Archive for June, 2012

Project X

Posted in Comedy with tags on June 30, 2012 by Mark Hobin

If not for the free Blu-ray Warner Brother’s provided me, I probably would have never seen this. It wasn’t well received by critics and only grossed $54.7 million in U.S. theaters. With that said, I must admit I enjoyed the little extra featurette included on the Blu-ray that tallies up the hypothetical damages caused by the out of control party. It’s rather creative and it made me laugh more than anything in the actual film.

Every two decades an era is given their very own Project X. 1968 saw the release of a sci-fi about biological-warfare directed by William Castle. The 80s were honored with the Matthew Broderick thriller about animal research with chimpanzees. Now the current generation is blessed with their own Project X movie. It’s the least enjoyable yet.

Project X is a pretty weak excuse for a plot. Young Thomas and his cohorts are planning a party for his 17th birthday. They’re outsiders and hope that their little shindig is attended by enough attractive girls and popular guys to make them more accepted. The celebration amongst the high schoolers starts out rather modestly, then spins wildly out of control. It aims to be outrageous for its strident politically incorrectness, but it just winds up being kind of pointless. Project X was originally marketed to showcase that Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover, produced this mess. Co-writer Michael Bacall was also responsible for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the 21 Jump Street screenplay, so there’s some talent behind the lens. But any expectations of quality are dashed as the chronicle unfolds to reveal a sloppily filmed record of debauchery and music. One, two, three music videos that highlight montages of wild party shenanigans with dance music, doesn’t disguise the issue that there’s no story.

It likewise doesn’t hide the fact that these actors portray a thoroughly unlikable lot. The producers decision to cast unknowns goes a long way in making it appear that the events of Project X really happened. That’s original, but our group of friends are the kind of generic nerds that you might find in any teen sex comedy. They’re the typical lazily written stereotypes that aspire to be part of the in-crowd. Of the three main protagonists that complete our trio, Costa is the most rude. A sweater vest wearing, gangsta talking suburbanite, he’s the instigator for the social gathering. Costa is supposed to be the boys’ buddy, but he’s such a jerk you cannot comprehend why they even bother to keep him round. To the very end, he continues to berate a neighbor who is upset about the noise. This is well after any normal person would be apologizing for the party that has deteriorated into anarchy by anyone’s definition.

Project X is exhibit A for any adult convinced the youth of today just wants to party hardy and nothing else. There’s nothing to redeem the continuous parade of bacchanalia and sleaze. You’ll be scratching your head when the father returns home and seems almost proud of his son’s party planning skills. The events are highlighted by such levels of excess and exaggeration, you could be entertained at the way this plays out. It’s not as pernicious as some might have you believe. I don’t think the attitudes on display here represent anything more shocking than those found in features like Animal House, Risky Business or Weird Science. Utilizing a cinéma vérité style to document anything other than horror these days is an innovation of sorts. There is an originality to the presentation and I’ll admit there’s a certain brainless excitement watching the small get together balloon catastrophically before our eyes. You don’t necessarily have to care for these characters. They’re so incredibly unpleasant the audience feels satisfaction when things descend into bedlam for them. It becomes a cautionary tale. The unbelievable way the narrative develops is the movie’s best asset.

Your Sister’s Sister

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on June 29, 2012 by Mark Hobin

mumblecore (noun) An American independent film movement of the early twenty-first century, characterized by low-budget production, focus on personal relationships between twentysomethings, improvised scripts, and non-professional actors. – Reprinted from wiktionary.org

Given that strict definition, it would appear that Your Sister’s Sister could NOT be classified as mumblecore as both Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are actresses of some renown. This is in fact Blunt’s third appearance of 2012 following Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Five-Year Engagement.  We‘re only halfway through the year!  And yet, if we disregard that condition this is very much a production within that genre as the movement continues its gradual shift toward the mainstream.

After an awkward outburst at a party, Jack’s best friend, Iris offers her vacant cabin to him so he can come to terms with the death of his brother. But when he arrives, the house isn’t empty at all as he encounters Iris’s sister Hannah. This development leads to an entanglement that will ultimately have critical consequences for all three of them.

Fiercely low budgeted movie about interpersonal relationships resembles any impromptu discussion that you might have with your friends. Meandering and inconsequential, the drama is nothing if not realistic. The conversations are also quite articulate. It’s a drama that is easier to admire than to enjoy. The interactions feel like a series of film school exercises where participants are entrusted to find their character. The dialogue is natural and seemingly ad-libbed. Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are accomplished actors so that’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s candid and sincere. Nevertheless the story will demand some patience of the viewer as one follows this anecdote to its (indeterminate) conclusion. There’s a peaceful walk in the woods near the end that‘s meant to show a therapeutic affirmation of everything that has happened before. I didn‘t really buy that. The events were just too complicated to easily accept. However, if that third act doesn’t live up to the first two, the honest naturalism of the narrative is absorbing. It’s the movie’s biggest asset. This is what a romantic comedy looks like in 2012. Sometimes to move forward, we must scale back.

The Intouchables

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Foreign with tags on June 26, 2012 by Mark Hobin

There’s scene in The Intouchables where unlikely caregiver Driss lets loose to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” in front of a staff of domestic workers and classically trained musicians. The display is such an expression of joyful abandon, it was at that moment I fell in love with this movie. Granted it’s a bit calculated. Remember that scene where Julia Roberts is singing off key in the bathtub in Pretty Woman? Well yeah it’s kind of like that. But nevertheless it’s the instant that I realized that this is a wonderful French film and Omar Sy should be a star.

The chronicle concerns Philippe, a quadriplegic due to a paragliding accident. He’s a millionaire in a palatial mansion and is interviewing applicants to be his caregiver. Driss is a black man from Senegal living in a Paris ghetto. He’s just been released from a six month prison term for robbery and is currently unemployed. The public assistance Driss receives requires proof he is applying for work. Knowing he is unqualified, he merely applies for the job in an effort to satisfy the requirements. I won’t reveal the reasons why Philippe hires Driss over more qualified candidates, but it makes perfect sense. On paper the set up sounds hackneyed and manipulative. It would be easy to dismiss the premise as a superficial examination on race relations. I certainly felt that way upon viewing the trailer. While it’s one of those crowd pleasing culture clash concepts, it fashions a tale that transcends the material.

The narrative explores the friendship between Philippe and Driss with tenderness and depth. The rapport of this implausible duo is explored in little vignettes that uses the structure, sans the love affair, of a romantic comedy. The account is based on a true story, and while the characterizations are unique, the set up is not. This is a buddy picture detailing how human beings want and need the same things regardless of ethnic or social class differences. Through discussions regarding music, recreational activities, even child rearing, we slowly get an impression of two men that have much more in comon than was originally believed. It’s the performances that elevate this beyond the traditional odd-couple plot. The honesty draws the viewer into their situation. There is a genuine chemistry at work here.

The movie’s charms are admittedly obvious, but the cast extracts emotion with sincerity. Driving Miss Daisy, The Blind Side – there are many precedents. What’s amazing is that the two leads make this subject seem fresh. As a quadriplegic, François Cluzet must act with his face only. Physically he suggests Dustin Hoffman. Although he’s not a household name in the States, he’s a veteran actor who’s been acting in French cinema since 1980. 2006’s Tell No One is probably his best known work. Omar Sy is part of a comedy duo in France. He’s nothing less than a revelation. Both were nominated for César Awards (France’s Oscar) in 2011. Sy actually garnered the prize for Best Actor besting actual Oscar winner Jean Dujardin. The drama has become a worldwide smash having already earned $350.1 million as of June 2012. The Intouchables grossed $166 million last year in its native country alone to make it the second most-seen French movie of all-time there. It’s even listed amongst the Top 250 films as voted by IMDb users. Despite these accolades, this has incomprehensibly earned the wrath of a couple American critics in really nasty reviews. They somehow detected ugly attitudes within the script. I briefly mention this because such allegations should be addressed as the distorted misinterpretations that they are. Make no mistake, this is an upbeat story with a lot of heart with two marvelous performances at the center. After all how could 17.5 million French viewers be wrong?

The Wizard of Oz

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Musical with tags on June 25, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The complementary Blu-ray that Warner Brothers sent to me of this beloved classic is a treasured gift. The print is so clear, the color so vibrant, I feel as though I have re-discovered a new version. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. Blu-ray discs are often promoted for science fiction spectaculars with lots of special effects. That’s a valid genre, but to me, the most convincing benefits concerning the Blu-ray format is re-visiting the past and watching these masterpieces in a way not appreciated since the original release. I cannot overstate how beautiful this film looks.

PhotobucketIf ever there was a movie that was better than the book, The Wizard of Oz is it. I have nothing against the 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It’s a classic in it’s own right, but this dramatic adaptation is simply one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s difficult for me to independently assess its merits because, like the rest of us, I first watched it when I was very very young and continued to watch it throughout the years. As much a part of my childhood as Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Cub Scouts and school. But right there is a validation of the picture’s virtue. No other production save for perhaps It’s a Wonderful Life, The Ten Commandments or The Sound of Music, represents such a defining example of movies shown regularly on TV. It’s pretty much a shared reality as humans on planet Earth. Virtually everyone has seen this film.

As with any fantasy, the visual displays are important, but would be nothing without a cast that can engage the emotions. Judy Garland is perfection and it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the character. Sorry Shirley Temple. Garland had an incredibly successful career in Hollywood as she was recognized for many roles. For the rest of the actors, these are the parts for which they are primarily known to modern audiences: Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and Billie Burke are memorable. If I have a quibble with anything, I’d have to say that Bert Lahr plays the cowardly Lion almost like he’s the 4th stooge. He’s likable. I don’t begrudge him that, but his song “If I Were King of the Forest” is my least favorite in a musical score full of winners. Preceding their introduction to the Wizard, it’s a bit of a drag on the narrative at a point where we are on the edge of our seat. The Munchkins are a captivating delight, the flying monkeys give me the creeps, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the villain. Along the way Dorothy encounters a particularly nasty individual known as The Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal is so iconic I believe we underestimate the brilliance of her performance. I still have trouble believing that the sum of her appearances only amount to 12 minutes of screen time. She is the very definition of what it means to be a witch.

The story is as familiar as your own name. A young girl from Kansas, bored with her life, yearns for a more exciting one “over the rainbow.” A horrific tornado, which continues to amaze, hits her cherished farm and whisks her, house and all, to the wonderful world of Oz where she meets a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion. They join forces to help her get back to Kansas by visiting the Wizard who they’ve heard can reunite her with her family. The spectacle was expensive for its time and it shows. Even though it was a success, it did not show a large profit until the 1949 re-release. Regardless it was obviously money well spent. The production design is beyond compare. That early shot where she steps out of her black and white sepia toned existence into a land of color is practically a religious experience the way it’s presented here. You’ve seen it before but think back to when you first witnessed the transformation and it’s one of the most exhilarating moments in movies. Seven decades later, everything continues to dazzle: the performances, the sets, the costumes, the music. It is such a force of goodness. There may very well be people who dislike this film, but I have no desire to meet them.

Brave

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation with tags on June 22, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Much has been made of the fact that Brave is the first Pixar film to spotlight a female lead. Considering they’ve been making movies since 1995, I suppose this is somewhat of a surprise. Despite the alleged innovation, the irony is that Brave is the safest, most thematically bland feature Pixar has ever done. The protagonist is a throwback to every Disney princess of the past twenty years. Coming off the critical thrashing that Pixar received for Cars 2, I had hoped this would be a return to form. While there are glimpses of the old magic, the overall feeling of Brave is sadly a disheartening one.

Our young central figure, Merida, is a princess who lives in the highlands of 10th century Scotland. In flashback, Her father King Fergus of DunBroch gives his daughter a bow and arrow for her birthday and over the years becomes quite skilled in archery. You see Merida isn’t your traditional princess. She would much rather climb mountains and shoot arrows in the woods than learn embroidery like a proper princess. Cut to the current day in which our story takes place. The Scottish lords are presenting their first-born sons to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. But she doesn’t want to get married. Her mother, Queen Elinor is mortified at her behavior and pleads with her to accept her fate. Merida whines that nobody listens to her. It’s the age old battle of tradition vs. “get with the times, Mom!“ That’s a valid notion to explore. The problem is that Pixar does nothing fresh with it.

Princess Merida is an uninteresting heroine. Anyone who is familiar with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Princess Jasmine from Aladdin or any other Disney star from the past two decades will find little originality here. At least those individuals were charming. To add insult to injury, Merida is a wholly unpleasant personality. I get she’s supposed to be plucky and ultramodern but she comes across as selfish and disrespectful. Her sinful pride is the purpose – I get that. However at one point she commits a heartless act against her mother and I couldn‘t (no pun intended) stomach it. Merida’s narcissistic self obsession over her future coupled with her utter lack of concern for others made it hard for me to care about the princess’ predicament.

Brave is a mixed bag. An overwhelming focus of the narrative is spent on slapstick while people are running around attempting to undo a spell. None of it has anything to do with advancing the plot so it gets a little tiresome after awhile. There are some amusing moments. To begin with, the animation is as gorgeous as it’s ever been. Merida’s long flowing tresses are a wonder to behold. Julie Walters (Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is a delight as the Witch. She provides the catalyst for the story’s most fascinating development. The Lords Macintosh, McGuffin and Dingwall are also engaging characters as they introduce their sons as potential suitors. All six of them are humorously animated. For example, the Lord McGuffin’s son speaks a strange Scottish dialect that is completely incomprehensible. I almost wish the adventure focused on them because they’re a lot more likeable than our protagonist. In the end, Brave is ultimately a disappointing reflection on traditional versus contemporary values. It’s a passable fable, but a superficial treatment of a well worn idea that Disney has done better countless times before. If only Pixar had delved as deeply into the concept as it did in animating Merida’s beautiful red locks of hair.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy with tags on June 19, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Warner Bros provided me with a complimentary copy of this adventure. The set comes with both the Blu-ray disc as well as the DVD giving me the opportunity to compare the two formats. There’s simply no contest. The Blu-ray print is significantly clearer, brighter and more sonically rich than the DVD counterpart. I knew Blu-ray would be better, but I didn’t realize by how much. It certainly looks beautiful. Too bad the visuals didn’t match the script.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a severe step down in quality from 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  It really doesn’t feel like a continuation of the original, but its own separate entity.  Yes, it’s based on another Jules Verne novel but young actor Josh Hutcherson is the solitary cast member to make it to this installment.  This is essentially a stand-alone episode and doesn’t require knowledge of the previous entry. Putting Journey 2 at the beginning of the title only serves to have a sentence that’s a cringe-worthy pun. Walden Media, best known as the producers of The Chronicles of Narnia series, is the children’s film production company behind this.  The adventure is aimed solely at children.  Most of you adults will be bored, but your children should enjoy it.

The actors are of the utmost importance in a picture such as this because their group dynamic provides the mechanism by which the audience becomes engaged in what is happening. The ensemble, with one exception, is an epic fail. The plot revolves around Josh Hutcherson as Sean Anderson.  He’s forgettable as the boy trying to locate his missing grandfather.  Other than being kind of sullen toward his stepfather, there’s nothing regarding his performance that is remotely memorable. Luis Guzman’s part is a glaring embarrassment. As a helicopter tour guide, he behaves like an intellectually disabled man-child. The baby talk and mincing about is a shocking humiliation. It’s sad seeing a gifted actor that has shone in Paul Thomas Anderson gems (Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love), resort to a character that is utterly beneath him. Vanessa Hudgens is his daughter and young Sean’s obligatory love interest. She could be any random girl from Los Angeles. Kailani comes off as irritable when it’s obvious the script means for her to be feisty. She even lacks the minimal amount of emotional depth required. When she learns that her father has gone missing, she amusingly takes Sean’s hand and suggestively looks at him like she’s in love before expressing the expected concern for her father’s disappearance. Michael Caine shows up too, but you’d never know he was an acting legend given the little he’s asked to do here. Only Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a likeable presence.  He’s the physical embodiment of an action hero plus his affable personality goes a long way in making the blandness of his co-stars bearable.

This fails to meet the basic requirements of a film. There is no story, merely a succession of “giant” events. First a giant lizard chases them, then they’re riding giant bees bareback, now they’re being chased by giant birds, later they’re almost killed by a giant electric eel. For an encore we get a giant spider just as a freak storm appears as a volcano is erupting.  All the special effects in the world are not a compensation for an exciting plot. This is a collection of action set pieces that should ultimately inspire the inevitable ride at a theme park. In an early scene Hank helps his stepson Sean decipher the code of literary characters which leads to three books; Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels and Mysterious Island. There is but a small outside chance that this movie might encourage a child to pick up one of those books and actually read it. For that, I’ll give this 2 stars.

Citizen Kane

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on June 16, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition that I received free from Warner Bros. is the most lovingly assembled Blu-ray package I‘ve seen. The box is a fold-out digipak with the Blu-ray disc and then two DVDs that contain The Battle over Citizen Kane and RKO 281. The former is a nice 1995 two-hour Oscar-nominated documentary that chronicles the struggle between Welles and William Randolph Hearst who claimed Citizen Kane was but a thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life. RKO 281 is a 1999 HBO drama covering much of the same territory. Physical reproductions in the slipcase include the 20-page souvenir program issued at the 1941 opening; five postcards reflecting the various posters; and 10 memos between RKO and Welles related to the movie. Additionally, there’s a 48-page, mini hardback book packed with lots of behind-the-scenes info. All of this a supplement to the pristine black and white transfer that makes the picture look perfect. This is a beautifully done presentation befitting of the “greatest film ever made.”

It’s rather intriguing to learn that despite the hallowed status this magnum opus holds, this production was extremely controversial. Orson Welles’ assertion that “Citizen Kane is the story of a wholly fictitious character” is ludicrous. It’s abundantly clear that that main inspiration for Charles Foster Kane was media mogul William Randolph Hearst. This film à clef is an unmistakably vicious attack on his life. Hearst was a force to be reckoned with in the news world. So angry was the publishing tycoon with the film that he prohibited mention of it in any of his newspapers. Movie studio RKO also had problems getting exhibitors to show the film as many feared retaliation from the newspaper magnate.

The parallels are undeniable. Yet I’m willing to assert that whether inadvertently or on purpose, there’s a lot of Orson Welles own personality in the depiction as well. It’s one of the reasons why I think he’s so believable as the lead. Personally I would think the part that might have infuriated Hearst the most was the character of Susan Alexander, his mistress and second wife in the film, as played by Dorothy Comingore. Susan is portrayed as a shrill, talentless airhead. The obvious real life parallel is that of Marion Davies who was his mistress, a woman he never actually married. Already an accomplished silent film star even before she had met Hearst, many film historians ironically view his involvement in Davies’ career as more of an interference than a help. Hearst’s threats definitely hindered Citizen Kane’s box office performance and it wasn’t until its re-release in 1956 that it finally turned a profit for RKO. In the face of these setbacks, the film was an immediate critical success and earned 9 nominations at the Academy Awards. It won only for Best Original Screenplay losing to How Green Was My Valley for Best Picture. Over time however, the film’s reputation grew into what is often referred to as the greatest film ever made.

We begin the tale of Charles Foster Kane at the moment of his death as he utters his last words “Rosebud.” A newsreel reporter takes charge of finding out the meaning of the statement made on his deathbed. The narrative then proceeds as a series of flashbacks as he interviews various people that knew the man when he was alive. Each person recounts a different part of Kane’s existence as they knew him, essentially becoming a new narrator, with their stories overlapping. It’s an effective and entertaining way to tell the tale. It may seem common today, but Kane’s dependence on the technique was something of an anomaly for the time. Another favorite of mine is the breakfast montage, whereby the disintegration of Kane and his wife’s relationship over the years is distilled into a sequence of back and forth exchanges and costume changes. It’s amusing as it is clever. Much has been written about the incredible number of innovations contained in one film. It’s advances in cinematography, music, and makeup have been acknowledged on countless occasions, so no need to repeat those distinctions again, other than to acknowledge they are indeed impressive.

Citizen Kane remains a fascinating reflection on the megalomania obsessions of a man. While it is an undeniably well made film, it’s dark message doesn’t really inspire the kind of repeated viewings that other early classics of this era engender like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. I first saw Citizen Kane 25 years ago. I guess the clearest way to explain my appreciation for Welles masterpiece is that although I certainly respect the technical craft and storytelling techniques that Welles employed, I could wait another 25 years before I watch this again.

Rock of Ages

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Musical with tags on June 15, 2012 by Mark Hobin

An open letter to the director:

Dear Mr. Adam Shankman,

I’ve just finished watching your movie, Rock of Ages. I’ve seen the original jukebox musical performed live and I enjoyed it. It was a fun, feel good romp with music from glam metal bands of the 80s. The long list of songs featured are practically beloved classics at this point. While there are moments of inspiration in your adaptation, this was overall a disappointment of heartbreaking proportions. I have some suggestions that could’ve made this so much better.

1.) The lead actors should be captivating. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are not. Casting Hough, an accomplished dancer, and not having her dance once is not only misguided, it’s cruel.  To add insult to injury she’s saddled with a pip-squeak of a voice that sounds like Betty Boop on helium. Whenever she sings it literally sucks the life out of the film. She’s surrounded by actors with full voices. She has several duets with R&B superstar Mary J. Blige and the juxtaposition of their voices is laughable. Even Paul Giamatti outclasses her in this area so her deficiencies are really glaring. Her co-star Boneta can vocalize at least, but he‘s got the generic good looks and charisma of any random soap opera star. He’s not memorable. When he professes his love to her, it’s pretty unconvincing. The two of them have zero chemistry together.

2.) The story should have some assemblage of sense. For example, the leads fall in love within minutes of meeting without explanation. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ holy roller character spends all her time trying to shut down rock club “The Bourbon Room” for indecency, then by the end she’s dressed in a getup that makes her look like the leatherman from the Village People. Along the way the narrative zips ahead trying to cram one song in after another without any regard for whether it makes sense to the plot. Here’s a another song because, well we just like it. This is pretty superficial stuff even for a musical comedy.

3.) Just because you’re directing one of the biggest stars in the world, doesn’t mean you have to listen to his ideas. Tom Cruise is one of the high points of the picture. He’s funny as Stacee Jaxx, the aging rock god, with his scene stealing antics. And yes he can sing, really well I might add. But his idea to hire a baboon as his sidekick is stupid. There wasn’t a monkey in the original play and there shouldn’t be one here. There’s a reason he’s an actor and you’re a director. Direct!

4.) The tone keeps changing. One minute lead protagonists Drew and Sherrie are prancing around making the kind of goo-goo eyes that would embarrass the cast of Glee, the next minute Tom Cruise is singing “I Want to Know What Love Is” with his face buried in Malin Ackerman’s crotch. Pick a tone and go with it. The amalgamation of Disneyfied teen love and hardcore rocker lifestyle is a confusing mix.

5.) Animated films and musicals are two genres best appreciated in concise doses. That means run times over 90 minutes should be justified by the content. A silly happy-go-lucky frolic about 80s hair metal is not a validation. A musical clocking in at over 2 hours and 7 minutes causes headaches not joy.

None of this would’ve made a difference if the musical numbers were up to par. Which brings me to my last (and most important) point.

6.) The editing is chaotic. We watch musicals so we can, you know, see people sing and dance. When performers burst into song, let’s focus on their faces, when characters are dancing let’s observe the steps. Don’t cut away every 3 seconds and show random shots that distract you from the scene at hand. The production number in the strip club appears to show actual dancing but it’s impossible to tell because the camera keeps moving frantically while choreography is being performed. There are hoofers out there that can genuinely dance. I assume you probably hired real dancers, but it does them a disservice when the action has been edited to hide the fact. Please watch the classic Singing in the Rain and study how the song “Good Morning” was shot if this is unclear.

I know you’re talented, Mr. Adam Shankman.  You’re a respected choreographer with an impressive resume of movie credits. You frequently judge the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Most importantly you directed Hairspray and that was a musical I really liked…a lot. I write this letter not to condemn but to help. Your film has touches of greatness. There’s one great line that Julianne Hough delivers equating boy bands and stripping that had the whole theater erupting in laugher. It’s those moments that convince me this could’ve been so much better. I have faith that your next project will be.

Signed your supporter,

Mark Hobin

J. Edgar

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on June 12, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Sometimes the free promotional Blu-rays that Warner Brother’s sends, gives me the opportunity to view a picture I have never seen. J Edgar is one such flick. I guess I was more interested in seeing Immortals the weekend this was released. Apparently so were a lot of other people. This only grossed $37 million in the U.S. In the weeks leading up to the January announcement of the 2012 Academy Award nominations, many sources predicted Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. Although the film failed to get a single nod of any kind, this still remained a picture I wanted to see. Now, 7 months after debuting in theaters, I’m happy to finally cross this off my list.

J Edgar is a meandering biographical overview on the life of the 1st Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s told in flashback as Hoover is dictating his memoirs to various FBI agents chosen as writers.  Let’s face it.   J Edgar is boring.  No two ways about it, the story is laborious. It’s difficult to understand who the target audience was for this hodgepodge. It fails to entertain both history buffs and movie lovers alike. I mean it makes The Aviator seem simple and straightforward by comparison.

Director Clint Eastwood has a lack of passion for his subject. It’s as if he was handed a school assignment regarding a figure he couldn’t care less about. As a result we’re left with a man we have no interest in as well. Eastwood’s condemnatory take is of a man out to destroy people’s reputations while simultaneously trying to hide his own true sexuality. Hoover was a polarizing figure. Great biographies have been made concerning individuals far less likeable or interesting than Hoover, but they had a focus that engaged the mind. The narrative here is disjointed. Clint Eastwood’s bloated opus lacks a defining moment as it trudges on for a seemingly unending 2 hours and 17 minutes. He superficially touches on assorted controversial aspects without ever delving deeper as to why we should be fascinated by this man. Random samples of Hoover’s existence are presented one after the other without any unifying thread other than the man at the center of it all.

The movie is unsuccessful in other important, albeit less significant, ways. For one thing, it’s unnecessarily dark. Not in mood, but in physical brightness. Many scenes are dimly lit and it’s impossible to see everything that’s going on. Furthermore, Hoover and his protégé Clyde Tolson look positively ridiculous in their old age makeup. The prosthetics are ungainly and unnatural looking. Actor Armie Hammer’s face is covered in liver spots. The makeup is at the very least, distracting. I think a little restraint would’ve been preferable. DiCaprio doesn’t remotely resemble the actual man he’s playing so simply casting an older, more rotund actor for later sequences would’ve been a smarter choice. This is not to take away from his achievement. If there is a high point, it’s in Leonardo DiCaprio’s bravura performance as the title character. He’s definitely engaging. It’s not enough to save the film, but it makes tolerating this prolonged chore a little less painful.

Prometheus

Posted in Action, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on June 8, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Right from the beginning when we’re introduced to a muscular humanoid creature, the poetic mood of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus seems to openly recall 2001: A Space Odyssey. His own Alien is clearly a reference point as well. Regardless of assertions to the contrary, this is clearly a prequel to that 1979 classic. But while he may reference other works, Prometheus is a wholly intoxicating hybrid all its own. The events fully take advantage of the fear of the unknown coupled with the joy of discovery. It brilliantly exploits the dizzy excitement of what it would be like to explore a foreign planet. Many stories have mined this territory, but few are able to do it with such a grandeur. There is a tremendous imagination at work here. The world that Scott has created is something both ethereal, but still rooted in credible fact. Prometheus is the work of a master. While his contemporaries are often corrupted by an overreliance on special effects, Director Ridley Scott isn’t seduced by such blatant displays. Sometimes there’s a majesty in what we don’t understand over a physical manifestation of CGI. That’s not to say he doesn’t have an eye toward the visual. Some of his pictures are the most stunning ever photographed. But Scott knows there’s beauty in the quieter moments that question the deeper profundities of life. Sometimes within silence therein lies a mystery.

Prometheus is home to a crackerjack cast that flawlessly breathes soul into the dialogue. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) represents the believer, in faith in a higher power, She’s recalls the tenacity of Sigourney Weaver in the original. Her husband, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) is impressed by more scientific explanations. Together they’re scientists as part of the crew of the Prometheus ship. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is the cold pragmatic who monitors the expedition. She’s sent as an employee of the Weyland Corporation who is funding the trip. Also on board is Michael Fassbender as the android David. We are made aware of this immediately so it’s not the revelation that it was in the previous incarnation. He’s utterly fascinating, a scholarly genius who is an expert with languages that happens to idolize Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. His apparently latent ego is a deliciously frightening development.

I was absolutely riveted to the screen every second throughout the entire film. There’s one particularly gut wrenching scene involving a pregnancy that might possibly be a new high point for tension. It’s a cover your eyes moment that compares favorably with that scene in Alien. You know the one I’m talking about. As the narrative unfolds there are cerebral questions raised. If the final act doesn’t quite answer all ideas proposed before it, that’s more of a tribute to the script’s judicious lack of spelling everything out. Did you really expect to have the eternal debate of Creationism vs. Darwinism answered? The cast is equally adept in engaging our emotions. They strike the perfect balance of Hollywood charisma, but still acceptable as the academics they would have to be to qualify for a mission like this. The visual splendor that follows from all this is an engaging combination of the intellectual sci-fi of the past with the modern technological advances of today. It’s a heady mix.

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