365cinema

365 films, 365 days, a year of cinema.

Captain America: The First Avenger September 16, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 3:37 am

 

Day 32

 

Unlike some other forms of entertainment the title of a movie isn’t that important.  With books, the title is one of the biggest reasons why people will pick it up and give it a chance.  They do have plot summaries on the back cover, but unlike with film, books are unable to effectively broadcast a sense of what they will be like.  Movies have trailers to suck potential viewers in, as well as provide a short plot tease and give an idea of how they will be composed visually.  If we like a trailer a bad name isn’t going to stop us from seeing the film, and actually it seems nowadays that movie producers try to chose the least harmful titles possible.  What we are left with are very short titles that give us an idea of what we are looking at, but don’t reveal enough to push us away, Ex: Drive, Contagion, Our Idiot Brother, Warrior.  However, sometimes a title ends up saying a lot about a film even though we may not have realized it when we purchased our ticket.  Captain America: The First Avenger was one of those films.

Looking back at the title I should have been able to see it before hand, but just as the colon in the title suggests, Captain America really is an amalgamation of two different films.  On one hand you have Captain America, Marvel’s take on the origin story on one of their most beloved superheroes.  Yet, on the other hand you have The First Avenger, Marvel’s extended commercial for their big upcoming franchise hit The Avengers.  Now the split between the two films wasn’t quite as exaggerated as I make it seem above, but while Captain America was an extremely entertaining and well-crafted look at the story of Captain America, the need to tie the film into a larger story world kept it from being great.

Honestly, if Captain America: The First Avenger could’ve been a one off movie it might have been my favorite action film of the summer.  It was filled with some excellent and really likable characters, and beautifully captured the WWII aesthetic.  In particular I really liked Chris Evans as the titular hero.  I thought he would struggle to maintain Steve Rogers scrawny kid mentality throughout the film, but I thought he did an excellent job maintaining his character’s personality and motivations throughout the film.  Even when he was saving the world as a super soldier, Evans was able to portray Roger’s quiet confidence and continued anxieties.  Not to mention that Dominic Cooper was awesome as Howard Stark, and Hugo Weaving was his usual menacing self as the main villain, the Red Skull.

Still, despite these performances Captain America: The First Avenger struggled when it needed to make its main character more than what he was.  I don’t want to ruin anything, but all of the action sequences after the 2/3 mark of the film were way too over the top and didn’t have any emotional build up.  They also did not really seem to fit in with the rest of the film.  The whole first 2/3 of the movie was there to show that Captain America overcomes any of his physical limitations with heart and desire, and then they made him more superhuman than he needed to be.  Also the framing story that allows for Captain America to make it into the present really kills the emotional connection between the characters.  The first sequence pretty much gives away the ending, and it makes all of the connections Roger’s makes in the past seem hollower and unnecessary.

Overall, the film was great.  It had great action until the end, and was filled with some well-developed characters.  Its minor failures were the product of trying to make the film something more than it needed to be.  Captain America was good enough on its own.  It didn’t need to evolve into a 2 hour Avengers commercial.

 

Grade: 7.5/10

 

Up Next: I take a trip far away from Hollywood and partake in the experience that is Waking Life.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II August 16, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 6:39 am

 

Day 23

 

After ten years of books and ten years of films, fourteen years in total, the series that has touched billions of lives finally comes to a close.  I’m sure this is a sad day for all involved, but just remember that in 40 years or so someone will probably remake the films or make a miniseries out of them.  Seriously though, I don’t know if there has been a movie that has had this much hype since The Phantom Menace came out, and I will admit it is difficult to isolate the film from my own personal feelings about the book and film series.  If you have talked to me for any period of time about the HP films, you will know that my one word feeling on them is disappointment, and while Deathly Hallows Part 2 is one of the better movies in the series, it still has the same problems as many of the other films of the series.

However, before I get to what i didn’t like about the film, I thought i would start off positive and say that Deathly Hallows Part 2 was one of the best shot films in the series by far.  The mood of the film is dark and that is well complimented by the blacks and grays emphasized throughout the film.  Even the scenes that don’t take place have a noticeable lack of color that feels appropriate and helps to keep the tension throughout.  There aren’t many scenes in the film that don’t seek to push us towards its conclusion, but the few shots of the military like discipline and structure at Snape’s Hogwarts were awesome.  The sound of the marching coupled with the varying shades of black were a great combo and I applaud David Yates for finally discovering how to shot effective scenes in darkness (The Cave scene in Half-Blood Prince was very poorly lit).  Also this film is the shortest in the series, which keeps the plot progressing and the suspense heavy.  After all, by this part of the series the characters and settings are (or at least should be) already well-developed so we don’t need much filler.

Still, after leaving the theater I had the same empty feeling that lingered after watching most of the others in the series.  Outside of Prisoner of Azkaban the films just weren’t able to capture the magic (figuratively) that the books had.  They had amazing sets, Hogwarts was unbelievable throughout, and great actors but when push came to shove the big scenes just felt hollow.  In particular the final battle between Harry and Voldemort was very anticlimactic.  Seriously they had float away like burning paper. Really?!?  They almost salvaged it with a very nice scene between Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the bridge, but then just like the book they through in that awful epilogue.  It didn’t work in the book and was even worse here due to the terribly inconsistent aging make-up.  The film and series ends up being about the friendship of the three main characters above all else, and the touching sequence between the three after all was finished would’ve made the perfect ending to the series that was terribly uneven.

I can forgive Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets for being merely good due to the age of the main actor’s and the fact that they were more of children’s books in the first place.  Also the director had a lot of plot and background to fit into those films so it was inevitable that they would not feel as rich as the books.  However, after a perfect director switch to Alfonso Cuaron, Prisoner of Azkaban, finally found that blend of plot and style to make the book come to life.  That film is full of life from beginning to end, and gave a great blueprint on how to keep the series going strong.  However, the next four films fell back into being almost entirely plot advancement (Book 4 and 5 are long so I understand), but to me the series never had any more sequences where the feeling was the same as reading the book.  Sure I enjoyed them, but they just didn’t have the heart that I expected.  I’m sure to most of you this must seem like nitpicking, but all I wanted from the Harry Potter movies was to be transformed back to how I felt when I stayed up all night to finish the latest book.  It should have been easy, after all film is a more expressive art form, but instead I was treated to the words of the book in movie form, but with none of the emotion.

So in conclusion, I provide my ranking of the eight films in the Harry Potter series.  I enjoyed all of them, but was very rarely satisfied.

Best: Prisoner of Azkaban

2nd: Deathly Hallows: Part 2

3A: Goblet of Fire

3B: Order of the Phoenix

5th: Chamber of Secrets

6th: Deathly Hallows: Part 1

7th: Sorcerer’s Stone

8th: Half Blood Prince

 

Score: 7/10

 

Up Next: Film Noir meets High School in the 2005 film Brick.

 

Midnight in Paris July 15, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 5:18 pm

 

Day 13

 

I’m almost ashamed to say this, but Midnight in Paris is the first Woody Allen movie I have ever seen.  I actually almost picked him for my Director study, but his recent track record made me weary of submitting myself to all his 47 films.  I can’t say anything about Match Point or Whatever Works as I haven’t seen them, but Midnight in Paris is a wonderful film that weaves past and present together to create a vivid picture of Parisian life.  The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to gain respectability as a novelist.  He takes a trip to Paris with his fiancee (Rachael McAdams) and her family in the hopes that the Paris mystique that helped Golden Age writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald will rub off on him.  This process is helped along by a magical car that picks him up every night and transports back to 1920s Paris, where he rubs elbows with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and almost every other artist who was in Paris at the time.

New York may be Allen’s city of birth, but this film shows that Paris may now be his city of choice.  Midnight in Paris is beautifully shot, combining vibrant colors of daytime with the grays, blacks, and bright lights of Paris at night.  A lot of the credit goes to cinematographer Darius Khondji, but it is clear that Allen has a love affair with the city.  He includes shots of almost every notable landmark, and has a way of capturing the essence of the city in every street shot.  This is especially true of the Golden Age sequences, where the costumes and props perfectly echo the Sepia stained ballrooms and speakeasies where some of the best creative minds of the time partied and discussed their work.

Wilson is excellent as Gil, mixing his usual subtle charm with some of Allen’s trademark neurotic defeatism, and he blends well with the large cast of characters around him.  He also fits in well with the Parisian attitude of the film.  Wilson does not spout off random facts about Rodin or Versailles like the pedantic Paul (played by the always great Michael Sheen), but his love of Golden Twenties Paris is supremely genuine.  The film could’ve been bogged down by the almost endless name checks of famous painters/directors/writers, but Wilson’s childlike enthusiasm around them all keeps the past sequences fresh throughout.  It also helps that none of the actors overplay their historical figures.  I’m not the most familiar with the personalities of 1920s creative types, but everyone seemed to be played well and most importantly they were never a major distraction from the main storyline.

The story itself really deals with time, specifically people who feel out of touch with their own time.  Gil missed a chance to live in Paris once, and instead opted for a shallow life writing in Hollywood.  So it is understandable why he would be drawn to 1920s Paris, a place where the creative arts flourished and a place he believes can provide inspiration to turn his own life around.  However, as the film shows, this is not a localized problem.  It is natural to envy the past over the present because it is defined.  History has evaluated it and given it importance, but the past was somebody’s present so what was a golden age for us was merely life for them.  Instead it is important to realize that the influences of the past never leave the places we love, it is merely up to us to find them.

Midnight in Paris is a great change of pace from the typical summer fare.  Not only is it a beautiful, well acted film, but it also has an interesting concept with great execution.  The time travel sequences could have been very gimmicky, but instead they are done with a subtlety that makes them seem normal.  But most of all, Midnight in Paris really sells the feel of Paris.  All aspects of the film work together to make you feel like you are actually there with the characters, and that alone makes it a worthwhile watch.  On top of that, it’s funny, is paced well, and has a great story.  Essentially, it’s the perfect summer film if you actually want to use your brain when viewing.

 

Score: 9/10

 

Up Next: A look at the world of street art and the reclusive artist Banksy in the Oscar nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon July 6, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 3:08 am

 

Day 9

 

After the absolute suckfest that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I had the lowest of expectations for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Couple in the fact that Megan Fox was being replaced by some no-name model and I was very cautious heading into the theater.  Fortunately, Dark of the Moon is probably the best film in the series and despite the bevy of flaws it has, it certainly succeeds in being a fun summer action flick.

It helps to know what you are getting into when you watch a Michael Bay flick, so before the opening credits had even rolled I had given up on caring about the romance between Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whitely.  It’s almost an insult to the viewer that Bay assumes a tracking shot of Huntington-Whitely’s ass and one conversation can make us care about their romance, but if went to Dark of the Moon to see a quality love story, shame on you.  Their scenes together definitely drag on, but they don’t kill the movie and at least it’s quality eye candy (although she’s no Megan Fox).  Bay also keeps in the dumb humor (small transformers, LaBeouf’s parents) that killed Revenge of the Fallen, although it is far less noticeable than it was in Revenge of the Fallen.  However, this is a PG-13 movie so it is inevitable that there will be dumb humor for the 14 year olds in the audience.

What Dark of the Moon does do right is that its new characters are all portrayed by good actors and although the script doesn’t give them the best material, they do much better with it than a pretty face would.  I especially enjoyed John Malkovich as a bizarre corporate head who gives Shia’s character a job.   It may be embarrassing that Frances McDormand is in the new Transformers movie, but her character is incorporated seamlessly and she plays the role as well as anyone could.  Bay also makes better use of the human military part of the film by giving them a bigger role and actually having them do something.  Obviously we do not expect them to destroy a whole bunch of giant robots so it makes sense to have them take care of the little things.  He also has them in some pretty cool stunts, especially one where groups of soldiers drop in to Chicago in wing suits.  The humans actually have a role in the film and I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t ruin the action sequences like they did in the first two films.

When it comes down to it, despite the average plot and shallow characters, Michael Bay knows how to shoot an action film.  He uses excellent angles and keeps the action in tight so we never miss a moment of it.  I also really like that he knows how to uses the same frame for an extended period of time instead of using the frantic cutting technique that makes some action sequences unwatchable.  Shockwave’s infinite extending arm would’ve been a huge pain to shoot for some other directors, but Bay was actually able to keep it in frame and constantly give it reference to Shockwave’s actual body.  Couple that with much better shots for the military activity and the result is that the final battle is by far the most entertaining scene in any of the three films.  Sometimes I couldn’t help but feel like the giant robots and humans got way too much help via a twisted Deus Ex Machina, but the fight has to end at some point.

Maybe it was the low expectations or my Michael Bay bullshit filter, but I found Transformers: Dark of the Moon to be an enjoyable summer action flick.  The fights were big, the action fairly intense and it was by far the best acted entry in the franchise.  It’s great in 2D and I’ve heard even better things about it in 3D.  So if you want a smart film with a coherent plot and good humor stay away, but if you want to shut your brain off and watch 150 minutes of action and eye candy, give Transformers: Dark of the Moon a try.  You may not trust Michael Bay, but he’s at his best here.

 

Score: 7/10

 

Up Next: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler try to make me laugh in Baby Mama.

 

The Hangover: Part II June 27, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 2:14 am

 

Day 3

 

Author’s Note: Today is the first installment of “In Theaters”.  As a reminder these will serve more as standard film reviews with a traditional rating at the bottom.  There are some minor spoilers included so if you don’t want anything in the movie ruined, then don’t read it.

The Hangover: Part II  was pretty funny.  Unfortunately, pretty funny just isn’t good enough when Part II was the EXACT SAME movie as the first.  Seriously, I know this has been said already by everyone, but the film had the exact same plot structure as the first one down the smallest details (e.g: their running times are two minutes off).   If you are going to make a sequel to a movie that didn’t need one in the first place, you need some changes to the basic formula, but Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. just wanted to cash in.  So instead they chose a new locale, shuffled the characters a bit, and cut and pasted new jokes.   It had none of the heart of the first movie, and while the situations were definitely darker, they had no emotional weight because I had already seen it all before.  Todd Phillips is one of my favorite contemporary comedy directors (Old School, Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch) and I was pretty disappointed that he has nothing creative to add to The Hangover: Part II.

The worst thing about it is that The Hangover: Part II did have its moments and definitely could have been just as good as the first movie.  This film showed just how crazy and effed-up the three main characters are, and I appreciated the undertones that maybe these two incidents weren’t just crazy booze and drug filled nights, but actually the manifestation of their inner demons.  At the end, when Stu said that maybe the best thing that could happen would be for him to stay in Bangkok, open up a dentistry, and to give in to his love of hookers, I thought that that would’ve been the perfect ending for this film.   This movie tried to up the stakes and I can’t think of anything bigger than the night actually having a major impact on one of their lives.  He wouldn’t of got married, but no one sees these movies for the love story.  In the first movie I actually got the feeling that Doug truly wanted to marry his wife, but in this one Stu’s impending nuptials seemed completely forced.  Although that will happen when you focus more on his relationship with her dad and have him get railed by a tranny prostitute.  In the end, I was happy that he could realize that maybe these inner demons might be who he truly was and it would’ve given the movie some serious emotional weight had he stayed and abandoned the wedding.  However, that would never have happened because it wouldn’t have been the Hollywood ending everyone expected.  So instead we were treated to a stale sequel that kept me laughing throughout, but also constantly disappointed.

On a completely unrelated note, why the hell didn’t they use Doug more.  I understand why he was gone in the first movie, but they really wasted having Justin Bartha in the film by leaving him at home.  His presence would have been a nice shake-up to the dynamic of the “wolfpack” and his character has a calming presence that would have been hilarious opposite Ed Helms.  The same goes with Paul Giamatti.  Why bring in an excellent character actor and give him maybe five minutes of screen time.

However, one part of the movie I did actually like was the use of the monkey.  When I saw in the trailer that they were throwing in a monkey, I expected the worst, but he was actually one of the highlights of the film.  The monkey brought out the best in Alan (Zach Galifianakis’ character), and their weird relationship seemed far more real than anything else in the film.  The scene outside the veterinary hospital where they said goodbye was quite touching.  The monkey never dragged down the pace of the film and definitely made it funnier.  So I at least have to give the film credit for producing perhaps the least annoying animal sidekick of all time.

Still, if I were you I’d save your ten dollars and wait until The Hangover: Part II comes out on DVD.  The only things you would be missing are some beautiful helicopter shots of Thailand, and some funny jokes.  I hope if they make another sequel they really do shake things up a lot.  I for one love the idea of them breaking Alan out of a mental hospital.  It would be a creative breath of fresh air for a series that has grown stale.  Frankly, this franchise needs it if it wants to have any sort of positive legacy.

 

Score: 5/10

 

Up Next: The long forgotten 2001 Shakespearean teen comedy Get Over It