Friday, December 19, 2008

The Most Wonderful-ish Time of the Year

I have been to three new movies in the last three weeks. It's a busy time in awards world, and the first two movies I saw are certainly award worthy. The third? Well, I'll get to that later. In lieu of a huge review of each one, which I don't want to write and you don't want to read, I'm going to write about my impressions from each.

#1 Milk

This was my favorite of the three. And the thing is, I didn't think it would be. I'm not a big fan of Sean Penn and honestly was expecting him to utterly ruin the whole thing for me. Luckily, he proved me 100% wrong, and I am extremely happy about it. This movie makes you go through a complete range of emotions more than any other movie I've seen in a very long time. Happy, awkward, frightening, rage-inducing, unbelievably sad, hopeful, indignant - I felt it all, and it was a direct reaction to the whole of the movie, not a reaction to terrible acting or lack of plot. Neither of these were problems for this movie.
All that said, I would not be at all surprised if Sean Penn wins an academy award. Completely and utterly deserving (as opposed to his character in Mystic River, which in my opinion sucked big time...but that's another story). Josh Brolin is nominated along with Penn for a SAG award, but quite frankly that doesn't make any sense to me. If anyone should be nominated for supporting actor it should be Emile Hirsch or maybe James Franco. Josh Brolin isn't bad, but doesn't deserve an award. Sorry dude.

#2 Rachel Getting Married

This was a much more predictable movie, plot wise, but still a very strong and overall very solid movie. One thing that's been complained about by reviewers a lot is the fact that it was filmed much like a documentary with footage by a camera man who can't seem to keep his hands still. It didn't bother me, but I can see why people find it annoying to have a bouncy Blair Witch-like view the whole time.
Anne Hathaway is phenomenal, and has come a long way from her Princess Diary days. But she's getting too much credit. She is phenomenal because the entire supporting cast is utterly amazing. Debra Winger, who has little screen time, is at her best and delivers the textbook definition of a quietly screen stealing performance. The father, played by Bill Irwin (remember him from The Grinch??), is such a layered character that it's hard to believe that he's an actor, not a an actual person inserted into the movie. Also, Anna Deavere Smith is in it and I pretty much am required to love anything she's involved in, so. Unfortunately, since none of the supporting players have been given any love, my guess is none of them will be nominated, but I will hold out a sliver of hope for Debra Winger. Cross your fingers!!

#3 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

I had high hopes for this movie. Maybe too high, actually. It has a promising plot - an 8 year old son of a Nazi officer befriends a young Jewish boy in a concentration camp - but in the end falls short. Partly, I think it becomes a victim of what I think of as the Grey's Anatomy problem. Namely, that in trying to address something that in life is very messy and dirty, turns into something fake dirty where the dirt smeared on the faces almost looks realistic and the perfectly arranged set almost looks genuine and the characters almost do their job for the story. Does it surprise you to know that I don't watch Grey's anymore? No? Oh. Well, me either.
Honestly, the majority of the movie didn't bother me too much. The actors did a decent job, and the children's performances were certainly respectable. It wasn't great, but it wasn't a complete disaster.
That is until the end. I'm tempted to tell the whole ending....but I won't. To put it simply, it completely glosses over the complete and utter horrific tragedy that was the holocaust by focusing on something else entirely. I suppose you could say that it plays along the thread of sympathizing with one's captors, but it takes it in a terrible direction, and in a nutshell implies that the loss of one child's innocence is on par with, if not worse than, you know, 6 million innocent people being killed all in the name of prejudice. Needless to say, I felt a bit sick leaving the movie theater and the thought I kept coming back to while riding the bus home was something along the lines of "Seriously, WTF? That was NOT OK. WTF???" ad nausea.

One more thing about this, I saw a preview for Valkyrie before this movie and want to know one reason why this movie may be better than Tom Cruise's? Well, although neither movie is in German, nor do any of the actors seem to attempt German accents, in Striped Pajamas, everyone consistently talks in an English accent. In the trailer for Valkyrie, Tom Cruise talks in an American accent. Um, really? He couldn't even try to talk like the rest of the actors? I thought male actors usually stopped trying in their late 50's (Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford) - TC's still in his forties, right? Wow. Way to reach for the stars little buddy.

So. You've been forewarned. I'm looking forward to Revolutionary Road, Doubt and the genius of one Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the next few weeks.

It's going to be a great time to go to the movies! Who's with me?!

Monday, December 1, 2008

This one's for all the squee-ing teens

Disclaimer: I have not read Twilight. Also, I can't honestly say that I plan to, because I don't. I have a bunch of other books at my apartment and in my room at home that I have a desire to read so, sorry all you 14-year-olds with your obvious high literary taste - OMG best book evaaaar!!!! - you will not convert me.

Except that, when I was home for a long Thanksgiving weekend, I went to see Twilight with my friends. First, the reasons for going, followed by a review.

Reason #1: Going to a movie = avoiding homework

"Homework?? On Thanksgiving break?!" you say? Yes. My finals are two weeks away and my professors apparently don't give a rats patootie that I, you know, HAVE A FREAKING LIFE let alone OTHER CLASSES (here's looking at you, Italian Professor!). This, however, did not stop me from finding excuses to put off doing stuff. So. There you have it.

Reason #2: Peer Pressure

All (except maybe one?) of my friends have read the books and were going to the movie. Since I hadn't seen any of them for a couple months, I thought it would be fun to spend a few more hours with some of my favorite people. Call it the Christmas spirit, I guess.

Reason #3: Low Expectations

I'm the kind of person who, if forced to see a crappy movie with friends, will make fun of absolutely everything, in real time, as to expose the true crapfest that it really is. If I'm lucky, my friends laugh along, if not, well, I get skittles thrown at me, but at least I had a good time. Needless to say, I was 70% confident this would not be too great, and would therefore make for some high entertainment possibilities.

Reason #4: Matinee Showing

I'm cheap.

The Review:

The good thing about going to a movie that was a book and sitting between two people who are fans, is that the whole time they lean over saying things like "she never said that in the book," "that never happens" and "This was supposed to be in the next one!"
Luckily, the people sitting on either side of me did this, and also let out preemptive gasps, laughter, and swooning sighs.

I, on the other hand, leaned over continually (especially in the first 20 minutes) to whisper, "Is he a vampire?? Oh. But she is, right?! No? But she's pale."

Yeah. That's basically my understanding of vampires. High degree of paleness = DANGER. PUT ON A TURTLENECK IMMEDIATELY!!!!

So...the movie! Right.

For someone who hasn't read the books, as an overall movie it was mostly forgettable. The plot is somewhat interesting, but aside from the vampire twist, it's not much different than other angsty teen movies.

Let me sum up the plot minus vampires.
- A pretty girl moves from a somewhat boring town to a seemingly more boring town.
- It is hard for her to adjust to school.
- Her parent (in this case, father) hasn't spent much time with her, and doesn't understand her.
- They have "conversations" boring to them and to the audience. There is tension.
- She meets someone interesting.
- Her life "changes" and she chooses her new life (friends/boyfriend) over her old life (family)
- There is a fight and generally bad things happen
- She and her family kiss and make up
- It ends happily

Add a dreamy vampire that doesn't want to suck your buhlud, and tahdah, Twilight.

Sound familiar? It should. Remember this movie? How about this one? I know the second one's a bit of a stretch but...actually it's really not. This has been done before, and it's been done better. "Oh, but the vampires!" No. Not different.

As far as casting and acting goes - meh. (It's a word!) As with most movies appealing to the prized 18-24 demographic, acting skill didn't exactly rank high on the list of priorities.
This is what I expect the conversation was like during the casting process.

Casting Director: "So what kind of actors do you want to see in auditions?"
Director: "Well, it's a teen vampire movie."
CD: "Yes. I'm familiar with the script."
D: "Oh, great."
CD: "....."
D: "What?"
CD: "Do you have any creative direction? Any preferences for actors?"
D: " Daniel Radcliffe available? He's kind of vampire-ish."
CD: "No, he's on Broadway. And I think he wants to be an actual actor."
D: "That's a shame."
CD: "So just teen-ish people that are really attractive?"
D: "You really are the best in the business!"

Yeah. Pretty much a no-brainer.
Being young and attractive doesn't mean you can act. At all. When child actors are 11 and younger, we overlook their weird eyes and stiff delivery because they're just kids! What do you expect? But when you get to the 17-22 range, it starts to get sad.

This movie was really no exception. Delivery wasn't great, and most of the time I felt like the actors playing vampires were thinking to themselves "Melodrama! Melodrama! Look more pissed off! Don't let yourself blush, you're a vampire, dammit! You can't be embarrassed, the un-dead are too good for that! Oh, and Melodrama!" Unfortunately, they weren't great at the whole non-creepy vampire sensibility. Makeup, after all, can only do so much.

As far as the non-vampires, it was mostly made up of the stereotypical cast of small towners. The annoying, yet shiningly innocent teens; their parents, with reserved dismay that anything bad could happen ever! to their kids/town; and the supporting characters - one with a drinking problem, another with a sunny outlook despite their less than ideal circumstances. None of them are very compelling or interesting, just run of the mill ho-hum.

Oh, and by the way, Billy Burke doesn't look older with a mustache. He just looks like an idiot.

The effects were decent, and by this I refer to the helicopter shot scenes which were very beautiful and well filmed. I do not refer to the fact that it was glaringly obvious that Edward was on wires during the really fast running-up-hill-scenes, which instead of looking impressive and manly, looked like the director couldn't decide if he was good at parkour or could fly, so there ended up being this weird half running half floating thing going on.

There seemed to be a lot of symbols that readers would understand immediately, but that I am still completely baffled about. For example, the cover of the book is a red apple cradled in someone's hands. Other than product placement (what could sell more books...why, a movie of course!) it was never clear to me that there was any reason for it to be in the movie. Seriously, ask yourself, when in real life do people cradle apples in both of their hands?!
Answer: NEVER

In the end, it was probably about what you'd expect from a movie based on a popular book. An outline of the original story, characters that are at least trying to be true to those created by the author and a mediocre experience leaving even the people who haven't read it thinking, "Damn, the book was waaay better."

Well, maybe that was just me.