Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Horse is full of horse shit!

Okay, so I'm not quite done with 2011 just yet! But, while technically not a bad movie, the more I think about War Horse, the more I just start to hate it. It just feels so artificial, like Spielberg is just desperate for tears, yet doesn't quite know how to go about getting them. It appears to be built entirely around some sort of non-existent emotional investment, yet the movie just completely lacks any kind of genuine heart. It assumes that, just because it's a movie about an animal, that we'll just automatically care about it. But hell, I cared more about the stupid flag that was being passed around throughout the movie than the god damn horse! Basically, it's one of the most blatantly manipulative movies I've seen in a while, and I wasn't about to fall for its shit.

I think where this film falters is that it just tries too hard, and it tries too much. At a little over 2 hours, this movie doesn't go 10 minutes without trying to rise some sort of strong emotional reaction out of its audience. It just wants so badly to be the tear-jerker of the year. And sure, for the easily manipulated, it likely succeeds. But for everyone else, the only reaction it'll get is a well deserved groan.

Looking back in the past couple years alone, there have been some legitimate tear-jerking movies. And you wanna know what they did right? They don't try to get you to cry every 10 damn minutes. They choose their spot, gradually build to it, make you emotionally invested and actually caring about the fates of our characters. And then, when the moment strikes, whether for better or worse, down come the water works. Right now, I'm going to look at four movies from the past couple years that succeeded where War Horse failed so miserably.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

Kung Fu Panda 2

This would be an example of a sad emotional response. I've mentioned before how heart-wrenching a movie that Kung Fu Panda 2 can be. In it, the main character, Po, is trying to learn where he came from, and what happened to his family. We're constantly dropped hints at what actually happened, until finally, Po is able to channel his inner peace and remembers his long lost memories from when he was a baby. It's then that we're taken on his ruthless journey filled with pain and anguish. The movie builds up to this moment from the very beginning, making the viewer truly feel for Po and understand his desperation. And in feeling for Po, as we watch him go through this intense moment, we, the viewer, experience that same pain and anguish that Po is going through. Only when we're completely engrossed with these characters and genuinely concerned about their fates does the movie unleash itself.

But not all tear-jerking movies try to just make you sad...


Here's a movie that, instead, encourages tears of joy. In this one, our main characters are out on an adventure, chasing after a dream. The two don't start off on the right foot, but they gradually grow a bond over the course of their adventure. And the stronger their bond becomes, the stronger our bond with these characters also grows. Until, at last, just when their dreams have finally come to life under a sea of lanterns, they look into each others eyes and see that the thing they've been chasing all along has been right in front of them this whole time. It's a beautiful moment, one that fills you with the purest sense of bliss. You just can't help but feel so happy for these characters who've gone through so much in this movie, not just with each other, but with the audience as well.

Of course, War Horse tries desperately for both of these kinds of strong emotional reactions. But where War Horse failed, one movie managed to pull this off quite nicely.

Toy Story 3

Now here's an emotional roller coaster if I've ever seen one! And really, do I even need to explain this one? Even if you ignore the first two movies as the establishment for these characters, this film starts from scratch to make you genuinely learn to love and care about them all over again. Even ignoring the incinerator scene and focusing solely on the final moments in this film, this film sends you home feeling both sad about Andy letting go of his childhood as he gives away his old toys, and yet satisfied that all ultimately ended well for our heroes. It's such a touching and relatable finale, and we've grown such a strong attachment to these characters that we can't help but respond just as strongly for their outcome.

Now, you might have noticed that all these examples have been animated films. Well I've noticed it, too, which is why I want to send us off with a live-action example.

Super 8

In my Top 10 Movies, I called this the best Spielberg film of the year. And one area where this movie out-Spielbergs Spielberg is in the emotions department. Now, I won't go calling this a tear-jerker or anything, but I felt that the final moments were really quite touching, and did register quite a strong feeling of satisfaction regardless. Though to be honest, Super 8 might not be my best example, given the mixed reactions towards its arguably overly sappy ending. But even if War Horse had managed to achieve even that meager level of emotional attachment, perhaps it would have warranted the response that it's going for.

But in the end, despite my negative feelings towards the movie, War Horse still wouldn't have cracked my list for worst of the year. Because like I said, technically, it's a good movie, and there are certainly things here worth praising. It's just that the movie's so full of shit. Basically, if you're looking for a nice, moving film, then check out one of the other movies mentioned above. But if you're just in the market to see a good new Spielberg movie, then don't even bother with this one. Instead, go see The Adventures of Tintin, you're guaranteed to have a blast with that!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Top 5 WORST Movies of 2011

So now that we covered the best of the year, it's time to take a look at my picks for the worst movies the year had to offer. Sorry, no pretty pictures for this one.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
(Michael Bay)

Now I'm someone who actually likes and enjoys the first two Transformers movie. Yes, even the universally panned second movie. But this, this one was just unbearable. Perhaps if the movie hadn't spent 90 minutes following around Shia LaBeouf as he acts like a pompous little ingrate and tries to find a job. Or maybe if the movie hadn't tried to completely re-write Optimus Prime's character (who should be the main protagonist in a freaking Transformers movie!), giving a big ol' middle finger to all prior Transformers continuity, the previous two movies included. Or possibly if the movie had actually focused just a tiny little bit on the actual transformers themselves instead of the boring human characters. Maybe, just maybe, this might be a half decent movie.

But in the end, Shia LaBeouf is insufferable, we have to sit through the obnoxious antics of Ken Jeong, and all of the action fails to impress in the least. The whole damn movie just falls completely flat, not to mention it's one of several utterly boring movies that make up this list. How this steaming pile of crap somehow received an applause from the audience in attendance still baffles me to this day.

The Green Hornet
(Michael Gondry)

Now here's a movie that just never knows when to get to the damn point. Every single scene overstays its welcome, and just drags on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. And just when it looks like they're finally getting somewhere, guess what? They don't! Nope, just keeps on dragging on! Hell, this whole movie can be summarized by that scene in the trailer, where Jay Chou snaps off a bottle cap, and it flies into the camera all stylish. In the movie, when this happens, we follow the bottle cap as it continues to fly, just waiting to see where it might land, and what it might do. Except, it doesn't do anything. We just sit there and continue to follow as it slowly drifts to the ground. And that's pretty much how every single scene in this movie can be described.

The fact that the movie suddenly chooses to hold the audience's hand and treat them like a moron near the end, summarizing up the entire plot in a misplaced 5 minute segment (I guess for everyone who was texting during the movie instead of paying attention) is just one last slap in the face before it finally wraps things up.

The Tree of Life
(Terrence Malick)

Unlike the first two movies on this list, I can actually understand how someone might like this movie. If you're into all that artsy-fartsy mumbo-jumbo, then this one's right up your alley! But for me, this movie was so over-the-top obnoxious and full of itself, it almost felt like a parody of your typical pretentious arthouse film. But honestly, despite being further down on the list, this movie actually does have more going for it than the other two thus far. Brad Pitt gives us an incredible performance. It's just a shame that his role in the movie is so short compared to all the other crap.

And it's all that other crap that makes this movie place as far down the list as it is, because my god, this is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the absolute most boring movies I have ever seen. I'm actually surprised that I even made it all the way through without walking out. But it's certainly a love it or hate it kind of movie, and if it's not your thing, as is the case with me, then you're not gonna like this one at all.

(Paul Feig)

And here's what's likely to be another unpopular inclusion in my list, but, again, what can I say? I just don't get the hype for this one. And it's not because I'm a guy, like several people have told me. No, I know a lot of guys who really enjoyed this movie, too! But I dunno, I just didn't think the movie was funny, save for the scene on the airplane. It was just really long and overly drawn out.

And most of the characters weren't even the least bit likable. Hell, I hated them, and they deserved all the bad crap that happened to them. And even the movie itself apparently didn't care too much for some of them, as there's several characters who just drop off the face of the earth about halfway through, never to have their story arcs reach any kind of actual resolution. Makes you wonder why they even bothered to include them at all in this already bloated movie. But I dunno, a lot of people seemed to like this, so maybe they're just seeing something that I'm not.

But while some of the movies on this list I can sort of see how someone might find enjoyment out of it, the same can not be said for my #1 pick for the absolute WORST movie of the year.

The Hangover: Part II
(Todd Phillips)

Mother of god. This movie is ABYSMAL! Not just the worst of this year, but one of the worst I've ever, ever seen. I don't have one kind thing to say about it, there is absolutely no redeeming value in this horrifyingly awful movie. There is not one laugh to be had in this supposed comedy, not one little chuckle. Nothing.

Now, everyone keeps saying that this is just the same movie as the first, but no, that's not the case here. This movie spends its entire run-time merely referencing the first movie. "Hey, remember when we did that before?" Yeah, that's this entire movie, just three guys wandering from one unfunny situation to another, all the while just reminiscing on the last time all this crap happened to them.

But you wanna know the difference between this time and last? It was actually funny the last time! It was actually something new, something fresh, and something worth watching! Something that I can't say about this movie at all. Sure, the first movie's worth talking about, but not for the entire duration of your sequel! Top it all off by making all of the characters completely unlikeable this time around, and you're in for a movie that'll do nothing short of piss you off.

So there, that's it. Oh, and I suppose I should make a few dishonorable mentions as well. Cowboys & Aliens, Killer Elite, Limitless, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides are all great big pieces of doo-doo as well.

Basically, all of these movies are just one big, unfunny joke. And, going off of that horrible transition, I'm now gonna share with you the actual funniest jokes of the year, to end things on a brighter note. Sure, they're out of context, but screw it!

Top 3 Funniest Lines of 2011:

#3: "I'm not kissing ya!" -Tommy Lee Jones, Captain America: The First Avenger

#2: "Go fuck yourself." -Hugh Jackman, X-Men: First Class

#1: "Honestly guys, I never thought I'd die like this. I always thought I'd meet a nice girl and settle down, and then she'd eat my head. So sad." -Seth Rogan, Kung Fu Panda 2

My Top 10 Movies of 2011

So it's about that time of year again. Time for the yearly countdown of my favorites movies from the past year. It's been an alright year overall. Not a whole lot of movies I'd necessarily say were great, but there's been quite a few good to decent movies. First, I suppose I should start off with a couple honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut: The Adventures of Tintin and Martha Marcy May Marlene, both of which are really good movies, and are certainly worth checking out. Now then, onto the first movie on this countdown...


Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)

In a year filled to the brim with comic book adaptations, the one that stood head and shoulders above the pack was none other than Captain America. The latest in Marvel's Avengers series of films is also, by far, the best thus far. Chris Evans does an awesome job playing the Cap, and is supported by equally impressive performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell. This is just a fun, colorful throwback to really old school propaganda comics, and one of the better entries in the superhero genre.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)

As much as I loved the first movie, this one is better in every way imaginable. It's every single thing that made the first one great, only expanded on and delivered to their fullest potential. But above all else, the bromance between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law is alive and well, and better than ever. These two just have the best chemistry of any on screen couple I've ever seen. I could just sit back and watch these two banter for hours, and never grow bored! And as great as their interactions were in the first, they're just as good here, and they share so much more screen-time than before.

I also really enjoyed the actual plot this time around, too. The mystery was much more intriguing, and Moriarty was a far more interesting villain. The final face-off between Holmes and Moriarty was especially glorious to watch. I just had so much fun with this movie. It's often humorous, it's action packed, and the story is overall intriguing. Add in the inclusion of Holmes' brother, played by Stephen Fry, and you've got the makings for just a lovely movie-going experience!


The Ides of March (George Clooney)

Ryan Gosling is on a roll this year! I didn't expect much from this film, but it more than delivered, far exceeding my expectations. In this political thriller, Ryan Gosling gets caught up in a scandal involving presidential candidate Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. With careers on the line and an ever looming feeling of distrust, this really was just a captivating movie from start to finish. The performances are great, and the direction is spot on in this cleverly written adaptation.


Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

Without being weighed down by an origins story, this one surpasses its predecessor with one of the most emotionally fueled stories of the year. Seriously, this movie is just heart-wrenching. But intense as it can sometimes get, it's also one of the most light-hearted films of the year, and really just an all out fun movie to watch. This one brings the humor and the action in full spades, and is just absolutely gorgeous, quite possibly the best looking 3D animated film to date. Like the first movie, despite the fact that Kung Fu Panda 2 has all of the ingredients present for a potential disaster, it turned out way better than it ever had any right to be. Please don't pass up the chance to see it, and check out the original, too!


Super 8 (J. J. Abrams)

Who woulda thought that, in a year where we got two new movies from Steven Spielberg, the best Spielberg movie of the year wouldn't even be directed by Spielberg himself? In this homage to Spielberg-style classics, Abrams delivers a nice, heart-warming tale, made all the more special by the surprisingly spectacular performances from the mostly child cast. I really can't say enough just how awesome the kids in this movie are. Top it all off with awesome effects and all of the lens flares that one can ask from a J. J. Abrams flick, then you're really in for a good time with this one.


Hugo (Martin Scorsese)

And moving on from one homage to another, Hugo was also quite a magical movie. The cinematography was especially phenomenal, as this is one of the most visually appealing films of the whole year. The kids were, again, great, as was the rest of the cast, who know how to have fun with their roles without going overboard. And it's just a wonderful journey to witness as the movie unravels and delves further into the history of cinema itself. You could just tell that this was a deeply personal film for Scorsese, and it shows in its marvelous execution.


Another Earth (Mike Cahill)

This feels like the oddball choice of the bunch, being not only a limited release arthouse film, but one that even several film buffs opted to ignore. But when I saw this playing in town, I just had to check it out, if only out of sheer curiosity. And boy was I glad that I did. It's a fairly simple drama with a light sci-fi backdrop, but it's a totally engaging, if tragic, story about a girl coming to terms with the terrible mistakes of her past. Meanwhile, a second Earth has been discovered, which looms gracefully in the background all throughout the story. It's an odd film at times, though the ideas it presents are certainly interesting, and leads to some seriously inspired imagery. The final shot in particular is especially satisfying.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)

Talk about unexpectedly good, I'm not sure anyone took this film seriously going in, but my god, it really is outstanding. Playing out as more of a drama, despite its action-oriented trailers, this is exactly what the title suggests, though probably not in the way you'd think. We follow the ape, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in yet another awesome performance, as he rises into power as the leader of his ape allies who seek to live a life of freedom. But the movie is actually quite subtle, and it takes its time to let the story naturally flesh out, and often acts as somewhat of a silent film. The CGI apes all look great, and the movie itself is really quite beautiful as well. It's a touching story, and probably the biggest surprise of the year.


Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Refn calls this his gritty, neon version of a superhero movie, and if we count it as that, then sorry Cap, but Drive's got you beat. And holy crap is this movie fantastic! Not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best I've ever seen. Everything about this movie is just outstanding, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, the action! From top to bottom, this movie is just about perfect. And the actors are able to tell us so much while saying so little, none doing this better than Ryan Gosling (I told you he was on a roll this year!). And that elevator scene, just, wow!

I was shocked to see this actually get a wide release, since its definitely more of the artsy kind of movie that typically gets a limited run. But I'm just glad that, as a result, this one was so easy to catch at the theaters, even if the general public didn't quite go for it. And shame on everyone who dismissed it for not being just another stupid Fast and Furious clone! Y'all are really missing out!

Of course, I say that about the general public, but then I make this next movie my #1 favorite of the year:


Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder)

Now here's an unpopular choice, but what can I say? I loved this movie! I raved about it in my review earlier in the year, and though my feelings on it may not be quite as strong now as they were then, I still love this movie for all that it set out to accomplish. But I'm really just baffled at how many people flat out didn't understand this movie at all, especially since it's not exactly the most subtle thing. I've seen so many critics try to dissect this movie in order to point out its flaws, all the while only proving that the film just flew right over their heads. It's a movie that celebrates escaping into your dreams and letting your imagination run wild. Sure, it's also a kick ass action flick with hot girls in skimpy outfits, but that's besides the point! The point is, so many people would have you believe that this is a stupid movie for the lowest common denominator, when in fact, it's actually one of the more brilliant pieces to release in some time. So brilliant, that even a lot of the smart guys didn't get it!

But enough about that. As I was saying, I loved this movie for several reasons. In many respects, it feels like a movie that I would have come up with myself. The way it transitions between dreams and supposed realities, as well as differing point of views between characters, is just seamless. And I also love how it's almost like watching a two hour long music video, with some of the most awesome remixes of old classic tracks. Snyder has perfected his particular style with this movie, and he's given us his masterpiece. It's one of the most hated movies of the year, but I loved it, enough to call it my favorite movie of 2011.

So anyways, those are my top picks for the year, and now, as an added bonus, I'll throw out my choices for best performances in the past year as well:

Top 5 Actresses of 2011:

#5: Carey Mulligan - Drive

#4: Elle Fanning - Super 8

#3: Charlotte Gainsbourg - Melancholia

#2: Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

#1: Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Top 5 Actors of 2011:

#5: Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes/The Adventures of Tintin

#4: Michael Fassbender - X-Men: First Class

#3: Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life/Moneyball

#2: Ryan Gosling - Drive/The Ides of March

#1: Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50

So that's it, and next time, we'll take a look at my least favorite movies of the year. See ya then!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

So I just got back from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and boy was that an endurance test of a movie! I mean it, the pacing in this movie is an absolute nightmare. I feel like I just got finished sitting through three separate movies entirely. It just didn't know when to begin, and, suffering from Return of the King syndrome, it has absolutely no idea when to wrap things up.

The premise of the story is that Daniel Craig is signed on to investigate the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of a woman from about forty years ago. Meanwhile, the title character, Lisbeth, played phenomenally by Rooney Mara, is brought in to help after Craig learns about the in-depth background check that she was able to secretly conduct on him, and figures that her particular private investigative expertise will come in handy. Their case is the bulk of the main story in this movie, yet it takes forever for us to actually get there.

First, while Craig is getting started with his own detective work, we follow Lisbeth around as she deals with her pig of a legal guardian in order to receive access to her money. Now, though gratuitous, this is all extremely interesting and intense stuff. However, while it certainly adds character, it does little to add to the actual narrative, and feels really clunky once we transition away from that plot-line and into the main story. But like I said, it is all very interesting, but I just wish that its inclusion could have been more relevant, and perhaps condensed a little.

Once we finally do jump to the main plot, the story is all well and good. There's a lot of information thrown at you, and it's at times a little hard to follow all their investigative work, though I wouldn't say that I was ever necessarily confused. Overall, I'd say the main story is well told, which is thanks in no short part to the awesome performances from Craig and Mara.

However, once the story is done and the mystery's solved, we then enter the third movie within a movie, as we now follow Lisbeth around, doing Daniel Craig a favor or something. I dunno, this whole sequence was just overlong and tedious. The story was over, the movie shoulda been wrapping up, but instead we're off on another escapade for a good twenty or so minutes, and I'm just ready to freaking go. It ultimately felt unnecessary, and unlike the opening act, it wasn't even all that interesting. Really a poor note to end the movie on.

And that's another thing, the movie suffers from an all too abrupt ending. Hell, they don't even let the last shot linger a little before the credits start crawling up the screen. It's like, they had no idea when to actually end the movie, yet when they finally do, they just couldn't end it quick enough. These kinds of issues really just soured up an otherwise potentially really good movie.

Then again, looking at the story as a progression of Lisbeth's dark, personal journey and how she deals with the situations brought onto her and the people she meets, if we view this, and not the mystery at hand, as the central core of the movie, then a lot of these added scenes do begin to hold a little more merit. That said, with the exception of my point that the scenes lack relevance, all of my complaints still stand. Basically, it feels like David Fincher was just trying to fit in way too much, and it just didn't work.

Visually speaking, this is a very visceral movie. It's just so magnificently dark and gritty, yet super slick. And with the amount of sex and nudity on display, the film is also borderline NC-17 (I seriously don't know how this one got away with an R rating). It really is one of the better looking movies of the year, though, which is unsurprising coming from David Fincher.

The score is also getting a lot of attention. Trent Reznor returns after his awesome job on The Social Network, and he doesn't disappoint too badly. I didn't think the score was as good as his previous work, as it did feel a bit intrusive at times. But overall, the music was fine, and that heavy rock song from the trailer was actually quite fitting in the opening sequence (unlike in said trailer).

So in the end, the movie was okay, but it could have been so much better. And David Fincher is certainly capable of delivering so much better. And I dunno what happened, but something just went terribly wrong in the editing room. The core of the movie is fine, and Craig and Mara are both great (and I really liked the cat, too!). It's just such a shame that the movie released with so many flaws intact. However, it's definitely worth checking out, and despite its many flaws, I'd still be totally on board to revisit this film in the future, as there's a whole lotta good here to digest, too.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Muppets

So I ended up seeing The Muppets, and, well, it was... okay. Not great, but not necessarily bad, either. Just very much okay. Granted, I'm not exactly much of a fan of the Muppets, and I don't really have much in the way of nostalgia for them. So if you're a fan of them, then you may well enjoy the movie more than I did.

But really, it's kind of an unfocused mess of a movie. It starts off following a new Muppet, Walter, his brother, played by Jason Segel, and his brother's girlfriend, played by Amy Adams. They go on a vacation that includes visiting the old Muppets studio, where they find out that someone intends to purchase the studio and tear it down. So in order to save the studio, Walter and the gang go off to reunite the Muppets.

This whole time we're just following Walter and his human friends, and it's very clear that they're the central characters of the story. Or, at least, they were. The very instant that Kermit the Frog enters the movie, he takes over as lead, while Walter and the gang are relegated to background characters for the remainder of the flick. I found this pretty annoying, considering how much time they dedicated to building up these new characters and establishing their goals, only to see them become all but forgotten for the better part of the rest of the movie. Of course, I realize that the Muppets are supposed to be the stars of the show, but still, this could have been handled better. But anyways, once focus shifts over to the classic Muppets, they go off and gather up the whole gang to put on a show and raise enough money to buy back the studio. Simple enough.

The movie is littered with fourth wall references and random cameos from various celebrities. The fourth wall jokes started out decent enough, but they quickly become overused. We get it, you guys are aware that you're in a movie! Basically, a lot of the jokes just fall flat, with only one, involving Rowlf the Dog, getting a good laugh out of me. And as for cameos, I really got a kick out of Jim Parsons' appearance, but other than him, everyone else just seems pointless. They don't really do anything other than flash on screen and maybe deliver a single line. And sometimes that single line isn't even a joke, like Sarah Silverman, who merely greets Amy Adams at a restaurant, and then disappears.

And speaking of which, there were at least two scenes which just felt entirely out of place in this movie. There's a scene were Amy Adams breaks out into song and dance in the restaurant, which ultimately adds nothing to the movie, and feels like its there for the sole purpose of wasting a couple of minutes. There's a similar scene involving Chris Cooper rapping, which beyond being overly ridiculous, did nothing but detract from the movie. It really was kind of odd, as if they figured there weren't enough musical numbers, so they just threw a couple more in there just to make up for it. But the movie suffers for their inclusion, so you gotta wonder why they even bothered.

Not that all of the songs are bad. "Man or Muppet" was a great moment in the film, and one that'll stick with you well after the fact. And the opening and closing musicals were also really fun to watch.

Overall, while it may seem like I'm tearing this movie apart, it's really not entirely bad. I had a good enough time, it's just that the movie didn't do anything to really make it stand out, other than the mere fact that it is, in fact, a Muppets movie. It has its flaws, and its a bit of a mess, but I still had a decent enough time watching it. And hey, if nothing else, this is the first time I've actually been able to sit through a Muppets movie all the way through, so it has that going for it!