2012 Movie Blitz: Part 1

July 22, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

In order to do a best and worst movie list for 2012, I’ll have to finish watching and reviewing all my 2012 films first. So I’ve decided to commence yet another movie blitz, delivering four reviews at a time. I’ll try and keep ‘em short.

Lawless (2012)

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One of my most anticipated movies last year because it’s directed by Aussie John Hillcoat, whose grim and gritty vision gave us The Road and The Proposition. It’s also based on a true story about the three Bondurant brothers who ran a moonshine business during the prohibition era. And it’s got a ridiculous cast featuring Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. The cast is so good I even forgave the fact that Shia LeBeouf is in it.

The brothers, Clarke, Hardy and LeBeouf, run a moonshine business in Virginia in the 1930s. The money is supposedly good, but the work is dangerous because, well, it’s illegal, and there are lawmen wanting a cut and ruthless competitors encroaching on their territory, and vice versa. One of the nastiest fellows is Guy Pearce, a special deputy, who commendably made himself look like a creepy psychopath, albeit a slightly one-dimensional one. Jessica and Mia play lovely ladies who get involved with the lads. Stuff gets nasty and violent; like a good old western, but brutally violent.

The verdict? Lawless is good, but not quite the epic western I had been expecting. It had all the elements — brotherhood, romance, run-ins with the law, a nasty villain, and lots of brutal, unflinching violence, and of course the acting is top notch — but for whatever reason the film felt like it just couldn’t elevate itself to where it wanted to go. I was interested but not captivated, attentive but not enthralled. Was it because it was just following a bunch of rough fellows around without any real sense of purpose? Or was it because the characters were not fully developed?

I blame it on Shia LeDouche.

3.5 stars out of 5

On the Road (2012)

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Super-hyped film from last year. I’d like to think it’s because it’s a long-awaited adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac semi-autobiographical novel of the same name (first published in 1957), and features a star-studded cast including Garrett Hedlund (of Tron: Legacy fame), Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen and Terrence Howard. But let’s face it – On the Road  got most of its publicity because Bella Swan loses her top and executes a double-barreled sex act. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And I admit, I didn’t get the film. Was it a very difficult film to adapt (hence explaining the 50+ year gap between book and movie)? Was it because it was set so many years ago that I couldn’t connect with the characters or their world? Was I trying too hard to find meaning? I don’t know. But all I saw was a confused kid, Sal Paradise (played by Sam Riley) becoming infatuated with his carefree, hedonistic friend, Dean Moriaty (Hedlund), who keeps screwing him over and over because he only cares about himself. They go places, they talk, they get drunk, they dance, they have fun, the fight, they separate, they meet up again. And it just goes on and on for more than two hours.

So unfortunately, On the Road bored me often despite my best intentions to enjoy it. I do have to admit that Hedlund is awesome in this — charming and magnetic — and Kristen Stewart showed, despite Twilight, that she actually can act and is excellent in the right role. But you’ll have to count me as one of those people who didn’t like this movie. Perhaps I need to read the book.

2 stars out of 5

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Romantic comedies are not usually my thing, but Ruby Sparks is supposed to be one of the good ones because of its originality, quirkiness and chemistry between the two leads, real-life couple Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano. Kazan (who is nearly unrecognizable from when she played Leo’s slightly chubby mistress in Revolutionary Road) supposedly wrote the script for Dano, who electrified me in There Will Be Blood.

Dano plays Calvin, an anxious novelist who is struggling to recreate the success he enjoyed with his debut novel years ago. He has a dream about a woman (the titular Ruby Sparks) and decides to write about her as his therapist suggested, and boom, she appears in real life, exactly the way he describes her.

After the initial shock wears out, the writer and his creation enjoy what seems like a normal relationship — until Calvin realizes that even your dream girl can become your worst nightmare. It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale wrapped in a seemingly innocent love story. It’s about free will and loving your idea of a person rather than who the person really is. The deeper the movie goes the darker it becomes, and there are some scenes towards the end that are rather upsetting and heartbreaking.

The writing is excellent, as are the performances, and there is a sweetness about the relationship that feels genuine. But as far as resonance goes, I think the film fell a little short for me, failing to reach the depth of emotions conjured up by one of my favorite romantic comedies in recent years, 500 Days of Summer. Still, this is a delightfully fresh film with some interesting ideas. I found it to be an enjoyable, amusing, frightening and thoughtful experience.

4 stars out of 5

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

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I’ll be blunt. This Disney film about a barren couple wishing for a child and then having that wish miraculously realized is a clunker. While the intentions were good, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is everything I had feared it would be — predictable, saccharine, cringeworthy and overly sentimental.

Aussie Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner want a child but they’ve tried everything and nothing’s happening. One night, they write down all the things they would hope for in an imaginary child, chuck it in a box, and bury it in the yard. Out comes Timothy Green, a boy who fulfills all the qualities they had written down and, as the poster suggests, has leaves growing out of his calves.

At first, all is perfect, but then they start having the same anxieties as all parents do about their children, and they learn a few lessons along the way in typical Disney fashion. My guess is that Timothy Green wanted to be an old-fashioned family film that teaches us some life lessons while tugging our heart strings along the way. It’s a noble goal because such wholesome, non-animated, children-friendly films are rare these days, but unfortunately the film comes across as cliched and lacking in emotional depth. Everything that happens is predictable and even the crafted quarrels and tensions feel forced and heavy-handed. I blame a lot of it on the thin script and the character of Timothy Green (played by CJ Adams), who never endears himself to the audience like he should have.

The end result is a bland, not-very-funny or touching movie that doesn’t really teach us much.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (2012)

November 19, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

The world must really be coming to an end soon because — I can’t believe I am saying this– Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II is GOOD.

How the Hogwarts is this possible? I have followed the films from the very beginning and read 2 of the 4 books (the first and third), primarily out of curiosity, and all they have done is bewilder because, let’s face it, they’re crap.

But inexplicably, this final film somehow manages to be by far the best of the lot and is a rewarding conclusion to an otherwise lackluster series.

The love story between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) picks up from the end of the last film, where Bella was finally turned into a bloodsucker after dying during childbirth. For the first part of the film, we get to see the world in her new red eyes as she learns to deal with her newfound powers and desires. Oh, and there’s of course also her freakish hybrid baby daughter, Renesme (what the hell?) who is growing up so quick she belongs at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

But things aren’t all roses in Bella’s world. There’s finding a way to tell her father (Billy Burke) without really telling him anything. And there’s the Volturi, led by Michael Sheen and Stewart’s bandmate from The Runaways, Dakota Fanning, the vampire’s version of the Vatican, who are also evil and abuse kids. The Volturi (I’m assuming its plural for the “Voltura”) say baby vampires can’t be controlled and must be destroyed, but they aren’t the best listeners. Blah blah blah; get ready for an epic battle.

It’s actually the same formula that the Twilight films have followed since the second film, where the majority of the running time is spent waiting and training for some all out vampire fight. The big difference this time is that the dreaded and embarrassing love triangle between the lovebirds and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is finally broken, so we no longer have to be subjected to that cruel and unusual punishment.

There is also a whole heap of new characters from all over the world.  They may be forgettable, horrible and unoriginal stereotypes — but at least they each have awesome powers that will make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Heroes (back when it was still a good show).

You’d think they would have figured it out by now, but unfortunately, the special effects did not improve. The werewolves still look kinda weird, though nothing could compare to whatever they did with the baby, who was the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Was it really that hard to find a real baby for the role?

Despite all its problems, for the first time ever, the storytelling in Twilight is efficient (it’s a “compact” 116 minutes when recent trends suggested it could have been 146), the performances even and the action exciting. Granted, the are still moments of cringe that will make even the strongest bellies prone to violent bouts of projectile vomiting, but having put up with it for the first 4 films already I had become surprisingly immune. I trust there are others in the same boat.

As a vampire, Kristen Stewart gets to do a little more than heavy breathing and looking anxious this time, at last displaying a little of the range she’s capable of. Taylor Lautner remains relatively strong, although Robert Pattinson still has that “this is all so stupid” look plastered across his face for most of the movie. Michael Sheen makes the most of a ridiculous role that would probably would have completely failed if it went to a lesser actor, and actresses like Dakota Fanning and Maggie Grace seemed happy to just be part of the fun.

If you’ve followed the saga from the beginning as I have, you might find Breaking Dawn Part II to be a grand finale that delivers. There are pretty vampires and buffed werewolves, very good guys and extremely bad guys, wry humour and decapitations; and there’s love — a whole lotta love. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there is not a dull moment in this one, as director Bill Condon (who captained Breaking Dawn Part I) appears to have finally figured out how to make things work. Better late than never, I suppose.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, there is a really — and I mean REALLY — cheap shot in this film. I won’t spoil it by saying what and when, but it’s quite typical of author Stephenie Meyer and the entire series. Let’s just say there were a lot of audible groans, and none louder than mine.

Mirror Mirror (2012) vs Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

June 8, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

As I have foreshadowed, my movie reviews are a little backed up, so why not kill two birds with one stone with this double-barreled review of two new films based around the same premise, Julia Roberts’ Mirror Mirror and Kristen Stewart’s Snow White and the Huntsman?

To be honest, I didn’t have much an interest in either film, but as usual, I watched both. What can I do? I’m a film buff.

First up, Mirror Mirror, which should have been more aptly titled “Lily Collin’s Eyebrows.” Since the Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction, Collin’s eyebrows have been elevated to a whole new level. I was so distracted by the eyebrows that I often forgot to focus on the film. Which is easy, by the way, because it sucked donkey balls.

The majority of Mirror Mirror’s plot follows the original fairytale. Collins is Snow White and her stepmother and the Queen, Julia Roberts, is trying to get rid of her so she can remain the fairest of them all. Yes, there is a prince and yes, there are dwarves. No surprises.

Theoretically, Mirror Mirror should have been the better film. Just about everyone’s impression of Snow White comes from the Disney cartoon, which made it naturally more suitable for a family comedy as opposed to Snow White and the Huntsman’s “re-imagining.” While it was admittedly trying to be fun, Mirror Mirror suffered from a complete lack of freshness and laughs. The majority of the jokes were what I would call “family humour”, which is code for unfunny. There may have been a couple of good ones here and there, largely thanks to the charming wit of Winklevii star Armie Hammer as the prince, but for the most part the jokes hopscotched between obvious, lame and unimaginative. I can see children enjoying it, but I must say I cringed more than I laughed.

Mirror Mirror was more this

To be fair, the film was not badly made. Director Tarsem Singh, who last worked on Immortals, infuses flair into the art direction, and the costumes, especially those donned by Roberts, were all quite brilliant. The performances were strong and, thankfully, no one took themselves too seriously.

But in the end, I just couldn’t force myself to like or enjoy Mirror Mirror. Some might think the final Bollywood tribute sing-song was a redeeming feature but I found it totally bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable. If the film had lifted my spirits prior to this point I might have felt differently, but alas, it did not.

This brings me to the second Snow White film, Snow White and the Huntsman, which I thought would stink even before I caught the first trailer. Surprisingly, while I also struggled with it, I found it to be the better motion picture overall.

The Huntsman (let’s just call it that for short), is in the vein of last year’s Red Riding Hood, you know, that Amanda Seyfried “re-imagining” of another popular fairytale. It takes the basic plot and essentially does whatever it wants with it. In Red Riding Hood’s case, it was obviously inspired by the love triangle and teenage angst from Twilight, which doomed it to suckiness from the outset. In The Huntsman’s case, it’s a lot more complicated. This one takes “inspiration” from a lot of movies, from Lord of the Rings (or some might say Game of Thrones), Joan of Arc, Braveheart, Alice in Wonderland, Kingdom of Heaven, just to name a few. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

In this one, Snow White is imprisoned by the evil Queen for years before a daring escape into the enchanted forest, and a new character, known only as the Huntsman, is tasked with tracking her down. To me, even though the script was pretty muddled, it was by far more interesting because there were characters and plot points I didn’t expect. Sure, the story takes some questionably wild turns and spirals into absurdity on more than one occasion, but at least it kept me wondering what was going to happen next (for the most part, because at 127 minutes it was way too long and lost my interest for a while).

The final act of the film, the supposed climax, was crap and predictable. Anyone that has seen the trailers or the poster will know that Snow White, who has been imprisoned in a tiny cell since she was a child, mind you, suddenly becomes a sword-wielding badass for some reason. Her obligatory Braveheart-style motivation speech (which has become a staple of every movie with a big battle scene these days) was probably the most WTF moment I have seen on the big screen in years.

The standout character in the whole film has to be Charlize Theron as the crazy bitch/witch of a Queen. She’s fascinating despite the shortcomings of her character and Theron does an amazing job of portraying the seductive nutjob notwithstanding the sometimes trite dialogue she has to spew out.

Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman is also an interesting character and he fits the role well, but there were too many loose ends when it came to his relationship with the princess.

Snow White and the Huntsman was more this

Speaking of which, if there is an Oscar for unexplained/exaggerated heavy breathing, Kristen Stewart would win it every year. She’s not bad in this but her act is wearing thin on me. I became a massive fan of hers after watching Into the Wild back in 2007 (one of my favourite films of all time), and sadly my affection for her has dwindled with every subsequent film she has been in (well, Adventureland is an exception). By the time I watch Breaking Dawn: Part II, I might very well find myself despising her.

Visually, the film is stunning, with the scenes involving Theron’s spells and the enchanted forest exemplifying what movie magic is all about. Amazingly, this is the first feature of director Rupert Sanders, who was previously best known for his advertisement of the video game HALO. I’d be very interested to see what he comes up with next.

Although it’s very difficult to compare two such different films, ultimately, The Huntsman is the better movie. That’s not saying a lot, considering how disappointed I was in Snow White, but as pieces of entertainment, it’s not much of a contest.

Mirror Mirror: 1.5 stars

Snow White and the Huntsman: 3 stars

PS: Ray Winstone must be the only guy in Hollywood who can play Beowulf and one of the Seven Dwarves. Just sayin’.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part I) (2011)

November 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Why God, oh why do I keep watching the Twilight Saga?  Nevertheless, I do, and I just did.  I’m not a Twilight fan and I don’t really get the obsession with vampires and werewolves and the boys who play them, but I remain fascinated by this amazing global phenomenon.

Today I watched Breaking Dawn Part I, based on the first half of the final book in the saga.  Breaking Dawn follows the footsteps of Harry Potter and the Death Hallows in that the final book of the series is unnecessarily split into two films in order to maximise the big fat dollars.  Of course they would.  The first three films in the Twilight series have made $1.8 billion worldwide, and the decision was proven correct by the fact that Breaking Dawn Part I has reeled in over $300 million in a week.  (Hey, at least they didn’t make the movie 3D.)  But what does that mean for the average moviegoer?

Well, for starters, a slower pace and a feeling that stuff is happening when nothing is really happening.  Breaking Dawn Part I pretty much picks up where Eclipse concluded (as far as I can remember), with the long-awaited wedding between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire loverboy Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  Bella’s best friend, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is still in love with her, but he has basically accepted the fact that she will never be with him.  It’s hard to go much further than the honeymoon without divulging crucial plot points, but most people who go and watch Breaking Dawn Part I would have read the book.  Even if you haven’t (like me), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it’s heading.  Besides, the trailers and previews essentially show everything, as usual.

I didn’t expect much from Breaking Dawn Part I, especially after hearing about the early lukewarm reviews, so I must say it was better than I thought it would be.  Sure, it was slower than the other films in the series (which weren’t exactly blitzing to begin with), but I never found myself bored.  As with the earlier films, the film was strewn with atrocious, cringeworthy dialogue that made me literally squirm in my seat.  I doubt Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro could have pulled off those lines, so that didn’t leave much hope for the likes of R-Patz and Taylor “Abduction” Lautner (who only had a brief shirtless scene this time round).  Plus you know with Part II looming, things are going to remain unresolved by the end of Part I, so there’s definitely an empty feeling when you walk out of the cinema.

Let’s face it.  The real reason these Twilight movies are killing it at the box office is because readers fell in love with the books’ characters, and then the actors.  And Breaking Dawn Part I’s biggest selling point is well advertised — you finally get to see R-Patz and Stewart “get it on”, so to speak.  After all, the sexual tension is what has been driving the films all this time, so it was kind of a reward for the audiences who stuck with it until now.

Unfortunately, after sitting through basically six hours and three films worth of sexual tension, the pay off is disappointingly tame.  There were rumours of perhaps a nipple but for the most part the honeymoon scenes are strictly PG-13 (which is the film’s US rating).  Whatever.  People who love the books, the characters and the actors will lap it up nonetheless.  And they will unreservedly flock to Part II when it is released in November 2012.  At the end of the day, Breaking Dawn Part I was made for the fans and will be enjoyed by the fans.  For a non-fan with an interest in the series, the film was barely passable.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: The scariest thing about Breaking Dawn Part I is that apparently it utilises two-thirds of the book, leaving only one-third for Part II.

Movie Review: The Runaways (2010)

July 3, 2010 in Movie Reviews

The Runaways is the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon!

I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of The Runaways, the revolutionary all-girl rock group from the 70s.  Nevertheless, this was a much anticipated screening for me because it featured Kristen Stewart NOT as Bella Swan, plus her Twilight co-star Dakota Fanning in her first “adult” role.

The Runaways tells the story of the two key members of the band, Joan Jett (Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Fanning), and how they were “discovered” by rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road).  Together with three other girls, The Runaways became an international sensation.  For those who don’t know what happened to them, good for you.  It’s always better to watch a “based on a true story” movie without knowing how it ends.

I really wanted to like this film directed by Floria Sigsimondi, who also adapted the screenplay from Cherie Currie’s book “Neon Angel”.  However, it didn’t quite get there for me.  The Runaways is essentially a coming of age story about how a bunch of young girls fell into outrageous success, how fame seduced them, and how it eventually consumed their lives.  It’s a familiar rise-and-fall story that we’ve seen far too often, even if it is based on true events.  Accordingly, there was a predictable trajectory to the film that took some of the freshness out of it.

I was never bored during the 106-minute running time, but it did feel like a rather long movie where the pace sagged towards the back end of the film.

However, my two main problems with the film are more subjective than objective.

First, the hard rock music wasn’t my thing.  Those who enjoy this type of music will really get off on it, but it was just too loud for me!

Second, it was the kind of film that makes you feel like you need a shower after watching it.  It was just…loud, dirty and messy — which was most likely intentional and served a purpose, but it was uncomfortable to watch.  The main reason for this is probably Dakota Fanning, who gives an absolutely stunning performance as 15-year-old Cherie Currie.  But the problem is, even though I know she is growing up very quickly, she still looks like a 6-year-old to me.  And watching a little girl dress and dance so provocatively and do all sorts of nasty stuff just felt so wrong!

Kristen Stewart does a decent job as Joan Jett, who takes a bit more of a back seat to Currie despite having almost equal screen time.  However, it wasn’t a performance that showed much range beyond Bella Swan — it was still all angst and insecurity — the exact same thing she does in every other film I’ve seen her in thus far.

Ultimately, The Runaways is what I would describe as an “either way” movie.  I don’t regret watching it, but if I missed out on it it wouldn’t bother me either.  At least I can say I got to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning make out.  Having said all that, it’s still the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon (ie better than Eclipse…but just!).

3 out of 5 stars!

“The Runaways” commences in Australia on 15 July 2010

 
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