Review- Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Pre-Amble

If you read this blog consistently while I have tried, and I hope succeeded, to keep content fresh and diverse. However, as I intimated in this post particularly, I’ve been far less interested in reviewing theatrical releases lately (mini-reviews don’t fall under that category). There’s a certain bit of “FIRST” to it that can be tiresome and doesn’t allow one to reflect. Moreover the more interesting hooks to me to write about lately have been pieces about the films, that aren’t reviews like I did for The Dictator, The Sitter and most recently The Lone Ranger, to name three. It’s easier to write a review at polar extremes. However, this one came about through discussing the films and found me pretty firmly split on and that compelled me to write this. I say only to this to close this introduction: I do not write from a perspective of consumer advocacy but of vocalizing my thoughts and why they are so. If you read between the lines, you can usually decipher if the film may be your cup of tea.

Without further ado, the review…

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013, 20th Century Fox)

Perhaps the best way to encapsulate my thoughts on this film would be to echo the sentiments I tweeted about it the next day and expand upon that. “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters has highlights that are higher than the first (film) & lowlights that are lower than the first (film); a mixed bag.” I admit that I’m a fairly positive person, or I try to be. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t as much as I could have. A higher degree of satisfaction was within reach but there were frustrations and eye-rolling moments to be had.

Due to viewing commitments with different groups of friends I saw the first installment quite a few times and after just one viewing this one already felt more memorable than the initial foray. I don’t recall any really bad failings in the film prior like this one had; yet there were some things that really worked much better than before. Having said that, it’s an uphill struggle to get past all the encumbrances.

Many of the issues stem from the writing: the dialogue is frequently where there are misses. Many attempted jokes are lame but don’t land. There are some good ones. Delivery plays a role. Stanley Tucci has impeccable timing and makes most of his material work, Nathan Fillion’s brief appearance is one of the highlights, Lerman has one great line, which was given the benefitted of my anticipating.

However, these writing concerns are not just limited to the attempts at levity, but also with building character. A lot of the scripting problems lie in characterization of Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Clarisse (Leven Rambin), each has a character flaw we know they’ll work through but each spends half the film repetitiously re-enforcing their one-dimensional attitude regarding their prejudice to the point of cartoonishness.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013, 20th Century Fox)

Another odd aspect of the series made itself evident first in the beginning and crystallized as the film moved on: There is a mystical cab that takes the characters part of the way on their journey. The three “drivers” have one eye among them them and drive recklessly and the cab can split; a clear homage to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, both the book and the film pre-date this book/film pair. What it underscores is that: while both this and the Potter series deal with subcultures of superhuman beings with the fate of the world in their hands, unbeknownst to mere mortals, there’s an intangible lack of epicness that permeates this world. It’s smart and creative how the mundane hides these things, but it never gets awe-inspiring when the curtain is pulled back. The divested way this series is approaching its subject matter, fronting action first, forsaking character depth and internalized; conflict is undermining it no matter how high the stakes get.

Which brings me to the The CG, which is again hit-or-miss. Overall, it’s likely better than before but while some of the designs are great, but the work isn’t the best, which is unfortunate because that being improved would go some of the way to creating the kind of impact that is being sought here.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013, 20th Century Fox)

Logan Lerman is someone who I’ve twice nominated as Best Actor at the BAMs, in 2009 and 2012. Yet, this series gives him hardly anything to sink his teeth into. He has the one-liner moment and the compulsory scene where he can be emotional but not much in between. The stuntwork in terms of choreography and execution is Grade-A stuff and he had a small part in that, but most of those kudos go to that unit.

I’m not a staunchly anti-voice-over person. However, another misstep was the voice-over at the very end which explained the implications of what just happened and blew the doors wide open for the next installment. Had there not been that voice over and the film left off at the last line of dialogue the ending would’ve been awesome. Yes, awesome. As it stands, it wasn’t.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013, 20th Century Fox)

There are surprises to be had and when things stop needing set-up the film really clicks, pacing is never an issue. The introduction of Tyson (Douglas Smith) is a great addition in terms of character and the performance by Smith. While Freudenthal does fine here anew as he did with Hotel for Dogs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the series is sitting in a good place at the end that makes you hope that story and forthcoming director can really ratchet up the franchise to a newer, higher level.

Owing to that fact, I marginally give it a…

6/10

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Review- Being Flynn

Robert De Niro and Paul Dano in Being Flynn (Focus Features)

If one watches the trailer then a lot of Being Flynn is revealed. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in this era of film, but it was enough to convince me to watch this film, and it also illustrates the major hurdle the film has. The film deals with what occurs when Nick (Paul Dano), a youth seeking direction in his life, starts to work in a homeless shelter and sees his estranged father (Robert De Niro) there.

It’s a plot in the trailer that makes it seem like a very unlikely chance encounter. In actuality, the leap of faith needed to believe this scenario is not nearly as large. There are furtive awkward reunion attempts prior to fate intervening as it does. This is a very good thing indeed and it allows all the baggage the two characters have to be dealt with when tension is at a boiling point.

The film does use a good deal of voice over narration and what’s more it has two narrators, father and son. Voice over is always a treacherous balancing act but this film does rather well with it and gives additional insight into these two not completely dissimilar characters. Voice over can be looked at as a story-telling bridge, bridging the gap that a visual cannot for editorial or aesthetic reasons. The key is to build footbridges not suspension bridges, to build them intermittently and this film does that.

That does not mean this film is devoid of visual signature and style quite the opposite there is quite a bit of visual interest, which is mainly added through the edit. The film has quite a few flashback sequences that mainly serve to illustrate Nick’s upbringing and the impact his father’s absence had. The film enters these passages creatively and more often than expected but always with great results and it really resonates.

These flashes aside from giving us very good fragmentary performances from Julianne Moore, shades of her turn in The Hours, and Liam Broggy as Young Nick, also help establish the tonality of the film. The sequences aren’t juxtaposed as much as they are forerunners to the twists and turns of fate in the present day. There’s a bittersweet quality as it shows what was, with hints of what could’ve been and eventually there are echoes of the past in the present that seem equally unavoidable.

Yet as dour as the film is at times there is a certain balance of emotions at play. There is some humor to it when appropriate and certainly tenable drama not just voyeurism, you feel this movie not only watch it.

This is the kind of film that for all its other merits hinges on its performers and with these two the film excels. This is the kind of challenging emotional and engaging work that Paul Dano does frequently and that Robert De Niro doesn’t do nearly enough of anymore. They work brilliantly together and regardless of the frequency with which either does this kind of film it’s great that they do it here.

Since the Weitz brothers have stopped working exclusively in tandem they’ve done some rather interesting work, and this film is no exception. While this film takes its unexpected turns and ends well but a bit loosely but is very good and worth seeking out.

9/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Last Year at Marienbad

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Last Year at Marienbad

Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi in Last Year at Marienbad (Concinor)

If there is a film that can be said to define the French New Wave it may well be Last Year at Marienbad. A film directed by Alain Resnais (Night and Fog) which deals heavily with memory, or more precisely the accuracy of memory and what is reality. It is a film that moves along dreamlike with many incremental repetitions of phrases, with fractured snatches of conversations creating whole thoughts and at times surrealistically staged scenes.

It is a film that engages the viewer that dares him to follow this Byzantine structure and try to get out the other end, and if he does get out the other end will he have his head on straight when he gets there? It is a fact that film is not a disposable medium and many, if not all films, welcome a second viewing. This film insists on several. It is very likely that every time you’ll walk away from the film with a new piece of information you never considered before. This film is a complex abstract masterpiece that makes Inception look like finger-painting by comparison.

Consider that you examine two characters, their relationship and how much they really know one another and they are never given proper names, in fact, no one is: the three main players are referred to as A, X and M. Most of the rest are referred to as “Une personnage de l’hôtel.”

Which brings to mind another point: The camera pans around this hotel and its surroundings a great deal. Sometimes in conjunction with voice-over sometimes running contrary to the scene. The Baroque architecture of the edifice is quite startling and the hotel becomes a character in the tale in and of itself. As the discussions in which M is trying to convince A they did meet often begin with him stating where in the hotel they were.

It is a fascinating and mind-bending film which has no equal or parallel, an infinitely rewarding experience you’ll want to revisit over and over again.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Night & Fog

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Night & Fog

Night & Fog (Argos Films)

It is virtually impossible to ever come close to fully grasping the totality of the horror of the holocaust. If anything were to ever come close it’s Night & Fog. Never has the greatest calamity of the 20th Century been handled so precisely.

Many people are down on voice over narration but it’s part of the nature of the beast in a documentary and here, in this film, you have some of the greatest narration ever written by Jean Cayrol, a man who was himself a concentration camp survivor.

Not only does this film uniquely, at the time, mix color and black and white images but also uses the abandoned structures of the camps to haunt the film.

There is no question that this film is the apex of documentary filmmaking. It tried to take a massive subject and condense into something easy to understand. It allows you to reflect on things you see and learn but tries to bring as much of what transpired out as it can.

It also in turn becomes an important historical document. It is a masterpiece in as much as it achieves perfection in its form. If it was a feature length documentary it may not have this kind of impact.
 
It is an eye-opening and jarring account of the atrocities of the second World War that should be required viewing for all.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween- It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (United Features Syndicate)

It’s true that it would be hard to twist the philosophies and beliefs held by any character in the Peanuts gang such that you could call it a horror film. Although I must say waiting annually for a benevolent being only you believe in, having your friends mock you for it, and not seeing it is horrific; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown cannot be classified as a horror film.

What it is, is a Halloween staple. What are holidays without traditions and for the triad of celebrations near the close of every year these specials are markers and mandatory viewing for each? There are plenty of reasons why.

Firstly, aside from encompassing much of what we already know and love about the holiday it adds some things to the mix and gives food for thought. Linus’s aforementioned obsession with The Great Pumpkin is the perfect illustration of a child’s elevation of the day.

What’s more despite its being loosey goosey with its pace and plot, its whimsy seemingly belying its 25-minute running time there is still a protagonist’s journey. Linus is subject to ridicule, manages to bring one person over to his side temporarily only to see him defeated in the end.

Yet there is still a humanity to it. Lucy, of all people, sets her alarm for midnight sees he’s not in bed and salvages him from sleeping all night in the freezing pumpkin patch.

The voice casting early on in these specials is great and remained so through the years for Charlie Brown specials came for years and years but the likes of Peter Robbins (Charlie) and the scene-stealing Christopher Shea (Linus) had to be replaced frequently as did the other kids.

Of course, you also have Vince Guaraldi’s music. A testament to his lasting impact is that you hear the first few notes of that theme and even without visual aids you know that’s the Peanuts.

It starts with a wonderful dialogue-free sequence where Linus and Lucy pick a pumpkin but it also folds in Snoopy’s plot line, which is typically no more than comic relief, so neatly. In the end he too has a journey, as many kids do, of wild imagination on All Hallows’ Eve.

There is a sequence of animation that has to it a touch of Disney-like surrealism and the whole thing has a much more refined and well-crafted feeling than the more emotionally involving Christmas special.

Yes, this short little film is a Halloween tradition of mine and I could go on talking about it but the bottom line is that it is the best kind of tradition, which is one that you don’t feel is an imposition but rather one that you relish.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween- Hatchet for the Honeymoon

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon

***Spoilers herein***

Stephen Forsyth in Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Reel Media International)

The customer reviews of Hatchet for the Honeymoon on Netflix were wildly varied such that it dissuaded me from seeing it for a while. The difficulty being that I don’t have much of a track record with Mario Bava aside from the breathtaking Black Sunday so it was hard to decide (True at the time now I’ve seen many of his films). It’s not like there’s an established relationship like with Dario Argento I know I will watch them all even if I have to grin and bear it through some.

Having said all that I will give this film a pass but if you haven’t seen Bava it is definitely not the title you should start off with. What is interesting about it is that it deals with a mutating madness. In fact, the film starts with our protagonist announcing via voice over narration that he is mad. We soon learn his modus operandi but we also eventually see that he is being compelled that with each murder he is unearthing part of a repressed memory of what happened to his mother.

Now what happened to her ends up being not so mysterious which is why there’s a twist in store after he kills his wife which makes this film interesting and watchable even through some of the somewhat messy cinematography and subpar sound work. Someone in this man’s life still has a hold over him.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon is by no means terrific but it is worth a gander if you are so inclined. It definitely makes up for some of its deficiencies with a deliriously myopic view of a madman where murder and mayhem are commonplace.

6/10

61 Days of Halloween- Crawlspace

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Crawlspace

David Schmoeller on set with Klaus Kinski. (Empire Pictures)

Crawlspace is the kind of film that just misses. What is worse is that it wastes the talents of Klaus Kinski. He does as much as he can in a role that isn’t quite up to snuff for an actor of his caliber. The issue with the character ends up being one of the ones with the film. While the voice over is well written too much of what we know about our lead is learned through it, such that it renders more nebulous than necessary the one motif it leaves as mostly visual.

The set up is all well and good, to an extent. Things are little vague but you do get a quick kill and a sense of the mania that infests this man’s mind.

Although somewhat clumsily introduced the information we find and some of the scenes we watch are rather compelling. Particularly the confrontations with a man seeking justice for the death of his brother. Where things come apart for good are during the climax as there is a very awkward crawling chase through the ventilation system that takes far too long.

Aside from that the film spends an overwhelming amount of time with Kinski’s character, which is fine but there is not enough time spent with who we are supposed to root for at the end. Moreover, her one major appearance in the middle portion of the film, while intellectually accurate (maybe), doesn’t endear her to us. It’s a film that’s setting you up for a very macabre ending but then asks you to root for the same old, same old when it hasn’t really been earned.

5/10

Review- Soul Surfer

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer (Tristar Pictures)

Soul Surfer is an interesting film that may not yet have found its audience yet for a number of reasons but if I were a betting man, and there were bets on such things, I might be inclined to back this film as one that would find an audience through video over the years to come. It’s kind of a weird property looking at it from afar: a surfing film, which is also a biopic with a religious element to it being released in April. It’s essentially a summer film that didn’t want get buried amidst blockbusters and is trying to make some waves (yes, I can be punny, sue me) in a rather tranquil time.

None of the above is meant to sound like an indictment of the film. The fact of the matter is I truly enjoyed how multi-faceted I found the film to be. When you try and tackle too much in a film it can turn into a mess but when you can connect on disparate elements and tie them together then you’ve got something really good on your hands.

Looking at it from each perspective let’s see how the film works: firstly, there’s the surfing element under the larger umbrella of sports film. As has been said frequently, the best sports films aren’t really about the game, thus, they can hit home with the largest possible audience. However, it must be said that this movie is a sneaky good sports film. Due to the different things the film is trying to accomplish there isn’t a tremendous amount of time dedicated to the varying facets of a sports film but they get it spot on with the most important one: this film communicates in spades the love of the game and it’s mostly through cinematography, sound editing and a really well-written opening voice over, which stands head-and-shoulders above the voice over opening from the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side.

There’s also a sports rivalry, which as a subplot can either add depth or become an encumbrance on the narrative, it does the former and never gets in the way too much. As does the very chaste and timid love interest, just a little more humanity without over-complicating things. The ultimate example of its excelling in its sport movie mold is that it emphasizes, in the end, the joy of competing over that of victory better than most.

The personal journey works as well to fit the biopic mold. The stasis is well-established and then shattered and a new reality must be dealt with. There is also a very brief and practically perfect amount of time spent in the woe-is-me phase of her story. You also get a refreshingly good self-improvement montage and wonderful, if foreseeable, epiphany.

With regards to the religious aspect of the film it’s there, it’s a motivating factor in her recovery, it’s something Bethany questions and leans on. The film handles this very well not only in keeping it and making it a more true biography but adding some depth to the character and avoiding getting overly preachy and pedantic. Some films it seems can’t deal with any type of spirituality in it without it becoming a spiritual film. It’s an element that folds in very well.

If there’s anything that can be said against the narrative it’s just that there is a certain amount of evenness to it. The three facets while working well together allow you to stay on a rather even keel until the final competition. Yet it’s still a fun film to watch regardless of your investment level.

There is also some very impressive CG work done with the missing limb, it’s the best kind of CG work because it’s functional and doesn’t become the film. The sequence of the accident is also rather stunning and one of a few very well-handled and dramatically-rendered sequences in the film.

Much of the cast in this film does very well and the performances run rather deep down the line. You get three very strong performances just out of the family. AnnaSophia Robb has been mostly unseen since Race to Witch Mountain and before that Bridge to Terabithia but she shows here a rather seamless and graceful transformation to an adult role, and a leading one at that. It’s also wonderful to see Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid not just working but doing great and in a quality project. They each have their own moments to shine here. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu play the usually jovial, supportive brothers but do have their dramatic moments. Kevin Sorbo also plays a refreshingly low-key and sympathetic character here and Jeremy Sumpter has a small part but plays one big scene wherein he shows flashes of greatness and how he is one of the most under-utilized young actors in films today.

Soul Surfer is a very enjoyable film that you should try to see on the big screen before it’s theatrical run ends.

8/10

Review- You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

This film will be released on video tomorrow.

Naomi Watts and Anthony Hopkins in You Will Meet a Tall Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics)

I, unlike many, will attest to the fact that reports of Woody Allen’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While last year’s reviews for Whatever Works were greatly mixed it does not seem like the kind of film that you can use to illustrate that someone had “lost it.”

In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger you can see why people would say that, however, the way I see it is that you get in the film a pastiche of what’s both great and not so great about Allen. At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical fan who likes the “early, funny movies” it must be stated for the record that this film is a drama before all else.

Moreover, it examines some similar questions as both Whatever Works and Vicky Cristina Barcelona examined. It’s principally about life and love but to paraphrase Allen’s idol Ingmar Bergman “What else is there?” Where the film is somewhat lacking is that it could dig deeper.

What really holds the film back is that fears that were caused by the trailer are realized and it’s the voice over. It is perhaps the worst-delivered most poorly-acted voice over narration that I’ve been privy to listen to. Zak Orth’s delivery could not be be drier if he tried. The only thing that helps this film overcome it is the fact that there’s not a whole lot of it and he’s speaking Allen’s words. Sadly, it also unnecessarily spoon-feeds a relatively simple film and by speaking the film’s conclusion to its hypothesis this renders it more banal than it otherwise would’ve been.

The Bergman reference above is not totally misplaced as this is another examination by Allen of a subject that obsessed Bergman: death. Through these intertwining tales Allen not only examines how we deal with mortality but conversely, of course, with life and what the point to all of it is.

Barring the aforementioned narration the acting is good across the board. The characters are actually a bit less neurotic than Allen’s usual dramatis personnae and feel more like well-rounded, less erudite types. While these characters can come across as more flat it is a tribute to the actors in this film that they breathed life into them.

Another problem the film battled was the edit. The film is a bit too methodical. It never quite gets slow but it could quicken its step through the second and into the third act. True there are four interconnected storylines to resolve but they all end up more or less where we expect them to when we expect them to such that not as much time need be devoted to each to make the point that each segment is trying to make.
While the valid point that sometimes “delusion works better than medicine” is well-made and ties up the film nicely albeit heavy-handedly there is a surprise that develops towards the end that is never really resolved. Now while we can surmise what will happen and the dilemma the character in question is left with it would still have been nice to add a little more closure to that chapter than we get.

Although not a great work and not a minor work, Woody Allen’s films are still vital because he is not overly-concerned with genre or the trappings therein. He through his writing and his cinema is still one of the few American auteurs who is willing to ask real and serious questions with every film he takes on and for that reason his audience should spring eternal and not age with the great cineaste.

6/10