Monday, February 20, 2012

Chronicle review; so much more than a "superhero" film

We often see a trailer and make an assumption as to what the rest of the movie will be about.  I have this conversation with my movie friends all the time; a trailer totally misses the point of a movie in hopes of selling tickets.  Or, it's a good thing the trailer didn't give away everything.  That's the case with Chronicle.  A trailer that sold us on a "superhero" film could not be further from the truth.  It is so much more, let's go.

What I liked about the film:
The Writer/Story
Max Landis has turned in a wonderful script.  It is a found footage film, reminiscent of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project before it.  It follows three high school students as they gain telekinetic powers.  Landis crafted a character study into three very different characters, dealing with all kinds of issues.  The story arc is terrific, it's cut tight and there is no fluff in the movie at all.  The dialogue was believable and relatable.

The Director
This was 26 year old Josh Trank's first feature film!  If you've seen the film, you'll understand how spectacular that feat is.  I've mentioned that the movie is definitely a character study, but trust me, there's plenty of great action.  When reviewing The Artist, I mentioned how much harder it must have been to direct a silent film, as apposed to your average movie.  I think the same goes for Trank and his found footage style. As an audience, we need to believe the characters are doing most of the videotaping.  So he's limited as far as the tools at hand.  It sounds like he's getting a lot of attention after this movie and should have no problem getting work!

The Action
The action is great, and unique in many ways.  There are simple scenes, like the friends learning how to use their powers.  Something as simple as throwing a baseball with their minds.  Then there are scenes of the characters flying through the sky, which look great.  All of this leads to an all out battle in the streets of Seattle.  Great choreography and execution here.

The Actors
Michael B. Jordan  plays the popular kid that wouldn't normally be friends with the other two.  He has the smallest character arc, but does a nice job bringing charisma to the role.  Alex Russell plays one of the friends, an average Joe who definitely cares about his image.  Russell's character is cousins with the Dane DeHaan character.  DeHaan is no doubt the star of the show.  He has the biggest character arc in the film.  The first person footage is mostly shot by DeHaan's character.  His character is abused by his alcoholic father (played by veteran Michael Kelly), his mother is dying of cancer, and he is a nobody in school.  There is one scene involving a spider that summarizes DeHaan's character.  He acts with his eyes alone and is fantastic.  DeHaan starts to videotape everything, almost as if it's therapy.  This is an important point; it more than justifies the found footage technique used throughout the film.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Budget
It's too bad innovative, creative directors don't get more support for their original ideas.  There were a few scenes where Josh Trank would have benefited by a larger budget.  Some of the special effects were lacking, but he did wonders with the budget he WAS provided.  It's just frustrating that directors like Mark Steven Johnson and Brett Ratner get huge budgets and turn in crap like Ghost Rider and X-Men: The Last Stand respectively.  Hollywood needs more directors like Trank and Christopher Nolan, who are willing to take a risk on original material like Chronicle and Inception, RESPECTIVELY.

The Verdict:
I loved it
Simply put, it was so much more than I could have asked for.  The characters are rich and come about in a difficult technique of found footage material.  The writer, director and actors have put together a great film that will satisfy teens and adults alike.  The special effects could have used a little bit more money, but it wasn't a deal breaker.  I suggest everyone goes and sees this movie, it was a great ride.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Vow review

If you read this blog, you probably noticed I don't really enjoy chick flicks.  But, I am a devoted husband and it WAS Valentine's Day.  So I did the honorable thing, and sucked it up for 2 hours.  The Vow stars Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams as a couple who's been married for a few years.  After a horrific accident, McAdams loses her memory of the past few years, forgetting Tatum's character completely.  The movie was directed by Michael Sucsy (Grey Gardens).  Let's begin.

What I liked about the film:
The Story
The trailer sold us all on an amazing story about a man trying to make his wife fall in love with him all over again.  It's a pretty intriguing concept.  We've seen other movies (50 First Dates) take a comedic approach to this.  The Vow does it completely different.  It takes a real life approach to these extreme circumstances.  I especially liked the first act, where we learn how the two fall in love.  If only the final product matched the concept.

Channing Tatum
You read that right.  Tatum is phenomenal in this movie.  I've always been a fan of his genre films (G.I. Joe).  But Tatum can do so much more.  Films like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, The Dilemma and 21 Jump Street show his range.  In The Vow, he plays a character who's frustrated, even angry at the way his wife is treating him.  He has to show compassion for her condition, while being totally frustrated with the way she's treating him.  Great performance.

What I didn't like about the film:
Rachel McAdams
She's just not up to par in this film.  Some of it has to do with the terrible writing in the film.  Her character is supposed to view Tatum as a stranger, not her husband.  But McAdams' character is so bad, we feel no remorse for her accident.  In fact, her character is so mean, so rude to Tatum, you wonder if she's even worth the trouble.  There are a few 'emotional' scenes where it feels like she's overacting.  McAdams is a great actress, she just didn't have anything to work with here.

The Script
How do you sell us with an amazing trailer and give us this final product?  The second and third act are almost unbearable if not for Tatum's performance.  The supporting cast are unlikable, stereotypes.  McAdams' parents are played by Jessica Lange and Sam Neill.  Both amazing actors who had NO business being in this movie.  They're so unlikable, you never feel for a moment their actions are in their daughters' best interest.  And the ending?  No spoiler here; but let's just say there's a lot of online chatter about how dumb, and unfulfilled it was.

The Verdict:
It's not a terrible movie, just a terribly dumb one
It's not the worst movie I've ever seen.  In fact, the aspects I've listed above, I enjoyed very much.  But overall, it's so weak.  The execution is so poor, it's faults are hard to ignore.  I would say pass on this and rent it next Valentine's Day, you wont feel so short changed that way.

The Artist review

I've read, and heard so much about The Artist, I just had to check it out.  After all, the movie has been nominated for 10 Oscars!  All I really knew about it walking in was, it was mostly a silent film.  Oh boy is it so much more than that.  Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a movie that is so unlike anything else I've ever seen.  In the last twenty years, we've seen it all on screen.  We've seen dinosaurs, aliens and superheros come to life.  The spectacle of if it all keeps us mesmerized.  Take away the explosions.  Take away the special effects.  Take away the dialogue.  What do you get?  A beautiful film like The Artist.  Let's get right into it!

What I liked about the film:
The Writer/Director
Michel Hazanavicius had such an unbelievable task.  Imagine this...  You have a research paper due tomorrow.  You're not allowed to use the internet to do your research, or your computer to actually write it.  Imagine someone taking away those tools and expecting your best work.  That's basically what was expected of Hazanavicius.  Telling stories is a difficult thing in and of itself.  Most directors depend on dialogue between characters to carry a story.  I said MOST directors, but not Hazanavicius.  He wrote a beautiful script about a man's fall from grace.  One tool the director did have on his side, were some amazing actors.

The Acting
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo give remarkable performances.  Dujardin plays the titular charter, the artist.  He's a silent film actor who is on top of the world.  His movies are the talk of the town.  The artist is obsessed with fame.  Bejo plays an up and coming actress who is nothing more than an extra at the beginning of the movie.  As the story progresses, Bejo's character becomes an A-list actress, still fascinated by Dujardin's character.

The characters and the script are great, but it's Dujardin and Bejo who carry the film.  Dujardin is especially intriguing.  He starts the movie with a swagger and arrogance.  That quickly fades and we see an actor evoke someone hitting rock bottom.  Bejo plays a wide eyed starlet at first, and quickly becomes an arrogant actress in the film.  Bejo has a wide range of emotion she must convey as well.  It's such a study in acting watching these two perform.  The next time a supermodel wants to turn actress; she should be required to watch this film and decide for herself if she's worthy of calling herself and actress.  I'm not being sexist; same goes for those male rappers that think they can act as well.

Then there's the supporting cast.  John Goodman is great as a studio executive who turns his back on Dujardin's character, for the Bejo character.  James Cromwell plays Dujardin's driver and best friend.  It's great to see the four main actors show such a wide range of emotion with nothing more than their facial expressions and body language.

The Story
The story is simple in premise, but grand in its delivery.  We've seen a million stories about men and women hitting rock bottom.  But so few portray it the way The Artist does.  As the character's star power dwindles, we dwindle with him.  Every frown, every tear, every sip of whiskey to help wash away the pain; we go through it with the character.  Bejo's character is full of life, she brings energy to the screen.  The contrast of the two is very well written.  Great stuff.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Run Time
The movie is just a bit long.  I must admit, I felt a little bored during the second act.  There's a lot of material that didn't REALLY need to be in the movie.  I consider myself a patient man, and the movie almost lost me in the second act.  Small price to pay for a great story.

The Verdict:
A case study in real acting and story telling
Yes, it is a silent film.  But it's so much more.  The mechanics of the film probably attracted a lot of attention, but the execution is what earned it its recognition.  The movie never says "HEY LOOK AT ME, I'M IN BLACK AND WHITE AND I'M A SILENT FILM".  It's just another way to tell a story.  The set pieces of 1920's and 30's Hollywood are beautiful.  The acting is on another level, and the direction is top notch.  I personally don't think it's the best film of the year, but it deserves to be mentioned.  Long live silent films.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

21 Jump Street review; a remake worth watching!

21 Jump Street is a movie in a long list of remakes based on 1980's television shows.  The television show catapulted Johnny Depp's career, and he hasn't looked back since.  That was the show, and this is the movie.  It is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs).  It was written by Michael Bacall, based on a story by one of its stars, Jonah Hill.  Hill and Channing Tatum play police officers who are sent undercover to a local high school, to take down a drug ring.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Actors
This is an interesting fact; before Jonah Hill showed interest in the project, it was being remade as a drama.  With Hill's work on the story, the film quickly took a comedic turn.  And thankfully so.  Jonah Hill is terrific in the film.  There are some great scenes showcasing Hill and Tatum in high school; and Hill's insecurities come to light.  He was able to portray what so many high school kids feel/felt.  He's a smart young man that never really fit in to the "in crowd".  I especially like the reference to all the wanna be Eminem kids that came to life in 2005.

Channing Tatum is great!  He has to play the tough jock, who also has insecurities he's not comfortable with.  He has the best character arc in the film and I really enjoyed his performance.  Ice Cube plays a funny character who is heading up the 21 Jump Street program.  Rob Riggle plays a great character who favors jocks, and not smart kids (we knew teachers like that right?).  Dave Franco makes his older brother James proud.  He is very funny and fully capable of keeping up with Hill and Tatum.  

The Duo
I obviously enjoyed the acting, but I enjoyed the friendship even more.  The movie is very fast paced.  We see Hill and Tatum become friends in the first few minutes, and somehow it works.  They don't waste much time developing the friendship, which I was ok with.  The actors have such different, contrasting styles, it worked perfectly.  The actors are so different, physically, it actually played to the comedy.  I am curious to see how much of the movie was improv, because if it was, I couldn't tell.  Nice job for both the main actors.

The Story
Simple, easy to follow fun.  That's what other comedy remakes are not understanding.  Try to be more, and you will fail.  Hill and Tatum need to find a drug supplier at a high school, and to do so, they go undercover.  Simple.  The story lends itself to a lot of situational comedy.  How teachers and coaches view the lead actors is great (I love Ellie Kemper from "The Office").  How times have changed so much in just 7 years (It's cool to be smart now?!).  Minus two very obvious "shocker" moments, I really enjoyed the story behind the undercover work.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Directors
Phil Lord and Chris Miller didn't do it for me.  The action sequences, albeit limited, are terrible.  They are poorly choreographed, shot, lit, etc.  They're not easy to watch.  The two young directors came from an animation background, very similar to Brad Bird.  The only difference is, Brad Bird made an amazing action film with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  Granted there's a lot more to directing than creating action sequences, but the action can not be ignored.

The Verdict:
A remake worth making
There have been so many remakes, unnecessary remakes.  21 Jump Street flips the notion on its head.  I love the idea of transforming the television show into a comedy film.  Hill and Tatum are terrific, as are the story and script.  I didn't enjoy the direction, but it wasn't enough to discourage others from watching the movie.  Pay close attention and see if you can catch all the cameos from the original tv show!  Check it out when it hits theaters next month.