Black Swan

Dec. 14th, 2010 10:11 pm
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Black Swan: 8/10

It's hard to call any Darren Aronofsky movie entertaining. Don't get me wrong, his works are beautiful and challenging and well worth watching, but at heart the movies need to be endured rather than enjoyed. Black Swan continues this trend.

Black Swan tells the story of Nina, an established ballerina that is looking for her big break, and slowly figures out what she will have to sacrifice to get it. It turns out to be an intriguing combination of Aronofsky's previous work - the mental illness of Pi, added to the dangers-of-physical-performance message of The Wrestler, and mixed with just a touch of "drugs-destroy-your-soul" (and "hey, lesbians!") from Requiem For A Dream.

The highlight of the movie is, perhaps not surprisingly, the acting. Sure, we've known for a years now that Natalie Portman can act, but it's still a bit of a shock to see a multiple-Golden-Raspberry-nominated actress (Attack of the Clones) do such an excellent job with a difficult role. Portman excels with her combination of "vulnerable", "ambitious", and "talented", and does it while doing a remarkable job dancing ballet. She may not have needed the comeback in the same way that Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler, but she matches that performance anyway.

Another intriguing element of the movie is the casting itself. Nina is an established ballerina, just entering her prime but not yet truly successful; her two most important compatriots are the older, soon-to-retire colleague Beth (Winona Ryder), and the brand-new ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis). This mix makes adds another dimension to the relationships, with their relative ages and positions mirroring the relative positions of the actresses themselves.

But given that this is an Aronofsky film, the highlight of the film has to be the direction. The standard flourishes are still there - the roundabout camera work, the behind-the-star's-head journeys through the varied sets, and the trippy cuts that make the viewer subtly question what's being seen without outright saying "this is a hallucination". The special effects are subtle, the sets full of mirrors and other tools for movie metaphors, and the viewer has to constantly question what he's seeing. He's good at his job; it'll be interesting to see what he comes up with when he gets co-opted by mainstream Hollywood over the next years.

All in all, it's an excellent movie, and well worth the praise it's getting in the press. It's dark, disturbing, bloody, and sexy. I'm happy I saw it, and I'm curious to see how many awards it gets nominated for.

Rating: 8/10



Nov. 10th, 2010 02:11 pm
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Megamind: * 3/4 (out of 4)

It wasn't that long ago that the fight in the animated industry was all about Pixar versus Dreamworks, with competing movies mining the same material from different angles. It started when Pixar put out A Bug's Life, and Dreamworks put out Antz in response. A little while later, Pixar released Finding Nemo; Dreamworks put out Shark Tale. And now, in response to Despicable Me, Dreamworks has released Megamind, the latest tale of super villains gone good..., wait, that's not right, is it? Dreamworks released both of of these films. Err... then what's going on here? Is Dreamworks stealing from itself this time?

Certainly, the two movies are different beasts. Megamind starred comedians Will Farrell and Tina Fey; Despicable Me just starred Steve Carell. See? That's two actors instead of one! And Megamind has two kinds of wacky sidekicks - the brain dogs and the fish guy named Minion - compared to Despicable Me depending only on those yellow minion guys... oh, right, and that backup-mad-scientist guy. Well, at least Megamind has a love interest in Tina Fey! There, that's different!

Of course, there's always the biggest difference: Despicable Me was at least clever and interesting, while Megamind was really pretty boring, bordering on outright bad.

One thing should be made clear right off the bat: the 3D in this movie was bad. I noticed it more for how it got in the way of the action than how it benefited the story; even the "throw things at the viewer" bits were poorly done. The 3D trailers look even worse. We need to stop this 3D onslaught now.

Tina Fey was awful. She seemed both uninterested and uninteresting, both in terms of her character and her voice acting. Jonah Hill was worse. And while David Cross should be beyond reproach, here... well, I didn't really want to believe that he was in the movie. Flat, across the board.

The town of Metro City was remarkably un-fleshed-out. Would it really have been that hard to inject some personality into the town or its inhabitants? This includes Tina Fey's character, as well as the, err, three "civilians" that I remember from the whole movie. (How expensive were voice actors, anyway?).

The music selection was quite strange. We're going to sing "Highway To Hell" and not be able to use the word 'Hell'? Whose bright idea was that? And I guess we're using Michael Jackson songs in movies now? Okay, I guess.

There were some good points mixed into the movie, mind. I did like the few scenes that directly called back to superhero movies of old (read: Superman, especially with the Jor-El references); and the evil-villain set pieces were suitably large and impressive. Farrell and Pitt were perfectly adequate in their roles. The story itself, though over-extended, was fairly interesting and covered ground that was interesting to cover for comic book movies and general. And, all told, Megamind (the character) actually made for an interesting super-villain, with inoffensive quirks and something resembling common sense most of the time.

But, overall... bleah. It's lost nearly a half a star as I've put off writing the review; that's never a good sign. At any rate, I'd recommend avoiding it.

* 3/4

I should note that I attended this movie with my 10-year old cousin, and he loved the movie. So I suppose it's not a complete flop.

Also worthy of note is that the trailers for this movie were far worse than the movie itself. The trailers made the movie look appallingly bad; but most of the traps hinted at in the trailers were avoided handily. Mind, they found different traps instead.

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We're hiring. It's position 40436 at, if the above doesn't work for some reason.

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Missed Reviews to Nov 2010

I clearly have fallen behind on writing my movie reviews, compared to what I actually saw over the last few months. Let's at least churn out a few paragraphs.

Get Him To The Greek: * 3/4 (out of 4) (11 Jun 2010)

In a word: boring. I wanted to like this movie, but there was nothing there worth remembering, let alone writing about. This is what slowed me down on writing my reviews, really.

Sex and the City 2: ** 1/4 (out of 4) (16 Jun 2010)

I can't believe this wasn't garbage! Certainly, the rest of the world's reviews were apocalyptic; but I think this was a better movie than the first one, by a fair amount. That doesn't make it a good movie, or anything even nearly on par with the good parts of the show, but it was still fairly fun. At least it felt like the show occasionally, most like that Paris half-a-season.

Toy Story 3: *** 1/2 (out of 4) (19 Jun 2010)

It's still not my favorite Pixar movie; that would be The Incredibles, followed by Wall-E - but it's probably in third place. This movie was heart-warming, timely, and actively scary; I expected the first, but not so much the other two. Seeing it without 3D was kindof silly; seeing it with a whole pile of kids was a great idea.

Predators: ** 1/2 (out of 4) (14 Jul 2010)

I didn't expect to like this movie, but it turned out to be pretty fun. Yes, it's cheesy sci-fi action, with sketchy characters forced to interact and occasionally turning on each other for not-particularly-good reasons; but sometimes that's what you want out of a movie. It felt like a good successor to the original Predator, so I was happy.

Inception: *** 1/4 (out of 4) (23 Jul 2010)

The big non-sequel-but-still-an-"event" movie of the summer held up to its hype quite nicely. The plot was a bit convoluted, but easy to follow and didn't rely on cheats. If the characters were under-explored, they were at lest well-acted. The music did as much towards setting the tension of the movie as the plot itself did. And it was certainly an improvement over The Dark Knight.

Salt: ** (out of 4) (24 Jul 2010)

I'm not sure what I was expecting going into this movie, but I sure didn't find it. Angelina Jolie does a fairly convincing job playing a sleeper agent, but the storyline is convoluted in all of the wrong ways, and doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. I came out of the movie annoyed that I was eventually going to have to see sequels. Not terrible, but not worth the trouble.

The Kids Are All Right: *** 1/4 (out of 4) (22 Aug 2010)

This reminded me of why I like art movies. The acting was wonderful, the story was secondary to the characters and setting, and it did indeed warm my heart (even as it was kindof depressing). I really liked it; my girlfriend loved it; and I look forward to spending more time at the art theatre over the next few weeks, as the good movies start coming out in earnest.

Easy A: ** 3/4 (out of 4) (19 Sep 2010)

I didn't expect much of this movie going in, but it turned out to be a light-but-fun high school comedy that reminded me of Mean Girls more than anything. It also portrayed an overall more-reasonable high school experience than just about anything that's come out over the last few decades - a school with apathetic kids, cliques that are important but not all-powerful, and overall a less intense experience than most movies like to throw out. Also, Emma Stone was wonderful and her parents were better.

Red: ** 1/4 (out of 4) (17 Oct 2010)

And now we're back to a disappointment. It's not that it was a bad movie, overall; it was just kindof shallow, and the end didn't live up to either its opening or premise. Overall, I blame this on one thing: this was supposed to be a Warren Ellis movie, and it started out that way, but it was quickly watered down into something typical and low-key. The story worked well when it was fast-paced, over three issues; but the script would have been better-suited for a 6-8 issue series, and there just wasn't that much material. I'm glad it made money, but I wish it had also been good.



Oct. 31st, 2010 01:17 pm
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The Lorraine is showing Jackass 3D? That's sad. The old owner fought to make sure he didn't have to show Jackass 2, and that was enough to get him national media attention...

That said, I think I'm going to see Harry Potter 7.1 there. I miss that place.

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I just reached a point in Fallout: New Vegas where I can no longer continue on the plot. One of the quests didn't complete properly, and so there's nowhere to go... I was at Level 28, and didn't have that much more straight-up advancing to go anyway, so I'm not sure it was a huge loss.

I really did like the game. I'd like it more if it was less buggy, but hey, Fallout 3 was buggy too and I enjoyed that until I stopped!


Oct. 8th, 2010 04:12 pm
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Robby Villegas died on Saturday, 02 Oct 2010. His memorial page is here.

I wasn't really that close to Robby, truthfully, but that doesn't mean that he didn't impact my life. Robby was one of those people that was always around in the background - talking, offering wry humor, quietly encouraging others to pursue the same hobbies as himself. He was kind, quiet, and present, in a way that was entirely unlike omnipresence but was clear with a moment's reflection.

I met Robby through Belle, a friend of yore that I still can't quite believe is gone. She and Robby had worked together at Wolfram Research, and were (as far as I could tell) fast friends; certainly, he was a fixture at her parties, right up until the end. After that, I mostly saw him at Beer Tuesday, our weekly gathering at The Office (and later Crane Alley), where we would talk about cameras and politics and whatever else came to mind. He would come to my parties every now and then, and we'd run into each other around town; all told, our paths probably crossed every 2-3 weeks while I lived in Champaign, and I'd least glimpse him every time I later visited C-U later. And on top of that, we'd talk back and forth on Facebook every now and then..., yeah, we weren't close. But we knew and respected each other, acknowledging each other as fellow travelers on our path through life.

But he never told me he was in pain.

I first heard that somebody had died through my friend Wendy's Facebook status, posted on Monday. I then found out how that person had died when she posted a link to the News-Gazette article later that day. But it took until Wednesday night to finally find out who had died, and to tie that into Robby's final status message:

    Repeat to self
    "I am like the arrow that springs from the bow.  No hestitation.  
        No doubt.  The path is clear."
    until unaware


I still don't really know what to think. I started out split three ways - 30% sad, 50% confused, 10% angry. Those numbers have evened out over the last couple of days; it turns out that getting to read the note (it's on the memorial site) makes a difference. I still can't quite comprehend his choice, but frankly, it was his choice, and I can respect that. But...

I wish I could have helped. I wish I knew how I could help others from getting into that situation, too. And I wish that there was something more to say than that.

Robby was a good man. I will miss him. And I hope that he was right, that he is better off now than he would have been.

May your afterlife offer all of the sights and lenses that you may need, my friend. Goodbye.

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The Social Network: **** (out of 4)

They had me at 'wget'.

From the time I heard that the movie was in production, my expectations for The Social Network were on the floor. A movie about Facebook? Really? The subject was so inherently flawed, to my mind, that there was essentially nothing that could get through to me and make me interested. Aaron Sorkin dialogue and script? David Fincher directing? Trent Reznor soundtrack? It takes place a few miles down the street? An artsy-and-interesting trailer? Nope; nothing got through. Even when I started hearing good - nay, superlative! - things over the last few weeks, "it's about Facebook" kept me from even wanting to see the movie. And when I decided to see the movie last night, it was with the thought that "I really should see this, if just so I can write the review".

The first few minutes of the movie allowed me to reinforce my prejudices, as I was introduced to an irritating Harvard sophomore - Mark Zuckerberg, played by the guy from Zombieland - being extra-jerky and getting dumped for it. But soon the opening credits started - under-stated, subtle, clearly setting the tone for a movie about that subject near and dear to my heart, academia. And that was followed by some fairly-realistic LiveJournal ranting and the start of a sure-to-be-stupid hacking scene...

...but then Zuckerberg started explaining what he was coding, and where and how he was getting his data. And I was sold, because it made sense, from both a technical and social perspective. The web site he put together was not amazing because it was a technical marvel; it was amazing because it was completely plausible, from the 'wget -r' to get the images to the database work required to put the site together. And as this scene continued, with cuts back to what the rest of the campus was doing, I suddenly that I was watching something amazing: a movie about the idealized college life of my time.

The Social Network is a movie about undergraduate entrepreneurship, with a little bit of technology thrown in for good measure. This is not new to me; I've watched from the side-lines as several of these ventures grew (and some even succeeded), and I even participated in one of those (doomed) ventures. Facebook may have started at Harvard, but it may as well have started from the mind of one of the motivated, genius programmers I knew so well down the hall or across campus at UIUC. And the trick, here and there and everywhere else where this kind of thing comes up, is less the genius itself and more on follow-through (and just a touch of business sense).

I was shocked to see the movie understand this - not just on an academic level, and not just on a personal level, but on every level in between.

From that initial hacking scene, I was sold. I spent the movie looking for the details, because the broad strokes were so strong, and I was generally happy with what I saw - the programming "environments" were good, the commands typed were plausible, the terminal windows showed what they were supposed to show. The classroom environments felt legitimate, as did the corporate offices and the startup work environments. The thrill of fighting with the administration, along with the sense that the administration really just wanted everybody to stay out of their way. The sense of awe from everybody involved when they met the guy with the "successful" startup. The "social strata" feel of the campus. These were all correct, and I loved the movie for that, enough to mostly ignore the few screw-ups left in for dramatic tension (pouring rain in Palo Alto in the summer? Ha!).

Also of note was the simple way that the story was told. The Social Network tells Zuckerberg's story through the lens of a pair of contentious court cases about his company. This view of the story allows the movie to simultaneously be a work of fiction and non-fiction, by removing the "narrator" from the equation and into a theoretically-omniscient-but-not-really category. Through this system, Zuckerberg can be made to look like a horrible person, an anti-social visionary, and a few things in between, all without actually forcing us to believe any of it. Somebody involved believed these things; they may all have elements of truth in them; but they do not necessarily mean that they are true. There is great power in that.

The acting was incredible - seriously, I had no idea that either Eisenberg (as Zuckerberg) was that good of an actor, and I was outright gobsmacked by Timberlake's abilities. The soundtrack was atmopheric. The dialogue was perhaps a bit forced at times, but all towards the wonderful, flowing, vibrant manner that Sorkin is so good at. And the direction was fascinating, with the back-and-forth cuts particularly striking.

I suspect I'm going to be rooting for this movie for Best Picture. I'm curious if I'll see it again, though.


Sidenote - the movie said that Zuckerberg was an emacs user. But was that actually emacs that I saw on the screen, or that I saw him typing? I didn't see any 'Ctrl-XXX' character presses, which sound subtly different than regular typing; but I also didn't really see any 'Esc' key pinky extensions, so it's hard to argue that he was actually using vim. But... still. Was that flamewar left in there?



Sep. 14th, 2010 02:47 pm
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Machete: *** (out of 4)

Machete is a movie based on a trailer, which was shown in between the two halves of the under-rated Grindhouse a few years back. The concept was simple: Danny Trejo kills a lot of people with a machete and gets all the girls. While there was at the time no intention of actually making the movie, the concept was apparently too - err, compelling? - to leave alone. And so, a few years later, the trailer was converted to a movie.

The most compelling part of the movie is, of course, the stuff from the trailer - the chopping, the explosions, Cheech Marin as a priest with a pair of shotguns, the inexplicably naked women. Rodriguez chose his set pieces without the need for an overall story line, and of course those were great fun. What's surprising, though, is that he didn't stop there; the movie had more characters, more story, and a whole lot of controversy tossed on top. And it pretty much worked.

I should note that this controversy was my second favorite part of the movie. It was just so timely! Both the movie's plot and subtext are greatly concerned with border patrols and illegal immigration; given the current rounds of panic over these issues around the Arizona-Mexico border, it was quite fun to see the movie go after this "head on". Sure, nobody involved seems to have actually believed any of the movie's calls for "an illegal immigrant revolution", but since when did that ever stop anybody? The very idea that the world was taking this seriously is hilarious, and it made every joke or scene involving the topic that much funnier.

As for the actual favorite part, that would the simple fact that the movie was that it was better than it had to be. Rodriguez didn't just build a basic movie around his trailer; he built a movie which is best described by that trailer, even after taking out the extra scenes/characters/story. That took skill, and it wasn't done at the expense of the movie itself. To understand, just consider if Independence Day had been as good as its trailer... okay, maybe that's too high of a barrier.

As for the rest? The overall storyline was foolish, the characters were cartoon-like in their motivations, the violence was over-the-top, and the violence was consistent and brutal. I really have no major complaints.


I seriously considered using the two-part scale for my review (how I liked it versus how good the movie actually was), I don't think it's appropriate here. Rodriguez genuinely made a good, fun movie; it was just marketed as schlock.

And, yes, I'm looking forward to Hobo With A Shotgun.

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Robin Hood: ** (out of 4)

The most striking part about Robin Hood is that it wasn't actually that bad a movie. The movie was marketed as Gladiator 2: Sherwood Forest; this managed to offend me personally on several levels (I have a deep-seated hatred for the movie Gladiator; long story), and was almost as much of a turn-off for the rest of America - or, at least, those that aren't completely obsessed with Russell Crowe. But, while I'm not sure I can argue that this was any good, I can at least say that at least got an interesting movie this time.

Or at least we got part of an interesting movie.

This most recent version of the Robin Hood story is a "gritty" take on the legend, where a nobleman stands up to King John in defense of the people of Nottingham. It starts with 'Robin Longstride' participating in the siege of a French castle, and ends with Robin setting up shop in Sherwood Forest as an outlaw. (Mind, this was originally envisioned as being told from the perspective of the Sheriff of Nottingham; but I supposed that Crowe didn't want to be thought of as a "villain".) But in between, the story takes some fairly interesting paths, starting with the siege warfare itself, including some fairly plausible court politics, and headlined by the heading-towards-realistic portrayal of the horrible life of medieval peasants.

The acting was pretty good, all-told; Cate Blanchett was the movie's stand-out actor, portraying Maid Marion as a much more active person than the legends have generally offered to date (though I must admit, the riding-into-battle bit was a bit over the top). The action was well-done, well-choreographed, and seemed to be pretty true to the time frame. The soundtrack, the costumes, the casting - all were pretty good, as good as you could expect. All-in-all, I was pretty happy...

..or at least I was pretty fairly happy with the first half or two-thirds of the movie. But that all got ruined by a few obvious problems. Some of them were simply a bit ill-advised - a lot of time was spent setting up the "child's army" around Nottingham, for instance, which was barely utilized. But when it comes down to it, there were two things that dragged the movie down from a "pretty good" movie into "really pretty bad":

  1. Everything surrounding the Magna Carta. Yes, the timing works out alright; but Robin Hood should not be associated with the nobility asserting their rights over the King.

  2. The final battle and everything associated with it, especially the military tactics. It's bad enough that the French decided to invade at all; it was worse that they chose to land at the cliffs of Dover, and land in World War 2-style personnel deployment vehicles. But, frankly, the English shouldn't have had to even try hard to win that ki
    nd of battle. They had longbows and the high ground! Why would they send any of their troops down to do battle in that kind of situation?

Between those two points, the movie moved from being a fairly interesting, better-than-expected movie into something kindof embarrassing. Ridley Scott may have beaten my expectations, but that doesn't make it a good movie.


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The Expendables (2010): ** 1/2 (out of 4) / * 1/2 (out of 4)

Seriously, Stallone and Schwarzenegger? You win, I'll see your movie - and that's before you toss in the other half dozen major action stars. But I'm not expecting anything besides excessive amounts of explosions and gratuitous violence.

As it turns out, the teaser trailer for The Expendables contained all of the information about the movie that anyone would ever need to know: major action stars mug for the camera, blow things up, occasionally interact with attractive women, and blow more things up, all in the style of a 1980s-style mercenary flick. That's it, that's the whole story. The plot was so bad as to be better off not existing. The characters were... no, they weren't characters, they were basic personas of action stars. The explosions were over-the-top and fairly constant. The violence was gratuitous and borderline racist. And every one of the action stars had their chance to shine/play to their type.

Yes, it was funny. Mostly, that humor was laughing at the absurdity of the action scenes and related dialogue; but there were a few inspired moments here and there, especially the scene with Bruce Willis, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger cursing at each other and generally carrying on silly.

Should you see the movie? Me, I'm happy I went, but I can't say that it was actually worth seeing; merely knowing that the movie existed was probably good enough. The anticipation was more fun than the reality, and honestly, I probably would have enjoyed seeing Scott Pilgrim again.

Still, it's probably worth pulling out the two-scale review. I had a fun time, but by any objective scale it was an awful movie. As is often the case, if you like this kind of thing, you'll be happy to see it; but at least this time you know whether you like this kind of thing.

** 1/2 (out of 4) / * 1/2 (out of 4)

Trailer note - while I can't necessarily fault the studio for knowing their audience, it was still quite a strange collection. The first trailers were for the new Narnia and Harry Potter movies, aiming at the younger crowd; the later trailers were for straight-up horror flicks, including the new Eli Roth flick and the next Saw. Is that what 80s action flick fans have become - torture-porn/fantasy-movie fans? Maybe so...

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Scott Pilgrim vs the World: *** 3/4 (out of 4)

In short: Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a very good movie, especially if you're the kind of person who likes this kind of thing. But I can't figure out how to define what "this kind of thing" is.

There's always something special about going to a midnight movie release. The people in the theatre are willing to wait in line for hours in order to see something first. If comments are made during the movie, it's because they deserved to be made; if there is applause at the end, it's because it was well-deserved applause. Being around that much enthusiasm is a wonderful thing; being a part of that enthusiasm is even better.

And yeah, I was part of the enthusiasm for Scott Pilgrim. It wasn't so much the comic that did it, mind; I've only read each book once, and each took about twenty minutes, or about as much time as they were offered on screen. It wasn't even the atmosphere around the comic - an indie-manga-video-game-inspired book speaks to me even if I don't love the thing, I must admit. No, what inspired me here was my absolute love for all things Edgar Wright. His first two movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are two of my top-ten favorite movies; and Spaced is a wonderful show in its own, special way. So far, Wright has done no wrong; and if he turns his attention to a property that I at least respect, well, who am I to argue?

It was with that baggage that I walked into Scott Pilgrim last night with sky-high expectations. And, while I can't say that all of my hopes were met, I did come out happy and impressed. It was great - but I have no idea who to recommend it to.

A short, not-very-helpful plot summary - Scott Pilgrim is a jobless 22-year-old slacker, living in Toronto, and playing in a band. He unexpectedly falls madly in love with the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers; she (shockingly) agrees to date him, but fails to warn Scott about the dangers, specifically her 7 Evil Exes that he must defeat in order to win her. Thus, the movie shifts from a straight-up manga romance to a Street-Fighter-esque video game - and then back and forth a few times, with some other genres mixed in along the way.

Edgar Wright is no stranger to the "action-romance" genre; Shaun is a romantic zombie flick, and Hot Fuzz is effectively a buddy-cop-romance (unconsummated, but wonderful for playing). What has made this sub-genre work for him has been his effective use of sketched-in-but-distinct characters. Yes, at least one character is given a proper story arc (Scott); and a few others get fuller arcs in the comic (Knives, Ramona, Envy, arguably Gideon). But most of the characters are just barely there; we're told names and ages, and most of them get a few lines, but otherwise there's not much depth there. That turns out not to matter; by the end of the movie, I wanted to know more about these people. Kim and Wallace, in particular, stood out as characters that could carry a movie on their own, and this without actually knowing a thing about them.

How about those major characters? Scott is, indeed, an ass; and in that I believe Michael Cera was well-chosen, because it's such a contrast to his normal roles. Ramona is shallow, but that's okay, given that this movie is about Scott's crush on the distant girl; and she is positively haunting. And Knives - oh, Knives! This is a 17-year-old girl growing up through heartbreak, and she shows it. Besides the idea that she's an interesting character (and both nuanced and potentially real, an interesting feat), she's also incredibly well acted and charming. The actress that plays her will be the breakout actor of the movie, if there is any justice. And... well, honestly, that's about it. Everybody else is secondary, if wonderful in their secondariness.

(I suppose there is arguably another character - Toronto, the snowy wasteland of young adults, clubs, movie shoots, and assorted Canadian-ness. It's an interesting mix between a mostly-unknown major city and a dark, underpopulated wilderness; and of course it's full of fighting and not-exactly-bright colors and parties and over-the-top, out-of-nowhere, video-game-y action. It's not a showy setting, but it's sketched together as well as any of the secondary characters; and it clearly has its own gravity in the world, with characters escaping from its grasp only to return years later. But, as with most cities-as-character discussions, the metaphor can only be stretched so far. Suffice it to say that it's interesting.)

Another thing that makes Scott Pilgrim distinct, and possibly revolutionary, is its use of background CGI. The effects are lifted straight from the comic book, with the door bell exclaiming "DING DONG" in bright letters on the screen, or movement lines flying from a strumming guitar. Of course, these are also building blocks of the video-game inspired world that the movie lives in; it's not enough that these elements are on screen for us to see, but the characters themselves comment on them too (even if they are perfectly happy to see people jumping dozens of feet into the air and hordes of enemies burst into coins on their death). But even while the viewer's attention is explicitly drawn to this visual style, it soon becomes a simple part of the background, and later subsumed into the larger story. It starts a little ostentatious, and ends up shockingly subtle; all in all, it just works at helping to portray the world. I hope this, if anything, is copied.

Finally, of course, there are the action scenes, and I was happy to see that these were just plain fun. I don't know that they're going to hold up very well on repeat viewings (except in allowing time to look at the small details of the CGI), but for a first viewing, it was a treat. Yes, the choreography is a bit ludicrous, and the stunt-doubles more obvious than usual; but so what? It captured the style of the comic (and its genre) perfectly, and it made me grin more often than not.

The audience loved the movie, cheering for both the opening Universal logo and for the ending credits. I have to say that I was as happy as them. I'm sure I'll keep picking at the movie over time, and I'm not likely to go out and see it again this weekend; but for now, this was a great movie experience, and something that should be supported.

*** 3/4

A few side-notes:

  • It's really hard to not talk about the set pieces in great detail, because they're so good. The fights are distinct and interesting, and they're all full of blink-or-you'll-miss-it cutenesses.

  • The video game version of Scott Pilgrim came out earlier this week for Playstation 3, and it's wonderful. Sure, it's pretty short and fairly shallow, but it feels like a well-written novelization of the movie. It plays like River City Ransom; the soundtrack consists of remarkably high-quality chip-tunes; and the video-game references are turned all the way up to something that I just love to see. It's fluffy, but really fun, and it's a wonderful companion piece, especially in how it allows us to see more of the set pieces I mentioned above. Plus, we got the cyborg drummer in there! Yay!

  • The plot of the movie and the plot of the graphic novels upon which the movie is based are, while similar on th
    eir face, really quite different. The main difference is in time scale; the movie is told over a few days, while the book takes months or years to reach its conclusion. The main effect of this change is in Scott's relationship with Ramona; in the book there is a sense of a relationship building up over time, while in the movie it's all about the immediate "crush" phase of the relationship. This is important.)

  • Based on the trailer showing before the movie, the marketing team around this movie really had no idea what kind of movie they were showing. There was no Tron trailer; instead we got romantic comedies, the new utterly-horrible-looking M Night Shyamalan movie, and Jackass 3D. This surprises me, because the television and other media marketing seemed to be so on-target (read: me).

  • Early in the movie, a Nintendo DS Lite was shown being played without a cartridge in its main slot. After hemming and hawing for a few seconds, I was delighted to see that this was because they were playing a specific Gameboy Advance game in the other slot. The creators were paying attention. This made me happy.

  • I have still not figured out who Ramona Flowers reminds me of in real life. I feel like I should be able to point at a friend and say "you're Ramona!", but I just haven't worked it out; and that tip-of-my-tongue longing for a name is likely to eat at me for weeks.



Jul. 25th, 2010 01:15 pm
tskirvin: (Default)
My friend Belle Drake died six years ago today. She was a good friend, and I still miss her and cherish her memory. One thing that's not in that post: the UIUC Vet School has a Memorial Fund set aside for Belle, which starting next year is going to start awarding an annual $500 scholarship each spring to Veterinary students next year. The fund has received about $10,000 to date, and needs $25,000 to be truly permanent. If you want to donate to the cause (I've already done so once, and really need to donate some more), I believe you start here, and indicate "Belle Drake Memorial Fund" in the "where to direct donation" box. But, honestly, I don't know that all that well... maybe somebody else will chime in.
tskirvin: (Default)
Tulip actually hit a squirrel today! And she was in the house at the time, too. The squirrel was climbing on the screen of the patio door; as soon as the cats saw this, they both went over and started watching from inches away. Jesse took a dive at the squirrel, but it was behind the glass door at that point; but Tulip waited from slightly further away, and waited until the squirrel was in just the right place. Finally, she pounced! - and, surprisingly, actually hit the squirrel! The squirrel was knocked to the ground, and Tulip tried (in vain) to pursue. Go Tulip!
tskirvin: (Default)

Despicable Me: ** 1/2 (out of 4)

The trailers of Despicable Me did little to inspire me with confidence. Yes, I like Steve Carell, and yes, those little yellow minion things were pretty cute; but the plot described by the trailers didn't seem very deep or interesting, and it all reminded me a bit too much of Shrek crossed with Inspector Clouseau. Still, after several weeks of nothing good to see (what, like I was supposed to see Twilight 3?), I had to see something. And so I decided to give Despicable Me a shot.

I can't say that I was blown away, but I was at least not disappointed.

Despicable Me is a nice, light, fluffy movie about a professional super- villain - emphasis on the "professional" - named Dru. Dru looks like the Penguin and has the managerial skills of... well, an archetypical Very Good Manager. He doesn't want to hurt anybody; he just wants to do cool (if evil) things (and maybe make a young child cry every now and then). He primarily does evil deeds in order to earn the money in order to do more evil things; and in the mean time, he employs a small army of yellow minions, who he knows by name and cares about individually, as well as a top-notch mad scientist.

It's ludicrous, of course, but it's played fairly straight; and that actually turns out to be the main reason that the movie was fun to watch.

The actual plot of the movie connects one of his schemes with his adoption of three young girls. This doesn't turn out to be a very deep or interesting story; at best, it strings together a bunch of cute, fairly pointless scenes that hint at a world more evil than Dru could make, but the movie sees no reason to explore this. This turns out okay; the movie's multiple levels of cuteness turn out to make up for quite a bit.

But really, it was the little minions that made the movie. They looked amusing in the trailers, sure; but given that they were interchangeable automatons, it was interesting to actually enjoy watching them on screen. They were cute, they were intelligent, and they were a little bit evil; but mostly, they looked like corporate employees that were actually having a good time. It worked for me. I look forward to seeing these characters again.

I was pretty fond of the animation, or at least was never particularly bothered by it. The art was stylized and smooth, but not particularly played for laughs in and of itself; and this was a good thing. Even the 3D was acceptable; I'm not sure that it really added a lot, but it didn't hurt, and I didn't feel exploited for having paid for it.

All of that said, I do recognize that I used words and phrases like "acceptable" and "not disappointed" a lot in this review. This movie was not great, but it was watchable and relatively fun. It may not be a movie that I'd be excited to go out and see again, but I'm happy enough that I saw it. If more kid's movies were like this, the world would be slightly more pleasant.

I went in with low expectations, and these expectations were surpassed. This still ends up with an average movie; but sometimes, average is fine.

** 1/2

In other news, the trailers for the other movies were horrible! Why are we subjecting the country's children to garbage like Alpha and Omega, Cats vs Dogs 2, or Smurfs? Even the Megamind trailer is pretty bad, though I suspect I'll at least see that one. sigh There's a reason I'm happy that this movie was average...



Jun. 18th, 2010 03:56 pm
tskirvin: (Default)
Okay, I think it's time to take the plunge and start looking at another journal. I still like the general LJ interface... I'm just not enjoying the lack of system updates. Or politics. The importing didn't work that well either, but, well, it's probably not *that* horrible to start over anyway. So, let's see how this goes.
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