Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Moon

One of the best, most overlooked actors, the extraordinary Sam Rockwell stars all alone in this understated and also overlooked science fiction thriller written specifically for him. Sam plays Sam, a lonely astronaut living on a moon base to oversee harvesting of Helium 3, a source of clean energy. His contract was three years, and his only companion an AI robot named GERTY, (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and the occasional recorded video message from his employers or his wife back on Earth. Now there's only a couple weeks before his three years is up, and not a moment too soon; Sam is about to go crazy with cabin fever. He's preparing to finally go home, but then... some strange things begin to happen. Maybe Sam isn't only about to go crazy after all.

The one and only.

It seems as if including Sam Rockwell in a cast guarantees two things -- one being that the movie will be significantly improved, and often completely made by his presence, and two, that the movie will then be inexplicably overlooked or underrated, especially if that movie is set in space. Case in point: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Galaxy Quest, and this movie -- Moon. It's a little sad for the movie to be so commonly underrated, but mostly I find it satisfying to think how I'm one of few who have discovered and appreciate this gem -- like the feeling you have when you're in on that really great in-joke.

So here I am, doing my part to include you in the "joke" that is this pretty-darned-amazing movie. But as much as I like it, I can't recommend it for everyone without some reserve. It's rated R first of all, for twenty or so uses of the f-word, by my count. (And that makes this the first R-rated movie to make it into my portfolio of movies reviewed, a noteworthy milestone by my reckoning.) Other than the language though, there's not much worth a complaint -- brief rear nudity, and a scene of kissing I'd give a medium PG-13. But more importantly, to really appreciate this movie, you have to like its type -- serious, understated, edgy, and a little bit unsettling.

GERTY is happy!

And now there's danger that if I'm not careful, I may begin to rant, and go off topic... that topic being the special effects. They're worth mentioning because Moon was an independent film, and had a relatively small budget for a sci-fi movie (five million) yet its looks are deceivingly impressive. The moon's surface, big harvesting vehicles, and the base all look great -- no corners cut, nothing missing or left out. Practical effects were used to their full potential, and the often overused CGI was included only when necessary, or for that final touch. The result isn't dazzlingly beautiful futuristic space scenery, but more gritty and foreboding, and has a very realistic, down-to-earth feel (so to speak) which perfectly matches the tone of the film. The effects are used as they should be; to support the character driven story by simply making its world believable. Here's where I move on before ranting occurs...

A terrible job... but the view is a definite perk.

Now, as you might have immediately understood when I said earlier that the role of Sam (and in fact the entire movie) was written for Rockwell, the casting, characterization and acting was immaculate. You can't go wrong with Sam Rockwell and edgy sci-fi. Sam the character was written extremely well for its actor, and kudos for that goes to writer/director Duncan Jones (in his film debut, no less). Then, in the general sense of acting -- believability, the right balance of emotions, and natural line delivery -- Rockwell is great, just as he should be. Nuanced and melancholy, with his signature side of quirky, and he does it totally alone, with practically nothing to play off of. What really blew me away in this piece though was his characterization. It was fantastic, and had a bit of an awesome surreal effect to watch... and it's something you really have to see for yourself to fully understand.

Like this. The tiny wooden church makes sense if you've seen the movie.

I wish I could explain in more detail the charms of this movie -- more about the understatedly thoughtful and unique mysterious plot, or why exactly Rockwell's performance impresses so greatly, but spoilers prevent me. All I have left to say is that Moon is not a perfect film, it has its flaws, and as I said before it's not catered to be appealing to everyone, but it certainly is to me. And not only -- just a lot -- because it exclusively stars one of my favorite actors. From my perspective, Moon is all-around great, and from every angle a detailed and masterfully crafted, engrossing sci-fi tale.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Epic

"Epic" is the perfect, ironic title for this movie, because everything is tiny... but just because something's small doesn't mean it's not epic. Course, it doesn't mean it is either...

Yeah, I'm not sure I understand either... On to the review!

Mary Katherine, or M.K., (Amanda Seyfried) is a troubled teenager who just lost her mother. She goes to live in the middle of nowhere with her estranged dad, who's a bit wacko. See, he has this crazy theory that the woods are inhabited with a race of tiny advanced people, and, well, he's right. Tiny human-ish versions of leaves, flowers, sticks and insects live in the forest. The leaf men are the warriors, riding on birds, and protecting their home and Queen from the evil rot. Amongst them, is a seasoned captain, Ronin (Colin Farrell) and a young wayward warrior he tries to keep in line, Nod. (Josh Hutcherson) When M.K. is magically shrunk down to their size, she discovers not only that her father is right about the tiny people, but they also need her help. With the assistance of Ronin, Nod, and two snails-- er, excuse me -- a snail and a slug, she sets out for an important mission to save the forest from the literally-rotten-to-the-core villain. (Christoph Waltz)

And she thought he was crazy!

The first thing you'll notice about this movie is that it's pretty predictable. Okay, it's downright predictable. Disappointing, especially considering the potential of the premise, which in spite of its promising originality, can't make up for a plot taken straight from the mold. There's so much room for creating with the tiny imaginative world, and what do the writers do with it? Doubtlessly inspired by their title, they go big, and environmental, with the fate of the forest at stake, only brushing the surface of creative possibilities. And that's pretty much how the whole film goes -- anything that turned out good is directly counter-weighted by something else that falls short.

"...can you imagine the possibilities of this!?" Who said that quote? (Hint: it's from a movie I wish this one was more like.)

For an example (and to move along) if they'd concentrated more on characters, and made them root-able and loveable, the entire story could have been about M.K. trying to get home, (or something even more creative than what I can think of) and it could have been great. Sure, not exactly "epic," but involving -- I find it easier to connect with actual characters than the things those characters care about, so make the characters relatable. This is a no-brainer. Now, M.K. is a very well-balanced heroine; smart, goofy, sweet, not too girly and not too tomboyish, but even with all the development she gets as the main character, she still feels under-developed. Same goes double that for Ronin and Nod. Ronin fares better thanks to Farrell's more seasoned talents, and his character being cooler and more understated, but apparently no one was on the same page with Nod. Every so often, Hutcherson's vocal inflection doesn't match how his character was animated. (At one point the voice sounds mad, but the character looks sad.) I've never seen this happen before, and the confused result is very distracting, and disappointing to me (who was hoping for a Swashbuckling, funny Flynn Rider type character, and got let down.)
 
They're fine when they're not talking though!

The problem is with the animators. I don't understand it, but for some reason the human (and humanoid) faces are blandly animated in general; "surprise" is the only emotion done with any real success. It's weird, because otherwise the animation is top-notch. The tiny world, and the forest, and even all the normal things like the house are lovely, and characters like the snail and slug are very expressive, with almost nothing to work with! (Or maybe that's why they were better.) I suppose it also helps that they were solely comic characters. In fact, anything that has to do with comedy in the movie is done well, with only a few miss-fires, and that may be this movie's redeeming quality (even though most of the best jokes are in the trailer.)

I want to be tiny so I can be epic while riding a hummingbird...

And now that I've picked the whole movie apart, I hope it won't be too much of a surprise when I say, I enjoyed it. Well, mostly. After all, how could I hate something that made me laugh? It had its moments of being cute as well, and when there weren't faces being weird, it was stylish, and pleasant to look at. And I can still enjoy predictable plots, as long as they're executed well, as this one was -- paced evenly, and with no holes... as far as I can remember. And that is as positive a note as I can manage for my not-so-epic Epic review ending.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Ah, such a quaint happening -- a Shakespeare adaptation... modernized, but with the original script intact... filmed in black and white... at the director, Joss Whedon's own house... in the span of about twelve days... with a bunch of famous people he calls "friends." I believe I had never been more interested in Shakespeare in my life.



And I finally got to see it, but now I meet with a little difficulty. I am no expert on Shakespeare, and honestly I probably feel a bit too proud of myself for understanding this movie, though it was relatively easy. I don't feel qualified to critique this movie. I lack the experience and understanding to know if this is a good adaption or not. I only know what I happened to like and dislike. So let this be a disclaimer, and from here on I'll go ahead and make this review as biased, subjective and otherwise personally opinionated as I like. As, really, these things should be.

Leonato is ashamed... no... just hungover.
Apart from one annoying hiccup, I have never has more fun watching Shakespeare than with this little film. And I'll address that one problem first, that is, that in spite of the original script remaining majorly intact, the story has been pointlessly sexed up, just to the level of  PG-13. The villain's accomplice was changed to be a woman seemingly for the sole purpose of their being a couple to add a random inappropriate scene. Then there is another exactly where you'd think it'd be if you know the story. It spoils the movie just enough to make disappointment rain on the otherwise delightful experience. This is the first and last negative thing I will say about the movie, on to the good stuff!

Like the cast. Though this is another situation where my lack of Shakespearean knowledge weighs me down, but, in general, no one sounded unnatural or like they were just saying lines. The leading couple, Beatrice and Benedick, (Amy Acker, and Alexis Denisof) are fiery and goofy -- former mostly to former and latter mostly to latter -- well matched and fun to watch. I particularly love the hilarious, over-the-top scenes where they try desperately to overhear "secret" conversations staged for their benefit. And the one scene between, where Benedick goes through a series of lunges, pushups, and crunches, in an obvious attempt to impress the icy lady.

The comedic styles of Shakespeare and Whedon suit each other very well.

Also standing out in the cast is the awesome Clark Gregg as Leonato, delivering the comedic one-liners only slightly more brilliantly than his dramatic lines. Sean Maher is the complete opposite of his Firefly character, and impressively so, as Don John, the cold, scheming evil villain, and his Firefly captain, Nathan Fillion is probably the funniest character, Dogberry. I laughed many times. And the secondary couple, Hero, played by newcomer, Jillian Morgese, and Claudio, Fran Kranz, easily manage to be an adorable couple is spite of relatively limited screen-time. Everyone in this movie is so obviously having a blast, how can we do anything but also have a blast watching them?

The most effortlessly stylish "home video" ever.

It was an interesting choice to set the film in modern times but still keep the original Shakespearean language, and it was, in all likelihood, a choice of convenience, (scripts and period costumes cost time and money) but it worked in a surprising, unique way. A little jolting at the very first, but only for the first few lines at most, before it becomes perfectly natural. Ladies in floaty dresses, men in suits and the black and white (also a convenience... that I wholeheartedly approve of) suspends your disbelief; it's not set in modern times or the 1600's, it's set in a time and a world of its own.

And a world, at that, that I would by no means mind living in -- a laid-back, joyful place where making a movie is as easy and fun as calling up your friends for a party and grabbing a video camera and a book for source material. And for someone like me, that is nothing short of inspiring.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Upcoming Movie Roundup -- October

October's here already, huh? Well, as predicted, I didn't get to the theater for any movies last month, but I did finally get to see a much anticipated movie that released four months ago... Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing! ...which I will be reviewing soon (whenever I simultaneously have time and inspiration) Anyways, October has more interesting movies than September did in my opinion, but still no absolutely-must-sees. (Just wait 'till November for that!)

Gravity
Oct 4th, PG-13
This space disaster thriller starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock is already making waves with a current 96% tomatometer on Rottentomates. I think I may be missing something, but I'm wondering what is so amazingly interesting about a movie about two people who get lost in space? Because it's one of the most terrifying things EVER? Or just because it hasn't been done before? At any rate I'm only interested because other people are interested and that's not quite enough interest for now.



Captain Phillips
Oct 11th, PG-13
Based on a book that was based on a true story, Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum) directs the great Tom Hanks as the title character who has his ship hijacked by pirates. Pirates! This is very interesting to me, and promises to be exciting and well-acted. If the positive reviews keep coming in, I just may have to see this sometime.



Romeo and Juliet
Oct 11th, PG-13
It seems Shakespeare is back in style. And with it, I am becoming a fan, through Tom Hiddleston in The Hollow Crown, and Whedon's presentation of Much Ado. Romeo and Juliet follows in the footsteps, but it's important to have more drawing power for your Shakespeare adaption than just Shakespeare himself, like Hiddleston or Whedon. So what's this one's? Writer, Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey? Or young actress Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet? Steinfeld is certainly the most drawing to me, she is a brilliant actress, but her co-star, Douglas Booth does the opposite. But the cast also boasts Paul Giamatti and Stellan Skarsgård, and then with Steinfeld, and my new appreciation of Shakespeare, I think I must admit I'd like to see this movie.



The Fifth Estate
Oct 18th, R
Benedict Cumberbatch. Would any of us have even heard of this movie if it wasn't for that name? Nevertheless, here I am. Another true story, Cumberbatch stars as Australian Julian Assange, "founder" of a webpage where dirty government secrets are leaked to the world. Daniel Brühl, Dan Stevens, Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie support. The movie trailer asks us to consider whether right or wrong, whether Assange is a hero or traitor, but I worry the film may try to show us the answer. Reviews are very mixed, which boosts my theory, but honestly, if I see this, it will be for Cumberbatch's acting, and not much else.



What movies have caught your interest this month?

New Trailer: Desolation of Smaug

An exciting feeling of restless anticipation will surround me throughout the next week or so, now that I have seen the latest Hobbit trailer! Have a look for yourself:



Okay, I don't usually admit these types of things, but, I fangirled. Like with the first Hobbit movie, I can confidently predict that at least two things will happen in this movie perfectly: Martin Freeman's Bilbo (of course) and Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug. He will undoubtedly be... well... stupendous! And the scenes they'll have together... oh my. I am also very excited for the potential that Luke Evan's Bard is showing. he's shaping up to be the Aragorn of these films!

What do you think, Hobbit fans, of the new trailer? What new characters are you most excited to see? Is it possible that December 13th could come too soon?