Tangled

Dec. 7th, 2010 12:58 am
I went and saw Tangled tonight to celebrate finally being (mostly) done with classes. I don't think I'll be doing any more late night movies on my own, though. Didn't run into anyone or anything threatening, but it just didn't feel good to be walking out to my car alone in the middle of the night, especially when I really don't know what the area around that mall is like.

Anyway, the movie:

I predicted when I saw the trailers for this movie that I would be drawn to see it, that I would enjoy it, but that it wouldn't blow my mind. I'm undecided how much of my feelings are me genuinely reacting to the movie and how much of my urge to dismiss this movie is just me holding onto the expectations I built up months ago. Because yeah--while I did enjoy it (quite a lot), it didn't blow my mind. I kept counting tropes in my head--cute animal friend, all animals are dogs (though at least Max the horse wasn't actually any good at tracking people down by scent), et cetera. It did help that while the movie was unapologetically a fairy tale, it was also unapologetically silly--the "I've Got a Dream" song was nothing but crack, and Flynn's partners in crime were a pair of identical twin thugs called--I kid you not--the "Stabbington Brothers." There were moments where it felt like this was Disney's attempt to capture the tone and style of the Shrek movies, but I felt that Tangled had a lot more heart to it than that series. It was a lot lighter on the pop culture, too; the closest thing I can remember to a pop culture reference in the film was someone mentioning Mozart. Nothing against Shrek and its pop culture saturation, but I'm at a point where I find it refreshing when a lighthearted film doesn't rely on that.

So I dunno. Paint by numbers? Maybe a little bit. There were a few moments, particularly toward the beginning, when I felt like we were ticking boxes that just had to be ticked in order for it to be an animated fairy tale movie by Disney, and of course it was pretty obvious from the beginning how it was going to end. If you've seen the trailer, I'm sure you've already guessed at least half the ending, and by the time you're ten minutes in you'll have guessed the rest.

Just as in the case of Megamind, however, I have to say that a movie doesn't really need to surprise you at every single turn and have its ending come out of nowhere in order for it to be a good night out. Or in, as the case may be. I found myself a lot more interested in all of the characters than I'd expected to be--even if the overall movie felt a little cookie cutter, the characters really didn't. Rapunzel is pretty much the most adorable thing ever to live, the witch is darkly fascinating, Flynn is hilarious, and all of them have really amazing hair. Seriously, I kept getting distracted by all the gorgeous CG hair in this movie, and I don't mean just Rapunzel's (though hers was awesome, of course).

Like I said, I'm on the fence. Once more, for all its predictability, I did have a good time watching it. The songs were good, the characters were engaging and fun, and it's pretty much what Disney set out to make: a fairy tale movie like they used to produce.

As for the previews: Yogi Bear looks more insipid every time I have the misfortune to watch the preview. I can't wait for that to come out just so I can stop having the trailers inflicted on me at the cinema. Saw the preview for the Justin Bieber thing again, and couldn't help but laugh and groan at lines like "He's living this incredible life, but he's just like you and me!" Good grief, what is the fascination with singers' personal lives, anyway? Of course they're just like you and me; they're human, aren't they? Yeah, of course money and fame can change how they act, but that doesn't mean they're from another planet or something.

Of course, just as we're about to finally be rid of Yogi Bear, I find out that there's a live action/CG Smurfs movie in the works that will apparently take place in New York. I just...don't even want to go there. I don't really have anything for or against the Smurfs in general, but seeing a bunch of little blue CG men with big, wet eyes climbing around on taxis just gave me the heebie jeebies. This trend of taking old cartoons that were defined stylistically by their two-dimensionality and turning them into semi-photorealistic CG really has to stop. Regardless of how I feel about the cartoons themselves, and regardless of the story of the film, it's just not right.

Another thing that's just not right: Mars Needs Moms. This film is apparently from the same producer as The Polar Express, which might explain why it looks to be another extended tour of the uncanny valley. I thought they got the picture when so many people were creeped out by zombie!Tom Hanks--guess I was wrong. While I made it through The Polar Express okay by concentrating on the characters who were at least not completely horrifying, even the protagonist of Mars Needs Moms looks like a male version of the SimPal Cindy doll from The Sixth Day (if you don't remember that thing, google it--I dare you). I think there was something in there about Martians abducting human mothers because they were inept at raising their own children, and some sort of Great Mom Escape plot, but I was too busy dealing with the problem of my skin crawling every time I saw one of the characters to really follow whatever flimsy justification they cobbled together for this undead romp across the red planet. I try not to automatically pan animated movies for stylistic choices (Rango, for instance, has a style not immediately to my taste but that I'm willing to let grow on me because the film looks interesting), but this is just unforgivably ugly. Why even bother animating it if all the human characters are just going to be made to look as human as possible and animated via motion capture? They just look like floaty zombies wading through sludgy air. Ew.
Warning: contains spoilers for both the movie and the TV show

Went and saw The Last Airbender with Ben tonight.

It is the most amazingly bad film I have seen in a long, long time. I say that as an avid fan of the television series, which actually dealt pretty maturely with its themes of war and loss and heroism and all that jazz while still delivering a show that was fairly lighthearted and highly enjoyable. It had well-fleshed-out characters, a world built out of amalgams of things from our world (like the animals, which were mostly things like platypus bears and turtle ducks, and like the characters themselves--the Water Tribe, for instance, consists of black people with blue eyes who live more or less like Inuits), and more cool uses of elemental "bending" than you can shake a stick at. Fire benders? Let's kick it up another notch and have some lightning up in here. Water benders? Okay, let's take that a step further and have them learn blood bending and deal with the moral ramifications of that. It was a really cool show.

The movie on the other hand, is about as bland as bland can be. All the main characters are white except for Zuko, who, like the rest of the Fire Nation, is randomly Indian now. Oh, but everyone in the Water Tribe other than Katara and Sokka are Inuits. They're just the two random white offspring of a whole tribe of Native Americans. Oh, and Zuko's massive facial scar? He's got a couple little scratches now. Can't mar the pretty, after all. Don't forget, either, that the Fire Nation is suddenly a desert when it was actually a rather nice, vaguely Japanese place in the cartoon.

But that's just the look of the thing, you say. What about the characters? What about the plot?

What characters? What plot? Iroh's now a generically wise old martial arts master, Zuko's a whiny little bitch...okay, so first season Zuko was like that, but that's no excuse for making him so damned boring. Katara and Sokka have been drained of all life, Aang sort of halfheartedly goes through the motions of being in mourning for his entire race, Ozai is just some guy who shows no sign whatsoever of being impressive or intimidating, and Zhao wanders around telling everyone about how he's found some scrolls in the library that reveal the secret location of the ocean and moon spirits. Seriously, he's constantly saying that. He seems to feel that every single person he encounters goddamn needs to know that he found some scrolls in the library that reveal the secret location of the ocean and moon spirits. And yeah, he dun found those spirits in the show, but in the show I didn't end up laughing my ass off when he finally went ahead and shanked the moon spirit. It was a sad moment. Now it's just some guy blathering on about scrolls from the library and stabbing a fish in a sack.

Also, the line "Zhao has no sacredness" will never ever not be funny to me. CLEARLY HE DOES NOT. THANK YOU FOR THE CLARIFICATION THAR.

Or "We need to prove to them that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in their beliefs." Whaat. Yue, you are on crack.

Speaking of Yue, we only know that Sokka's supposed to be in love with her because Katara tells us so in a voiceover. Yup. Look, M. Night Shyamamamalan, I know you're crunched for time, but one stilted onscreen conversation about how her hair turned white as a baby and how Sokka hates sand--wait, that's Star Wars does not a compelling romance make. Oh, and Sokka's other love interest is not included in the film at all. The Kyoshi Warriors apparently don't exist in this version, so no Suki for Sokka. Tho thad.

Okay, I'll lay off...after I complain about one last thing. Why, oh why would you ever do something so stupid as to take a well-known show and, in the process of adapting it for the big screen, go ahead and change the pronunciation of half the characters' names? Did Shymamalamb never even watch an episode of the show? That would certainly explain a few other things.
I went home for the weekend for a belated Christmas with my immediate family as well as my aunt and (much) younger cousin. We did the whole thing with a vegetable tray and the spicy shrimp and all, and ended up watching the copy I got of WALL-E in order to keep our cousin entertained. The whole family ended up watching, even Dad, who never likes sitting through movies without having two or three to switch between, because WALL-E is just that good. I planned to come back to my apartment on Sunday, but it's now Monday afternoon and I just got in, so there you go. That's mostly because I ended up spending Saturday night at my brother's apartment, where it was cold and the bed was uncomfortable and *insert more complaining.* We played some games, though, including one of the Nancy Drew PC games I got last summer (turns out that even with an emulator they don't run for crap on my Mac, so I'll have to play them at his apartment). We also went and saw Avatar, which he wasn't into and about which I was ambivalent.

On the one hand, yes it is completely gorgeous, even close to visually perfect. And yes, the action sequences were a lot of fun. And yes, I felt that the story flowed smoothly, though there was a point at around the two hour mark when I began thinking that we'd been watching it for an awfully long time. I didn't have a problem with the blue kitty people's FireWire connection to nature like I thought I would (I mean come on, they plug themselves into animals--literally plug themselves into animals wtf how does that benefit the animals no ecosystem would ever be like that raaar), because it became clear pretty early on to me that this was not at all an exercise in building a realistic world; but rather a way of making a fairly simple morality play (very) interesting visually.

But that's part of my problem with the film, in the end--the symbolism gets taken so far and built up so much that whatever message the film has ceases to be applicable to the real world. Oprah said (yeah yeah, Mom watches it and I happened to be in the room, okay?) that it was about how we're all connected to nature--but it's not. The humans in the world aren't connected at all to anything. Only the blue kitty people get that privilege, and in their case it is absolutely literal. So what, then, the message is don't be human? That doesn't work for me. And of course my other problem with it is that the morality of the story is far, far too simple and black and white. Industrialists and military types bad, blue, tree-hugging natives good. Never mind that the Na'vi are racist to the point where they won't even converse with a human unless that human is speaking through an avatar body that looks like a nice, familiar blue kitty--nope, they're the good guys, and there's absolutely nothing about them that should be taken negatively. And, of course, there wasn't much effort made to steer clear of certain tired action cliches, and there was more than one plot hole to niggle at me (like how did Trudy not get jailed for dereliction of duty, thereby preventing her from aiding the heroes later on?). In the end...yeah, I think the writing was pretty lazy.

I hope I'm not giving the impression that I hated the film, because I really didn't. I might even see about going again while it's still in theaters, since I'm pretty sure my TV won't do it justice when it comes out on DVD. I just wish that it had been a more complicated movie, especially when it was so long--they had three hours of movie to play around with, and still didn't manage to flesh out the so-called villains even to the point where they consistently behaved in a realistic fashion, much less to show their point of view or where this conflict was really coming from beyond providing us with a caricature of extreme capitalism. I've seen the issues surrounding the meeting of two alien species and the subsequent attempt to 'Westernize' (or Terranize?) the other race handled more intelligently in a series of parodies starring teddy bear people. Seriously, James Cameron--if you really do make that sequel, you'd better step up your game story-wise.

Jumper

Aug. 29th, 2009 05:03 pm
I've had the novel Jumper in my possession for a while, and read it soon after getting down here to Florida. I'd been interested in the movie when I first saw the previews since the basic concept was an appealing one, but had read reviews recommending that one read the book instead. So I did, and it was utterly fantastic. I had trouble putting it down, and the older sci fi books I've been reading since have been disappointing because I miss reading Jumper. That's how much I liked it. But, having read it, I decided to get the movie from Netflix and see what they'd done with it. I knew it wasn't going to be great, but I figured that with such good source material, it had to at least be watchable, right?

Wrong. Completely awful. I absolutely loathe this movie. Couldn't even sit through it without getting my computer out and writing a review explaining how much I hate it to distract myself.

here is that review )

In other news, I'm still working on that paper. This was my break from paper writing, and in retrospect it was not worth taking.
When I agreed to watch Death Bed: The Bed That Eats with my brother, my expectations were pretty low. Low-budget indie horror films from the seventies tend to be, with rare exceptions, badly-paced, drawn out snoozefests with inexplicable plots and awful characters.

This is one of those exceptions.

Death Bed is a shining example of a writer/director (George Barry, who is not credited on IMDb as ever having made another movie) taking extremely limited resources and turning out a film that is not only watchable, but highly engaging. The sets are minimal, the special effects are often extremely unconvincing, and the acting ranges from decent to downright awful (there is a flashback in which a gangster character being eaten by the bed says "I'm being eaten alive!" in a strange, matter of fact way while shooting his pistol in the general direction of his own crotch, viewable in the first part of this small collection of clips). The concept, at first, seems not just unreasonably bizarre but incapable of supporting an entire film.

But for all that, George Barry managed to put together a film that somehow works. It has a snappy pace and, very importantly, the action and the backstory are explained very clearly throughout the film (except for the ending, which gets a little vague). This is accomplished through the presence of the artist character - a ghost trapped behind his own painting across the room from the bed, where he receives the inedible belongings of the people the bed has eaten, has flashbacks concerning the bed's history, and repeatedly informs the bed of how much he hates it. It is perhaps somewhat unfortunate that he is the only proper character in the movie (interestingly, he is played by two actors - this is possible because he never speaks aloud, allowing him to be voiced by someone other than the man who provides his visual representation). The rest tend to be lacking in personality or history, though there is a strange set of sequences in which one of the girls is set up as if she's going to be our heroine, complete with internal monologues, before she falls victim to the bed. There are a lot of internal monologues in this film though, lending it a sort of dreamy quality. When characters do speak aloud, the deliverance of the dialogue still tends to seem distant, almost abstracted, leading me to believe that the poor acting might have actually benefited the film by keeping it at a strange remove from reality.

Predictably, Death Bed uses its subject matter as a jumping-off point for inclusion of seventies sleaze (it's a seventies movie about a bed that eats people - how could it not include an orgy that ends in the deaths of all involved?), but it's portrayed surprisingly cleanly (don't be surprised to see some nudity here and there, though). Sex is a factor in the story - a very large factor - but its portrayal onscreen is clearly not where Barry's interests really lay when he made this film. The "orgy" in question is depicted by a bunch of people sitting under the blankets and waving their arms to give the scene some movement - hardly the sexiest of orgy portrayals.

Death Bed is surprising because not only is it a fun film (you know the instant you see the bed downing a bottle of Pepto-Bismol that it's definitely okay to laugh at parts of it), but it's also surprisingly artistic. What might have been nothing but laughs a la the Pepto-Bismol sequence works surprisingly well as a serious dreamworld of shifting themes and tones.

If you looked at the title and thought it sounded at all interesting, see it. As George Barry says in the introduction to the film on the DVD (which you must also watch to get an idea of the history of the film and of the personality of the man who made it): "You might as well give it a try."
Maybe I should post movie reviews twice a week if I'm going to do it for everything I see. Or maybe after this week I'll only review stuff I hadn't seen before.

Anyway, here's a pretty good haul for the week. They're just in the order that I saw them.

Rebel Without a Cause )

Rear Window )

The Return of the Living Dead )

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl )

It's a Wonderful Life )

101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure )
If current trends hold up, there could be a lot of movie reviews showing up on here from now on. I should probably find a community for to post them, or put them on Netflix or something or other. I'll figure it out.

Just a quick review today. Again, no spoilers in the review, though they may come up in the comments.

The Animation Show, volume 1 )
I've decided that I need to start writing mini-reviews for all the movies I see and the books I read. I've been logging both of these in the calendar pages of my planners for several years now, but when I look back at the titles even a few months later I sometimes find that I can't actually remember what the book or movie was about, or whether or not I even liked it. Bad sign for my memory. Anyway, I should probably be practicing writing reviews anyway. Maybe I'll re-join the bookshare comm to post my book reviews (I'm working on World War Z right now, and it's awesome)

I saw two movies today. First, I went with my staff this afternoon to see Bedtime Stories. Then, I went with Ben this evening to see Gran Torino. Can you say "world of difference"?

Bedtime Stories )


Gran Torino )

ETA: I forgot to mention that my reviews will not contain spoilers, unless the "spoilers" are in the previews where you've probably seen them anyway. There may be some spoilers in the comments, but if they originate from me they will be hidden with white text so that you have to highlight them to read them. Note that LJ's message notification system will deliver said comments to your inbox sans html markups if you track the comments on this post, so you could get an inbox full of undisguised spoilers if you do so.

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