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Posts Tagged ‘pg-13’

Envisioning a trilogy is always a daunting task that few filmmakers have successfully been able to achieve (let alone a long-running series).  Not only does the narrative have to be engaging but needs to thematically make sure to connect with prior entries and wrap up loose ends.  In most cases, third entries usually fall with bloated budgets, too many ideas and a lackluster wrap-up that makes the journey getting to the end satisfying.  Where does The Dark Knight Rises fall?  Somewhere a bit in the middle.  Although the film succeeds in bringing some fascinating ideas and themes to the table and giving a good sense of closure, it also feels as if there are one too many ideas, leaving some sparse emotional context and an uneven plot logic that will disappoint some fans.

The Dark Knight Rises follows Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.  He has hidden away from society and not taken to his cape and cowl since then while Alfred (Michael Caine) continues to stay by his side while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) continues to watch over the city with the help of new officers such as John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  His family’s company is still run by Fox (Morgan Freeman) who is connected with a philanthropy project from Miranda (Marion Cotillard).  However, a new threat emerges as Selina (Anne Hathaway) reveals when she steals Bruce’s fingerprints for one of her employers, connected with a shadowy figure named Bane (Tom Hardy).  Bruce must decide whether to take up the Batman once again as the city comes under attack.

The Dark Knight Rises is at it’s best when it explores the depths of it’s lofty themes and it’s characters along with all the fantastic aesthetic trappings.  Probably the most fascinating positive points are the ambitious themes that are touched upon throughout the film.  Nolan has rarely shied away from comparing his Batman films to present-day issues and this film is little different as he tackles poverty disparity to role of governmental lies and does his best to integrate them into the actual plot and as lets it brood until it explodes by the film’s halfway point.  Even more intriguing is how Nolan encapsulates the entire three films into the growth of both Gotham and all of the characters that have been with the series since the beginning.  These characters, such as Gordon to Alfred to Bruce Wayne himself, are given large moral dilemmas that have been haunting them since the first film and come around full circle into the main spotlight here.  Especially in regards to Batman’s saga, Nolan finds a fairly good way to deal with the symbolism behind the character and the importance of it’s presence by film’s end.  Also, the obvious high points of the film that were fantastic from the prior entries are still top-notch here.  Zimmers’ score is still appropriately epic and the eerie chant-filled soundtrack works well to both be creepy and bombastic – differentiating itself enough from the previous entries yet still creating a good sense of continuity.  The cinematography is also terrific and noticeably better than the prior films as the shaky cam during the action scenes have been replaced by a steady overview, greatly enhancing the massive and crushing blows that occur often throughout the film.  Finally, there are a number of huge set pieces that feel massive in scope and very tangible that only continue to grow in scale and scope from a really interesting opening set piece in the sky to the vast battles all throughout Gotham below along with the cast doing a good job overall.

However, the film runs into issues with it’s own ambition and narrative structure that nullifies it’s final impact.  All-in-all, much of the issues derive from the massive scope the film decides to go in from the outset.  Although admirable and in many ways successful, both the film’s structure and some of the emotional context feel underwhelming because of the speed and amount of narrative that needs to be covered.  For instance, the first half of the film is fairly scattered in terms of the plot it’s trying to tell with many character introductions (or re-introductions) along with a relentless pace that clashes constantly.  This type of strange ebb and flow continues with character interactions that feel too abrupt and strange, such as a love interest between Bruce and Miranda that seems more sporadic than romantic, and late plot twists create much less interesting characters all-around because of them (especially in regard to Bane).  Additionally, although it’s understandable in terms of the themes Nolan wants to complete, the ending especially has this feeling of trying to fit in a conclusive ending than something appropriate to the tone and spirit of the film thus far.  Finally, there are some strange plot logic questions that come to mind such as a prison sequence in the middle and Bruce’s entrance in the final act that add only to some of the confusion and dampen the ambitious themes that are set forth.  Additional minor quibbles include Bane’s voice (improved from the preview screening in December but still creating some problems during longer monologue sequences) and some strange stunt sequences that result in more awkward moments than heroic ones especially near the final act.

The Dark Knight Rises is a highly ambitious if imperfect ending to Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  As a whole, the film works hard to tie together the prior two movies, is bold in the depth of it’s narrative arch and creates some fascinating thematic statements.  However, the film is held back by a sporadic first half and some strange character/plot choices.  It lacks the finesse and care that was shown to it’s previous entry and will likely disappoint very hardcore fans or viewers expecting to be impressed even more.  However, there is still a very interesting underlying film at the end that few could have completely expected and pushes forward Nolan’s belief in the symbol of what Batman stood for and the notion of identity that gives the film a powerful emotional edge – something that any film enthusiast is sad to see end.  

Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 164 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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How should I approach Men in Black 3…a film in which it’s last film came out nearly a decade ago?  We could discuss some of the supposed motivations according to it’s film creators/creative team about how the time travel idea was discussed since the end of the last film or the focus could be on the fact that the film had to be rewritten midway through the shoot and halting production for nearly six weeks.  But in my opinion, the big issue that ran through my mind while watching the film was – did it prove itself to be necessary in the franchise?  The end answer is that it unfortunately doesn’t completely make its case well with a fairly lackluster build-up that hinges too much on the familiar and doesn’t have a great selling point, but the second half and some nice touches make it at least worthwhile watch for fans of the series or anyone in the mood for a random sci-fi comedy.

Men in Black 3 comes back to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) who are still working for the Men in Black and keeping Earth safe from evil alien forces.  However, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) recently escaped from his prison on the moon and is out to kill Agent K for blowing off his arm decades earlier.  To do this, Boris travels back in time.  When J wakes up one day and finds that K has disappeared and is stated as deceased, he must go back in time, meet a much younger K (Josh Brolin) and try to set time right.

Men in Black 3 starts off as a film that plays it a bit too safe by feeling reeled back both in terms of it’s visuals, it’s plot structure and even it’s humor.  Director Sonnenfeld and his crew do their best to really create this feeling of continuity between the first two films and this one in terms of the atmosphere and setting, which at first, may seem like a pretty simple and expected task.  However, along with these set pieces that were supposed to be nostalgic, little has changed other than a new villain, a small shake-up in the concept and a few new characters and scenarios.  The formula of the film feels predictable with the plot beats being too familiar and easy-to-follow.  Even the newer elements that are constantly touted in the film as being shocking end up feeling more innocuous than it really does and bleeds into the best part of the film, it’s ending, which after much musing, feels forced and robotic (both the emotional and action endings).  This lack of effort comes over into the visuals and humor as well – the CG feels like a weak point, with the exception of a scene in Cape Canaveral, and the humor, especially in it’s first half, feels rough and stuck back in time (no pun intended).

So even after all these complaints, is there much left about the film?  Luckily enough, there are some redeeming moments that play enough and especially for the fans.  One strong element is that the actors are still endearing enough from both the older to the newer entry of characters.  (Mostly) Gone are the gimmicky, slapstick or one-note characters and instead, effort is put int building up some of the central characters.  Smith’s endearing and gung-ho attitude is still fun to watch and plays well off of the pretty pitch-perfect Brolin who doesn’t bat much of an eye as he plays a great interpretation of Agent K/Lee Jones’ character.  It’s a gag that may not stay funny throughout the film but emotionally, the connection is there.  Personally, I found a character introduced midway through (with has some obvious deux ex machina mechanics at his disposal) to be one of the most endearing characters of all.  For fans, there are tons of nods and winks to the older entries that should keep them pleased throughout the film along with some fun cameos along the way to try to keep audiences guessing at who else is included.  And even the weaker humor in the first half is supplanted with some better gags and past observations that are played fairly well.   Finally, perhaps most importantly, there is at least an attempt at creating some emotional context with the audience and the characters.  Even though the end implementation may feel artificial, the attempt and the proceeding will at least, superficially, feel wholesome and is at least appreciated in a summer film that could have simply tried to be completely cool.

Men in Black 3 is a strange sight to see – being taken out of retirement (and by the looks of things, most likely being put right back) for an entry that doesn’t completely sell itself as being necessary but still should be enough for fans to enjoy.  The film does have it’s moments such as a great performance from Brolin, some good nods back to the other films, and a relatively strong ending.  However, time has not been so kind to the series and much of it’s humor is relatively ho-hum and a standard narrative that feels too familiar than nostalgic along with relative problems with it’s CG and editing.  Even the ending feels a bit shoehorned.  All-in-all, series fans should enjoy it and as an enjoyable rental, Men in Black 3 is innocuous, but was it all that necessary to bring back and explore? At least in this film’s case, even jumping back in time proved for naught.  

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 103 Minutes

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

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How much does reputation matter?  Sure, in a day-to-day context, it could have little to no effect depending on the situation but what about during a trial case?  Take some of the more recent high-profile cases such as Casey Anthony, which had the media and the public fairly certain of her guilt much before the trial was close to finishing.  Reputation and perception are key integral factors into how we as a society respond to key issues.  Bernie has a similar purpose in mind – taking a microcosm of the situation with a small Texan city and trying to understand not only the motivation of the criminal but also the unique perception and aura created around him.  It may not be exactly revelatory or transcendent material, but a very strong performance from Jack Black and the subtle and dark humor nature of the film fit perfectly into a fascinating end product.

Bernie (Jack Black) is an enthusiastic and kind assistant funeral director in the small city of Carthage, Texas.  Although his job seems morbid, his personality is bright and enthusiastic, taking a deep interest in singing at church while making sure all of his job is perfect and smooth.  He goes above and beyond and the city around him has taken an adoration of him because of it with older ladies taking a fancy towards him while others feel that there isn’t a nicer person in town.  One day, he takes on the funeral of Marjorie Nuget’s (Shirley MacLaine) husband.  Marjorie was known in the town as a cranky and condescending woman, disliked by both her family and the townsfolk.  However, after the funeral, Bernie suddenly becomes closer and closer to Marjorie until they become sort of a couple themselves until one fateful day when Marjorie goes ‘missing’.  District Attorney Buck (Matthew McConaughey) becomes suspicious and thus begins the back-and-forth pull between the city and the DA.

Some of the obstacles the film faces are mostly due to the type of narrative it weaves and some of the stylistic choices it makes.  To tell such a plot, Bernie really focuses on it’s titular character quite extensively compared to any other character.  However, that does skew and perhaps even oversimplify the final situation more than it should, as it gives very few other characters room to both breathe and become more than just caricatures.  In the end, this falling out means that the DA, for instance, becomes a much more villainous character than possibly intended while Marjorie is also vilified quite a bit as well.  The other oddity comes in it’s stylistic choice to divide the film with silent film-like dialogue cards that try to give the film a more book-like feel with chapters and topic changes.  However, these cards, even when they try to present some humor, aren’t very engaging and feel out-of-place and lackluster.  The film could have carried itself much more without them and does slow the pacing down when they appear more frequently in the first half.

However, the whole of Bernie is quite an engaging watch due to the commitment to it’s dark humor, Black’s great performance and the fascinating story itself.  The approach to the dark undertones of the film at first seem off-putting and possibly offensive, but the end product isn’t disrespectful – it seems properly categorized for such a bizarre line of events and people involved.  The humor present is more observational and candid than slapstick or nefarious and works well since the small town mentality and the characters more than create a fairly colorful group of characters.  The subtle filmmaking style fits well without forcing flashbacks or unnecessary exposition onto the audience as well, creating a quieter but smooth narrative ride through the plot.  This subdued style also highly came through in Black’s performance and creates one of his best characters yet.  Black plays a character that is outwardly quite opposite from his usual bombastic and quip-heavy self but intrinsically, plays to Black’s strength as both a great singer and confused inner self.  This pulled back stylistic choice brings out the best in his character and his acting as Bernie’s moral quandary and whether his goodness is inherently pure or not is highly questioned from midway on through the film.  Finally, the plotline itself carries enough weight to really continue to capture a-hold of the audience from the observations of the community to the actual crime and the aftermath.  The plot, other than some of the more questionable inclusions, grows organically and stays interesting throughout as moral dilemmas and the notion of character becomes more and more integral to the central plot.

Bernie is a fascinating character study and one of Jack Black’s best roles.  It’s not entirely sound as the film includes some unnecessary stylistic flourishes and a plot that is more biased towards Bernie’s side from the get-go.  However, that being said, the film’s quiet, subdued approach to the subject matter is captivating as the film’s pseudo-mockumentary approach pays off in really trying to understand the psyche and approach of both the town of Carthage and Bernie himself.  Best of all is Bernie himself, Mr. Black, who never plays the role straight for laughs or overly flamboyant but much like the film’s approach, acts with subtle grace and ends up as one of his most memorable roles to date.  The end product is a dark comedy that tries to observe not only one character’s personality and limit but also looks into reputation and judgement – a film that is both memorable and dastardly.

Director: Richard Linklater
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 104 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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(Please note, this review addresses the content for both reader and non-readers of the books, but to note, I have personally read the material before seeing the film.)  

I always empathize for the director and screenwriter of book-to-film adaptations.  Whether the book is merely a few pages long or a few hundred pages, the creative team must fit in what could be minutes or hours worth of material into a one to three hour time span and either evoke a very faithful or very provocative transformation.  Even more importantly, the film must still be a great movie at its core.  The Hunger Games is the first in a popular book trilogy and falls under the same questions – does it succeed?  In the end, fans of the book should be fairly pleased with the faithful adaptation while fresh audience members, while most likely overwhelmed by the amount of information they must encapsulate along with a lack of complete emotional empathy, should be at least interested in the fascinating themes and imagery the subject matter has to offer.

The Hunger Games follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in District 12.  Each year, the 12 Districts must give a tribute of a boy and a girl to fight in the annual Hunger Games on live television until there is a victor.  When the time comes for the year’s reaping ceremony, Katniss’ sister, Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), is chosen.  To save her sister, Katniss volunteers and is paired with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).  Together, they travel to the Capitol with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), their mentor, to be showcased and trained before they must enter and attempt to survive the year’s Hunger Game.

The weakest sections of The Hunger Games come from a lack of emotional connection and amount of information being thrown into audiences.  The main issue that I think most non-Hunger Games audience members will have is the lack of a complete emotional resonance.  There are some definite emotional highlights but it becomes more rare to see the film take more time and care with characteristics and backgrounds.  The result is a story that doesn’t properly draw you into moments such as the film not properly explaining or expanding on the relationship between Katniss and other tributes.  Whether it’s weaker acting from some of the periphery characters or a plot that glosses over the information fairly quickly – this problem becomes much more of a frequent problem.  The general flow of information as well becomes an issue unto itself, especially for people that haven’t read the books.  Expect some confusion as the film tries to delicately balance an overload of information and a pacing that sometimes glosses over some finer points, creating some strange dialogue trees.  A conversation about a blown up arsenal, for instance, comes up even though the established dialogue was never set up previously.  Take note Hunger Games newcomers – even with a fairly long running time, the film doesn’t linger on its exposition.

Otherwise, however, The Hunger Games is a fascinating aesthetic and thematic journey that should be of interest to most audience members.  Director Ross and crew take a lot of pride in choosing and sticking with their visual choices, for instance, which defines the film.  From the color correction to the documentary-style cinematography to the extreme costume design differences, there’s as much of a 1984 inspiration as well as something more from a period piece like Seabiscuit.  Clean white police uniforms with a strange futuristic twist clash brilliantly with the downtrodden, early 20th-century look of the denizens of District 12.  These consistent choices help to sell an authentic world, especially as the games begin.  These aesthetics also fall into some great acting, especially from Hutcherson and Lawrence who put on a heartfelt performance, even when the script may not make the most sense or feel contrived.  Lawrence, especially, is captivating as a stalwart teenager dealing with the life-and-death scenarios put before her.  These scenarios are also the fascinating reasons why, I believe, both fans and non-fans will find some interest in the core film.  The script and the narrative arch do little to deviate from the intended book’s arch, which, although may be convoluted at times or may not always result in a perfect cinematic moment – the themes are still interesting to explore and touched upon and creating a situation that should appease people that have read the source material and still fairly coherent enough for newcomers with some added exposition.  An added emphasis on the Gamemaker, for instance, helps emphasize the reality show nature of the film without feeling too unnecessary.

The Hunger Games concept may not be completely unique unto itself and may not completely resonate with non-readers, but the film itself is both a faithful adaptation and a pretty fascinating journey from start to finish.  Audience members who haven’t read the book will feel a bit overwhelmed by the material and characters that sometimes quickly come and go, not helped by minor plot holes and an emotional core that doesn’t always resonate.  However, fans of the book should be fairly pleased with the final outcome of a very faithful adaptation along with some interesting additions, and non-fans should be fairly intrigued by the dystopian future created by Ross and his team along with the great casting.  All-in-all, The Hunger Games is a solid and timely film that evokes questions of our own media consumption in the present day.   

Director: Gary Ross
Running Time: 142 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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Biopics are fascinating beasts because not only are they accounts of a person’s life but bring out interesting intentions of the filmmaker behind it.  Does the filmmaker revile or praise the subject and is the approach a more fantastical or more grounded approach?  Much different than a documentary, a biopic works best when it stands with a purpose and creates a much more fascinating final project.  The Iron Lady actually starts out with a bold statement, that it would explore the life of Margaret Thatcher and her struggles in the latter part of her life made up of the events of her past.  However, the approach feels ultimately misguided and haphazard as a messy plot and context creates more of a passing glance than an interesting whole story.

The Iron Lady follows Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) who lives at home as the former prime minister of Great Britain.  Unfortunately, she also struggles with dementia, imagining her recently deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), to still be speaking to her, much to the chagrin of the family and staff around her.  The film follows her day-to-day life trying to cope with her dementia while reminiscing on her younger career (played by Alexandra Roach) as an-and-coming politician in a heavily male-dominated political world and her ascension as prime minister.

The film’s best parts lie in it’s acting and interesting premise and angle.  Meryl Streep is always a joy to watch in each of her films as she really magically transforms and powerfully commands the role she plays.  Here, Streep plays a multi-faceted Thatcher from her days in parliament to a dementia-stricken older grandmother.  Although the range is impressive, the best moments come when Streep is in the lion’s den of Parliament and engages in debates with her fellow Parliament members.  These scenes are perhaps the best in the film as well as the subject matter (and Parliament debates in general) are always entertaining and transfer well to film and showcasing the gender and institutional battles while allowing Streep to fully embody the character.  The film itself is helped by a different approach to the typical biopic formula.  Instead of starting simply from childhood to the present state of the biopic character or simply focusing on one section of the subject’s life, the film is more interested in her older years and her on-set of dementia with her deceased husband still haunting her.  The film still showcases the childhood and middle years of Thatcher but not as important or emphasized as her latter years as an elderly woman.

Unfortunately, this different biopic approach is proven to be weaker and misdirected by film’s end and additionally marred by strange aesthetic choices.  The main problem seems to be centered around reinforcing why the film’s purpose is appropriate.  As interesting as the perspective may be, the film is never convincing enough why it center around Thatcher’s latter years.  Instead, The Iron Lady feels disconnected and haphazard as it tries to juggle this back-and-forth reasoning between the feelings Thatcher feels in her nightmares to a past incident.  These elderly scenes feel inconsequential and unimportant and even more unfortunate, less well-acted and interesting than these earlier day scenes.  Streep is at her best when given the firepower to crack against the heavily male-dominated Parliament, not her premonitions of her deceased husband and there just isn’t enough of her early life to make up for a heavier latter life crisis.  The filming itself is also not up-to-par.  Editing work, for instance, heavily relies on repetition but unfortunately, of the exact same scene and not too long after it’s been shown.  Various filming angles and sound uses also feel underwhelming whether it’s due to a strange shot of Streep or an explosion that is oddly placed.  Even the soundtrack feels misplaced, that tries to be timely or epic at times but ends up in a scene that doesn’t need either.  All-in-all, the thought I had to myself was how it felt like a cheaper television film that wasn’t more careful and meticulous about it’s subject matter and felt more like a haphazard production that never came quite together in the end.

The Iron Lady is, for the most part, a misdirected opportunity that may feature an interesting target and the great Meryl Streep but a messy and haphazard central plot.  There is no denying that Streep continues her reign as one of the best actresses of the time with a wonderful interpretation of Thatcher that is enjoyable and flawed as well as nuanced along with a fairly unique take on the traditional biopic.  However, the overall film is not convincing enough to prove that it’s perspective was worth the trip through some fairly ineffective editing and strange aesthetic choices.  It’s an unfortunate case of having all the right pieces in place but not enough substance and bite to really make for a convincing overall film for the audience, Thatcher’s legacy or the crew and cast themselves.  

Director: Phyllida Llyod
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

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