11 January 2013

Film: Killing Them Softly (2012)

Thoughts: Personal favourite Andrew Dominik turns in yet another stellar bit of character drama with Killing Them Softly. While the film is made up mostly of various people having lengthy conversations, when you have the likes of Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Ben Mendelsohn working the lense, you know you're in for a good bit of acting and line reading. Of course, it helps having someone with an eye such as Dominik, so the film's rather fatalistic and nihilistic tone doesn't go down too painfully. At least not nearly as painfully for the viewer as it is for the ill-fated characters.

From imdb:
"Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse."

Brad Pitt is on top form, as is Mendelsohn. But personally, I'd like to give props to the recognizable-by-face Scoot McNairy, who plays his fairly-intelligent character with the kind of subservient grace that most take for granted. His is one that hasn't grand ideas, but simple means to ends, and knows what his limits are, and where to go, and who to see. Unfortunately he falls into the trap that most of us who prefer the background usually fall into- that of thinking the best of those around us, particularly those with the biggest mouths and occasional kind words of friendship. His trust is his weakness, and his downfall is painful yet inexorable to watch.

The film itself is very much a mirror to the US and their financial woes over the last decade, and how America is less of a country, and more of a business, as summed up well by Pitt in the film's closing moments. The film is as dry as they come, and Pitt embodies that one-track nature of most true capitalists. Business is business, as they say, and in even the trade of crime the hits are felt. Or at least, they "appear" to be. One only need to cry "recession" and apparently all problems are overlooked in the "he means well" sense of the word.

If you aren't a fan of conversation, then this is not the crime caper film for you. If however you like expert direction and fantastic actors going the whole way with some modicum of quiet professionalism, get into this. It's only 97mins too.


Film: Paranorman (2012)

Thoughts: Paranorman takes convention and tears it up, twists it around, throws it in the air and lets the pieces fall where they may. If that wasn't enough to get me interested in a film, having wonderful performances, amazing animation, deliciously dark humour and amazing visuals certainly helps. Move over Coraline, because Paranorman kicked far more ass- and made a hell of a lot more sense. And the character designs and set designs are almost worth the price of admission alone.

From imdb:
"A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse."

There's horror movie throwbacks and references, some amazing character designs and a whole lot of heart in Paranorman. And in my opinion, this is certainly not one for kids. The story is quite complex, the references full and quite dark, and definitely a lot of scary moments for youngsters. It doesn't help that the whole thing is "shot" and directed with such an eye for detail that it eclipses most live action fare- horror or otherwise.

The vocal talent is both game and fitting, bringing full life to very intricate and amazingly animated characters. There are some serious laughs to be had, both from the script and story itself, and from the numerous references to horror films, and to playing with convention. Practically the entire film plays with and defies everything that is supposed to define just about every genre it decides to take aim at: kids films, horror, comedy and thriller. And those character designs, freaking amazing. My personal favourite was the witch at the end- the way she was presented was nothing short of amazing. It's the little things that make this film so great.

I advise everyone to check this movie out- especially if you're an adult, and even more if you love horror and zombie films.


10 January 2013

Film: Jack Reacher (2012)

Thoughts: It may run for far too long (130min) but Jack Reacher knows exactly what it is, and has no problems getting there. He's an insanely good looking man with "a particular set of skills" who's "no hero" and lives off the grid "as an experiment that became an addiction". Seriously, what more could you want in a lead man for a twisty action thriller? Plus, Rosamund Pike has a wicked set of boobies. Very nice!

From imdb:
"A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims."

The whole thing is an adaptation of a Lee Child book series, the kind that you read to escape from the world for a bit. Some of the bits are ridiculous, and the dialogue is quick and overcooked. But frankly, that's kinda what makes the whole thing so fun and charming. Tom Cruise is every bit the man here, breaking limbs and hearts with equal indifference. He's a man with nothing to lose, and nothing to gain.

The film opens with a bravo 10 minute sequence that involves no dialogue. And you all know how I feel about long takes and no dialogue. So immediately, I was interested. Of course, in comes Jack Reacher to work his magic, being given an almost impossible task of finding the truth in what seems to be an open and shut case. The evidence is almost too obvious and clean. And so off he goes to do his loner thing. And it works. Tom Cruise has never been better, exuding charm and resignation in equal parts.

The direction is surprisingly solid, and the editing and staging work wonders for what is basically a rote thriller. What could have been throwaway becomes something a bit more substantial and worthwhile the further you go, culminating in a very engaging and well organized endgame. It's only difficulty is getting there, because despite the interesting way the story unfolds, it really is a long sit, and there is a fair bit of talking and deducing.

I can say it was worthwhile, but I can also say it is probably good for one viewing only. The wife enjoyed it too, so whatever that means to you and your viewing situation, give it a go. I'd say it'd make for a fantastic rental.


Film: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Thoughts: Not nearly as good as I thought it would be. Wreck-It Ralph really felt like a missed opportunity. Sure, the classic game references come thick and fast, and the whole thing has its heart in the right place, but the writing was, well, really kinda poor, the action was flat and spaced waaay too far apart, and the scope really quite contained. I frankly don't know why it is getting all these rave reviews. Nostalgia perhaps? Is this where we really start to see the issues with the new up-and-coming generation of oldies- an over-reliance and way too ruby coloured view of the past, flaws and all? Or is that the problem with every generation throughout history?

From imdb:
"A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives."

At least the voices and animations were good. Aside from that, I was really disappointed with Wreck-It Ralph. There's just honestly not that much happening, and no themes REALLY explored that well. Yes, it deals with that age-old conundrum of whether to work within the confines of your society, or to break free despite the consequences. But it really felt like it was just scratching the surface of the potential when it comes to the source material. Perhaps the creators wanted to play it safe? Play to the broad audience? Lowest common denominator? I don't know. All I know is this was really lukewarm.

The action didn't really do anything other films have done better, even Cars 2. And when you add it all up, there's only 3-4 true action sequences, each lasting a bare few minutes, if that. And the writing. Jokes are either quippy barbs or lame slapstick, and both fall flatter than a sprite. You listen as they set up a joke, and then... poor punchline or execution. And you think "OK, the next one will be better, I know it will." And... nothing. Let down once again. And then they start going all slapstick- and I don't mean good, classic slapstick. I mean boring old, gets hit in the shins over and over, falls down a tree, can't handle his clumsy etc etc etc. Boring boring boring. And the huge downtime between the 2nd and 3rd act does not help.

But the voice cast really does go for broke though, and there are heaps of recognizable voices and games scattered throughout the film. For detail junkies like me, that was a real kick.

It really is sad for a film like this to miss so much potential. But oh well, apparently I'm in minority. Which I guess is a good thing, because once this is finished making bank and causing critics to swoon, perhaps they can put a bit more effort into the inevitable sequel.


Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Thoughts: Despite my general reluctance to watch the original trilogy, and my wariness for the length of this one, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey went down surprisingly well. I never really felt the length, which was a big surprise (.....that's what she said HEY-O!) but what really got me was how this felt like a grand adventure filled with wonder, as opposed to an arduous trek filled with certain death. I loved the fight scenes in particular, but the interplay between the Dwarves was also very well-handled and fun.

From imdb:
"A younger and more reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out on a "unexpected journey" to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of Dwarves to reclaim a their stolen mountain home from a dragon named Smaug."

There are a lot of familiar faces (and voices) throughout the film, and it shows when it comes to dealing with so many characters onscreen at one time. Sure, names are easily forgotten- especially among some of the less vocal Dwarves- but I can even recall some of the names to the faces, which must be saying something. The dialogue is good enough, and the way everybody harmonizes is wonderful.

The action sequences are plenty and bristling with energy and amazing visuals, which was absolutely amazing to find. The Dwarves are surprisingly nimble, and very formidable when it comes to large battles, with all manner of creatures, big and small. Peter Jackson indulges a fair bit, and who can blame him really. New Zealand truly is a beautiful country. And these actors certainly aren't to be trifled with. All the players and crew obviously have a fair bit invested in the whole enterprise, and it shows, to our benefit.

But yes, very much a grand adventure. I think a big part of what always irritated me with The Lord Of The Rings was how, halfway through the first book/film, the fellowship is formed, and asses are preparing to be kicked. Half a book/film later, boom, no more group. That always pissed me off, made me feel like an awesome opportunity was wasted. Of course, that all fit in with the theme and feel of those stories. Here though, wonder and high adventure are the name of the game, and despite a few moments where I thought they were going to drop their shit, the pack stayed together. And I really enjoyed that.

I'd watch it again. Which I honestly cannot believe I'm saying.


Film: Brave (2012)

Thoughts: I can see why Brave doesn't live up to Pixar's usual levels of greatness, as the film feels like a bunch of different scene and moment ideas strung together be loose connective tissue. That said though, the humour is as strong as ever, and the voice acting and animation are top-notch. Even though the film seems to be almost entirely predicated on and revolving around violence in and of itself. I'm not saying that's a problem, just pointing it out. Perhaps something to do with the source material/historical culture?

From imdb:
"Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse."

Family is first and foremost with this particular outing. The bonds that form with blood. Brave makes the familial setting work well with the ideas, and the effects stand out the most from the rest: like the interplay between the various family members and their ways of communicating with one another- even down to the little boy rascals, especially in the latter half of the flick. So you have to give Pixar credit for that once again.

But the violence I mentioned, yeah. It was quite odd when I realized that. Right from the get go, violence is what makes this whole movie tick. Violence from the first scene opens the flick, and sets the path for their family's feud with a vicious, magical bear. Violence is how the family members communicate, and how they greet the other clans and their suitors for the young Merida. Violence is how situations are handled, and how problems arise in the first place. Violence everywhere. Which makes sense I guess, everything everywhere is just sex and violence. But the movie makes it really really clear, if you pay attention. You could say it is unnerving, I personally say it is honest.

But the movie does falter a bit in its pacing and structure. It never really hits its stride, preferring to bounce around from point to moment. Don;t get me wrong, there is definitely a story and throughline. Its just not nearly as snappy or well constructed as some of Pixar's earlier work.

The voice work really works well, and the animation is superb. I personally loved the way the mother moved once she came down with her particular affliction in the second half. Very well done.

I enjoyed it. Don't know if I'd watch it again though.


Film: The Lord Of The Rings Extended Trilogy (2001-2003)

Thoughts: After finally finishing the text trilogy, I thought it necessary to view the films in their "entirety", especially before viewing The Hobbit. There was a lot I remember not fully comprehending during the many previous times I had viewed the film, and now, with the Extendeds under my belt, I can still honestly say that I prefer the original Theatricals.

I never thought I'd be one to join the camp but, I really dislike some of the deviations from the original text, so much so that it kinda breaks the films for me. Specifically, the changes to Treebeard and Faramir, my two favourite characters. In the books, the entire sequence (making up a large part of The Two Towers) involving Treebeard is more wondrous, enigmatic, fulfilling and enlightening than the movie, by leaps and bounds. The Hobbits Merry and Pippin are taken for a magical journey both through the forests of Fangorn, and through one of the best parts of Tolkien's world. Treebeard is presented as mystical, almost endless omnipotence that has learned over time that time itself is both important and irrelevant. The Hobbits are both enchanted only partly dismayed at the wait for deliberation when it comes to aid their friends.

The movie however, makes the two Hobbits into some of the most irritating little snaps this side of Gondor, and Treebeard into a lumbering, dotty old fool that thinks and acts slower than a rock. I was so disheartened by the whole thing that it turned my favourite film into my least. And that doesn't even account for Faramir. In the books, Faramir was an outspoken, quiet and exceedingly intelligence tactician, who really wanted to do right by everyone, especially his family. And when it came time for the test of the One Ring, within a paragraph he had passed with flying colours, proving his stoic defense of the good, right down to the bone. In films he is far more of a wimpy boy, and practically spends the entire second film gearing up to do bad with the ring. All of that together really wrecked my enjoyment of the second film.

The first film is still fun, and at least contains a good dose of wonder and excitement, despite all the walking. My new favourite though was definitely the third film. I liked the pace, I actually liked some of the adjustments to the story (like Saruman for instance, I was alright with that end), and the fight sequences are loud and very cool.

Altogether though, I prefer the tight flow of the Theatricals. Either way, I plan to rewatch them many years from now, in my home cinema, as loud as I possibly can. Can't wait to see the Ride Of The Rohirrim in that setup. Love their musical theme. I'm thinking of it now!