Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brave - What Works and What Doesn't

There are a lot of mixed reviews going around on the internet about Brave. Some people love it, praising the film for its strong female protagonist, something that’s new for Pixar. Others dislike it, saying that it’s not what they expected, and that it’s on par with “disappointing” Pixar efforts like Cars and Cars 2. Brave has had buzz around it since it was released that Pixar has hired on a female director for their new film The Bear and the Bow. Things happened behind scenes, and though we don’t know all, it’s clear that the female director was replaced when she could no longer closely work with the film; and that one of the changes was that the film was supposed to be for the majority in snow. Behind the scenes flukes aside, in my humble opinion Brave turned out well, but it also turned out to be a very different Pixar film.

What Brave did right:

For the first time in Pixar history (over a decade of fantastic film making), the company has produced a film with a female protagonist. This is exciting news, as I remember a few years ago when Up came out, the only complaint being whispered among the masses was “yet another Pixar film where the male gets to go out on the grand adventure.” In Brave, not only 1, but 2 females are able to go on an adventure, discover themselves, and fight for what they think is right. Regardless of how far these two females travel from home, their adventure is large none-the-less, and they grow to understand another along the way (no so different from the two males in Up!).
I really enjoyed seeing a female being the fighter in this film. No, it’s not the first of its kind (uhm, Mulan, much?), but it sure is nice to see that Pixar doesn’t have to always let the male have all the fun. Hopefully, they continue this pattern, rather than retreating back to their comfort zone.
What also was a refreshing change of course was that the female lead wasn’t interested in a boy. In fact, much like the trailer revealed, she was getting men thrown at her, and she was refusing them! I’m not trying to say that love is irrelevant, but romantic love has been explored multiple times in every female-oriented animated film. It was nice, for a change, to see the love between a mother and daughter explored.
However, though Brave did a lot of things right, there were a few things that didn’t gel well throughout the story for me.

What Brave did wrong:

I’m not saying that Brave is a bad film at all, on the contrary it seems that I’m one of the very few people who went skeptical going into it, and came out all smiles. Though the film was pleasant, funny, and well done all around, there was one thing that struck me as odd throughout the whole movie, which were its blatant parallels to other Disney Princess movies.
There may be some spoilers, so be cautious reading ahead.
The first parallel that came to mind immediately was when Merida fond the witch’s house, and begged her for a spell to change her fate. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel wanders off to the sea witch and begs her for a spell to be human. Or how about a fairy Godmother that grants Cinderella’s one wish to go to the ball, and change her fate forever? Though the witch in Brave is not as evil and intimidating as Ariel’s and not as willing as Cinderella’s, Merida still is asking for a spell from a witch, so she can disobey her parents’ wishes, and not marry the suitors they have chosen for her.
And what would be a spell without a curfew? Ariel had "X" amount of days to get the prince to fall in love with her before she was turned back into a mermaid and her voice was Ursula’s forever. Cinderella only had her fancy clothes until midnight. Why, even the Beast in Beauty and the Beast could only reverse his spell as long as the rose had its petals. So of course Merida’s spell had some time-limit to reverse.
Then there’s the big parallel to Beauty and the Beast in the end. [Very big spoilers ahead]. When the second sun rises, and Merida’s mother has yet to be turned back to a human from a bear, Merida hugs her mother and cries. Then just before the sun touches her beautiful red hair, she whispers “I love you,” and poof! The mother is now human again!
Let’s jump back to twenty years ago when an unfinished Beauty and the Beast was shown to a crowd at a New York film festival. Not yet in color, Belle leans over her dying Beast as the last rose petal threatens to drop from its stem. She cries, giving up, and whispers “I love you.” Then, a pause.The petal drops. Is he dead? And just like magic, sparks starts falling from the sky and poof! Beast is now human again! Standing ovation, what a spectacular ending!
Can you tell me those endings aren’t one in the same? Tears had been unwillingly spilling down my face until I heard those words Merida whispered. Utter disappointment washed over me and immediately the tears stopped. I had seen this ending before.

[Spoilers gone, you may read again!]. So this is where Brave went wrong. Though it was well written, fascinating, and an overall heart-warming tale about mother-daughter relationships, it was not original in structure. It’s disappointing that this film parallels so many classic Disney Princess movies so closely, but it’s a formula that’s known to work. And it’s not like Pixar isn’t privy to using well-known formulas, it’s just that this one is too well known.

So if you liked Brave, but there’s something that felt slightly off, and you just can’t quite pin down what it was, this could possibly be it. I know everyone has their opinions, so maybe yours is different than mine. All I know is that this aspect of Brave kept it from being 100% fresh for me.

Brave: 3.5/5

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dark Shadows (yes, I liked it!)

So to all those Burton/Depp haters out there…I liked Dark Shadows. And no, it’s not because I cannot help but smiling when I see Tim Burton’s name directing something, or the fact that Johnny Depp is quite possibly my favorite actor of all time…but it sure helps.

There was a time not too long ago, when a movie called Alice in Wonderland came out. I was more excited than any college student could be. I wanted that movie to be so good. I had the poster on my wall for months of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. For years I had been checking off everything that would be great about that movie – subject matter, director, all actors, composer, check check and double check! But it wasn’t. It was everything I hated about remakes all wrapped up in an ugly box. It was boring, uninteresting, and frankly I would rather not ever see it again. Not on TV, nowhere.

So when another Burton/Depp movie came around I was skeptical. I did not want to excite myself too soon. And Dark Shadows had something even better than Alice did – Chloe Moretz, my current favorite up-in-coming actress. I follow most of every movie she comes out with. I think she’s brilliant at choosing material that has a little bit of an edge to it. So therefore, although I wasn’t running through the streets giddy with excitement, I was very intrigued.

And then the trailer came out. And what a mediocre trailer it was. My heart sank. I didn’t know what to think. This movie just wasn’t looking to be good at all. But I was going to see it. I see all Burton movies, because ever since The Nightmare Before Christmas he has been my idol. My favorite director of all time, Burton has done for me what no other director (except Spielberg) can do – he makes dreams come true. And to me, Dark Shadows was no different.

Though not a perfect movie, Dark Shadows is fantastic campy and fun, in the same light that Beetlejuice or Mars Attacks was. There was also an air of darkness to it, a la Sleepy Hollow which is something I have missed from Burton all these years. Johnny Depp was actually a little bit funny in his quirky way, as well as Chloe Moretz. Helena Bonham Carter proved she can melt herself into any role that’s handed to her, and Michelle Pfeiffer is a goddess on screen. Eva Green was also an interesting villainess, although I had a hard time not connecting her to Ichabod Crane’s mother when she was dressed in her maiden attire. The film was light, playful, and all around enjoyable.

The movie was not perfect, though. The script was a little disjointed with characterization as far as the family (specifically the younger boy and Chloe Moretz’s character) and Victoria went. The pacing was also a little slow at times, which was due to some extremely long lingering cuts. It did not bring out huge laughs like Beetlejuice surely does, but it did make me smile frequently and I chuckled regularly! This movie really felt like old Burton – almost like a parody rather than straight up horror or comedy. Not to mention, the cinematography was stunning – the mansion was gorgeous.

To me this movie proves that Tim Burton still has it in him. He’s not boring yet. His comeback from Alice in Wonderland was no Sleepy Hollow, but it wasn’t awful either. I feel like people have hated this movie for either three reasons:

1. They are too attached to the old show, thus refusing to enjoy Burton’s parody of it (fine, I understand that feeling),
2. They are blinded by their Burton/Depp hatred, or
3.  They expect too much from Burton now, and therefore find anything that remotely feels Burton-y “mainstream” or “overdone.”

(and for my end rant) Yet, no one complains when other people reuse similar film techniques. Gore Verbinski, another director who favors Depp, reuses his unique style in Pirates and Rango. There are definitely not as many haters there. People dislike Burton because he’s the easiest to pick on – his style was so original when it came out, that many people cannot get into it. He’s almost niche, if you will. And his style, like many other directors, will not change. Like it or not, but do not complain about his reuse of it. He is an auteur, and will make movies how he likes them – campy, rich with horror tropes and bright red candy blood all day long. And for these reasons Dark Shadows is good, and it was for that lack of reasons Alice in Wonderland was bad.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers 2012

The Avengers -- 4/5

I have been waiting for this day since I saw Iron Man fours years ago to date. I have seen every Marvel movie since on their opening weekends, and have waited after the credits to get the next hint of what's to come. There were some that blew me away, like Iron Man did as well as the Asgard parts in Thor. There were others I enjoyed, but didn't love like Captain America and The Incredible Hulk. But it didn't matter because The Avengers was where it was at, and it felt like eons waiting for the final product.

Now that it's here, I have not been disappointed. The Avengers, directed by the immensely talented Joss Whedon, was a super hero film like no other. I've enjoyed seeing all these heroes work solo, fighting the evil forces that have been sent to destroy our wonderful planet; however there is really nothing quite like seeing a bunch of heroes work in harmony to defeat a massive threat. It's epic, it's grand, and it's enough to send chills down your spine.

Some nice things about The Avengers was the ability it gave to audience to understand what's going on, especially those who have not been to the theaters to see every new Marvel movie. They explain all that needs to be known during the first act, but not in a way so that it beats the knowledgeable audience over the head with information. The Avengers expects that its audience is intelligent, which I like.

Something The Avengers also did well as pacing. The editing in this movie was fluid. I feel like the smartest editors out there are the ones that are able to work on these exciting action-packed movies. The edits are so smooth and well thought out. Facial reactions cut to at the right moment, zoom ins on object when needed, etc. There was also some stunning camera work as well. This movie had a great production crew.

The dialogue was also phenomenal. It was funny, snappy, and witty. Iron Man and Bruce Banner mostly getting the best quirky dialogue bits. I also quite enjoyed that they became smarty-friends instantly -- so great! I also particularly loved watchnig Robert Downey Jr. tear up Captain America and Thor. 

Now can we talk about Loki? If you have been reading my movie blog for a while, you'd know that I was obsessed with him upon Thor coming out. He really made the film for me. He was a complex villain who was seriously wronged by the hero. And that relationship stands up in The Avengers. When Thor comes barreling out of the sky and snatches up his brother, you can tell by the way they argue that both care about each other, even though they are both furious. Thor admittedly loves his "brother" Loki, and even though Loki tries to hide it, he cares about Thor too in his own way. They fight like siblings. When he tries to harm Thor, he makes feeble attempts in which he knows Thor will survive. Like a brother, he only postpones their ultimate confrontation. There is a terrified part to Loki that I like. He's not 100% evil. There's humanity in him, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. In the beginning you see him talking to the Other, who threatens his life. Loki's terrified. He's the master of revenge, but at what cost?

Speaking of being the master of revenge, Loki is also just so sinister as a villain. He's ruthless, he's cunning, and oh gods he's sexy too. Perfect villain material here. He's not big and bulky like most of the Marvel baddies we've seen, like Obadiah Stane (Iron Man) or Red Skull (Captain America). He's intelligent, much like Christopher Nolan's Joker, and thus when he speaks the audience is interested in what he has to say. I love Loki, and I really want to see him again in the future. And it's not just because he's attractive, it's because he's personally my favorite villain to date. I suppose it's because in some way he reminds me of a Korean revenge anti-hero. I know what he's doing it wrong, but I root for him anyway. And who wouldn't?

There were some flaws though. It seems like Thor and Captain America get a back seat to Iron Man throughout the movie. This could be partially because the Iron Man movies have been the most successful ones of the Marvel Avengers series thus far, therefore the audience can relate to him more. Though it would seem that Thor should have had a bigger part, seeing as the villain is his brother after all. Also, Captain America is treated as an idiot throughout the beginning because he has just woken up from an icy sleep, which is reasonable I suppose. I also wished they would have explained Black Widow and Hawkeye's relationship a little bit more. Was it romantic? Or was in platonic? Maybe this means they will make a movie just for them! One can hope, they seemed like really interesting characters. I also found Loki going to Germany of all places and making people bow before him a little cliche (WWII allusion much?). And if you didn't get it, Captain America reminded the audience why he was there to begin with.

But other than a few little things here and there, the movie overall was great blockbuster fun. This is what summer movies are all about. So therefore I say, bring it on 2012. Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises -- I'm ready for you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

There was no doubt in my mind from day one that I would totally like this movie. It had the dream cast, the dream director, and furthermore Suzanne Collins wrote the first draft of the screenplay and added extra scenes. I mean seriously, I've been Hunger-Games-spazzing all week. So now without further delay, my review.

So for all you that don't know, The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic America called Panem, where annually The Capitol hosts The Hunger Games, where 2 tributes from each of the 12 districts fights to the death in a televised arena, gladiator style. We follow Katniss, a girl from district 12, the coal district, who is used as a machine for rebellion starting with her sacrifice to go to the games instead of her sister. To keep it spoiler free in the description, that's the furthest I will go, but keep in mind there will be spoilers throughout this review. I will label them as needed.

One thing that worked really well in this movie was the actors. Jennifer Lawrence played a different Katniss from the books, but not a polar opposite. There is still the feeling that she is clueless to her being used by the rebellion, and her confusion is shown really well. Book Katniss on the other hand, never showed her confusion to the cameras, and always kept it in her inner thoughts. I think I liked this Katniss more, it made her seem more human and less of a pawn. Josh Hutcherson was not what I expected, but given some of his screen time I really liked him. I think he was truly Peeta, I could feel it in his eyes. He cared for Katniss, and you could see that. Liam Hemsworth was alright from what I saw, he certainly feels like Gale. Unfortunately, we do not see a lot of him in this movie unless he is scowling at the screen when Peeta and Katniss kiss (twice). I felt directional-wise this could have been done a lot better. I wish they had given him some dialogue rather than just a scowl, because by the second time they showed him, you really got the point. Furthermore, he also ruined the scene drastically with his jealousy.

Elizabeth Banks was a perfect Effie, she looked and acted as her to a point where I couldn't imagine anyone else as her. Haymitch was grand too, and I particularly loved his reactions to Katniss' pain throughout the games. My favorite scene depicting this was [SPOILER] when he approaches Seneca Crane and asks him to change up the rules for young love [/SPOILER]. Seneca Crane was also fantastic, and I loved every scene when he and President Snow were in the garden. I also adored the behind the scenes of the Gamekeepers' control room. It was amazing. However, my favorite casting job surprisingly had to be Cato. I recently reread the book just days before I saw it at midnight last night, and one specific line about Cato stood out to me -- at the end when Katniss and Peeta are fighting him, she thinks to herself that there "is something not right" about him. I feel like the actor really took that line and went with it. During the warm up sessions, Cato freaks out about someone taking his knife. His reaction is perfect, and right when I saw it, I thought directly to that line. To me, Cato could have not been more perfect, and it's sad that he will not return.

There were two huge miscasts, however. During the pregames, Foxface and Thresh both seemed fine, but once the games started it felt all wrong. To me, Foxface should have looked like a young Bryce Dallas Howard with all the agility of a fox. The movie Foxface just didn't seem to have the fox-like charm, and seemed clunky rather than swift, so her nickname didn't make much sense to me. I also did not like Thresh's big scene at the Feast. It was too quick, and it was evident he was not tall enough. Because this scene was not done right, when Thresh is killed, it does not hold the same power and it's curious as to why Katniss seems bothered by it. I felt like the film gave me no reason to be upset over Thresh's death.

Aside from acting, I loved the way this movie looked. The Capitol was just how I imagined it -- grand, almost Roman-like, and everyone looks like Lady Gaga. The film technique was also a great choice, and I thought it was an interesting idea to use Caesar Flickerman as segue between what we see, and what Katniss is thinking. The best scene by far though was [SPOILER] district 11's rebellion after Rue's death. I have to admit, I cry during just about everything, but Rue's death both in the book and the movie just don't make me cry. I feel sad, but I also feel like we just never get the time to get to know her past "she looks like Prim," and "look how tiny she is." However, when they showed district 11's reaction that brought tears to my eyes. For what Thresh did in the books for me, the rebellion sparked by the love this district felt for this little girl was remarkable. If anything, Rue's death was the last straw in the film [/SPOILER].

As a movie, this is something completely new. It's a fantastic sci-fi film that I feel even non-fans of the books can relate to and follow. No, some of my favorite parts did not make the cut (the hybrid-tribute-wolves were just disjointed looking dogs, and Katniss and Peeta sharing their big meal, among others), but I feel like as a film this totally worked for me. As an adaptation, I feel like it did almost as well as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I also really liked the fact that I had no idea what the games had to offer, thanks to Lionsgate's advertising scheme. I cannot wait until Catching Fire comes out, because it's my favorite book in the series, and also my favorite character finally shows up -- Finnick!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

La Casa Muda

La Casa Muda is a really interesting horror film. Similar to the idea behind Hitchcock’s Rope, La Casa Muda(aka Silent House) is supposedly done in one whole take. Many skeptics believe that this is in fact a fudged claim, but there is no getting around that this film (if it is true that the film is actually done in two shots) had some seriously fancy camera work going for it. There had to have been a lot of practices to get this movie right, and it shows that the camera man is really competent when it comes to framing the shot. I could only imagine how hard it must have been to make this movie happen, and there is a definite need for applause for this one. (WARNING: spoilers below)

Though the movie wasn’t all too creative in plot, and moreover the plot is sometimes actually confusing, I really enjoyed watching this movie. At times, I didn’t even remember it was done in one take. I really enjoyed the real time aspect to it, but I fear that it could have possibly hindered on the film’s plot. The film is shot mainly from the perspective of the daughter, Laura, who [SPOILER ALERT] we discover is the psychotic killer. This is discovered when the POV of the story is cleverly switched over to Nestor (which btw I LOVE his name). This clears up what’s going on a little bit more, like why Laura doesn’t want to leave to house and also why she also doesn’t seem to be injured, but for some reason has a good amount of blood on her face.

The film’s story definitely needed some improvements. It is not particularly satisfying to be in the dark when it comes to the story. The climax needed to be drawn out longer. I also feel like [SPOILER] the audience needed to know what happened to the daughter and why Nestor and Laura’s father were having sex and documenting it upstairs in the old house. It would have been nice to know these plot holes, if you can even call them that.

La Casa Muda was an interesting trial. The single shot horror film placed the audience directly with the protagonist, and increased tension well. It was very creative, but I am not so sure that other horror films should follow suit. The first person perspective muddles the story, and while the film is aesthetically pleasing for the most part, there were still some old horror tricks throughout the film (ex. camera flashes for light =REC).

But do not think this means you shouldn’t watch this movie. If you are a lover of film, and especially the horror genre, this one is a definite must-see. The story need not be the reason to rent this film, but the mirror shots, lighting, and staging in a single 80minute shot is worth a watch. It’s an incredible feat.

La Casa Muda: 3.5/5

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is It a Remake when it's a Book??

With the new release of Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, many people are calling it a remake. But is it really? When the source material is a book, can it be called a remake? I suppose you could even say the movie is a remake of the book. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the current one in the spotlight, but with the up in coming The Great Gatsby, should we even call these remakes but rather a different viewpoint of a story that was written on paper first?
A really popular book that has constantly been made and made again into different films is the Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol. A simple story written by Charles Dickens, and it has been adapted into film over 20 times, and there have been even more television adaptions. The most recent big screen adaptation was Disney's animated A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey in 2009. It made millions at the box office. Speaking of Disney, other examples of this case are classic fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland or more recently Snow White. In some cases it's true that some people complain when they see a new trailer for Snow White and the Huntsmen or Mirror, Mirror play in front of their film, but not so many complain and say "I can't stand remakes." No, more than often the complaints are "get new source material."


It's easy to call a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a remake, because there was a Swedish film that came out last year; And these people who are flocking to see the American version had no idea that they could just as easily watch it streaming from their Netflix account...six months ago. Strong fans of the Swedish film are outraged, and maybe they have a good reason to be. I recently did a report over the international film industry in Hollywood, and it is an issue that is close to my heart. Last night during the Critics' Choice Awards, before announcing the best foreign film, the girl stated that everyone should go out and see these movies. But how can they? The only one from my understanding that wasn't restricted to LA and NY was The Skin I Live In, and do you see that movie coming to your local college town Cinemark anytime soon? I didn't think so. I was outraged by her comment. She, like many others in Hollywood, are not familiar with the scarceness of these films in everyday cinema. So when Sweden's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out last year, why would anyone have known about it? I was only lucky enough to see it in theaters with my mom because I live in Austin, an up in coming movie city thanks to SXSW and Austin Film Festival. In the end, no one was given a chance to see the Swedish version, or even given a chance to know it existed, so when a big Hollywood version comes out, can we really be mad that all these people went rushing to see their favorite book as a movie? I certainly cannot blame them.

Another looming question is, are remakes even a bad thing? I certainly know I used to throw fits when I saw my favorite foreign film being remade into Hollywood "garbage." I was the one who complained when I found out best picture The Departed was a Hong Kong drama called Infernal Affairs prior to its remake. Furthermore, for a point in time I was even disappointed that the great Scorsese had done so many remakes (did you know Taxi Driver is a remake of the western The Searchers?). I later came to the realization that Scorsese is a genius when it comes to the adaptation and remake. He brings remaking films into a whole other art form. He's brilliant. This is why no one complains when he remakes a film.

However, not all remakes come off as smoothly or as artistic as Scorsese's. An example being the remake of one of my favorite Korean films, A Tale of Two Sisters. When I saw the trailer for the movie The Uninvited I knew right away that it was a remake of the former. I was angry it was being remade, I was repulsed. But did that stop me from seeing it? No, not in the least. I went and I saw and I...didn't hate it. I wasn't about to go out and buy the DVD and re-watch it over and over, but it wasn't terrible. And yes, there are some bad remakes in the world, like The Eye (a remake of Gin Gwai), but more than not, these remakes lead people to watching the originals. So, are remakes that bad?? Sure, they are Hollywood at its worst, exploiting other cinema for money, but maybe this sort of exploitation isn't as bad as we think. I mean, a little remake called Fright Night was in my top 10 of 2011. People just like the same stories. If you've ever seen an Asian TV drama, you'd know they have a fondness for dressing up women as men and having other men fall in love with them. Sounds sort of like Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night, doesn't it? And we all know he wasn't original.

So back to the original question, is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a remake? I say no, it's not a remake. A remake, by my definition, is taking an original movie and doing it over. Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not the same as the Swedish version by any means. It has vastly different actors/actresses, stylized very differently, and focuses on different aspects of the original book. The two are not the same by any standard. If it is a remake, then it is one of the book. It is by no means a remake of the Swedish film (which is a better adaptation in my mind either way).

What are your thoughts? :)