Saturday, December 8, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #50: "THE AVENGERS", "WARRIORS OF THE RAINBOW: SEEDIQ BALE", "HERE", "NEDS" and, well, ONE MORE! (I'll explain)

Well, a few different things have happened that has led to what is by far, more shortest Random Weekly Movie Review update. The first thing is that, I've had to return two DVDs this week to Netflix, because they were broken, which has backlogged my queue badly, but worse than that, I haven't been able to finish watching the movies I need to, and more than that, I've also been overloaded in TV series I'm catching up. Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm in the middle of the seventh season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the second season of "Justified," and the second season of "Damages", all at the same time. I'm trying to get through "Damages," and "Curb..." on my own, "Justified," I watch with my mother, and she isn't always interested, and that was one of the broken blu-rays I got in the mail, the first disk, when I already possessed, so that sucked. Other than that, I've watched as many movies as I can, but I haven't been able to get to the library this week, which is usually where I stream most movies, (I can stream here, but I'm usually watching DVDs at home.) which btw, has led to a few late fees, I'm not proud of, but I can't over there like I used to, where, especially on the weekends, I can watch, up to 3 or 4 movies some days. On top of this, a couple of the other movies I have watched, were TV movies. One was the HBO film "Too Big to Fail", which has an all-star cast, led by William Hurt, casted as Hank Paulsen, and is about the financial crisis in '08, and everything that happened behind those doors at the Federal Reserve. There are definitely some good performances in it, I think Paul Giamatti and Cynthia Nixon gave the most interesting, but the film fell a little flat for me, unfortunately. What was really, interesting about that whole period that wasn't touched on as much, maybe on purpose, or it wasn't touched on well at least, was how the policies that Paulsen, essentially was one of the godfathers of, back in the '80s, the deregulation of Wall Street and banks, were what, led to the culture of Wall Street today, and the financial collapse, and what really was startling was how, against his own ideals, giving this money to the free market, the TARP programs and other such actions were to Paulsen, and the real conundrum of his whole ideals that he had to cope with during those times, it dwell on that as well as it could, but worse than that, a lot of the dialogue, especially the exposition, which some of it was just, film-stoppingly bad, really should've been a little sharper than it was. I was disappointed in it. The other TV movie, was the three-hour plus, documentary "George Harrison: Living in the Material World", which I thought was, a little too long, but it was quite wonderful. It was directed by Martin Scorsese, he's had a few good documentaries the last couple years. (Not many people have seen "Public Speaking" for some reason, his wonderful film on Fran Lebowitz, they should've of.) This film encompassed, all of George Harrison's life, and arguably, he might have been the most interesting Beatle. The philosophical, the humanitarian one, to some extent, this amazing life that he lived, and this very complex contrast of him, always personally searching for, not really God per se, but this spiritualness, that led to Ravi Shankar in India, and the hari krishna's and his use of mantras in his, amazing stuff, everything from his life was shown, very encompassing documentary, definitely was impressed with it. Did take up, almost four of my normal time for watching films, but that's what I've been up.

So, that why, this is by far, my shortest Random Weekly Movie Reviews, to date. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, I'll have way more movies to review for all of you next week, and besides that, I've got a lot of big blogposts planned. More update on my "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME" poll, are upcoming, for instance, and that's getting bigger and bigger each day, and also, Award season is coming up, I'm absolutely paying attention, and yes, more than that, The OYL Awards, are coming back, we will be giving those out in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, there aren't as many as normal, but it's what I got, and most of them are newer film, so, onto the Movie Reviews!

THE AVENGERS (2012) Director Joss Whedon

2 1/2 STARS

No movie in recent history has been setup so well for disappointment than "The Avengers". How could it not be, even if it was a good movie, it's been built up for years, through, I don't know how many movies now, I lost track. I never really understood the appeal actually, of these comic book superteams of heroes. Not that I'm a comic book fan to begin with, but it seems to me, that it's far more interesting to profile just one hero, fighting against the, whatever, evil powers are out there. That way, we get to dig into the superhero's psyche, and really care. The original movies, for the most part, weren't that bad at doing it. I haven't seen "The Incredible Hulk" yet, so I can't fully comment on that one, "Thor," was the best of the movies, with "Iron Man 2" being a close second. I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of Joss Whedon, directing, and writing this film, (and the next few Avengers films) If I'm not his biggest critic, I'd liked to know who's more annoyed by him than me, 'cause I can't figured out why anybody thinks he, even remotely good. The last thing he did that I reasonably liked, was the screenplay to "Titan: A.E.", which was about a decade ago, and let's face it, in hindsight, it was good, but underwhelming. The animation helped that film a lot. As "The Avengers" begins, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has come to Earth, through a portal that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been working on, and being demi-god, he's causing chaos, including using some kind of mind-control on Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and turning S.H.I.E.L.D. member Clint Barton (Jeremy Barton), also known as Hawkeye. (Wait, who is the hell is "Hawkeye"? Did I miss a movie, or did they not make that one yet? And why is he so insistant on sticking with bow and arrows as a weapons. There's lasers and guns all around them, and not much of a suit. The mechanics of using a gun and a bow and arrow, aren't that different, if you can use a bow and arrow well, you can certainly shoot a surface-to-air grenade launcher fairly easily, right-, oh forget it. Anyway that annoyed me.) His sudden turning particularly frustrated Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), who's apparently had some past with Hawkeye. They find her back in her native Russia doing spywork, when she's called in to help start rounding up "The Avengers", to take out Loki. That's a little weird since Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was able to beat his brother in the last film, but unfortunately, he's unavailable at the moment. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Richard Stark, has just built a monument to himself, in Manhattan, although, more accurately, it's a tribute to green energy, which he has taken over since, cutting down his work in weapons manufacturing. It's also got his name in bright lights at the top of the monstrosity, and Gwyneth Paltrow as the loyal Pepper Potts is still around, to waste her acting ability on scenes where she's on the phone with Stark or watching him on television in an airplane. (I swear, I forget sometimes these days, that Paltrow has an Oscar) Dr. Bruce Banner was replaced from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo here, which, I think would've been my first choice originally. If there's a great acting performance in the film, I think it's Ruffalo's, who has the part, with the most inner conflict to play. They're naturally concerned, about bringing him along, but after Loki steals the tesseract, the thing that's important, that control the computer or something that goes through space, or something...- I don't know, I always thought a tesseract was the fifth dimension, or at least that's the only thing I remember from reading "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle in 4th or 5th grade. Anyway, back to gathering up "The Avengers". Captain America (Chris Evans) is of course, protected at S.H.I.E.L.D to begin with, still trying to adjust to modern times and let out his frustrations on some unfortunate punching bags. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) still has to handle politics both between the shadowed members of government (One of them is play by Jenny Agutter btw, in a what-did-she-play? credit at the end), and between the Avengers themselves, who quickly seem to get on each other nerves while not fighting the forces of evil. You'd think they'd come together more willingly under that kind of pressure, wouldn't you? And btw, why is this a secret project that S.H.I.E.L.D. was trying to hide from others and develop quietly? I mean, all it is basically is "In Case of Emergency, get all the superheroes togethers." This shouldn't be hard or require some discussion. Why isn't that just Plan A actually? I guess the movie is relatively entertaining for much of the time, but then, it runs into some strange anomalies, like, not onl,y how did Bruce Banner find a motorcycle, but how was he able to go through Manhattan unscaved during the time of day when an intergalactic Army is blowing everything up, and roll, right on Broadway, meeting the rest of "The Avengers", in the process, especially from where he was, when we last saw him? Or, would the American people really be that two-sided on whether "The Avengers" were good, especially after they save the world from total annihilation? So a few buildings need reconstruction, eh, big deal. It seems like everytime they do something right, they then hit a wrong note. Sorry Marvel, I was underwhelmed, and I underimpressed. The more I think about it, the less it works, so I can't quite recommend it even. Go watch "Iron Man 2" go watch some of the other superhero films, they were more fun than "The Avengers" is.

WARRIORS OF THE RAINBOW: SEEDIQ BALE (2012) Director: Te-Sheng Wui

4 STARS



I guess I shouldn't be surprised to learn that once upon a time, Japan had one time, had occupied Taiwan, and fairly recently actually. A lot of Southeast Asia has been invaded and occupied by foreign powers, for pretty much the entirety of their existance in one form or another. Japan occupied Taiwan for about thirty years, during the early part of last century. The Seediq are the Ancient people of Taiwan, similar to our Native Americans or Australia's Aborigines. Although they're tradion of face tattoos reminds me of the Maori people of New Zealand. "Warrior of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale", which made the final nine shortlist for the Foreign Language Oscar last year, as Taiwan's entry, chronicles the true story, of the Seediq's uprising against the Japanese. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but they held their ground after getting a little too frustrated at some of Japan's practices, that basically outlawed their old traditions. "Seediq Bale", is the term given to their face tattoos, which interprets to "true humans". The had practically enslaved many of them already, but that was apparently what crossed the line for them. I had a hard time following the characters in the film. There's a lot, and unfortunately, I couldn't exactly differentiate between actors much. All I really needed to do however was sit back, and let the movie flow over you like a classic epic, perhaps like "Dances With Wolves", to use a comparative example, or maybe even "300," structure-wise. The battle, the strategy the fighting, it's overall confusing, but it was visually stunning. The Japanese, pretty much confused by they're strategies and lost nearly thousands of men, as the Seediq, defended their land, with drastically only a few hundred. The movie is shown mostly through the eyes of Mona Rudao, a young man, who was once beaten by the Japanese insurgent police, for offering them wine, because he his hands weren't considered clean. He's the one who eventually rises up the Army to attack the Japanese, in what became known as the Wushe Incident. "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale", is not the greatest of these kinds of epics. It's a little too long, but it's quite strong however. I've seen a few films from Taiwan, including a lot from their most famous director, the great Ang Lee, but none of them looked like this. I've never seen a Taiwan like this. I've never heard of these people, or this incident until I watched film. That's probably my fault for the lack of knowledge, but if this is how I learn about it, I'm exceptionally pleased. The Seediq were worshippers of rainbows. The Japanese are sunworshippers. An anonymous description on the imdb.com page of the movie, notes that "they actually believed in the same sky." I appreciate the poetry, but isn't that always the way, they two groups that fight have a lot more in common then they'd like to admit? Still, I can see his point.

HERE (2012) Director: Braden King

3 STARS

"Here" is Armenia, in this independent film by first-time feature film by documentarian Braden King, and other than the fact it is in Armenia, it's mostly a typical Indy romance film. Not a bad one, but not a good one either. The movie's romance is between Will Sheperd (Ben Foster) a mapmaker who's trying to correctly fill out the map for Google or one of those other websites, and Gadarine (Lubna Azabal) who's a beautiful photographer he meets, originally at a coffeeshop, and eventually they end up working together a lot, as she often shows him the land. They eventually start a romance, and from there, their couldn't be a more predictable film. In fact, I dare people to tell me how the movie would've been different if say, these were two people who happen to meet in a coffeeshop in Times Square and started a romance, or any other place. The location is critical. It was shot in Armenia, and the movie is slow enough to let us enjoy seeing this country that many people would have trouble locating on a globe. The movie was on my Netflix to begin with, but jumped a bit, after last week when it recieved a Spirit Award nomination for Best Cinematography. That's often a category where Independent films, that aren't nearly as good as other have tendency to get put into. I was at the premiere years ago of "Wild Tigers I Have Known," at the now-defunct CineVegas Film Festival, a movie that is disturbing and unwatchable, but the cinematography was superb, and it snuck into the category. "Here" is supremely better than that movie, but it's still quite flawed. Peter Coyote's voice is often interrupts the movie every 15-20 minutes or so, to narrate, some meandering about life or something, most of the time I didn't see how it had anything to do with the film, but it was there, possibly because King wasn't sure that the movie would be interesting enough on it's own to keep an audience entertain. I'm not gonna claim, that if that was the case, that he's wrong, but I don't think it was needed. For decent road movies, all you really need is an exotic location, some mobile crew and camera, and a journey. Possibly a reason to have it, although that's optional. I don't know if he needed the romance, Azabal is a beautfil and amazing actress who's quite good here. She's been in other movies like "Incendies," the amazing Canadian film that got a Foreign Language Oscar nomination a couple years ago a film, as well as recent Hollywood films "Body of Lies" and "Coriolanus". (Alright, technically "Coriolanus" was a British, but I call everything in English, with a big budget, Hollywood, and I think it's fair to do that.) I don't think I'll have a need to see "Here" ever again, but although it's close, I think overall, I'm glad I saw it, so recommendation, despite a bunch of flaws and cliches. Easily the best romance film I've ever seen that was shot in Armenia, so far as I know.

NEDS (2011) Director: Peter Mullan

2 STARS

When Young John McGill (Greg Forrest) first enters school, a bully walks up to him and threatens his life. This seems to be the norm. John isn't much liked to begin with, as his older brother, Benny (Joe Szula) is notorious at his school. He's now, in-and-out of jail on a regular basis. At first, it seems like John is nothing like his brother. The school is your typical Scottish Catholic school, with rigid teachers who still believe in capital punishment, although John is a good student, moving up quickly to the higher classes, and is often looked upon as a smart kid in the class. Then one summer he comes back to school, as a teenager (Conor McCarron) and now John is rebelious, non-communicative and angry. I never did understand why kids would want to get into trouble. They seem to look for it sometimes, like it's fun, especially when during a long summer when there's nothing else to do. "NEDS", is an acronym, for "Non-Educated Delinquints", which is the term often referred to these kids, who split from school, out of anger or whatever, and never really come back from it. The film was directed by Peter Mullas, who made "The Magdalene Sisters," which I finally got around to watching recently, and was a little disappointed in "NEDS". Very disappointed. It's not there wasn't a point or a lesson from watching "NEDS", but it was so generic, that I honestly couldn't care about anything in it. Take for instance, the abusive drunk father, (the film's director, Peter Mullan) is hardly seen at all, until finally, there are scenes where he's needed to beat up somebody while drunk, or get beaten back while drunk. He's always drunk, and if he was saying anything beforehand, the rest of the household seemed fit to ignore him until they couldn't anymore. Soon, John, like his brother, is out on the cold street. The movie takes place over only a few years from '72-'74, I've been told, in Mullan's home town of Glasgow, Scotland, where he grew up. I don't doubt much that this is a rather accurate portrayal of his coming-of-age at that time. Many of the top reviews I'm able to look up on rottentomatoes.com, apparently are written by people who also grew up in that time and place, and related more strongly to it. Oddly, I think I had trouble relating to "NEDS", because it was so personal, as oppose to Mullan's previous film, which almost seemed like a research journalistic portrayal. My main issue though, was that I think the film was just a little too predictable, and I was kinda hoping for something else. I've seen this story and film, many times before, and frankly, I've seen it done better. There's a few strange surrealistic twists in an otherwise traditional film, that I found puzzling. The first involves a hallucination involving a fight with Jesus Christ. The other is the bizarre ending, which I just, didn't understand. I'm not sure if I wanted to find some comfort in symbolism, I would but, by that time, I, had given up on John. Thankfully, some of his teachers and family, we're debating whether to give up on him, but I really had some trouble grasping at this film. It's seems like all the points are there, but it seemed harder for me to connect them. Points for authenticity, I guess. The movie is so Scottish, that the film has subtitles, despite the fact, that it's in English. It's just too thick an accent for some to understand. By the end of this movie, I thought the action, was falling down too long, instead, pushing up long enough. I can't quite bring myself to recommend it; it just wasn't as fascinating to watch, as is should have, and that disturbed me, and worse yet, I could figure out why it was doing that.

SANJURO (1963) Director: Akira Kurosawa

4 STARS

Sanjuro Tsubaki (Toshiro Mifune) must seem like a man amongst fools most of the time. He is a master samurai swordsmen, but even more than that, he is skilled at the workings of the intellectual minds. When he walks in on a meeting, between seven men, who are meeting supposedly in secret to consider overthrowing their ruler, because of a lower government agent has convinced them otherwise, Sanjuro quickly realizes they're on the wrong side, by describing their actions. He also realizes almost as quickly, and just in time, that they're meeting is a set-up for an ambush, but those who they were just ready to protect, no less than five minutes earlier. Why did they think this? Apparently, the other guy looked and seemed more confident, like he should be the ruler, as opposed to the older ruler, who claimed that he wasn't crooked, but the other guy was. Sanjuro manages to hide the poor simpletons under the floorboards and holds off the attack. "Sanjuro" means, "30-Year-Old," in Japanese, although he's clearly older, and has admitted such, and he was the hero of Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", a film, I'll be writing a Canon of Film entry on soon, which is one of the most Western-like movie he ever made. That movie also had our lone samurai hero, clearly miles more skillful and observant than anybody in the town. Here, "Sanjuro" observes carefully and helps the people who are now apparently his seven dwarfs, (well, they might as well be) and he finds a few ways to try and manipulate his way up the ladder, and take out this corrupt leader and his entire guarded compound, which has an army the size of a small city. Seriously, how exactly did they not figure that this guy was corrupt? "Sanjuro" isn't looked upon as highly as "Yojimbo", and depending on who you ask, the film is either underrated or overrated. I think I personally prefer "Sanjuro" to "Yojimbo", although neither would rank among my favorites in the Kurosawa canon. I always found "Yojimbo" strange, until I took a closer look at it, and now, I find it even stranger. With "Sanjuro" at least, I got the joke, and it is a joke. These films are comedies. They have to be, how else can everybody other than the protagonist be so consistently misguided and wrong, about everything, and how does Sanjuro, who seems to be a traveler, continually comes across places and people such as these, that all seem to be in some kind of fued or battle for power? I think Kurosawa is as much making fun of the American western genre with these films. He's making fun of it out of love, but I think it makes it more interesting. It always these films entirely unique, except, of course for the westerns that were remakes of them.
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