This week was the perfect example of why I am not going to give up reviewing movies anytime soon. I like to think of myself as the anti-critic, sometimes appreciating something the critics hate and hating on something the critics love. I still can’t figure out what led to so many positive reviews of “The Lego Movie.” Today I am now left wondering why so many critics didn’t give “The Monuments Men” positive ratings. As a sign of the times it seems even most critics don’t appreciate the older style of film-making and scoring. It is no surprise that “The Monuments Men” will probably be the only film I watch this year where the music is so deliciously thematic.
Unlike all of those war films focusing on battles, “The Monuments Men” focuses on the attempts of a few art experts to save major artwork from being destroyed during World War 2. I can understand some of the disappointment considering the film doesn’t have the same tone as we saw in the early trailers. Rather than some lighthearted comedy, this is mostly a serious film, but rightfully so. Admittedly, it does move along at a slower pace than we have gotten used to lately but it never drags or feels in need of serious editing. This older style of filming is a homage to earlier war films with ensemble casts, and it gives composer Alexandre Desplat a chance to write perhaps his greatest score to date.
The music is reminiscent of scores like John Addison’s “A Bridge Too Far” and Elmer Bernstein’s “The Great Escape.” It has a jaunty main theme and a number of sub-themes that show up at times. The main theme re-appears in a number of different forms, including some somber sections, and some more heroic ones. The music is thankfully given a chance to shine like we rarely see these days. Most sequences are devoid of sound effects as the music carries the scenes. While some found this to be distracting, I found it quite engaging and endearing to the film.
I can tell from George Clooney’s performance in the film that he deliberately choose to take a more reverent tone to the film. I was quite glad he did, because it helped focus on the seriousness of the story behind it all. This film might be too slow for some, and the music might be too manipulative for others. But if you appreciate the classic style of film-making and the thematic style of film scoring, this is a gorgeous film that will re-kindle the joy you felt when you first heard some of the great film scores of the past fifty years.
After all the positive reviews I was ready to write a review similar to the one I read on Badass Digest, titled “I Really Wanted to Hate the Lego Movie.” The article explains all the reasons the author thought it was going to be stupid and he fell in love with it. Sadly, I can’t say the same thing. I was expecting the movie to be completely stupid and it largely was, but was still funny and witty enough at times that I don’t feel like I completely wasted my money. I haven’t really seen enough from this new wave of comedies to know if this is some separate style of comedy that I just don’t connect with. I do have a problem when the only reason I am laughing at something on screen is because the character is acting like an idiot.
The plot as generic as they come. Take every movie about an unexpected hero who saves the world and you have the plot of “The Lego Movie” minus the interesting twist at the end. What makes it unbearable is the painful dialog. I get that the movie is trying to parody this sort of film but rather than laughing at how witty the whole thing was, I just shook my head and felt embarrassed that I actually fell for the reviews praising this thing. Until I read the reviews I was ready to write this off as a pointless stupid film that was as dumb as the trailers, which made me shake my head. If you thought everything was awesome in the trailers from the start you might fall in love with this like everyone else.
Musically, I was expecting a lot more than the end result. I won’t blame Mark Mothersbaugh too much because the film he scored totally called for the throwaway score we get. Then again, if I actually thought the song “Everything is Awesome” was catchy, like every other review I’ve read, I might giggle at its re-appearance here and there in the music. To me that song was just as disgustingly trashy as the style of music it is trying to imitate. Mothersbaugh uses some different musical styles to fit the different worlds we get to see but mostly it sounds cheap, with any orchestra that he used barely getting heard among his cutsey synthesizers. I was hoping that this half-assed hero would get a nice heroic theme but it seems writing a score that sounds like it would fit the serious version of the film being parodied isn’t in style anymore.
Despite expecting this to be a total waste of time, I did get a few chuckles here and there. I also quite enjoyed seeing the Lego bricks come alive in 3D. There is something strangely intriguing about seeing Lego flames and Lego water throughout. I also thought the twist in the last act was quite brilliant. It almost redeemed everything that came before it. Sadly, this is still pretty much a children’s movie with a few little gags thrown in there for the adults, like “Wreck it Ralph” before it. As much as the critics like to give props for a few gems hidden in a kid’s movie, it seems their bar is a bit low for even this material. It might be miles ahead of a lot of the trash that passes for animated films these days but it isn’t going to be remembered as some stroke of genius.
Though slightly different than a film, I feel that certain Anime series are deserving of a review as a whole. Single series shows especially are great for this. “Majestic Prince” is a recent mecha Anime that has some interesting ideas and some solid action but otherwise failed to reach the higher marks that it set for itself.
In typical Anime fashion, the story focuses on a group of five friends from the same school who get recruited to join in the fight to defend humans from alien invaders. It turns out that these five kids were specifically raised for compatibility with a new kind of mecha suits that connects with the pilot’s DNA. At first I was wondering if these five would ever learn to work together. Though they grow closer throughout the show, they never truly gain the proper bonds I would hope to see.
Other problems I had with the show were many. For one, it seems that the commanding officers of the Human armies are ridiculously incompetent. We watch helplessly as their underlings warn them of the problems with their strategies only to see them arrogantly ignore the warnings and go ahead with the mission.
I also had a big problem with the believability of the scenarios in general. The large battles seem poorly set up and we are led to believe that the Human military commanders are unable to do much more than react to this new enemy. The big reveals we get later that attempt to explain the setup of the show largely fall flat. The final episode ends abruptly with very little explanation given as far as how things went after the resolution of the final conflict.
I found the soundtrack a bit disappointing as well, especially considering what Toshiyuki Watanabe has written for other recent Anime, especially Space Brothers. I could guess why he decided to write the big choral work for the invaders, given their similarities to medieval royalty, however I found the majority of the music to be lacking in anything that stood out. The battle music never really presented any memorable themes that stuck with me when I finished watching.
Despite all these problems, the characters were fairly well developed and moderately interesting. You should expect that most of these characters are going to be typical Anime stereotypes but I did find they grew on me as the season progressed. Despite my initial problems with the character designs, they turned out better than I expected once things got going.
I also found the action sequences to be impressively animated. There were a number of times during the one-on-one mech battles where I noticed some pretty spectacular animation. Sadly, this didn’t hold true to some of the bigger battles where it turned into a bunch of generic lasers firing from each side. The different ways the mechs reacted to difficult fights and found extra stores of energy were well done even if the general concept is typical for this sort of Anime.
Overall, if you are a fan of mecha Anime and are interested in checking this one out, I think it is worth your time, although don’t expect it to be without its faults. If you are able to overlook some pretty annoying oversights in the plot and enjoy the big fights for what they are, you might find something fun here.
I never had the pleasure of reading The Great Gatsby in school. Though I recall clearly certain classmates walking around with it, I never considered reading it. When I first saw the trailers for “The Great Gatsby” I was not particularly enamored by what I saw. The glitz and glamor at the heart of the story became the center of the advertising. For a time it was rumored that Jay Z would be doing the music, which meant I would never watch the film in theaters. What if it was just some big wasteful party film filled with hip hop?
Thankfully, though it has short snippets of extravagant party music, it does not get over-used and is always used tastefully. Many of the songs central to the film are much more elegant, along with the music by Craig Armstrong. Armstrong’s score captures the outward appearance of royalty Gatsby portrays while also exploring the softer emotions hiding beneath.
Though I can’t say how accurately the film portrayed the novel, I found Baz Lurhmann’s portrayal to be enchanting. The true story is revealed in bits and pieces so that the unfamiliar viewer is pulled along wondering what little details will come out next. Leonardo DiCaprio’s powerful performance only serves to sweeten the allure.
Perhaps the marketing department relied on enough people knowing the true story under the shiny trailers. However, the marketing that was meant to lure in those without a clue simply served to push me away. “The Great Gatsby” is a fine film that is especially important to watch given the similarities between the time portrayed and recent times. I highly recommend it.
I was ready to give up on this movie after about forty minutes the first time I watched it. Of course I don’t write reviews of movies I haven’t finished. This is the perfect example of why.
Unlike some movies that progress in a predictable way, “The Place Beyond the Pines” takes a few unexpected turns. The first such turn takes place about five minutes after I first gave up. Thanks to some urging from fellow bloggers I did eventually finish the film. Thankfully I hadn’t returned the Netflix disc yet (or sealed it).
The first forty minutes or so of the film explores the character of Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he does what he can to provide for the son he discovers he fathered. Though Ryan Gosling does a great job in his role, I had a few problems with his character and the choices he made. It is important to pay attention to his development though for reasons that become clear later.
Once Avery (Bradley Cooper) is introduced, the film takes a big shift in tone. Though I was somewhat engaged before, I suddenly got sucked into the world much further.
What makes the film so interesting is the way in which it blends stories together and explores a long window of time. The story doesn’t end anywhere near where you might guess and that is part of why it is do impressive.
Musically, the film has a solid score by Mike Patton that captures the mood wonderfully. Some of the song choices were a bit more distracting. Though I can understand why the hip hop shows up near the end, some songs used in the first half were quite annoying and should have been left out.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is an engaging character drama even though I never really got into Luke’s part of the story. It explores the paths people take through life and the impact having a son can have on the choices of their fathers.
The action has plenty of comedy mixed in, keeping you and the rest of the audience laughing through most of it. Acting wise, everything is about as you would expect. All of the returning actors who are any good do a fantastic job in their roles once again. Some of the new actors are entertaining, especially one who I was not expecting to see. Musically, the film is a little bit darker than the first. There is a lot more action music, as well as some fantastic music for the finale. Howard Shore does a great job writing some new themes for characters for the second film, including some interesting music for Smaug himself. Old familiar themes both from the first Hobbit film and the Lord of the Rings trilogy return at the right moments.
If you enjoyed the first Hobbit film, you will find that this new film ramps up the action and does a great job filling the void until what will hopefully be an exciting and climactic final film. Despite its long-running time, I found myself engaged for most of it. And of course it is right when things start getting really good that it ends. I found the last section of the film to be especially engaging, as we rarely get to see me such a fantastic dragon on screen. If you enjoyed the first film, you absolutely must check out this one in theaters. I did not see this in high frame rate 3D or IMAX so I can not comment on how well either of those is done here.
I love going to the movies. When I first started reviewing movies I went to 40 to 50 movies per year. It took a while before I got so fed up with various experiences at the theater that I cut back on what I watched in theaters so that I only watched the more interesting films. This year I may end having seen just barely over 20 films in theaters. This is not for lack of interest but because of a declining theatrical experience.
In 2012 I watched a lot of films in the last three months of the year as tends to happen most years. Nearly every film I watched had either a trailer for “Les Miserables”, or a special Regal Cinemas feature telling me about how amazing it was going to be. I almost passed on the movie in theaters entirely because by the time it was released I had been bombarded with trailers. The same thing happens with films that are delayed for some reason. “Zero Dark Thirty” was originally planned for a September 2012 release until the studios decided to delay it because some people suggested that it was trying to sway people’s views for the upcoming presidential election. By the time the film was released in late December of 2012 (January 2013 depending on the theater) I had seen the trailer so many times that I purposefully avoided the movie until I could rent it.
I realize that this is an annoyance that only affects frequent movie viewers. When I complained on Facebook in late 2012 that I had seen the Les Miserables feature so many times my friends quickly responded that they really appreciated seeing it the one time they went to the theaters that year because they would never have known about it otherwise. In the same way, I am already pretty tired of the trailers for “The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug” and I expect by the time “300 Rise of an Empire” is released I will be similarly tired of the trailer.
At times I consider showing up late to movies so that I don’t have to sit through 20 minutes of trailers. I did this when I watched “Out of the Furnace” because I knew the film wasn’t going to be crowded enough that finding a seat would be difficult. Good luck doing the same thing for “The Hunger Games Catching Fire” or “The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug.” It just isn’t likely that you will be able to get a decent seat in a larger film if you do not show up early. It is precisely because studios know that they have a captive audience in these larger films that you tend to see trailers that are revealed for the first time when you arrive.
To a lesser extent I find all the commercials shown before the trailers to be annoying enough that I sometimes consider going to Arclight exclusively for the rest of my life despite higher ticket prices. The cheap ass in me resists such an option when I have early morning films available for half price at the local Regal Cinemas.
I ask all my fellow movie bloggers and frequent movie viewers out there, do you find it tiresome to watch so many trailers every time you go to the theaters? Or do you look forward to them knowing that it saves you from having to seek out each trailer online?
If you watch enough movies you come to recognize certain things that characters get into before things go crazy. “Out of the Furnace” is the kind of movie where I recognized early on the bad path some characters were going down but there wasn’t anything I could do but wring my hands and yell at them for being stupid. In many ways the movie is like watching a train wreck. You can see that things are going to turn out bad but there isn’t anything you can do so you can’t stop yourself from watching. Considering all the craziness in the film, it moves forward rather slow at times. Though chronologically speaking it is nice because the film captures a rather long period of time, it feels pretty slow periodically.
The main thing that drew me to “Out of the Furnace” was Christian Bale. His performance was quite satisfying and really shows how fantastic he can be in the right role. Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson both give solid performances though neither gets enough time on screen to properly appreciate them. Harrelson’s character was particularly scary and psycho but he doesn’t show up enough to truly get a taste for him. Musically the film doesn’t have very much going for it. There are a few fitting songs but the score is mostly sonic wallpaper. It helps enhance the film’s brooding feelings but doesn’t have much to separate it from other similar scores.
I found myself let down slightly through most of the film. Tough it has a solid finale that I was hoping for, it feels like there is more that could have been done to reach its full potential. The downward spiral of the characters is a bit too predictable and I never really cared enough for Casey Affleck’s character to worry when he was in dangerous situations. “Out of the Furnace” is a dark film that is at times difficult to watch because of the obvious poor choices being made in front of you. Though I was satisfied by the ending, I felt that it failed to do much other than caution people against taking on debt that you can’t repay. Still, if you are a fan of Christian Bale and like to see him in roles where you can understand what he says, this film is worth checking out to see his performance. It doesn’t really beg to be seen in theaters though so it is worth waiting for it to show up on Netflix.
There is something magical about the right kind of story. As a child I was drawn into other worlds for days on end, reading all I could get my hands on. The wonders we find in those pages that can transport us away from the harsh reality in which we live. “The Book Thief” captures this child-like wonder beautifully. Sadly, the film is not all lighthearted fun. The story shows some of the darkness of Nazi Germany and the horrors of war. John Williams’ beautiful music helps highlight the beauty and awe present. The lush melodies transport us away from the horrors even if only for a few moments. In the same way, the smiles Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) displays when reading a book help us escape with her from this dark world where books are burned and Jews hunted and killed.
The title here alludes to how Liesel borrows books from a wealthy neighbor in order to find something to read in a town where most of her neighbors’ parents are illiterate and many books have been burned. In a poignant scene early in the film we watch as Liesel’s adopted father admits to her that he is not so good at reading and that they shall have to help each other on this journey. The value of literacy and the power it brings becomes clear early on and continues to run as a theme throughout. I found it beautiful to watch the childish adventures Liesel embarks on with her friend Rudy, as they laugh and explore the world together. They each provide convincing performances signifying their acting talents.
Some might find it a bit overwhelming to watch another movie about Nazi Germany, especially one that highlights the brutality it brought. I’ve concluded that it was necessary to include such scenes in the film because it helps drive home how essential books were to Liesel and the other characters in the book. At one point later in the film, Rudy catches Liesel stealing a book and asks her why she would steal a book when people are starving. Why not steal some food? He asks. At this point it becomes clear that to her there are more important things than simply surviving. She needs to experience the worlds inside books in order to truly live. In an age where I can have access to hundreds of books on a Kindle it is easy to forget just how valuable a book is. If you can sit through some of the darker sections that accompany Liesel on her journey you will share her wonder as she escapes into books one by one.