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"Jupiter Ascending" never raises to the occasion

Posted by jargononline on February 15, 2015 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

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If there is one thing that can be said about the Wachowskis it’s that they have no shortage of uniqueness in any of their work. In most regards that’s a wonderful thing. “The Matrix” reinvented sci-fi for the new generation and “Cloud Atlas” is a beautiful beast all it’s own.

 

But then you get to films like “Speed Racer” and now “Jupiter Ascending” that are brimming with so much said originality that it bursts out of the seams and into the realm of so unbelievably weird that even if there was a coherent story you’d have no way of deciphering it.

 

Jumping between Earth and Jupiter, “Ascending” is the tale of a plain, dull girl aptly named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) who is thrust into a world of space hotties (and weirdies), gravity boots, space lizards and Sean Bean. Now who wouldn’t want to see that movie? I couldn’t imagine anyone raising their hands until they realize that it plays out more like a story of political deception fueled by soap opera tendencies and pacing. And there go the hands.

 

Now a story of good vs. evil set in operatic style may sound like “Star Wars,” but it ends up being more like “Phantom Menace” than “Empire Strikes Back.” Way too long, more boring than exciting and with actors performing at a fraction of the level they could with three-dimensional characters. At least “Phantom” had dual lightsabers.

 

There is not a single memorable action scene in the lot and if you can recall one I bet you $100 you can’t describe what was going on. This film was pushed back seven months to work on the effects and I can honestly say it was all wholly unnecessary.

 

The Wachowskis put far too much detail into all the ships and scenery. There is so much clutter that when characters are spinning around and firing lasers in circles, you can’t discern who is who or where they are.

 

One scene involves our hero Caine (Channing Tatum) and Sean Bean fighting a horde of space drones, and the whole thing seems to be done in close-up as everything explodes while they navigate a pile of rubble. Now imagine how mind numbing that could be and double it. It’s like having someone spin you around for an hour and then shoving you in a dumpster.

 

Kunis and Tatum have done far better work and seem to be here simply to say they were in a possible franchise (don’t get your hopes up). Even when Kunis finds out what’s going on she approaches it with a “Well, okay” sense of calm. Tatum as a half-man, half-wolf legionnaire mopes around until he starts skating on his gravity boots. Then he looks constipated.

 

But I would take all of the above had they cut out the pointless sense aspect of political “intrigue” between the creepy space family fighting for control of whatever it is they want. Even with the fantastic Eddie Redmayne hamming it up for the screen I couldn’t care in the slightest for what they were talking about. All of the fancy dinners and elegant sitting can’t add up to the “Game of Thrones” style they were obviously going for.

 

This results in two full conclusions and climaxes one after the other and a movie that should have been 20-plus minutes shorter. But there were some glimmers in the 3D and the visuals when they are given space to flourish and though Redmayne may get some flack his screen eating is more than welcome against “Twilight”-esque acting. But a movie where half-wolf Tatum fights a giant, winged lizard should’ve been more fun and less blatant oddness mixed with political realism—especially for something aimed at 15-year-olds.


C-

 

 


"Project Almanac" is a failed experiment

Posted by jargononline on February 15, 2015 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

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When you discover the movie you’re watching is a product of MTV, the harbinger of ceaseless brand recognition and over-played pop-rock hits, you really have no choice but to pray to all the gods of Olympus you make it out intact.

 

But I didn’t make it out intact. I came out truly hating found footage for the first time, with what microscopic respect I had for producer Michael Bay officially morphing into full blown contempt.

 

“Project Almanac” is nothing but a lame-ass attempt to make a found footage movie for teens at a time of year when they have nothing better to do. The result is a dumber-than-you-thought-going-in story, shameless promotion of everything “cool kids” are hip to, and plugs for whatever music they are getting paid to play endlessly.

 

Focusing on a genius high-school senior who finds his father’s attempt at a time machine, “Almanac” tries to be high-concept teen fare, but just becomes regular ol’ been-there-done-that. There are his two equally smart friends who are made to seem lesser because they are hornier; his sister who does nothing but wear tank-tops and look hot (P.T. Anderson has one shots as his staple, Bay has this); and the girl who is too hot for him but is not just hot but is really complex and deep because she says “what do you mean girls like me?”

 

Basically, if you’ve seen one throwaway teen movie, then you have seen this movie. Once the time machine is made, by hooking it up to what appears to be nothing but car batteries (as you do when making such a device), they do nothing but win the lottery, go back and re-do tests and go to Lollapalooza. So in short, they try to prove how rad indeed it would be to have a time machine in high school. Forget any of that in-depth stuff. Use it to get laid!

 

But then when our lead takes it too far to get laid, too many things go wrong. How do things go wrong? Because he went back in time! What did he do to mess things up? Who cares? Time travel!

 

Then he keeps going back in time to fix the mistake, only to come back and see he’s messed up something else. He goes back and forth until you realize this is the entire climax until he decides to go back and destroy the machine so “none of this ever happens!” Conclude with a head-slapping ending meant to blow the minds of 12-year-olds and there’s your movie. All the while, it’s being filmed with an “old” camera that just so happens to have the quality of a $10,000 one with perfect focus and technology.

 

Here is a movie aimed at the MTV audience but insults them by assuming all they wanna see are awesome parties they wish they could see, endless supplies of money and the geek getting the girl—all happening to people just like them.

 

Forget the movie doesn’t attempt to honor their intelligence (if that’s what we’re calling it at that age) with a rich story and good performances.

 

The people who made this think teens are dumb enough to not notice when they are being peddled Red Bull, Imagine Dragons and GoPro cameras. Instead they have their actors over-act and respond to things with either “no way!” or “holy s***!” Ah MTV, you really are hip the young people, aren’t you?


D+

"Selma" a towering tribute to MLK

Posted by jargononline on February 14, 2015 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

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Martin Luther King Jr. was such a magnificent figure that for years how to approach making a movie focusing directly on his efforts would be ridiculed if not perfect down to the last detail. But, my friends, that movie exists in “Selma”, a movie so filled with passion that it oozes out of every scene with either a fiery spirit or a refined grace thanks to fearless direction by Ava DuVernay and a spellbinding performance from David Oyelowo.

 

 

Focusing on the events that led up to the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed that African Americans could register to vote without interference or prejudice, “Selma” tells a story some may not know that much about versus the famed March on Washington most associate with King.

 

 

But this is the story that needs to be told. Voting laws and regulations are all over the place today, some states going as far as to deny those without “proper identification” from voting. Not to get political, but what is depicted in “Selma” and in the history books can’t help but cause one to look at the state of things now—as a good historical bio-pic should do.

 

 

DuVernay should be showered with praise for her work here proving women can be as of aggressive of filmmakers as any man. She never allows for the film to step out of the harsh and often haunting light that these events were cast in. The violence is heart-wrenching and brutal as non-violent activists are beaten to a pulp in the city streets of Selma, Alabama.

 

 

A certain bridge scene is equally— if not more so than — as effective as any dark thriller at conveying absolute terror. The bridge is cloaked in smoke as police bash men and women while protestors run for their lives. The sounds alone are enough to coil the whole body—but it’s all necessary.

 

 

And on the other end is anger and love in the form of Oyelowo’s brilliant portrayal of King. Perfectly embodying King’s demeanor and his articulate Southern drawl, with a hint of a deep rumble, he brings King to live with startling realism. If you were to close your eyes you would say “Hey, who has the MLK video on?” He’s that good.

 

 

He is at his best during the many speeches he gives to the somber public. King is most notorious for his manner of speaking. Oyelowo exhibits his combination of call-to-action rage and unmatched wisdom with confidence and poise, making each sentence as gripping as King himself could’ve made them. You wanna rush off to Selma and say “Where’s all the action at?” after hearing him speak.

 

 

I can’t imagine a movie like this more passionate and full of inspiration. There is nothing half-assed or dishonest about it. It’s grim, sobering, intense, electrifying and full of love for its subject and what he stood for.

 

 

I can’t help but believe that while making the movie everyone involved was thinking about where we are at now in terms of race relations. I’m not going to get political but if the movie will do anything it will cause the audience to think about how far we’ve really come. My answer is not far. Sure we may not be galloping towards people on horses with Billy-clubs, but choking them out on the street for nothing isn’t that much different.

 

 

In the end, the important realization about this movie is this: Last Monday we took a day to commemorate the spirit of the magnificent Martin Luther King Jr. The gravity of his work and efforts has created in him an iconic figure that will stand long after we have gone. Now through the beauty of film his actions and struggles have been realized for a new generation who could not even begin to imagine the era which King tried so desperately—and even succeeded— to change. “Selma” sheds light on the man himself and the fact that work he did, though glorious and unforgettable, is nowhere near done. Celluloid for the win!

 

 


A

 

"American Sniper" shot dead

Posted by jargononline on February 2, 2015 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

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“American Sniper” is probably one of the most Americana movies made in recent memory. Sadly, that is not a good thing. Cold, one-dimensional and completely misses the opportunity to showcase something more complex in favor of blunt storytelling. It’s not that I don’t love my country; I would just prefer we don’t make movies that praise subjects and their actions as acts of patriotism when it’s really sociopathic behavior.


Now I’m not gonna go into some political rant about Iraq and the military and blah, blah. Not only would that be pointless, but it would also make this piece overlong and dry—much like the movie itself. No, I will critique this movie as a movie and then take it from there. So let’s get started.


As a film, “American Sniper” is continuing evidence that Clint Eastwood has lost any spark or versatility he once had and is now settling for meandering material and executing with simplistic style. The movie plays like a dull drive through a down-home American town: There is persistent feeling of sadness, every person thinks the same, and you swear you’ve past that same drug store a thousand times but soon you realize it’s just that everything in this town looks exactly alike. People in the Midwest and Texas will feel right at home.


Even with the most advanced scope on the market it would impossible to find any resemblance of charm or grace in any scene. Eastwood rushes through scenes as if—given his old age—he wanted to finish them so he could yet again run to the bathroom. No time is taken to make anything intense or create any atmosphere, and even when the killing is done, there is little padding so we can see if each kill took a little something away from the title character, Navy sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper); its bang, bang and on to the next scene of soldierly banter, home where he and his wife have one-dimensional conversations, and then back to killing. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Not that this movie seems to understand the psychology of its lead, though, as the range of emotions they allow him to between either angry or happy. For instance we know how “passionate” about his job he is because on two whole occasions he is exposed to violence on TV and just looked so darn-tootin’ mad. So obviously he was born to be an American hero because he was appropriately flustered by the media. And, of course, he is from Texas where clearly only true Americans are born.


Cooper is fine in the role of Kyle, but I know he can be phenomenal with the right material and this is not it. Being from Wyoming I have had the pleasure (wait, that’s not the right word. Give me a minute I’ll try to figure it out) of being exposed to about a bazillion Chris Kyle’s. There are simple ranch folk who like beer, girls and horse poo. Nothing is wrong in that lifestyle and embracing a simple, pro-American anti-everyone else persona, but that doesn’t make them interesting people. And much like them I could only listen to Cooper talk in his Texan drawl before I could feel the brain cells evacuating at mass while I became more and more curious about the music of Toby Keith. These movies should come with release forms.


Most of this, especially the blandness that is Kyle, would’ve been acceptable had it not been for the utter disregard for the real questions this movie skims over like a redneck at a bookstore looking for Tom Clancy: What does this lifestyle do to a man’s psyche and is it all justified for the defense of freedom. By minute 30 the movie’s answer is “Who cares?” and “America!”


Kyle is treated like an American hero for killing 250 men overseas (160 confirmed), even though in his book he is quoted with saying it was “fun” and that he wished he “could’ve killed more”. That is trademark of a sociopath, which would’ve made for a great psychological drama, working as a companion piece to “The Hurt Locker”. But no, Eastwood and adapter Jason Hall have no time for such questions, not while there’s an American soldier that needs praising. Not to mock soldiers, whom I have immense respect for; I just want them to get the fair treatment they deserve by people seeing an unabashed account of what being in a warzone can do to you. There are many great movies that illustrate that point, and “American Sniper” is not one of them.


One scene that particularly made my blood boil and gave me the impression of where this movie stood is when Kyle and his team are dining in the home of an Iraqi family. They are having a nice time until Kyle expects something evil in the head of this household. He goes to inspect the house and finds storage of guns. Raise the alarm! This man must be stopped by this hero! In short, you can’t trust brown people. Awful I know, and I’m sure you could find more guns in the homes of “good Americans”.


Now it’s not all bad. Eastwood still knows how to set up some tense scenes and Cooper does a good job with what he’s given. It’s just I just have no time for a movie like this. It’s slow, monotonous, unsympathetic, and caters to a very specific audience who want something very specific values portrayed in their movies: Americans are great; terrorists are bad; rock, flag and eagle. Think “The Blind Side” with guns. But on a positive note the movie did make me think. Granted about only negative feelings the movie gave me, but still, that’s worth at least something

 


C-


"Imitation Game" a timely and tremendous tale

Posted by jargononline on January 26, 2015 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

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Just like any good piece of historical cinema, “The Imitation Game’s” noblest feat is what it teaches us about how we should act in the present. And that is that although people may act different it doesn’t mean they can’t do great things. Genius should always be treated with admiration and given all the room to soar.

“It’s the people who no one imagines anything of who can do the things no one imagined.” That is a quote straight from the movie and speaks to the man it is about: Alan Turing. He was by all accounts a genius like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. What he did during World War II saved millions of lives and future generations from Nazi rule. Later on his working would stand as a prelude to modern day computers, something that has no doubt changed the world as we know it. Through all of this he was able to overcome adversity just for being a little odd, some would say arrogant and cruel, but ultimately he was just different.

And yet he committed suicide at the age of 41 because he was forced to undergo chemical castration after being charged with indecency for being a homosexual. A tragic end to a magical mind all because, even after proving his worth, people never could understand him or others like him. Sound familiar?

“Game” seeks to address the issue that for some reason will never be solved: No matter whom the person is people never seem to get past the little things that make them different from themselves. The movie proves that it is what is inside that makes us all capable of great things, and that sexual orientation or even an awkward personality, hardly make the measure of a man.

The movie does so with warmth that may on one occasion cross the line into sappy waters (look for the ever persistent “nod of approval” from character to another) but proves rewarding with help from a witty script and a bravo performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. He reminded of Colin Firths brilliant portrayal in “Kings Speech”. It’s one that rings with genius and wit to mask the utter pain and isolation beneath watered eyes. As he is explaining his story to the police who arrested him you see the suffering anyone like him who have had to explain themselves just because they are different. It is a process just as tragic as the unfortunate death of Turing himself.

Not only did he prove himself a genius far beyond his years but the movie also shows the beauty in the coming together of opposite sides to do what is right. On one side is the awkward Turing and on the other are all his co-workers who at first despised him and his methods, preferring work done by men other than machine. But in the end, as these movies do, they come together and put aside their differences to save the day and embrace each other for who they are. Sound like something that should be done in a certain capital of American politics?

Kiera Knightley is also tremendous as the female of the group, Joan Clark, who helped and found a commonality in Turing as being a woman meant she was under the same scrutiny. The two make for perfectly charming leads without the sappy romance. They are kindred spirits who bottle up their insecurities for the common good. And after a certain point you realize maybe being funny is a good defense mechanism.

Unlike the white-washed “American Sniper”, “The Imitation Game” is the movie America needs. Poignant, effortlessly witty and with a timely message that is needed now more than ever; I’m sure I could tell you what that is, but that would take all the fun away from you, wouldn’t it?


A

 

 


The Wedding Ringer divorces itself from comedy

Posted by jargononline on January 22, 2015 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

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There is nothing wrong with a little suspension of disbelief. Not every little detail needs to be perfect or even thought about. But rarely does a movie like “The Wedding Ringer” come around that mistreats human logic so much that it feels like the movie screened is being absorbed by your sucked out brain cells. In short this is a very stupid movie, which would’ve been okay if it were even the slightest bit funny. But, in shorter, it’s not.

Kevin Hart is at it again proving the only way for him to be funny is if he talks really fast and yells and people. It can work when he tells stories in his stand-up routines, but in his it’s just unbelievable all his characters are the exact same people. Here is plays Jimmy, a guy who offers to be the best man at other guys weddings for money, and his new client is fat loser Doug played by Josh Gad. We know he is a fat loser because the very first scene is him calling old friends asking to be his best man. They all say no, hence him being a loser. Then he sits on his glass desk and it shatters, hence being fat. Through the process of deductive reasoning we can conclude, henceforth, he is in fact a fat loser.

These two guys pal around trying to pull off a Golden Tux, a premium service package that requires Jimmy to hire six groomsmen—something which has never been done before (dun dun dun). They make this point very clear through many loud conversations, but Jimmy seems to pull of almost effortlessly. All he has to do is get his weird, perverted, rapist co-workers “back in the game”. And yes, one of them is actually a rapist, a hilarious character detail made subject of many riotous jokes. That, my friends, was a joke.

Then it’s nothing but party montages, hot girls, and crass blunt “humor”. Now there’s nothing wrong with any kind of joke as long as it’s tasteful, but here they settle for plain of vile. Whenever they use a “fag”, “pussy” or “fuck” it never comes attached to a joke. Characters throw them out as flat insults that are flat-out cruel. But they want you to laugh because, hey, that’s an adult word they used. Basically it’s funny if you’re twelve. On top of that there are plenty of over-the-top physical gag, like when poor ol’ Cloris Leachmann is engulfed in flames to get a few laughs. But see it’s okay because in the next scene she only has “minor” burns after she was engulfed in flames for several minutes. See this is where the whole logic thing comes into play.

Forget the lazy sight-gags and dull use of potty mouth, it’s the fact that the movie in all of its major plot points makes zero sense. For one, Jimmy plays the best friend of these schlubs who hire him and no one asks any questions. Some would be like, “Why have I not seen this man before?” and, “Why have I not seen him sense?” These are all questions any sane person would ask when meeting someone who was supposedly their fiancée’s best friend. Even the parents don’t say anything. Wouldn’t they remember a sleep over or two?

Then as a terrible addition to this awful sundae is the worn “this girl doesn’t really love me, I should be with this one instead” storyline. It comes out of nowhere because it seems that until Doug happens to see another skinner, prettier, blonder girl his fiancée (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) seems nothing but pleasant. Sure she may not wanna have sex with him 24/7 and she may be too into what salad dressing to pick, but she seems loving. But the Doug spends one, conversation-less night with who appears to be a prostitute and immediately falls madly in love because, well, of all the reasons I just said. And we are supposed to buy all of this because, as many of these movies like to point out, there is always room for men to upgrade their women. Ah, what a stand-up guy.

I won’t grade this too harshly because it’s a comedy and there is no greater a subjective genre. It works differently for everyone. I just so happened to hate this unfunny, half-assed attempt to make Kevin Hart a star. He can do better and frankly so can everyone involved with this mess. Oh well, I guess that’s why it came out in January.

 

 


D

"Whiplash" will make your head spin, with awesomeness

Posted by jargononline on January 19, 2015 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

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I wish I was good enough at anything as some people are at playing musicians. I mean, I’m great at being lazy and I can make a killer Risotto, but nowhere as good as the lead character in “Whiplash” is at jazz drumming. However, with skill comes a teacher, and at the center of this tale is a monstrous villain of a mentor bringing full circle an intense and often electrifying tale about the psychology of success.

Right from the get-go this movie has been perfectly advertised. The trailers immaculately gave the impression this is not some “fight for your dreams” sentimental dribble. No, this movie was going to (and does) focus on the often barbarous mental anguish that can come with trying to achieve perfection. If I may alter the fine words of Samuel L. Jackson from “1408”; “This is one evil fucking movie.”

A proper statement that is, because the film operates much like a horror movie. You can see the fear in the eyes of the students of this sadistic monster of a teacher (J.K. Simmons). They never make eye contact, and that’s how he likes it.

There is even plenty of gore. Andrew (Miles Teller in a star-making role) literally plays the skin off his fingers. Desperately trying to win the praise of his teacher and become a child prodigy he plays so hard the skin comes off his finger in chunks. He then applies a bandage, and plays on. A scene where he breaks up with his girlfriend reminded me of a reverse Mark Zuckerberg from “The Social Network”. He is obviously a genius at what he does, but he alienates everyone so he can become the best, whereas Zuckerberg did everything to be popular. I read Teller played drums as a younger lad, but I discovered that he trained hours a day to make it all seem real. Yes, even though the drumming is mostly mimed, and I’m the close-ups of hands are of an actual drummer, none of that matters. The music is electrifying and Teller lives the part so well he makes it seem 100% authentic. Acting!

But the star of the show from the moment the movie opens in Simmons as one of the best villains of the 21st century in teacher Terence Fletcher. He is a cunning predator, a man who can manipulate with a calm and cool demeanor but is a true animal. Vicious in his treatment of his students so everything can be perfect leads to racist slurs, image bashing and flat-out hucking of inanimate objects as they are playing. Simmons seems like the sweetest man on earth in other roles, but here he is the villain you can’t see enough of. It would be easy to say you wouldn’t take that kind of treatment from an audiences perspective, but I had to admit if I was in Andrew’s shoes I would work my fingers bloody too. There is something colossal about his evil presence that is undeniably enticing, and Simmons sells it all at second one. Double acting!

This battle of minds and music leads up to possibly one of the best final moments of any movie in 2014, if not the last few years. The war between two men of conflicting egos explodes when after Fletcher attempts one last time to bury his student, Andrew delivers one last fuck you to his teacher in front of everyone with an epic drum solo, which even Fletcher can’t deny is the best he’s ever seen.

In short, nothing can really prepare you for “Whiplash”. It’s as unpredictable as the musicians are talented and Fletcher is sinister. Few movies have ever captured the youth’s internal mental struggle of accomplishing their dreams, often having to see them crushed. But by the end there is something truly inspiring in his defiance that will keep the future writers writing, painters painting and actors paying for plastic surgery. At the very least watch it for Teller and Simmons, two actors from opposite generations at the top of their game and who couldn’t have been better matched. Jon Lovitz would be proud.

 


A+


"Battle of the Five Armies" a solid yet epic finale to a satisfying trilogy

Posted by jargononline on January 18, 2015 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

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Anyone who has groaned, moaned or voiced your opinion behind the safety of a geek-driven message board over the “The Hobbit” movies and there lack of excitement can finally give stern nod to the final installment, “The Battle of the Five Armies”. As the name implies this finale is a non-stop barrage of carnage, stylish sword-play, wizarding badassery and soooo much fire—all that if not much else.

It reminded me of the final installment of the “Harry Potter” franchise: It’s the shortest of all the films, half the movie is nothing but destruction, everything is on fire, there are wizards fighting well beyond their years, and there are a lot of tiny people who are way over their head. But most notably it pick up immediately after the previous installment left off—which in this case felt like a mixed bag.

In this case it involves the devilish dragon Smaug (voiced deliciously by Benedict Cumberbatch) lighting an entire town on fire, as Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) scatters around rooftops to kill it. He’s like Batman if he dressed like a homeless. While watching I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, as it becomes clear that Smaug will not be around for long due to his meeting like a can of whoop-ass. The whole bit seems out of place and a bit of a tease given all the posters with Smaug on them, but ends up working on reflection of the “doom is coming” end of the second and “this is only the beginning” of the start of this one. The stage is set and the tone is injected. It’s just a shame the best thing to come out of this trilogy had to go to make it happen.

Then what follows is a bit of exposition wherein the dwarves hunt for the Arkenstone (a shiny rock) while their leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) deeps into what is called “dragon sickness” but is really madness fueled by greed—a recurring theme in Tolken’s series—not knowing Bilbo Baggin (Martin Freeman) has had it in his tiny pocket the whole time. After there’s more exposition with elves and men trying to get the dwarves to come out of their mountain (to no success). Then there’s a pretty sweet prison-break of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) by Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (Cate Blanchet, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee). This is their only seen but they make it work as they stylistically fight ghosts. It’s okay to laugh, a few other did.

Finally after that we get to the big battle against Elves, Dwarves, Men, The Eagles (late as per usually) and that dastardly Sauron and his Orcs. Needless to say this battle is the definition of epic as it spans fields, mountains and the town of Dale. Think a combination of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields from the original trilogy. Anyone who slept through the past two installments will have their eyes pried open from sheer awesomeness.

There are armies colliding, Elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) taking on a bazillion Orcs alone, lots of Trolls bashing everything in sight, and yet again, everything is on fire displayed through plenty of landscape swooping crane shots. Peter Jackson knows how to set up a battle while still developing the characters—most notably Thorin as he struggles to overcome his vain lust for gold.

However, there are still plenty of problems to be had that I cannot let go unscathed. For starters, this series has always done a great job at brining to life grand set pieces and characters (see Smaug) but struggled with the little details. Some objects and characters stand out as obviously CGIed pieces against a green screen while other bit just look flat-out cheap. Most noticeable is Dwarf leader Dain who—probably the victim of rushed production—looks like a Pixar character. He is voiced excellently by Billy Connolly but even his voice can distract from the almost unintentionally funny presentation of this hardened dwarf. He looks more cuddly than vicious.

As well, no matter how grand in scope the finale is Jackson and co cut enough out to make it seem like they just wanted this to be over. Some people like the less important dwarves (who don’t seem to have had any lines this whole series) barley get any screen time and we don’t even see fight in the battle. Even trolls are easily disposed of with a single arrow (where were these guys in Moria?).

Certain characters like Legolas and Tauriel (Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly) still kick-ass but have little to do other than that. Tauriel spends most of her time trying to find her dwarf love Kili, but I’ll let you see how that ends. It’s a B-plot that never had much depth, but enough to break things up amongst the vast number of supporting characters.

Even after the battle has quelled things can’t wait to get out of Dodge. Legolas is hastily and even out of contextually sent to find young Aragorn, Thranduil and Tauriel are left in this odd state of depression and Bilbo, the hobbit of “The Hobbit”, simply says goodbye after we realize he didn’t have much to do outside of showing up where he was need precisely when he was needed.

People complain about the totally valid 15 endings of “Return of the King”, but here it goes to show how necessary it was. There are so many characters we care about going their separate ways and we needed to feel like they meant something to us therefore its prudent to show what happens to them after the dust settles. Here it’s the dwarves celebrate, the elves evaporate, the orcs dissipate…and that’s it. There is little to no sense of emotional conclusion. The battle is done and everyone goes their separate ways. It’s like going on a life-changing road trip with someone to at the end just say, “Well…see ya.)

This was the opportunity to make it all seem worth it as a trilogy that can stand on its own feet. Ultimately it settles for a companion piece that merely shows another side of Middle-Earth. Granted, on that stage it soars, illustrating areas and characters we have never seen as Peter Jackson gloriously expands the visual palate of this world. But as for the characters and story, though it was greatly acted and suitably epic, just never seemed to have the weight to justify this many movies or leave the mark of a truly great franchise. It stands as a fine addition to the Middle-Earth canon but next the all-star quality of its older sibling it will always be the brother who simply owns a successful chain of tire shops.


B


"Wild" a riveting and sensitive journey

Posted by jargononline on January 7, 2015 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

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The best thing about “Wild” is how—on top of making me want to actually read the book—human it portrays its characters to the point of making me reflect on how taking a 1200 mile hike across the most apocalyptic of landscapes would also affect me. All of that on top of wringing out the most interesting story about a woman walking for two hours.

It’s like “Lord of the Rings” if some dweeb decided to actually pretend to reenact the trip to Mordor. Except the movie makes it clear no longer than halfway through that this walk, known as the Pacific Crest Trail which goes from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, is not for the faint of heart—especially pimply nerds who rarely leave their computer chair.

As a way of making up for years of personal abuse after losing her mother, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), decides to trek the long road as a way of healing her broken soul. Sounds pretty heavy, but a serious trip needs a serious reason.

This could’ve been the recipe for a dull, dry inspirational drama about finding yourself and blah, blah. But sensitive direction from Jean-Marc Vallee, strong writing from Nick Hornsby (who adapted the autobiography), and a raw performance from Witherspoon elevate it above typical soul searching fair.

The film never shies away from Cheryl’s troubled past as we see her delve into drugs and sex in the back of allies with strange men on her downward spiral in flashbacks. As well we get to understand her relationship with her life-weary but always perky mother (Laura Dern) who made clear that no matter the hardships in life you must always hold onto what makes you happy because that’s all that matters.

A life lesson that is universal but one Cheryl didn’t get. Witherspoon gives a very unglamorous and vulnerable performance as she wears her sorrow openly like the giant backpack she lugs around. She feels like she wasn’t able to be the woman her mother expected her to be, having sunk so low that she left her husband for a heroin junkie. This is what motivates her to go on excruciating journey.

And what a journey it is. I’ve never been one to admire the barren desert that is the southwest, but cinematographer Yves Belanger really hits the beauty home. It might be because the idea may have been to just nature exist within the camera. Simple, beautiful skies that eventually lead to clear blue waters and it’s hard to believe these places actually exist. But there are also many dangers she encounters, and they aren’t just the ones nature provides. It’s a hard life for a woman and that is a very strong theme the movie so effortlessly projects.

Even with a riveting character drama underneath an enticing adventure odyssey it won’t be hard for some people to find it deliberate. At 2 hours it’s by no means an epic, but the pacing of flashback, walking, flashback, walking might can easily come off as stagnant. One could say “Wild” is quite tame (insert snickers). I didn’t mind, but my job is to advise you and I owe it to you to warn you of any possible boringness. You’re welcome.

By the end I couldn’t help but entertain the notion of taking the hike myself. It seems impossible to do it and come out the other end the same person. The movie probably isn’t meant to be an advertisement for the trail but, hey, that’s what I got from it. Maybe that is the point, though. You sometimes have to get away from it all to discover the person you wanna be, and what better way than on a 1200 mile hike that takes about 3 months. I mean I don’t have as many problems as she did, but I’m sure I can mess some stuff up pretty quick.

 


A-

"Birdman" an unexpected masterpiece

Posted by jargononline on December 20, 2014 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

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Like Richard Linklater before him with “Boyhood”, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has taken a story that could’ve been done traditional but saw the potential to do something daring, innovative and risky—and he pulled it off ten times over. I’d like to think that makes him a true artist.

 

Granted, art is subjective and anything can indeed be called art, but what shouldn’t be subjective is your opinion of this movie. If there is something you do not absolutely love about “Birdman” then you’re nothing more than an insatiable curmudgeon and we can’t be friends.

 

The story about a former comic book movie star trying to seem relevant by adapting a drama on Broadway, Inarritu has tapped into backstage of the theater like never before. And at the helm is Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson is, well, words can barely express. You must see him as this layered, manic, shrewd, crazy-eyed and utterly brilliant delusional actor. Hey, he wanted to get nuts. So he got nuts.

 

Surrounding him is a cast full of people who each deserve all the recognition and praise in the world. Standouts are Edward Norton as the way-too-method method actor so smug you wanna punch him but so brilliant you wanna throw flowers at his feet; Emma Stone as Riggan’s recovering addict daughter who ditches her quirky type for something deep seeded, sensual and yet still so charming and; Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s always high-strung and loony manager/lawyer/friend who is jumps for joy whenever his client does something anyone else would think is insane (and is).

 

Together these people form a band of surface level thinkers who only care about themselves but masquerade as deep thinkers. In short, they’re actors, addicts and businessmen.

 

But the real star of the show is the camera. Taking us into a rarely seen world that lies behind the curtain, Inarritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione do the unthinkable and make the movie appear to be one long shot. It isn’t, but unless you yourself are a film editor or hide out in a dark room reading on the subject you won’t even notice.

 

In this style the camera glides and moves like a person, eavesdropping on all the conversations. There is term for this called Felliniesque, memorialized by Italian director Federico Fellini, who used this technique often. You don’t feel like you’re watching a movie so much as living it and in this context absorbs into an environment you’re not supposed to see. It’s like actually getting to break into the White House and watch the Obama’s sleep. Not that I’ve thought about doing that…

 

Haunted by the character that made him famous, Birdman (much like Batman, but a bird) Riggan struggles to move forward with his risky new play and the glory that made him a star. It’s not simply a theater expose as much as a subversive character study. Heck it’s both. There are moments of blatant weirdness, like how Riggan can move things with (in?) his mind or when he puts himself into a scene from one of his actions movies. This movie has a lot going on, and it will no doubt benefit from a second viewing.

 

But my job is to make you want to see this movie, not give you a philosophy lesson. If I haven’t done that then I don’t know what else I can say. It may seem dark or too artsy-fartsy, but underneath all the drama and the talent in a wicked sense of humor that adds yet another layer to this cave of mastery. So if you’re on the fence, then today is your lucky day. Everything I’ve just described lies in the genre of both comedy and character study. And who doesn’t like comedies?

 

 


A+