Saturday, March 3, 2012

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - 6 stars out of 10

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - 6 stars out of 10

I love the Star Wars Franchise... but even 3D couldn’t help me to love "The Phantom Menace."  I know that many consider this to be the best of "the second trilogy," but outside of the Pod Race and double-bladed lightsaber, nothing really draws me to this film.  Maybe it's the lack of familiar characters but I have trouble getting into the Star Wars universe with this edition, even though it's interesting to see the planets that will later become the key settings of the series.  One of the main drawbacks is the poor acting.  Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor offer strong performances, Natalie Portman is average, but Pernilla August (Anakin's mom) is terrible, Jake Lloyd is even worse (I guess that Anakin Skywalker was destined to be a bad actor from the start), and whoever thought that Jar Jar Binks was a good idea should be shot.  It is no surprise that they conveniently wrote this incredibly annoying character out of Episodes II and III.  It is no surprise that they conveniently wrote him out of Episodes II and III.  Granted, Episode I is worth watching for its innovative special effects and foreshadowing of events to come, but it could have been much more effective with better actors.  When you have billion-dollar franchise, you'd think that they would invest in the best actors.  Now that the bad is out of the way, I can say that it is magic to see the opening credits roll in 3D, and to hear John Williams' famous theme in surround sound while watching the big screen.  Darth Maul's theme is awesome and proves that, even after all of these years, John Williams is still the king of film scores.  The creativity of the alien races overshadows those in the original trilogy by utilizing computer animation technology.  And the design of the new droids is incredibly cool.  The lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul is one of the highlight moment of the Star Wars trilogy and is reason enough to watch this film.  It may be my least favorite of the franchise but it's still Star Wars and always worth a watch.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Topsy-Turvy - 3 stars out of 10

Topsy-Turvy - 3 stars out of 10

I am torn on "Topsy-Turvy."  I love Gilbert & Sullivan and it was magic to see some of their most famous scenes brought to live on the screen.  Unfortunately, everything contained between those scenes is so inherently boring that it is not worth watching.  There must have been material that easily could have been edited out to get this film under the 2 1/2-hour mark, but the daunting runtime made this into an adventure that I did not want to experience.  The Academy got it right by rewarding this film with Oscars for Costumes and Make-Up.  The colors bring the Victorian era to life and the on-stage scenes are very well done; unfortunately, everything surrounding those scenes drags on.  Jim Broadbent is always excellent and Alan Corduner was a good match for him as this unique episode in the duo's life is portrayed.  From an educational standpoint, this film is a success (and who can keep their heart from pounding when you get to see "Three Little Maids" brought to life), but from an entertainment perspective, "Topsy-Turvy" is too long and boring to be a logical choice for a Friday night flick.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cliffhanger - 4 stars out of 10

Cliffhanger - 4 stars out of 10

This post-Rambo Stallone action film (see where I'm headed with this?) has some cool sequences but a lot of lousy dialogue.  To be honest, this film's positive rating comes mainly from John Lithgow, who always makes a genius villain.  He is particularly heartless in this film and that heartlessness makes his character unpredictable, giving this film some edge.  I also enjoyed Janine Turner in the role of Jessie, but that's just because she was an even better visual than the special effects.  The other thing working in this film's favor is its story with the false radio call made for rescue.  Because of this, the audience knows more than the characters and we get to see the characters experience a twist that we're already in on - that was pretty cool.  Unfortunately, none of these things matter when the demise of the villain is sealed with this line: "Remember, s***head! Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times!"  The only good dialogue comes from Lithgow, and it isn't because it is well written but because he can turn the worst lines into the most intense.  This film has a lot of bells and whistles (in the form of special effects) that make it an okay but, outside of John Lithgow, this film does not have the quality to qualify as a classic.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Drive - 1 star out of 10

Drive - 1 star out of 10
550th Review

"Drive" is a flat tire on the side of the cinematic road.  I HATED the style of the film as it was simply non-emotional and inherently boring.  Take the motonous, low-energy musical score for example.  It didn't really go anywhere, just annoyingly hovering in the background until it almost became ambient noise with an ominous quality and making me feel like I was sitting in a room being forced to watch a bad film.  I did not develop a single feeling of sympathy, anger, compassion, or annoyance for any of the characters in the film.  I typically love Carey Mulligan but her character didn't do much.  Come to think of it, none of the characters really seemed to do anything.  I sat through that for 100 minutes and I don't feel like I got to know a single character. They're all just static pawns in a game of chess (and you know how interesting chess is to watch on tv).  Watching this movie must be what it feels like to be in limbo - caught in a boring moment and wishing that time would pass by faster.  And what was the point of all the graphic mutilation of humans?  This is gore for gore’' sake - it has no bearing on the film.  I love a good thriller but "Drive" didn't possess any thrills.  I know that the critics loved this mess, but "Drive" left such an insignificant impression on me that I will have forgotten that this film even exists a few minutes from now.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Artist - 10 stars out of 10

The Artist - 10 stars out of 10

"The Artist" is perfection.  There is not a scene that could find a better angle, a facial expression that could be more vivid, or a musical moment that could be more emotional.  A silent film about the end of the Silent Film Era.  Genius.  The heart of this film is the Oscar-winning musical score written by Ludovic Bource, paying tribute to many film scores over the years while creating a perfect emotional atmosphere (whether it is anger or love) in which the actors can grow without the aid of dialogue.  The score matches the stereotype of silent film music while being fresh, original, and simply heartwrenching at times (particularly the "Vertigo" segment).  Not only is the music incredibly effective, but so is the strategic use of complete silence, creating its own beautiful soundtrack of frustration and contemplation.  The scene with the sound effects was very cool and perfectly supported the storyline of the film.  One of my favorite visuals is the orchestral conductor in the front of the movie house conducting the pit with the film on the big screen behind him.  People from my generation (and a few generations beforehand) never had the opportunity to experience silent films in the theater.  But not only does this film give perspective into this entirely different world, it creates an authentic experience by presenting this film within a film as it would’ve been viewed in the 20’s.  This film won 5 Oscars but easily could have won in all 10 of its nominated categories.  The visuals are so wonderful, incorporating many of the traditional plot devices that you expect to find in a silent film with the refined visual style of today's films.  It seems that the majority of films from the silent era had simple stories that could easily be told without dialogue, but "The Artist" provides vivid character development throughout its complex plot.  How does it work?  Virtuosic acting.  Dialogue is not needed when the faces of these actors tell every emotion and thought.  Jean Dujardin's smile is out of this world - if you didn't know that this film is ficticious, you would assume that George Valentin truly was an actor from the Silent Film Era.  The look of love on his face, his interactions with "The Dog," and his frustrated expressions all give him a very authentic look.  It is no surprise that he won the Oscar for Best Actor.  I was actually quite sad that Bérénice Bejo did not receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  She was absolutely charming, from her audition as an extra to her final dance with Valentin - who could resist that smile (and beauty mark)?  John Goodman and James Cromwell were also perfectly cast in their roles.  This film is pure magic.  Typically the dialogue of a film is what stirs my emotions, but this film somehow made me cry my eyes out without a single word, creating one of the most overwhelming and beautiful moments in any film - no need for fancy cinematography or a romantic line.  Simply, a driver entering a car after an auction and a woman visiting the love of her life in a hospital.  And after experiencing every emotion in the book from this simple film, you will lean back and your chair and simply say "Wow."  Once in a generation, there is a film transcends all others.  This is "The Artist."

Sunday, February 26, 2012



Best Picture - The Artist
Best Actor - Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Best Actress - Viola Davis in The Help (Sorry Meryl, you're still my favorite of all time)
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer in Beginners (even though I think that Max von Sydow was better in Extremely Loud)
Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer in The Help (although I think it should be Berenice Bejo in The Artist)
Best Director - Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (mainly because the winner of Best Film typically gets Best Director as well.  But who knows, Scoresese's always a possibility!)
Best Original Screenplay - Midnight in Paris
Best Adapted Screenplay - The Descendants
Best Cinematography - War Horse
Best Art Direction - The Artist (though I think that Midnight in Paris deserves it)
Best Costumes - The Artist
Best Sound Mixing - War Horse
Best Editing - The Artist
Best Sound Editing - War Horse
Best Visual Effects - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Make-Up - The Iron Lady
Best Original Song - "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
Best Original Score - Ludovic Bource for The Artist

The Descendants - 7 stars out of 10

The Descendants - 7 stars out of 10

I'm not sure how, but "The Descendants" somehow manages to be a comedy and a drama at the same time.  And I'm not talking about happy portions, sad portions, and back to happy portions again, but both of them occuring simultaneously.  It doesn't make sense and yet it completely works.  The story has a lot of common film elements (grieving family members, cheating wife, father trying to rekindle his relationship with his children, difficult financial decision), but the manner in which the story is portrayed is completely uncouth.  It's serious at all of the right moments and it's humorous at... well, it's humorous at a lot of the wrong moments, but it still somehow works!  It's because this film is not about a mother slowly dying away.  If it was, then a sad, dramatic film would be entirely appropriate.  But this film is all about a father and his daughters uniting through a tragedy, even though it seems impossible.  The complete disrespect and obnoxious behavior of these children at the beginning (and even midway through the film) seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and yet the resolution of the film seems incredibly natural.  George Clooney's personality is perfect as the father who doesn't know his kids.  The kids were okay and, though I thought that I was going to KILL Nick Krause after his first few scenes as Sid, a smart plot twist makes him one of the favorite characters by the end.  Many of the adults in this film were lacking, but I adored Judy Greer's breakdown and felt that she got to display her acting chops, even if just for 20 seconds.  I didn't care for the number of f-words and crude gestures contributed by the children but if the writers wanted to put a dysfunctional family on the screen, they were quite successful.  If you watch this film, you will probably want to turn it off about 45 minutes in but resist the temptation!  The unconventional humorous and dramatic duality throughout the dialogue is unsettling at first but makes perfect sense in the end.  And then... I couldn't believe it!  They managed to take this inexplicable film and give it a great ending but... no end credits?  Another scene begins to play.  I was so upset that they missed their chance for a great ending but... they found the perfect ending.  The final scene, in all of its subtlety, drives the film home, only needing a few words because the visual is so excellent.  I don't know that I would've nominated this for Best Picture or even Best Actor (even though Clooney's narration was marvelous), but "The Descendants" has managed to become a masterpiece in its only little corner of the cinematic universe.