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Archive for the ‘The Movies’ Category

Now that it’s almost Christmas, I can start to relax and think about the things I love about Christmas. Although my lovely girlfriend and I won’t be able to be together on Christmas day, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, Cinnabon on Christmas morning, and movie theater popcorn later that day.

I’m also looking forward to watching a movie that I watch every year called The Snowman. Based on the Raymond Briggs picture book of the same name, The Snowman follows a young boy who makes a snowman that magically comes to life and takes him to the north pole to meet Santa Claus.

Released in 1982, the animation is rudimentary by today’s standards but there is warmth and heart in the images. Every pencil line seems to have a life of its own and even in the “static” scenes, the background is alive and moving. Like reliving a memory from childhood, the images are not clear or even well defined in places but there is just enough balance of open space and detail that activates the imagination that newer, digitally animated films have a difficult time delivering. This ascetic gives the film a surreal, dream-like quality which is perfect for the story being told. Despite this, or maybe because of it, there is a coziness throughout the film. Whether the scenes are inside or out, the lack of dialogue coupled with the soft visual style lends itself to easy watching.

Except for a brief, live-action intro and sung lyrics in one of the songs, there are no words spoken for the duration of the animated story and I love that. Every emotion, joke, and nuance is expressed through the pencil drawn animation and a Peter and the Wolf-like score. Childish excitement is accompanied by string flourishes, surprises are accentuated with trumpet blasts, and so-on. Both visuals and musical score could work on their own but together they provide a wonderful yet melancholic tone.

The tension between the mediums is best represented during the flight sequence. Here is a scene that is full of excitement and wonder. The Snowman takes the boy’s hand and begins running through the snow. Suddenly, they take off, their feet leaving the ground and the houses and fields grow smaller and smaller beneath them. Visually, this scene is one full of excitement but the tone is anything but. While the two are flying hand in hand, the song “Walking in the Air” plays. It is a wonderful song but is so melancholic that it twists the scene into something else. It’s no longer a simple, fun journey. There is gravitas. There is substance and depth. The journey is no longer just exciting – it’s important and a moment in time that will change the young boy forever. Moments like these happen rarely in film, let alone animated film, which is why it’s stayed with me so long.

It’s this aspect that keeps it from being in the same zeitgeist as more popular holiday fare like A Christmas Carol or Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. It’s not a feel good movie. It doesn’t end with shouts of joy down main street or a bunch of kids singing around a christmas tree. This isn’t Frosty the Snowman. The ending is very real and logical and doesn’t hold back in order to get a cheap “everything will be okay” feeling.

This film doesn’t just celebrate the Christmas spirit – it celebrates experience and life and the fleeting moments that make life worth living. It’s beautiful and tragic and one of my favorite Christmas films of all time.

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I didn’t know Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska was rated R, before or after watching and I was flabbergasted when I found out. Even writing the title of this post I mixed up the rating before realizing and correcting it. It didn’t seem plausible that an intimate look at a father/son relationship would be rated more harshly than a revenge action film. Looking at the rating on IMDB, I found the reasons why. Here is the page:

NEBRASKA

Sex & Nudity

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NOTE: The *only* reason this film is rated R is because there are two uses of the f-word.

Sex & Nudity: 4/10

There are some innuendos and sexual jokes, along with mild crude terms and slangs (“screwing”, “run the bases”).

Violence & Gore

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Violence & Gore: 2/10

An elderly man falls in the dark and his son finds him on the floor with a large gash on his forehead. He is then shown getting stitches. (The entire film is in black and white, so it isn’t explicit.)

Two men get into a very brief and comical slap fight.

Characters argue and yell at each other.

A man punches another man in the face, causing him to fall down. He is later shown with a black eye.

Profanity

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Profanity: 3/10

Two f-words and a few mild obscenities.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking

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Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking: 3/10

Some casual drinking. A main character used to be an alcoholic and is shown drinking beer in a few scenes.

Frightening/Intense Scenes

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Frightening/Intense Scenes: 3/10

There are some dramatic moments towards the beginning and end, and some brief conversations regarding death.

Total explicit content estimation: 15/50

*****
Stupid bullshit right? By contrast, here is the MPAA rating for Taken, which is rated PG-13:
*****

TAKEN

Sex & Nudity

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4/10

Throughout the movie you will hear about and see prostitutes. However, the scenes are not too uncomfortable to watch with children, although they may sound so in the description below.

A man walks through an area where curtains are strung up creating rooms where young women lie in cots (most are unconscious from drugs) and men have sex with them (not shown on screen but implied); we see a man in a room with one young woman kissing the back of her neck.

A man talks to a woman, asking how much she charges and what the fee includes (she is a prostitute).

A young woman says, “I’m going to sleep with him… I hear French guys are amazing in bed.”

A young woman is described as a virgin and that she is worth more at auction.

A man talks about another man’s wife being sexually aroused, using a crude term.

A man talks about a man “hitting on rich widows.”

A man makes a comment to another man about being competitive, using a crude anatomical reference.

There is a scene when young women have to dance naked for money.

Many young woman are dressed in little more than bikini underwear throughout the movie.

There is a scene whereby Liam Neeson’s daughter and one other prostitute is being auctioned on a boat wearing only her lingerie.

Violence & Gore

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7/10

A man is strapped into a chair, and a nail is then stabbed into each thigh. Liam Neeson then straps electrical cables to the nails and tortures the victim for information. Several jolts of electricity are sent through the cables and the man yells and twitches; the switch is flipped one last time and the man is left to die (we hear him screaming).

A man shoots a innocent woman in the arm, she falls off her chair (we see a bit of blood on her shirt) and the man threatens to shoot her in the head.

A man shoots another man in the leg and the arm and then shoots him dead (we see blood).

A man shoots another man in the stomach, and then strikes him and the man falls to the floor motionless (we see blood).

Men shoot at each other, and we see bullet holes opening in walls and furnishings.

A man holds a knife to a young woman’s throat, another man shoots him in the head and he falls back dead.

A man is chained by the hands over a pipe, another man wraps a strap around his throat and begins to strangle him, but the pipe breaks striking one man in the head and spraying another man in the face with steam (we see his face becomes charred).

A man jumps off a bridge and onto a moving boat below, he strangles a man on board, kicks and punches another one and throws him overboard.

A man shoves a young man into a taxi, punches him repeatedly in the ribs, another man pulls the man out and he lands hard on the ground; they fight briefly and one man’s head is slammed into the car knocking him unconscious.

Two men fight with punches and kicks, one man pulls a knife, they continue fighting, one man strikes the other with a bottle and one man is stabbed and falls to the floor motionless.

A man fights several men: he stabs several (there’s blood on wounds and shirts) and then shoots several others (we hear groans and see them flinch, but there’s no blood).

A man fights with several men punching and kicking them, and shoots one man (he falls back and onto the ground), but he is shot at by several men as he speeds away in a car and there’s a large explosion and fire.

A man holds a gun on another man, pushes him into an elevator and punches him (he falls unconscious).

A man in a car chases a young man through traffic, and the young man jumps from an overpass onto a truck below and then to the street where he is struck by a car (we see the body being struck and hear a thud).

A man with a knife lunges at a woman, another man fights him off with punches and kicks and the man and woman drive away in a car.

Cars with men shooting guns chase another man in another car: one car is pushed over a hill and rolls over and another car drives into a bulldozer shovel that cuts the top of the car off.

A young woman hiding under a bed is pulled out by her feet by a man, and we hear her screaming and we hear glass breaking as she is taken away.

Two men grab a young woman by the arms and legs and carry her out of an apartment (we hear her screaming and see her struggling).

We see two young women being kidnapped by several men.

We see a young woman dead presumably from a drug overdose (her lips and skin are tinged- blue).

Profanity

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4/10

Some language, nothing too bad.

One finger gesture.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking

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5/10

We see in two scenes numerous prostitutes with scarred arms by injections. Likely from heroin.

We see a young woman dead presumably from a drug overdose.

After being rescued from captivity, a young woman is seen being detoxed from presumably being forced to take heroin.

People drink alcohol at a party.

A man holds a beer bottle.

Another man drinks from a beer bottle.

A woman pours three glasses of wine at a dinner table.

Three men carrying beer arrive at another man’s house.

Several men sit at a table with beer bottles.

A man puts a cigarette in his mouth but does not light it.

No actual use of drugs is shown

Frightening/Intense Scenes

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7/10

Some people may find the theme and some scenes disturbing or upsetting.

The scene in which the kidnapping takes place is very realistic and may disturb viewers. This scene is hard to watch and happens all of a sudden. The idea of having a loved one lost in another country may itself upset viewers as it is very easy to feel empathy towards the main character and his situation.

*****
So…how the fuck does that work? Taken‘s list of offensive material is twice as long as Nebraska‘s but because they don’t say ‘fuck’, it’s suitable for a younger age group. Then, we are so appalled by mass shootings in our schools and things like the knockout game. There’s something wrong with society when we judge language more harshly than physical violence. By setting Nebraska‘s rating at a harsher point, less people are able to see such a touching story about people trying to understand each other. Instead, the film with multiple murders and several acts of violence and mentions of rape is much more accessible. Good on you MPAA.
If you haven’t seen it, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut does a marvelous job of sending up such a backwards and flawed system. In it, Kyle’s mother Sheila, starts a war with Canada over the potty language in one of their movies. It’s so ridiculous and most people dismiss it because it’s A) a cartoon and B) contains some crude humor. Dismissing it on these merits alone is small minded and just because it’s mixed in with some questionable material doesn’t make it all worthless.
It’s a shame that such well-intentioned people such as the MPAA have their priorities so backward because they can be helpful. They’re just not in this case. While Taken might be a more exciting film to watch, Nebraska will teach you about life and that’s something we can all use a little more of.

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I remember this film coming out months ago and wanting to see it but it slipped past me. From all accounts, it was the funniest film of the year so when it finally was released on Blu-Ray, I snatched it up. Then, it sat on my shelf for a few months. I just couldn’t find the right mood to watch it. I wanted to be in maximum humor receiver mode so I could enjoy everything I had heard so many good things about.

Before too long, my friend saw it gathering dust with my other movies and figured he’d give it a shot. He had heard the same things I did and went into it thinking it would be a laugh riot.

He turned it off at the fifteen minute mark.

He couldn’t get past the acting of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and crew, which, to be fair, isn’t always acting…especially in a film like this. Nearly everyone of the films when they’re together are improv’d. While it can lead to some fun and unexpected things, it can also drag out in a film.

With my friend’s criticism in mind, I waited another couple weeks to finally sit down and watch it. Immediately, I understood why he didn’t finish the movie. The acting, especially the beginning is horrible. It’s very stilted and jerky and I could almost see them thinking about what they were going to say. It’s very real life speak but watching it in a film is awkward and tedious. It gets marginally better as the film goes on but the believability of people reacting the way they do about things is painful. Granted, it is a comedy and laughing at people’s lack of knowledge has always been an easy way for comedies to go but I just wasn’t into it.

I think it’s the film’s subject matter that made the biggest difference. For those that don’t know, this is an end of the world movie – one of my favorite genres. From Dawn of the Dead to Mad Max, I’m really fascinated with the subject matter of society as we know it being gone and the survivors finding out the best way to do things. Like Robinson Crusoe or MacGyver in making something useful out of the things we wouldn’t expect. I wanted to see more of this world, not watch actors struggling to outdo each other’s jokes. It has it’s place but I wished they were two separate movies.

That being said, there were plenty of funny and interesting things that happen within the two hour running time. The story centers around Seth Rogan as himself showing his fellow actor and childhood friend Jay Baruchel a good time in Hollywood. Seth takes Jay to a party at James Franco’s house that is full of other actors. Since everyone is playing themselves, there is some good natured ribbing between the principle actors. It’s fun to see them bash each other’s films as well as their personal lives. I think it could have been even funnier with some quick and well executed jokes instead of the rambling we got but that’s what we got. The beginning is full of cameos that the current generation will recognize, some playing hilarious and obscene versions of themselves. Micheal Cera and Danny McBride are especially great in their portrayals of themselves.

I also liked the world outside. There isn’t much screen time for the ruins of Hollywood but it really opens the story up nicely. Just hanging out with the guys in the house, it’s easy to dismiss their time as maybe just a paranoid delusion that the world around them is gone. Once they get outside and see what happened to the rest of the city, the true scope of what happened really sits in. There are scenes scattered throughout but they are used more as establishing shots instead of set pieces for the characters to play in.

Overall, I liked this movie just as I liked Pineapple ExpressKnocked Up, and Superbad. There are plenty of laughs and some fun imagery but, like those other films, This Is The End is not a movie that will really stick with me.

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After all the flash and action of the films I’ve been watching lately, I needed a good character piece where character was the focus. I went into this film not knowing much about it. My sister saw it last week and she told me that 1) It’s an Alexander Payne film, 2) it was playing at the Guild theater on 45th, and 3) it’s in black and white. The first two were enough to get me interested. I really liked Payne’s other films, Sideways being one of my all time favorites. My sister also swears by the Guild theater, saying that it has the best popcorn in the city (I think she’s on to something). The fact that this film was in black and white didn’t excite me in the least. I don’t mind black and white movies, especially if they’re that old where they had no choice, but there better be a very good reason to make a film with that aesthetic.

I don’t think there was a good enough reason.

I knew we were in for a treat when my girlfriend pointed out that we were the youngest ones in the theater. The median age must have been around fifty-three and true to form, there was a couple in the row behind us that talked throughout the film, like older people do. It wasn’t heckling – only memories of a time long ago that the film brought to the surface for them. It was mildly endearing to me – not for the lady in the row in front of us who kept shooting the talkative pair shaming glances.

The story follows David, played by SNL alum Will Forte, as he drives his father Woody, played by veteran actor Bruce Dern, to Nebraska from Billings Montana to claim a million dollar prize. The relationship between the two is the film’s primary focus but there are some interesting family elements that come into play and that’s when the film picks up. ‘Picks up’ is a real overstatement. This is a slow film, especially the beginning. Payne’s previous films had a similar pace but it was infused with fun, jokey dialogue. This film, while heartfelt and intense, lacks the fun conversations of Sideways or Election that really made these other films fun. As a result, I wasn’t fully invested in the film until the fifteen minute mark.

The acting was alright but there was hardly a scene with any outward emotion that it was difficult to really care about the characters. The acting was all deadpanned and held carefully under the surface, save the David’s mother, Kate, played by June Squibb who was a feisty bit of color amidst the drabness. She didn’t hesitate to call people out, insult them, or speak her mind. She was fun to watch, just to see what she would do next.

So maybe there was reason enough. I think that’s what Payne was going for with the black and white palette. With all the characters showing very limited emotion, they are fairly colorless and the monotone conveys that. It’s very artful. It’s just a shame that the gorgeous shots of middle America were held back by the color scheme.

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I specifically wanted to watch this film at Cinebarre, an over 21 theater that serves booze and food while you watch. It’s the douch-hole in me that wanted to watch starving people fight for their lives while I stuff my face with chicken strips and fried pickles. I’ve never felt more like a villain. I was cosplaying as one of the capital party goers in the film! I didn’t go as far as puking for the sole reason of eating more, like some characters in the film but…I…<ahem>…

On to the review!

It took watching a few scenes of this film for me to get into it. Having been a while since watching the first, it took that long to get back into the world of The Hunger Games. That’s a problem many sequels face, especially when continuing the same storyline from the first. Where do you pick the story back up and how much exposition do you give? Films like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers pull this off really well by injecting a scene from the previous film into the beginning of the next. This reminds the audience where they are and gives a context for the next few scenes, like puzzle pieces fitting together. Other films like Evil Dead 2 give a modified synopsis of the first film, quickly bringing the audience up to speed with everything they need to know so it can be enjoyed by anyone who hasn’t seen the original. I watched Army of Darkness (Evil Dead 3) before I even knew of the other two films and I enjoyed the hell out of it because of this technique.

Catching Fire does have a small nod to the finale of the first film but everything in the beginning feels like jumping into the middle of a word jumble without knowing what to look for. And I’ve read the books so I knew what to look for.

That being said, once it got going, the film was enjoyable for the teen melodrama that it is. Things move more into the adult realm, however, as the Hunger Games becomes more of a backdrop for revolution and the heroes from the first film are thrust into it unaware. The dystopian world of the first film is there but it isn’t really expanded on, despite seeing more of the districts in this world. I don’t know why that’s so. We see more of reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen’s home district, which looks great in a very bleak and hopeless way, and people from some of the other districts but those are restricted to one compound and the land outside of that is nowhere to be seen. These compounds could just be public viewing areas with a farmer’s market next door for all we know. The only evidence that this is a dystopian world is the presence of the capital’s peacekeepers who viciously beat anyone who even gesture anything hinting at revolt. Just like 1984‘s Ministry of Love causes pain to any who don’t comply, so do the peacekeepers. I like this aspect of the story just as I like most dystopian oppression stories and I think it worked to create a scene of dread over the entire film.

The only other glaring problem with this is the end, which really wasn’t an end. It was a setup for the next film which will be split up into two. I knew it would end on the unfinished cadence it did but me girlfriend looked at me and asked “Really?” That sums it up. It’s a decent film but expect to be in this franchise for the long haul or live through the unsatisfied feeling for the next two years.

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Since I was entrenched in horror films last month, I decided to wait on my review of Gravity. It technically could be seen as a horror film as it has drawn similarities to Open Water, which, although I haven’t seen yet, is very tense and very scary in a ‘this could really happen to you’ kind of way. But there were so many other horror films to write about so I shelved it. Even thought Gravity is set in space and is an unlikely life situation for 99.9% of the world population, it draws on very relatable human fears of suffocation and isolation that, along with some stunning cinematography, make this a very good film.

Let me start off by saying this should be seen in the theater or on the biggest big screen you might have laying around the house. It’s a gorgeous view of outer space and really conveys a sense of scope that few films are able to pull off. I mentioned in my Thor review about the pros and perils of CG. Of course, the filmmakers didn’t send George Clooney and Sandra Bullock up into space, so the entire film is a CG spectacular. And it works. Mostly because what they’re showing is simple. It’s space. A black mass with twinkly dots. George Lucas perfected that in 1977 with Star Wars. So here, it looks amazing. Its beautiful and a space lovers wet dream.

This is a limited storytelling film about two astronaut’s struggle to reach Earth safely after encountering problems while in orbit. I remember writing a similar story a few years back and I was delighted to see something similar, with a similar story and tone. Maybe there was something in the worldly zeitgeist a few years ago. As I’ve said before, I love this kind of movie, just to see where they’ll take it and it was satisfying to me in almost every way.

The only thing about the film I didn’t love was the dialogue. It felt as if it was written by a middle schooler. It didn’t ruin the film but it was laughably bad and added a slightly surreal quality. In a way, it almost took me out of the film and I wonder how I’ll like this movie when I watch it again on Blu-ray.

Hopefully, you’ve seen this already, but if you haven’t, it’s still in theaters so I recommend checking this out before it leaves. It’s the kind of movie that was made for theater watching.

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Growing up, I always had a problem with Thor. Back then, I was more into the escapism of comic books and the uncommon person doing superhuman things. It was the juxtaposition of the fantastic and the common that I really enjoyed. Spiderman was just a normal kid until he got bit by a radioactive spider, The X-Men all came from different human backgrounds and struggled to deal with their gifts in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Even though Batman could get any kind of gadget he wanted, he was still a man that dealt with human problems.

Thor didn’t seem to have that. He spent some time on Earth but a lot of his storylines had to do with another dimension, Asgard, and his dealings with the other gods. I just couldn’t get into those. I’m sure there were some good things in there but that different world was too much for me to latch onto. It wasn’t relatable to me.

Thor, the movie, does a good job of fixing this problem but it does bring up another one. The action is split between Earth and the CGI beauty that is Asgard. The action on Earth is great and addresses those familiarity issues between the thunder god and the common people. Thor’s early time on Earth is the basic fish out of water story with jokes you would want and expect. His interactions are entertaining but feel contrived and forced. It’s a shame because these are much more entertaining than the rest of the dialogue. And as forced as it was, I wanted more of it. The stuff on Earth is basically a romantic comedy but I wasn’t convinced that Thor would bond with Jane or Dr. Selvig within the scenes presented. Unless Jane is REALLY needy and Thor has ZERO options in Asgard, a land of gods and goddesses. Please.

The worlds away from Earth are a computer graphic fun zone. It looks great but I worry that in five years, it will look as bad as Event Horizon does now. Time will tell but that’s a dark side of CGI. As impressive as it is, it can’t stand on it’s own. It needs the story and human element to really stick around.

Overall, the movie was entertaining and a fun inclusion of the Marvel film universe. I’m interested in seeing more of the Earth-bound characters in Thor 2 since we got a lot of Loki in The Avengers, which was almost a Thor sequel. The CGI looked good but things felt rushed. I wish they would have spent more time developing the characters than the graphics. Hopefully the sequel will rectify this problem.

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