Review- Men in Black 3

To be entirely honest, I was not planning on watching it but circumstance conspired such that I did. I, like most people I believe, did enjoy Men in Black when it first rolled around. As this latest installment was coming down the pike I was hearing chatter about it compared to Part II, and count me in the camp of those who have no recollection of Part II whatsoever, and based on what I’ve heard that’s all for the best. This is all a very long way of saying that this film wasn’t playing with house money with my being a fan. Conversely, it was also coming sixteen years after the last Men in Black that I do have some recollection of, so I was pretty much an open book.

The only news items I heard that made up my pre-life with this film were the ridiculously overblown reports of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber being aliens, which constitutes their likenesses appearing on background monitors in the beginning.

Ah, the beginning, what an ungodly mess it is. Apparently one of the old screenwriting axioms doesn’t really apply here; there’s nothing easy about getting through this first act. It is slow, stilted and uncertain of itself until the mission is embarked upon. What’s perhaps even more perplexing is that the film does get better but the beginning is slow and bad such that it makes recovery difficult. Needless to say that when I discovered, after having seeing it, that principal photography began and the script had not been finalized, I was not surprised in the slightest.

It’s also a bit like that half-baked ethos carried through post-production in regards to the edit. There are two neuralyzer scenes that make little to no sense, add no humor and do not really advance the plot in anyway. In fact, they’re so dubious that even Will Smith seems as if he’s just going through the motions in these sections. Whereas that doesn’t necessarily really ring true for the rest of the film. In a film that has such issues getting off the ground any other extraneous material’s impact is multiplied. Not even to mention the fact that there is a severe shortage of humor in this particular installment, there are chuckles to be had but there’s nowhere near the level of fun that these films are supposed to engender.

The more enjoyable moments in the film are provided by Josh Brolin’s hilariously deadpan take on Tommy Lee Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg’s wonderfully quirky Griffin. Jemaine Clement, who is usually hilarious here is more intent on being creepy as Boris the Animal, and while that succeeds the film could’ve benefitted from a bit more levity, especially given the ending.

When your film already has its issues and is only minimally interesting things like the nearly unavoidable time traveling paradoxes that arise are allowed to occupy more of your attention than they really ought to.

Given the fact that portions of the second and third did work on an intermittent basis, it’s really unfortunate that this film proceeded full speed ahead instead of righting the ship before they got rolling. As it stands, the film is an unfortunate mess that’s a waste of time and talent.

5/10

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The 2012 Embarrassed To Say Festival

The 2012 Embarrassed to Say Festival

This is a project I likely should’ve undertaken sooner, but now more than ever it is easier to tackle a lot of the massive films I’ve yet to see. I can likely continue doing it every year and hopefully (eventually) the titles will become more and more arcane to the common filmgoer but no less bothersome for the film buff and/or filmmaker.

However, Edgar Wright the very talented director and great film enthusiast has said something quite true on his Twitter, in response to apologetic fans having seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, only on video, “It’s never too late to watch a movie.” That’s the spirit in which I’m undertaking this venture.

In spite of that sentiment there will be films on this list that I have to grin and bear admitting only now having seen so I offer you this explanation in preamble:

My conscious desire to be in film blossomed much later for me than with most, the pure love of it was always there. Therefore, what I want to see has always been a strong impulse as it is with many. However, once one becomes a student of film you quickly learn there are those titles you ought to see and if you haven’t already seen them watching them on your own, later on, can seem like homework. Whereas in school screenings were the best class assignments you were given, homework is a bothersome thing, no one liked homework, not entirely, and the assignation of necessity to something that ought to be a pleasurable and visceral experience alone can make one reticent to watch certain films. In fact, in the schools I attended I saw the disillusion many students felt as they could no longer enjoy films for they analyzed them to much.

I remained steadfast and can control hyper-analysis during viewing and do that legwork after the fact. This is an elongated and roundabout way of saying that some films I have avoided in part because of their stature, for fear that watching them would be more like work than pleasure or conversely for as important as they might be in a historical or technical context I’d not be moved by it in a narrative sense.

Well, the time has come and the access to some is so ready that I’ll bite the bullet on many titles this year (ideally at least 52) and I hope you the reader either get a chuckle of what I’ve deprived myself of thus far or find something new to look for, ideally both. And who knows maybe even undertake this challenge yourself.

Without further ado the films…

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (United Artists)

Reasons I Hadn’t Seen It:

War stories are tough to watch.
Running time.
Rather informed by a making of and needed to distance myself from that viewing.


Expectation Going In:

I had forgotten much I’d learned about the plot so all I really expected were a few scenes I knew of and brilliance.

Reactions:

At times mesmerized, others horrified and befuddled. A film that works brilliantly on an intellectual and visceral plane and as much as I wanted to see the theatrical and “Redux” cuts before they left Netflix I could not deal with seeing it twice in two days.

10/10

It’s been far too long since I updated this post but I figured when I do it had better be a doozie. So how does a Hitchcock film strike you. Now, I did add a new Hitchcock both during 31 Days of Oscar and since, but this one is a big one that is a worthy successor to the aforementioned film.

2. The Birds (1963)

Reason(s) I Hadn’t Seen It:

I have seen bits and pieces of The Birds, and like any Hitchcock film (any good film) it’s not an experience meant to be fragmentary. My avoidance of The Birds always came back to a philosophical quandary: How effective can it be when the film openly acknowledges there’s no real catalyst, at least not one blatantly indicated in the story, as to why the birds are attacking? In a B-Film (This is not one, I’m merely contrasting) that deals with animal attacks there will be the discussion as to why, perhaps too much and perhaps the explanation satisfies and perhaps it doesn’t, but it’s there. I was never sure how well it’d work for me, especially stacked up against other Hitchcock films.


Expectation(s) Going In:

Guarded, to say the least, yet hopeful that it’d be the best rendition of the story at hand, and potentially bulldoze my reservations.

Reactions:

The first thing that really struck me is the importance of the MacGuffin in this film especially. The MacGuffin is really just a device that is used as an excuse to tell the story, but in The Birds, without the flirtation and the new-found connection the two protagonists share, without her coming to Bodega Bay, meeting people; essentially introducing herself into a new family, it’s hardly different than many animals attack movies. However, you do spend that time building characters, relationships and attachments, the story is about them, and the attacks of the birds mount incrementally. They come intermittently and with growing intensity.

The lack of scoring was something I knew about going in but I must say that it really does contribute to making this film as good as it is. It’s not going to work for every film but a certain intimacy and terror are built in just by hearing the flapping of wings.

I am a bird-lover, member of Audubon and all that but I take no issue with this film in that regard particularly because of how Hitchcock executes it cinematically. Birds aren’t usually a feared animal, so to transform the sound of a flock of flapping wings into something fearful is quite a feat.

Hitchcock’s is a filmography with so many greats, and so many personal favorites that many overlook, that it’s hard to gauge this film, even in the context of his canon, but it is undeniably solid and effective.

8/10

Reviews in the Gray Area 2012

Last year I posted an article of this type as well, you can read it here. Essentially what the Gray Area is with reference to this site are films that were out in 2011 that I could’ve gotten to see and just didn’t get around to. They always exist and it’s usually the awards season wherein I will view a vast majority of them, should others come along the way throughout the year I will add them here but this particular post should be active through the first quarter of the year or so and then gradually grow inert. So while I can’t include these films in either last year’s BAM Awards or this year’s and they remain in the gray that does not mean they do not deserve some sort of attention.

For an indication of what the scores mean please refer to my rating scale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Focus Features)

Had I not read that Thomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed this film I would’ve figured it out at some point and that’s due to the film’s pace and construction. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy story to convey on the screen. It’s the type of film that has to put forth a very difficultly-attained and nearly intangible fascination that is usually the sole purview of spy capers and whodunits wherein you must be simultaneously enthralled by the intrigue of the narrative and rapt by the film such that you can keep pace with it, on a mental level. I specify that pace because the temporal pace of the film is rather interesting. In a film such as this it’s information that’s flying at you tinged with foreboding and a sense of a gyre closing such that the story cannot speed along at a brisk 90 minutes but must unfurl at a more leisurely 120 yet also still have enough incidents within it to hold that bifurcated attention it’s worked to create. The film manages that easily and keeps the pace rather steady and the facts quick in coming. Even when in flashback sequences, which there are many, though the cuts may be quick the information does not overwhelm. That is not to say that a second viewing wouldn’t make the film more enjoyable or that nothing will be missed, I certainly can’t guarantee that as the film does play things close to the vest often but it does easily connect a lot of seemingly disparate incidents such that a vast majority of facts, and how the conclusion that occurs is reached, becomes clear. In the end whatever vagueness the film may have is not something one can find in anyway distasteful as it recalls to me Bergman’s quote:

I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically… I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.

I have always taken that to mean that he wanted people to be moved one way or another by his work and if you’re actively trying to piece this film together and succeeding or failing it won’t bore you to the point of indifference I feel and I think it’s riveting.

9/10

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (20th Century Fox)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, which I believe in, I will say “Yes, I am a Chipmunks fan.” These characters without question are divisive. There is no middle ground it seems you love them or you hate them. Being a fan I was surprised to have liked the first film (just barely) and very sorely disappointed in the second installment. Where I feel things went wrong the second time around wasn’t in the introduction of the Chipettes but in doing so spreading itself too thin amid myriad conventional plot devices. That’s not to say that this installment breaks ground with some unconventional plot machinations, however, it does combine a few old hat techniques creatively and it focuses heavily on the Chipmunks and the Chipettes and on their character. Furthermore, while maybe having fewer musical cues than before it functions more like a musical than the prior two installments seeking emotional veracity in spotting songs rather than literal locales. By having the Chipmunks and Chipettes pushed to extremes and assuming different characteristics than expected this is the first tale of the three that feels fully realized especially since it restrains Dave, who was overly-involved in the first two. It’s also interesting that Cross’ somewhat listless turn is somewhat elevated by his recent ranting.

7/10

Coriolanus

Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.

10/10