Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Eight years of being raised by humans and now left behind in an abusive sanctuary, a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee will lead a revolution of apes towards freedom from man's torturous exploitation. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Visual Effects

As I was catching up with Oscar nominated films, I could only think how many overrated films 2011 has given us; I dunno what was wrong with critics the past year, or maybe it's just me: how is it that Rise of the Planet of the Apes got so many good reviews?? Ok, so maybe Andy Serkis's work IS revolutionary from a technical perspective, but the film is crap, one of the worst written movies of the year!

The visual effects themselves are not so impressive, so let's not imagine that this is on an Avatar level. They're ok and I can understand the nomination. But all the other aspects make for a gigantic mess: the screenplay is RIDICULOUS, with screenplay gaps like never before (brilliant scientists were making tests for weeks on a female chimp and they couldn't tell she was expecting?! :)), just to give an example). All the humans in this film are complete idiots; and the acting isn't helping either. John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton and especially James Franco (!) deliver AWFUL performances. The directing is a mess (nobody ages over the course of 8 years, obviously; they don't even change their hairstyle; none) and the action scenes are held back until too late in the film.

My rating for the film: 3.5/10. I don't understand the fans of this.

Rango (2011)

Seen on December 28th, 2011

Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Animated Feature (WINNER)

It really wasn't a great year for animation, right? I haven't seen most of them yet, but I hear people saying that a lot and I suspect they're right. I'm usually up for a great animation, let's just remember that my favorite 2010 film was the instant classic Toy Story 3... But this year we have Rango. It's gonna win the Oscar, it might actually deserve it, it's not a bad film, but not a memorable one either.

The 2 elements about it that stand out are the technical part which is quite impressive if you pay attention and some funny lines from the screenplay. It's creative, it gets better towards the ending, but it still lacks a likeability factor that would make me actually love it. Maybe because it's about a... chameleon? It could be. Though I probably don't like it so much because of how slow the first part is and it did test my patience.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. Hey, at least it wasn't a princess fairytale... It does feel more different that many others.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Seen on December 26th, 2011

Harry, Ron and Hermione search for Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Art Direction
Best Visual Effects
Best Makeup

...And it has finally reached an end. I really hope 10 years from now someone will make a mini-series adaptation of the Harry Potter books, something in like 20 episodes so that the ones who haven't read the books (myself included) could understand a bit what this was all about. This final chapter might just be the messiest of them all, with gigantic plot holes for anyone who bothered to follow the story.

And of course the screenplay has to be blamed for this. I'm sure there was a lot of screenplay editing going on, but I'm convinced they could've done a better job. The Oscar nominations make sense and I have to mention Ralph Fiennes, who gives by far the best acting performance of the entire series, not just this film. He is FANTASTIC, and an Oscar nomination should've followed; seriously. I'm not that impressed with Alan Rickman here, though many seem to be.

The film is a confusing piece of work, with a couple of good scenes (anything with Voldemort), but mostly very poor writing & directing choices. Don't even get me started on the ending, which is ridiculous to say the least.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Not a film to go down in history; let's move on.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Drive (2011)

Seen on November 27th, 2011

A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Sound Editing

This film was probably the biggest pleasant surprise I've had all year, because I wasn't prepared for the stylish action classic film it is. It's such an unusual, intense, original film, with incredible direction, fantastic cinematography and good performances. I am disappointed that Oscars didn't give it the attention it deserved.

At least they could've went for Albert Brooks, which is quite great in a flashy supporting performance. Ryan is perfect for the role, his character is less showy, but he does his best with what's given. The real star of the film, however, is director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has grown a lot as an artist since Bronson, that weird Tom Hardy film from 2008. Drive is almost perfectly put together, with a fantastic care for detail and a clear point of view.

My rating for the film: 9/10. I am not sure if Carey Mulligan was right for the part, I kinda wish they'd chosen another actress.

The Ides of March (2011)

Seen on December 13th, 2011

An idealistic staffer for a presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Adapted Screenplay

I was really hoping this film won't get nominated for anything, so that I won't have to write about it and justify the rating I'm about to give it. I know I stand alone here and I need to defend myself, but to me this is by far the worst Not-so-obviously-awful film of the year; it was a failure, a mass of clichés thrown in together and made up to look like something interesting and new.

I rolled my eyes at the cheating candidate theme, Marisa Tomei gives one of her most boring, clichéd performances in a stupid role, the writing is just silly, either completely predictable (the suicide) or filled with dialogue that would never happen (the confrontation). I blame Clooney for this: for writing a lazy screenplay and directing it in a lazy way. Ryan is fine, Philip Seymour Hoffman is fine, but this film annoyed me a lot.

My rating for the film: 4/10. Clooney, put some effort into it the next time!

Bridesmaids (2011)

Seen on October 20th, 2011

Competition between the maid of honor and a bridesmaid, over who is the bride's best friend, creates chaos right before the big wedding. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy
Best Original Screenplay

It needs to be said that I liked this more than I liked The Hangover, I thought it was very funny in a silly way, and it's the kind of movie that I recommend to everyone - because everyone seems to enjoy it. I rarely laugh while watching a film, and this definitely had me smiling and laughing from start to ending.

Oscar got it right with the 2 nominations: Melissa McCarthy is my favorite of the Supporting Actress line-up, she is so damn funny and makes those crazy lines into classic quotes; her character introduction is simply fantastic. She'd get my vote. Bridesmaids was lucky that this year's Original Screenplay category was quite weak, because it secured a nomination early on; I'm not saying it doesn't deserve it, I actually prefer it to Artist or Midnight in Paris, just that Oscar doesn't tend to recognize this type of writing. And I'm happy it did this time: the film is one funny scene after another, with the kind of jokes that I like.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. It can be easily described as a silly comedy that's not to be taken serious, but I've enjoyed it a lot.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Seen on October 16th, 2011

The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Visual Effects
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

I must confess the Transformers series is one of my guilty pleasures; the first one was the best, no doubt about it. The second one had big writing issues and this one... well, sure, plenty of annoying characters, but the visual effects are fantastic, with the last 30-40 minutes as a series of one stunning visual effect after the other. For me, it was probably one of the most relaxing actions flicks of 2011.

Unfortunately, it has no chance of winning anything... the first Transformers lost the Visual Effects Oscar to the talking bear from Golden Compass and this Transformers will probably lose the award to the talking ape from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The acting is all over the place: I like Shia LaBeouf and he always does the best he can, while Turturro & Frances McDormand are simply awful and Razzie-worthy.

My rating for the film: 6/10. Those who appreciate an unpretentious summer movie will like it; but the screenplay is often enough nonsense.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rio (2011)

When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure in Rio de Janeiro. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:

Best Original Song

We can all agree how messy this years's Original Song category was, with only 2 nominees... ridiculous! But this nomination for the film was the only motivation I had to see Rio, and it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. Getting back to the song: it's ok, it's nicely used in the film, especially at the ending and, as I still have to see Muppets, I can't say if it deserves to win or not.

Rio doesn't really bring anything new to the table; it's colorful, but otherwise nothing too impressive in the visual department. The characters are nice, but not so memorable, and Jesse Eisenberg's voice for the leading character was distracting to me: I don't think he was the right choice to carry the film. On the good side is the some of the writing: there were 2 or 3 scenes where I laughed (I think all of them had to do with the monkeys) and there is a REALLY touching scene that maybe should've been exploited more: when the chain is cut and Blu is left behind watching as the others fly away... it was unexpectedly heartbreaking and you could feel the loneliness of the character.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Could've been better; unfortunately the human characters are poorly constructed.

Moneyball (2011)

The story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Actor: Brad Pitt
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Editing
Best Sound Mixing

Just like your regular European guy, I know nothing about Baseball, I don't know the rules of the game, I don't know the teams; it's strictly American. But otherwise, I love competitions in general, and you don't have to be a baseball expert to enjoy Moneyball. This is a smart film, one of the smartest I've seen in the past year.

I'm happy for Brad and the wonderful year he's had, with this & Tree of Life, both as producer and actor. I really admire his career, because he consistently gives good performances, sometimes even great ones. In Moneyball, he gives one of his most likeable performances yet; it's not a ground-breaking one, but it's so damn natural and he makes it look so easy: from delivering the lines that aren't always so flexible to the way he moves his hands or talks on the phone. He was very much connected to the character and this is reassuring for the audience.

The screenplay is good, it has Sorkin's fingerprints all over it, and I'm sure the final version is more his than Zaillian's. Sure, the ending could've been shorter, that's a weakness, but I wasn't bored or anything. The editing is fantastic, the direction is sharp and Jonah Hill... well, I don't see the Oscar potential in his performance, but he does a good job and I liked him (though not enough to justify the nomination).

My rating for the film: 8/10. It's well put together, so I enjoyed it, even if I don't seem to be the target of the film.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Descendants (2011)

Seen on January 18th, 2012

A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident. [imdb]

Nominated for 5 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Director: Alexander Payne
Best Actor: George Clooney
Best Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
Best Editing

It's good to know I've never been much of an Alexander Payne fan and I didn't become one after watching this film. Strangely enough, I guess this IS my type of film and I was definitely charmed by some elements from it. But overall, just like most of the 2011 film, this is also overrated like hell. What's most surprising to me is the amount of awards for Adapted Screenplay, which is an obvious mess at times.

I guess the problem really IS the writing, too many scenes just thrown in there: the guy going back to the hospital and shouting at the wife who's in a coma and clearly not hearing him?! WTF... And that's not the only weird oh-I-am-trying-to-impress writing choice: there's plenty. The verdict with the land is also predictable, while the film does have an incomplete feeling to it.

I generally like Clooney as an actor, I thought all of his previous nominations were GREAT, but this is far from his best. It's not as bad as the haters suggest it, but it's not much of a performance, outside that touching goodbye scene. So, then, what's good about it? The mood, the pace, the fact that it felt relaxed, sometimes enjoyable and easy to watch (like a soap-opera or a bit better). What made this a 6.5 for me (and not a 5, let's say) was Judy Greer's presence, especially in her final scene; she's quite great and, in a limited role, definitely improves the ending of the film, and saving it as much as she can.

My rating for the film: 6.5/10. Another film that doesn't feel like a Best Picture contender.

The Artist (2001)

Seen on January 21st, 2012

Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break. [imdb]

Nominated for 10 Oscars:

Best Picture (WINNER)
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin
Best Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo

Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score (WINNER)
Best Art Direction

Best Costume Design (WINNER)
Best Editing

This is a film I don't feel comfortable talking/writing about; the film itself is a dilemma for me, and also I have no idea how to judge it. If I judge it based on my experience while watching it, then it doesn't sit well at all. If I judge it based on my respect for it, based on my movie-knowledge and stuff like that - then I can easily admit The Artist is an achievement. But what's the right way to look at it?

I don't really like it for one simple reason: it's a silent film and it has all the problems that come with a silent film. Yes, the dog is adorable; Yes, Dujardin gives a wonderful performance, but this doesn't stop the film from looking like it's 60 minutes too long (which is bad for a 100 min film). It really was difficult to watch, and I often hoped it would end sooner; the story is nice, but, by respecting rules & cliches of silent films, it becomes quite predictable.

As I said, the work put into this film is impressive. I liked the direction much more than the film itself, I think Hazanavicius did a fine job, considering the film needed a lot of care for details - and it succeeds. I even liked the ending, which again is to he director's credit. Dujardin is wonderful and I kinda hope he wins on Oscar night. The music is nice and the dog is adorable.

But is it worthy of Best Picture? Probably not. In any other year, I suspect it wouldn't have been a front-runner and The King's Speech (another film I'm not a fan of) would've easily kicked its ass. But this is weak year, and somehow most Academy voters seem to embrace a black-and-white French-produced silent film. How this film got so far in the race is still a mystery to me.

My rating for the film: I have no idea... let's say 7/10*. It would've made a nice SHORT film.

***updated it to a 7, instead of a 6.5

War Horse (2011)

At the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. [wiki]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:

Best Picture
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Art Direction
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

I didn't have any expectations going into this film, I knew very little about the book or about the play - only knew that the play had won the Tony award. And I actually think my lack of info or expectations helped a lot here. What I discovered was a very traditional film, following a familiar structure, but overall it was a very pleasant experience.

I was afraid the film was gonna be all about the boy & the horse, and thankfully it wasn't. Once the war started, it was nice to see new characters and each of them was an interesting discovery. Of course, the screenplay exagerates at times and there's a bit too much epic attempt going on here, but the story is interesting, it rarely gets boring and I was quite curious to see what will happen in the end.

I guess people had too many expectations going into this, which might explain the lack of love from critics AND Oscar. This wouldn't have made it had there been only 5 nominees for Best Picture and the rest of the nominations are for techical stuff, which of course I appreciated. I wouldn't be surprised if it won Sound & Sound Editing, it's a beautifully shot film, nicely put together and with an interesting story.

My rating for the film: 8/10. Maybe a more realistic ending would've gained it more fans.