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Friday, September 2, 2011

Super Cinema Synopsis

For various reasons beyond our control (technical issues, work schedules, etc.), we went a significant portion of the spring without being able to post here online. The issues actually began shortly before the Oscars, denying us the ability to do our usual live blogging of the show. Additionally, the problems meant I wasn't able to post movie reviews of all the stuff we saw after the Oscars.

So here goes! Moms, to save you time if you don't want to read the whole post, I think the only films on this list that you could actually see are Midnight in Paris and Winnie The Pooh. Anyway, here are some brief thoughts on the 22 films we've seen since March.

The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon is David, an aspiring politician. When he meets Elise (Emily Blount), a ballet dancer, his focus changes & he looks to spend his life with her rather than pursuing advanced political office. But obstacles keep cropping up; despite his desires, David loses contact with Emily & his attempts to reconnect fail. Then he meets some men who tell him that there is a plan for his life & he must follow it, no matter what he wants. David, however, is not one to give up.

At the offset, I was expecting this to be another Bourne Identity-type movie, but it wasn't. In the end it went in a slightly different direction than I would have guessed & I really enjoyed it. Nice, fun film.

Red Riding Hood
Valerie, daughter of the woodcutter, is in love with Peter, but her parents have arranged for her to marry the rich Harry. Learning this, Valerie & Peter decide to run away together, but then Valerie's older sister is killed by the werewolf that has terrorized the town for generations. Town leaders bring in a famous werewolf hunter who locks down the town. The townspeople also learn that this werewolf could be any one of them, thus instigating panic & causing many of the citizens to plot & turn against each other. All while the werewolf continues to attack the townsfolk.

Yes, people, this is Red Riding Hood a la Twilight. The cinematography is gorgeous, the story & acting are okay, the ending was actually a little unexpected. Bruce & I enjoyed it, but this is really just fluffy fare for those of us who are into fantasy werewolf films. Don't be fooled, however, it is rather bloody at points.

Sucker Punch
A teenage girl witnesses her stepfather in the act of abusing her younger sister & attacks him. In turn, he commits her to an asylum for the criminally insane where she is set for a lobotomy. Once he leaves, she finds that the girls in the institution are being groomed to perform for rich patrons of the asylum, & she herself must also learn to do so. She is given the nickname Baby Doll &, as she finds her style, she meets a wiseman who gives her guidance on how to achieve her quest. Baby Doll & the other girls then prepare to escape by distracting the patrons. Or do they?

I described this movie as "David Lynch directs Kill Bill as a video game." Layer upon layer of twisty plot, you're never sure what's real, what's symbolic, & what the symbolic symbolizes. The cinematography & effects are amazing to boot - ooh, delicious! This is still my favorite film so far this year.

Hanna is being raised by her father in a remote northern location where he is training her in survival & fighting skills. When she feels she is ready, the teenage Hanna activates a beacon which alerts others to their presence. Her father leaves, having set up a rendezvous with her at a later date. Commandos infiltrate & capture Hanna, taking her to a military site. She escapes & begins making her way to her father. On her journey she learns a lot about herself, her father, & the things she was taught to believe.

Overall, the movie is probably pretty predictable, but golly it was interesting to try to stay a step ahead & figure out what was going on. Another fun, action-thriller!

Source Code
Jake Gyllenhall is Army helicopter pilot Colt Stevens. His last memory is flying a mission in Afghanistan when suddenly he wakes up on a commuter train. The girl across from him appears to know him & talks with him about certain events that he doesn't remember. There is an explosion &, the next thing he knows, Colt is in some sort of isolation chamber talking with an Air Force major. She tells him there is a suspected terrorist plot connected to the explosion on the train & that he must "find the bomb, find the bomber." He is sent back & wakes up at the same point in time on the train. He continues this process in 8-minute long attempts, looking at the incident from all angles, in the attempt to complete his mission.

This was an enjoyable movie, but it could have been better. It's a lot easier to guess what's going on in this one. The ending is obvious. The acting is all right & the effects are cool. There are some fun scenes as Colt starts taking crazy risks knowing he's just going to reset in 8 minutes anyway. Good popcorn flick, although also violent.

The Conspirator
President Lincoln is assassinated. Seven men & one woman are arrested & charged with conspiracy in the crime. A rookie lawyer is assigned the defense of the lone woman - Mary Surratt - whose boarding house was the site of occasional visits from John Wilkes Booth.

This was a good, strong acting vehicle with a really interesting true story to tell. Of course, when Robert Redford directs you can certainly plan on getting good pacing & great performances! It's just too bad this came out so early in the year, it's definitely Academy-standard fare. Still might get a Best Actress nod for Robin Wright, that was a good, meaty part, & good actress parts are hard to come by.

Your Highness
Two princes unite to save the heir apparent's fiancee from an evil sorcerer before their kingdom is destroyed. Along the way they meet a brilliant female warrior on a mission to avenge her family. As their quests coincide, they team up for a while. They face a minotaur, gain a magic weapon, are captured, escape, & eventually must face the sorcerer as he undergoes casting his evil spell.

Okay, I was iffy on this one at first, it's a slapstick comedy, which we don't usually like, but it's a medieval adventure a la dungeons & dragons, which we usually do like. Then I read a comment from a friend of mine - a film director in his own right - about how he really liked it despite what the reviews were saying. So, we took a friend who was interested in it & went to the movies. Well, it was awful. Way too many penis jokes (& penises in general), too many "poop jokes & pratfalls" (which will turn me off every time). It could have been better, but it went below sophmoric & down to "junior high-ish." Just not good.

Water for Elephants
Robert Pattison steps away from his iconic vampire role to play Jacob, a veterinary student whose life takes a sudden turn when his parents are killed in an accident leaving him destitute. Unable to finish school, he runs away & joins a circus where his animal-handling skills gain him a job & a bed. Ring Master August runs a tight ship. His wife Marlena is his star, but despite her beauty & talent, the show is not drawing in crowds & the troupe's finances are slim. August hits on an idea for an attraction when he buys Rosie the Elephant & asks Jacob to train her to work with Marlena. The ring master's hard drinking & violent tendencies make him dangerous....especially when the spark of romance flares between Jacob & Marlena.

Reese Witherspoon & Christopher Waltz are fantastic in this. Pattison is okay - he has color to his skin & is easy enough on the eyes to make Witherspoon's attraction to him believable. The plot is fairly predictable, but interesting. The best actor in the movie, of course, is the elephant.

Kenneth Branagh shows that he's not just a Shakespearean actor, he can direct him an action flick in this movie based on Marvel comic's interpretation of the Norse god of thunder. Young & eager, Thor wants to lead the Asgard forces against an ancient enemy. Odin casts Thor out for his disobedience, causing him to arrive on Earth. He meets scientist Jane Foster & establishes a bond with her that changes him. In the meantime, Loki is stirring up trouble on a grand scale back in Asgard.

Okay, I've been a Marvel girl since I first started reading Spider-Man at the age of 7, but I've never read their Thor comics. So I couldn't say whether the film stays true to the comic mythology, but we could argue for days on whether comics stay true to their mythology, so.... Back to the movie, if you go in putting aside any preconceptions of mythology - comic or Norse - & set yourself to watch a comic book action flick, you'll have a grand old time!

Inspired by a graphic novel series, Priest tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where the church rules society with an iron fist. The priests are chosen by their God-given skills, which may manifest in childhood or later in life, to fight evil in all its forms, but more specifically in the form of vampires who are terrorizing the human population. One priest disobeys orders from the council of cardinals to go & rescue his niece who has been captured by a tribe of vampires.

Yes, the plot was predictable. Yes, the acting was on par with the plot. But man, the costumes, the sets, the effects, the concept...oh, I enjoyed this movie! It was cool to see Paul Bettany playing the action hero & the unattainable love interest for once, instead of the goofy/nerdy sidekick he usually is. It was hilariously funny to us True Blood fans to see Stephen Moyer playing a human victim (he's the Vampire King on the HBO series). The downsides to Priest were: it was only released in 3D in our area - & it wasn't filmed in 3D - & the movie itself is so dark that it was actually hard to see any detail through the after-market 3D conversion, & it is apparently only inspired by the graphic novel series, the plot of the movie has nothing to do with the comic books. Bummer, I liked the film so much, I would have bought the comics.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Captain Jack Sparrow & his rival Captain Barbosa are on a quest to find the fountain of youth. Jack has the map, & the compass which points to what you want most. Additionally, his ex, Angelica, knows what is needed to complete the ritual to activate the fountain. But she has a chip on her shoulder and an ulterior motive that even Jack doesn't know about. And then there's the British army to worry about.

Sure, some of the jokes are getting a little stale. A lot of the plot seems recycled from the other films. But Johnny & Geoffrey Rush are so good!

X-Men: First Class
This is the origin story of how Charles Xavier and Eric Magnus became Professor X and Magneto, how their backgrounds shaped their decisions, and how their friendship bound & eventually separated them. Potentially a brilliant reboot of the franchise with reintroductions of many integral Marvel characters.

A while back Joss Whedon wrote a 24-issue arc of Astonishing X-Men. At the end of the first issue there's a big reveal panel as the X-Men re-appear in their traditional blue & yellow X uniforms. It's delirious, squiggly, fan-girl happy-making to see. This movie feels just like that! Sure, it deviates from the previous movies' mythology, but it goes back to a lot of the comic book mythology - while pulling in more - & does so fabulously. It was great & I really hope they're going to rebuild the franchise on this set-up.

Green Lantern
Test pilot Hal Jordan's fast-living takes an unexpected turn when an alien crash-lands on Earth. The alien's ring chooses Hal to take over his role as a Green Lantern. This is the first time a human - considered to be "too young" a race - is so chosen. Hal has to overcome resistance from the rest of the Green Lanterns & from within himself before figuring out his true path.

Yes, it's been a great summer to be a comic book geek! I'm a Marvel girl & Green Lantern is a DC title, so I am sure there are discrepancies that I didn't catch - & some I did - but all in all it was a fun film.

Winnie the Pooh
Pooh Bear wakes up one morning to realize he has no honey. At Christopher Robin's he finds a note that he can't read & takes it to Owl, who interprets it as Christopher having been kidnapped by the mysterious Backson. The animals then set a plan in motion to capture the Backson & rescue their friend Christopher Robin.

Done in the traditional animation style of the original Oscar-winning Pooh films, this movie brings more stories from the original books to the big screen. Yes, there's new voice talent, but they are all spot on. It is cute, clever, funny, & fun - for adults & kids alike. The credits are incredibly fun, too - the guys are bouncing through them, playing games, chasing bees, poor Eeyore hangs by his tail off a row of credits for two rotations! - & there's a bonus scene at the end. Really! This movie is on my Christmas list already.

Harry Potter 7, pt. 2 (twice)
Harry, Ron, & Hermione continue the quest for the remaining horcruxes - magical items which allow Lord Voldemort to extend his life, even should his physical body be killed - while the Dark Lord himself continues to exert control over the wizarding world. Snape is now headmaster & rules Hogwart's with an iron hand. Even so, a resistance is growing amid students, professors, & wizards at large who align themselves with Harry. It all comes to a head with the boy wizard facing his nemesis in a battle to the death.

Yes, we went opening night. Yes, we went again the following weekend to see it in IMAX 3D. Brilliant! The book is much better, but the movie is a very good adaptation considering what they had to do to make it all fit into a film. The actors have really grown up in these rolls, so much that it is easy to identify with them. Of course, Alan Rickman has been deliciously devious as Snape throughout the franchise - & who doesn't love Dame Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall? The effects are great - amazingly better in IMAX 3D, in fact! - & it is just tremendous fun to ride along to the end with this cast of characters we've grown to love.

Captain America
Steve Rogers is determined to join the Army & fight in World War II, but his small size & poor health have hindered his goals. Until a scientist sees his determination & selects him for a special program. The secret growth hormone the scientist has developed changes Steve into a strong, fast, hale & hearty fighter, but the Army doesn't know what to do with him.

Did I mention what a great summer it is to be a comic book geek?! This movie was great! A good period piece, a good character piece, & a great premise starter...'cause this kicks off next summer's The Avengers, directed by the amazing Joss Whedon. The bonus scene at the end is the preview for it, in fact. Great fun all around!

Cowboys & Aliens
Daniel Craig wakes up alone & wounded in the middle of the desert. He has a strange shackle on one wrist & no memory of what it is or how it got there. In fact, he has no memory at all. He beats up a group of bandits who try to rob him, steals some clothes & a horse, & rides into the nearest town. Only to find that he is a wanted man & has somehow crossed the town's benefactor, a rich livestock wrangler played by Harrison Ford. But bygones become bygones when aliens suddenly attack the town & start abducting residents.

Put together Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, & director Jon Favreau doing an epic period piece combining two diverse genres? Holy smoke, what can go wrong? Well, not all that much actually, but the movie just gets by on its cred, it doesn't really sing. The acting & plot are kinda flat. The effects are cool. It's fun, it just doesn't knock it out of the park.

The Tree of Life
A family of 5 comes of age in the 1950's. The controlling father & free-spirited mother clash over raising their three boys, as the father deals with having given up his dreams to take a job & support the family. The middle son's unexpected death a few years later shatters the family. The eldest son draws on his memories & relationship with the divine to eventually come to terms with the loss.

This movie is trippy! You're never really sure what happened to the middle son. You leap around in time quite a bit through flashbacks. There's this incredibly lengthy segment that Bruce called the "Windows Screen Saver" part. It's like 30 minutes (really!) of CGI effects that tell the story of the Universe from the Big Bang to Modern Day. There are stars being born, planets set into orbit, cells dividing, dinosaurs crawling out of the primordial ooze, meteors striking them down, lots & lots of underwater photography, beautiful scenic vistas of mountains & valleys...all set to opera music. Then suddenly you discover that the eldest of the three sons, as an adult, is Sean Penn. He's an architect, & he's very depressed. He has visions of buildings & angels, of beaches & loved ones.

I remember thinking that if Professor Bogart hadn't retired from K College, this movie would totally be in film class next semester. He would have loved it's hearty dollops of symbolism & archetypal characters. I hated it. It was supposed to be this epic cinematic oeuvre, but I thought it was long, drawn-out, confusing, overdone, & awful.

Midnight in Paris
Gil & his fiancee Inez go to Paris with her parents. While Inez' father John is there on business, Inez & her mother Helen shop for wedding & household supplies. Meanwhile, Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter, is hoping the ambiance of the City of Lights will spark his creativity & reinvigorate his writing career.

This is Woody Allen's latest foray as a writer/director & he is in peak form. Not as slapstick as Sleeper or his other big hits in the 70's, but equally brilliant. The plot is pretty obvious, but the acting is terrific & really pulls everything together. Like many of his movies, the cast is huge & full of famous people all putting in perfect performances. Allen himself is not in the movie, Owen Wilson stars as Gil. I don't normally like Wilson, his usual fare falls into the "poop jokes & pratfalls" category which is one I actively avoid. But he is amazing in this film! I found myself thinking that they could end up being another actor/director pair on a par with Fellini & Marcello Mastrioanni, & what a great move that would be for Owen Wilson. Folks, this is really a movie worth seeing for his performance alone, but you'll also enjoy how good everyone else is & how well the ensemble comes together. See it.

Fright Night
People in a sleepy Vegas suburb keep mysteriously disappearing. Badly damaged corpses keep turning up. Meanwhile, Charlie Brewster has managed to overcome his geeky childhood to become a popular high schooler with a beautiful girlfriend...& a vampire for a next door neighbor.

Oh golly, my friends laughed at me, but I have been sold on this movie since I found out about it like a year ago! The original Fright Night (1985) is one of my all-time favorite vampire films - it's campy, but so good (thanks for loaning it to me for a re-view, Peter!). The remake has Colin Farrell, who is awesome, & the truly delicious David Tennant. Oh, I was SO in from the beginning! Additionally, it's written by Marti Noxon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Oh yeah! People, it's even that good - really! In 3D, no less! Oh yes! The plot is eerily parallel & yet slightly off-kilter from the original, but all the better for the times it does sync back up & then drift back apart. The acting is so much better. The costuming (oh why did we think that stuff was fashionable in '85?) is lots better here, too. The effects are tremendous - the soundtrack is great. Oh, it was so so good!

A Few Brains More: Summer of Blood
After falling into the Lazarus Stream, Lily has spent more than 100 years tracking Dead-Eye McShane & taking out the zombies he's created. Many years ago Lily destroyed the stream, but McShane has enlisted the aid of scientists to replicate the water's special chemical combination. He plans to unleash his new creation at a Woodstock-like concert in 1971. Lily continues in her role as Zombie Slayer, aided by the zombified Jack & a few "meddling kids" they encounter along the way.

This movie - the sequel to A Fistful of Brains - was made by my friend & colleague Christine Parker. We used to work together at the TV station. She had a screening at the theater on campus in Chapel Hill & it was too cool that other folks from the station were able to come out & support her & local filmmaking. Christine had put together a cool clip reel of outtakes & behind the scenes footage that was showing in the theater while we waited. The movie itself is funny & clever - it has some gross parts that the squeamish (me!) should close their eyes through, but for the most part even the gross stuff is stylized to be funny. The actors have really come together & are having a great time. There were some new cast members this time around, but they fit right in seamlessly. I liked the plot of this one better than the last one, I thought it flowed better. Guess what? I think there's going to be another one.

Conan: The Barbarian
The son of a barbarian chief & his wife, Conan is born by improvised Ceasarean section when his mother is cut down in battle. She lives long enough to name the baby there on the battlefield. Conan is raised by his father, who is a brilliant swordsmith. However, a rival clan leader & his sorceress daughter are seeking the pieces of a mystic mask which will give the wearer the power of a god. After they kill Conan's father & decimate his clan to get the piece, the young barbarian grows up with a goal of taking down that rival clan chief.

I've never seen the original film version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. (I know, right?!) Nor have I read the books. Bruce says this was probably a better film simply because the art of filmmaking has improved. Overall, it's a really straightforward, predictable movie. The acting is okay. Jason Momoa is very easy on the eyes. The cinematography is nice. But it's just an okay film. now we've got to have the Sound Effects, Sound Editing, & Special Effects categories locked up for next year's Oscars, right?

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