Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Supplanting agelessness for teen angst, Only Lovers Left Alive acts as a perfect counterpoint to the myriad mindless vampire flicks of late.

Hiddleston

Timelessness and addiction permeate this well thought out, intelligent vampire film by self-diagnostic hipster Jim Jarmusch.  Grunge movement mentalities blend with a renaissance of High Art references, clashing and melding wonderfully into a sharp critique of the pop art modern world. Moodiness suits this cultured, romantic bloodsucker flick in a way only Jarmusch could provide.

Only Lovers revolves (literally at times) around the hero couple – Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton).  The two ageless lovers – born of a pre-Tudor era and transformed into pleasingly pale, aloof vampires – now reside apart, the former in economicly stricken Detroit, the latter in the back alleys of Tangiers.  Adam’s underground music has sparked a cult following, and though his musical credentials spread throughout history, the tedium of eternal life sets in and leaves him despondent.  His most recent suicidal thoughts reunite the couple and the two seek a purpose for going on, all transpiring in his ramshackle house littered with historied artifacts and mechanical alchemy.

Rarely has such a film produced such a titillating aroma to the scholarly curiosities while avoiding the elitist pratfall of condescending didacticism.  Constantly evoking works of literary and musical masters long sunk in history’s mires – for example, the attention drawn to authors as Eve packs her trunk – the effect is tempered both by the aloofness of characters who would have truly experienced them in their prime, and by the respectful attitude of the writers to reference them without stooping to exposition.  Only Lovers demands intellectual excellence from the audience, rather than permitting them to be sucked dry by countless vacuous sparkly vampires.

Rarer still does one find such fantastic chemistry between romantic leads in this genre of film.  Swinton emits a Galadriel-ian grace of form and movement, whose gaunt face belies the deep craving she embraces for life.  The way she interacts with Adam reveals a researched and carefully nuanced performance that shows Swinton is at the top of her game.  And Hiddleston rises to the occasion, matching her deeply embodied character pound for angsty pound.  This dark and depressed melody master feels earned, as Hiddleston taps into the surely foreign idea of others taking credit for his work.  His sulking Adam feels both immediately relatable and infinitely distant in a beautiful performance by the Thor spotlight-stealer.  Backed by fantastic performances from secondary performers John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, and Anton Yelchin (Mia Wasikowska’s over-eager sister comes off as over-acting a drama-tic role), the cast elevates the film – a staple of Jarmusch’s endeavors.

Overall, Only Lovers Left Alive presents a wonderful balance of darkness and shadow, eternity and temporary, cultured poise and animalistic impetus. Exhibiting incredible execution of well-written characters by actors proving their talent, combined with haunting cinematography and lighting, and wrapped up in a brooding score to match, this film demonstrates a mastery of narrative and aesthetic cohesion few filmmakers can replicate.

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http://www.sonyclassics.com/onlyloversleftalive/

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Not so much “With Avengence”

This will actually be a double review and it will contain spoilers for both.  You have been warned….

In the past week I have had the pleasure (or misfortune) of seeing the final two films leading up to the big Avengers movie:

THOR  &  Captain America

I was really looking forward to both films quite a lot.  The deep mythology of Thor drew me to his film but they did a very poor job conveying a believable hero.  And when I heard they were making a war film that happened to have Captain America in it….well, that was just too great to miss!  But when I got far more hero than war, I was just as let down as I had been with the other Avenger movie.

In a nutshell, here is what went wrong:
“Both films were treated as set-up movies – necessary exposition standing between Marvel Enterprises and larges piles of mone….I mean a well-crafted franchise – rather than their being made for the great stories that they are in of themselves.”

I will take them one at a time and show exactly what I mean, starting with The God of Thunder and then discuss the third (I mean First) Avenger. Let’s go!

THOR

In case you haven’t figured this out about me, I like to know a little bit about everything – just enough knowledge to make intelligent conversation while not spoiling the magic of discovering it.  This trait of mine can be particularly seen in my understanding of the Comic Book Universes.  I knew about the base of Thor’s mythology being founded in actual Norse legends. I thought this was a fantastic way to build a backstory – take that which is already half-believed and add just a little extra fiction. Stir and bake at 350 for twenty minutes and you’ve got a great way to start a superhero tale.

Having said that, I went into the movie hoping that they would show that vast mythology behind him, show his character develop, and show why I should be worried about an oversized carpenter 🙂

What I got was a film poorly made in nearly every aspect.  The CG was terribly fake and the makeup of the Ice Giants reminded me of the Devil from Tenacious D.  For the character who mattered, it was not believable at all and ultimately this did more to set up the coming film than to make this one stand out of the crowd.

My major issue with the film is that it is called Thor, it stars Thor, is about Thor, yet Thor is the least logical and least interesting character in the film.  He is an arrogant, spoiled…murderous child at the beginning. I liked the banishment scene, but after that he makes a complete 180 in the course of, like, 3 days on earth!  He is a jerk, his friends arrive and the Destroyer tags along, then “Thor Good!”  It leaves you and me wondering “why we should suddenly root for a guy who has only shown himself to be a jerk?”  Not what we should be thinking about your protagonist…

Three good notes to mention:
First, they did have a great introduction with Odin explaining the backstory.  I thought it worked well and it gave me just enough to understand the plot.  I wish they had developed it a bit more but to be honest they gave us what we needed.

Second, the blending in and performance of the Shakespearian-esque dialogue was good. Branagh really did do it justice there. It fit in very well with the regular English.  To be honest I only noticed it when the movie was half over.  Really top notch work.

Third, and most importantly, I want to give a HUGE shoot-out to Tom Hiddleston for his incredible portrayal of Loki!!!  He took a very hard role and in my opinion gave something close to an Oscar-worthy performance. I was honestly fooled by his acting within acting as he lied to Thor about their father.  Loki is known as basically the father of misdirection – he is the embodiment of mischief and distraction – and Hiddleston really captured that so well. Truly a show stealer!

However, despite all of those positives, I just can’t get over how unlikeable Thor is.  He is worse than Stark if you ask me.  Also, the ending left me wondering “Wait.  What was the problem again?”  It was so anticlimactic and really made me question why I’d come to see it at all.  Poor story structure that fulfilled the job it meant to do – tell me just enough about Thor to know who he is in the Avengers.

Ultimately, not worth my money.  It was Pre-Avengers part I.  The only positives I can claim from seeing it was that I saw it with a friend, who generously paid for my ticket, and that he only paid $1.50 for it 🙂  FINAL ASSESSMENT:  5/10

Captain America

Again, I really went into this excited.  What I knew pre-screening was that the Capt was created in the midst of WWII, that his enemy was Redskull, that he was Batman-esque in that he has no super powers, and that he was frozen in the arctic and was rediscovered in modern day. What I was looking for in this film was the artistic push for the War Film feel – something like Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.  While I can appreciate it as a hero film, I was still very let down by how little war factored into it.

Basically all of the focus of the film was on the creation of the Captain which, I grant, is important. However I would say than nearly 60 of the 124 minutes were spend on building him from lowly Steve Rogers (what kind of a Captain’s name is “Steve” anyway?) to the pop-icon (Mr. Rogers to you) to his full embodiment as Captain America.  You don’t need to spend that much time on the appetizer if it means sacrificing part of the meat and potatoes of the thing.

I want to make it clear:  I do like the story of how he becomes Captain America.  What I don’t like is that the reason the focus was there was because the film’s purpose is to set audiences up for who he is in the Avengers.  Instead of getting some truly great battles and fighting when people begin to follow him, we get a bare-boned montage to advance us from A to B.

And please, don’t EVEN get me started on the ending.  I loved that he woke up in a falsified environment, that he bust out and ran amuck in downtown NYC. That was great.

What wasn’t great was EVERYTHING ELSE!!!  There is not musical ramp, which leads to no emotional ramp.  The Nick Fury monologue has no power – no punch.  It comes down to a really bleeping one-liner that your grandmother might think is “cute”, but it is so lacking of anything cathartic, spectacular or engaging. The ending was such a letdown and it truly ruined that which I had liked about the film (the exposition) because it didn’t go anywhere.
Pre-Avengers part II.  FINAL ASSESSMENT:  5/10

That is…it doesn’t go anywhere OTHER than straight into:

Unlike Ironman which was made for its own story, Thor and Captain America were made to get us to this film.  Instead of 3 A+ movies that would lead up to a great junction film, we get an A & two C’s that will lead to a horrible pile of crap. Here is why:

How is The Avengers supposed to be a good movie when you are tying 4 major characters (1 well-defined, 3 poorly so), multiple minor characters (not defined at all), and all of their villains into one two-&-a-half hour movie?  You don’t. At least not well.

Thus far we have Downey doing his thing, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth stepping in, and OH YEAH! Mark Ruffalo out of nowhere in as the Hulk.  Besides the challenge of bringing them all together under one leadership, there is the well known and rather important power struggle between Stark and Rogers. How is Joss going to bring them all together under one roof?

Btw: Hawkeye and Black Widow are supposed to be in it….yeah….  Sorry Scarlett and Renner, but you are going to become Deus Ex Machina for the real stars. Yup. (Pardon while I wipe the sarcasm off my brow)

I do have one positive note. The only confirmed villain is Loki from the Thor series.  Good call because Red Skull is dead as are the biggest and best Ironman villains, and Loki is not just a great villain but a great character in general.  I look forward to seeing more Hiddleston, and I applaud Marvel or whomever made the decision to set up Loki as The Villain for the Avengers (at least the first one….uggg).

There has been a recent news break that there will be some short films released leading up to the Avengers, presumably setting up Hawkeye and Black Widow.  Personally I think they should have done more of that stuff.  Really they should have gone with something like an HBO miniseries about the forming of the group – taking there time to really set up the situation well.  Then you could let the movie focus on the epic battle rather than petty squabblings of a newly formed super-Glee club.

In case you haven’t picked up on it, I really don’t expect much from the Avengers movie.  It has too much that needs to happen and far too little time to develop it properly.  All I can say is “Good Luck, Joss” and “Enjoy your swimming pools of money, Marvel.”

Thanks guys!  Hope you enjoyed the review. Please let me know what you think in the comments below – particularly what you expect from the upcoming Avengers movie.  So, until next time, stay thirsty my friends. 🙂

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Goodbye, Harry

Here it is. The review of the last Harry Potter film to be released.  Part of my childhood ended Sunday, and I am glad to say that it was exactly what I needed it to be. So, without further delay, my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.

Warning!
This Review will have MASSIVE Spoilers so if you don’t want the film ruined, please scroll to the end.  After the last photo I will post my Summary Wrap-up as well as my Rating Scores.
You have been Warned…

I Loved it!  I was so worried when I finished my review of Part 1 that I would be disappointed, but the film lived up to everything I was hoping for and even exceeded expectations in some regards!  Also, this was the first film I had ever seen in 3D IMAX and it was a real treat to see that on such a large screen.  I truly felt immersed into the film.  One of the best movie going experiences ever for me.

For this review I want to break it down into a few sections, dealing with the issues I had with Part 1 first, discussing the changes and plot next, visuals and sound after that, and then finish on the very few issues I had with this one. Thus:

  • Issues with Part 1 Revisited
  • Changes and General Storytelling Analysis
  • Visual and Audio Stylings and Devices
  • Issues with Part 2
  • Final Summary and Scores

So with that I jump right into it!

1.  Issues with Part 1 Revisited

In case you haven’t already, please check out my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1. As we shall recall, my issues with the first film fell mostly to the PACE and the ACTING, as well as my frustration that Yates had “totally missed the major conflict of the book”.  Part 2 really seemed to hear me on that because they really stepped it all up 10 notches!

The pace was fantastic.  Only after the movie was over and the credits rolled did I realize I had been sitting for 2 hours.  It seemed to be perfectly spaced and I loved the connectivity of each scene.  It all seemed to flow together into one big sequence which works so well.  I will get into it more later, but I loved how the film/story was made in such a way that fans can see and follow it without any extraneous explanation of trivial elements, while still seeming accessible to Muggles who haven’t followed the series at all.  I also loved how it managed to surprise me at parts (more on this in the “Changes” section), preserving the magical quality I felt was lost in the previous movie. Truly a major improvement over the disconnected vignettes of Part 1, Part 2 conveyed the final chronicles of Harry Potter’s story in a well-constructed, beautiful manner that left me very content.

The second major issue I had with Part 1 was with the Acting, and Part 2 took that and blew it out of the water!!!  Every single person stepped it up about 8 notches and gave by far the best performances of the series. A few in particular stood out to me:

Best Actress goes to Helena Bonham Carter

HBC is BLEEPING scary!!! Not just because of the roles she plays for Tim Burton but because of how ridiculously she matches Emma Watson’s Hermione.  Seriously.  I am not the only one who originally thought that Watson’s face was digitally put onto Carter’s body.  She performs in what I would gladly call an Oscar-worthy performance – both as the creepy and insane Bellatrix LeStrange and as the Polyjuiced, yet timid Hermione breaking into Gringotts. However she does not get the best performance of the film.  That honor goes to….

Best Acting goes to Alan Rickman as “Snape”

By far the best performance came from the character who fans have lost there hatred for and come to love – Snape – played by Alan Rickman.  Such sorrow and pain I have never seen in a character.  I almost believe that Rickman decided to try to embody the word “Anguish” in order to play this immensely deep role.  Rarely have I ever felt, not just seen, such somber determination in a character and Rickman I feel was the only man who could possibly do justice to Potter’s nemesis and unbeknownst defender. Sorting Hat’s off to you, sir!  Job well done!

One final standout performance before I get to the trio’s was that of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort.  As you will recall, I was not a big fan of his portrayal in Part 1.  I said that, “He comes off as too human, which makes hating him a little difficult.”  While I stand by that statement for the first installment, I was surprised to find that this was the very quality that made him so great in Part 2.  Here is my reasoning: At the beginning of book/movie 7, Voldemort has 7 parts of his soul, his humanity, absent from his person.  Thus he should be practically a snake as he has little human existence about him.  However, as the Horcruxes get destroyed one could say that either the parts of his soul return to him or that he simply becomes more mortal as his extra tethers to life are severed.  Ergo, he becomes more human towards his final hour.  Fienne’s Voldemort was beautifully human after he had “killed” Harry and it was a joy to watch his Hubris lead to his climactic end.

Now for the Trio.  I will keep it brief though I could go on and on about it. Rupert Grint was magnificent. His humor was perfectly on character and his courage was wonderful. It will be hard to imagine Ronald Weasley without seeing Grint’s face anymore.

Emma Watson made me cry (well almost).  She is by far the best of the trio and her emotions ARE her sleeve.  She was brilliant in the role and I am sad to see an end to the girl that won all of our hearts.

And finally, Dan.  I must say the thing I was most worried about going into this film was whether Radcliffe could manage the intensely powerful, entirely internal emotions that occur in this final installment.  And much to my joy, he pulled it off!!!  You could feel his hard-set determination and his selflessness all throughout the film and he really did do justice to the Boy Who Lived. He still needs to work on really selling it with his eyes and his eyebrows, but on the whole it was a massive improvement on his previous work. Great job Dan. Be proud of your work and thank you so much for 10 amazing years of Potter.  Thank You!

And the final element, the “Hallows vs Horcruxes” issue, I feel might have a different explanation. While I still felt that the internal struggle inside Harry was entirely neglected, I think that is because internal struggles are a bleep to put on screen.  Thus, when watching Part 2, I let go of my expectations for that conflict and instead let the film be what is was. Through that zen-like letting go did I find how great the film really was.

2. Changes and General Storytelling Analysis

I said it before and I will say it again: the pacing was fantastic! I thought it flowed very well from start to finish.  It was only at those two points that I find issue. The “reminder scene” at the beginning was unnecessary and went as far as to throw off the pacing for me for the actual first scene.  It had no entrance, explanation (in context), or connection to the tone that followed.  And, because 86% of opening weekend movie-goers had just marathoned the ENTIRE series pre-screening, it was entirely unnecessary.  They should have just started with the fade-through-clouds WB logo with the music swell and leave it at that.

The only other issue I had with the story-telling (and I swear I had loads more positives about it than issues) was that the very end was beautiful and tragic – with the Hogwarts express trudging away into the fog and the final shot of the trio staring off into the future.  It was a truly beautiful moment with the music swelling, the fade out…..the music still swelling…..still black…..then music dies.  At the time I didn’t mind it because I was reveling in that last fading image of the trio who had made my life so wonderful.  However, after the film my dad pointed out an interesting thought: in all that blackness with music going they had not put up a “The End” slide.  Interesting move. Again at the time I didn’t mind the gap and after having thought about it, I applaud them not calling this “The End”.  We are not at the end friends, but rather the beginning of a new adventure. However it was a bit of an odd moment. Still pondering this one.

Other than those to items I was floored by how well the story worked!  It started off with a nice slow ramp from Shell Cottage, then thrust us into the action at Gringotts and kept the upbeat tone the whole way through.  It had some nice relief moments (room of requirement, the lull in the fight) and some good comic relief along the way to let up on the tension just enough for us to breath and get ready for the next crazy fight.

The changes made to the story, I thought, were well done and well chosen, and they made the story easier to follow in such a short time.  Obviously, I was sad to see the Dumbledore Subplot go; however I can see that it is extraneous to the major plot. Same with the treasure in the vault not burning – it doesn’t matter in the ultimate plot.

As a matter of fact I did like Harry’s confrontation of Snape in the Great Hall and the Severus-McGonagall fight because it broke me out of “Analysis Mode”.  Up to that point I had been seeing things for how they lined up with the book.  That scene threw me off that game and reminded me to enjoy the film for what it is, not what I think it should be. For that I thought the scene worked well, but also it was an improvement in that it gave Harry a chance to fully vocalize his feelings toward Snape before the final reveal of his motives. It worked on the story level and was powerful emotionally – I loved it!

Yates did a fantastic job of cutting through the fat of the story and giving us only the meat of it (even though we like that fat…a lot).  He presented Part 2 in a logical and accurate, yet surprising and magical manner that kept me enthralled throughout the entire 125 minutes. Fantastically presented – I, a devoted fan, could not be any happier with how he told the story.

3. Visual and Audio Stylings and Devices

In case you haven’t gotten it yet, I thought the story was told magnificently! David Yates made the film very well and in a style which played to the fans particularly.  I loved how he let things go – such as the Goblin Lore with Griphook – and allowed for things that extend beyond just the books – such as Matthew Lewis getting to voice his Real Life passion in his moment of glory speech.  The visual style was phenomenal.  I particularly liked the flying fight between Voldemort and Harry for the shot where their faces merge, symbolizing the incredible magical link between them.  And the “King’s Cross” afterlife scene, while not what I pictured it as, was beautiful and elegant.  And finally, Voldemort’s death was, as I wrote immediately following, “graceful yet gutturally satisfying”.

I seriously could go on for days about how it amazing it looked and how well the plot was handled, but I will make these last notes and leave it there:

  • Fantastic choice to end on the original “Hedwig’s Theme” (;_;) – Beautiful. Thank you.
  • Incredible use of sound – both silence and noise – to set mood.  Particularly the use of breath and breathing were nice as symbols of Harry’s impending doom and the frailty of life in general
  • Score was perfect – Desplat brought us the magical world in a magical way
  • Special effects for the fights (ie – the spells) were fantastic. It struck me as amazing occasionally that a scene was probably done entirely in computer
  • The aging of the cast at the end was incredible! Blew my mind how they must have done that!
  • Best looking and sounding film of the series by miles!

4. Issues with Part 2

The issues I had with Part 2 are exactly three-fold and all I have already mentioned, so I will be brief. The first is simple and criticized often by me – Daniel’s acting.  It was Better. It could have been Best. He did finally start to show some emotion but I still don’t believe him when I look in his eyes at every single second. Keep on working on those eyes and (recent revelation) your eyeBROWS, and I look forward your next film project The Woman in Black. Again thank you for bringing Harry to life for us. I think we can expect great things from you, Mr. Radcliffe. Great things!

My second issue was with the very beginning of the film. As I said the “refresher scene” was unnecessary, clunky, and gave the beginning a very rough start.  It didn’t have the confidence or poise of the start of Part 1 which I will again praise as excellent.  Start right into it as you did the first movie – Logo followed by action.

Finally, the end, which I am still not sure about.  While I am sure that the exclusion of a “The End” slide was a good choice, I can’t help but feel the oddness will return when I am staring at a black screen with powerful music going and I don’t have the hardcore emotional catharsis stirring my heart as I did watching it for the first time.  I might comment on this again later after I have seen the film again.

5. Final Summary and Scores

10/10 – Masterful & Cathartic

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was exactly what I hoped it would be. It accurately and magically captured the essence of the story and reminded us all why this series has become the defining point of an entire generation. It was elegant and eloquent. It was morose and somber yet filled me with joy – a bittersweet wonder.  I have said it a thousand times and I will say it again, it does NOT all end here.  No from here we, the devoted fans, go out and we take this story, this love, this passion wherever we go.  Whenever times get hard we have more that just the camaraderie of the fans to help us through. We have incredible role models to guide us:

  • the Selfless Potions Master who risked everything for love
  • the Wisdom of a School Headmaster who taught us best of all that everyone makes mistakes
  • the Heart of Service from a Friend who stays with you no matter what
  • the Power of Learning and how Knowledge really is power
  • the Boy who Laid Down his Life for Love and Friendship, who never backed down from what must be done, and who taught us that life without love is meaningless

The world has not lost this magic.  It lives, beating in the hearts of one billion young men and women, all of whom now carry something that cannot be forgotten – Hope.  We know that the world will get tough, that times will be hard and all will seem lost.  And we know how much we may have to sacrifice.  But most importantly, we know that will a little faith and a little trust and a little love, nothing can stand in our way.

Thank you Jo for uniting us, for showing us truth, bravery and love, and for giving us the kid we all want to be. Thank you for giving us 14 years of Magic.  We are Potter’s men and women, through and through. And Dumbledore’s Army, YOUR Army, looks forward to continuing to grow up with Harry and to preserving his legacy of courage, selflessness, and love for generations to come.  Thank you, Jo. Thank you.

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Wow.  I can honestly say that I have never been so close to crying writing a review.  If you don’t know me, I never cry, ever. God just made me that way. But I can say that when things move me this much, to the point of tears, I listen because I know God is up to something.  I will continue to document my passion for the Harry Potter series and will keep up commentary on his films and books in the future.

But in the more near future, I am just tickled PINK to announce that I WILL be able to review the Dark Knight Rises trailer!  It will be up on the Art of the Trailer soon. Thank you for stopping by, please check out my other reviews and ramblings, and please let me know what you think of this review in the comments below.  Thank you and God bless!

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Appreciation and Understanding w/ Dash of Irony

Hello all!  I thought I would take a break from my reviews to share some news, and have a little ramble.

First, my IRONY MOMENT OF THE WEEK!!!  I was cleaning my room recently, being all productive and stuff, when I found my old Pokemon Ruby Game. Now a bit of history: I have been playing Pokemon games since the first set (Red & Blue). I can still remember playing them on my Original B&W Gameboy at the ballpark when I was 10.  Good times… Anyway, in the 10 years I have had since I have never, repeat NEVER, beaten one. Seriously. I bought every game up to the ruby/sapphire generation and have never beaten any set of Elite Four and Champion. I either spent all my time focusing on completing the Pokedex or lost interest before getting there.

Now having said that, I decided to play the game a bit just for old times sake.  I had made it all the way to Stephen, the Champion, before but I could never beat him.  I decided to try victory road, again just for kicks and made it all the way to the final battle of the 5 and somehow, having not played in over a year now, I BEAT HIM!!! It was so crazy!!! I finally beat a Pokemon game!!! Part of my childhood had ended, IRONY, on the day that the Last Harry Potter film came out!! Just an amazing thing that those two coincided with….the battery died.

I was watching the final cutscene where May comes back and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then Prof. Birch comes in and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then he takes my Pokedex and says, “Here’s some advice…”  CLICK.  My battery dies….right there….. GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

It was just hilarious that I had waited so long for that moment and when it comes I was robbed of it 🙂 I did go back and beat it about an hour later after I had gotten over how funny it was.  The ending was awesome just as i had always read in my strategy guide (JK!! Haha. Just…..just kidding…….totally not me………..yeah. I did read it cover to cover….yeah.) I loved the Hall of Fame thing and the credits (didn’t even know they did that!) and then….at the end….it says….”THE END”  😀

YEAH! 😀

So now that the embarrassing, end-of-my-childhood moment story is over, I turn to a more philosophical thought.

Something which I have been trying to nail down for many years is how one appreciates a work such as film or book. Recently I had a breakthrough thought which I’d like to share with you for your thoughts.

Our society seems to stress two conflicting opinions.  First, post-modern culture puts forth that appreciation of art can be had in any form or way and by any medium, but I will focus on the thought that no Understanding is required for Appreciation. The Second worldview, coming from Academia, says that in order to fully Appreciate something, one must have full Understanding of it.

Let me give two examples to clarify.  The former puts forth things such as John Cage’s 4’33” or Jackson Pollock’s abstract art as important because each person experiences it differently and in unique manners. The Latter would take things such as Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and say that in order to fully appreciate it you must know that it was done as a fun exercise with his wife, and that each variation is based on one of his friends.  Obviously the two are in conflict and thus I turn to film.

My friend Ryan and I have a disagreement. Last year he gave me the French film Amelie as part of the inaugural Summer Film Challenge. When I started the movie and realized it was entirely in French without subtitles, I made the decision to watch it without them.  I had taken French in High School, but the true reason I made that call was because I wanted to see what the film was like unhampered by English text muddling the image.  I wanted to watch it as the French did, and I am not sure whether Ryan has forgiven me yet. 🙂

The reason I bring this film up is that I just ordered it on Amazon and I am not sure I will ever watch it with the subtitles, which brings us back to the original point:

What is the relationship of Understanding to Appreciation?

I propose these thoughts on this issue:

  1. I think that everything is art, and some of it is good, but only a rare bit is Great Art and that is what we must focus on. (More on this in a Ramble to come)
  2. While I can get how Knowledge in tandem or conjunction to a piece of art that helps me understand it’s origins and purpose enhances the experience of it, I wonder if we are losing a part of Appreciation by doing so.
  3. The Appreciation lost by seeking understanding I shall call Wonder or Awe. It might be aptly titled “Magic”.
  4. The Wonder I experienced when watching Amelie in French was that, though I could understand only the occasional word or phrase of the dialogue, I was able to understand the film’s plot and message remarkably well.

As my friend Ryan pointed out to me, I did miss the full meaning of the “Counting Orgasms” scene.  However I was able to appreciate that sex plays a major role in the life of Parisians in Amelie’s world and that she is keenly aware of the sexual world around her while remaining aloof of it. I was able to gleen that without being told it by verbal means. This shows me that their is a level of appreciation which is obtainable and important because you experience something unobtainable otherwise.

If you enter into something without understanding and experience it, you are able to return later with understanding and have a new experience (see – INCEPTION).  However, this path cannot be traversed the other way; if you know going in, you can’t experience that Magic (see – INCEPTION again). You can never watch Fight Club, Memento, even Jaws the same way you did the first time, so I stress the importance of not missing appreciating something as wonderful, magical and worthy of our awe.

Just to point out, I do see the irony that I am discussing “Magic” both in the context of the fanciful film Amelie and on the eve of the finale of Harry Potter franchise. 🙂

Thanks for sticking around.  Please tell me what you think about how we appreciate art, film, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Donnie Darko vs. Michael Bay

2 for 1 Special Sunday!!!

It’s Sunday and you are getting two short review for the price of one! Lucky you.
First up, it’s that atrocity of cinema: Transformers 3!

First of all, I must make it clear that I am impressed and awed by how Epic Transformers 3 is. When I say “epic”, I mean that the production was spectacular in how it was done (like Pirates of the Caribbean or 10 Commandments).  The locations are breathtaking and exotic and Not CG. The CG that was there (ie – the Bots and explosions) was spectacularly blended into reality. And the fights were great as the spectacle that they were and for the depth to which they went – going to the dark point of death.  Ultimately the film is incredible in the Epic category; however that is the only aspect of it that I can use the word “incredible”…or even a positive adjective.

The story sucked. The writing sucked. The editing sucked. The acting….meh. Let me explain:

**Spoilers**

The story just wasn’t that good.  It started off well, using the classic story of ally turning on ally. I actually was very excited about the blending of the 60’s space race with modern world. However they basically dropped that story after the first 20 minutes and went back to the fighting. One positive note, they did drop the sex-i-mean-love story from #2 and kept the focus on what matters:  you can’t be focused on the girl during the end of the world.

The writing also plays into why the story sucked. Basically, in typical Bay style, it contains no Ramp and no build; it is just hardcore, over-the-top action the whole way which doesn’t let us get excited about it. Another thing, why is “I’m not a hero. I am just a messenger” the main arc for LeBeouf? That makes so little of him, the protagonist, that I really stop caring about him. Also, Who the BLEEP is Dutch and why the BLEEP is he Deus Ex Machina!? You need a personal assistant? Dutch. You need a kick-a body guard? Dutch. You need a tech-savvy hacker? Dutch. Why don’t they just make this guy God and get it over with!?

Speaking of Deus Ex Writing, why did they bother making obstacles when they take them out without any problem? In particular I refer to the bridges in Chicago. They make it a big deal that the bridges to the middle of town are up so the special forces guys will have to figure a way around tha….wait. No. Just have Dutch from some mystery place hack it in two seconds and remove that obstacle. “Somebody’s watching over us!” Yeah, the writers are.  I could go on and on about how the obstacles really never factor in (plane gets them into the city, giving them weapons to take out Starscream just before they fight him, two small guys get stuck on the big ship right as Bumblebee is about to be killed) but i won’t do that.

Editing falls under the same category. I said it on facebook and I say it again: Where are Simmons and Mearing during the final battle? “Headquarters, duh!” Oh, headquarters! Is that where they have the tech set-up or is that the war room? Or maybe was that the roof that they were on at the end? I can’t tell you how many times I was raising my hands during the movie saying “WTF! Where did that/they come from?”  The fight stuff was well cut as always (because that is the only part that matters) but everything else I thought was useless. One final question – Why are his parents there?

Finally, the acting was…okay. It wasn’t spectacular but because everything around it sucked, it stood out as some of the best stuff of the movie. Other than one obnoxious “OPTIMUS!” from LeBeouf, I thought it was well-performed and a good job of the actors to overcome the bleep that was the script.

Ultimately if it wasn’t for the circumstances in which I watched it, I would regret every second of that night. However it was fun to watch this piece of bleep with friends super late at night and to despise Michael Bay with all of you here, now.

FINAL ANALYSIS:  4/10
Looks pretty but entirely not worth my time and money.

Btw: I am officially starting a boycott of Michael Bay films. You are welcome to join me if you like. Until I hear the he has final stopped making bleep and starts making quality, intelligent films, I am out. $11 less for the multi-millionaire.

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The second of this Review double-feature is actually a Summer Film Challenge 2011 Film, Donnie Darko.

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #5
Date:  10 July 2011
Film:  Donnie Darko
My Rating:  9/10

This film…
I am really not sure how exactly I feel about this film and I think that those of you who have seen it know what I mean.  My thought is this film falls somewhere between “WTF!?” and “Holy BLEEP!”  It is definitely an amazing film, deep and dark. I am just not sure I know what Richard Kelly was trying to say. Thus it is not a 10.

Going into it, I really didn’t know what it was about. I knew it was dark and had the creepy, apocalyptic version of Harvey but other than that I really didn’t know anything about it. I was surprised by how many people I recognized in it: Battlestar’s “Madame President” Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Rachel in the Dark Knight), Jake Gyllenhaal – the star, and the Dirty-er Dancing, pedo-Ghost Patrick Swayze. Great cast that really sold a tough script to me.

**Spoilers**

Not much to say about the plot, because I don’t think that is what I am supposed to think about. So I focus on what I believe this film to be about.  The time-travel thing and the liquid worm-hole thing I think come back to one throw-away conversation in the middle of the film.

Donnie starts talking with his physics professor about time travel, etc, and at the midpoint of thef film, they have a conversation about Predestination – sort of. They are actually discussing his liquid worm-holes that he sees and how they seem to guide his path in life. They discuss whether following a physical manifestation of “God’s path” for them constitutes free choice or a predestined life (ie – “Can we escape fate?”). I think this is what the whole of Donnie Darko is about. Donnie’s whole experience with Frank after the escaped accident seems to explore what happens when you escape fate (similar to Final Destination). Donnie is granted sight into the chaos of the world without the order of destiny and thus comes to choose (not follow blindly) to follow the path he should have taken. I think these lines might help clarify what I mean:

“Freedom is having a desert open and bare before you, free to be roamed at leisure, and instead you choose to sit in the sand and weep.  Freedom is knowing all angles and vertices of the argument, understanding that which is right and which is wrong, and confining yourself to half-truths plastered on feltboard for children’s comprehension.  Freedom is being able to walk past everyone in the courtyard and out the gate, on to whatever life you choose, and instead you bend your neck down onto the chopping block.”

I wrote that immediately following my watching this film. Hopefully it makes clear what I am trying to say – freedom is having every option and choosing the hard one.  Thus Donnie, who is fully able to avoid his fate, chooses to stick to it.

I think I will be analyzing this film for quite a while. Not sure this film is fully accessible to everyone (or anyone), but it is deep and, I think, important to discuss and figure out.  I loved all of the references in it (King’s “IT”, Last Temptation of Christ, Evil Dead). Not sure exactly what is meant by all of them but it does add a nice level of depth to the film.

I really wish I had watched Donnie Darko with people. Not because I am freaked out by it, but because I wish I could have discussed it with them. This really is a thinking person’s film and I look forward to unpacking it as the years go on.

So there you go! Two films reviewed – one bad, one good. Thanks for stopping by, please comment and subscribe, and here is your clue for the next review:

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Who IS Virginia Woolf and Why is She so Scary!?

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #4
Date:   28 June 2011
Film:  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
My Rating:  8/10

Reasoning:
First of all, this is one of the best written films I have ever seen, and for obvious reasons.  I really enjoyed watching this scene (and it really is one or two scenes) and the George and Mary relationship play out. Really fantastic.

This to me is what every indie film tries to be: a dark, yet honest representation of real life and real people. What makes it stand out (besides the lack of indie music) was that it takes place over the course of 5 hours one night.  Most films try to show so much of life over several months or a solid week, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? proves that with excellent writing it can be done in much shorter time.  Beautiful writing that really challenges you to think.

However, I still feel like I missed the “joke”. Going into it I knew that Virginia Woolf was a writer, probably a poet, but that was all I knew. After seeing it, I educated myself on the subject.  And still I don’t know what the point is.  She was a feminist and the parallel can be draw there from the strong woman she was and the strength of Margaret’s character, but I am not sure that is the full extent of the point being made.

Also, I really don’t get the ending.  I mean I understand what happened but I have no idea what happened. All I will say here is that, again, I followed what occured but I am not sure I understand how it got there and where it goes from there.  Below, I am including a section that will go into more detail about this issue, but that includes spoilers.  Check that out to see what I mean.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I don’t get these two things, but I don’t get them sort of like I don’t fully get Inception or The Departed. I don’t understand it but I know that it is deep and amazing.  I just need some time to let it all sink in.  Good stuff that you can’t just accept and move on.

One final note in the spoiler free section about the acting.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton give near flawless performances, really nailing these two incredibly difficult roles. The supporting cast….not so much. Watch and see what Nick (New Bio Teacher) drinks after his wife throws up. It must be 1000% proof because in a matter of seconds he goes from calm and collected, if not a little nervous, to smashed out on the lawn. I know acting drunk is hard but Taylor and Burton nail it (the couple being very used to drinking works well) versus the other two start in control and, after a few drinks, completely fall apart.  That wasn’t great but it was covered well by the phenomenal performances by the every beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and the wonderfully calculating Richard Burton.

In summary, a great movie, a bit tough to watch but on the whole, amazing and well worth the chance to watch it. I look forward to unpacking it over the next few weeks. Btw: 20th post!!! 🙂

Do you fear death?

***Spoilers below***

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

What I mean is this: I understand that they don’t have a son. That I can follow, but I don’t really understand it. I guess that the game is that they can’t mention the game (sound familiar?) and they both are in charge of the creation of their son’s life.  I guess it just doesn’t make much sense to me how deeply they are connected, partially through a neurotic fantasy life of their imaginary child, yet are so evil to each other on the surface. Both traits are believable but I am just not sure how well they work together. Really going to need some time to unpack this whole debacle.  That’s it.  Thanks!

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The Art of the Trailer

So this is the big one – the EPIC Post. Something that is quickly becoming a major passion of mine is the creation, construction, stylisms, and impact of a trailer.

........no.

I mean the short video promos that sells to you the product, be it movie or video game.  I have even seen them for books. They are the first impression makers, the only thing that makes me even think about caring about your production.  Trailers are an invaluable part of how a film or game gets big…and yet to most people they are just bothersome fodder between them and the movie they came to see.

For me this is an incredible tragedy.  In the space of 2 minutes or less you have to convey what your story is about AND make it look worth my time AND make it look fun.  This is not a task for the faint of heart, nor for the perfectionist. It’s not easy, and thus we often get junk, but once every long while we get a great one that stands out as the amazing work of art that it really is.

It seems to me to often we end up seeing the whole movie in the short preview.  There is no wonder. There is no mystery. There is no draw. I may be a film major, but it doesn’t take any sort of real brain-power to see the entire plot of the story from the trailer; they give it to you on a silver platter.  Take almost any modern trailer, say….oh…how about…Everything Must Go. Check out the trailer and come back for my thoughts.

Right off the bat the tone is set by the music – this is a comedy. This is confirmed by the opening image of Will Ferrell as Nick. However they quickly show us that it is a bit more serious than most of his other stuff….until 0:25 in, when he falls right back into his old schtick.  The next thirty seconds details the entire Act 1 – he gets kicked out and decides to live on his lawn, trying to hold onto his old life.  The First Turn is at 1:08 when he finds out that he can’t stay this way for much longer.  His struggle is between letting his past go and moving forward versus keeping his old life.  MAJOR CONFLICT DEFINED.
Immediately following that we get “the sidekick” (and a bit more confirmation of Ferrell’s humor).  Then, comes my friend Ryan‘s favorite part – THE INDIE MUSIC!!! (that tells us that it’s going to be a “quirky, yet serious drama about ‘real’ people and ‘real’ life”. Yippie.)
***1:42 – Blatant stating of the moral of the story by female friend/mentor. (Then the music gets hopeful…).  We get a nice little montage and at 1:51 we see the Second Turn – he gets rid of his stuff, thus proving he is learning the lesson.
And you might be saying “wait! that seems more like the ending than the end of Act II.”  And you’d be right, because at 2:17 we see the hero’s low point (the real Turn 2). Clearly he falls into depression towards the end of his borrowed time and is lifted out of it by what really matters – his friends. Aww.

End on some jokes to remind us that it’s funny and that’s it. The story mostly laid out in the trailer.  Why should I pay $11.50 to see in 2 and a half hours what I got in 2 minutes and paid nothing for? Seriously.

To be honest, what really sparked this dissertation was the recent slew of trailers and news from the E3 conference.  Video Game trailers have inspired me far more than most of those for movies.  What I truly love about video game trailers is that they understand that they can create something totally off-story to sell it.  Doesn’t make much sense when I say it but check out the announcement trailer for Dead Island and I think you’ll see what I mean.

I LOVE THIS TRAILER!!!  The music fits so well to what they are doing there, and this is exactly what I mean.  It shows absolutely zero gameplay, zero story, and honestly zero characters from the video game.  Yet, this alone enticed me enough back in February for me to have followed it all the way here into June.  I love how it focuses on the emotional impact of the zombie invasion, something often left out in favor of “killin’ them damn zambies!” But the true beauty of the promo is the mixing of the story, both forwards and in reverse, so that at the end he leaves his daughter behind.  That was a beautifully tragic moment that incredibly re-imagined a classic scene into something new and amazing!  This is far more interesting than them telling me the whole story and hoping I’ll buy it anyway.

Ultimately I could go on forever about this (and I probably will do a follow-up post sometime) but this post is epicly long enough already.  However, as promised to my friends on Facebook, below I am posting a list of great trailers along with my comments on each.  They are broken up into three sections – Classics, Friend Recommendations, and My Own Personal Favorites. Enjoy, Comment, Subscribe, and please let me know what you think about my opinions.  I am passionate about this and would love to hear your comments. If this is your first time here, thanks for checking me out (yeah!) and please feel free to comment below! A-Dios!

CLASSICS:

–>Psycho
[All-time classic; Hitchcock creates a neat documentary style which makes the film seem all the scarier because of the potential reality of it; though his acting sucks, the audiences of the 1960’s would have been totally freaked out by this sort of gimmick]

–>Cloverfield
[A more recent classic, it really sells the major feature of the movie – the handy-cam-esque style of the film; Also note: they don’t even name the film in this preview…fascinating J.J. Fascinating]

–>Wall•E
[Surely you remember this one, a classic that focuses on it being the last Pixar original (early) idea; really works well for selling it to older audiences who will in turn excite the younger generations; Cool way of marketing this]

–>Scary Mary
[I am putting this under Classics because this really shows how important a trailer is and how much impact it can have on the expectations of a movie or game. Also because it is bleeping scary!]

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YOURS:

–>Green Lantern
[Never been crazy about this; It shows way to much of the movie; I like the motto at the end except that Batman does the final line]

–>Star Wars: The Old Republic
[1:11 is the teaser; 2:02 is the second teaser; the rest is the trailer; It is super long but works I guess.  More of a short than a trailer]

–>Girl with Dragon Tattoo
[I have no idea what this is about; the only reason it works is because most people have read the books or seen the foriegn movie and know sort of what is going on; an insider’s trailer – not good for outsiders like me]

–>Battle: Los Angeles
[I like the ramp from the metallic somber song to the near-scream; also this one doesn’t say title just like Cloverfield; However, they are still showing us a lot of the movie]

–>Transformers: Dark of the Moon
[I remember I really loved this the first time I saw it; great mixing of past and future; I am looking forward to it; doesn’t tell us much but just enough to make me interested]

–>Another Earth
[Perfect example of a trailer that shows too much; I know most of the story and am left with only a little mystery left. Also they don’t clarify the mood – it starts as a dark sci-fi then becomes a typical indie depressed drama; I am interested in the story but the only thing the trailer did for that was tell me the name]

–>Green With Envy
[Please watch it first then read the rest of this! ||  Love it!  Great misdirect and beautiful parody of every RomCom trailer ever 🙂 Segel is really making me believe that this won’t suck! In fact I am really looking forward to this!]

–>Gears of War 3
[Really just “meh”; good use of song but really doesn’t make itself stand out; Only really good part was the “Let’s finish it” line and the “Brothers to the End” – that seems interesting but otherwise really a letdown from GW3]

–>X-Men: First Class
[Great trailer; starts off with emotional build up of the music which really invites you in; Great blending of the old and new (in many ways); Doesn’t show to much and still enough to make me think this might be worth my time; Good use of a different title scheme rather than typical text]

–>Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
[Should have ended right after 0:56; we see far too much; just like the movie you keep thinking “when is this going to be over?”; Again a trailer that really only works because the audience has already seen movies 1 and 2 and is chomping at the bit for the final installment; really not that good of a stand-alone trailer]

—————————-

MINE:

–>Assassin’s Creed Revelations
[By far my favorite trailer right now; sick song that hits deeply and emotionally – amazing graphics in the cinematic – tells me everything I need to know (protag, setting, style, and part of plot) – and is FREAKING SICK!!! Please check this one out now and see what I mean]

–>Halo 4
[Very cool reintroduction of the series; I like that it takes only 20 secs to figure out what we are seeing, yet the payoff still is really fantastic]

–>Inception
[Almost put this in classics, but I want you to try to watch this how you first saw it – see everything new and remember what it was like to not understand it then (not like how you don’t understand it now 🙂 ]

–>Sly Cooper 4
[I have always been a fan of the series, and the trailer plays right into what I love about it with a great payoff at the end]

–>Dead Island
[Worthy of being mentioned again; great re-engineering of a scene to make an intended mood]

–>Legend of the Guardians
[This is the trailer that got me into studying trailers; PLEASE watch in HD; really showcases the visuals which are phenomenal (and totally Snyder-esque) and the song was well selected and used to drive in the emotional impact]

–>Ghost Recon Future Soldier
[I like the “carousel”-esque effect that really works to make itself standout from Battlefield or COD, which is what this needed to do to muster any support]

–>Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
[Just to prove that books get trailers 🙂 but really this is a great promo for what looks to be an awesome book]

–>10 Things I Hate About Commandments
[I end on another parody that again showcases how important a trailer can be in making the mood, tone, and direction of film (or game) go and how well it can reach the target audience]

NO...DAMN IT!!!! Gah........

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