Thursday, January 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Green Hornet

Alright. It's been a long week at school, so it's always nice after such a week to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good-

Aww, really, Hollywood? It's been a stressful week, can I please review something else? I'll be good, just please don't make me review The Green Hornet! Anything else, just-

AAH! Bring it back, I'll do Green Hornet!!

As you probably guessed by the introduction to this review, I'm not exactly ecstatic about the prospect of reviewing this movie. I'm not going to say that it was a terrible film, but.... actually, no. I am going to call it a terrible film. Because that's exactly what it is.

This movie reminds me a bit of Tron: Legacy in that it's a remake of something that hasn't been in the public eye for several decades. Now, the origins of The Green Hornet have their roots back in the 30's, when there was a short-running radio show following the adventures of a masked man named Britt Reid, who was the descendant of The Lone Ranger. Now, like a lot of radio shows in the early 20th century, it was campy and didn't take itself overly seriously. However, while it gained a small following, and was largely forgotten in the face of other, better radio shows.

Skip 30 years later to the mid 1960's, when television was the new medium for campy programs that didn't take themselves too seriously. The new television show was dramatically different from the original radio program, and made an effort to make The Green Hornet and his sidekick Kato more identifiable to the modern audience. Unfortunately for them, The Green Hornet happened to be running at the same time as one of the most popular television shows of the decade - Batman. And really, when it comes down to it, nobody can compete with Batman.

Well, maybe one guy...

Anyway, the only lasting thing to come out of the televised version of The Green Hornet was that it launched the career of one of cinema's greatest martial arts stars - Bruce Lee, whose debut was as The Green Hornet's faithful sidekick, Kato. However, even though the show starred the man who would become the world's greatest martial artist, the series only lasted one season, getting cancelled in 1967.

So now, we skip to 2011, 44 years after Batman beat Green Hornet into a pulp, and The Green Hornet is being revamped yet again. Just as with the 60's show, the movie reworks the characters to make them more appealing to the contemporary audience. Instead of a smart, smooth, and serious interpretation of the character of Britt Reid, Seth Rogen plays a much more laid back character. Instead of being driven and dedicated, we see a Reid who is essentially an impulsive playboy coasting through life on his father's corporate fortune.

So, kinda like....

However, after the death of his father, Reid's outlook on life changes somewhat, and decides to take up his father's crusade against crime and corruption. However, instead of doing so in the conventional fashion of his father, he goes the more direct route of punching bad guys in the face.

So, basically...

And that's pretty much it. Everything in this movie is very straightforward. The plot basically amounts to "Here are some bad guys. Shoot them". The rest is a lot of absolutely unnecessary padding in a movie that feels like it has far too much in the first place. One of the other serious problems with this movie is that it feels like everyone was on a different page. The mood keeps switching around jarringly between every scene. It's like the movie couldn't decide whether it's a gritty action movie or a wacky comedy. People seem to be taking it either seriously or not completely at random, and occasionally seem to change for no reason. Seth Rogen is particularly guilty of this. One moment he's acting like a character out of Loony Toons, and the next moment it's like the movie turned into a dark, brooding drama.

There are no particular character arcs or development over the film, and at no point do we understand the motivation of any of the characters. The decisions they make come seemingly at random, and at times completely contrast with every other decision that they have made previously. After a while, it was obvious that the only reason the decisions were made is because the writers had decided "well, this is what would happen at this point in a superhero movie, so we'll do it."

I guess in hindsight, terrible isn't the word I would use for this movie after all. There are some funny moments, and the action can be pretty awesome. However, the sheer number of problems dragging this movie down render it an entirely forgettable mess.

Final Grade: D

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nomination Overview

We interrupt out regularly scheduled programming for an important movie update!

Earlier today, the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced! I'll be back soon with the expected movie reviews, but I wanted to do an overview of the categories that I actually care about and discuss them a bit, along with present my personal favorites for each category discussed here. Please feel free to comment and add your own opinions as well!

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

You really do have to go out of your way to make a movie pretty these days, and art directors are becoming more and more valuable - especially with the rise of the 3D motion picture. While all of these movies are very strong, the one that I have to go with is the movie directed by one of Hollywood's most twisted geniuses - Tim Burton. While there were a lot... A LOT... of problems with Alice in Wonderland, the visual direction and vision brought by Burton's twisted mind was definitely not one of them. It was dynamic, eerie, surreal, and beautiful - in other words, everything Wonderland should be.

FaceGuy's Pick: Alice in Wonderland

Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

This is the first time where I've really felt torn between two movies, and it shouldn't be difficult for you to figure out which two. Both Black Swan and Inception were among the most visually striking movies that I have ever seen, and the fact that we can't give them both an Oscar for this category really is a shame. However, both the Academy and myself have to make a choice... and while I consider Inception to be an overall better film, I've got to give this to Black Swan. The director went really out of his way to make this movie a brilliant work of cinematography. Every shot is so carefully planned out and angled that any frame could be considered a work of art in its own right. That kind of dedication is something that I really can't ignore.

FaceGuy's Pick: Black Swan

Music (Original Score)
How to Train Your Dragon - John Powell
Inception - Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech - Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours - A.R. Rahman
The Social Network - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

I love music. It's one of my favorite things, and this goes almost double for good movie soundtracks. I'm one of those guys who goes out and buys the soundtracks for movies that I like, and even make entire CDs and Playlists of nothing but awesome movie music. My favorite movie score composer has been doing a lot of work in the past few years, and even has a nomination here. Hans Zimmer is the mind behind the soundtracks of Sherlock Holmes, The Dark Knight, and most notably the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. However, his soundtrack in Inception is not as strong as that of the thrilling score written by John Powell for How to Train Your Dragon. Seriously, go onto Youtube and listen to some of that music. Love you, Hans, but you get beat out this year.

FaceGuy's Pick:
How to Train Your Dragon - John Powell

Music (Original Song)
Coming Home - Country Strong
I See the Light - Tangled
If I Rise - 127 Hours
We Belong Together - Toy Story 3

So, I basically just listened to all of these songs on the spot. Not much I can say here - We Belong Together will follow in the footsteps of "You've Got A Friend In Me" as a song from Toy Story that wins this Oscar. That's... really all I have to say on the matter.

FaceGuy's Pick:
We Belong Together - Toy Story 3

Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Iron Man 2

I AM VERY ANGRY RIGHT NOW. Seriously. I mean, okay, I'll grant, all the movies on here had some pretty awesome visual effects, but the movie that I think REALLY deserves the Oscar in this category didn't even get NOMINATED?!? SERIOUSLY?!? I am so mad right now I could smash the computer I write this on... but if I did, then I might harm the inhabitants of The Grid, who are already hurt enough by this travesty. I know it wasn't nominated, but I'm going to pick it anyway.

FaceGuy's Pick: Tron: Legacy - the movie that REALLY deserves it, as opposed to Inception, which will probably win it.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

... Meh. I find myself generally indifferent about this particular category, but it's considered one of the "big" ones, so I feel obliged to comment on it. See, the idea of giving an Oscar to someone for relying on the tried and true as opposed to writing something original seems to fuel what I consider to be the biggest threat to Hollywood. The lack of originality in movies today is just depressing, and... ugh. Not gonna talk about that anymore. I suppose I'll give it to The Social Network. It was a very well written film, in my opinion. I have a nagging feeling that the Oscar will probably go to Winter's Bone, but... Meh. It's not like I care too much anyway.

FaceGuy's Pick: The Social Network

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech

Ahh, nothing like originality, eh? I mean, granted, several of these movies are inspired by true events (including the one that I am going to be picking), but just because we know something happened doesn't mean we know exactly how it all went down. Writing something new and original about a real-life event is something that is very hard to do, and in that light I'm going to give my pick solidly to The King's Speech. Not only is it the best original screenplay this year, I'd go so far as to say it's the best written film this year period - and possibly for more than just 2010.

FaceGuy's Pick: The King's Speech

Animated Feature Film
How to Train your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Now, Toy Story 3 has a soft place in my heart, in no small part because of the fact that it was the first movie I reviewed on this site. However, a movie came out not long before I started writing these reviews that I actually enjoyed better. While I have no doubt that Toy Story 3 will take it, I actually found myself preferring Dreamworks' animated adventure - How to Train Your Dragon. Dreamworks Studios has really come into its own this year, giving us not one, but two very strong animated features. They're moving away from their old formula of either throwing endless puns and pop-culture references at us or just spending an entire movie poking fun at Disney. Dreamworks really started taking itself seriously this year, and they deserve a nod for that.

FaceGuy's Pick: How To Train Your Dragon

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem - Biutiful
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours

I admit, I have only seen three of these movies, but I was able to get a good idea of the acting involved in the two that I missed the people who HAVE seen them whom I have talked to. While I admit fully that James Franco's performance in 127 hours was very emotionally intense, I'm going to have to put my support behind Colin Firth on this one. I am still working on my review for The King's Speech, but I'll summarize by saying that it was a very good film, and Firth's performance as King George VI was, quite frankly, spectacular.

FaceGuy's Pick: Colin Firth - The King's Speech

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale - The Fighter
John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner - The Town
Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right
Geoffery Rush - The King's Speech

My overview here is going to be pretty much the same as the one above, I'm afraid. Winter's Bone was a very good movie - and frankly, John Hawks' performance in it is the only one of these that I think can compare to my pick for this category. But again, I'm going to throw my support behind the candidate from The King's Speech. Geoffery Rush remains among my favorite character actors alive, and his performance as Lionel Logue will likely be remembered as one of the strongest performances of his considerably long career.

FaceGuy's Pick: Geoffery Rush - The King's Speech

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Given my last review, my choice for this category should surprise nobody - it's Natalie Portman all the way. Every time I see her in a new movie, I realize more and more that she is definitely a rising star in Hollywood. While she may have appeared on the silver screen with a less than optimal introduction - Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - her later performances have been increasingly good. That said, nothing she has ever done comes close to the performance she gives here. This will likely be an easy pick for the Academy.

FaceGuy's Pick: Natalie Portman -
Black Swan

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom

While I really loved seeing more than just crazy psycho out of Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech, I feel that giving an actress an Oscar for playing someone sane would be an insult to the actresses that really did a good job this past year. Now, don't get me wrong, Bonham Carter did a spectacular job in The King's Speech, but I felt that overall there were performances that surpassed hers - albeit only a little. With that in mind, I'm going to give it to one of the two contenders from The Fighter. Both girls did a great job in the role, but I'm going to give the edge here to Amy Adams - I found her character a bit more engaging and interesting than Melissa Leo's, which makes her - for me, at least - the more memorable pick.

FaceGuy's Pick: Amy Adams - The Fighter

Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
David O. Russell - The Fighter
Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
David Fincher - The Social Network
Joel & Ethan Coen - True Grit

If there's one thing that we learned from the prequel trilogy of Star Wars, it's that you can have a whole posse of great actors and still make a bad movie. Good directors are key to a film - with bad direction, even the best writing can't save the film. Truly good directors are rare, and it's even more difficult to find someone so dedicated to their art that they go to ridiculous levels just to get a 2 second shot "right". One such director is Darren Aronofsky, whose attention to detail in Black Swan felt just as loving - if not more so - than anything that happened between the characters. Most directors view their craft as a work of art, but Aronofsky sees his film as a work of love.

FaceGuy's Pick: Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

This is it. The big one. The Oscar that could turn a movie into a legend, something that will be remembered for all time. The most sought after award in all American Cinema. Of these ten candidates, who will be the champion?

... It'll be The King's Speech. Hands down. The actors and actresses in this movie were all spectacular - particularly the aforementioned Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffery Rush. It was also easily the best written film of the year - if not the entire millennium so far. While Black Swan may have been better directed, while Inception may have been more intellectually engaging, while The Social Network may have been more... um... Insightful! Yes! And while Toy Story 3 may have had more evil stuffed bears that smell like strawberries, The King's Speech is just... amazing. SEE THIS MOVIE. TWICE.

And then buy it.


FaceGuy's Pick: The King's Speech

So! Those are my picks for this year's Academy Awards! Disagree with me on any particular point? Stuff it Then feel free to make a comment sharing your incorrect opinions in the comments section below!

And be sure not to miss the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 27th on ABC to see who was right and who... well.... wasn't!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movie Review: Black Swan

So, I made a few New Years Resolutions this weekend. While most of them have little or nothing to do with anyone reading this website, one of them most definitely does. Can anyone guess what that resolution is?

Well, as most of you have almost certainly noticed, I have been very bad about posting for the past few months. I have been busy with school and social life so much that I forgot to post, and even went entire months without posting. However, I am here to say that this is about to end. My New Years Resolution for 2011 is simple: Get Back on the Posting Wagon, and bring this review site back from the dead.

As for eating brains... well, we'll get back to you on that one.

So, do you all remember back when I was making semi-regular reviews? If you do, you might remember my review of the movie Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which I described as something along the lines of the strangest film ever put onto the silver screen. But now I find myself coming back to the reviewing world older and wiser, and realize that movies that throw strangeness in your face are nowhere near as strange as the ones that seamlessly integrate the bizarre and the mundane together into one singular world, resulting in something so fundamentally disturbing that you no longer feel safe going into a theater. So with that basic premise in mind, let’s dive into Black Swan.

Before I begin, I would like to point out something that I have discovered in my career as a stage actor, that being that the performing arts are EVIL. When people think of evil, most often they find themselves picturing images of black-armored dark overlords with twirly mustachios and big hats, but for me the image of evil is something much more subtle, that of a director. I’ve been in quite a number of plays in my 20 odd years riding this giant ball of water and noise pollution that I recognize that directors have no respect for human life or dignity, and also possibly eat puppies for breakfast in the morning. That all said, I consider myself to be one of the lucky breed of performing artist, in that I was born with the invaluable blessing of being completely unable to dance.


“But FaceGuy, you incomparable stallion,” you are probably asking yourself, “how could you possibly consider the inability to dance anything resembling a blessing? Doesn’t that give you a tremendous disadvantage in the theater world?” That assessment would be absolutely correct, but it also means that I don’t have to deal with the true demons that reside within the performing arts, the Sauron to the Director’s Witch King, the Emperor Palpatine to their Darth Vader, the Steven Spielberg to their Indiana Jones. I am referring to dance instructors, the people who we in the theater biz often fear more than your average Baptist fears God. These people are so disturbingly obsessed with their art that they seem to forget that they are dealing with human beings, whose bodies were not meant to contort in ways that would make an invertebrate wince.

To answer the problem of the limitations of the human body, a dance instructor who I will choose to name “Darth Adolph Satan” invented Ballet. And this is where Black Swan comes in.Black Swan follows the story of a young, talented Mind Slave Ballet Dancer, played by Natalie Portman, as she goes through the process of rehearsing for the role of her career, the Swan Queen in the famous Ballet Swan Lake, which is among the most beautiful ballets ever devised by the arch demons of Hell. This part requires her to take on two drastically contrasting characters, the White Swan who symbolizes purity and innocence, and the Black Swan, who represents sexuality and deception. As the name of the movie suggests, our heroine’s story focuses on her apparent inability to get into the mindset of the Black Swan, and her attempts to do so drive her to Joker levels of batshit crazy.

"Girl, you have some issues you really need to work through. I can relate. Here's my card."

Those of you who have not seen this movie yet will likely be surprised to hear that I wholeheartedly classify this movie under the genre of “Psychological Horror.” True, the movie is about a ballet dancer, but remember the world of pure evil that ballet dancers live in on a day to day basis. From a very young age, these poor souls are subjected to exercises that are more appropriately classified as torture methods that reshape their bodies in specific ways so that they can do things that human beings were never, EVER meant to do. While they may dance beautifully, ballet dancers legs become quite horribly deformed after a few years of subjugation to this training, which in later years results with everything from crippling pain to the complete inability to walk. So the personality required to tolerate this sort of lifestyle is already probably a little bit on the crazy/obsessed side, and when Portman starts to tackle the character of the Black Swan… well, let’s just say that I don’t get nightmares from movies. Like… ever. But the night after I saw this film, I had nightmares that were quite directly related to it. See, not only is Black Swan solidly in the genre of psychological horror, but it’s one of the BEST movies of that genre that I have ever seen. The transition between a sane world and the dark, twisted imaginations of Portman’s increasingly unhinged mindset is done so seamlessly and effortlessly that we barely even notice it until things start going really downhill in the third act. By the last shot of the movie, she has gone so far off the deep end that she might as well send in her application for the next big Marvel Supervillain.

What this movie is really about though, I feel, is the nature of genius. Whatever we might be able to say about Portman’s character in the film, one thing that we can definitely agree on is that she is a brilliant dancer. However, it is that same drive and obsession that led her to become a great dancer that became her inevitable downfall. This movie really goes out of its way to show, in no uncertain terms, just how much being obsessively focused can damage you. Yes, you can become brilliant - just like Vincent Van Gough or Mozart - but neither of them ended well, either.

Here's a clue.

So, bare bones of the movie. Is it good? Well… this is one of those times where I really don’t know. It’s one of those movies that I recognize as a genius work of art, but one that I never want to see again as long as I live. I don’t want to analyze it because I am afraid that if I do, I’ll start to understand it, and if I understand it then I might be just as nuts as the characters portrayed in the story. So… yes, it’s a good film. The imagery is stunning, the story is compelling, the characters are engaging, but all in a deeply disturbing way. It’s very much like Eraserhead or Brazil in that way - it’s a masterfully crafted piece of cinema, but you find yourself at the end never wanting to have anything to do with it ever again. Whether or not that makes it a good movie for you is entirely your opinion, but for me… well, I’ll let the grade speak for itself.

Final Grade: A-