January 29, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This is a superhero movie. 
Superheros are not real. 
This entire movie is based on a comic book.

I understand all of these facts. Yet...

The plot made me cringe. It was like all the success of the previous Christian Bale Batman movies put too much pressure on this one and Christopher Nolan decided to work every single plot idea he had into this one script. Was there no editing done here?!? Was he trying to make Batman into a superhero version of Inception? In fairness, many of the plot questions/holes were answered right before the end of the movie. But that didn't help me from rolling my eyes right up until that point. A surprise ending does not make up for two and a half hours waiting for something good to happen.

But let's move onto other things that bugged me about the movie. Griping about Batman's voice is so two movies ago. Sure, it's annoying (I mean, why is it like that?!?), but apparently it's also contagious. Bane's voice is... perplexing. It's like it carries its own echo or something. And yes, I know it's played by Tom Hardy, who is English, which is why Bane has an accent, but it doesn't seem to fit.

The one bright spot? I didn't hate Anne Hathaway as Catwoman! I'm pretty much always surprised when I don't hate her in a movie. I even commented a few weeks ago that she wasn't believable in a sexy role. I still don't think she's sexy, but I do think the make-up artists made her look really good throughout the movie. She should hire them for her regular life (maybe they'll convince her to stop wearing blood-red lipstick that makes her look like she belongs in the Twilight movies). I'm also happy they didn't make her wear a vinyl bodysuit and lick people. (I know it was the early 90's, but that's really no excuse.)

Final word: Wow am I glad I didn't go to the theater to watch this.

January 26, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and about a million other recognizable people in Hollywood

Oh, Daniel Day Lewis. You and your three names, just like a serial killer. (Side note: after watching Gangs of New York, I am convinced you could be a serial killer if this whole acting thing doesn't work out.) Sometimes Hollywood falls all over itself to fawn over so-so actors or so-so performances, awarding Oscars based on longevity or politics or, in the case of women, whoever dared to dress up as an ugly person (e.g. Charlize Theron in Monster, Nicole Kidman in The Hours). But there is a reason all of Hollywood can't stop geeking out every time Daniel Day Lewis does a movie. He's freaking awesome. I mean, no offense to Maryl Streep, but if she can have three Oscars, there is no reason he shouldn't. (I'm sure that will soon be rectified next month.)

In a quick ode to Daniel Day Lewis, let's quickly recap: he has two Oscars already, both for Best Actor in  Leading Role (no pesky Best Supporting Actor roles here). He only does a movie every two or three years, and they're almost always commercially successful (um... except Nine..). He's also one of those crazy 'method actors' who can't break character the entire time they're filming. Do I believe he is probably a complete weirdo in real life? Absolutely. But I thank him for it. And I thank Steven Spielberg for choosing this weirdo to be in this movie because I cannot imagine anyone else playing this part. He even freaking looks like Lincoln! (Which yes, I know is mostly thanks to the make-up people.) Frankly, the movie poster says it all--Daniel Day Lewis. Lincoln. That's pretty much the movie.

Anyway, I could go on and on about all the amazing historical details Spielberg subtly included in the movie, but one thing that really struck me was Lincoln's apparent penchant for diverging into little anecdotes at particularly irritating times. In some ways, it added a lightness to an otherwise very heavy movie, but it also sometimes felt like you were trapped in your grandfather's house, listening to him tell you old war stories while your parents silently scold you to pay attention and act interested.

But my love fest of Daniel Day Lewis and Steven Spielberg can't hide the fact that while this movie was very well done, it's also sort of boring. Not for me, but I'm a history dork. I can't in good conscious recommend it to anyone who:

A. hates history
B. hates Lincoln (uh... former slaveowners?), or
C. is foreign and/or hard of hearing

It's a historical movie. But unlike other historical movies, there's virtually no chance (at least I hope so) that you don't know the outcome. I mean, unless you still think slavery is legal in this country. And I know that a surprise ending isn't necessary for all movies, but the whole thing really lacks a necessary tension because you KNOW it's all going to work out. It's like watching an episode of Dora the Explorer - you don't need to worry about the obstacles of crossing the crooked river and getting through the witch's forest to reach the Crystal Kingdom - you know she and Boots will get there and sing the "we did it" song. (Except in the case of Lincoln, you know he will also eventually get shot in the head. Call it a dark version of Dora, sans español.)

It's also all dialogue. Like, all. So anyone who doesn't have a solid grasp of the English language or needs a hearing aid is not going to understand half of what is being said. Again, I found it interesting because it gave a glimpse into Lincoln's ability to negotiate through tenuous political situations, but... that kind of description doesn't exactly scream a lively Saturday night. 

Oh, and Tommy Lee Jones' wig is the worst piece of hair I've seen since Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code.

Final word: It's a really well done movie on an interesting topic, but I hope never to sit through it a second time.

January 22, 2013

Frankenweenie (2012)

Catherine O'Hara, Matin Short, Martin Landau

I remember the first time I saw Edward Scissorhands. It was so dark and different from other movies - it was brilliant. Then came The Nightmare Before Christmas9Sweeney Todd, and... you get the picture. Sure, his movies continue to be commercially successful - I just don't understand how there haven't been more comparisons between Tim Burton and M. Night Shyamalan. All their movies are done in the same vein. I feel like I am never surprised by Tim Burton movies and the only variable between them is whether the movie is done in black and white or color.

This movie happens to be in black and white, which I suppose is cutting edge for a children's movie. Whether a small child would actually sit through a black and white movie is another matter. My biggest problem with the movie is how dark the plot really is. Now I'm not one of those whiny parents that complain about movies exposing their kids to violence or whatnot - even Disney movies have some pretty scary moments (uh, did anyone else have nightmares as a kid about Pinocchio turning into a donkey??). But this movie is about resurrecting dead pets. It even shows the kid digging up the body in the graveyard! I may be a colossal wuss, but this completely creeped me out. In fact, I continuously thought throughout the movie that if weren't animated, I would never watch this. 

The movie isn't totally horrible, and it does have some fun winks toward Frankenstein, which adults can appreciate. I was also appreciative that I couldn't identify any of the people voicing the characters (we all know how I feel about that). But even though I haven't seen any of the other movies nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars, I can pretty much guarantee this won't win. It was probably only nominated so the category looked like it had enough contenders. And yes, I realize animated movies are not only for children, but this movie should not have been rated PG. I can't imagine showing this to any kid under the age of 12.

Final word: The only thing that makes this movie any different from every other dark Tim Burton movie is the fact that Johnny Depp isn't in it.

January 16, 2013

The Sessions (2012)

John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy

I've never been to the Sundance Film Festival, but this is exactly the type of movie I would expect to see there - heavy on dialogue and something people would categorize as "touching" or "heart warming." I put those words in quotes because I feel like they have become so cliché in describing a movie, but... well, words and phrases become clichés for a reason - this movie is touching. A lot more so than one would expect. Especially considering how funny it is. It squeezes into that tiny genre of movies that manage to hit the range of emotions from funny to sad. Add to that the fact that it's based on a true story - who doesn't love that?

The entire movie is about sex. Except that it's not. This movie is so good because of its ability to create a subplot that connects with people without having to come right out and say it. If it were just a movie about sex, it could have ended up as some lame sequel to Sex Drive or something. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a number of high pedigree actors in it. Everyone in it does a really great job, including [the very randomly included] Moon Bloodgood. I only mention her because her name is fun to say. And to say I think she vaguely resembles Tia Carrere. And no, I don't think all Asians look alike.

I must include some praise for John Hawkes, whom I spent the entire movie trying to mentally place. I imagine it's especially difficult to play characters with disabilities (which is probably why the Academy is always extra eager to nominate those who do take on those roles), but he does an excellent job of carrying it through. I mean, he even manages to sound short of breath for much of the movie - a small, but important detail for believability as a person who uses an iron lung to breathe. If we're going to get technical, I would use this attention to detail to argue a better performance by Hawkes here than Hugh Jackman and his lack of a French accent in Les Mis. (Not that any of that matters - I have yet to see Lincoln but I'm sure Daniel Day Lewis will win.)

While I don't necessarily have a problem with Helen Hunt, I've never really warmed to her. For one thing, she makes some really stupid movies - As Good as It Gets, What Women Want, Pay It Forward, off the top of my head. (Seriously?!? An Oscar for As Good as It Gets? Why? How? Just because she had to make out with Jack Nicholson?) I mean, I don't dislike her, but she's not someone I would have put at the top of my list to see naked in a movie. That being said, kudos to her. She's almost 50 years old! I swear, my jaw dropped when she stripped down. Aside from the sheer shock of full frontal nudity (can you tell I'm not European?), I couldn't believe how amazing her body looked for someone of that age. Scratch that - I would be happy to look like that now!

But in all seriousness, her role is much deeper than just getting naked and having sex, which makes me feel like her Oscar nomination is justified. (Ahem, Halle Berry, I'm talking to you. Pretending to have sex with Billy Bob Thornton on camera, while commendable, does not warrant an Oscar win. Sorry.) Helen Hunt really does a good job of helping the movie be about more than just sex. Which is ironic, considering her role completely revolves around sex. Sadly, it won't matter because Anne Hathaway has the Best Supporting Actress win [rightfully] sewn up. But I feel this role was much more worthy of critical attention than stupid As Good as It Gets. (Ugh, sorry, I just really hate that movie.)

Final word: If listening to Sue Johanson makes you uncomfortable, this is not the movie for you.

January 10, 2013

Les Miserables (2012)

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried

I wish I could make snarky comments on the plot because although I have liked Les Mis (yes, I am cool enough to call it that) enough to see it several times on stage, I have some misgivings about parts of the story. But the story has been around long enough that criticizing the main storyline seems irrelevant. 

Les Mis is, indeed, a beloved musical that's been around since the 80's. (That would probably mean more if Cats were not also a beloved musical that ran for forever, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.) The last time I watched Les Mis was on a PBS special that starred Joe Jonas, so you can imagine this movie version was quite a few steps up from that. It also trumped the stage version because of the added special effects, set design, and word clarity you sometimes lack from sitting 3 balconies away from the person who is singing.

The fact is, Les Mis will probably be nominated for a whole slew of Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), and a whole bunch of other categories no one really pays attention to (aka costume design, original soundtrack, sound editing/sound mixing, whatever). **Note: I obviously wrote this before the nomination list came out today, and I was obviously right - go me** I think in the big categories, Anne Hathaway deserves it. Sure, she's in the movie for about a 1/10th of the total time, but remember when Judi Dench won it for Shakespeare in Love? Her voice sounds amazing, especially considering she manages to both cry and sing at the same time. Personally, I like her much better as the ugly, broken down Fantine than the roles where we're supposed to believe she's sexy (uh, Catwoman, really?!?). And even though Rachel Getting Married was a really pointless movie, I can understand why critics were fawning all over her in it -  she's just more believable as some cracked-out weirdo than the next Michelle Pfeiffer. Then again, critics always start raving the second anyone semi-attractive plays an ugly person. 

Who else sounds amazing in the movie? Hugh Jackman, of course. I'm continually surprised at his ability to transition between being badass Wolverine and this showtunes-singing guy. I mean, is the guy who poured a bucket of water over his topless body in Australia (thereby forcing me to press rewind on the DVD and watch it again) the same one as this dude in the movie whose face bears a resemblance to the old man Jafar morphs into to trick Aladdin in the jail? (And yes, I just made that comparison.)

The biggest surprise for me, was Amanda Seyfried. I always want to like her more than I really do. Sure, I know it's shallow, but her bug eyes just get me every time. I will still watch her movies, but I always want her to be just a little cuter. But in this movie, it didn't matter for two reasons: 
     1. She was a lot cuter than the guy they paired her up with, and 
     2. Her voice is amazing! I had no idea she could sing like that! I always just assume every actor who claims they can sing is another Jennifer Love Hewitt (who was big in Japan, ahem, ahem).

All in all, the movie delivers pretty much what you'd expect - a well-known story and good singing. That is, good singing from everyone except Russell Crowe. I know the director claimed to have every actor go through 3 hours of auditions for their role, but I'm not convinced he ever watched Russell sing before handing him this part. It's not that he sounds bad, per se  - though I have a lot more skepticism toward his band now, which is saying something because it has the worst band name I've ever heard - it's that he looks like he's mid-yawn when he sings. Maybe his mouth just doesn't open wide enough to project sound? I'm not sure, but it's about as awkward as watching Pierce Brosnan sing in Mamma Mia. Russell doesn't ruin the movie - I just wish there were a lot less of him and a lot more of Anne Hathaway. Yes, this is what it's come to - I'm rooting for the girl from The Princess Diaries. It could be worse, I suppose. Katherine Heigl could have been in this movie.

Final word: The movie is enjoyable and well done, but you can't help but start to look at your watch at times. Those times usually coincide with Russell Crowe singing.

January 8, 2013

Flowers of War (2011)

Christian Bale & a bunch of Chinese people you probably wouldn't know unless you watch a lot of Chinese movies

I'm a sucker for sad movies. As a matter of fact, I often judge a drama based on its ability to make me cry. The more weepy I get, the better the movie. If I still cry watching it a second time or beyond, it's an instant classic in my book. (My Girl, you get me every time!) I'm not one of those people who tear up while watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or Hallmark commercials, so I feel like my tears are hard-earned when it comes to movies. This movie made me cry on several different occasions, forcing me to eventually pause the movie and plant a tissue box next to me. If you are the weepy type, go ahead and start the movie with tissues and a trash can and save yourself the trouble later on. If you're not into the whole sad movie thing, just ignore this whole first paragraph.

There is a reason everyone loves Christian Bale. He is one of those unique people that can play both characters you love and characters you hate. In this movie, he plays both. This is important because that makes his character's growth through the movie believable and interesting, instead of predictable and cliché. The movie is a bit predictable, but not every movie was made for plot twists. In this case, the  straight drama of the storyline and the action of the war scenes is enough to make for a satisfying movie. And the scenes that help define how the invasion of Nanjing got its nickname are almost unwatchable they are so moving (in a horrible, gut-wrenching, peek-through-your-fingers sort of way).

Anyway, getting back to Christian Bale. Sometimes having only one recognizable person in a movie - especially a foreign movie - can backfire. I usually either expect them to carry the entire plot, or I am annoyed that I can immerse myself within everyone else's character except that one person because I already know who they are. (Of course, I can't think of a single example to solidify my point, but rest assured it's happened.) Anyway, I bring this up only to say that this movie did not fall victim to this preconceived notion of mine. The Chinese actresses are wonderful in this movie and the lead woman, Ni Ni, is beautiful. I've been accused of being biased toward people of Asian descent, but hey, it's not my fault they're just prettier than everyone else.

One of the criticisms I heard about this movie was that some of the characters and plot lines seemed unbelievable and manipulated for additional drama. For example, the point that some of the characters were too flippant about being in the middle of a war with the choices they made. I want to take the time to address this because it goes straight to the integrity of the movie. I don't always get philosophical and deep with my movies (obviously, considering the majority of the movies I watch), but I think whoever made these criticisms is not correctly assessing the characters, their situation, and the era. First of all, these characters work in an industry removed from everyday life (hint: it's prostitution). To criticize some of their actions as being unbelievable is like reading Pride & Prejudice and complaining that none of the characters work for a living; (side note: someone did actually complain to me about this) you need to watch the characters within the context of their time and circumstance. This rant may not make sense without having watched the movie, but I'm trying my hardest not to give away too much of the plot.

Final word: If you don't cry at any point watching this movie, you might actually lack a soul.