Friday, March 30, 2012

FILM REVIEW: "Mirror Mirror"

For quite some time, Tarsem Singh's joyous reiteration of the Snow White fairy tale went without a name, though I admit that I would still have been excited to see "Tarsem Singh's Untitled Snow White Project". It has kind of a jaunty ring to it, but no less than "Mirror Mirror" does. It seems like this could so easily have been titled "Snow White and the... Whatever... Just Give it a Name", but it means something to me that Tarsem took so long landing on a title for a film that was well into production, and perhaps already wrapped up shooting. It was the first thing I thought about heading into the theater, but the last thing that was decided upon. Perhaps that's because Tarsem realized the film's potential as, in itself, a sort of fun-house mirror upon the world it being released upon.

Perhaps I'm reading a deal too much into it, but "Mirror Mirror" didn't seem preoccupied with telling a simple story that's been told countless times before, or putting it into a genre context like "Snow White and the Huntsman" looks to do much later this year. It was much more of a retelling in a different context, being mindful of the landscape the film is coming out to, in both a literal and slightly sexual sense, in this day and age. Not every film would dare be so unhinged and flamboyant in every waking moment of its runtime, but Tarsem pulls it off without ever losing the heart of the film.

The Snow White in this film is cooped up in her castle by the eccentric and careless Queen Clementianna, who isn't so much evil as she is hilariously off-kilter and self-absorbed. Snow White, meanwhile, isn't turned into a one-dimensional princess with no ambition. It seems like such a simple move for her to be compassionate towards her people, but it adds a dimension to her that makes her more than just a pretty face. It's that selfless motivation that puts audience respect on her side, but there's a complexity in that she lacks the self-respect that the Queen has in spades. It's an decisive and compelling contrast that sets the board nicely.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

QUICK TAKES: "Mad Men", "Annie Hall", "Immortals"

"Mad Men: A Little Kiss"
Created by Matthew Weiner

It seems like an odd occasion to praise a television premiere, but I never saw the need to explain my love for the series that I choose to express adoration over, least of "Mad Men". Arguably the most anticipated return of the season, the new season quickly asserted that the devastated waters of Season 4 had not calmed, and in fact consequences could no longer be avoided for actions. The civil rights era is clearly upon us, and rather than take it seriously, they throw an ad in the paper as a joke on their opponents. And to all their surprise, people actually take it seriously, a prologue and epilogue that shows how unavoidable the events of the outside world have become.

But even in intimate terms, the consequences for the mistakes these characters have made are coming. The fact that Joan's husband is still in Vietnam is a haunting omen for what he has to share when he comes back. Joan suddenly cares about her status as a strong woman in the workplace, and Lane is similarly questioning his place. The simple fact that he had sexual desires for a black but wasn't willing to leave a wallet in the care of one shows how difficult and implacable a person he is, and I don't imagine anybody without the insightful grey areas as Jared Harris would be able to make him work. Oh, and Harry is wicked skinny now! I would have sex with him in a minute!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FILM REVIEW: "The Hunger Games"

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, there is little that raises the newly released film adaptation of "The Hunger Games" above the ranks of "John Carter". The chief difference is that one book had huge fans a century ago, and the other had huge fans right now. In trying to get understand why some of my friends, who I consider to be fairly intelligent, liked the film, they told me that it was "an adequate portrayal of the events in the book", and that the hours just flew by. Don't catch me wrong, because both of those statements are correct and I agree with them, but I focus on the "adequate" part of their description. Was the film okay? Perhaps, though I will give reasons for I why I believe otherwise. Is it the best depiction we could have gotten of this clearly beloved story? Absolutely not.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the book, "The Hunger Games" focuses on some sort of fantasy world called Panem, though calling it fantasy would be an ill description. What the film fails to mention is that Panem is the dystopian remnants of North America. There are many things the film offers little explanation towards any conclusion, instead expecting us to figure out on our own that there are 12 districts that are punished for a previous rebellion by offering up a young girl and boy from each district to fight to the death in a cruelly televised event called the Hunger Games. All the while we're being pummeled with "information" that we're expected to instantly believe is important.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Films to see in 2012: April

There's a sense of charm that comes to establishing your most anticipated films months in advance, because I have no reason to change my current list of anticipated films for this coming. The further I get into this year, the less I've seen of the films highlighted, and it's getting to the point where I have no knowledge outside the hype people display. I only ever treat their hype suspicion, because I don't trust anyone else to know if a film's worth it. So this April, from my eyes, is just the same as any of the many months that come after it. There's going to be some great cinema, and some less than exciting films as well. That goes without saying, since it starts out with "American Reunion" of all things, continuing the tradition of not letting things die.

Technically speaking, though, the month effectively kicks off with "Titanic 3D", which even though I am never hasty to spring up and watch it even when it's on television, I'll still see it. Why? Because it's back in theaters, and the experience is the only thing James Cameron has ever been concerned with. He's doesn't obsess over script or story integrity, but he cares deeply about the audience interaction with what's onscreen. I'll politely caution you to avoid cheap space thriller "Lockout", and even more so to skip out on "The Three Stooges". I have never felt greater pain than the abysmal trailer for that feature. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

TOP 10 SHOTS from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence"

In searching for a film to tackle cinematically for this week's segment, I kept running into road blocks. Seeing as "The Hunger Games" is arriving to much anticipation this weekend, it felt necessary to find something that ties into it, which is easier said than done. At first my mind went immediately to "Winter's Bone", also from Lionsgate and also starring Jennifer Lawrence. But once I got into it, I realized that the film isn't visually all that intriguing. As impressive a film as it is, it gets of by the grit of Debra Granik's teeth and the performances from John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence. More of the latter actor in my book. Lawrence's performance is undeniably tough, but sadly overrated.

Moving on from there, I went to Gary Ross' prior filmography for inspiration. No vein in my body wants to see "Seabiscuit" ever again. That film has caused me too much grief already. I do, however, have a compulsion to revisiting "Pleasantville" at some point, either for this segment or not. If nothing else, I remember the film being quietly arousing. With Ross out of the way, I looked briefly at cinematographer Tom Stern, but most of his experience comes from dreary and repetitive work on Clint Eastwood's body of work. No luck there, and I leave everyone involved in the film in the dust.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quick Takes: "The Grey", "John Carter", "In Bruges"

"The Grey"
Directed by Joe Carnahan

It is so satisfying when a film goes up against typical expectations and proves them wrong to the deepest degree. It's been habit to treat Liam Neeson vehicles without any serious inclinations. Remember how stupidly fun "Unknown" turned out to be, even though it was still by most counts an awful film? "The Grey" is not in that similar situation. As a matter of fact, from the very first moment of the film, you are encouraged to treat it with the same heart and attention you're expected to bring to a Pixar film. We meet Ottway at a drought in his life, with implications towards an unfulfilled past and pessimistic current state of being. And then we get one of the most brutal and intense plane crashes in a while.

Carnahan doesn't stray away the brutal horror of the world they're in. The characters pitted against the wild aren't trained killers or badasses in any way at all. They are at first merely stereotypes, and I had a feeling that the film was about to head downhill. And then it didn't, and as the film goes on and the stakes get more highly raised against them, they shed the facades they've worn out in "the world", not to survive, but to live. There is a heavy distinction between the two. This film is surprisingly harrowing, and even had me crying on more than one occasion. Survival isn't important, but the human soul is. Liam Neeson is strong, but from my opinion it is Frank Grillo who really knocks it out of the park, particularly in one scene. You'll know it when it happens, and the film won't feel the same after.

Monday, March 12, 2012

FILM REVIEW: "The Innkeepers"

You know when you've known somebody long enough to take their word for it when they say a director is good? Don't ever do that, because you get what happened to me when I went to see "The Innkeepers", directed by Ti West who a great deal of my friends were a fan of when he released "House of the Devil". I am not a fan of the typical horror film, because it's almost entirely about quick scares that don't really matter. Shame on me for thinking that "The Innkeepers" was something else, but it really wasn't. You should be able to tell that horror film is going to be bad when their opening titles have music that tells you overtly that it is indeed a horror film. In fact, they shouldn't even have titles.

All the titles serve to do is show you images of this hotel that isn't that haunting, and because of the music we're supposed to feel uneasy already. I didn't, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to continue to not feel trepidation about the film. Using a chapter format that doesn't really do all that much except offer an explanation for why nothing is happening, "The Innkeepers" follows two employees at an Inn that's going out of business. They're really there, however, to look into the paranormal phenomena that has everything to do with somebody who died in the hotel many years ago. I know. They're ghost hunters, but they're both really stupid, and the guy is clearly a phony.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Box Office Update: "Carter" Falls Under "Lorax" Seige

So, let me take this moment to emphasize my feelings on "John Carter". It was a Goliath of a disappointment, structurally, emotionally, tonally, and intellectually speaking. It was sloppily edited, childishly written (even though it has three writers to its name), and directorially numb. And this is a film from the director of two of my favorite films of all time, "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E". Andrew Stanton, please forgive me when I say try harder with your next film. It doesn't disappoint me that the film brought in only $30 million opening weekend, solidifying it as a failure to some degree, and ensuring that Andrew Stanton will not continue on this path.

In fact, I'm rather agreeable towards "The Lorax" now that it has had two strong weekends, because at least I have a positive concept of it in my head. I feel like it's not anything special, but it's not bad. Moving on, audiences ripped "Silent House" apart most likely due to the ending, and nobody even cared that Eddie Murphy had another film out. He just makes films to die nowadays. Overall, the weekend was 9% above last year, when "Battle: Los Angeles" and "Red Riding Hood" were the featured debuts, and only one of them did mildly well opening weekend. It went on to get $83.5 million, which is the most "John Carter" can really expect.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Box Office Update: "Lorax" Speaks for the Green

I feel bad for a film like "The Artist", which spends the entire season an underdog with unnecessary groans from the vast majority, defeats those to take home five strong Academy Awards last Sunday, and still can't grind out a large enough audience. It's not that the film is of too high prestige. I'd argue that it plays for as many giddy laughs as the big comedies out there, with just as much heart and investment from the cast and crew. I feel like plenty of large audiences would love it if they gave it a shot. The fact that they haven't only serves to disappoint me. Are audiences today really that cynical to refuse a loving ode to the past and progression of cinema? Is "The Lorax" really worth the $70.7 million it took home this weekend?

Perhaps it's unfair to pull a punch against a film I haven't seen, but all the advertisements have seemed so desperately cutesy, to the point of a brain aneurysm. I suppose you can't blame kids for knowing what they want, but they could've chosen much better. But it's hard to gripe at the continuing progression of this box office season. It's not at all a bad thing that people are once again so passionate to go to the movies. I just wish they were being offered something better than "Project X" as an outlet. In fact, I'm somewhat surprised the college comedy didn't bring more in this weekend. It seemed like so many people were chomping at the bit to see that one, only for it to not take that much above average. But overall, films held well, and the box office continued to truck along. It may sag a bit next weekend with the coming of "John Carter", or it may just surprise in a positive manner.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Quick Takes: "Arrietty", "Weekend", "Fargo", "My Week with Marilyn"

"Arrietty" (1st Viewing)
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

I've kept myself out of the theaters for most of this year, simply because there hasn't been anything to lure me out of the Oscar season, with this being the single exception. Last year was a truly sad year for animation, and we didn't get everything that we deserved. Dreamworks was at a level of dispensable fun, and Pixar on a level of materialist carnage without proper justification. I had similar feelings about Studio Ghibli as of late, which has degraded to the levels of films like "Ponyo" and "Tales from Earthsea". I can say rather confidently that Hayao Miyazaki is able to bring the studio back to their intimate roots in the most subtly fantastical of ways.

In terms of conflict, "Arrietty" ("The Borrower Arrietty" or "The Secret World of Arrietty" in some countries) is very much scaled back. The objects of life and death lay in the background of philosophical concepts the film plays properly with. The relationship between Arrietty and Sho is much like the relationship of a rebellious young woman and a young boy dealing with traumatic events with dashes of optimism and the desire of being necessary. It's a very intimate story, not about friendship or family, but the desire to live a happy life in a world that doesn't care. There are political connotations to this story that are quite touching. The miniaturized characters cause for a fantastically maximized scale for the house the borrowers live in, and it's especially attentive in terms of sound design and absolutely gorgeous animation, like a moving still-life given the full cinematic treatment. It would be a joy to see this film inspire a generation of illustration majors from it.