue seems to carry over in to the little of S6 that I've caught, but I will need to catch up soon to see how things go.
 
NIFF screening committee films I'm not allowed to talk about: 3

6.08.2012

My Week 50: Prometheus

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
How exhilarating to see such an accomplishment on the big screen in excellent 3D (perhaps surpassing "Hugo" as the most impressive since "Resident Evil: Afterlife" and certainly the most immersive since "Avatar"), and how refreshing to see it playing in the extreme mainstream despite its merely minor and fleeting passes at attempting to carry "common audiences" through its thoroughly bold journey. With atmospheric echoes of the first act of Żuławski's incredible "On the Silver Globe", this expertly designed and superbly acted vision of innovative future technology and deeply intelligent sci-fi fantasy (this decade's "Minority Report"?) coats the viewer in a persistent sweat and doesn't let up until well after the credits have rolled. Exemplary quality is at awe-inspiring work in every technical and creative aspect from open to close, including astoundingly intricate and signature production design (including some yonic imagery surely geared to balance the notoriously phallic nature of "Alien") mind-blowingly original visual effects that flesh out the all-around breathtaking visuals, and an ensemble full of solid performances topped of course by Michael Fassbender's endearing yet eerie naïveté as the android David. I can see where the disconnect might be with many who are emerging disappointed with the technically ultra-cohesive picture. Where, say, "2001: A Space Odyssey" deals with similar questions about humanity using similar elements, it can come across as mysterious yet is directly applicable to any perception of the reality we explicitly relate to because we live it every day. The unanswered questions become satisfying through the inference of a world we are already familiar with. Contrarily, "Prometheus" fantasizes a creation theory practically implausible by today's science, its answers reliant on forms of narrative exposition. Certain aspects are up for interpretation, but only relative to the world they exist in, making the mystery a potential frustration with finite right and wrong ways of looking at it. Still, the film refrains from overreaching as it could so easily have done considering its concept, choosing to thrive on a more "Star Trek"-esque vibe that wisely sticks to a few primary locations in one general area as opposed to planet-hopping or developing connected Earth-based story threads, and ultimately the remaining mystery works. In short, unless you prefer your sci-fi with giant exploding semitruck-bots and the like, see "Prometheus" right now. It basically devoured my soul and vomited it back in to my brain through my eyeballs. In a good way.


Total: 1

Rewatches (1): Rocky II (Stallone, 1979)


Episodic Television (1): Community (Introduction to Film - Interpretive Dance)
- Finally do I give the cult sitcom sensation "Community" the ol' college try (beyond the spare lackluster episodes I'd seen when it premiered). I cannot say I'm loving it in its first season (from what I hear it becomes genre-bendingly excellent later) but I can say that although the self-awareness isn't as clever as it thinks it is I do appreciate some of the technical aspects of the writing, Chevy Chase's Pierce is consistently funny (not to say other characters are without their moments) and Alison Brie is possibly the hottest thing on the planet.

Episodic Television Rewatches (4): Parks & Recreation (Flu Season; The Debate), 30 Rock (St. Valentine's Day - Argus), Futurama (I, Roommate; Brannigan, Begin Again; A Bicyclops Built for Two; Amazon Women in the Mood; Bendin' in the Wind; Godfellas; Future Stock; Love & Rocket; Spanish Fry; Rebirth; Attack of the Killer App; The Duh-Vinci Code; Reincarnation), Community (Pilot; Spanish 101)

NIFF Screening Committee films I'm not allowed to talk about yet: 4

6.01.2012

My Week 49: Snow White & the Huntsman

Snow White & the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders, 2012)
Though it may experience pacing issues that prevent it from consistently involving and lack a worthy score that could have helped it achieve comparability to "The Lord of the Rings", the never patronizing "Snow White & the Huntsman" should provide all types with something to feast their eyes on. The production draws inspiration from many places, from Emmanuel Lubezki to Han Solo, and displays occasionally lovely cinematography, lavishly intricate costume design and often astoundingly realistic visual effects. Charlize Theron creates a bitterly sympathetic antagonist - albeit one with a wonky accent - while Kristen Stewart delivers what could be her best performance yet as a Snow White who, in a nice allusion to Walt Disney's seminal classic, can "talk" with creatures of the forest. An ultimately rewarding if moreover middling piece of entertainment, "Snow White & the Huntsman" is the best cinematic telling of the legend this reviewer has seen, and certainly warrants further adventures with its characters.
 
 
Total: 1
 
 
Rewatches (2): Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson, 1997); The Beast with A Billion Backs (Avanzino, 2008)
 
 
Television Rewatches: Parks & Recreation (Go Big or Go Home); 30 Rock (SeinfeldVision - The Collection; Episode 210 - The One with the Cast of Night Court; Generalissimo; Goodbye, My Friend); Futurama (Again, as opposed to attempting to list all the episodes I've watched and watched again, I'll simply state I've been watching far too much of this program to be healthy)

5.21.2012

My Week 48: Dark Shadows; What to Expect; MIB 3

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, 2012)
Though it most certainly features some of Burton's recent lack of concern for contained narrative and pacing and his ever-increasingly rigid staging (not nearly enough to lump it in with "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland", I might clarify) and even smacks of gothic-going-through-the-motions, I rather enjoyed "Dark Shadows". The 1972 flavoring does it many favors, and of course I loved the integration of Alice Cooper even if he was lip-synching. As if trying to honor every bit of content that made its source soap what it was, the flick features enough jumbled and undercooked stories to fill a season of programming (wait, do soaps come in seasons?) but manages to entertain easily through fun characters (Chloë Grace Moretz' being a particular highlight), relentless period references, classic vampirism done with a winning fish-out-of-water twist, and a little "Death Becomes Her" for good measure; my smile maintained for much of the duration. The best bit? No typical zooming-through-CGI-crap opening credits from Burton! In fact, we get nice aerial shots of a train gliding through the forests of Maine to the sounds of "Nights in White Satin". Boom!


Further first-time viewings:

What to Expect When You're Expecting (Kirk Jones, 2012)
Broadening the Apatow-ing of mainstream American comedy with its hip tone, the intertwining ensemble "What to Expect" is, well, what you'd expect. The surprise is that it's a rather competently assembled piece with a fair sense of pacing and genuineness, if not a great helping of laughs (though to be fair of those there are several, including the highlight of a "Reno 911!" reunion between Thomas Lennon and Wendi McLendon-Covey). The flick scoots along, checking off key milestones in the various ways one might be "expecting", some of which are more affecting than others. Dennis Quaid becomes of relative note in the role of a small-minded NASCAR hero, while Jennifer Lopez rises further up newfound scales of repute. "What to Expect" should prove innocent fun for those who have been or are going through pregnancy, but its effect does not last beyond a single night of moderate enjoyment.

Men in Black 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)
Why does this exist. Yes, indeed, it is an embarrassing trainwreck for which basal competency has been tossed out; an insult to even its apparent lowest common denominator demographic. If the "Lord of the Rings" films are the biggest low budget films ever made, this has to be the smallest big budget one. Many scenes - which one can tell are desperately yet shoddily patched together as well as the editors can manage - are blatantly cut between multiple shoots, some even between on-location shoots with a partial cast and skeleton-crew sound stage stuff, like bad '50s nickelodeon fare. Could use an education as to the definition of 'humor', to boot (watching the Fresh Prince cockily go through the motions for two hours does not count). Thankfully the awful-looking graffiti alien from the trailers doesn't make final cut, so we know it still could have been worse, but as if to underwhelmingly compensate the big bad (played by... is that the guy from "Flight of the Conchords"?) is a considerable step down from even the franchise's lackluster second installment. Actually, let's just blanket that last sentiment over the piece as a whole. Is this the worst film of the year so far? I guess that depends on how you feel about "John Carter".


Total: 3


Rewatches (3): Step Brothers (McKay, 2008), Bender's Game (Carey-Hill, 2008), Into the Wild Green Yonder (Avanzino, 2009)
- Similar to my frequent flipping back and forth between the favoring of "Bender's Big Score" or "The Beast with a Billion Backs" as my favorite "Futurama" movie, I continue to flip between "Bender's Game" and "Into the Wild Green Yonder" as my least favorite. Despite its obvious key twist, "Big Score" is perhaps as narratively ambitious as the series has been and you can really sense the creators' loving celebration of their material. "Beast" grandly accomplishes one of my favorite things the series does, and that is going boldy where no one has gone before with both simultaneously subtle and overt whimsy and intriguing questions about our universe that genuinely make you think while you laugh at their presented absurdity. "Game" is when the feature-length installments begin to feel obligatory, and the characters prosper little from becoming so referential to "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" while cracking some of their lowest-brow quips. Still, at least on this round of viewings, "Game" proves more consistently entertaining than the lame character-heavy "Green Yonder", which drags between tangents but at least returns to somewhat interesting subject matter and has some fun with its obligatory nature (even more fourth-wall breaking observations about script clichés than usual!). But really, why have so much Mr. Wong, robot mafia, Roberto, and new groups the new Feministas and Mad Fellows, yet so little Zapp?

Episodic Television Rewatches: Parks & Recreation (Park Safety; The Master Plan); Futurama (The Series Has Landed - A Flight to Remember; Fry & the Slurm Factory - The Day the Earth Stood Stupid; In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela)
- I don't typically mention the shows my two-and-half-year-old daughter watches, and I'm still not going to bother listing which "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" episodes I've seen with her, but, well... yeah, this "brony" thing. At first I really, really didn't get it... but after around ten random episodes I'd be lying to say I don't find the characters charming and often hilarious. The internet-age sensibilities behind the expression animation goes a long way, as well. I didn't realize how much I genuinely enjoyed the kiddie show until I was talking about it with my girlfriend (and babymama) Jaime and found myself becoming unexpectedly enthusiastic about some of the storylines and character dynamics. Bravo, Lauren Faust. Bravo. Also damn you. But mostly the first thing.

NIFF Screening Committee films I'm not allowed to talk about yet: 5

5.14.2012

My Week #47: The Hard Ride; Saturday the 14th

NOTE: I'm late! For the second entry in a row! Not only have I been transitioning to a new apartment, I've been transitioning to the iPad. It used to take no thought at all to sit at my (still-beautiful) iMac and type up film musings, but the convenience of iPad makes doing so seem tedious. Excuses. This entire entry, however, has been created using the Blogsy app for iPad. How's it look? Hopefully no different.

The Hard Ride (Burt Topper, 1971)
The best pure biker pic I've seen this side of "Easy Rider", "The Hard Ride" draws from Dennis Hopper's great American ode as many of its ilk also did, but emerges superior with a killer soundtrack, relentlessly awe-inspiring cinematography, an instantly engaging storyline with classically universal and poignantly social themes, just the right amount of exploitation... and a sharp yet free-wheeling sense for what it means to live by the bike. Leave it to American International!

Saturday the 14th (Howard R. Cohen, 1981)
It is a fine line horror parodies walk, and in this earlier example success is achieved through the apparent attempt to create a believable horror film that is simply delivered through smart filters of ham and cheese. The tongue-in-cheek nature of it all is what really sells the humor, generating constant belly laughs for the horror buff. To select a highlight in such a consistent romp could be difficult, yet Severn Darden manages to steal the show with his nonchalant yet passionate Van Helsing.
 
 
Further first-time viewings:
 
The Martian Chronicles: The Settlers (Michael Anderson, 1980)
After blurb-reviewing the first chapter of this controversial television miniseries, what more can I really say about "The Martian Chronicles"? Though of course it is not nearly as good or provoking as its source, it manages to remain interesting throughout, if not exactly dazzling. Thanks to Ray Bradbury, the concepts are fascinating and help the (occasionally "Twilight Zone"-esque) hoakiness of this adaptation float by with ease.
 
The Martian Chronicles: The Martians (Michael Anderson, 1980)
'Nuff said, really. Though I do enjoy how proud Rock Hudson is of himself at the very end, as if thinking, "Oh yeah, I'm so clever... you didn't see that coming at all!"
 
Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40 (Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson, 2010)
Smith is making it difficult to find him an inspiration anymore. I suppose it's interesting to hear him speak, but he seems to have his head up his ass without realizing it. Or if he realizes it, he relishes it. It's hard to say. I still love the guy's work, for the most part, and do draw inspiration from it... but I don't want to hear him whine about Bruce Willis and describe pooping while high for two hours. Leave that to Jay and Silent Bob. Or just Jay, I guess.
 
Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell (Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson, 2012)
Arguably more interesting, subject-wise, than "Too Fat for 40", yet littered beyond repair with unnecessary crude language. Hey, I have no problem with cursing... but ending every sentence with "and shit" and describing every verb or noun with "fuckin'" is simply obscene.
 
 
Total: 6
 
 
Rewatches (8): Resident Evil: Afterlife (W.S. Anderson); Drive (Refn, 2011); Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Verbinski, 2006); Hall Pass x2 (Farrelly & Farrelly, 2011); Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Stone, 2010); Immortals (Singh, 2011); Bender's Big Score (Carey-Hill, 2007)
- I was recently on the market for a new television. A 55" stripped-down model seemed the ticket, yet most everything in that category still exceeded my price ceiling by several hundred dollars. Then, luck struck when a model superior in every way to what I was looking for - 59", plasma, 3D, wifi - crossed my path for the price of just $900. I wasn't able to quit saying "holy shit" all day. Anyway, what I'm getting at is... I didn't think it'd be less than, say, five or more years before it became a practical reality to view the dimensionally revelatory "Resident Evil: Afterlife" in glorious 3D again. Yet here I am, able to watch it as it is meant to be seen any time I please. I can't but weep with sheer awestruck joy when it is upon my screen. Amazing.
- Armie Hammer in a deleted scene from "Hall Pass"? What? Outside that, though, the deleted scenes appear to have most certainly been deleted for good reason.
- Boy the tie Shia wears at the beginning of "Money Never Sleeps" is nice.
 
Episodic Television: Parks & Rec (Bus Tour; Win, Lose or Draw)
 
Episodic Television Rewatches: Parks & Rec (Campaign Ad - Win, Lose or Draw); Futurama (Note: as opposed to listing individual episodes, I'll simply state I've been watching entirely too much of this show to be considered healthy)
- I could write for pages about my feelings on this latest season of "Parks & Rec", so I'll save everyone some time and keep it simple and vague. Basically, the plot was so intricately developed (as is everything on the show) that I could have honestly justified satisfaction with whatever outcome. There were loads of positives to any possible scenario. I can hardly imagine a more perfect season finale, however, as this one both took me on a ride worthy of capping off a great season of build-up and delivered everything I could have wanted for its lovable characters (Leslie inspires me with her blind love and lack of fear) with promises - not cliffhangers - for what is to come in season 5. Man, I adore this show.

5.05.2012

My Week #46: The Five-Year Engagement; The Avengers

Note: For the first time I have missed a week! April 28th was the biggest moving day of a whole moving week for me, so "My Week" fell a few pegs priority-wise. Represented here are both this and the missed week. Y'know, as if I watched all that many films to warrant disclaimer. Hey, I'm swamped in boxes here!


The Five-Year Engagement - Nicholas Stoller, 2012
An amalgam of Hollywood, storybook romance and more grounded and honest love, "The Five-Year Engagement is a thoughtful and entertaining third directorial effort from Nicholas Stoller, who will always be on my good side thanks to the incredible "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", though due to its unique morals I find it sits funny. I also appreciate this as a positive, though it is an odd pill to swallow considering its presentation. I wonder if it will go down as Stoller's "Funny People", in the sense that it does not provide what audiences may expect, leaning more toward - for better or for worse (the latter in the case of "Funny People") - serious life quandary than your typical Apatow fare. In light of a predictable script that plays on screen like a 2-hour montage and is somewhat front-loaded (the first half almost feels as though a Woody Allen undercurrent is passing through it, and it features some great belly laughs, one of which involving Tom Hanks references had me rolling - I laughed out loud any time my mind floated back to it) the best the creators can do is be honest, and that they have been.


Further first-time viewings:

The Avengers - Joss Whedon, 2012
I suppose I've got to hand it to Marvel for successfully pulling together the first major superhero crossover film. The question is, however (apart from why there are so many hideous extreme low angle shots), is "The Avengers" worth five movies of build-up? Paradoxically, I find that while several key characters are - courtesy Joss Whedon - better written here and thereby far more sensical (most prominently Loki and Thor, who annoyingly contradicted themselves in "Thor" but are finely motivated now), they are more satisfying when rounding out their own films, albeit in this case films that are ultimately teases for this "assembly". As an "event" the film thankfully justifies its length with little filler, though some dangling ends from prior cliffhangers are allowed to feign insignificance in the somewhat dragging opening bits (in which Loki shows us how he rolls - in the bed of a pickup truck, apparently). Almost hilariously, all the spoiler brouhaha was for naught, as very little is to spoil apart from an obvious final tease (well, obvious to geeks, which "The Avengers" unabashedly appeals to). Actually, the much buzzed secret scene filmed just days before the premiere is a solid one-two to the spoiler-junkies. Also hilarious - and here comes perhaps the only big spoiler, so proceed with caution - is that although the universe is in peril from before the title screen's appearance, it takes Agent Coulson dying to galvanize our titular team. "Intergalactic war led by a Norse demigod is threatening our definition of existence, whatever... but they killed Clark Gregg! Those bastards!!" Outside Tom Hiddleston, the cast is rather subdued, particularly regarding the sedated Mark Ruffalo (why couldn't Ed and Avi just get along?) and the very Mace Windu-ish (with brief shades of Jules-ish) Sam Jackson. And man do I hate Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner so much. Especially Jeremy Renner. What are you doing in my franchises? Go away and don't come back until you've gained some charisma... or ever, really. Yeah, don't come back ever. And take that "Dark Knight" copycat ending with you. Anyway. "The Avengers" is exactly what this wave of Marvel films has become - big-budget pulp. If that's your bag, you're in for a good time. And there's no shame in that. It is a thoroughly entertaining flick, if one that thrives on '80s-esque über-cheese. I admit, it is really cool to see these iconic dudes duking it out with one another in movie form, even if they are painfully devoid of developed character relationships and worthy story. But is it something I'll care to think back on a year from now? I can't imagine as much. I do now require a .gif of that guy playing "Galaga", though. And I hope I remember to refer to Thor as "Point Break" henceforth.

Total: 2


More: For the sake of my own sanity I'm just going to leave it at that, no television programs or video games or anything. Just know that I've still been watching loads of "Parks & Recreation" and "Futurama", and I cannot seem to stop sampling free game apps on my new iPad. Were I not currently wading through boxes in a new apartment, I'd be allowing myself much more time to expand in depth on how I feel about Knope 2012, or how Matt Groening's "other show" has grown on me all the more... or how "Nyancat: Lost in Space" is somehow addictive enough to draw my attention away from all my precious tower defense games. Next time!


"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).

4.21.2012

My Week #45: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard, 2012
Equal parts subtle and overt, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's practically ideal and cleverly subversive horror/comedy is easily the best simultaneous send-up and reverent homage to slasher and slasher-esque cinema I've seen, trumping 2006's sly "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon". Sitting in the theater was sheer bliss as a physical euphoria washed over me for 90 minutes simply due to how damn much I was enjoying myself. While being perfectly satisfied on the level of a mere horror fan, I was also giddily laughing my ass off at the daintily whimsical nature that comes through in the lead creative duo's consistently pitch-perfect writing and directing. Any true fan of the genre's past 40 years should experience similar effects from the utter delight of watching these young actors unwittingly play in to every trope carefully arranged for them (and, really, for us, in an underlying economic sense) before the best third act imaginable ensues. Genre-defining? Yes, emphatically. In a way - a very fun way - it's even retroactively re-defining.


Further first-time viewings:

Planet Hulk - Sam Liu, 2010
So did someone take "A Princess of Mars" and rework it with Marvel characters? For all I've heard about this recent arc in the Hulk's pure comic incarnation, I can't but imagine that this presumably more obviously all-audiences animation is a severely watered-down summary. Why do I even bother with this sort of definitively unchallenging, colorful cotton candy filler stuff, when I could be watching one of the many, many heaped upon my pile of "I know of their reputed greatness, I'll get to them one day..." titles? Someone make me stop. Oh wait, too late, here comes this week's next film...

Big Money Rustlas - Paul Andresen, 2010
I watched "Big Money Hustlas" during my time as a fan of the Insane Clown Posse in 2004. I'd never call it "good", per se, but it has its moments, and the "magic, magic, ninjas, what" bit is honestly still hilarious. It's an enjoyable way for juggalos to waste time. This... I'm... well, I'm not sure it's doing ICP any favors when it comes to recovering from the (also hilarious) "magnets" fiasco not a year prior. Where "Hustlas" felt knowing of its ridiculousness, "Rustlas" feels like a crude celebration of idiocy, misogyny and gang mentality. Plus it just never really gels - even humorously - seeing dudes in thick clown paint doing up the whole old west thing. Still, not quite the worst thing I've seen from 2010.


Total: 3


Rewatches (2): The Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981); The Beast with A Billion Backs (Peter Avanzino, 2008)
- It is still so inspirational to see what a thoroughly entertaining and flat-out insane flick Raimi managed to make with just a group of friends, a camera and a few buckets of blood.
- Two years ago I would have told you that "Bender's Big Score" is the best of the "Futurama" movies. This year I'm amending that to bump former runner-up, "The Beast with A Billion Backs" in to first. It is more philosophically intriguing, as the property has the knack to whimsically be within its wacky universe full of snark and potential. It also doesn't have annoying naked aliens constantly sniffing things. The other two are fine, but suffer more from their episodic nature and poorer B-plots.


Episodic Television (4): Parks & Recreation (Live Ammo); South Park (I Should Never Have Gone Ziplining); The Benson Interruption (Episode 1 - Episode 6); Nick Swardson's Pretend Time (Powdered Doughnuts Make Me Go Nuts)
- Andy's "Boogie Nights" reference in the latest episode of "Parks"... just awesome. My girlfriend and I are always pointing out how that character is so similar to Eddie Adams. Now let's get an "Angels Live in My Town" rolling for Burt Macklin! Some major bricks were laid in this episode, perhaps altering my predictions and hopes for certain outcomes on deep levels (you wouldn't want me to get in to it, as I have elsewhere... I wouldn't stop). Exciting! As always!
- The South Park duo does a fair job of sending up both lame outdoors activity centers and even lamer melodramatic shock programming. The episode is tongue-in-cheek throughout, although a few ridiculously intricate fart jokes do elicit ironically earned laughs.
- I'm not sure if "Interruption" ever hit a stride, but at least it was beginning to get in to a slight groove after a very rocky and lackluster six episodes that quite honestly is better off having been cancelled (unfortunate coming from a comic whose apparent key source for material is the film world). I'm not sure who greenlights the premise of "A sleepy comedian sabotages vastly superior comedians' routines in the fashion of a lazy heckler before reciting his Twitter feed". I'm not sure if Benson really doesn't care or if that's just his schtick. I'm not sure about a lot of things, it seems. I am sure, however, that although this program does become more relatively watchable as it progressed, I only laughed out loud twice. One of those times was due to a Michael Ian Black-related plug for "Kids in America", which was later retitled "Take Me Home Tonight" thereby rendering the plug humorously inaccurate in retrospect.
- "Pretend Time" is shockingly not the worst thing I've ever seen, although man, it really is tough to get these sorts of sketch shows right. With rare exceptions, it's not nearly as good as just watching the same comedian's stand-up (an odd example to be using in correlation with the awful stand-up of Nick Swardson, but you get me).

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (Flu Season - Li'l Sebastian); Futurama (Time Keeps On Slipping - A Taste of Freedom)

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)
- For as much as I enjoyed this book throughout, I will say I feel it peaked big time with its first chapter - Leslie's 24-hour tour of Pawnee. The character's blind enthusiasm for her town makes me want to move to rural Indiana and find a waffle diner with a rotating pie display. For the most part, the rest of the book undermines this attitude by detailing the preposterously heinous history of the town, from atrocities committed against the natives to supplementing the water supply with corn syrup. Of course part of Leslie's endearing nature is her ability to look beyond this history and aim to improve her surroundings, but man, chapter after chapter of that stuff almost makes the Pawnee of the book seem separate from the Pawnee of the show.

Stand-Up Comedy (1): Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain

Video Games (2): Dragonvale; Pocket Legends
- Now I get why people are so addicted to "FarmVille". Oh, who am I kidding? It's not that difficult to understand, and I've played plenty of games like it before. In "DragonVale" the carrot is always being extended in front of your nose with no ultimate reward outside earned aesthetics and increasingly ready access to them (an arguable point for many online RPGs, although in this case there isn't so much as a storyline... not that one is needed, but that's a whole other can of worms that will assuredly see me swooning over how perfect "Final Fantasy XI" was for the umpteenth time). Still, I can't quit watching/tapping my farms, my breeding cave, my habitats, etcetera, and I've near obsessively designed a practical yet attractive layout for my island. The game is blatantly built around encouraging in-game purchases with real money, which is a major downside, but thankfully one easily ignored in this case. I mostly just wish more was done with the idea of luring visitors to your island. There's a visitor counter, but as far as I can tell it doesn't hold sway over anything other than creating the illusion of perpetual activity - your exhibits earn steady profit regardless.
- "Pocket Legends" is like "Guild Wars" meets "Zork". Fun stuff, although again bothersome in its reliance on in-game purchases. I've been discouraged from continuing by reports that it's pretty much impossible to be worth a damn after level 20 if you're not shelling out the real bucks. No, thanks, that's not what I downloaded a free app for.


"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).

4.14.2012

My Week #44: Lockout; Mongolian Ping Pong; The Raid; In Time

Lockout
James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, 2012
Luc Besson strikes again! "Lockout" is a pure "B"-movie delight, right at home with '80s and '90s action classics such as "Die Hard", "Air Force One" and, yeah, "Escape from New York". Guy Plissken-- I mean, Pearce, isn't quite Kurt Russell, but he gets the job done nicely in the role of a character fluent in the language of snark. His name? Snow. Some other character names are Hawk and Mace. Awesome, right? Sure, regard for basic science is out the airlock with sequences of cryogenically frozen prisoners awakening (from stasis that negates the rehabilitative potential of incarceration) and becoming fully alert and mobile within seconds before going nuts with traditional firearms inside pressure-controlled space vessels, though if you're caught up on that you're missing the fun. From where I'm sitting what we have here is a sexy-looking and quotable ("Here's an apple") modern action standout that hits the notes it needs to succeed with gusto. Some punches may be pulled for the sake of a PG-13 rating, and are more noticeable than the same in Besson's "Colombiana" (which prospered from the "pulls" by accentuating the lead's dauntingly stealthy presence), but this does not compromise the full experience.

Lü cao di (Mongolian Ping Pong)
Hao Ning, 2005
In what feels like a slightly more accessible mix between Brosens' "State of Dogs" and Byambasüren's "The Cave of the Yellow Dog" (with maybe a little of "The Stars Caravan" tossed in for good measure), "Mongolian Ping Pong" observes nomadic Mongolian life with a unique hook, and enjoys gorgeous cinematography with plenty of culturally intriguing highlights to boot. I cannot say it is as strong or memorable as either of those works, the masterful former in particular, but of what I consider the second tier Mongolian films I have seen it is likely the best, and at the very least provides some cinematic fleshing out for what is such a fascinating region of earth and humanity. Of note, regarding the title: Obviously "Lü cao di" (Chinese) does not literally translate to "Mongolian Ping Pong". Through Google Translate, the closest translation I can find is "Green Grass". Almost coincidental, as "Mongolian Ping Pong" vaguely reminded me of the more recent Montana-based "Sweetgrass", which against all odds I actually did not much care for.


Further first-time viewings:

Serbuan maut (The Raid) - Gareth Evans, 2011
What a disappointment. Well, alright, it's actually pretty okay. It does, however, take too long and inconsequential a while to get going, peak in the middle then drag in its final act, offering a little of the style I crave in these sorts of films and relying more on monotonous shaky-cam nonsense. I figured such a martial arts-heavy film would relish opportunities to really show off the physical craft of its performers rather than rely more on blurs and graceless handheld cinematography. Being story-lite is fine, but even "Act of Valor" (my new go-to bad movie reference) has more story to justify its action than "The Raid". Again, overall it's pretty okay. That peak in the middle is inspired and even bordering on superficially exhilarating at times. More is required, however, to create a full-fledged film rather than something on the level of an arm's-length YouTube phenomenon with highlights better off seen in a compilation reel than in a full feature that screeches to a halt any time someone's not getting punched, kicked, stabbed, sliced, shot or DDTed. The stretches of quality are practically groundless, littered with poor attempts at a bigger picture and sandwiched between tedious and tiring opening and closing acts.

Love Streams - John Cassavetes, 1984
There are directors who use actors as tools, there are "actor's directors", and then there is John Cassavetes, who seems solely concerned with actors and barely anything more. Widely unremarkable camerawork and a story merely concerned with rote family drama does not a compelling cinematic experience make. Gena Rowlands always seems to play a version of the same character, but she's damn good at it. Through Cassavetes' obsessive focus on her the film sees potential redemption, but ultimately fails to generate a satisfying experience.

In Time - Andrew Niccol, 2011
Starting as a harmless sci-fi excursion that, although never bothered to justify its lofty concept or that concept's basic mechanics, is perfectly sufficient on technical levels, "In Time" relishes cheaply imagined gadgetry and simple action, eventually becoming an insufferable, implausible bore that tries to get a pass by adding "Ktchsss" sound effects when car doors open. The boiled-down allegory for contemporary economic woes - particularly regarding the world's needy - could be intriguing yet instead it comes off as just silly. I'd like to say this whole premise could have served better as backstory to a more interesting Robin Hood type tale, but... well, if accomplished similarly such a tale would not really be all that interesting at all, would it?


Total: 5


Rewatches (4): Wrath of the Titans (Liebesman, 2012); Bender's Big Score (Carey-Hill, 2007); Bender's Game (Carey-Hill, 2008); Into the Wild Green Yonder (Avanzino, 2009)


Episodic Television (2): South Park (HUMANCENTiPAD; Ass Burgers; Bass to Mouth; Butterballs); Dark Shadows (Episode 210)
- I feel like "South Park", of which I've somehow seen every episode of through season 14, has grown too tedious for its own good. I just don't enjoy it anymore.

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (The Telethon - Go Big or Go Home); Futurama (Crimes of the Hot - The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings)

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)


"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).

4.07.2012

MY WEEK #43: Titanic 3D; Urga; Faces

Urga
Nikita Mikhalkov, 1992
AKA "Territory of Love", AKA "Close to Eden". An often beautifully assured and expertly executed depiction of a dwindling culture being absorbed by vastly more powerful neighboring countries, though it is plagued by an oddly ignorant American sensibility that fights to cheapen it throughout.


Further first-time viewings:

Faces - John Cassavetes, 1968
What begins in an appealingly raw fashion almost pre-echoing "Putney Swope", if you will, quickly dissolves in to an actor's playground full of relentlessly obnoxious antics and bipolar thought processes even less sensible than seen in "A Woman Under the Influence".


Total: 2


Rewatches (1): Titanic (Cameron, 1997)
- Seeing "Titanic" for the first time at age 13 - brought to the theater by my father once the rating was dropped to PG-13, an experience he remembers me being resistant to - it was easy to write off the experience as, well, from a 13-year-old perspective, 3 hours of what was expected just to see some boobs. But on a more serious and more important note, it was easy to write "Titanic" off as exploitative of travesty just for the sake of telling a sweeping love story. Now with my much-anticipated revisit to the epic (which I'd seen countless times between on dual-tape VHS) having come to pass, I reverse that notion. "Titanic" is first and foremost about the history and the human disaster - what went in to causing the catastrophe and why so many died due to class hubris, and weaves these aspects in with the character narrative seamlessly. The themes couldn't be more obvious and at many points experience excess, but all the while we have the "Romeo & Juliet"-esque lovers Jack and Rose and their supporting cast of clear archetypes to relate to amongst the chaos, and through putting ourselves in their shoes does the experience truly begin to flourish. The romance itself is somewhat obligatory - rooted in a winning desire for freewheeling liberty in defiance of oppressive hierarchal differences yet almost too perfect and grandiose to really become intimately involved with - but again, it works swell, and James Horner's capitalizing score allows it to occasionally soar. There is plenty left to desire compositionally and emotionally from this film, though it is inarguable that in utilizing unfettered cinematic spectacle Cameron crafted a suitably effective and draining experience that runs the gamut and leaves you breathless (despite what is perhaps too frequent a reliance on comic relief) while not being afraid to get quiet when appropriate. Returning to the picture on the big screen brings new relevance to the opening framing sequence, in which we empathize most with Rose in the capacity of a return audience - we are going back to "Titanic" as she is, and viewing Bill Paxton's selfish scavenger hunt through more knowing eyes. Even with its length the enveloping film flies by in no time with practically zero filler to be found. The new coat of paint does the picture well, and the 3D is adequate, at times enhancing immersion and particularly assisting in our comprehension of and marvel at just how titanic the Titanic really was. The nature of converted classics is imperfect, of course, as the films were not composed with 3D in mind and this shows when Jack and Rose share close-up OTS shots and their eye-lines are just off enough to be noticeable (though not detrimentally distracting). What are you waiting for, go see "Titanic" again! Big screen! Billy Zane!! Just don't do what my audience dubiously did... I swear, there was exodus right before the aforementioned boobs, as if the scene were being treated as intermission. I honestly have no idea what those people were thinking. Boobs over popcorn any day, I always say.


Episodic Television (2): Wings (Hell Hath No Fury Like a Policewoman Scorned - Friends or Lovers?); The Office (Search Committee Part 1; Search Committee Part 2); Futurama (The Prisoner of Benda; Mobius Dick - All the Presidents' Heads)
- I'm just including "Wings" with first-time viewings because when I used to watch was so long ago and only on rare sick/snow days (in hour blocks right before "Ned & Stacey"!) so I hardly remember which ones I've previously seen! Great sitcom. Total comfort zone material. "High Anxiety" brings the show's first real emotional highlights.
- Man, I know this is beating a dead horse but "The Office" has gone so far downhill. I'm morbidly curious about the current season, but it took enough sheer boredom just to feel like slapping on the rest of season 7...

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (Woman of the Year; Park Safety); Scrubs (Our First Day of School); Kid Notorious (Pussy Power); Futurama (Rebirth - The Late Philip J. Fry)
- Man, I used to adore "Kid Notorious". This is the first time I've managed to track it down since it got prematurely cancelled. I wish I could say it held up, but it's brazenly insensitive and relishes simple mentions of sex as titillation alongside cheap slapstick and toilet humor. Maybe the subsequent episodes were better? I'll have to see if I can find those, now. I seem to recall more Hollywood insider humor and a particularly excellent Christmas episode involving Slash, Kim Jong Il and cocaine snow.

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)

Stand-Up Comedy (1): Louis C.K.: Hilarious (2009)
- On the heels of viewing "Chewed Up", "Hilarious" is rather a disappointment. Carelessly repeated jokes and weaker material all around, although there is one bit toward the end that had me in stitches.

Video Games (1): Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)
- Wow, could they have improved any more on (the already competent and fleetingly fun) "Super Mario Land"? This is almost like the leap between "Super Mario Brothers" and "Super Mario World". My only very minor complaint so far is that the jump physics are just ever so slightly off, as I suppose they kind of were in the predecessor as well (though not nearly as far off as the recent "New Super Mario Brothers", or any handheld and recent 2D iterations of Sonic, for that matter). I mean, in one stage the goombas wear Jason masks... how can I not love it? And it was free through a GameStop promotion! Score!


Notes
- In less than an hour, at 2:22 in the afternoon, I commence my 28th year of life. I'll be 27. What a number. I'm so old. I'm still waiting for my real life to begin. But it's actually looking to be taking some steps soon, so the waiting might end and the proactivity may begin! Only the remainder of 2012 will tell. Or something. I didn't plan this to be so pseudo-melodramatic. Insert any Ron Swanson quote about birthdays here. Went out to brunch with the whole family - Jaime, Tuesday, mom and dad - and then went diaper shopping, hurray! Also ordered myself an iPad 3 the other day, ho ho ho! And my Facebook is blowing up more than ever. Specialness. Hope you're having a good day, too!


"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).

3.31.2012

MY WEEK #42: Wrath of the Titans; 21 Jump Street; Mirror Mirror

Wrath of the Titans
Jonathan Liebesman, 2012
Tsk, tsk, silly Zeus, always causing mortal troubles with his notorious hubris. A sequel to Louis Letterier's "Clash of the Titans" remake had virtually no choice but to be an improvement, not because that remake was terrible in general but because it was attempting to tell an original story within the constructs of a classic tale, clumsily negating both yarns along the way. Here we have an original idea toying within the world of the great Greek myths, and daring where none to my knowledge have dared before by making none other than Kronos, ultimate titan and father of the gods, the big bad a la the prior film's Kraken. I will not pretend "Wrath of the Titans" is especially well-written, or even competently paced, for that matter, but I will shower well-earned praise on the main event - the monsters. Like a true successor to legendary and beloved screen magician Ray Harryhausen's indelible gallery of creations, the beasts in "Wrath" hold the most importance and deliver awe-inspiringly grandiose spectacle. The chimera in particular might make "Uncle Ray" himself proud, should he give the film the time of day. As for Liebesman, who showed moderate flair with an early sequence in last year's otherwise atrocious "Battle: LA", his frantic yet controlled camerawork and penchant for powerfully crushing rigid objects in to debris creates an effective illusion, masking certain narrative convenience in action scenes and lending significant weight to what could be weightless (IE computer effects - this makes for one of the very few times I'm not lamenting the death of Dynamation). Perseus himself sees improvement both aesthetically and thematically, as he has not just hair and a more tattered appearance befitting his chosen lifestyle but he's also actually been given some dimension beyond simply looking mean. Bill Nighy shines and recalls Burgess Meredith's Ammon in a brief appearance as Hephaestus (who in this interpretation has constructed the labyrinth to be a truly divine wonder of mechanical design - it really is something to behold), and I sure can't complain about the presence of one of my favorite actresses Rosamund Pike, even if she's not given much to chew on. "Wrath of the Titans" is essentially a reboot for its characters at what really could have been a logical starting point, and works in just about every way its predecessor failed. And was that some quick aspect ratio-shaving to enhance the trick of the 3D's positive space? When the chimera's tail attacks, I mean. Maybe I was just seeing things. Was I?


Further first-time viewings:

21 Jump Street - Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2012
What has the world of comedy come to? I thought things had become bad enough already, though rarely we do see still see glimmers of classic quality as many had recently chalked Jonah Hill's passion project up to be. Here's a newsflash - simply saying the word "dick" is not funny. Saying the word "dick" while doing violent and homophobic things to the dick in question does not render the existing lack of humor somehow funnier. This is just a vague example of how poorly conceived the honestly boring revival of this particular Stephen J. Cannell brand is. Add a meta sensibility more overt and less consistent than in any terrible "Scream" movie (read: any "Scream" movie) over a piss-poor script more concerned with sappy juvenile bromance than anything and you have one of the very worst major releases of 2012's first quarter, which is saying a lot considering "John Carter", "Act of Valor" and "This Means War" (and, presumably, "Project X", though I've managed to avoid that apparent atrocity). Ransom Everglades alums Lord and Miller's almost-too-fast-paced-to-register style that worked so surprisingly well in "Clone High" and especially "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" only makes matters worse. Stick to animation, boys.

Mirror Mirror - Tarsem Singh, 2012
AKA "Tarsem Sells Out". Wow. It really is saying a lot that I've seen not one, not two... but now three movies already this year that are worse than the so-bad-I-thought-for-sure-it-would-remain-the-worst-I'd-see-in-2012 "Act of Valor". My pessimistically hopeless predictions were still too generous. I suppose children might enjoy the anti-cinematic flick, but more in the sense that it's attention-grabbing on levels so basal only children could possibly be interested before forgetting about it and moving on to commercials for the latest "Jersey Shore"-inspired Barbie doll, Jell-O Shot Kimberly or whatever. Despite Tarsem's barely discernable efforts amidst machine-gun editing (seriously, are modern editors incapable of holding shots for more than .5 seconds?), "Mirror Mirror" feels like a cheap high school drama production dead set on tarnishing the careers of Nathan Lane and Armie Hammer while stunting that of Lily Collins and occasionally tossing in an obligatorily "hip" quip delivered by a perhaps more-repulsive-than-ever Julia Roberts, who all but entirely drops character when poking said fun at fairy tales from a contemporary perspective. Get me out of here.


Total: 3


Episodic Television (4): Louie (Bully - Night Out), Futurama (Cold Warriors - Reincarnation), The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (In Which Claims Are Made and a Journey Ensues), Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (East Meets West, Part 1)
- "Bully" marks a high point for the first season of Louie. Funny yet uncomfortable, entertaining yet challenging. Through brief segments of stand-up and almost sketch-esque vignettes, the show has created a full atmosphere around this central character we relate to on levels of general agreement over politically incorrect issues we can generally be timid to speak up on, and on much deeper psychological levels regarding topics such as shame, rejection, mortality and the insignificance of our redundant lives.
- "Futurama" continues to be that show that I'm never really all that in to, but that rarely fails to impress me nonetheless. The stylistically playful "Reincarnation" isn't a super-consistent episode, but it is referentially delightful and finds flat-out brilliant ways to depict plot points practically undoable within the show's traditional format.
- I guess I just don't get what people see in David Cross. He's not bad, he's just a combination of inconsiderate asshole and hapless idiot with comedy stylings conventional and predictable as can be, and that's not my bag. At least "Todd Margaret" gives me some overdue Sharon Horgan, who really held together her great yet short-lived show, "Pulling".
- On the complete opposite end of the qualitative spectrum, "The Next Mutation" (which despite my lifelong "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" fandom I've only just heard of) is close to the most reprehensible thing I've ever allowed to bombard my senses for 20 straight minutes.

Episodic Television Rewatches (1): Parks & Recreation (Hunting Trip - Galentine's Day; Indianapolis - I'm Leslie Knope; Citizen Knope - Campaign Ad)

Stand-Up Comedy (New!): Louis C.K.: Chewed Up
- It's been a while since I've laughed this much at a performance of one of my favorite art forms - stand-up comedy. C.K. just has a way of relating to people's darker sides that most comics surely envy. His schtick isn't too different from the usual material, but his delivery and sheer audacity when speaking the dirty truth about race, sexuality and cleaning poop out of baby vaginas make him a big hit, and perhaps one of the most important comedians since George Carlin.

Video Games (1): Kirby's Dream Land, Kirby's Adventure
- The "Extra Game" feature in "Kirby's Dream Land" is tough, boy! I've managed to reach Dedede's palace, but making it through the bosses is quite the challenge. As of this posting I'm down to just the hot air balloon guy, but fully expect to lose all my lives and have to start over multiple times.

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)
- Leslie Knope is one great character in a group of great characters from "Parks & Recreation", and perhaps her greatest, most winning quality is an undying - almost blind - passion for her hometown, blemishes and all. This passion brightly shines through the appropriately funny yet desirably earnest "The Greatest Town in America", warmly and welcomingly making one wish Pawnee were a real place so one could actually take the "24 Hours in Pawnee" tour and eat at JJ's Diner for breakfast, lunch and dinner, etcetera.


"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).