Tag Archives: M. Night Shyamalan

[Review] – Jeff, Who Lives At Home

11 Apr

Title: Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Year: 2012
Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong
MPAA Rating: R, language including sexual references and some drug use
Runtime: 83 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Metacritic: 60

By now you may be somewhat familiar with the mumblecore filmmaking movement. Coined about a decade ago, the term is used to describe independent films with a very much DIY filmmaking style with low budget and production values, and a film that’s driven more by characters than by plot points, and one that counts with a very naturalistic approach to both performances and dialogue, which is many times heavily improvised by the cast. Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass are a big part of the movement, with their first feature, The Puffy Chair, being one of the first movies to come out of it, and their follow-up to that one, Baghead, continuing to fall in line with that overall aesthetic.

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Sucker Punch

27 Apr

Title: Sucker Punch
Year:
2011
Director:
Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya, based on a story by Zack Snyder
Starring:
Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language
Runtime:
110 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes:
22%

Zack Snyder is one of the most polarizing directors in the business. People seem to either hate or love his movies, and the man has certainly made his name a brand in the way that people will know what to expect from him, and they will buy a ticket to the movies based on his name alone being on the marquee.  However, doing just that is a double-edged sword because, yeah, if your movie’s awesome then you’ll get all the credit because your particular vision was the reason it was such a masterpiece, but then once you release something that doesn’t please your audience, you’ll be the first person to be thrown under the bus. Just look at M. Night Shyamalan for further proof.

Let’s just rewind and take a look at the guy’s filmography. He came out in 2004 with a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was really really good, though not as amazing as the originaly obviously, but still, it was a debut that showed this was a guy with a vision and flare, and with a worldwide gross of over $100 million on a $28 million budget the guy was quickly booked as the director of a very ambitious project that was close to his heart.

That project of course was 2007’s 300, the film that got Mr. Snyder and his stylized action introduced to audiences worldwide. And no matter what critics say about 300, I think it’s a pretty universal fact that audiences loved it, and it has over $450 million in worldwide receipts to show for it, and I thought it was a stunning adaptation of Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel and  one of the most visually arresting films I have seen.

Which of course got me all giddy inside when it was announced that the next project Mr. Snyder would be tackling was to be the adaptation of my favorite graphic novel, Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen. I was excited because I thought that Watchmen just couldn’t be successfully translated to the screen, but I thought that if anyone would be able to pull it off it would definitely be Mr. Snyder, armed with a $130 million budget.

And so Watchmen came out, and it really divided critics and fanboys alike. I won’t really delve on why the division came, and how much credit there is to the claims effected by both sides. I’ll only say that I personally thought the film was pretty stunning, it wasn’t the perfect Watchmen adaptation, because I think there really can be no perfect Watchmen adaptation, but trust me when I say that what we got courtesy of Mr. Snyder is the best one we’ll ever get, it’s one insanely ambitious R-rated superhero film that has it’s uneven bits, that’s for sure, but also has quite a few moments of sheer magnificence, and when you watch the director’s cut that’s nearly a half hour longer that only becomes more evident.

And then, to conclude our revision of Mr. Snyder’s filmography, we must talk about last year’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, his first foray into animation. And it was a very mature piece of animation, feeling every bit as epic as his past films, and carrying his usual trademark visuals. There were many things that were off with the movie, but it was still very entertaining to see Mr. Snyder in charge of a PG-rated film.

And now he gives us Sucker Punch, a movie he directed, co-wrote and also co-produced with his wife. A film that’s being thrashed by critics and audiences alike, and being called the worst in his canon by a mile. Now, it may be the worst film he’s done, may be, but I actually thought Sucker Punch had its merits.

The first one of which is the fact that this is Mr. Snyder’s first live-action film not to carry an R-rating, and it’s also the first one he’s done that wasn’t based on an already existing property, but instead one he wrote based on a story of his own. So at least it’s him tackling new territory, and I do concede that the characters and the plot in Sucker Punch are quite flat and dull, but I mean, when there’s so much havoc going on around them, and when said havoc is presented in such a visually orgasmic way you really can actually look the other way and focus on the visual insanity of it all.

And I guess that’s really not saying much. I mean, a film that’s visually stunning but that once it has a character open her mouth feels kind of dumb really isn’t worth all that much, but it’s really not as though this one ever pretended it was going to be much more than that. I mean, just look at the posters or the trailers, there’s no indication that this one was going to be more than a group of scantily-clad females with huge guns just raising hell on everyone, Mr. Snyder himself stepping up to describe it as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”.

People are talking about the morality of the film, it’s representation of women and a whole lot of other stuff that I personally think is way beyond the point. This film is ridiculous any way you look at it, and if you want to point that out and then immediately proceed to discuss its gender representation then you’re way off target. This is just Mr. Snyder being both brilliant and idiotic, he had a huge amount of themes and ideas he wanted to mesh together, and he did so into an over-stylized action fest with hot chicks, and I actually think that it he had only subtracted one theme or one idea the result would have been far more enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t give this film a rating on the A-range, I will probably grade it somewhere along the lines of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which would indeed make the lesser film he’s done so far to me. But I just want to recognize what’s good about this film, instead of only focusing on how it’s crazy hyperactive and how it represents what’s wrong with film-going audiences nowadays.

I want to acknowledge Mr. Snyder, and how he’s one of the very few working directors who are willing to embed a very distinctive auteur vision into a commercial film, this is the subversive film aimed to just do its own thing no matter what audiences or critics were expecting, and even though it didn’t work as a film all that much, it kind of worked as that.

I don’t know how much I should talk about the plot. We have Emily Browning as Baby Doll who was framed by her evil stepdad for the death of her sister and then checked into a very strange mental hospital with a hot shrink and even hotter inmates that also have handy codenames like Sweat Pea, Blondie and Rocket. And after that is when the movie gets seriously crazy, and as I said its craziness is both it’s main asset and also what does this movie in so I really won’t spoil any of the fun for you here, just rest assured that the craziness includes a small appearance by Jon Hamm himself.

The plot’s meaningless though, Sucker Punch really is just a film about hot chicks with tiny clothes and huge guns in worlds made up in geek-heaven with weirdly cool and ridiculous names in which they get to fight both robots and dragons. Even typing that felt ridiculous and cool at the same time.

There is little substance to these characters, that much is true, but who cares really, this film is still executed to technical perfection and the scenes are awesome and everything looks genius. And if you really want to talk about gender representation like so many apparently do, I’ll only say one thing, the girls here are both seen as exploitation material and as super empowering feminists, so even in that regard this film makes no sense. And I’m more than okay with that.

Grade: B

The Last Airbender

27 Jul

Title: The Last Airbender
Year: 2010
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan based on the original stories by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis
MPAA Rating: PG, fantasy action violence
Runtime: 103 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 4.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 8%

This film’s just plain bad, and I was really angry about that because the source material, the popular animated series, is one I’m a fan of and, more importantly, one that had massive potential as far as making a great franchise, but then again maybe this will make it to franchise, it has already raised $150 million which is not bad and stands as M. Night Shyamalan’s third highest grossing film to date, but what it didn’t do for Mr. Shyamalan was get him any closer to recovering the critical success that he started out having so much of with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, and that has eluded him since 2002, or 2004 if you were particularly fond of The Village, which I thought was an okay film but nothing spectacular.

The thing with The Last Airbender, which adapts the first season of the TV series, is that, even though it does count with some pretty nifty special effects, has a plot that over-complicates itself by going all over the place without really ever finding a track to stay on, and the dialogue is completely stale as well, which obviously didn’t help either. I’m sad that Shyamalan didn’t turn this great property into a great film and franchise-to-be, yes, Lady in the Water and The Happening were two seriously bad films, but you can see why he was attracted to this, and I personally was sort of imagining him delivering like crazy and becoming, once again, a critical darling, but alas, his horrible-movie streak now sits at three, but maybe that’s a good thing? He did three really great films, then an okay one, and now three really bad ones, maybe he’ll do an okay one next and then churn out three great ones? This is the optimist in me speaking, obviously.

A word of advice, as is the case with pretty much every 3D film out there, don’t watch it in 3D. As I said, one of the only cool things about The Last Airbender, if not the only cool thing about it, are the visuals, and 3D, as per usual, completely ruins the visuals by making everything seem darker and just plain shittier, the fact that the 3D conversion in The Last Airbender was one of those cheap ones done in post-production only adds insult to injury, fortunately I opted for the 2D and didn’t experience said suffering but was repeatedly told of the harm it did to the moviegoing spirits by many friends. This is a film that spends an amazing amount of time just trying to explain stuff in fancy ways and throwing things at you, but in the end the explanations sound a bit daft and the things that it throws out you, while visually cool don’t really make up for the lack of good storytelling and just leave this film feeling completely flat, go see it in 3D and you’re in for a world of hell.

Roger Ebert opens his review of The Last Airbender with some really harsh words: “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.” Harsh indeed (and brilliantly written, as always), but you won’t see anyone jumping out of their seats to tell him he’s wrong. Because he’s not (and he’s usually not), because that’s really how The Last Airbender feels, I will admit I liked the film a bit better than that, maybe that’s because I had the emotional entanglement of being a fan of the original series (though it did completely piss on it’s name), maybe it was because I didn’t suffer through the 3D and was just told by many people I trust about just how bad it was, but yeah, in a nutshell Mr. Ebert is right. Though Mr. Ebert does go on to say that he found the special effects “atrocious” and on that, I must tell my favorite film critic, we disagree, I actually quite liked them, or maybe I liked them in comparison to how crappy everything else was, I’ve no idea.

The Last Airbender is a really sucky film, look how I haven’t even bothered to tell you a thing about the plot, it’s of no importance, I mean it is, the plot of the series is brilliant, and in this film it is said to be important, hell, they go to great unnecessary lengths to give explanations about it all with one seriously corny and stupid dialogue doing all the delivering, but once you’ve sat for fifteen minutes of the film you’ll stop caring and you’ll just wait for the flashy effects to come to at least offer something decent to look at while you chew your popcorn really fast to get an excuse to go outside for more and avoid a couple of minutes of the tedious dialogue and hope to come back right when another flashy part comes on screen, or, if you are like Mr. Ebert, and hated even the special effects then you’ll probably just leave the theatre for more popcorn, but make that popcorn at home watching something decent on your blu-ray player.

Grade: D+