Monday, July 30, 2012

The Muppets

The latest film in the recently-dormant Muppets franchise is simply titled "The Muppets". It's a suitable title. The film is re-introducing audiences and perhaps a whole generation to the once extremely popular characters. If writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller had wanted, they could've followed the other films, making the title longer by calling the film "The Muppets Reunion" as that is pretty much the gist of what this latest installment is about.

Walter is of the muppet species and he is also the biggest fan of the Muppets from their popular television show- Kermit the Frog, Ms. Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Animal, etc. Walter goes to tour the Muppets Studios and discovers that an oil baron named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is going to destroy the landmark for the oil underneath the theater. Not being able to see such an important part of his youth be destroyed, Walter enlists the help of his human friends, Gary (Segel) and his wants-him-to-committ-to-her girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), to reunite the Muppets so they can put on one last performance and show the world that they are still as revelant and frankly, as awesome, as ever.

The movie has the singing and the music (thanks to "Flight of the Conchords" musician Bret McKenzie), but there is a certain aspect of it all that is modernized. The setting is modern and the style chosen by director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords- the TV series) certainly feels like any other movie made today, but the humor could almost be called retro at least in comparison to most comedies that I see nowadays (which are admittedly for an older crowd when compared to who the target audience for The Muppets might be). Kermit and co. are witty without snark, never rudely insulting, and still manage humor that is enjoyable for all. You could almost hypocritically call it a modernized-ode to films of yesteryear and that might be what's bothered me a little about this movie. Though by a bothersome feeling, I don't necessarily mean that as a negative experience, but more as there being 'something' that just hung over my head as I sat back and thought about it.

When I had first heard about a new Muppets movie, I started to worry about its success. Every mainstream movie that holds up a franchise with the exception of a few (those Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies I suppose?) are mostly PG-13 action-thrillers that feature either disillusioned teenagers (the Twilight stars) or disillusioned men in their 30s and 40s (Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise...). That 'feeling' I was mentioning was that this Muppets movie is extremely self-aware of the kind of climate it is in. The Muppets love having celebrities and pop-references, but this movie is about how they haven't been around and how a fan just wants the comeback of his favorite characters as if he needs to preserve his youth. Walter might be notably distracting for the story at times, but he and his non-Muppet co-stars do step away (though not enough for me) to give Kermit, Piggy, and the rest some breathing room and yet, Walter seems integral to what Segel, Stoller, and Bobin were trying to accomplish with the movie. This was a fun and classy family film that dared to be something I don't experience a lot with mainstream movies- endearing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Men in Black III

It has been ten years since the previous Men in Black film and the third film in the series doesn't really hold itself to any events from its predecessors (then again, with the exception of one plot point, the same can be said of Men in Black II). All you really need to know is that there is a secret organization called the Men in Black that protect Earth from extra-terrestrial life. From there the film takes off into a plot that is welcoming to fans and newcomers alike as Agent J. (Will Smith) has to go back to 1969 to correct the timestream before his partner, Agent K. (Tommy Lee Jones), and the rest of Earth are erased from history.

This film had a highly troubled production shoot. Not World War Z bad, but it underwent several re-writes while filming and forced the release date to be played around with. Even though that factor shouldn't figure into anyone's opinion on the movie, Barry Sonnenfeld's film doesn't have any sign of being worse for wear. It certainly helps that Rick Baker is back once again and coming up with some fantastic designs of creatures to interact with the two highly memorable human characters. Smith (this being his first film in four years) is still able to carry a big-budget action movie with all the wit and charisma necessary and his chemistry with Jones translates very well to 1960's K. played by Josh Brolin. Like with W., Brolin is capable of doing a spot-on impersonation that can still lend itself to the creation of a great character. Michael Stuhlbarg and Bill Hader are also cast in touching and humorous roles respectively while Jermaine Clement melds well with the special effects and make-up that help make him a more menacing character.

My major complaint that I felt really harms the film is its final act. There is a huge plot hole that everyone I've brought it up to either replies humorously or honestly has no answer as to how or why it makes sense and then there is an ending that ties past and present together... for the purpose of just some additional sentiment that the film already has plenty of in its rapport between Smith and Jones/Brolin. Still, the film is a breath of fresh fun in a summer that has so far been dark, but full of some better-than-usual blockbusters.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Dictator

The Dictator is a bit more proof that Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the great comedic talents of today, but it also isn't up to par with his works alongside this film's director, Larry Charles, such as Borat and Bruno. Cohen's performance as Admiral General Aladeen falls flat a bit (such as him just making up Arabic words), but there are many moments where his portrayal is absolutely hilarious. That sums up the script as well with many jokes that pale in comparison to others, but when they do work, they build and build and build to a high point. Cohen treats his comedy and characters with great care, but perhaps something like The Dictator doesn't play to his strengths. His co-stars are actual actors, there is a more streamlined script that gives the movie a typical plot involving romance and a case-of-mistaken-identity storyline, and this film ultimately doesn't come off as harsh of a satire as Borat was with racism and Bruno was with homophobia. It's still enjoyably offensive in the way that pokes fun of some many people, but the film isn't perhaps as humorous of a critique as one might expect and that is where Cohen seems to excel.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Avengers

By the time I got around to writing a reponse, The Avengers has already been a great success. The third highest-grossing movie of all time (I think if you ignore inflation) and it was somehow seen as both a risky and rewarding idea all at once. Five financially successful and separate movies all leading into one? Never been done before, but sure to make a ton of money. I enjoyed it. It was a well-made blockbuster, but I find myself not being able to think (or in this case write) all that much about it. In fact the more I try to, I don't necessarily find fault or error with it, but I realize that it isn't all that different from what you'd get from any other well-made action blockbuster that gets a summer release date.

I don't mean that as a criticism, far from it. That is more of just an observation. Joss Whedon, being the extremely intelligent writer-director that he is, has written characters that are fascinating enough that they can carry the whole film when they are all together no matter how much CGI-enhanced action sequences exist. At the end of the day, when they characters are all in a room, their dialogue being delivered by such talented performers could be a movie all its own. It works for everything from 12 Angry Men to Glengarry Glen Ross, so why not The Avengers?

The film doesn't go beyond that set-up, but it doesn't need to. The film is typical in that sense, but being disguised as a sci-fi film gives the whole movie a unique style to it. If I were to break it down into a really simple explanation, The Avengers takes whats good about the best kind of blockbusters and instead it just gives you more of "that". When the film enters its final half-hour of non-stop action, it doesn't feel like you are being overloaded with visual effects, but that you are instead just at the climax of a journey that is more fun than thoughtful.

Emmy Predictions

Figured I'd join in on what I've seen some other blogs do and gives this another try this year. Basing this on who will be nominated instead of should, with some alternates, as well as who I think should win regardless

-Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
-Breaking Bad (AMC)
-Game of Thrones (HBO)
-The Good Wife (CBS)
-Homeland (Showtime)
-Mad Men (AMC)
Possibles- Boss (Starz), Damages (DirecTV), Downton Abbey (PBS), Justified (FX), Luck (HBO), Shameless (Showtime), Sons of Anarchy (FX), The Walking Dead (AMC)
Who I think should win- Homeland (Showtime)

-Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)
-Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
-Kelsey Grammer (Boss)
-Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
-Damian Lewis (Homeland)
-Timothy Olyphant (Justified)
Possibles- Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Dustin Hoffman (Luck), Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Jason Isaacs (Awake), Denis Leary (Rescue Me), Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), William H. Macy (Shameless)
Who I think should win- Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

-Glenn Close (Damages)
-Claire Danes (Homeland)
-Mireille Enos (The Killing)
-Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
-Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
-Emmy Rossum (Shameless)
Possibles- Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU), Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Anna Torv (Fringe)
Who I think should win- Claire Danes (Homeland)

-Josh Charles (The Good Wife)
-Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
-Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)
-Walton Goggins (Justified)
-Joel Kinnaman (The Killing)
-Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Possibles- Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Michael Cudlitz (Southland), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Shawn Hatosy (Southland), Neal McDonaugh (Justified), John Noble (Fringe), Nick Nolte (Luck), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy), Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire), John Slattery (Mad Men)
Who I think should win- Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)

-Rose Byrne (Damages)
-Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
-Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
-Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire)
-Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
-Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Possibles- Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Michelle Forbes (The Killing), January Jones (Mad Men), Regina King (Southland), Connie Nielsen (Boss), Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy)
Who I think should win- Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)

-30 Rock (NBC)
-The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
-Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
-Girls (HBO)
-Modern Family (ABC)
-Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Possibles- Community (NBC), Enlightened (HBO), Happy Endings (ABC), Louie (FX), New Girl (FOX), The Office (NBC), Suburgatory (ABC), Veep (HBO)
Who I think should win- Parks and Recreation (NBC)

-Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
-Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
-Louis C.K. (Louie)
-Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
-Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)
-Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Possibles- Will Arnett (Up All Night), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Garrett Dillahunt (Raising Hope), Neil Flynn (The Middle), Ed Helms (The Office), Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down), Joel McHale (Community), Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory)
Who I think should win- Don Cheadle (House of Lies)

-Laura Dern (Enlightened)
-Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
-Lena Dunham (Girls)
-Tina Fey (30 Rock)
-Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
-Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Possibles- Christina Applegate (Up All Night), Beth Behrs (2 Broke Girls), Courteney Cox (Cougar Town), Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Jane Levy (Suburgatory), Laura Linney (The Big C), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds), Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope)
Who I think should win- Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

-Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
-Max Greenfield (New Girl)
-Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory)
-Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation)
-Ed O'Neill (Modern Family)
-Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
Possibles- Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Donald Glover (Community), Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Tony Hale (Veep), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Jake M. Johnson (New Girl), Tracy Morgan (30 Rock), Adam Pally (Happy Endings), Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation), Danny Pudi (Community), Jim Rash (Community), James Spader (The Office), Damon Wayans Jr. (Happy Endings), Rainn Wilson (The Office)
Who I think should win- Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation)

-Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
-Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
-Jane Lynch (Glee)
-Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)
-Betty White (Hot in Cleveland)
-Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
Possibles- Kristen Bell (House of Lies), Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Alison Brie (Community), Yvette Nicole Brown (Community), Anna Chlumsky (Veep), Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings), Cheryl Hines (Suburgatory), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Diane Ladd (Enlightened), Busy Philipps (Cougar Town), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory), Maya Rudolph (Up All Night), Eden Sher (The Middle), Hannah Simone (New Girl), Catherine Tate (The Office), Merritt Weaver (Nurse Jackie), Casey Wilson (Happy Endings)
Who I think should win- Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

-American Horror Story (FX)
-Game Change (HBO)
-Hatfields & McCoys (History)
-Hemingway & Gelhorn (HBO)
-The Hour (BBC)
-Page Eight (CBS)
Possibles- Great Expectations (PBS), Luther (BBC), Sherlock (PBS)
Who I think should win- The Hour (BBC)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

When I think of the action sequences in Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark or Minority Report, I'm reminded of how well thought out, clever, and ultimately artful they are. The truck chase in Raiders is a perfect example. It's thrilling, suspenseful, and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. That is something that I love about Spielberg though, how you can just group the genres of his movies and still recognize his influence throughout. Whether it be his sci-fi films like Close Encounters or E.T. or historical dramas like Schindler's List or Munich, you know you are watching Spielberg, but you are almost within a sub-set of the man's many different talented approaches to tackling a variety of material. His first animated film, The Adventures of Tintin, falls right in and fits nicely next to Raiders, and I'm the umpteenth person to connect Indiana Jones and Tintin the reporter since 1981.

I'm a comic book nut so I've read Tintin by Herge, but in a much different manner than most. I read it like I read most older comics. I was looking to see how they influenced the Marvel/DC/indy writers and artists of recent years. I still greatly appreciated it as a work of comicbookdom that sort of made a connection between what has been the strips of the funny pages to the type of stories Stan Lee would tell. So with Spielberg's adaptation being animated, the first thing I was most inclined to take note of was the look. I found the animation to be beautiful especially in how the locales popped with their various color schemes. Perhaps purists might be a little put off, but I felt like Spielberg and co. captured what was more important to me- the "feel" as opposed to the "look" and it just happened that they chose to use motion capture to do so. I found myself comparing it to how even if Raimi's Spider-Man is for all intents and purposes his interpretation of Spider-Man, he at least captured the feeling that the drawings of Steve Ditko, Todd MacFarlane, John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley, and others had hoped to invoke. An obvious example would be Robert Rodriguez literally lifting the image off the page for his version of Frank Miller's Sin City.

Enough of my nerd-enhanced rantings. I enjoyed the affect the mo-cap had. All of this "uncanny valley" talk doesn't bother me in the same way that I don't stand up and question why a character in a Pixar movie is not anatomically correct. Similar films from Zemeckis like The Polar Express or A Christmas Carol have a certain disquieting (for lack of a better word) characteristic to them because of the animation style and Tintin does as well (and of course there is debate over whether motion capture is in fact worthy of being mentioned in an Oscar for animated films category, but I'll just use the word "animation" until the endless debates come up with a verdict).

All-in-all, Tintin was a lot of fun, a pleasant surprise, and full of all the great things I love about these types of movies whether they feature actors in a green bodysuit or not- a noble hero, exotic lands, crazy villains, and non-stop action scenes with guns, knives, and fists all taking place on, in, or around different forms of transportation vehicles. The dogs from Beginners and The Artist also now have some competition for 2011's most charming portrayal of a canine.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

Maybe because I'm seeing these movies at the right time in my life, but I love this sort of age of Apatow comedy. I know, who am I to say that there is a new age of comedy all because of one man, but I remember just about every R-rated filthy mouthed, raunchy comedy pre-The 40 Year Old Virgin as just being some sort of teenage sex romp. Then comedies came along with as much heart and story as they were funny- Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bridesmaids and others such as Role Models, I Love You Man, and Horrible Bosses. I'm being general with my acceptance of all of these movies into one large category, but it is nice to see a great movie-making maturity to laugh-out-loud comedy ratio. The Five-Year Engagement from director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller and co-writer/actor Jason Segel (both of Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame) thankfully joins those comedies with its exploration of not just falling in love, but what happens after.

The film follows Tom Solomon (Segel) and Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) who become engaged at the height of their love for each other in San Francisco. Tom is a sous-chef at a very successful restaurant and Violet is an academic psychologist. Violent unfortunately can't find a job out in California, but she is able to secure a position in Michigan. Tom and her decide to hold off on their wedding as they re-locate, Tom has trouble finding work, the relationship hits some bumps, and like the best of comedies, the events only build and build and build up from there.

Along with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I'm amazed at how much Segel and Stoller are able to create a film that almost has a wandering-aimlessly quality to it. They don't completely throw structure out the window, but they give scenes and sequences the ability to move along in an unpredictable fashion and the two are funny and clever enough to be able to keep the movie's arc and core direction intact. The end has a bit of a meandering quality to it as a "will-they, won't-they" sort of storyline takes place, but ultimately due to the premise of exploring this couple's five years together, it ends up fitting into the film quite nicely.

As usual with Apatow productions, the ensemble of supporting characters step in to help the protagonists through their dilemmas and this film has quite a pedigree of scene-stealers in namely Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, and Rhys Ifans, but also with Jacki Weaver, Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Brian Posehn, and Chris Parnell. Simply put, chalk up another win for adult comedies in this post-40 Year Old Virgin world my brain seems to recognize.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Young Adult

Stay with me for a second because this is a stretch of a comparison even for an introduction. When I rewatched Taxi Driver last fall, I was amazed at how much I wanted Travis Bickle to win. I should hate him. He's a racist nut-case who is going to kill a bunch of people out of vigilante justice. Yet I'm rooting for him. I'm not sympathizing with him, but I'm certainly empathizing with him. George Clooney excels at playing these sorts of characters such as Michael Clayton, Ryan Bingham, Matt King, and several more. Well, in Jason Reitman's fourth film (his second written by Diablo Cody), he manages to really play with expectations in how much we want to like the protagonist of this story.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) lives in Minneapolis and writes young adult fiction as a ghost writer. She lives a dulling high society life and walks around with a little dog in her bag. She learns that her old high school crush Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) has a daughter and is happily married, prompting Mavis to return home and try to win him back. Mid-life crisis? Complete insanity? Whatever the case, Mavis decides to return to her small home town that the pure mention of seems to disgust her.

Reitman and Cody have what sounds like a comedic concept, but they handle it a very dramatic and sometimes intentionally unfunny way. They've created a highly complex character with Mavis and this film completely surrounds her, explores her, and Theron is completely bare and brave in her portrayal. Reitman and Cody previously made a film about a young girl stuck in an adult world and where Juno had that "aw, that was cute" factor to it, that is completely tossed away in favor of a character study where everyone has so many aspects to them coming out of their personal and professional lives. These feel like people we all know. None of them are cartoons. Mavis not being able to realize what she has become is partially a joke, but a tragic joke at that.

The supporting cast is top-notch as well. Patrick Wilson conveys a polite man whom Mavis sees as having been completely brainwashed by his wife into an idle lifestyle. At certain points I almost felt sorry for him but that was because I was seeing him through the eyes of Mavis. The one character who also steals the show is Matt (Patton Oswalt). He was a guy who was physically damaged in high school and in many ways like Mavis is still stuck in the past. He is the guy that helps make Mavis and her craziness seem believable to us as the audience and one of the few that Mavis can't change our opinion of. Oswalt, like in Big Fan, shows great promise as an actor of many shades. The chemistry between him and Theron ends up being such a welcome surprise.

The fact that I see this movie marketed as a comedy is I think part of the joke. It certainly has funny moments, but take the ending for example. It's an unoptimistic ending shrouded in optimism. The result is mature, tragic, and most importantly fearless. A film that constantly defies expectations is a huge trimuph in the career of its already highly regarded director. Reitman is such a welcome voice to storytelling and with Cody's sharp writing, the result is highly inspired

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Movies Watched in June

*- Means I've seen it once before.

Carnage (2011, Roman Polanski)
Hemingway and Gelhorn (2012, Philip Kaufman)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)*
Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)
Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt)*

The Three Musketeers

I wouldn't mind a new The Three Musketeers movie every couple of years. I like the story to the classic  novel by Alexandre Dumas enough that I kind of treat it as a sort of play that I don't mind seeing different actors inhabit these characters and different directors putting a new spin on the mythology. I enjoyed the Richard Lester films for their fun-swashbuckling nature and when I was younger I was into  some of the ideas and elements that the 90s Disney version had despite it just being another cash cow (and then there are adaptations of The Man in the Iron Mask...), but when I heard about Paul W.S. Anderson attempting a new adaptation with such a talented cast, I was hoping he would stay away from the visual effects extravaganzas of his Resident Evil movies and instead just create a good ol' fashioned family-friendly adventure.

Instead this is blockbuster schtick at its worst (or best depending on how you look at it). Watching this in 2D made me realize that I probably should've seen this in 3D in a theater because that is all this movie seems to have going for it- special effects that are staged in a way to help glorify 3D camerawork. Then again, I'd still view the 3D as a gimmick because it would only be used to create some cheap thrills in a movie with such scene-chewing and over-acting and all around hamminess that no amount of clever aesthetics could save it.

Also, however did the the Razzies overlook Eddie Fox for his portrayal of the King makes no sense. I probably should've hated some of the other characters more, but King Louis is by far the most annoying character on screen this year.