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


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.


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).