Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Year of Film: Mega-Movie Review

I'm awesome at keeping schedules. Let's get this road on the show.

Ponyo- viewed February 16, 2011.

I've only seen one other Miyazaki film all the way through, and that was "Howl's Moving Castle." I've seen parts of his other movies, and the animation never ceases to astonish. The plot for "Howl," however, was almost nonexistent and meandered for two hours before finally trudging to some end. It was gorgeous, but empty. "Ponyo" was much better. It followed the basic plot of "The Little Mermaid," but stood on its own as a unique movie. However, some things, be they cultural differences or just translation problems, kept the movie from being great for me. We're never given reasons why some things happen. They just happen and are glossed over as either Ponyo's magic or not being a big deal at all. There are a few things that never get any payoff, despite how important they're made out to be (Lisa's talk with Gran Mamare). Dire importance is also given to the fact that Sosuke and Ponyo MUST love each other, but we never find out why. However, from a visual standpoint, this movie is beautiful.

The Social Network- viewed March 1, 2011

"the Social Network," plot-wise, is pretty run of the mill. It has a few surprises, but it seems to be just a movie about something that could be forgotten in a few short years. Most (good) movies say something important that reaches beyond its subject matter, but if, in twenty years, someone remembers "That Facebook movie" as being one of the best films of 2010 I'll be incredibly surprised.
However, what makes this film good is its script. Not in the broad sense. In the "words people say" sense. It completely saves the movie from being about a douchebag nobody cares about and engages the audience with its funny, quick, and smart dialogue. In fact, from Zuckerberg's personal blog to the idea of Facebook, I'd say that this movie is more about writing than it is about the website. At what point does writing lose its power? If the information is there, what does it matter if only a few people read it (like the blog) or if everyone does (like Facebook)? The written word in "The Social Network" goes from an intimate, dangerous, useful thing to a homogenized, filtered, up-to-the-minute ticker that involves no thought and people can choose to skip over if they want to. Much like the rest of this review.

Take Me Home Tonight- viewed March 8, 2011

"Take Me Home Tonight" is the best film of 1987.
Let me explain.
The movie takes place in the late 80s, but also borrows heavily from the John Hughes era of using teenage caricatures to bring light to real human problems.
This movie got slammed by the critics, but if you go in knowing exactly what you're going to get--a goofy-yet-poignant look at post-high school life--you won't be disappointed at all. Director Michael Dowse and the crew borrow Hughes's playbook and hit all the right notes. The movie brings us back to that time where the mundane problems that everyone was going through were also the important ones. They seemed mundane because our whole social sphere had the same problems. Looking back, it's easy to see how those times influenced us, even if they didn't seem so big and scary at the time. The movie has great music, likable actors, and a great bathroom cocaine-and-molestation scene. If you go in expecting a throwback to the 80s and everything to be wrapped up nicely, this movie hits all the right notes.

Slither- viewed March 9, 2011

The well that horror movies were once fetched from has become dried up. That's a fact. When's the last time you saw a movie as great as "The Shining" or "The Exorcist" or "Evil Dead"? Now they all look like the self-parody that the "Child's Play" series has fallen into. Everything is tongue-in-cheek, so it makes it incredibly hard to take things seriously. People don't care about your story if you don't care about it. (Maybe that's why I liked "Take Me Home Tonight" so much, but that review's over).
So that's why I get so excited when I see a horror movie that is worth a damn. "Slither" toes the line between straight-up horror movie and horror movie parody expertly. It does the best job of this since "Evil Dead 2". The scary parts are still scary, the funny parts are hilarious, and both include a creepy deer. While "Scream" was a deconstruction of the slasher film, "Slither" takes all the commonalities in films like "The Thing" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and skewers them in the most loving way possible. They even named the mayor "MacReady." Plus, it's hard not to like Nathan Fillion. I like my humor, and I like my serious stories. Many movies try to mix them unsuccessfully (one of my major problems with the "Pirates of the Carribbean" series. I can't take Davy Jones seriously when he's standing in a bucket of water in a very important scene). "Slither" pulls it off perfectly.

Rango- seen March 19, 2011

Nickelodeon has put out some real shit in the last few years. Like the Disney Channel, (remember when I covered them in that awesome article?) they've gone down the path of recycling their "pretty teenagers who sing" shtick ad nauseum, just in time to graduate your child from that show about teenage idiots to that show about twenty-something idiots on MTV. They're owned by the same company. Check it out.
Anyhoo, "Rango" undoes at least five years of that bullshit. It's a phenomenal movie. The CG is amazing, the music is catchy and fun, the actors are wonderfully cast, and the story, though borrowed, keeps you interested and entertained. In fact, since Pixar only has "Cars 2" coming out this year, I'm perfectly ok with "Rango" taking home the Oscar for best animated feature.
In my review of "True Grit" I complained that westerns weren't really my thing, though I've always loved the setting. "Rango" showed me why. It introduces us to a cast of characters so fun and vibrant and makes their world look so real that at times I forgot that I was watching a cartoon lizard. In fact, I'd argue that "Rango" is a better western than "True Grit." Like many great affectionate parodies (Those of Mel Brooks come to mind), "Rango" absolutely loves what its skewering. In this way it is a lot like "slither." It doesn't feel like a bid for money like all the terrible shows on Nickelodeon (or MTV). It feels like it has real heart. Like they gave a shit. And sometimes that's all it takes.

Paul- viewed March 19, 2011

And then there's "Paul." "Paul" is a strange case where the writers/actors clearly loved what they were parodying, but it just didn't work. While "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" are both brilliant for what they do to their genres, "Paul" just seemed... phoned-in. Frost and Pegg tried to open up to a "wider audence" which I assume means "add more gay jokes and Seth Rogen." The reason the movie doesn't work is just because everything in it has been done before or seems to be tacked-on. The CIA plotline seems extraneous, which is a strange thing to say, seeing as it is a large part of the movie. All of the jokes fall flat simply because we've seen them before. Compare "Hot Fuzz"'s "This shit just got real" to Paul the alien wanting some Reese's Pieces. Both are from other popular movies. The first is ironic because it's so surreal and ridiculous and we know that Nick Frost's character has been waiting his whole life to say it. When Paul wants Reese's it's just derivative. There's no punchline. It's like a Dane Cook joke delivery.
This movie is really just "Fanboys" with a broader spectrum of jokes. The nerdy guys take a road trip in an RV across the U.S. The pop-culture gags are ok, but we've seen them all a million times before. Early in the movie we learn that our two main characters are UFO aficionados, but instead of taking the pseudoscience/alien conspiracy approach (which would have also been better for Kristen Wiig's character, the best character in the movie), we're given a barrage of pop culture gags. It's nice, but feels tired.
I know this duo has some great movies left in it. "Paul" just seems to be the junior slump.

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