Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Okay folks, in case you didn't know its Christmas Eve, and I'm going to be doing a review for a very Christmas movie indeed. Or so one would like to have themselves think. On the topic of Christmas anyway, can someone please make a comment as to who actually likes Christmas music bar the likes of Fairytale of New York. Also, to all foreigners reading the review, the UK's Christmas Number #1 this year is Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name, I kid you not. How awesome is that. Maybe people are actually realising, hang on, this music is better than typical Christmas music. Everyone is sick of Christmas music. Anyway, sorry about the digression, the topic of Christmas cannot be avoided and it does make for suitable distraction from my feelings about this movie. Picking up where the last Twilight left off, Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, is eighteen and now older than her seventeen-year-old boyfriend Edward Cullen, who is a vampire. This causes relational tensions, woo woo. Because of an accumulation of tensions, Edward and his leave town and Bella goes into a big sulk at the loss of her love. Then, to fill the void in her life, she begins hanging around once again with her hulking childhood friend Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, creating a strange love triangle of sorts, for he is, you guessed it, a werewolf, arch-nemesis of the vampire clan. Now, to get this off the fly for starters, I felt that the first Twilight film was a good, charming film on teenage angst and love, which was handled brilliantly by Katherine Hardwicke. Now, I won't grub on Chris Weitz, because he is taking over as director here, but really I do question whether he is able to do this kind of material. With a franchise, I feel that while each movie must be different and advance the story, there should always be a consistent tone and mood persistent throughout a series, and I feel that without Katherine Hardwicke, the original mood of the novel's cannot be captured. I haven't read the books, but I know enough from conversations with people who have that there is a consistent eroticism prevalent throughout and here it is completely absent. I feel under Weitz' direction, who previously directed American Pie with his brother Paul, the complete polar opposite of this film on the "love scale," if you will, the tone of the story cannot be achieved. And with credit to him, at least he does try, but in truth it just comes across as very bland and boring. Really, I was giving this movie a chance because for half-an-hour to an hour I thought, "this is really wise, they are setting up what is going to be an interesting story." Unfortunately, it’s the set-up for something that never happens. As a result, it just makes Kristen Stewart, who really could have come across here with an interesting portrayal of Bella Swan horribly turns out to be really one-note. Also, Robert Pattinson, R-Patz, whatever you want to call him, loses the mystique and romanticism of the previous film's character and just proves to be window dressing if anything. Taylor Lautner is the only one who escapes this acting dirge, and really does his best and proves capable with what is in truth poor material. You can sense his characters angst and hurt underneath the massive physical presence he poses. There is obviously an interesting character arc here for him, but unfortunately it never gets that far. That is the real problem with New Moon: everything seems like a set-up to something genuinely interesting, but only serves as a hint at something that never proves to be a prevalent and intelligent theme. For example, in the midst of Bella's sulk, there are hints of suicide, and it is hinted at so well that elaboration would make sense, yet it remains completely under the surface here. As mentioned, the Jacob Black-subplot could have done with this elaboration. Finally, the ageing process too is hinted at, but is not elaborated: the movie is like something teasing the audience with a carrot-and-stick, seeing if all the asses will follow. Well, I'm sorry, I tried following the carrot-and-stick for a bit, and needless to say was very disappointed by the end result. I mean, how did Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote such a well-structured screenplay for the previous film, end up writing such a hack of a script for this one. Now, there are good moments in this, particularly the surreal elements, such as the dream sequences, or the brilliant underwater sequence, there are some really interesting things in the movie. Also, the cinematography, while not great by any means, is done in a music video style that really lends itself to these sequences, creating potentially "iconic" moments, or "trailer moments." These things are done well. But indeed, that is the real tragedy of New Moon. I won't say that it is an absolutely horrible movie, because there is quite clearly good material there, but unfortunately it is completely underdeveloped and utterly disappointing as a result, especially with regards to the darker themes and the underdevelopment of the Jacob Black-subplot, which to Lautner's credit he did his best.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.4/10 - On the topic of this, it is better than Fast and Furious, which got a 3.6/10, however, my opinions on that film are probably more of a 2-3/10 now.

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Genuinely saddened and disappointed.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Avatar

If you would rather see the movie without any knowledge, which is the best way to see it, don’t read the review until after you have seen it, lest you feel that any spoilers, which I have made my best effort to veil over, have been revealed

In order to mark this historic review, I have skipped my usual course of reviewing each movie in order I have seen them in order for you to get the official verdict on Avatar two days before its world premiere. Having been invited by a fellow esteemed critic (the infamous "you know who you are" source I have previously made reference to) to a press screening, I managed to see Avatar in 3D for free. Incidentally, to do a plug for the cinema holding this press screening, for those of you who live in Belfast or in and about, Movie House Dublin Road is the only cinema in Belfast that does not charge extra money for a 3D feature, so if you are, and you should, see Avatar in it's intended 3D form, see it in the Movie House, and save yourself from the capitalists/money-launderers that be ruining our industry. Anyway, let's talk about Avatar. The film is historic for two main reasons: first off, it is the first feature film in twelve years from "The King of the World" James Cameron. A giant in the past twenty-five years of cinema, with films such as The Terminator and its sequel Judgement Day, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic, his influence and masterful visions have remained with us even in his twelve-year feature absence. Also, as with many previous Cameron movies, he is presenting on pushing the boundaries of the possibilities of cinema, as seen particular in his underwater films, and here, with the use of 3D technology and newly-innovated computer graphics and special effects, and long last, he is able to realise that vision. A brief synopsis without giving away too much, goes that Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is a former Marine selected for the Avatar programme and travels to a lush jungle-based world called Pandora. Nuff said, it is better to see the movie without knowing anything. With all of the exposition out of the way, both for the movie and the review, let's get down to the big question: Is Avatar a good movie? In truth, Avatar is a good movie. However, to say good would be a fierce understatement and almost an insult to this landmark piece of work, and it is just that. Put it bluntly: AVATAR IS SUPERB! But I'm not allowed to do that, so sorry for the procrastinating, now we're really going. I'll shoot with the usual gob, the acting in the film is, as seen in the ensemble casts of Cameron’s' past films, is suitably great. As the audience eyes and ears into the world of Pandora, Sam Worthington does a great job in the lead role as Sully. One of the aspects of his role that really impressed me was his portrayal of wonder and awe at the beautiful world of Pandora. On more than one occasion referred to as "a child," Worthington gives a great performance that obviously highlights him as a great talent for the next decade, after being the best thing in this years Terminator: Salvation. Also, the character arc in which Sully must make a TOUGH DECISION (spoilers not permitted by my own hand folks, not Cameron's or 20th Century Fox) is portrayed excellently with all the parts involved in conflicting views done aptly and in a very human manner. As ever in virtually every film she is in, Sigourney Weaver is on top form as the idealistic and determined botanist Grace Augustine, in a strong performance that she herself clearly relished. Unlike Ben Kingsley in Fifty Dead Men Walking, who made the mistake of leaning too far in favour of giving his younger counterpart onscreen all of the film without focusing on his own performance, Weaver is clearly aware of this and as an environmentalist and activist herself, injects a great amount of passion into the role of Grace and strong deadpan humour, whilst also letting Worthington take centre stage. Giovanni Ribisi is also very good as the passive-aggressive as administrator Parker Selfridge, in a role which is perhaps as terrifying as any military presence in the film, bringing a lot of reminders with Conservative politician ideology. Finally in the acting department, filling the void of a serious villain such the Alien or Terminator, Stephen Lang gives a very strong performance as Colonel Miles Quaritch. Whilst Ribisi is scary as the government-type in the film, the presence and charismatic machismo of Lang in this film are very scary indeed. Very sinister when warning people, but later showing his true colours as a full-blown psychopath, Lang plays the multiple aspects and strong arcs of this character very well. And the special effects? Well, in agreement with my fellow film critic, this may well be one of the most majestic and beautiful films artistically of the past decade, and as such this could not be achieved without the excellent effects. Cameron believes that this film will hark in a new age of cinema, that said, however beautiful the film is, I hope it doesn't replace 2D cinema. This is by no means a criticism of the film, for Avatar advanced technological innovation has opened no doors to produce a variety of unique and strong films. 60% of the film is made up of special effects, and as such it has such a unique artistic direction, which has been touched upon in the likes of Sin City and 300, but only now has it truly come of age. I am very glad that it has come of age with such a good film. With a lush colour palette that is really amazing for the eyes to look at but not too distracting as to deter from the story, Weta Digital have created perhaps the best realisation of the creation of a believable world with the use of special effects, so to all the animators from me, "You done a good job." This work however, would not be possible without the cinematography or editing departments. Mauro Fiore makes use of the brand-new virtual camera technology and performance-capture stage The Volume with great aplomb, and makes it possible for the lush effects to be realised, without losing any of the quality of the acting performances. Also, Cameron puts his hand in the editing pot, alongside John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin, and, bar maybe ten minutes that could have been erased from the film during the transition of the strong ending of the second act onto the climactic act of the film, deliver for the most part a stellar piece of editing. Another thing seen in Camerons' films often, despite them being big, epic blockbusters is that there are always strong underlying themes. With the true mission of the Avatar programme being revealed, we find out that there is alot of corruption and deceit at hand. A very green movie, which condemns the destruction of the environment for the draining of its resources, this message comes across brilliantly during a key moment that closes the second act, which more or less completely lifts any veil that may have covered the underlying theme. Also, quite clearly, there are less than under the surface references that parallel the United States' war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq and low and behold impending Iran. When we witness a briefing by the Colonel, we see him portray the Navi forest people very stereotypically, despite the fact that they are human, albeit looking very different. I see in Avatar a lot of underlying critiques of environmental destruction, the war on terror and war in general, racism, capitalism and a really savage view on the corruption of human nature. However, it is not all doom and gloom, for glimmers of hope and the goodness of humanity are given glimpses among the darkness and destruction throughout. My final point on the good about the film is director “The King of the World” James Cameron. Cameron has been a very patient man throughout the creative process of making the film. Often known for his perfectionism and ferocious temper, his creative drive must have been aching have waited so long. Having wrote a treatment of the film in 1994, Cameron cited his reasons for not making the film because the technology was not available at the time, and to me that shows true creative smarts. Instead of compromising his vision, he waited until he was able to realise it the way he wanted, and in the process advancing film-making technology by at least ten years. He has once again proved himself to be one of the best directors in the world with his undying perfectionism, a true auteur with the amount of work, time and effort he has put into this project. Avatar is easily for me as a fan who has seen his entire back catalogue (excluding Piranha II, which he was fired from for refusing to compromise with the studio taking final cut, so it’s not really a “James Cameron movie) a masterpiece up there with the best of them. Bar a few script problems (the old action movie quips have returned), particularly in the previously mentioned transition period between the end of the second act and the setting up of the third act, Avatar is certainly up there to be a Best Action Movie of the Decade nominee, and at present is a sure-fire nominee for Best Film of the Year. This is indeed The Return of the King.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 9.3/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – So happy that it destroyed any shred of negative vibes surrounding the hype. Well done Jim!

Oh yeah, James Horner’s score is also very good.


I am posting the review for Avatar two days before official world premiere tonight. Get the verdict now!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Good, The Bad, The Weird

This seems to be continuing in the vein of Transsiberian, in that I am reviewing some films here which may pass through the gaze of more mainstream critics bar the ike of Dr Kermode and what have you. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a South Korean film by Kim Jee-woon, director of A Tale Of Two Sisters, who was inspired by The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and his love of westerns to create and scribe this project of his alongside writing and producing partners Kim Min-suk and Choi Jae-won. At its basest simplicity, you could say that the film is a remake of the Sergio Leone classic, which it clearly is not, but instead takes the bare bones i.e. three different men on the chase for treasure at a certain location. Bar these details and little things which make nods towards the spaghetti western genre, the film is more or less a completely original piece. In this film, set in 1930s Manchuria, The Bad, a hitman, is hired to steal a map off a Japanese official, which leads to treasure. Unfortunately, The Weird, a thief, gets there before him and intends to claim the treasure for himself. Also on the chase is The Good, a bounty hunter, who is on the hunt for The Bad and becomes aware of the map and becomes involved in the chase for the treasure. Also in the chase for the treasure are the Japanese Army and a Manchurian bandit gang. As one can imagine with this many strands involved, all hell and anarchy ensues throughout the film. However, despite the fact that there are so many strands, the film is very skilfully handled in this respect, more in due time. To start with The Good (clearly no pun intended, seeing as how this my general routine, to all the nitpicking Einsteins of the film community), technically the film is amazing. Maybe its a western thing for me, I don't know, but the cinematography in this film by either Oh Seung-chul or Lee Mogae is excellent (I have searched on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia to find out the name of the mystery cinematographer and have been unable to find his or her name, so if anyone who reads this happens to know, please tell me). The lush landscapes and horizons in the film are caught beautifully throughout the film. Also, there is quite clearly some experimentalisation with different types of shots in different portions of the film, creating some shots which are genuinely unique and have a personality of their own, making the film stand out. Finally, unlike the majority of action scenes in films today, especially in American cinema, the cinematographer has directed the cameramen in a way so that you are actually able to see all of the action. For example, in America they have had an awful tendency to shake the camera really fast ever since the Jason Bourne series, so as to create a sense of frantic reality to the situation. However, as is often the case, the "frantic sense of reality" is not actually an ample sense of reality, simultaneously disabling us from being able to distinguish whether or not it is real because we cannot see it, therefore defaulting their claims and reality, while adding to cinema caretakers workload at cleaning up sick in the bathroom. In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, this does not happen. Even while using the digital handheld camera, you are able to see the action onscreen with great clarity, while also creating a great sense of frenetic reality, particularly in the second Ghost Market action sequence with the rain pouring down, echoing Seven Samurai. Also, there are some brilliant helicopter and vehicle shots in the climactic chase, which really capture the expansive scope of the film. Another quality of the film is the excellent score by Chan Young-gyu and Dalparan. This is a really cool score that hooks you into the movie and gives you a real sense of elation any time you here a piece play. The image I get in my head when the music plays is a large mariachi-esque band, with guitars, borons and trumpets in big sombreros playing some really cool numbers to have a samba to. Excuse the stereotypes, but it is really in truth one of the coolest score I have heard in ages. The Latin flavour to the score is a real breath of fresh air when watching this film and is a great contrast to that type of incidental music I have become so sick of in films of late. You know, the ones I am always talking about, with the likes of big orchestral string instruments playing, more or less saying what the film can't: "this is where you are meant to cry." I would couple this score with my favourites of last year, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight and Waltz With Bashir. With regards to the acting, Song Kang-ho is really good as The Weird. One of my favourite Asian actors of today, Kang-ho has a great charisma to him and obviously is a great comedic actor, as seen in The Host, but also is a great dramatic actor, as seen in Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Here, his Weird dominates the film, a wise move considering the stripped down, bare bones characters of The Good and The Bad. With a brilliant sense of comic timing and charisma which makes you really feel for the character, regardless of his corrupt and devious nature, and there are many comparisons to be made to Eli Wallach’s role as Tuco/The Ugly in the original source that inspired the film. Finally, the direction from Kim Jee-woon is really dynamic, creating a spectacle that is a real joy to watch. However, despite the fact that I am clearly glowing over it, there are a number of problems with the film. For starters, the film is too long, and does seem to drag on at points in the process of the story. Also, after the climactic chase, the actual ending and wrapping up the film is disappointing. It’s not a case of expectations being defied, it’s more a case of the fact that you feel you have been on a journey with these characters and that a really good climax would only do the film justice. I was contemplating which ending I would include as the version I would review, for the UK/Europe release has a different ending as opposed to the Korean version originale, but both are rather unsatisfactory for different reasons. Jee-woon and Min-suk really should have put more thought into this climax. Which brings me to my final point. If you are going to have three main characters dominate the film, each with their own distinct personalities, never make any of the characters look inferior to the other. To compare this to its source, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ three main characters are each distinct and different, but nonetheless have interesting niches to their personalities. In this, it is like there is a hierarchical ranking in order of character development. Here, The Good is just made to look like a two-dimensional bore with the odd quip (and don’t dare say that about Clint Eastwood), The Bad is merely the Korean, evil equivalent to the kids from Twilight: make a man look unbelievably ripped and give him some eye-liner and a hairstyle, and look pretty for the camera, and huzzah! We have a brilliant subversion of the typical villain. Not! Then The Weird, who is played well by Kang-ho, is pretty two-dimensional in his own way. So in all, the main characters driving the film are not fleshed out well at all. This would more than likely constitute for the film’s odd occasion of jet lag. Finally, plot and dialogue are fairly simplistic. However, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is by no means a bad film. The film gave me an idea to create a new award, Rollercoaster Film of the Year: the film is nothing special, but has a definitive fun factor throughout. With Drag Me To Hell in good company with this, this could be a new category for Year-End Awards. In conclusion, The Good, The Bad, The Weird boasts superb cinematography and sounds, alongside good direction from Kim Jee-woon and a charismatic performance from Song Kang-ho. However, its simplicity, lack of real characterisation and plot deny the film from being anything great, though it is certainly a really fun, rollercoaster of an action film above the level of much of them this year.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis - Jolly

Note to blogger, sort out you cutting and pasting, it took me over two hours to do this post because I could paste the text when my connection failed.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Transsiberian

Here's a little-known but interesting oddity which no doubt has been overlooked by many over the past year. Transsiberian is the new film by Brad Anderson, most famous for directing the sublime thriller The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. The film has been going around the indie circuit over the past year, having its official premiere in the UK at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival, but I have been unable to find an official theatrical release on IMDB, so I am under the assumption that the film went straight to DVD. I first heard about the film through an advertisement for the DVD release in Empire magazine, and was intrigued at the prospect of a new Brad Anderson film and the presence of Woody Harrelson, who just seems to be in everything this year. No really, I mean it. Between playing a blind meat-salesman cum pianist in Seven Pounds, a madman obsessed with Twinkies in Zombieland, and now in Transsiberian he plays a jolly and kind Christian on his return home from a mission in China with his wife, played by Emily Mortimer. And once again, despite being the "name" of the movie, he does play more of a supporting role as opposed to Mortimer's lead role which dominates the film. Anyway, the couple on a "Transsiberian" train from China to Russia encounter another couple, to whom Roy, Harrelson's character warms to, whereas Jessie, Mortimer's character, does not, for reasons to be found out as the movie progresses. To start with the good about the film, the acting in the film is solid. Mortimer does a competent job of portraying what is I must say a difficult character with many different arcs. Also, Ben Kingsley aka Sir Ben, plays a Russian detective in the film and gives a good performance here, with a convincing Russian accent that would, despite us knowing him as Sir Ben, would convince anyone who didn't know otherwise that he was Russian. However, his role does not dominate the screen, and as such he plays very much the role that he did in Fifty Dead Men Walking, playing second fiddle as a supporting player once again. I'm sorry, I've got to say it though, but Woody Harrelson gives the best performance in the film. While in every film he is in he is quite clearly Woody Harrelson, with his distinctive Texas accent, but he has such a brilliant chameleonic quality which means that while this is clearly Harrelson, he is quite clearly also the film's character. In this he portrays just a very nice man, and does it well. Its not a brilliant performance, but by all means it is the best in the film. Also, the fresh and slick cinematography by Xavi Gimenez is solid, managing to maintain a great sense of restraint and control over the technical aspect of the film. Finally, it cannot be denied by any means that Brad Anderson is a talented director with a real niche in the thriller genre. He too shows great restraint throughout, never over-directing at a single point in the film. The big however must come along, and to start with the problems, I must really target the script. Now Anderson and his screenwriting partner Will Conroy are clearly good at writing a script which builds tension wonderfully and creates some interesting characters. My big problem with this film, and to compare it to The Machinist (call me a hypocrite, I know I hate comparing, but sometimes it really is neccessary), The Machinist had all this and more. The big problem with the script is not the development of tension or characters, but the plot itself. The plot is the core to any good script, and virtually every good film full stop. Whereas The Machinist had a really well-structured plot without any holes, this film has real gaping plot holes throughout. Now, there's a difference between not telling us things for the sake of mystique and what have you, but here it is completely over-exploited and over-played. It really annoys me when thrillers have really good formula but leave these holes for the sake of not spending enough time on rewrites. By no means is the plot altogether bad, it just seems structurally very lazy particularly in the last thirty or forty minutes of the film. Also, the plot is too convuluted for its own good. The whole Ben Kingsley Russian Detective aspect of the film could have been eliminated, or if they wanted to follow that route, eliminate the other couple from the script, though their presence is completely neccessary to the story and would garner the neccessity for a near complete rewrite of the film. It gets too muddled and tangled, much to the film's detriment. Also, another problem is that Mortimer's character is quite clearly the dominating character in the film, who to be fair does have a behemoth task with this very complicated character. However, it is my belief, and I'm sure numerous film fans agree, that the effort of acting or underplayed acting should be more so from the lead and more well-developed character than any other actor in the film. Granted, it is a hard role, and maybe I'm being harsh, but I don't believe Mortimer pulled it off, and I didn't have much feeling for the character as a result of her acting, which is quite clearly the point of the role and the characters internal conflicts. Finally, the film, which really does enough potential to be a really solid and genuinely good thriller, ends up being unremarkable, even in its own positive merits. Unremarkable is really the one word to describe the film. It's not horrible or bad, but it's unremarkable. And by the way, in the film Harrelson wears glasses, unlike the poster, which tries to give off one of those slightly confused and scared poses of him for the sake of marketing.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Disappointed