Archive for January, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) 2011

Posted in T on January 3, 2012 by moviemoses

TTSS is set during the Cold War and involves the MI6.  George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought out of retirement for one last case by Control (John Hurt).  An agent (Tom Strong) was exposed in an operation and Control believes it was in an attempt to get the name of a mole at the very top of MI6.  Smiley has to determine if it is one of four men.

I suppose I will tackle the complaint I hear most often from people.  I keep hearing people bitch about the fact the movie is too “complicated“.  I really don’t understand this at all.  This movie is densely packed with exposition.  I mean when you take something that normally takes a miniseries to unravel and put it into a two hour movie, then scenes are going to be packed with info.  Look, I really am no Rhodes scholar and I have my share of movies which I get confused over.  But all I had to do in this movie was just pay attention to what the characters were saying.  Seriously, what the hell are so many people getting hung up on?

I’m not going to get into any spoilers so this review may be shorter than usual.  TTSS is a very well crafted spy thriller/mystery.  Alfredson does a great job recreating the time period and establishing the paranoid atmosphere of the movie.  The movie is packed with top Brit stars who do a good job despite some really thin roles in some cases.  The plot also has many of the natural swerves which makes the mystery interesting.  Really, I think most of the hate I am seeing is a backlash to the earlier glowing reviews (some placing it at #1 of the year).  This movie is just a spy thriller.  It is a well made spy thriller, but at the end of the day it is a spy thriller.  When they come out and find it is not some grand statement on Brittain or the Cold War or paranoia they get pissed off.

I do have my issues with TTSS.  It does feel like the plot is compressed with the two hour time span.  Some scenes are jam packed with dry exposition and even with the expert talent here, it still feels like an audiobook rather than a movie.  The majority of the characters, especially the four suspects, are completely ignored.  We never get a good feel of them as characters so there is not much impact when we find out who the mole is.  This movie needed more time for us to get to know the characters and to pace things out better.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a good movie.  It is not the best movie of the year, nor anywhere near the worst.  It is good, and I’m fine with that.  It is a well written spy movie with good acting and director with an eye for detail.  It has its problems mainly due to the constricting of the dense source material, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.  If you were interested in this movie I would still give it a shot.  Maybe this is best suited for home viewing.

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) 2011

Posted in A on January 3, 2012 by moviemoses

There are a lot of comparisons with this movie and Tintin and Indiana Jones and it is easy to see why.  It is a lighthearted jetsetting treasure hunt movie set to the music of John Williams.  In fact, it seems like the adventure movie Spielberg wanted to make but got wrangled into with Indiana Jones 4.  The storyline was done, Harrison Ford was way too old, and Lucas was ever present with his dumb ideas.  Plus (and I’m not going to blame Lucas for this), Jones got too silly which was in contrast to the series we already came to know.

With Tintin, Spielberg is able to correct many of those problems.  The movie is about investigative reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy.  Tintin (Jamie Bell) finds an old model ship which has a part of a clue for hidden treasure.  Tintin finds continually drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who is part of the family of sailors who lost the treasure.  They are trying to find it before the evil Sakharine (Daniel Craig) does.

As I mentioned, many things which soured the Jones series was able to get corrected here.  For one, we have the teenage Tintin who has all the youtful exuberence that Ford was lacking.  This movie is family friendly, but it works here mostly because of the motion capture universe.  I don’t really feel into getting into the psychology of it all, but you are willing to go along more with stuff in an animated setting than you would with real people.  In Tintin, you don’t mind there is a super smart dog who practically has a telekinetic link with his master, you don’t mind a man powering a plane with his drunk belches, etc.  You do mind when Shia Lebeouf is swinging around on vines like freaking Tarzan.

The motion capture gives Spielberg freedom of camera movement and character movements.  There is one of the final action scenes in particular where the camera continually follows Tintin chasing Sakharine for the map.  Everything is happening from buildings collapsing, Snowy chasing map pieces, and characters zipping around everywhere.  It is great to look at and would have been impossible in live action.

The voice acting in this movie is very good.  Jamie Bell does a good job giving the rather blandly written Tintin a personality.  Andy Serkis does the best job as Haddock and steals the movie.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also do a good job with the small roles they have.  The weakest performance has to go with Daniel Craig which is sad.  It’s not that he is bad, but compared to everyone else he is very bland.  With this kind of movie, you want a villain who can deliver more of a hammy performance like a Tim Curry.

My only real complaint is that you aren’t given much of a character of Tintin.  Now I know nothing about Tintin so I can’t make any comment about how well it translates or whatnot.  I am just talking about in terms of being exposed to this character for the first time.  We aren’t really told much about Tintin and why he is a special character.  It comes off more like anyone could fill this role of generic treasure hunter.  It seems like there will be sequels and hopefully in the second one we get more of a focus on Tintin’s background and his overall character.

This was a fun movie.  Personally I feel bad I saw War Horse first instead of this.  The characters are charming, the writing by Moffat and Wright is clever, and the action set pieces are well done.  It is, as I said before, more family oriented so I guess some could take issue it is too kiddy.  But I had a good time with this movie and would give it a recommendation.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird) 2011

Posted in M on January 2, 2012 by moviemoses

When I saw the trailer for this movie I let out an audible groan.  Not another one.  It almost seemed comical how many sequels could be churned out for an action series with little/no intention of making something fitting Mission Impossible.  It is kind of like those foreign exploitation remakes like when Bruno Mattei does Terminator 2 or Jaws 5.  It’s got a shark terrorizing people in a peaceful harbor town.  It’s close enough to a Jaws sequel right?  In the Mission Impossible series its like “Hey we have…people doing spy stuff aaaaaand I guess some of the character names are the same.  Generic Tom Cruise action series; you have a home!“

But I guess I’ll go a little further and explain briefly how I felt about the series.  Mission Impossible was a good action thriller if you can take it as just an action thriller.  If you are looking at it as movie actually about Mission Impossible you will be mad especially at the raping of the team and especially the complete character assassination of Jim Phelps.  MI:II is actually funny to recall because as a kid I thought it was fun and looking at it recently I wonder what brain damage I suffered at that age to make me think that.  MI:III was okay except that it really didn’t stick with me.  Honestly, I really don’t remember anything about the movie except for small bits.  It was directed by JJ Abrams and it honestly felt at the time like he directed a movie version of Alias except with Tom Cruise instead of Jennifer Garner.  It also seems like many others forgot about this movie too as many of the people I talked to about Ghost Protocol called it Mission Impossible III.  So this was another movie was really dreading to see but as it turns out this is probably my favorite action movie of the year.

This is, hands down, the best Mission Impossible movie of the bunch.  It helps that we FINALLY have a team collaborating on a mission instead of it being the Tom Cruise show.  The crew actually has more character development than Tom in this one.  Simon Pegg does a great job at comic relief (whitout going overboard on goofy), Paula Patton is very charismatic, and Jeremy Renner shares some of the action.  While Cruise still handles most of the big action, it is strange that he seems to be in the Jim Phelps role of wise leader.

The focus is on the action, which is done extremely well.  I wouldn’t give this movie a back handed compliment by saying the plot is simple but that it does the job it needs to do for the purposes of this type of movie.  We are quickly told who the bad guy is and shown why he is evil and the mission is layed out simply in ‘go to A and do B‘.  The complications aren’t in the plot but how the team decides to work out their plan.  That is why this works.  We aren’t fussing over plot details and instead invested in the mission and how they plan to deal with the problems that come up in their path.  Bird does a great job in giving the audience several different and inventive action sequences such as the tower climb, the sand storm chase, and the parking garage brawl.  And because we actually care about the characters it makes the action all that more intense.

The movie still has the over the top gadgets but they work to better effect in this movie.  For example, I hated the face mask plus the voice box because it seemed like an easy out for everyone involved.  It added no drama or tension to the story and was used as a lame reveal every single time.  Here one of the tech pieces used are the climbing gloves which, while complete nonsense, doesn’t change the fact Ethan Hunt still has to physically climb to the top of a 130 story building.  Bird does a better job than the other Impossible directors in establishing the universe of this movie.  It is set up as a rather tongue-in-cheek action movie where characters can bounce off cars and not get hurt and all the spys have super cool cars/gadgets.

If I had a complaint it might be that the villain is almost non-existent.     Seriously, he and Ethan don’t exchange ANY dialog in this movie.  If there was one thing I actually loved about MI:III is was Phillip Seymore Hoffman as probably the only villain in the series with any menace.  But that being said, the movie was more about the mission to get to the villain rather than the villain himself.

Ghost Protocol is kind of like the Iron Man of 2011.  It is a film that not many people were expecting to be awesome and just caught everyone off guard.  I’m sure this will spawn some more sequels and here’s hoping they have the same energy and imagination as Ghost Protocol.  I loved this movie as it was the summer blockbuster I was waiting all year for.  Check it out.

 

War Horse (Steven Spielberg) 2011

Posted in W on January 2, 2012 by moviemoses

I knew what I was going into with this movie.  I knew this was going to be a schmaltzy tear jerker the likes of which Steven Spielberg can deliver.  Which, on a little side note, I was a little surprised by how many people call me or this movie “faggy“ when I mentioned I was going to watch it.  I didn’t know watching something sentimental made people exclaim homophobic epithets but whatever.

The point is even expecting what I knew from Spielberg, I still wasn’t expecting what ultimately came from War Horse.  My conversations with people when they ask about it usually go like this:

So you see War Horse?

–Yeah.

How was it?

–Bad.  It is super schaltzy.

Well yeah, it’s Spielberg.

–No dude.  It’s bad…REALLY bad here.

And things end with them with them having a quizzical look on their face.  So, I guess I need to elaborate a little bit more.  Yes, I am aware Spielberg is a little sentimental.  However even with movies like ET, the emotions and the feelings still came up rather organically.  Elliot and ET were both likable characters and their friendship was developed over the course of the movie.  So even when Spielberg played with your heartstrings by having ET be all sickly, it didn’t feel like outright manipulation.  With War Horse, it feels like everyone in the movie is shoving a funnel down your throat and force feeding you saccharine crap.  Nothing comes natural at all and instead, we have to be TOLD how to feel about things.

Take for example the very beginning of the movie where the family gets the horse of this movie.  Local farmers and land owners are bidding on several horses.  The lovable poor farm owner is on one end and the EEEEEEEVVVILLLL greedy land owner is on the other.  You want to know how he is evil?  Because the first time we see him, John Williams personally tied me down to my theater chair and slapped me with his baton while screaming in my ear “HE’S A BAD GUY! HE’S A BAD GUY! HE’S A BAD GUY!“  Then, instead of being practical and buying a plow horse, our protagonists father blows all his money (including rent money) on buying the horse of our movie?  Why?  Because he wants to show up his greedy landlord.  As an audience member you are thinking this is petty dickish behavior that makes the father the bad guy because he put personal feelings in the way of, you know, feeding his family.  But Spielberg and Williams slap you around some more assuring you he is just being damn adorable.  The next scene we get said landowner asking the father for the rent he is due and the father not having it.  The landowner, very rightly, calls him an idiot for giving away all his money in an attempt to show him up and says he will give the land to people who will actually pay rent.  The son and mother then beg for an extention on their loan which the landowner, charitbly, gives them.  The landowner says though that if they don’t pay the extention, he has to take their land which is met with many a “How could you!“ from the family and more orchestra stings that he is greedy and evil.

This is what I have to deal with here.  For one that the material isn’t strong enough for us to judge things on their own; that we have to be assaulted with audio/visual cues as to how we feel.  But not only that, is that there is a disconnect between what the director wants us to feel and how the audience really thinks.

Everything is just so damn over the top.  It doesn’t take that much to get us to care for an animal.  For crying out loud most movies of this genre are built solely around the premise animals are cute and plot be damned.  But it’s not enough that the boy Albert loves the horse, but he has to spend every waking hour staring at it and writing it letters and pining for it like Edward does to Bella.  It is not enough that the war horse in question is lovable by itself, it has to be Lassie levels of intelligent.  I swear the way they built this up as some super horse I thought they were going to have it talk.

You can almost tell what the writers were thinking in trying to give the horse so much personality.  The plot, isn’t really about this boy Albert and his horse.  Instead the movie follows the horse as it changes owners through the years of WWI.  It’s rather hard to have the narrative focus on something that can’t talk and only has one facial expression.  I guess if Paul Walker can do it a horse can do but you can’t really have a movie with growth or progress when it’s focused on an F’n horse.  It doesn’t feel like anything is driving the plot and merely meanders around.  I wasn’t so much wondering at this amazing horse but looking at my watch and wondering when this will end.

Now I would be lying if I said there was nothing good in this movie.  The small storyline involving a little girl and her grandfather getting the horse I really liked.  The girl was adorable enough to make you go “Awwwwwwwwwww“ and Niels Arestrup does a fantastic job.  He’s not anyone you know by name but when you see him you probably recognize him.  Here it doesn’t matter the writing is bad he sells it like his life depended on it.  There are some scenes on the battlefield which are effective and some scenes in the end that still make you water up (or just me I guess).

I still didn’t really hate this film.  Oh it’s bad, that’s for sure.  But I’m pretty much chalking this up to everyone having an off day.  I hear this movie was an attempt to salvage the source material which seems unfilmable due to the narrative being through the eyes of the horse although with Spielbergs use of animation in TinTin that makes me question even that.  But yeah, I started the holiday season with the wrong Spielberg.  This one really didn’t do it for me.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig) 2011

Posted in T on January 2, 2012 by moviemoses

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie.  The cover looks like DTV crap but I was battered down by so many positive reviews I had to see what the hub bub was all about.

The movie is a clever twist on very worn down horror cliches.  At first it plays itself as an Eli Roth horror film about snotty teens who are going to the woods to “ party“ when they are hunted down by a pair of hillbillies.  They are driving to their cabin when they cut off the titular character on the freeway and the teens think the hillbillies are gunning for them.  The clever turn is when we find out Tucker and Dale are really nice good ole boys who are just looking to fix up an old cabin so they can have a permenant vacation spot.  This sets up several funny misunderstandings about the teens thinking they are getting hunted down.

For example, Tucker and Dale are fishing when they see one of the girls fall and hit her head.  They decide to rescue her but what the rest of the partying friends see are these guys dragging an unconcious girl on their boat yelling “WE GOT YUR FRIEND!“  Or there is another scene where the group comes across Tucker and Dale’s Evil Dead style cabin they are fixing up and Tucker (while cutting wood with a chainsaw) accidentily cuts into a bees nest.  This sends him into a frenzy where runs around blindly with a running chainsaw.

The writing is very good in that it has many variations on essentially one joke.  I think they also realize how it can easily get repetitive because they don’t overstay their welcome.  T&DvE barely clocks in at 80 minutes but this is a good thing because of the thin premise.  I also like how Tucker and Dale aren’t overwritten as Larry the Cable Guy “Get er done!“ broad stereotypes.  Yeah they have some redneck traits but they are not overdone cariactures.  Both are really nice guys who have a really nice friendship.  What is surprising is this almost touching friendship and small message about believing in yourself.  This is helped by actors Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk.  I mean come on, you can’t beat Wash from Firefly.

This was a pleasant little surprise.  I was expecting something very lazy but got a clever little comedy.  The actors are having fun with the material and the writing does as much as it can with the thin premise.  This flew under my radar but thankfully the positive reviews dragged me into seeing it.