Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Reviews


I tried, I really did. I couldn't finish it. I got about halfway through. This movie is Boring. I didn't read the book; I suspect that those who have read the book (if the book is better) might find it watchable and even enjoy it.

A girl Tris (Shailene Woodley) in a future walled-in Chicago, where everyone is forced to choose one of five "factions" for the rest of their life's work/society, chooses one faction even though she is judged to be capable of fitting into three of them (a "rare" trait, called "divergent"). The faction she chooses requires her to do physical combat training.

The first big problem is the complete lack of anything resembling tension. The movie presents itself as a dystopia with bleak camera shots, drab scenery, drab clothing, unsmiling heroine, etc ala The Hunger Games. But THG has a plot with tension: three-dimensional characters, hunger, poverty, war, a cast of enemies, the prospect of children killing each other yet the desire to avoid killing, and a real love triangle; this movie has none of that. Society seems to be working fine, nobody has problems, nobody is in love. The main characters jump on and off of trains, and some self-imposed leader tries to scare the recruits, but there doesn't seem to be a reason for it, or for caring about it.

The second big problem is how little sense there is in the setup. At least for humans. A) The five factions are not a sufficient number of factions for a real world to function. One of the factions (truthful people) doesn't even make sense (the people who tell the truth are lawyers (ha!)). Who builds the houses and takes out the trash? B) It makes no sense that human can be assigned into factions. Real humans are multi-talented, as are, apparently, all of the characters in the movie. And everyone gets to choose whatever faction they want, regardless of in which faction they were raised and regardless of what their test results were. Maybe it's all allegorical about how society boxes us into roles, but they get to choose! And the choice is free for anyone to make! The main character and some others are "divergent" but surely EVERY human would be divergent. What is this supposed to be solving? C) Why are the divergent people, who are obviously the MOST talented, the underclass? Why is there an underclass at all? D) What the heck is happening in the rest of the country while this going on in Chicago?

During the first hour of the movie there is dramatic music, dramatic camerawork, sudden tests of character, all of which has no dramatic tension and seems to serve no purpose. There's no particular plot, goal, or direction to the movie, other than Tris' trying to survive a series of basic training tests. I hear that there is a plot at the end of the movie, but I wasn't interested enough to make it there.

The LEGO Movie

This movie sounded like it would be a crappy commercial but turned out to be as smart and enjoyable as any Pixar film, with the same kind of snarky humor, characters, and action. LEGO's licenses allowed a slew of characters from other franchises to be added and skewed at the same time. Lots of LEGO in-jokes.

The visuals, all of which are made from LEGO pieces, even the explosions and water, are ubergeek cool. The end - which puts the entire movie into a new perspective - is a nice twist, though the movie's message is hardly original. While it doesn't cover any new ground in the movie-making industry, it's good entertainment.

Stage Beauty

This movie, loosely sourcing real events and people, is set about 50 years later than  Shakespeare in Love, at the very moment before and after women are allowed to perform on stage in post-Elizabethan England. This change spells the possible end of the career for male actors who specialized in playing women on stage.

The movie has a certain gloom and depressing atmosphere. While SiL was about the grand sweep and majesty of the stage and the eccentricity of Shakespeare, this movie is about two people (the male actor (Billy Crudup) who used to play women and the woman (Claire Danes) who once served him but is now going to replace him) trying to find their way with and around each other. It's nice, the story is dramatic and slightly romantic, but it's not spectacular.

Stuck in Love

This is one of those quirky, intelligent movies that are my cinema bread and butter. While not breaking any new cinematic ground, the acting and scenery are nice, the characters are beautiful and adorable, and the script is filled with literature.

Three writers - the father (Greg Kinnear) pining after his wife (Jennifer Connelly) who left him, the daughter (Lily Collins) about to publish her own novel, and the son (Nat Wolff) who needs some more life experiences in order to generate material for his own writing  - experience the joys and frustrations of relationships. The general plot is pure romcom; the only question is which relationships will end happily and which ones won't. For those that like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they like.

Has a great soundtrack, too.

Saving Mr Banks

A good movie, but by no means a great movie - it was actually a letdown, considering the two awesome leads (Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson).

It's the story of Walt Disney overseeing the creation of (the songs of) Mary Poppins while in the presence of continuous disapproval from the author P.L. Travers (who only agrees to give it a shot because she is short on cash), interspersed with flashbacks about the childhood of Mrs. Travers. The flashbacks reveal that Mary Poppins was a serious creation for a troubled girl with an alcoholic father, which lends some insight into the disapproval she feels while watching Mary turned into a comic adaptation with nonsense words and dancing animated penguins.

Like Shakespeare in Love, much of the enjoyment of the film comes from the bits and pieces of the work in development (i.e. hearing the songs of Mary Poppins); leave those out and the movie is simply ok. Travers is unhappy, Disney tries to be patient. According to Wikipedia, the real-life result wasn't so happy: Disney tricked Travers; she hated the movie and she vowed never to work with him again. In the movie, the ending is far more pablum.

Your Sister's Sister

Another romcom; the characters aren't quirky, but the situation is. A guy (Mark Duplass) who lost his brother is sent by his best (platonic) girlfriend (Emily Blunt) to a cabin on a lake for quiet time, only to find his friend's lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) is using it for her own quiet time. A bottle of tequila and one thing leads to another. And then the platonic girlfriend shows up.

It all sounds straightforward, but actions and interactions that happen in the first half are gradually revealed to have ulterior motives as the dialogue progresses. It all functions more as a play than a movie. The best aspect is the delivery, which is incredibly good; lines and sentences are spoken so naturally that they seem to emerge from the characters themselves, and not from a script (indeed, some of the dialog was improvised). Movies that achieve this have a way of involving the viewer in their scenes.

The denouement is not particularly strong, nor surprising, which is a pity. Worth watching.

The Spectacular Now

This movie starts as a good movie and gradually gets great. Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high-school party guy who drinks a lot, but his friends think he's a joke, his girlfriend dumps him because she wants more, and he wakes up passed out on a lawn to a friendly-faced girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley) from his class.

Unlike every college movie you know, there are no "standard types" in this movie. The party scene isn't a wild party with everyone having a good time, it's just a party. The same goes for the prom, the classes, graduation, the fight scene, the sex scene, etc. There are no ultra-bitches or bros here (actually, maybe all of the kids are a little too good). Sutter has a drinking problem that is front and center in the movie, but it's not dealt with in a spectacular confrontational scene.

What we have, instead, is the best portrayal of a transformation I think I've seen in a long time. Sutter starts the movie one way and very carefully, gradually, and painfully learns something about himself. The movie strays briefly into some emotional and relationship territory that I have never seen covered in other movies. The only "type" might be Aimee, the good girlfriend, but she is so fetching and played so well that it is hard to get upset about it. The acting is superb and the movie makes sense and means something.

I was trying to figure out what other movie Shailene was in until I realized that it was Divergent.

Temple Grandin

A tour-de-force performance from Claire Danes in the true story of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who (together with her mother's love and support) fought a woefully inept and dangerous medical establishment, society at large, and a male-dominated sexist old-boys' cattle industry to become a transformative force in ranching. Temple's story is amazing in its own right; Danes' portrayal is astounding.

The screenplay brings it all together with the essential stories of Temple's struggles through college and the development of her ideas for more humane treatment of animals (good for the cows, and good for business). The story is a bit scattered, but ultimately comes together. It's not too maudlin; the discovery and implementation is told simply and cleanly. Captivating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice list of movies and completely agree with you on Saving Mr. Banks (underwhelming) and Stuck in Love & The Spectacular Now (nice surprises).