Marter's Reviews

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:48 pm

Spring Breakers
At one point in Spring Breakers, a character asks another after being told a seemingly unbelievable tale this question: "Are you serious?" The response: "What do you think?" This exchange is what I thought about for much of the film; it's a key moment and one of the key tensions throughout. The tone of the film is one of satire -- many moments are exaggerated so far that you can't possibly take them seriously -- and yet, the characters are as genuine as they come. It makes for an interesting and unsettling watch.

The real meat of the film begins with the robbery of a restaurant. There are scenes before this point -- including an important monologue delivered by Selena Gomez about monotony and boredom -- but the real crux of the movie begins here. There are four girls, three of whom are bad seeds. The other, Faith (Gomez), is torn between her religion and her friends. One thing is certain: they need money to go to on a spring break vacation in Florida. The three bad girls rob the restaurant. Then we are transported to Florida. The party begins.

Boy, does the party begin. The types of shots used in the early portions of Spring Breakers could be used as advertisement to lure people into coming there. However, things quickly go south when the gang gets arrested, bailed out by a wannabe rapper/gangsta, Alien (an unrecognizable James Franco), and start getting involved in his lifestyle. After this point, I don't even want to get into what goes on in this film; doing so would spoil some of the fun, anyway.

Spring Breakers will make you laugh. It will do this by any number of methods. It's sometimes to silly to take seriously. Other times, it'll make you uncomfortable and the only thing you can do to ease the tension is laugh. There are also some genuinely funny jokes. Some people will truly appreciate the satirical nature that much of the film has. Once Alien arrives in the picture, the tone of "not-innocent fun" is turned into something far more dangerous and horrific.

However, this tone is in direct opposition to the characters of the film, who take pretty much everything at face value, and with one hundred percent sincerity. When they say something, they mean it. There's no hidden agenda, no secrets, nothing -- they're initially here to have a good time, but become different as they progress. They are almost all innocents -- at least, in terms of interacting with others -- which is even funnier when you compare that to many of their actions, which are anything but innocent, even if they are all truthful.

This tension makes for a viewing experience that is always interesting, but also very unsettling. It's hard to process a film like Spring Breakers, and I wouldn't blame anyone for disliking it for that very reason. And that's not even getting into the movie's style, which is not at all conventional. You see a movie like this one and you instantly become aware that it's made by someone who thinks of himself as an artist. Whether or not that's a good thing is going to be a matter of individual tolerance.

There are parts of Spring Breakers that feel self-indulgent, or as if the director, Harmony Korine, is showing off. Some of the shots are out of focus, not even on the people talking, or filtered so that they either look like they've been taken by a home video camera from 1995, or so that you can barely make out what's going on. It gives the film a unique look but sometimes gets in the way of what's going on. Other techniques, like the repetition of many of the film's lines and scenes, serve a more important purpose; in this case, to emphasize the "monotony and boredom" speech mentioned earlier.

I hesitate to call this a problem. The look of Korine's picture ensures that you won't see many, if any, other films like it. Isn't it better to see something that tries to be original than see the same thing over and over again? We've seen endless party movies before. We don't have any need to see another one. Korine attempting to change things up, even if it isn't always successful, is something that should be applauded, I think. And because it does give us some memorable scenes, like one where James Franco belts out a Britney Spears tune as an amazing montage occurs, you should definitely take that as a positive.

What Spring Breakers isn't is an actor's picture, unless your name is James Franco. Franco finally does some real acting -- for the first time in a while -- completely disappearing into his character. When he arrives, Spring Breakers becomes something worth seeing. The girls, on the other hand, are mostly interchangeable. Apart from Gomez -- who is absent from the final two-thirds anyway -- the other three girls are all essentially the same. Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine do nothing to separate themselves from the pack.

I don't know if I liked Spring Breakers. I don't think it matters. I recommend it anyway. It is a film you won't see every day. While it might be too weird, too self-indulgent, or just too uncomfortable or unconventional for some, I think it's definitely worth seeing, if only to say that you did. It puts its audience in an awkward position, as we're placed in the middle of a few opposed ideas. That makes it harder to digest, but possibly more interesting. If nothing else, it is unlikely to bore you, and I definitely think it's worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Mar 29, 2013 8:44 pm

The Host
The Host -- the latest overlong adaptation of a Stephenie Meyer novel -- is terrible. There. I said it. Spoiler for the rest of the review: It will be one where almost nothing good is said about the movie. I had a dreadful time watching this movie. I hated almost every second that it played, and I felt sorry for everyone involved in its production, as well as anyone who is going to go see it. It has its target audience, I'm sure, but I could take nothing good away from this film.

Starting off with a similar idea to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Host eventually transitions into one of the worst romance stories you'll be able to see captured on film. The world has been taken over by aliens who consume the minds of humans everywhere, and continue to do everything that we do, except better. A voice-over at the beginning informs us that the environment has been fixed, nobody starves anymore, and there's no war. Everything is perfect, save for a few survivors of the takeover. These rebels fight for their freedom, even though the aliens are more sympathetic -- a problem already, but not the biggest one.

Our hero is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who almost dies in her first scene. Almost captured by the "bad guys," she decides to jump from a fifth story window instead of getting captured. A bold decision. Suicide is a better alternative to being taken over. She miraculously lives, is healed, and is then taken over like anyone else. The only difference is that her mind remains inside of her body, essentially sharing the space with the alien. She doesn't have any motor control -- save for specific cases when the script calls for it -- but she does get to speak to the alien and attempt to sway its mind into doing something it wouldn't initially want to do.

The leader of the aliens, in this area of the world, anyway, is Seeker (Diane Kruger), who is determined to wipe out all of the humans. She's hoping that the alien infecting Melanie, who is called Wanderer/Wanda (also Saiorse Ronan), will lead her to the location of the rebellious group of survivors. Melanie eventually gets her body to these people, who are hiding out in the desert, and it's in their base that most of the film takes place.

See, inside of the base is Melanie's boyfriend (Max Irons). He now hates Melanie's body, because it's infected and he can't know that Melanie's soul (or whatever) is still inside. So, there's tension here. Another man, Ian (Jake Abel), becomes attracted to Wanda, but never knew Melanie. You can see the love triangle coming, can't you? Would it surprise you that this is what consumes the majority of the rest of the film?

It shouldn't, assuming you've seen or read the other series Meyers created, Twilight. The romance rarely worked there, but here it's even worse. The two males are supposed to be fighting over her, except they don't. They basically just take turns. But there's no drama, because they're in love with different people, technically. The romance is uncomfortable and unintentionally hilarious.

The Host works best when it attempts to have some tension between the humans and this alien who has taken over the body of a girl. This doesn't happen; the aliens never come in peace. But this one did. However, this never actually amounts to anything, and everything that does happen is quickly quelled by the supporting cast. It never appears as if things are going to boil over, Wanda never even comes across as a threat, and the whole production is so harmless and dull that there's no possibility to take joy from it.

It's also all supposed to be at least relatively tense because Seeker is supposedly hunting down Wanda. But apart from two flybys, she's barely in the second act. We just spend all of our time watching this terrible romance play out between actors who have no chemistry -- or are just terrible -- and some conflict that never needs to get resolved because it doesn't escalate to the point that it needs solving. And then the ending comes along just like that, finishing this agonizingly length film in what seems like the blink of an eye.

The only strong part of The Host comes from its female lead. Saoirse Ronan doesn't get much to do in general, because she's generally staring blank-eyed at people who are talking at her, but the voice-over narration that her Melanie provides is at least good for a laugh here and there. She's kind of snarky, kind of sarcastic, and it's fun to hear her react to some of the things that Wanda gets into. Like the villain, however, Melanie's narration comes and goes -- and at one point disappears, only for the characters to try to bring her back ... for no reason. She's brought back right before Wanda goes off on a "quest" that only she can do, and Melanie won't help accomplish in the least.

The Host is abysmal and an absolute waste of talent, time and money. Maybe it will appeal to some people, but from where I'm sitting, there's hardly a single good thing about it, save for a few laughs -- both of the intentional and unintentional variety. It's a dull, overlong, poorly scripted mess of a movie, and I can't recommend it to anyone.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 30, 2013 8:41 pm

Camp
While Camp might not necessarily be a good movie, I can somewhat understand its appeal. Here is a film about a musical theater summer camp, one where relationships and performances go hand-in-hand. Most of the kids at the camp are outcasts, and they all have to go through their own minor coming-of-age storyline before the end. They'll grow, either learning to accept their "uniqueness," or to become more normal. How many movies about self-expression wind up favoring the latter?

The main character is Vlad (Daniel Letterle), who is, as far as we can tell, the only straight guy at this camp, which is populated almost entirely by gay males and females. Of course, he's more sexually ambiguous than most people initially assume -- the film toys with whether he's really as sure of his sexuality as he thinks -- for reasons that would be spoilers. He's the lead because we spend the most time with him, although there are a series of other interesting, if shallow, characters we'll get to know along the way. It's more of an ensemble film about the camp experience than a character drama about Vlad.

I suppose claiming that we'll "get to know" these other characters is a bit of an exaggeration. I'm not sure if I could name anyone else but Vlad without looking at a cast list online. It's not so much that these characters aren't memorable or unique; it's that there are too many and there isn't enough time to imprint them into your mind. Maybe you'll personally relate to one over the other, and you'll remember that character because he or she resonates with you, but I found it hard to remember them.

What you get with Camp is a series of "deep" conversations about how one character relates to another, interwoven with musical numbers that these children are practicing for. At this camp, a new performance is staged every two weeks, and that's where most of their free time is spent: practicing. When not in rehearsal, they talk about their problems, what they want out of life, how they're not appreciated in the "real world," and so on and so forth.

Camp is going to work best for those of you who have felt this way before, or still do. I can understand why people would like to see a movie like this one. It's broad enough to appeal to a large range of people, but it's personal enough to find its chord with the people to whom it resonates. It walks a fine line, and does it moderately well if you find a character you really start to like, appreciate, or connect with. That wasn't me, but I can understand how it could have worked.

The problem I have with it is that, because all of these different plots need to conclude by the time the film ends, and Camp isn't even two hours long, most of these separate stories are rushed into completion. Or, sometimes, they conclude and then that character isn't even seen from again. One such story is done by the one hour mark, and we see that character once more for the next fifty minutes. The growth occurs, but we don't see any other situation to see if it sticks or works in other aspects of life.

The same is true of all but the main story. That one stays with us to the end, which has some revelations that will you re-think some of the actions of characters earlier in the film. I'm not sure if Camp is going to warrant a second watch, but some of the things you learn later on -- even if characters lie, they are still interesting -- do make you look back and ponder situations and interactions from earlier in the film. I'll take that as a bonus with a film like this one. It could have played things more safely, but it gives you a little bit to think about.

Camp feels like a very amateur production. That works in its favor, and is part of the charm. The -- pardon the pun -- campy performances, a deliberately oversaturated and bright color palette, a failure to tie everything together, and a lot of energy -- all of this makes the film a great big mess, but also more compelling than it could have been if it was simply competent. It's kind of like a high school play: occasionally flashy and charming, even despite all of its faults.

If you're not watching for a specific character, you come to look forward to whenever Camp cuts to a musical number. These are fun. If you like musical theater, you will probably enjoy these parts of the movie. The songs often have a point in relation to whichever character sings them, and while it's very obvious, at least it's there. And, hey, there's even a cameo turned in by Stephen Sondheim. Chances are that if you just got excited about that, you should really seek out Camp right this instant.

Is Camp a good movie? I'm not even sure anymore. It has a target audience that will love it, and for anyone else, it's watchable but nothing much more. There's a certain charm to it that will keep most people interested, even if its ensemble cast and multiple storylines aren't handled particularly well. These characters are interesting, and if you find yourself getting attached to one, there's a good chance that none of the film's flaws will matter. For me, Camp isn't great, but I can certainly appreciate what it wanted to do.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Mar 31, 2013 8:12 pm

Domino
At one point in Domino, the main characters ingest the drug mescaline, which causes them to crash their vehicle, as it's apparently hard to function normally while on such a drug. Given the way that the film was put together -- the odd camera angles, the rapid-fire editing, the tint that made everything seem a little bit off -- I would have assumed that the characters were always on mescaline. Nothing changes stylistically when they do the drug; we just see how it makes them happy and unable to properly control their tour bus. Perhaps it's the filmmakers who were on mescaline when putting Domino together.

Or it's just Tony Scott being too self-indulgent once again, trying to make a film with style and energy -- and nothing more. It's loosely based on the real life Domino Harvey, but before the film starts it tells us that it's only "kinda" using her life as an inspiration, and before the credits roll, Domino herself lets us know that we're never going to learn what's real and what was made up just for the movie.

As such, and because I'm far too lazy and uncaring to actually look up what Domino's life was like, I'm going to assume that anything that seemed to crazy to be true probably was. Domino wants us to believe that she, a model-turned-bounty-hunter, teamed up with two guys, Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), got a film crew to follow her and her team's exploits, and then wound up getting involved in some sort of heist with $10 million at stake. The only part that seems realistic -- and even then, not so much so "realistic" as "possible" -- is her becoming a bounty hunter, which is the only part I know actually happened.

Okay, so, the basic conceit here is that Domino has been captured by the FBI, and is being interrogated by an agent played by Lucy Lui. That essentially gives her a reason to tell us a story. We begin in the middle of the action, but soon begin the long, arduous journey to get here, learning all about how Domino got to this point in her life. We find out the circumstances behind a very contrived heist, and you'll stop caring by the time the camera has rewound and you learn that something you saw actually didn't happen.

Yes, that's actually something that happens. More than once, as a matter of fact. You get told through Domino's narration that something happened, and since we're watching a film, we get to see it, too. And then, after a long enough time for us to have forgotten about it, we learn that, no, that was a lie, and here's what really happened.

It's supposed to be revealing and eye-opening but all it really accomplishes is being frustrating. There's no reason for this type of unreliable narration, except to make us further doubt exactly how much of Domino's life is accurately represented in the film, or to make a confusing plot even more so. It does both of those things well, with the unfortunate point being that they're both detriments to an already poor film. Domino isn't someone who deserved a biopic, it would seem, and only got one because she was friends with Tony Scott, the director.

Essentially, her story isn't all that interesting. A lot of effort was put into making it feel like it's worth telling -- the aforementioned rapid-cut editing, the unique camera angles, the non-linear storytelling -- but it's all a ruse to hide how dull Domino is as a character and how uninteresting her story, or the one that Hollywood drew up for her, is.

There is nothing to any of these characters. They're all angry, they're all tough, and that's about it. Even with Domino serving as our narrator, we find out so little about her that, for a biopic, we learn a surprisingly small amount. There are hints of potentially intriguing aspects as to why she became this way, her religious pulls, and so on, but they rarely come into play and when they do it's on a completely superficial level. There isn't a single bit of depth to anyone in this film, which is a shame because the makings of good characters are there; they're just ignored in favor of Scott's "style."

That's not to take anything away from Knightley's performance as the gun-toting, chain-smoking bounty hunter, as she plays against type and seems to have a lot of fun doing it. Here, she gets to play the "bad girl," and appears to enjoy herself. Rourke and Ramirez get lesser roles, essentially playing second fiddle despite the "we're a team" mentality. The only other standout is Christopher Walken, who shows up as the television producer who wants to showcase Domino and her team to the world, and is hilarious while doing it.

Domino is a film that never should have been. Its subject matter isn't that interesting, for one, and even though she, the woman of the title, was a friend of the director, it doesn't give him a reason to make a film about her life. We don't learn much from this biopic anyway, as we're never told what's real and what actually happened, so it's best to just forget that Domino exists and watch a movie that will actually teach you a thing or two ... or at least entertain you, which is something that this film simply cannot do.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Apr 01, 2013 6:37 pm

The Three Musketeers
When going into a Paul W.S. Anderson film, the one thing that I look to take out of it is fun. Sure, they might not be the best things around, but they're often campy and action-packed enough to keep me entertained if I want to kill an hour and a half. Nowadays, it also means seeing Milla Jovovich in the best light possible, and having some well-shot, slow motion action scenes. I'm fine with all of this, and it's the reason I rarely have a problem watching his movies; they're usually fun, if nothing else.

The Three Musketeers, conversely, is not fun. It is campy and cheesy, but the action scenes are so dull and it so completely wants to be Pirates of the Caribbean for a lot of its running time -- we conclude with a battle taking place on ships, for example, and most of the action scenes are worse versions of the sword fighting seen in the Depp-led series -- that I figured it's much better to recommend that you go watch any of those, because they'll be a better use of your time. They're more entertaining, and they're funnier. Yes, all four of them are this way, regardless of how little you might have liked On Stranger Tides or At World's End; at least they were trying.

So, the basic idea to The Three Musketeers is to use the titular team of people to propel the plot but have little influence on it. Instead, we get to focus on some kid played by Logan Lerman, who wants to join the Musketeers and then winds up on a quest to steal stuff and then rescue the princess. The actual Musketeers play a secondary role, which marks another film that argues the case that they're not worth exploring as characters.

The other story -- well, there are many small ones, but the only other one worth noting -- involves Milla Jovovich's character, Milady, going from place to place, being the deceptive person who can't be trusted by anyone, and who trusts nobody. She's the double, triple, quadruple, etc., agent, and essentially serves two purposes: (1) Let us look at her because she is married to the director and he's showing her off (again), and (2) possibly cause a war between England and France, because that's a good thing to do, I guess.

The plot is very loosely told, with most of it existing just to get us to the final few action scenes. The Three Musketeers really feels like a movie where you can miss most of it and still understand exactly what's going on. It's full of nothing but filler, really, with characters and relationships that are established but disregarded at the slightest whim if it can lead to an action scene. Which is does, always, because this is a Paul W.S. Anderson flick.

The problem, however, is that none of the action is original or exciting. I was almost as bored during the set-pieces as I was during the rest of the picture, and considering how flat and lifeless that portion is, this is a major problem. Anderson usually gives us a couple of memorable moments, but The Three Musketeers doesn't have a single one. It's not even that action-packed, really, with long stretches of nothingness occurring between the scenes that are supposed to amp us up. The whole thing put me to sleep.

For what it's worth, the cast of The Three Musketeers is quite impressive, with the likes of Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen, Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevensen, Luke Evans, Matthew Macfadyen and Juno Temple -- along with the aforementioned Jovovich and Lerman -- finding themselves a part of the production. None of them turn in performances that most people would call "good." They're campy and over-the-top, in particular is Bloom's villain, which fits the tone, but I found it hard to take them as believable.

Then again, this is a movie that takes place in the 1600s, yet still manages to have airships, so I guess "believable" might be too high on the expectation meter. Yes, a moderately sized portion of the film revolves around flying steampunk ships. The initial heist involves stealing the plans, one character wants one while another character flaunts his -- and it is all pointless except to be a gag, and also give us a reason to have what essentially amounts to a pirate ship battle, but doesn't take place in the sea.

The Three Musketeers is also 110 minutes long, despite mostly containing filler. Surely some of this unimportant drivel could have been trimmed. I found myself trudging through just to get to anything that would matter in the end, and I came up empty. There's no spark, no creativity -- nothing to keep you watching except for a relatively strong cast that is hamming it up so hard you half expect pigs to start falling from the sky. At least that would have been inventive and worth seeing.

The Three Musketeers is a complete waste of time and energy, and is the worst film that Paul W.S. Anderson has ever directed. It's campy and silly, sure, but it's no fun and it's missing a hook, something to compel us and give us something to hold onto. It has a good cast whose members are told to be as goofy as possible, and is another Musketeers film that largely ignores the heroes of lore, instead deciding to make them side characters in their own story. Read me a bedtime story.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Apr 02, 2013 6:22 pm

Haywire
The only important thing to take out of Haywire is the action scenes, which are violent, brutal, and feel very real. They're insane, simply because many of the things that the fighters do at least appear to be impractical, but their appeal isn't in realism; it's in appearing as if the characters are really, truly fighting. You believe that all of the fight scenes are happening as they're being filmed, simply because of the way that director Steven Soderbergh filmed them, and because of how physical the lead, Gina Carano, can be.

She, of course, used to be an MMA fighter, so it only makes sense that she can take a beating. I don't know exactly how much of Haywire's fight scenes are "real," or at least real enough to do damage to a person, but each one certainly seemed that way. They're visceral and intense, and every time one starts -- you'll know when one's about to happen, by the way, as it's painfully obvious -- you know you're in for a treat. Assuming a violent hand-to-hand fight between Carano and a relatively well-known actor is what you consider a "treat."

Think of the other actors that Soderbergh got to co-star in his film. The first big name we see is Channing Tatum, followed up by Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, as well as some smaller names like Michael Angarano or Bill Paxton. Man, we live in a world where Bill Paxton counts as a "small" name. Isn't that kind of sad? I mean, he's a good and charismatic actor, but he's no longer prevalent or relevant. I think it's kind of sad.

The plot involves Mallory Kane (Carano) being set-up by the agency for whom she works, presumably because there's no better way to get us a revenge flick. She starts the film in a coffee shop, has a short conversation with Tatum's character, and then beats the stuffing out of him in the first of many fight scenes. Prior to the fighting, during the conversation, we get many close-ups of both Carano and Tatum, and I thought that, perhaps, Carano could be a solid dramatic lead. Her face is well-suited for the close-up.

It's only after she opened her mouth that I disqualified that notion from my mind. She has the type of face that works, and she has enough emotional range and depth to be effective. But her voice is the most monotone I've seen this side of Kristen Stewart. It lacks any sort range, staying in the same tone for the entirety of the film, regardless of what she's trying to say. Most often, she comes off as sarcastic instead of genuine. I find that kind of fun, but it most certainly doesn't work when she tries to have conversations with other people.

She carries herself very well in the fight scenes, which is likely the reason she was picked for the role in the first place. The former MMA-er knows how to fight, and brings a lot of her training and moves to the scenes here. More importantly, while she's beating up all of the men in her life -- seriously, there are only a couple who don't get kicked in the teeth by her -- it seems like it could actually happen because she's believable in a role like this.

The plot is convoluted and nonsensical, ultimately factoring in very little despite all of the time dedicated to filling us in on it. We get a good 30 minutes explaining to us how Mallory finds herself in this situation, while the rest of the film has her seeking revenge for past deeds. That's fine, but making the story so confusing is not. You need a bad guy or a series of bad guys, and a heroine who has reason to make them pay. That is all that ultimately matters here.

It is, eventually, entertaining, but it's bound to lose a large portion it is audience when it's still in "explaining mode." We get one fight scene at the beginning, and then not a whole lot of that until one we're past the half hour mark. Haywire had lost my focus, and it took quite a lot to win me back. Luckily, it eventually comes around, but it might be too much for some audience members to overcome. I can certainly understand that point of view. For a film that's only around 90 minutes long, it feels a lot longer because of the first third.

Haywire will go to prove a few things. The first is that you can, in fact, make an action movie starring a female not named Angelina Jolie or Milla Jovovich. The second is that Steven Soderbergh can still do action, if he so chooses. The third is that it contains the type of action scenes we should strive for. They feel real, and put the main character in real danger. She could be just as easily killed as her opponent, which is more often the case in real life -- or, at least, that's how we perceive it should be.

Haywire is a good movie, but it's very dull after its opening sequence, up until about the half hour mark, and it's almost certainly going to put off a lot of viewers because of this. Is the payoff worth sitting through a pointless and convoluted plot? I'm not necessarily sure it is. The fight scenes are very impressive, and if you can persevere, they're definitely worth seeing, but when a good third of the film's running time is essentially rendered useless, I'm not sure if it's a film that's worth the entire time it would take to watch it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:48 pm

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
It's always good to have a goal. For Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn), that goal is eating as many sliders -- mini-burgers, essentially, if you don't know what those are -- from White Castle as humanely possible. You see, they're stoners, and when stoners get the munchies and are fixated on a specific food, nothing can stop them. As a result, a trip to White Castle is necessary, even if it might put both of their lives in danger. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a road and stoner comedy, one whose primary joke is subverting any and all stereotypes the main characters come across.

Race, gender, appearance, class, the location of one's birth -- all of it is extensively made fun of in this movie. How many films have its lead characters smoking pot with a cheetah and then getting on its back for a ride in lieu of a car? This one does, folks. It's terribly executed, probably in large part because of the really low budget and rather large ambitions of the film, but at least it happens and it kind of works, especially if you happen to not be completely "with it" while you watch the film.

In fact, the low budget, leading to awful CGI and green screens, might be more charming than if executed well. I mean, I can't say this with certainty, but I'm almost sure that this type of thing might actually be more enjoyable -- even if it's in a "so bad it's good" type of way -- than if it was done properly or with any skill. It looks awful if sober, but if you're in the same state of mind that our heroes spend much of the film in, perhaps it makes the film even more enjoyable.

I don't really want to describe many of the scenes or jokes, as that would ruin some of the surprise. I will say that many of them are funny, and this is a film I can recommend for its humor, as long as you aren't easily offended and recognize what the movie is trying to do. It isn't racist; it's making fun of racists. When a black man is beaten and treated unfairly by what seems like an entire police squadron, it's funny not because the black man is being beaten on, but because the film is making fun of the situation. That probably doesn't make much sense, but you really just have to see the film to understand.

It also features some enjoyable cameos, the most prominent of which comes from Neil Patrick Harris, playing a fictionalized -- or perhaps idealized -- version of himself. He is a hitchhiker that Harold and Kumar pick up on the side of the road, and ends up becoming a very hilarious part of the film. Ryan Reynolds and Malin Åkerman are perhaps the most "known" of the other cameos.

There's a pretty sweet B-story involving Harold's crush on a neighbor named Maria (Paula Garcés), a couple of recurring stories, like one involving some tough gangsters -- the payoff for which is quite enjoyable -- and countless scenes where the characters smoke more pot than is advisable, especially with all of the driving they have to do. It's all fine and it's mostly funny. I don't really know what else anyone would want from it. It's not the best comedy ever made, but for a 90-minute stoner comedy, you could do a lot worse, even if you are sober while watching it.

John Cho and Kal Penn are the main reasons that the film works. They have an easygoing chemistry and impeccable comedic timing, while managing to both nail and the subvert typical stoner archetype. Yes, both are possible, but it's tough to pull off. Under Danny Leiner's direction -- he of Dude, Where's My Car? fame -- they create likable and hateable characters who almost always have something funny to say even if you won't particularly like them at the time they say it.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a funny and clever stoner comedy, filled with many enjoyable situations and the subversion of many stereotypes to keep it funny. It has a couple of good actors in the leading role, and enough jokes to fill its 90-minute running time, punctuated with some odd but hilarious cameos along the way. It has some sweet side plots, a decent main storyline, and is quite enjoyable, stoned or sober (I'm guessing).
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Apr 04, 2013 8:52 pm

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. That they do. After attempting to fly to Amsterdam to meet up with Harold's (John Cho) crush from the last movie, Maria (Paula Garcés), he and Kumar (Kal Penn), are mistaken as terrorists and sentenced to a countless number of years in the joint by incompetent Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). The dynamic due promptly break out of the Cuban prison, with help from other people trying to escape, and find themselves on the run for the rest of the film.

So, yes, it's time for another road movie with our stoner friends, Harold and Kumar. The difference, and one of the few things keeping this from being a remake of the first film -- although it does, at times, still very much feel this way -- is that their goal is not to get somewhere; it's to get away from a specific place, and from specific people. In this case, it's every agent of every security agency in the United States, because the assumption is that Al-Qaeda and North Korea are now working together. Because, you know, Korean-Americans and Indian-Americans are automatically working for North Korea and Al-Qaeda.

The strength of the last film, Go to White Castle, was the subversion of what you expect to happen in a given scene. A redneck in the woods offers to fix the car, and you're thinking horror movie. When it turns out that the boil-covered man actually does just want to help, what's been built up is released and because of the characters and their expectations, you laugh. That, and the satire of the racism present in American culture was pure gold.

It makes sense, then, that Escape from Guantanamo Bay does the same thing that worked in the last film. It somehow feels more daring than last time. Perhaps it was around the time the Klu Klux Klan got involved that I thought that this film was trying hard to offend, and as such was funnier, but I do know that I laughed more during this film than the last one. Not to take any credit away from the original, but this one had me burst out laughing a few times, while it only got a few good chuckles.

Also returning to the cast is Neil Patrick Harris, in the same over-the-top, idealized role that was so funny last time. He gets two big moments here, and also introduces unicorns to us -- he's tripping on more magic mushrooms than a human being should be able to handle for most of his character's screen time. It's a smaller but perhaps funnier role this time around, and it's almost a shame that Patrick Harris didn't stick around for a longer role. A three-person band of heroes might have been even more enjoyable.

Escape from Guantanamo Bay actually offers us two villains, one of whom doesn't get revealed until close to the end. The first is the incompetent Homeland Security guy, played by Rob Corddry, whose every scene is a joy. If you're easily offended, you might just lose it when he starts wasting grape soda to intimidate a group of black people, or when he throws some pennies on a table while interrogating a couple of Jews, but it's all done in good nature, I believe, and Corddry plays the role very effectively.

The main secondary plot this time around involves Kumar dwelling on the past, as he let his girlfriend, Vanessa (Daneel Harris), leave. She's now marrying a man named Colton (Eric Winter), who works in the White House. You guessed it: this allows for George W. Bush (portrayed by James Adomian), to make an appearance. I wasn't actually too fond of the job Adomian does, or most of the jokes made during this scene; it's far more about self-reflection than anything else anyway, but the attempted jokes fell flat.

There are a few other scenes that felt too long and could have either been trimmed or removed altogether. This film runs longer than the first, and this kind of humor really doesn't deserve to be given more than 90 minutes. It runs out of things to say, and it starts to wear thin. It's probably possible to cut out 10 minutes of this movie, somewhere -- perhaps start with when Kumar has a dream about making out with a bag of weed; that went on for too long -- and not lose any of the jokes.

John Cho and Kal Penn prove to us that they're still up to playing these characters. Escape from Guantanamo Bay actually takes place directly after the first film -- minutes after, in fact -- and the two appear exactly as they did four years prior. They still have great chemistry, seemingly enjoy each other's company, and have solid comedic timing. Because of all this, it's easy to watch them just talk to one another, and it results in a fun watch.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is a film that I found funnier than the first film, although it still could have easily benefited from some trimming. However, the additions it makes, the risks that it takes, and the rules that it breaks ensures that it's easily worth seeing, especially if you were a fan of Go to White Castle. It makes solid criticisms and it's a lot of fun, so I recommend it. Make sure you stay through the credits, though; you'll see why after you watch it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:26 pm

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
We've reached this point, have we Harold and Kumar? The point where you begin to run out of jokes and have to resort to making fun of yourselves? You know, this self-aware turn better just be a faze, or you and I will have to be done with one another. I don't know if I could handle another A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. I mean, you're still a funny movie, but doing it more than once wouldn't work, and you were already running out of jokes by the end of your 90 minutes.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is the third film in the Harold and Kumar series, following up from Go to White Castle and Escape from Guantanamo Bay. We return to the first film's ambitions, at least, with the two characters of the title driving around town in hopes of finding something. In this case, it's a Christmas tree. Why? Well, it's Christmas, and Harold (John Cho), desperately wants to impress his father in-law (Danny Trejo), because otherwise his marriage to Maria (Paula Garcés) might not possibly work out. Or something. Really, it's not made clear why. Make your own conclusions.

Harold and Kumar (Kal Penn) actually hadn't seen each other for a while, prior to the film's opening. Harold moved out, got married, and settled down, hoping to raise a family. Kumar decided that smoking weed was way more fun, which led to him breaking up with Vanessa (Danneel Harris), who reveals herself to be three months pregnant in one of the opening scenes. After burning down the tree Harold already had -- which was brought to him by Maria's father -- Kumar and Harold reluctantly team up to track down a new one on Christmas Eve.

You can only imagine the trouble that these two get into this time around. They're not strangers to misbehaving, despite being people presumably in their thirties, but some of the things they do or get into in this film top both of the previous ones. This includes, but is not limited to: getting involved with Russian gangsters, being attacked by a giant snowman while in claymation mode, and shooting Santa Claus in the face with a shotgun.

The whole thing is in 3D, which the characters repeatedly make fun of during the film. Despite this, the filmmakers show off as much of the technology as they can, causing a major contradiction in philosophies. You can't have it both ways, movie. You can't condemn the audience for buying tickets to a 3D movie and then be a 3D movie which needs as many ticket sales as it can get. At least they filmed it in 3D, which means no awful conversion had to be performed, but it's all gimmicks and there's no reason to see it in 3D.

Most of the humor of the previous films came from subverting stereotypes and tropes, making you laugh by pointing out what you expect based on certain circumstances or characteristics. That's all but gone in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. It's mostly just toilet and stoner humor this time around. In the other films, the Russian gangster would probably wind up being a gentle guy, or something like that. Not here. This not only makes this film less humorous, but also less poignant. It doesn't have a point to make; it exists simply to make money and maybe provide some laughs.

This time around, Neil Patrick Harris, who had a small but funny role in the previous two films, is getting a lot of the advertising. It makes sense. His popularity has exploded in recent years. His role isn't really expanded, though -- it's the same thing he did before. Quite honestly, I'm getting tired of the character. He plays a fictionalized version of himself that is always high on drugs, and there hasn't been any progression for three films now. Perhaps it's time to do something different with him.

This might be the problem with the franchise as a whole: it has finally gotten stale. Without the sharpness to the humor, it's just another profane comedy, which are a dime a dozen nowadays. It hasn't evolved with the time, despite reaching for self-parody with this installment. If a fourth film happens, something special is going to have to occur to keep it fresh. Change the formula, have these characters actually acquire more than artificial depth -- something!

I did like seeing John Cho and Kal Penn return, even if their characters aren't quite the same buddy-buddy that they were in earlier films. They still have an easygoing chemistry and know the jokes well enough that they could execute them without a lot of effort. Cameos from Elias Koteas and Patton Oswalt were also quite fun, even if there was really no reason for them. As is the case in all three films, Paula Garcés disappears for the entirety of the second act; this is a film about the two males, after all, and there's no room for a woman while they mess around.

It's another Harold and Kumar flick, and if you aren't tired of them after the second, you'll still probably have a decent time with this one. It's lacking a certain sharpness to its tongue, though, and despite the self-parody turn, it gets stale very quick. I didn't have an awful time with it, but it's the worst in the series so far and an indication that it might be time to put these characters to rest.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Apr 06, 2013 8:31 pm

The Truth About Charlie
Based on the 1963 film Charade, which you can see now, legally, wherever you choose, as it is in the public domain thanks to an oversight on the part of Universal, The Truth About Charlie does very little to distinguish itself from the classic film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Here is a film based on lies, misdirection, manipulation and secrets that somehow manages to be boring, convoluted and not at all worth your time. And if you have to pay for it, it's not worth it, because you can see the superior film for free.

The lead here is Thandie Newton, playing Regina Lambert, even though she's not given top billing. She's a woman who has recently come back to Paris after a vacation, only to find her apartment empty, the police standing inside, and her husband dead. She's not really a suspect, although Commandant Dominique (Christine Boisson) interrogates her anyway. She's told that her husband lived a double life, and that is profession was not that of an art dealer. He lost approximately $6 million, and other people are now looking for it. Find the money, find the killer, the presumption is.

Meanwhile, Regina is starting to become friends with Joshua (Mark Wahlberg), whom she met on vacation and then once again in Paris. He is a friendly man, although maybe a little bit too friendly. And then there's an American agent (Tim Robbins), who tells her to trust nobody. He details the people her late husband lost money to, the people we should watch out for, and then tells her to be careful of Joshua, too, because that adds tension, I suppose.

So, we've got all of these sides vying for Regina's attention, and everyone has an ulterior motive, or sometimes motives. You'll be unsurprised to learn that pretty much nobody tells the truth until the very end, and that even after it's all wrapped up, it still won't make a lick of sense. These people play cards that they shouldn't know ("I counter your reveal with one of my own"), and the film becomes silly way too early on for it to be taken seriously.

I'm not sure how this happened, especially because the director, Jonathan Demme, best known for The Silence of the Lambs, definitely knows how to create tension. It's as if he decided to play it safe for fear of changing too much from the original and, as a result, this is a watered-down movie that gives you absolutely no reason to watch it. It's not terribly bad, and there are some interesting things at play here -- in particular, the unusual cinematography -- but on the whole it's just not very interesting and is lesser in every way.

Charade had two of the greatest actors to ever live in Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The Truth About Charlie isn't quite so lucky. I like Mark Wahlberg, but he shows absolutely nothing in this role except for unabashed enthusiasm and positivity. That's playing against type, which is a good thing, but Wahlberg isn't good at it, and shows a lack of depth in this role. Comparing the role to Grant's isn't even fair, or close.

On the other hand, we have Thandie Newton, who might not be Audrey Hepburn, but she acts circles around Wahlberg in this movie. She actually shows range and emotion and all of those things that tell us a little something about her character and the tragic situation that she's going through. It's fun to watch her, and if her character's mental state was actually examined, we might have ourselves a movie worth watching. However, the only way we delve into that is through Newton's acting; it's all up to her to bring that to our attention, as the film is more interested in its convoluted plot and terrible love interest storyline between Newton and Wahlberg's characters.

There's supposed to be some sort of tension between the two characters. There's an attempt at that early on, but it soon declines into just another love story, even once some of Joshua's intentions and aliases are revealed. Even when we first learn that he's working with the people trying to take the money (don't worry, that's not a spoiler; he'll change again a few times after), the relationship dynamic doesn't even change. Regina is cautious for quite literally one scene before unconditionally accepting him once again.

That, combined with a lack of thrills throughout, is one of the main reasons that The Truth About Charlie is a failure. Nobody ever seems to be in any danger throughout the film -- even the bad guys aren't terribly threatening; they frequently converse quite pleasantly with Regina, as they just want the money, which she doesn't even desire -- and it's all just one big, anticlimactic mess.

Charade didn't need to be remade. I feel that very strongly, especially after seeing The Truth About Charlie. The cast is weaker, the story feels more convoluted -- whether it is or not is up for debate -- and there's absolutely nothing thrilling about it. It's a remake without a purpose, and since you can see the original, the better version, for free, you're much better off doing that. It's a story of twists and turns but The Truth About Charlie would be better off if it didn't exist.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:57 pm

The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada, adapted from the novel of the same name, deals with the fashion industry, but it's not so much about that as it is about the workplace in general. You can recognize all of the characters in the film from practically any job, not just one that happens to deal with clothing. It works as a satire of that particular job market, don't get me wrong, but it has a broader appeal that allows it to be enjoyable for anyone, regardless of their familiarity with, say, Prada. I think that's key, as it ensures that the scope of the film isn't limited.

The film stars Anne Hathaway, having succeeded in breaking out of her Disney Princess look of pre-2005 with both Brokeback Mountain and Havoc, as Andrea "Andy" Sachs, a woman who wants so desperately to be a writer that she's willing to put herself through a year of turmoil in hopes that it'll allow her to meet someone to give her the job she wants. It's a terrible job because her boss, the "devil" of the title, is fashionista Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), who gives about as much thought to her assistants as she does to anything not relating to her job: not much.

However, despite being a "plum" size four, and not having much knowledge of the fashion industry, Andy gets the job. She's a hard worker and is very smart -- we learn that she could have been a lawyer, but declined an invitation from Stanford because she prefers writing -- but she's not initially up to the task because, as co-worker Nigel (Stanley Tucci) claims, her heart's not in it. So, you can already see the transformation that Andy has to go through in order to get ahead.

Par for the course in this kind of film involves the conflict between her personal life and her work, as well as the obvious one between her and her boss, and her and her jealous/condescending co-worker, Emily (Emily Blunt). There's a lot of conflict, and it all has to end up somewhere. Will Andy become the next Ms. Priestly? Will she give up and go back to her old lifestyle? Will she still have friends at the end of it all? These are the questions we need answered, folks!

The Devil Wears Prada doesn't really work as the melodrama that it sometimes wants to be. None of these questions really matter, and any self-discovery ends up coming across as fake. Andy goes from one way to the other in the course of a couple of minutes, and is then steadfast in that direction. And then, later in the film, a quick decision like that is made once again. It's too shallow a film in its characters to make that type of thing work; we haven't been building up for any length of time to reach that conclusion.

Where it does work is as an observation of the workplace, and of the fashion industry in general. Andy quite clearly doesn't fit in, not at first, and the harsh statements leveled against her are eye-opening. She, a size four, is labeled as fat, while her style is considered to be appalling. It's mean is what it is, and while things like this likely don't happen often or to the degree that they do in the film, the point is made loud and clear.

The workplace criticism is even stronger. All of these characters are recognizable from day-to-day life. The mean boss who makes life miserable for everyone else (Miranda); the generous, older co-worker who has toiled his life away for minimum benefit (Nigel); the up-and-comer who has the whole world ahead of her (Andy); the mean-spirited, jealous co-worker who is getting passed up and is none too happy about it (Emily); the boyfriend who represents the past life; and the dreamy man who shows a future full of wonder -- you'll compare these characters to people in your own life, and by drawing your attention to it, the film might just make you think about your position among them.

This isn't a terribly funny film, although it does have its moments. It's more about the observation than the jokes, and the absurdity in tasks that are required by Miranda. At one point, a copy of the new Harry Potter was requested. Not the one that just came out, but the as-of-yet unpublished manuscript. Oh, and it needs to be here in a few hours, because that's easy to do. Don't get it done, and you're fired, Andy. And bring me my steak lunch in 15 minutes, despite the restaurant still not being open. Got that?

Meryl Streep makes for a fantastic villain here, although is that to anyone's surprise. She's appropriately cold, calculating, and does it all without even a hint of camp. It would be easy to see the excess she goes to as humorous, but there's no joy to her character. Hathaway, Blunt and Tucci are all fine, too, but it's Streep who once again shows us just how impressive an actor she is. Fans of the book will note that she is not, in fact, playing a British character, and that if you're upset about that, you should probably re-prioritize your life.

The Devil Wears Prada is a success not because of the way that it looks at the fashion industry -- shrewd as that judgment is -- but the way it looks at any workplace. The melodrama and characters, while they work as broad stereotypes that you can associate with people you know, don't function well in the drama, which is why it's not a complete winner. But it's funny enough and contains good performances and sharp observations that I give it a recommendation, regardless of your familiarity with Prada.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Apr 08, 2013 7:59 pm

Enemy at the Gates
Set during over the course of several months of the second World War, Enemy at the Gates is a movie about the psychological battle between two snipers on opposite sides of the battlefield. In a rare turn of events, America is not involved. This all happens at the Battle of Stalingrad, and takes place between the Soviet Union and the Nazis. No, there isn't really a battle involving ideologies; it's far more about these two men than it is about the countries the men are fighting for.

The opening scene depicts the war field in a brutal and vicious way, something that will be maintained for its entirety. We see how the Soviet soldiers were forced to go to battle, and anyone who retreats is labeled a traitor and shot. It appears that the army is so dead-set in its beliefs that it would rather lose a man than see them desert the force. These are frightened, terrified men, and they've been forced into battle. It's no doubt who we're supposed to root for, even though the higher-ups in the army are not portrayed well.

The lead is a foot soldier named Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), who, after seeing his comrades slaughtered around him, picks up a gun and takes out five German soldiers. Another man, commissar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), witnessed the feat, wrote about it in the paper, and Zaitsev is labeled a hero, and is promoted to a sniper. He becomes something of a legend among both camps, and it forces the Nazi party to bring in an elite sniper of their own, Major Erwin König (Ed Harris). So begins a duel between two highly talented men, one in which a single false move will result in a loss.

The whole film is filled with tension, even before König is brought in. There isn't a single scene where a character isn't in danger, or at least could be in danger, which results in a nail-biter of a movie. War films sometimes overlook this, and make the characters feel safe more often than they realistically should, while building up to big, thrilling scenes. Not this one. Enemy at the Gates never lets up, and that's one of its key strengths.

Where it isn't quite as strong is in the forced love story between Zaitsev and a woman named Tania (Rachel Weisz). It feels like it was put in simply to say that there is one. I didn't mind it too much, because it's well-done and has good actors with strong chemistry, but it didn't feel organic, and it didn't add a whole lot to the film. Trimming it would have made the focus even more on the battle between the two men, and it would have aided the running time. All of the emotional impact that comes from it is already included, and it ended up feeling superfluous, for the most part.

However, it rarely takes away the impact of the absolutely amazing battle of wits and skills between Zaitsev and König. This involves a lot of waiting around, as a battle of this nature should, but it is absolutely thrilling. By this point, Zaitsev is an endearing character, and you really care about him. But you know he's outmaneuvered, and is of lesser skill than his opponent, and knowing this makes everything so tense.

That's not to take anything away from König, who isn't a typical villain. He's sympathetic, too, and also becomes more interested in the battle against a fearsome enemy than against someone from a competing nation. For both characters, it's more about beating the one person than an entire nation. Sure, that person is a symbol and defeating him will be a great victory, but it's not about that; these two people are competing almost for the thrill of it, and neither of them will give up until the other one is dead.

It's a horrifying film, as many movies about wars are, but there's a kind of beauty and magnificence to its proceedings. Watching these two men, as is watching anyone so prolific at their trade, is so engaging that you almost forget about the war that's taking place around them. The focus is so intently on these two skilled men that, despite the images surrounding them, that we've been shown from the very beginning, where anyone can die at any time, you are appreciative of the battle between the two of them, and almost appreciate it as its own art form.

This is all helped out by strong performances turned in by everyone in the cast. I think that, because they were allowed to use their natural accents instead of trying to put one on, they were allowed to dedicate more energy to the drama of the performance. They're all charismatic and likable, but they're also deep and manage to make their own characters out of potential archetypes. Even Weisz, as a love interest and nothing more, shines, taking her potential throwaway role and making it worth keeping. Perhaps that's why it wasn't trimmed.

Enemy at the Gates is an absolutely thrilling and satisfying film, one that you can't stop forgetting about after it ends because of the terrifying war that takes place in the background and also because of the haunting battle of wits and skills between the two snipers on either side of the war. Even the love story, which does, admittedly, feel forced in, works because it doesn't distract from the main idea and because the actors involved are so committed and have such strong chemistry. This is a movie worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Komrade Kharloth on Mon Apr 08, 2013 9:34 pm

ENEMY AT THE GATES A SHIT

A RUSSIAN DOES NOT LOVE, HE PARTAKES IN DISGUSTING ACT OF INTERCOURSE ONLY TO PRODUCE MORE WORKERS FOR THE MOTHERLAND.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:28 am

Komrade Kharloth wrote:ENEMY AT THE GATES A SHIT

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:28 am

Easily the worst war film I've seen.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Hubilub on Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:32 am

Is that the one where he hides behind a washer?

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Furburt on Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:11 am

It's kind of insulting to the Russians too, since they make kick-ass war films already, they don't need western help.


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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Apr 09, 2013 8:27 pm

Tanner Hall
Tanner Hall is the type of movie that follows a bunch of people who do nothing important throughout the entire movie and then expect us to believe that they've grown up, redeemed themselves, or otherwise changed for the better. In this case, it takes place in an all-girls boarding school, and follows the exploits of four teenagers as they begin to learn about adulthood. Kind of. It's more about them just getting into trouble and then learning from that mistake, while making inconsequential decisions in the meantime.

The lead is Fernanda (Rooney Mara), a senior at this school who longs for it whenever she's not there. She doesn't like her home life -- the reason for this is never clear -- and absolutely adores her two closes friends, Lucasta (Amy Ferguson), and Kate (Brie Larson). A fourth girl, Victoria (Georgia King), someone who was friends with Fernanda in early childhood but they haven't spoken in years, also joins the party, and before you know it, we have our characters. They all have stereotypical defining features, and soon enough they're an easygoing group.

That is, except for Victoria, who is clearly an outsider. If Fernanda is the leader of the group, her decisions must be obeyed. And since she and Victoria can't be friends, the other two girls, who are perfectly amiable with the newcomer, can't be either. It turns out that Fernanda is right, though, as Victoria's stereotype is that of a troubled young woman who takes out her internal frustrations on everyone else, making their lives miserable. Because, as we all know, misery loves company, and there's enough of it to go around.

The rest of the girls end up being impacted, one by one, by Victoria, mostly in the romance department. Fernanda falls for a married man named Gio (Tom Everett Scott), Kate flirts with everyone, including her teacher, Mr. Middlewood (Chris Kattan), who takes a deep affection with her, while Lucasta is the shy and quiet one ... for some reason, which will be revealed later on in the film, but is clearly the member of the group on whom we're not going to spend too much time.

All of these relationships and hopeful relationships are going to, in one way or another, be impacted by the meanie, Victoria. She's mean because her mother is neglectful and she hates her life. That has to be fixed in a coming-of-age flick. So does the quiet nature of Lucasta, the lustful one of Kate, and whatever it is that Fernanda is -- perhaps her dislike of Victoria. Yes, that seems like a good problem to fix. Go, movie, go!

There's nothing in Tanner Hall that you haven't seen before. It's a standard movie with absolutely nothing to set it apart from the crowd, which is a shame because it so desperately wants to be a personal film. It's purportedly based on the experiences of its writer-directors, Tatiana von Fürstenberg and Francesca Gregorini, and it has some fine young actors. It's just that the talent behind the camera wasn't enough to elevate the film beyond the generic, taking a potentially personal script and turning it standard and boring.

The reason that the archetypes are used is so that you can immediately identify and distinguish what's driving each girl forward. You can also recognize each personality easily and therefore we don't need to spend time on that. The problem comes when these characters don't develop or move away from the cliché, which is exactly what happens here. They stay the same, never evolving, until one thing happens which makes them go "Oh, hey, we should get better at life and stuff." The event -- it's different for each of them -- isn't even terribly influential; it just happens to have an impact because ... reasons, I guess.

There's no real flow to the decisions that these characters make. Making decisions on a whim is great and all, and for adolescents, it fits, but even the ones that are supposed to show how they're grown up and have changed simply appear out of nowhere. Perhaps it worked that way in real life for the writer-directors, but I'd like a sense of logic, please. It would at least establish the characters as something more than magical faeries who can do whatever they want at any time.

Tanner Hall was filmed a long time before its release, and even after appearing in various festivals, it wasn't picked up by a distributor until after Rooney Mara signed on for the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's a hard film to market, so I understand that mentality. If the attempt is to showcase Mara, it doesn't quite work, as she shows nothing of promise here. Nobody really does. If they did, the script might have been elevated beyond the mediocrity that it proves to be.

Tanner Hall could have been powerful, but it falls flat because of a mediocre, easy story that doesn't provide us with any logic, characters that move beyond archetypes, or anything of value. It's a coming-of-age story where all of the transformations for these people happen on a whim, not because of the prior parts of the film. Beyond that, it's simply a dull watch that you've seen before, and better. Skip Tanner Hall.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Apr 10, 2013 8:39 pm

Boa vs. Python
If you go into a movie titled "Boa vs. Python," what do you expect to get out of it? Presumably, if you're like me, it's a battle between a boa constrictor and a python. That happens twice in the movie, although the first time is a bit of a cop out, because it's actually a wrestling match between two men who are named after the snakes. The second time comes near the climax, where the two creatures finally fight for a couple of minutes before their battle is ended by humans. That's right. We don't even get to find out who would win without outside interference.

What about the other 80 minutes? Well, surprising me, there's a loose idea of a plot. A millionaire, Broddick (Adam Kendrick), decides that bringing a bunch of other rich people to hunt a recently captured giant snake sounds like good fun. The snake escapes. The hunt goes on anyway, presumably because of the "good fun" I just mentioned. So, that team hunts the python. Another team -- led by an FBI Agent (Kirk B.R. Woller), a marine biologist (Jaime Bergman) and someone who happens to own a lab that has the giant boa (David Hewlett) -- uses the giant boa as a tracking dog to hunt the python, too.

The majority of the film takes place in tunnels, because that's where giant snakes would go when night falls and it gets cold outside. It also means there are a lot of bends so that the awful CGI only has to render a tail as the snake goes around another bend. It also means that we don't need a lot of lighting, which can help further hide the terrible CGI. Did I mention that the CGI is horrendous? This is a direct-to-video film about giant snakes, so I don't know if you expected the visuals to be anything resembling "good."

Essentially, we just wander around tunnels and sometimes forests for 90 minutes, all while people from the first team get picked off and those from the second team do absolutely nothing of value or interest, which leads up to a five-minute battle between the two snakes, during which we barely even see them, because we're still far too focused on the humans.

It's funny seeing the shortcuts used in order to avoid spending a lot of money. Characters shoot at things off-screen and we never see if they hit anything, because that would mean filming something costly. The snakes are rarely shown in their entirety, and look absolutely dreadful when they do. I don't even know if some of the characters in the movie are played by real actors. There isn't enough information on some of them to find out if that's the case.

If they are real actors, they should be ashamed that they appeared in this project. If they're not, they should still be ashamed. Nobody turns in a performance that anyone would call good, or even passable. It's hilarious watching these people try to act. This isn't helped out by the cinematography, either, which is terrible. The camera is often too close in scenes that don't require it, it's sometimes out of focus or held off-center for absolutely no reason. There was one camera they used that made a bold, black outline around every object, but it was only used for a few shots. Why? I have no idea.

The only joy that one can get out of a movie like Boa vs. Python -- both of which are established franchises, by the way, although there are few, if any, references to either -- is to make fun of it. I'll admit that I laughed at the terrible filmmaking, the lack of sense, and the awful looking snakes. This is a so-bad-it's-good movie that you can watch with friends for a good chuckle. That's it. Looking at it in any other light will lead you to disappointment and alcoholism.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The DVD cover artwork, which depicts better looking versions of the two snakes duking it out in a city, while a helicopter shoots at them from the background, is drawn quite nicely. None of that happens in the movie -- the only helicopter footage this crew could afford was a singular stock footage shot of a trio of 'copters flying; that's all we see of them. It's a nicely crafted cover, and it does a good job of completely misleading its audience.

You probably know what you're getting into when you pick a direct-to-Video movie about giant snakes. It's going to be stupid. It will look awful. It won't make a lot of sense. This is all expected. I just wish the basic premise, promised in the title, would have been acted on a bit more. It's disappointing to only get the snake fight in the final few minutes, and even then you barely see it -- and when you do, it's not all that exciting. It's ultimately not worth sitting through to find out who wins, either, because outside interference plays a role in determining the victor.

Boa vs. Python doesn't live up to its title. If it did, perhaps it would be worth seeing. Yes, it is still funny because it's absolutely terrible, but only if that's the mindset you enter it with. If you even start to think that it's a movie you should take seriously, you need to slap yourself. It's a terrible B-movie that is only truly fun if you can convince a few friends to come over to laugh at it with you.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:25 pm

Trance
Containing more twists than it probably should, Danny Boyle's Trance is a film that very well might lull you into a state of hypnosis -- and I say that as praise, not with disdain. Considering the film is very much about hypnosis, although it's used more as a plot device than a subject, the description is apt. This is a film that puts you in a state unlike most films, although trying to remember it all or put all the pieces together might be too much of a strain. Don't feel bad; the film isn't quite good enough to work all the way through.

It opens with the heist of an art auction. A famous painting, about to be sold for more than $25 million, is to be stolen. One of the security members, Simon (James McAvoy), almost secures it when the boss of the theft, Franck (Vincent Cassel), stops him, takes the painting, and knocks him out with the butt of his gun. The only problem is that Simon had hidden the painting prior to his encounter with Franck, and the knockout blow dealt by the thief has given Simon amnesia -- he can't remember where he hid it. Oh, and the two were also apparently working together; why Simon hid the painting becomes one of the prime mysteries.

In an attempt to recover these lost memories, Simon is sent to a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). Much of the film from then on takes place in dreams, where metaphors are suggested to Simon in hopes that he'll figure out where he hid the painting while working on something less immediate. What he uncovers is something much more. Every time you think you've figured Trance out, it'll throw another twist your way. I'll give you some advice: don't trust anyone.

Of course, this creates a fundamental problem with the characters, in that we never get to know who they truly are. They always have another trick up their sleeve, another hidden reason for what they're doing, and it leads to you really not caring about anything that happens to them. Once you figure out that the movie is just going to keep twisting things around, it's almost difficult to keep interesting -- or track -- of exactly who's doing what for whatever reason.

Trance also tries to be way too clever, and simply winds up confusing. At one point in the filmmaking process, it probably all makes sense. If you get to see it three or four times, perhaps it still will. But on a single viewing, even after the ending attempts to explain everything, I don't think it holds up. The film cheats, or perhaps doesn't completely work in the first place. Or both. There will be far more questions than answers when you walk away from this movie.

That isn't at all to say that it isn't tense, thrilling, or entertaining, because it most certainly is. When you're sitting there, watching it in the moment, Trance is quite enjoyable. The twists keep you guessing, the film's style always gives you something interesting to look out for -- this is a film directed by Danny Boyle, after all -- and the actors all put in good work. It's just when you think about it after, or even when it tries to bring things to a close, that it starts to get tangled in the web it has spun.

Because much of the film takes place inside of a character's head, in scenarios crafted by another character, there will be obvious parallels drawn to Christopher Nolan's Inception. If you found that film too difficult to wrap your head around, you'll definitely want to skip this one. They're not the same movie -- there's no dream-within-a-dream, nor is the big heist pulled off inside of a head, and while the trailer may try to get you to believe that they're very similar, apart from the idea of dreams being used, and there technically being a heist, the similarities are superficial. Furthermore, 2013's Trance is actually a remake of a 2001 film of the same title, which predates Inception.

Watching a film like this one is tiring. Not because it will put you to sleep but because keeping track of all the twists and switchbacks will leave tax any member of the audience. It's rare that a film does that, and it should be commended for doing so, but without the characters or the finish to make it all work out, it's a little bit difficult to really appreciate or like.

Trance will make you think, and at times it will have you form your own interpretations of its proceedings. At times, you'll learn that those interpretations are wrong. That's fine, but because the film is, occasionally, so sparse on information, it feels like it cheats you as you try to solve it. Its misdirection works only as long as it hides the key to figuring it out. It can become frustrating if you put in too much effort. It's best to just sit back and let it fix itself. I only question if it ever really does, or if it is missing a puzzle piece or three.

I hesitate to call Trance exceptionally "good," but it's always interesting and on a simple entertainment factor, it will please audiences for its entire running time. It will also frustrate those who insist on attempting to stay one step ahead of movies, or confuse those that have trouble following what feels like dozens of twists. It needed better characters and a script that didn't back its film into a corner from which it couldn't escape, although it still has the hypnotic ability to put you in a state that few movies achieve.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:32 pm

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Ferris Bueller's Day Off is an incredibly enjoyable escapism film, one where there isn't a dull moment or character. It takes a very simple premise -- three kids skip school -- and transforms it into a film of pure fun. It's energetic, inventive and surprisingly wholesome. These kids are innocent, essentially, and do not engage in illicit activities; they simply want to have good, innocent fun. So does the movie. In that, it is successful.

Our opening scene establishes almost everything we need to know about Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). He convinces his parents that he's too sick to go to school, and then turns directly to the camera and explains how and why he did it. He's almost out of high school, meaning the opportunity to take a day like this has almost passed him by. After some scheming and convincing, he manages to get his depressed friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and his girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), to come with him on the ride of his life.

And what a ride it is! Set in Chicago, Ferris Bueller's Day Off takes us through some of the major landmarks of the city: Wrigley Field, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Sears Tower -- even a parade gets involved. They go all over the city, having as much fun as they can, and hoping at every instant that they don't get caught. Meanwhile, the school's Dean of Students, Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), is trying to find a way to expose Bueller for the faker that he is. He's the villain of the picture, even though he's really just doing his job.

What follows is a pleasant movie in which there are thrills, laughs, and many moments of happiness. It's truly a feel-good film, which is always a plus for something like this. It has a message -- repeated twice, in case you miss it -- it wants you to think while it plays, and it's really, really enjoyable. It also has a heart, something missing from so many movies, and it makes you care about these characters, even though many of them aren't likable. That takes talent, something that writer-director John Hughes certainly has.

When you get right down to it, the characters, and the fun that they have, are the reason that Ferris Bueller's Day Off is as enjoyable as it is. We have Ferris, the charismatic young man who makes everything possible. Why does he do this? Well, his friend, Cameron, his opposite in every way, hasn't had much fun in life thus far. He wants to give Cameron the day of his life, and maybe teach him -- and us -- a lesson or two about how to live your life. This is a coming-of-age movie, but it's not Ferris who needs to do the growing.

What begins somewhat realistically soon turns into fantasy, and before you know it, it's hard to discern how much of the story actually happens. That doesn't make it less fun -- I know I was kept entertained throughout -- but some of the sequences are a bit too far-fetched to truly believe in. The bounty hunter approach of the dean, the parade musical numbers, and so on are all almost supernatural. That's what makes it an escapist film. It's really better if you don't think too hardly about the events inside of the film; instead, just let it pass over you and take you for an enjoyable trip.

You can't help but idolize Ferris Bueller. He's exactly the type of person that most teenagers, and even many grownups, aspire to be. Assured, confident and charismatic, despite the troublemaker side, which never lands him in serious trouble. When you're Ferris Bueller, you know that everything will work out in the end. As an audience, you watch this character and fantasize about being him.

I wasn't entirely sold on Ferris continually breaking the fourth wall. Not because it isn't funny, clever, or telling, but because it's a technique that loses its usage as we progress. At the beginning, it's used all the time. Near the end, it barely happens. It's a different way of giving us voice-over narration, something used more often than not as a crux, but here it's used to tell us something about him and his situation, or to make us laugh. Usually both. I wanted more of it, by the end, not less. Thankfully, if you watch through the credits, you get to see it one final time, to great effect.

Broderick is the perfect type of actor for this role, and it makes sense considering it was written with him in mind. He has the type of charm that's required, and the smile that makes you know it'll all be fine. Alan Ruck, as the depressed Cameron who needs to start looking at life in a different way, is suitable, although nowhere near the presence of Broderick. Mia Sara is cute as the girlfriend, although she has the least developed role.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a very fun time. There are no dull moments, no unenjoyable interactions -- there isn't a single portion of this movie that I would want cut out. It has a message, some interesting characters, and simply works as an escapist fantasy. Fun is something that many movies overlook, but that's the focus of this one. It also has a heart, and you really begin to care about these characters, even in spite of some of their actions. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is absolutely worth watching.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:56 pm

Looper
Science fiction movies about time travel are tricky. On one hand, you have to make the story complex enough to keep people interested. On the other, you have to ensure that your film makes sense and sticks to its rules. For a select group of fans (presumably those destined to ruin everyone's fun), you also have to ensure that the time travel doesn't introduce any plot holes, for they'll automatically be picked apart to death. How many time travel movies manage to do all of this? I'm honestly not sure, but I think Looper comes really close.

Here, the basic idea is this: In the 2070s, time travel exists, but has been deemed illegal and has therefore been outlawed. People have been sent back to the 2040s, and are called "loopers." Their job is to kill people a criminal organization wants dead, because hiding a body in the future is hard. So, the corpse-to-be is sent back to the past, is shot point blank, and is then disposed of in the past. Cool premise, already. Now, what happens if you, the looper, have your future self sent back? This is exactly the situation that Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) faces, when "Old Joe" (Bruce Willis) appears and soon enough escapes.

While the trailer promises action scenes involving these two actors, that's not really what happens. Old Joe escapes and has one goal in mind: Kill three young children, one of which -- he doesn't know who, so all three must die -- will eventually grow up to be an evil dictator, so that he won't be sent back at all, and will therefore be allowed to live out the entirety of his life with his adoring wife (Xu Qing).

Meanwhile, Joe of the present finds himself on a farm owned by Sara (Emily Blunt), whose child, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), is one of the targets on Old Joe's hit list. He hides here, in part because he's now an outlaw for failing to kill his mark, but also because he wants to redeem himself by killing Old Joe. He eventually grows feelings for both of them, which leads to the exact situation you're probably thinking of at the end of the film. Looper isn't based around surprises; its focus is on sharp execution, surprisingly deep characters, and an intriguing premise.

You don't get a lot of big action scenes with Looper, so if that's what you're hoping for, go watch The Terminator again. There are more character scenes than ones of action, with all three of the leading adults getting a lot of time to sit down and chat. There's tension, assuredly, but most of it comes from what you know can and will happen, not from what is currently going on. Everything can break down at any moment, but that only actually happens on occasion; that makes it all the more thrilling when it does.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt are all accomplished actors. Willis might be best known for action, but he gets several deep character moments here, in particular the scenes in which he thinks about the wife he left behind in order to ensure that he can be with her in the future -- if that makes sense. Blunt, here sporting a Southern drawl, and Gordon-Levitt have strong chemistry together, and while their characters' relationship is one based around tension, the sweet scenes and the progression they both have is one to savor.

Surprising the world is Pierce Gagnon as Sara's child, Cid. Here, he reminds us that child actors can be effective, rare as they might be. He gets a few good freakout scenes, a couple with real emotional depth, and holds his own alongside both Gordon-Levitt and Blunt. And he's just darned cute, okay? His character arc leads exactly where you'd expect, which does make Looper a tad predictable, but that's no fault to him.

The simple story and possibly too-long running time end up being the only problems that Looper has. Even those fun-ruiners I mentioned earlier will have trouble finding an issue with the time travel mechanic shown here. Writer-director Rian Johnson clearly understands what he's introduced to us, and has thought it through very closely. This is a smart thriller, and is one of the best time travel films of recent memory. It gives you multiple things to think about after it concludes, too, which is always a nice touch.

I'm not sure if it's completely air-tight -- I don't know or care enough about a mechanic that is, for all intents and purposes, impossible in real life -- but in terms of the film staying within its own rules, I didn't see a problem. I don't think it had any annoying paradoxes or plot holes, and when the simplistic conclusion is reached, it all makes sense. And it's an emotional ending, too, no doubt. The character drama pays off in a great way.

Looper is a fantastic time travel film and a very enjoyable movie in general. This is a concept that's incredibly difficult to get right, and Rian Johnson succeeds. It's engaging, thought-provoking, funny, contains enough character moments to make the ending work on an emotional level, has some solid acting, and even gives Bruce Willis one scene in which he gets to essentially become John McLane again. Even if it's too long and is easily predictable until the end, Looper is good fun, and you owe it to yourself to give it a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Apr 14, 2013 8:48 pm

Hugo
Hugo is a wonderful film. It's heartwarming, magical, enchanting, captivating, and, most surprising, educational. It's possible to be seen by every member of a family, from the very young, who will be held by its imagination, characters, and thrilling scenes, and by the old, who will appreciate exactly what it's trying to say and be about. It's accessible, but not pandering. It will be most appreciated if you have some sort of knowledge of film history -- you'll "get" the references and loving recreations of classic silent films, for instance -- but if you don't have that, don't worry: The film will teach you, and you'll want to watch it again right away to see what you missed.

It's hard to ignore the mind that's behind Hugo. The director here is Martin Scorsese, who has an affinity for the silent movie era, the preservation of old films, and certain directors. This may be his passion project. Yes, a children's film is the passion of the director behind Goodfellas and countless other films that should not be viewed by those under a certain age. I'll let that sink in for a minute. This is unlike any other Scorsese film, and it actually might be one of his best.

From the outset, Hugo seems like it's going to be simple, and very kid friendly. We are introduced to our lead, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), a child living "in the walls" of the Gare Montparnasse train station. His father was killed in a fire, his drunken uncle disappeared, so Hugo is left to keep the clocks of the station working from behind the scenes, while avoiding the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) from catching him and sending him to an orphanage.

Hugo's father left behind an automaton, a robot that can write something if it has all of its gears in place. It's broken, so Hugo spends his free time looking for parts around the station. He believes his father left him a message. One day, he's caught shoplifting a part by Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who becomes an obstacle to get past. His goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), wants to help him out, and they soon become good friends. You can see how, at this point, it seems like it will set-up as your typical family movie.

It is not, however, apparent exactly how old movies and a famous director become the topic of focus for the second half. To reveal exactly what happens would be spoiling some of the joy from the film aficionados out there, but suffice to say that the automaton is not the end goal of the film. It involves an aging man whose best years are behind him and no longer feels necessary, an education on this man, and many homages to the silent film era, including watching large portions of movies (sometimes the entirety) from this period in history.

As it turns out, Hugo is not the most important character. He is a catalyst, someone who sets the events in motion, but not a whole lot changes for him. He comes and goes like he moves through the station, and he has a major impact, but only one thing in his life is changed by the end. Instead, the movies are the film's true passion, just like they are for its director. You can see the love as soon as Hugo begins telling Isabelle how the first movie his father saw was A Trip to the Moon, even though Hugo doesn't know that's its name.

If you don't know the names of the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès, Buster Keaton, or so on, and haven't seen any of their films, you're still going to be able to enjoy Hugo. The only thing that will change is that you won't get many of the references until after the film explains them to you. You'll want to go back and see the film again to catch what you missed.

Like many of those that he pays tribute to, Scorsese uses a relatively new technology in a way that is appropriate and somewhat innovative. Instead of using 3D as a gimmick, he uses it as a part of the story. When we see L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, and then we show an audience's reaction to it, the 3D actually enhances what we're seeing, separating the audience from the screen. While watching Hugo in 3D might not be necessary, it's actually beneficial, which is something that cannot be said about the vast majority of 3D movies.

For someone like me, Hugo gets more interesting as it progresses. It's a slow-moving movie, sure, but the things it reveals and the way it does that is magnificent. I wasn't bored for a single frame of this gorgeous movie. It even gets emotional -- although not for Hugo like you might expect before going in. You'll see what I mean. If there's to be a film nowadays that will make you appreciate or at least become interested in silent films, Hugo might just succeed at doing so.

Hugo is a fantastic family film that doesn't pander to the youngest audience, but continues to be accessible to all audiences. Whether it be for its gorgeous presentation, interesting characters, love for the movies, or well-told story, everyone can find a reason to watch Hugo, even if it does move slowly. It's never boring, but it is more of a slow burn. It is absolutely something that should be watched, regardless of your fascination with film history; Hugo might just convince you to change your mind.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:49 pm

Super Mario Bros.
The first few scenes of Super Mario Bros. introduce us to our characters, which you'll know from the video games of the same title. There's Mario (Bob Hoskins), the older, more serious brother; Luigi (John Leguizamo), the younger, more jovial brother; "Princess" Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who will need to be rescued; and King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), the dictator in a parallel universe in which dinosaurs evolved into human-like creatures. All four characters look like normal humans for the vast majority of their screen time.

Soon enough, Daisy gets captured, while Mario and Luigi find themselves transported to this different dimension, figuring that once they are there, rescuing her might be a good plan. They do very little to make themselves seem like the game characters from which they're inspired, which might be for the best when you consider just how little of a character could use as a basis. Anyway, Hoskins and Leguizamo embody characters with little personality anyway, and just happen to share a name and (sometimes) attire with the video game characters.

They essentially go through action scene after action scene in an attempt to rescue the princess. At least the spirit of the games has been retained here. If you somehow haven't played a Mario game before, the gist of it is this: You run from left to right, jump on any enemy in your way, and collect as many coins as possible. It gets a tad more complicated than that, obviously, but that's as concise as summary as I can give. You're better off just going to play one of the games than trying to sit through this movie.

There is only a little plot here. There's an attempt at establishing the back story of each universe, how the King Koopa's domain was created, and so on, but it doesn't really matter. Once Mario and Luigi are there, all bets are off. Goombas do exist here, you'll be happy to know, although they might upset you because of how they look. They're "de-evolved" humans (so that they lose their intelligence and reasoning, we're told), with small heads and huge bodies, and a clueless smile glued to their faces. I thought they were cute, personally.

King Koopa looks nothing like his in-game counterpart, although putting Bowser into live action and having him retain his looks would probably not fare too well. I was fine with the character's appearance, and even the whole "dinosaurs evolved into humans" thing. What I wasn't happy about was Hopper's portrayal of the character. King Koopa needed to be played over-the-top, but in the film, he's as straight as an arrow for the majority of his time on-screen. It's only right near the end that the silliness of the character comes through, and by that point, it was too late.

Bob Hoskins is a good actor, but he didn't seem to care a whole lot about this project. I don't really blame him, but it would have been nice to see him make an effort. Leguizamo does that, but he's so bad here that you would be commended for laughing at him. Being a "nice guy" does not compensate for a complete lack of depth, intensity, or screen presence. He could be the sole focus on-screen and we would be distracted by the background -- even if we can't see the background.

It's just not a whole lot of fun when you get right down to it. In reality, it doesn't matter whether or not the characters look, sound or act like their video game counterparts; it only matters that this silly movie is enjoyable. It's way more often uncomfortable than it is entertaining. There are times when it's weird enough to almost be noteworthy, but for most of the time it plays, I felt bored and like I was wasting my time.

I didn't even dislike the villain. He didn't seem to be that bad of a person. The worst thing we see him do is turn people into Goombas, but that seems to be a pleasant existence. You're happy, you have few thoughts, and you're gigantic, meaning nobody would want to mess with you. King Koopa is mentioned to be an awful person -- or, "thing," if you prefer -- but we never see him doing anything terribly villainous. The heroes never seem to be in any danger, meaning there's no suspense to the action, and he doesn't seem like he wants to ruin lives.

The tragic part is that the scenes taking place in the real world prior to the transportation to the parallel one are actually better than the ones that follow them. These early moments play out like a terrible rom-com, but at least I could (1) follow them and (2) get some sort of sick enjoyment out of how bad they were. Apart from one or two laughable points later on, it's not even a so-bad-it's-good film. It's just bad.

Super Mario Bros. is an awful movie that, unfortunately, isn't any fun. Bad movies are often so terrible that they're enjoyable, but that isn't the case here. It could have been possible if it wasn't taking everything so seriously, but because it does, the movie is dull and incredibly dull. It has some good actors who put in no effort, a nonsensical story, and bears only vague similarities to the video game from which it takes its inspirations. It's just awful, and you have no reason whatsoever to subject yourself to it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Apr 16, 2013 10:24 pm

Idle Hands
Films that try to balance horror and comedy can often fail by not finding the right balance, focusing too much of their time on one aspect or the other. Idle Hands doesn't have to worry about this problem, as neither genre has anything going for it. There are very few attempted scares, none of which actually have the desired effect. If comedy was attempted, it didn't work. Even Seth Green, a funny person, couldn't make me grin. Idle Hands falls flat on almost every conceivable level.

The film begins with the murder of a couple of parents. That's always a good way to start, because it means that the slacker kid, in this case a guy named Anton (Devon Sawa) can get away with whatever he wants. No parents, no rules, right? After their death, which happens under a bed, the next bit of the film just has Anton sitting around, getting high. He has two friends, Mick (Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), who also prefer to spend their time this way. Before you know it, they wind up dead, as it turns out Anton is the killer. Well, Anton's hand.

Yes, Satan has possessed Anton's hand, giving it a mind of its own. It is, unfortunately, still attached to his body (for now), so Anton still ha some power over it, although it somehow did manage to kill the slacker's parents. Now it wants to kill everyone else, including the hottie who lives across the street, Molly (Jessica Alba). Obviously that won't do, so Anton and his living dead friends decide to do whatever it takes to stop the hand from doing what it wants to do: kill people.

I'll give you a sense of the attempts at humor that the film makes. When Anton asks his friends how they're still walking around after he stabbed a bottle into the forehead of one and sliced the other's head off the body, the reply is "We saw the light, but it was too long a walk." Perhaps it's delivered even less articulately than that; I honestly can't remember. Not a single line of dialogue from this film sticks with you after it's over. Comedies can sometimes be memorable because of just a joke or two being absolutely hilarious. Idle Hands doesn't even have one.

There's a subplot involving a woman played by Vivicia A. Fox, whose entire life is apparently dedicated to tracking down the possessed hand. We learn that it can jump around from person to person, picking people who don't use their hand for enough activities. She's like a bounty hunter, I guess, although she only has one target and is determined not to capture it, but to ensure that it is dead. You stab it with a special knife, you see, and that somehow stops Satan from possessing another hand.

It doesn't have to all make sense, but considering that the entire purpose of this subplot is to try to explain the back story -- and add an artificial time limit which has no impact on anything -- it would have been nice if it did add up. As it is, it's a subplot that could have been trimmed and the only thing we'd miss would be learning that, yes, Satan is behind it, and, yes, he can be stopped. You don't necessarily need it to be a knife. How about you just kill the hand and see where it goes from there? If it doesn't work, you have sequel material.

It's overly convoluted yet too simplistic. You can summarize its entire plot in a sentence, yet the film takes 90 minutes to explain itself. It doesn't try to scare you with anything more than a couple of "startling" jump scares, all of which are telegraphed so loudly that the film's score practically yells to you that it's about to have something pop up from out of nowhere. Improvisation can be funny, but it isn't here.

One of the main things that Anton likes to do is get high with marijuana smoked out of his asthma inhaler. I can't say one way or another, but if the people behind the film were high when making it, or at least writing it, that would explain so much. The director is Rodman Flender, the man behind Leprechaun 2, so it's not like this is out of the realm of possibility here. All of the actors seem to be having a bit too much fun given how lives are in danger, so maybe I'm not just making things up for the sake of extending this review. Maybe...

Speaking of the actors, almost all of the performances are simply too nice given the grave situation the characters find themselves in. Everyone's too cheerful, too happy, to make it believable that they even care that the entire world, potentially, is at risk. Even the ones who aren't perpetually stoned act this way. Maybe it's a simple lack of talent, or perhaps they were directed this way to be funny, but none of it works. The best actors are the guys from The Offspring, who play at the school's dance for a couple of scenes.

Idle Hands is a complete disaster that might be funny or even possibly scary if you're really high, but barring that, it features nothing that could even ironically be described as "competent." Bad writing, bad direction, bad acting -- even the effects for the evil hand are pretty bad! Nobody on this project seemed to care about it, and that's exactly what you should do as well. Forget that Idle Hands exists and go do something more useful with your time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:33 pm

The Sentinel
I think I need someone to try to explain to me why everything happens in The Sentinel. The film moves so quick and has no reason behind most of its characters' actions that I'm still trying to piece together why these people act the way they do. Sometimes I wasn't even sure how they got from place to place. Am I getting old? Can I no longer follow a film that treats plot like a background, nothing more, for clichéd action and thrills?

The basic gist of the film is easy enough. Michael Douglas plays a veteran Secret Service Agent, Pete Garrison. He's taken a bullet for the President in his 25 years of service, and is one of the most respected people working today. We soon learn there's a mole inside the agency, and there's also a plot to assassinate the current President (David Rasche). The Sentinel starts out as a "find the mole" movie, where Pete and his former best friend, David (Kiefer Sutherland), attempt to track down who it is that wants the President dead. It's only at the 13 marker that the film takes a predictable turn which completely changes the tone.

Spoilers for anyone who cares: It is thought that Pete is the mole, so he has to go on the run, while also attempting to figure out who the real mole is. Of course, he's our main character, so we're supposed to believe his side of the story. I was hoping there would be more to it than this, but instead, we just get a pretty basic spy thriller for the next third of the film. Pete runs a bunch, has secret conversations with people, all while David tries to track him down.

And then, during the final third of the film, we blend the two elements together, except one character changes sides for reasons that are not explained very well by our movie. One scene, there's a conflict, and in the very next scene, it has been resolved. But only between the two characters; everyone else still thinks that it's still going on, which leads to some very stupid interactions that only prolong the inevitable conclusion. Anyone surprised by a single turn in this movie should slap themselves silly -- and after that, they might understand it better.

I'm not sure if the film made sense when it was still in screenplay form, but if it did, it might have been double the length. The Sentinel seemed like it was hastily put together, with significant portions of it missing. This leads to plot holes and parts that just don't make any sense. I tried to follow along -- really, I did -- but after a while I gave up. I had a good estimate to how it would turn out and figured the details about how we get there really didn't matter.

Even many of the subplots and characters either make no difference in the end or shouldn't even be in the film. Maybe they did in an earlier cut. Early on, we see that Pete is having an affair with the First Lady (Kim Basinger), and that storyline goes ... nowhere. Eva Longoria turns up as a rookie Agent, and does absolutely nothing but stand there and have the camera follow her around from behind. Her character could be removed and nothing would be lost, save for an attractive person to maybe draw in some teenage viewers.

It's not even that it doesn't make a lick of sense that makes it bad; it's that everything that happens within it is so formulaic and dull that there's nothing compelling to keep you watching. You can accept a silly narrative if there's something else to hold your attention, but that's not present in The Sentinel. You keep hoping for something to grab you -- some visual choice, the good actors showing their stuff, something -- but nothing ever comes. You're left sitting in a corner and crying that you wasted two hours of your life.

And when the final reveal comes, and you learn who the mole really is, you'll probably have to wonder who this character even is and what his reason is for doing anything in the film. I couldn't recall seeing him more than a couple of times before this reveal -- he certainly didn't have any characterization -- and he seems to be the mole just so that nobody can figure it out beforehand. Well, sure, but how much fun is that? "My magical character, one of whom you've seen none until now, is actually behind it all. I'm so clever." That's what the film and its director seem to be shouting at you in the finale.

Michael Douglas rarely plays to his full potential. He's almost always watchable, but he doesn't stretch nearly as much as someone with his talent should. Kiefer Sutherland is playing essentially the same person as his 24 character, from little I've seen of that show. The two women have no reason to be in the film; giving them purpose might have improved the finished product. Everyone's fine but nobody is amazing and that's one of the things that would have helped save The Sentinel.

This is one dull film that tries to be too complex for its own good, and winds up not making enough sense for it to be followed. Whether the studio trimmed it, a smarter editor was needed, or the screenplay didn't make sense to begin with, I couldn't make heads or tails of some of the details in The Sentinel, or why it would make many of the decisions it makes. It has good actors with nothing interesting to do, and there's no reason for you to watch it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:48 pm

ParaNorman
It's a difficult thing to look at a movie like ParaNorman, because I'm not even sure who its target audience is. It's been billed as a children's movie, and deals with a lot of themes that will benefit children more than adults, but it is built like its intention is to entertain the teenagers and adults, not the 10-year-old who needs to see the latest 3D adventure. This isn't really an adventure film; it's much more content with subdued drama.

The basic idea of ParaNorman is that the lead character, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), can speak with the dead. If someone decides not to enter the afterlife, they hang around Earth as a ghost. He can see and talk to them, but since nobody else can, Norman becomes an outcast. He also really likes horror movies, and is somewhat of an introvert already. Okay, I'm guessing you can see where this is going. I'm also guessing you're going to be wrong once you actually see the film, because it throws enough story twists in to always keep you guessing what's going to happen next. I thought I had ParaNorman figured out a couple of times, but I was wrong.

Through relatively convoluted circumstances involving a book, a witch and the town founders, zombies begin walking again, and it's up to Norman and a group of other characters -- his only friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi); Neil's buff brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck); Norman's sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick); and the head bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, playing against type) -- to put a halt to this whole "walking dead" thing.

You won't know where the film is going. You'll think you will, but you'll be surprised at least twice, if not more than that, depending on your familiarity with zombie movies. It's kind of refreshing to see what's ostensibly a kid's movie turn out to have enough thought put into its plot to keep anyone guessing and entertained. And ParaNorman certainly does have a lot of thought. It's not lacking in laughs, either, as this is quite the humorous little movie, at times playing out like a satire of zombie and horror films. Other instances have it play things straight, and they're genuinely scary.

It's also nice to see a film like this one take its time developing its characters, their relationships, and its tone. All of the people in this main group are well-rounded, and you understand how they interact with each other before the zombies rise from the grave. The horror-comedy tone is also well-established. We don't just straight into the action with ParaNorman. While that might not satisfy some of the younger audience members, parents and older adolescents will be thankful.

ParaNorman looks fantastic, too, blending stop-motion animation with some that's computer animated to give it a unique look. It has been animated by the same studio that did Coraline, so you kind of know what to expect when it comes to the visuals. This film used a new technique for creating facial features, and it pays off in dividends. These faces look incredible, and the film is worth seeing for those alone. They're more expressive than pretty much any other stop-motion project ever.

Where ParaNorman goes wrong is in its ending, which is a huge anti-climax. It's built up as this great big thing, and then once you see it, you feel disappointed. I get the intent here -- most of the film is drama anyway, so having a more subdued climax makes sense -- but when there are these big set-pieces and the bad guy is built up to be so strong, and then it just doesn't add up to anything substantial, it's hard to not feel a little bit let down.

Some of the dialogue also feels a little bit easy and simple, especially with how complex the rest of the film is. Part of me liked this, as two of the lead characters are 11-year-old kids, and that's similar to how 11-year-old kids talk, but that's not an excuse for everyone else. Some characters are also walking clichés -- well-developed clichés, but when you get down to it, nothing more than that. The lunkhead jock and the popular cheerleader both come to mind right away.

It has some good voice acting, though, which is a plus. Kodi Smit-McPhee's really high-pitched whine didn't work in The Road, but it's effective here. Seeing Christopher Mintz-Plasse play the bully was a nice change, although I'm not sure if it quite worked all the way considering his voice is quite recognizable and doesn't really fit with the way the character was designed. As the clichés, Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck do fine. Tucker Albrizzi, easily the youngest of the main cast, gets the second most lines, and does a good job with them.

ParaNorman is an animated children's movie that's going to be more enjoyable for adults and older kids than it will for the ones of an age similar to its lead character. It takes its time to get going, is comfortable with conversations and silence to let the tone and horror sink in, and while it does have its share of action, it's not a start-to-finish thrill ride. It has a weak ending and some lackluster dialogue, but it's worth seeing for the animation alone. That a good film was built around this animation is fantastic.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:44 pm

Marie Antoinette
It's difficult to separate oneself from and overcrowded and very same-y genre like the costume drama. The typical movie will be about the relationships of the rich, upper class, where one character wants to maintain the status quo regardless of personal preference, while the other wants to be happy, and will often have an affair in order for this dream to become a reality. Marie Antoinette has that, to an extent -- especially in its second half -- but that's not really what defines it. That's refreshing. Now, if what did define it was worth seeing, we'd have a great movie.

The story of Marie Antoinette (portrayed here by Kirsten Dunst with about as much energy and enthusiasm as a brick wall) is well-known. Most people will have learned or at least heard of her during grade school. In Europe, her story is probably even more prominently featured. It's kind of refreshing to not need to know any of that in order to understand the movie. In fact, considering how many liberties director Sofia Coppola takes with the material, ignorance might actually be beneficial.

The basic idea here is that Marie is essentially sold to the Dauphin of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, looking overwhelmed by everything around him and showing about as much passion as Dunst), in order to produce an heir and hopefully sealing off an alliance between Austria and France. She's not used to this life, and that's something that takes up most of our time. She's a fish out of water, so to speak, and as a result is lonely and unhappy with her new life.

That's ... just about the entirety of the first half of Marie Antoinette. We see the same type of dreary day over and over again, and you can really understand why she wouldn't like this type of life. The film does a decent enough job making us care about Marie, although that will likely only be true of you've been in that type of position before, as the only hints you get from the movie are (1) Dunst looking dissatisfied and (2) the repetitive nature of the days Marie spends in this place.

Of course, her job is to provide Louis XVI with a child. He seems less than interested in having one. That means that everyone else has to constantly make comments about how Marie needs to do this, or the marriage could be annulled. Louis xVI's lack of interest is the only villain of the film's first half. Well, there's also a woman named Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), Louis XV's (Rip Torn) mistress, but she disappears early on and never does anything of interest. Not having a villain would be fine if these characters were interesting, but they're not at all.

That's the main reason that Marie Antoinette fails. There is such a lack of depth to these people that nothing matters when it comes to them. We want to see them grow, or at least have a reason to be on-screen for two hours, but for the majority of the film, this doesn't happen. Sure, with about 40 minutes remaining, things start to get a little interesting -- affairs and public disdain for Marie both come up -- but there's such a lack of content that it makes you wonder why most of this film was even shot.

I can kind of see what Coppola was going for here. She's going for a very stylistic take on the uninteresting part of Marie Antoinette's life. In doing so, the style can take center stage and not feel as if it's impeding on actual characters. We can get lavish sets, music from the 21st century, dialogue that sounds like it was written for present-day teenagers -- just without the profanity -- and all the sweets in the world.

I'll admit that it's kind of enchanting, and that the idea that Marie feels so isolated does come across very strongly, but with such a lack of content, I'm not sure if Marie Antoinette is worth seeing. I mean, style can take you quite far, but once you get past that, there's not a whole lot for the movie to do. It looks good, it has a lot of talent behind it, but the part of Marie's life that was portrayed here was not something that should have been given the feature-length treatment -- especially when in this case, "feature-length" means 127 minutes.

Both Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman, good actors, are miscast. They don't show any enthusiasm for the project. It works when they're together -- they're not supposed to have chemistry together -- but even when they're doing what supposedly makes them happy, they look bored. The supporting cast is much better, but not enough to elevate the film. Rip Ton, Judy Davis, Rose Byrne and Steve Coogan are all given roles, and they seem much more comfortable in these costumes and on these sets.

Marie Antoinette isn't a complete disaster, if only because its style almost makes it worth seeing, but due to the content being so dull and the main performances being so uninteresting, it's really hard to recommend it. The loneliness of its lead is well-communicated, and the film looks fantastic -- it's also moderately funny, so there's that, too -- but I'm not sure how worthwhile a more "modern" take on the pre-Revolution story of Marie's life truly is. It differentiates itself from other similar films, but its lack of interesting material makes it hard to recommend.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Apr 20, 2013 8:44 pm

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Don't believe the title of this film. You should definitely be afraid of the dark. Not because it's scary, but because it's a boring, time-waster of a movie. It opens moderately well, I suppose, although the kill sequence does relatively little to relate itself to the rest of the story, but after that it's not creepy, not terribly atmospheric -- not anything. It's just dull, producing the most uninspired scares possible, two of the least likable characters in recent movie history, and being completely void of anything interesting.

The opening kill involves a person hammering a chisel into the head of his housekeeper, removing her teeth soon afterward. And then he's killed. By what? You don't get to see right away, but it's by a group of creatures who look like a cross between Tinker Bell and a rat. It makes sense that they look like this, given that one of the minds behind the project is Guillermo del Toro. I don't think that's spoiling much. You know something's going to haunt whatever family eventually moves into this house; does it really matter what they look like? Besides, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark shows the creatures early on -- rarely in clear sight, but you still see them -- so it's not like they're a big secret.

Okay, we have a threat. Now all we need is for someone to move into the house and be terrorized. That role falls to a trio of people, two of whom have never met. The leading role actually falls to Bailee Madison, playing an 8-year-old girl named Sally. Sally's father, Alex (Guy Pearce), is dating an interior decorator named Kim (Katie Holmes), and together the couple are restoring and eventually selling an old home -- yes, the same home we saw earlier.

Eventually, Sally starts seeing things, but her parent and soon-to-be step-parent are too busy and uncaring to deal with it. Kim tries to care, but Sally's an anti-social brat, and doesn't take well to new people. This at least explains why Kim ends up feeling distant. Sally's father, on the other hand, is the kind of person you want to end up punching by the end of it. He's just so dismissive that it actually almost makes sense that his child wound up this way -- and no, I don't care that the two weren't living together prior to the film's beginning; he's that awful that he can affect her from miles away.

So, we've got a spoiled brat -- mental illness or not, she's portrayed as a spoiled brat and that's all that matters -- and uncaring father, and a woman so put off by the both of them that you have to wonder why she sticks around. At least I could sympathize with Kim. Living with these people would drive me a little bit insane, too.

How does any of this make for a good horror movie? At an early point, two of these three characters had put me off so much that I wanted to see them eaten by the tooth-fairy-things. I know, I know, that's a bad thing to hope to happen to a child, but I felt like she wasn't giving me much choice. Sally at least improves by the end of the film, becoming more sympathetic, especially as her pleas for help are increasingly ignored -- the whole "Cried Wolf" thing applies, I suppose. You know she's right in saying that these things exist, but her father won't listen to her. He's more of a bad guy here than the creatures.

There aren't many actual scares in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Nor are there many attempted. Jump scares are a foreign concept to director Troy Nixey, which I was actually happy with. They're cheap and they startle, not scare. But they at least show an attempt. The only attempt here is to build atmosphere, which works up to a point, but nothing is ever done with it and it eventually fizzles out into nothing. Wasted potential.

The creatures themselves look fine, whenever they're not being obscured by (1) the darkness, (2) the camera or (3) the editing. They're not exactly as unique as anything in Pan's Labyrinth, but they look fine. I understand why they're hidden for most of the time. The film's budget is relatively small, and the things you don't see are supposed to be scary. It doesn't work here, unfortunately, in large part because the creatures themselves aren't worth the effort to fear, but the principle applied is often sound.

Bailee Madison actually makes for an emotional lead actor, and certainly gets us to hate her in the earlier portions. I know Guy Pearce is deeply loved by lots of people, but I didn't like him here. He wasn't emotional or deep, and he had no chemistry with either other principal cast member. Katie Holmes wasn't terrible, but she wasn't as strong as she has been in previous films.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a bad horror movie. It's a complete waste of time from start to finish, lacks scares in every scene, and doesn't use any of the small amount of atmosphere it manages to build. The lead actor, the youngest, was actually the best, and it makes sense that Madison seems to appear in a boatload of films nowadays. She's good here, and if the film around her was just as strong, it might have been worth watching. It's a dull horror movie that you had might as well just forget.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Apr 21, 2013 8:43 pm

The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass is a film that seems as if it's going to build up to something fantastic, but fizzles out far before it reaches that point. Ending on a note that will only satisfy if a sequel is made ends up ruining the majority of what preceded it. I had fun with a lot of this movie, but by the end, I was hoping that something would actually happen. When the characters finally tell us that they're going to do that thing that they set out to do from the start, and then we fade to the credits, it's infuriating. I wanted to let The Golden Compass into my heart, but it shied away at the last minute, leaving cold in its place.

Our film, and the books on which it is based, takes place in an alternate universe, one where everyone has a daemon who represents that person's soul. It takes the form of an animal, or in the case of children, multiple animals, morphing whenever convenient. It doesn't "settle" until adulthood, presumably because it represents how easy it is to influence the mind of its person. It also makes the main character's daemon infinitely more valuable, as it can morph at will.

Our protagonist is Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan who spends her free time hanging out with the street kids despite living in and attending a very prestigious school. Her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), took her in and put her here, even though he's always off on an adventure. For instance, he's about to go into the far north in order to attempt to find out whether or not parallel universes exist, and whether or not people can reach them. He's science, and is almost murdered by the Magisterium, playing the role of the Church.

Inevitably, Lyra ends up setting out on a journey of her own. One of the street kids gets captured by a group of bandits, she herself is essentially kidnapped by an upper class lady named Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a polar bear (voiced by Ian McKellen) gets involved, and it all becomes one big, glorious mess by the end of it. Characters move from place to place, getting into trouble as they go, although not a whole lot really happens that has a major impact.

See, minor details and problems come up that need solving, but they're so incidental that they hardly matter. This is a big idea movie; it largely works because of those ideas, as well as its none-too-subtle stabs at the Church. It has a brain and thoughts, is what I'm getting at, and it has a massive overarching story that, when its destination is reached, should manage to make a profound impact simply because of its scope and because of those incidental details.

However, when we don't get to reach the finale, and we don't get to have any of that impact, those small plot threads don't wind up feeling like they matter. They become time wasters, obstacles which prohibited us, either because of time or budget, from getting to the real conclusion. They become something that draws out anger, not anything positive. We collect a group of characters, essentially an army, which leads us to believe there's going to be a war -- whenever it is that Lyra gets to the North, that is. When that never happens, it's a huge let down, and because it's the last thought in our minds as the credits roll, I was left with a negative overall taste for The Golden Compass.

The only positive I can come up with that I cannot shake is the special effects that went into creating it. There is some really good work done here, and it's almost a shame that this is the project into which it had to go. The creatures that the artists have come up with look amazing, and while it cost New Line $180 million, it's worth it. For the visuals alone, The Golden Compass is almost worth seeing.

The concept is a bigger draw than any one aspect, though, and for that, you can just read the books. They're not too long, and you won't feel disappointed because you have to stop in the middle of the story, unsure if you'll ever get to continue. The Golden Compass was a huge financial risk, and it's unlikely that we'll ever see a sequel to it. If one was guaranteed, I might be fine with the ending, but because one is doubtful to ever happen, it makes me feel sick.

The other high point is the actor playing Lyra, Dakota Blue Richards. She was picked in an open audition from over 10,000 possibles, and does a fantastic job in her first acting job ever. Lyra is the type of street-smart, tough kid that shouldn't be living where she does, and the contrast between the two is quite striking. And acting alongside CGI creatures can't have been easy, even for a seasoned actor, so you have to give her credit for that.

The Golden Compass is a mess without an ending, a film with big ideas but no way to harness them or focus them into something poignant. It might have worked in Philip Pullman's novels, but it doesn't work here. Cutting the story as soon as we start to get to the good part just makes the earlier moments feel wasteful. They lose their impact as a result, and it's hard to like the film on the whole. It looks good, has a lot of talent involved in its production, and a strong lead performance by its first-time child actor, but this is a dud and not worth your time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Apr 22, 2013 8:25 pm

Anything for Her
Anything for Her (Pour elle en Français) is a prison break movie, although like its title indicates, it's much more than that. It's far more concerned about a man's affection and devotion for his wife, and how far he'd be willing to go in order to rescue her from a prison that she's in despite vehemently pleading her innocence. He only has her word, against a mountain of evidence, but because of his love for her, it doesn't really matter if she did it. He believes her, and that's all that matters. Isn't that sweet?

Let's backtrack, much like the film does. It begins three years prior to the prison breakout, where we learn the events leading up to the imprisonment, and the toll it takes on each person. There are three main players here: Julien (Vincent Lindon), the determined husband; Lisa (Diane Kruger), the wife, charged with murder and is seen trying to wash a mysterious red spot from her coat just moments prior to her arrest; and Oscar (Lancelot Roch), the couple's child, who begins the film too young to comprehend the situation, but grows up wondering when mom's going to come home.

Fast forward a number of months and we see how Lisa's appeals have failed, and the emotional and physical impact it has taken on all parties. I don't want to spoil it, but her being in jail doesn't benefit anyone, believe me. We also get a flashback to the night of the incident, although it's left up to you whether or not what is depicted is what truly happened. The decision is soon made: Lisa must be broken out of jail. The only problem is that Julien is an everyman, and if he gets caught, his son will be without a home.

I don't think it's spoiling too much by saying that chase scenes happen after the prison break, and at this point it's more about whether or not the couple will be caught than about who did what to whom. As one character says: "It's not about escaping -- that's easy. The trouble is staying free." It's here when Anything for Her really gets exciting. They're on the run, you see, and any wrong turn could land both of them in jail. The stakes are high, and the final few scenes are incredibly tense as a result.

However, the genius of Anything for Her is that it doesn't just ramp the intensity up to 10 and leave it there; it allows for character moments, many of them, in fact, that make it a powerful drama as well as a tense thriller. You get that reunion between mother and son, and you feel the disconnect that three years has forced. It's tender and sweet and makes the movie more than just simple-minded thriller about a determined man attempting to rescue his wrongfully accused wife. Okay, even if that's all it was, the film would still probably work with a premise like that.

It doesn't take its time to get going, and once the plot starts, it takes a lot to get it stopped. This is good, as it builds momentum from beginning to finish, even though it gives us those human moments -- moments in which we can catch our breath and appreciate the parts that came before. Anything for Her doesn't exactly speed by; it savors the 97 minutes it's given and makes them count.

There are some good performances in Anything for Her. The lead is Vincent Lindon, a stoic man who might not have much emotional range, but his determination is enough to make you care for him. Diane Kruger gets the more emotional part as the woman struggling to cope with her prison sentence, and there's one scene here which is incredibly strong. Even the child actor, Lancelot Roch, playing the son, is quite good for a child actor, if that's saying anything.

Some of this doesn't work. There's an odd relationship between Julien and his parents that doesn't get enough time to brew -- and is not saved by the final scene they share together -- and there's an odd subplot involving a woman at the park that goes nowhere and only amounts to two scenes. Its inclusion baffles me. If it was to enhance the paranoia of the film, it failed, which is the same result if its intent was to do anything but pad running time. It's not like the woman was flirting with Julien and his dismissal of her was to show how faithful he was. And if that was the purpose, it wasn't executed very well.

I should mention now that the film is in French, and if you don't speak French, you'll have to read subtitles. Or, if you prefer, you could see a longer version, in English, titled The Next Three Days. It came out in 2010 (the same year Anything for Her was released on DVD in North America, presumably to make some money off the remake), and while it isn't as good -- it's bloated, is the main problem -- it's still enjoyable.

Anything for Her is a suspenseful thriller, one that slowly builds momentum until it's rolling hard and fast enough to crush any criticism one can levy against it. It gives you enough breaks for the drama to work and for you to reflect upon earlier moments, and it contains good performances by all three leading actors. This is a lean, mean thriller that's absolutely worth your time, as long as you speak French or don't mind reading subtitles. You'll be happy you did.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Apr 23, 2013 8:25 pm

The Sitter
The Sitter is the type of formulaic, unfunny and disappointing comedy that should never be released. It was clearly put on shelves for a while, as it was filmed prior to star Jonah Hill's noticeable weight loss, and on the shelves is where it likely should have remained. Because Adventures in Babysitting exists, The Sitter should not. It's as simple as that, really. The older film, starring Elisabeth Shue as the babysitter who has to go on an adventure, is heads and tails better than this one in every way, and until there are no more attainable copies of it, you should be ashamed if you choose to watch The Sitter instead.

The plot: Noah (Hill) is a nice guy who has plans for the night. Those plans are set askew when his mother asks him to babysit the neighbors' kids for the night. The kids misbehave, Noah decides to take them into town so that he buy cocaine and have sex with his girlfriend (Ari Graynor), and hilarity is supposed to ensue. Apart from the drugs and the copious amount of profanity, it could be the same movie as Adventures in Babysitting.

In fact, if not for the many four-lettered words, and a relatively graphic opening scene, The Sitter could have been rated PG-13, potentially appeal to more people, and maybe have been allowed to be more risky in breaking away from formula. But, swearing kids and swearing in front of kids is "in" right now, and you can't have a comedy like this one without drugs, so the R-rated affair is what we're stuck with. That's fine, I guess, and if it was funny, I wouldn't care. That is, however, the problem: The Sitter isn't funny.

At least it does a good job of differentiating the children so that we can always tell them apart. The oldest is Slater (Max Records), who has "issues," we're told. Sure, he does. He's neurotic and suffers from anxiety, although these are things that only pop up when it's convenient. The next is Blithe (Landry Bender), who believes she's a Hollywood starlet. Finally, there's an adopted Puerto Rican named Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), who enjoys lighting things on fire and blowing up toilets.

The star of the film comes in the form of a drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell), who makes sure to tell us that his name is spelled with a "k" and not a "c." It matters. He gets to be the star simply because Sam Rockwell can outshine most actors in a star-studded film, let alone one with a cast consisting of Jonah Hill and nobody else with an instantly recognizable name. Rockwell is introduced early enough, and every time he appears afterward reminds us that the film should have been about him, not about some young adult and miserable children.

You can only imagine the hijinks that these characters get up to. Drugs come into play more often than not, presumably because Sam Rockwell needed to be in the film a greater amount and that's the only way the filmmakers could accomplish that. But, each quirk the kids have will do this: Cause trouble at least once, and save Noah from trouble at least once. Yes, even blowing up toiled seats can be a saving grace. And funny, apparently, because -- yeah, it's funny. Sure.

The entire project is formulaic from start to finish. As soon as a scene starts, you know how it's going to end. The same can be said of the film as a whole, which has barely been stretched out to feature length. It runs just for 81 minutes, and contains maybe 10 minutes of ideas within that running time. It would work better as a skit, or if more creative people were behind it. Hey, Elisabeth Shue can't be too busy; why not bring her back for a sequel? Even Adventures in Babysitting director Chris Columbus could have been available. Why didn't that happen?

The Sitter really feels like a director-for-hire project for director David Gordon Green, who has immense talent for drama and has been funny in the past. Pineapple Express is the film most audiences will know him for, and I even liked Your Highness the first time I saw it (a re-watch, however, proved less than desirable returns). Here, however, he brings nothing special to the project, and I hope that he will use the cash to fund another film of the caliber of Snow Angels or All the Real Girls.

If there's one thing to be celebrated from this unfunny mess, it's the potential that a couple of the child actors showed. While I didn't like Max Records' apathetic approach, both Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez showed enthusiasm and strong comedic timing -- even besting Jonah Hill a good chunk of the time. If nothing else, should they wish to pursue a career in the industry, they both might have what it takes.

The Sitter is an Adventures in Babysitting knockoff that, as long as the original exists, should not be sought out for any reason other than an example of how not to do it. It's a director-for-hire project, one in which nobody cares about it as long as everyone gets paid. To that end, I hope the contracts included guaranteed payment, just so that whatever money these people make will go into bigger and better things. Skip this movie, and remember that sometimes good and smart people make bad decisions. This is one of them.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:01 pm

Eden Lake
Eden Lake: The horror film about lower-class teenage kids torturing and attempting to kill a couple of upper-class individuals who just want a nice vacation at a beautiful lake. I suppose that sounds like a fun use of your 90 minutes, doesn't it? Well, it's not. It's not fun at all. It's brutal, really; a film that plays with your emotions and leaves your gut feeling like it has just been punched. Despite having many of your typical horror movie clichés, it stays away from a generic ending and also, for most of its running time, feels fresh.

The couple consists of a school teacher named Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and her boyfriend, Steve (Michael Fassbender). He's been to this beach before, and believes it to be the perfect place to propose. After a few hours of leisure, some teenagers show up, blasting their music and allowing their dog to roam free. This is obviously a nuisance to the couple, so Steve, being the manly man that he is, tries to confront them. This fails, but after a rather uncomfortable conversation and some time later, the teenagers leave, and everything seems to be back to normal.

Little do these two people know that the next day will be the worst (and possibly last) of their lives. A glass bottle is placed under their car's tire. The car is later stolen. Another confrontation occurs. The dog dies. Now it's on: The teenagers want revenge, and the only way they're going to get it is by killing both of these people. Here's your horror film, children. Get it while it's hot. And preferably during a day that won't be ruined by a movie. Because that's a possibility if you watch Eden Lake.

This is not a fun experience. It is awful for the couple, and while it's not quite as bad for you, it's still unpleasant. Many of the scenes are incredibly grizzly, and if you're at all squeamish, you might have to turn away a few times as Eden Lake plays. There is one scene in particular, one of torture, that is so graphic that you wonder if showing absolutely everything is worth the audience wanting to stop watching. You can argue that this is the most effective way to do horror.

I'm not sure if Eden Lake is about class structures, but that's what it seems like to me. The couple is upper-middle class, and seem to be entitled. They tell the locals to turn down their music and scram, and don't treat anyone else with a lot of respect. The teenagers are all lower-class, and are standing up for themselves here. Thinking about it in this manner almost makes the teenagers, in a way, the heroes of the story, which is most certainly not how they're presented on a non-theological level.

The way the film plays out makes us root for and care about Jenny and Steve. They are our protagonists, after all, and they're giving the sympathetic moments. The teenagers, on the other hand, are (almost) all remorseless villains. They're pure evil, perhaps using pent-up rage and taking it all out on these two people. Excessive? Sure. But understandable, I suppose, depending on how you look at it.

Mostly, this is a film where people chase after other people, and when the first group catches anyone from the second, bad things happen. It's unpleasant, it sometimes hurts right in the feel-bads, and it's very gory. It all leads up to an ending which is kind of surprising, but if you've seen enough of these kinds of films, you'll see it coming. Still, it's not your typical Hollywood ending -- not that it's a Hollywood production, anyway, being made in the UK -- and at least feels somewhat fresh in the slew of happy-go-lucky conclusions to otherwise dark horror movies.

Kelly Reilly is more the lead than Michael Fassbender is. She gets a much larger amount of screen time, and acts far more like the hero. The film may not be an argument for female empowerment, but it certainly doesn't have a weak female lead. There's only one other major female role, which goes to Finn Atkins, playing one of the teenagers -- the one who is tasked with filming the entire incident and nothing else, presumably because the leader, Brett (Jack O'Connell), doesn't trust her to do it right.

Reilly is a good actor, and she's strong here, having to play both scared and determined, obnoxious and threatened. All of the teenagers make you feel one thing: disgust. You will most definitely grow to hate them as Eden Lake progresses, especially after seeing some of the things they do to our lead characters, with little justifiable reason. If actors can make you feel this must disdain, they must be doing something right. Fassbender is reliable but unspectacular as the boyfriend, although his torture scene in almost unbearable.

Eden Lake is a brutal and effective horror movie, although it isn't so much scary as it is unsettling due to its violence and general disdain for our lead characters. You get emotionally involved in it not because you like the protagonists, but because of how much you despise the villains. It's not a lot of fun, and it's a movie that could ruin a perfectly good day, but if you're a horror fan looking for something a little bit different and definitely disturbing, it's well worth watching.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:39 pm

Pain & Gain
Is there any director who makes financially successful movies that gets more disdain that Michael Bay? I can't think of one if there is. Pain & Gain represents a different direction for the explosion king, turning a "true story" into a relatively low budget -- given the director, anyway -- dark comedy about finding, or perhaps cheating, the American Dream. I'm not sure if it's good, exactly, but I do believe it's worth seeing.

The basic plot is simple: Three bodybuilders, Daniel (Mark Wahlberg), Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson) decide to kidnap and extort a very rich man (Tony Shalhoub) in an attempt to improve their lives exponentially, because having lots of money is the only way to go about that. They want to live rich and without worries. They want to live the American Dream. They believe that because they've put so much work into their bodies, they deserve to live prosperously. They don't want anything more than that, or so they say. Suffice to say that things don't go exactly as planned. If they did, we'd have a much different movie.

We might also have a better movie. It's odd, but I think that if the gang was successful and all we got to see for the rest of the film -- which would, as a result, be a lot shorter, something that would have been beneficial -- was how they lived their lives after acquiring all the money they need, the point of the film would still be made, and we wouldn't have to go through a second ill-conceived theft and the film wouldn't have started to drag.

But, alas, that's not what we get. The film is based on a true story, after all, which is something that pops up in big, bold letters during one of the man freeze-frame shots in Pain & Gain. "Yes, this is a true story," it reminds us. "Unfortunately," it said earlier. Indeed, these three men, and their victims, all exist or existed, and from all accounts the film is an accurate enough portrayal of the few months in the lives of these people, two of whom are currently on death row.

Does that make Pain & Gain disrespectful? The protagonists are the criminals, the antagonists are the victims, and nobody -- nobody but a private detective played by Ed Harris -- comes off well. Many of the antics of our bodybuilders are played for laughs, and when you consider that the film is trying to make us laugh when, say, body parts are being chopped up with an ax, and that those body parts are representing people who really lived, it's comes across as incredibly impolite, to say the least. It's true that much of the film is funny, but it'll be up to you to determine whether or not the laughter is disrespectful to the real-life victims.

There aren't many explosions in this movie. There is one, and it is big -- and the type that a Wahlberg character previously parodied in The Other Guys -- but that's all. Apart from that, the film focuses primarily on the characters doing stupid, funny, or depraved things. Many of these moments ultimately don't matter, which is why Pain & Gain sometimes feels like it drags, but the pacing is generally solid and there's not a lot of downtime when you're watching it. It's only afterward when you'll think "What was the point of that?" and come up blank.

Stylistically, Pain & Gain looks different from most other films, if only because you'll feel like you're constantly looking up at the actors. What felt like at least three-quarters of the film was shot from a low-angle viewpoint, because Wahlberg, Mackie and Johnson definitely need to appear larger, right? The answer to that is an emphatic "no," by the way; they're all huge regardless of what angle you're using to look at them.

It would have been nice if the low-angle shot would have been used for a reason, to say something, instead of just because Bay liked it. For instance, having a lot of low-angle shots when the characters feel larger than life, but normal or even high-angle shots when the opposite is true. Something like that would have improved the depth and would have provided an actual reason for this change from the norm.

There are also a lot of freeze-frames, slow motion shots, an extremely saturated color palette, and a great deal of voice-over narration. The character providing this narration changes depending on the scene, and what will either give us the most information, or what Bay thinks will be funniest. A lot of the time the narration doesn't add anything, but I'll admit to laughing at it more than once. Providing the most laughs is Dwayne Johnson, a (supposedly) deeply religious man who is also a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict. I'll let you picture exactly what that amounts to on-screen.

I'm very torn when it comes to Pain & Gain. On one hand, it's a relatively well-paced adaptation of a true story, one that's funny and has some social criticism to go along with that. It also represents a much-needed change for Michael Bay, and a reminder that he can get a touch smarter than his work on Transformers -- although not smart enough to actually do something clever with his overuse of low-angle shots. On the other hand, it's definitely too long, and would have been much more effective if it had changed up the story to flow better as a narrative. It's also difficult to take in and laugh with considering that the victims shown in the film were real people. Is Pain & Gain good? I'm not sure, but it's definitely interesting and I recommend checking it out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:45 pm

First Blood
Sylvester Stallone is someone who is at his best when he's doing action scenes, not while he's talking. He's a physical actor, someone who is always in tip-top shape. He seems to do a lot of his own stunts, and he's believable in them. In fact, because of his physique, he makes the impossible feel probable, and this is one of the reasons that First Blood works as well as it is. Its only real problem comes from whenever Stallone has to deliver more than a one-line acknowledgment.

Stallone plays John Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran, someone who was affected mentally by his experience over there. He was in the Special Forces, but is now drifting from place to place, not really knowing what to do with himself. At the beginning of the film, he finds himself approaching the small town of Hope, and is placed under arrest by and overzealous sheriff (Brian Dennehy), despite not having done anything wrong. Rambo is never really all that cooperative, and after being bullied by the cops, he decides that enough is enough, breaking out of the police station and running into the forest, where much of the movie takes place.

It's one man against an entire army -- eventually, anyway, after the local force is unable to stop him -- and that's how the rest of the film plays out. We learn from his boss and Colonel (Richard Crenna) that he might be the most dangerous man alive, as he was trained to survive in situations like this. He's in hostile territory and he has to live off the land -- that kind of thing.

This is despite him initially not doing a single thing wrong. He was provoked, like an animal backed into the corner. There's an emotional connection present here, as we know that Rambo had no reason to be arrested. He's been mistreated, and that he's a war veteran whose life has been severely impacted by his service only adds onto the empathy we feel. We get small flashbacks early on when situations arise that remind him of some of the horrors he faced in Vietnam. Rambo is quite a sympathetic character in this film, and Stallone doesn't even have to do much acting for that to happen.

In fact, it's when he does try to really act when the film starts to take a turn for the worst. At the end of the film, he delivers a long monologue revealing things we'd already picked up over the course of the film, and it just slows the whole thing down. I get it. We need a climax and having him explain how messed up he is makes sense. But it doesn't work when Stallone is murmuring this monologue, keeping the same stoic face that he's had for the film's entirety.

This actually differs from the book on which First Blood is based. That's fine, as that ending was a whole lot more depressing, although I still found this monologue unnecessary. It's not even that Stallone's delivery is poor; it's more the fact that we've already come to understand everything he tells us. The earlier parts of the film imply pretty much everything he goes on about in this last speech, rendering it redundant. Now, if it was particularly powerful, or if Stallone could pull it off, maybe it would have worked. However, it does absolutely nothing for the film and I would have greatly preferred it to have been left out, or at least trimmed to the bare minimum.

That's really the only major problem facing First Blood. The rest of the film is a tight, action-packed experience, one for the ages. It works almost as well as a psychological thriller as it does an action film. It has some fantastic sequences of action, as well as some troubling character moments. Sometimes these overlap to create brilliance. There is never a dull moment until the end, and despite it being unrealistic at times, we believe in it because Stallone sells the action scenes so well.

Is it really possible for about half of the things in First Blood to happen? Probably not. Does that matter when we're watching the film? Absolutely not. As a physical actor, Stallone is top-notch. He single-handedly makes us believe that his character can pull off everything that happens in the film. It's not just that he's in great shape, although that helps. He doesn't seem afraid to take a bump every now and then, which allows his character to be more human that invincible, which helps us buy these moments of implausibility.

Stallone is easily out-acted by both other prominent players, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna, both of whom have the ability to steal scenes. Dennehy's obsessive cop persona makes him an effective villain, and while Crenna doesn't get a lot of time on-screen, he does a great job with it.

First Blood is an excellent movie that's only let down by its final few moments. As it leads up to this point, however, it is so enjoyable, so well-made, that you have to forgive it for that misstep. It's an amazing action film, but also quite a strong psychological thriller about a man traumatized by his experience in Vietnam. Placing him as an underdog, having to fight a battle he didn't want is brilliant. Stallone sells the action scenes, and it's just too bad that he had to talk a lot at the end. That's the only notable flaw of First Blood.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by PayJ on Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:21 pm

I thought the monologue at the end was excellent. Really made the film for me.

It also makes the 3rd one even better when shit just gets ridiculous.

"God would show mercy"

Unbeatable line.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Apr 26, 2013 10:25 pm

I probably wouldn't have such a problem with it if it wasn't Stallone delivering it.

He just ... really shouldn't say more than one line at a time.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:50 pm

Rambo: First Blood Part II
I can see what the filmmakers were going for with Rambo: First Blood Part II. The first film introduced us to the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a Vietnam War veteran and someone who was most definitely suffering the effects of participating in that war. In this film, he's made to return to Vietnam, the place that scarred him so effectively and viciously. First Blood worked so well as both an action film and a psychological thriller, so ramping up the second aspect by having him confront the place on Earth that scarred him makes sense.

That's not actually the movie we get, but at least the potential was there for it to happen. I'm not sure why that isn't the route that the filmmakers took with this installment, but they didn't. There's no psychological aspect to First Blood Part II. None. We don't know what Rambo is thinking at any given moment, and we don't really care. He's in the jungle, there are people to kill and other people to rescue, and nothing else matters. There's a large part of me that's really disappointed by this, but another part -- a far more juvenile one -- that thinks making a terribly uncharismatic action hero just kill the bad guys and nothing else isn't a bad plan.

So, yes, Rambo goes to Vietnam, explicitly told by the task force leader (Charles Napier) that he is not to engage the enemy. In fact, we don't even know what he's going to find. There's a chance that he'll find Prisoners of War (POWs), but there's also a chance that he'll see nothing. If he finds anything important, he's to take a picture and then be extracted; he can't rescue them, much to his dismay.

Does anyone think that would fly with an audience? "Yes, we're going to send our killing machine into enemy territory, but we're not going to have him kill anybody." I don't think so. Suffice to say that it does, eventually, become an action film, and Rambo does, indeed, kill bad guys. There are POWs in an encampment, and they need rescuing. Lots of gunfire fights happen, let me tell you, and there's even a twist midway through -- of sorts, at least.

It's hard to call it a real twist, because if you don't see it coming, you need to pay more attention to the way people act. It allows the film to go on longer, as Rambo needs to get revenge on the person or people who betray him, as well as saving the day, killing all the bad guys, rescuing the POWs, and so on. He's got a lot of things to do, really, and he's only one man. He's actually got a sidekick this time around in the form of a local named Co-Bao (Julia Nickson), who actually serves somewhat like a love interest.

Their relationship is also the only one that's developed at all in the film. The first film showed us how Rambo was affected by his time in the Special Forces, and he was sympathetic as a result. He didn't really grow as a character, but at least he was a believable character and had some depth to him. Here, he's pretty much just a tool of destruction. As a result, First Blood Part II is a pure action film.

I'm almost okay with that. It means that all Stallone has to do is be in good shape, perform the action scenes well, and let the better dramatic actors deliver all of the key lines. If he grunts acknowledgment of barks orders every now and then, that's fine. However, this makes First Blood Part II far shallower and less fulfilling than its predecessor. There was some meat on the bones of First Blood, but this one is far more simple-minded. There's nothing to think about here, and even the one relationship it develops is ended rather abruptly.

I won't say it isn't entertaining. Many of the action scenes rival those of the first one, and if that's all you're looking for, you won't have a bad time. Stallone is still in great shape, and he still manages to make you believe the impossible. The villain is more "evil," so to speak, and you want him to lose, although the one in the first film was more fun. Putting Rambo with an almost equally competent partner is a good decision, too, although it means they occasionally have to speak, and that means Stallone has to deliver dialogue.

Everyone in the film has the potential to out-act Stallone in dramatic scenes. That's not why he's part of this project. He's there to be the action guy. It's the same thing that happened in the first film. This formula works well. Something I haven't yet mentioned is that Richard Crenna returns as Colonel Trautman, who spends most of the film at the side of Napier's character. Those two are juxtaposed with Rambo's forest situation; they provide the drama and he provides the action.

Rambo: First Blood Part II is still a fun movie, and if you're a fan of Stallone's character, you'll probably still enjoy him killing a bunch of bad guys. The film serves as a giant missed opportunity, but as it is, it's a passable action movie that never stops being entertaining, even if there's absolutely nothing below the surface. It's not the classic that First Blood is, but it has a main character who is best suited to just go into enemy territory and engage in action scenes. That's what happens, and I did, on the whole, have a good time with it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:40 pm

Rambo III
Rambo: First Blood Part II marks one of the biggest missed opportunities that I can think of when it comes to the movies. It manages to still make for a mostly enjoyable experience, though. Rambo III comes along and makes even more mistakes than the second installment in the series. It, however, has a greater difficulty overcoming them. Don't get me wrong, about half of Rambo III is a lot of fun, but you have to trudge through so much junk to get to the fun part that by the time you're there, you feel defeated.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), hero of the first two films in the series, is finally content with his life. He's living in Thailand, and has finally made peace with all of his demons, and plans on just living out the rest of his days. Granted, he's not really just sitting back as a retired man; he's working and engaging in stick fighting, and all sorts of things. Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), the only other actor to appear in all three Rambo films, approaches him with a job. Rambo refuses, Trautman goes ahead with it anyway and gets captured, so Rambo's new goal is to rescue him.

The film takes place during a war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The villains are the Soviets, and the rebels of Afghanistan aid Rambo in his quest to save the man who seems like he's Rambo's only friend. The problem with this story approach is that it takes about 50 minutes -- of a 100 minute film -- for any real action to occur. Stallone has to carry us dramatically for this first portion, and he's so dull that this simply can't work.

Stallone is here for the action scenes. That's one of the best parts about First Blood Part II: it understood that he wasn't there to talk; he was there to shoot guns and bows and to stab people with knives. This film wants us to spend 50 minutes with him and some Afghan rebels before any action starts. Stallone can't pull it off. He has no charisma, no ability to deliver lines, and absolutely no reason to try when he's so good at performing the action scenes.

The result is two-fold. First, we are reminded that Rambo is one of the least enjoyable action movie heroes ever. He doesn't crack a smile even once, and he doesn't show any emotion. He's just dull. The second is a boring first half of the film. It simply lost my interest. We get a kind of fun stick fighting scene to open the movie, and then nothing until the 50-minute mark. Even that's not so much action as a slaughter from above with bombs. It still takes a bit from there for Rambo to do anything of interest.

It's not even Stallone's lack of acting chops or his delivery; the character is written very blandly and there isn't even any development during this time. The first two films didn't really develop Rambo, either, but they didn't have him sit on a horse for their first halves. Here, he's given the perfect chance to let us know what he's thinking, what he's feeling, and how he's changed over the films in which we've seen him. He could have retroactively grown as a character, actually improving the last two movies. But that doesn't happen. He says nothing of consequence. Another wasted opportunity.

The action scenes, once they start, don't stop until the end. It's relentless, and if I wasn't so put off by the first half of Rambo III, I probably would have loved them. Once he reaches the place he needs to be, the shooting starts and the film suddenly gets really good. It took a long time to win me back, though, as the first half is so bad. Eventually, it succeeded, and I can't call it a complete waste of time as a result.

That isn't to say that the action scenes made me forgive the first 50 minutes, as it was only with about 15 minutes to go that I finally realized I was having fun again, but I can say that it's not a complete bore of a movie that's worth skipping even if you love the character (somehow). I was prepared to, but because the action is so good -- I might want to say it contains some scenes that are better than anything in the rest of the series -- it's still possibly worth watching. Just be prepared to do something else while Stallone is talking to random people about nothing in particular. I suggest picturing a better actor delivering the lines. Or imagining explosions constantly going off in the background. Explosions improve everything, right?

It was quite nice, after three movies, to finally see Richard Crenna get in on the action. If there's one reason to see Rambo III, it's for that. He looks like he's having fun, and he gets to be in almost every scene after the midway point. He and Stallone make for a decent team, and actually seem to have something similar to chemistry together.

Rambo III contains two distinct halves. The first is one that you'll have to trudge through, possibly using the visualization techniques you use to make your weekly office meeting more exciting. The second is an action-packed blast with some of the most exciting action scenes in the series. Sure, it's another missed opportunity, and I don't know if I can really recommend a movie that's awful for 1/2 of its running time, but at least there's a silver lining to the disaster that is the first half.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Apr 29, 2013 10:51 pm

Rambo
Rambo is one of the most violent films I have ever seen. Its climax, which involves at least 100 deaths, is frightening. Some of the scenes earlier on made me turn my head, which is something that I don't often do with movies. If nothing else, Sylvester Stallone has made his point: the problems in Burma are awful. The film portrays an ongoing war -- some call it a genocide, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree -- between the military and the rebels, and drops Rambo and a group of mercenaries and missionaries in the middle of it.

That's way oversimplifying things, but that's the gist of it. John Rambo (Stallone) has been living peacefully in Thailand, presumably since the finale to Rambo III two decades ago, although he appears much the same as he did then. He's approached by missionaries who want him to take them to Berma using his boat. The two main ones of the group are Michael (Paul Shultze) and Sarah (Julie Benz). Rambo goes along with it because of Sarah, although his reason for doing so isn't really made clear.

They wind up getting captured, so missionaries also approach Rambo and ask for a ride. He winds up tagging along, and before you know it, we've got an incredibly bloody battlefield. It takes about one-third of the movie for the missionaries to show up, by the way, so don't go in expecting the action to start right away. Now, that's not to say that the film isn't graphic up to this point, as it most certainly is. It's just that it's all one-sided, with the bad guys doing all the slaughtering. Rambo, the killing machine, hasn't yet entered the fray.

Rambo is actually very heavy-handed in its approach in portraying the problems of Burma. There is no joy here -- which fits perfectly with Rambo, as he's never happy, either -- and almost every scene involving the villains makes you hate them. It's such a feel-bad experience for most of its running time. That doesn't make it a bad movie, but if you're coming into it hoping for a cathartic experience, you aren't going to leave very happy.

Even once we get to the scene that could easily be cathartic, it doesn't turn out that way. The message hits home: killing isn't fun, isn't good, and it's hard to take joy from it. You expect to come out of this scene completely satisfied that you just watched a hundred nameless soldiers take multiple bullets to their body, but that's not what happens. The film is so violent, so graphic, that it's just horrifying. It leaves an impact on you, and it feels the most realistic of the Rambo films. save for one scene that has Rambo attempting to outrun what equates to a miniature nuclear bomb.

Rambo, as a character, has learned throughout the past movies that the only thing he's good at is killing. It makes sense that he's always unhappy, except for in the action scenes, where his face at least moves to being more apathetic than scowling. By the end of this movie, his character has actually come full circle, and the film ends without the promise or need for another installment. Stallone is getting old, anyway, and I don't know if he's going to be up for a fifth film.

With that said, he's perfectly fine here. He got back into amazing shape -- although he always seems to be quite fit -- and despite being into his 60s, has no problem keeping up and surpassing the younger actors with whom he's paired. He's always been at his best as a physical actor, and even at the point when most actors slow down, he's out here doing this movie. Did he do all of his own stunts? It certainly seemed like it. I believed in him as an action hero.

Stallone was also the director of Rambo, having starred in and helped write the screenplay for the previous films. Here, he wants to make a message film, as well as making his character a much more brooding person. He's reflecting on his life for a lot of the film, or, at least, that's what I'm guessing. Stallone isn't a good enough actor to properly convey that, but given the tone and themes of the rest of the film, this is the only logical conclusion I can come up with. He's luckily not given any long monologues here, as the better actors are given most of the dialogue.

"Better" is not a term I can use for Julie Benz in this film, who almost single-handedly made me want to stop watching the climax -- yes, more so than all of the violence combined. There are only so many times one can scream and cover one's ears before it starts to get irritating. She does it about a dozen times during this scene. Nothing else; she just sits there and does that. Even one of the preachers, who was previously a stronger proponent of anti-violence, becomes helpful. A glance exchanged at the end between her and Rambo is supposed to be revelatory; I couldn't tell what either was thinking or feeling, making it meaningless.

Rambo is a film that makes you feel something: disgust. It's much more about making you experience that than it is about anything else, and because that's its goal, it is a successful film. It also brings the character of John Rambo full circle, even if that circle is very small and not very important. It is action-packed, and incredibly violent, and I will recommend it because it accomplishes all of the goals it sets out to achieve.
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