Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Movies - Overrated Part II


I was really looking forward to The Master.I like Paul Thomas Anderson quite a bit. There are scenes in Magnolia that have drilled their way into my head. Punch Drunk Love is easily the best Adam Sandler movie. I don't know if I fully appreciated There Will Be Blood, but Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable.

Anderson gets great performances. Even Marky Mark's wang is impressive under his direction. So with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix starring, you knew the leads would be great. And they are. Give Joaquin the nom for best actor (though the award to someone else I just mentioned). The processing scene (if you've seen it, it's the one where Phoenix can't blink or they start over) is brilliant, and both Phoenix and Hoffman shine. There are other things that Phoenix does in the movie where you can tell that he's totally immersed in the work. There's something brilliant happening.

That's the problem. The word "something." Because even though everyone in this movie is totally in the movie, totally in the moment, I have NO IDEA what it's about. I don't know what happened and/or why. Clearly, there's something related to Scientology. But what? What's the point? What's the message? What's the plot? Is it possible that PTA had this idea for a movie but didn't want to get involved with the litigation of Scientology?

That has to be the only explanation. The Master feels like you're watching someone else's inside joke. They're totally in on it, but there's no way you'll understand. And even if they can explain it, they weren't there. You know? This is a drag.

Silver Linings Playbook is getting a lot of Oscar talk, and that needs to stop. People are talking about Oscar noms for the two lead roles, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who makes her second appearance on my overrated list. I thought both were bland in their roles.

In fact, take a look at the movie poster that I've placed over to the right. Look at their half faces. They are both showing more charisma in the poster than they did in the movie.

I had problems with the end. (Vagueness ahead to avoid spoilers) The choice made at the end is too easy. Given everything else happening in the final scene, given everything else leading up to the final scene, I just don't see him making that decision. It's not even that one decision is clearly right or clearly wrong to the viewer and we can see he made the right decision.

Most likely, though, my biggest problem with the movie is that you have to root for the Philadelphia Eagles in order to root for this family. And that's a line I just won't cross.

As I've mentioned with a few of these, Life of Pi is a good movie. Visually, it's brilliant. Storywise, it's a bit slow. Character wise, the tiger is probably more interesting than Pi. On the raft, at least.

Pi is actually an interesting character in the lead up. The way he deals with religion is fascinating, and I actually want to see a movie about that character who makes it safely to Canada without having to share a raft with a tiger.

On the raft, as I mentioned, things are visually spectacular. I saw it in 3D (a rare moment of weakness, I know). The theory is that in 3D you really get the depth of the small raft and just how close these two are as they make their way across the ocean. I don't think it added anything to it (as is typical for 3D), and I would have been just fine without it.

But how much time can you really spend on a raft? With a tiger? Not as much as they gave to Life of Pi. There's a reason why Tom Hanks is on the raft with Wilson for just a few minutes. That's just not as interesting.

One final problem I had is that it contains a fatal flaw. In a movie, book, TV show - whatever - you can't start by telling the reader/viewer how much they're going to like the story. The best joke is the joke that you don't know is a joke until you hear the punchline. How many funny jokes start with, "Here's a funny joke." Because then you've raised expectations too high.

Life of Pi starts by basically telling us that this story is going to be amazing. But even worse, here's how they say it. "He said you had a story that would make me believe in God." If that book with the talking snake didn't do that, the tiger on the raft won't either.

And that brings me to the last movie I saw in 2012. Before I get into it and start getting my fictional Facebook dislike button pressed, answer this question to yourself. Did you really like Les Misérables, or did you really like the music?

Back in high school band, we played a Les Misérables medley. With that, I got to know some of the music pretty well, as one does when one plays a song over and over. I didn't get to know any of the words, though, as one doesn't when one plays a song over and over. And I did grow to enjoy the music.

On on middle school Washington, D.C. and New York trip that I lead, we go to see a Broadway show on one of the evenings. One year, we saw Les Misérables. I remember enjoying that much, much more than Phantom of the Opera, Legally Blonde, or that really crappy ABBA thing. I remember being impressed by the sets and how something so big fit on the small stage. And I did enjoy the music.

I can't remember exactly how long ago I started seeing the trailer for Les Misérables, but when you watch as many movies as I do, you see many trailers over and over. It feature Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed a Dream. And you know what? That's a really pretty song. It's beautiful, in fact. And it's an emotional song. And it's super-duper catchy.  And I would continue to hum or whistle it the rest of the day. I would sing it, but I don't really know the words. I think it goes something like this. "I dreamed a dream of dreams and dreams. I have a dream today of dreaming. Free at last, oh free at last. I dreamed a dream, we're free at last."

So that little ear worm actually got me to the point where I was anticipating the movie and looking forward to it. But something on a stage just doesn't translate to something on the big screen.

Director Tom Hooper made a bizarre decision, I think. During many of the big solo songs, he filmed the actors (and I make the distinction between actors and singers, which I'll get to in a moment) in an extreme close-up of their faces. I guess the reasoning is that on stage you can't see the expressions on their faces, so this will give them something different.

When you give a long, extended close-up of someone singing emotionally and trying to cry, their nose runs. And it's a bit gross to see this clear line of 10 feet of booger running into a gigantic mouth. Try not to look at it while Marius sings with his Muppet voice.

This extreme close-up idea probably works best in the previously mentioned I Dreamed a Dream. It is a very emotional song, and Hathaway does a good job with most of it. But it ultimately didn't work for me for two reasons. The first is that she's an actress, not really a singer. So she's trying harder to act than to sing. The song suffers when she forces the louder parts.

But more importantly, Hathaway performs the song soon in the movie after getting her hair cut off. And there's an extreme close-up on her face for an extended period of time. And she cries a bit. And I couldn't think of anything except THIS. Nothing compares 2 it.

Russell Crowe. Here's what I thought everytime he would sing. "It's a good thing Gladiator wasn't a musical." He's rather awful.

Hugh Jackman. Here's what I thought everytime he would sing. "Maybe Wolverine should have been a musical." He's actually pretty good. His character of Jean Valjean proves that in 19th century France, money can't buy happiness. But it can buy a toothbrush.

Amanda Seyfried. It makes sense that she was cast as Anne Hathaway's daughter. They both have those creepy, oversize, bulbous, horse-eyes on the sides of their heads.

The absolute best performance of the movie is Samantha Barks as Eponine with On My Own. She's clearly the most talented singer. A quick bit of research shows why. She actually performed it on stage. And finding that bit of information makes me wish that they would make a version of this movie with an actual stage cast and a different director.

I think it needs a few more changes, as well. It needs to be edited down. On Broadway, we mercifully have an intermission. The movie is way too long. In that version we played in high school, the medley ends with Do You Hear the People Sing? When I heard the people sing that, I was really hoping the movie was about to end as well. Nope. I continued to hear the people sing for quite a long time after.

I was also turned off by the "dialogue" between the big numbers. They sing the lines. Sort of. They certainly aren't saying the lines. On stage, it works. On the screen, it's annoying.

Here's the deal with Les Misérables. As I write this, I'm still whistling the music. And I have been for the day and a half since I saw it. I like the music. I don't like the movie.

2012 Movies - Overrated, Part I

These aren't bad movies. Some of them are even quite good. You have probably heard of them. You have probably heard someone else say how great they are. They are on other people's top ten lists. Those people are wrong.

Movies are made for certain audiences. I don't just mean movies for kids, tweens, women, men, or hermaphrodites. I mean for people who have had certain experiences. I don't always know what those experiences are, but there's an easy way to identify those movies. Many people will simply say that they just didn't get it. Not in the lack of comprehension of the plot, but they just didn't get why other people liked it. The example I always think of is Lost in Translation. I don't know exactly what it was, but it resurfaces when you watch the movie.

The Grey is an example of a movie that I saw but DIDN'T experience whatever it was I was supposed to experience. These guys walk through the snow while being stalked by wolves. I've read reviews and lists of people who absolutely loved it and felt a deep connection with Liam Neeson's character. They understood his relationship with faith and some sort of God. I just never got it. It didn't connect with me. But there was something else that pulled me out of the movie.

Early on, one of the characters talks about the myth that more people are alive today that have ever existed on the Earth. I spent the next several minutes just trying to do some math in my head. It just didn't add up. Also, I was pretty sure that I had heard that myth debunked before. So when I got home, I had to check it out. It turns out that using science and math, people have calculated that the total number of people to exist is much closer to 100 billion. The website that I found and linked to above was dated about the same day that I saw the movie, so I wouldn't be surprised if the article was prompted by this stupid movie.

Or maybe I just wanted to see Liam Neeson fight more wolves.

I hesitate to list The Hunger Games as overrated, since the only people who rate it highly are girls approximately aged 12-14. But when it came out, that's who I had to hear about it from. Also, I read all three books. After finishing the third, I dared to post on Facebook a bout how shitty it was. And I was rebuffed by actual adults. They were wrong.

So first, I feel that a quick review of the books is necessary here. The first book was decent. It was, as are all three, quick reads. It's filled with flaws, but it's an interesting enough story. The second book is pretty much the first book all over again, but the actual Games are more interesting. The third book takes it's own course. And it completely falls apart.

The third book (minor spoilers) is about the war between the little city things (notice my lack of interest in doing 30 seconds or research to find what they were called) and the big city government. But it's not fought the way a war is fought. The battles aren't like battles. It reminded me of a middle school student trying to talk about the Civil War but not even understanding the difference between a war and a battle. 

Then there's Katniss (slightly bigger spoilers, but still minor, ahead). She is basically worthless in the movie. In fact, all she does is get injured and get in the way. While reading it, I was reminded of the movie Robot Ninja. His line in the movie is "I am the Robot Ninja, and I kick ass." First and most importantly, he was neither a Robot or a Ninja. Second, he never kicks ass. He gets his ass constantly kicked. So his line is a complete lie. All Katniss does in here is get her ass kicked, and if not, getting in everyone else's way. It's just garbage.

What about the movie The Hunger Games. It honestly wasn't too bad and was entertaining. I promised that this year I wouldn't write about how distracting the SHITTY SHAKY CAM is in movies, so I'll ignore how that almost ruined the movie going experience, as it so often does. Will I see the other movies? I don't know. I think the Games in the second could be entertaining if they don't change it too much from the books. But the third? I think it would be horrible. They're breaking it into two movies. I can't imagine anyone being interested in that. I should point out that a lot of people who really liked the first two books have told me that they had trouble getting through the third.

Prometheus was highly anticipated as having some kind of connection with the Alien movies. Visually, it's a beautiful movie. However, it tries to ask a lot of philosophical questions about the origins of man, both in this particular mythology and in our world. And it fails to deliver any kinds of answers or even anything to actually think about. It's a lot like Lost. And not so coincidentally, Damon Lindelof, Lost showrunner, was heavily involved with the script. The difference is that I actually enjoyed the journey on Lost, and I think that's what ended up being most important (until you start to ask WHY there's a box somewhere on the island that they can pull Locke's father from and apparently anything they want but is never referenced ever again). With Prometheus, I found the journey lacking in entertainment and frustrating due to my lack of understanding of what it was trying to accomplish.

I  wasn't going to put The Dark Knight Rises on this list. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to give it more than a couple sentences. The movies in the middle aren't going to get much more than that, so this is a chance to highlight it a bit. I feel like I need to mention more about it out of reverence to the previous two movies. I listed Batman Begins as my number 4 in 2005 and The Dark Knight as number 3 in 2008. To be honest, I REALLY liked The Dark Knight Rises. I was entertained all the way through. I applaud Christopher Nolan and company for really reaching to put the third movie over the top.

But that's where it falls apart for me. It went way too far over the top. Bane takes an entire city hostage. That's really reaching - ambitious for both Bane and Nolan to allow that to happen. But then comes the part that I can't get past. The gap of several months where he continues to hold the city hostage. MONTHS. Forget Batman. How long could that actually go on without any real resistance from the outside? And it's the DC Universe, so somebody else would show up to do something.

And after a few months, the police emerge from underground fresh and clean and ready to fight. Batman has another fist fight with Bane.It's just too big for this movie, and I couldn't move past that. Many of the other things people complained about I was fine with. The" This isn't the real Bruce Wayne/Batman" argument didn't work for me. First, he's fictional. Second, which version? Third, this is the real Batman from these movies. And the ending? I didn't find it ambiguous, and I liked it. I'm greatly conflicted.

I wrote more about these four movies than I planned to, so I'm splitting this into two parts.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Movies - The Worst

51 Movies.I didn't quite get to one a week. If there were anything else showing in a theater near me tomorrow, I would probably hit that mark. But considering what's out there, if I were to see something, it would probably make it into this post. These are the WORST movies I saw this year.

As usual, I must make a disclaimer. Even though I see more movies than most people, I'm still somewhat picky about my movies. I try not to see movies that are obvious total dreck. That's why I didn't see Parental Guidance this holiday season. The first reason I wanted to be sure I mention this is so that you notice that I didn't list A Thousand Words on today's post and think that it must be on my top 10 list.

The second reason is that I broke that general rule this year. I feel justified in breaking it, as I'll explain, but I still feel bad about it. And this year, I almost broke that rule a second time. I made my way through James Patterson's Alex Cross books this past year. They aren't great, but they're fast, entertaining reads. I almost went to see Cross. Based on everything I've read, I dodged a second bullet; the first is still embedded in my gut. I'll return to that in a bit, as it doesn't stand alone on this list.

There were four movies I saw in theaters this year that were pretty worthless. The second movie I saw was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I saw this only because it was nominated for Best Picture, which is a huge crock of shit. Here's what I wrote back in February for my Oscar roundup:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was Extremely Band and Incredibly Wretched. Tom Hanks is strange, and not in a good way.The plot is contrived and ridiculous. I will admit that there is a small twist at the end that brought some things together and made the mother's character, played by Sandra Bullock, make more sense. But it was too late at that point. I have no clue why this movie was nominated or even liked. I'll start my own riot and looting in downtown Concord if this wins.

 I debated over whether to put The Campaign on this list or just hide it away into my general writeup as forgettable. But it comes down to this. If a comedy isn't funny, it fails. The only funny parts were in the trailer. Beyond that? Very, very forgettable. I often forget that I usually don't care for Will Farrell. Anchorman, which I love, has totally screwed up my barometer for Ferrell.

I felt strongly deceived by Premium Rush. It stars Joseph Gordon Levitt. He has been a superstar on my list over the past couple years with Inception  at number 4 in 2010, 500 Days of Summer at number 2 in 2009, and the fantastic 50/50 scoring the top spot last year. I saw all four movies credited to him this year, and one of those is in my top ten.

Also deceiving me was Michael Shannon. If you haven't seen Take Shelter, take a look. He's fantastic. And he's going to be General Zod, for crying out loud. In Premium Rush, both of these actors phoned it in. It felt like a bad surfing movie from the 90s. Actually, I think I'm being way too kind with that comparison.

So what was the worst movie of 2012? The one I broke my rule for? First, here's my excuse. I was in Las Vegas. And that should almost be explanation enough, and it should be my cue to stop writing and keep that memory in Vegas. But I shall continue as a cautionary tale to others to stay away.

So I was in Las Vegas, and I had to check out of my hotel by noon. But I wasn't done with that visit. I was meeting others later that day. I had to kill some time. Las Vegas is hot. I also wanted air conditioning. Casinos tend to cost money. So I went to the movies.

It was probably the heat of the Nevada desert that convinced me that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would be a good choice. I perhaps tried to convince myself that it was also research for my job. It wasn't. It was bad. And not even in a campy way, which is probably its worst sin. It never took a moment to wink at the viewer to show that they were in on the joke. They weren't.

I say the next part lightly, but also slightly seriously. And I don't even know if I can explain it correctly. I didn't like the historical inaccuracies in the movie, either. Yeah, the movie that added vampires to the Antebellum Period and put a crucifix in the hand of our 16th president. I say either make it totally accurate but with vampires OR just change history a la Quentin Tarantino. But don't have things that are just inaccurate.

It was a miserable hour of my life. "Wait!" I hear you say. "It was only an hour?" No. I'm sure it was longer. But that's all I could handle. Yep. I left. I walked out of the theater. And that's a big deal. I don't walk out of movies. I can remember only two other movies that I've walked out of. One was The Milagro Beanfield War. But I saw that movie at the Capri way back in the late 80s. For those of you who don't know, they used to show two moves repeated. So if you pay for one movie, you get to watch the next. And repeat if you choose. So I went to see something else. I hardly count that one.

The second movie walked out of is a lot more telling. It was in my San Diego State days. That movie was Mel Brook's Dracula: Dead and Loving It. I think I walked out of that one and walked into Father of the Bride II, which shows you just how bad that was.  So apparently, I hate vampire movies with colons in their titles. It's a good thing I didn't see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part II.