Thursday, September 27, 2012

Upcoming Movie: Rise of the Guardians

Seen this around?

This intriguing movie poster is for an animated movie scheduled to release on Nov. 21st. It's called Rise of the Guardians, a title that makes me think of The Dark Knight Rises, and Guardians of the Galaxy mushed together.

Concept art for Marvels upcoming film, Guardians of the Galaxy.

To clear up my confusion, I looked up Rise of the Guardians, and what I found was rather interesting. Here's the trailer:

This PG animated flick boasts the voice talents of several big names including Chris Pine as the apparent hero Jack Frost, Jude Law as the villain (the boogeyman? I don't know... his name is Pitch...) plus Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin as the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause respectively. Quite the cast. It also claims "the creators of 'How to Train Your Dragon,'" probably the best animated film DreamWorks ever managed, and what appears to be - in my opinion at least - an interesting and original premise, written in book form and for the film by William Joyce, who did the same thing for Meet the Robinsons.

How to Train Your Dragon surprised me; I didn't expect to like it so much.

Meet the Robinsons. Quirky, silly... not too shabby.

So I must say I'm intrigued. Mildly. There is, after all, always the possibility of it going way over the top, (or something similar) then falling flat on it face, (or something similar) and if that happens, I will likely not see it, but as it stands right now... I'll be keeping an interested eye on Rise of the Guardians.

What do you think? The top-notch cast is what got me.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Upcoming Film - The Great Gatsby is going to be a movie... again.

Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris.

So I recently read The Great Gatsby for the first time. It was after watching the trailer for the movie, coming in 2013. The trailer piqued my interest, and then I saw the book was relatively short, and even looked easy to read. So I read it. And I loved it. I loved the simplicity of the plot, the wit, the imagery, and the first person writing. I imagined Fitzgerald as Tom Hiddleston, writing all those witty lines for my entertainment. It was a lovely, pretty short read, and now, of course, I’m ready for the movie. Because what’s the point of such a great book if it’s not going to be made into a movie?

I assume that the one and only reason this is being made into a movie again is so Carey Mulligan can play Daisy Buchanan. She is obviously the only person who should ever do it; she’s perfect for it. I heard Daisy’s very specific voice effortlessly as I read, and it sounded exactly like Mulligan. I’m excited to see her, but what about the rest of the cast? Well, here come my opinions, ready or not.

Carey Mulligan looking lovely as Daisy from the trailer.

I will never complain about seeing Joel Edgerton in a movie, and I think he is very well cast here as Tom Buchanan. As I read the book, I forgot Edgerton was going to be staring, but I knew there was someone I was forgetting from the cast. I didn’t look it up though, because I wanted to keep my imagination untainted. Ironically, I imagined Tom to look rather like Tom Hardy, whom Edgerton played a brother to in Warrior.

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in Warrior.
 I was this close to unknowingly imagining the character as the person actually going to play him. When I finished the book and looked at the cast list again I had a pretty good chuckle. And then I was very happy of course.

Obviously, Edgerton will be great.

Tobey Maguire’s look as Nick from the trailer stuck with me pretty well, but one thing about him worries me... Maguire’s usual characters are at least slightly awkward, especially in the way he talks, but Nick wasn’t like that; he was more normal, laid back and observing; like the audience or reader in character form. Tobey Maguire is not the person I would think of for this role, but he if does it right… i.e. if he leaves all things “Peter Parker” behind, this role has the potential to be my absolute favorite of his.

Here Maguire is wondering if he should play the character to my liking, or not. Please do!
(I noticed people suggesting Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Nick, and I think he would've been amazing, but I am heavily biased on that particular subject.)

And finally the main guy, Gatsby himself. And I don’t know what to say. The fact is I'm having a hard time seeing DiCaprio as Gatsby. He’s a great actor and I have no doubt he can perform it well – he does play insecure, desperate characters exceptionally – but he just doesn’t seem quite right. His voice is wrong, his looks aren’t classic enough... I guess I just can’t hear DiCaprio say “old sport” and not have it come out funny – in a bad way. I’m pretty sure my worries will be proven wrong in the end though, and he’ll be a fine Gatsby.

See? He looks fine. I should relax, right?

No one really jumps out at me as being better for the role than DiCaprio anyway. Certainly no American actors, but is that important? Mulligan and Edgerton are British and Australian respectively, and the newcomer playing Jordan is also an Aussie, and I’m sure an American accent is no problem for them. If I think British, Cary Elwes comes to mind, and he naturally has some of Gatsby’s qualities… if only he were twenty or so years younger. Jude Law is also an interesting thought, and he has the air, and also the acting chops for the role. If it were up to me to cast the film, he’d probably be my pick, but alas, I’m just a consumer and must be satisfied with DiCaprio, and as I said I’m sure he’ll be fine, at least.

A very young Cary Elwes, and...
Jude Law looking very dapper.

This book is in need of a successful film, and the trailer looks promising, and faithful to the source material, if a little modernized feeling. It’s going to be in 3D, which is odd, but if it’s quality 3D, I won’t complain, and who knows, it might even be improved by it. Visuals seem to play a big role here if you can judge by the trailer, and 3D was made for big visual movies. I’m excited to see it, then remember my opinions on it from now, and see how they've changed. And now that I have stated my opinions, I will move on and get excited for different movies, like the first installment of The Hobbit, and wait patiently for May 10.

Looks promising now - we'll see for sure in eight months.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Super 8

J. J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg team up as director and producer, and create a very traditional Spielberg-like movie that also has an unmistakable Abrams-like modern feel, and is set in the seventies. How does this mash-up work? Let's just say that quality filmmaking which comes from a love of the craft is something that will always be in style.

It’s 1979; Joe Lamb is a thirteen year-old, pretty average sort of kid. But his mom recently died in a work accident, and things between him and his dad are strained and distant as they try to muddle through on their own. Time continues almost lifelessly. He hangs out with his buddies, riding bikes, joking around and making super 8 zombie movies. Things slowly settle into a normal. One midnight, filming secretly at a train station, the group of friends witness a mysterious train crash, and are caught in the middle of a dangerous event that none of them will ever forget – it’s like something straight out of a movie!

The plot is pretty straight-forward with no big twists, but through a unique attention to the deep characters and relationships, it’s compelling and entertaining, even without the sci-fi element. And I love that the monster, though fully created and fully capable of dominating the screen was hidden from us as long as it was hidden from our heroes. It’s a classic trick learned accidentally by Spielberg, and used here brilliantly by Abrams. In fact if I had to describe Super 8 in one word it would be classic. Not saying it’s “a classic” but that it is classic; totally, unabashedly classic. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need; a popcorn flick that can be called neither a mind-bender or mindless, but just a happy medium, well made, and ready for you to lose yourself in it.

Typically, film heroes are slightly older than the target audience, but even though this movie is about a bunch of kids, it’s not really a kid’s movie. It’s a nostalgic movie, and relating to younger characters helps that effect pleasantly. The kids really do make this movie. Reminiscent of The Goonies, they goof off, tease each other, and freak out with hilarious realism. And the actors playing them were equally amazing. Outstanding are Joel Courtney, playing the lead in his very first movie, but you would never know it by watching his superb performance, and Elle Fanning, playing Alice, the newcomer to the group of boys, is the most talented young actress I’ve seen. The other boys are more supporting cast, and their performances are lesser, but mostly only in terms of screen time. Obviously a lot of attention went to casting the kids, and the result was rewarding. Kyle Chandler as Joe’s dad and deputy of the town is also worth mentioning, but this movie really belongs to the kids.

It seems like it’s too easy to make a “successful” movie these days. Just throw together a script that involves saving the world, cast a bunch of pretty actors, and then drown everything in special effects. And people will throw down money watch it. No doubt a few movies fitting that description just popped into your head… like Transformers, perhaps? But not everyone goes that lazy way, some people thankfully still give their films all the attention they need, and are rewarded with something you could actually call art; a real, good movie. Abrams is one of those people, and with this movie, he creates a lovely homage to classic filmmaking, then goes a step further, adding in elements that make modern movies great as well. 

Sure, it has its share of flaws, but they’re easily ignorable in favor of the involving story and characters. Super 8 encourages us to be nostalgic, get lost, and feel at home in its brilliant, modern blast from the past, even if we never happened to have lived there. A sweet, thrilling and compelling ride, it reminds us yet again that well-made, thoughtful movies with heart can also be visually exciting, and full of fun, and laugh-out-loud moments. It’s the sort of movie that threatens to extinguish those half-hearted, factory line films, and though I doubt they will go extinct anytime soon, I will always look forward to when – every once in a while – a remarkable movie like this one jumps out and surprises us, then entertains and involves us through a contagious love for the cinema.

- 4.5/5 stars

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Hunger Games

When I consider how I should review The Hunger Games my first instinct is to compare every individual scene side by side, the book via my imagination vs. the movie. Then any excluded parts of the book would be thoroughly analyzed as I’d determine whether in my opinion, the scene really was expendable, or heaven forbid, necessary.

Obviously that is a very, very bad idea, so I will try my best to ignore my instincts.

Our hero(ine) Katniss is a straightforward absolute arrow-slinging cynic – a person we wouldn’t really want to be friends with if she were real, but she still makes a great hero for us. She volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in a TV game show, where losing literally means death, and we’re swept away on an epic, thought-provoking ride. Through her eyes, we see the similarities between our culture’s entertainment, and the horrible “entertainment” of her world, and other serious and dark views and ideas. This is the franchise, complete with a dramatic love-triangle, that the target audience, young teen girls are putting aside Twilight to obsess over. There is a hilarious paradox somewhere in that…

Don’t get me wrong, I like this franchise… really, I do. I mean, who would’ve thought we could watch a movie about kids killing other kids for entertainment and be simultaneously appalled and entertained? But we are, and it even works. It’s a good, original story that is well acted, very compelling, and presented in the right way to not glorify the content as mindless entertainment, and I will continue to elaborate on these more simple reasons why I enjoy it… if I can manage not to get distracted again. Bear with me if you will.

So, twenty-four teenaged contestants and only one will win— and survive. And the movie convinces us that it’s true. Half the movie is spent building up to the arena, and none of it is wasted. This is where all the good stuff happens. The tension is incredible in these parts, building up to the initial bloodbath in the arena, which was bitingly real; an impression that the dreaded shaky-cam actually helped with in this case. Imagine that. But still, in less intense moments, I would really like to be able to see, and not get dizzy. I think that directors should be tested and approved in order to use the shaky-cam effect in their films. J. J. Abrams can be the judge.

Moving on to the cast… it was inspired. Jennifer Lawrence is probably the only person who could've pulled off such a potentially dislikeable character with actual likability. She made this movie. But rest of the cast more than fulfilled their parts as well. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta appears to have leapt straight out of the book. Elizabeth Banks as Effie was duly hilarious, as was Woody Harrelson playing Haymich. Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane surprised me, together with his beard and his… end, he quickly became a character worth remembering. And then there’s Stanley Tucci. Seriously, who else could play Caesar Flickerman? He owns his few scenes, and they’re my favorite bits of the movie. I won’t mention everyone, but this was a well cast movie all around, especially in the young, fresh actors. They did an outstanding job.

My favorite part of the book was left out. Not shocking since the book is full of great intricate details. But most of them were cut out to allow focus on the actually important things, like the plot, the theme and the spirit of the book, so it's okay. The only thing I feel is missing is in the characters. I know, that sounds contradictory to what I just said about the cast, but as good as they are, they’re still lacking in depth compared to their book counterparts. It is a small complaint though, and with three more films coming, I trust the characters can and will be more developed.

But I’m falling back on my instincts, and bringing the book in too much. This movie, just as a movie, is a good, well made, and well acted movie. It’s convincingly real. It’s powerful and thought-provoking. It’s visually beautiful, and the futuristic world very creative. It showcases Lawrence’s performance of this one-of-a-kind character, and a talented supporting cast. Blunt, deep, astounding… and memorable – hey, it’s just like Katniss. Oh, yeah, and it’s even entertaining.

- 4/5 stars

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Premium Rush

The always sensational Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, a smart and nimble bike messenger in New York City. His bike has one gear and no brakes, but he apparently doesn’t actually have a death-wish, he just loves the rush of speeding though traffic and using his lightning-quick reflexes to not get killed. Of course, not getting killed is a lot easier when no is actually trying to kill you. Not that Michael Shannon as crooked cop Detective Monday is really trying to kill Wilee, he just wants the package he’s carrying. But Wilee is a stickler for the rules and loyal to his friend who gave him the package, and refuses to let Monday have it. The package must be either at its destination or in the hands of Monday at seven o’clock, and the time is now five-thirty. Let the hour-and-a-half chase through the streets of New York commence.

Yes, this movie is just an hour and a half, unusually short for an action flick these days, but in the end it didn't matter, because the story was put together right, and filled up the exact amount of time it needed. Perfect in length, with remarkable balance, it flies by with zero slow spots, but never rushes over anything too quickly. Every once in a while, a well-timed flash-back will fill you in a little bit more on the plot, which is by no means complicated, but I for one never took notice. I was way too busy watching Gordon-Levitt kicking butt at a break-neck pace, and enjoying every minute of it.

Gordon-Levitt was, of course, the reason I wanted to see this film, and it was a good reason; he always performs so well and this was no exception. But there is more worth watching to this film besides a good and compelling hero. For example, there are three more good-guy characters that get a chunk of screen time. Wilee’s girl, Vanessa, (Dania Ramirez) her roommate, and sender of the mysterious package Nima, (Jamie Chung) and Wilee and Vanessa’s co-worker Manny (Wole Parks) who barely makes the title “good guy” as he’s annoying and amazingly self-absorbed. They were good, without adding to, or detracting from the movie very much at all. Then there’s Michael Shannon, the bad guy, and he was a very good and creepy bad guy. A love-to-hate-him sort of fellow, and kept the tension up throughout the movie.
Action films are a dime a dozen, with their overly stylish, mostly unbelievable action sequences and stunts, and fiery explosions. They go way over the top, and yet we still sometimes manage to get bored watching them. I’m not going to say the action here is anything really new, lots of movies do have quality action after all, but I sure did enjoy it like it was new. Mostly, I think, because it was real, with no green screen and little special effects. It felt real, and it was refreshing, and exciting. And by "real" I don't mean "shaky and quick-cut." The director David Koepp kept the camera smooth, so every stunt is clear and enjoyable. Definitely action worth seeing, and good thing too, because the action never stops, so if it was lousy, the movie would be practically nonredeemable.

None of the elements in Premium Rush are very original. The most original being that our hero is a bike messenger, which probably hasn’t been used much because it just doesn’t seem like a great idea. But take the basic plot, all the usual action flick formula, and the one original element, and – this is the key – make it well, and you will end up with a good movie that is at its very least worth watching. A movie that doesn’t feel like it came out of a factory. Joseph Gordon-Levitt automatically raises the quality of any movie he’s in by at least 75%, but really he’s just icing on the cake; something that will tempt someone like me to see this non-factory-made movie. Still, Gordon-Levitt is my favorite part of the movie, but thanks to every other part being quality as well, I was satisfied that his abilities weren’t wasted on trash. Not without its flaws, but this film is what it claims to be; a non-stop from beginning to end, rip-roaring good time at the movies. Grab your helmet, and hold on tight.

- 3.8/5 stars