Archive | October, 2010

Let Me In

28 Oct

Title: Let Me In
Year: 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Matt Reeves, based on the screenplay and novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Elias Koteas
MPAA Rating: R, strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation
Runtime: 116 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Talk about a film that came in with grand personal expectations. Let Me In is, of course, the American version of the Swedish masterpiece Let the Right One In, which has to be one of the most original films I saw in all of the past decade,  and thus I was kind of scared to see how this one would do, what with the track record for remakes not being that great at all.

However once the pieces for this one started coming together I was given a glimmer of hope. Matt Reeves, the director, had only done Cloverfield prior to this one, but that one was good and that meant he had J.J. Abrams’ seal of approval which always means a lot. And then the two young stars came together, Chloë Moretz, fresh off her star-making turn in the amazing Kick-Ass, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who had been terrific last year in The Road. So yes, I was happy about how this one shaped up, but I was still very cautious.

As for the final verdict: This one was amazing. It wasn’t as masterful as the original, but it really wasn’t that far off. Here’s the thing, this is a film that obviously took a lot from its source material, and everything that made the first one so damn special is still there, but it didn’t take too much to make it look like a straight-up copy, this one’s still a pretty wonderful film on its own right, and will definitely go down as one of my favorite remakes in recent memory. This film oozes with respect for its source material, but is still its own film, standing on its own two legs, and delivering a beautiful end result.

Like the original one, it offers a poetically beautiful and always haunting look at the life of a vampire. And, for those of us who have seen and adore the original one (and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this now and go buy it), we know that this outlook doesn’t have any super-fast kinky sex scenes à la True Blood, nor any girly sparkly vampires à la Twilight. Instead it’s a much more realistic outlook, an outlook that knows things are much more brutal, much more desperate for the vampires. They need blood, they crave it, they literally can’t live without it. There’s no vegetarian diet like in Twilight or The Vampire Diaries, no drink replacement like in True Blood. There’s just blood, and the tremendous need they have for it.

Mr. Reeves is terrific at directing this one, because you can tell the guy has seen the original time and time again and has a tremendous amount of admiration for it, the tonality of it all is the same, the approach to the story is pretty darn similar, and the effect it has on us as an audience is just as effective. A part of me would like to have seen Let Me In without knowing how amazing the original was, to judge it just by itself, but another part of me loves having seen the original so many times, because I can tell where the differences are, how much it has been inspired by it, and how different in its sameness it is. And, ultimately, how damn good it is.

The story is basically the same, as it should be because it’s amazing. There’s a prepubescent boy, who’s lonely in a lonely town, who’s bullied at school and has no friends. And then there’s a girl, who moves to that town with her father and who instantly takes a liking to the boy, even though she first told him they could never be friends.

Chloë Moretz is amazing as Abby, she’s the vampire, obviously, who starts feeling protective of the boy, Owen. She’s amazing because, like pretty much every review of Kick-Ass said about her, she seems wise beyond her years, and that’s something Abby needs, she’s a vampire, she’s been around for quite a while, and even though physically she’s the same age as Owen, you see how she treats him like she’s the adult of the relationship, always wanting to protect him.

Chloë Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both phenomenal in this one, I really really loved their performances and thought they were exactly what they were supposed to be, and considering the performances they were drawing from, that’s no small task, they were both really top-notch. Also incredible was Richard Jenkins, one of the better character actors working today and who has an incredible range, from Step Brothers to Six Feet Under to his Oscar-nominated role in The Visitor, the guy is a very versatile actor, and in this one he plays Abby’s “protector”, the adult human companion that takes care of her.

There are very similar events, very similar shots, very similar colors in both versions. But this version offers a couple of new things, and some of them add nicely to the overall effect of the film, because, as I said, this would stand just as nicely on its own, not being compared to the original one. It’s not a worse film, it’s just different while being the same, and it’s beautiful, too, it’s everything it should be, and conveys the message from the original in a very adequate way. This is a real “vampire movie”, the love between Abby and Owen a real “vampire love”, there are no Cullen’s or Salvatore’s in here, no need for werewolves, just a need for a beautifully told love story that’s both more innocent and infinitely more compelling.

I say it’s different because, as I said, there are no blood-spilling sex scenes in here, it’s a love between two children, who love each other in their own different types of loneliness, and it seriously gets to you as an audience member. We feel for Owen, we get a lot of insight into him, we have Mr. Reeves to thank for that, and we know how ignored and alone he feels, how much shit is going on his mind before Abby arrives.

There are quite a lot of creepy scenes in this one, those of you who have seen the original will obviously recognize some of them, and the need for them, and the significance of them are all handled perfectly. Mr. Reeves is a very clever director, he knows what to use, what to do with these moments, what to show us and what to let us think for ourselves, he does this using some beautifully-shot takes with which he creates a terrific mood for the film, aided by a fantastic score by the great Michael Giacchino.

Sweden might have been swapped with New Mexico, but everything else is the same, the effect of the film, the tone, the performances, the perfection of it all. As I said, the original to me is the better film, but this one does enough things differently to no longer need that comparison and just be called by what it is: a beautiful film, that’s amazing in all the right ways and that will surely stay with you. And that’s really all it could have ever hoped to be, and all we ever could have wanted it to be, too.

Grade: A

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Case 39

27 Oct

Title: Case 39
Year: 2010
Director: Christian Alvart
Writer: Ray Wright
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper
MPAA Rating: R, violence and terror including disturbing images
Runtime: 109 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%

 

Case 39 was long-delayed, and I don’t think that’s ever a good sign. Originally intended for release in August 2008, the film was released  just last year in some European territories, earlier this year in Latin America, and only about a month ago, on October 1st, in America. So yeah, this is a film that got completed three years ago and is just getting its release, and as I said, that’s never a good sign. So, by these standards, I went into it being rather cautious, and rightfully so.

I say rightfully so because Case 39 was far from good, the plot was totally uninspired and, even worse, the scares were nowhere to be found. And, to be perfectly honest, Renée Zellweger really needs to do something good, and do it now, if she wants to regain some of the credibility she had as a very good and very serious actress, the woman has done nothing decent since Cinderella Man, and that was all of five years ago.

There is one bearable thing, though, and this is maybe one of the two reasons why I’m not going all out and failing it (a bit more on the second reason further down), and that’s that the director, Christian Alvart. I won’t go ahead and say that Mr. Alvart is a good director, because this isn’t a good film and I haven’t seen any other one of his films, but he has a very distinct visual style, this one looking quite retro at times, and I do appreciate a director that at least has a unique vision, beats the many who make mediocre films like this one that look the same.

Anyways, as for the plot, this one is another addition to the demonic-child canon. Ms. Zellweger plays this sort of idealistic social worker, who decides to save a child from a very abusive environment and take her into her own home, only to find out that the child isn’t as innocent as she first though. Jodelle Ferland plays the ten-year-old Lilith, and she’s the other reason why I liked this one, she’s seriously effective in the role, a role for which Chloë Moretz and Isabelle Fuhrman were also considered. But then again those two also ended up doing their not-so-innocent-children films, Isabelle Fuhrman went on to make last year’s Orphan and Chloë Moretz, after rocking in Kick-Ass went on to do Let Me In, which I have insanely high hopes for and will hopefully be the next film I get to see.

Even though I said Ms. Zellweger wasn’t good in this one, and is in one helluva long rough patch, it has to be said that she really isn’t horrible either. It’s just that her role didn’t demand anything good from her because the film stuck to the same overused conventions these films have employed for decades. And so she played the well-meaning Emily with the same set of skills that so many average actresses have displayed before her, and this is a woman that we know can be terrifically good, and even though she hasn’t been at the top of her game for a half a decade, it still pains you to see her be as confined as she is in this one.

All in all Case 39 is a huge disappointment. Ray Wright, who also wrote this year’s far better scarefest The Crazies, started up by setting this one up really nicely, and then it became more and more unoriginal and predictable, getting to the point where you as an audience member are infinitely smarter than every single character on screen. In horror flicks you are always smarter than some, or even many of the characters, but there’s always at least one person who you think is being intelligent, or at the very least rational, about the situation, but not in Case 39, everyone here is rather dumb, and it frustrates you. And though Ms. Zellweger tries hard to make Emily seem real and make us feel for her, she simply doesn’t have the material to make it all work out for her, and we are left with a really mediocre film, that would have been better off as straight-to-DVD.

Grade: C

Buried

26 Oct

Title: Buried
Year: 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Writer: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ivana Miño, Anne Lockhart, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Erik Palladino, Heath Centazzo, Joe Guarneri, Warner Loughlin, José Luis García
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violent content
Runtime: 95 min
Major Awards: 1 NBR Award
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%

Buried is a dam good film and, pending my viewing of the upcoming 127 Hours, is the most claustrophobic film of the year, just a tremendous film experience I will be recommending to everyone. The film starts with Paul Conroy, a truck driver who suddenly wakes up in a coffin, with nothing but a cellphone and a zippo lighter. And it takes it from there, actually getting an amazing amount of seriously riveting drama out of its premise and, most of all, getting out of Ryan Reynolds a performance that’s unbelievably good.

I think everyone has thought about how it would feel like to be buried alive. I personally have, it’s thought that makes everyone shudder and try to think about something else. The scenario already embedded into modern pop culture by Quentin Tarantino, first in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 and a year later in the fifth season finale of CSI which he wrote and directed that was just terrific. It has to be one of the most horrible situations one can imagine, and Buried adds to that notion.

Just imagine being Paul Conroy, a regular guy, a truck driver working in Iraq, and waking up in a dark place, feeling around until you find a lighter, and when you turn it on realizing you’re in a coffin. And after using the phone, realizing that you’re being held hostage and that your captors want money from your government for your release. What’s amazing about Buried is that you connect with Paul so much that you kind of get to be one with him, get to think what he thinks, get frustrated with him, it’s seriously an amazing effect to have when watching a movie, and the kudos for that go to Mr. Reynolds.

And another whole lot of kudos have to be given to the director, the Spaniard Rodrigo Cortés, and to the writer, Chris Sparling, because they are the ones that gave Ryan Reynolds the material he works with. They are the ones that crafted this intense ride we’re on so damn well, and it’s amazing that the whole hour and a half we’re inside that coffin with Paul, we don’t get to see the faces of the 911 operators he calls, of his wife, of no one, it’s just us being Paul, only getting to hear their voices, further deepening our connection to him. We, like him, are trying to picture the faces at the other end, and, like him, we are getting more and more desperate as the time goes by, thinking about just how long the oxygen inside the coffin will last.

Buried is, simply put, a very thrilling film, claustrophobic pretty much throughout its entirety, but never boring, we never think about getting out of that coffin to see what’s going on outside, we just want him to go through it alive. I won’t go ahead and spoil the stuff that happens inside that coffin, the events with which Mr. Cortés fills the hour and a half are all very good, and they’re all very real, and we get to go through it with Mr. Reynolds, who, though always charismatic, I had never really thought of as an especially good actor until I saw his performance in this one. His is a performance that works tremendously, he won’t get an Academy Award nomination for it, but you have to give him props for working it like he did, this is a very limited performance because the guy was stuck in a coffin, but he delivers, the performance is exactly what it should be.

I thought the script was wonderful, Mr. Sparling, who so far had only done a short and a small film I haven’t seen, definitely has the goods to be a sought after writer in the industry. His next film will be called ATM, directed by David Brooks in his feature-length debut, and will be about three co-workers who go to an ATM late at night and become trapped by an unknown man, so yeah, it seems like really tight spaces are the specialty of this guy. Alice Eve from She’s Out of My League, Josh Peck from The Wackness and Brian Geraghty from The Hurt Locker are currently filming that one.

As for Mr. Cortés, this is also his first big break, previously having done only shorts and a small film in his native Spain. But the guy already has his next project in line, with a 2012 release date, and it’s one I’m interested in, called Red Lights the flick is to be a psychological thriller starring Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver, so count me very much in.

What I mean by this is that this is a very skilled group of people, pretty much all having their first shot at something this big. And that great teamwork shows, Ryan Reynolds in his best performance to date giving life to a wonderful script under the direction of a guy that certainly knows what he’s doing and has a great future in front of him. Not to mention that the cinematography, by Eduard Grau who worked on last year’s remarkable A Single Man, is also terribly effective, he, much like Mr. Reynolds, did the most out of what he had to work with, the shadows cast by the lighter, the light from the cellphone, it all just works so damn well.

Buried is a helluva film, I personally loved it, it’s a film that gets one fully involved as an audience member, a film that boasts in Ryan Reynolds an actor giving the perfect performance this role required, and in Rodrigo Cortés a filmmaker that certainly knew how to handle this and make the hour and a half pass by really easily. And that’s no small feat considering those ninety-five minutes were spent inside a coffin, but the guy worked it, he had seven different coffins made to get different camera angles, and it all works beautifully thanks to some sharp editing work done by Mr. Cortés himself. Simply put, this is a work well done through and through.

Grade: A-

You Again

22 Oct

Title: You Again
Year: 2010
Director: Andy Fickman
Writer: Moe Jelline
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Betty White
MPAA Rating: PG, brief mild language and rude behavior
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%

You Again is exactly what we should say to this film when we see it, it’s just another very typical, very mediocre light comedy. There’s not a single shot, not a single line, not a single second in this film that isn’t entirely, and painfully, predictable. That being said, I won’t fail this film, because it’s harmless, it sucks, yes, but it’s not a film that you’ll leave the theatre angry that you wasted time and money seeing it, you’ll probably think that time and money could have been used on more worthwhile things, but you won’t be angry about it.

But we just know these films too much by now, we know what will happen at every turn it takes, we know how if there’s a possibility of love it’ll all go downhill at the end of the second act and we’ll go through the third act of the couple apart only to always have them reunite at the end, that’s how it goes, we know this schtick by heart. And, personally, I don’t care for it at all unless it’s done extremely well, which pretty much never happens. For this to be done extremely well you need good characters, but, as is the case with the horrible majority of these films, the characters in You Again are seriously one-dimensional.

Here’s the basic plot outline: We have Kristen Bell’s character who in high school was bullied by Odette Yustman’s character and, oh coincidence, we have the mother of one and the aunt of the other who went through the exact same situation when they were in high school together, and I probably need to taell you nothing more about how this will all play out from here. And we also have Betty White as Kristen Bell’s grandmother. Here’s the thing about Betty White, we all love her, but if we’re on the topic of predictability, Betty White has grown into one predictable act as of late. But, really, who cares, she’s the most charming woman there can be, and she’s, along with Sigourney Weaver, the best thing about this film, which really isn’t saying that much.

So yes, this is a film about women who held on to stupid grudges for unbelievable amounts of time and then try and go out at each other in a series of lame slaptick-ish comedy bits that ultimately suck. Because it really is a movie filled with lame attempts to try and crack a good joke, which it basically never does, and, what’s worse, is that every single one of these attempts is at the expense of women, which is quite sad because this is a film for women, written by a woman and that stars five really cool ladies. And it still makes women seem spiteful and cruel and insecure, and it came as a shock that these girls were game for that. Plus, I’ll never buy Sigourney Weaver being any one of those things, I mean, she’s Ellen fuckin’ Ripley for god’s sake.

And that’s the film’s saving grace, the cast, they elevate this one to a point not remotely close to decent, but at least a bit above horrible. The are a couple of moments between Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis that are especially cool and give this film a couple of moments that make it feel quite passable. Same goes for Kristen Bell and Odette Yustman, two beautiful ladies I’m a fan of, Ms. Bell from her days in Veronica Mars, which I’m a diehard fan of, and Ms. Yustman after she got her big break with 2008’s Cloverfield.

But yes, overall, You Again is just a very lame revenge comedy, a very shallow film which you can predict from beginning to end without a single error. That’s the way it is, but as I said before, it’s harmless, you won’t hate, you just won’t care for it at all. But then again, maybe that’s worse.

Grade: C-

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

22 Oct

Title: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Year: 2010
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach
MPAA Rating: PG-13, brief strong language and thematic elements
Runtime: 133 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%

I found myself liking Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the sequel to 1987’s highly praised and influential Wall Street. This wasn’t as great a film as that one was, not by a mile, and Michael Douglas, reprising his role from the first one, though really good in this one wasn’t as good as he was then, when he won an Oscar for his performance as Gordon Gekko. But I liked this sequel quite a lot, maybe it’s because, as sequels go, this one’s really good, maybe it’s just because I can’t see a fault in any film that features the lovely Carey Mulligan, I don’t know, but I liked it.

Oliver Stone is back in the director’s seat for this one, and much like he did back in the late-eighties he tackles a very relevant topic, when the global economy is shaken up by recent events, and he still has Michael Douglas to anchor the film. And even though, as I said, Mr. Douglas isn’t as good as he first was playing Gordon Gekko, that’s mostly because that’s virtually impossible, because he was just too damn good in that first outing, but he’s still terrific in this one, and shows that, at age 66 and battling an advanced throat cancer, the man is still delivering great performances like this one, and the one he gave earlier in the year in the excellent Solitary Man, for which I think he should be lobbied for an Oscar nomination.

Gordon Gekko in that first film became the prime example of the greedy Wall Street financial trading mastermind, getting himself millions while not caring for the rest of the economy so long as his pockets were full. When Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens he’s leaving prison, and so we embark on a new story with new characters. And the story we get is quite fun and unlike so many Oliver Stone films, isn’t just about the political statements it can make. I mean, sure, there are some social commentaries in the film, but considering this is an Oliver Stone film, I was surprised at how calmed down it was, I guess I go into all his films thinking they’ll be more charged with opinions. And while there were indeed times in which I wanted the angry Oliver Stone back, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, instead, is just a solid and entertaining film.

Gordon Gekko seems to be sorry for what he did, he’s a lecturer at a business school and seems to be willing to turn his life back around after his stint in prison. But then he meets a young trader named Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf. Jake is terribly ambitious, is already doing well, and in him Gekko sees the opportunity to get back into the game. Not only into the game of Wall Street, but into the game of regaining a relationship with his daughter, Winnie, the character of the always amazing Ms. Mulligan.

Jake, you see, is dating Winnie, and wants to marry Winnie. And Winnie hasn’t spoken to her father in years, not really forgiving in for what greed made out of him. The huge crush I have on Ms. Mulligan aside, she’s an actress that honestly brings something incredible to everything she’s in, she has an amazing screen presence, and that feels in this one too, Winnie Gekko is a polarizing character. the romantic subplot isn’t really that interesting on the surface of it all, but it gets interesting when you think about why she’s dating a trader, when she hates her father precisely because he was one.

Shia LaBeouf isn’t an actor I particularly like, he’s was good in Disturbia but that’s about it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to really like this film because I don’t really like him, but in the company of Mr. Douglas and Ms. Mulligan the guy’s definitely bearable, and thank goodness for that, because this is a film that has a lot to do with his character. You see, his father figure, and head of the trading house he works at, Louis Zabel, commits suicide after his firm goes under. Now, the firm goes under because the bad guy of the movie, played by Josh Brolin who had previously collaborated with Mr. Stone in W, has been spreading rumors about the stability, or lack thereof, of the firm, and of course those rumors, in this already crumbling economic climate, won’t result in anything good.

Jake wants to humiliate Mr. Brolin’s character, Bretton James, wants him to pay for leading his father figure to suicide. He also wants to impress Winnie and make himself some money in the process. And he figures he can somehow get all those three things in one fell swoop, and, it stands to reason, that as one mentor leaves the picture, a new one must come in. And of course that new one is Gordon Gekko.

Mr. Stone has crafted a good film, a film I genuinely liked, one that has Michael Douglas doing wonders in a role he already did wonders in over two decades ago, but doing a different sort of wonders, because his approach to Gordon Gekko, though just as effective, is completely different, which is obvious considering just how much his character has gone through since that first film. And one that offers a bunch of other fine performances, Ms. Mulligan, as I said, is perfect in her role. As is Mr. Brolin, who even though he also made this year’s abysmal Jonah Hex is truly one of the more consistent actors working nowadays. The great Frank Langella, who has a short role as Louis Zabel, completely knocks it out of that park, much like he usually does with every role he’s given, and Susan Sarandon also appears in this one, as Jacob’s mother, and she’s another scene-stealer.

I said this was a restrained Oliver Stone. And it is, but you will leave Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps kind of hoping the guy would have been a bit less merciful, hoping he would have taken stabs at the economy like we know he can. Because that’s fun to see, and this is a film that does such a phenomenal job at depicting the world of traders that an angry Oliver Stone would have been great. But nevertheless, this is still a pretty damn good flick, and we have Ms. Mulligan’s character to do plenty of the angry commentary on the industry, blaming it for what it did to her father, and blaming it for what it seems to be doing to Jake.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is ultimately a very smart film because it knows its environment so well, and one that has Michael Douglas returning in top-form to his most iconic role, and that has a slew of new characters that move this one forward. It kinda loses itself after it takes the first hour to set everything really nicely for us, after that first hour it’s just a little too loose, and never really finds a great level of cohesion. But cohessive or not, this is still a very entertaining two-hour-plus ride, and whether you loved the first one or haven’t even seen it yet you should go check it out.

Grade: B+

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

21 Oct

Title: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Year: 2010
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novels by Kathryn Lasky
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Barclay, Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish
MPAA Rating: PG, some sequences of scary action
Runtime: 90 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%

I went into Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole not really knowing how to adjust my expectations. This was an animated PG-rated film from a guy who so far had only made R-rated spectacles, two being adaptations of very adult-oriented and cult-favorite graphic novels, and the other being a terrific zombie flick. And now here he was, switching the graphic novels for a series of kid-oriented books, and trading in the flesh-eating undead for owls. Yes, I was baffled by this, but nevertheless, this is Zack Snyder we’re talking about, and his Dawn of the Dead remake was outstanding, 300 was deliciously relentless, and Watchmen was, whether you loved it or hated it, a really faithful adaptation of its source material and one that was treated with a helluva lot of passion, something which made me love the film, moreso on the director’s cut than on the theatrical, which is saying something considering the expectations I had for it were as big as they’ve been for any film.

So yes, here I was, throwing myself at this animated owl film directed by the guy who directed 300 with my eyes closed, because I’ve learned to trust this guy, I’ve learned to really respect his work, which is why I’m quite okay about him being the chosen director to reboot the Superman franchise. But, back to the film, it ended up actually being quite okay, really. It’s nowhere close to being as good as any of the other films the guy has made previous to this one, but it was a good experience. Visually, at the very least, it was positively stunning, and even though the story wasn’t amazing, I did like the fact that this was a kid-oriented film with a decidedly darker tone.

But that was also the problem, you see, not because it was too dark, because it really wasn’t, but because it seemed as though Mr. Snyder and his crew had to restrain themselves quite a bit not to go too overboard on the darkness of the film and lose their PG-rating, not surprising considering the guy’s track record. But yes, that was, to me, what did them in and prevented them from churning out a spectacular film, the fact that they tried to make it too much for kids. I mean, yes, the movie is ideally targeted at kids, but the result we got was one that will still, I imagine, alienate some of the younger audience as it is, and if they were willing to take that risk, they might as well should have gone all out and go for it, though I guess they would have needed a PG-13 rating for that, and I’m guessing the studio wouldn’t allow that.

But nevertheless, I thought this was a good animated flick. As I said, the animation itself is pretty darn awesome, and the 3-D is actually cool in it and goes to aid the story-telling and isn’t just a cheap gimmick, which is something that, in today’s all-about-the-money industry, is easier said than done. But yeah, this one’s been referred to in articles I’ve read as a kind of Lord of the Rings with owls, and I guess there’s some accuracy in that statement, sure, there’s less blood and more feathers, but the tale isn’t a light one, and the battles are pretty damn exciting to watch, something you can always expect from Mr. Snyder.

My main problem with the film, as I said above, is the fact that it seemingly could never find the right balance between the dark tones of its story and the lightness it seemingly was required to fulfill. That struggle between the somber and dense stuff and the light and fun stuff ended up preventing the film from reaching deep into the emotional sockets of the story, and unfortunately for them, in today’s world of animation we expect to have quite a lot of emotional connection to the characters and the story, you can blame the masters at Pixar for that.

As for the story, we have Kludd and Soren, a pair of owl brothers who are kidnapped as kids when their parents were off getting some food for them. You see, the Pure Ones, the group of the most powerful owls there are, want to make an army of the more common barn owls so that they can dominate the world. Our journey is with Soren, as he tries to find the mythical and legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole he presumes will bring salvation to his kind, as he grows up in the process, and as he sees his brother being lured into the dark side.

This is a pretty epic story in scale, and the voice talent recruited to give life to the owls is spot-on for the most part, and Mr. Snyder, who we all know can craft some of the niftiest action sequences on a green-screen now has an entire animation landscape to fill with whatever he desires, and so it stands to reason the action sequences in this one are also quite cool to watch, and they are, with Mr. Snyder’s now trademark slow-motion sequences included.

In the end I will always point out the same problem I have pointed out a couple of times here when people ask me what I thought about Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. I’ll say that this would have been, ideally, a rather dark-ish PG-13 film, that would have benefitted tremendously from displaying the moral issues at hand and emotional darkness in such a canvas, but that was, so as to satisfy it’s intended audience, dialed down to a PG rating, and dialed down to become a really fun and visually stunning film, but not much more than that, even though it easily could have been.

Grade: B

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

20 Oct

Title: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Year: 2010
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts
MPAA Rating: R, some language
Runtime: 98 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is, certainly, minor Woody Allen, and considering the unbelievable cast he had for this one it could have been amazing, but still, frame-for-frame this is still undeniably Woody, and it is a very amusing film at times, and you can tell the guy is still relentlessly clever in his writing, but at times this is a film that simply wears you out. This is more like what Whatever Works was in terms of quality, and not so much like the masterful Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Match Point.

Woody does come back to London for this one, where he’s made Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream in the past five years. And there we meet Helena, who has just been left by her husband, Alfie, for a much younger woman, played by Lucy Punch. Gemma Jones plays Helena, and plays her wonderfully it has to be said, and Helena, in an attempt to find some sort of comfort after her husband leaves, decides she wants to go see a medium to help her clarify the future, and said medium tells her she’ll soon meet a man.

We also have Sally and Roy, the characters of Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. Sally is Helena’s daughter and Roy is her husband, who had one hit as a novelist and since then has been living off her money and blatantly blaming Sally for the writer’s block he can’t seem to shake off. And from them we get to meet Greg, Sally’s boss who’s played by Antonio Banders and with whom she shares looks that carry on for a bit too long. And we also have Dia, the woman who lives in the apartment overlooking Roy’s window, who’s played by Freida Pinto in her first post-Slumdog Millionaire role, and with whom, you guessed it, he shares rather long looks with.

Woody Allen is a master of handling this many characters successfully, but it doesn’t work as good as it has in the past in this one. Yes, the conversations between the characters are really clever and amusing, but that’s a given from Mr. Allen, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from him by now, this one just doesn’t offer anything new, it’s a movie in which characters look for happiness and love, and, while he messes with the lives of his characters as he usually does, the results are underwhelming, to be completely honest.

By underwhelming I don’t mean bad, not at all, I’ll end up giving this one a rather good grade, but I wanted more, I wanted something in the vein of Match Point, and to be frank I expected something like that because of the cast. But unfortunately Mr. Allen didn’t write them properly, sure, there are really cool and funny lines of dialogue, but the characters themselves aren’t as well written, they come of as shallow and terribly uninteresting, and those are two things no Woody Allen film can really afford to give up if it’s going to be as great as it could be.

I will say this though, Lucy Punch, who plays Charmaine, the younger woman Alfie falls for, would have most likely been a contender for a Best Supporting Actress nomination had the film fared better. Her performance is far and out the best in the film, and, while I doubt it’ll happen now, had the end result been better she would have, at least, been joining the ten other actresses who have gotten a nomination in that category after appearing in a Woody Allen film, though probably not joining Penélope Cruz, Mira Sorvino or, the two-time winner Dianne Wiest as the ones who have gone home winners. Those statistics go to show how well Woody writes his supporting female parts. And the same can be said from those characters in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Ms. Punch is rather amazing and so is, though to a lesser extent, Ms. Pinto.

Like many films by Mr. Allen, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is basically about people wanting something with all their might, and not being comfortable, at least not at first, with what they currently have. And that’s served Mr. Allen well enough in the past, when he’s had countless narrators tell us tales, using Shakespeare quotes to aid their telling, and many times it has worked impeccably, but it doesn’t here as much because we don’t really care that much for the characters, and without that emotional connection to them we won’t really care about their dreams and quests as much.

I liked You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, it may not sound like it because I had such tremendous expectations because of the cast, but I liked parts of it very much, and I liked Lucy Punch’s performance quite a lot, too, I just thought I would find myself liking so much more than that. But alas that wasn’t the case, and so I’ll wait for Mr. Allen’s next effort, which will be next year’s Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates and Michael Sheen, so yes, expectations are definitely running high on that one, too.

Grade: B