Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Anna Karenina (2012, UK)

Sheesh. So it was easier to get through this movie than it was to get through the novel, but I didn't like it nearly as much as the Vivien Leigh version. For one thing, the whole artsy, pared down stage setting thing was just too much. They were trying way too hard to be clever with that one, and it took away from the story. A lot. Plus the adaptation completely missed the purpose of the book, although that seems to be true of every AK adaptation I've seen. At least Levin seemed to have a more prominent role here than in the Leigh one, which helped.

Also, I was majorly unimpressed with the casting. I know, normally I think Knightley and Law are awesome, but here they were completely blah. Of course, it could have been the uninspired script. And the guy who played Vronksy... ugh. I did love Matthew Macfayden as Oblonsky, however. He's awesome.

And Marianelli's score was beautiful. Really helped carry things!

Rating: 3.5

Saturday, February 9, 2013

World without End (2012, UK)

It wasn't Pillars of the Earth, but it was still quite good. Almost everything paled in comparison to Pillars, from casting to script adaptation. I thought the adaptation largely missed key points from the novel, which was unfortunate. I hate to be so critical, because it was really good, but it could have been phenomenal instead of just great. Still, I would watch it again. And again and again. And that's about all I have to say on that!

Rating: 4.0

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Les Misérables (2012, UK)

I have such mixed feelings on this one. I loved parts and I really disliked parts. I had never seen this musical in any form before, so I'm not sure how much of that is the musical and how much is the adaptation. For instance, I thought that a lot of the story was very jerky and disjointed. In middle or high school I had read an abridged version of the novel, and I remember there being a lot more to it than was found in the musical. I remember there being more Fantine, more of young Cosette, more of Marius and his buddies, more to Jean Valjean's story and his relationship to Javert... just more everything! In fact, a quick glance at Wikipedia tells me I'm not wrong: "the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love." So clearly the point of the story suffered in the condensing process and made the historical parts of the plot harder to follow.

Anyway, to the music. I really enjoyed the big "group" numbers, "Look Down," "ABC Café / Red and Black," "One Day More," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" I liked the Thénardiers' "Master of the House" for similar reasons, but I didn't like the Thénardiers at all. I don't know if they were solely for comic relief for a musical with a very serious subject or if Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were just too over the top (somehow I think it's the latter), but they were just too distracting. I also thought a lot of the individual numbers were overdone, as if they were trying to perform on stage and project the emotion, forgetting that the audience is much more immediate in film. They had the right idea, but it was just too much. For instance, Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" and Valjean's "Valjean's Soliloquy." However, I was absolutely enchanted by young Cosette's "Castle on a Cloud" and thought Éponine's "On My Own" and Marius's "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" were beautifully done. (Although I must say, despite my love for Eddie Redmayne, I thought a little bit of that song was out of his range. Either that or his voice cracks way too much when he is crying and singing!) In general, I thought Éponine, Marius, young Cosette, and the ABCs were the big standouts in this film. Lastly, I was very underwhelmed with both Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe's singing abilities. Jackman wasn't terrible, but I think he would be much better with more chipper-sounding music. Crowe just didn't enunciate or emote much at all, which made his multitude of songs very jarring (despite some seemingly beautiful lyrics about the stars especially).

Of course visually it was stunning: sets, costumes, makeup, hair. The main exceptions were the Thénardiers (who just stood out too much visually as well) and the prostitutes who Fantine takes up with (they were garish, as they should have been, but something about them was too much as well). My friend informs me that the role of the priest was played by the "original" Jean Valjean, so that was cool too.

Now I've downloaded the soundtrack so I can start listening and memorizing the words, which will help me get a better feel before I watch it again. I also think I may need to read the book (unabridged this time), because it really is a fantastic tale and I know there's so much more to it.

Rating: 3.5 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929, Germany)

My cousin and I were talking about how we both wanted to see a Louise Brooks movie, so we ended up watching this one together. It was truly fascinating how risqué a pre-Hays code film could be. There was a man with many mistresses, a young girl seduced by an older man, out of wedlock pregnancy and subsequent adoption, a girls' reformatory with questionable ownership, prostitution... I mean, wow. Melodrama!

For the most part, the film was easy to follow, though some parts I had to look up later to see what exactly had happened. I don't know how much of that was my not being used to watching silent film and how much was a lack of clarity on the part of the filmmaker. Still, as I said it was mostly understandable, and rather engaging as well. It was a bit too melodramatic for my taste, but it was clearly a product of the times. I supposed to main reason to watch it today (or in 1929 for that matter) is to soak in the performance of Louise Brooks. Her big innocent eyes just capture the viewer. It's hard to tear yourself away.

Just fascinating!

Rating: 3.5

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, U.S.)

This movie is a charming coming-of-age tale, but beyond that it's hard to describe. These two pre-teens meet each other and become pen pals. The girl is from a dysfunctional, seemingly wealthy family on a New England island, and the boy is an orphaned ward of the state attending camp on the island. They decide to run away together.

There are many laugh-out-loud moments and touching moments alike. The ensemble cast was very well put together, and the new young actors who played the runaway children were especially brilliant.

As I said, it's very hard to describe this whimsical, strange movie, but it is definitely worth seeing.

Rating: 3.5

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, U.S.)

I hate to say it, but yawn. I was kind of expecting it, to be honest, but it was still disappointing anyway. It started out so well with the arrival of the dwarves, invading Bilbo's home and pantry, cheerfully singing their clean up songs and mournfully singing their treasure songs. I was pretty excited then, because those early scenes in Bilbo's hobbit-hole were perfect. It was all downhill from there.

Mainly the problem is that a book, essentially a children's fairy tale, that should have been made into one movie is being stretched painfully into three. "Like butter scraped over too much bread," if you will. They drew out things that hadn't happened in the books, bringing characters on screen that were simply mentioned by other characters, namely Radagast the brown. Him and his stupid bunny sled were ridiculous. The book is mostly from Bilbo's point of view, and I certainly don't remember any description of what the dwarves were doing while he was lost in the dark in the Misty Mountains, and the giant fat albino goblin type thing that they encountered was just stupid. Also as much as I love them, I could have done without Elrond and Galadriel. Ugh, huge parts of it were just frustrating.

I'm being generous and giving this a 3.0 because of course Middle Earth was as beautiful as always and the casting of Bilbo and the dwarves was great and the early scenes were so enjoyable, but honestly it was just boring for huge parts. Very sad. Should have been one movie only. Duh.

Rating: 3.0

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, U.S.)

Oh, how sad I was to find this movie so run-of-the-mill. I had heard such great things about it and I'm a huge fan of Andrew Garfield, but alas, it just felt like every other super hero movie, really.

I'm not sure what it was. The cast was great: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans usually stand out to me. Sally Field and Martin Sheen were really great as Peter's aunt and uncle. I enjoyed the focus on the science aspect. The action scenes were good. So why did it seem to fall flat?

The only thing I can think of is that I was not convinced by "The Lizard." His initial transition was good, but then he just seemed to fall on the corny side as far a supervillains go. So that's really all I can come up with. It was good, but it didn't blow me away. Another victim of hype.

Rating: 3.5

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (2012, U.S.)

I am stunned! I really didn't like the second half of Breaking Dawn (the book), so I expected the movie to be even worse. Mainly, I absolutely hated that stupid kid. However, in the movie you can actually see why she was so appealing to everyone, which makes the second half so much more sensible!

But I get ahead of myself. I want to start with how amazing the credits were. I'm getting them confused in my head (opening and closing), but I believe it was the opening credits that were all black and white with hints of red, really artfully done. The closing credits did this amazing thing where it showed the final words of the novel from the novel, and it felt like a book closing with this sort of finality. Then they did the kind of credits were all the main actors were pictured from the entire series, which furthered that feeling. Pretty awesome on both ends.

And the middle was really good too. Like I said, the kid was not annoying. They simplified the whole "Jay" sideplot to work with the movie. The supporting cast of vampires was really amazing, although I have to say a big part of why I didn't give this a 4.5 is because I felt like they were all short changed on screen time. The big fight at the end was just amazing, especially with all the twists that I had managed to completely forget from the book. I was completely nail-biting, which was completely unexpected.

Everyone belittles "KStew" and "RPattz," but I continue to think that they're both great actors. Maybe this isn't the best vehicle for them, but still. Stewart does a convincing job as someone finally getting in touch with her real self. The contrast between the awkward human and the graceful vampire is very obvious if you compare the early movies to this one.

I thought this was a strong ending to the series, particularly with the above-mentioned credits that tied the movie into the book and tied all the movies together. I'm looking forward to a marathon when it comes to DVD.

Rating: 4.0

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You Only Live Twice (1967, UK)

Well, talk about ridiculous! I feel like I should have seen all these old Bond films before the new ones, because the picture I had of him in my head (cemented by the modern films) was much less cheesey!

On one hand, this one had some pretty amazing elements, including an epic car chase and some hints and Japanese culture. Also, Bond's "assassination" at the beginning of the film was pretty sweet. On the other hand, it got downright racist (particularly when Bond was disguised as a "Japanese man") and the whole SPECTRE-stealing-spaceships-from-space thing was just plain silly!

I'm a bit at a loss on this one. I loved parts; I hated parts. I just don't know.

Rating: 3.0

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall (2012, UK)

First I have to say how interesting it was to watch this right after watching Thunderball. Instead of sharks, Skyfall had komodo dragons. Instead of Domino, Sévérine. Both had underwater scenes, though Skyfall's were much better (and shorter). Bond was recovering a hard drive instead of nuclear weapons, but the mission was similar. He makes love in a glass-walled shower instead of a glass walled-steam room. He spent time at the beginning recovering from grievous injury. The day was partially saved by homing devices from Q. All these strange similarities, and which movie was better? Skyfall by a landslide. (Though don't get me started on how a large part of this movie was very Home Alone!)

It's also interesting how much the Bond movies say about the society in which they're made. Connery's are so very '60s. Craig's are so very 21st century. These days we're much more concerned with how characters got where they are, back stories and raking over emotional coals and exploring the psyche. Connery's Bond was much more action, sex, and martinis in comparison. M had a quasi-speech in front of many government officials saying that her department was still relevant in this day and age because of how things have changed (the exact reason the government thought they were becoming obsolete). She talks about how our enemies no longer have faces but operate in the shadows. It was fascinating, and in addition to being a great plot point, it also speaks to why Bond is still relevant in the 21st century. But anyway.

To start with the beginning: It was very interesting how much happened before the opening credits, but it worked pretty well. On the other hand, the way they set things up made it impossible to use the classic gun barrel shot in the opening credits and it had to be reserved for the ending instead. A bit disappointing. I thought Adele's song was perfect. It harkened back to the days of classic Bond, very smooth and sexy. Unfortunately, the imagery on the credits was just too much. It tried to blend modern elements with the classic elements, and it just made me feel like I was getting sea sick in Willy Wonka's tunnel, if you know what I mean. It's unfortunate because some pieces were exactly right, and if they hadn't been so ADD and emphasized those elements, the credits could have been just right. (Therefore Casino Royale still wins for credit images and music!) As for the rest of the score, Thomas Newman is one of my favorites of course, and I thought he did a good job of fitting in rather than standing out, which worked for the film.

Of course Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond, and this was a great movie. There was tons of action, but it didn't feel like too much like Thunderball did. The opening chase through Istanbul via car, motorcycle, foot, and train was awesome. I mean awesome. This is the first time I've seen Ola Rapace (former husband of Noomi) in action, and he did his scenes well. Sadly I don't think he had the opportunities for close-up facial acting like the parkour runner of Casino Royale did. Still, his scenes with Craig were sweet. They have another fight in Shanghai with all this neon lighting in the background so there is this amazing silhouette effect going on as well. (Craig later has a silhouette scene against a backdrop of fire which is also sweet.) So anyway, there is a lot of action and it is all beautifully choreographed and filmed. It was just a joy to watch.

The acting was also good. I was especially fond of Naomie Harris as Eve. (I saw where they were going with her character from a million miles away, so that was kind of disappointing, but she still stood out.) Her chemistry with Craig was also great. Judi Dench... what can I say? Daniel Craig was of course magnificent. And Javier Bardem... wow. The guy has creepy down to an art form! The cadence of his voice, his mannerisms, everything about him was just... yeah. Also of note was the chemistry between Bond and Q.

The plot was great, but I also wanted more more more! There was all this hinting about M's past, and a little comes to light, but it just wasn't enough. Ditto Bond's. I can't say much more without giving a lot away. In fact, almost everything I want to say is a spoiler! I will finish by saying that there was a hinted return to the "glory days" of Bond. They were clearly testing out some one liners, a classic Aston Martin showed up, certain characters appeared. It should be interesting to see where things go from here.

Rating: 4.5