Archives for February 2012

Hugo

Hugo PosterRating: ★★★★★

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime. We need to keep them alive.” –Martin Scorsese

No director loves movies more than Martin Scorsese. Knowing that he has spent the past four decades declaring his affection for the movies, you won’t be considered foolish to presume that good ‘ol Marty has finally started to calm down. But you would presume wrong. His voice has never been louder and clearer. Founded on Scorsese’s lifelong love affair with the movies, “Hugo” is a dazzling and magical gem that embraces the very essence of film itself. You can sense an irony in how it uses the latest 3-D technology to remember the earliest existence of filmmaking, but there is a more profound explanation behind this technique:

As a majestic tribute to silent films and a landmark in 3-D filmmaking, “Hugo” acknowledges the eternal significance of the past while simultaneously providing needed hope for the future.

A great portion of Hugo is set in the Montparnasse station of 1931 France. Hidden within the station’s giant clock is Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphaned 12-year-old with a talent for fixing things. When Hugo’s not tightening the screws and adjusting the levers of the clock, he’s sneaking his way through the crowded spaces of Montparnasse, stealing food from bakeries and fruit carts. The boy has no choice. The only thing that his father (Jude Law) left him was the broken automaton that they were determined to rebuild. Holding on to the belief that the machine contains a valuable message from his departed father, Hugo intends to finish the work that he and his dad had started.

Asa Butterfield and Chloe MoretzWith zero resources, Hugo is forced to steal machine parts from an old, cranky toymaker named George Melies, played by Ben Kingsley. His delinquencies are inevitably discovered by the old man. But that’s okay, cause this leads Hugo into forming a friendship with the affable Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), George’s goddaughter. Eventually, the two youngsters work together in an attempt to uncover the secrets of the toymaker’s past, which is unknown to few and forgotten by many. About halfway through, the movie slowly delves into its deeply emotional core. And because this journey is seen through the eyes of eager children, we feel the sense of wonder that was poured in its creation.

Audience members who are not knowledgeable with the early days of cinema will be as surprised as Hugo and Isabelle when it’s revealed that the toymaker is actually one of the first pioneers of film. “Hugo” credits the Lumiere Brothers as the inventors of motion pictures, but it knows that George Melies was the first to see its potential for greatness. As the first filmmaker to apply special effects, Melies found a way to convey our dreams to the screen. Sequences that showcased his movies moved me in a way that I did not anticipate. While seeing some of the oldest films projected on the big screen, I felt like I had just been transported back in time. I was enlightened by the experience.

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret and Ben Kingsley as George MeliesDuring these moments, it becomes clear to us why Martin Scorsese decided to take a risk in making his first family film. Here is an artist obsessed with movie history and committed to film preservation. He must not have been able to resist the opportunity of spreading the legacy of George Melies. After witnessing the joy and innovation that went into the projects of Melies, we feel a great loss in the fact that most of his movies were lost forever. His story will encourage film organizations to increase their effort in preserving great movies. They could start with the works of Keaton, Kurosawa, Herzog, Hitchcock, Bergman, etc.

As long as people dream, there will be movies. They’ve been with us for over 120 years, and yet they remain to be the most powerful of all the art forms. They enhance our thinking. They broaden our awareness of the world around us. They can make us laugh in the loneliest of nights and they can give us hope in the most desparate of times. Surely, we need to keep them alive.

Note: And oh, I should state the fact that “Hugo” contains the best and brightest use of 3-D I’ve ever seen. In 1902, George Melies was the first to utilize magic in film. And over a century later, in 2011, Martin Scorsese becomes the first man to effectively use 3-D for a live-action movie. (Most of what we see in Avatar is computer-generated.) I am opposed to this technology, but if this is the future of 3-D, then I might one day welcome it with open arms.

George Melies (1861-1938)

George Melies (1861-1938)

The Vow

The Vow Poster

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

“The Vow” is a badly written, poorly executed, and weakly acted melodrama about how amnesia allowed a married couple in Chicago to relive the early memories of their love. The only thing that’s going for this inept love story is its release date. No doubt that the season of Valentine’s Day will lead thousands of couples into watching movies like this, no matter how terrible they are. Last year’s “Valentine’s Day” made over 200 million dollars, despite an 18% score on Rotten Tomatoes. I present to you a rating so low, Michael Bay hasn’t even been there (yet).

“The Vow” is currently holding on to a 30% rating, yet it made over 40 million dollars on its opening weekend in the United States. After discovering the statistics I just posted, I’m no longer sure why I’m still writing a review for this, since chick flicks are guaranteed to be box office hits when released near Valentine’s Day. But I press on. Right now I think to myself, “If this review causes a single person to cancel his or her plans regarding seeing this movie, then I’ll have peace knowing that I have done something good for a fellow human being.”

Rachel McAdams and Channing TatumSo Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are driving along the snowy streets of Chicago. Because they are madly in love with each other, they convince themselves that it would be real fun to make out inside their car whilst parked in the middle of the road. To no surprise, a truck crashes into them from behind; Paige breaks through the windshield and is knocked unconscious. If only she was wearing seatbelts. Leo, who only suffered minor injuries, is shocked to find out that his wife has lost all memory of their relationship. The accident has erased Leo from Paige’s memories; she can’t remember that she’s married to him. But Leo is determined to fix their marriage. He must make his wife fall in love with him all over again. Awww.

The idea sounds cute, but the movie is so busy with other issues and subplots that it rarely ever gets a chance to fulfill its premise. Notice how “The Vow” takes too long to move on from the common routines that are used to deal with a person with amnesia. Within its interminable running time of 104 minutes are multiple scenes – most of which are needless and prolonged – where Paige questions certain things about her “forgotten life”. Leo graciously provides her with all the answer she needs. She often responds with doubt or insecurity, leading to recycled monologues regarding identity and existentialism. At times, the tragedy of Paige’s accident evolves into a case study for someone like Friedrich Nietzsche, which is too much for the husband to handle.

The Vow, starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdamsSpeaking of the husband, poor Leo is played by the guy from “Step Up”, or Channing Tatum. I’m sure that the ladies love him just the way he is, and production companies will keep casting him for his physical appeal. But the guy cannot act. Every character played by Channing Tatum feels nothing more the sight of Channing Tatum posing under a different name. I hear the same monotone voice and see the same wooden personality. You know you’re watching a bad movie when the lead actor looks more confused than the woman with amnesia.

The plot for “The Vow” is said to be founded on the lives of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Their testimony is inspiring, and it’s a suitable story to share on a Valentine’s Day. Surely, they deserve to be featured on some famous magazine. An interview at a late night talk show would be just fine. But I don’t think their story is enough for a full-length movie. The few things it has to say should only be seen on Greeting Cards: “Love your spouse.” “Treasure your memories.” “If you must make out in your car whilst park in the middle of the road, wear your seatbelts.”

Chronicle

Chronicle PosterRating: ★★★½☆

The three teenage heroes of “Chronicle” are strangely drawn to the baffling hole in the woods. From deep within this crater comes eerie sounds, and the little light that gleams from it is unexplained. In neglect of the human instinct of self-preservation, the boys jump right in. It wouldn’t be unnatural to fear that these kids would end up injured, missing, or trapped, especially if you’ve seen too many episodes of Man vs. Wild. But what do you know? They not only survived their stunt, but also gained telekinetic superpowers as a result. Lucky bastards.

“Chronicle” adapts the idea of the Superhero Origin story and operates it within the immature and naive world of teenagers. The boys are grateful to have acquired their amazing abilities, but their nature doesn’t lead them to save lives and fight crime. Heck, they’re probably not even old enough to win a battle against their own hormones. The film’s first half gives a depiction on what would happen if astonishing powers where granted to immature beings. Shoppers at malls become victims of telekinetic practical jokes. Leaf blowers are mentally activated in front of pretty girls with short skirts. The scenarios are small-scale and simple-minded, but they’re also amusing and believable, and certainly more original and entertaining than most of the comic book movies of last year.

Dan DeHaan (Andrew) in ChronicleWe are at an age where dozens and dozens of movies are sucked out of materials we’ve already encountered before. And in this pile of sequels, remakes, and rip-offs, we notice this elegant little film that can be distinguished by its desire to be different. “Chronicle” cleverly fuses three genres of distant qualities: the Superhero Origin, the High School Drama, and the Found Footage Narrative. This is a bold and risky artistic approach from director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, knowing that this is their debut project in Hollywood. Some newcomers are often crammed with dreams and visions, while some run out of steam after a few good movies. (What in the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?) I think the movie has provided Trank and Landis with a good start the same way “The Sixth Sense” provided a good start for Shyamalan. My hope is that 20 years from now, “Chronicle” will only be seen as the stepping stone of their careers, and not as the highlight.

The same thing could be said for its leading actors, since “Chronicle” has provided them with their first major role in a widely distributed motion picture. That they didn’t choose a slasher film as a “Career Starter” is a great sign. Slasher flicks have become the go-to genre for young actors hoping to be “discovered” by bigger studios. A problem with this method is that its actors don’t have much space to shine. All you really have do is act stupid and be killed, like the doomed kids in the Final Destination movies. The three boys in “Chronicle” are real characters portrayed by actors whose plans for themselves exceed the thought of being sliced onscreen. Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play Steve and Matt, two of three three boys who jumped into the hole. They are average students with normal lives, and can handle the weight of having superpowers.

Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan in ChronicleThe third kid is Andrew (Dan DeHann). His complicated life slowly darkens the film’s comical atmosphere. If we discard the superhero elements, we would be left with a concerned observation regarding teenage depression. The movie monitors how his isolated loneliness has boiled into suppressed anger. There are many kids like Andrew: abused and bullied, but chooses to keep it private. Fantasies of revenge run through their minds. This is harmless by itself, but all of this can translate into real danger once you give these kinds of people a power to fight back. When a furious Andrew discovers that his telekenisis can do more than just practical jokes, I became reminded of the troubled teens responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.

Teenagers will have fun with the early scenes of telekinetic experiments, and if they pay closer attention, they might even learn to have a broader awareness of the people in their age group. I think the special effects were brought up to attract the movie’s target audience. How many teenagers would watch a quiet high school drama about isolated loneliness? Only a few, for sure. The rest would be busy looking for a good excuse to see the 5th, or 6th, Resident Evil movie.

2012 Movie Preview: 20 Movies You Should Anticipate

Django UnchainedMost previews that list upcoming films are pointless and unhelpful. All they do is tell us things we already know. If a certain list is to have any value, it should introduce its readers to something great that they may have never heard of before. But such lists are rare and ignored, precisely because it doesn’t fit well with the expectation of the general public. People like to root for their favorite franchise, or for the impending movie that’s based on their favorite book. I’m sure that countless Harry Potter fans were enraged whenever they saw “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” place second to “Thor” in any list regarding The Most Anticipated Movies of 2011.

Summer Blockbusters that are already popular, like “Fast Five” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, tend to headline every movie-related article on the web while Better Movies aren’t even given a chance to present themselves.  It’s been almost three years since “Moon”, the excellent sci-fi film by Duncan Jones, was first released, yet it remains unknown to many. “Trick ‘r Treat”, which can be argued as one of the best Halloween movies of the past two decades, went straight to DVD. It’s sad, but the past has been done with. 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for great movies, where we’ll get the chance to see the latest works of Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Spielberg, and so on. And because my list has only 20 spots to spare, I shall be focusing on less popular films that we should anticipate, rather than blockbusters that are already implanted in our subconscious.

Observe the following titles: “The Dark Knight Rises”, “The Avengers”, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, “The Hunger Games”, “The Bourne Legacy”, “The Amazing Spiderman”. They will not be featured on this list because their status has already been established by the strength of the material that came before them. What will take their place are movies that you also might enjoy, only without the inflated publicity. But how can I objectively arrange the list, since I have yet to see any of them? Here: The ordering of the films will be determined by the collective appeal of 1) the director in charge, 2) the actors involved, and 3) the story at hand. (Note: All the storylines found below are credited to The Internet Movie Database.)

The Great Gatsby (2012)20. The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet)
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Starring:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire
StorylineNick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby’s circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.

Tim Burton's Frankenweenie19. Frankenweenie

Director: Tim Burton (The Nightmare before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland)
Release Date: October 5
Starring:  Winona Ryder, Martin Short, and Martin Landau
Storyline: Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

Ang Lee directing Life of Pi18. Life of Pi

Director: Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility)
Release Date: December 21
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Gérard Depardieu, Suraj Sharma
Storyline: The story of an Indian boy named Pi, a zookeeper’s son who finds himself in the company of a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a Bengal tiger after a shipwrecked sends them adrift in the Pacific Ocean.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper17. Looper

Director: Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom)
Release Date: September 28
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis
Storyline: A killer who works for the mob of the future recognizes one of his targets as his future self.

Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis16. Cosmopolis

Director: David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method)
Release Date: “To be Announced”
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Jay Baruchel
Storyline
:
Cosmopolis follows a multimillionaire on a 24-hour odyssey across Manhattan.

Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows15. Dark Shadows

Director: Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Batman)
Release Date: May 11
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley
StorylineA gothic-horror tale centering on the life of vampire Barnabas Collins and his run-ins with various monsters, witches, werewolves and ghosts.

Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in Take this Waltz14. Take this Waltz

Director: Sarah Polley (Away from Her)
Release Date: June 29
Starring: Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman
Storyline
:
A funny, bittersweet and heart-wrenching story about a woman struggling to choose between two different types of love.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in The Gangster Squad13. The Gangster Squad

Director: Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)
Release Date: October 19
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone
Storyline
:
A chronicle of the LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s.

Ben Affleck in Argo12. Argo

Director: Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town)
Release Date: September 14
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Ben Affleck, John Goodman
Storyline
:
As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Prometheus by Ridley Scott11. Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, American Gangster)
Release Date: June 8
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace
Storyline
:
A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

This is 40 by Judd Apatow10. This is 40

Director: Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Funny People)
Release Date: December 21
Starring: Jason Segel, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd
Storyline
:
A look at the lives of Pete and Debbie a few years after the events of “Knocked Up”.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Timur Bekmambetov9. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Director: Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted)
Release Date: June 22
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper
Storyline
:
President Lincoln’s mother is killed by a supernatural creature, which fuels his passion to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers.

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator8. The Dictator

Director: Larry Charles (Borat, Bruno, Religulous)
Release Date: May 11
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Megan Fox, Ben Kingsley
Storyline: The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.

Will Ferrell in Dog Fight7. The Campaign

Director: Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)
Release Date: August 10
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Storyline
:
Two rival South Carolina politicians with presidential aspirations tangle with one another.

Brave (DisneyPixar)6. Brave

Director: Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt) and Mark Andrews
Release Date: June 22
Starring: Emma Thompson, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd
Storyline
:
Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

World War Z5. World War Z

Director: Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace)
Release Date: December 21
Starring: Brad Pitt, Matthew Fox, David Morse
Storyline
:
A U.N. employee is racing against time and fate, as he travels the world trying to stop the outbreak of a deadly Zombie pandemic.

Moonrise Kingdom4. Moonrise Kingdom

Director: Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox)
Release Date: May 16
Starring: Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton)
Storyline
:
A pair of lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Geroge Cloony in Gravity3. Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, A Little Princess)
Release Date: November 21
Starring: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock
Storyline
:
The lone survivor of a space mission to repair the Hubble telescope desperately tries to return to Earth and reunite with her daughter.

Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)2. Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds)
Release Date: December 25
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz)
Storyline
:
With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln1.  Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Empire of the Sun, The Adventures of Tintin)
Release Date: December
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Jared Harris
Storyline
:
The sixteenth President of the United States guides the North to victory during the Civil War.

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BONUS!

Ten Movies I Am Not Anticipating

10. Men in Black III

9. Wrath of the Titans

8. Battleship

7. G.I. Joe: Retaliation

6. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

5. Scary Movie 5

4. Resident Evil: Retribution

3. The Three Stooges

2. Step Up 4

1. Halloween 3D