Monday, February 25, 2013

2012 Oscar Recap / Review

So, the Oscars happened - let's take a look at what they got right and what left us scratching our collective heads. I won't be commenting on the short / documentary / foreign categories, simply because I haven't had the opportunity to see all of the nominees in those categories yet. But all of the feature categories are up for judgement, so let's get started.

Best Visual Effects

Who Won: Life of Pi

Who Should Have Won: Life of Pi

Verdict: Nailed It

Richard Parker, the CGI tiger that Pi shares the screen with for most of the film, is beautiful, terrifying and downright real. Add that to the impressive work during the shipwreck and all of the other gorgeous visuals that were created in post-production and this is truly a no-brainer. Good start.

Best Sound Editing

Who Won: Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty (TIE)

Who Should Have Won: Skyfall

Verdict: Cheap

I mean, really? A tie? You'd think they'd have some sort of procedure in order to keep this from happening, but I guess that isn't the case. They got this one half right, anyway. Skyfall is where it is at - just watch the subway scene again and you'll see what I mean.

Best Sound Mixing

Who Won: Les Misérables

Who Should Have Won: Sinister

Verdict: BZZZZZT! Wrong

Pretty sure everybody who voted here just heard "recorded live on set" and penciled Les Mis in, no matter what. However, the un-nominated Sinister should have taken home the prize on this one. The atmosphere was thick, due in no small part to the audio mix featuring some great drone artists and wonderful work by the sound team. But, of course, the Academy would never give an Oscar to a simple horror film.

Best Original Song

Who Won: "Skyfall" - Adele and Paul Epworth

Who Should Have Won: "Skyfall" - Adele and Paul Epworth

Verdict: Layup

One of the easiest predictions of the night, "Skyfall" was by far the best of the nominated songs. I agree completely with this one - I only wish that Snow White and the Huntsman would have gotten some love here for "Breath of Life" from Florence + The Machine. It certainly could have replaced "Before My Time" on the nomination list.

Best Original Score

Who Won: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Jonny Greenwood (The Master)

Verdict: Oops

The fact that Greenwood's perfect score wasn't even nominated was an absolute joke and the nomination list was really weak as a whole. Nominating Lincoln, Argo and Anna Karenina instead of the superior choices in The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Cloud Atlas. The Academy really lost their way here, though at least they gave the award to a score that was worthy of being nominated.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Who Won: Les Misérables

Who Should Have Won: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Verdict: Reeeeaaaallly?

Freakin' dwarves, man! I would have assumed that this was a gimme, but I guess they really liked the aged Valjean? Gave me a good chuckle.

Best Costume Design

Who Won: Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina)

Who Should Have Won: Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina)

Verdict: Sure, why not?

Unless something comes completely out of left field, this is basically a gimme category for the most well regarded period piece of the year. Nothing else caught my eye, so Anna Karenina it is.

Best Production Design

Who Won: Lincoln

Who Should Have Won: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Verdict: Reasonable

The production value of Lincoln was obviously top-notch, so I can't really complain about this selection. I'm simply far more impressed by projects that successfully bring to life a world that never actually existed, rather than recreating the past (unless it is recreated on a massive scale). As it stands, I would have given the award to The Hobbit and considered recognizing Looper here for its near-future aesthetic, which was subtle but effective. 

Best Editing

Who Won: William Goldenberg (Argo)

Who Should Have Won: William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor (Zero Dark Thirty)

Verdict: Solid selection

Goldenberg is getting a statue in either case, I guess I just wanted to be a bit more generous and hand out a second one. To be honest, I'm perfectly happy with both of these. I simply think that the final act of Zero Dark Thirty leans more heavily on the strength of its editor than Argo's final act does and based my decision on that - both are top notch choices. 

Best Cinematography

Who Won: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

Verdict: Sorry, try again

Don't get me wrong, Life of Pi looks great. But an award for Cinematography should be awarded based on skill in capturing images on film, not creating them in post-production. Look at Bond's fight in the Shanghai skyscraper, shot in silhouette, amidst reflective glass walls and backlit by massive neon lights. Then look me in the eye and tell me that wasn't the most impressively shot piece of film in 2012 - and then I'll proceed to tell you that you don't know what you are talking about and should go home, you're drunk. Following Deakins my pick would have been Mihai Malaimare Jr. for his work on The Master, which was not even nominated.

Best Animated Feature Film

Who Won: Brave

Who Should Have Won: ParaNorman

Verdict: Did they even watch them?

Brave was the third best of the nominees, if I am being generous. Bland and uninspired, it was one of the weakest films that Pixar has released to date. It doesn't come close to matching the concept and charm of Wreck-It Ralph which, in turn, is weaker than ParaNorman - your real winner. As my verdict states, I'm wondering how many people simply checked the "Pixar" box on this one. A brand name buys you statuettes, it seems.  

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Won: Chris Terrio (Argo)

Who Should Have Won: Chris Terrio (Argo)

Verdict: Yes

I almost handed this one to Kushner for the Lincoln screenplay, since it was an impressive feat to keep that kind of dialogue-heavy, political drama interesting for that length - but then I remembered the extreme cheese that made up the prologue and epilogue of that film and went with my next pick, which was Argo. 

"Argo **** yourself!"

Best Original Screenplay

Who Won: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Who Should Have Won: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Verdict: They got one right, anyway

Seven Psychopaths, Ruby Sparks and Looper really deserved nods here instead of Amour, Flight and Zero Dark Thirty. But at least they got the top spot right. Django does a damn good job of balancing drama, humor and action with some amazing exchanges of dialogue throughout. An extremely easy choice from that nominee list - I think my version is a much stronger sampling.

Best Director

Who Won: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Who Should Have Won: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

Verdict: FUBAR

This is the one category that was jacked up by the time the nominations were announced. Ang Lee was the right choice out of the nominees, but the Academy completely whiffed on their nominations. A list of nominees that included the truly superior directorial efforts of the year would have featured: Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty). The Academy really screwed the pooch with this one.

Best Supporting Actress

Who Won: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Who Should Have Won: Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman)

Verdict: Predictable

Pretty sure everybody gave up on this category as soon as that teaser trailer came out with Anne singing "I Dreamed a Dream," but I'm not about to give Les Mis the satisfaction of being able to put "Oscar Winner" on the Blu-Ray case. No, instead I'm giving the award to the most entertaining scenery-chewing villain since Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element. Sure, it is a bad movie, but Theron single-handedly makes it entertaining every time she is on screen.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Won: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Who Should Have Won: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)

Verdict: Toughest choice, by far

If I could give this award to Leonardo L. Waltz-Jackson for his/their work in Django, I absolutely would. As it stands, I would have given this one to Leo, though all three are absolutely deserving. This is truly the most competitive category, as Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones are both worthy of a statuette as well and it is very tough for me not to award a five-way tie. Loved all of those performances.

Best Actress

Who Won: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Who Should Have Won: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Verdict: Bullseye

What to say here? It was a two-horse race between Emmanuelle Riva and Jennifer Lawrence - and my choice was Lawrence by a hair. 

Best Actor

Who Won: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Who Should Have Won: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Verdict: Admiral Obvious

Let's be perfectly honest, this one was a lock from the moment it was announced that DDL would be playing Abe. I have nothing against this pick, because both of these performances were absolutely brilliant. I found Pheonix's raw energy as Freddy Quell a bit more engaging than the more relaxed and sedate role of Lincoln, but that's pure personal preference. Daniel Day-Lewis bein' a boss, setting Academy records and giving the best speech of the night is totally fine with me.

Best Picture

Who Won: Argo

Who Should Have Won: Django Unchained

Verdict: Acceptable

Argo wasn't the best film of the year, but it was the second-best out of the nominees. So, while I wouldn't have voted for it, I've no quarrel with those that did. The worst part of this category was that it included Les Misérables, rather than any number of the far superior films that didn't get the recognition that they deserved (eg. Skyfall, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Looper, etc.).

So, there you have it. They did right by a lot of categories, but when they missed... it was often by a long shot.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2012 Catch Up (End of Watch / The Sessions)

End of Watch (2012)

Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

This is one of those times when a single facet of a film is able to carry the rest of the project. Because, if I'm totally honest, while I've got a hell of a lot of complaints about the movie, I still had fun watching. So, let's start with the bad: found footage - why introduce this element? It leads to nonsense like having a gang film its own drive-by shooting and they use plenty of unexplained camera angles anyway, so what's the point? Speaking of the gangs, the scenes that focus on them are cringe-worthy - I'd call them cartoonishly evil, but I've yet to see a cartoon where over half the dialogue is expletives. Add these things to the fact that the story is nothing to speak of and you appear to have a recipe for disaster. But this is where our leads come in; despite the unbelievable situations and weak narrative, the performances by Gyllenhaal and Pe
a are superb and the chemistry between them as real as it gets. They make you care about the characters and thus draw you into these intense situations, even when your suspension of disbelief is strained to the breaking point. Exciting and touching, despite its many flaws.

Score: 6 / 10

The Sessions (2012)

Director: Ben Lewin
Writers: Ben Lewin (screenplay), Mark O'Brien (article)
Stars: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy

"The Sessions" doesn't seem to be sure whether it wants to be heartwarming, heartbreaking or hilarious. I'm certainly not saying that you can't do all of the above, but here the combination just seems too diluted. Jokes are cracked just as things are about to get "too serious" and when things seem to be staying light-hearted we get a dose of melodrama. Shifting tones like this requires time to explore each of these areas, as well as a deft hand from its screenwriter. At a mere 95 minutes, this film touches on a lot of subjects but lacks depth when it come to most of these themes. Therefore, even when emotional punches do actually land, there seems to be very little weight behind them. The film is certainly not bad, with Hawkes, Macy and Hunt all turning in Oscar-caliber performances. They are able to carry this material a long way and make you care for these people, even where the script seems like it could have used a bit more fleshing-out.

Score: 5 / 10

Monday, February 18, 2013

Schallkrieg EP (Interruption by Request)

Scallkrieg - Ethos

I reviewed a demo, so production issues are always something to get out of the way first in this situation. The guitar is way, way, way too low in the mix here and the tone is mediocre. It's got that digital, crystalline sound that a lot of low-end, uber-cheesy power metal bands suffer from. I'm assuming that a full length release would result in that getting reworked and a much more organic, warm and meaty tone resulting.

As to the actual material - what are they bringing to the table, what works, and what doesn't? Well, they've got an interesting prog style here, clearly attempting to combine a diverse set of metal inspirations. The clean vocalist is clearly classically trained and his vocals really shine during the lighter moments, but I question whether he could truly hold his own as a pure metal vocalist. The harshes are solid, which was honestly something of a surprise since "second-fiddle" harsh vocalists are generally terrible in my experience.

The songs feature some very cool musical ideas, though often seem a bit disjointed when making some of the more extreme transitions and the trade-off solo sections are pretty sloppily put together. Still, its obvious that these guys have some talent and if the guitar were mixed better they'd have a couple of pretty damn good riffs on here.

Overall, a mixed bag from some obviously talented individuals who don't seem to have truly found their own cohesive identity just yet.

Friday, February 15, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Robot and Frank / Bernie)

Robot and Frank (2012)

Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher D. Ford
Stars: Peter Sarsgaard, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon

This is a film that I feel could have been truly great had it focused on one particular theme, rather than try to juggle several. As it stands, we have a pleasant indie drama that touches on Frank's family relationships, his past history as a cat burglar, how he deals with growing old and his developing dementia, and how he comes to form a very real friendship with his "appliance." It all comes together fairly well, but with a narrower focus we might have a better opportunity for deeper exploration and a more impactful experience. Langella does a remarkable job with what he is given, admirably portraying a man whose memory is failing but who refuses to make himself vulnerable by admitting to this. Sarsgaard also does a great job providing the voice of the robot who, despite his direct insistence to the contrary, we come to care about as if he were human.

Score: 5 / 10

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Skip Hollandsworth (screenplay and original article) and Richard Linklater (screenplay)
Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

A very interesting dark dramedy made all the more fascinating by the fact that it is based on a true story. This film is somewhat similar to Fargo in that the comedy is often driven by the dialects employed by the actors. There are a handful of bigger laughs to be had, but for the most part it is just amusing enough to keep a smile on the face and draw an occasional chuckle.   What really makes it work is the mockumentary structure, since it allows Linklater to develop the townspeople who comment on the case into a singular entity and is really the only way to stretch the story to feature-length, though there are still a few points that drag a bit. Many of the comedic highlights take place during these interview segments. McConaughey is pretty good as the small town DA, while Jack Black is absolutely great as the amiable Bernie. Definitely Black's best performance by a long shot.

Score: 6 / 10

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Flight / The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Flight (2012)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Stars: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle

I don't know if that landing is even physically possible, but I don't care - that crash sequence was absolute perfection. One of the very few scenes in a movie that I can remember quite literally putting me at the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, it is all downhill from there. Don't get me wrong, the entire film is filmed and acted competently, but from the crash onward the story descends into an utterly predictable, heavy-handed tale with the profound message that "addiction is bad." The emotional roller coaster isn't nearly as thrilling when we know exactly when every twist, turn and drop is coming. It doesn't help matters that the soundtrack is, as many have pointed out, eye-rollingly on the nose the entire time. ("Under the Bridge" right as a syringe drops to the floor? Really, Zemeckis?) Shaking up the screenplay to reveal pieces of the story leading up to the crash at intervals throughout the investigation would have killed the intensity of that scene, but certainly would have made the remaining two hours far more interesting.

Score: 5 / 10 (Crash: 10 / 10, Everything Else: 3 / 10)

Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writers: Stephen Chbosky (book and screenplay)
Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

Welcome to the wide and wonderful world of pretentious and ridiculously profound teenagers. Chbosky's also got that knack for piling up misery and trauma on his protagonist in a way that forces his audience to swallow the more angsty moments. Aw hell, sounds like I hated it. Not so fast, my friend. Sure, the dialogue occasionally crosses into the territory of unbelievability, but the drama and characters are still engaging. Lerman and Miller are absolutely fantastic and carry this film while Watson does everything she possibly can to ruin it - seriously, she is that bad. I don't know if she was struggling with putting on an American accent, but it was painful to watch at times. The film believes itself to be deeper than it actually is, but the emotional core is genuine and touching at times.

Score: 6 / 10

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2012 Catch Up (The Hunger Games / Sleepwalk With Me)

The Hunger Games (2012)

Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross (screenplay), Billy Ray (screenplay), and Suzanne Collins (novel and screenplay)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson saved this movie for me; because, despite the fact that there were many things about the film that frustrated, perplexed and annoyed me, I still was able to get some enjoyment out of the experience due almost entirely to those two actors. For such a long film, actual information about the film's universe is strangely sparse - by the end, I had only the most bare-bones knowledge of the world and more open questions than answers. (The District 11 revolt - why show one scene and then completely drop the plot thread?) The direction was very questionable: extreme shaky cam during actionless shots, no music in moments that cried out for an audio cue while apparently filler shots are lent gravitas with swelling score. I spent a good portion of the film baffled about what the director was actually trying to do with the scenes. And don't get me started on the actual "rules" of the Games. I can see why it plays well within its target demographic but if it weren't for the fact that they hit a home run casting their lead, I wouldn't be able to summon up much fondness for this project.

Score: 4 / 10

Sleepwalk With Me (2012)

Directors: Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish
Writers: Mike Birbiglia (screenplay), Joe Birbiglia (screenplay), 
Ira Glass (screenplay), and 
Seth Barrish (screenplay)

Stars: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn

It may not be as good in this form as it is in his live performances, but Sleepwalk With Me is still quite endearing as a film. Birbiglia has a warm, friendly style that makes him seem instantly relatable and that really works to his advantage in front of the camera. Because of the changes to adapt the narrative to film the rhythm and momentum are altered, depriving the material of some of its outright hilarity. On the other hand, Birbiglia does a surprisingly solid job behind the camera, tying together snippets of his standup with the story he is telling and bits of narrative from his present-day self. As far as the adaptation goes, the ability to tie these strands together as well as visualization of the sleepwalking segments are by far the highlights. The eighty minute run time was refreshingly lightweight as well. A very solid effort, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing future film projects from Birbiglia (as writer, actor or director).

Score: 6 / 10

Monday, February 11, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Ruby Sparks / Dredd)

Super-quick reminder... if you want to view the trailer for the movie, all you gotta do is click the title. Onward!

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan
Stars: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening

I appreciate the concept, as well as the deconstruction of the "manic pixie dream girl" trope that is going on here. However, I feel that the film, to some extent, wants to have its cake and eat it too; for most of the film Calvin's attempts to manipulate the situation to his advantage are played primarily for laughs. By the time the climax comes around, the script has built itself up around the comedic aspects too much for the dramatic turn to live up to its full potential. A turn from comedy to darker drama is not an inherently bad idea, but I feel that the tonal inconsistency is not handled all that well. Dano and Kazan are both great here, and the premise is interesting enough that I still enjoyed the film quite a bit in spite of its flaws.

Score: 6 / 10

Dredd (2012)

Director: Pete Travis
Writers: John Wagner (characters), Carlos Ezquerra (characters), and Alex Garland (screenplay)
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

So, this is way better than that pile of hot garbage that Stallone made in the 90's (though that is not exactly a tall hurdle to clear). Dredd eschews backstory for the titular character in favor of badass, awesome, mindless, dirty, dystopian ultraviolence. I can get behind that. Only problem is that most of the violence is relatively bland: Dredd hides in doorway, pops out to pop five guys in the chest, proceed to next corridor. If your main attraction is dudes getting shot, show a touch more creativity with your gunfights. Also (and this may sound petty, but makes a huge difference in the visceral feel of a film) give me some squib blood packs, not red CGI mist. The slo-mo sequences are pretty cool, I guess.

Score: 4 / 10

Friday, February 8, 2013

2012 Catch Up (ParaNorman / Lawless)

ParaNorman (2012)

Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

For the most part an "above average" animated movie with a decent story and, while lacking some originality, well-executed characters. Goodman is particularly fun as Norman's seemingly crazy uncle who must pass off his responsibility of guarding the town against an ancient witch's curse to his nephew. The movie really shines in its final act after a major reveal involving the villain's identity. The visuals in the climactic sequence are phenomenal and the confrontation is equally impressive in its thematic and emotional power. I was enjoying the ride for most of the movie, but that finale totally won me over.

First "Coraline" and now this? Laika Studio is building a nice little resume here.

Score: 7 / 10

Lawless (2012)

Director: John Hillcoat
Writers: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (novel)
Stars: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce

Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce... Shia LaBeouf. Now, Shia's mere presence doesn't make the film terrible by default, but he is very average as an actor and he ends up sticking out like a sore thumb in an otherwise stellar cast. LeBeouf getting ten times the screen time of Oldman is something that should not happen in any movie, ever. I'd say that the "true story" of 1930's moonshiners is ripe for an awesome adaptation - so, while what is presented here is shot beautifully and unflinchingly in even the most brutal scenarios, I can't help but wonder how they managed to make such interesting material come across as fairly boring. Nick Cave makes some weird and wonderful music, but his skill in writing for the screen seems to be sorely lacking. A decent film, but I can't help but be disappointed at the failure to live up to its full potential.

Score: 5 / 10

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Killer Joe / Seeking a Friend for the End of the World)

Killer Joe (2012)

Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Tracy Letts (screenplay and original play)
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple

The famed director of The Exorcist returns to the chair at the age of 77 to bring you this tale of awful people doing awful things to awful people. There's one character in this that isn't irredeemably awful, but she is a bit... "special" - confused and enigmatic enough to defy the audience's (or at least my personal) attempts to relate to her. With barely any relatable characters in this mess, it can be tough to stomach this film that seems to love wallowing in its own trashiness. Friedkin obviously knows how to create discomfort in his viewers and there are a couple of powerfully disturbing scenes in here. McConaughey is surprisingly awesome as the crazy, calculating, and wholly terrifying titular character. If it's the flavor you're looking for, this is brilliant - but it is a taste I haven't really warmed up to.

Score: 5 / 10

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Writer: Lorene Scafaria (screenplay)
Stars: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melinda Dillon

If Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley strike you as an odd pairing then don't worry, you're not alone. My primary problem with this film is that the pairing is strange and they don't really have the best chemistry. Even so, they both do a remarkable job with their individual roles. The story comes off as a bit episodic, but that's forgivable due to it being something of a "road trip" movie. I loved the black humor in the first half of the movie (Patton Oswalt's cameo was a big highlight for me) and the leads were good enough to draw me in emotionally for the second half. Some might complain that the ending is too cliche and predictable, but I was invested enough in the characters to overlook that possible flaw - the final scene was perfect. I can't remember if I've mentioned that it's pretty easy to get me all misty; well, score one for this movie.

Score: 7 / 10

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Arbitrage / Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Arbitrage (2012)

Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Writer: Nicholas Jarecki (screenplay)
Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling

Richard Gere was born to play to role of the sleazy, scheming businessman and he really does carry this film. The screenplay is just "ok" and the plot is hit-and-miss with some genuinely tense moments but also quite a few contrived twists. I wouldn't go so far as to call any aspect of this movie "bad," but none of it lives up to the performances that Gere and Roth give. Their interaction is easily the best part of the movie and elevates an overall unremarkable film into "barely above average" territory.

Score: 5 / 10

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar (stage play "Juicy and Delicious" and screenplay) and Benh Zeitlin (screenplay)
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly

The opening sequence is easily the most memorable, making a place as awful as "the Bathtub" look like paradise - great cinematography. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, with the coming-of-age story of having to face down the apocalypse (both in reality and in childhood fantasy) in parallel with facing a parent's passing. But the story (what little there is) is too scattered, too loosely constructed to drive the themes home. What we're left with is a beautifully shot hellhole and two impressive pieces of acting from non-actors. An intriguing film, no doubt; but performances and cinematography alone do not a masterpiece make.

Score: 6 / 10

Monday, February 4, 2013

2012 Catch Up (Safety Not Guaranteed / Frankenweenie)

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson

It has a great premise and I really came to like both of the main characters. Unfortunately, the film also sees fit to spend time on cliched subplots for the bland and stereotypical side characters. The other thing that bothered me quite a bit is that the main plot had set up to explore some really interesting and more mature themes and then chickened out for the easier-to-swallow, crowd-pleaser ending. Even these problems can't completely overcome the fact that the relationship that develops between the two leads is fun to watch and there is some great deadpan humor scattered throughout. I just feel that if the subplots and side characters were as original as the main premise (and they hadn't flubbed the ending), that this could have really been something special.

Score: 5 / 10

Frankenweenie (2012)

Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Leonard Ripps (original screenplay), Tim Burton (original idea), and John August (screenplay)
Stars: Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short

Burton's return to his roots is a definite improvement over his disastrous output of the last few years, but still not up to the standards of his best work. Frankenweenie is a great rendition of his distinctive style and looks great. The story is decent and starts out very well in the first half hour or so - as the movie progresses, the story becomes more and more sloppy. The drive of the central narrative peters out and the script just starts making excuses to throw in as many references as it possibly can during the final act. I was hoping that the ending would take a different turn, but it is a kids movie, so I'm not sure why I expected anything else. An enjoyable movie, though not exceptional.

Score: 5 / 10