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Archive for the ‘Film Review’ Category

Hunger Games; A-

I’ve been deliriously swept up in Hunger Games hysteria, to the point where I stayed up all night this week – getting exactly one hour of sleep at 5:30am, which at my age is not as easy to do as it was when I was sixteen – reading the first two books in the trilogy. As I paid the price for my literary madness with a massive sleep deprivation headache the next day, forcing me to call in sick from work because I had trouble walking steadily and forming complete sentences, I finished the third book of the trilogy. The headache is still lingering somewhat the day afterwards, but I’m now rereading the series, or at least the first two books.

As a rabid fan, I had to steel myself to see the movie. I’d read good reviews and a couple lukewarm ones. My strategy would be to set my expectations firmly at mediocre, but to secretly hope that it was going to knock my socks off. Due to scheduling, we booked UltraAVX tickets online for tonight, which was supposed to be better-than-IMAX (basically…seats that lean back and a little more legroom…like coach vs. business class). When we got to the theater, I pointed out that AVX can be pronounced “Avox.” Little inside Hunger Games tidbit.

Anyway, the film was entertaining and fairly faithful to the book, satisfying even to a fan of the books. If I had to nitpick, as any rabid fan would do, I’d point out that Katniss’s hunting outfit looks too trendy and tailored for her poor upbringing. That no one in the film looked hungry, even though most of them are supposed to be on the verge of starvation. That CGI flames and animals detracting from my viewing experience. That some of the children and tributes should have looked more childlike – hard to picture Katniss as 16 and Gale looked nowhere near 18. That I thought that Peeta should have been given more of a personality. At one point, I almost thought of it as a sequel to The Truman Show.

Special mention goes to the actress who played Rue, the pixie-like tribute from District 11. She was more than perfect, and even though she had a small part, she’s very memorable. Also, the tiny scene at the end with the Game Master was a good touch. The acting overall was pretty good and believable. Donald Sutherland and Stanley Tucci were great. The film is a long 2 hours and 22 minutes, but you get so caught up in everything, that you wouldn’t have minded had it been longer. Actually, what the filmmakers could have done was split up all of the books and create their own massive 6-film franchise. I guess they seem to be doing all right as it is.

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One for the Money; B-

Upon learning that I hail from New Jersey, one of my Canadian friends has confessed that everything she (thinks she) knows about the Garden State has come from watching Jersey Shore and reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum book series. We might as well throw in the Sopranos as well. (disclaimer – I know of Jersey Shore and the Sopranos by reputation only)

I wasn’t born in New Jersey, but I have spent, off and on, about seventeen years there. I don’t think I’ve ever developed a regional accent, much to my dismay (I’ve love to have a regional accent). Apparently when I first moved there at age six, I quickly assume my first grade teacher’s thick accent, and was saying things like “dawg” and “cawfee” to my parents’ amusement. After a few weeks, it evened out with my birth Midwestern accent, and now I think I have mostly a generic East Coast accent if anything at all. Recently, after listening to a lot of Taylor Swift, I started talking to some Canadian acquaintances, who immediately laughed at hearing my “New Jersey accent.” Taylor Swift is from PA, not NJ, but for some reason that brought it out of me. Apparently I’m unconsciously affecting a generic Canadian accent now to fit in. To me, that means over-enunciating vowels and hesitatingly over-thinking word choice. Canadian anglophones are always torn between longing to use the Queen’s English and fighting the pervasive influence of the more geographically closer American English. Every time they say something, it’s almost like they’re internally questioning, “Is this correct?” Even native anglophones have trouble with spelling agreement (color vs. colour, favorite vs. favourite, theater vs. theatre). They’re both correct, but which one is correct in “Canadian”?

We went to see the film adaptation of the first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, last night. I wore a plum-coloured twinset to show spirit. Earlier that day, I’d read some terrible reviews and after seeing the unpromising trailer, went to see it with very low expectations. I spent the first twenty minutes trying to stomach the accents – for some reason, the actors assumed that Jersey accents are low-pitched and loose-jawed like Hollywood NY thugs, even though Trenton isn’t that close to NY – but for the most part enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind if there were a sequel. Now I want to reread the books. At least no one said “Joisey.”

Why couldn’t they have gotten any NJ actors? While Katherine Heigl made an effort, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the film was going to end on a “single girl gets an epiphany and ends up a glowing bride” note that many romantic comedies follow. Anne Hathaway, I think, could have a possible choice for Stephanie Plum and Jay Mohr or Taye Diggs could have been in there somewhere. One of the more distinctive NJ accents I’ve seen on television has been Bitty Schram’s – with some aging makeup she could have been Mrs. Plum or even just a dialect coach. The book has a lot of minor characters, so it could have been easy to cram as many NJers in there as possible.

My favourite part? The gratuitous screen coverage of an enormous Rex the hamster, credited at the end as Rex the hamster. There are few animals funnier than hamsters.

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When not eating, cooking, or hunting for the next resto to try, I am watching tv or movies. I remember fondly joining the Netflix.com crowd during college, stopping when I was juggling 4 jobs after college and considered ramen to be a major food group, and then joining again when I realized that I was paying the same amount in overdue library fees for dvds. When I  started earning enough to cut down to three, then two, then finally one job, I began to enjoy Netflix.com instead of feeling it hanging over me like a guilty pleasure. Netflix.com had a large selection of dvds, I always got my first-choice selections, and the turnover time was impressive – once I popped a dvd into a mailbox, I always got the replacement 3 days later.

It was a sad day when I moved to Montreal and realized that Netflix.com hadn’t yet made it up North. I had to settle for Zip.ca, which had a smaller selection of dvds, NEVER gave me my first choice selections (or 2nd…or 25th), was more expensive, and took at least a week to process each returned dvd. Perhaps part of this could be operating strategy, as I find myself sitting on dvds for weeks at a time because they were my 64th choice and I need to rev myself up to be in the mood to watch something like Manon of the Spring. I still use Zip.ca, but it will always be second to Netflix.com.

It was a happy day when I learned that Netflix.ca was starting up, and I was one of the first to join up again. But Netflix.ca is no Netflix.com. Netflix.ca has a tiny collection of videos which are only available for online streaming, not as mail-order dvd. While I enjoy streaming videos as much as the next person, I also enjoy watching every single bonus feature on a dvd, especially all of the commentaries; streaming videos don’t have this feature. You also can’t watch an English film with French subtitles so you can feel like you’re learning French subconsciously.

After two months of Netflix.ca, I had had enough and canceled my membership. Two weeks later, when my internet bill arrived, I had a polite yet firm discussion with my internet provider because I thought someone was stealing my internet – the bill was twice the normal size due to a couple hundred GB worth of downloads. Online gaming? No. After receiving only $20 worth of credit from the company, I afterwards realized that the charges were actually mine and that it was for streaming all of those Monk episodes from Netflix.ca. Bad, bad Netflix.ca!

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My husband and I had tried to see this last week, but it was all sold out. We managed to catch a screening yesterday.

I went in prepared to hate it. I’d bought the book as soon as it had come out, read it from Newark International, during the flight, and finished it by the time we landed in Copenhagen. Afterward, I decided I would rather have paid for those ridiculous headsets to see in-flight movies than carry around the bulky, disappointing tome.

Let me say this first: the film definitely could have done without the gratuitous Harry-Hermione horcrux scene. They still look like kids and lengthy Harry kissing scenes have always been unappetizing.

Emma Watson and Tom Felton – in his tiny role in this film – remain the strongest, cleanest actors. There’s still an age-appropriate doughiness to the two lead boys which is a bit cumbersome on-screen. While Rupert Grint had his moments, like the “little light through the heart” scene, his expressions and motivations are often unintentionally hard to read. Daniel Radcliffe still needs to work on maintaining suspension of disbelief, especially in the frozen pond sequence.  While I enjoy much of Ralph Fiennes’ work elsewhere, he seems miscast as Voldemort, especially when contrasted with his more hot-blooded younger self from the second film. Aside from the lengthy Harry-Hermione-Ron camping scenes, it seems like this film crammed 2-second cameos of almost every character there is in the Potter-verse.

The film improved greatly on the many flaws of the book, and I enjoyed much of it. The camping scenes in particular were stunning, and will probably be soon decimated by rabid fans trying to recreate the exile of Harry Potter and crew. Most of my fears appeased, I look forward to Part Deux…whenever it finally comes out.

Best part about the movie? Seeing the preview for Cowboys and Aliens in the coming attractions.

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In a glut of highly sexualized portrayals of vampirism in cinema (Twilight saga) and tv (True Blood, Vampire Diaries, etc.), the American remake, Let Me In, is a refreshing take on blood-sucking demons of the night. The two main characters are prepubescent twelve, and there isn’t a hint of sex between them (the American remake removed the pedophilic undertone of the Swedish version). Vampirism isn’t cool, it isn’t sexy, and it certainly isn’t limited to two little holes in the neck. Oh no. It’s gory, it’s violent, it’s repulsive. “I’m not a little girl,” Abby tells Owen repeatedly, though it’s hard to remember that when she’s all cleaned up, looking as sweet and innocent as children are not in this film. Less hard is when she’s dripping blood after tearing her screaming victims into pieces.

As my husband points out, the most sympathetic character in the film is the little vampire, Abby. We see her experiencing hunger pains, sad and isolated, and frankly supportive of Owen when no one else is able to help him with his school bullying problem. Owen, the doughy, pre-serial killer little boy next door, enjoys role-playing as predator with a knife when alone. The mother is an out of touch religious fanatic, the father is too distant to listen when Owen attempts to reach out to him, and Abby’s keeper is a serial killer wearing a garbage bag mask. The virile gym teacher is forever distracted and incapable of preventing the constant bullying under his watch.

One glaring flaw was the rather hokey ending sequence at the pool, which was probably camped up for puerile teen audiences. The virgin-birth-like ending, with a bloodied Abby lifting Owen up from the bloodied pool, almost makes up for it. Otherwise, the tone of Let Me In is prevailingly dreary and humorless, and all lines are delivered seriously. One wonders why the old man, Abby’s keeper, continues to hunt for her when she clearly does not require assistance – a relationship more clearly explored in the Swedish version – but it’s not a great conundrum.

The timing of the cinema release couldn’t be better, as bullying is a very hot topic in the States, in the wake of several high profile suicides linked to cyberbullying and incidents of parental outrage. Abby advises the beleaguered Owen that he has to strike back hard at his bullies in order to be left alone. He does, leaving the lead bully with a torn ear. His momentary triumph is then curtailed when the injured bully’s older brother decides to exact his own revenge. What the film is saying is that there really is no way out of being bullied (you’re either the bully or the bullied), unless you have a little vampire friend to rip your bullies into bloody pieces for you.

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9; B

My husband wanted to see it; the preview imagery had scared me silly. I later enjoyed the short film, but was disappointed tonight at the theater – the feature-length version is merely a thinly extended version of the edgy short.

I hadn’t thought that I would, but I enjoyed District 9. Later, when I saw the short film on YouTube, I realized how much better the feature-length film was. The short film didn’t have much plot, it was a little scattered and gritty – everything you’d expect from an Indie short. But the idea was kind of cool; the full-length version had a nod to the original, but in the meantime had an engaging plot, sympathetic character development, and little amusing bits that helped it become a box office and critical success. The extra special effects helped to augment the film, but the acting and script were strong enough to survive without it.

9 did not make similar good use of its time. One of the most powerful parts of the short film was the expressive gesticulation and mute horror from the gaping mouths of the stitchpunks. There was a certain engaging charm to it that worked, akin to the initially wordless WALL*E. The often inane dialogue ruined the edginess from the short.

A more effective preview might have been a wordless extended opening of 9 and 5 scavenging, followed by a short montage. The long film had too much exposition, as well – these post-apocalyptic projects are best left with as little explanation as possible.

I’d recommend you see the film in the theaters if you must, and then afterwards watch the short and dream of what could have been.

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Ponyo; B+

The first Miyazaki film I had ever seen was actually Howls Moving Castle. Then I went back and saw most of his earlier films. My preference of his films are:

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Nausicaa
  3. My Neighbor Totoro
  4. Spirited Away
  5. Ponyo
  6. Kiki’s Flying Delivery Service
  7. Princess Mononoke
  8. Castle in the Sky
  9. Porco Rosso

Ponyo is so simplistic, one could fancy that it is his most highly stylized work. The plot and characters are incredibly simplistic, so much so that I missed the charming animal sidekicks present in his other works. As in Totoro and Kiki’s Flying Delivery Service, I regretted that they dubbed it before giving the audience a chance to experience it in subtitles.

The most interesting character is the crazy old wizard, Ponyo’s father, who has eschewed humanity in favor of protecting the delicate balance of the sea. His overly serious outlook – including raving that a friendship between 5-year olds could have cosmic destructive repercussions – are universally ignored by all of the other characters, including Ponyo’s mother, a sea goddess. He attempts to keep the status quo by suppressing Ponyo’s fascination with humanity, though ironically naming her “Brunhilde” in the English-dubbed version. In one scene, he imprisons Ponyo in a bubble and squeezes on it/her until she reduces in size and reverts back to her magical goldfish state. By attempting to prevent her from growing arms and legs, he is in a sense trying to prevent her puberty and sexual development. He believes that the little boy she has grown to love is evil (sex is bad!), though she is too powerful for him to control for long. This is in keeping with the Japanese fascination with the mystical prepubescent girl-woman, as seen in the spritely Paprika(girl-woman-baby grows…naked…and manages to swallow all of the evil magic and thus saving the world) and in previous Miyazaki films in which a young girl assumes adult responsibility and saves the day/world/boy. I found it disturbing that Ponyo was so obsessed with eating ham, suggesting a sort of bloodlusty carnivorous side which was reinforced by her father later asking her if she’d tasted human blood. She is also obviously the aggressor in her relationship with Sosuke, though she is initially helpless and Sosuke pledges to take care of her.

As is usual, the theme of the absent or irresponsible parent persists. Sosuke’s father attempts to have his 5-year old son “put in a good word for him” with his mother when he stays out too long at sea; in response, the mother throws a fit on the bed like a teenager and it’s Sosuke who has to cheer her up and get her to actually take care of him. She’s repeatedly shown as a reckless driver, at one point speeding down a steep hill and turning completely to the side to share an ice cream cone with Sosuke, and she also speeds towards the flooding to help out at the retirement home, thus leaving her 5-year old to take care of himself and his strange 5-year old friend.

Contrasted to the erratic behavior of the parents, Sosuke is the most mature figure in the film. He seriously tells another girl at school that he has a job to do, protecting and caring for Ponyo the goldfish, and can’t play with her; later on, he’ll tell the same girl the same thing when he and Ponyo set out to find his mother after a huge flood. And, as the crazy wizard mutters, it is on his little shoulders that the fate of the world rests at the end of the film, though fortunately Ponyo is allowed to fight for what she wants, as well.

This film get a B+ because hardcore Miyazaki fans will miss the detailed minor characters that crowded his other films. The water color opening titles and minimalistic backgrounds were probably meant to appeal to a very young crowd, though this is hardly a Nemo contender.

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