Archive | September, 2011

Higher Ground

29 Sep

Title: Higher Ground
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Vera Farmiga
Writers: Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, based on the memoir by Ms. Briggs
Starring: 
Vera Farmiga, Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Taissa, Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Nina Arianda, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bill Irwin
MPAA Rating: 
R, some language and sexual content
Runtime: 
109 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
78%

 

I’m a big Vera Farmiga fan, I really think she’s amazingly talented and beautiful and can just really light up a screen with her performances. The first time I saw her work, was in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed five years ago, and since then I have really been paying attention, obviously going back to see her stunning turn in Debra Granik’s Down to the Bone from 2004, and then seeing the stuff she has done since, which has included an Oscar-nominated turn in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air (which was my favorite film of 2009) and then another solid performance in this year’s Source Code from Duncan Jones (which stands as my 13th favorite film of the year to date). She has some potentially interesting stuff in the pipeline, too: Goats, a comedy with Ty Burrell and Keri Russell; Safe House, with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds; Closer to the Moon, about a bank heist pulled off by robbers convinced they were shooting a film; The Locals, with Alan Arkin and Shirley MacLaine; and A View from the Bridge, an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play.

But none of those projects, past or present, has her as involved as she was on Higher Ground. This is after all, her directing debut, of a film in which she also stars, and as such I was very curious to see how she did behind the cameras while also having to be in front of them. And boy did she succeed tremendously, not only crafting a really remarkable film, but also turning out another one of her really great performances. It’s all in those eyes of her, really, eyes that are of a color that’s hard to describe with human words and hard to think about without a bit of drool dripping from your lower lip, they are the eyes movie stars were once made of, and the eyes that in all of Ms. Farmiga’s films have had the ability to make you think both that you want her close to you at all times and also that you should maybe keep a bit of your distance. That’s the sort of actress she is, the one that can convey the most good-natured of people, but always leave room for some kind of mischief in them.

Higher Ground is a film that deals with Christianity, about a woman who falls in an out of it, and it’s not a film that puts any sort of judgement on those decisions, it never once really goes to suggest whether it’s good or bad, it just says that those decisions the character makes here are the decisions she has to make at the time she’s making them, and it works by saying that. It works because so many of the films we see today have no real sort of spiritual connection, which is good, don’t get me wrong, but when they do go on ahead and make a statement about religion or the lack thereof it always seems to be tinged with some sort of overly-simplified view of them that tends to veer wholeheartedly towards one direction of judgement or the other. And then there are the films that do sort of kind of pose themselves as super faith-based and that do tackle religious topics straight-on, but those always seems to polarize the believers and supporters they don’t agree with. Higher Ground is a different kind of film in so much as it also deals with faith, but without making some sort of pronunciation about it, just looking at it as choices one can make for their own reasons and that’s that.

The woman we follow through this journey through her faith is Corinne, who we see as a child, as a young woman in her early twenties and as an adult at around forty, and we see the changes of beliefs she makes through it all, and how those changes were activated by and only brought forth even more changes for her. It’s not a masterful film by any means, but it’s just a very good one because it never makes some sort of of hugely critical viewpoint of anyone, believers are just seen as good-natured people with a viewpoint of the world that may be a bit narrow, and sinners are just seen as as people who maybe like drugs and other unholy things, and even though it may reach into satire territory sometimes during these examinations, for the most part it just works really well thanks to a keen eye from Ms. Farmiga. In other movies many of the characters here would be seen as sort of crazy people or comic relief opportunities for a scene or two, in here they get to be more fleshed out and we get a chance to see them for who they really are, a true achievement in today’s films about faith.

I won’t really go ahead and delve into plot here, that’s for you to do when you watch the film (which I really recommend you do), just be sure that it’s great stuff to see Corinne handle her faith and beliefs, there are opinions and sadness and everything you can really expect in a film like this, but without the stereotypes that usually abound them. And this is a really cool turn for Mr. Farmiga to take in her career, she’s just a very good actress who I think, after seeing this one, I can be sure to say that we can follow in any direction she wants to take, because her judgement about them seems to be just seriously spot-on, and the fact that she has now shown that she can direct this good and something so daring and off-kilter for her only adds to her talents.

Grade: A-

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Brighton Rock

23 Sep

Title: Brighton Rock
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Rowan Joffe
Writer: Rowan Joffe, based on the novel by Graham Greene
Starring: 
Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Andy Serkis, John Hurt, Helen Mirren
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
111 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
52%

I was rather looking forward to Brighton Rock when I first heard of it. It was the directorial debut of Rowan Joffe, the writer of 28 Weeks Later as well as last year’s The American (which I liked more than most and gave an enthusiastic B+ to), and had a cast full of both proven veterans of the British acting world and some young up-and-comers, not to mention that it had a plot that seemed to combine elements of both film noir and British gangster movies in the best of ways. And it’s good, I certainly liked the film a good deal, but when it was all said and done I thought there was something missing from this latest adaptation of Graham Greene’s iconic novel to really set it apart and propel it to real excellence.

Mr. Joffe has made a few alterations to the amazing source material, however, updating the time to a mid-sixties Britain so that he can tackle more of that great British gangster time that it was and embed this film with more than its fair share of explicit violence, and he has also taken his liberties by taking out a few character and story details that, for my money, he would have been much more wise to leave in. That being said, however, I will say that this adaptation is still quite loyal to its source novel, and in today’s world of endless adaptations and interpretations, that’s all we can really ask for. I mean, the atmosphere on hand Mr. Joffe crafted for this film is just terrific and totally evoking of the novel’s bleak nature, and the change of era allowed for him to use youth riots and number of other things to add a tinge of social unrest that really gives the film a really cool edge.

Sam Riley, who broke out a few years ago thanks to his stellar performance as Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s Control (and who’s set to star as Sal Paradise in Walter Salle’s upcoming adaptation of On the Road), plays Pinkie Brown in this one, the sociopathic, small-time thug who’s part of a second-rate gang in Brighton. He meets Rose, played by Andrea Riseborough, a waitress at a local tea shop, and with her he goes walking down the pier, just as they encounter Fred Hale, a rival gang member, an encounter that’s captured in a photograph. Soon after, Pinkie beats Hale to death beneath the pier, which means now he has to get rid of the photographic evidence that they had met, as well as manage to keep Rose silent about the whole ordeal. Not to mention that there’s also Ida, the character the legendary Helen Mirren plays here, Rose’s boss at the tea shop who had a casual affair with Hale and starts suspecting Pinkie of it as she starts questioning Rose, who seems to be falling for him, about the killing.

This is good stuff we get here, the whole historic background of the clash between the Mods and the Rockers that shaped so much the British teenage culture adds to the ideas that Mr. Joffe toys with here that deal so much with a lot of social unease that you can see seething from under Pinkie, who along with Rose can be seen as some sort of representation of this new sort of identity that started coming up at the time. You don’t really get why Rose would ever fall for a guy that seems as evil as Pinkie, but she does, and a lot of attention is given to their very unromantic courtship, which you get the idea that Pinkie is only going along with to keep her quiet about what she knows, the only thing they have in common being their devout Roman Catholicism.

Pinkie might as well kill her off too, but instead he marries her, that way she can’t be forced to testify against him, as Rose learns too late from the protective Ida who tries to no avail to get her off the claws of Pinkie. So you see why I say that the gloom of Brighton Rock is what makes it what it is, as Mr. Joffe crafts the film noir version of the modern British gangster movie, and is aided by a skillful cast, Mr. Riley and Ms. Riseborough do a good job at showing the evolving painful relationship between Pinkie and Rose, then you have the wonderful Ms. Mirren who gives a powerful performance as the steely Ida that shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and the you have the likes of Andy Serkis, as the crime lord of the Colleoni gang, and John Hurt as Corkery, an old friend of Ida’s. This is a brilliant cast.

Brighton Rock isn’t a masterful adaptation of Graham Greene’s splendid novel, but it still is this very good neo-noir exercise in filmmaking and is definitely a very respectable debut film from Mr. Joffe who manages to craft an effective and moody little crime movie. There’s obviously stuff that would have made it a better film, giving Pinkie a back story for one, but what it does is still solid, it obviously wanted to get some sort of theological debate going by how much it delved into the Catholicism part of it all, which I didn’t think it did as successfully by not making it as important as it was in the novel, but it still has a gritty film that makes this one become a very competent noir.

Grade: B

Colombiana

23 Sep

Title: Colombiana
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Olivier Megaton
Writers: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: 
Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Callum Blue, Lennie James, Jordi Mollà
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality and brief strong language
Runtime: 
108 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 
28%

 

I’m a Zoe Saldana fan, I always feel like she’s just very good in whatever she does, and while 2009 was her breakout year, with prominent roles in two of the highest-grossing and best films of that year, Avatar and Star Trek, she has been keeping herself busy ever since, and even though her three efforts from last year weren’t amazing (I gave Death at a Funeral a B-, Takers a C+ and The Losers a B) she was good in them and had a lot to do with whatever level of success they achieved. So I was looking forward to watching Colombiana, in which Ms. Saldana had the starring role in a kick-ass film that had the imprint of Luc Besson all over it, which meant I was pretty much hoping for a female version of Taken. And even though, once again, Ms. Saldana is damn good and certainly shows off some chops as a potential action star, the movie is otherwise just so-so, and subpar filmmaking once again lets her down.

It’s just pretty silly stuff, and not only is it silly stuff, but it’s silly stuff we have seen one too many times before by now. But then again, that’s kind of what Mr. Besson does, he’s the best guy at offering sheer entertainment that’s ridiculously high on adrenaline and horribly low on substance, so in hindsight I really shouldn’t have expected that much more from this film. In any case, Colombiana opens with a little girl witnessing the murder of her parents in Colombia, then moving back to American where, now as a grown up, she plans to extract revenge at all costs. Yes, this is another revenge film, another film from the Besson corporation that will go out of its way to throw some stylishly made assassination sequences at us, and make no excuses for how shallow and amoral it is when it’s all said and done. But hey, at least it’s something nice to watch while you chow down on some extra-buttery popcorn.

More importantly, at least it has Ms. Saldana. She really is the reason why this film isn’t something to scoff at entirely, it may have all of these B-movie action sort of elements, but when you have someone as gorgeous and as splendidly graceful as Ms. Saldana providing the ass-kicking then at least it’ll be damn pretty to look at. Now, even though Mr. Besson is a co-writer and producer of this film, and even though this is obviously just an extension of his brand of high-octane characters that wouldn’t be your usual suspects to provide so much action, the director here is actually Olivier Megaton, the French guy responsible for Transporter 3, the worst entry in that franchise. But, really, even though Mr. Besson is obviously a much more gifted filmmaker, and has made a few terrific films, it’s fine that someone else executes his vision because it doesn’t really take all that much to make something that’s so badly textured and grounded in no tangible reality, so, even though his hand was not subtle at all, Mr. Megaton was a fine replacement in a movie in which “fine” actually means “below average”.

The prologue of the film is actually pretty cool to watch, though. As you get that preteen version of Ms. Saldana’s character, Cataleya, just skirting through the slums of Colombia, showing some pretty nifty parkour chops you can’t really believe any nine-year-old possesses. That opening bit of the film I thought was very much enjoyable and made it seem as though this was going to be something more than your typical hammy late-summer escapist entertainment. But it wasn’t to be, as we will then see our lead character a decade and a half later, trained by a relative in the art of killing and having already amassed nearly two dozen hits in her young life, though of course she has only killed people who truly deserved what was coming, because that’s how these movies go. But yeah, it gets to the point in which the FBI starts trying to track her down and she decides to go back to Colombia to kill the crime boss responsible for death of her parents.

Colombiana in the end is just another Luc Besson production, with hot women in skimpy clothing and over-the-top bad guys spitting out some seriously ridiculous lines. And really, that’s fine, it’s fine because it didn’t really aim to be much more than that, and it’s fine because when you have someone like Zoe Saldana doing it all, it’s much more enjoyable to see. So yes, if you want to see some really big and honestly silly setpieces in a film full of unsubtle touches and preposterous action, then this is the film for you. And this may sound as though I’m implying that no one in their right minds would want to check it out, but that’s not true, this is at least some decently crafted and staged entertainment, and the script surprisingly allows for Ms. Saldana to show some nice range of emotion, so as cookie-cutter revenge film by Luc Besson as this may seem, it’s more than competent.

Grade: B-

Our Idiot Brother

20 Sep

Title: Our Idiot Brother
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jesse Peretz
Writers: David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz, based on a story by themselves and Jesse Peretz
Starring: 
Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout
Runtime: 
90 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 
67%

 

The level of expectation I had for this film was pretty crazy and, you know what, even though it was still a seriously good movie, it just didn’t quite get there. I wanted this film to be a solid A grade for me, maybe even a weak A+ if I got lucky, but we got something that was a bit off from that plateau of amazingness. The reason for the salivation this film caused in me was simple: its cast. Seriously, just take a look at those names: Paul Rudd, one of my Top 3 mancrushes; Elizabeth Banks, a hilarious and talented woman; Zooey Deschanel, my #1 crush who can do no wrong; Emily Mortimer, an actress with a lovely accent who has been great in Shutter Island and Match Point among others; Rashida Jones, another woman who I seriously adore and who rocks at everything she does, especially Parks and Recreation; Adam Scott, another Parks and Rec alum who’s just seriously awesome. So yeah, even though the movie is uneven at times, just that cast alone makes Our Idiot Brother too damn charming to find much fault in.

And really, that’s pretty much what Our Idiot Brother relies on the most: its charm. I mean, look at that cast again and that’s pretty much the one word that would seem to describe all of them the best, that or “adorable” or “insanely likable” which pretty much all mean the same thing. And this film knows that, it just coasts by on the charm of Mr. Rudd because it can, and because that really serves the sweetness of this film, the niceness of it all. Because even though the title of this film refers to an idiot, the idiot is played by Mr. Rudd which inherently makes him a likable idiot, not to mention that he’s not an idiot in the sense that he does mean stuff, but in the sense that he’s too trusting and too honest, he’s an idiot in the sense that he’s too much of a good guy that it actually ends up going all wrong.

Not to say that the film starts getting overly sweet, not at all, if anything it gets to be a bit bittersweet in this indie-movie kind of way that really works for it. And so that it doesn’t go too overboard on the man-child immaturity displayed by Mr. Rudd’s Ned, it presents us with his sisters, three different but correct women who consider him an idiot, and that allows the film to give us this kind of quirky exploration of the relationships of grown-up siblings that’s actually really nicely developed. Yes, it’s kind of predictable the paths this film takes at times, you know that at first it’ll seem like the whole issue is about Ned’s inability or lack of desire to grow up, but then it comes to happen that it’s him, and his idiocy and sort of positive-vibes lifestyle that go on to help and show his sisters that they’re actually not as happy or fulfilled as they could be.

And you really believe Mr. Rudd as Ned, this guy who’s always smiling, seeing the bright side of things, not holding any grudges and genuinely wishing everybody the best. It’s because of this attitude that when we see Ned selling under-the-counter marihuana to a cop in uniform just because the policeman promised him it was only because he was having a bad day we believe that as something that would certainly happen to this character. This is the kind of innocent hippie that could only be played by Paul Rudd, actually, because otherwise Ned would be a pretty unbearable character to watch for ninety minutes, this guy knows perfectly well how to be sweet without being too sweet, how to cause trouble but not be hatable just because of how innocently honest he is. But anyways, he’s thrown in jail and four months later (for being named most cooperative inmate) he gets out on parole only to find out that Janet, his ladyfriend played by Kathryn Hahn, has moved on with another guy and doesn’t want to give him custody of the dog they shared, a dog that’s named Willie Nelson.

After that, Ned goes to crash with all of his sisters, shaking up their lives considerably in the process. First of is Liz, played by Ms. Mortimer, an anxious mother who has a rather hollow marriage with a filmmaker played by Steve Coogan. Then you have Miranda, the character played by Ms. Banks, an insecure but highly ambitious writer who wants to have her big break and land a job at Vanity Fair. And finally you have Natalie, the character played by the lovely Ms. Deschanel, she’s an artist’s model who wants to be some sort of performer and who may or may not be a lesbian but who’s certainly in love with Cindy, played by Ms. Jones, and is getting closer to actually getting to commit to a serious relationship. Cindy, by the way, other than being played by the awesome Ms. Jones, is actually a lesbian character that’s free of all of those lesbian comedy clichés, which I thought was nice to see.

The film may be a bit too thin at times, I’ll concede to that, but I mean, it has a cast that’s just so damn skillful at playing these characters and just so likable that you can’t help but fall for it all, not to mention that the script is really witty and I thought provided a lot of very good moments. This is movie that’s so incredibly good-hearted, and in the most honest and non-gratuitous of ways, that you forgive any and all little missteps and overly-happy endings it may have. Mr. Rudd proves once again why he’s the guy you’d most want as a best friend, and his co-stars all do a supreme job at handling their characters as well, Ms. Jones most of all, even when, like in the case of Miranda, those characters are more ideas than fully fleshed personalities, they do a lot to bring them to life in the best of ways. I really liked this film, it may be too light or silly for some, but it was too charming for me to try and put on my sophisticated film viewer hat, I just loved every second of it.

Grade: A-

Emmy Results

20 Sep

The Emmy Awards took place last night, and while there were some highs (the Lead Actress in a Comedy pageant, Ty Burrell’s speech, the The Office spoof) and some lows (the opening musical number, those Emmy-Tones, the New Jersey spoof) that we can argue about how actually good or bad they were, the results are definite and can’t be argued about. As per usual, there were a few surprises (both good and bad), so I’ll round up the winners of the categories which I predicted and then see how I did with those predictions.

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Winner: Mad Men

I got this one right, as the masterful AMC series got its fourth win in a row in this category, tying a legendary streak imposed only by The West Wing, L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues for consecutive wins in the category.

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

Winner: Modern Family

Will this become the Comedy equivalent of Mad Men? It sure seems to be looking that way, as Modern Family really dominated last night’s award telecast, and easily got its second straight Emmy in this category.

OUTSTANDING TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES

Winner: Downton Abbey

Look, I haven’t seen Downton Abbey, but I guess now I really should. Got it wrong considering I was really sure Mildred Pierce would get this one.

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW COMPETITION

Winner: The Amazing Race

I wanted Idol to win because it was this year or never for them, but you really can’t stop the ambitious around-the-world competition.

OUTSTANDING REALITY SERIES

Winner: Deadliest Catch

I predicted this one right even though I don’t actually watch the show, not really much else to say here.

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES

Winner: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

How can you bet against Stewart here? As long as he’s in business this award will have his named engraved on it.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Winner: Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)

Yes!!! Never in my life I think have I been so glad to miss a prediction. Yes, this was arguably Jon Hamm’s year considering Bryan Cranston wasn’t here to beat him, but for FNL and Chandler to get love for the final season of my favorite show of all-time was the best thing that happened Sunday night.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Winner: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Look, I love Jim Parsons as much as the next guy, but I think even he would be quick to agree that this just didn’t make sense. Who did Steve Carell piss off in the Academy? This should have been his for his stellar final season as Michael Scott.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES

Winner: Barry Pepper (The Kennedys)

What.the.frak? Literally any of the other five nominees would have been a much more deserving winner. Seriously didn’t get this win.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Winner: Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)

The FNL love didn’t extend to Mrs. Coach, though. As Julianna Margulies got her second Emmy for The Good Wife‘s second season (her first was in 1995 for her work on ER). And it really was much deserved.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Winner: Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)

The way all of the nominees in this category got up on stage as their names were called out and formed a kind of parade was my favorite bit of the telecast. However, the award itself shouldn’t have gone to the least deserving of the nominees. It felt like they were giving McCarthy kudos for Gilmore Girls or Bridesmaids, because there’s no way you can argue her work on Mike & Molly being superior than that of any of her co-nominees.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES

Winner: Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce)

This one was always hers. Now she has the EGO in her EGOT. Can’t wait to see what she does to get that T.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Winner: Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)

I didn’t get this one right, as I didn’t see Game of Thrones getting this much love from the Academy. Kind of sad because that meant Slattery wouldn’t go on to win and the Mad Men acting Emmy drought would continue.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Winner: Ty Burrell (Modern Family)

Last year Stonestreet, now the extremely deserving Burrell. My guess is that O’Neill will be the winner in 2012 and Ferguson in 2013. This award is Modern Family‘s for as long as it stays on the air with this level of excellence.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES

Winner: Guy Pearce (Mildred Pierce)

Good win here, even though I hated his speech about having sex with Kate Winslet, that bit was a bit weird.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Winner: Margo Martindale (Justified)

Possibly my second favorite win of the whole night after Chandler’s. Martindale has been one of the best actresses in television for years now, and she finally gets her due. How she got up after stumbling on the steps and then gave that great speech was just the icing on the cake.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Winner: Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Another sensationally satisfying win for me. In my predictions I had her to win, but I noted that I was just going on gut feeling but thought that Jane Lynch would get it. Goes to show you that listening to one’s gut can work.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES

Winner: Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)

I may not have seen Downton Abbey, but I know better than to bet against Dame Maggie Smith. I got this prediction right.

OUTSTANDING REALITY HOST

Winner: Jeff Probst (Survivor)

Impossible for him to ever lose this one, really.

 

So those were the results of the races I tried to predict. I went 13 for 19 which I think is quite decent, we’ll see how I do next year. Until then!

Conan the Barbarian

17 Sep

Title: Conan the Barbarian
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Marcus Nispel
Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood, based on the character by Robert E. Howard
Starring: 
Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp, Ron Perlman
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity
Runtime: 
113 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
23%

 

This was a film done pretty much to exploit how 3D can work to make gory and violent things even more gory and violent. Seriously, I see no other use for this movie, it’s just relentless bloody violence with just terrible dialogue, one-dimensional characters and just plain bad acting. I mean, granted, it’s a film that deals with mostly screams and grunts and vulgarities and howls, so the actors didn’t really have all that much to play with to begin with, but still, this was pretty damn bad. The title of this movie would have been just as accurate if it had been One hundred and thirteen minutes of Aaaargh! because this film, based on the sword-and-shield character created by Robert E. Howard during the Depression, was not much more than that. The plot really is useless, you have a lot of Barbarians killing each other in battle sequences that never seem to end, and that’s basically it.

The 1982 film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger is obviously what most people know this character from, but we now have this new take on the character, this time starring Jason Momoa. As for Mr. Momoa, you might know him from HBO’s highly successful Game of Thrones, and in that series I thought that on the first seven episodes or so he wasn’t amazing, but then on the last couple of episodes he really had something going on for himself and fleshed out Khal Drogo in some very neat ways. And I was looking for something similar to happen in Conan the Barbarian, but it just wasn’t to be. I mean, that’s not entirely his fault, because the character is just not written all that well to begin with, and he ends up being just this muscular guy who you can’t really feel for in his quest to get revenge.

I mean, the film obviously tries to get you to feel for Conan, after all we see him as a baby being delivered in the midst of a battlefield, ripped out of his mother’s womb using his own father’s sword, that’s supposed make us feel for baby Conan, but he’s then trained well by his father. And then see Khalar Zym, played by Stephen Lang, trapping Conan’s dad under a thing of molten iron and forcing Conan to try and safe him as he tells the dad that he’ll die watching his little son hopelessly trying to save him. Conan, however, does survive, and thus a quest of revenge commences. And look, Mr. Momoa I can tell had some sort of sense of humor towards this super cheesy character, but any potential for at least some campy fun was actually lost under that super serious glare and the raspy voice.

This is not the worst movie of the year, but it does gets to the point in which it all feels too much like watching a two-hour session of someone playing a videogame in which you rack up points by brutally beheading and disemboweling your enemies. There is no substance here at all, which really is a pity considering that the original character was concocted by Mr. Howard as some sort of metaphor for civilization at the time during which he lived in some eight decades ago, and he pretty much imagined the “civilized” people of the time, as ruthless Barbarians. This is the character with which the whole genre of swords and sorcery began, there’s a lot of material from which to draw, a lot of great things that could be done with it, but this film takes no advantage whatsoever of any of that.

But no matter how much stuff director Marcus Nispel had to work with he really doesn’t know how to use them properly, there are sword fights, and magic and blood, but it doesn’t feel cohesive at all. In fact, I thought that Mr. Nispel did a really crappy job because I would get it if he couldn’t embed any sort of layers to the characters and depth to the movie because the script was so bad, but not even the action scenes were well done, and this is a movie that was obviously counting on only that, but in the end even the most simplest of sword fights here are badly staged, and you don’t even want to get me going on how much worse that gets in the actual full-on big battle sequences. The effects just don’t look good at all and even the locations used (the film was shot in Bulgaria) don’t add to the gritty nature of this story.

The final long and tedious battle is between Conan and Tamara (the woman played by Rachel Nichols who we have to believe can go toe-to-toe with Conan and who our hero will fall for as he tries to save her) against Khalar Zym and Marique (his daughter and partner-in-crime played by Rose McGowan, who happens to be well-versed in sorcery). And, seriously, that scenes illustrates everything about this movie, it’s too long, it has no real substance to it, nothing is explained well enough and it doesn’t seem to be particularly well made, either. This is a violent film made to make money assuming people will pay big bucks to go watch gory CGI-heavy films in 3D. Thankfully, filmgoers seem to learning a lesson here, as the film hasn’t even made $50 million yet on a budget close to $90, so at least I hope that means no sequels for this one are in the works.

Grade: C-

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie

17 Sep

Title: Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Kevin Tancharoen
Writer: –
Starring: 
Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Ashley Fink, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Heather Morris, Chord Overstreet, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Harry Shum Jr., Jenna Ushkowitz
MPAA Rating: 
PG, thematic elements, brief language and some sensuality
Runtime: 
84 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
4.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
60%

 

The amount of love you’ll feel towards this movie is directly correlated to how much you love the TV show. I mean, if you’re someone who every Tuesday night of the fall TV season is tuned in on Fox watching Glee, and you describe yourself as a total gleek and download all the songs on iTunes then you will no doubt consider Glee: The 3D Concert Movie the ideal fix to get you through until the season 3 premiere. And, look, I mean, I like the show, I’ve watched every episode so far and I have some of the songs and I totally get a kick out of many of the episodes, I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a gleek but I certainly like what the show offers. That being said, I just didn’t get why we needed this film at all.

I get that this film was made for hardcore fans of the show, I do, but this is still a film that was playing in theaters across the world, and as such it should have still made an effort to appeal to non-fans of the show, to entertain them for an hour and a half and to, even better, try and convert new people to the show. But this does nothing of the sort, this just tends to the likings of people already obsessed with the show, and makes no sort of effort whatsoever to be something unconverted or unaware people might appreciate.

I mean, seriously, I get that the kids from the show tour because their songs have become a huge hit and people will pay money to see them, and I certainly get why they play their characters on-stage and make up a whole show, because those are the characters people have fallen in love and identify with, but then we get this film and we get some behind-the-scenes stuff and they are still in character. And that really ticked me off, actually, I mean, you had Glee characters backstage on a Glee concert tour, delivering one-liners appropriate to their characters even though we had no tangible explanation as to why this group of misfit kids was the subject of a concert documentary and were being applauded by crazy tweens. I really didn’t get that, not to mention that it would have been far more interesting to get to hear from the actual actors perspective, to hear how their lives have changed from playing these characters. That would have made Glee: The 3D Concert Movie a worthwhile movie to go watch even if you have no real interest in the show.

I feel like people will tell me that it all doesn’t matter because gleeks will eat it up, and they will, but it does matter. Yes, this was a celebration of the show, a self-validating kind of film for the superfans that was directed by Kevin Tancharoen (who did the quite crappy Fame remake) with the very clear intention of getting as many squeals from the fans in the audience as possible. And that’s cool, Mr. Tancharoen gives us full songs on-screen and intercuts them will all of these super upbeat interviews with fans of the show that will obviously talk a lot about how Glee has made them accept their differences and find support in people like them. This is the ultimately propaganda for the TV show available, one that makes it seem like this accepting community that improves the lives of pretty much everyone who loves it.

Another thing I didn’t love about this was the fact that, to me at least, concert movies should be sort of a replacement for being there. You look at the greatest concert movies around and they’re the ones that you’ll buy so that you can put into your home theater and experience being there. This is nothing like it, I mean, yes, you get concert bits and Lea Michele can sing like it’s nobody’s business, but the camera work is just too distracting, coming in from weird places using wires, tracking performers like crazy as they move around and edited super fast so that in the end it feels nothing like having been to a concert. The desired effect of feeling like you’re there, like you’re experiencing something you missed is gone, you’re now just experiencing something else while you enviously watch audience members on your screen who actually got the feeling you were searching for. Though, to be fair, there are more than a few glimpses of actual concertgoers who look totally bored and disengaged from what they’re seeing.

Yes, this is a movie made for fans of the show and it’s bustling with energy both on and off the stage, and the production and the message does fit the Glee phenomenon perfectly, but I don’t know, I really wanted this to be more accessible for non-fans, and that’s why I won’t really recommend it. But fans will love it, though, the 3D effect of it all really puts it all in your face, and Lea Michele, like I said, can sing like crazy, and Darren Criss and Chris Colfer are very good at playing their characters, and you can really appreciate Heather Morris’ (who’s awesome) and Harry Shum Jr.’s dancing skills here which is very good. But this just seemed like an exercise to get its hardcore fans to be even more hardcore fans, and not to win over some new ones. I didn’t like Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, but I will still be there this coming Tuesday night watching the third season premiere.

Grade: C+