Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Films of 2011

2011, much like last year, was very tame and not all too exciting. Like every year, there’s disappointments, and there’s pleasant surprises. Was Super 8 as good as I hoped it was? No. Was Shark Night 3D the stupid fun I hoped it was? No, it was a boring turd. Does a GOOD Captain America film exist now? Yeah! Is it possible for a GOOD horror film after 1995 to exist? Yes! I didn’t think I could even compile a list of 10 for 2011, but once I really thought about it, it was feasible.

1. The Beaver

The Beaver is one of those films where I don’t think could work without the talent involved. And by talent, I mean, Mel Gibson. Don’t get me wrong, Jodie Foster did a great job, in terms of direction. It’s just that Gibson steals each and every scene. And really invested himself into the role. Though, many would say it didn’t take a whole lot for him to portray an insane schizophrenic. I am one of those people. Let’s face it. No one does crazy like Mel. THE BEAVER REVIEW

2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Here’s a film that was EXACTLY what I wanted, and delivered on the level that I wanted it to. The Beaver exceeded my expectations. But it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be (and that’s partially due to the original score [hey, music can alter a film drastically]). Not saying I didn’t love the score. It’s just that it really altered what I was expecting. With M:I 4, it delivered exactly what I expected. A sleek, high-octane, stunt-spectacular train of a film. Once it starts, it never lets up, and I couldn’t ask for more. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL REVIEW

3.The Muppets

Here’s one of the many films that really surprised me! For a franchise that has laid dormant for over a decade, they delivered one helluva film. There is so much to love about The Muppets. The characters, the jokes, the music, the zaniness, everything! First of all, the film is self-aware of the declined interest in the franchise. It pretty much serves a “Blues-Brothers-getting-the-band-back-together” entry into the franchise. And I have absolutely no problem with that. And make no mistake, this is not a “kids movie”. Yes, it’s for kids, but its for adults too. It’s the quintessential family film. And to be a family film, you have to have jokes and themes for everyone. For instance, in the film, there’s a character called “80’s Robot”. His job is to pretty much make the teens and adults laugh. From references to montages to dial-up internet connections. That’s all stuff that goes over the head of a 10, 11, or 12 year-old. And then there’s of course corny jokes for the kids that still makes you laugh. It all works. Maybe the only thing hurting the film is it’s run-time? But that would be my only gripe if I had to have one. And I don’t have to have one. So, rather than me back-spacing, just forget I typed that.

4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Unlike most “remakes” (I quote that for a reason, but Ill get to that in a second), I have usually seen the original first. That is not the case with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. And I kind of wanted it that way. Look, it’s David Fincher. And unlike many directors working today, his worst is usually better than most director’s best. But with his adaptation of Dragon Tattoo, I knew he was going to work closer from the book than the original Swedish film. And that leads me back to the whole argument as to whether or not it’s a remake. For me, if you make a film based off of an original movie, THAT is a remake. But if you make a film derived directly from the source material (I.E. novel), then that is simply just another adaptation. And having finally watched the Swedish version, I can honestly say I like Fincher’s adaptation more. I think his film is a darker, colder and a better photographed film. Many people have been complaining about it not having enough personal touches. But I disagree. It doesn’t require any personal touches. This isn’t a complicated love story. It’s an eerie murder mystery with a dash of romance. And the amount of human emotion thrown into the film is enough. Enough to actually give two fucks about the two main characters, but not to the point where it gets sappy.

And like I said, this film is shot beautifully. Some scenes make you feel cold, some scenes give you the creeps, and some are just downright raw. And a lot of that is due to the colors and camera placement. If you’re reading this, you probably already know there is a rape scene. And while many directors would have the camera shaking to build on the tension already happening, Fincher knows when a scene’s content is enough to make you feel uncomfortable.

5. Puss In Boots

Okay, Im a cat person. And I know I’m destined to grow up to be a crazy cat lady. And that might be 50% of the reason why I love Puss In Boots. The other 50%?... Well, more cat jokes. So I guess in actuality, this film is humor for the clinically insane. Dreamworks makes films for the clinically insane. That’s my review. And the 3D was fantastic. Fantastic 3D for the clinically insane.

6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Michael Bay. Robots. Robot-dick-punches. ‘Splosions. I think Ive got that covered HERE and HERE.

7. Rango

Rango is one of those films that is disguised as a “kids film”, but is really for adults. Really, this film is basically Chinatown. But replace Jack Nicholson with a lizard with a Hawaiian t-shirt. This is, I think maybe the best animated film of the year. Even though I think Puss In Boots might be better, the ANIMATION in this is incredible. This is ILM’s first foray into 100% CG-animation. And honestly, it looks better than Pixar. The direction Gore Verbinski went with this was great. When I say the animation looks real, I mean it looks photo-realistic. The designs of the characters are outrageous, yes, but the rendering of the textures look so damn real. But I wouldn’t expect less from Verbinski. Ive watched all the Pirates making-of doc’s, and he’s a hard ass when it comes to CG. And more directors need to be that way. But then again, not all directors were visual FX artists prior to directing.

8. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

You know, it’s surprises like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark that restore my faith in horror for 3.6 seconds. I expected NOTHING from this film. But once I watched it, I was pleased to find out that it wasn’t a heaping pile of shit. It played like a classic gothic haunted house story. Except instead of ghosts, they’re disgusting rat-like asshole… Things. I know this is a remake of the 1970’s made-for-TV-movie (which I hear is damn good), but this one worked. It didn’t try to modernize the film too much. Enough to simply take place today. No distracting references to Facebook or any of that horse shit that is commonly popular in horror today. It just plays as a straight “what-goes-bump-in-the-dark” horror film. The creature designs are fucking creepy, the story is pretty interesting, and the score wasn’t too bad either. Had I been anticipating the film, I probably wouldn’t have been impressed with the film too much. But that’s what happens when you go into a film with no expectations.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

Who would have thought Captain America would have actually been… Cool? Certainly not I. Im sorry, I always found the character to be incredibly corny. Even his name is ultra-hokey. But what Joe Johnston managed to do with the character worked, and because of that, the film exceeded my expectations. Joe Johnston is one of those directors I can respect because of his accolades. This guy has worked on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t know about you (nor do I care), but I could die happy having just been apart of those films. But Johnston has never been a very good DIRECTOR. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids was a fun film as a kid, Jurassic Park III was a mess, and The Wolfman… Well, I hear it was pretty much a dud. But with Captain America, he actually made a good film! And Im happy, because I knew he had it in him.

He managed to take a character I dislike, and make me like him. But I do have to say, there is one particular element that he injected into the film that was an easy “they’ll love this!”. And that’s Indiana Jones. Johnston doesn’t necessarily make makes nods to the Indy films, as much as he uses the overall tone in his film. And much like most superhero films, the villain in 50%. The Red Skull was awesome. I want to set the record straight. I HATE NAZIS, I think they’re scum, and simple-minded sub-humans. BUT… You throw an S.S. uniform on anybody, they instantly look badass. The contrast of The Red Skull’s… Red skull, and his black leather S.S. uniform? You really cannot fucking beat it.

Is Captain America an amazing film? I don’t think so. But it definitely showcases Johnston’s ability to direct. Give him enough preparation time, a decent budget, faith, and artistic freedom… And you have a solid film.

10. Drive

Everyone loves The Big Lebowski, correct? Correct. Everyone is sick of hearing hipsters brag about their “The Dude Abides” shirts and their “Dude” sweaters, right? I know I am. Yes, I own a couple Lebowski shirts, and I really don’t get the urge to wear them too often because of the frameless hipster ass wipes. But I will not let them ruin the film for me. Because if they do, the terrorists win. The same will go for Drive.

Drive is a film that has already become a “cult classic”. I really enjoyed Drive (hence, why it’s on this fucking list). But I see people already wearing that white jacket with the yellow scorpion on the back. The same people incidentally have frameless glasses. Hmmm…

Drive really is a good film, and doesn’t deserve to be ruined via hipsters. The film is very simple and very minimalistic. It replaces action for contained ultra-violence, and has a sick sense of humor. I was really surprised at the level of ultra-violence there was. A scene would play, you’d sense “Oh, maybe this girl is going to die”. Okay, shot in the chest, scene over. Nope. Let’s have a shotgun headshot in slow-motion. You know, just so you can take in all the blood, brain & skull fragments at a slower rate. Is that anything new? No. I just thought it was rad because it wasn’t expected. I wasn’t expecting ultra-violence. Drive has a cool score, some damn good acting, and some awesome car chases.

And that was 2011 for me. That’s not to say there weren’t any other films I enjoyed. I thought The Skin I Live In was a bizarre and unique film. The Adventures of Tin Tin was enjoyable. Great animation, fun inebriated humor, and another Indiana Jones-esque film. Hugo was really good. Excellent film-making, great performances, the 3D was incredible, and what else? Oh! That’s right! It’s Martin Scorsese. So I guess the list would be shorter if I listed what DIDN’T work with Hugo. Cowboys & Aliens was a fun western/sci-fi fusion. X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes were surprisingly good. And aside from the aforementioned films, most films were either A) a disappointment (Super 8) or B) Just irredeemable shit (Conan).

2012, please don’t let me down. Id like The Expendables 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Avengers, and Bullet To The Head not to suck.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

I’ll put it out there. Im not the biggest Mission: Impossible fan. I’v never caught an episode of the original television series. But I have seen all 3 films. But by the end of it, it’s a fairly decent action franchise. The first was okay. The second was a mess. And the third? Well, Id say the third was the best… Until now.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol manages to take the best aspects of its 3 predecessors, and even build on them. But what it doesn’t do, is it doesn’t depend on them, as many sequels tend to do. A hint here, a nod there, a reference over there. That isn’t to say it doesn’t bring back a couple characters, but it certainly does not rely on them.

First off, I want to address the director, Brad Bird. This is his first live action film. But that isn’t to say it’s his first film. Most people would know Bird from his animated films The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouillie. But what he does with M:I:4, I wonder… Why has Hollywood been hiding this guy behind a computer screen for all these years? Seriously, this his is freshman live action film, and it feels like a seasoned veteran directed this. And Im not even speaking in terms of the action in the film. Im talking the pacing, the humor, and hell, even the IMAX format.

You would think that you would be content with shooting in 35MM for your first live action film, test it out, then graduate to the fancier formats (3D, IMAX, etc.). Nope. Brad Bird managed to create an EXPERIENCE, and not just the fourth entry in an action franchise.

The film opens with Ethan Hunt in a Russian prison. Okay, this should be interesting. Obviously, the objective is to escape. What's he in there for? You find that out later. All that matters at this point is the “how”. How is Ethan Hunt going to get out of this mess? Well with the help of his team members at the IMF. Basically, it’s a very strong opening. All the jail cells are opened, Russian convicts litter the halls, destroy prison guards, its just chaos. So as Hunt is trying to escape, he has to fend off not only prison guards, but the inmates as well. And the use of music works really well too. The Dean Martin song "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" playing over the loud-speakers. So not only is the action great, the choice of song is great. What else is thrown into the mix? Successful humor. Humor isn’t always successful in action films. In fact, it’s usually terrible. EVERYTHING works in this film.

The basic gist of the film is this: Ethan Hunt and his team are given another mission by the IMF. The mission? To track down the Russians who possess the launch codes to nuclear missiles. The catch is, they’re the only 4 left of the IMF. So… No back up. That is what makes this mission a little heavier. And I know what you’re thinking, “That plot seems a little thin”. Well here’s the thing, like with any espionage/spy film, there are always more twists and turns and subplots. And with a lot of espionage/action films, too much usually gets in the way. If you have a film that is predominately a spy/thriller/drama, the action can sometimes get in the way of the actual story. And if you have a film predominately action, complexity of story can sometimes get in the way of the action. Action doesn’t always have to be dumb, but it doesn’t always have to be “calculus-smart” either.

The action/story in M:I:4 is, in my opinion, perfect. There was nothing in terms of story that had me scratching my head saying, “Really? That’s all there is to it?”. It just suites the action perfect. Because in the end, the M:I films are ACTION films. M:I:4 is set piece after set piece after set piece. And it manages to pace it at a rate where you can breath between, take in all the information you need to follow the story as it progresses, and brace yourself for the next action scene. And the action is shot perfectly. Geographically, you know where you are in each scene. There are very few shaky-cam shots. Shaky-cam, people forget, is something that is unavoidable in an action film. Whether its used for 5% of the film, or 80% of the film, it’s in practically everything you watch. Its just less noticeable in certain movies. And M:I:4 is one of those movies.

Speaking of shots, lets talk about IMAX. Brad Bird has gone on record by saying that 25-30 minutes of the film was shot in IMAX. And all of it looks fantastic. There was one issue I had going in that I hoped was going to be addressed and corrected. And that was the aspect ratio change. And it was indeed corrected. I didn’t see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in IMAX, but I heard there was a major issue involving the constant switch-over from 35MM to 70MM in a single scene. With Ghost Protocol, there is no issue. Once the IMAX-shot sequence begins, it consistently fills the screen until the scene is over. So if there is a close-up dialogue cut, it’s shot in IMAX, and doesn’t subtract the scope of the scene. And I love the transition from 35MM to 70MM back to 35. Its edited in a way in which it feels as if a top and bottom curtain are being lifted to expose the whole picture. As opposed to just cutting to the IMAX-shot sequence harshly.

Every IMAX sequence is great. But the one that is the most impressive is indeed that climbing of the Burj Khalifa. You know, the one that they’ve used in ALL the marketing. And for good reason! Its fucking INCREDIBLE! Not only is it the greatest sequence in any of the Mission: Impossible films, but it’s one of the best sequences in any action film in the past 10 or 15 years. There are so many damn elements that make that scene work so fucking well. Ill just list ‘em as I go. First off: Tom Cruise. The fact that this man (who doesn’t need the money, mind you) was willing to climb the world’s tallest building (a half a mile high), without a stunt man, is just incredible. I wish I could buy the guy a shot right now. And it’s one thing to just go out on a harness 2700 feet in the air. But it’s another thing to run down the building, run across the building, and plunge yourself from one side to the other. Secondly, the scope of IMAX. As you watch Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of the building, you actually feel as if you’re going to fall into the screen. Granted, this film isn’t in 3D, but it sure as hell pulls you in. And when Cruise slips and falls, your stomach drops with him. Thirdly, the score really enhances the scene’s energy. When the main Mission: Impossible theme enters, you get goosebumps. Maybe you wont, but I did. I get ‘em just thinking about it. And as if the scene wasn’t dangerous enough, along with the height, he also has to fear the dreadful sandstorm heading his way. The scene is just perfect. And that’s only the half-way point of the movie. There are still even 3 of 4 more action sequences after that!

The rest of the film, I don’t feel I should even write about due to the fact that the studio doesn’t really reveal too much of it in the ads and trailers. Which is great! For once, you can go into a movie and actually see something you DIDN’T see in the trailer. For the most part, the TV spots and trailers showed you most of the action sequences from Moscow and Dubai. For the last quarter of the film they go to India, and what happens? Well, watch the fucking movie.

The team. You have Benji, the computer-tech. Jane, the female agent. And Brandt, the new guy/secret commando. And of course, Ethan Hunt. And surprisingly enough, it’s a very strong team. Benji obviously serves as most of the comic relief for the film. And for the most part, he is hilarious. Jane was pretty badass in the was that wasn’t too forced. I mean, she did kick a girl’s ass, then knock her out a window. That’s pretty rad. And with Brandt, you might think this is a spoiler, but it’s not. They reveal it in the trailer. Brant APPEARS to be just an analyst from D.C., but as the story progresses, it’s revealed that he’s a soldier who can hand your ass to you. So that made for an interesting touch. But what makes it so interesting is that, for once in the M:I franchise, someone who isn’t who they say they are is actually GOOD. Usually the guy who you thought was good, was playing for the other team. The one thing that I DON’T like about Brandt actually has nothing to do with his character. It’s the direction they want to go in the next installments of the franchise. From what I heard, Jeremy Renner (who plays Brandt) is supposedly going to be passed the torch from Tom Cruise to be the new leading man in the M:I films. Hey, I liked his character in Ghost Protocol, but Mission: Impossible is Cruise’s franchise. This isn’t Bond.

All in all, Brad Bird, Tom Cruise, producer J. J. Abrams, and the rest of the crew did one helluva job on this film! Its amazing that the fourth film in a series can surpass its predecessors ten-fold almost 17 years after the initial film. But this only makes me wonder, how can you top Ghost Protocol? The Burj Khalifa scene alone is hard to top! We’ll see. If this is Brad Bird’s FIRST live action film, what the hell is he going to do next?!

Really though, see it in IMAX. Or fuck off.
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