January 31, 2010

#056: (500) Days Of Summer

500 Days Of Summer is a new twist on the classic boy meets girl love story.  It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the smitten male pining after the girl of his dreams played by Zooey Deschanel.  Not surprisingly, the film follows their relationship over 500 days.  However, and here is the kicker, the 500 days are not presented in sequential order.  Yeah, its crazy.  ....All kidding aside, that aspect of the movie worked alright for me.  However, there were a lot of other parts that did not.

I am sure we have all seen quite a few movies about falling in love.  Hell, I have seen two in the last week, and they were surprisingly similar.  In (500) Days Of Summer the version of the story centers around a girl who just wants to keep it casual, and a guy who is head over heels.  Now matter how much heart he pours out, he just can't seem to break down her walls.  When he does seem to be making progress, he is met with unforeseen setbacks.  It is not really a spoiler to say that he ends up getting his heart broken, even though he should have expected it all along.

I may hesitate to describe this film with words like "touching" or "meaningful". I would be more likely to describe it as "charming".  They did a good job in capturing that feeling of newness and excitement when a relationship is starting to blossom.  However, there were an equal number of moments with awkward dialog and ham-handed life lessons.  I never could truly buy into the central relationship because every time I started to get sucked in, something came along that pulled me right back out of it.  Your evaluation of this film is 100% dependent on whether that relationship seems genuine to you.  For me, it never really did.  Therefore, I never connected enough with the film to really care what happened.

When I finished watching (500) Days Of Summer I thought about a movie I watched last year called Definitely, Maybe.  500 Days is probably a better made film, but Definitely, Maybe was a lot more effective at drawing me into the love story.  Any guy who watches one of these films is going to have some sort of opinion on whether the girl in question is worth getting all worked up about.  In my opinion Zooey Deshanel really wasn't, and Isla Fisher definitely was.  For my money, you put Isla Fisher in 500 Days, I am a much bigger fan.

Overall 500 Days was enjoyable to watch.  It would have been more engaging if it allowed us more time to fall in love with the characters instead of constantly having to show us how quirky and witty they are.  The film had a slightly precocious feel, and constantly reminded us of the time jumping gimmick.  However, this film succeeds in spite of itself.  There are a few scenes that are really well done and do a solid job at conveying the genuine emotion that the rest of the film lacks.  These moments alone make the film worth watching.


January 30, 2010

#055: Moon

I have been on a streak of good movies.  Any of the last 5 films I have watched could be my favorite for the year.  I don't like to order films because it is impossible to compare across such different subject matter, but they all have compelling arguments as to why they should be the best. I didn't have really high expectations for Moon and when I started watching I had no clue what I was in for.

On some levels Moon is a very simplistic film.  There is one actor, Sam Rockwell, and a computer voiced by Kevin Spacey.  However, do not allow it to fool you.  At its core, it is extremely complex. In the undefined future we have discovered a way to create energy from moon dirt.  We have huge machines to harvest the moon dirt along with a highly automated system for concentrating the energy and sending it back to Earth.  In fact it is so automated it only requires one staff member, Sam Bell, to remain at the moon base and oversee everything.  He is accompanied by GERTY, the computer that monitors all the process and takes care of Sam. Sam only has a couple weeks left until his three year term of solitude is up and he gets to return home to his wife and child.

At face value, this is a film about loneliness.  It is about living inside your own head, and coping with the constant feeling that you will never get out.  This film is solemn, reflective, and sometimes downright sad.  However, this is also a film about hope, friendship and sacrifice.  Most of the time I, along with the main character, was just trying to figure out what was going on.  There is a lot of confusion, but the it allows you to further explore the ideas behind the film.  As the pieces of the puzzle start to align you and Sam discover what is truly going on together.  As you travel with him to the end of this film it is at once heartbreaking and triumphant.  It left me with something to think about, which is a trait of a good movie.

Moon is an interesting film that is very well-acted and solidly put together.  I found the story to be intriguing and meaningful.  Most importantly, I had a great time watching this film.  I would definitely recommend checking it out if you can get your hands on it.  


January 23, 2010

#054 The Hurt Locker

Every once in a while a film comes along that has something special.  The Hurt Locker lifted me off of my couch and sat me down in Iraq for two hours.  My heart rate was elevated from the first scene; one of the most intense films I have seen in a long time.  It is wonderfully acted and beautifully shot.  On some levels, this is my favorite film of the past year.

The Hurt Locker is a film about a bomb squad.  Jeremy Renner stars as the squad leader, and crazy SOB.  He gives a great performance, really making his character feel genuine.  The acting, along with the cinematography really serve to make the viewer feel like they are watching real footage of real people.  This film grabbed me from the very beginning and held me all the way to the end.

My favorite thing about The Hurt Locker is that it is very much a film about the warrior and not the war.  It doesn't try to tell us anything about the politics behind what is going on.  It doesn't even give a reason or cause for the anguish these soldiers are dealing with.  It is focused solely on the men and women who are putting their lives on the line, and why the hell they are doing it.  When I finished The Hurt Locker I experienced a sense of relief.  I was allowed to return to my couch.  I didn't have to think about it anymore if I didn't want to.  The soldiers don't have that option.  I don't pretend to understand anything about what they are going through by watching a movie.  It merely allowed me put things in my life into perspective a little bit.

If you have not yet seen The Hurt Locker, you need to watch it.  I hope it gets some recognition at the Oscars.  I thought it would win the golden globe for best drama.  It sure as hell creates a lot more drama that what Avatar did.  It may not be as visually impressive as Avatar, but the blu-ray did look great and the tension and characters far exceed that of Avatar.  The Hurt Locker is definitely among my favorites of the year, and you all need to see it.


January 16, 2010

#053: Inglourious Basterds

I have tried to write a post about Inglourious Basterds a few times this week. Each time I scrap it. Nothing I write seems indicative of how I feel about the film. I like to pretend to be a film critic. However, with Basterds I really don't even know where to begin dissecting this film.

In true Tarentino fashion, Inglourious Basterds is 90% dialog between characters and 10% flourishes of graphic violence and action. If you don't like anything else QT has ever done, then chances are you won't like Basterds. However, I might suggest you still give it a try. It is more linear than a lot of his other films. It also seems to be a bit more accessible. Most people will find something of interest with at least one of the characters. Speaking of characters, this film has my favorite character of the last year. No, it is not Brad Pitt with his over-exaggerated southern drawl. Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa is amazing to watch on screen. Landa is so charismatic and interesting, yet so evil. I found each of his scenes captivating. I could watch him deliver those same lines over and over and never get bored. His performance sticks out among tons of great acting. This is by far one of the best acted movies I have seen in a long time. The only character I didn't completely connect with was Pitt's Aldo Raine. I didn't think he did a bad job acting, it was just how over-the-top Raine was. He, along with Hitler, were like cartoon characters in a film otherwise dominated by dire circumstances and serious performances. Everything in the final cut of this film worked really well for me. However, I would like to see another version where Raine is much more of a badass. Moe like the Hugo Stiglitz character. Alas, I will never get that opportunity, so I will be happy with what is there.

There is so much going on with this film. I could ramble on for pages and it would be meaningless to anybody who hasn't seen it. I have thought about this movie a ton, and love to talk about it at every opportunity I get. My goal with this blog is to urge everybody to see it if you haven't already. True fans of film will at least be able to appreciate the cinematography and acting, even if you don't connect with the story. Once you've seen it, I would love to know what you thought and talk to you about it.

I can't wait to watch it again. I am sure I missed several things that will require a second viewing to truly appreciate. I am usually not one for owning movies, but this might have to be my first blu-ray purchase (along with Fight Club). Inglourious Basterds is a great film that I can see myself revisiting several times.


January 7, 2010

#052: Humpday

I love Netflix's watch instant service.  They make available lots of small films that I probably wouldn't see otherwise.   I had heard about Humpday, so it was already on my radar.  When I saw it was going to be available on watch instant I was excited.

Humpday is very much an indie film that has a very amateur feel.  It is the type of film that is supposed to feel "real".  A lot of these indie films fall short, but this one does a very admirable job at feeling genuine.  This is even more impressive considering the entire premise of the film.

Humpday centers around two close male friends that haven't seen one another for a long time.  They have obviously taken different paths in life, and are struggling to find that connection they used to have.  They both have something to prove.  After a completely believable series of events and conversations they somehow decide to film an amateur porn scene featuring the two of them having sex with one another.  The rest of the film explores their relationship, and how them get to a place where they can actually go through with it.  It seems like such a far fetched idea for film.  Yet the characters go through a logical procession where it kind of makes sense.

There is a lot going on in this film.  While I wouldn't consider making amateur gay porn, there are several other universal themes that I could easily connect with.  The conversations aren't like the ones I have with old friends, but the motivation behind them is something anybody around my age can relate to.  Whether we want to admit it or not, there is an undertone of competition when interacting with friends who embark on life at the same time as you.  This film explores that competition, and the lengths we might take to demonstrate our desired skill/personality trait/political stance/successfulness/etc...

The exploration of the dynamic between old friends is a story that has been told many times.  However, they usually don't agree to participate in gay porn within hours of seeing each other again.  That driving force behind the film is definitely unique, raising the stakes quite a bit.  The build up to the climax offers one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever witnessed in a movie.  It made me feel so embarrassed for the characters that I had to laugh to relieve the weirdness.   Any film that can create that much awkwardness between characters has to be doing something right.

Humpday isn't a perfect movie.  There were times when the situations didn't ring completely true. However, it is an entire cast of seemingly non-actors that do a great job of developing the characters and making them feel honest and genuine for the most part.  I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and found it to be a worthwhile viewing experience.  If you have a chance to see it you should definitely check it out.


January 2, 2010

#051: Avatar

I hope everybody had a merry Christmas and you are having a great start to the new year.  I will be trying to get back on track with the posts here in the next couple weeks.  I have seen quite a few movies since the last time I posted.  I will reflect and decide which ones, if any, deserve a blog post. There is definitely one that I wanted to write about.  A couple days before Christmas I was lucky enough to be able to go watch James Cameron's Avatar.

First off, I want to make it clear that I really enjoyed this film.  I had a great time watching it.  Seeing this in 3D was unlike any other experience I have had at a theater.  It was fun, entertaining, and I would gladly give up the dough to watch it again in a heartbeat.  If there was a theater close by I would jump at the chance to see this baby on iMax.

Avatar takes place on the planet of Pandora; a world so fully imagined and realistic.  The 3D pulls you into the jungle and immerses you in its bizarre creatures and plant life.  We spend most of our time with the Na'vi, the indigenous people of Pandora. We see their culture though the perspective of Jake Sully played by Sam Worthington.  The military scientists have grown their own Na'vi in the lab, and set up a system for humans to mentally transport themselves into the alien bodies and control their actions.  Sully, a paraplegic marine, gets his chance to walk again in the jungles of Pandora with the legs of his 10 foot tall, blue, cat-like avatar.  In the film our time is split between the Na'vi world and the human world.  In the Na'vi world everything is computer generated.  It is not photo-realistic, but it is nonetheless amazing.  The 3D brings you right into the jungle and makes you feel as if you are running alongside Jake Sully.  The visuals are beautiful, and the animation is truly amazing.  The realistic quality and epic scale of Avatar make it completely worth shelling out the money to see in the theater.

Avatar was one of the most memorable theater-going experiences I have had in a long time.  However, it really wasn't that great of a movie.  It was fine, but there were a lot of things wrong with it.  Every film comes down to characters, and the interactions between them, no matter how much eye candy is thrown on the screen. Avatar was really nice to look at, but to me the story felt like an afterthought.  Cameron knew what visuals he wanted on the screen, and he merely used the plot to take us from one sequence to the next.  The film was filled with piss-poor dialog and over-exaggerated acting.  Most of the characters were more like cartoon characters.  For the most part they were unoriginal and one-dimensional.  The only character I really even cared about was Na'vi princess Natiri played by Zoe Saldana.  Speaking of her, how did they make an alien so sexy?  I think the 10 foot tall Natiri was way hotter than her human inspiration.

If you think you might want to watch it, definitely catch it in the theater.  I would recommend the 3D.  When it comes out on DVD it won't be nearly as attractive to spend the 2 hours and 40 minutes of your life on this film.  Actually, I will go ahead and say that the only way to truly experience this film is in the theater, in 3D.  It has a lot of action and had no problem holding my attention from beginning to end.  Getting to watch this technical accomplishment on the big screen is well worth the price of admission.  The story is not as bad as what I may have made it seem.  Overall it was fine. There were just several things that bugged the hell out of me.  Sitting in the theater it was easy to let it all slide because I was getting to witness the stunning imagery.  I didn't have time to think about the stupid crap the characters were saying.  At the time Avatar seemed to be one of the best movies I had seen for a long time. However, the more I think about the film the more shallow it seems.  I don't want to ruin it for anybody else, but here is a list of the things that pissed me off the most.

1. Native Americans.... We are introduced to a new planet with wonderful plant and animal life, and it is inhabited by blue cat-like Native Americans with tails.  Did you have to give the Na'vi the exact same look, cluture, and spirituality as the classic Hollywood Native American?  Was it a commentary to say that we effed our own planet, and us americans are now going to do the exact same thing to planets across the galaxy?  I hope there was some meaning behind it.

2. Jake's Vlog... Sully is asked to keep a video log of his thoughts during the process.  Man, that is a convenient way for us to keep track of what he is feeling without him actually having to act.  If you are going to spoon feed me, at least make it more believable.

3. The dude from The Hottie And The Nottie.... I don't think this requires an explanation.  Anytime he was on screen I just wanted him to shut the hell up.

4. Sigourney Weaver's avatar.... it was just creepy.  Definitely the most fake-looking cg.

5. Michelle Rodriguez... She gets the award for the worst acting.  She didn't have much to work with as far as dialogue goes, but she didn't even try to make it good.  I kept hoping Michael would walk into the hatch and shoot her in the chest.

6. The villans.... Too over-the-top and ridiculous. I thought the actor who played the main "bad guy" was awesome despite the writing. However, the Giovanni Ribisi character was written and acted really poorly in my opinion.

7. The motivation... Most of the time I was just going along for the ride and enjoying the scenery.  If you stop and ask yourself why any of this is happening... it doesn't really make much sense.  I should watch it again.  Maybe they explained more about the driving forces behind their rash actions.

Ultimately that list doesn't really matter.  I had a ton of fun watching this film, and would recommend it to anybody for a great theater-going experience.  I think everyone will enjoy the time they spend in Pandora, whether they notice the weaknesses or not.