Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #32: "WAR HORSE", "GRIFF THE INVISIBLE", "BURLESQUE," "BLUEBEARD" and MORE!

Some of you may have sensed that the blog hasn't been of the standard of quality that it usually has been lately. Blog postings have been slightly more belated than normal, the quality has been a little down lately, the Twitter account has been somewhat lazy recently, and in this case, the Random Weekly Movie Reviews, are about half the size as normal. Well, if you didn't notice, thanks, and good for you, although my visitor count being lower than normal would indicate otherwise, but I did, and I was all too aware of it more than anybody. So if you indulge me for a second, I must confess that in the recent week or two, I have been more distracted than normal. Currently, we're in the process of moving. For those know me personally, don't worry, we're not moving far, just a couple streets awat in fact. It's a good thing, we're moving from an apartment that nobody ever liked to a house, and all month, we've been unusually busy with that. (We, for those who are curious, are my mother and my brother, who I watch most of the day. He's autistic, and needs 24-hour watchover, one of the reasons I begun writing a blog about movies as oppose to going out and make movies in fact.) We're excited, but this has also forced us to take on some extra debt than normal. I even cutback on my Netflix order, to one disc at a time + streaming, and as bad as that is, I haven't really had much time to watch as much as normal. I'm doing my best, but, for the time being, more of these blogs which I try to update every 2-3 days, are going to be closer to the 3 days than the two. These reviews I've written here for instance, were already delayed so much, that I chose to post my weekly Canon of Film entry yesterday, as oppose to after the reviews. I greatly appreciate all the support and continue readership. I normally go out of my way to keep my personal life/issues out of this blog, but I must admit that recently, it has effected it, and I can't say that it won't effect it in immediate future; things are just a little too chaotic at the moment for me to make such a guarantee. However, I will continue posting on my usual regular basis, and if that might change in the future, I'll let you know. I do apologize if some of the quality of the work has been lacking recently. I can assure that I'll do my best to keep my focus on my blog, as I'm working on it.

Anyway, I apologize for the indulgence, and if nobody minds, let's gets started with this week's Movie Reviews!

WAR HORSE (2011) Director: Steven Spielberg

2 1/2 STARS

I'll say this, that Joey is one remarkable horse. After that, I'm not really sure what to make out of "War Horse". Well, let me rephrase, I get what Spielberg is doing, he's trying to make one of those David O. Selznick, David Lean era,  sprawling Hollywood epics, and he's doing it in that style, with some amazing landscapes that, and large-scale battle scenes, and numerous characters and stories coming in and out, and stuff like that, and as a technical achievement, I guess I would have to say that he succeeded. I just had a hard time figuring out why he was making it to begin with. The movie begins in England, where Joey is bought hastily by a drunk old war veteran farmer, Ted (Peter Mullan), much to the dismay of his wife, Rose (Emily Watson). They bought a thorobred horse, they need a powerful horse to plow with. That doesn't stop their son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) from trying though, and pretty soon, Joey and Albert have formed quite a team, and they do manage to begin plowing that rocky field, which apparently is such an amazing achievement, an entire town of villagers seems to materialize just to see the horse doing it. Joey and Albert however, are soon separated again, as they need to sell Joey to the military, as WWI is just underway, and they need to save the farm. Joey will go through many experiences now. He works as an ambulance to collect the bodies, he charges into battle, for both sides, he and another horse become the pets of a precocious but sickly, young French girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens), and then back into the war. There are moments in "War Horse," that are quite remarkable, and there are scenes in the movie, where I honestly can't tell whether they were special effects, or whether they actually filmed a horse. There's a very good shot of the feet of a horse, who's one of the many tugging artillery canons, through the battlefield, and it's damn near killing the horse, and the feet are just, damn collapsing, and, I mean, if that was real, I don't know how they got the horse to do that, a few of the other stunts, including some amazing jumping sequences Joey has late in the film, some of it is technically great achievements. However, despite scenes like that, I have a very hard time, caring about Joey, his owner Albert, or much of this film really. Horses are magnificient creatures, and there have been some very good films about horses lately, "Seabiscuit," "Secretariet," probably the most notable, and films like "The Black Stallion," and "National Velvet," before that, are especially memorable for their horse footage. The story really is just, your basic two characters separated by war until they find each other again story, and I just don't think this sweeping epic is really a great genre. I think it's of a bygone era to begin with, but I was detached and flat to this film; I was seriously trying to figure out what was Spielberg's thinking. I knew long ago that he could make a movie like this, he's Spielberg for Christ's sake, but the why he made it, is kinda confusing me. It was originally a book, but I first heard of "War Horse," as a play, which won numerous Tony Awards last year, and the way they did it, was to use they wonderful, animatronic puppets, that were controlled by humans, but they looked and acted real, and strangely I think, in that theatre setting, where we get this horse, right there, interacting with the actors, we could grasp the human-horse relationship better and overlook some of the story's flaws. Here, in film, you know, real horses aren't always great actors, I guess. "War Horse," got multiple Oscar nominations, mostly in technical categories, which I can't really argue, the Kaminski cinematography for one, is absolutely amazing, but it was also a Best Picture nominee, and after watching it, I'm very surprised by that. Not only compared to most of the other nominees, but compared with Spielberg's best work..., this is almost an aberration to his work. I don't know, I wonder if there are just Academy members, who really just wanted an old-time sprawling epic. Well, I guess they got their wish with "War Horse," but, man I hate doing this, I can't recommend this.

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (2011) Director: Leon Ford

3 STARS

Okay, we first had the film "Special," about a guy who thought he was a superhero, but was delusional, then "Kick-Ass", which was a superhero movie about a real teenager who tries to be a superhero, we had "SUPER", about what might actually happen if a real person tried to be a superhero, and you throw in "Hanna," 'cause it's got a similar origin story to Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass", but now, we got, the real person who thinks he's a superhero, done as a romance, with "Griff the Invisible". I'm not gonna lie, despite the twist, I'm starting to get a little tired of this subgenre. Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a disgruntled office worker by day, with a crappy job where he's constantly bullied and humilated. He has a brother, Tim (Patrick Brammall), who knows the kind of project Griff is at first-hand. Griff spends his nights, as a superhero, or he at least thinks he's one. He gets in trouble for some of his actions, pictures of people who he's injured or peace he's disturbed that show up in police sketch artists posters occasionally. Tim wishes he'd live in the real world, but Tim's happier in this made-up world of his (I know that feeling), and so does Melody (Maeve Dermody) a young scientist, who has a similar weird effect to her, she thinks she can walk through walls, kinda like the girl from "X-Men", and more importantly, while she realizes Tim's fantasies are fantasies, she indulges in them anyway, even participating in them, encouraging them. I think it is a little strange that we're encouraged to rid ourselves of our imagination as we get older, and the line in the movie is to figure out exactly where does harmless role-playing become delusionalment, and whether or not crossing that line, is such a bad thing. I like the romantic aspects of the film, about how these two messed up people actually have a chance at finding love and each other, more than I like the superhero stuff, which I think, even in this format, feels like material that I've just seen too much of already. Still, I'm reluctant, but I am gonna recommend the film, despite the slow pace and some of the cliched aspects to the story. I think I'm more prone to liking the Travis Bickle-type of delusional loner than these kind I've been seeing lately though.

BURLESQUE (2010) Director: Steve Antin

2 STARS

Oh where to begin. You ever check a movie's "goofs" on imdb.com, and find out that the mistakes in the movie are more interesting than the movie. That's basically what happened after I watched "Burlesque". Here's my favorite goof of the movie, under the subheading "spoilers": (Don't worry, I'm not giving anything substantial away; I couldn't if I tried.)

The premise of the plot rests partly on Ali replacing a newly-pregnant dancer, Georgia. The movie's time line takes course over two months (or less), and in that short time, Georgia becomes pregnant, engaged and married (in that order), also returning to perform with Ali at the Burlesque Lounge during the finale (supposedly back from maternity leave, which would be impossible). This contradicts the plot line in which Tess must come up with enough money to save the club in thirty days. (In the same day, she sells the air rights above the Burlesque Lounge and buys out her partner's share, Jack finishes writing his song and Ali performs it, during which a whippet-thin Georgia appears as a dancer despite showing during the wedding a few days earlier).
That description of a mistake is a better description of the story of the film than I could've written. It might say something about me that I didn't notice it at the time, or that the movie, despite some glaring problems, is actually somewhat watchable in a campy sort of way. Somewhat watchable, not totally watchable. It begins with Ali (Christina Aguilera) quitting her waitress job, and heading to the big city to be a star. Will she become star? Well, yes, kinda. She finds a strange basement entrance to an underground club, the underground club in the world that has an upstairs and  for sale air rights, called Burlesque. Okay, I live in Vegas, so I know about burlesque, and even if I didn't, the Burlesque Hall of Fame, is like, three bus trips from me. This movie has about as much to do about burlesque as I do about, well, burlesque. But, the movie's not about burlesque, it's about this young up-and-comer trying to break her way onto the big stage. Actually, it's basically a long Christina Aguilera music video. Everything in this film has been borrowed from other movies, other bad movies, even. The club being in financial trouble, the girl and boy, Jack (Cam Gigandet) falling for each other, despite the fact he has a girlfriend who's out-of-town,  the aforementioned pregnant dancer, Georgia (Julianne Hough) having to quit, temporarily, the mean/jealous dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell), the owner. Tess (Cher, and boy is it good to see her again, even in this it's good to see her again) an ex-performer who's struggling to save the club, her ex-husband Vince, (Peter Gallagher) trying to sell the club, and her gay best friend played by Stanley Tucci, Sean (Tucci can play this role in his sleep, he's done it so often now; I'm just happy he doesn't, even in this). Some of the music is good, a lot of it is lipsynced, probably some of it that isn't lipsynced is lipsynced as well. The film won Diane Warren a Golden Globe for the Cher song "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," and it was a good song, but it's also now become synonomous with a failed joke at the Oscars later that year, when a plan for James Franco to come out in Cher drag and perform the song got scratched when it wasn't nominated, although they for some reason kept the gag of James Franco wearing a dress, without the set-up or punchline. Christina Aguilera doesn't do enough acting to really analyze her work here, and with her musical talents, why should she act? Although, it's actually quite convenient that this backwater Texas girl has the talent to perform like Christina Aguilera when the music player goes off. Other than that, she actually didn't do too bad, given the script. I don't know, maybe somewhere there's a good drinking game in "Burlesque," but I don't want to watch it again sober, to come up with it. Maybe buy the soundtrack.

BLUEBEARD (2010) Director: Catherine Breillat

4 STARS



This is the 2nd film in Catherine Breillat's fairy tale trilogy; I reviewed "The Sleeping Beauty," awhile back, this is "Bluebeard," but I must admit, I'm coming into it a little behind the 8-ball. I'm a huge Catherine Breillat fan, so I'm always excited by that, however I actually don't know the story of "Bluebeard". I know most of the  famous fairy tales, or at least I thought I did until now. Apparently it's a more common one in France, and while I'm start learning about it, I think I buy that, partly from the film, I can easily presume that this story must transfer better over there, and also, I asked a few friends and family of mine, and most of them never heard of it either, and many of them couldn't tell me the story, and a few of them confused it with Blackbeard, the pirate. So this is essentially my introduction to the fairy tale, and well, I think Catherine Breillat should definitely not be the storyteller to introduce this tale to me, but that's the position I'm in, so it's her twisted version of it I get. Maybe because of that, it forced me to pay more attention, but whatever the case, I actually wound up, enjoying the film, rather immensley. The story of "Bluebeard," is read to us by two young sisters, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), who play up in an attic, and occasionally interupt and argue their own variations on the tale. The story begins with sisters Anne (Daphne Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Cretin), being kicked out of private school after their father's death. They live up near the infamous, ugly aristocrat, Bluebeard, (Dominique Thomas) who's rich,  but seems to have trouble keeping wives. He's had a few, but they've gone missing, and numerous rumors are abound as to why. Nevertheless Marie agrees to marry Bluebeard, and begins working over the castle a bit, creating her own little niche for herself, something that at first seems to please Bluebeard, so much so, that he even gives her a key at one point to the mysterious basement of his where all the secrets lie, with instructions not to go in. (Like those instructions have ever been followed). I gave a more so-so review to "The Sleeping Beauty," I'm giving a better one to this second of Breillat's trilogy, mainly though, I think the story is much more interesting. I was never the biggest fan of any incarnation of "Sleeping Beauty," even with Breillat's modern-day twist to it at the end, but I think because she sticks in world of fairy tale, and tells the story, a modified version, I imagine, but she sticks to that world and tale for most of the film, that it became more interesting to get caught up in that world, and it provides a good contrast to the real world of the two sisters reading the story, which, and I won't give it away, but there's a twist ending to them as well. So, big recommendation for "Bluebeard," now to go scour for the original story.

HISTOIRES DU CINEMA (1988-1997) Director: Jean-Luc Godard

4 1/2 STARS

Starting in 1988, Jean-Luc Godard began sporadically making half-hour TV specials on the history of film, these have been titled "Histoires du Cinema", they finally been put together as a package, and if you really are interested in learning the history of film, I would not start with Godard. I love him, but Godard films are mainly for the advanced filmgoer to begin with, and "Histoire du Cinema," which seems at times to be mostly a compilation of images from screen history with occasional words, quotes, sound, some shots of Godard typing on a typewriter and doing other studying features, and it won't be understandable to the casual moviegoer. Godard, unlike many of his New Wave contemporaries, Truffaut in particular, continue to become more and more radical in his storytelling approaches over the years, in a search for the true essence of film. His last film "Film: Socialisme," could be used as his quintessential example, if anybody were tolerant enough to sit through the damn thing. It's tricky to sit through "Histoire du Cinema" at first, it took me a couple weeks to see them all, but eventually, what happens is that, you start to emotionally follow the language of film that Godard uses. I would equate it to, taking your first foreign language class, and the teacher, insisting not speaking to you in your native language, in my case English, but in the language he's teaching, and only in the language he's teaching. Does the teacher think he's teaching the advance class? Are you in the right class? What's he saying? Does he know we only speak English? Weird confused, but we follow along and continue, and through the constant talking and listening to him speaking in the other language, we begin to learn certain things, and after a few weeks, he asks the class in English, "So, how much do you guys know?" The more familiar you are with the language, the more you'll understand it, and comprehend. Film is like that, particularly Godard's but everybody's really, and the whole history of film, all film, is how we slice images together to tell a story. Godard, has his own place in the history of cinema, and he knows his. Being a former critic, he was always conscious of his work in that sense. His love of film is one of the aspects of him, and "Histoire du Cinema," is as much about his lifelong journey to fully comprehend film as it is, the history of film itself. If you have some familiarity with Godard's work beforehand, it's worth seeking out, although it can be tricky to find, fair warning. To others, seek it out as well, but I would recommend a few books first, but learning the language as you go might work as well.

BLOODY SUNDAY (2002) Director: Paul Greengrass

5 STARS

Paul Greengrass is one of the greats at filming using handheld cameras. Usually, I'm against it, as most of the filmmakers who insist upon it, end up with a jittery image that can be annoying at minimum, and nausea-inducing at it's worse. When, done well though, they can be spectacular, especially for recreating the reality of events. Similar to a look of a documentary. Greengrass's best film was the unforgettable "United 93", which showed the events of 9/11 from numerous perspectives of those who were actually involved (In many cases, he casted real people to play themselves), and a ficticious account of what might have happen on the doomed plane where the passengers fought back, and landed in that Western Pennsylvania field. You can see a lot of the same technique in "Bloody Sunday," named after the infamous massacre of Civil Rights activists during a peace protest in Northern Ireland on Jan. 30 1972. The incident left 13 dead and 14 injured, and famously inspired the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The incident is shown from multiple perspectives. The protests leader was a member of Parliament, Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), and the main reason I have for mentioning his character is that it's the only one portrayed by an actor that I recognized. Nesbitt's probably most famous for British television programs, my favorite would be "Cold Feet". He wants the protest to occur, but peacefully, and tries to use his power and prestige to make that happen, even as signs around begin showing that things are starting to go wrong. More aggresive troops that typical for this situation are brought in, as well as sharpshooters for fear of involvment from the IRA, causing a ruckus in the crowd, while most of them spent most of the day, trying to simply figure out the best places to set up, just in case they're needed. The police headquarters thinks the over-protection is needed, and is trying to strategize, unaware that they've mistaken some of the routes and information from the protestors about the travels. There's a lot going on, and the film can be chaotic, but it's intentional. Greengrass smartly keeps fading in and out from scene to scene, as what important gets noted and/or revealed. That kind of a bold mood, most people I know advise fade out in the middle of a movie, but here  it brings with them, an eerie sense of inevitability, and one thing after another goes wrong. It's clear the British troops were most in the wrong. No one was ever convicted of any crimes for the incident, in fact, the troops were honored by the Queen. Cooper sees one of his close friend's get his head blown off, and he isn't just a figurehead leader, he's right in the middle of the action, doing everything he can, not the least of which, risking his own life by getting caught in the crossfire. By the end, at a very difficult press conference, he doesn't even have the heart to discourage youths from joining the IRA after tonight. He spent the day train to paint the moment as equal to those of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. A check on wikipedia finds that he moved away from politics after the event, but he was one of the founding members of the Social Democrats, one of the three main political parties in England right now. I admire people like him who aim high, but sometimes, they underestimate just how low their opponents are willing to go.

LOVER'S PRAYER (2001) Director: Reverge Anselmo

1 1/2 STARS

Not given an American theatrical release, "Lover's Prayer," is also known by it's original title, "All Forgotten," which is a good description of just how much thought people who've seen this movie will give it afterwards. I will try my best to recall what I can from this sleepy, slow, boring period piece. It's the kind of movie that has a voiceover, for no reason. I think it has it, because without it, no member of the audience would've had a vested interest in sitting through it awake. Unfortunately, the voice over sucks, and does almost nothing but reiterate what just happened on the screen, so that was beyond useless. The voiceover is Vladimir's (Nick Stahl), a young man in a well-off area of, eh, Russia, I think. Maybe? Who the hell knows. Anyway, he begins to fall for a Russian princess's daughter, who's next door. (And who hasn't had that happen to them?) The Princess Zaseykin (Julie Walters) is nice although somewhat demanding. Her daughter, Zinaida (Kirsten Dunst) is quite beautiful and Ivan has taken to a little mild peeping tomfoolery with her. He's bad at it, and keeps getting caught. Luckily, she seems nice, although she's not willing to fall so in love with him and he does with her, but she enjoys roping him along for awhile. At one point, she even convinces Ivan to fall from a very high tree, nearly breaking his back. Why is he willing to do all this? Well, she does look like Kirsten Dunst, and not the Dunst from "Spider-Man", with the red hair that completely wrong on her, so I can understand that I guess. The numerous warnings he recieves about her from others should've been a clue, but they never are. She's a tease to him, and practically a whore to others, particularly one older gentleman. Maybe if the film was from her point-of-view, we might have gotten an interesting characters at least. (Believe it or not, she's not that interesting here) There's not that much that's interesting here. The director is Reverge Anselmo, who I've never heard of. He's directed three movies including this one, all of which I've never heard, of (Well, I might've heard of "The Outfitters," but I can't remember now). He was a producer on "The Squid and the Whale," that's his best credit as far as I can see. That's also the last thing he's done, and that was seven years ago. It seems like he's faded away from the business since, and after watching "Lover's Prayer," I think it's safe to presume that, that's a good thing.
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