Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

  • Mood:
  • Music:

Flashback Features

New year, new movies!

Green Lantern: So this movie was supposed to be awful, but it's...not? You already know that it's the origin story of Hal Jordan, and he's a wiseass fighter pilot who is chosen by a ring to join the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic peacekeeping force ruled by the Guardians of Oa...and if you didn't, you will be told that in the first ten minutes. And probably other times. The movie is basically half exposition. The other half is heavy-handed dialogue about fear and responsibility. There are a lot of special effects, and they generally look pretty good (better than they looked in the trailers). The fun about Green Lantern is that he doesn't just have a superpower; his constructs are limited only by his imagination. So it's great fun to see what Hal comes up with mid-fight. The movie takes a while to really get going, but once it does, it's pretty fun, and Ryan Reynolds has a good time undergoing the Hero's Journey, and holy shit, Blake Lively is a fine-ass woman, and then there are more special effects, and it's totally a comic book movie, but not a particularly spectacular one. It's definitely not up to par with the Marvel crop, but I enjoyed it. B/B+

Alien: With Prometheus on the horizon, it's time to revisit our favorite Giger-designed beasties. Well, just one beastie, to start out with. This is a horror classic for many reasons. It takes its time. It can feel a bit slow, especially in the beginning, but what's interesting is that there's basically an undercurrent of WHAT THE FUCK throughout the entire movie in the "What the fuck, what the fuck, what is going on, what's going to happen?" sense, except it's not necessarily this nail-biting tension (oh, sometimes it is) but an underlying sense of dread that builds and builds. One of my favorite things about the movie is the elaborate sets. You really feel like they built a whole goddamn spaceship so they could film inside it. There are lots of long tracking shots so you feel the space, which seems expansive at first until it begins to feel claustrophobic as you realize that the hapless crew is trapped in that thing. It's a tightly focused movie, and you can really see the template for so many other sci-fi/horror stories in the way the characters and story are set up. And let's not forget Ellen Ripley, the prototypical Strong Female Character. As much as I can appreciate this movie, however, I think most of what I associate with the Alien franchise is in the second movie. A-/A

Aliens: James Cameron moves the franchise into action territory, but, oddly enough, it takes about an hour (in the Special Edition) for the action to begin. It's not like it's slow and boring before then; it's just that you're kind of impatient for people to be killed by aliens. But Cameron is setting everything up and letting you get to know the characters BEFORE they're killed by aliens. The first alien attack is harrowing and fantastic, and things really pick up from there. It's kind of crazy how very different Aliens feels from Alien. There's a lot more talking (even if it's just the increasingly irritating Hudson complaining), and, as I said, the tone is action, not horror. Although as you'd expect, having aliens this time around makes the movie pretty fucking terrifying—while at the same time making them slightly less threatening because they keep getting killed. Of course, they bleed acid on you, so even killing them isn't great. There's a lot of additional worldbuilding in this movie, too. The real highlight of the movie is the relationship between Ripley and Newt, especially in the Special Edition, which restores the scenes about Ripley's daughter. Which, what, why would you take those out, idiot studio, they kind of MAKE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RIPLEY AND NEWT MAKE SENSE. Newt is pretty goddamn adorable, but, hoo boy, she sure does scream a lot. Aliens is also a classic of its genre, but, surprisingly, I think Alien is the better film, despite having fewer explosions. A-

Alien3: I remember seeing this movie in the theater when I was a kid and liking it, but I watched the Assembly Cut, which appeared to be liked on the Internet. Mostly because the alien comes out of an ox instead of a dog, I guess? Wow, this movie is a mess. It's a combination of three or four different script treatments, and it shows, because...there's like no point. Ripley crashes on this prison planet full of crazy, mostly British criminals who have found religion, and they're all dudes, and then the alien starts killing them all. Nearly all the characters are indistinct, with the exception of those played by Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite, because they are Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite. I didn't really care about any of them. The movie didn't either. It doesn't have that sense of dread like the first two. The alien attacks feel by-the-numbers, for the most part. The climax is easily the best part of the movie, the alien-POV-cam being Fincher's best contribution to the franchise. B-/B

Alien: Resurrection: Man, I didn't remember a goddamn thing about this movie, but...it's actually pretty fun! It feels more like an Alien movie than the last one, and though it's not groundbreaking like the first two, it's got quite a bit going for it. The Betty does have a proto-Serenity feel to it, with a crew who's more interesting than those dudes on the prison planet. Ripley-clone has a River-ness to her in the early scenes, and while it's weird because she's clearly not the Ripley from the first three movies, even characterization-wise, she does have her moments. There are several creative deaths and good uses of aliens. The underwater sequence is pretty badass. And, although it does take about twenty minutes to get going, once things go haywire, it doesn't really let up. There are some pretty bizarre plot turns and I have no idea what they keep doing with alien biology, but...whatever. B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon: What is there to say about this movie, really? It's giant alien robots beating the shit out of each other again. Shia LaBeouf has a new giant-lipped, British girlfriend, and they appear to have more of an actual relationship than he had with Megan Fox, so that's something. The movie is too long (there's really no need for the extended prologue, although the alternate history is nice) and meanders for a while with a lot of pointless business about Sam getting a job or whatever, but once the plot kicks into gear, it's fairly entertaining. The final battle does have one truly fantastic sequence that's almost worth the price of admission, but otherwise, it's mostly mindless carnage. I really liked the first movie, seriously, and this one is better than the second one, but that's not saying a lot. B

Moneyball: I don't care about baseball, but I do care about math, and this movie has exciting scenes of EQUATIONS FLASHING ON THE SCREEN. It's based on the true story of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane (Oscar nominee Brad Pitt), who embraced the magic of sabermetrics touted by an analyst (Oscar nominee Jonah Hill) to address the inequality of the big leagues: richer teams can afford better players than poor teams. But by looking solely at specific stats, you find that some cheapass players are significantly undervalued for their ability to win games, which is all that really matters. What I loved about the movie was that it wasn't about baseball, it wasn't about math, it was about trying to change the game. It was about trying to introduce a revolutionary idea to a community that refuses to accept revolutionary ideas. It reminded me of all the books I've read about scientific progress and how basically every amazing breakthrough is immediately met with extreme skepticism and denial because no one wants to admit they could be wrong, no one wants to reevaluate Everything They Know to Be True. Beane meets with a lot of opposition to his ideas, but he believes in them, and it's hard not to get caught up in his excitement and root for the team to prove him right. Plus, there is a fair bit of humor; Pitt and Hill play off each other well. It's a really thoughtful movie about an unusual topic, and for that, I give it props. B+/A-

Drive: In this stylish, moody thriller, an unnamed stunt driver moonlights as a getaway driver. Then one day he falls in love with his neighbor and, in an attempt to help her out, he takes the wrong fucking job. As many have said before, this is a quiet movie punctuated with brutal acts of violence, and I do mean brutal. I also do mean quiet. Even the car chases are not of the Fast and Furious variety, but that doesn't mean they're not tense as hell. That's basically what goes on here, is that "quiet" is a synonym for "tense," because you just know things are threatening to go wrong for this guy. It's an exquisitely shot film, meditative and almost hypnotizing, and the violence is unsuitably uncomfortable to watch. The soundtrack is great, too, and really enhances the mood. I felt the characters (especially the female characters) were underdeveloped, but the movie's understated approach to everything was notable and special in this age of IN-YOUR-FACE-KABOOM action. B+/A-

Jurassic Park: I'd had this movie sitting on my DVR for years waiting for a rewatch, and what better way to rewatch than with a Mark Watches liveblog? You guys, how is this movie so goddamn amazing? Surely, some of my love of this movie is wrapped up in childhood nostalgia and love of dinosaurs, but, no, seriously, this is an amazing film. It's suspenseful as all get-out, with iconic shots galore. Memorable characters, wonderful dialogue, soaring music, and...how the fuck do the special effects still look great after almost TWENTY YEARS? I don't even understand, those motherfucking dinosaurs still look goddamn real, more real than various CGI creations in the last few years. This movie is simply fabulous sequence after fabulous sequence, filled with wonder and horror. It starts out strong and never falters, never lets up. This movie is flawless. It is without flaws. A+

Rango: So here's the weird thing about this animated film: it's not actually a kids' movie. The plot and villain are straight out of Chinatown, for crying out loud! It's basically A Fistful of Dollars meets Chinatown with talking animals. Rango is a chameleon who finds himself in the town of Dirt and becomes an unlikely hero. First of all, the animation is fantastic. It's the first animated feature from ILM, and all the animals look fairly realistic rather than being cartoony exaggerations, especially in the texture and hair. Second of all, the voice acting is great as well, the kind where you hear the characters, not the actors (I didn't even know who else was in the movie besides Johnny Depp, and if I hadn't known that, I wouldn't have identified him). As appears to be usual with me, my main criticism is with the tone, though part of it may have been my preconceptions and sleepiness. The movie desperately wants to be taken seriously, like really seriously, but there's also a sense of silliness, especially with these talking animals, that undermines it. It was hard to pin down, but I admired the ambition of the film even if I didn't think it quite worked as well as it wished. B/B+

Kung Fu Panda 2: The first movie was unexpectedly great. This movie is solid, but nothing special. It does, however, have an EVIL FIGHTING PEACOCK VOICED BY GARY OLDMAN, and he basically makes the entire movie. I thought Shen was a really good villain, bent on conquering China using explosives but shunned by his parents for, you know, being an evil genocidal bastard. Did I say genocide? Oh yes, this children's movie begins with PANDA GENOCIDE. Po is THE LAST PANDABENDER. Saddled with this retconned backstory, Po has a quest for identity as he discovers who he is or whatever. It is fine. Mostly, this movie is good for having really awesome fight scenes and the occasional funny lines. But also I fell asleep for like fifteen minutes and didn't care enough to rewind. B/B+

Answer This!: jenelope recommended me this movie because it is about a grad student in Ann Arbor who does pub trivia. UM. UM. WHAT. It definitely sounded relevant to my interests, and, hey, it also starred Christopher Gorham! So he's an English grad student studying the Bible as literature, living in his father's shadow (his father is played by an actual University of Michigan professor who had never acted before). He's obsessed with trivia and revels in playing pub trivia. Also, there's a hot new freshman (Dean's little sister on Gilmore Girls, all grown up) in his class. Halfway through the movie, I thought there was maybe too much going on. Was it a movie about a grad student who could't finish his dissertation, who didn't know what the future held for him? Was it a movie about a son who wasn't sure whether he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps? Was it a movie about a TA hooking up with a freshman? Was it a movie about dudes in a pub trivia championship? While I'm not sure it's completely cohesive, it did impress me by the end with how well it tied all the stories together, using two major motifs: Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise (the centerpiece of Paul's dissertation) and the importance (or lack thereof) of trivia, the trivial, the little things and details. It's fun and entertaining, and it's all shot in Ann Arbor, so I loved seeing familiar places and landmarks (The Cube makes a cameo appearance!). Also: Chris Parnell! B+

Fright Night (2011): So they remade Fright Night with cursing and gore! And although it starts out kind of rough because they turned Charlie into a dick who ditched his best friend because he wasn't cool enough, he grows and whatever, especially when, you know, he discovers his new neighbor is a vampire. This Jerry is much more aggressive than the original; whereas the original movie focused more on the silliness of "Haaaa, my neighbor is a vampire, and no one believes me because I sound crazy!" the remake focuses more on "So my neighbor is a vampire and HE IS GOING TO FUCKING KILL ME." As a result, there's a lot of good, fun action, although I found the meant-for-3D scenes irritating in a 2D setting. It's an entertaining horror flick featuring David Tennant and a random Lisa Loeb cameo. B+

Paranormal Activity 3: The Paranormal Activity franchise is interesting. Rather than doing sequels, they're doing prequels. The original (and best) movie featured Katie being terrorized by some sort of demonic presence, and the details were left pretty vague. Paranormal Activity 2 went back a few months and focused on her sister, Kristi, and added more details to the backstory. This third installment goes back even further, to 1988, when Kristi and Katie are kids and Kristi has an imaginary friend named Toby, who we assume is the demonic presence who will continue to haunt them throughout their lives. The "found footage" angle is slightly more ludicrous here because the footage is on VHS, which means the cameras are fairly bulky, making it seem even dumber when people continue to carry the damn things when running away in terror. But these movies are pretty much all the same, as this Guardian article notes: "There is a family. They set up cameras all around their house. Nothing happens for 45 minutes. Something goes bang. Nothing happens for another 45 minutes. Someone falls over. The end." The most effective scares are actually the fake ones, but the real creepy shit is unnerving as hell, especially because the scares in these movies are so mundane they make you feel like anything in your house could suddenly start moving around for no reason. We do get more clues as to the origins of the demon, but the real strength of the movie is the child actors, who are great at talking to imaginary friends and being terrified. B/B+

Scream 4: Of all the Scream movies...this is the fourth. It's been fifteen years since the first movie, and Sidney is on a book tour (with publicist ALISON BRIE), determined not to be a victim anymore. But as she heads back to Woodsboro, SOMEONE has other plans. Slash! Stab! Gore! You know the drill. Here's Sidney's teenage cousin and her hot friends; who will be the first to die? And here are the self-aware geeks who explain the rules of, ah, this is a reboot. It is all generally by-the-numbers and not particularly scary; we've been down this road three times, after all. The Scream movies have always been about commenting on horror movies, but the sequels have kind of been about themselves, so the meta references fly pretty fast and furious. The third act is a little ludicrous, but, to its credit, it's both very different from what we've seen in these movies and a comment on today's culture in general rather than just scary movies. That being said, Scream 4 is basically for fans of the franchise, not offering a whole lot besides being a good fourth installment in a horror series (that, as IMDb notes, is notable for having managed to keep its core characters the whole time). B/B+

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: In this surprisingly good adaptation of the entertaining book series, the Baudelaire orphans must foil the schemes of the dastardly Count Olaf, who has his eyes on the fortune their parents left them. The children are well cast, and the movie really stays true to the characters and their incredible resilience. They even subtitle Sunny so she can still be amazing (but the translations aren't nearly as hilariously involved as in the book), although I was sad they couldn't train the baby to say appropriate gibberish words rather than just the usual baby sounds. Come on, BABIES. I loved the Baudelaires, and the production design is wonderful, and the supporting cast is great, and the Lemony Snicket narration helps carry over the feel of the book. The script manages to cover the first three books while also bringing in elements of the series arc that isn't introduced until later, which is a fairly impressive feat; the movie moves swiftly but never feels like it's taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, the major criticism I had heard turned out to be true: Jim Carrey makes a mockery of Count Olaf. Now, I am informed by Tim Curry's performance, but even judging by the text itself, I would say that Olaf is intended to be nasty and scary, and the humor comes from how absurdly terrible he is. But Carrey plays Olaf as a buffoon, and it sticks out in a movie where everyone else is giving committed, serious performances. Snicket's books are not about broad humor, and it just doesn't work, except occasionally when he's in one of his ridiculous disguises. Still, he can't bring down the entire movie, which is full of good things for fans of the books or anyone who enjoys a good story about an inventor, a reader, and a biter overcoming adversity. B+

On the horizon: lots of movies from last year I didn't catch in the theater!
Tags: books, making the grade, movies, pimpings, real life friends
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded