Friday, April 27, 2012

A Movie A Week: Week 14 - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Theater: Regal Tara Cinemas 4
Snack: Caramel Popcorn and Coke

This was probably the worst movie experience I've ever had.  Not because of the movie, which I enjoyed.  Nor because of the theater, which has apparently been renovated since the last time I was there and is now a really nice space to watch a movie.  No, the problem was that a few minutes before the movie started, I began to feel sick to my stomach.  Long story short, I ended up projectile vomiting in the bathroom.  Not a great opening act for a movie to follow.  Was it the food from the theater?  Well, I didn't finish any of it just to be on the safe side, but I don't really know (and there did not appear to be an epidemic of sick movie-goers that day).  It was definitely something I ate, though.  Once I had emptied my stomach I felt fine, if a little gross.  So, that incident tainted this week's movie-going experience, but even so, I stayed and watched the whole movie.

As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it.  Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are both very appealing actors and they have really good chemistry here.  The story is fun, too.  I particularly enjoyed Kristin Scott Thomas as the aggressively disingenuous bureaucrat hell-bent on generating positive PR.  For all that I liked the film, I did leave with a couple of complaints.  There are mild spoilers involved in discussing them, so if you are reading this and are concerned about such things, consider yourself warned.  There is a scene in the film that is almost action-movie-esque, where Ewan McGregor's character disarms a would be assassin with a skilled casting of a fishing line.  It just felt ridiculously incongruous with the tone of the rest of the film.  I understand that the scene exists to cement the relation ship of McGregor's character and the sheikh character, but surely there was a less absurd way to accomplish this.  I also felt that the subplot with the boyfriend of the Emily Blunt character was an unnecessary diversion.  Again, I understand the reason it exists from a story perspective, as a dramatic obstacle to our two leads getting together.  I just found that the third act "surprise" with the character was completely unsurprising and that this complication just wasn't needed to give the relationship between the lead characters a satisfying arc.  Still, these flaws are not crippling.  This may not be one of the great films, but it is a good one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Movie A Week: Week 13 - 21 Jump Street

Movie: 21 Jump Street
Theater: AMC Colonial 18
Snack: Hot Dog and Coke

I wish that I could say that the delay in this write-up and the following one was due to something fun.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  It is crunch-time at school and that has pushed things to the back burner.  Quite frankly, I should probably be working on a paper or presentation rather than posting this now, but I am nothing if not a procrastinator.  I have been seeing my weekly movie and will get caught up with the posts in short order.  Better late than never, right?

I didn't have many expectations going in to "21 Jump Street."  I remember watching the old TV show years ago, but it is not something that has loomed large in my memory or that is awash in nostalgia for me.  That is just as well, since the movie takes the basic concept and plays it for laughs.  What surprised me was how many genuine laughs are to be found in the movie.  "21 Jump Street" manages to walk the line of making fun of its own ridiculous premise while not mocking the audience that came to see it.  The cast does a good job, and there are even a few nice bits of business for some of the cast members of the original series.  One of these moments came as a real surprise and that surprise was a lot of fun, so I won't spoil it here.  The whole move was a surprise really, and a pleasant one at that.  I definitely left the theater feeling that I had gotten my entertainment dollar's worth.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Movie A Week: Week 12 - The Hunger Games

Movie: The Hunger Games
Theater: AMC Discover Mills 18
Snack: Skittles and Coke

You may have noticed that I seem to have skipped week eleven.  As it turns out, I seem to have numbered two weeks as "Week 4."  So, I am now trying to correct my numbering.  I suppose I just could have waited a few weeks, skipped week thirteen and claim that I was just superstitious, but I don't have the attention span to plan that far in advance.  At some point I may go back and correct the numbering on previous entries, but until then I must apologize the the number eleven for its absence on my blog.

I was first exposed to the novel "The Hunger Games" when I received a copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It didn't seem like it would be my sort of thing, so I didn't expect much from it.  However, free is free, so I went ahead and gave it a read.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  I found it to be a bit slow at first, but the further I read, the more compelling I found the story and the characters.  As I neared the end, I truly could not put the book down.

The movie followed a similar pattern.  The early scenes in District 12 were fine, but I can't say that I found them particularly exciting.  What we lose without Katniss's narration is a lot of backstory.  I was fine without it, but then I had read the book, so I already knew this world.  The character of Gale was not as present in the film as he was in the book.  to be honest, I would have been happy to have seen the character jettisoned entirely as I find the whole love triangle thing a bit tiresome.  However, I accept that I am probably in the minority on that.

Much like the book, once the film got past the initial set up, it was quite effective at drawing me in.  One departure from the book that I was quite pleased with was the way the film would switch back briefly from the arena to show us what was going on behind the scenes and the reactions of the powerful to what was happening in the arena.  The cast is fantastic.  The real surprise for me is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch.  He is not at all what I pictured reading the book, but his performance won me over completely.  My only casting complaint is that the actors who play Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Cato (Alexander Ludwig) look too similar when they are both wearing the tribute uniforms in the arena.  It is not a problem when they are on screen as Ludwig is a head taller than Hutcherson, but when only one was on screen it sometimes took me a minute to figure out who was who.

The movie had a fantastic opening weekend, which was well-deserved.  So, we are pretty much assured of a sequel.  I haven't finished reading the other books (I'm only about halfway through the second one), so I can't really judge if they live up to the standard of the first book.  Hopefully future movies in the series live up to the standard set by this one.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Movie A Week: Week 10 - Safe House

Movie: Safe House
Theater: AMC Colonial 18
Snack: Hot Dog and Coke

There's not a whole lot to say about "Safe House."  It was an enjoyable action movie, but not particularly memorable or special.  It follows the formula of a number of Denzel Washington's recent films where he plays a character who falls somewhere on a continuum from well-meaning asshole to genuinely bad guy.  He's paired with a pure-hearted rookie and the movie is as much about the clash of characters as it is about the plot.  So, you've probably seen this movie before in one of its earlier iterations, but it is an entertaining formula, and this version of it is satisfying if ultimately forgettable.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Movie A Week - Week 9: John Carter

Movie: John Carter
Theater: AMC Discover Mills 18
Snack: Hot Dog and Coke

So, this one is way late.  I did see the movie on schedule, I just didn't get around to writing it up until now.  In my defense, I've been real busy saving the galaxy from the Reaper invasion in Mass Effect 3.

"John Carter" has gotten beaten up a bit.  The reviews haven't been great and it hasn't drawn blockbuster numbers in the ticket sales department.  The film is not without its flaws, but I found it to be a lot of fun.  The pacing is a little slow, which actually works for it in some places, letting the audience take in the world and get to know the characters.  In other places, however, the movie drags a bit and could probably stand to lose fifteen to thirty minutes.  This slow pacing, I think is one of the things that has hampered the movie's appeal to audiences.  It lacks the break-neck pace of most modern action/adventure films, and that fact may have thrown audiences more used to quicker movement in their stories.

Another obstacle is that Disney did not seem to know how to sell the film.  The ads were all kind of bland, with no hint of the things that work so well in the film, like the scope of the world or the character relationships.  I thought the love story aspect worked particularly well, and really should have been played up in at least some of the ads.  I don't think I ever even saw an ad with a "From the creator of Tarzan . . ."  The title is problematic as well.  Why no "John Carter of Mars," or "A Princess of Mars."  "John Carter," as a title, provides no context for the film and has to have hurt the ability to draw an audience.

Maybe, if the film had been stronger it could have overcome these problems.  Unfortunately, while very enjoyable, "John Carter" is just flawed enough to keep it from generating the kind of buzz that might have helped it find an audience.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Movie A Week - Week 8: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 - Animated

Movie: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 - Animated
Snack: Caramel Popcorn and Coke

For a second week, a shorts program at the Midtown Art Cinema saves me from a lackluster selection of feature films.  I found the animated shorts to be more of a mixed bag than the live action shorts I saw last week.  In fact, I thought the honorable mentions, which were included in this program along with the nominees, were stronger than a couple of the shorts that were nominated.  That said, there were some gems to be found here, and I find that I do agree with the Academy on the winner.  I'll start with the nominees:

A Morning Stroll (UK) - This one was kind of a one-note joke, as we see basically the same events over and over depicted in different animation styles and set in different eras.  Fortunately, the one-note joke is a funny one, and it takes an amusingly strange turn in the last section.

Dimanche/Sunday (Canada) - This one just didn't do anything for me.  I'm not saying it's bad, I just didn't get it.  This was probably my least favorite of the bunch.

La Luna (USA) - Here is the Pixar entry, and it is as charming as you would expect.  The story was a bit slight, but the character designs are fantastic and the gag in the final shot is genuinely funny.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (USA) - This short was the winner of the animated short Oscar and I definitely understand why.  It is sweet without being cloying and the animation is absolutely beautiful.  The character design is fantastic  and giving the books life and personality was well done.  This one rated pretty highly for me, and as I said, I understand why it won.

Wild Life (Canada) - I have mixed feelings about this one.  I liked the animation style.  The painterly look of the piece was different in a pleasing way.  I found amusing moments in the short and was enjoying the story in the beginning.  However, the dark turn the story takes at the end was a bit of a jolt and turned me off.

Following the nominees, four honorable mentions were screened.  All four were fantastic, I thought, and one of them was my personal favorite of the entire program.

Amazonia - Cute, well-done, and a real crowd-pleaser.  It is a fairly simple film in terms of story, while the art and animation are wonderfully complex.  This combination very much works in the film's favor.

The Hybrid Union - I don't know that I quite got this film, but that did not seem to impede my enjoyment.  The visual inventiveness of the film was captivating.

Nullarbor - This Australian import was one of the more traditionally narrative films of the bunch.  There's some great character work in this short and it is all in the "acting" as there is no dialogue.  A very impressive film.

Skylight - I've saved the best for last, as this was my personal favorite of all the animated shorts shown.  It was laugh out loud funny from start to finish.  The only complaint I have is that I thought the effect mimicking an old film skipping was over-used to the point of distraction.  Despite that, I still have a lot of love for this short.  If you have a chance to see it, do so.  You will not regret it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Movie A Week - Week 7: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 - Live Action

Movie: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 - Live Action
Theater: Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
Snack: Caramel Popcorn and Coke

We are in the February dumping grounds.  That time when studios fill theaters with the dregs of their release sechedules.  I was concerned that I would have a hard time finding a movie worth watching this week.  Fortunately, I discovered the Oscar nominated shorts were showing at the Midtown Art Cinema.  This year's live-action nominees form a strong crop of films.  I really enjoyed all five and I think any one of them would have been a worthy winner.

And the nominees are . . .

Pentecost (Ireland) - A strong beginning to this shorts program.  I know very little about altar boys or football (soccer football, not American football (though I don't know much about American football either)), but they meet hilariously in this short.  The look on the kid's face, that is the main character's, in the final scene just killed me.

Raju (Germany/India) - There is more drama and tension in the twenty-four minutes of this short than in a lot of features.  I was absolutely riveted.

The Shore (Northern Ireland) - I resisted this movie at first.  The opening scene had me worried that I was about to be overwhelmed by sentiment.  Fairly quickly, however, the sheer charm of the film won me over.  It is certainly sentimental, but in the best possible way.  It is a crowd pleaser, and I understand why it was the winner in this catagory.

Time Freak (USA) -A time travel comedy is right in my wheelhouse.  I really enjoyed the film, but more than that I am hugely jealous that I didn't make this movie.

Tuba Atlantic (Norway) - This was a strange one.  It took me a while to really get into it.  Ultimately it was the unabashed silliness in the face of death that I found the most appealing.  A fine finish to an excellent shorts program.