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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Beat FilmSnork: 2014 Oscar Edition

Think you can beat me, make your picks in the comments section.
If you beat me there is no prize besides bragging rights for the rest of your life.  
Give is a shot.   

And the nominees are

BEST PICTURE
"12 Years a Slave"
"American Hustle"
"Captain Phillips"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Gravity"
"Her"
"Nebraska"
"Philomena"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave."
Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"
David O. Russell, "American Hustle"
Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale, "American Hustle"
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
Jonah Hill, "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"The Croods"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"Frozen"
"The Wind Rises"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"The Grandmaster," Philippe Le Sourd
"Gravity," Emmanuel Lubezki
"Inside Llewyn Davis," Bruno Delbonnel
"Nebraska," Phedon Papamichael
"Prisoners," Roger A. Deakins

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"American Hustle," Michael Wilkinson
"The Grandmaster," William Chang Suk Ping
"The Great Gatsby," Catherine Martin
"The Invisible Woman," Michael O'Connor
"12 Years a Slave," Patricia Norris

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"The Act of Killing"
"Cutie and the Boxer"
"Dirty Wars"
"The Square"
"20 Feet from Stardom"

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
"CaveDigger"
"Facing Fear"
"Karama Has No Walls"
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"

BEST FILM EDITING
"American Hustle," Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
"Captain Phillips," Christopher Rouse
"Dallas Buyers Club," John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger
"12 Years a Slave," Joe Walker

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM 
"The Broken Circle Breakdown," Belgium
"The Great Beauty," Italy
"The Hunt," Denmark
"The Missing Picture," Cambodia
"Omar," Palestine

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
"Dallas Buyers Club," Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," Stephen Prouty
"The Lone Ranger," Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
"The Book Thief," John Williams
"Gravity," Steven Price
"Her," William Butler and Owen Pallett
"Philomena," Alexandre Desplat
"Saving Mr. Banks," Thomas Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Happy" from "Despicable Me 2"
"Let It Go" from "Frozen"
"The Moon Song" from "Her"
"Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
"American Hustle," Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
"Gravity," Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
"The Great Gatsby," Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
"Her," Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
"12 Years a Slave," Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Feral"
"Get a Horse!"
"Mr. Hublot"
"Possessions"
"Room on the Broom"

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)"
"Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)"
"Helium"
"Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)"
"The Voorman Problem"

BEST SOUND EDITING
"All Is Lost," Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
"Captain Phillips," Oliver Tarney
"Gravity," Glenn Freemantle
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Brent Burge
"Lone Survivor," Wylie Stateman

BEST SOUND MIXING
"Captain Phillips," Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
"Gravity," Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
"Inside Llewyn Davis," Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
"Lone Survivor," Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
"Gravity," Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
"Iron Man 3," Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
"The Lone Ranger," Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
"Star Trek Into Darkness," Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"Before Midnight," written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
"Captain Phillips," screenplay by Billy Ray
"Philomena," screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
"12 Years a Slave," screenplay by John Ridley
"The Wolf of Wall Street," screenplay by Terence Winter

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"American Hustle," written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
"Blue Jasmine," written by Woody Allen
"Dallas Buyers Club," written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
"Her," written by Spike Jonze
"Nebraska," written by Bob Nelson


My official Oscar picks:
BEST PICTURE
"Gravity" (will probably lose, but it is my favorite and I am picking it.)

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"

BEST ACTOR
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"Frozen"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"Gravity," Emmanuel Lubezki

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"The Great Gatsby," Catherine Martin

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"20 Feet from Stardom"

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"

BEST FILM EDITING
"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
"The Great Beauty," Italy

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
"Dallas Buyers Club," Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
"Gravity," Steven Price

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Let It Go" from "Frozen"

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
"The Great Gatsby," Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Get a Horse!"

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
"The Voorman Problem"

BEST SOUND EDITING
"Gravity," Glenn Freemantle

BEST SOUND MIXING
"Gravity," Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
"Gravity," Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"12 Years a Slave," screenplay by John Ridley

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"Her," written by Spike Jonze



Good luck.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prisoners (2013) - review

A Thanksgiving get together for a pair of families takes a sudden turn for the worst when their two young daughters disappear without a trace.  It is a uncomfortable premise and from that point onward the film only gets more grueling and dark, raising moral questions that are uncomfortable even considering.  The stellar cast lead by Hugh Jackman, who plays against character, as a father ofone of the missing girls that will do anything he can find his daughter.   The ever surprising, Jake Gyllenhaal, delivering one of his best performances, plays a young detective that is determined to solve the mystery by the book.

The film is full of intrigue and mystery that will keep you engaged as you try to piece it all together.  But, be warned it is a very tough film to sit through at times.  It sets a dark tone and you are not given a hint of a break- there is no humor, no light scenes, just grimness straight through.  The film delves into numerous religious themes that add even more weight to an already draining story.  This is masterfully handled in one scene that turns a recital of Our Father into an powerful moment of doubt and self-evaluation.  It is just one of many scenes that will have you trying to determine which way your moral compass would point in the face for such a horrific situation.

Although it is a great film full of stellar performances I recommend you proceed with caution before watching, it may be too much for some to handle.  Especially if you are a parent, it is may be too emotionally gut-wrenching for you to appreciate it.  Go hug your kids and watch something lighter instead.

8.5 out of 10
 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014) - Review

When I first read about the plans for turning the classic building blocks toy into a feature film I suffered flashbacks of other such attempts to convert kids toys into movies.  G.I. Joe, Battleship, Transformers 1, 2, 3…. I shudder.   Before I could finish reading the headline I had written it off as another ill-conceived money grab.  12 month later, I saw the film's first trailer.   Not only was it not off-putting, it looked, uh, good.  How could this be?  After about five minutes into the film, I got the answer to that question.  The reason the movies is not just another toy based feature film bust is, actual writing.  Unlike so many films before it, this film has something to say.  Actually, it has a lot to say - perhaps too much to say for just one viewing.  And although the story is nothing groundbreaking, the way it is told is.  The film is a not only a tolerable 90-minute surprise, it is much more.  It is a clever, smart and hilarious - even touching at times.  This satisfying romp may even play better to adults than to the kids that dragged them to go see it.

The story focuses on Emmitt, an average yellow, plastic joe, that goes to works, buys overpriced coffee and does what any good person is supposed to do, fit in.  In order to not make waves he follows the instructions he was provided.  Until one day he breaks away from the routine and unexpectedly ends up in the middle of a rebellion to stop the Lord Business who plans to use his ultimate weapon, Kragle to take control of the universe.  The Emmitt is determined to be The Special - the supreme master builder that will find a way to save everyone.  Unfortunately, Emmit knows he is nothing more than ordinary.

The story is somewhat formulaic, but the surrounding madness is fresh enough to compensate for that.  Like most films, to get the most of the film, it is better to come into it with as little knowledge as possible and experience it organically.  For this reason I will reveal as little as possible.  There are some surprises though out, never-ending sight gags and wonderful cameos.  Some of the said surprises add a satisfying fullness to the film, preventing it from wearing out its welcome.

As I write this, so many of the clever moments pop up in my head - they are numerous - and I would love to discuss them, but would rather you enjoy them for yourselves and discuss them in the comments section.  As I previously stated, the film will probably take several viewings to catch all the jokes and pointed satire crammed into the 90 minutes.   The film is certainly not without fault - when I say crammed, it is like a suitcase that you have to sit on to zipper and after you get it shut you realize you still need fit your deodorant inside.   What feels like effortless humor comes so fast and furiously that before you can finish enjoying one laugh the next one may have already passed.  That is not to say this is a film of loosely strung together jokes - it is not.  This is not rambling buts of humor - the jokes serve a purpose.  I just wish they had more time to breath.

If you need another reason to see the film, here are two.  1) the visuals - simply amazing.  It looks so photo realistic that you will believe it actually shot with real Legos (maybe it was.)  Just incredible.  2) The acting - a great cast including Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett and about a dozen more, bring with them great comic timing that ties it all together.

Oh yeah, be prepared to being singing "Everything is Awesome" for at least a few days.

If you have seen this, please feel free to list some of the funniest moments in the comments.

8 out of 10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Conjuring (2013) - Review

Have you ever been woken up by a dream that scared the living heck out of you?  You know, one of those dreams that no matter how old you are or how illogical it was, still scared you enough to prevent you from leaving the safe confines of your bed?  This film treads in that territory.  It sneaks past the adult defenses you gathered through the years and goes straight for those fears you thought you left behind with your youth.

Wether it is a doll that is not in the same position it was last time you saw it, a noise coming from what you thought was an empty room or a door that seems to shut on its own - an adult should be able to easily dismiss such things.  It is not that easy.  For some reason these things resurface the scared little kid inside all of us.  Director, James Wan, does not invent many new scares, he embraces old scare techniques and craftily uses them to do what they have done in the past, scare you.

The story is classic haunted horror tale - a family moves into a new house are realizes they may not be alone.  After a series of unexplained events they bring in paranormal experts to help determine just what is going on.  Thankfully, it avoids a major storytelling pitfall of so many recent films by forgoing CGI effects.  Sometimes a whisper in a dark room is much more effective than all the CGI in the world - this film proves that.

The film also benefits its surprisingly strong cast consisting of Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lilly Taylor and Patrick Wilson.  Honestly, off the top of my head, I can't think of a more skilled horror cast.  Combine their work with the atmospheric CGIless setting and you are already well ahead of the game.

Horror is very subjective.  I still get the chills just talking about the end of The Blair Witch Project.  Other people find it a complete waste of time.  Hopefully, you are like me and find this to be a chilliest.

8 out of 10

Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2012) - Review


I was captivated by this film from minute one. The editing was extremely done, teasing questions to answers we were not given privy to. As more pieces of the puzzles were revealed, there were just so many unsettling, uncomfortable and warped moments that I could not focus on determining what it was all leading to. Typically, I see how a film is going to conclude fairly early on, but in this situation I was so involved that it blindsided me.

Tilda Swinton is one of my favorite actresses (if you have missed it, like so many have, see her in the terribly underrated "Julia.) For me great acting is often what you do between your lines rather than how you deliver them. Swinton's work here exemplified mastery of just that. She often sat in silence, but you knew what she was thinking or at the very least could feel the grief, confusion and pain just with a glance.

As a whole, the movie was messed up. I will never watch it again based solely on how effective it was. A very unique film that proves terror does not need to be blood and ogre, true terror, like good acting can be found not only in the actions, but ofte in a simple glance.

The more I think about it, the more it turns my stomach.


8 out of 10

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: Christmas with the Kranks (2004) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #4

Plot: After their daughter announces she will not be coming home for Christmas the Kranks (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to forgo Christmas for a cruise, much to the chagrin of their neighbors.

Review:  Christmas movies are supposed to provide a little bit of hope, that the world is not the ugly place we all suspect it to be - that underneath it all, there is good in the world.  This film seems to preach a different message.  It is an uneven holiday farce that has the Kranks taking on an entire town that has nothing better to do than to berate a family for going on holiday rather than celebrating one.  Things get even zanier when they find out that their daughter is actually coming home and they need to stage the massive Christmas party they just cancelled. 

Based in a reality that I have never know, the majority of the film feels false.  The characters never feel like real people, most the time acting in a way that people simply do not act.  Whether it is the intrusive carolers that are so desperate to have their song heard they peer into windows of the home or two women rolling across the aisles of the supermarket in a fight for the last honey baked ham - almost every character and every scenario feel off.  The ineffectiveness of the phony characters and the paper thin plot are only multiplied by the addition of some poorly fitting slapstick humor.  Maybe the odd mix of humor is there to distract you from the senseless plot.  There is not a conflict in the film that could not be resolved with a 30 second, truthful conversation. The results are a predictable, unauthentic, holiday film that is difficult to relate.  I understand it is a comedy and you are supposed to suspend disbelief, but it is tough when the entire film is comprised of awkward, forced scenarios including a not so unexpected Santa cameo.  

With all that said, the film still does provide some softer, saccharine sweet moments that too feel false, but do counter some of the ugliness that takes place.  If you are looking for a holiday film to watch with the kids, this is probably not it - the message is all wrong and poorly told.  If you are downing some egg nog (you know, the good kind) and you want something Christmas-ish on the TV while you do so, you can do worse.
4.5 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:  I can't really say that is message of conformity is very joyful or that the bullish way the neighbors treat each ot
her is an example of "do on to other as you would like done to you," or that the focus on the materialistic aspects of the holiday are anything but of putting, but when the neighborhood works together to provide Claire with an old-fashioned Krank Christmas, it kind of works... that is until the next in a long line of awkward, forced moment derails any true feeling of Christmas joy.  D+

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  Not much here to stir up any real emotion besides one scene at the end that surprisingly works even while surrounded by so much other things that don't.  B-

Memorable Lines:

Marty:  I really think you need an umbrella!
(That's the best I could do.)


Did You Know?:
The film has several appearances by former classic sitcom actors including Tom Poston (Newhart)  and David Lander (Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley.) 

The films is based on a book by John Grisham, the author of The Firm, The Client and A Time to Kill.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blackfish (2013) - review

A several ton creature leaps out of the water, flies high in the air then crashes into the water creating a wave big enough to splash and soak several rows of audience members.  Few, if any, theme park experiences can produce such awe as the killer whale show at Sea World.  Little to the audiences knowledge, even though the show tells you about the playful, happy lives of their whales, all is not well at the marine park. 

In recent years, the parks have been in the spotlight after the much publicized attack during one of the family oriented shows.  Long time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged under the water by a whale named, Tilikum, held under water until she drowned.  The rest of the staff was helpless, unable to do anything but wait for the whale to release the trainer's body, which did not happen for quite some time and only after it had dismembered and caused great distress to the body.  Sea World dimissed it a tragic case of trainer error, a rare incident.  The doc reveals the incident is not isolated and makes a case for it not being trainer error at all.

The whale, Tilikum, has a sketchy past - from bites, aggressive behavior to three deaths.  The film educates the viewer about the intelligence and emotional complexity of the creatures and uses that as the basis for the argument that these "incidents" are often not accidents, but rather the actions of a highly intelligent creature that has been held in captivity for way too long.

Why keep it as part of the act if it is putting trainers in danger?  The simple answer is what you would expect, money.  Tilikum, as displayed in somewhat unsettling detail, is used to breed other killer whales - a multimillion dollar business.  When there is no logical answer, the real answer is usually money.


The doc may be a bit one-sided (most docs are.)  Seeing that Sea World was unwilling to be interviewed for the film there is not much of a counter argument.  Since its premiere at Sundance, the doc has lead to terrible press for the amusement parks and the cancellation of several musical acts that had scheduled performance there.  Since then they have purchased several full page ads in national publications refuting some of the claims of the film.

It is hard to watch this film and not be affected.  I have viustied the park numerous times over the years.  Can I take my family to see a show that provided me with so much joy during my youth?  That's something I will need to answer for myself.  Like an effective documentary should do it has me thinking, questioning and discussing.

8.5 out of 10

Find it streaming on Netflix

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Joyeux Noel (2005) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #3

Plot: On a Christmas Eve during World War I opposing German and French troops put the war on hold to celebrate Christmas.

Review:  As a war movie it is not as brutal as it could be, less blood and violence than you may expect which works perfectly since I am watching it as part of a Christmas movie fest.  The film focuses on a pair of lovers that were pulled into the war, literally right off the stage at their theater.  The film is a bit slow as it builds to the moment the warring armies decide to take a timeout.  I am not sure how historically accurate the film is, but the simple idea Christmas can unite people allows me to enjoy it no matter how true it is, fable or fact.  7.5 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:  Not your typical Christmas tale, there are guns, bombs and fatalities.  Still, the spirit of Christmas shines through when the make shift Christmas celebration with enemies occurs.  The message behind the film is pure Christmas.  B-

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  When the soldier starts singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) and the troops go silent, the chills kick in hard.  B

Memorable Lines:

We were talking about a cease fire, for Christmas Eve. What do you think? The outcome of this war wont be decided tonight. I don't think anyone would criticize us for laying down our riffles on Christmas Eve.

Did You Know?:
This film is dedicated to the soldiers who fraternized on Christmas 1914 in several places on the front. 
 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Elf (2003) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #2

Plot:  After accidentally being picked up by Santa during his rounds, a human named Buddy is raised an elf in the North Pole.  Upon learning that he is not an actual elf he travels to Manhattan to find his real father, who just happens to be on the Naughty List.

Review:  Director, Jon Favreau's goal was to have Elf be one of those yearly holiday TV movies and I think most people will attest that he succeeded.  What makes the film works on many levels is it made by someone that understood the make up of the holiday classics that came before it.  By combining some of the classic elements with some new Elf comes across like an extension of the holiday films/specials we grew up on, making it very accessible.

This can be seen throughout the film, the elf costumes are exact replicas of those worn in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," the sets and claymation also borrow from the style of the classic holiday TV specials.  Even though it was a new story, upon first viewing the film already felt familiar.

As a comedy the film succeeds at delivering laughs to a broad audience - the combination of sight gags/physical humor and clever plays on fish-out-of-water humor work well with young and old.  Whether Buddy is eating an overflowing, disgusting plate of pasta covered in candy and syrup or shouting out congratulations to the diner that makes the "World's Best Cup of Coffee" viewers will be having a great time watching what he will do next. 

Most importantly, it is a family film that can be enjoyed by young and old - no questionable content, no fast forwarding needed.  Nothing is worse than a holiday film that loses focus on who its audience is.  Too many "Christmas" films are focused on delivering a preachy message than entertaining the audience.  Others themes are so far removed from the spirit of the season, you wonder why it was a Christmas movie in the first place.  Favreau finds a great balance - delivering a good message while making sure that when all is said and done you finish with the warm holiday feel.   9 out of 10

Christmas Spirit Grade:  A
From the opening credits Favreau captures what a holiday film is all about and keeps you wrapped up in that warm feeling throughout the entire film.  It is full of classic Christmas songs, a visual style that evokes the Rankin and Bass classics, a Christmas romance, a sing-a-long, and best of all a redemption story (my favorite.)

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  B+
Even after seeing Elf about a dozen times, I still find myself choking up and getting the chills every time the group sing-a-long of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" produces enough Christmas Cheer to send Santa's sleigh flying through the sky.  Honestly, the choked up feeling usually start when Zooey Deschanel finds the courage to start the sing-a-long and stay that way until the credits start rolling.  Makes it tough to join in the sing-a-long when you are worried about blubbering in front of your kids.

Memorable Lines:
You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa.

The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.

What's more vulnerable than a peach?  (not that well know, but makes me laugh every time)

Did You Know?:
The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

When this screenplay was written in 1993, Jim Carrey was attached to star in the lead.

Favreau wanted to rely on as many “old techniques” of filming as possible to preserve its nostalgic feel. One of the simpler tricks involved the elves’ diminutive look.  Favreau used an old movie trick called “forced perspective” to make the elves appear smaller in the presence of Ferrell, Asner and the other human-sized actors.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #1

Plot:  The musical, which takes place the year before the 1904 World's Fair, follows the Smith family sisters through a series of life lessons.   The family is preparing for their reluctant move from St. Louis to New York City - while doing so, the two oldest daughters seem focused on one thing, getting some men to propose to them.

Review:  This wonderful slice of American "life" never feels authentic, but then again, that's not why you watch musicals.  The musical numbers carry much of the load and the there is enough charm to keep your interest even when the thin plot is at its thinnest.  You would expect the biggest draw to be Judy Garland, and she does deliver a great performance, but it is her youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) that steals the show with her awkward-yet-cute delivery.  This film can be watched an enjoyed by all, if you can handle musicals.  7 out of 10

Christmas Joy Grade:    C-
Although, it did debut the classic holiday song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," this is not much of a Christmas film, more of a film with a Christmas portion.  Then again, shortly after Garland sings the iconic song, Tootie goes nuts and starts smashing her snowmen with a stick.

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  C-
Tootie's tear filled eyes during "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" may pull at the heart strings - otherwise, the saccharine sweetness of the entire film puts a protective glaze on your emotions.

Memorable Lines:
Agnes Smith: And then he burns the cats at midnight in his furnace. You could smell the smoke...
'Tootie' Smith: ...and Mr. Braukoff was beating his wife with a red hot poker... and Mr. Braukoff has empty whiskey bottles in his cellar.

Did You Know?:
Judy Garland recorded "The Trolley Song" in a single take.
Margaret O'Brien was awarded a Special Oscar for Best Child Actor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FilmSnork 12 Days of Christmas Movies


UPDATE (12/16/2013):  After numerous fantastic submissions I have decided on the following, diverse list of films for the 12 Days of Christmas Movies:

Dec 16 Meet Me In St Louis 
Dec 17 Elf
Dec 18 Joyeux Noel
Dec 19 Christmas With The Kranks
Dec 20 Christmas In Connecticut
Dec 21 Miracle on 34th Street
Dec 22 It's a Wonderful Life
Dec 23 Home Alone
Dec 24 Muppets Christmas Carol
Dec 25 Christmas Vacation
Dec 26 Scrooged
Dec 27 Gremlins



(12/10/2013)
Tis the season for holiday movies.  Love them or hate them, I am going to watch them.

Here is where I can use your help.  I am looking for your recommendations for Christmas movies to watch during the 12 days around Christmas (December 16-25) - ten leading up to it and two after to help ease out of the season.

There are no limitations of the number of type of recommendations you can make - classic, animated, Christmas-themed or simply a Christmas setting.  One request, only recommend films you actually like. This is not an exercise in futility, rather an exercise in joy.  Each film selected will be uniquely reviewed.

-FilmSnork is not dead nor doth he sleep




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Now You See Me (2012) Review

This film promises an entertaining good time - a group of skilled magicians team up, using their magic to rob banks. Sounds great! About twenty minutes into the film it performs one the greatest magic tricks ever filmed - the ability to strip a film with a tremendous premise and a stellar cast of all fun and intrigue. Now THAT is magic.

I am sure when they pitched this film they described it as Oceans 11 with magic - a nice balance of personalities, intrigue and entertainment. The film does not deliver on that, the poorly used cast (including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo) are undermined by a convoluted plot and a large CGI budget.

After a trick or two are "performed" you realize this is not a film about magic, it is a preposterous story full of CGI illusions - no magic to be found. Even if the plot is disappointing you would expect the magic aspect would help retain some interest in what is happening on screen. Sadly, there is NO magic - the film is stripped of that early on when you realize instead of illusions that feel real they are preposterous CGI displays.

By definition magic are: mysterious tricks performed as entertainment. Magic works because you allow yourself to suspend disbelief to be entertained by the mystery. Half the fun is trying to figure out how they did it. This film makes the fatal mistake of stripping away that mystery by using massive amounts of CGI. You KNOW how they performed the tricks, by using computers and that's not intriguing in the least. After each "trick" is performed, including the less than stupefying climax, you are left scratching your head - unfortunately not wondering how they created the illusion, rather how they messed this film up so badly.

4.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 of the Best Horror Movies To Watch At Your Halloween Party... and 5 to Avoid

Take into account, this is not a list of the best horror films of all time.  Although some of these are definitely at the top of that list, this list is to provide you with optimal background visuals during your Halloween party.  When the sound is down and people are more focused on mingling and drinking a different set of films is required than when actually watching the film.   This list will help you fill your screen without upsetting or boring your friends.   When the party is done, grab the one that caught the audience's attention and watch it with the lights off - every film on the list is worth watching. Since the numbers of dreadful horror movies is so vast, the list of films to avoid are actually good films, just not party material.  Sound off in the comments section.  Like us on Facebook.

The Standards:
Halloween  - The quintessential Halloween movie.  It captures the feel of cool Halloween night perfectly. Everything you need, a damsel in distress, a small town setting, a mysterious killer and the best horror movie score since Psycho.  Almost 100% gore-free and still scary as they come - take note torture-porn directors.  This is the film that literally had me pee my pants as a kid, rather than walk to the bathroom by myself.  Too much information?

Scream - The first ten minutes are some of the best crafted horror moments ever put on tape making Ghostface one of the most recognized character in horror history.  A little gorier than most on this list.  If you can, put the sound up loud enough just to hear one phone calls with that classic voice.

Evil Dead 2 - While your party guest are trying to explain to each other what their costumes are supposed to be, this is a great film to slip into the DVD player.  Its creepy setting and heaping amounts of physical humor/horror - you can't go wrong.

Not So Standard:
Troll 2 - Do not expect to be scared or even see anything remotely scary.  If hosting expect questions like, "What in the hell is this movie?"  Known as the worst movie of all time (so infamous it inspired a documentary about it, "Best Worst Movie"), it lives up to the title.  Laughable costumes, over the top acting and a plot you have to see to believe - it may be the worst movie ever, but it is also a hell of a lot of fun.  Plan ahead and have some bright green Jello and dips being served as your guests watch.

Bride of Chucky - Not going to show up on many lists of best horror films, but it is certainly not without its charms.  The tongue in cheek humor including a doll on doll love scene will certainly create a few double takes.  Not to mention, watch the chip dip fly as your guests spit take at the sight of Katherine Heigel in all her pre-Grey's Anatomy glory take the screen.

Classics:
Night of the Living Dead - Black and white classic.  Perfect background to any party.  Simple instructions: turn it on movie and walk away - look like a scholar that enjoys the finer things, like black and white films.  You are now a film snob and you did not even know it.  Wait until the see Bride of Chucky, you'll probably lose the title.

Nostalgic:
Poltergeist - This 80's classic is sure to get your guests reminiscing about the the good ole days, when all you needed was a clown doll and a rocking chair to scare the crap out of people.  Your guests will come to the light... of your TV screen (wink, wink, elbow nudge).

Underrated:
Drag Me to Hell - Even if you have never seen it before, this dark comedy/horror mash up has enough creepy visuals to add the perfect ambiance - whether it is the talking goat, the chin sucking old lady or the bloody nose from hell - your company will get a kick from it or at least throw up in their mouths a little.

Better than the Original:

Dawn of the Dead - Maybe I am missing something about the original.  Sure it has its charms, but the bad makeup and effects are distracting.  If you want to be freaked out, this is the version to watch.

Man You're F'd Up:

Audition- This film is not for the faint of heart.  With that said, if your audience can handle it (sorry grandma, leave the room) then you may want to mix it up with this Japanese horror film.  The good news is the sound can be down and the film can be followed due to subtitles.  The bad news, a big bag appears about half way through the film, that is all I can say.





Skip These Films Until After the Party
Not every horror film is created equal.  Just because it is considered a classic or won awards it does not mean it is worthy of your party.

Psycho - A genuine classic, but other than a scene or two it will not play well with all the noise of a party.  If you cannot hear the score you may as well not watch the film.

Silence of the Lambs - Academy Award winning films need to be seen and heard.  Once again without the sound you miss a lot hear.  The "fava beans and a nice Cianti" scene will be downgraded from a horrifying insight into a killer's mind to the feeling you get when someone stares at you on the train.  Wait until most guests have gone and watch it with the sound up and lights off.

Sixth Sense - Seeing dead people only works when they look like dead people, otherwise they just look like Bruce Willis.  Not visually exciting enough to show guests.  If you want scary discuss the decline of M. Night Shyamalan.

Blair Witch - With the sound down it just looks like a motion sickness enducing, hiking home video.  With the sound on it just looks like a motion sickness enducing, hiking home video.  Scary film, just not a party film.

Martyrs - Be warned, this is a gory mess of a film.  Your guests may not only turn their backs to the screen, but also may take you off their Christmas card list.  If your party invite lists can handle hardcore horror, this film may be up their ally.  For the rest of us, it is preferred this does not play while eatting pepperoni slices and cheese.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gravity (2013) - Review

Silence.  Silence is not what you'd expect in a movie theater these days.  Whether it's someone that has never learned about their inside voice, a cell phone caller so important they must loudly answer a call and then announce that they are in the theater, a cute little baby crying during its first rated-R film or that pretentious bastard that finds necessary to post updates on FilmSnork.com before the movie is over - movie theaters are no longer anything but silent.  With that said, it is the silence that should get you to look past all that and put your butt back in a theater seat, because a theater seat is the absolute best place to watch this film.  I watched it in a packed house that was surprisingly dead silent, a silence only broken only by the gasps of the completely immersed audience.

Gravity is the film that will remind you why you love the movies and even more, why you love the movie theater.   In a day and age where even I watch more films in one month on my TV, my tablet and even my phone than I do in the theater all year - Gravity is a great reminder - go back.

The film is a simple, yet captivating story of a spacewalk mission that runs into some major hiccups when some debris disrupts the calmness of space.  Seconds before, all is well - a breathtakingly beautiful planet earth is a backdrop for the busy astronauts, Dr Stone (Sandra Bullock) focused on repairing a faulty computer board and Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) whose only concern is how many more minutes he needs to continue floating around on his jet pack to break the longest space walk record.  They float weightlessly in what resembles a space ballet.  Then suddenly everything changes, the almost dance-like move turn into crashing, spinning, gasping and then helpless floating into the vastness of space.

As someone that is not a big fan of water (yes, I do shower - snicker, snicker... grow up...,) this film reminded me why.  Sure, this is space and their is no water, but it shares the same feeling of helplessness of helpless isolation, one person against a seemingly endless, faceless nemesis.  Once things go wrong, there is no simple button to correct them - it is your turn to step it up or float (sink) away to nonexistence.  I found myself holding my breath for long periods of time - my simple fears were pinpointed and exploited.  The best part, there were no CGI monsters to remind me I was in a movie.  Yes, there was plenty of CGI, but done in a way that I honestly forgot it was even there.  Take not Hollywood, just because you can create creatures and effects never seen before, it DOES NOT mean you need to.  And when it comes to 3D, Gravity may

This is not a gimmick film, it is a story of courage, fear and people.  It is the last aspect that makes it work so well, people.  We can associate with them - they are not supporting actors for a massive special effects display - they are the main course of this meal.  It helps that the leads are the incredibly likable Bullock and Clooney.  I want to hate Clooney, I really do... I just can't.  He single-handedly represents the connection between old Hollywood charm and new Hollywood (if I am wrong, please, let me know.)  Both are at their best right here.  Bullock, maybe a career best. 

The director, Alfonso Cuaron created what is perhaps his best film.  He makes something that is completely unnatural to almost everyone on earth almost feel natural.  His use of 3D is unobtrusive, almost forgettable (in a good way) cinematography is often a stumbling block for directors.  Even when I found myself flinching as debris flew over my shoulder, it still never felt anything more than authentic.

Not only does the film flow, there are times you will forget that it is not one big, long shot.  It is, dare I say, a piece of art.  Sure there are films that handle many elements better, this film just happens to master what it has taken on.  Isn't that what is all about.  Not every film will be the Citizen Kane or China Town, but if you do what you do, well... you win.

There is a reason for big movie screens, this is one of them.  It is a near perfect mix of cinema, technology and acting.  I plead with you, by the power vested in me by the internet see this in the theater.  I get it, you have a big TV - NOT big enough.  But FilmSnork, I have the Bose surround sound.  I DO NOT CARE.  See this in the theater.  This is why you go to the movies.  Now, go!

9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

TRAILER: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

For those of you that made it through the over-criticized (and maybe, a little tiny bit overlong) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey here is the moment you have been waiting for the trailer for The Hobbit 2. (crickets) Come on, the first one was actually quite good. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) - Review

Billy Wilder directs this witty, engaging courtroom drama overflowing with great characters entangled in a trial that not only hold your interest, but have you longing for films of yesterday. 

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of seducing and murdering the rich old widow in order to inherit her fortune.  Vole, of course, claims he is innocent and was simply befriending a lonely woman.  No one seems to be buying it except for the superb Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a criminal lawyer with a taste for brandy and cigars who ignores the advice of his doctors to take the case.  He is the only chance Mr. Vole will be set free. 

Full of twists, turns, revelations and questions you will stay interested interested throughout even if it plays a bit melodramatic.  Along with an engaging story and a supporting cast full of familiar faces, the lead performances are certainly a draw here; Laughton's performance is delightfully inflated and offbeat, Tyrone Power's is relatable as the wrong man and Marlene Dietrich as Vole's cold and mysterious wife can't help but demand your attention.  Sit back and experience why some films are called classics. 

8 out of 10

Friday, August 23, 2013

Superman Vs Daredevil... er... Batman Gets Its Batman

It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.
I am annoyed.  Bane size annoyed.  The news broke late last night that they have cast the man behind the cowl... Batman.  Since Warner Brothers screwed up Superman... again, they knew they needed to make a big move to save the franchise if they were ever to get the long rumored Justice League off the ground.  They made that power move when they decided to to start developing the Superman Vs Batman film, announced for 2015.  Awesome, right?  You would think so.  I was one of those that heard the news and being the part geek that I am, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as I watched the Comic Con announcement of the film that would combine the two greatest superheroes ever created.  For weeks we waited for a name to be attached to the film.  This was not as easy of a task as you would expect since the very popular Christian Bale reportedly turned down a $60 Million paycheck to reprise the role.  With a $60 million offer out there, you knew Warner Brothers was serious about casting the right man for the part.

That is, until now.  The new Batman for the highly anticipated, the geek dream of dreams, the superhero film to top all superhero films is... drumroll please... Ben Affleck.  Sound the dying trumpet from Price Is Right.  The guy that won the Best Picture Oscar for his highly overrated piece of shit, Argo - the same guy that for some strange reason was not nominated for his performance in the highly rated POS Argo, whose beard had more personality than he did in his own film, the same guy whose poor acting and role choices in such movies as Gigli and Daredevil sent him into exile, turning him into a punchline... yep, THAT guy is your new Dark Knight.  To that I say Argof*ckyourself.

I usually try to keep emotion out of my writing, but I must admit, I am pissed.  So much so, I have come off a temporary hiatus from the site (one not taken by choice, but rather because of a lack of time as I make some career moves) to bitch about this terrible, terrible decision.  There were rumors that the role would be filled by Ryan Golsing or Josh Brolin... you know, actors.  Instead we get Hollywood's newest, undeserving golden boy... Affleck.  And before you call me a hater (you know who you are) I like the guy, I rooted for him to rise above his career drought and to be at least the mild success story he deserved.  Gone Baby Gone and The Town were fantastic films, both superior to Argo.  After watching them though, I NEVER said to myself, "boy that guy can act."  The news gets worse, while doing a little research for this rant I just learned that Affleck is also lead in the adaptation of "Gone Girl" when it comes to the big screen, a film I was looking forward to.  Great TWO major disappointments in one day.  No wonder I am writing at 2am.

There is not much more that I can say other than Hollywood REALLY screwed up.  After waiting for half a decade they delivered us a new, barely acceptable Superman.  After making some massive mistakes with the film they decided to do what any clear thinking person would do, they kept the same director that is blamed for single-handedly messing up that reboot and to the mix Ben Affleck and you have a recipe for disaster.  You couldn't handle this more poorly unless you were doing it on purpose.  Has anyone checked to see who is on the board over at Warner Brothers?  Any chance a Mr. M. Bialystock is a big shareholder at WB?

There was a rumor stating that Affleck was offered to helm the Justice League film.  If this was their way of locking him down to the direct by handing over a role he surely does not deserve... shame on you Hollywood.  Shame on all of you.  Remember, with a Justice League on the way this will most certainly not be a one and done for Mr. Affleck (unless they can kill both franchises with one Batman and Robin sized disaster) he will be Batman for years to come as they setup the Justice League film for a later release.  My kids will get to grow up with Ben as Batman... that makes me sad.

I am going to go now.  I certainly can bitch some more, but that is all it will be, bitching.   There is nothing anyone can do now.  Our fate is sealed.  That is, unless you push for change the easiest way possible.  Do not give your money to the film.  Let Warner Brothers know you are not interested in this uninspired piece of casting.  When the film comes out, I WILL see it.  But know that when I do I will buy a ticket for another film and sneak into Daredevil Vs... Batman Vs Superman.  If I wrong, which I pray that I am, I will buy a ticket for the film.  Sadly, I do not see that being necessary.

Until then, I am going to sit here and wait for someone to announce this is a joke as I reminiscence about some of the better Batman castings, starting with Clooney, Kilmer, that dresses up like Batman in Times Square...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Parkland Trailer

What looks like the first real contender for this year's award season, Parkland has an amazing cast and Zac Efron. Hoping this film is good enough to get the incredible Paul Giamatti a nice golden trophy - he deserves one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Dreams of Sushi - review (2011)

A documentary about sushi that is about so much more than sushi.  The film focuses on Jiro Ono an 85 year-old master sushi maker, whose life is so focused around the culinary delight that he dreams of it.  Over the years his efforts have paid off - his sushi is world renowned.  To get reservations you need to book a month in advance.  His restaurant follows his philosophy (and he offers quite a bit of philosophizing) that is it important to be the best at one thing and focus on it, so much so that sushi is all he serves - no appetizers, no desserts, no blooming onions, just sushi.  Watching this artist work at his life's passion and listening to him describe the how even after decades of trying to perfect his craft he continues to strive to improve it is inspiring.  While doing so he passes down little tidbits of wisdom to the audience and his two sons (both looking to be his successor) that can be applicable for anyone, not just sushi makers.

The delightfully direct Jiro is enough to keep you entertained for the short 82 minute run time, but there is much more to the film; it offers an insight into the restaurant business, a sibling rivalry, a look at Japanese culture and other subtexts that flesh it out.  If any of the above interest you or if you are just interested in sushi check the film out, just don't do so on an empty stomach, the shot after shot of perfectly prepared sushi may be too much to handle.

7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Monsters University (2013) - Review

Mike and Sully are back and this time they are in college.  Instead of a sequel, we get to see how they came to be the monsters we saw in Monsters Inc.

Sequels are a tricky thing.  Prequels are much trickier.  Surprisingly, Monsters University delivers one of the best prequels I can remember.  It avoids the prequel pitfalls and although not as fresh as its predecessors, it does a good job creating a worthy back story for the characters you enjoyed from the first without relying on too many references to the original that could have made it stale.

Where most followups (both prequels and sequels) jack up the volume of jokes, effects, etc., the story is here is much smaller and safer.  That is a good thing, we are spared a parade of familiar characters (that have no reason to be in the film) and the lazy repetition of gags we have seen before.  Bigger doesn't always make it better.

The film really does play like a first entry and can completely stand on its own.  If you have never seen either Monsters film you can easily start with this one and not miss a beat.  There are plenty of laughs, some heart felt moments and its full of great visuals from beginning to end.  Even though the climax does not meet the same level of enthrallment and as a whole it does run a little longer than it needs, it is satisfying and should entertain all audiences
.
7 out of 10

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spike Lee's "Oldboy" Remake Trailer

Much too the chagrin of fans, the Spike Lee remake of the cult classic film "Oldboy" is well beyond being cancelled. So much so, here is the trailer. Check it out. Voice your opinion. Does it stay true to the original? What do you think of the casting? Will you see it?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jack Reacher (2012) - review

Coming into this film with absolutely no knowledge of the character (it turns out that Jack Reacher is a character in a series of books) or even what the film was about, I found the film to be a pleasant surprise.  A thriller with an old school vibe to it.

When a sniper takes out several people, drifter, Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, comes to town and searches for the truth behind the crime.  No, he is not a cop or a detective, he is a former military police corps officer who uses his intellect and ability to hand out some ass-whoopings to get the needed answers.

It felt familiar in many ways, nothing too new here, but that doesn't mean it is bad.  I enjoyed Cruise's performance, he is tough, smart with a good dose of wise ass.  Even knowing that he is barely over five feet tall, I believed him in the fights scenes and more importantly during scenes when he would have to intimidate just through words and body language.   Another aspect of the film that i found refreshing was the both the fights and action seemed to be rooted in reality.  Far too often we are force fed CGI extravaganzas, extended car chases or impossible fights scenes - this film steered away from that delivering believable action.

If you are looking for something completely original, look elsewhere.  If you are looking for a solid thriller that will entertain without making you try to hard, this should do.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

American Reunion (2012) - review

The gang from American Pie is back (again) for a high school reunion that, to their credit, feels much like a real life reunion.  By that I mean, you reminiscence about how great the past was, then when you are actually in the room with everyone you realize you have grown up, moved on and for the most part it is best to keep the past the past.

The film deserves props for the incredible job reuniting the characters with all the same worn out jokes they have used since the first film.  Besides their overly familiar and unwelcome jokes the rest of the film is strung together crude humor and misunderstandings.  Funnier than the jokes are the pathetic ways they find to crowbar original characters into the film.

If they decide to do another sequel to this film in 30 years I am sure they will find another improbably way to write in Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy) alive or not.  If it is up to them there will be multiple sequels, by the end of the film we are threatened with not just another high school reunion, but a yearly reunion.  Looking at the flailing careers of the cast I am sure fans of the series can look forward to follow-ups for years to come, just make sure you check the direct-to-dvd listings.


If I were you I would throw the invite to this reunion in the garbage.

3.5 out of 10

If you do not want to waste two hours (yes, it is nearly two hours long) and have a couple laughs, take a closer look at the poster.  Photoshop at its worst.  I could do a better job making a movie poster with photos that were never intended to be combined.  Actually, I think I did, here (shameless self-promotion.)


Monday, July 1, 2013

Dark Shadows (2012) - Review

The returns on the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations are shrinking by the outing.  This vampire tale had a great deal of previous material to work with going in, but no clear solution what to do with it.  The story is of Barnabas, a vampire imprisoned in his coffin for hundreds of years by a jealous witch, who is accidentally set free and unleashed on the 1970's.  Sounds like a the premise for some great hijinks.  Unfortunately it is unsure of what kind of film it wants to be.  Part horror, part comedy with zero luck blending the two genres.  It also lacks lacks an interesting storyline or much else to latch onto.  A few years back Tim Burton's name on a film used to mean "must see," lately that has transitioned to "must rent... to be let down in the comfort of my own home."  4.5 out of 10

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Killer Joe (2012) - review

In an attempt to get their hands on some life insurance money it is time to kill mom.  A good old fashioned family film.  As a dark comedy it fails to deliver many laughs, is quite violent and will really make it tough to eat KFC again (if you ever did.)  

McConaughey transforms, keeping this from being a bust.  The rest of the cast delivers solid performances as well.  I am going to guess more people will talk away scratching their heads and annoyed than will enjoy it.  It is not only dark, it also oddly paced and at times just plain uncomfortable. 

If you are in the mood for something dark and different, give a try, but don't tell me I didn't warn you.   6 out of 10

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel (2013) - Review


Let me get one thing straight before you read further, I am a big Superman fan.  I am not a Superman historian.  I know some of the lore, but I certainly do not know it all.  So please, be understanding if I do not quite get every reference or connection to Superman's history.  If you want to discuss this a higher more comprehensive level, please do in the comments.  I would love to hear what you have to say. 

Once upon a time there was a special boy that was sent to earth from far away to protect, to inspire.  A boy with super powers.  A boy that would grow into an man that would be treated like a god by the people of Earth.  A super man.  Okay, enough about me let's just get to the film review.  But, before I do I think it is important to revisit the last few years of Superman on the big screen.

As revealed in my review, I am one of the few people that left Superman Returns excited about a followup film.  As weeks, months and years passed waiting for an official sequel announcement I realized it would never come.  Surprisingly, it turned out $200 million gross does not guarantee a sequel these days.  I came to terms that after a long, torturous $250 million return to the big screen there was a chance we would not see a new Superman film for years to come.  Lucky for me and the other fans of the man in the red and blue tights, the film climate changed.  Superheroes remained hot, very hot.  Even after the lukewarm reception to Supey's last film, Warner Bros. had to bring the man in blue tights back to the big screen to capitalize on the box office trends.  Knowing that this would be the second attempt too reboot the franchise since the Christopher Reeve days, the consensus was they could not afford to get it "wrong" again this time... besides the Superman name at stake, so was the potential for the long rumored Justice League (DC's answer to Marvel's The Avengers.)  This film HAD to be done right, Warner Bros could not fail us, they would not fail us.  Then they announced whom would direct the film, one of, if not the most integral part of creating a great film.  And the director is... Zack Snyder.  Awesome!  The same director that brought us classics like The Watchmen and Sucker Punch.  Oh crap!  That Zack Snyder?  Come on Warner Bros you failed us.  We're screwed.

Fast forward about four years, the trailers for Man of Steel started to be released and much to my surprise, they looked awesome.  Maybe this had something to do with the involvement of Christopher Nolan (of the Dark Night films) serving as a Executive Producer.  Is there a chance this film had a chance to not only be good, but to be great?  Do we have a new classic on our hands?

Fast forward another six months and there I am on opening weekend, approaching the theater about to see the first Supey film in seven years.  Dressed in my blue Superman emblem shirt, I was about to return to the theater to see my favorite childhood superhero, the one, the only Superman!  I knew going in that they were not just relaunching the film franchise, this film was going to take some liberties to give Superman more of an edge, a better fit for current trends in superhero films.  That did not bother me too much, as long as it was a Superman film I would be satisfied.  Many people find Superman boring and old fashioned and if he needs a tune up to make him relevant in the new age of superhero films, I would rather compromise than have him bundled up in moth balls and put in storage.  With that in mind, I sat down in my usual fourth row center seat and prepared for the return of the Man of Steel.

As I expected the film does not open with the beloved John Williams theme - fine, I am coming in with an open mind, it is time for a new edgier Man of Steel.  To be fair,when we hear Hans Zimmer's new theme it is well done, dramatic, grown up and loud.  The film starts on Krypton, it is delivered to us in a way it never has been before, it is straight out of a sci-fi novel, with flying beasts, outlandish architecture and flying vehicles - it has a style that would feel at home in the Star Wars universe, pretty impressive.  We quickly learn that all is not fine and dandy, there are problems with Krypton.  The planet is self destructing due to an unstable core and there is little that can be done to save it.  General Zod, played by the amazing Michael Shannon, is hell bent on assuring the pure Kyrptonian race finds a way to prosper.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has other plans in mind.  He plans to secretly launch a rocket containing his son, Kal-El, the first natural born child of Krypton, along with the genetic codex of the Krytonian race to a planet where he can grow and prosper, one where he would be like a God, earth.  After a confrontation between the two, Zod and his crew are arrested for previous crimes and sent to the Phantom Zone as punishment for a very long time.  That punishment is cut short as the planet explodes setting them all free of their captive state. 

The entire sequence set on Krypton is quite impressive.  It no longer feels like a quick prologue to kick the story off, it actually felt like a integral part of the character's story.  The battle for the future of the Kryptonian race makes Kal-El much more significant than the outcast turned hero he is typically portrayed as.  Once on earth Kal-El is found by a couple in Kansas that raise him like their own, the Kents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) call him Clark.  In a series of scenes delivered in nonlinear fashion we learn about Kal-El's days growing up in Smallville as well as Clark as a young man, searching for a place to fit in - going from place to place, forced to leave once he felt he was beginning to stand out (similar in feel to the old 1980's Hulk TV show.)    His father reinforces to Clark that he is different and must keep his true identity a secret because people will not know how to deal with a being from another planet.  Once he does reveal his identity to a snoop of a reporter, the (oddly) red-headed Lois Lane (Amy Adams) it does not take long before things start to really fall apart for the Man of Steel, both the character and the film.  A short time later he is located by Zod and Co. and his identity is revealed to the people of Earth.

I will not get into further details about the plot, the good moments are better to experience on your own, the bad are too monotonous to describe over and over again.  Essentially the last of the film becomes a mind-numbing display of generic blockbuster special effects that NEARLY cause the film, like Krypton, to self-destruct.  Overall it does not, but the film that seemed on the path to greatness quickly takes a wrong turn.  Watching all the potential for a great film head into mediocrity can be tougher to handle than an all out failure.  Man of Steel does so much right up front it almost felt like Christopher Nolan saw the first half and walked out of the editing room and said to Zack Snyder, "you take it from here."  What we get is a disappointment.  A wonderful setup followed by a loud, violent mess.

The fight scenes are an all out display of what crazy amount of destruction can be put on display when you have amazing CGI artists and an huge budget.  The scale and intensity is extremely overwhelming (imagine two super beings destroying entire blocks of a city by throwing each other into skycrapers... now imagine that about a dozen times over.)  There are no moments for the audience to catch their breath.  Lacking are the moments when Superman changes his focus of pummeling Zod to do something simple such as saving a group of citizens from a flying object.  The film needed at least one scene, similar to (or a straight copy of) the "Superman Returns" airplane scenes - it is one of my all time favorite superhero scenes and is not only exciting, it also connects Superman to the people of Earth.  The action here is so frequent and consistently over the top (I think someone told then to turn it up to eleven) that you cannot relate to it... it is destruction for destruction's sake.   The amazing thing with all the fighting, devastation and carnage - I am not sure if these two beings (Zod and Superman) are even hurting each other, making the barrage of crashing, crushing and visual mayhem more unnecessary.

I wanted to yell at the screen, "We get it!  Move on!"  The point was proven, Zod and Superman are incredibly powerful and nearly incapable of being injured - about 10 minutes of that action would have been sufficient to get that across.  When Superman saves the day, you are supposed to want to get up and cheer - not sit back completely indifferent.  This indifference is especially a huge issue when it supplants character development.  These action scenes are so generic that if you were not notified going into the film that it was going to be a Superman film you may mistake it for any generic superhero/sci-fi blockbuster - worse yet a Transformers film.  The audience is hopelessly held hostage to action sequences that won't quit when all you are hoping for are some smaller quieter moments.  Although my words may have lead you to believe the biggest flaw is the numbing action sequences that take up a good portion of the film, it is not.  It is the lack of heart, the lack of emotional investment that closes the film.  The film went larger and it needed to go smaller.  What worked - the family scenes, the diner scene, the conversations, Clark questioning who he was and who he is supposed to be - they abandon it all.  The film hits the gas and never applies the brakes making it difficult to connect with the characters.  It is a Superman film with little heart and lacking of the Superman magic. 

As mentioned before the focus on action prevented a then necessary character development.  For that reason we get a bad ass, yet kind of boring Zod.  Michael Shannon acts the hell out of it, too bad it is a one note character.  Amy Adams does a great Amy Adams, her Lois Lane needs work, or at least something to do.  Luckily for her she is following up the worst Lois Lane of all-time, Kate Bosworth so a mannequin would have been an improvement.  This is a strong cast, it is the material that fails them.  Two characters walk away unscathed Superman's two fathers, Russell Crowe his Kryptonian dad and Kevin Kostner his dad on Earth.  Besides Superman, they were my favorite characters in the film, I could have used thirty minutes more of the two of them.  Not only were their stories interesting, they also added weight to the inner struggle of Superman, background story delivered not just for the sake of delivering background - it added validity to the origin story.  At the core this is a story of a super being with two fathers and the decisions he must make on how he will live his life - to keep his powers hidden and fit in with other Earth people or use his powers to be good and be the god he can be.  Interesting stuff.  Once that is abandoned the film suffers.

As for Superman himself, Henry Cavill, not only does he look the part, but he plays it well.  He adds some vulnerability to Clark that was barely explored in the previous renditions.  My question is, if the sequel does bring back some of the Clark Kent charm will he be able to nail that as well?  As for the rest of the cast, most of them are nearly invisible, they are so under-developed that you forget about them the minute they are off screen.  Even worse, when they are on screen you may question who they are or why you care that they are in peril.  One oddly extended sequence puts a character in harms way, until they said her name again I honestly had no clue who she was... I still never cared.

Even with all the issues with the films that were previously discussed, there is one that trumps them all.  If this was corrected it would definitely sway my opinion of the film as a whole.  The problem is  the lack of memorable moments.  Somehow with all the time and effort put into making the film they forgot about creating memories, they forgot about making sure it was fun.  The potential is there for bigger, funnier, more powerful or more emotional scenes - emotions that if nailed would have provided us with those "moments" that you talk about and remember for years to come, moments you can't wait to experience again.  The Avengers was full of them.  Man of Steel struggled to deliver any.  It is not for a lack of opportunities to create them - the chances were there but time after time they were botched.  It as if the minute Clark put on that suit the film lost the ability to be interesting.   An example of a flubbed "moment" is one that could possibly have been one of the film's best scenes - the first reveal of the famous blue and red suit.  MINOR SPOILER ALERT - This is how it goes down in the current film - Jor-El opens a door and explains Kal-El what the suit is all ab out.  Yaaawwwn.  Excuse me.  Where's the music, the buildup the powerful revelation of the suit that transforms Kal-El/Clark Kent into The Man of Steel?   This is the defining moment - a destiny chosen.   If ever there was a moment where the old John Williams Superman theme would have been perfect, that was it.  Instead of delivering the audience a chills-all-over-your-body moment we get a rather flat scene.  How in the world do you mess that up?   I wanted a Superman moment.  Instead I was given a scene that will be talked about for...never.  This is just one example, there are plenty more.  The film has been out for a couple weekends, notice that you don't have anyone talking about the cool scene, that movie moment that you just have to talk about.  There is a reason no one is talking about it, it is missing from the film. FAIL.


Besides the flubbed suit reveal there were numerous elements that were not well thought out, (for the sake of not revealing any spoilers I will keep it vague.)   The most obvious was the aforementioned fighting - the scale of these fights are so big that they were destroying cities, where do you go from there - bigger was not the answer.  Perhaps going head to head against a more cerebral villain in a smaller scale, fight - where the violence had some impact on the character, leading to an engaged audience.   There is also an important moment in the film when the secret to defeating the villain is revealed to a central character.  This knowledge will help turn the tides of the battle and give Superman the edge.  I waited patiently for them to explain what the mysterious insight to overpowering Zod would be.  It had to be something big, a throw back to the old days of Superman lore - something when revealed would get us on our feet clapping and hollering.   Turns out, I was wrong - it was not really that big of a deal, a complete letdown.  Then there was the the (controversial) climax.  Once again, kind of stupid.   As for the ethics of Superman, feel free to discuss that in the comments section.

Where do you go from here?  Man of Steel looked destined to sail, instead it failed.  It provided a new take on a hero that needed a little bit of a makeover, but while providing something new they stripped him of all the classic elements for old fans alike to cling onto.   I understand, they went for the darker more realistic interpretation, answering the question, what would happen if a Superman really existed.  That does not justify stripping down the seventy plus year old hero of all the traits we know and love.  The re-imagining went too far to satisfied the interests of one director's vision.  Change made for the sake of change.  What it does right, it does exceptionally well.   What it does wrong, it does exceptionally poorly.  As a film, it is flawed.  It was like a Superman film without a real Superman.

6 out of 10