Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Movie Reviews

The Artist - An "ode to a bygone era" film. At their worst, films like these, while clever and precise, capture too much of the era to which they ode (often an era is bygone because we have progressed to better things since then) and concentrate too much on the technicalities of the capture and not enough on the soul (i.e. weak story, flat acting).

The Artist manages to escape this by about 70%. It recapitulates the story of an actor left by the wayside when the film industry moves to talking pictures. Unlike most movies with this story, this one is done (almost) entirely as a silent picture. The plot is actually closer to A Star is Born, and might be familiar if you know who Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were.

While the story is not earthshaking, it's entertaining. It doesn't capture the exact feel of silent films in several ways: the leading lady is too forward (I think her era regression stopped at about 1975), the acting not as absurdly stylized as it was in silent films, the pacing too modern and smooth, the camerawork too intelligent and diverse. On the one hand, these are good things; on the other, they are a little unsettling.

The film has a few deliberately jarring moments ala Pleasantville and Silent Movie. A nice film, but not an important one.

Fireflies in the Garden - A quiet family drama about a man mixing with his family after the death of his mother. In particular, the man confronts his tyrannical authoritarian father, who appears not to have learned much since the son has been away, except that his son doesn't like the way he was brought up.

The principal actors - Ryan Reynolds is the son, William DaFoe the father, and Julia Roberts the mother - as well as the rest of the cast do a fine job. If you had a father like this one, it may be a bit hard to watch at certain points, but it never gets too graphic. A "slice of life" film.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish) / The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (American) - Yes, I saw them both. Guess what? They're both good. The American version is not a remake of the Swedish version; it's another movie based on the same book. Certain events and characters are left out of one and not the other, sequences of minor events are shifted, etc. The acting, directing, and photography of both are equally good. There's no need to see both of them, and it doesn't really matter which one you see.

The story is about a reporter who faces jail-time for libel. The story he published was (probably) true, but his sources recanted at the last moment. Before going to jail, an oligarch  hires him to find out what happened to his niece who disappeared 40 years earlier; one of his family was probably involved. The oligarch hired a girl to compile a dossier on the reporter before he hired the reporter; this girl has troubles of her own with her state-appointed legal case worker (who controls her money until she is 25). She is eventually hired to help the reporter on the case.

The story is based on a best-selling book, and the movies do a reasonable job of covering its main points.

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Keir Gilchrist stars in another movie adaptation of a book, this one about a boy who feels parental and academic pressure and checks himself into a mental facility for five days. While there, he gains perspective by meeting other people who are sick and he experiences many happy Hollywood moments.

It's a feel-good by-the-book formula movie, which annoyed me. It skips over some of the real disgusting, dirty, and depressing things that you will find day-to-day in a real mental facility. However, for what it is, it works, and even a shallow exposure to a mental facility is probably better than none (most people's understanding ends at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which they haven't seen, but they imagine)).

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol - This was actually better than it had a right to be. The action sequences were thrilling - I expected to be jaded by such things by now. Cruise actually hung from the Burj Khalifa tower to film his stunts; lord knows why. Oh right: it's Tom Cruise.

The movie manages to keep the series in pace with the Bourne series. In this series, characters make elaborate plans that, one at a time like clockwork, go wrong. Just enough goes right each time that the mission can be fulfilled by a series of last-minute chases, falls, bumps, and dumb luck.

Good summer fun.

Moneyball - The kind of movie you would expect Robert Redford to direct, this is a baseball movie about geek gamer statistics and how they changed major league recruitment. Hiring "all around good players" was the old-school way to make a team; the new way is to focus on players who do exactly what is needed to win: get on base, score runss.

It's a clash between old-school and geek, and there's no surprise who wins, though the story (which is true) doesn't follow the usual formula exactly. A good movie.

The Muppets - I was expecting this to suck badly given all the promotion I saw (usually a lot of promotion means a bad movie). Instead it was pretty good. I'm a little hazy on remembering the details, but I think it was suitable for young kids, which is who it's really aimed at. The plot doesn't quite hold together enough for grownups: things turn around too quickly, too often.

The idea is similar to The Blues Brothers: Muppets have to reunite from their disparate locations and vocations to stage a benefit to raise money to save Muppet theater. Meanwhile, the main characters have be true to themselves.

The comedy, singing, and dancing are nice. If there was still a Muppet show on television, this movie would prove that the Muppets are still relevant. Without one, it's hard to see that the movie will revive the franchise. The YouTube videos aimed at grownups are doing a better job of keeping them alive (for grownups, at least).

One Day - Another movie based on a book, this one is the story of a couple told over the course of several years. Each scene focuses on the same day in the next year, wherever, and with whomever, the two leads happen to be. It all goes well until a major plot point which takes us into cliched romance territory, which was both predictable and disappointing.

Forgettable chick-flick.

The Time Traveler's Wife - Yet another movie based on a book. Like most movies based on books, people who love the book love to hate the movie because they think the movie left out this or changed that. Grow up, people. A movie based on a book is a retelling of a story, not "the book in film format". It must be judged on its own merits.

The movie is lovely. Like most time travel stories, parts of it make no sense, and you have to give them a pass for those parts. The story is about a man whose main life stream is constantly interrupted as he travels suddenly back or forward in time  - and space - but only to a very specific range of time and space, much of it in close proximity to his own past, the past of the girl he ends up marrying, or his future daughter (only as a young girl).

The sci-fi, like all good sci-fi, is used a metaphor for a man who is not always present, or about the course of a relationship. It's artfully done and romantic, but a bit sentimental for those who don't like that kind of thing (definitely a chick-flick). It inspired me to buy the book, so that I can become one of those people.

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