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Archive for June, 2012

A film (or any narrative for that matter) doesn’t really have to follow a core set of rules.  It could start out with an explosion and spend the rest of the time discovering why the explosion happened in a quiet fashion or it could tell the story backwards with reckless abandon.  However, the creative team behind the content is trying to sell the audience on an experience that works within the rules and confinement that it has set out for itself and when those initial rules are broken and not properly given an explanation or fits within the context of the world, the experience becomes more and more unbelievable.  Thus is the case of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which sells a great atmospheric take on an apocalyptic setting and dark comedy aesthetic but falls apart midway through the film as the very foundation and interests the film had pivot to something that seems untrue to the film’s initial premise.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows Dodge (Steve Carell) who has just heard, along with nearly everyone else around the world, that the world is going to end in three weeks.  Alone and confused, left by his wife, he meanders day-to-day as the world around him crumbles apart until one day, he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), who was crying outside his window on the fire escape.  As riots and more people panic around them, they go off in a car, not knowing sure where they’re going or what they’ll discover together.

The film starts off with some great solid points from a great aesthetic, pace and style.  Using a dark comedy style, the film capitalizes on it’s ‘end of the world’ scenario with little fanfare, making use of radio broadcasts, television news and just day-to-day happenings to exemplify the shock at the severity of the situation and the result plays out fairly brilliantly with Carell’s Dodge as the man in the middle, experiencing it all.  It’s definitely devilishly dark with suicides, orgies and reckless abandon all in the mix but these situations really play true to situations involving how people would react given the knowledge they were all about to be killed.  The film also does a fairly good job covering most of it’s bases in terms of these scenarios and usually are fairly surprising (expect a few jumps) and doing it’s best to ask the questions that people would ask in this type of predicament.  The style also starts out just as strong with a day countdown and this recurring sense of dread and surprise and in the middle of it all, Carell’s fairly straight middleman performance is a perfect echo to the chaos around him.  These elements really put some serious light onto the situation while poking at the tropes and concepts that we conceive in our mind for the apocalypse.

Unfortunately, a strong start gives way to a overly melodramatic and strange turn in style and narrative along with some other minor grievances.  The film, halfway through the film, starts to give way to it’s romantic subplot which unto itself shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  However, the attention given to this subplot changes the entire dynamic and flow of the film for the worse.  The dark comedy becomes a sappy, melodramtic romantic film, which sure, if it initially created a sense of melodrama or better progression up to this point, it would have made much more sense.  However, not only is the change fairly abrupt, it’s for the worse as the scenes come off as overly melodramatic with typical musical montages and romantic tropes that feel much weaker than the darker first half.  Only up until the very end does the film feels like it got a handle on it’s romantic notion but unfortunately, it left a trail of disappointing and boring scenery in it’s wake as it drops many of the stylistic flourishes from the first half.  On a smaller note, although personally equally as grating, is the obvious product placement, which by the second half of the film seems so in-your-face and obnoxious.  A scene in which a minor army character presents his fleet of mini-sized smart cars is not only out-of-place but obvious in what it’s trying to sell to the audience.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a disappointing case of a strong first half mired by a very contrived second half.  The film features a great role for Carell, reminiscent of his work in Little Miss Sunshine, and a strong, dark comedic look in the face of the apocalypse.  However, a romantic subplot eventually takes center stage and pivots the film nearly completely into an overly melodramatic movie that feels both unnecessary and uninteresting to the main event.  These two contrasting sections hurt my overall impression of the film, which felt like it had more going for it, but it’s hard to deny the charm of Carell and the effective if unsurprising ending.

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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Imagine you prepare for the perfect pitch for a new product to your clients that you feel can do wrong, which slowly crumbles as the meeting progresses and only by the very end do you realize the mistakes you had made.  So too is the viewing of some films in which it becomes so aggravating to watch a movie that has all the right elements watch come apart by the film’s climax.  Great potential, whether from the cast to the set-up and the premise, means little if the execution and all the other elements don’t correctly match up.  So becomes the fate of Safety Not Guaranteed, an intriguing comedy that unfortunately never finds its correcting footing until the very end of the film.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows a Seattle magazine journalist, Jeff (Jake Johnson)  and two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), who are assigned to write a story on a man who wrote a classified, asking someone to to time travel with him on a mission.  When they travel to their destination and meet the author of the ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass).  After trouble coaxing him to talk more about the ad, Jeff assigns Darius to do his best to infiltrate and get Kenneth to trust her.

Safety Not Guaranteed runs into a number of problems from beginning to end from it’s haphazard plot, numerous hit-or-miss jokes, and a lack of much emotional resonance.  Although the film starts out interestingly enough, the meat of the film never really finds it’s rhythm or pacing.  Instead, it feels like it tries to hit it’s story beats with some interesting indie-like insights that never quite connect well with the main plot at hand.  For instance, it tries to deal with youthful experiences while on the other, it deals with identity and acceptance.  However, the result is a main plot dealing with the Darius and Kenneth with a strange romantic subplot with Jeff and his old high school love interest and Arnau’s ‘coming-of-age’ type story that all feel disparate than cohesive.  This disconnect also comes within the not-so-great comedic timing and jokes.  The film is technically a comedy/pseudo dark comedy, but the actual result is not so rosy.  Although some of the jokes come off as somewhat funny or insightful, the usual result is much more awkward, mistimed or more odd than intriguing.  These problems finally lead into a lack of emphasis and emotional empathy the audience has with much of the characters.  The relationships that are effective in the film feel much more rushed and haphazard compared to the slow-moving and unlikable juxtaposition of Jeff and his love interest which seemingly is given much more time in the spotlight.  These problems as a whole simply feel so haphazard and unfocused.

However, there were still some good parts to the film such as it’s premise, some chemistry and the eventual ending.  The foundation on which the film is built upon is interesting to look into with an interesting lead and set-up into the eventual proceedings of the plot.  When the film is focused primarily on it’s ‘mission’ in the first half and in some smaller parts in the second half, the premise is initially promising.  Chemistry-wise, the two leads, Plaza and Duplass engage well with each other and have that interesting awkward bond that is an intriguing relationship to see grow. And finally, the best part about the film (not to overhype the film) is in it’s ending.  The way the film ends is fairly brilliant given the circumstances of the rest of the film and does answer some of the stranger proceedings that happen through the film.  More importantly, it does show promise in the young creative team here in the fact that something very interesting can happen given the right circumstances and elements.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a movie that you’re rooting for because it has the right ideas and makes an appealing emotional case, but the end result is not as impressive.  The premise for the narrative is fun and interesting; time is made to explore most of the characters’ background and there are some heartwarming moments with some insights.  However, the execution comes off much more ho-hum with stilted moments, jokes that fall flat, and developments that seem inconsistent and odd to pinpoint.  Amazingly, though, the ending makes up for some of these dryer and inconsistent moments with a satisfying answer to many of the film’s problems.  It’s just unfortunate that the entire package wasn’t filled with an equal amount of whimsy and tighter execution that could have elevated the film so much more.  

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses:  ** 1/2 out of *****

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[Note: The short film before ‘Brave’, ‘La Luna’, is just a joy to watch, beautifully made and as clever as always.  Great music from Gaicchino punctuates the short film which is worth the admission ticket.]   

Atmosphere has been a big trend this summer as films are choosing to really explore it’s location, context and mood in great detail.  However, the apparent challenge that comes with this choice is how much such a decision can win over an audience and engage with them, even if other parts of the film felt more lackluster or even non-existent.  Brave is Pixar’s latest film, a Scottish folk adventure with it’s first female heroine.  Barring much discussion on the expectations and the nature of the film’s release itself, Brave also has a heavy hand in injecting atmosphere more than all other elements and does it succeed?  Although most won’t consider the film to be their best work due to it’s predictable narrative structure and simplicity, Brave still is a very tightly worn narrative that succeeds in capturing a great feel with some beautiful moments.

Brave follows the tale of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the princess of her clan.  Although she has a strict mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), Merida takes more after her scruffy and wild father, King Fergu (Bill Connolly) as she loves to use her bow, climb rocks and lay weapons down at the kitchen table.  However, soon, Merida must choose a suitor as per tradition but Merida wants to defy her mother and simply live her life as she pleases.  What ensues is a struggle between the two for control over Merida’s life and destiny.

The weaker parts of Brave come within the narrative and premise itself which seem fairly unoriginal and some other more mediocre elements of the production.  The main story doesn’t pull too many surprises at audiences that have watched any kind of children’s movie before.  For both better and worse, the film relies on the common and familiar tropes of princesses, magic and a familial dispute.  The way the story does twist and turn, although sometimes cleverly disguised or referred differently, doesn’t do much to surprise as well as most audience members should be able to correctly surmise the general outcome between Merida and her family.  Additionally, there are some throwaway characters that are also within the film that feel like they contribute little and could have been left out without impacting the story such as the ‘villain’ of the tale along with a general warm-up period for some of the characters to really grow into characters that are appreciated.  Perhaps the general structure and characters seem to freely take from past Disney, children stories and feels too commonplace and not mixed up enough to be considered unique.  One other disappointing element comes from the musical composition which does correctly get the tone and atmosphere of the area but isn’t as memorable or impactful as other Pixar films.

However, in this case and in contrast to a film like Prometheus, I feel that there is enough of a balance in creating a still effective story and a great attention to atmosphere that works in Brave’s favor.  Of course, the first element that any audience will most likely notice is how gorgeous the film looks.  Pixar did a spectacular job, as always, in not only giving the film it’s own distinctive look but create such wonderful technology around it such as Merida’s crazy hair that embodies her character as much as the vocal performance.  The second element that audiences will then most likely notice is how much the film captures Scotland and all it’s culture embedded in different ways across the film.  From the obvious visual look to Scottish folklore and locations, there is no doubt that the Pixar team not only did their research well but beautifully integrated it into all of the film.  It feels like you’re traveling to Scotland and back all in the matter of the hour and a half running time.  Additionally, the sound design is fairly well done and has the right amount of power and authenticity to really push the effects.  Finally, there is the core narrative itself, which true, doesn’t feel very original and plays it more predictable than new, but at the same time, still comes off as a nice balance of whimsy and adventure that captures some unique moments.  The film rarely feels like a bore with a fairly quick tempo that pushes the story along (albeit almost too quickly) and the film at least has fun playing with the different Scottish elements such as wisps and clans to create some interesting opportunities for it’s characters.  It has enough of this charm to really pull most audiences into the journey and even though locations may repeat quite constantly, the ideas are presented with a lot of vigor and visual prowess.

Brave is a solid film from Pixar that may put more emphasis on it’s contextual setting than originality but still ends up with an all-around great watch.  The narrative arc, true, is predictable and lacks much surprise than many of Pixar’s past efforts.  However, that still means a terrific film is here at it’s core that does a solid job in telling it’s tale and a beautiful job in recreating and interpreting the Scottish lore and culture.  Brave is an all-around stalwart family film that doesn’t break boundaries but still is well worth the watch if you’re an animation or Pixar fan (or fan of Scottish folklore and culture).  

Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Rated: PG

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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What is mightier – the artistic vision or the logical narrative?  The visual world and the cohesive atmosphere can make a film come to life and make the audience engrossed into the happenings of the characters.  However, the narrative arc can be equally as important to create a logical chain of events that gives the film it’s theme and purpose.  Luckily, there is no one crucial answer to this mystery as films can thrive on either or both pedestals, depending on the aim of the creative team.  But then comes a film like Prometheus which thrives on both but ends up with only one of these elements staying strong, resulting in a skewed end product.  Prometheus is a wonderfully well-thought out world that has some beautiful visuals and intriguing characters but is hampered by a strong premise that devolves into a plot that skews more into plot holes and confusion.

Prometheus is a ship that is sent to a far-off planet in search of Earth’s ‘creators’.  A set of scientists, Elizabeth (Naaomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) have found some archaeological evidence of a possibility of finding those that created humans on Earth.  Using funding from a company by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), they set off with the crew of the Prometheus, helmed by Meredith (Charlize Theron) and Janek (Idris Elba) with the help of an android named David (Michael Fassbender).  Together, they land on to the planet that the findings sent them to, not knowing what to expect.

The highlights of the film comes from it’s strong artistic vision and fascinating foundation.  Prometheus, even though many of the scenes are a mix of CG and large set pieces, is a gorgeous film to look at that nails it’s tone and tangible look.  The gritty landscapes and the ship interior never feel out of place – places that we could explore and live in.  One scene in particular, which involves David and a room full of spinning celestial holograms, is so rich and striking and oozes atmosphere and context, perfectly embodying the beauty and grandeur that Scott is so well known for.  These nuances shine into the characters as well from the creatures to the humans (and to the non-humans), save for only Peter Weyland’s fake-looking prosthetics.  Additionally, the premise starts out fairly interesting with a question of human life and celestial beings.  There are some fascinating concepts that get tossed around in the first half of the film and the exploration and divide that comes from it make for thoughtful notes.  Finally, some of the characters shine such as Elizabeth, the religious scientist, but the best character comes from the supporting actor role from Fassbender as the android David.  The concept may not be new but the curiosity and nebulous nature of his actions are really great to watch unfold and always feels engrossing when on screen.

These fascinating positive points unfortunately fly head-to-head with the plot’s eventual turns and weaker second half full of cliches.  The script seems like (as mentioned in previous interviews) it was divided into two parts – one part a prequel to the Aliens franchise; another being it’s own entity, creating more provocative themes introduced in the first half.  This clash becomes very apparent in the film’s middle and final chapters in which the film eventually feels too obligated to try and crunch in some horror, action moments from some of the Aliens mythos while still trying to explain some of the meatier themes.  This clash ends up asking too many questions about the plot’s direction and feels contrived rather than possibly symbolic and thoughtful.  Characters betray and appear against one another for little reason; characters seem out-of-their-element or have strange reactions to surprise plot devices and characters’ purposes and reasonings seem to either disappear or come and go again as the plot pleases.  This results in characters that started to have some sort of grander purpose and characteristics, ending up being simple contrivances and plot devices such as Theron’s character who starts out slightly more jaded to only end up discarded.  Cliches are also heavily apparent, opting for more of a stunning spectacle than reason.  In one particular sequence, the involved characters inexplicably could move to the side to avoid an object but instead run in a straight line.  These problems equate to a  film that becomes much more repetitive and unsurprising than fascinating and revelatory.  The end result is a film that doesn’t really answer many questions for Aliens fans or satisfy their want for something much more visceral and finite or viewers waiting for a much smarter and complicated film the film set out to be.

Prometheus is a gorgeous film with a strong premise and some interesting characters that loses some semblance of it’s bearing and plot by the end.  The film is exquisite in terms of it’s imagery and grandeur as it has a wonderful sense of scale and spectacle from the quiet to the insane along with a fascinating foundation that questions life and inception along with some fun characters such as Fassbender’s David.  However, the film wants to be both a subtle prequel to the Aliens franchise while being it’s own separate entity and these divergent paths never really mesh well and end up diluting the final film.  Prometheus ends up living to it’s name as a titan who is imprisoned and although intelligent and mighty is set to end in a repetitive cycle that never fully lives up to it’s potential.  

Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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Creating a film is no easy task, of course.  There are a ton of elements that go into the production from the art design, sets, special effects, acting, screenplay, and so forth.  That’s what makes an impressive film all the more satisfying to watch because all the elements mesh together to create something fascinating unfolding on screen.  Snow White and the Huntsman is an interesting case on this thought process in that it shows too well how a film can falter under the weight of a lack of a cohesive vision.  The film is quite chock full of ideas from all of the different elements around it from some intriguing art design to some good acting talent to a different take on the Snow White mythos.  However, for those that look anywhere beyond the aesthetic value and just the ideas, the problem becomes quickly apparent – the film is messy and convoluted, undermining the story it tries to present.

Snow White and the Huntsman follows the titular character, Snow (Kristen Stewart) who has been imprisoned for her entire childhood by her evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).  Having lived off of her strange black magical powers, she takes the youth of beautiful young women to continue to live on and take over kingdom after kingdom.  One day, Snow White escapes imprisonment and Ravenna orders her men to go after her including a rogue huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).  When the men finally catch up with Snow White in the dark forest, the huntsman must make a choice to help the princess or the Queen along with what to do next.

The film’s greatest asset must be in it’s art design and plethora of ideas.  There are some beautiful moments that do shine through in the film.  For instance, a scene during the Queen’s coronation in a cathedral looks pretty magnificent and similar visuals throughout the film are peppered with some thought into giving the film a good majestic look along with some nice hues throughout the film.  Secondly, there definitely are quite a lot of ideas that come through, some actually being interesting takes on the Snow White mythos.  For instance, the dwarves in the film are much more embedded within the lore and exhibit some of the more entertaining characters while having small enough tweaks from the original story.

Unfortunately, these positives are seemingly negated by the mishmash of ideas that both are not fleshed out and lack a cohesive bond along with other problems in the production itself.  Although some of the ideas do work out in the film’s favor, most of the story unfortunately does not and even those that are effective are thrown by the wayside since they are rarely expanded upon.  The tendency seems to be to try and introduce a new idea and element with each scene from Snow White’s plight in the castle to her escape into the woods.  Unfortunately, many of these ideas don’t work whether because they are simply too nonsensical given the reality set by the world or non-cohesive to the story at large.  The film tries too hard to become too many elements it didn’t need to be.  For instance, it tries it’s hand in trying to paint a hardened, Shakespearean world to a much more wondrous fantasy land (ala Alice in Wonderland) to a fantasy epic in the vein of Lord of the Rings.  In another, it tries to make us care about characters we’ve known for little more than a few minutes in the film and create an empathetic connection, when in reality, the audience could care less.  The end result is any lack of emotional attachment to what’s happening on the screen due to confusion about the consistency of how this iteration of Snow White’s world ‘functions’ and lack of emotional attachment since the film never lets the audience connect properly with a scene and it’s players.  The proceedings aren’t helped by strange moments in the script and acting as well.  Actors such as Charlize Theron bring about fairly good performances, but some roles such as Stewart’s comes off as strange and wonky.  Even stranger is the script which seems to have a very bipolar attitude and aura.  Even Theron is affected by such proceedings with hushed whispers that suddenly turns into screams of very similar lines over and over to another scene with a kiss between Snow White and a prince that comes off as silly and awkward than nostalgic and surprising.  These problems constantly crop up and sully the enjoyment of what the film is going for.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a complete showcase of style over much substance with an array of interesting visual ideas but lacking any cohesiveness and semblance of an engaging narrative.  Some of the ideas within Snow White seem like interesting ventures and visually, there are some striking moments.  However, first-time Director Sanders seems trapped with simply too many disparate ideas and a lack of a cohesive, emotional tale along with other problems in terms of some of the acting and script.  In the end, a good film is buried somewhere underneath the myriad of ideas in this confused fantasy epic.  

Director: Rupert Sanders
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: ** out of *****

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