November 24, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Keira Knightly, Steve Carell

Let me start off by saying this was yet another movie I thought was a comedy that turned out not to be. It's not my fault, really. The tagline for the movie is "the first comedy about the end of it all." I swear, sometimes the people responsible for creating movie publicity don't even watch the movie! One of my favorite websites, has plenty of witty and sarcastic remarks about this very subject. At least its aptly titled. I guess I thought the subject was too depressing to actually make it a drama. But I would be wrong. I also didn't believe that Hollywood, even with all their bizarre and inappropriate pairings, would actually make me witness a kiss between Steve Carell and Keira Knightly. But again... I would be wrong. So wrong.

I've said this before, but this movie was... strange. Not in a bad way, but not really in a good way either. It falls into the extremely narrow genre of 'not-supposed-to-be-a-full-on-comedy-but-has-Steve-Carell-in-it', which as far as I know, only includes Dan in Real Life (I suppose there could be an argument for including Crazy, Stupid, Love. but that would sort of be missing my point). So it depends on how you feel about comedic actors foraying into the dramatic realm. For example, I felt surprisingly okay about Jim Carey in The Truman Show, but would rather die a slow death by [insert anything, really] than sit through Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come again.

So even though this movie may seem like a stretch for Steve Carell because it's not a comedy, he's essentially the same person anyway - awkward, middle-aged, conservative guy. He even sells insurance in this movie. The only real change between this movie and every other movie he's made is that there are less references to sex and everyone around him makes less jokes. 

Ultimately, this movie is good for the following groups of people:
1. The clinically depressed, who tend to ponder their end of days anyway
2. Those who stand on street corners and warn people about the imminent demise of the universe
3. Pseudo-intellectuals who need new ideas to start conversations and sound deep
4. People who have two hours to kill and aren't super picky about what they do with those hours

Final word: I don't know if its was the movie that made me depressed afterward or the fact that I couldn't figure out how I'd spend the last three weeks of my life.

November 18, 2012

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Julia Roberts

I'd been anticipating this movie ever since I'd seen the previews before it hit theaters - maybe because it seemed like a more positive alternative to that dark Snow White movie starring the gross Twilight girl. The jokes were funny and really, who doesn't love a movie with midgets? Oh sorry, I mean little people. I mean, does anyone remember how much better Austin Powers got when Mini Me joined the cast?

So maybe this was all my fault. I looked forward to watching this movie, and that almost never turns out well. Kind of like this movie. It started out well enough - a few corny jokes that were funny enough, fantastic costumes, and little people dressed in costumes. But then, the cracks started to show. Sure, the costumes were great, until I noticed the characters were wearing the same thing for multiple days. And the main guy looked semi-attractive, but something about him sort of bugged me. So I IMDBed him and realized he played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Ew. Even the costumes couldn't hide the fact that some of the little people were not good actors. I'm sure it's difficult to find seven whole midgets for a movie, but couldn't they just have made them walk on their knees or something like John Leguizamo in Moulin Rouge? (Hmmm... scratch that - that looked pretty stupid too.)

Now, I realize this is a family movie. As was another movie I recently watched... and skewered. But why should my standards for a family movie be any lower than a regular movie? Is it unfair to call a movie sucky just because it targets young kids? I mean, there's a reason Walt Disney (and Co.) has won so many Oscars - because Disney movies are mostly awesome (I don't care how well it did at the box office or that it managed a sequel, Cars was really stupid and annoying). This is the standard to which every other "family movie" is compared, in my world. And this one failed. Miserably. Especially when I think back to a comparable Disney movie - Enchanted.

A bright spot in the movie was actually Julia Roberts. I understand she's actually the star, and the main draw for people, but in general, I don't like her. I find her... abrasive. And in this movie, she plays an ok villain (she really should have watched Enchanted and taken some notes from Susan Sarandon). What's great about her in this movie is how she looks. It's incredible, really, how flawless they make her face look. It's no wonder actors in Hollywood are obsessed with plastic surgery - who can look like that in everyday life? So it's sort of humorous that we are supposed to believe that Lily Collins with her furry eyebrows is supposed to be more beautiful. But who knows - they are legions of people out there who adore Frida Kahlo. 

Final word: I only like my pizzas cheesy, not my movies (yes, this was intentionally corny to reflect the nature of the movie).

November 11, 2012

Anna Karenina (2012)

Keira Knightly, Jude Law

I've been dying to see this movie since I first saw the trailer. And no wonder! A great movie trailer can lure you into even the crappiest of movies! (Case in point: I remember seeing the A Walk in the Clouds because of the trailer. Not a confession I wanted to make public, but it really made my point.) I mean, they are so important that movie producers sometimes hire a whole separate crew of people just to make the trailers. There are even awards for movie promotional materials! Which makes sense, when you really think about it. It's kind of like how people hire professionals to take their dating site profile picture and create their profile for them. It's all in the initial sale.  (FYI: if you need do this, it probably explains why you are still single.)

The movie delivers on some of the promises from the preview. The movie is beautiful. Stunning, really.  In stark contrast to many period pieces that feel stiff and quiet, the movie is in constant motion, full of characters and colors - so much so that your eyes are sometimes scanning the screen, trying not to miss anything. The movie also runs music in the background almost continuously, which is actually nice because it keeps the viewer paying attention through the not-as-interesting beginning part where we're being introduced to all the characters very hurriedly. And the creative decision to portray the movie like a play is sort of genius. I mean, the book is 900 pages (side note: does Tolstoy know how to write anything shorter than all the Harry Potter books combined??) and condensing it into a two hour movie is no easy feat. So I can appreciate the difficulty of trying to cram everything in and can manage to overlook some of the choppier transitions.

And the costumes. Oh, the costumes! Divine, of course! So amazing that Banana Republic even made an entire line inspired by the costumes. I'm biased, of course, but Keira Knightly looks amazing throughout the entire movie. It's a little strange to see her make this transition into older woman and mother, but I suppose that's a natural progression of things in a Hollywood career for a woman. Sigh. 

The acting is wonderful as well, especially a surprising comedic turn by Matthew McFayden. Since the only other character I've seen him as is the stern Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, he's practically unrecognizable as a totally lovable Oblonsky. The only casting I had beef with was Count Vronsky. This is a man who is supposed to be so utterly handsome that Anna Karenina is willing to ponder sacrificing her family and her entire life after just seeing him once. So forgive me if I expect such a man to look like, well, better than this guy. Though I suppose he wasn't helped by the frosted tips and horrible porn 'stache he sported for the movie. Really, if that was what was considered attractive in 1870's Russia...

But while the acting wasn't a problem, the script was. It seems strange to demand that a two hour movie I didn't particularly enjoy should be made longer, but I think it would have helped. Character development was shallow and anyone who hadn't read the book could be prone to confusion in how quickly relationships developed in the story. Then again, anyone who has read the book will probably be disappointed in how much had to be cut out to fit into a two hour movie. Damned if you do, damned if I don't, I guess.

My biggest critique of the movie is this: the story is Russian, through and through. It's written by Tolstoy (does it get any more Russian than that?). The characters wear lots of fur and drink vodka at every opportunity. They have names like Aleksei and Sacha and Constanine. In fact, the only Russian clich├ęs missing in it are  a couple of matryoshka dolls and a shot of the Red Square. So why does the movie feel like a BBC production? Oh, is it because every person in the movie is British and they don't even bother to change their accent? Ah yes, that must be it. You might think, 'But wait, didn't you just watch a movie in which Keira Knightly had a Russian accent'? Yes, yes I did. But that accent was nowhere to be found here. As Tia Carrere says in True Lies, "Pity."

Final word: Like a cute guy with a good profile on, this movie had everything I wanted on paper, but there was just no spark.

November 8, 2012

Rock of Ages (2012)

Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin

This movie was just... bizarre. I really don't know any other way to explain it. Of course, musicals are always a little kooky because people just randomly break into song, then continue with dialogue after their number ends as though nothing happened. But this movie in particular was... odd. I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on it, but I couldn't help thinking this was like a low-grade Baz Luhrmann rip-off. Like, if you factor out all the famous people in the movie, this could have been an excellent high school production.

The casting was ok, although I could probably do without ever seeing Alec Baldwin sing again. It made me equally as uncomfortable as when I saw James Bond singing ballads in Mamma Mia! And Tom Cruise playing a whacked-out weirdo? Not exactly a stretch. I felt like I was just looking into his life on a day without his handlers. 

The only person I didn't recognize in the entire movie was the male lead, which is weird since they packed in like 20 famous people - couldn't they find one more? Seriously - I had to look him up because he didn't even look familiar. Here's what he's from - are you ready for it? Pretty Little Liars, 90210 (the new one), and... wait for it... Mean Girls 2. (And just in case you're wondering, no, the sequel does not star any of the original cast members. It's that kind of "sequel.") So yeah, a real superstar. So what's weird about it is:
A. He's unattractive. I'm not saying that for just my taste - I'm pretty sure it's just a fact. And if you don't believe that, you have to at least agree he is not nearly as cute as Julianne Hough. In what world does he get her?
B. This movie is a nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up listening to 80's rock bands. So what would a kid who was born in 1990 be doing in it? Were the producers trying to attract a younger crowd? Because somehow I don't see a bunch of 16 year-old girls running to see this movie.

I think the movie was supposed to be a satire, but I'm confused as to what it was mocking - the 80's in general, perhaps? If it wasn't supposed to be a caricature of the times, well, then, it was just weird. Don't get me wrong - the music was amazing. But it got to the point where I'd look forward to what song was coming next and then feel disappointment sink in when it was over, knowing the "real acting" was coming back. Maybe I should have just bought the soundtrack.

Final word: This movie reminds me of a classic line from the movie Strange Brew: "This movie is rated 3B - three beers and it's good."

Post script: Throughout the movie, I kept having flashbacks to Burlesque. That should tell you something.

November 2, 2012

Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck, Alan Arken, John Goodman

Confession: my favorite part about watching movies in the theater is the previews. By judging the previews, you can really get a sense of the movie you're about to watch - whether it's good or not, what's the target demographic, etc. So you can imagine my dismay when the first preview was for some movie that seemed to cast Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as love interests. I mean, I know Hollywood seems to have blinders when it comes to pairing couples based on age (hello, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery in Entrapment!), but honestly! Jennifer Lawrence (apparently riding high off her recent Hunger Games fame) was born in 1990. Go ahead and let that sink in. 1990! Anyway, that preview made me wonder if my luxurious afternoon at the movies was suddenly a waste of time.

Luckily, the rest of the previews assured me the main attraction would be a quality movie. But even that was an understatement. The movie was... fantastic. And the timing of the release really couldn't have been more effective. With the recent tragedy in Libya, I couldn't help but think of the consulate workers there and whether they felt something similar to the characters in the movie when they see their building about to be overrun by rioters. It's moving--it really is. I am a little behind on recent movies (wasting the majority of my time watching horrible movies I can mock here on my blog), but if Argo isn't nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, I might need to boycott watching them altogether. No kidding. I mean, I spent the entire movie looking for something snarky to say about it and the only thing I came up with was the fact that I didn't like the thick gold chain Ben Affleck wore throughout the movie. But hey, it was the 70's, so even that comment doesn't really stick.

Speaking of Ben Affleck... I like him. Sure, sure, he lost some credibility points with the whole Bennifer thing (and er, Daredevil, but that hurts to even think about), but can't we move past that? Both those atrocities ended aalmost  decade ago! This is the guy who co-wrote Good Will Hunting, for God's sake! Remember how awesome he was in that? In fact, I like him enough to overlook he fact that he was the only character in the movie that didn't really resemble his real-life counterpart. (The guy's real name is Mendez and we know Hollywood only has a rotation of like, 4 Hispanic actors - this guy from Stand and Deliver, this guy who always plays a rapist or gangbanger or something mean, and these two young guys who are always the filler cast in movies with teenagers.)

The reason people love fictional movies is because you don't know how the story ends. But watching a movie based on actual events where you don't know what happened is just as good! (I do want to point out, though, my overall skepticism of "inspired by true events" movies, since this is what they claim for pretty much every movie involving ghosts or paranormal whatever. This is totally different than movies that are "based on true events." Just saying.) Of course, I spent the whole movie wondering exactly which parts were dramatized for effect, but it's still a pretty remarkable story. My favorite part might be the credits, in which they show side-by-side comparisons of photos from the event and era against the movie's portrayal of the same events and people. It reminded me a little of the credits in Miracle where they do the same thing, which of course, brought me full circle to 1980 and the events, since they mention the Iranian hostage situation in that movie as well. So there you go - learning my history from a movie.

Final word: The best movie I've seen all year. In several years.